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!

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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. 

The observer, the observed

Today, I saw a line of Chawls spread along the road. I was in the rickshaw, aloof, at a distance, observing.

All along, I could see one story after another passing me by. Hopes, dreams and insecurities littered the street in great numbers.

A few sat on their doorsteps, staring into nothing. Wonder what they were thinking. A few were occupied by human actions. A few kids played with rubber tires. I saw a well-dressed lady amongst the kids, carrying a purse. A social worker? I turned back to check if my sight was right. I missed it as the rickshaw zipped past, with a single focus on its destination.

And then came a new set of crowd, middle-class men and women going about their business of buying plants and flowers from the roadside. A different set of dreams, aspirations, worries and insecurities altogether.

Only a twist of fate placed them in either class. The same fate could’ve swapped their places. The dreams and insecurities, though, would’ve remained the same.

Travel Musings: Layers, Finding Your ‘Self’, Silence and More

image

What do you wear? Clothes, you may answer. No, I am not talking about just clothers. On a daily basis, we wear more than clothers. Even if we strip down to our birthday suits, we aren’t completely naked.

Recently, I went traveling. Slowly, one by one, I was stripped down to my bone–all without ever removing my clothes. On the contrary, the cold had forced me to pile on four-five more layers.

That’s when I realised, we wear our characters like clothes. It constitutes of many layers too. Our likes, logic, perspectives, prejudices, expectations, and yes, even our relationships and position in life; the various roles we play in our own life stories–we wear them around us as protective guards.

When you go to a far-flung place like the Himalayas, where even a glass of warm, drinkable water is a luxury, you are stripped of all these layers until you’re just another human, just another animal breathing in and out to survive, to live. When you are fighting for the basic necessities, you do not care about your worldly perspectives or that of the next person, you do not care what the person offering water is wearing, or what they think about different things in life. You are at your most vulnerable.

And yet, it is also when you are the truest. What your heart craves then is what it truly, really wants.


It is often said that you find yourself while you travel. I realised I lost myself–bit by bit, I let go of a lot of life’s baggage. You often realise the pointlessness of all that you wear around yourself, and you shed it off. Amidst the looming mountains, and often a lone, never-stopping stream, I was just another girl; not a daughter, friend, boss, employee, saviour, enemy, or whatever role I may have ever played in people’s lives. I was just ME!

There was a stillness outside of me. And there was stillness inside me. For the first time in my life, there were no voices in my head. I did not even realise or understand it. I took a while to actually realise this silence and accept it.

At first, the silence was frightening. My mind tried to initiate thoughts just to fill the silence, fill the space. Here in the city, there is so much activity and noise. There are so many distractions you do not even comprehend its sheer quantity. Even the nights aren’t still here. Amidst the mountains, though, you understand the true meaning of silence and stillness. You look up at the peaks and realise they have stood the same for eons, witnessing silently the passing of time. Made me wonder–why are we humans in such great hurry? We always scurry around, hurrying off somewhere. Life is short, agreed. But what good is the hurry? For us, even a split second is a long time. Up there, even an hour is the same as a second. Time–it is just the movement of two hands on a watch or clock, up there. Or maybe, it is the passing of the sun and moon on the blue sky.


Coming back to what I was saying about layers. Up there, you are naked and vulnerable and yet, even as you are reduced to the barest of existences, you are alive. Perhaps it is this loss of the sense of ‘Self’ that they call ‘Finding Yourself’–the idea that ‘You are Nothing’; just a blink in the passage of time. Perhaps, this is the ultimate truth? Ironically, you ‘find’ this about yourself only by ‘losing’ your self.

And yet, slowly, as civilisation neared and crowds thronged, I slowly found myself pile up my layers–first the wants, the likes and dislikes; then came the prejudices, the prespectives of right and wrong, the good and the bad, the views about the world, the sense of duty and responsibilities, and lastly, the roles I play. There, I was done doning my character suit again.

