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Machu Picchu

As one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is fondly known as ‘The lost city of the Incas.’ This stony citadel is nestled high in the mountains which is the reason it was never destroyed by Spanish conquistadors. It is simply breath taking to witness. To arrive here, you can take a plane from Lima to Cuzco and then catch the train to Aguas Calintes or Machu Picchu Pueblo. There you can spend the night and take the bus that leaves every 10 minutes to go up the mountain to see Machu Picchu. You may notice the drastic change in climate as you leave the Andes and begin to enter the subtropical zone between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rain forest where Machu Picchu sits. Suddenly the dry dusty climate gives way to lush green forests.

The train-ride from Cuzco was just above 3 hours long and extremely scenic. There was even an onboard fashion show that showcased Peruvian traditional wear. I recall arriving in Machu Picchu Pueblo, our base for the night before going to the the actual site the following day. I was very surprised to see how many pedigree dogs were roaming the streets. Huskies, bulldogs, mastiffs, you name it. All stray and just looking for some food and someone to pet them at that moment. I remember thinking “not another hill” when I looked at the steep incline which lead to our hotel. My father also understood my sentiment as we both stood there for a moment before ascending, knowing that we would soon be out of breath due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude.

On entering our hotel we were all quite surprised. The rooms were freezing cold and seemed a bit like a cave as not much light entered. For the rest the of that day, I remember seeing all other members of our little expedition sitting in the sun as a welcome option to being in those cold rooms. I sometimes went off on my own to explore the quaint little town but some how always ran into the others. The town is also known for its hot springs.

My father and I had a meal together that we still talk about to this day. We decided to order the “cuy al horno” from the menu while I was busy bombing wifi. Not long after the waiter brought us a little flat, four-legged creature on a platter, reminiscent of a rat. To this day I am not sure why we ate it since I had a pet Guinea pig that lived for about 10 years, but it was tasty. We laughed as we unearthed organs still in place. To be fair, it’s a local cuisine in Peru. However when given the chance to eat llama for free since it was in a buffet, I humbly declined. I cannot morally point out the difference between the two since they are such fantastic creatures and I don’t condone eating either of them.

The fun part about traveling can be the characters you meet along the way. We had dinner at a pizzaria where they played reggae music. The waiter was nuts. He told us that Stephen Marley had visited this same place and asked them to put marijuana on his pizza.

But I digress, we woke up at 4 am the following day as we were told that the best time to visit Machu Picchu would be at sunrise, when we would not only get away from the crowds but also have a fantastic view of the sunrise sans humans. I remember thinking to myself that I would look so sleepy in my photos.

The bus to Machu Picchu took off as some others began their hike. It was like something out of the movies, the roads zig-zagged through the cut-away mountains and were very narrow and dusty. Sometimes the bus would have to reverse to allow another to pass as they crossed paths. There were no rails and it seemed extremely unsafe. On arriving and beginning my ascent on foot, I remember thinking that I was not exactly enjoying the journey as I wanted to take as many photos as possible while dealing with my extreme fear of heights. I do mean extreme. As a child, I would cry to go up seemingly normal stairs. What was I thinking of going up a mountain? My brother was in disbelief of my fear as he took to it like a duck in water and simply laughed. I think a fear of heights is an unreasonable, illogical thing to have since the fear itself makes you more likely to fall in a dangerous situation. You can’t control wobbly knees when it’s needed most.

Our tour guide took us to one of the best spots for photos before walking down to begin the real tour. He explained that the entire structure was built without mortar and that not even a piece of paper could fit between the precisely placed rocks. It was thought to be built as a vacation palace for the elites and nobles of the Inca Empire. However many female mummies were found which led historians to believe that priests and chosen women may have resided there, making it a place for ritualistic worship. The stone-masonry and craftsmanship are exemplary in the ancient world as it was constructed to even withstand earthquakes. While there are about 600 terraces and 200 buildings, there are 3 main rooms worth mentioning. The Temple of the Sun, the Room of the Three Windows and the Itni Watana which houses the enigmatic sundial/ calendar. I remember walking through the ‘city’ and seeing little carved out rocks that served as alters where offerings of coca leaves were still made to Pachamama (mother earth). Many of the buildings faced the sunrise and some even cast long shadows to mark the summer and winter solstice.

One of the fun facts I never forgot was when the guide pointed out a sort of circular hinge carved high up on an entrance way. He said this was made so that a gate could be placed to keep bears from entering the city. I was mind blown as I vividly imagined a bear on a deadly rampage through these corridors. Many of the buildings and constructions have a very sacred significance represented by animals such as the Condor, Puma and Snake. The Incas believed that nature, plants, animals, rivers and every stone should be worshiped as there is an energetic connection in all life. Needless to say, the sunrise did not disappoint as the deep blue sky that seemed unique to Peru, created a beautiful backdrop for the mountains and valley’s that made up Machu Picchu. I still remember the crisp morning air and cold-almost metallic feel to the rocks as I passed my hands along them as I walked by. It is believed that Machu Picchu was constructed along an energetically powerful site on earth called a ley line and so thousands flock here as a sort of pilgrimage where they can recharge their spiritual batteries, so to speak.

