Of the Globe, Mind and Time

Saturday, July 30, 2005


“Trekers ples not go Ultar without guide” read the neatly painted and very official-looking sign placed about ankle level at a street fork in Karimabad, Pakistan. It was about 10:30am when I calmly strode past it, taking the upper fork towards the village outskirts. I couldn’t wait to leave its realm, charmingly picturesque as it was, for the famed Karakoram solitude beckoning in the shadows of moody Ultar Peak. Ultar, at 24,500 feet, up until a recent successful 1991 conquest, had the dubious honor of being one of the world’s highest unclimbed mountains.

The young Australian couple I had met a few days earlier declined to accompany me on my trek and so I proceeded alone after a quick porridge breakfast, selfishly relieved at the prospect of being able to claim the calm all to myself. Passing the sign reminded me of the guidebook passage describing the trek to the base of Ultar as “strenuous” where a local guide was “useful but not necessary”. Assuming that those guidelines were meant for the “lowest common denominator” trekker, I waived the need for a guide without a moment’s hesitation. The sign I passed only served to reinforce the impression that the local constituency of able guides was becoming increasingly savvy in its approach to securing customers through a combination of fear-inducing tactics and warm approachability.

Generally, I tended to be tight-fisted in soliciting guide services, feeling that they were an artifice that detracted from the sacred “independent experience”. Moreover, the New York Marketing Executive voice-in-my-head kept nagging, “The last thing you want to be is a victim of a smooth pitch.”

I felt even more steadfast in this suspicion when I encountered two returning villagers about ten minutes beyond the village boundary. They expressed surprise that I was going to Ultar with no guide. “Dangerous!” they warned. I calmly responded with my characteristic nonchalance and snapped a few photos of them lofting back-mounted loads of dried grass, 700-year Baltit Fort majestically framed in the distance. Fifteen minutes after parting ways, I was truly on my own.

It was not long before I began noticing the subtle degradation and disappearance of the path. The luxury of being able to stroll ahead unconsciously while taking in the humbling scenery gave way to the necessity of continually maintaining a sense of my surroundings and direction. This got more challenging as I became engulfed by the uniformly stark relief of the gorge-like entrance into Ultar’s foothills. Clues consisted of little more than a faintly visible pebbly scattering that seemed just shy of a random arrangement amidst the finely ground rubble. My upright walking stance also started to angle itself nervously towards the mountain face as the ground underfoot began losing its firmness. I found myself digging my feet deliberately into the crumbly moraine as I paced ahead with an increasingly low centre-of-gravity crouch. Above and below me on the steep slope stood precariously positioned rocks held questionably in place by the pasty stony shrapnel I was constantly agitating with my every tenuous step. And then it happened.

Placing my weight on one of these rocks, I inadvertently dislodged it. A state of mild panic arose as I noticed it plow its way downward, releasing an entropic series of events that included a gentle shower of rubble about a hundred feet below. Before I could marvel at my mini-landslide, several thumb-sized pebbles started bouncing off my leg from above. I gulped palpably and swiftly turned to see if the landslide effect extended upwards, my gaze fixed on the two large boulders some roughly 30 feet up. When all was at equilibrium again, I found I had slipped onto all fours; my knees, elbows and backpack smeared with a gravelly mud.

The indelible mark of mud is a sign of nature’s supremacy. Getting up sheepishly from my first knockdown, I tried brushing off my muddy clothes with my muddy hands. It was apparent that I was going to be spending my evening doing some down-and-dirty hand washing. It was also apparent that I had begun sweating rather profusely.

My altimeter/thermometer watch indicated a comfortable 70 F. Few clouds dotted the sky and I picked myself and my spirits up - thankful at least, that the weather was being cooperative. Tying my muddy jacket around my waist, I proceeded gamely, convincing myself that “This was IT!” That a passage without tribulation is a passage that yields no satisfaction, insight or enlightenment. With that cheery thought in mind, I rounded a bend and confronted a sight that both tantalized and tortured me.

