Qué raro es viajar…

Viajar es una cosa rara. Un día estás en tu vida cotidiana, la tostada de cada mañana, la esquina que siempre luce igual, y ese mismo día, en cuestión de horas que se comprimen hasta casi desaparecer en el periodo del viaje (sobre todo si es por avión), estamos en otro lugar, con una esquina distinta, nunca antes vista o al menos no familiar, con un desayuno irregular, o un menú que ni siquiera logramos descifrar.

Siempre me ha gustado viajar, tengo una adicción al movimiento y la novedad. En mi blog de apenas hace un par de días mencionaba la huida, el endurecimiento, que creo es una parte personal que motiva esa necesidad de no permanecer, pero hay otro lado más lúdico, adrenalínico, que viene por asuntos emocionales, pero también por curiosidad e historia: la familia de mi mamá es panameña, por lo que crecí de niña viviendo en Costa Rica pero viajando con frecuencia a Panamá. Es un vuelo de menos de una hora, pero para una niña, entonces, era el mayor acontecimiento del año: sacar los zapatos de charol negros, lustrarlos, empezar a hacer la maleta con un mes de antelación, una prenda por día; escoger el cuadernito hermoso, perfecto, que serviría de diario en el exterior: los besos con Panchito, que me llevaba en su moto y me hablaba suavecito, caribeño; las peleas de gallos de mi tío Chichingo; los desayunos de arroz con guandú; las lluvias torrenciales que rompían la densidad tropical; y mi cuerpo que fue cambiando, con los años y los viajes, hasta llegar a ser una adolescente, allá en Panamá. Adolescente que después de una de las primeras y tremendas fiestas de mi vida se besó con furia y deseo con un brasileño hermoso, al que en mi rudimentario inglés le decía: I don’t want to make love, please. Qué niña era, y qué grande era ese muchacho, carioca, hermoso. Todas estas son cosas que pasaron allá, en Panamá, cosas que nos permitimos en el exterior, aunque esté a menos de una hora de distancia.

Hace un par de días un alumno de la escuela y amigo brasileño que acababa de volver de un viaje a Grecia puso en Facebook al publicar sus fotos del paseo: No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. I love you Greece! Leí la frase una y otra vez, yo que acabo de volver de un viaje a India y Sri Lanka, y me quedé pensando desde entonces en ella; sin juicio, solo meditando, tratando de comprender mi reacción ante sus palabras.

Este viaje que acabo de hacer me trajo muchas preguntas. La pregunta principal: ¿por qué viajar? Una necesidad de desgranar algo que hasta cierto punto se ha convertido en mi vida, como en la de muchos otros, en un hábito. ¿De dónde viene la necesidad de separarnos de esa esquina común, de ese desayuno familiar, para lanzarnos a lo incierto, a aquello que sale de nuestro control? ¿Nos hace mejores personas viajar? ¿Nos sensibiliza?

No tengo, la verdad, respuestas a estas preguntas. Una parte de mí está cansada de ir a lugares sobre los que conozco poco para “desconectar”. Lo empiezo a encontrar ofensivo y me parece que en el futuro buscaré formas más profundas de conectar con algo, propio y nuevo, en lugar de buscar lo opuesto.

Por lo pronto, mientras venzo el jetlag y escribo a las casi cuatro de la mañana de un día en cuya normalidad ya debería estar yo más que profundamente dormida, me quedo con la emoción esa de poder cruzar fronteras, tiempo y lengua y poder ser y existir en otra dimensión distinta a la habitual. Me quedo con la belleza del momento ese, de una quinceañera costarricense, que en un país extraño, en una lengua que no es la suya, le puede decir a un chico de otra nacionalidad que no, que todavía no es el tiempo para hacer el amor.

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16

08 2016

Volver a casa

Irse de casa es difícil, pero también lo es volver. Para irse hay que sentirse solo, aislado, y muchas veces superior. Es un sentimiento horrible, tienen que pasar muchas cosas, años, para sanar ese gusanillo que nos carcomía día a día en las calles, las rutinas, de ese que fue nuestro hogar. Rechazar los dichos locales para marcar una clara diferencia, aprender una lengua extranjera, obscura, inútil, leer en esa lengua, jamás en la nuestra, o pretender leer, en un café, en uno que no sirve productos locales, en uno que no pone música en nuestro idioma, uno plagado de personas como nosotros, solas, rotas, corrompidas por el gusanillo de la superioridad.

