Notes from Delphi

Notes from Delphi

Today my 23 year old self would like to say hello to you. I am directly dictating a few of my journal entries from 2004. This step back in time highlights when I traveled into Greece from Italy for the first (and so far, only) time.

July 8 2004 – en route to Delphi

The water is beautiful. It’s that turquoise blue right up to the shore like the water at a Caribbean island edge only creeping up to the mountains of the Sierras instead.

Stefiana has a hypnotic voice. In conjunction with the lullaby like rocking of the bus, I fall asleep. I try to listen and learn and keep my eyes open but I’m not even enjoying it because the whole time I’m trying to pry my eyes open.

I hear her, “Beware of the sea orchards!” As we pull up to the seaside restaurant, I realize she means, “Beware of the sea urchins!”

There’s all these pathways and trails in the water from the movement of the ships and boats. Watching the water mark their journey like footprints in sand.

The waiter reeks of B.O. We’re at a roadside family restaurant where we choose our food from a picture menu. We just dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. Kim’s lotion slipped her feet out of her sandals and now her soles are the red of the earth. This place smells like some sort of pickled fish, like squid or something. It’s not salty and it’s not solely fishy or sweaty, but a little of all.

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To get to Delphi, we travel up a large winding road along the hillside. When we’re almost to the top we look down and there’s a huge valley stretching between the mountains. It’s a dark olive green floor. The valley is composed of a massive olive tree grove.

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Olives must be soaked in salt water for a week, changing the water every couple of days before eating. Too bitter off the tree.

July 9 2004 – Delphi

Delphi, oracle city of Apollo.

Orange dust of walls turns to gold from noon day sun shining on them. Stones falling sounds like laughter.

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View from our hotel room. New part of Delphi

Delphi pulled the city-states together by making them write history in the same language with same religion, becoming one nation, The Greeks. Speaking water of temple gave Castilian girl power to prophesize. When water stopped talking, Ancient Greece ended.

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Ancient Greeks had two sayings left on the door that held their prophecies: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. One for balance and the other knowledge. In a place dedicated to a God, they were telling people not to believe a God controls everything and to believe in rational thought. Apollo and Dionsysus. Two opposites. Two paths. Two ways to balance yourself.

Kim and I are given a choice. Walk up the hill to the theater and temple or down to the museum. We take separate paths. I go up and she goes down.

On the way to the temple, Joe says to me, “Don’t worry, there’s a bar at the top.” These jokes are getting old. *

I am sitting under a tree writing, listening to birds chirping and watching yellow butterflies flit among the greenery. Kim and I pass each other on the road. We both decide to choose each path.

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On the right…the omphalos, the navel of the world. 

These Cypress trees are so strange how they spike out of the vast landscape in no general design or order. Loping hills of olive trees and then a lance of a cypress pointing to the blue sky.

In the museum – Charioteer Bronze Statue from 478 BC of a young boy who just won a chariot race in the Pythian games.

He looks content.

From a little further away, he looks slightly sad. From down the ramp, he looks mad. “Don’t walk away,” he says. “Watch my final lap.”

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*Sidenote: Joe was not making an old man joke. He was a 12-14 year old boy who was making fun of how much Kim and I drank on that trip. We were 23 and everyone else were teachers chaperoning children. Cut us some slack.

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Getting to the Ranthambore National Park felt like entering a ticket line at an amusement park. There was one road that lead through the city and lining the streets were trucks painted in a plethora of colors, bright and festive like carnival stands. Boars wandered through the gutters and cows were parked in front of buildings with yellow bindi marks on their foreheads. The animals served the role of the actors dressed as cartoon characters, wandering through the manufactured streets, waiting for their photo op. 

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We had been picked up in topless jeeps from our hotel and from curving roads, to stops and starts in traffic, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I was only waiting for the giant cobra to rear its head and dive for us on a shaky bridge road. Instead I was headed towards the next best thing: Tiger spotting in the jungle.

