Thank the butterflies

Many years back, I watched this movie called The Butterfly Effect. It was quite captivating. The premise of the movie is that, the smallest of the changes in time can cause cascading effects. Many movies and books have dealt with this aspect of time travel.

And every day, I wonder what my actions have led to or what actions of others has led to the reality as I lived it. It’s quite fascinating. I wonder if some alien is looking at the myriad permutations and combinations of events like the scene in Men In Black 3.

Of course, even if there is one, it could very well be a figment of my imagination. But what I have noticed are things that may not have happened if the event preceding hadn’t shaped up the way it was.

And boy were there many such combinations of coincidences that happened during my trip.

For example: Had my flight to Brussels not been delayed by 4 hours, I wouldn’t have been so tired in the first few days of my trip.

This tiredness got carried forward to my second stop in San Sebastian. Then, I wouldn’t have been laid back on the first evening.

As a result, I may not have bumped into two lovely ladies from UK or spent the night chatting away to glory. Nor would they have told me about the lovely free city walking tour. And had I not gone on it, my day may not have turned out the way it did—long, tiring but fulfilling.

Then, I may have woken up earlier the next morning and not faced a series of delays and missed buses/trains as I toured across the Basque County.

And if I had not missed the buses, I may not have seen as much of the county as I really did. I certainly would not have taken the bus that took the coastal route and went through many small towns and villages. The beautiful video I did capture wouldn’t have happened. Thank God!

(YouTube link here: https://youtu.be/8_lsphOCub0)

Neither would I have gone to the end of this cliff:

Oh, this series continues forward.I may have then reached the Picos earlier in the night or been less tired.

Thus, I may have woken up earlier the next morning in Picos de Europa. I may have then taken the longer trail over the Carres George as I had intended too, instead of the smaller one I took.

And I would have never met the lovely Australian gentleman, who’s now turned into a beloved pen pal (through email, though).

Barcelona would have been a different experience too, without the debilitating knee injury caused by the hike. But then, I would’ve exerted and roamed around more—making the trip more hectic.

Instead, the series of misadventures helped me slow down and take easier breaths. Quality, thus, trumped quantity.

Similarly, when I got to know Sierra Nevada would be deserted, I had to make a choice of staying back or moving on to another location. I chose to stay back.

That one decision opened the door to meeting and learning from this lovely Barista, who was originally from Morocco.

I spent the next two days with the lady. She opened up to me about her story, teaching me so many lessons about life and living. Not to mention, the wonderful hospitality that she offered.

On the second day, she directed me to another branch for better food. There, I met this beautiful Swedish couple and a German cyclist.

One thing led to another, and the next day, I found myself with the Swedish couple heading to Costa del Sol, which was my next destination. Thanks to them, I saw one extra city, got to see more of the sunny coast AND reached much earlier than I otherwise would have.

Lovely, isn’t it?!

Many such coincidences happened over the course of my travels. Not all of them were palatable. Many were most definitely not great. I’m sure quite a few people would’ve let these ruin their mood or given up.

But that’s the thing. What seems negative may just be so on the face of it. For all you know, it could be a blessing in disguise. It could be the reason you ended up with the happy opportunities. Who knows.

What I do know is this: I don’t jump the moment something seems to go off. Think, there could be another way. And this could just be an opportunity in the making.

Like the little butterfly that has to suffer and break through the shell of her cocoon to strength her muscles.

My friend calls this the Chaos theory. I call it my secret ingredient for happines. It’s easier to live and love the moment when it’s not a means to an end.

When it’s just a single moment, and you can bind many such moments to form a beautiful necklace of the jewels of memory.

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Wish for more; wish for nothing

Have you ever had enough of something and yet wanted a bit more of it?

I never thought I did until I traveled. Until then, it was clear whether I wanted more of something or whether I had had enough. It was an ‘either or’ situation; they were mutually exclusive.

Now, though, as I hit the last leg of my journey, I find myself wanting different things that seem opposite to each other.

I can’t wait to go back home. I feel 10-13 days has been long enough. I’ve traveled enough to satisfy me for a few months.

And then, I wish I had a few months more—travel at leisure with weeks spent in one place instead of a day or two. Hang around and work a few odd jobs like the locals; backpack around for a fair bit; don’t look back at home for a year or so; maybe volunteer a bit too!

