Yearly Archives: 2013

Life is short. Go now.

Life is surreal sometimes, and we never know what might happen. It’s been six years since I witnessed my friend get run over by a car right in front of her house just a few hours before I left to travel New England in the fall.  It was October 2011, and yet it feels like yesterday.

Tonight [or more accurately last night since it is now well past 3a] I saw a friend of mine get hit by a car. She was pronounced dead about an hour after after it happened.  To be fair, we weren’t best friends, but we did have a fair amount of classes together at Clemson, and I have studied at her house quite a bit so not only did I know her, I knew her husband and kids too.  Tricia was a non-trad student–like me, but she was tons more outgoing that I will ever be.  Tricia had one goal for her education–and that was to become a physician.  She didn’t waiver.  She didn’t have any doubts.  She knew that she would go to Clemson, then go to medical school, and then be an Emergency Department physician.  I was always impressed by that.  I always have doubts of whether I should go to medical school or not, whether I should go to nursing school or not–what exactly my career path should be.  I have doubts about whether to get married or not.  Tricia married Warren right out of high school, and never thought twice about it.   I question constantly whether I ever want to get married, and sometimes whether I even want to be in a relationship.

Is it harder to be here one minute and gone the next?  Or is it harder to suffer for  awhile and then just pass into the next beyond?  Tricia was older than me, but not by that much, and the way she died was a freak accident.. One minute she was here, and then JUST LIKE THAT, she was gone–hit by a car while trying to help a neighbor’s dog who had been hit by a different car.  I know the details; I have worked in an ER.  This wasn’t the first time I have had brain tissue on my hands, but it was the first time I’ve held brains of a friend.  She wasn’t alone when she died; she had the love of her life beside her.

I stopped by her house after work to drop off MCAT books.  I was planning to stay only a few minutes;  I’m leaving for vacation later today.  But Tricia wanted to show me her new kitchen, so I went in and looked around.  It was nice.  I was there when there was a knock on the door.  I was there when Tricia put on her shoes to go look at the injured dog.  I was there when Warren went to the neighbor’s house to tell them their dog had been hit by a car.  I was standing in their driveway when I heard the car’s engine rev up.  I was still standing  there when I heard a thud.  The rest of what happened was in slow motion.

The car kept going. I ran to Tricia. Warren screamed. She was still alive when I got to her but her head was split open.  I tried to stop the bleeding.  Eventually an ambulance came.  Warren went with her.  I went home…blood [and brains] still on my hands and scrubs.

When you see someone you know have their life snuffed out in front of you, it leaves a permanent mark. Because sometimes people have an affect on your life….even if you aren’t particularly aware of it at the time.

So…to Tricia…you are in a better place.  I know you wanted to be here to live your dream of becoming a physician, of seeing your daughter go to prom and graduate high school…to see your son graduate from Clemson…to grow old with your husband.  Your family will miss you.  Your friends will miss you, but you have inspired many people to follow their dreams.  I am one of those people.  Rest in peace, Tricia, my friend.

Some links:

http://www.independentmail.com/news/2011/oct/01/woman-killed-car-driver-charged/  from the local Anderson paper

http://www.wyff4.com/news/29359594/detail.html  from the local TV station

from her husband’s Facebook page October 1, 2011:

As I look around the house tonight, I see her in everything that surrounds me. The way she painted the walls, the decorations, the smells and my two awesome kids that have her personality. I miss her so very much.
Here is the story, the other night we were just sitting watching tv and catching up with a friend, when we here a knock at the front door. It is a lady that asks if our dog is out because someone just hit one. I get my shoes on and so does Tricia. Sure enough the neighbors’ dog has been hit and is lying in the ditch, dying. I go to check the neighbors’ door, but no one is home. I turn around and head back to the dog, by the time I get half way across the lawn, I hear a motor revving and then a thump. Someone has just hit my darling Tricia. I run to her and cradle her in my arms, all the while screaming for help and for someone to call an ambulance. In my eyes she is still as beautiful as the day I meet her. I tell her I love her and I am here for her. I think she can hear me so I continue to tell her to hang on and I love her. The ambulance takes her to the hospital where she passes away. Life will never be the same.

The 24 year old girl who hit her is arrested for felony DUI and Manslaughter, but is already out on bail of $10,000 tonight.