Irse de casa implica no vivir más en el presente, intoxicarse de un futuro vaporoso, inútil en su irrealidad. Implica dejar de querer a nuestra gente, de a poco, para que ese día en el que finalmente eso que tanto deseamos -ese irnos, esfumarnos- llegue, nos duela menos, y podamos, como piedras astutas, dar un beso breve, un abrazo casual, y correr, como si el monstruo del tiempo nos pisara los talones, lanzarnos a esa neblina que será nuestra vida, nuestro hogar.

Llegamos a otra tierra, de lengua obscura, una de esas lenguas que soñábamos hablar, pero no hablamos. Al principio es fascinante, la diferencia, ir por calles extranjeras, calles hermosas, antiguas, con faroles, bicicletas, cafés plagados de gente como aquella de los cafés de nuestro hogar, pero ahora es real, esos capuchinos, esos lentes espesos, esas novelas extensas de lengua obscura, el sueño está allí, se ha hecho realidad. Estamos henchidos, exploramos la moda, la copiamos, ordenamos lo mismo que el vecino de al lado, y nos conectamos con aquella gente a la que dejamos atrás, abrimos la correspondencia con una frase de la lengua obscura, la cerramos también así, hablamos de nuestros privilegios, mencionamos cosas que no entendemos pero creemos impresionarán, buscamos en ese teclado extraño los caracteres de esa lengua rara, lejana, que ahora se supone es la nuestra, pero aún no lo es.

Un día la aprendemos, a base de golpes, experiencia, necesidad. Ahora podemos leer también en esa lengua, podemos decir te quiero, podemos decir vete a la mierda. A veces no sabemos cuál frase nos define, si querer o maldecir. Hacemos amigos, amantes, enemigos también. Hacemos una vida, como es la vida, siempre menos impactante en su cotidianidad.

Nos aburre la vida, esa lengua que ya no es obscura, esos días que en su planitud ya no nos aceleran. Rondamos por las calles que antes nos deslumbraban en su novedad, nos volvemos criticones. Allí, a millas de ese hogar original, el gusanillo regresa. Ya no nos basta, no nos sacia. Otra vez endurecemos el alma, empacamos, decimos adiós.

Nueva gente, nueva vida, lengua obscura, hasta la llegada, siempre cierta, de la vida y su simpleza, de los actos que aquí o allá, son los actos que la componen: dormir, querer, comer, andar, pasear, añorar, preguntar, buscar.

Vienen los viajes, entonces, las vacaciones. Ya son años desde aquel día en que dijimos adiós a nuestra familia y amigos de la infancia. Algo se aprende con el tiempo, o se cansa una de correr a alta velocidad, entonces se espacian las huidas. Viajar primero por ciudades hermosas, de adoquines y museos, beber cocteles, sentarse en un lounge. Después, cuando el antídoto se agota y la normalidad vuelve a teñirlo todo con su velo de simplicidad, volar a lugares lejanos, de lenguas profundamente obscuras, donde siquiera el alfabeto es el nuestro. Divagar ya no por ciudades sino por pueblos, pequeños, pueblos que son en sí mismos museos, la vida que se despliega de modo violento, salvaje, o no, de a poco, en atardeceres, comidas, olores que no reconocemos, pero nos gustan. Sentarse en balcones, a leer, a mirar un paisaje de nubes, montañas, un tren que pasa lento, y cargado, personas que nos miran desde sus ventanas, y nos hacen pensar.

Nos hacen pensar y escribir sobre casa, cuando estamos tan pero tan lejos de aquel sitio donde está el lugar donde nacimos, la escuela donde aprendimos a leer y a escribir.

Irse de casa es escapar, pero es curioso, solo en esta huida, en este correteo por la vida en el que nos llenamos de imágenes, gente, lenguas, podemos empezar a construir un puente de regreso al hogar. Para volver a casa tenemos que querernos, perdonarnos la huida, saber que la vida es eso, un tren que pasa, que va y viene, y gente que mira por las ventanas, y ve pasar.

