Friday, November 30, 2012

Resign and departure

Last day mess. Packing!
Well, for the first time probably I will try to keep a steady flow of posts written in English. Some might be direct translations that I do from my original posts in Spanish, as well as posts written in English from scratch.
I intend this one to be a mix of both.

Since I never wrote in English before, except for the two miserable translated posts bellow, I will brief you. For over 16 years I've been traveling around the world. 7 years ago, back in 2006, I swapped the backpack for a bicycle and since then I've been cycling around the world. My first long journey took me from Tehran to Shanghai along 10.000km (aprox) across Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Once I got there, I settled for a year and a half to later find myself moving to Sydney for another year.

 After that, about 3 years and 8 months ago I was landing in Chengdu and despite the fact that it was a transition time for me in terms of relationships, thus quite an uneasy time, I got here full of enthusiasm and overall very happy about being back in China. As it had already been the case since I left my country back in 2006 and started this kind of way of living, I had no idea how long I was going to stay, but oddly enough, very soon after I had got here I had a very strong gut feeling, a hunch, something like a premonition that came from deep inside me and thought: the day that I leave Chengdu, it will be on my bicycle. It was just a feeling and had nothing to do with wanting to leave already or thinking about leaving. I just felt that and I saw it clearly.

Time passed by and I have madly and rapidly fallen in love with Chengdu, and even more so with Sichuan province, its people, its food, its customs, its dialect, its landscapes. I had a job that I liked and enjoyed very much while it allowed me travel extensively around China. In my free time I have cycled thousands of kilometers around rural China and I have undertaken several extreme journeys along the remote Tibetan plateau (which became my place in the world) and Xinjiang province. During all this time and along these thousands of kilometers cycled I have also developed a strong spirit that connects me deeply with the places and cultures I visit while I transit the roads of this world. From a physical and mental standpoint I feel I have reached maturity. I'm still far from something like the ultimate maturity as a cyclist but I'm certainly way stronger and prepared than how I was 7 years ago when I jumped on a bicycle for the very first time as means of transport to travel and I struggled everyday to survive.

Today, after these 3 years and 8 months, just like what I was able to see in my premonition, I'm only hours away from setting off once again on my bicycle, this time for an undetermined amount of time. Once again, I have left the security of a stable job with a good and steady income; once again, I have left the security of a home that every day waits for me with all the comforts at the end of the day or after some short holidays. Once again I set myself to simply drift. And once again I hear the voices: "aren't you afraid of leaving your job with all this crisis going on in the world?" "aren't you afraid of how it's gonna be once you are over with your trip" "aren't you afraid of what you'll do in the future?". Fear, fear, fear.Yes, if I think thoroughly about it, it all scares me, but do we have to be slaves of our own fears just for the sake of sowing a future which ultimately we have little control of?

I ain't good at translating poetry but there's this very nice poem called "die slowly" that it is falsely attributed to the great Pablo Neruda that says something like.

die slowly, the one who doesn't travel,
the one who becomes slave of habit, repeating the same journeys every day over and over
the one who avoids passion and the emotions that come with it

die slowly
the one who doesn't risk the certain for the uncertain to go out and chase his dreams
the one who  doesn't allow himself at least once in his life to run away from rational advice

Fears will always be there with us, but I feel that one has to live the present that one really feels like living, because at the end of the day, it is the only real thing we got. The rest builds itself on the way, and no matter how many illusions of security they will try to sell to us in order to scare us, or even worse, to make us slaves of a system that imposes how much time one has to rest every year, how much time one has to study, how much time one has to work, the ultimate reality is that today, the present time, is the only thing that exists and I believe that it is better to live for what one feels like it is right to do makes one happy. Like a wise friend of mine once told me "we have live with the belief in the things that we believe" . I trust deeply that this is the only way we'll reach to a safe end.

But this journey that I start today, intends to be more than just a trip. It has an end and a goal. What mainly drives it is the need to continue documenting life in remote regions of the world, which is what I've already been doing for the last few years, specifically on my journeys along the Tibetan plateau and Xinjiang. This work will continue for the years to come.

 And because of this, is that once again I leave the illusion of security and the comforts of a stable life (and the ghosts of fear that also come with it) to devote myself to keep discovering this world in two wheels with my camera hanging on my side. I carry my house with me, a few belongings and the roads of the world will decide the rest. I will start here in Chengdu and I will cycle the first 2200km across rural China to reach the coast from where I will fly to the Philippines to later continue to Indonesia. I'll figure out the rest on the way but some of the places included on the journey are Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Siberia and slowly get to the middle East from where I'll cross into Africa to cycle it from north to south and viceversa following both the east and west coasts.

To end this first post I will tell you the most important thing and it is that during this first Chinese part of the trip and on my way to meet my travel, road, life and madness companion, Julia. 
I hope to meet her in about 2000km by the end of this year and from there continue together. Now we are lonely travelers, in plural.

