Thursday, April 5, 2012

For What It's Worth...

Time for another blog entry.  Time to record my memories and experiences so that I can live vicariously through myself in the future, when time is measured by bingo nights.  Ever the sucker for epicness and to give myself motivation to write this, I've convinced myself that every word written is a victory against death.

This blog will be formatted mostly in the 'report and tell' style, so there is a good chance it'll be dull, poorly written, and will contain inside jokes... with myself (just finished writing it... way too long... oh well).  Plus, despite possessing a perturbed stomach, some skin shedding shoulder blades, and some aching and shaking legs, I currently feel euphoric about my adventures.  Thus, this blog will most likely be overdramatic and overly sentimental.  I apologize in advance to the few who decide to brave this write up.

I've been There and Back Again.  For the past eleven days (March 15th-25th), I have been backpacking throughout Central America with two of the most intelligent, sincere, and legit people that I know, Brandon Lee and Christopher Gong. 

A quick background on my travel companions...

Brandon Lee:  Triple majored at ASU in Psychology, History, and Religious Studies and graduated with a 4.0.  Perfect G.R.E. score, created his own A.C.T. Tutoring business, and is also fluent in Spanish and acted as our translator this trip.  Baller.

Christopher Gong:  Jiu-Jitsu master, business consultant for Deloitte, makes bank, travels the globe (currently resides in San Fran), speaks Mandarin, the most articulate person I've ever met, and the definition of a renaissance man.  Baller.
From left to right:  Brandon, Christopher, Me

I was privileged to be in the select company of these two good men.

"He who would travel happily must travel light".  We decided to take Exupery's advice.  We each brought a school size backpack stuffed with our possessions to last us for those ten days.  Forgive our grubbiness in the photos.

Day 1:  Lonely Night Beach, Wrestling, SPRING BREAK 2012 CANCUN YEAH BROPARTYY!!

On Thursday we flew into Cancun, Mexico.  We met up with Chris and headed towards the coast.  After putting our stuff in a hostel, we took a bus out to the beach.

Arriving after dark, the beach was beautiful and lonely.  It stretched out for a mile in either direction without any buildings or people to be seen.

The oceans waves rhythmically crashed against the soft sand. The Caribbean breeze gently caressed my cheek and softly sifted through my unkempt hair.  The stars were the most memorable.  They were magnificent and shone with a brightness and clarity not possible in an urban area.  Sitting alone with my companions in a foreign land, gazing notstagically into the dark horizon, framed with celestial spheres in the skies and their dreamy reflections upon the otherwise black and empty surface of the ocean, it felt unreal. The twinkling stars served as a wistful anchor to reality.  

The setting reminded me of a quote from a role model of mine, the late great astronomer Carl Sagan:

"Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open out under the sky. Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars. There were practical calendar reasons of course, but there was more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars.  When it happens to me after all these years, it still takes my breath away".

Part of me felt like I was on an alien world.  I wondered, as I gazed up at an unusually bright Jupiter and the consistently luminous Venus, what Earth must look like from another planet.  My thoughts again went to a video I watched called a Pale Blue Dot.  I strongly recommend watching this.  The way I felt sitting there on the beach was aptly summed up by the expression on the two cowboys faces at the end of the video as they gaze out at the beautiful sunset.

  “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. 

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” 

/end musings for the blog

After walking down the beach a bit, observing some inappropriate behavior, getting destroyed by Chris in wrestling, and checking out Spring Break 2012 in Cancun, we ended Day 1 and went back to the hostel.

Day 2:  Beach

Most beautiful beach I've ever been too.  It was shocking to see what it looked like in the day.

Grabbed some Pina Coladas and watched the sun slowly descend.

Spent the day at the beach and walking around the local market.  Also, the game of Chess made it's first appearance.  Although I had never really played much Chess, Chris and Brandon were two experts and played the first of many epic matches.