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12

08 2016

No father on Father’s Day

This is a raw, unedited note on Father’s Day. I’ve never known when it is, Father’s Day. It is that phantom of my life, the day when girls, and boys, craft cards, make something special for that special man in their lives. I dreaded that day, all of my childhood, day after day. I created so many fictions, so many tales explaining, justifying, why the man who made my life possible wasn’t there, how he had never been there. I have a black out of all the Father Days in history, a void that swallowed the pain, sadness and embarrassment of having no Daddy to write cards to in school.
I thought I was over it, the absence, and in some ways I am, but in others I am not, and I am a soon 39-year old woman who wakes up in London, where she lives and has a seemingly successful life, and I ask myself, Who the fuck do I congratulate on this day? Because long gone are the school days, of cards and commands, but then there is Facebook, and the bloated virtual happiness we all live in, and I wonder, who the hell am I going to congratulate on this daddy’s day? I browse, jealous of all those people who had a father I did not. I envy their childhoods, and their growing ups, and I feel empty, lost most of this day, and I come home late, after having hosted an event, one of those events of this school I have built, which is my home, my anchor, and while there I forget all about it, Father’s Day, cause I’m happy, I’m contained. And then I get on a taxi, come home, midnight around the corner, and the loneliness creeps in, and the void feels present again.

What can I do? I have no daddy, have never had, to send cards or Facebook postings to.

I have been lucky, though, to have found a bunch of incredible people in my life who have made me feel worthy, and loved, who have been my family in this journey of continents my life has become.

One can’t have it all.

I wasn’t given what nature is supposed to provide, but I was given more.

Thank you all who fill my life with love. Bit by bit.

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19

06 2016

Christmas in Brazil

Christmas always makes me feel uneasy. It raises questions of home and belonging, and it comes with a historical baggage of expectations, hard to deal with at times. It is that time of jolliness and warmth and the fear of, oh god, what if the time comes and I don’t feel warm or jolly at all. The expectations of how one should feel are nerve-racking, at times.

Despite all this, the closure of a year is in the air, and even if against our will we become pensive and reflective about what has happened, and what will come.

I chose to get on a plane in London, travel for 12 hours across the Atlantic to come spend these times in Brazil with my husband. I write this in a beautiful little chalet that we have rented in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, with the Cristo Redentor observing us, looking after us. It is bright and hot as hell, and I look at my husband, reading in the hammock, and tell him I love you, and sorry for being a bit of a pain at times, in these Christmassy days where the expectations can be stifling and where a mix of longing and melancholy from the past has a tendency to trickle into our present lives.

I am an adult, I tell myself as I look at him, the man I chose to spend my life with, as I look out at the imposing and marvellous Rio mountains that I chose to make my view in these days of mixed emotions. I am an adult creating my own Christmas, my own today and tomorrow, and wow this feels good, to acknowledge that all the past things happened for a reason, that we are no longer the children we were, and that we can be jolly indeed, because being alive, choosing our paths, what a jolly gift it is.

I want to send warm wishes to all the people I love and have ever loved. Make your hearts warm and vibrant, make your paths alive.

Feliz Navidad. Merry Christmas to you all.

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24

12 2015

La piel

Es sábado por la noche. Otoño de 2013 en Londres. Esperamos invitados a comer. Colegas de Ben. Una chica francesa y su novio sueco, su niña, inglesa-francesa-sueca. Nuestro gatos, atigrados, hermosos, casi humanos, alrededor. Cocinamos comida peruana, o lo que creemos lo es. Nunca hemos estado en Perú, Ben y yo. Amamos el limón, el culantro, la sal. Me siento un poco incómoda en mi piel mientras corto y sigo sugerencias del chef. Es uno de esos días en los que desde fuera me veo viviendo una vida que a veces no entiendo, simplemente porque de cuando en cuando siento que llegué a ella desde un paracaídas, cuyo destino empiezo a olvidar.

Ben y yo vamos en nuestras bicicletas de tienda en tienda, en nuestro barrio, enguantados, abrigados, comprando ingredientes para lo que suponemos es un manjar peruano. Hay limones, sal y culantro, eso es lo que importa, esos tres ingredientes que son intrínsecos a ese lugar desde el que el paracaídas partió. Entonces qué hago yo acá, chica tropical, pedaleando en medio del otoño, ya casi invierno, cargada de producto tropical, destinado a convertirse en una cena para un sueco, francesa y la niña sueca-francesa-inglesa.

Cortar verduras me hace olvidar el dilema. Corto y corto y luego corto mi dedo, sin querer, porque soy torpe con los objetos, y veo la sangre manar, caer en el fregadero, teñirlo en segundos. Me sorprendo de que ese tejido tan terso y frágil sea el límite entre el mundo y nosotros; que tanto líquido rojo brote por el roce de un cuchillo, en una noche de sábado, una como cualquier otra más.