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Concession Stands

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As the city passed behind us, the one road turned into a landscape of large boulders, sparse green plains and cracked earth. What kind of jungle was this? We lurched up the hill than dropped down the other side of the mountain, emptying at the entrance to Ranthambore where we paid our entrance fees through our driver and continued to sidle in our jeeps on through to the real show, the jungle itself.

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Entering the park

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Finally the landscape was changing. There was tall green grass, more trees, thickets and bushes. Wild animals started to be spotted. A peacock unfurled it’s tail like a giant blue fan. Spotted deer gamboled through the trees nibbling on grass. Birds flitted in and out of mud puddles. Was this Bambi or the Jungle Book? Where were the tigers we paid to see?

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Our guide, Raj, warned us that on some trips there wasn’t a single tiger spotted. We were in the wild after all. It might feel like an amusement park but amusements were not guaranteed. There was no way that they could ensure that a tiger would be seen, we could only follow drivers hunches and where other guests had spotted something a day or two before. Unlike the Serengeti, this jungle ride was not as sprawling. There wasn’t a large savannah reaching in all directions around us. We had only so many roads to follow.

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We ended up in a line of jeeps, trailing along a river on a dirt road. There was only one path to follow, a track so to speak, and there were signs that this track was the right one.

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Tiger footprint spotted

Suddenly the jeeps ahead started to slow. We stood up and peered over the top of the metal bars, whispering between our two jeeps. What was it? Why are we stopping?

“Tiger,” someone spoke from up front.

The jeeps fanned out in a line so that everyone could get a view. Directly in the middle of the dirt road, a large tiger lounged, taking a nap and stopping all vehicles.

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Any position to get the perfect photo, even straddling between two cars.

We got our cameras out and shot like it was nobodies business. This was big game hunting, the catch of a lifetime. A real Bengal tiger in the wild. The drivers refused to get any closer. This tiger was the biggest one in the park and his name was the Cruel One. Rumors said that he got this name because he was the only tiger to have ever attacked anyone in the park.

Was this story true or just something the drivers told us to make the trip feel dangerous, making our visit special in some way? Was every tiger the Cruel One? I don’t know, but it worked. We gaped at the large beast as it suddenly rolled upwards, yawning in a large circle and stretching its limbs like a lazy house cat.

The Cruel One lumbered up and began to walk down the road. The engines of the jeeps roared to life and slowly we inched closer, keeping the same distance between car and tiger but following him down the path nonetheless.

The tiger moved to the side of the road. He stopped, he turned slightly and squatted over a mound of dirt on the side of the road. The tiger took a dump right in front of us as if saying, this is what I think of you and your jeeps and cameras.

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After a sufficient amount of picture time, the drivers decided that it was time to go. We wouldn’t be able to make our way past the Cruel One so each jeep had to do an intricate reversal and head back out the road we came on. As we made our way out of the jungle, a pilgrim walked through the woods with his belongings balanced on his head. Apparently there was a pilgrimage site dead in the jungle and for religious reasons, those who sought it were allowed to travel freely through the park. The drivers warned the man that a tiger was just down the road but he didn’t seem to care or hesitate. Barefoot, he continued on down the road, making his way to make his blessings.

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On our way out, we made our own blessings. As we idled in the jeep waiting for a herd of spotted deer to move across the road, we reflected on seeing an actual wild tiger. Had this just happened? Was this a hologram? No, this wasn’t an amusement park after all. This was the real thing. A buck with giant horns stared us down. It was time to move on, we were beginning to overstay our welcome.

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We exited the park and on our way out of town, we spotted children on rooftops flying kites. It was like the end of the day at Disneyland where children queue up to watch the fireworks at the end of the night and the characters parade down the road. Only we were the characters, we were the ones being watched as we drove out through the city. We, too, were part of the show. 

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Travel: the Stuff of Dreams

Travel: the Stuff of Dreams

Things always happen when I’m sleeping. I have the opposite of FOMO. I have no fear of missing out, I have complete acceptance, preferring my world of dreams over reality more often than not. After all, in my dreams I’ve danced with dolphins and lived in a glass house at the bottom of the sea with orcas poking their heads around my windows. In my dreams, I’ve seen the eye of the universe open above a cathedral at night, the galaxies unfurling before me, nebulas swirling above pointed steeples. No, I do not do drugs, if you were wondering.

