I want to break free

February, 2011, Seoul, Korea

February 2011, Seoul, Korea

Mind of a traveller

I was 23 in Japan, living a life free of responsibility, every young 20 something dream. Yet there I was, residing in a cramped one-bedroom flat, wishing that I made different choices.

A mild state of depression slowly crept over me, causing me to reevaluate my current situation.  The tsunami hitting northern Japan,  causing a radiation leak at the Fukushima plant. The situation made me feel entirely helpless,  for a while I pondered about how my life had led me here, in this tiny bedsit, watching the walls alone. Wishing the time away; hoping something –anything that would come along and put me on the right path towards contentment.

The anxiety didn’t let up when my brother visited me that year, if anything I saw his freedom to explore the world and I envied it. During most March 2011, we were trapped in my flat too scared by all the fear-mongering of the British media about radiation poisoning to venture outside. A feeling of being imprisoned slowly took over, as trains were cancelled, flights delayed and food scarce.

Some might say that I was ungrateful, and looking back at it, maybe I was. But even after the threat of radiation had died down, I woke up everyday almost in tears. I went to a job I had no passion for only to increase my bank balance and secure my visa.

Flights out of the country became too expensive, the low job prospects back at home, promises made to friends I had to keep;  the chains were tight and every time I resisted it only toughened its grasp.

As an expatriate, friends come and go, and there is never a ‘forever’, only for those who have set up shop here with families and I had no temptation to follow, if anything there attitudes towards Japan only made me want to leave even more.

Two years later still miserable I knew I had overstayed my welcome.  Rather than book a ticket straight out of Japan, I opted to visit Fukuoka, costing me no more than a few hundred pounds.  After a brief romantic encounter with an Australian; I was in the air –literally (and figuratively).

Travelling is a life-changing event that affects people’s way of thinking, but you also find yourself appreciating home-comforts. Once I landed at Heathrow, I inhaled the multiculturalism of London and my first week passed in a blur of museums, long walks, and “good ol’ English pubs”. This was home.

The long job applications started and I was working within the first three weeks of being back home.  The job I had trained for and tried vainly to find in Tokyo. An ideal situation to most but it happened again; the stability had started to cause an unease. I was in a situation where I had total control, which ironically made me scared.

I was becoming an “everyday robot” and I ceased the opportunity to fly off again, this time to New York.

But it wasn’t enough, I was travelling to modern cities, while I had always thrived on the historical sites, nature reserves and mountains a country had to offer.  There was no stopping me from climbing mountains, visiting temples –seeing the world.

A few weeks ago, at my computer I scrolled through volunteer opportunities online. With the savings I had accumulated I booked my first expedition to Peru to help on an archaeological dig at Vilcabamba.  It did the trick, and settled my self-induced anxiety.  Jealousy still gets the best of me when I see tourists wandering through London, exploring the hidden  alley ways, or discovering that quaint little pub behind the promenade of shops in Holborn. But, I know its only a matter of time before I’m on the road (again.)

 

The last of the Incas

This year, sees an adventure begin. My trip to Peru in April, will be one of the biggest events of my life, I see nothing but the land of the setting sun in front of me.  It’s been a childhood dream of mine to visit Machu Pichu, my interest in the Incan empire was sparked when I was only a child, watching the Mysterious Cities of Gold, pretending to be Zia, the Incan princess. Something about the ancient lands of Peru causes a chill down my spine, the good kind, the kind, which kicks you off your seat into action, into an adventure.

I read the Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham last year, it was filled with stories of discovery, the main one being how he found the last city of the indigenous people of Peru, which had always fascinated me. I had no hopes of becoming an archaeologist or historian when I was a child, I had only wished to visit the land of the setting sun so I could trace the same steps of the Incas with my very own footprints.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Last year, after coming back from a four-year adventure in Japan, I felt at odds with the world. It might come across off as little strange, but I left not out of the need for home comforts, but for adventure. Japan had given me all the necessities I would have needed to go voyaging off in some distant land,  money, accessible routes from sea and land, but it lacked the all important key to adventure; opportunity. You see I didn’t want to just visit Peru, I wanted to explore Peru.

That’s when I realised I wanted to be more than a travel writer, visiting restaurants and hotels and giving them a rating out of ten seemed a little mundane, if not repetitive. I wanted to get into every nick and cranny in Machu Picchu and find or notice something that someone hadn’t before.

I started attended seminars at UCL about South American Archaeology, and my interest started to shape into a life ambition. I began applying for internships on archaeological digs in Peru and by some source of divine power I was offered one late last year with a renowned archaeologist in the field of Ancient Peru, finally starting my adventure.

Here I include my 5 favourite civilisations to come out of Peru, and some I hope to delve into more once I become more acquainted with the region.

Top 5 Peruvian Ancient

  1. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, was a culture of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas Region of present-day Peru.
  2. The Inca Empire  was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
  3. The Nazca culture was the archaeological culture that flourished from 100 BCE to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley.
  4. The Wari  were a Middle Horizon civilization that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about AD 500 to 1000.
  5. The Chavín were a civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 BC to 200 BC.

Panda Land

With the pandas in China.