Ben me trae una curita, me cubre el dedo, yo sigo picando con cuidado, con cuidado de no picar la piel. De repente los ojos se me llenan de lágrimas. Me acaba de dar nostalgia por aquellas noches en las que cocinábamos para tu madre y su compañera, le digo. Y nos veo a los dos, en esa enorme cocina en Portland Maine, en esa casa desconocida a la que Ben y yo llegamos antes de casarnos, antes de decidir que un día, no mucho más tarde, seríamos marido y mujer. Todavía nos veo, ocho años más jóvenes, yo con el pelo más corto, él con el pelo más largo, abriendo gavetas, buscando la sal, las tablas de picar, el aceite; cautelosos, respetuosos, asustados. Ben fríe unas papas en una sartén con aceite abundante. I know, me dice. Y yo me pregunto si nos ve así, como yo nos veo, ocho años atrás, con el pelo diferente, sin esa  cicatriz que ahora, ocho años después, tendré en la piel, desde hoy para siempre.

Los amigos llegan, y la verdad que es bueno, un privilegio, diría, tener amigos en esta enorme ciudad. Llegan y los abrazamos y los primeros minutos, u hora, son extraños. Muchos temas se tiran a la mesa, pocos son duraderos. Todos apostamos, pocos ganamos. Será que la noche se alarga, o el vino fluye, o que estamos los cuatro, o cinco, niña incluida, en un apartamento en Londres, todos extranjeros, un sábado por la noche, entonces mejor hablar, pasárselo bien. Entonces nos empezamos a relajar, y reímos. Yo veo a mi marido, sentado frente a mí, ahora y desde hace rato con su pelo corto, veo su estómago, no tan plano, veo sus ademanes que aún no logro clasificar y me sorprende, como si fuera un descubrimiento, que esa persona frente a mí y yo seamos los mismos de aquella cocina en Portland Maine, ocho años atrás. Miro a la chica francesa, rubia, sofisticada, pienso en lo hermosa que se ve esta noche casual. Miro sus arrugas que hoy le sientan bien y me impacta darme cuenta que cuando la conocí no era madre, que su cuerpo no había producido a esa niña que come y sonríe en mi mesa, esa niña rubia que vive en tres lenguas, sin saber que así es. Y luego miro las manos del hombre sueco, sentado a mi lado, miro sus manos gruesas, sus enormes dedos, y pienso en esos dedos explorando el cuerpo de su  mujer, esa mujer cuyo cuerpo parió, cuyas arrugas le sientan bien. Y pienso en esos dedos que acarician el rostro de esa niña trilingüe que fue también creada por él. Y me siento bien, pero aún ausente, aún producto de un paracaídas que me lanzó en algún sitio, al otro lado del mar.

Se van, con la niña, a eso de las doce. Empiezo a limpiar los platos (Ben cocinó), y en eso me entra un deseo intenso de música de antes, música cursi y romántica que escuchaba encerrada en mi habitación a los quince años de edad, llorando amores que ya no puedo recordar. Y pongo a Franco de Vita y a Montaner mientras remuevo la grasa de ollas y platos, llenos de comida peruana, de limón, culantro y sal, y mientras unto jabón, restriego, y un mar de burbujas crece bajo mis manos, el llanto aumenta. Lloro porque me impresiona sentir que veinte años no han pasado, que la mujer que lava los platos en su apartamento londinense en la misma chiquilla que hace ya dos décadas se encerraba en su cuarto y ponía  a todo volumen melodías pegajosas y cursis que hablaban de una marca y un dolor que  empieza y se esparce, como la noche, como las noches de invierno que tanto duran.

Me recuesto en el sillón y pienso en el viaje a Costa Rica que estamos por hacer, y por primera vez desde que compramos los boletos para ir a visitar siento unas ganas tremendas de estar en Costa Rica, ese territorio que llevo en la piel, que a veces sangra, y que marca el aquí y el allá.

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16

11 2013

Thailand and Cambodia Diary: Part II

We walk slowly and a little lost through the streets of Bangkok. It is our second day in the city, and we have no plan and many hours between morning and night. We see some of the places that were new to us two years ago and begin to recognize them, saying, look, there it is, or, yeah, I remember that, and then continue to walk, expecting something new to come across, to give us the element of surprise that now, revisiting what is no longer new, I realize we lack.

