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Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

I recently finished one of the most moving stories I have ever read – Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Always fascinating, often moving, the book is captivating from the first line to the last, and I frequently found myself weeping (occasionally even crying out right) as I read (this was pretty embarrassing at times as I often read out and about in the world). I wept for the emotion, beauty, and sadness of the story. But it’s certainly not all sad, many of my tears sprung from the love (of nature, of fellow man) expressed by the tale.

Self-portrait of Chris McCandless - he died of starvation in this bus within weeks of this photo being taken

Into The Wild chases 23 year old Chris McCandless through his last two years on the planet. In 1990 McCandless walked away from his money, family, life, and possessions and wandered off into the world, travelling and adventuring about, meeting amazing folk, until he finally made it to Alaska two years later where he walked into the wild to live off the land for a few months and, due to a handful of bad decisions and unfortunate luck, starved to death.

Interspersed throughout the narrative progression are interviews with people whose hearts were touched by McCandless in those years, stories of other young adventurers who challenged themselves thus (some met with success, others with death), and a harrowing and inspirational account of the author’s own psychological and physical battle in his attempt to summit a daunting Alaskan peak.

What I enjoyed most of all was the angle of exploring one’s own humanity and the possibility for peaceful coexistence between human nature and mother nature. “Into the wild” is McCandless’ echoing call. My own is similar but instead of searching the great out there I hope to branch out into the wild interior of my own nature.

As an aside, I recently included the Sean Penn’s cinematic adaptation of Into The Wild in a post about movies to ignite your wanderlust. The film is magnificent.

I would argue that the book is even better. I loved it because it made me feel. I didn’t agree with everything McCandless thought, felt, said, or did but I admire him because he believed something strongly and acted emphatically on his beliefs.

Book Diva loved it too, while Lisa from Books on the Brain had mixed emotions about it and found it hard to relate to McCandless. This seems to be a book (and a character and a lifestyle for that matter) that polarises – you either love it or hate it.

Even the way Krakauer presents the story and examines McCandless seems to be contentious. On the one hand Erin Berman questions Krakauer’s objectivity, while Terrence Cantarella defends the book and says that Krakauer “has crafted a non-fiction book as inspiring, moving, and artful as the best works of fiction. He has offered up a real-world story of physical and spiritual escape, a bold tale of adventure, and a quest for something unseen.”

Have you read it? If so, I would love to hear how it impacted you emotionally and what you thought of it.

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After three epic days on the Inca Trail, my friends and I awoke on the fourth and final morning of our trek with anticipation gnawing at our bellies. Just the ten of us (or so it seemed) striding purposefully through the 4am darkness, hawing our jagged little path across the flanks of deep, quiet mountains. We each entertained visions of the magical, epic, ancient, forgotten, discovered city – Machu Picchu, the famous lost city of the Incas.

Machu Picchu: the never-really-lost city of the Incas

Guided initially by the glow of our torches, then by the first sparkle of light that hovered in the damp air, we made our way along the thin and twisting pathways of the mountain side. Two hours later, after hiking a final stairway toward heaven itself (or so it seemed), we finally mounted the famous Sun Gate, just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon and bask its eternal glow upon…

the impenetrable layer of perfectly white clouds which blanketed the valley below us. We couldn’t see a brick of Machu Picchu.

While truly handsome, this wasn’t quite the scene I had hiked for four days to lay my eyes upon. “I want to see Machu Picchu,” I whined, with a childish pout. Eternally optimistic by nature, my friends and I were loath to despair. We quietly agreed that if we waited it would clear. Wayra, our guide, thought us foolish and informed us that it was thus fogged almost every day (they don’t put that in the brochure now, do they!) We stubbornly ignored his advice and waited…

After almost an hour our patience was rewarded. The clouds split and faded just as the sun hit the ancient city. Triumph! But we were too awe-struck to be cocky. Stunned and humbled by the sight laid out before us, we sank into silence to milk the moment for all it was worth. Unable to extract all her glory, for she has an endless supply, we eventually gathered ourselves and begun a surreal decline into her waiting embrace.

