These days, I make the best imitation of my grand-ma by continuously breaking out in loud astonishment about where the hell the time is flying to so fast. However saying this, I’m sipping my tomato juice 32.000 feet over Irak (thanks Niklas for letting me now that planes are the only place where tomato juice is any good).
Header photo by @davidnyk.
There’s a few hours left to this year, and it’s time for a little recap. It’s been a year of spontaneous adventures and so many unforeseen changes.
Last year this time, I sat at my countryside home in North Germany. I knew I was going to Israel, that’s it. Then came Jordan, Turkey, Israel again, Palestine, Cyprus, a brief stop-over in Germany, then Sweden, Indonesia, East Timor, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, India, back to Germany, and Israel yet again.
Someone hand me a drink.
My relationship with Bali stayed peculiar until the end. Living there for three months, it turned into somewhat like a home. Yet, with all the things that made my life there a bit more complicated than I had hoped, it never quite reached that state. But when I left eventually, there was a nostalgia inside of me, the familiar dark feeling of leaving a place that suddenly, in my memory, seemed so bright.
We may choose this unstable lifestyle missing any pattern, however I believe something inside of us appreciates a reliable environment, having reliable people around, knowing where to get the best coffee or Mie Goreng, seeing places that make you recall that funny incident with your friend the other night. And then, when embarking on a new trip, it’s like you didn’t only leave invisible traces, but an actual piece of you behind. Your memories are rooted in these streets and houses, and when leaving, you don’t know when you’ll run into them again.
For me, this was my amazing host Lulu, an Indonesian woman with whom (and her 128 cats) I lived for two months in the more rural areas outside of Canggu. It was Esther and Ben and Brit and Katie, my temporary roommates in our shared flat eeeh villa with pool and view over the ricefields. It was Ada and Rita and Uno and Grey and all those insanely adorable four-legged friends. It was Ulla with her amazing learn with locals workshops and Justyn who made my first party and Morgan who made my time staying home one to never forget, and Errin who last minute showed be the best wine to shop. It was people from our favorite place to chill at Cabina, from couchsurfing and from fun nights out and random dates on the beach – they all make me appreciate Bali, despite me not feeling entirely at home.
And so I left, content, heading towards a totally unexpected destination…
One month blogging through India and Sri Lanka
Not only did I apply to this trip although I shrugged off that I’d ever get invited – I also recommended them to take my Bali friend Justyn along. And so we boarded the plane to India together. After all this solo traveling, it’s SO nice to do long distance flights with a friend who always has a piece of chocolate left when you got none.
For those who wonder, I do not wish to make this piece about the company we traveled with, since we made bad experiences professionally. This shall be dealt with in a separate post – here I simply want to summarize the inspiring time I had personally.
Beaches and no Wifi in Goa
Starting in Bangalore, we headed with an overnight bus to Goa. That was magical already, throwing us right into Harry Potter’s Knight Bus. It all felt like a bigger school trip in a smaller group – all of us with our luggages, staying up late to watch movies, sharing chips and stories and laughs.
In Goa, we had to face realities of non-available wifi as well as a few, let’s say, India idiosyncrasies. The constant sound of horns. The traffic that would make any western cab driver hide in their closet. The amount of trash lying around. The cows. Seriously, the cows – you don’t know how to motorcycle until you navigated through a herd of running cows on a highway.
But Goa was beautiful. We mostly stuck to the less touristy areas, explored beaches and architecture and slowly got into the “we’re not gonna get any work done anyway” mood.
The chaotic streets of Delhi and Agra
After one week, we left for a couple of days in Delhi. Naturally, we visited the absolutely breath-taking, even though if completely overcrowded Taj Mahal in Agra.
We saw the chaotic streets of Old Delhi, and little oases like Gandhi’s or Humayun’s tomb. All in all I gotta say, Delhi is no place I really want to visit again; too full and too polluted. But it made me realize a certain beauty of the chaos I encountered in India so far. Despite all the mess and nobody regarding any traffic rules and thousands of tangled wires magically supplying every flat with electricity – it works. We think without rules and order we would plunge into destruction and (the German speaking here) total inefficiency. And admittedly, things work differently and slower than I might be used to in Germany. But they also seem to work… more contently. At least that was my brief impression.
Winter was coming in Manali
Next on the itinerary: A week up north in Manali. And that’s up to date one of my favorite places in India.