We find ourselves at lunchtime in the middle of the university canteen. It wasn’t a planned detour, but we got there, and we like the idea of being the only foreigners in the place, to mingle with the Thai and feel that we can join their daily lives, if even for a while. My husband brings two plates with a simple tasty meal: rice, scrambled eggs and chili, all mixed. We sit in a plastic table by the Chao Phraya river, pregnant with the rain of the season, and look at the water taxis that cross the river in all directions, and at a big cargo shipment that is pulled by one tiny boat. How can that be? I ask Ben. Objects float and move in the water without a need of a heavy tugboat, he says. I like when he clarifies things of the physical world that I don’t understand. It makes me feel protected and safe. I nod and finish my rice.

It was delicious, I say and start a conversation about Cambodian food. At that time tomorrow we will be in Cambodia, a country where none of us has been before. Ben tells me he doesn’t know their food, and I remind him that he does. I remind him of an evening, already seven years ago, in which I took a visiting friend of his and him to a French-Cambodian restaurant in Boston to celebrate that I was going to become a famous writer. A renowned Latin American writer had accepted to read my novel and I took that as a confirmation of a talent and glory I used to believe I earned at birth. I was therefore more than crushed when that writer wrote some of the most damaging words I have ever read. I cried and felt suicidal for days. That was the first of many tantrums and dramas that surrounded my struggle with writing for years to come. Ben stays silent and looks down. What? I ask. Nothing, he says, there was just so much drama back then. Everything to do with writing was so painful for you. He looks at me now and I can see in his clouded eyes how hard living with me during that time must have been. Let’s go, I say and get up from my chair. I approach him as we are walking along the river and hold his hand with a strong grip. He was there for me back then, and he continues to be. We carry on wondering with no specific aim or direction for the rest of our day, until night reaches us softly and it is time to sleep.

Cambodia! A skinny short man shouts into the hotel lounge where Ben I have been waiting to be picked up in order to start our bus journey into Siem Reap, the Cambodian town that hosts the temples of Angkor Wat. We leave our seats and enter a minibus that’s already packed. Ben takes a small seat closer to the front and I am sent to the rear bench, where three girls are already sitting. Two of them move to the left and one to the right so I am sandwiched in-between. They are good girls, I can see it in their fresh faces and perfectly combed hair and impeccably clean feet, all while travelling in South East Asia. They speak to each other over me, and I begin to feel curmudgeonly and more. I want to ask them for some RESPECT, that’s the word that keeps forming in my head, but I am also curious of their language, almost Spanish but not quite, so I let them talk and later I ask, in Spanish, what language they speak. The three girls raise their heads and exchange a proud smile. Catalan, they say, as if rehearsed. I thought it was Gallego, I say, I watched a Galician film a few days ago and they used the word parlar as well. The girls don’t acknowledge my confusion, Catalan, they say again. I offer, in a less curmudgeonly way, if they want to move so I am not in-between, but they say no and I take it as a welcoming sign, so I begin to chat. They talk a little bit about themselves and two facts, that I find alarming, come to the surface: they are in university and they still go on holidays with their parents. This is their first serious trip abroad on their own, their big adventure. I look at them more carefully now, at their virginal smooth skin, at the lack of bags under their eyes, at their lush and colorful hair, and realize that those girls are not only good girls, but they are also very very young. So you must be like twenty, I say. Twenty one, they answer, best friends from school. They look at the road in silence and while they stare and imagine the trip ahead I think of myself, now thirty six, at the age of twenty one. At that time I had just graduated from Psychology and was living with a boyfriend thirteen years older than me, and had my own car, and job, and no idea that one day, more than a decade later, I would be living in London, travelling in a small van, crossing a country in Asia on my way to a different one, with an American husband who knows things about the physical world that make me feel safe. I remain silent now, feeling the fifteen years separating us. I think of my family, who I seldom see and with whom I don’t live since I am eighteen, and about the last trip we all did together, and it all seems so far away, as if belonging to a different life.