Sacred mountains protect Machu Picchu

After the obligatory “Look Ma, I’m at Machu Picchu” photo ops, I broke away from the crowd and purposefully lost myself in the alleys and stairways of the proud mountain-side town. Sitting in a shaded corner, soaking in a bustling calm of the place, I found myself looking out over history, hidden in the enclave of a trilogy of mountains – Machu Picchu (old mountain), Waynu Picchu (young mountain) and Putucusi (happy mountain). A gentle breeze blew seductively on my neck, bringing with it the memory of cool waters trickling through the fountains and irrigation chutes. Ay, Machu Picchu, with her manicured grass banks and farming terraces, tropical plants growing in rocky crevices, stone temples and statutes made of the Earth’s treasures, flowing waters; a city with her head tipped elegantly to meet the sun’s rays.

A hum of chatter emanated from the hundreds of tourists below. They were happy. Machu Picchu is a happy place. It is old and pure and perfect and pays homage to the gods – to Pachamama (the earth mother), Inti (the sun), Killa (the moon), the air and the water. This was a culture of people, Quechuas ruled by Incas, who knew how to respect the planet, who understood the wondrousness of the gifts we have been given, the treats that money is not required to enjoy.

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This post follows on from yesterday’s post (lessons 1 – 14 of 29 lessons i’ve learned so far) in celebration of my 29th birthday…

In my fifteenth year I learned that if you tell a boy your friend likes him, even if she really does and even if he likes her back and they then start dating, she might not talk to you again for a really long time.

I think of my grandpa every time I see an Hibiscus flower

In my sixteenth year I learned that old people sometimes know when they are going to die. My grandfather invited me to visit one weekend and spent the day sharing memories and giving me small gifts. He had a stroke a few days later and died the next week. I still miss that man, who taught me to play pool in the his billiards room; who let me get my curious little fingers into his amazing collection of antiques; who played hide and seek with me in his hibiscus gardens; and gave me “horsey rides” on his great, kauri knees.

In my seventeenth year I learned what it feels like to fall in love and give yourself completely to someone else, body and soul. I also learned that it hurts like a motherf#@ker to get tackled by a Tongan princess in a rugby match.

In my eighteenth year I learned how boring it is to be unemployed and that I needed an education to get a “good” job. I learned later in life that that’s pretty much bull, but still.

Catherine and Heathcliff share a dark, destructive love in Wuthering Heights

In my nineteenth year of life I learned, for the first time, how a great book can sweep you up completely. I was reading Wuthering Heights and got completely lost in that mad, brooding world, unable to sleep until I devoured each and every word.

In my twentieth year of life I learned that sometimes love ends. It just runs its course.

In my twenty-first year of life I learned that if you drink an entire 40oz. of vodka all by yourself while you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere you will do a lot of embarrassing things you’ll never remember and your boyfriend won’t sleep a wink because he will be watching you all night to make sure you don’t stop breathing.

In my twenty-second year of life I learned that I enjoy pottery but don’t have the patience to make anything good. (I made my mum an antipasto platter and caught her the next week using it as an ashtray. Nice one.)

In my twenty-third year of life I learned that it is actually possible to work four jobs at the same time, if you are a good scheduler.

In my twenty-fourth year of life I learned that if you believe in yourself and work hard enough you can get what you want.

In my twenty-fifth year of life I learned to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. I looked around me and saw my future in the eyes of middle-managers. It was frightening. On a brighter note, I went on my first international adventure and learned instantly that I was destined to become a travel junky.

In Lack'ech: We are all one

In my twenty-sixth year of life I learned that we are all one. I also learned that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other your legs can take you pretty much anywhere you’d care to go. Oh yeah, and I learned Spanish.

In my twenty-seventh year of life I learned that people who live on remote islands can have very strange attitudes about relationships. I also learned that children have an amazing capacity for love, forgiveness, and optimism.