We boarded our first night bus and headed south down the Yucatan towards Belize.  A little note: the bus was almost canceled because it's A/C broke.  They fixed it.  This was bitter sweet however, because they in turn as if to make good use of it, blasted it on maximum the whole night. :/   I only brought a backpack of clothes... and even with almost every article of clothing layered on me that night on the bus, I, along with everyone else, froze and barely got any sleep.

Day 3:  Cave Tubing, Sunsets, and Philosophizing

We arrived in Belize City early in the morning.  Successfully avoided scamming attempts.  Met some Norwegian travelers.  Befriended a local named Leo who showed us around.  Our main event of the day was traveling to the tropical rainforest in Central Belize.

We went hiking through the jungle with a tube, and then proceeded to tube through a small river that ran through caves and the tropical forest.  The caves we tubed through used to be very important in Mayan culture.  Journeying through the caves was thought of as venturing down into the underworld for the Mayans.
The beginning of our tubing adventure

Brandon and Chris with our legit guide

In the Mayan Underworld

Exiting the Cave

Looking back from whence we came

Afterwards, we headed back to Belize City, stopping by the Belize Zoo on the way.  We boarded a small ferry in the harbor and then began a 45 minute boat ride to the island of Cay Caulker.  Speeding along over the Caribbean waters, we observed a sunset that was so majestic, so aesthetically pleasing, that it actually startled me from my peaceful reverie caused by the boat ride and made the heart strings begin to vibrate.
Boat ride to Cay Caulker

Upon arriving on the serene island of Cay Caulker, we treated ourselves to our first real meal of our adventure at a local small restaurant called Habeneros.  We then put our stuff in a hostel had its own small harbor that connected it with the Pacific waters.  Although it was relatively late, we went out and walked along the quiet dirt streets of Cay Caulker and wandered our way out onto a bench on a dock.


Again we looked up at the night sky.  We may have been in a different country than the previous night, but the same familiar stars greeted our gazes.
As silly as it may be, I came to look at them as fellow travel companions.  I looked at them with appreciative and friendly eyes.  As if to say, "it's good to see you guys again.  I see you guys are still both glorious and luminescent".

Chris, Brandon, and I had an amazing conversation out there alone on the dock, as the small island slept.  I was once again reminded at how lucky I am to have such noble, intelligent, and passionate people as friends.

One topic we broached is discussed in this video... highly recommend watching this too! :)

Day 4:  Snorkeling and Scouting

We woke up early, found a local with a sailboat, and then embarked with a few others towards the Belizean Reef.  Brandon unfortunately had to go back to Belize City to get his flight situation out of Guatemala figured out (long story).

Cay Caulker in the day

Another awesome experience.  As we were out in the ocean, a storm blew in and it began to pelt us with huge, cold, rain drops.
We had three stops where we jumped off and snorkeled.  The best by far was the second.  There were a ton of sting rays and nurse sharks.  I managed to grab a six foot long nurse shark by the tail and hold onto it for a few seconds.  A guy with an underwater camera got it on video... hopefully he sends it soon and I can update the blog when I get it.  I swearrrr it happened.


Shark infested waters

Me shaking Stingray's hand

Me and Chris corralling the behemoth of all sting rays.

When we got home, we ate, met up with Brandon, and then grabbed the hostel canoe and paddled out into the ocean.  Once again, we were under the night sky.  We weren't too smart about how far we went out... we didn't factor in a strong current that was pulling us out to sea.  We made it back though, and began to catch stuff.  We used our light to draw fish to the surface and catch them.  We also speared some crabs with our paddles and pulled in some jelly fish while we were at it.  Brought us three boy scouts back to the glory days.
Getting ready to set out to sea at night

One of crabs we speared with our paddle...awhyeah

SO sunburned.  Couldn't put shirt back on.  Had dinner with Australian friend and German friend who went snorkeling with us.  They'd been traveling for 9 months on one backpack...  We felt like sissies.