A chill overran my body despite the afternoon warmth as I realized that if I wanted to go any further, I would have to crawl on all fours up the next slope. It was a vast vertical scree of scattered rocks and sharply chiseled stones awash in a sleazy mud. The path by now had completely disintegrated.

One of my first thoughts was whether or not I had made a wrong turn at some point. It seemed incredulous that what lay ahead constituted an “indistinct trail” in the guidebook. What lay ahead was positively off-putting and just a little frightening. I mentally re-traced my steps and remembered that I had indeed previously taken a few forks that led inevitably, after a few short turns, to a non-sequitous precipice - more often than not, accented by a spectacular waterfall a few yards away. That I couldn’t really place the exact location of the telltale water whoosh was testament to the immensity of the echo that enveloped me. It enabled a perception of magnitude but none whatsoever of direction.

I refused to believe that I had made a severely wrong turn as my last distinct route decision felt like ages ago. The top of the scree seemed to belie a ridge-like path. It stood over a hundred treacherously vertical, sickeningly muddy feet away. I visualized the safest route upwards, taking care to skirt the big boulders in the most conservative fashion possible. Three steps into my crawl, I began muttering out loud about my own sanity as I took my first real slide downhill.

Rubble from above tumbled down and overtook me, selected pieces ricocheting chaotically off boulders and bouncing with abandon towards and off an edge about fifty feet down slope. Others rolled sluggishly till the viscosity of the muddy substratum stopped them. Assuming an octopusian position on the slope face, I alternately scrambled, clawed and spread-eagled myself to a halt. In all, I may have slid ten feet, but I feared for every screaming inch of it. I was now desperately crouching on nature’s belly with, you guessed it - mud on my face.

Straining my neck upwards, I sucked in several urgent breaths and plotted my upcoming strategy. Meanwhile, any frivolous move generated more slippage. With what amounted to nothing more than a scrappy intuitive interaction between body and terrain, I found myself successfully breaststroking my way to the target ridge. I didn’t dare speculate about what I would see after surmounting the ridge. Would there be a steep drop on the other side? Would the ridge be absurdly narrow? Would I find myself inexplicably cornered and have to slide back down and retrace my steps to who knows where?

I scrambled back up to my feet and slapped as much earth and dust off before surveying the future. A faint path had re-appeared and with it, my optimism. By this time, my vision had been tuned to the subtlest directional indicators. The slightest hint of an unnatural indentation or pebble placement was enough to give me confidence. And yet, the path would vanish time and time again. Giving way, in most cases, to more body contact with the Karakoram Range and its mealy moraine. This became routine and my anxiety ebbed and gave way to a meditative plod. I became less concerned with losing my way and simply made up the way as it came. My gaze focused aimlessly at the monotonous harsh, Martian relief. Plodplodplod. Surmounting another routine hump, Mars suddenly gave way to a vast meadow of dreamlike quality that brought me to my knees. This time, in utter gratitude & joy.

The incongruous onslaught of greenery almost gave me an asthma attack as I absorbed its beauty with all my being. Sloping gently upwards, it had a putting green texture and was visually peppered with carefully positioned boulders. Low-lying wispy clouds contributed to the overall floaty headiness I was now feeling, a queasy combination of dizzy exhaustion and triumphant relief. Relief because there beyond the cloudy veils stood Ultar - an immense monolith whose upper reaches stayed hidden in a threatening mass of unusually dark frothy cloud.

I could only guess at Ultar’s total size as that was continually confounded by the booming icefall that echoed in this natural amphitheater. Adjacent to Ultar is Bubulimating Mountain, a sheer rock face so steep, it is completely devoid of clinging snow or ice. Legend has it that Princess Bubuli was imprisoned atop it by an evil king, where nightly, she would sing in vain for a rescuer to set her free. I imagined her song in the thickest night, whistling sadly in the mountain wind, like a shrill piccolo to the accompaniment of Ultar’s glacial kettledrums. A gradually perceptible pitter-patter on my windbreaker brought me back to reality as I opened my eyes to an ominous sight.

