Monday, March 07, 2016

Do not jump...

Last month, someone jumped from a building where I used to live.
I got a second hand account of what happened.
One of my neighbours from that building told me that he heard a loud noise and the building shook.
When he went on the balcony and looked down, he saw a body lying at the bottom, on the steps leading to the doors into the building.

This shook me.
I didn't see it, I didn't hear it happen, yet it shook me.
I don't even live there anymore, yet, it shook me.
Had I been in the building...had I been walking nearby...I can only imagine how I would feel!

The next day at work, I wasn't myself.
I told a coworker what happened, and she confided in me that her dad also committed suicide a few years ago. At the time, she never told anybody how her dad was found, just that he passed away.
It's only on that day, that I learned that she carried that lie and the weight of it for a couple of years, until she could come to terms with it. Her dad did not leave a note. His car was found by the side of the road, on a bridge and his body at the bottom.

I admire her for still being wholesome.
I admire her for being so stoic this whole time.
Part of me does not understand. Maybe because even in my lowest of lows, I never felt like ending my life. I'm not being judgmental, I don't know what goes through the mind of one who turns to suicide. But I've been told it is very common for people to have these thoughts. And fortunately not everybody who has these thoughts go through with it.

February was mental health awareness month.
The media talked about it at length. One morning, I heard a parent talk over the radio about how his daughter, a teenager, took her own life last year. The story was heart-wrenching. It's hard enough for a parent to lose a child, but for a parent to question whether they could have prevented it, it could be mental torture day in and day out.

I, personally, don't think I could ever do it, even if I am depressed.
I do not have piercings or tattoos because of the pain I anticipate I would have to endure.
Plus I would not want my family to go through the pain of going on without me, of ever thinking that they could have helped.

I know that in the moment, due to their illness (depression or any other mental disorder), people who commit suicide are not thinking of the pain they would inflict on their loved ones. In that moment, they think that taking their own lives would actually make everything better.
It makes me sad that there are so many people in the world who think they have no other choice.
It scares me that I may be walking by someone having these thoughts and not knowing what they are going through.

This is a reminder to myself and to the world to be kind to others, you don't know what kind of day they are having.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's 2016, leave me alone!

I cannot believe that a month in 2016 is almost over.
If the first few days of the year is any indication, this year is going to be a rollercoaster!

Over Christmas, I reconnected with a high school friend who really wanted to match me with this guy she knows. Long story short, she gave him my number, without my permission and when the guy messaged, I debated for the longest time whether I should respond or not. My aunt also wanted to match me with the same guy and I had refused at the time. So what is it with this guy that everybody wanted me to meet? Turns out they matched me with him only because he happens to run marathons and knowing that I also run, they thought we would be a good match! 

After a few texts, he admitted to having failed his high school exam twice and to being in the 'food production industry' now. That was a major turn off for me. First, that made me realize that I am an intellectual snob. I have absolutely no interest in someone who cannot perform academically. Second, his obvious lack of ambition, having relinquished his job as a chef in favor of a social life, did not inspire me at all. I like guys who are driven by ambition, and his nonchalant 'now I work Mondays to Fridays from 6:00am to 2:30pm and I have week-ends free' as an excuse to stopping being a chef, did not impress me. An ambitious man, who did not like the lack of social life as a chef, would either work towards owning a restaurant, or becoming an executive chef. It did not help that the guy gave the 2 options, either being keen on meeting him, or being a jerk. So I chose to be a jerk. 

A few days later, my cousin messaged me that a popular online dating website was having some kind of discounted rate. Why does everybody want me to be in a relationship? What is wrong with my life right now, that everybody seems to want to change it? My cousin asked me, when I said that I'm not looking, 'what will you do when you get older?'. I answered 'Exactly what I've been doing all along: whatever I want!'. 

I understand that people in marital bliss think that I'm miserable alone. But I'm not, and nobody seems to understand that. Would me being in a relationship and eventually married make me successful or happier? Can I not be successful being single? I've heard a lot of stories of women who are useless, do not hold jobs, do not contribute to society, but are able to be in relationships and get married. Are these women worth more than me, just because they got hitched? 