After getting off the canoe, Chris and I went to small local reggae club with some of the people from our hostels and befriended some Swedish friends.  It didn't smell too great in their, as you can imagine, so we left fairly early and went back to our hostel and slept.

Day 5:  Travel Day

Woke up, made our way to Belize City, got on a bus to take us to the island of Flores, Guatemala.  Walked around the island, hit the sack at our hostel early because we had to wake up at 4:00 am to go to Tikal and check out the Mayan ruins.

Hostels are awesome.  If you ever want to travel cheap and light, you need to stay in a hostel.  Like-minded people from around the world stay here, and the most entertaining and thought provoking discussions take place.  Want to know what it's like living as a high school student in Australia?  Go ask the pair of Aussie's in the corner.  Want to learn about immunology?  Go ask the pair of John Hopkins graduate students at the table.  How beautiful are the Alps?  Go ask the Swiss female on the other bunk.

Pictures of Hostel in Cay Caulker:

Outside of Hostel (it was called Belize Backpackers)

Backyard in Cay Caulker

My bed is bottom bunk

In my experience, everyone is friendly and interesting and interested in your conversations.  I met some awesome people on this trip.  This likely would not have happened had I been living the life of luxury and staying in hotels.

Day 6:  Tikal, Howler Monkeys, Bball

After waking up early, we took a bus over to Tikal, the largest of the Mayan ruins.  Our bus ride, began in the dark, took us deep into the dense Guatemalan jungle.  Howler monkeys and a heavy fog greeted us upon our arrival as the sun emerged on the horizon.

Tikal was sick.
Look familiar?  StarWars:  A New Hope.  Epic Nerd Chills

Around 2:00 we headed back to our hostel in Flores.  We spent the afternoon talking to people in the hostel and swimming in the lake surrounding the island.

At the top of the island, which is geographically shaped like a hill, there was a basketball court.  Brandon and I were able to play a pick up game against some Germans and some of the local Guatemalans.  We even had a small crowd of people from the island begin to congregate and watch us.  I, as well as the crowd from the sound of it, enjoyed every minute of it.  Brandon, jokingly, started to chant "USA! USA!" and got some looks from people.  Besides that, everyone had a blast.

Speaking of Brandon, he served his Mormon mission in Guatemala and the second he entered the country he said it felt like coming home.  He was an amazing translator and I'm sure saved us tons of money in thwarted scam attempts.

After basketball, we each grabbed our backpacks and departed Flores at 9:00 p.m. and boarded our night bus that took us on our 10 hour bus ride to Guatemala city.

Day 7:  Antigua and Lake Atitlan

From Guatemala City, we quickly departed to Antigua (Guatemala City is one of the most dangerous cities in the western hemisphere).  On this bus ride we befriended a couple of graduate students from John Hopkins University named Nick and Olivia.  We spent the afternoon walking around Antigua, discussing and philosophizing.

In the afternoon we got onto a van that took us to Lake Atitlan, where we met a couple more friends who used to work for the United Nations and now work for the World Bank.  Once we got to Atitlan, we had dinner with everyone.

First, let me describe Lake Atitlan and the surrounding area.  It is part of the Guatemalan highlands, formed from a massive volcanic eruption.  It took us a few hours of windy and highly inclined roads to get there.  It is centered around a huge, pristine, mountain lake that has taken residence in the volcanic basin on the ancient explosion.  On all sides, the lake is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (one of which we hike the next morning) as well as minor Mayan villages.  As we rounded our last corner and the pristine mountain lake made it's first appearance, the view was enough to take our breaths away.

Volcano we hiked the next day in the background

View from our lakeside hostel

We had dinner in a cheap place near the lake and then, for 3$ a night, stayed in a hostel that was water front.  We hit the sack early knowing we had to again wake up at 4:30 a.m. to begin our ascent of the 10,000 foot San Pedro Volcano that overlooked the lake and surrounding area.