The gloomy clouds that shrouded Ultar’s peak had during my brief interlude with the Princess completely blanketed the sky. The temperature had also dropped dramatically. A glance at my watch revealed a nippy 50 F. My concern heightened as the slight drizzle that had initially awakened me transformed into a hailstorm. I took shelter in the nearby shepherd’s hut, the landmark signifying the end of the trek. Confident that the temperamental Karakoram weather would do an about-face as inexplicably as it had turned south, I relaxed and tucked into an overdue snack of dried fruit. It had taken me 3 hours to climb 3,000 vertical feet. I was pleased with myself and inhaled a few generous breaths of fresh dewy mountain air. All that remained was for this weather tantrum to pass and I would head back down.

Forty-five minutes later and the only thing that had changed was the state of my nerves. Highly charged at this point on account of the stubborn hailstorm and venting sky, spewing forth an ever-thickening broth of gray soupy cloud. I estimated it would take me maybe half my uphill time to trek downhill, getting me back to Baltit around 4p.m. It was tempting to wait a little longer and try to enjoy the surroundings but my anxiety prevented any natural peace from occurring. I took a few final mist-covered photos, double-checked the plastic coverings in my camera bag, chugged down a few more apricots, adorned my loose wool hat and extra wool shirt and turned to go down. It was 2:30p.m. and I was more than a little concerned at this point. Especially when my hands began feeling numbish and I chided myself for not packing my gloves.
I descended initially at a quick and purposeful pace, trying to ‘make haste while the sun shines’. The ground was slippery but I soon attained a comfortable groove. The following guidebook passage kept dogging my thoughts:

“On the return trip, high water channels look like good trails but they aren’t, because they leave you with some dangerous descents, and may pose a rockfall hazard below.”

It soon became apparent that I was on a distinctly different return trail. Winding passages through garden-like groves of scrawny trees struck an eerily mysterious chord - like I had accidentally crossed into a fairytale setting where the pathways were clear, yet totally unfamiliar. In this deceptively dreamy setting, I was possessed by a deadening calm, like that of a highly alert sleepwalker. The trickling tumble of the meandering stream alongside the path a comforting symbol of life. I just couldn’t get over how I could have missed this obvious trail on the way up; all that scrambling on my belly seemed so silly. Until I found myself suddenly at a dead end, facing a “dangerous descent”.

Ahead was a small leap off the trail onto a narrow one square foot space. I made the jump adequately but not without a little ankle quiver that jolted my senses. If I weren’t careful, this would turn ugly. Thoughts of my recently repaired shoulder surfaced. I was now walking very carefully with my hands tucked into my coat pocket for warmth, pacing like a clumsy toy soldier. The calm from a few minutes ago had frittered away and in its place was a mantra-like chant that went, “No mistakes now, no mistakes”. On and on it went. The next leap was an eight-foot one and when I came face to face with it, I realized I was in for a test the rest of the way back. For I had become quite lost.

I hadn’t encountered any of the wide crumbly slopes down which I had resigned to scrambling on all fours. Instead, I was led down a series of tight and narrow switchbacks strewn with minor rock-climbing episodes. The latter involved several dicey jumps onto landing spots either perilously close to a life-taunting edge or surrounded by waxy pebbles and jagged stone facets. The mantra became all the more urgent as I consciously battled my ever-increasing fatigue.

The opportunity to navigate down some crumbly terrain interspersed with delicately suspended boulders soon presented itself. And yet, its setting didn’t look at all familiar from the upward journey. I stopped often, usually at a jumping-off point, daring myself to speculate that I was heading into an ever-increasingly precarious situation; my hands getting more cold and wrinkly from the drenching moisture; my pants, jacket and even my hat soaking wet with sand and mud; the mantra slowly surrendering to my wavering spirit, darkness setting in - straining my vision and increasing the chances of a tired slip. Each step forward was an effort of deliberate concentration as I tried my best not to be the next rolling stone.

I found that I had subtly changed my inner voice. It now repeatedly uttered, “Today I’m being tested. Can’t afford to fail. Not today. Not this test.” For the rest of the way back, my new mantra went uninterrupted by nary a single sighted soul. The guidebook estimated a return trip of about one hour.