Most of my supportive friends understood my position when I told them the story of the cook. But one of them said to me 'You are not getting any younger, you cannot afford to be picky'. I've heard it before, but that one time was the last straw. Yes, I know I'm not getting any younger, but do I want to settle just because it's about time? I don't think so. I hardly ever want for companionship, and the guy who does make me want to give up the kind of life I've created for myself would have to be worth it. 
Why give up a peaceful, drama-free life for all the complications of being in a relationship? Statistics on divorce and real-life examples around me certainly do not make me want to be in a relationship. And the few successful marriages around me do not inspire me. I'm happy for them, but I do not envy them. As with many things in life, being single is a decision. I could, if I wanted, put myself out there and find someone. But I don't. And people do not understand why.

It is 2016, why can't a single woman be left alone? 
Sometimes I think that people cannot see me be happy on my own and just want to add misery to my life. Other times, I'm more lenient and think that they mean well (that maybe if I find a 'better half' the happiness would double?!?), but are not really looking out for what would really make me happy. 

Right now, it is for everybody to leave me alone. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Salkantay Trek - Day 5 - Machu Picchu finally!

The long awaited day was finally here!

I was up and packed by 4am. The hotel provided breakfast from 4 am to 8am, so we had our breakfast and Alex came and picked us up at 4:30. The gate at the bridge opens at 5 am. By the time we got there, there were already a lot of people in line.

Once the gate was opened, everybody got their passport and ticket checked and then we went up the stairs for 1 hour. Machu Picchu's gates were open at 6 am and the first bus had already arrived so that next to us dripping with sweat, there were people who took the bus up.

Alex gave us a tour of the ruins for about 2 hours and then left us to roam and enjoy the day as we wanted. His job was done, he had to go down and get a train ticket back to Cusco since locals could not book their ticket days in advance like tourists do. We had seats on the 6pm train.

I had secured a ticket to Wayna Picchu, but my comrades on the trek did not. So we parted ways for a few hours, agreeing to meet at noon outside the gate. I decided to go up to Sun gate before going to Wayna Picchu at 10:00. Up and up I went for more than 45 minutes. By the time I got up there, I took a picture and had to go back down and across to the Wayna Picchu entrance. I got in behind a gentleman from Boulder, Colorado and he talked about 2 couples he met and which I also met in Cusco!

Wayna Picchu was steep and the ruins at the top overlooked Machu Picchu. I met the couple from New York up there. People assembled at the top, where there was no railing or anything for safety. One had to go through a crack in the rock to get up there. I carefully made my way down after, having to go down steep steps, barely wide enough to hold my foot, getting to the gate 20 minutes late to meet my fellow Trekkers. The American couple followed us down to Aguas Calientes since the line up for the bus was ridiculous. We went to our hotel and hung out in the lobby for a while after having lunch at a local restaurant. We spent our free time at a bar playing cards before catching the train at 6pm.

At Ollaytambo, we had a cab waiting to take us back to our respective hotels in Cusco. We got in town at around 10pm. That ended the 5 days we spent together going up to Machu Picchu.
One bucket list item could be crossed off for me. Although the trek was in no way easy, I loved doing it. My phone registered an average of 30,000 steps for each of the 5 days we were trekking. The scenery was beautiful and it was the experience of a lifetime. The choice to take a lesser known trail was, I felt, a great decision. The washrooms were not as bad as predicted and the trail, though busy with other groups, were not as crowded as what I imagine the Inca Trial to be all the time. In any case, what an adventure I had in the Andes!

Salkantay Trek - Day 4

Day 4 started earlier than usual. We were up by 4:30.
Our chef made us a cake overnight, decorated with cream and everything.
We had quinoa for breakfast, instead of oatmeal which is quite unusual.
This is where we said goodbye to our chef and helper. The helper was bringing us lunch later that day but we were not to see our chef again.

We left camp at 5:15 and started uphill right away. Alex promised it was only 3 hrs uphill at most.
I had a hard time going up but it was not as bad as Day 2 and we were done with the uphill in 2 hrs.
When we got up there, there was some ruins and we stopped to have a break.
These ruins had a ditch in a straight line directly pointing to Machu Picchu, but because of fog, we could barely make out the outline of Machu Picchu.

We then went downhill from there until we reached the local train station. The sun was high up by then although it was only 10:00 am. We met with our helper who provided our lunch boxes. We were all so hungry that we ate right away.