Day 8:  Hiking, Clouds and Market

Waking up at 4:30, we began our ascent of the volcano.  It took us about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get to the top... it was a pretty steep incline.  We managed to have some fun along the way, mixed with beautiful scenery.  Ascending through a dense jungle canopy and breaking through the cloud line is an experience I won't forget.

Hiking photos:
Halfway Mark


We made it back around early afternoon and then laid out in the hammocks by the lake, basking in the glimmering sunlight and breathing in the cool pristine mountain air.  On and off we played some chess on Brandon's iPad.  Mostly, we just sat gazing up towards the sky, watching the clouds pass on by.  Something about our adventure always had us looking up.

It was fitting to have an afternoon off after such a fast paced and physically/mentally demanding trip, especially after finishing our strenuous hike.

Later in the evening we took a tuk-tuk to the village market.  Besides having delicious chocolate dipped banana for 1 quetzal (15 cents), they also had a basketball court.  Brandon bet one of the kids 1 quetzal that he couldn't steal the ball from me.  We had our fun.  I won't say he's the next Steve Nash... but he was one of the most tenacious kids I've ever met.  It reminded me a lot of India.

What's the deal with the chicken statue?

He walked away one quetzal richer.

We ended up going to a local bar/hang out and watching a live performance and socializing with fellow travelers.  It was a good way to go out before we began our journey back to Guatemala City.

Einstein passing the torch to Chris

Day 9:  Wanderers, Traveling

Woke up as the morning sun inched its way above the mountain peaks.  Walked out in the Lake and washed off.  I'm not sure I've ever felt more in harmony with the natural order of things.  To go back to the Sagan theme, "We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still".  I feel connected to the world when I am traveling.  I learned what I can live without.  I learned what I needed to live with.

We made our way across Atitlan to another village and then boarded another shuttle/van and headed back towards Guatemala City.  After a brief stop in Antigua, we arrived at our hostel in G.C.

You could say we enjoyed our last night away from our homes.

Day 10:  Flew home.

This trip was a well needed respite from the gray and repetitive life all of us had been living.  All three of us are currently at some diverging cross road in our lives.  Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken", seems to aptly discuss the issue.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We understood that Frost wasn't promoting one road over another... just that it had made all the ambiguous difference.  This trip allowed all of us to dip our toes into the pool of uncertainty.  The water was warm and inviting.

Above all, this trip reconfirmed the belief of mine that their really are no rules to this life.

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. 
There's no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.
We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.
I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of...
and if you find that you're not, 
I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stranded in Paris

Well, the title pretty much says it all.  After a few hours of waiting around the airport, we were told the flight was canceled due to maintenance problems.

I told myself I wouldn't blog again till I got back home.  You aren't assigned free time in Paris and I wanted to take advantage of every moment possible to see this beautiful city.  However, fate has thrown it's second punch at me this trip amid so many graces (the first being my cold), and as such, I've decided to take advantage of my newly given free time and reminisce about my experiences, since India, while they are still fresh in my mind.  I'll try to focus on unique events and not just the standard 'I saw the Eiffel Tower... then I saw Notre Dame... you get the picture.  We did see those for the record.

Paris was also a better chance to test ourselves.  While India was definitely a more dangerous country, we were almost always with the Rising Star Organization.  We didn't have to do much independent thinking or exploring.  In Paris, Nels and I were on our own.  We had to brave whatever challenges came our way together, without any outside assistance.

Last Saturday, Nelson and I departed from India.  I had the whole spectrum of feelings regarding my departure.  I was sad to leave the kids... I was ecstatic to use a western toilet and shower... I would miss doing such unique but purposeful service work.... I couldn't wait to escape the drowning humidity, etc...

When our taxi driver showed up, we were stunned to discover that our man Dominique who originally brought us to the hotel from the airport again was our driver.  If you didn't read about Dominique, see my previous blog entry.   I was surprised to find that he really wasn't a bad driver at all.  Well, at least compared to his Indian counterparts.  I just formed such a poor opinion of his driving skills because he was my first experience with the driving in India.