At 5p.m., a solid two-and-a-half hours after I’d begun, I spotted Baltit Fort. Traipsing back into town in the failing light, a local villager with a wizened countenance watched me stumble by and, catching sight of my sorry muddy mess, stepped aside from the path, giving me a wide berth. As I glanced over at him, he stroked his silky white beard, waggled his finger at me knowingly and muttered, “You go Ultar without guide.”

Friday, July 29, 2005

2 months of Cairo

I arrived exactly 2 months ago. And like most other places I know, Cairo has its bevy of contradictions.

The most noticeable of which is the persona change Cairenes undergo behind the wheel. On the streets, in public transport and elsewhere, I've found Egyptians to be disarmingly gentle and ready with a smile. As drivers, they are flagrantly aggressive and ready with the horn. An alternative outlet for Cairene angst would be a welcome improvement.

Egyptian Arabic also sounds to my untrained ears to run counter to its written form. Arabic is a cursive script, visually mellifluous with a languid loopiness unlike blockier orthogonal Chinese script. Yet, ECA (Egyptian Colloquial Arabic) is spoken by its native speakers in much the same way as they drive. Cutting each other off, in each other's faces, high decibel. And I'm told this is normal. Oh to be a fly on the wall during whispered "Ba He Bek Kithir"s.......

My apartment is a contradiction. Prime Zamalek location, 10th floor view, fancy French restaurant & chic deli downstairs, with a rare pub next door to boot. Inside, an overstock of comfortably old-fashioned furniture adorning the 2 living rooms and 2 bedrooms. It even has a LAN though it took me 4 days of troubleshooting to get it working. Evidence of this being a waystation for like-minded nomads abounds. Left-behind paperbacks in Russian, Italian, German, French, English, Greek and Spanish abound, 4 volumes of "Teach Yourself Arabic" (along with notebooks hinting at early-aborted learning attempts), multiple Lonely Planets (Bahrain, Cyprus etc.) and loads of voltage transformers. There are Rolex and Patek-Philippe catalogs and a selection of foreign policy academic journals. The most noticeable thing though is the dust.

Cairo is a dusty city and it all comes into the apartment and settles into the nooks of the barely functioning furnishings. Toilet seat that doesn't stay up, insect screens that brittle away when touched, electrical tape holding all wiring together, 2-legged teetering mahogany dining table. One out of every four items I touch suffers subsequent damage. Once every fifteen minutes, I wash my hands off the newly accumulated dust.

I have been commuting about an hour daily to and from work in Maadi. A walk, then a bus, the metro, another bus, followed by a final walk. I've taken to wearing my Foakleys everyday to avoid countenancing the ubiquitous stares. Random conversations with Chinese language instructors (Egyptians) and apologists on behalf of blatant oglers spice up the daily ride. I've also gotten reasonably adept at embarking and alighting packed moving buses. Maybe one day I'll let my hair down and ride in the car reserved for women.

It has been difficult on the social scene. Invariably I meet people in pubs and have an enjoyable time though they're not people with whom I'd regularly hang. The "friends" I've met are very cool folk but again, not a regular crowd. This is mildly perturbing but not overwhelmingly so, being reminiscent of my general lifestyle elsewhere in other locales.

Progress in my attempt to launch a new condom brand here is rife with contradictions too. Provocative imagery is everywhere, from racy music videos to Viagra ads. Oh - so it's only on satellite TV but that penetrates over half the households anyway. People are not exactly against the concept (i.e., they're not "contra-ceptive", get it?), but mention a mass media condom ad and all the red flags appear, with a healthy tangle of red tape attached to them.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

10 days of silence

10 days of silent meditation. No contact with the outside world. No communication of any sort within the meditation center, including hand gestures or eye contact. No reading or writing. Certainly no alcohol or cigarettes. The latter made me pause briefly given that I’d be coming off several days of continuous body abuse and sensory overload in the form of a Ko Phang An full moon party. No matter – a few days after leaving Thailand, my best friend and his Myanmar cohorts in the beer business bade me peace as a send-off to this inner retreat.