The Incas even observed the movements of the milky-way and cosmos at large. The tree-of life is also represented on the Inca Cross. I would love to continue to talk about this marvelous civilization but you can learn more about them by reading some of the vast information available on the world wide web or better yet, you can visit Peru one day and see for yourself.

Venezuela

My recollection of Venezuela is a place of natural beauty and wealth. I never thought in a million years that I would be writing a blog with this particular slant when it comes to Venezuela. I suppose we all know of the economic and humanitarian crisis this country is currently facing and so it is common knowledge that the country has been left in shambles for lack of a better phrase.

It may baffle you to imagine that the country with the most Oil Reserves in the world, with a whopping 300.9 billion barrels, could be dealt such an impacting blow that has totally toppled and destabilized it’s foundation, leave it a shell of a country, practically in ruin. I often liken it to the ‘fall of Rome’ except that I was able to witness it’s downfall within my lifetime and in front my very eyes, in the short space of perhaps just ten years. To be honest, this is a topic that I rather not touch with a ten foot pole because of the complexities that led to this state. But I must say that the stories I hear, and know to be true are absolutely heartbreaking. They are stories of hunger, malnutrition, disease and extreme poverty. I know that the inflation rate has practically rendered its currency useless as perhaps the paper is more valuable than the money itself.

I was lucky enough to visit Venezuela on a couple occasions before it’s collapse. And to be honest, it was one of places I visited during my teenage years that really made me understand how big and culturally different the world was. On a couple occasions, I was lucky enough to visit Caracas with my father. We had really good family friends who lived in Altamira, which was an affluent neighborhood in Caracas. I liked staying there because it was a suburb that was within walking distance to downtown where my favorite mall was. I remember the weather being quite chilly. The neighborhood was quiet but as you walked down the hill and left this private area, it was suddenly buzzing with activity. I loved walking to the Panadaria to get bread and other pastries, any excuse to sight see at that age. One of the things I loved very much was the style of clothing. Everyone was dressed to the nines in a variety of styles that are common to colder countries. Now that I think about it, I have always loved fashion and I appreciated the style in Caracas.

I remember walking through the square that I would later see on television where many of the protests began as Chavez came into power. Many people thought Chavez would reform Venezuela for the better since he was concerned with helping the poor…
Caracas, much like New York, had everything my country did not. I enjoyed taking the subway but was also weary of the amount of crime. I remember being told how unsafe it was to even walk around downtown however I am happy to say that these memories I have are only very positive. I was told that the news did not cover much of the crime stories because they would need an entire news-paper if they wanted to do so on a daily basis. Crime was that bad. Perhaps it was an exaggeration but it got the point across.

I remember going to Sambil which is by far, the largest mall I have ever stepped foot in, to date. My dad walked all six or seven floors with me and often went back to places when I had changed my mind and wanted to buy the thing I saw when I just entered. He often jokes with me about the reason I wanted to go back to certain stores. He remembers one young boy who was very eager to help me find something to wear and has never let me downplay that moment as even the owner of the shop, told the boy that she would take the things to me instead.

A very interesting aspect of Venezuela from those days was the fact that it was quite common to see the native Indians, or the people from the Amazon tribes begging in the traffic jams, sometimes fully pregnant and sometimes with their children. I always noticed that they were brown in complexion, more so than the average Venezuelan and often had solemn expressions as their hands were outstretched hoping for money.

Besides Caracas, I am also very lucky to have visited Merida with some of the students from my class, as it was customary to take a trip in order to improve our Spanish for exams. I recall the bus ride being around eight or nine hours long but it was fun as I was sat next to my best friend who very much loved the Spanish language and culture. Merida is a beautiful town high in the Andes mountain range where it is not only safe but the atmosphere is so breezy at that level. The air is cool and one can see the snow capped mountains in the distance. Merida boasts of the highest cable car in the world. Not only did we go up the mountain on this ‘teleferico’ but I remember they served us strawberries with whipped cream and hot chocolate when we got to the top.

We were quite lucky to be allowed some agency at this point in our lives as our teachers knew we were responsible girls and so, we were allowed to go off exploring on our own sometimes and even stay out a bit later than others at night. It was at these times we made our most interesting discoveries. It is customary for Venezuelans to refer to you by your looks and so, we were sometimes called Negras preciosas, or delgadas as some of us were quite skinny. We always found this very amusing and looked forward to hearing what other names we would be called by people in passing.