We’ve all heard the saying “Life is short.” And, sometimes, it is.

But life is also unpredictable.

Even though we all probably have dreams and goals and plans for our lives, there are certain things we have no control over.

Our lives could be going along on right on track, only to be shattered by something we could never have seen coming.

A tornado that rips through a neighborhood. A flood that devastates a city.  And these are just the unpredictable things nature can bring about. There are also accidents, health problems, financial woes…

Life is too fleeting and changeable to take for granted.

I know where I would like my life to be headed in the coming months and years. But there are no guarantees that things will go as planned. In fact, more likely than not, nothing will go as planned.

How often do we hear others say, “Oh, I’ll travel when I retire,” “I’ll travel when the kids are grown,” “I’ll travel when the house is paid off”? I hear these excuses all the time. But you know what happens? Age. And stress. And, well, life.

Life happens, and by the time you retire and your kids are grown and your house is paid off, you might have bad knees and weak lungs and you simply can’t visit all those places you dreamed about in your youth.

How sad. I don’t want to end up like that, holding on to youthful travel dreams that will never be reality.  

So I travel now, in whatever way and to whatever place I can. I scrimp and I save and I make it happen. I volunteer.  I get grants. I grasp at every opportunity and unique adventure. 

I travel with reckless abandon — often to the detriment of my wallet, but to the benefit of my soul.

Is this wise? Probably not, especially if you’re a long-term traveler. But, for someone like me who tends to take shorter trips to distant places, I attack travel with a no-holds-barred attitude.

Unique experiences–If I think they are worth it, then I will not hesitate to shell out for them . Sure, I’d like to think I’ll be back to Ireland or Italy or Argentina someday. But what if I never make it back? 

These days you can’t climb Chichen Itza like you could the first time I went there.

 

I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, and this includes travel regrets.

I know not everyone shares this philosophy, though. Many travelers stick to a strict budget so they can travel for as long as possible. Others simply don’t want to pay for anything beyond the necessities.

Why would you come literally halfway around the world to hoard your money?  Would you go to China and not visit the Great Wall because it costs money? Would you go to Italy and skip visiting the Vatican because it requires an admission ticket?

vatican-stairs

There are so many worthwhile experiences to be had in the world — and yes, many of them require money. But it’s my travel philosophy that you shouldn’t deny yourself any of these experiences just because they come with a price-tag.

If you are privileged enough to be able to afford to travel, then you should attack it with curiosity and vigor and a sense of adventure. And to hell with the bank account.

So travel now. Make memories. And enjoy your life.  Because you never know if a car will mow you down in front of your house.

At the end of the day, I’d rather die with a million memories than a million dollars.

Money won’t comfort me on my deathbed, but knowing that I lived a full and fulfilling life might.

meow meow

Whatever your dreams are, follow them… because you never know what might happen…

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

The case for traveling and the counterpoint

I am only passionate about a few things:  traveling definitely makes the shortlist, but just because I love it doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its faults. As with many other things in life, there are ups and downs when it comes to traveling.

Escapism.

South Carolina is awesome, but there are no beaches like this near my home.

At is simplest, travel allows you to escape. Whether it’s from a bad relationship [been there, done that one, or maybe no relationship at all],  job you hate, or simply a boring, sedentary life [also done that], sometimes you feel like you just need to get away. Travel is the perfect form of escapism – far better than reading a book or watching a movie – because it actually means you get to leave your current situation. You can trade in whatever is making you unhappy for something different, even if it’s just for a little while. A change of scenery is sometimes just what you need to get over boredom or the blues, and being far removed from a problem or stressor often allows you to look at it through new eyes.

Travel is a learning experience.

Before visiting Prague, I never knew St. Wencelces was the patron saint of the city. I only knew him as the good king in the Christmas song.

Seeing other parts of the world and immersing yourself in foreign cultures opens up completely new avenues of discovery. Travel in itself can be educational, and can it open your eyes in ways you never thought possible. Through travel, you can become more aware – both of yourself, and the larger world around you. A traveler has the unique ability to be a citizen of not only his/her own country, but also of the world.

Ability for self-discovery and reinvention. 

I took my very first yoga class on a beach in Ecuador. I followed it up by taking regular yoga classes on the beach in Peru. I’m still not great at it, but it’s something I probably never would have tried at home.