“Peace I shall have, if nothing else!” I joked. The locals laughed a little too exuberantly for my comfort.

Clothed in a T-shirt and pair of loose pants, I walked 15 minutes through the bustle of Yangon before veering into a quiet lane. There were no foreigners on foot in this part of Yangon, and only white-collar workers commonly donned pants. I’d packed a longgyi together with basic toiletries, a towel, a plastic bottle for water refills, insect repellant and some medicines. This would be all I needed for 10 days.

“Noble silence will begin once we enter into this evening’s meditation,” a young assistant translated in English for the handful of us non-Burmese speakers. “After that, you will only be able to speak to your teacher and only during lesson. The only exception to that is if you have a problem, such as a medical emergency or accommodation issue. So before we begin the meditation tonight, please approach me with any questions you might have.” It turned out the young translator was a Singaporean who dabbled in a small IT business and discovered Goenka’s teachings and schools. Since then, he’d committed himself to volunteering at the center whenever he could. He looked barely 20 years old.

We stood in the small courtyard outside the main meditation hall, awaiting our names to be called and filing into the hall in order. We were shown to our individual sitting spot, to remain unchanged throughout our stay here. There were roughly 7 rows of 7 men, and an equal number of women segregated in the other half of the hall. The more experienced “sitters” were assembled closer to the teacher. Even though it was my first time, I had a position near the head of the first-timers by virtue of my foreign status. I looked around and tried to mimic the postures of my fellow meditators. There was no overt instruction here.

Goenka’s Pali and Sanskrit chants echoed through the hall’s PA system. Meditation guidance in English was supplied by him. A lady’s voice followed with the Myanmar translation. The focus tonight would be on breathing. Easy effortless breathing through the nose, while sitting straight and relaxed with eyes closed. In and out. In and out. To be aware of the passage of air through the nostrils and the sensations it conjured. This first sitting was a mere half hour though it seemed quite a bit longer than that. That the end of the 30 minutes was over was signaled by a characteristic drone-like chant that began coming over the speakers, easing aside the interminable silence in the air and the turmoil in the mind. This chant would end up being the most savored sound over the course of the next 10 days, no matter how incessantly the concept of “Anitcha” - where all sensations, pleasant or otherwise, are impermanent and do not warrant any attachment whatsoever - was invoked.

One of the easier adjustments turned out to be the 4am daily wake-up gong. Like the chant that signaled the end of our sittings, the gong that started each day wooed us gently into being over the course of several minutes, each strike resonating more urgently till we were all silently pacing round the courtyard in the dark,limbering up before the 2-hour sitting that started each morning. All told, each day involved 10-11 hours of sitting meditation, 1-2 hours of instructional discourse, 3-4 hours for meal breaks and a 1-hour rest period after lunch. Despite the relative physical inactivity of this retreat, I relished the midday shut-eye as a chance to take my mind off my mind.

Like everything about the center, meals were simple and adequate. As the only time in my life where I’ve had 10 consecutive days of bland vegetarian food, meals became an element of necessity and nutrition rather than a focal point of enjoyment. Eating in cocooned silence compelled me to focus on every mouthful and every chew, acknowledging the cycle of life and recognizing our reliance on the sustenance granted by each act of swallowing. The simplicity of our environment coupled with the rigor of our concentration made for a heightening awareness of our surroundings. One of the basic precepts (“Sheela”) we had to follow was “abstention from killing”. As the center was swarming with ants, mosquitos and other insects, constant vigilance was required in making sure each footstep avoided stepping on an ant. I was mortified when round about my seventh day, in trying to shoo an errant mosquito out from beneath my netting, I inadvertently killed it. This act plagued my meditative concentration for several sittings.