One of the shocking things that stayed with me for years happened when I entered an Ice-cream shop that was known for having a wide variety of flavors. I did not really care for the ice-cream nor did I really care to enter but I went with a friend who was interested in buying some. To my surprise, more than twenty little children around the ages of five to seven suddenly crowded around us to beg for money and ice-cream. I think it startled me as I immediately made a U-turn and exited the shop. I became conscious that these little children might rob me as silly as it sounds today. I disliked that feeling, I suppose it was because I was shocked to see them begging and in such large numbers. All around the same age. I always like to help and to give alms but this was overwhelming.

Today when I meet people and they ask me where I have traveled, most are impressed, shocked and curious to hear that I have visited Venezuela. They want to know what it was like. It feels almost like a relic in my memory to have experienced this place. It is truly a pity to have to refer to it in the Past Tense as I have no idea what the future hold for this wealthy, beautiful and culturally rich country. I often wonder what became of Merida and if it somehow remained unaffected by the common problems facing other parts, due to its geographical location. I suppose it is only wishful thinking as I can only hope for the best for this beautiful Andean town. If you believe in God, you should say some prayers for Venezuela. Thanks for reading. Have a great day.



Nazca Peru: History & Mystery

About 380 kilometres to the South of Lima, you will find a city by the name of Nazca. The name was derived from the Nazca Culture that flourished there between 100 BC to 800 AD.

It took us approximately six hours by bus to arrive there from Lima. From what I remember, it was the most comfortable bus I had ever travelled on. The type with a bathroom, where they give you a blanket and there is even a foot rest. I am not one to usually be affected by motion sickness however this time I had unfortunately fallen ill. I was just relieved to arrive at our new accommodation that had a very typical ‘Spanish Hacienda’ look and feel to the place.

The next day, we signed up for a tour that would acquaint us a little more with the preexisting culture. First we went to a pottery workshop where a very skilled artisan showed the group how ancient pottery was created and painted. I remember being in awe at how steady his hands were as he demonstrated with a regular paintbrush, many precise and meaningful lines. It seemed as if he was born with a paintbrush in his hands. The pieces usually consisted of about four colors that were generally reddish brown, orange, black and white.

After that, we were then taken by mini-van to the desert. It was the first and only time I have ever been to a real arid, desert. It made me very excited to find out that even though we were in Peru, it is considered to be a part of the Atacama desert that stretches through Chile and even Argentina. It is said to be the driest desert in the world. Many curious discoveries have been made there. The soil samples are said to be very similar to that of the soil on Mars, so it is no wonder NASA uses this desert as a testing site for many of its Mars programs. Another interesting fact is that the oldest mummies in the world (predating those of Egypt) were recovered from the Atacama desert. The remains were dated to 7020 BC.

We visited the Cauchilla Cemetery. After walking through a designated pathway bordered by ropes on both sides, we came to what I would describe as holes, about six feet in depth. Within these holes sat mummified humans with long dread-locks. Men women and even children were placed at this burial ground. I had never heard of any other culture wearing this hairstyle besides the present day Jamaicans.

I distinctly remember the guide saying that these mummies were specifically placed to face the sun rise. What a beautiful significance I thought. Beyond the ropes were thousands of bones littering the desert floor. Femurs, jaw bones and every other imaginable part made the sandy floor appear white.

While Cauchilla was a pleasant archaeological surprise, our primary reason for traveling to Nazca was to witness the Nazca lines or geoglyphs from above. We were then chauffeured to a small airport where we would take a light airplane to view the formations. I was very happy to have this particular experience as I recalled my father reading about them to me when I was just a child.

Finally the plane took off and after a short distance we were able to see the formations. There were a variety of incisions made into the soil that were so large, they only made sense from above. The pilots gave passengers on both the left and right side of the plane the opportunity to see the Lines. He dipped down and doubled back as he called out the shapes below. There I saw, the humming bird, a whale, a monkey, a spider, a man waving and many more amazing, curious geoglyphs that I can recall from memory. It simply causes one to wonder who did this and what was the reason. They were works of art. I had, and still have so many questions.

For me, an extremely puzzling feature of this was the fact that there were also many geometric shapes carved into the soil. Triangles, intersecting other precisely drawn lines and angles that went on for miles. There are many hypotheses that can be taken into consideration but the mystery is what makes this place unique since it is difficult to prove any one as absolutely true. Some say that it was created by the people of Nacza to be seen by the deities in the Sky. Who knows?

One thing is for certain, Peru is perhaps the most mystical, profound, amazing place I have ever visited. I think I would recommend it as #1 destination to anyone wanting to take an unforgettable journey.

Covid-19 and Other Stories…

Hi there, how art thou?

I took a little hiatus from writing blogs about travel because I was honestly going through something difficult in my personal life. However I also chose shy away from writing due to the fact that many people are suffering, afraid and facing a variety of uncertainties. From where I stand, as much as I want to uplift others and take their minds off of things, I wanted to be respectful to those who had become ill with Covid-19 or have had their lives turned upside-down financially and otherwise. I hope that everyone is doing their part to be safe, staying indoors and keeping up morale as much as possible. We have a good chance of coming out on the other side of this if we exercise discipline and responsibility when it is needed most, right now.