It’s weird because they’re exactly opposite to each other. I can’t eat the cake and have it too. I can’t be at home and travel too.

And yet, that’s what I find myself feeling.

As much as I love the new experiences, I’m starting to feel like taking it slow, giving a few places a miss, sit at one place for longer—few days even. And then the tiredness gives way to a craving for the comforts of home.

And yet, I find myself craving to be the person who had once wanted to volunteer and travel for months at a time; do odd jobs that earns you enough to let you travel from one place to another; get a glimpse of the local life; not be a mere traveller or tourist. Be an actual gypsy. 

But then, reality strikes. Neither am I the young gun who would’ve had the balls to do it. Nor do I have the will to actually proceed through. At best, I can buy myself travel-led freedom for two weeks. Maybe, some day, when I look back, I’ll feel it’s enough. Hopefully. Or maybe not.

I think the problem is of having had too much. An overdose of good things too can be problematic. It doesn’t give you enough headspace to appreciate, observe, feel and digest.

In a lot many ways, it’s a classic first world problem. 

Nonetheless, I count myself lucky to have been given this opportunity. And I won’t give up what I’ve experienced for anything. It’s been an amazing journey—better than I could have ever dreamt of! I’m proud of myself for having achieved this. And now, I can’t wait for more such changes and experiences. 

Until then, may be a little bit of home would be good. Or may be a little extra travel.

No gain without pain

Spain is my first solo travel. Until now, I’ve only traveled in groups, barring a few day-trips when I studied in the UK. It reached a point where I realized I am not too happy in a group. Such trips have always left me wanting a little more. I still had an unidentified craving left, even after spending two-three weeks on vacation.

I figured, maybe… Just maybe, I’m meant for solo travel instead. So, I jumped onto the idea of traveling in Spain without a second thought the moment opportunity arose. And more importantly, spent no moment waiting (or asking) for company. I wanted to do it alone. (Sorry, friends and family!)

Before the trip, I was both excited and nervous. Most people asked me to be cautious. Even my own sister who’s back-packed across Europe asked why I’m traveling alone. But I had decided, and there was no going back. I packed the nerves along with the rest of my belongings. It didn’t help that my trip started on a not-so-great note. My flight was terribly delayed and I missed my connecting flight.

It’s been eight days in the country so far, and I already feel like I’ve grown heaps. This place has given me so many beautiful experiences. Solo traveling has been everything I dreamt so far.

But here’s the thing. It’s not always sunny. There will be moments when you’re down.

Like this:

Or this:

Or getting scalded by a hot pane during lunch.

The first is called the Hiker’s Knee. It’s not serious, thankfully. But it does mean you stay in bed for a day or so with R. I. C. E. — rest, ice, compression and elevation. And maybe some Ibuprofen or Combiflam. And so, despite the knee issue, this happened:

The second is a weird bruise on my thigh that’s been travelling with me since the start (maybe?). I have absolutely no idea what I bumped into, where or when. But it’s there, a colourful company. Thankfully, it doesn’t hurt.

But this isn’t surprising. You always have to pay up to get something in life. There are no free lunches.

So far, I’ve paid with things like rings and coats on ever single trip of mine. This time, since life is offering more, it’s asking for more sacrifices in return too.

That said, why it would take only one of my favourite pair of earrings, I don’t know. Heh.

Maybe there’s a special place where all these sacrifices and donations accumulate, a warehouse of sorts. Maybe this is where gifts from too! Who knows.

When hungry, eat fear

Stop two and three of my solo sojourn in Spain have been in the Basque country and the Asturias. And it’s everything that San Sebastian was not.
You see, San Sebastian is a beautiful European city that’s full of arts, history and culture. It’s very friendly, open and relaxing. You walk by yourself all you want. Sit wherever you want. Eat in any place you favour. For a city dweller, living here comes easily.

But the moment you step out of the city, you’re all alone with nature. The Basque country is dotted with charming little towns along the coast. But a hidden treasure is Zumaia and its Flysch. And I’m proud to have found it in my research. The Geoparkea, which runs tours in the area, had a 3-hour hiking and boat tour at 10.30 in the morning. Now the only problem was, the tour was only available for the 26th, which ate into a day in the Picos de Europa–another little gem, this time, a suggestion of a friend.