And maybe that’s why I like traveling so much. It is the stuff of dreams. The colors, the smells, the experiences we have never had before. Aren’t the glow worm caves of New Zealand as brilliant as a galaxy above you? Haven’t I dipped my hands into the spray of water from a boat with dolphins gliding at the helm? But this leads us away from our tale, or perhaps towards it.

Because while I was sleeping I missed the male lion. Three days on safari and I thought what more could I see here, what could really pull me away from my dream bed at 6 in the morning? Only the king of the jungle, of course, but I couldn’t have known that then.

It was 2006 and I was traveling with my family and a group of family friends for a volunteer trip to a village outside Nairobi. To welcome us to the country, our group was shuttled off to the Serengeti for a safari adventure.

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Safari! What? Can’t leave without me.

This was a last minute trip for me. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I heard my brother was going with my dad to Kenya and I thought, “Why not me?” I also learned that my dad’s best friend was bringing three of his four children and then I really thought, “Hey, wait a minute! Why am I not invited?” With about a month to go before departure and without being looped into any of the communications, I had finagled a plane ticket and a spot on the trip. No one thought to tell me that we would be stopping in the Netherlands in the middle of winter for a night before heading to the hot climes of Africa and I ended up wandering through the snow of Amsterdam in my sweatpants and sneakers.

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Wearing all the layers. That ladies like…do you belong here?

It was a small price to pay to be seated in an open land cruiser on the Serengeti plains a few days later spotting not one, but practically all five, of the big game animals on safari. It took two days of driving around and singing at the top of our lungs while our driver did circles tracking down all the wild animals, but it was well worth it!

There were cheetahs relaxing in the shade of small trees.

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Baby lions lapping up the blood of a fresh kill.

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Baby elephants trailing after the herd with trunks reaching for elephant tails.

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Hippos lounging in the river and buffaloes grazing in large packs.

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Back the F* up! We’re not playin’

We saw everything, I mean everything, except the pride of the pack, the male lion.

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Migration in process and the elusive rich white male…can you spot him?

And that’s when my mistake was made. I chose sleep over getting up at 6 a.m. for one last try at the King himself. My brother and dad headed out in the morning and there he was, the male beast, a face covered with flies and scars from claws digging across his face at some point in his life. The real thing, not some CGIed representation of a lion, but the actual animal. Sure I got to see the pictures later and I had my share of female lions and their babies the day before (something I was ecstatic to have seen) but I could have been in that car as well if I had just set an alarm.

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Someone’s looking pretty proud.

What is my point here? Wake up. Get out there. Do the thing that may be your one and only chance to do it. You paid to get halfway around the world to see cool shit so go see it. Dreams be damned. Is this a lesson I always remember to follow? No! I like my sleep. Did I get up and go swimming in the ocean while the sun rose over the sea in Thailand? No, I slept. But did I get some nice pictures of that sunrise from my boyfriend? Sure I did!

What’s my secondary point? Listen to your own advice sometimes and do that thing that might feel difficult in the moment but have larger pay off later in life. Go see that sunrise. Go meet that lion. As Nike told me in my youth, “Just do it!”

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From an evolutionary perspective, zebras don’t make sense.

All images either taken by Michael Goode or Kenneth Goode…can’t remember who did which. Thanks guys!

First Impressions

First Impressions

You should know that when I went to India I had to wear a neck brace. Somehow I was so stressed out at the end of the school year that all the vertebrates in my neck were out of joint and had to be popped back in place by a chiropractor a couple of days before I would be taking an 18 hour flight in coach.

 

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I was told my neck was too fragile to not wear a neck brace for at least a few weeks. I diligently followed orders and not only stood out as the only non-Indian women on the flight but also the only one wearing a large collar around her neck. Let’s just say I was a favorite of the children on the flight over, perpetually popping over their seats to peer at me as if I were in a zoo.

 

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The only documented footage of my neck brace, prior to departure.