At this present juncture, a lot can be said about Covid-19. I feel a bit sad to write this blog post as my heart goes out to the people who have lost their lives or loved ones to the virus…

The day before the lockdown began on March 12th here in The Philippines, I was forced to go through the whole ‘panic-buying’ episode since it was extremely sudden and it wasn’t clear if groceries would remain open or even be stocked due to the rush. I was alone and so, I could only take as many items as I could carry on myself, not a good start I thought. I stood in cues for up to three hours from all the way outside the supermarket right up to the cashiers. I almost didn’t make it home in time for the curfew that particular day. President Rodrigo Duterte’s words echoed in my head ” Shoot them dead…” anyone who defied the lockdown orders.

I have since done my best to stay indoors, cut out the delivery services and I even quit my exercise regime at the gym and pool to be as safe as possible. I was actually doing quite well, swimming daily. I have since been indoors 98% of the time, finding things to do such as working, looking at movies, playing play-station and sleeping in-between the aforementioned. I also downloaded two books I wanted to read. One being A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul. This book has one of the most captivating introductions I have ever read.

Anyway, at first it was absolutely shocking to find out that taxis weren’t running and I was ‘essentially’ stuck. ‘Essential’ has come to be a very important word in these times. I am happy to say that I am within walking distance to most things I need but I have not been able to get certain products that I heavily relied upon before the outbreak, such as bread, garlic and potatoes, staples in most households. This situation has forced me to become creative in terms of finding healthy ways of living.

My personal experience has been transformative mainly due to fact that I have been forced out of many bad habits I was not aware I had. I have since given up eating junk-food and discovering I am much more capable than I had given myself credit for. For reasons as simple as not having a washing machine, I have had to wash everything from towels to bed-sheets by hand and frankly it’s not that bad as I save a considerable amount on laundry. I usually wash at night so that my items would have dried by midday the following day.

Since most places are closed, simple things like paying the water and electricity bill have become increasingly complicated. Google-maps shows that everywhere is still open and that I can walk into any 711 and pay my bills. However that is far from the case and I have been forced to scour the internet to find ways of paying before I am left without my utilities. It has happened once before when I was not aware that I had to ask the front desk for the bills since my landlady usually delivers it herself. Yes, I spent almost a week filling water at the pool every night in the cover of darkness, to run my little household. You would be surprised how much water is used on a daily basis if you had to fetch it yourself. I will chalk this experience up to another character building exercise.

My birthday has since come and gone, quarantine style. If I had not decided to do something a bit different it would have passed unmarked by memory. Thankfully other April babies have become my strength in this time. The solidarity is real. I ordered a 3-day Juice Detox Set and found it was the ideal time to cleanse myself of bad eating habits, give my body the nourishment and care it deserves and frankly teach myself a little bit about discipline once again. It really was a challenge just drinking fruit juices every time I got hungry. I even became light headed some time in day two. But at the end of it all, I felt really good about myself having been able to carry out this form of ‘fasting’. I realized all the chocolates I was so accustomed to eating were merely props, habits and comfort food, things I needed to fill my day, often due to boredom and negative thinking patterns.

I hope this post finds you (all my readers) well and that you are feeling mentally ok in this time of isolation and economic uncertainty. Feel free to reach out to me at any point, just to talk if it would make you happy to do so. Big hug to all my readers. Stay safe.

-Naomi

Why I love Lima and Cuzco, Peru

As a child, I vaguely remember my father sitting in bed after dinner with a National Geographic magazine, reading about the Nazca Lines of Peru. I remember the yellow border of the book as I stared at the lines etched in the earth. This is one of my earliest memories that I am happy to have never forgotten. I recall the intrigue and sense of awe I felt as perhaps I picked up on my father’s sentiment towards these geoglyphs. I knew it was very important. I must have been about three or four at the time.

For this reason, when I was given the gift of choosing a destination for a family vacation after graduating university, I jumped at the opportunity to see Peru. Even though there were a few hiccups along the way, it was the most fun I have ever had on vacation. My father was hilarious which made for a good travel companion. We were always relaxed and made fun of the bad moments. I don’t remember ever laughing so much.

We arrived in the capital Lima a little after midnight. Our hotel was downtown Miraflores which is an affluent district that had many nightclubs, malls and restaurants. We traveled in July which was winter in the southern hemisphere. I was not very accustomed to the cold so it took some getting used to the temperature, which could drop as low as zero at night.

Miraflores was beautiful. It was another world far removed from the US centered way of life I was accustomed to. I had not realized it then but the Caribbean broadcasts so much from the United States, it was strange to see that it’s influence was not so far reaching. Lima was different at a glance. It was the first time I had been to a country where it was the norm to put fried eggs on hamburgers. Not sure how I feel about that to date.