'Way lead onto way', and pretty soon Me and Nelson were at our lay over in Frankfurt, Germany.  We had a few hours to kill... so of course we had to get the German experience.  We took a taxi around town for a couple of hours, checked out the local iron man race, and relaxed and appreciated the cool climate of Germany on the banks of the Mein River.  Germany is such a beautiful country, and I'm not just saying that because we had been in the Indian country and it's climate for so long.

We stumbled across this awesome fountain while meandering through Frankfurt

Went out on a limb and decided to spice up the poses on the bank of the Mein

Feeling like a million bucks after rediscovering civilization. 

On the plane ride over we met Clement.  He was a 22 year old Frenchman who had spent the last three years living 'the good life' over in the States and Canada.  Although his breath smelled profusely of alcohol and his eyes were glazed over, he actually spoke some pretty coherent English.  Hilarious accent though.  He told Nels and I "Paris is the TRUE land of the free!  You can smoke, you can drink, you can fight cops!  That's freedom!".  Apparently it is pretty hard to get busted for assaulting a cop in France.... perhaps this is intentional because of the aftermath of the French Revolution?

He also told us not to take the taxi we planned on riding in to get to our hotel.  He said "They will take you!"  He instead instructed us to take the train.  "It's free!", he says.
"Are you sure it's free Clement?"
Yah, yah! Well you have to "*insert whistling noise with funny hand gestures* but ya it's free!"

Apparently many of the locals are quite skilled in the art of parkouring over the barriers at the train station and metro.  Nels and I are now also quite familiar with this process.  We really got the hang of these metros by the end of the trip.  A note of caution- look on the other side before you acrobat over the barrier.  You never know when a security guard and his MASSIVE Mastiff will be awaiting to greet you.

A video of some local talent.  He's crazy.

Anyways, our first day there, we went on a Segway tour of Paris.  It was soooo sick!  I highly recommend riding a segway.

Our first solid glimpse of the Eiffel Tower

The next day we toured all throughout Paris.  There were two main highlights of our day.

First, the Arc De Triumph.  The Arc is amazing.  There is a beautiful view of Paris from the top.  It is surrounded by the largest round-about in Europe, and it is noted for how hectic it is.  So, naturally, I thought it would be the best time to put my video game skills to the test and play real life frogger.

The view from on top of the Arc De Triumph.  Figured it was about time to put these long arms to use so I attempted the self portrait technique.

A video of Nelson and I initial Frogger level.  I have actual footage of going back over... but you'll have to ask me in person about that if you want to see it....

The other highlight was ascending the Eiffel Tower and being at the very top during the light show and sunset.  Nels and I have a pretty solid bromance going on... but it would definitely be a place to visit and a thing to do with 'the girl of your dreams'.  As evidenced by the many couples making out up there, it wasn't an original idea of mine.

Kickin it with Nels on the first level of the Eiffel Tower

Three of the nights were spent either up the Eiffel Tower or on the surrounding benches to watch the crazy light show that begins at 10:00 p.m.  The tower has thousands of flashes flicker across its body for about five minutes.

For my own later recollection: we also went to the top of Montparnasse Tower, walked down the Champs Elysees, and visited the big Parisian cemetery.

The next two mornings Nelson and I went for two early morning jogs through the massive garden/park of Luxembourg.  I'm so glad we did it.  The weather is beautiful in the early morning and because Paris is a night city, the roads and grounds were empty.

We went to the Catacombs.  So fun but creepy.

We also saw some other standard sights but I won't bog down the already long blog with extra details.

The last day we lucked out big time.  We decided we wanted to go on the Versailles bike tour at the last moment.  We made our way through the tangled web of metro tunnels and then scrambled throughout the roads of Paris with a laptop in my hand for directions, trying to find our way to the tour office.  We stumbled in right before they left.  They normally only do reservations... but today two people had shown up, found out how long they had to bike, and then decided not to go.  It almost seemed to good to be true.  Nelson and I decided that we would take advantage of our good fortune and go.