In Delhi, I was joining a tour for two weeks of travel through Rajasthan. I booked a room at the hotel we would be picked up at a day later, so that I could slightly adjust to jet lag and be presentable when I met everyone. I had decided to only wear the brace at night when I was alone in my room, but prior to the tour starting, I was wearing it whenever I was alone in general.

There was a knock at the door and thinking it was my room service, I opened it. Standing in the hall was a lean, clean cut Indian man. He looked at my face, at the collar and then back at my face.

“Elizabeth?” he asked in a tone that had me wonder if he hoped I wasn’t the Elizabeth he seeked.

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry, I’m Raj. Your tour guide,” he stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I heard you were here early so I thought I would introduce myself. Are you okay?”

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Raj!

“Oh this,” my face flushed red, suddenly very conscious of the fact that I looked like I had just escaped a bad car accident. “Just a small neck issues. No big deal. I won’t be wearing it during the day.”

Raj, my wonderful Intrepid Travel tour guide, went on to tell me the specifics for the start of our tour such as what time to meet and how many people would be traveling together. After a few pleasantries, he left me alone in my room. I thought all was well and good, the experience being over and went back to vegging out.

The next morning, I met the rest of my tour group and Raj proceeded to tell everyone about meeting me the day before while I was wearing a neck brace. I hadn’t intended on everyone knowing about my unsightly accoutrement. I was more embarrassed because I didn’t have any cool story to tell about why I had to wear it other than bad joints. I felt like I should tell them I was rappelling one handed from the side of a canyon or fighting off a tiger in the jungle or lasted a round in a lucha libre match before injuring it, but such was not the case.

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Some of our Intrepid travelers

But I quickly learned there was one great side effect to everyone learning about my injury: they all offered to carry my bag for me the rest of the trip. I became good friends with one guy from Australia and over the course of the two weeks, he made sure to get my luggage on and off the trains for me so that I wouldn’t get re-injured. I learned that sometimes a neck brace isn’t the worst thing to have while traveling.

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Thanks for carrying my bag Rob or I wouldn’t have been able to go camel riding at the end of the trip.

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I share this anecdote with you for one reason…I am about to leave the country for Thailand and I think it is nice to be reminded of first impressions, not only of us to others but of us to the country itself. Our experience doesn’t begin that first moment we walk out our hotel room and greet the day. Our experience of that trip starts from the first moment we put luggage wheels to floor and head out our front door. I could have let that neck injury ruin my whole vacation. I could have let it shadow the whole first week for me, complaining about pain or even choosing not to go, but I didn’t. I let Raj share his first impression of me and I laughed along with the others, and because of that, I met some great friends and injury or not, made my way through the bustling, vibrant country that is India.

My neck got better and I left that neck brace behind in a hotel room in Jaipur to lighten my load. Because that’s what you can do when you travel, you can physically and metaphorically lighten your load, off loading what you don’t need and move on. Stress from your day job, uninformed thoughts about people or a city, one bad day where everything goes wrong, leave it behind. Put it in that hotel room and let the maid clean it up (figuratively of course). Get those luggage wheels rolling again and head out that door and let the next day fill you with impressions, one after another, from first to last.

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By the end, my neck was feeling well enough to be be cramped into this “bed” on an overnight train.

I will not be posting the next few weeks because I will be collecting new impressions for more stories in the future. As this posts, I will just be landing in Bangkok. In the meantime, follow my Instagram account to see live updates of my travels. While I’m out of the country, I hope you go lighten your load as well and get those wheels rolling and travel.

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Pack your bags and go!
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Airplane view of Perú

 

Featured image is an airplane view of Hawaii. You will never see it, if you don’t go.

Hot Springs Time Machine

Hot Springs Time Machine

There was a hair floating in the water. Not just any hair…that type of hair. The kind that is short and black and curly. And it wasn’t alone. To top it off, the water and air wafting about it smelled of egg, rotten egg. We were soaking in the hot springs of Rotorua in New Zealand…and despite what I just mentioned, I loved it. Apparently my mother has told me that I’m not very good at making people want to visit the travel destinations that I write about, I wonder where she gets this idea.