Peruvians are among the most special people I have ever encountered. They are extremely calm, centered and a humble people. I had imagined all Spanish speaking countries to be boisterous and full of life as is the stereotype, but they were noticeably self-contained. The couples held hands in the street almost as if every day were Valentines Day. The fact that I noticed this made me wonder why it was not like that everywhere else. I sometimes passed time in the square looking at people skateboard and ride bikes. It was an amazing, up-beat city.

Next stop was Cuzco, a city nestled high in the Peruvian Andes mountain range. It is approximately 11,200 feet above sea level. Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire. It is a mystical place where Mother Earth or Pachamama as they call her, is worshiped as a Goddess along with others representing the sun, moon and stars, just to name a few. There are so many beautiful concepts that are part of everyday life.

The city itself is laid out in the shape of a Puma, one of the revered animals in Inca society. To listen to one of the guides speak about their ancestors will transport you to a time when religious and spiritual beliefs were directly connected to the earth and universe at large. The sense of tranquility is like no other place I have been. However there is a bit of sadness attached to their past. I have seen many temples and tombs destroyed by the conquistadors who arrived from Spain. The museums hold relics that show the diseases that the Incans contracted on their arrival. The Spaniards basically decimated their entire civilization, taking their gold and other precious commodities. Luckily, Machu-Picchu was not destroyed because it was hidden high up in the mountains and remained undiscovered.

On a brighter note, I will never forget the color of the sky. It was usually a deep azure blue, at any given time of day. On arrival at our lodging, we were offered coca-tea as is customary to help relieve altitude sickness. Coca leaves are legal and are not treated as a drug. It has a variety of medicinal properties such as the opening of the diaphragm, which makes it easier to breathe and therefore work for longer periods of time at these high altitudes. It is a part of everyday life especially since many people work in agriculture and have been doing so for thousands of years.

At this height, it is quite natural to feel light headed and even sick. I was easily winded having to walk anywhere along the many cobble-stone hills in the city. However the locals, no matter the age seemed to have no problem running uphill, putting us outsiders to shame. Oxygen bars selling flavored oxygen and portable canisters were readily available for purchase, for those having trouble acclimatizing.

Many women in Cuzco wear traditional Peruvian clothing, which consists of bright rainbow colors, (much like their flag) beautifully draped. They would often be seen sitting with their children or grandchildren on the sides of the ancient streets selling coca leaves, flowers and other goods such as corn. They also take their pet llamas for walks and ask for a little money for a photograph. If you like leather goods, semi-precious stones, fossils and other ancient relics, Cuzco is definitely the place to visit.

I was told that many live without water heaters and even electricity. I found this hard to believe since it was so cold. However in-spite of this, the people of Cuzco are kind and honest to a fault. I remember looking at a vendor close his stall for the night; there were no doors, glasses or walls to keep people from entering. Instead, he simply placed a piece of cloth in front the entrance, as if to say ‘do not enter’. All his stock was left in plain sight for anyone to steal if they wished. It made me feel concerned since tourism can sometimes have a negative impact. I trust that most people would view this as a gem, more so than an opportunity.

This show of honesty and trust in others has profoundly changed my life. It has made me aware that it’s not just, a dog-eat-dog world. Many people in Cuzco live without the modern comforts we all seem to depend on, however they are more morally sound than most. For many reasons such as the historical background, mystical nature and humility of the people, Peru is perhaps the most amazing place I have ever visited and would I love to return some day. I will write more about it in another post. Thanks for reading. Have a great day!

Ground Zero: Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

On August 6th 1945, a single atomic bomb was dropped at around 8:15 am, on the thriving city of Hiroshima. It was chosen as a means of slowing down Japan’s economy and displaying what atomic weapons can achieve. The bomb, ‘little boy’ was detonated at 600 meters above the city. It was the first time such a formidable weapon was used against a city and its residents. A large number of persons perished below the mushroom cloud and the ones who had survived the explosion would go on to suffer in unimaginable ways.

I was up at the crack of dawn in order to catch the first train out of Kyoto. It would take some time in transit from station to station so I made it my duty to be up as early as possible. At this point, my feet hurt and my body was sore from all the running around I had been doing. On arriving in Hiroshima, it was hard to believe that an atomic bomb had once devastated this city. There were no signs of hardship or destruction but for one building that was purposely left for the sake of memory. The Atomic Bomb Domb curiously maintained it’s skeletal structure even though it sat almost below the point of detonation.

Peace Memorial Park was designed as a means of remembering the victims that lost their lives on that tragic day. I must say, nothing is as I imagined it would be. The city was beautiful, quiet, peaceful and bordered by large rivers. The atmosphere was serene as an overwhelming silence and a sense of sadness loomed over the park. I tried to imagine what it was like when the bomb was dropped.