In my twenty-eighth year of life I learned what it feels like to think you might die in a sweaty hostel room in Morocco while your fellow travellers smoke hashish, watch the Olympics on mute, and pay you no heed in an adjoining room. I also learned the magic of being alone in the mountains staring into eternity on a clear black night.

In my twenty-ninth year of life I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I saw death and destruction on a massive and personal scale, thought my heart would burst on several occasions, and survived a bout of malaria; but came through it smiling.

I wonder what I may learn in this, my thirtieth year of life. Perhaps not to waste people’s precious time with pointless lists about what I’ve learned? Sorry about that, I’m only twenty-nine.

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I travel a lot and, while travel is a favoured pastime, you only have to read a few of the blogs on wordpress to realise that we all have our own unique travel style.

My own travel style has changed over the years. When I started travelling in South America back in 2006 it was as a typical backpacker – bussing from attraction to attraction, staying in backpacker dorm rooms, reading my Footprint guide each night over dinner, and seeing the must see sights.

Valle de la Luna in Argentina was one of the most amazing places I ever visited; and almost tourist-free.

But as the months wore on it felt like something was missing from the experience. I got tired of only talking to other travellers and always in English. It seemed ridiculous to be so far from home and meeting the same people that were staying at the backpackers down the road from my house back home. It was also depressing how many longer-term travellers (myself included) were failing to master the local language. I wanted to meet real Argentineans, Peruvians, Brazilians, what have you; to get to know the latin cities from an insiders’ perspective. Then one day a friend emailed me the link for Couchsurfing and, after overcoming my initial doubts and giving it a try, I was hooked.

Soon, after months on the road, many box-checking sights (cathedrals, museums, ruins, and such) started to blur together. For a while I kept visiting these places out of a sense of duty and a fear of missing out but eventually my tourist budget was reserved for the must sees and my favoured activities became meandering through back streets and talking to strangers in plazas.

I met Ibrihim on the banks of the Seine, where he was living rough. He gave me a full-day tour of Paris

Once I started staying with locals and chatting with people in public places (bus stops, plazas, cafes) my notebook began filling up with inside tips about the best places to eat, the most beautiful spots, and where to find the dustiest, back-alley bookshops. Most of these tips were not in the guidebook, so I stopped referring to it except for emergencies. Eventually it became surplus to requirements and took up too much space and weight in my backpack so it was abandoned in a hostel.

Over the years my travel style has evolved, become more fluid. I try not to plan too much, look for out-of-the-way spots, and while I have still visited a lot of big sights – Iguazu Falls, the Bolivian Saltflats, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, the Alhambra, the TATE Modern, Antigua, etc. – I have come to realise that there is a lot more to see than you realise and that if you stick to the big stuff you may miss all the tiny details that give a place its personality.

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Do you ever find yourself reading a book that makes the nomadic existence seem so adventurous or that paints such a rich picture of life in some far-flung corner of the globe that it is all you can do just to hold yourself back from quitting your job, throwing a few things in a rucksack, and jumping onto the next flight into the sunset? I find myself in that situation relatively often (I am, however, a self-diagnosed travel addict).

So, for the good of travel addicts everywhere, I present the following list of 11 books that got me itching for adventure. You may use this list to (a) heighten the anticipation before an impending adventure, (b) satisfy the travel urge by living vicariously through the characters, or (c) so you know which books to avoid if you feel you wouldn’t be able to control yourself. The choice is yours.

Disclaimer: the following books are listed in no particular order and do not by any means represent a definitive list of books for travel junkies. They are just a few great stories I have read. Please feel free to use comments to add to and/or debate my list.

And so, without further kerfuffle, I present you with 11 books that will make your knees knock with desire for the road.

1. Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Israel, Galapagos Island, Indonesia, New Zealand, USA, Thailand)

Gelman spent 8 years living in Indonesia

This woman is my hero. I think this was one of the first travel books I ever read and I have been hooked ever since. After a painful divorce Rita picks herself up, dusts herself off, and high-tails it to Mexico where she is promptly mugged. Undeterred, she keeps on travelling. What follows is a sincere and sweet account of her new life as a female nomad. This story spans 15 years and 5 continents and is filled with some pretty memorable adventures. Gelman may not be a fabulous writer per se but her story is a delight.

Read a review of Tales of a Female Nomad here on the Outside of a Dog blog.

2. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (USA, Mexico)

This autobiographical account of Kerouac and his buddies criss-crossing the States in an endless driving scene of music and philosophising and tea smoking is just too cool not to love. I don’t even drive but reading this had me yearning for a good old-fashioned road trip where it’s all about the journey and who the hell cares where you end up (can anyone even remember why we were going there in the first place?)

Read a review of On The Road here on ReviewSien.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Spain, Morocco, Egypt)

The story of one man searching for his personal treasure all the way from the fields of southern Spain and across the deserts of northern Africa to Egypt. There’s a great message in there for all us lost souls, but the adventure will thrill you in and of itself. It’s a popular read for a reason.

Read a review of The Alchemist here on Neha Kapoor’s blog.

4. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (Pakistan)

K-2, Northern Pakistan

Love to travel to distant, pristine lands? Want to make a positive difference in the world? Greg does both and willingly takes you along for the ride. Mortensen is not a writer but he is an inspired and inspiring individual. I defy you not to fall in love with northern Pakistan after reading this book.

Read a review of Three Cups of Tea here on an unfinished person’s blog.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Kingsolver’s fictional account of a family of American missionaries who take a post in the dark heart of the Belgian Congo (told from the point of view of each family member in turn) is captivating. I wanted to move into the African jungle right away and get married to the local schoolteacher!

Read a review of The Poisonwood Bible here on Pirate Books.

6. The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (Holland, France)

This may seem like a strange choice to some, but imagine seeing the world through the eyes of one of the most brilliant artists that has ever lived. If you have a pulse it will be racing at van Gogh’s raw and poignant descriptions of the countryside of southern France and the bleak life of toil in the fields of Holland.

Read a review of The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh from The Guardian.

7. A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins (USA)

In 1973 Peter Jenkins and his dog, Cooper, set out from New York to walk across America. That’s pretty neat, isn’t it?

Read an article about Peter Jenkins and A Walk Across America from way back in 1979 here from People magazine’s archives.

8. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux (Honduras)

The Mosquito Coast, Honduras

Man, I wish I had had an eccentric inventor for a father, who forced us all to move to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras when we were kids. Also fiction, but I am a sucker for a story set in the jungle. It had me wanting to go back to Central America and get seriously lost!

Read a review of The Mosquito Coast here on Sohel’s blog.

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9. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (Peru)

I read this famous spiritual work years ago, long before I ever stepped foot on the South American continent, but I remember falling in love with the lush jungles of Peru. I wanted to pursue the prophecy along ill-beaten jungle paths, to meditate on the auras of plants, and leave my itinerary to chance and the whim of my heart. Okay, it’s a little cheesey but it is also a lot of fun.

Read a review of The Celestine Prophecy here on Spirit and Me.

10. Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy (Peru)

This is serious travel writing territory. Murphy is a seasoned professional; she’s written a ton of books. The woman is my hero. Get this – she buys a mule and wanders off into the Andes (with her nine year old daughter in tow no less!) for a 1,300 mile journey along the length of Peru, at extreme altitude. What a legend.

Read a review of Eight Feet in the Andes here on Out Of My Mind.

11. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (USA)

Walden Pond in Massachusetts, USA

Okay, Walden may not make you want to travel per se, but I bet you will want to, at least, get out for a brisk walk in nature after reading it; or maybe sell all your possessions and hike out into the wilderness to build a hut with your own bare hands? I know I did (I mean I wanted to, I’m too lazy to actually do it, plus I’m scared of spiders).

Read a review of Walden here on Kate’s blog.

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