Based on a recent trip to Calistoga, an hour north of my hometown, I’m going to focus my next few posts on all things hot springs and massage, a world tour of relaxation destinations and my awkward experiences with them, so sit back and enjoy as I dip my toe back into this sulfur-infused hot tub of memories.

The year was 2008 and I was on my first and only Contiki tour visiting the north and south islands of New Zealand before I returned home to start my teaching credential program. Contiki Tours claim to fame is that it is only offered to people between the ages of 18-35 but it has a tendency to slant towards the younger end with more people averaging 21 than say 32. I was smack in the middle at 25. It also has a tendency to skew Australian as they are one of the largest demographics to travel with an expendable income and four weeks of vacation travel a year. Contiki also has a fixed method to help people bond swiftly and tightly. The method is mainly alcohol with planned theme-dress parties and reservations made at large bars with high tolerances. They also start each morning with the same song when you get on the bus. This seems obnoxious at first but feels like magic when that song invariably comes on in whichever bar you’re at that night and your entire group of 30-50 people scream out in one mass cheer, “That’s our song!” It’s calculated but it works.

Basically, it didn’t take long for me to have a crew of Australians of somewhat varying ages that I hung with on the reg (I was 25 at the time, let me talk like I’m young and cool). We had most dinners together, planned our extra excursions together and planned to share a room at each hotel that we moved to like we were college roommates on the first day of school. So why not soak in a warm tub full of pubes together too.

When coach touring, almost every day has an excursion planned or a destination that you are moving towards. It is very similar to a cruise ship but on land. Every once in awhile, you are given a chance to explore. Most likely, you will ask your tour guide what you should do and they will give you a suggestion from their list. It is probably a place that they have a partnership with to help that tourist attraction get visitors. Our free day in Rotorua was no exception.

We were off to the Polynesian Spa for a soak in their natural hot springs. We had been at a hāngi the night before and needed to relax after all those “traditional” cocktails and stretched facial muscles from trying to impersonate the warriors pūkana, or facial expressions, which they perform during a haka. Rotorua is part of a volcanic plateau in the North Island and all that volcanic activity makes for a lot of thermal activity. The town is actually known for it’s putrid smell as the gas escapes constantly from the thin layer of crust and there is no avoiding it. Rotorua is also one of the Maori’s original habitats and home to the Te Arawa tribe. All together this makes the city home to a number of different hot spring choices as well as visits to traditional Maori cultural experiences.

At our chosen hot spring, four of us rented a “Deluxe Private Spa” and were ushered down a corridor to our very own numbered door. At first you feel like you are inside any regular resort spa but when the door opens wide you have suddenly stepped through a wardrobe into a different version of Narnia. On the other side of your door is the outside. There is an artificial rock pool but real thermal hot springs water pumped in and on the other side of that rock pool is the real thing, the actual gurgling water escaping from the ground into a large lagoon filled with real rocks and real birds. Our private “room” is separated from other rooms by wood screens on either side but with the back open wide to take in the scenery. It took all my willpower to not hop over the rock ledge and go running after the birds, rubbing the natural mud over my face and chest and performing my own version of a warrior dance.

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Instead, I sat down and stayed in the water and after a short amount of time started to notice what floated around me. How were these natural pools cleaned out? What did private mean when renting a private pool? Was it implied that most people did the nasty when soaking in these tubs? Maybe the pubes were the least of my concerns. Can you get impregnated by a hot tub? These are not the questions one should ask while vacationing. So I didn’t. I sat back, I relaxed. I tried to ignore the smell and take in the view. My new Australian friends and I joked a little and talked about some of the excursions we’d like to do during the rest of the trip. I learned about their histories and our shared interest. Three of us were teachers. I stopped and appreciated the moment. I stopped to smell the sulfur.

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Featured Image from Morguefile user kconnors

Rosé and Cigarettes

Rosé and Cigarettes

Warning: Not to be read by those under 18. Do not do as I do! I mean it, I’m looking at you. Don’t even think about it!