When you are out on the road meeting new people and opening yourself up to new experiences, you may find that you are also slowly reinventing yourself. Or perhaps letting the self you would like to be finally emerge. Travel can be liberating in many ways, but especially when it comes to self-discovery. Being thrown into a foreign culture [or even into a not-so-foreign culture] without all the comforts of home can be challenging, but it’s often those truly tough, personal challenges that will help you grow as an independent individual.

Opportunity for adventure and spontaneity. 

Travel can open up so many doors and provide for so many adventures, both planned and spontaneous. If you are in the mood to make a lasting memory [and really, who isn’t?], get out and see the world. Let life happen, both to you and around you, and just go with it. Who knows where it could lead?

It can be affordable.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a millionaire or have a large trust fund in order to travel. Saving a little here and there can go a long way over time. Being a deal hunter and staying in hostels can pay off. And, if you choose destinations where the cost of living is low, a little can go a long way. For example, a month of your U.S. salary could easily last you two, three, maybe even four months in Southeast Asia or parts of Central America. Basically, if you really have the desire to travel, then you can make it happen.

Cons

Escapism. 

Yes, travel allows you to escape. But sometimes escaping can take the form of running away. Whether it’s that bad breakup or loss of a job, sometimes you just want to leave it all behind and do something crazy, like move 10,000 miles away for a while. [I’ve done this so I am not judging]  But if you truly run away and never look back or never confront the initial problem that sent you fleeing, travel may do more harm than good. Escaping a bad situation is fine, but hiding behind the guise of travel in order to avoid dealing with that bad situation is not quite as advisable. Eventually, you have to face your demons.  They will come find you.

Being homesick.

Even if you are not close to your family, it’s likely you will still feel some semblance of homesickness at some point during your travels. Maybe you miss your significant other. Maybe you miss a sibling or cousin. Hell, maybe you really miss your cat.[I inquired about mine more often than the well beings of other humans] Being away from home can be stimulating and wonderful, but it’s not unnatural to fall into a funk every now and then when you pine for “home.” The good news is that the world has gotten a lot smaller with things like Skype, Facebook and e-mail making it  incredibly easy to keep in touch [should you feel the desire.]

Yep, when I call home, I am asking about my boy.

Missing family milestones/emergencies back home.

Maybe your best friend gets engaged, or has a baby. Maybe a friend or relative dies.  You’d love to be there for all of these important milestones and tragedies; you want to be able to offer your love and support in person, and not through a computer screen or telephone signal. But, it’s likely to happen if you’re traveling for any length of time. Life at home will go on without you, and it’s one thing you just have to come to terms with.  I had friends get married, have babies, and had relatives die all while I was out of the country.  I may not have been there at the moment, but I was when I got back, and I am now.  True friends will understand.

It can be costly. 

Just as travel can be affordable, it can also be extremely expensive. Many European countries [hello, Sweden and England, I am talking to you], as well as Australia and New Zealand,  have incredibly high costs of living. If you’re dead-set on staying in any of these places for any length of time, for example, that $10,000 you saved up over the past two years  isn’t going to get you very far. The same goes for hard-to-reach destinations like Antarctica and Easter Island. If you’re dreaming of the ultimate budget travel adventure, you may have to edit your list and cut many places -– like the South Pole–out.

The addictive-ness of travel.

They don’t call it the “travel bug” for nothing. Once it bites, it can infect you with an insatiable desire to travel that never really goes away. Once is often never enough, as evidenced by the scores of travelers out there who are on the road indefinitely. Especially if you’re prone to becoming addicted to things that give you a good high, don’t expect one trip to ever be the end of it. This can easily turn into an incurable sense of restlessness that no amount of movement can satisfy.

With any great adventure or endeavor in life, there are going to be risks, and there are going to be sacrifices.

Some people might put “the dangers of travel” on the cons list, but, really, just getting in your car and driving to work each day is dangerous. Sure, there are risks to travel, especially long-term travel. But life itself is a risk.

The sacrifices, though, are real, and do exist when it comes to travel.

But if I have to sacrifice some family time to better understand myself, I think it’s worth it. If I have to substitute one destination for another because of finances, then I’ll do it. And, honestly, travel is just about the best thing a person could become addicted to, as far as I’m concerned.

If traveling could mean that I’ll never want to stop… well, that’s another post for another day.