There were a number of shrines in place to give a brief history of what happened. Some shrines were constructed for the children who had died since there were thousands in the city volunteering at the time of the blast. The choice of words expressed woe and a great need for peace and comfort for their souls. In essence the park I suppose, also served as a great cemetery. Thousands of origami-paper cranes can be seen at the back of this Goddess in the photo. There is a saying that folding a thousand will grant you one wish. The cranes are then burnt so that the wishes can return to the source.

Peace Memorial Park also houses a museum. The museum is unlike any I have visited. It serves not only to exhibit a collection of materials such as melted iron, petrified glass, tattered clothes and other things that were twisted by the sheer heat but also as a way of telling people’s stories and sharing memories linked to the bombing. Being in that museum was like an emotional roller-coaster that evoked empathy by the choice of materials on display. You tend to realize that every individual affected had a unique story, whether it was a wallet in the showcase or a child’s lunchbox. Many such stories were on display for all to read. The experience can also be likened to visiting a horror-house at a theme park. Some walls were laden with photos of persons in agony with melted skin, eyes popping out and horrific things that I cannot forget. There were human shadows etched in stone, as bodies literally vaporized in the blast.

I know now that I did not posses the imagination to understand the various levels at which they were capable of suffering. The initial explosion was just the beginning of the despair for those who survived. Many people were forced to look at their loved ones suffer and ultimately die in agony, unable to help in any way. The burnt people cried for water and when it rained, many drank the black- radioactive water which caused a plethora of other diseases and complications. Many developed chronic ailments that seemed to be passed on to other generations. The A-bomb diseases only added another angle to the already starving, homeless, grieving persons. Many became depressed and lost their zeal to go on living after witnessing such horror. Another disturbing installation at the museum was the artwork created by people who survived the bombing. I could not believe my eyes. Some of those child-like drawings simply portrayed hell on earth.

Interestingly enough, the over arching theme that Hiroshima has come to represent from all that I read and witnessed; is the need for peace at all costs. I expected to see some signs of animosity towards the ones who dropped the bomb but there was no evidence of any finger pointing or hatred. This is what makes Hiroshima spectacular to me, the outlook of the people. The Japanese continue mourn the loss of its people every day as fresh flowers decorate the shrines and cenotaph. Every year on the 6th of August, Hiroshima celebrates with 1 minute’s silence at 8:15 am and continues to pray for and promote World Peace.

Osaka!

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come through that makes life interesting”

Paulo Coelho

Ever since I was a child, I had been drawn to the peculiarities and otherworldly aspects of Japanese culture. Needless to say, I spent many years researching the intricacies of this profound land and its people. Research literally came in the form of reading as much as possible, however I also looked at a tonne of anime and read manga. After some 30 years, I was finally able to visit, the stars had aligned and my tickets were bought. I always viewed Japanese culture as one of the leading, prominent cultures of the world as it is noticeably imbued with a profound sense of living and doing things. The striking differences are the things that make Japan unique. I must say, it is perhaps my favorite culture as I have always had a sort of reverence for their way of life.

On arriving in Osaka, one of the first things I noticed as I got off the plane was the fact that Kansai Airport was decorated from top to bottom with Nintendo characters. They were all there. Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Kooper… all my childhood friends greeting me as I entered the arrival terminal. I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven. It’s no secret that I love playing video games, in fact the first one I had ever received was Super Mario World, when I was just five years old. At the risk of sounding like a super fan-girl, I had even gotten a tattoo to commemorate this great video game when I was a teenager, as a means of remembering my amazing childhood. Needless to say, it all came full circle for me the moment I stepped off that plane.

On another note, one of the best investments I made was buying the JR-Rail Pass. This 7-day pass allows foreigners to travel liberally across all of Japan on all but two of their Shinkansen Bullet Trains. While it felt a bit costly to put out almost three hundred dollars ahead of time, I was extremely relieved to have had this pass during my stay. I was able to reserve seats on trains, avoid long ques and zip by, simply by showing my pass. The staff members were always cordial, helpful and often bowed as I passed by. I was also allowed access to certain subway lines, buses and even a JR-Boat in the Hiroshima Prefecture. At the end of the day I saved a lot of money with this pass for the long distances I had traveled. The train stations, while complex I admit, were quite easy to navigate. I think people are a lot more intimidated than they ought to be about getting around in Japan. I suppose the language difference and script can make it a bit tricky.

It became obvious that everything I heard about Japanese culture was not just ‘some myth’. The Japanese are indeed, deeply traditional and their society, highly structured yet a sense of light hardheartedness was tangible in the atmosphere. When in a new place, I suppose it’s only natural to notice the way people dress and carry themselves. Japan was fun and flawless. It was only when I was walking through the streets that I recalled the fact that Tokyo was a known fashion capital of the world, and rightfully so. I saw some of the most beautiful and interesting clothing I had ever laid eyes on. Some styles were westernized while others were reminiscent of their ancient heritage, such as baggy Samuari pants. I was also drawn to the care taken to create hairstyles.