Versailles is amazing.  The grounds are so beautiful.  The Grand Canal is massive.  I swam in it.

Wait... hold up.  You swam in it?

Yes sir.  Nelson and I had a wave of spontaneity run through us and decided that we most likely will only get see Versailles once... might as well make the best of it.  We separated ourselves from the group, stripped down, and jumped in.

Shout out to our tour guide who took the initiative and sifted through my clothes to find my camera.

Our adventure in the Grand Canal almost made the biggest palace in the world take a side seat.  Almost.

The cousins with some new found friends from the tour.  The golden Egyptian is actually a French mime who would put the Buckingham Palace guards to shame.

Our last night we watched the sun go down from the top of Montmartre while we wined and dined on some excellent French food.  We also visited the church up there.  These cathedrals and churches in Paris are absolutely jaw dropping.  You can't help but be lost in some type of reverie as you walk throughout those beautiful buildings.  They really give you a feeling of awe and wonder.

Some closing thoughts:
My experiences with India and then Paris provided a real life juxtaposition oof the human existence.  To go from the desolate poverty of India to the extravagant churches in Paris was definitely a shock.  The people in India were, as a whole, much kinder and happier than the people in Paris.  In fact, the people in Paris are the most unpleasant lot I've ever encountered.  There is a chance that I am just saying this because my pride was wounded many times by the insufferable glares and snide remarks tossed at me by these Parisians.  Or maybe because I am directly comparing them with the Indian people who are the kindest and happiest people I have met.  Either way, this is further evidence in my mind of the discrepancy between happiness and wealth.

To finish- the rest is history.  We wake up early and go to the airport.  Our flight gets canceled.  Now, they pent us up in a close hotel room.  I'm bummed because I am not going to be able to make my tournament in Anaheim on time.  Hopefully good fortune smiles on us and we make it back to the States.


Friday, July 22, 2011

"The Road Goes Ever on and on..."

This is my last blog while in India!  I'd like to give out a shout out to those checking out my experiences from the MLG forums, especially Malibu.  I'll see most of you guys in a week at MLG Anaheim!  If you are just checking out my blog I strongly suggest you go back to the first post to understand what the heck is going on.

I have to apologize in advance for what you will read... I am physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  My illness topped with physical labor, early mornings, and heart wrenching good bye's with the children make for a poor mental state to write.  So bare with me please.

Before I conclude my India experiences, I will first elaborate quickly on my last day doing construction in the leprosy colonies.  For the most part, it was more of the same construction work.  Filling in holes, moving rocks, playing in the dirt.

First septic tank we worked on today

Some group teamwork on #2.

Even the North American native turkeys made a brief appearance in the colony.

Couple things that were different:

First, it was the same colony that we had medical the day before.  As such, I bumped into a number of people whose feet I had washed and they all were especially friendly.  It seemed like I was an accepted member of the community.

I get a kick out of all their glasses.

Just kicking it with the crew.  A few of these guys were there yesterday.  Where is the poker chips when you need them?

Second, we got to see the local snake charmer playing with a cobra... and then getting bit.  Luckily, he drinks the venom everyday so his body is used to it.

 It's sizing me up.

Proof of the guys bite.  That's nuts.  Literally that snake bite can stop a heart in an hour.  He just was used to the venom because he drinks it.

While construction was fun, the most memorable part about this day was family time at night.  We had to say goodbye to the children and it was really, really sad.

Every other week these children are introduced to new volunteer faces, knowing full well that they will 'abandon' them after their session is over.  Personally, if I were them, I would become caustic towards volunteers, refusing to become attached instinctively because I would be tired of saying so many depressing good byes.  Yet, despite knowing the future departure of the volunteers, these children still keep their hearts open and allow themselves to become attached.