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I made it 30 years without ever smoking a cigarette. I was very proud of this. In high school I would thumb my nose at all the smokers and feel very holier than thou when I announced that I would not smoke, did not smoke, that not one cigarette had touched my lips. In college, I was a loner. I didn’t smoke cigarettes and the only reason to go out into the snow at 7 pm at night in Boulder, CO was to smoke a ciggy and I would not do that, so I was alone.

And then there was Portugal.

Oh Portugal. Europe on the cheap. Who needs the French Riviera when you can have the Algarve Coast?

I was traveling with my work friend Caroline and we needed a well-deserved break from the school year. And what was the best way to relax, by drinking rosé and smoking cigarettes on beaches in Lagos, in parks overlooking orange rooftops in Lisbon, in al fresco restaurants in Cascais.

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Cigarettes were everywhere and I needed them. They went perfectly with sardines and potatoes. They complimented our chilled wine while we were warmed by sun on our shoulders. They circulated why we played card games with Germans and Italians in hostel backyards. I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to. I was a chain-smoking queen.

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I would love to say that this piece has a moral to the tale. That I learned that my lungs were heavy with tar and I couldn’t stop coughing for a week. That I felt my skin getting loose and my breath tarnished with cigarette taste for days. I would be amiss not to think about the death of my grandfather from lung cancer and hang my head in disgust. While all of this is true, that is not this piece.

Instead, cigarettes became a lesson in mindfulness on my Portugal adventure. They slowed me down. They made me appreciate the moment. I could just be. Just sit and experience everything in a heightened sense of awareness of this one particular instance of time. It was now and would always be now and I damn well appreciated it. I was doing nothing other than tasting the Tremoços, peeling their skin off with my teeth.

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I was sucking miniature snails from their tiny little spiral shells, letting condensation run through my fingers as I held a glass of wine in the heat, feeling my legs grow warm as my feet sunk into the sand of yet another beach. Each cigarette kept me locked in that moment, slightly high on the heat, the wine, the heady hit of the tobacco. I was here, in Portugal, enjoying the small pleasures. And what pleasures they were.

 

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In Porto, we wandered into a charcuterie restaurant for dinner then meandered down a cobblestone side street to have one last drink for the night. By the time the drink was over, a band had started playing fadó and suddenly the small room was packed with dancers.

On a wine tour of the Douro River Valley, we were taken to a small boutique port vineyard and were handed apricots straight from the trees. They were the sweetest things I had every tasted until we were ushered into a small house from the 1800s and escorted into the parlor where skinless plums shaped into balls were waiting for us. I thought I would never stop eating those plums. But then I had the bread, with the cheese or the olive oil, it didn’t matter, both were delicious especially paired with the ports that varied from white to a deep blushing red.

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In Albufeira, we sat by the ocean and ate large chunks of fish from a stew called caldeirada. The briny broth trickled down our chins and we laughed as the waiter tried to translate all the different seafood we would be eating in our stew.

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I had my first taste of pastéis de nata with a coffee by the seaside port of Lagos. I had avoided it for days but the yellow egg custard pastry was surprisingly refreshing after a night of drinking and for the rest of the trip I would make sure I got one every day.

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This is specifically Pastéis de Belem

After a long afternoon of walking the Alfama, we stopped at a nondescript restaurant and had grilled octopus in a butter and lemon sauce before making our way back up the hill to the Bairro Alto for drinks at Pharmacia while the sun set and waiters brought blankets over to warm our bare legs.

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Outside at night in the beach town of Cascais, I accompanied a Brazilian guitarist at our hostel with Sublime covers. My favorite phrase to say was “Caracois in Cascais” after a local Portuguese man boiled up some snails and had us eat them for the first time. And through all of this, we were accompanied by cigarettes and a summer rosé.

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Would I do it again, just as I did then? Yes. Do I allow myself to smoke cigarettes now? No. They are not the same. I don’t know if it was the Portuguese tobacco or just that summer, but I never get quite the same feeling anymore. It’s not worth it. Could I have enjoyed the small pleasures without them? Probably. But at least for now, I can say I truly had the European experience.

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How uncomfortable do I look holding that thing?

 

Rather than a book suggestion this week, I offer up a movie for your perusal, Coffee and Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch.