Had sanity prevailed, I would have given up Zumaia and headed straight to the Picos, which in itself wasn’t a straightforward route. I had to change buses and then catch a cab to cover the remaining 30-40 minutes of the journey.

But, the very fact that I’m writing this should indicate that sanity did not prevail. 

Headstrong I was. My heart was set on the Flysch. And on I went, deciding to reach the Picos late in the night. Fear point 1. Or so I thought.

That morning, I woke a little early by vacation standards—at 8. Quickly packed and left by 9. The train station was only 5-10 minutes away. So I thought, hey, I have enough time to reach by 10.30. It was just about 35 minutes away, after all.

What I didn’t check was the train schedule. I missed the train at 8.50. Instead, I had to catch the one at 9.45! I prayed hard that I don’t miss the tour. Even practically scrambled from the train station through the circular and confusing streets. Gmaps, wrong as often is, suggested taking the highway! But, as you can expect, I ended up missing the tour.

Of course, when you travel, missed connections are often good. Turns out, it was a Spanish tour and my payment did not go through. Plus, the lady at the tourist centre was kind enough to explain the whole tour, and enabled me with three-four maps so I could do the whole thing myself. I explained about my tight schedule and she even helped work a way around it. Yay! Happily, I set off.

First, I armed myself with knowledge at the museum so I don’t look dumb at the actual site. Then I set off to the Flysch. 

Now, this post is not about the Flysch and its geological phenomenon. But here’s a quick look at the site. 

The real story begins on the top of these hills near the small church. Here:

See the ridge that extends towards the ocean? Now, that’s a small hike. It’s fairly flat and easy. 

But, here’s the thing. I realised I am a little bit prone to Vertigo, especially considering how I have two left feet while walking. Plus, it was a narrow ridge, which frankly, made me rethink if I should go. Also, it didn’t help that I wasn’t dressed correctly, and was alone and physically unfit for any hiking excursions. Fear point 2. (Or 1, if you want to follow the correct chronology)

But, as it turns out, this was just a trailer. And the trailer ended here:

This was the easy part.

Again, I realised I overshot my time. Ran back some how to the train station to miss my express bus by 2 minutes. This meant, I would reach just 15 minutes before my first bus to the Picos. Oh boy! Never before have I tried to run so fast carrying my large, heavy haversack! Unfortunately, even though I reached on time, I had to wait in a long queue to book my tickets. Aaannnnnd the bus left. Fear point 2!

Then, I did a little bit of research (yay, internet!) and found that my second bus from Bilbao originated in San Sebastian! And that was about an hour or so later. So quickly, I booked a ticket, got the same seats and lo behold, was on my way there.

Now wasn’t that seamless! 

The tricky part came at the end of that long bus ride, that ended at 21.30—there were no taxis! How do I go from Llanes to the mountain town of Arenas de Cabrales, I wondered. I knew there weren’t any buses too. Fear point 3!

Thankfully, there was a sweet boy at the station who was originally from Mexico. He asked the locals for taxi stands and offered to walk me there. Boy, am I glad to have accepted his offer as the taxi operator was shut. We moved around a bit, asked a few more locals, until finally a lady offered to call a cabbie friend who happened to be going in the same direction. Muchas gracias, senorita!

Finally, at 10.30 in the night, I reached my hotel, tired but very much entertained by Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba music on the way.

The next day, I got ready for the mountains after lazying in the cold bed, warm bathtub, and over a hot coffee. The sweet lady at the hotel helped me narrow my list of hikes/trails that suited my time limits and fitness levels; booked me a taxi to reach the starting point, and bid me Buenos dias. I conveniently chose one that wasn’t too long or too hard. 

Or so I thought. 

The kind cab driver (whom I shall meet again, btw) explained that there’s a view point separate from the trail. And it’s ‘just’ about 1 kilometer. So I decided to start there. 

It seemed easy. It was not. Turns out, I can walk 23,000 steps seamlessly. But I can’t walk even one kilometer if it involved fighting gravity! 

It was beautiful, though. And after yesterday’s scares and consequent victory, I pushed myself to slowly climb the six zig-zag curves. One break at a time. One curve at a time. 

I think I managed about four U-bends before my mind started playing games. “What if you go back? Can you really make it? Your lungs are killing you. Please give up,” it kept whispering to me. 

