Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Getting on with my life



Today a year ago was the day I got on a plane to Colombia. It is quite strange to see how many things have changed in the pastime. Now I do more sports than I could have ever imagined and I am quite confident with (almost) everything happening right now in my life. A year earlier... not so much. In this one year we had two weddings and one newborn in my family, another wedding and another newborn within my friends. I got to know great people, I learned how to overcome that typical central-European grumpiness, I moved into a new flat with a great flat mate, I got a fulltime-job, I learned to be more grateful for the little things (and the big things as well) and I started to change things that always annoyed me about myself and I am doing quite good! 


I could probably say I have finally moved on from my “reversed culture shock”. If you are suffering from it right now and looking for a cure, I better tell you right now: there is none. I read that you normally suffer from it for as long as you have been abroad, which were about six months for me, and I can confirm that it really takes that long and you better just wait until it goes away. And you better occupy yourself through that time because else you get cabin fever. But you can use the time for doing something useful, like getting to know yourself better and what you really want from life. That worked quite well for me.


I also read many articles that stated that many things, like doing sports or writing about your experiences, help by dealing with reverse culture shock. I did all of it, but I can’t really say it helped in any way. Sure, successfully hiking on a mountain does release endorphins that make you feel better, but I guess partying every weekend has the same effect. So you choose.


So, as you might have guessed, coming back wasn’t always easy, I was quite suffering sometimes. It was sooo cold, I had no short-time-goals in life, nothing to plan (which is quite a horror for me), and no money – which was probably good, because else I would have just left again to travel somewhere else, but still, life is just easier when money is available. I often sat at home in my bed and thought “What am I doing with my life?” Working helped – a lot. I was finally occupied again, outside of my own flat – it was driving me crazy to sit around at home – and I had money again.


 And I was so content with being back and living in Austria. I thought that now after my big trip the wanderlust will wear off because now it is more important to establish a steady life. What a stupid idea. It’s just so boring. It worked as long as I had something to plan, some project to work on, which was in this case moving into another shared flat, but now that my room is furnished, decorated and everything, I am longing to travel again and discover somewhere new. How could I think I would survive for so long without planning my next trip? So, Austria is great, it really is, but there is so much more in life that I won’t be missing out.


From other articles I read that many people had problems getting back into their circle of friends or that they suddenly couldn’t get along with some people anymore. I thought that’s quite strange because for me it was more like the opposite. I started contacting people I haven’t heard of for a long time because I was curious and it was always worth the effort! Also, my friends have been and still are great. They supported me (but not too much so I wouldn’t get too comfortable) and as always, were always there when I needed someone to do fun stuff (who wouldn’t?). They were all happy to hear about my stories and totally accepted that I might have another perspective now that I have experienced different things than them.


Now the next step, besides planning my next big trip that will go to Brazil and Argentina, will be finishing my studies. It is actually quite strange that I haven’t finished it yet, because my life has always been straightforward, this is actually the first time I take more time for my studies, and while I really enjoy this time now, I had to shut up my conscience that likes to remind me “you could have been finished by now”. I have always completed everything in minimum duration; now it’s okay when I take this time for myself and nothing to feel bad about. No worries – I will finish it. Soon! And if I ever feel demotivated in my new job, I can just look at pictures from IguaƧu Waterfalls (that’s where I want to go) and I am sure my motivation will boost again. It feels good when life finally has a direction again.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Coming back

It has been about two months now since I returned to Austria and even if I suspected it to be hard, it kind of surprised me how strange I sometimes feel being back. For example when I first arrived at my flat in Graz, while I enjoyed sleeping in my own bed again it felt so odd to actually stay there and live there. It took me some days to feel content living in Graz again.

And then there was this moment when I was walking home from a friend who invited me at her flat for having dinner, drinking cocktails and playing games. It was a great night and I walked home late, like I did many times before going to Colombia, normally without a second thought because Graz is really safe, nothing ever happens here. But just after more or less 3 minutes my mind was on high alert because oh my god I am walking outside in a city at night, that's dangerous! I started nervously searching for my phone and unlocking it, just in case something happened I could immediately call somebody. I only relaxed a bit after observing the other people on the street walking along carelessly as if nothing bad could ever happen in this world - like I always did before as well.


The hardest part is just getting back into my life I had before I went to Colombia. The truth is, I just.. can't do it. I gained some new perspectives on life and I refuse to continue my life as if nothing changed. And it's really challenging to find out what to adapt so I am content with my life again.

