Simple

Settling back into my life in Minneapolis has been time spent reflecting, adjusting, and pondering what I want my life to look like moving forward.  I’ve spent the last 4 years making adjustments to my life, scaling back the number of hobbies and interests that I attempt to fit into my life, or ridding myself of all the things that weigh me down.  I’ve done this not really knowing where it’s leading me except for the ability to pack up and travel someplace with more ease and security.

You see, I’ve often spent my life thinking in terms of destinations.  I’ll convince myself that once I arrive at someplace, I can finally think of my life as successful or that I’m well on my way to achieving happiness and contentment.  I’ll often think about that next skill or success that will open up a door to greater success and happiness, while only whittling away more free time from just being or enjoying the time that I have.

I rented a car for the first week that I arrived home, thinking that I would find an old clunker to drive around within the first week.  I had intended to adopt all of the interests that I filled my time with before leaving on my grand adventure.  But a peculiar thing happened during that time.  I came to realize very quickly that I didn’t really miss having to pay for all the things necessary to operate a vehicle such as gas, title, insurance, etc.  I also didn’t miss having to fight for my safety against all the other idiots on the road.  After a week, I gave up my rental car with no other options than to ride the metro system.  My roommate also gave me a Go-To card for the metro so that I could get around.  We posited that if I could just get through the next couple of weeks until the snow melted and it became easier to be outside, that I might get used to the metro system.  Coupled with buying a bicycle, I might even be able to adopt a new healthy lifestyle where I might not even need a vehicle in my life.

It’s been a noble quest.  After almost 5 weeks of using the metro system, I’m finding that I have become more tolerant of the metro system and am finding it to be a viable source of transportation around the cities.  Obviously, anyplace that I want to go now requires more planning and effort.  But that is surprisingly okay.  I’m now forced to make a decision as to how much I really want to go somewhere.  I’ve now removed many situations where I go someplace only to be disappointed that I spent the effort and time to go.  And with limited space in which to carry things, I now shop for food in much smaller quantities.  I am finding that not only am I using less space to store food, but this constraint is also helping me alleviate the problem of food getting forgotten and spoiling.  Using the metro also requires me to walk a lot more than I normally would.  I’ve spent more time enjoying the scenery around me, and getting exercise without having to make an effort to get to the gym.  I’m starting to consider getting rid of my gym membership as well.  My world has become smaller in terms of where I go and what I do.

However, Minneapolis is no Chicago.  We lack an extensive subway / lightrail system that other large cities offer.  I don’t always feel safe riding some of the buses late at night, or even the lightrail for that matter, when the stop is right outside some bars.  I can pass the time easily during the day reading a book or my nook between destinations.  That is as long as the other patrons are relatively quiet and not screaming into their phones, or trying to pick a fight with someone, or arguing about sports or which is better, Kentucky Fried Chicken or Popeyes.  “I’m talkin’ bout the colonel!!  The colonel, man!  He’s responsible for all those hot sauces.”  It’s distracting to say the least.  And unfortunately, when I consider my own tolerance to the white noise of life, I find that I’m starting to lean towards buying a car for myself.

I mentioned in the last post, arriving at my friends storage shed only to discover that after living out of a bag for the last 4 months, that I could easily dispose of many of the things I had stored while away.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks organizing and determining which things I’m going to rid myself of.  Being back and anticipating making some roots for at least the next 6 months to a year has caused me to fight my impulses for lightening my load a bit.  I try and convince myself that I will now need many of the items in storage.  But I know in my heart, I probably won’t.  I can probably get rid of my snowboard.  When I only snowboard once or twice a year, it doesn’t really make much sense to keep a snowboard around; especially when I can rent that equipment at a resort.  I’m finding that I don’t need near as many of the kitchen supplies that I think I do to make a good meal.  And I definitely don’t need all of the clothes that I’ve acquired over the last decade.