Stay tuned! Adventure starts soon!

Monday, May 28, 2012

A lesson in empathy

During the last three years I have cycled again and again along different regions of the Tibetan plateau and no matter how tough the conditions might have been, there is something about this massive piece of land elevated at 17.000ft that doesn't cease to captivate me and attracts me like a magnet from which I cannot detach myself.

The rigorousness of its geography coupled with the extreme harshness of its weather constantly pose physical, but mainly mental, challenges, where one has no other option than getting over them to keep moving forward. It is when one is facing these adverse conditions when our own limitations come up. These limitations force a necessary encounter with oneself, in which all psychological mettle is put to test, and the success of the journey will depend on how we deal with each of these tough situations that arise. Added to this, the infinite beauty of its landscapes, the mysticism of its colors, its lights and shadows, and the mystery created by the vast horizon are the series of daily events that stimulate the senses and charge the body with energy. However, it is the altruism and compassion of the Tibetan people that embraces the heart and becomes the daily teaching about life. Every encounter, every moment shared with them, are what give this place its added value and makes it magical. It is on the Tibetan plateau, where trip after trip, I personally feel an emotional intensity generated by a mixture of physical sensations and mental states, emotional and spiritual, what profoundly connects me to this place.

 This is of course subjective, as when traveling (as in life itself), it is sometimes very difficult to explain why we feel more intrinsically connected to a group of people than to another. Although I could get very close to a rational explanation for this, I think there are factors that go beyond rationality. In my experience, Tibetans are the most compassionate people I have come across in this world, and the ones who have the greatest ability to selflessly open their heart to another person, even when that person might be a total stranger. This is simply because they can see themselves reflected in that other human being and they can recognize that within that person, there is someone that in essence is identical to what is inside them. This penetrates both consciously and unconsciously through the use of gestures, attitudes and empathy and it is in this very last word where to me lies the key to understand what differentiates them from the rest of the people, because it is in this bond generated by it what makes one feel their human touch.

Empathy, however, must have two sides, that of the one who generates it to later transmit it, and that of the one who is willing to receive it. That is why, sometimes the perception of one with respect to the people of the places one visits varies drastically according to who one is and the conditions one is in at a determined place and time. Still, Tibetans often have the enormous ability to bend the bad mood and bad energy that one brings with oneself and purify them to turn them into gentle feelings, such is the power that has the way they are. This empathy not only invites to transform one's energies but it is also contagious, it is planted in ourselves, thus it becomes reciprocal.

While Buddhism of the Vajrayana tradition, which primarily promotes the practice of altruism and compassion, and how thoroughly Tibetans practice it surely has a critical influence on how their characters were shaped over the centuries, I do not think that it is the decisive factor that differentiates them from the rest.  Rather a combination of spiritual and geographical and historical factors is likely to be the main reason that makes them who they are. It is because of the result of this mixture that I can feel their magic, connect and feel truly blessed and benefited by it.

To the eyes of someone coming from our highly overrated, so-called advanced society, where it seems that a mere handful of technological advances are direct synonymous of progress and the only way to go in order to evolve, Tibetans might look primitive, almost prehistoric, because their customs and living conditions are simply basic. But it is in that simplicity, in that life devoid of superfluous objects, where values like love, hospitality and altruism not only prevail but continue to thrive. When there are no objects to which chain our lives and souls in perpetual dependency, priorities continue to be our contact and relationship with our fellow human beings and the preservation of them.

 Their future, however, is uncertain. Cultural genocide still goes on. New generations are brought up under different conditions, and little by little, they absorb the habits and idiosyncrasies of a culture that it is alien to them. One that has been and still is being implanted by force. Their environment is transformed everyday and there is not even the slightest glow on the horizon that might indicate that the control of their destiny will ever be returned to them. Nevertheless, they keep facing adversity with stoicism and above all without losing that great compassionate spirit they carry within, the very one that allows them to preserve their ability to smile, to help, to be able to see in the others the same intrinsic qualities that they carry inside, thus owing themselves to the preservation of this bond.

That is the lesson of Tibet, its people and its landscapes. They get inside oneself and they grow and stay to transform us. Traveling along these rough roads makes me stronger physically and mentally, but above all, it makes me more humane. It brings back perspective. It helps me to bring the focus of attention back to the really important things in life, to appreciate the core values that connect us between humans. Those values that are far from the illusion of happiness promoted by our society based on consumerism till exhaustion to which one is dragged into every day to keep surviving, that which separates us, alienates us and ultimately makes us fight each other. With Tibetans, I learn that what it is needed to keep the heart joyful and alive is essentially very little, but most importantly, available to all of us without exception. We just have to want it and pursue it, make it the goal of our lives. It really does not take much.