Don't get me wrong, I am content being here in Austria again, but only as long as I can do what I choose to do, which is normally not what I am supposed to do.  Like some weeks ago, I went on holiday with two friends in the "Salzkammergut", a part of Upper Austria with lots of mountains and lakes and stunning views and it was so great just to enjoy living in such a beautiful country. But then there are those obligations like writing my master thesis - which means contacting people I didn't really want to contact before going abroad and therefore continuing the life I kind of paused when I went abroad.


I know I have to make some changes but I have no idea where to start and what would make me happy while still offering me the opportunity to lead an independent life, therefore with enough income to finance my expenses. And because I am quite out of plans, I kind of continue with the original plan to finish my master thesis and my studies and look for a job but I am definitely not committed to that goal. Maybe finding a job will help me get some direction into my life again. It's like before I just lived to go abroad someday and now that I reached that goal I don't know where to go now.

When I came back, I didn't even remember most of the stuff I own because I mentally left them in the part of my life that I considered to be over. Unfortunately it was not over at all and at some point I had to look for various things I needed again, like my savings book or my certificates - I did really well in hiding them from myself. And then there was SO MUCH stuff. I didn't remember for example that I had that many clothes. And bags. And shoes. I mean, seriously, who needs all that clothing? For half a year, my at the utmost ten shirts and five pants were enough. And now I have probably five times that amount - and I already sorted out the things I really don't need.


And my mind always divides in "before" and "after". I guess the experience was kind of disruptive. And, basically I am the same for sure, but it really annoys me when people automatically assume that I am doing everything just the same as I did before. That's exactly how you fall back in old patterns. Because I really don't want to discuss every small thing I changed about my habits. Yes, now I do like to take pictures of stuff to send it to my friends abroad. Yes, it might be strange for those who are opposed to that lifestyle, like I was before, but it just makes sense for me now. No, I don't want to go to concerts, I'd rather save my money for traveling. No, I really can't stand people complaining about the public transport in Austria. Our public transport is perfectly fine, and probably better than 90 % of public transport all over the world. If you don't believe me, try it somewhere else. No, I don't want to tell you "if you don't like Austria, just leave", I just think your complaining doesn't make any sense and is blocking your way to happiness. And by listening to you, it's blocking mine as well and no, I won't accept that.

Austrians are such strange people. Always thinking that somebody else hid their key to happiness. And never realizing that happiness is in the simple things. Like the person you love, friends, family, living in the country you love, pursuing personal goals, making other people smile. Just realize it, a better working public transport (however that might look like) will never make you happy, it might only take away a topic to complain about, which will be quickly replaced by another. It's your attitude that's the problem. And no, by saying the public transport in Colombia is worse than in Austria, I do not mean I didn't like it in Colombia, I really loved it there - because in the big picture such stuff just doesn't matter.


For example, I totally miss the friendly people everywhere just talking to you on the street or in a shop or anywhere, having a short chat and then going on with your life. It makes your day a little brighter and doesn't take much of your precious time. But people here don't seem to appreciate it even if you try. And then there's the problem that I really want to go out and find me some kind of adventure, but I have to sit at home and write my thesis - that's really really boring. But then, money does not grow on trees and I really need to finish my studies. Furthermore I want to go traveling again and to do so I need to continue following my plans. It's just so.. boring. Maybe I am just not used to such a monotonous life anymore.


Despite all that, I am more content with my life than I have ever been (besides my time in Colombia) and I am not really thinking about going back, and the reason may be that it was just never really a possibility because I always knew that now, without the other exchange students, it won't be the same. I learned to appreciate what I have, like my friends and family, my bed, the food, even clothes I didn't remember when I came back. I try to smile at people that are somehow crossing my path, like the cashier at a shop or the bus driver or just somebody I talk to for some reason. I try to get out on sunny days and do sports because it feels great being able to reach something without much of an effort.

Now I just, somehow, miraculously, need to get up and actually do my stuff so I can continue with my life. However I am going to do that... My brother had a good way of overcoming his "afterwards-restlessness" by finding himself a girl to marry, which gave him a new goal in life and put several things into a new perspective. Unfortunately that won't work for me because I am not the marry-a-year-after-meeting kind of girl. Any tips for getting on with my life?  How to implement some action into my boring should-be routine? Maybe I need a new target in life. But what could that be? I am out of plans, and that doesn't happen very often. Actually it generally doesn't happen at all. So where do I start? Or maybe I just continue making collages of my photos from abroad and talking to my friends from abroad and remembering the moments abroad and thinking about how beautiful this life is. Well, it really is. As long as nobody asks me what I have accomplished recently.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Caribbean Coast



Before and after the trip to the Ciudad Perdida we spent quite a while on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia and it was a really great time. First we went to Palomino, because everybody told me it is just sooo beautiful there with endless beaches and the perfect place to relax.