All of this has been an exercise in quantifying how much I need to be happy.  We make excuses for why we cannot have the type of life that others have.  Or, we make comparisons and assumptions about the quality of life that other people have without having the perspective of actually experiencing life in another way.  Rarely will we put ourselves in those situations by choice, but once placed into those situations either inadvertently or by circumstance, we readily adjust and find that what we had before wasn’t all that great and that how we live our life now is quite simply, better.  And that is the crux of my education.  I’m finding that rather than happiness being found by arriving at a destination, it is instead being found by simplifying my life so that I might spend more time enjoying the simple things in life.

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Clarity

sky

I remember having a beer with my friend, Geoff, before leaving, and lamenting how disappointing it would be to go off on my adventure and return without having found what I have been looking for (purpose, vocation, etc).  Being one of my many wise and astute friends that I surround myself with, Geoff readily responded that my goal should not be to “Find Myself”, but only to find clarity in my life.

So there I was, 4 weeks before making my return home when my mother questioned me “How are you going to process this trip after you get home?”.  The truth is, I had already been sifting through my memories, looking for the truths and feelings that resonated with me the most.  I knew that upon arriving home, my friends and family would be curious to hear about my favorite adventures and hoping to understand some of the things that I took away from those experiences.  Personally, I find it difficult to define my favorite adventure or experience.  There were so many fantastic experiences that to choose one or two would somehow De-emphasize the others, and that unfortunately is something I’m unable to do.

For me, travel is about the people.  The places, adventures, and activities are just the icing on the cake. Those experiences really do not mean so much without the people that you encounter along the way.  The validation that I received from people was incredible.  Everyone I met, understood what I was doing and why I was doing it.  And everyone was full of ideas and untapped creativity.  It spurred me to think about my pursuits in an entirely different way.

Connection in this world may be the single most important quest in this life.  I don’t want to say that I have the answer to life, the universe, and everything (42), but it seems to me to be one of the most important quests I’ve ever undertaken; and one of the most enjoyable.  While on my adventure, I became very inspired reading about the Connection Economy in The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin.  The only way we are able to achieve anything of value in life, and to create the art that we’re capable of, is through the connections that we make along the way.  These connections can be personal, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.

I’ve learned that we have it good in this country.  I’ve seen so much poverty.  People selling their handiwork on the streets with their children sitting beside them.  I’ve met so many people with the drive to try and make something / anything happen. The excuses that I’ve been making for myself cannot stand moving forward.  While I’m fearful of falling flat on my ass for trying something ambitious and crazy from time to time, I have a really good track record of walking away from such events with a minimal amount of injuries, both physical and emotional.

Attitude and perspective go a long way.  While we cannot control all the challenges that pop up in our lives, we can control how it affects us and how we treat other people along the way.  Treating people badly because we’re upset (even if the person in question is the one making us upset) never leads to anything positive. And getting upset or worried does absolutely nothing for us, except take away our peace of mind and cloud our judgement.

I’m much happier living a smaller or more simple life. Before I left, I sold many of my belongings and then stored the remaining things in my friends storage shed.  When I returned home and then traveled to his house to fetch some of necessary items, I was immediately struck by the number of items I had stored, that I now realized I could live without.  After living out of a backpack for 4 months, you realize how much you really need to be happy.  I think I’ve also started to look at ownership in a completely different way.  What good is having something when you only use it a fraction of the time?  Convenience?  Yet the “weight” of ownership bears down on our shoulders.  By “weight”, I mean the need to store said item; or the responsibility of keeping said item in good, working condition; or the worry we have if someone may steal it while we’re not present.  It doesn’t make sense to me the energy we expend to have so many things.  Understand though, I’m not suggesting we give up all our valuable possessions.  I’m only suggesting that we trim the excess of that which we do not use often enough.

I believe that it is necessary that we have passion in our lives.  I feel there’s an uneasy trend where passions are stifled, because it causes fear.  To feel so strongly about something that you would risk almost everything can seem a bit childish or impulsive.  But, coupled with wisdom; the wisdom gained from failure; passion is essential to pushing us forward and past all expectations and assumptions.  You cannot create something great without passion.  And we need to focus on our passions more.  More passion.  Less monetary gain.  We should concentrate on the things that we love, rather than the money or gain that we hope to achieve in the future.  Nor should we fear failure, for failure produces wisdom, which only makes us better at the art that we create.