We walked 2.5 hours along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes.
The agency had booked a hotel for us, but we did not have any change of clothes with us. We were free until 5:15pm when the local train would bring our bags to Aguas Calientes. It was nice to shower and have a nap in a real bed instead of the tent. Alex met us at the local train stop and gave us our bags before dinner.

Dinner was at Apu Salkantay restaurant, just by the local train stop. We had to pay for our own drinks but the agency paid for the dinner. Alex then showed us the cheapest supermarket in Aguas Calientes for us to buy our snacks and water before leaving us for the night.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Salkantay Trek - Day 3

Day 3 started at 5:30 am with the coca tea brought to my tent.
We had a delicious breakfast with oatmeal, cereals and omelettes.

Again, we were the last group to leave camp around 7am, although we were the smallest group.
This is where we said goodbye to our  'horse man'. Our bags were going to be taken to camp and the horse man was going back to where we started.

Today's trek was nice and easy, through shaded areas and valleys.
We saw several waterfalls and had to walk over sketchy looking bridges made of wood and covered with soil and grass.

We found lots of butterflies along the way.

This is where we had a choice to abandon the rest of the trek and go to hot springs for the afternoon, but we chose to tread on. We walked through a small village towards the campsite, under a hot sun. We arrived at the campsite around 1:00 pm to eat lunch.

I then had a nap before Alex woke me up around 5pm for a coffee tour. The owner of the campsite has a small coffee plantation so he gave us a tour, showing us avocado plants and coffee plants. He showed us how to pick avocados with a stick that has a bag at the end. He then walked us through the whole process of how to make coffee, with the roasting, grinding and brewing. We all tasted the delicious coffee after.

Our tour included a couple from New York from another group/campsite. They hung out with us as our guide, Alex, and Mattias played soccer with a deflated ball with the locals. Any out-of-bounds ball meant someone had to run down the slope to retrieve the ball. Soccer seems to be prevalent everywhere in Peru, there seems to be a football field wherever there are a few houses around.

It was another early night for us since we decided to set off early the next day.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Salkantay Trek - Day 2

The day started at 5:15am by a knock on the tent 'Signorita? Signorita? coca tea?'.
The cook always brings us coca tea to our tents in the morning and then we had 30 minutes to get ready and show up at breakfast.

Breakfast was pancakes with fruits. We ate and left just before 7am.
That 2nd day was the hardest of all. The trail was uphill for a few hours as we climbed up to the Salkantay point. It was an arduous climb for me. I had to stop every few steps as my heart was racing as soon as I walked and I was breathing heavily. Alex stayed with me and I finally made it. We spent some time at the top, the highest point of the trek, Alex giving us a history lesson and taking pictures and building towers of rock.

We then went down towards camp. We stopped in the middle of a field where the helpers had set up the tent for us to have lunch. We ate, and then started to walk to camp.

We had time to rest before tea time which was popcorn and won ton's stuffed with cheese. Then we had dinner before heading to bed by 8 p.m. That was an exhausting day for me, especially in the morning. I thought it would never be over. I was glad the most difficult part was over. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Salkantay Trek - Day 1

Salkantay Trek, the best alternative to the Inca Trail.

I embarked on the 5-day trail with a Swedish couple and a Montreal guy on October 5 at 5am.

We were all picked up at our hotel or hostel by Alex, our guide, who came with the cook and the assistant cook in a van. We stopped for breakfast before we met with the horseman and his horses. The cook took a cab to the first camp to secure a good spot for us. Although we set off before the horseman and the horses, we were passed by them at the first stop we made.

The trail itself was uphill for a couple of hours. Then it flattened and we walked along a stream, sometimes shaded by trees, but mostly out in the open, For 3 hours, it was a leisurely walk to the camp. The camp was not as I imagined it to be. There was a main building next to washrooms and on higher ground was another structure to host our tents. The cook had set up and was preparing lunch when we got there. The tents were already set up too.

We were each given a bowl of water and soap to wash our hands before sitting down for lunch. The table was set with a table cloth and there were 3 lawn chairs and 2 stools around the small square table. We had a feast for lunch: soup, rice and vegetables and potatoes of course.