Their hairstyles and dress were straight out of a Japanese Anime as it is common for men to sport exotic colors such as pink, green, blue and red hair in a variety of ways. It was like living art. I was in awe of everything I was experiencing for the first time. I felt comfortable as I also noticed that Japanese people were aware that it was rude to stare, there was little to no prolonged eye-contact during my stay. I have traveled quite extensively and for the most part I have noticed that when people are curious, they show it…but not here. Good etiquette and discipline were the basis of every interaction.

Walking through Osaka at night can feel like a movie. Huge neon lights adorned the main streets as hundreds of arcades, toy machines and small dimly lit restaurants were pretty as a picture. It was a bustling city. I was astounded at how quaint certain backstreets appeared as many retained their traditional architectural styles. It was like being transported into the distant past. The juxtaposition of the ancient past and modern times make Japan incredibly unique. Their culture is very much alive and well. Another remarkable thing I noticed was that the streets were also spotless. Not a single piece of trash could be found littering the sidewalk.

My Airbnb in Osaka was equally unique. It was a Sailor Moon themed apartment strategically placed near to the train station. It was quite small but very functional. The use of its limited space and the placement of everything was well executed. My little studio, while very compact, was warm and well equipped with everything needed for a comfortable few-days. I could make myself breakfast and even turn up the heat so as not to freeze to death while I slept. I had all that I could possibly need.

Osaka is known as the kitchen of Japan, needless to say, one can spend a lot of time discovering amazing street foods by simply getting lost or taking a walk to the local market. I highly recommend it as a destination of discovery.

A first impression of Manila

The moment I began to appreciate the varied nature of The Philippines was when I was flying above it on my way back from Japan. The islands were plentiful, taking shapes that only a child could invent while learning to draw. Some were barren rocks while others were forested and mountainous. The deep oceans stretched all the way to the horizon where clouds met the mountains sometimes only half way up. I stared in awe at the sheer size of these landmasses bobbing and weaving, above and below the clouds. It was quite beautiful to catch the evening sunbeams dispersed in every which way.

It was at that moment I realized that my limited experience here had given me an impression that was far removed from the peace and tranquility that the other islands held. I was quite accustomed to Manila at this point which sits on the island of Luzon. Luzon is 4th most populated island in the world. However, Manila is the world’s most densely populated city at 42,857 persons per square kilometer.

During the day, Metro Manila swells to 15 million people which is markedly more than Tokyo, Mumbai or even Paris. I believe that the statistics can paint a much better picture than my description of Manila or just how bad the traffic can be. For example, I have spent on average, three hours in traffic for trips that should have only taken 20 minutes ‘on a good day.’ The sense of chaos is palpable.

Jeepneys, tricycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks and vans swerve in and out, barely leaving room for each other to intersect. Jeepney’s are the most interesting and popular modes of transport. They are often painted in radical colors, given catchy names and squeeze as many people as possible into its opened-back entrance. They are hard to miss. Tricycles are my personal favorite. Imagine a motorbike with a side-car attached where two people can ‘comfortably’ squeeze in. For about 20 pesos, I am always happy to catch one on my way back from the grocery. They are fast, cheap and private.

There are many ways to think about any given situation and for this reason I cannot help but compare and contrast the places I have been to this new hub, Manila. At a glance, the economic disparity is poignant. The far-reaching poverty has all but changed my perception on its meaning and that of classism. Before visiting The Philippines, I had never seen so many people living in a state of little to no money or few material possessions. I admit that I had seen poverty on a small scale, a few homeless people and some slums but I suppose the amount of persons I have since witnessed has caused me to feel overwhelmed and question what I really know about poverty. It is no secret that many people here live below the bread line in subpar conditions, such as no running water or proper sanitation, it is quite the norm. I believe this ‘norm’ has been a bit of a culture shock to me.

On another note, another shocking feature of this foreign land is the mannerly nature of the Filipino people. They speak Filipino, which is the official language. However I have since learnt that it is based on Tagalog which is the non-standardized form. This is of the Austronesian language tree which is one of the worlds primary language families. It is also related to Malay and Javanese. The word Tagalog means river dweller. The first time you speak to someone you may be greeted with a gentle tone, expressing words of kindness and an overall sincere disposition. It never gets old, as I find myself very comfortable and at ease living in a society with such great values. They often interchange Tagalog and English while speaking and sometimes add Po, to the sentence to express respect. You will often hear, Hello Po, or Thank you Po when you enter a store or make a purchase.

The word Utopia literally means ‘no place’ or non-existent which lends to the idea that no country is without its ills. The Philippines is no different as the good and the bad are both sides of the same coin. One can get lost looking at the never ending details in Metro Manila as life goes on as it always has, crowded, many families, children playing and people intermingling at every turn. I once asked a taxi driver if there is ever calm in Manila, to which he replied, ‘…only when Manny Pacquiao is fighting, everyone stays indoors to look at him fight.’