We really did enjoy it and the beach seemed to go on forever - it was just one street in Palomino connecting the main street with the beach, therefore 5 minutes each direction from that street there was just nothing. People told me that at some point you can just camp anywhere because nobody cares and very little people will go that far.


The only downside was that there were some hostels and nothing more, you had to walk back to the main street 20 minutes to get to the next store, and you couldn't swim in the sea for the strong currents which was really a pity. Once I even fell and got my leg bloody because of the sand. But for just relaxing it was great, sitting on the beach, listening to the waves and maybe reading a book.


After the Ciudad Perdida, we went to Taganga because a girl we met told us we will like it there. Taganga was really different from Palomino, it was a bight with a small city built around the beach, everyday some street musicians played in the evening, it had a promenade to walk down and buy stuff and lots of restaurants. Also, it was really close to the Parque Tayrona which we really wanted to visit. On this picture you can see Coxi, my travel companion, who decided to start a new life in Taganga.


Tayrona is a national park and one of the Jewels of Colombia. The beaches are perfect - just as you would imagine them on the caribbean coast anywhere. The water is turquise and you can only reach the beaches by walking an hour, which makes them mostly untouched and keeps the crowds away. You can stay there and camp but we only took one day there because after the Ciudad Perdida we didn't want to go into the wilderness again so soon.


Our last stop on the coast was Cartagena, the city with the most beautiful historic center I have seen here, that seemed to be more European, maybe spanish or portoguese, than South American. Almost every house had a different colour and all the balconies made it look so beautiful, just next to the sea. Also it was once a castle, therefore there was a fortress next to it protecting the inner city. They say the fortress was never taken from enemies.


Then we had to travel onward to the pacific coast, which was quite a pity because there was still so much to see in the Caribbean where we couldn't make it. Irina already plans to come back someday and visit all the other places, and I would like to go to Panama or Nicaragua or something, to see some more aspects of the Caribbean. No wonder everybody speaks of it, it is just so great!


Friday, 15 July 2016

Ciudad Perdida



When Irina arrived we planned our trip together. I made some suggestions on what would be nice to see and what we could do and she decided. So, somehow, when we got to speak to some people that all told us how great the trip to the Ciudad Perdida was, she decided she wanted to do that as well.


The Ciudad Perdida, which means "Lost City", was an ancient city of the indigenous Taironas and it's located far into the mountains, 23 km from the next village that can be reached by car and even farther from the main road. Therefore, to get there, we had to walk. In total, it was a hike of four days - that's how we ended up on a four day hike through the jungle in the caribbean heat.


It was exhausting. Really, really exhausting. I read in my travel guide that people not used to hiking can do it - which is true, but they would probably really suffer. Mostly because of the heat. We didn't really walk far, it was about 23 km in one direction and the same way back, and we started at 100m and reached the Ciudad Perdida at 1200m, so it wasn't even that high up for a 4 day hike, but unfortunately we didn't just go straight up.


It was more like 500m up, 200m down, another 500m up and down again, then up again, then partly down again and in the end up a stairway with more than 1000 steps to the lost city. And by steps I mean wet narrow stones that can't really be compared to real steps, just as the way was sometimes really slippery and steep so it really took some time to walk it all.



We started at noon, walking 4 hours, the second day 3 1/2 in the morning and 3 1/2 h in the afternoon, the third day we went up to the Ciudad Perdida and discovered it and spent in total about 4h there, in the afternoon we went back about 3 hours, and on the last day we walked about 7h straight back to the starting point.


We were lucky with the weather because while most of the way trees held back the sun, on the first and the last day we had to walk directly in the sun. On the first day, it started raining as soon as we started, which was refreshing until the whole way down turned into a huge mudslide. I was sooo happy for my walking stick to support me there, because else I have no idea how I would have gotten down the mountain again. And on the last day it was cloudy and only got sunny when we almost reached the starting point again.


Unfortunately, the rain also meant that all our clothes were wet and while we were able to hang them out in the night, they felt even wetter in the morning, therefore we weren't quite successful. Also, we had to cross a river 4 times (and by crossing I mean getting out of your shoes and walking straight through the water) so there was no way to wear dry socks, they just got wet again anyway.


Also, at each camp we stopped (for eating or sleeping) there was a "natural pool" that was actually just a part of the river accessible so you can go in - with still quite strong current and really freezing water, just how you imagine mountain rivers. But it was really hot outside, so we still went in which meant for me to just walk on in my wet bikini (my shirt would have gotten wet afterwards anyway from sweating).