Another incident that pierced my bubble of isolation was the only infraction of noble silence that I experienced over the 10 days. I had been experimenting with slight changes in sitting postures as well as floor cushion arrangements in an effort to keep the inevitable lower back pain at bay. Having noticed out of the corner of my eye an interesting cushion folding technique employed by my neighbor, I attempted to imitate likewise. To my surprise, he inched over and in verbal silence but obvious disregard for the no-communication rule, indicated to me how the cushion fold was performed. I was confused, frustrated, grateful and speechless all at once. Before I was able to resolve these internal conflicts, an eagle-eyed assistant, noticing the momentary interaction, hastened over and asked if there was a problem and reminded us that such exchanges were impermissible. I shrunk away slightly shaken at the unexpected perturbation and like the mosquito incident, this disturbance manifested itself in subsequent sittings.

Though we couldn’t express our appreciation of them, moments of humor abounded as well within the walls of the center. For me personally, it was the observation of other Burmese though I shudder to think what I might have been doing with regularity that made for symmetrical examination in this silent petri dish. For one, Burmese men, like Indians, are exuberant with the discharge of their nasal and throat irritations. Some of them also burp like dolphins calling out to each other. The first time I heard this, I was walking along a dark corridor, alone save for this one Burmese. I thought it was a bullfrog calling from the nearby swampy pond, in which many locals living along its shoreline bathed and laundered their longgyis. The second time I was sitting under a tree in the courtyard, watching my co-meditators in pensive perambulation when the deep plaintive belch sounded again. This time I saw that it emanated from one of the walking men and the realization that it wasn’t a swamp thing almost made me hack and cackle in spontaneous delight. Then I saw a second man make the same melodius sonic saw. And no one around me seemed alarmed – it was as routine as a buzzing mozzie. And then there were the peacocks.

Though it might seem that we spent endless hours in meditation (we did!), there was also much time in open-eyed wakefulness that was spent idling. Most of us only utilized half our meal breaks actually eating and the rest of it was spent pacing or sitting in the courtyard, our eyes eager to latch onto anything that broke the monotony of the simple setting. The peacocks could be relied upon to fulfill that objective time and time again. There were two of them and they would walk around the center, pecking at dead leaves or ground grub. Occasionally they would fly up one of the two large sprawling trees in the courtyard and prance around from branch to branch, each trying to outdo the other in terms of perch altitude. They however weren’t very sure-footed on the higher and flimsier twigs and would inevitably misstep and tumble – their plumage flapping away wildly in defiance of gravity and creating a crackling ruckus of falling foliage and bemused Burmese. We all laughed at the peacocks and there was a slight dissatisfaction at having to resist sharing the mirth in unison, beyond the confines of noble silence.

When people ask me what “noble silence” was like – I always liken it to salt. It was one of the singular ingredients key to the whole experience , but like salt, was such a fundamental component that I hardly noticed its presence after a while. Having no outlet for my thoughts and receiving no input from others, I was left to cogitate in solitary perpetuity. Thoughts of all kinds would from nothing germinate and ruminate and assimilate back into nothing again. And again. I would with some success set them aside for most of my sitting time but they would always resurface. And the strange thing was, it typically involved others – other people, other places, other times – all except where I was at the moment. Just internalizing that with all its clarity set things on a different tack. I developed a new sense of work – that for the enhancement of others – outside the realm of self-gratification that I never previously conceptualized. I resolved at a simplistic level the duality of determination and unattachment.

3am on my final night, I was a restless insomniac and I couldn’t figure out why. The anxiety in advance of the retreat was a thing of the past and I was pleased at having learnt a new meditation technique. I tossed and turned in a heady sweat and decided ultimately to sit in meditation. Within minutes, I sensed this was going to be unlike any sitting I’d had before. Thoughts came rapidly but despite that, I was able to concentrate simultaneously on the technique taught me over the past 10 days. My whole body tingled in a fit of sensation awareness as centers of focused light and heat pulsed first from my head and then down towards my solar plexus. These were accompanied by unexpected jolts of lightning searing through my lower back, all the while my inexorable stream of thoughts swam by. These were thoughts of sheer sadness and hopelessness, both for myself and the human condition. As I continued to concentrate on applying the technique, I found myself crying uncontrollably amidst waves of pleasant sensations flowing through my body. The tears from my thoughts and the sensations from my meditation.