Chichen Itza

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. Occasionally I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan region of Mexico not too far from the Gulf.  It was a major economic and political power from 600 to 1000 A.D. Chichen  Itza is a mix of many of Maya and (Central Mexican) Toltec styles; who influenced whom? so much of pre-Columbian history is still being debated.  But I’ll do my best to summarize.

The Castillo (or castle in English) is the monument that most people think of when they think of Chichén Itzá. It is mostly Toltec construction, and it probably dates to the period of the first combination of cultures in the 9th century AD at Chichén. El Castillo is centrally located on the south edge of the Great Plaza. The pyramid is 30 meters high and 55 meters on a side, and it was built with nine succeeding platforms with four staircases. The staircases have balustrades with carved feathered serpents, the open-jawed head at the foot and the rattle held high at the top. The last remodel of this monument included one of the fanciest jaguar thrones known from such sites, with red paint and jade insets for eyes and spots on the coat, and flaked chert fangs. The principal stairway and entrance is on the north side, and the central sanctuary is surrounded by a gallery with the main portico.

Kukulkan, or feathered serpent, is the name of a Maya snake deity that also serves to designate historical persons. The cult of Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl was the first Mesoamerican religion to transcend the old Classic Period linguistic and ethnic divisions and facilitated communication and peaceful trade among peoples of many different social and ethnic backgrounds. Although the cult was originally centered in the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, it spread as far as the Guatemalan highlands so you’ll see this guy as far south as Tikal.

The Mayans loved sport and were quite serious about the games played. They built huge ball courts to contest these matches. It’s often said that the captain of the losing team would offer his head as payment for losing while the captain of the winning team would be allowed to ascend directly into heaven. The Great Ball court of Chichen Itza is 225 feet wide and 545 feet long overall. It has no top, no discontinuity between the walls and is totally open to the blue sky. Each end has a raised to the temple area.
One of the mysteries of Chichen Itza, is the acoustic dynamics of the great ball court. A whisper from end can be heard clearly enough at the other end 500 feet far away and through the length and breath of the court. The sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day and also night. To this day, no one has been able to figure why or how the Mayans achieved this feat.

The goal was to get a ball through this ring. The rings are about 25 feet off of the ground.

The particular sport is not like any one sport being contested today. It has elements of soccer, but the ball used is much more like a weighted basketball. Of the hundreds of images of the game, very few show that the ball was touched with the hands, so archaeologists have deduced that the ball could not be caught. The ball itself was a little larger than a basketball and was made of solid rubber, so it was quite heavy. Players wore protective padding around their hips and were richly dressed and decorated during play.  Personally I think JK Rowling saw images of the ball court and had this in mind when she developed Quidditch.

Information about the solar, Toltec, and Maya calendars is carefully built into el Castillo. Each stairway has exactly 91 steps, times four is 364 plus the top platform equals 365, the days in the solar calendar. The pyramid has 52 panels in the nine terraces; 52 is the number of years in the Toltec cycle. Each of the nine terraced steps are divided in two: 18 for the months in the yearly Maya calendar. Most impressively, though, is not the numbers game, but the fact that on the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, the sun shining on the platform edges forms shadows on the balustrades of the north face that look like a writhing rattle snake.

But Chichen Itza is more, a whole lot more.  Some plazas have thousands of columns. Some have observatories. There are several temples at each site, each serving a different purpose.

Loving nature in Chiapas

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. Sometimes  I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

In 1999, 2000, and 2004, I spent  large chunks of time traveling in Mexico.  Visiting Chiapas was one of these chunks of time.  I was here in 1999 and 2000.

Chiapas is not one of my favorite places in the world. It is one of only a handful of places in the world that I did not feel welcome or safe thanks to the Zapatistas who live in the area, yet not only did I visit the area, I went twice.

zapatistas
In case you were confused as to where you were.

I was also there with my dad– who stood out negatively in every way… speaking English too loudly, making inappropriate eye contact, wearing socks with sandals, you name the infraction, he probably committed it. Needless to say, my stress level was at an all time high, with the constant boarding of the policia searching for who know what, and my dad saying, much too loudly I might add, ‘why do you think the police took those tourist off the bus?’ Not for a guided tour, I can bet you that…

Now will you just pretend to read the magazine and SHUT UP.  I was at my wits ends, and really wanted to ship him back to Cancun, but he really wanted to spend time with me, and I thought it best that we be out in nature rather than try to explain intricacies of Mayan history to him.  And let’s be honest, for anyone not overly fascinated in art and architecture, what I do on a daily basis, it boring… especially when it comes to writing my thesis–who wants to watch someone do that?