We approach the border around 2pm and the bus comes to a halt at a restaurant. We are ushered outside, asked to take our bags and seated around a concrete table in the backyard of the establishment. Each of us is given a sticker to paste to our shirts. No one knows what’s happening. Some of us have visas to Cambodia, some don’t; some need them, some don’t. My husband leaves for a moment and when he comes back he urges me to get up. Come on, we have to go now. But where, I say. Just come on. I collect my heavy backpack and follow him. I say ciao to the Catalan girls and wonder if I will ever see them again. Ciao, they say and smile. A man who seems to be the waiter and owner of the restaurant gets me a coke and a new man, that seems to be in charge of us now, gives us a pink and green pen, a stapler and scissors. What do we do with this? I ask Ben. I don’t know, he says. Then if you don’t know why are you cutting this paper? And what do we do with these pens? Ben keeps cutting in silence. I ask too many questions, I know. I take the scissors and copy his actions. I cut the extra scraps of paper around my e-Cambodian visa and staple the piece of paper to my passport, as Ben did. The color pens never come in handy. The chauffeur-chaperon tells us to gogogo, he’s not to be asked. We gogogo, following a fifty something Russian couple that was in the bus with us. If I am going to follow someone, Ben says, it’s them. No one can deal with communist bureaucrats like Russians can. I laugh, rush my steps and follow him. We cross a bridge donated by Brits and built by Chinese, the water down there is filthy, covered by a mountain of trash. I clear the sweat from my forehead and feel rivulets forming down my back. It must be 35 degrees and the air is dusty and thick. Next to us, in the middle of the road, is a procession of trucks, half-naked dirty kids, women carrying giant carts full of produce, men driving broken motorcycles, and scattered skinny cows. We enter a small concrete building, stand in line behind the Russians, and show our passport to Thai officers. It all goes smoothly but we lose track of the Russians on the other side. Are we in Cambodia now? I ask Ben, excited and confused, expecting his knowledge of the physical world. I don’t know, he says, and we keep walking ahead. Gogogo. There is a universe of casinos now on either side of the road. Newly built, L.A. meets Stalinism kind of buildings, enormous, pompous, lacking in style. What are all those casinos doing in between two countries, I don’t want to know. We spot a young couple from the bus, we try to follow them but we can’t. Japanese go in a different line. We keep walking and sweating, while the swarm of motorcycles, half-naked children, cattle and women carrying heavy carts increases. There are also handfuls of suspicious looking men with tiny moustaches idling everywhere. We finally enter what seems like another checkpoint, in a more impoverished building, managed by Cambodian officers, and receive a stamp, which I guess means we are officially in. A stamp and we are abroad, on the other side.

A man that seems to recognize us, perhaps due to the color of our sticker, tells us to sit on some benches. There is no gogogo, but sit,sit; wait, wait. We wait without knowing what we’re waiting for. There are a couple of failed attempts to get inside a bus that will take us somewhere but then we are told again, wait, wait; sit, sit. We are finally taken to a dusty burgundy minivan where a family of four sits. All smile and mask the less vacationesque thoughts that were clearly crossing their minds. They tell us they are from Portland Oregon, on an Asian family tour, and Ben says that his sister lives in Portland Oregon, and they nod, and not much more is said. Our hopes to reach a final destination soon are broken when thirty minutes later we are dropped at an isolated soviet-looking bus station. It is giant and empty and made of concrete. Oh, you are early! A man that seems to know us, although we don’t know who he is, tells us with a snarky smile. What do you mean early?, we ask. Bus don’t leave in 3 hours, he says. Three?, we say, that’s impossible. One moment, he says and disappears. Some twenty minutes later he’s back. Gogogo, he says, bus now. We pay an extra ten dollars each and we are placed inside a different minivan. The Portland family is there, as well as three German girls, a young American couple, my husband and I. Costa Rica? Wow, the young American that monopolizes the conversation in the bus for the next three hours says. Yeah, I say, and that’s the end of that exchange. He, like so many people, has not much more to say when I tell them where I come from, and there is so much more than Wow or Yeah that I would like to share.

We start advancing deeper into Cambodia. During the first while there is silence on the bus, some people look at the floor, some look outside, some try to sleep. After some minutes the young American man that said Wow begins to talk. He has a story to tell and he wants all of us to know. The Portland family engages in the conversation and they talk and talk and talk as we cross Cambodia, with its narrow roads, and intensely green rice paddies, and wooden shacks, and half-naked children playing outside with dogs that nobody owns, and scrawny cows scraping the grass around the shacks. I look at the skin of the white people in the bus, red and irritated by the sun and the heat, at their eyes, careless and distracted, and I look at myself, feeling drawn to Costa Rica, and not to Cambodia, while observing the landscape, and a question that has been in my thoughts ever since appears. Why do we choose to travel to challenging foreign places? What is the engine that moves some of us, year after year, to pack our bags and plunge ourselves into the unknown? What are we looking for, what do we lack?

I can’t get rid of the question as I enter Siem Reap in a tuk-tuk, or remork, as they call it in Cambodia. Siem Reap is a beautiful semirural place, full of incredibly friendly and smiley people. So smiley that you almost forget that they were recent victims of a genocide committed by their own, the Khmer Rouge, and that still nowadays lots of innocent ones – children going to school, women and men plowing the fields – are blown up by the thousands of mines planted by the US, China and Vietnam during the Vietnam war years.