When I emerged from my hour-long sitting, I was sufficiently confused. Was this how meditation was supposed to ease suffering? By masking pain in distracting waves of pleasure? I began formulating a careful question for the teacher on our last day together.

Noble silence was lifted mid-morning of the penultimate day at the center. We were given a full evening to get acquainted conversationally with our silent partners over the past 10 days – an easing back into urban Yangon rife with stimuli. On the last morning of my stay at the center, I went looking for our teacher. He was busy involved in a major clean-up effort, directing workers about and climbing up tall ladders himself to sweep the rafters. I asked him if he might entertain a question and he kindly obliged. We went aside to a quiet corner and he sat me down.

I told him how I’d woken up in the middle of the night, my mind busy with thoughts and keeping my body tense and a restful night at bay. I told him over the course of several minutes about the meditation I’d had, the sad thoughts and the pleasant sensations, the painful jolts, everything. When I finished, I made a quick mental scan lest I forgot an important detail – and eagerly awaited his answer. He looked at me for an instant, then set his gaze downwards with a smile, as if to acknowledge a sense of déjà vu.

“Anitcha,” he said. “Remember only Anitcha.”

I knew immediately, of course.

“All this is impermanent. Your thoughts. Your sensations. Sad thoughts, tingling sensations. Do not become attached to them. Only remember to concentrate, stay aware and of course,……..Anitcha!”

I packed my things together, left my donation at the front desk and walked home – the dusty afternoon breeze wafting through my longgyi.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Going to Ibiza

I guess going from Siwa to Ibiza is a variation of going from a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation to a Ko Phang-An Full Moon Party. Everything in moderation - though as it were, I bracketed the Vipassana retreat with 2 FMPs. As a religious partyer though, this trip to Ibiza will be like doing a hajj to Mecca. Or should I save that analogy for Carnaval?

This likely will be the most costly pilgrimage I've taken. Take water for example. Knowing that I'll be downing a lot of water, whether in the clubs or out under the august sun, I find out that tap water is not an option. In the clubs, water is 8 Euros a bottle. Yeah. Furthermore, the DJ lineup during my stay leaves little room for downtime outside the dance floor. Here's what an Ibiza forum had to say about my scheduling dilemma. I think if I'm lucky and the magnetic strip on my Visa wears thin and malfunctions, I can keep it under $4,000 for the whole 10 days, all in. On my "normal" run rate, that would last me 4 months.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Siwa was full of sand and salt. So much salt going swimming was more like a glazing. So much sand they called it a sea. And seaworthy is Siwa. "Come to the palm-lined oasis of Siwa & escape to a paradise of sun, sand and sea. But don't bother bringing a date, they're everywhere!"

Siwa seared. The hot breeze only ceding way around midnight. The glare of the full moon casting a cinematic sheen over the still vast sturdy canyon bluffs set into the carpet of soft desert dust. On an elevated carpet, I sat for a while. It was difficult to focus away from the distraction of the setting.

Against this setting was the backdrop of the crew I found myself with. A quad of raucous wry and wacky Greeks, a trio of unpredictable and entertaining Americans, and a host of other able participants in general desert folly. Folly which included the recurring misplaced Rayban, the Siwan trying to steal bikini bottom pinches, the Serbian calisthenic routine, dune downhilling and rousing debates on evolution and gay pride. At the very core, it comforted me to intuit that beneath the divergent conceptions could always be found the substrata of common understanding.

Came back to unexpected emails inquiring into my health as unbeknownst to us, Sharm suffered Egypt's worst terror hit yet.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


jingar uma moda de vida eh
guarantido trazer uma alma leve
quando mexendo com a musica
nao sei o que outro dia dera
so uma opportunidade jingar

Friday, July 08, 2005


This was started while staring at a Chinese "Peace" calligraphy in my new old Cairo apartment, in between stretches of my right shoulder joint and puffs on my left over joint.