It is heavy, the suit. Perhaps, that’s why our shoulders ache, and every once in a while, we like to escape. Of course, this is only for a short time. Afterall, who likes to stay bare-naked their whole life? It is too vulnerable an existence that man left behind centuries back.

The suit is safety. It bolsters the idea that man is something; that man is not nothing; that he can hold his own afterall in this world where nature rules.

God? For some reason, I found the concept just a bleak attempt by man to understand Nature and its whims. Or perhaps, it was just I who failed to feel His/Her presence amidst the powerful presence of Nature.

Either way, we are but puny existence. Yet, it is remarkable how we manage to wreak such havoc and destruction. It is not amazing, but oddly, awe-inspiring. Not the positive awe, let me clarify. It is like a tiny ant, which can cause your whole body to swell up. Such tiny creatures causing great things in terms of sheer magnitude.


I did not want to come back. It took me a long enough time to get used to naked existence. I struggled the most with my lack of ‘self’ identity and even the constant beaitng down of my expectations.

‘Finding yourself’ sounds so peaceful, serene even. It is hardly so, I assure you. It is like being in the eye of a storm or whirlpool. The dizzy, topsy-turvy forces will ensure you lose your sure-footing. Everything you though you knew for sure about the world–your own world, especially–would be turned upside down. The ground beneath your feet would barely exist. It’s hardly a vacuum, but a roller-coaster, 100 times worse than the most-extreme rides in the world. It reminds me of the quote by Cynthis Occelli I had read:

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who does not undersatnd growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

And even after it ends, you will be unsure about things–every thing. Perhaps, that is the lesson. NEVER BE SURE ABOUT ANYTHING!

Why it is hard to make tough decisions

Often, a hard decision requires us to be selfish and disregard the needs of our loved ones. We forget they are being selfish too. Who wins, then? It’s hard to decide.

The good and the bad; the right and the wrong; they are black and white options. It may seem like one would naturally gravitate towards what is best for us, but really is that so? How often we see people taking decisions that are not in their best interests.
Then, we blame their clouded perspectives for not having discerned the correct choice.
In some cases, it is true. But not in all.
Often, people take the wrong decision despite knowing they are incorrect. They are pressurized by many factors — social, psychological, moral, and many more.
In such cases, people often believe they ‘have no choice’. Of course, that’s not true. People always have a choice, three, in fact: to do something; to do something else, or to not do anything at all.
One or more of these choices are not palatable; not necessarily to the individual specifically, but because they may react explosively with the other factors in life. They are likely to turn your world upside down, create some havoc.
Who wants that? Everyone wants their peace and comfort.
This is why some choices are as good as non-existent for people, because they come at a great cost. You may not be ready to pay this cost for making the right choice.
That doesn’t mean the choice does not exist. It always does. Often, the road to freedom and independence requires grave costs.
Man is bound by his need for social acceptance, which goes against his inherent need for self-preservation. They are afraid of being branded ‘selfish’. Well, some are, if not all.
But, really, is selfishness, in small doses, all that bad?
If I am being selfish because I need a momentary break, for example, isn’t the other party being selfish too in not allowing me my break? Who’s selfishness is more valued, then?
We know ourselves the best, even when we hide the truth from ourselves. We know what is good for us, and what is harmful. We usually do. Fighting for it makes us self-centred. No doubts about that. The motives are selfish.
Yet, they are very much important.
Often, a hard decision requires us to be selfish and disregard the needs of our loved ones. We forget they are being selfish too. Who wins, then? It’s hard to decide.
Eventually, only the strong, the determined and the adamant get their way.

The Spectator

He was a keen observer of human behavior; he could attest to its overwhelming superficiality. He would sit by his windows, and peer out into interconnected world beneath … (From The Spectator)

Read this post by my friend, Rajiv. Reminded me how some of us are observers, some by-standers, some active players, some passive ones. Yet, every one of us has a role to play. For what though?

If I may borrow some ideas from the book ‘Conversation with God’, we all are part of the universe’s collective consciousness to understand its own self, and for God to understand himself.

I am rambling now (big surprise that!). This was supposed to be a simple recommendation. Do read the post.