With the pandas in China.

Pandas are indeed cute.  I found this out firsthand when I visited China last month.  China had never been on my list of countries to visit, but that sentiment doesn’t hold true now. After spending seven adventured-filled days in the Sichuan Province I couldn’t believe I hadn’t booked the ticket years ago.  As evident from my previous posts; I live in Japan, a country which isn’t exactly on China’s party guest list when all the cool countries want to hang out with each other.  I had been deterred to some extent by Japanese attitudes towards China, but it’s not something I took on board seriously. Secondly, as much as I like to brag about my spontaneity, this is a trait which I like to exaggerate greatly. My move to Japan was years in the planning and the idea had  intimidated me to the point of severe anxiety at the time.  My trip to China was the exact opposite, there were no plans, I just booked a ticket after a day of thinking, “why the hell not?”

So there I was in the airport taking a flight to China, it happens in an instant as soon as I walked on the plane; everything changed.  I don’t like to make generalisations, but I respect the Chinese attitude in some ways more than the Japanese. Their take no bullshit stance from others and doing what the hell they want to when they want to do it really impressed me.  Air travel is a drain mentally and physically for me. Even with a two-hour flight I need at least a day to recover. Going through immigration and customs where people care little about red-tape made it almost manageable

I feel that holidays and adventures are different, they’re two separate concepts. Holidays are margaritas on the beach, sand between your toes and watching the sun set on a beach with palm trees. Obviously, Chengdu in China doesn’t have any of these things- what I came to China for was the pandas, sacred mountains and temples. Hoping to see some crazy food (I did-cockroach shish kebab). The whole trip reminded me of those roleplaying books I used to love when I was little. Those ones that told you to turn a page when you met someone or had to make a decision. China is like that; you make a move and you could be faced with the worst outcomes, likely sleeping at an inn with the Dutch businessman (Hostel, Eli Roth).

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Near the top of Mount Emei.

One of the best decisions on the trip was to go to the Panda  Breeding Center, which is situated just outside Chengdu.  I always thought that people overplay pandas’ cuteness. This is certainly not true -pandas are just like overgrown babies.  Their mannerisms, their clumsiness, their fondness of working a crowd,  come across so child-like that it’s almost easy to forget that you are looking at animals capable of causing you some serious damage, not stuffed teddy-bears.  My friend and I just stood watching them and their ways, grasping on the bamboo then pulling the shoots apart with the elegance of a hungry infant. It felt like almost an hour each time we decided to move on. They are simply “entertaining.”

Apart from pandas, there are other things to do in Sichuan province in China, actually it holds many of China’s greatest treasures. For three days of my tour I decided along with my fellow traveler to go up Mount Emei. Mount Emei is one of four sacred mountains in China.  It’s a place of enlightenment, and while climbing and visiting some of the temples on the mountains I felt peaceful as if all my worries had simply vanished.  I doubt I reached any form of enlightenment, though it’s nice to think I did feel some power from the mountain. Unfortunately, due to a lack of research on both our parts, we hadn’t realised that the mountain was actually 52km to the top and begrudgingly took a bus the rest of the way.  We hanged out on the summit, talking and drinking baijou (a strong Chinese alcoholic drink) and just nattering about the most mundane things in life, no need for overstatements. The mountain said everything.

Myself at Leshan

Myself at Leshan

Leshan is a few miles away from Mount Emei, which is another Buddhist place and holds the biggest Buddha in the world. The Buddha is carved into a mountain and is supposed to bring protection to the town as the rivers that flow around the town are said to be quite volatile and dangerous for the residents. I didn’t look up to see if the buddha had indeed done what is was built for, one can assume though that it did give the people some sort of peace of mind.  Nonetheless it is still pretty epic to look at once you finally get to it after hours of queuing up. I know that wherever you go in the world, especially places that are said to be national treasures -you’ll find tourist traps.  Though I had hoped that Sichuan wouldn’t be like that, that it was a little area in the corner of the world that was still left unscathed by others.  Unfortunately Chinese tourists are very much like Japanese tourists, which means they are overfond of visiting other places in their own country.  This is acceptable in my eyes since China is so big and filled with various types of cultures and people. In England however, only the elderly vacation around the country and other such trips are seen as “breaks” or” day-trips.” I shudder to think of never leaving England knowing that was my only world.  As much as I love my home-country there is so much to see once you pass the channel tunnel. Even Europe with it’s variety of countries and landscapes can never fulfill my urge to go exploring in other regions of the world.

China had a lot going for it, but I had to say a relief came over me once I had landed in Narita, the courteous people in Japan makes it a country worth living in. There are other things that I could rant about in China; pollution, litter, disregard for animal life, personal space constantly being invaded. I just won’t go there though, it’s not my place to judge another country. Though from my experience in China I hope they do stop building, I didn’t see countryside that hadn’t been scathed by horrid skyscapers and dusty air. It is quite upsetting to see, I know the economy is growing, but at what cost? A negligence for the environment and the planet?  I was happy to check out some historical places, but they were all somehow ravaged by modern architecture that had no real reason to be there. If China does become the number one world power, let’s hope they develop some empathy for a dying planet.