And then entered my biker knight. He saw me slowly walking on and stopped to offer a lift. I look at his Ducati and my heart soared! How perfect. I really missed biking along mountain slopes and so I gladly hoped on. Within 5 minutes, we reached. 

To be honest, though, it was a little bit of a bummer. There wasn’t much of a view that I didn’t get already. So, we went back. I asked him if I could tag along with him, my heart greedy for more motorcycle ride, and less walking. He was happy with how good a pillion I was (puhlease! I am experienced enough. Pffff) and agreed. 
After a certain point, we reached the start of the trail. 

Let’s now introduce fear point 4!

Let me tell you something. I have never gone trekking. Nor did I think I’m fit enough to go on one. Especially after the climb earlier. I huff and puff even on one flight of stairs. Forget about what looked like a steep hike. It was nowhere close to the easy walk I expected!

Thankfully, J, my biker saviour, decided to go on the same route. I swallowed my fear and told myself, “you can do this!” It helped that he expected more flatter surfaces further ahead.

And finally we set on, with lovely camaraderie and intelligent conversation. What followed is history. I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest of the story. 

And here’s the Ducati I climbed on as well as it’s rider. 

(BTW, can you find the goat in the background? It may not be easy!)  

———– x ———–

When I started writing this piece, I had finished the trail and was grabbing a break at a nearby hotel. I needed sustenance before I began my return journey, safe in the knowledge that I’ll get a cab back home. Guess what happened next? 

Nope, no taxis around! 

I waited for a bit. But there was barely a soul around. So I started walking back to my hotel—about 4-8kms away. 

To be honest, I was more scared of this than any of the previous experiences. Imagine waking on a highway-like road, alone, without a path to walk on! There were a few blind bends. And a car driving past may not have seen me in time to veer away. But I had no choice. 

So I walk on, initially trying to rewire my brain into thinking of it as an adventure. 

And then, I remembered the countless movies where bagpackers point their thumbs backwards, asking for a lift. Hitchhiking! 

Never done it before. Never needed to. Until I had to. 

Few cars went by. One car offered a finger. Two scooters said sorry. Then, one couple was kind enough to stop. It was barely a fifteen minute ride. And then, thankfully, I reached the hotel. Got a cab booked for the bus stop. And met my old cabbie again. This time, he was warmer and stopped at various places to let me click pictures. He also jabbered on a bit about fields and farming. Then, he realised I haven’t seen Llanes and it’s beautiful beach. So, he took me on a mini tour free of charge to the look around in Llanes.

Here’s my now-favourite taxi driver:

In all my life, I’ve seen my parents accept fear a handful of times. And even on those few occasions, I’ve seen them eat their fear, light a fire in their bellies, and move on. Come what may, they’ve not cowered. So all I did was tear a page from their book. 

I realised today, courage is not about a lack of fear. It’s about what you do with it that counts. 

And sometimes, I guess, it also includes asking for help and support. Anything but stop and pull back!

Call me racist

I can’t help it. I love it when they’re light in colour. Call them fair or anything you want, but I can unabashedly say that I prefer that over their darker, brownish counterparts.

And before you take up arms to write me down in the comments section, let me clarify. I’m talking about the water.

There’s just something about a blue-green ocean that calls out to me. Like Moana. Especially if there’s the vivid green of a grass or a set of trees to contradict the blues of the sky and the water. 

I mean who can deny the attraction to this:

Or this:

Or for that matter, this. The island in the middle just makes it all the more moving. 

Naturally, I’ve been sitting here for god-knows how long while the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds, leaving me alone with the incessant waves for company. But I’m alright. I find that time moves a little more invisibly when you’re near the shore. It feels like time rides the waves. Initially, you’re aware of each wave that lashes at the rocks near the shore. But then, over time, one wave seamlessly merges into the next one, giving enough space for time to pass away, hidden from your consciousness. Of course, it could also be that you’re simply lost in the way the green water slowly and steadily turns blue, the transition stretching all the way to the distant horizon. 

That I love it would be an understatement. I’ve come to accept wholly that I’m a water bum. Funnily, it wasn’t until a friend pointed it out that I realised my penchant for water. Yet, I find it hard to answer the ‘beach versus mountain terrain’ question. Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? Give me a mountain beside a sea, and I’d gladly spend my days staring out at nothing. 