After lunch, we had a short time to nap before setting off to go see a lake up the hill. This was not part of the trail, but all the other groups also seem to be heading there.
That uphill was a killer for me. I huffed and puffed up, with Alex giving me both his walking sticks instead of my lone one. I did make it eventually, with lots of breaks taken along the way and Alex looking on. The view was quite worth it, the mountains covered with snow loomed over the lake to make a breathtaking picture.

The descent was way easier for me, and I enjoyed looking at the horses and cows freely roaming the mountains.
When we got back to the camp, we had tea time. Tea time almost always consisted of popcorn and crackers and an assortment of teas or coffee or chocolate.
I was exhausted and by the time we were served dinner, I was dying to go to bed, almost falling asleep at the table. We even had dessert that day, a black jello like dessert, very sweet.

As my fellow travelers braved the cold to take pictures of the night sky, I brushed my teeth in the cold water and headed to my tent, wearing layers for the cold night ahead.
Other groups had set up their tents across from ours and there was always someone talking or milling around, but I had no difficulty finding sleep, with the full satisfaction of having survived the first day.

Cusco - where the journey started...

October 1 to October 12, 2015 I travelled to Peru to finally do the trip I have been wanting to do for a few years. It was on my bucket list to visit Machu Picchu and having many of my friends make the trip in recent years, only made me want to go even more. I finally caved in and decided to do a solo trip.

My journey started in Cusco.
Cusco is where everybody starts their trip to Machu Picchu.
Cusco is where everybody gets used to the altitude.

I arrived at 7:00 am and my hotel had sent a taxi for me. The sign he held had 'Karine Chang' on it. I confirmed the hotel and followed him.
My first encounter with Peruvian traffic was in an old Toyota. The oldest Toyota you can think of.
The driver honked almost as soon as he would have to stop. The drive was as jerky as can be. When we got to San Blas, the street he wanted to take was flooded, so he drove me into a courtyard where he asked me to get out. He then took my suitcase out and wheeled it up the hill to a narrow alley, past the San Blas square to my B&B, Casona Les Pleiades. I immediately went to sleep for a couple of hours before heading out to lunch.

The thing I least liked of my trip was to eat alone. Yet, I had to do it for lunch and dinner that first day. The first 3 days, I was on my own.

Day 1, I walked around Cusco and explored the little markets for gifts to bring back home. I visited the chocolate museum where I saw chocolate condoms and then visited the Qorikancha, a convent. I took a picture with 2 girls in traditional dress and 2 baby sheep and they ripped me off of 20 soles. I ended up the night at Pacha Papa, a restaurant in San Blas.

Day 2, I decided to go even further up to Cristo Blanco. The receptionist at Casona just said to turn right and take the stairs. At the end of the stairs, I went a bit to the left and found more stairs. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. I arrived at a platform where a group of French tourists were lingering. I asked one of them to please take a picture of me before going on my way. I finally got to Cristo Blanco where I followed 2 couples from Boulder, Colorado, down to Plaza de Armas. I had lunch with Laurie and Ted at Jack's cafe, while the other couple went back to their hotel. It started raining heavily after lunch, so went to visit the Cathedral. As I left the Cathedral, I heard a couple speak creole. Sure enough, they were Mauritians. I chatted with them a few minutes, they were on a tour from France.

Later that day, after my briefing at Terra Quecha, I was having dinner at Le Papillon when I happened to notice than Arjun was also in Cusco. Arjun who I haven't met for at least 5 years. He was across the square from me. We met up and eventually were joined by Jenny, from Texas. We went to get her street food before we went to a bar called Quilla. We played Jenga and had pisco sour and Cusquena, the local beer. I went back to my hotel at 11pm, where the water wasn't running anymore. Good thing I had some bottled water to brush my teeth!

Day 3 was Pisac day. I asked the receptionist to book a cab for me. Jime was my driver. He brought me to an animal sanctuary first, where I saw llamas, alpacas, condors and monkeys. We then went to Pisac. It took me 2 hours to visit the ruins, then I had lunch in Pisac's main square at Mullu. I had an alpaca burger with avocado and fries and my first (of many) coca tea. I then went around the famous Pisac market before Jime returned me to Cusco. I ate alone for the last time that night, but a Dutch girl sat next to me just as I was leaving and I chatted with her until her food arrived.

I had to go to bed early that night to start the Salkantay trek early the next day.