And lastly, slow down and savor the moments in your life.  Appreciate them.  You will not always be happy.  You can escape and travel the world for four months; or maybe a year; but things will not always be what you expected.  You’ll be disappointed from time to time and you’ll be challenged by forces beyond your control.  To savor the truly amazing and memorable moments in your life is to appreciate the challenges and hardships that you’ve endured; and that my friends is what living life is all about.

Faces

Situated in the South Pacific, over 3000 kilometers from Chile, is a small island that is home to a number of statues carved out of rock.  It’s one of the most isolated places on the planet to visit.  The allure of traveling to Easter Island comes from trying to understand where the stone statues came from, and how they were moved to their current locations.  Since childhood, I have wanted to visit Easter Island.  There was something spooky and mysterious about an island full of face statues, and I wanted to be there.

When I first started planning this trip, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Easter Island into it somehow.  This has been a dream in the making for over 30 years.  Logistically, it’s a more difficult destination to get to.  One must travel either from Santiago, Chile or Papeete, Tahiti.  Only one airline services the island and that is LAN Airlines.  Ticket prices are not cheap, and the fact that I was going during their Tapati festival makes it even that much more expensive.  But hey – you only live once, and I didn’t want to go though my life not having visited one of the more interesting places on the planet.

When I finally arrived in Easter Island, I handed over the 60 US dollar park entrance fee and then was picked up by my hotel.  Tekena Inn is a nice little Inn situated on the main road that cuts right through the center of Hanga Roa, the only town on the island.  It’s quiet and the breakfast is solid.  The internet is basically non-existent, but then again, you’re on the most remote place on the planet.  There’s really no good internet anywhere.  I dropped my gear and got my bearings by walking down to the area where most of the Scuba Dive shops are located.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Peace Boat docked right off shore behind the Moai Te Ata Hero.  A friend of mine had spent a number of months the prior year on Peace Boat.  I stopped into Orca Dive Center and scheduled two dives for the upcoming Monday and Tuesday.  That would give me 2 – 3 days prior to that to explore the archeological sites on the island.  I later wandered around and ate dinner at Te Moana and later walked to Tahai, right outside of town where a couple of Moai stand with their backs to the ocean.

The next day, wanting to see more Moai, I rented a bike for 10,000 Chilean pesos and set out to explore the west side of the island.  I first stopped in and visited the museum.  Next, I made my way to Te Peu and slightly beyond.  The road to Te Peu is a rocky dirt road, and as you go farther, it becomes a bit treacherous.  It’s best to have a 4 wheeler or jeep to traverse this road, although at some point, visitors are not allowed to continue on in any vehicle as it must be done by foot.  I returned to Tekena Inn later in the day sore and tired from my bike ride.

Not having seen many Moai the prior day, I set out the next day again on a bicycle with a plan to see as many Moai as possible.  The guy at the bike rental advised me to take the paved road up through the center of the island and then come back along the coast.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I decided to rent a bike again, as I was still a bit sore from the day before.  With the bike seat reminding my ass that I obviously hate it, I set out on my adventure.  After stumbling upon a small unlisted statue on my map, I accidentally arrived at another unlisted gem – Jardin Tau Kiani, a beautiful botanical garden.  The garden reminded me a bit of a Japanese garden where oriental statues were replaced by small Moai replica’s surrounded by exotic plants indigenous to the island.  A groundskeeper started offering me advice about the location of archeological sites of interest on the island and how to get there.  I was struggling with my Spanish and unsure if I was understanding him much.  The conversation quickly deteriorated into Spanglish intermixed with vague hand gestures and confused looks.  I clumsily got back on my bicycle and headed out.

I finally arrived at A Kivi, confused and realizing that I had been going in the wrong direction.  Thinking that I had botched my plans for the day, I continued onward and miraculously located the main highway again and finally arrived at the other end of the island, tired and sore.  I started to curse myself for this fools errand.  Having traveled close to 20 kilometers, I was not sure if I’d be able to walk properly the next day.  But, that’s how I roll – unprepared and uncomfortable.  I reminded myself that it was an adventure and that it would make a great story to tell my friends when I arrive back home.