After settling in a beautiful hotel full of Buddhist altars and lush gardens, we head towards the center of town. First we visit the many markets, packed with colorful and tasteful handicrafts, and later on we choose a restaurant for dinner along the main road, suspiciously called Pub Street. Each restaurant terrace is exploding with tourists, Europeans, some Americans, a significant number of Asians, and only one Costa Rican, I am sure. The food is not as good as what we had in the restaurant in Boston, years ago. We are a bit disappointed, as we love good food, but our humor is quickly uplifted by the sweetness of our waiter. He is really taken by the fact that Ben is American and that breaks my heart; so innocent and forgiving of the past. He begins to measure himself and comparing his stature, which he considers to be too short in relation to Ben’s. He tries to tell us a bit about himself but the street is too loud and his English too broken, so we continue to smile to each other until it’s time to go.

The morning after, while enjoying the tropical fruit that was served for breakfast, surrounded by the lush garden that makes me feel as if I were in Costa Rica, I tell Ben that something new is happening to me, something related to the question of why we travel. I left Costa Rica eleven years ago because I didn’t feel I belonged there, because I was angry at my family and my past, because I had the illusion that I was part of something larger, a rootless world with no ties and commitments. For many years I was able to live in this illusion, running from place to place, avoiding a sense of belonging and responsibility. I chose to visit Costa Rica seldom. In the beginning I spent a lot of time travelling in Europe, but once Europe became known and more predictable, I began to reach for more distant and exotic places, and in every one of these choices there was a portion of hidden pleasure in choosing any other place in the world but Costa Rica. I tell Ben while I eat my pineapple that that motivation is gone, that I no longer feel the need to build a wall between my birthplace and I. And what does it mean?, he asks. I don’t know, I say and shrug. It is not an answer to my question of why we travel. I can just feel that that a part of my motivation is gone. I don’t feel the need to escape Costa Rica anymore. I want to be closer, for the first time in my life. What it means, I don’t know. There is just that vacant space now. That’s just it.

Ben holds my hand. He knows a major change is taking place inside me, and we both know, thank god we do, that whatever changes and whatever it takes, we will always be there for the other.

We get up and walk towards the door of the hotel. The tuk-tuk and guide that will take us to the Angkor Wat temples are waiting for us outside.

(To be continued…)

border guard

Guard having lunch at border Thailand-Cambodia

border woman cart

Border Thailand-Cambodia

food menu

Menu in Siem Reap Restaurant. We went for beef.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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02

09 2013

Thailand and Cambodia Diary: Part I

Back in Thailand, after days nesting the fear of repetition. My husband and I are not the kind of people who go back to places; we are the runner type, the escapists, jumping from country to country as if life were a giant game of checkers. This is, besides the visits to his native US and my native Costa Rica, the first time we’ve decided to repeat a long holiday destination; Thailand, where we had a wonderful time two years ago.

I love to travel, but I hate to fly. Every time the same ritual preceding the departure date in which I start spotting ominous coincidences and signs that I am sure prelude my death. Dreams of explosions, messages from family or friends in which I read a final goodbye, fear in the faces of those in line with me, waiting to board. I look at the kids, so young and innocent, swinging their rucksacks as they advance in the cue, and my heart breaks every time, such short lived lives.

My mother, a Costa Rican psychiatrist, provided me with a generous supply of Xanax a while back. They are magic pills I hold for this precise moment, the flying one. I took a pill before boarding the plane, and as I sit, checking every minute that my seat belt is securely fastened, I wait for happiness to kick in. The big British Airways machine starts moving, slowly, like a tyrannosaurus waking up from a long hibernation. Over the years, I have convinced myself that pilots from countries that have been in a war are the most skillful and reliable ones, and I thank the Brits and their bellicose genes from the bottom of my heart.