After some time Irina realized that she will never ever complain again about anything because after some time everything just has this ugly smell and is probably muddy and maybe you can't even lock the toilets. And somebody in the camp is probably snoring. But if you are exhausted enough it probably doesn't matter.


I can say that I really didn't sleep well, because we had to get up at 5:30 which quite stressed me and while I was exhausted, I was not tired in the evening and so when I finally fell asleep in the night I woke up many times. I even had this one night after but then I could finally sleep.



Another thing I discovered was that I really need lots of time to wake up in the morning. Like when we started walking, I felt exhausted just after 10 minutes, and we didn't even start walking up yet. The only thing that helped me was Cola, which I found quite annoying because I really didn't want to buy Cola from some indigenous people in the middle of the jungle (yes, they do sell it everywhere).


It was quite funny that many times I thought "i don't want go up anymore" or "I really want to take a break" but never "I can't go up" or "I have to take a break". It was like everything just depends on the right motivation. Sometimes I just needed some distraction and I was fit again. And I never ever thought that at some point I would run up a mountain. But it was on the way back and it was just like "the faster I am up there, the faster I can relax in the camp".


The hike was organized in groups, there are six tour operators and our operator had 7 people, all from Europe. To tell the truth, we were quite a good group, while the guys always ran ahead, we were not that far behind and in the evenings we played card games until the insects that were attracted by the light got too freaky or the beer was gone.


Our guide told us a lot about the indigenous people living there. They have a quite different culture, like the shaman picks who you are to marry, he decides which way your life will go when you are older and people bury their dead under their houses. Also, somehow they managed to loose their city. I have no idea how they did that, probably because they don't have script.


We were told that grave robbers found the city and almost destroyed it when getting all the gold out. When it was restored, there were sometimes tourists visiting it, until in about the year 2000 some people got kidnapped by the guerilla. Then suddenly it got popular and the government had to get rid of the paramilitares and the guerilla in the area, and make the villagers stop planting Coca, which they did by getting them regular incomes by tourism. Therefore now it is safe.


It was really a marvellous experience and I am totally glad we did it, but I do have this theory that it even gets so great because it's really difficult to get there. And because it really isn't that touristic. I really hope they keep it that way, just reachable by hiking, because it really gives the trip this special flair of having seen the hidden jewel of Colombia.


Sunday, 3 July 2016

Barichara


After Villa de Leyva, we spent a day as well in Barichara, a city often used for spanish movies or telenovelas and exactly as you would imagine any southamerican town! With those beautiful white houses with red roofs and cobblestones on the road, decorated with colourful flowers, you could only enjoy every single street to walk on.



Situated in the mountains next to a canyon of some river, we also had a really beautiful view over the area. From here we had the opportunity to do some short two-hour-hike to the next village on a path that was said to have been already used by the indigenous Guane people, but the trail was restored with stones that sometimes even contain fossils. You might remember, we are still in the same area than the last post where fossils can be found.



But we didn't just see dead animals, we could also watch lots of living animals as well. Like huge birds that we think to be eagles and lots of butterflies. But when just looking down one viewpoint we suddenly also discovered other animals we didn't know. If anybody knows what animal that is, please tell me. We are still guessing but we aren't even sure whether it's a pig, a guinea pig or just a huge rat.



From here, we took the nightbus to Santa Marta at the caribbean coast, so the next time I will be writing, it will be about the Caribbean! Since Irina got kind of sick, we are mostly relaxing and absorbing all the heat to gather all our energy for doing a multi-day hike into the rainforest. It's a little strange to be not just dependend on your own health but we are still doing well and I am already looking forward to write about our hike we can hopefully do soon!



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Villa de Leyva


It has been already five days ago that Irina joined me for backpacking through Colombia. First we had a day in Bogota, where I have already been. But to tell the truth, Bogota is not so special. The best things to see are the museum of gold and the graffitis but else you are better off in smaller towns of Colombia. That's why we headed to Villa de Leyva next.



Villa de Leyva is exactly as someone would imagine a colonial town. All buildings were white, the doors and windows colourful and the town itself quite small, you could walk from one end to the other in half an hour. Especially popular is the huge main plaza in the middle of town, I don't exactly know why but they had a nice restaurant with great spanish live music.


What we didn't know when we came here was that very long time ago this part of Colombia used to be a part of the sea, which was the reason why nowadays lots of fossils can be found around the town and there are lots of archeological and paleonthological museums as well that show ancient fossils and informations about the topic. The most popular was definitely the sceleton of some kind of sea saurier that was just sooo huge!