I quickly located the beach at Anakena and dismounted my bike for awhile.  I walked across the entrance and visited the two platforms supporting Moai overlooking the beach.  What a spectacular view with palm trees, statue, sand, and ocean.  I decided to get into my swim trunks and take in some relaxation on the beach.  After an hour of some swimming and sun, it was time to continue my quest.  Following the road to the east and south, I made my way around Maunga Puakatike to Tongariki and Rano Raraku (the Moai quarry).  Many of the pictures you see in books are of the stone statues from Rano Raraku.  It is one of the those places that leaves you in awe and feeling blessed to experience this place in the flesh.  It was here that I met James Grant-Peterkin, a British native living on Easter Island and founder of Easter Island Spirit.  He was at Rano Raraku helping a cameraman get pictures for a new documentary on Easter Island that was being produced.  James was very personable and I enjoyed talking with him a bit.  Before heading out, I found myself hungry and I knew that I would need some energy to make it back to Hanga Roa.  So, I went to the cafeteria and ordered what became the best banana bread I had ever eaten.  I spent the next hour riding back to Hanga Roa, alternating between a sitting and standing position as I was exhausted and sore.  In fact, I was so sore that I spent the next day recovering from my 40km bike ride the previous day.

Monday, I awoke early for my dive.  The dive site that day would be Hanga Roa (also named after the town) where there is a fake Moai placed at the bottom at about 15 – 20 meters deep.  Arriving upon the site, everyone had their underwater camera’s, including me, ready for the photo-op.  The water in Easter Island is really clear due to the low plankton levels and lack of pollution.  You can sometimes see up to 200 feet underwater.  But while the visibility is crystal clear, the sea life is not that exciting.  I was fortunate enough to capture a sea turtle swimming not far from our group.  At the surface, I was able to meet one of my dive partners that day, Vanessa, who comes from Chile.  I would bump into her many times during the course of my trip.  I spent the rest of the day relaxing and checking out the artisinal markets.  The next day, my dive was at Motu Nui, a giant wall of coral.  Our group went to 30 meters before returning to the surface.  All around, I had a great time diving.

The next couple of days, I spent my time relaxing.  I eventually rented a scooter and checked out the volcano at Rano Kau, the stone village at Orongo and Ahu Vinapu.  During this time, I got a ride up to Cerro Pui where participants in the Tapati festivals, Haka Pei competition slide down the hill on sleds made from the trunk of banana trees.

Back in Hanga Roa, I often ate at a dive bar a block from the dive shops.  It was here that I ran into Vanessa again.  Between my bad Spanish and her bad English I came to learn that her Easter Island trip was a gift to herself because her Cancer had recently gone into remission.  Again, I had the privilege to meet someone that was conquering life’s challenges and living their life to the fullest.  If there was anything to take away from this trip, it would be the number of people with truly inspiring stories that I had continued to run into.  Later, I was fortunate enough to watch Vanessa join other tourists alongside the community for a parade in which everyone paints their bodies and wears traditional celebratory garb to celebrate the heritage of Easter Island.  And then, before returning back to the mainland, I would take my scooter up to Anakena for one last visit to the beach for some ocean and sun.

I spent my last night on Easter Island, again at Te Moana, outside, dining on grilled fish with coconut and pineapple sauce served with mashed potatoes.  With a glass of Chilean Merlot in my hand, I gazed out at the ocean and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.  I had done this.  A journey that I had envisioned for years, it took a lot of sacrifices and changes on my part.  But I was here and incredibly grateful for the fortitude, strength, and support of my friends to make it all happen.  Topping off this gorgeous sunset, I ordered up a serving of their coconut helado.  Taking a bite, I realized that I had reached my goal and was ready to head back to the mainland.  To be honest, 9 days was a bit much and I was ready to go.  I had mixed feelings.  This was the start of the end of my trip, and I’d be making my way back to the United States in the next couple of days after returning to Chile.  It’s been an incredible journey and I’m having trouble processing everything that I’ve experienced and understanding all the new feelings I’m having.  The journey’s not over, but I think it will change a bit from here on out.  Stay tuned for more posts where I hope to illuminate the fog a bit more.