Don’t F*ck with Monkeys

Don’t F*ck with Monkeys

Warning: Profane language

If there is one travel lesson you can learn from me, let it be this: Don’t fuck with monkeys! Simple and straight to the point. Don’t. Fuck. With. Monkeys! My brother has never learned this lesson…but then again, his dream in life was to grow up to be a Fishy Big One. Translation: an Orca whale. His plan to get there: Eat lots of fish food. He was five, cut him some slack. But either way, my brother has always thought he was an amateur Steve Irwin in training. His camera just one click shy of bringing him into communion with Mother Nature.

Oh, Michael.

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

I get it. They’re cute. They remind you of Curious George and you imagine yourself the imperialist in the yellow hat ready to snatch one home. They’re relatively small and covered in hair like your pet dog. But they can eat your face off if they want to and there’s nothing stopping them from trying.

I’ve been around a monkey or two in my time. There were the cute capuchins of Friends fame (#marcelthemonkey) in the mangroves of Costa Rica that looked like little old men waiting to give you a biscuit.

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Then there was the vervet monkeys of the Serengeti that snatched bananas and any other stray food from our lunches when we climbed from the vans for a snack while on safari.

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© Michael Goode

There were the “pet”Bonnet Macaques we fed scraps to outside the tea plantation in Coonoor.

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There was even the fearsome gaze of monkeys that lurked around villages in Rajasthan, slowly ambling alongside us as if daring us to cross some imaginary line where they would be allowed to attack. All these experiences have taught me one thing. Say it with me:

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I’m watching you.

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

My brother hadn’t learned it yet. We were in Sri Lanka visiting another holy sight, one of many on our two day drive through the Golden Triangle. We did not know that we were going to have a welcoming party. Over a hundred grey langur monkeys dotted the entrance to the holy stupa in Anuradhapura and scattered themselves like land mines along the path. There was no going around them and no avoiding them. The best thing we could do was tiptoe around them and let them do their thing, maybe taking a photo or two. The plan worked. We made it to the stupa, looked around, saw some prayer flags, contemplated whether or not the Buddha actually sat under this tree or not and headed out again. The plan back was the same. Avoid the monkeys as best you can and make for the car.

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Or this was the plan at least, until my brother forgot the number one rule. Say it again:

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

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He might look cute here… ©Michael Goode
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But think again. He’s ready to bite your motherfucking face off.  ©Michael Goode

My brother crept up to a pair of adolescents to get a few shots of the two interacting. As he got closer he realized one was holding onto a long stick. What did my brother think in this moment? If you said, “Don’t fuck with monkeys!” you would be wrong. If you said this to yourself in the same situation, you would be right, as long as you turned around and walked away. He did neither. My brother thought that the monkey might be brandishing the stick in a gesture of friendship, like an olive branch, and he slowly reached out towards it like E.T. pointing that shiny finger home. The monkey wasn’t having it.

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You want a picture of me touching my friend’s balls? Who do you think you are? Come back here! I was talking to you! COME BACK HERE! ©Michael Goode

The monkey jumped up on his hind legs, whipping that stick around like a lance and took off after my brother. I had already cleared a good distance between myself and the monkey as I remembered the number one rule and our original plan of action so I didn’t realize what was happening until I heard a loud yelp behind me, turned around and saw my brother running off down the path Roadrunner-style, only instead of a coyote he had a small monkey with a stick in his hand on his heels.

Luckily for my brother, after a quick 40 yard dash, the monkey got tired, or realized he wasn’t worth the trouble and sauntered off back to his clan of teenage monkey hoodlums, leaving my brother catching his breath and clutching his heart.

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At night, I imagine them lighting barrel fires and having initiation ceremonies. “Let’s see who can toss this trash can the farthest.”

“Did you see that? That monkey attacked me.” Was it an attack or did my brother just forget the number one rule? Don’t fuck with monkeys!

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Cats are okay Michael, stick to petting cats.

Let’s give a big thanks to Michael for his share of the monkey photos and for being a good sport.

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Our book suggestion this week: Curious George of course.