Note, how I’m avoiding phrases like ‘forever’ or ‘spend my whole life there’. That’s a conscious choice. For what I love, I love it and live it today. Only today. But I can’t say if it’s what I want forever. The weight of a lifetime is not something I can carry. Nor do I want to. 

Time couldn’t even last long enough for the beach and the island to be together. They had to be separated, each craving for the other… Waiting for the day when the ocean will devour the last few rocks in the island and the beach, for them to be lost in eternity—but together, at last. 

But enough musings for this poor bench. The earth’s gravity is calling out to the liquid building within me! 😛 

P. S. Location is San Sebastian, Spain

Bonus pictures:

Sound of Love

There are two halves to the one whole of a plant’s growth. 

Similarly, there can be two parts of love.

Have you ever planted seeds or a sapling and see it grow? Initially, the roots form. They grow underground, unseen and silent. Bidding its time. And then, when the roots have gotten hold, the stems, leaves, fruits and flowers flourish. Slowly, steadily. Its loud, in your face and well, communicates to the whole world that ‘I am growing; I am flourishing’.
There are two halves to the one whole of a plant’s growth. 

Similarly, there can be two parts of love.

One is loud and deafening in its sound. It’s when you feel like your heart is expanding at a rapid pace, and will soon burst out of your body to envelope the whole world. It’s when you want to climb to the rooftop and shout to the whole world about the love you’re feeling. Your body, mind and soul screams and demands a witness to your Love. 

This is akin to the stems and branches of the trees that you are trying to reach the sky, continuously, constantly. The branches of your Love want to spread far and wide, taping into different fields and regions. And then the fiery flowers bloom to attract every eye that passes by. Like the Flame of the Forest, commonly known as Gulmohar in India or the Flame Tree. Scientists, in their usual grave tenor, call it the Royal Poinciana. Irrespective of what you call it, the vibrant vivid hues catch your attention and often take your breath away. Just like your intense feelings take your lovers breath away. The emotions move outward, from you to the world.

And then there’s the quiet love, silent and contemplative. Internal. Deep. It’s like the roots that spread wide and deep within. 

This is when you quietly stand on the sidelines of your lover’s story, witness to their beauty and well, life. When you let them be the hero of their story, beaming and happy. It’s when you bask in vibrant rays of their joys and happiness, all the while glowing in joy yourself. It’s when you find happiness and contentment in their peace. And nothing else really matters—not as much as your lover any way. This Love, like the roots, does not seek to shout or even intimate you of its presence. It just wishes to live, to be. And the flow of emotion? Well, it starts from you and flows deeper and deeper, slowly spreading through the veins and sinking further into your soul.

I hardly doubt that the two Loves exist separately. They’re part of the same whole. And the chances are, at different points in life, you’re likely to have felt both. 

When the sun stops shining

Can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

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Can you imagine how tiring it is to be the sun? The world may fall asleep, then rise, go about their day’s work, and then sink into bed again. But the sun, no, it never sleeps. It never stops shining. At every given second, there’s one part of the world covered in its golden hues.

But can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

And that’s probably why, sometimes, it dulls down. Otherwise, how could a few clouds manage to dim the great ball of fire; it’s magnificence unparalleled? Neither could a puny moon eclipse the solar god into dusk, right?

No, the sun sometimes gets tired of producing one yellow stream of thought after another; another golden ray that sets another life alight. And so, it lets the monsoon play for a while; or allow the dust winds to gear into action small tornadoes that make everything seem brown. Sometimes, the sun even drapes a shroud of cold, dull smog—a small win for the polluting mankind.

But only for a short time.

Because its very soul is fire; sheer flames with the potential to burn everything down in its path.

So, after a short break, the sun gets up like a dog or cat from its nap; shrugs the dust of comfort and compliance; yawns to shake away the misery of drudgery, and then, trots towards its feisty spirits that wait in patience, slowly gathering pace.

Sometimes, it’s assisted by cheery friends called seasons. They swoop by and supply the necessary dose of energy, bringing with them loud noises that shatters cars’ windowpanes. Other times, they materialise in silence and simply exist in tandem.

And then, just like the sun, your soul breaks from its dull reverie and shines like the fiery spirit it is.