Misol-Ha

Misol-Ha is a spectacular 115 foot waterfall right smack in the middle of the jungle… nature at its best.  At its base is a huge plunge pool surrounded by lush vegetation; it’s perfect for swimming. [Movie note:  It’s the waterfall in the Predator movie, or so I’m told.  I’ve never actually seen the movie].

misol- ha 2

A wet, slippery path leads behind the falls to a cave.  You can pay 10 or so pesos to explore it or wow the gatekeepers with your knowledge that 1. you are an American who happens to speak Mayan and 2. have blonde hair and speak damn-near perfect Spanish in a Castilian accent [at least according to the Mexicans I encounter on a daily basis.]   Either way, I kept my pesos.  At one time, a plank of wood was balanced precariously over the cliff edge.  It looks like it could be a diving board or a lookout spot from which to view the falls, but it’s neither.  It’s just an unsafe piece of wood hanging out over a cliff. If someone hasn’t already toppled off the edge, they will one day. Don’t be that person.

Cascadas de Agua Azul

About 40 or so miles from Palenque, the Cascadas de Agua Azul – exist. They originate in the municipality of Tumbalá, where the Shmulia, Otulun and Tulia rivers meet. And boy are they beautiful.
Agua Azul

The turquoise water gathers in cool natural pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Some areas are cordoned off and can only be admired from man-made boardwalks and viewing platforms. The swimming areas are clearly marked and easily located thanks to the shrieks of people flinging themselves from rope swings. Only swim in the designated areas and don’t get out of your depth as the currents can be strong and people have drowned.  Don’t be one of those people. Just enjoy their beauty.

 

As a side note:  the nature in Chiapas is raw and beautiful.  Noticed that I used the phrase ‘don’t be that person’ twice.  It’s a place where nature is so beautiful, so wild, you just want to touch everything, be as close as possible, but seriously, be careful.

Are we really this dumb?

With all the ‘news’ out there floating around about the two brothers that are suspects in the Boston marathon bombing, I came across this headline…

Ambassador: Czech Republic and Chechnya two very different places

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/04/22/Ambassador-Czech-Republic-and-Chechnya-two-very-different-places/UPI-60551366677092/#ixzz2RPOlx1HJ

Really?  are we that dumb that we don’t know that the Czech Republic, home of Prague, and several centuries worth of positive history is not the same place a Chechnya–an area that was once part of USSR and has pretty much been fighting someone in its entire history?  If  there is an actual need for a story like this, then it is a sad, sad day for history and geography teachers everywhere.

Prauge’s astronomical clock

 

not Chechyna

My winter visit to the Castle yielded a much better view than in August… when it was 100 degrees and full of people.

 

 

 

 

Monsters and legends in Inverness, Scotland

Let’s get one things straight right off the bat:  Scotland is awesome. The more places I visit in this beautiful country, the more I fall in love with it.  I came to Inverness for two reasons:  to see the monster and to be in the Scottish Highlands.  I was only partially successful. Inverness has about 50,000 people and it is considered the capital of the Highlands.

I searched Loch Ness for the monster [didn’t find her, but the lake is quite pretty]

I heard a plethora of bagpipes. The local college in the town that I grew up in had a mascot that was a ‘Scotsman’, and he played the bagpipes at official college functions. I’m pretty convinced that there is only one song  [+ Amazing Grace] that is ever played on the bagpipes.

Made my way to Culloden Battlefield…It was hauntingly beautiful. In the mid 1700’s a very violent and bloody battle occurred between the Scotsmen and the English…Today it is a beautiful, lush windswept moor

I am horrible at genealogy, but as my ancestors are from the Carolinas [and Carolina was settled mainly by Scots, Irish, and English] for as far back as the USA can count its history, I’d wager that some of my distant relatives died on that battlefield. Either as a Mac-something…

or as an Englishman…

The Inverness footbridge allows for viewing of the River Ness from the town…

and serves to make it postcard pretty.

and no town is complete without a castle