From Old Manali and nearby temples to getting up the Himalayas at Rohtang and Hamta Pass, to discovering the temple town Manikaran perched into a narrow valley, to simply enjoying local cider on the hotel’s rooftop – the icy cold was a welcome change after having lived in the Middle East and South East Asia for the past ten months. Even though we all put on the funniest outfits of 823 layers since none of us were really prepared for below zero temperatures. A bliss in fresh air, untouched nature, and at times utter quiet that is such a rarity in previous places…
Going coconuts in Sri Lanka
Luckily we could regain the feeling in our frozen toes soon enough, when we spent our last week in Sri Lanka. By now, we wondered where the hell this month had passed already. You know, being thrown into a travel group of 6 people at random, that’s intense. Only imagine if you’d be surrounded by the biggest douchebags or needy princesses for an entire month.
However, we were lucky. We admittedly had our differences, and each of us had a very unique personality in him- or herself, who probably would never have met otherwise. But we managed well; we laughed and explored together, we talked and we gave each other needed distance, and I think each of us grew in their own way. I certainly did.
Sri Lanka – that was one last busy week. From Mirissa to Ella to Colombo, we saw only three places briefly, but all of us were sure to come back to this country some day.
Beaches so clean and empty we wondered if we were in the wrong place. The hiking-friendly mountains with all their tea plantations. The coconut-based food none of us could get enough of. This trip kept being nothing but pure joy for each of our senses!
Eventually, we flew back to Bangalore, and it was time to part ways. I had decided to spend my last few days in an Ashram before flying back home, and followed a friend’s recommendation to the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai. It was my first time in an Ashram, and four days seemed like a way too short time. But I still felt it to be the right decision. And it was.
After this big blogging trip, a couple of days going offline were highly welcome. Instead, I focused on learning all the things I could possibly learn in four days. I was the girl occupying the library the first day and ever since running around with at least four books in my bag.
What I also really appreciated was the routine. Getting up every morning at 5:45 to join meditation, satsang (chanting) and a small lecture. Tea. Yoga. Breakfast. Karma yoga (selfles service). Free time. Lecture. Tea. Yoga. Dinner. Another round of meditation and satsang. And no later to bed than 10pm (because after such a day, you just want to sleep anyway).
Finally, it’s incredible what connections us humans are actually able to form in such a short time, if we only allow it. The safe and closed environment of the ashram made fake walls fall quickly, made conversations go deep, made new thoughts form with a surprising ease and frequency. It is hard to put into words unless personally experienced – but I felt deeply connected in a way that I did not for a long time.
How I flipped a coin, ditched my plane and stayed another month in India
The last two days in Madurai already had a thought form in my head, a deep feeling of resenting to travel back to Germany so soon. I just didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to travel through the country and answer the same questions of how I could do this and how the hell I could earn money and how brave I was. I wanted to explore this newly discovered feeling of… intuition more. A lot more.
Back in Bangalore, a friend and I went for dinner before my airport taxi should pick me up two hours later. And over a bottle of wine, I eventually said… “I’m gonna flip a coin”. My friend determined heads to be staying, tails to be leaving.
“You’re fucked”, he laughed.
I then spent about ten days in Bangalore; to catch up on work and to decide what I’m gonna do with the rest of my time in India.
And meanwhile getting to know the city better, visiting museums and bars and temples and learning to cook Indian food.
Eventually, I left – for Kerala, where I had decided to spend my last two weeks. The itinerary a patched together piece of different friends and facebook groups, I started couchsurfing in Cochi and saw local markets and the fort. Due to the lack of time, I traveled quite quickly.
I saw the world’s highest tea plantation in Munnar, the infamous backwaters of Alleppey, the Amma Ashram that is a little town in itself, and the beaches down the north cliff in Varkala.
My conclusion? I grew in ways beyond my expectations. Figuring everything out, a first-timer in India plus traveling solo as a woman – which is definitely more challenging than in other parts of the world – made me laugh upon logistical struggles I had in my past.
Let me name a few events during those two weeks that really left a deep impression on me.
My second time in the Ashram… With 3.000 permanent residents and 2.000 to 3.000 fluctuating visitors, it’s a little world in itself. While there is a general schedule regarding meditation and eating routines as well, visitors have way more freedom in the activities they can choose. There’s a bunch of shops with local goods, with foods or clothes. You can have an astrology reading or an Ayurvedic consultation, choose from a variety of yoga and music classes – and of course, hug Amma. This second intense personal time… had me click even more than the first Ashram. It was extreme emotional experiences, something broke free. (probably half my readers close the window now in the face of some apparent spiritual enlightenment, but sorry folks, take it or leave it)
My couchsurfing hosts in Kerala: Rajesh from Cochi, who shared his view on Indian society with me. Jebu from Alleppey, who took me around the area, showed me some remote villages, and hosted me in my private beach cabin literally 20 meters from the shore.