Two of the children began to cry as I said my good bye's.  Goku particularly affected me.  He was my sparring partner.  He looked down and refused to meet my gaze as I hugged him and said farewell.  He brought me a piece of paper, and mumbling, asked me to write my email so he could write me.  He said he won't have any more fun pillow fights now.  He asked me if we'd see each other again.  I wanted to reply "what does your heart tell you" but I can only pawn off so many cheesy star wars quotes and keep my dignity.  Instead, as I walked out of the room I said, "I hope so.  Goodbye, Cana Puna".

Me and Goku.  On a side note, I'm wearing a lungi.

I asked Joseph Stalin if he had anything to say to the people back home.

I will miss India.  

If one wishes to be happy here, one must quickly adopt 'Indian eyes'.  It would be only too easy to only pay attention to the rancid smell or the trash that blankets the land and makes all of India a landfill.  To only pay attention to the sweltering heating, the sweat provoking humidity, and the dangerous animals that demand one maintain constant vigilance with their foot placement.

But if one looks deeper and puts on the bifocals of the Indian people, a whole new world is opened up.  A world where the most impoverished people are also the most happy people.  A world where the ancient cultures and religions do not just exist in societal interactions but within the very hearts and souls of the individuals.  A world where strangers are regarded as brothers and treated as honored guests.

I know, as evidenced to me by the short time it took for me to become spoiled again after staying in that comfortable hotel in Agro, that I will lose my Indian eyes shortly after departing the country.  After the first couple nights spent relaxing in a comfortable bed it will again become commonplace.  After the initial joy of using a western toilet I'll quickly become habituated to such a luxury.  As Dostovesky says, "Man gets used to everything- the scoundrel!".

So did this whole adventure go to waste?  Am I destined to return to my state of being that I described in my initial post, where I KNOW I am lucky for my lifestyle, yet I don't FEEL that I am...?

When I was younger, I struggled sleeping.  My mind would race and I just couldn't drift off.  I asked my Father, "Dad, how come you can sleep so well?  Wherever we are you always fall asleep before me!".  He then told me "Well Son, it's because one night, when I was a boy scout doing a Winter campout, I nearly froze to death and rolled around all night unable to sleep.  Whenever I am having a hard time going to sleep, I remember how miserable I was that night.  Then whatever problem is keeping me awake instantly vanishes because it can't compare to that night and I fall asleep."

As Barrie says, "God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December".  Or rather vice versa, 'God gave us memories so that we might remember the freezing blizzards so we can appreciate the warmth of the radiant sunshine'.

Because I have the memories of my experiences here in India, I hopefully will be able to put on short term Indian eyes to allow me to FEEL how lucky I am whenever I am feeling ungrateful.

To add to this point, I just finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo again, and on the last page Edmond says "There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another..."

This journey has helped me better compare the two.

While I'll miss the country, climate, and culture of India, I will miss the people much more.  From the energy filled and loving children to the disease ravaged but happily optimistic 'leprosy affected' individuals, all have found a special place in my heart.  I will miss how much the children in India loved to hug and be close to me.  I will also miss the beaming toothless grin that the leprosy patients would bestow upon us volunteers during the medical and construction days.

I am confident that no poker face could withstand the smile given off by these individuals.  You have to smile in return.  It's truly instinctive.

Look at that smile she has on her face and tell me you could stonewall that...

One thing I love about these traveling adventures is that it forces you to have first hand encounters with the world.  The world, the way it is, not as you have imagined it.  

It compels you to grapple with the limitless kindness and the bottomless cruelty of humankind, and realize that perhaps you are capable of both.  It changes you.

Well, enough of that.  I could go on for a long time about how incredible these experiences were to me.  Luckily, they won't be the last, both in the immediate and in the distant future.  I head straight from India to explore Paris with my cousin for a few days, then I depart to MLG Anaheim.  I am going to be one jet lagged gamer.  I'll keep a less up to date blog about those experiences as well.

The journey won't stop there though.  As Bilbo says, 

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

I look forward to a life of adventures, wherever they may take me.