Thursday, January 10, 2008


In Search of Secrets
Tonight I found what I came to India for - again, I guess, as I seem to get more and more glimpses of it as the months go past.

Which perhaps raises the question for many of you: "What did Yuri go to India for?"

Well, many things really, but at the moment all that is relevant is to say that I came here to come to a better understanding of myself - in terms of my mind, my heart and soul and, most relevant in this case, my body.

My Thai Yoga Massage course continues in Palolem, South Goa, and is an incredible opportunity to better understand the body and learn to love it more. For someone as uncomfortable with the physical sphere as myself, it is a powerful experience to spend 6 hours of each day manipulating the bodies and vital energies of fellow students - it often calls for touching and manipulating the body in ways that are intimate and personal, demanding openness and trust from masseur and recipient.

Modern Dance
But tonight I had an entirely different experience that I am not sure I can capture beyond saying that I had a conversation of sorts via touch and scent and energy alone.

Christian, a fellow student who is a dancer and actor in "real life," led a few members of our group in a series of exercises used as warm ups by dance troupes he has worked with. We began with "dance games," which involved partners alternatively throwing their body weight to each other, hoisting a fellow student on the back and allowing them to experience briefly the feeling of free flight, and generally letting go of all tension and restraint and TRUSTING the people we were playing with.

Free Form
Then, eyes closed and wrist gently touching wrist, we began to slowly and subtly lead and follow our partners in a sort of free form dance that began as wide arcs and gentle pirouettes, but built slowly - as the power failed and candle light replaced electric glow - to bodies leaning on bodies in a purely instinctual and mutual dance following rhythms of vital energy rather than any tune.

I will never forget this evening or my beautiful and graceful partner. Tears came to my eyes as our slow dance came to an end, and the beauty of the moment overcame me - the depth of the conversation was overwhelming. And profound.

Thank you.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fear On the Road

I want to write today about the fear that we feel when we are traveling. Not because I am afraid or depressed at the moment, but because my blog so far is one of elated discoveries and soul-touching experiences, without a mention of the fear I am certain that all backpackers in the wide and unknown world feel but seldom share.

Thai Yoga Massage
In fact, quite the opposite of fear, I am feeling very good these days. My ankles and knees are in pretty bad shape, and the beach I am on - as I mentioned the other day - is less than idyllic, but I am swimming every day, doing yoga each morning, and spending the bulk of my day learning Thai yoga massage - which is an exhilarating experience that is pushing me out of comfort zones that I think need to be challenged.

Fear and Insecurity
But fear is with you when you are out on the road - and I don't mean the type of fear I felt when confronted with many dark hours on a mountain in Cambodia perched on my dented and dead motorcycle. Rather I mean the shadow over most new countries and towns that you arrive in almost every other week as you work along a coast or across a continental mass.

I bring this up because I think that backpacking, more than many experiences in life, brings you face to face with your weaknesses and your insecurities. Every time you find yourself in a new country or town you begin a process of making a dozen or so important choices, each of which is fraught with peril of a sort - and each of which can arouse feeling of incompetence or insecurity that challenges the image of the savvy and seasoned traveler and generally amiable and interesting individual that you like to believe in yourself and to portray to others.

The challenges that arouse this fear and insecurity include the fact that you have to find a "home" in that town, you have to discover clean but affordable local eateries that fit the budget without endangering your health, you have to face and befriend at least a few amoung the crowd of travelers that are already settled and comfortable, but nameless and faceless to you in your tired and sweaty state. You also face a army of businessmen ranging from rickshaw drivers to lodge owners, all of which know you are new to town are eager to separate you from as many Rupees as possible - a true battle of wits if there ever was one!

Each of these examples leaves you in a situation where it is easy to make a wrong decision that you will regret or even literally pay for - and those wrong decisions are impossible to avoid altogether. When one or two add on top of each other as you fumble around new environs, you can end up regretting your decision to leave the last comfortable little town you new well in order to visit this new place that challenges your ego and leaves you feeling pretty insecure and literally out of place - and there is no friend to turn to for reassurance, just a dingy, loud, smelly room to curl up in and feed on your negativity and the fear of this perceived weakness.