There was a point where my credit card was not working. I headed south with 200 Rupees (~3€) in my pocket, because two previous ATMs had rejected my card. I thought it was because they were small branches or didn’t have enough cash, and I still had easily enough for my bus ticket. Upon changing buses, I optimistically wanted to try the bigger banks, and ventured to the next ATM with all my luggage. A tuktuk driver stopped and offered to take me, despite my empty wallet and knowing of my card problems. He ended up driving me to seven banks, buying me a juice, telling me “relax, all is good, no need to worry”. And after all banks still rejected my card, he drove me 25min to my homestay – for free. Just like that. And there, my host put some cash in my hand so I could buy dinner. Holy Shit, I could have hugged the entire world.
Another event was quite more simple… It was my last 24 hours in India which I spent in Varkala with Hayley, a girl I had met in the Ashram. Again, we clicked in a way that was beyond all our everyday smalltalk bullshit. We shared a ridiculously expensive glass of wine together – the first I had since I decided to stay in India, we danced to some terrible live band playing 80’s for an audience of otherwise sweetly cheerful men and women in their late 40s, and we went to an amazing yoga class the next morning.
I learned a new face of gratefulness, really.
It’s funny how fast we move from a place to another physically, but how long it takes us to really arrive. I was home for Christmas for a few days, and frankly it was hard to find words for what I feel.
Culture Shock. This thing we teach our 17 year-olds how to deal with before their year abroad in the US or Europe, respectively.
Admittedly, back in the days when I went to New Zealand after high-school, my mind was narrow and my views confined to my privileged growing-up at peaceful German countryside, and that was a big step.
But things have changed, and I have been traveling full-time for a year now. I can truly say, one of the biggest culture shocks I had up to date – is coming BACK to Germany, after spending two months in India.
Two months in which I realized, I barely need anything – clothes, nice apartments, STUFF – and am happy with… in my culture, we would call it “so little”, and yet I experienced it to be so much.
With the following, I don’t want to reduce the big diversity of either country to what I’m describing, but for my personal journey, these have been dominating and lasting impressions.
India. I thrived in communities of people from all over the world, where the first question was not “where are you from” but rather “why are you here”. I thrived in books and meditation and yoga. In good food and eating with my hands, sitting on the floor. In sleeping on overnight buses and trains or just someone’s couch.
I thrived in the incredible kindness of people who almost don’t own anything materialistically, but have some the biggest hearts I’ve met, and will remember for a long time.
And suddenly, I was back in Germany. Trains were on time, people know how to queue, cheese and chocolate don’t cost a fortune (hallelujah!)
Here I walk among all this wealth and abundance and gigantic supermarkets and everything one could possibly wish for within an armlength’s reach – and yet, people seem to be less content. There’s less smiles. Less ease, less relaxation.
You’d think, India, this crazy chaotic country we only know from movies, where from the outside, nothing ever stands still – this would let you become restless. But for me, it’s the opposite. I became more at peace, more humble.
We’re rarely aware of our own wealth. And how should we, if our generation today knows no immediate war, no shortage of food, water or other necessary supplies? Instead, we get conditioned to want more, to think we need more more more.
There are natural differences between places, and there’s nothing I can do about that. But there is such an obvious imbalance which makes me feel hypocritical on every Euro I spent on banalities here that could change so much somewhere else. An infinite availability of all the foods one could wish for, and so much that gets thrown away.
I’ve been flooded by these impressions and thoughts in the last days, and am glad to be able to take the time and digest them. What I’m sure is, they’ll lead somewhere I didn’t expect to go – but I’m excited where this will be.
An idea of 2018
Now, upon finishing this article, I sit in a typical pub-like establishment somewhere in Berlin, waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem.
For a while, I was wondering whether going back to Israel again would be the right thing, or whether I’m maybe running away from something, whether I just want to go back to where I was comfortable. But I had learned to listen to my intuition, and it didn’t betray me yet. Instead, I was awarded with a never-ending stream of affirmations that I made the right decision. Just now, I took a wrong turn here in Berlin, and passed a café with a big sign in front of the door reciting its “Jerusalem menu”.
I can’t wait to finally satisfy my need for hummus and Anna’s freshly poured Pale Ale 🙂
And up next? Who knows. This time, I travel light, I travel without time, without destination.
Thanks for tagging along guys. And an even bigger thanks to each and everyone of you who made my year as special as it was. I don’t know where I would be without you.
(Probably anyway somewhere enjoying a cold beer, but you get the point)