I will continue to spend time in Manila for the foreseeable future as my partner and I have somewhat taken root here. Manila has all the perks of big city living yet it has a certain charm and air of casual living that I recognize and cling to in memory of my island heritage.

My first post

Hi there, my name is Naomi and I am from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. I think I would firstly describe myself as ‘a jack of all trades’ and a master of one since I actually have a masters degree in a field of study. I like that phrase because it describes my varied interest in so many things that I have only scratched the surface, yet I adore. I like to think of myself as the sum of the things I love in life. I am a humanitarian at heart, an artist, a teacher by profession and a lover of animals and all things in nature. These are just a few things that make me who I am. In my free time I play as much video games as I can possibly get away with. I will go on to reveal myself bit by bit later on this blog.

My identity, in the grand scheme of things is one shrouded in mystery as I am aware that not many people can pinpoint my country on the world map. I am sometimes obligated to say that I am from ‘an island in the Caribbean’ or ‘close to Venezuela.’ Trinidad and Tobago are two islands we call a Twin Island Republic. It sounds like something out of Star Wars now that I think about it. Extensive ever-green tropical rain-forests cover large expanses of mountain ranges bordering the surrounding cities. If you were to imagine a relatively developed country, the type without many high-rise buildings, but highways linking the north, south and central communities then you might begin to have an idea what Trinidad is like. I suppose Google can also provide you with a good idea. The capital city, Port- Of-Spain is located in northern Trinidad. We have a Pitch Lake which is the world’s largest natural deposit of asphalt, some endearingly call it the eighth wonder of the world.

In my opinion, Tobago is synonymous with quiet country livin’ and beach life. It’s an escape from Trinidad’s bustling traffic and daily hustle. I instantly think of rest and relaxation and the possibility of seeing some beautiful reef-fish when I go diving. I am currently sitting here at my desk thinking about the all the delicious crab and dumpling meals I have eaten at Store Bay beach in times gone by. What I love most about Tobago is its size. It’s not too big nor too small. You can get a good day’s drive by visiting far off beaches such as Castara or Englishman’s Bay yet one can be within proximity to everything happening by staying close to the airport. It makes for a good vacation since you can see all the sites in ample time or just laze on the beach all day. It all depends on your mood. I think simplicity is at the heart of its charm.

The Caribbean sounds exotic and I imagine it can be strange to encounter a mixed-race person like myself when many people have no preconceived notion of what Caribbean people ought to look like. In Europe, I have noticed that many people equate the Caribbean to that of French influence and so, I must be a French speaker. It makes for interesting conversation as I try to recall my Form 1 history, to explain that while my country has also been colonized by the French, it was the ultimately the English who colonized it leading up to the abolition of slavery and our Independence more than one hundred years later.

On another note, I have come to avoid saying that my island is close to Venezuela due to an event that stuck in my mind. One day, I entered a ceramics class in Sevilla, a city in the south of Spain and told the women where I came from. I said, “Una isla cerca Venezuela” to which they replied and began lamenting, “Una pena que ha pasado alli…” which was an expression of pity as they began to think and talk about the current political instability in Venezuela. While the spotlight was off of me for a second, for which I was relieved, I realized at that moment that maybe I needed to stop introducing myself and my island in this way because it made people pensive and sometimes sad.

After a couple years living in Spain, I moved on to untapped territory at the end of 2019, Asia. The Philippines is currently my home. I had plans to move to Asia even before I had even gone to Spain but I thought of Asia as sort of ‘The Final Frontier’ since the flight time was easily fifteen plus hours. But recently, I felt as if I had enough experience under my belt and was capable of venturing further into the unknown by myself. I often likened myself to none other than Bilbo Baggins, one of my childhood heroes, a wee Hobbit who left the comforts of home behind and successfully navigated Middle Earth. He escaped unscathed for the most part and lived to tell amazing tales. I always thought of him when getting ready to go on a journey to a distant land.

The process of moving abroad is one of careful planning and endless errands. I think about the current moment and how it might change when I return. The idea of leaving my dogs behind hurts the most since they don’t get to live very long. They bring me so much joy, I often wonder if they understand that I love them unconditionally and wish they could be with me always. Another difficult part in the process is packing your ‘most valuable’ things into one suitcase. I have learnt that word ‘valuable’ sometimes means an old tee-shirt, the one with a lot of memories, to make me feel like myself when everything else is strange.

While I am aware that this introduction has not focused exactly on who I am, I hope that the collection of experiences I plan to write about will allow you, the reader to get to know who I am and also read about topics that might be of interest to you. I feel as if I have said enough for a first post as I just want to keep writing without end. Thanks for reading my first post. Have a great day.
-Naomi

By NaomiNoble Jan 12, 2020

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