The great thing, however, is that it almost never lasts long. You can change your lodging the next day (I have changed 4 times in the last 5 days on this party-central beach, but am comfortably settled now, try a new restaurant next meal, and meet a friendly face around the next corner.

We are also now blessed and cursed by new technology - I am amazed to see young backpackers touting around notebook PCs, iPods, cameras, portable gaming systems and cell phones amoung the many gizmos in evidence. I myself hit the rod with a digital camera and an iPod, but am now down to one such gadget - my camera.

Add the ubiquitous Internet cafe to this litany of communication devices and toys, and a quick call to a good friend, parents or a sibling for a taste of home and a reminder of who you are is as easy and cheap as a plate of paneer tikka (cottage cheese baked in a tandoor) at the corner eatery.

But the fear remains nonetheless, and in every town and in every situation we stare it down as we confront the unknown and make the best judgments we can. Regret of perceived incompetence and resulting insecurity can only last a short time, as the wonders I write about in most posts quickly eclipse them and the next decisions are coming at you fast - better be on your toes...

At home in real life we are not immune to this situation, but have a lot more padding to insulate us from it. We have the cozy den of our homes to retreat to to escape the need to confront the unknown or uncomfortable, we have a steady job to give us a feeling of stability and competence and we have a community of steady friends and family to encourage and amuse us.

Sometimes the traveler just wants to give up the road and go back to those insulating comforts of home, but thankfully the spirit of adventure and curiosity keeps at least this trekker on the go...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sunsets Over the Beaches

Silent Vigil
Today my daily vigil was rewarded, with that large, shimmering globe of deep orange sinking slowly into the sea where it met the distant horizon - the haze that had swallowed the blazing orb every other day in Goa and in Tiruvannamalai had burned away, leaving a show of nature's glory that left me with a goofy smile of pure pleasure.

Returning from the rocky crags at the distant northern tip of Palolem beach, where I perch each evening to watch the setting sun, I paused a moment in front of my resort, opting to walk straight out into the welcoming sea rather than retreating to the confines of my little bungalow.

Wading into that vast ocean, the amazingly calm water seemed to be a sky in itself, reflecting the deep rose pink of the post-sunset heavens in a grand, sweeping work of art that gently shimmered as soft waves disturbed the glass-like surface.

Looking back towards the beach, the reciprocal was apparent, instead of the fading pastel of the waning day, the inky black surface was a deep and seemingly impenetrable portrait of night.

Yet the water itself still held a hint of the day's tropical sunshine, maintaining a pleasant lukewarm temperature that invited me to straighten my body, tense my muscles and arc forward, cutting the rose-hued surface to allow the salt water to swallow me and then gently support me

Coming back back up to the rapidly cooling early-evening air and the still startling sight of twin skies - one in its rightful place above and one like a watercolor painting below - I swept my wet hair from my eyes and took a deep breathe of satisfaction. Ahhh...

I am currently staying on Palolem beach, in South Goa - the beach-studded province that hosted the Portuguese enclave in India. Apparently the legacy of that colonial period remains in magnificent churches in the heavily Catholic provincial capital, which I plan to explore with my sister when she arrives in India in March.

For now I am camped out on the beach and not even thinking about entering a city if I can help it - I am enjoying my leisure, eating my muesli, fruit and curd every morning and devouring the novel Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, a page turner that I recommend VERY highly for a gripping insight into the underbelly of life in India's teeming cities.

However, I am also slightly haunted here, as I can see the shadows of the beauty that this place must once have presented - the seemingly endless crescent of white sand, with palm trees gracefully bowing over the border between lush tropical jungle and the expanse of fine powder sand sloping down to the whispering, green blue sea.

Now a jungle remains, but one of bars, restaurants and tourist accommodation established "in harmony" with nature - as some palms are allowed to grow through floor and roof of even the most offensive noise-making establishments. The amount of garbage on the beach and piled behind the the hut settlements is heartbreaking - much as it was on the peak of Mt. Arunachalla in Tiruvannamalai and in the soft flow of the sacred Ganges in Varanassi.

Such is man...

Thai Massage
I begin a massage course here on Jan 5, and hope that this will add to the larger purpose of my trip by helping me better appreciate the beauty and function of the human body - my own and those of others - and thus enforce the unity of body and mind that I am ostensibly fostering/strengthening on this trip.

I will try to keep you updated....