It belonged to some kind of nightmare-penguin, telling from the looks they reconstructed. But then, there is no way to tell it was really black and white, so maybe it was more like a nightmare-crocodile. Nevertheless I wouldn't want to meet it in the ocean. But just the thought that they found sea fossils in the mountains on 2000m is quite stunning. And the surrounding nature was really beautiful as well.


Monday, 27 June 2016

On the road


 It has been some time since I wrote the last post and the reason was, to tell the truth, that I was quite tired from traveling. So many impressions were still to be processed, and after Quito the main plan was to get to Bogota in time to pick up my friend at the airport, so the things I saw inbetween felt more like occupational therapy, even if they were beautiful, and less like the kind of adventure I am seeking when traveling. I did visit Otavalo with many lakes and waterfalls in the surrounding area, the Santuario de las Layas in Ipiales and Popayan which is also known as the white city.


At some point, at an 8-hour-bustrip through the mountains, when I just ate one piece of bread the whole day and felt like starving, I really started questioning why am I doing all this. What I mean is, I actually pay money for going out, not knowing where to sleep next night, where to eat the next meal which might lead to experiencing the worst hunger in a long time, for sitting in uncomfortable busses, sleeping in uncomfortable beds with lots of background noise, carrying the heaviest backpack you can imagine and having your arms ache everytime after you have to pick it up. For experiencing one of the worst sunburns and the worst muscle aches in your life, feeling like your legs are about to give in while climbing up a mountain higher than you have ever been, meeting dangerous animals in the wild, having to deal with the trouble of missing your flight, losing or breaking your stuff you really grew fond of, feeling your lips rip painfully from the dry climate on the mountains. For having sand everywhere in your stuff, needing to shower cold even while freezing because hot water is not available, eating things you really don't want to eat just because you are hungry, having to puke on the boat, feeling sick a whole busride because of the bad shape of the street, missing your dearest ones, sleeping in the same room with one of the animals you fear the most (which would be a big hairy spider for me) and in general having to deal with problems you never needed to face before.


I could go on endless with the list of downsides of traveling. So the question is: Why are there so many travelers that actually still enjoy traveling? Isn't that somehow crazy? And obviously I am one of those crazy people, because I am already looking forward to continue traveling with my friend that I am picking up from the airport in Bogota tomorrow!


I guess the answer is different for everyone, but for me one big part is the feeling of accomplishment. When getting into a difficult situation and managing to get out of it easily makes me feel proud of the solution, content with myself and happy with the accomplishment. This goes as far as when it gets too easy, I start looking for challenges. Like when I arrived at Quilotoa Laguna, the bus dropped me off almost at the top of the lagoon, so I could go there, take my pictures and be gone within half an hour if I had wanted to. But this was just too easy. So, to tell the truth, I had really no choice about going down to the seashore even if I knew it would be a hard climb up again. Because I always feel like I have to earn the right to tell "I was there".


Second, of course, are the amazing experiences one can make when abandoning his comfort zone. Like the one time I had to get over my fear of crabs to watch the penguin diving for food - totally worth it! And if you just get over yourself and start talking you might meet really great people, of if you just try to eat something new, you might be surprised how great it might taste. This is one of the reasons I abandoned my travel guide and started doing just what people recommended me to do. Especially in a culture where people are so open about getting in contact with you, you would be stupid not to profit from it. And if you don't take some new paths sometimes you will always be bored and won't feel like accomplishing anything which takes me back to what I already wrote above. Really, one of my greatest fears is to end up rotting at home.


And of course, if you keep your eye open, you will find the most stunning views you would have never imagined to experience. This is especially important for me because I am really a visual kind of person, therefore almost nothing gives me more joy than something great I can look at (the smell is quite important for me as well). For some reason, especially seeing water somehow beautifully arranged, like on a waterfall or at a nice lake is one of the most beautiful things I can imagine and when I am tired I just need some view of water to get some new energy.


In the end. traveling makes you feel like understanding the world better. It gives you perspective on your own troubles that mostly are really not that important. I mean okay I might be hungry today but the old lady on the street is probably hungry every day. And my arms might hurt from carrying my stuff, but there are people that have no stuff. So, another positive aspect is getting grateful for really simple things. I still don't know how I will be able to keep it up when back in Austria, but I do think it would be healthy for everybody to experience such a trip at least once in their life just to be more grateful and less embittered of the world. And for my really bad hunger on the busride when my stomach already felt like digesting itself, it got resolved by some street sellers that sold me potato chips on the next busstop - probably the potato chips I was most grateful for in my whole life.