My husband holds my hand, which is drenched in sweat by now, and tells me it will all be fine. I used to fight him: how would you know? But now I take his words like a ritual of love that has grown between the two of us in all the jumping from place to place we have done together in the last seven years. The tyrannosaurus is in the air and I beg for my mother’s drugs to help me stay put for the 12 hours of travel ahead. I order wine and press play on a movie of Sofia Coppola. I don’t like her films, not anymore, but there was not much of a selection. The sound is bad and the little I hear is banal. Some kids breaking into rich people’s houses, naming brands and acting as if the world belonged to them. The tyrannosaurs shakes its armor, I drink the wine faster, feel tempted to swallow one more pill, but my husband says no and I obey. It will be fine, he says again and the next thing I notice it’s the chattering of people, the smell of egg, sausage and beans: a full English breakfast it’s on its way. I remove my blinders slowly and look around. Everyone is there, kids and their rucksacks included. I eat yogurt, a little muffin and leave the soggy eggs to one side. I open a book of Cees Nooteboom and read the first short story, “Gondolas”. It is about people that loved each other decades ago, in a different city, and their attempt after having lived erratic lives to reunite and reignite a ghostly passion. It makes me sad. It makes me think of all the ghostly passions I uselessly nested for years .

I intend to read the second story, but the beast shakes, so I close the book and rub nervously the black cover, and the big white letters with its beautiful tittle “The Foxes Come at Night”. “It was just that finding someone among the billions of people on earth was a miracle in its own right” says one of the characters in the Gondolas story. I look at my husband, sitting next to me, what a miracle indeed.

We take our backpacks and cross an incredibly modern and well executed airport and outside we welcome the warmth and I let that smell of the tropics after heavy rain permeate me, because that smell is my DNA, my core. A taxi driver with a very long name full of “Ph”s and “W”s,  I see it in the dozens of licenses of all kinds that he has pinned to the roof of his cab, takes our bags and ushers us inside his vehicle, that is more like a museum, or his home. Visibility is the least of his concerns. The rear window is completely blocked by cushions (I spot one of Ronald Mc Donald next to a Buddha), the roof of his car is absolutely covered in neatly laminated bills from all over the world and the multitude of licenses with the “Ph”s and the “W”s. My country, Costa Rica, doesn’t feature in his collection. I wish I carried a bill that I could offer him, I wish I had more immediate links to my country. I look outside and find consolation in nature. It could be Costa Rica, with its splendid trees and flowers springing from between the concrete. I start seeing tuk tuks, motorcycles turned into taxis that can fit a crowd, and smile with excitement and apprehension. Will it be as good as last time?

I feel happy the minute I start recognizing the neighborhood. We are in Bangkok and will stay in the same hotel as last time. We look at the neighborhood life in Thewet unfolding, quietly, away from the touristy madness this city can be. People are coming out to the streets after the heavy rain, setting up their street food carts, walking leisurely. It is a Sunday afternoon, after all. The entrance to the hotel, Phranakorn-Norlen, has changed but inside everything is as we remembered it, and opposite to my fears, a feeling of warmth and peace begins to fill me. I feel safe, as if I had reached a sort of home. The Phranakorn is a beautiful old wooden house transformed into a boutique hotel, with lots of open spaces, gardens, fountains and a vintage decoration that is beginning to tire me in London but that I find so soothing, unique and elegant here. I go into the little shop of the hotel, leave my bags outside of reception, take off my jeans, try on a pair of loose beach-like pants, walk with them while my bags are still all over the place, and say that I want to buy them. I smile and my husband, who has carefully been looking after my luggage, smiles back. My mind is scattered, I am officially on holidays. We leave our bags in a beautiful room decorated with hand painted motifs of cacti, flowers and butterflies and go down to the airy lounge where we order smoothies and ultra spicy food. We are sweating and eating and smiling. We lay down next to each other, open our books, and read while the Bangkok night settles in.

(To be continued…)

Thai3 Thai2

 

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25

08 2013

On Mother’s Day

I talked to my mother yesterday; it was mother’s day in Costa Rica. I called her early, 9am their time, 2pm mine. I received a note from her partner two days before: It is mother’s day in two days; please don’t forget to call your mom. I am glad to have received this message; I am glad that someone across the ocean looks after my mom. It’s been over ten years since I left, since I said, bye mama, I’m gone. Ten years, or more, in which I have not been there to give her a kiss in the cheek on her day, August 15th, or drink a mimosa with her, the drink she used to order and sip, in the Marriot Hotel.

No Marriot Hotel this year, she tells me. Strained times with my brother, the one that stayed there with her, all these years. No Marriot, I said, and remembered us younger, both her and I, going with my mother and her mother, when she was alive, in a caravan to the Marriot Hotel in Santa Ana, where mimosas were served, on their mother’s day.

Lunch with my partner, she says, that partner that wrote to me, two days before, remember to call your mother, it’s her day. We are buying a house together, my mother says, the house in the corner, an idyllic place. I close my eyes while I talk to her and I try to cross an ocean in seconds, to be there, in that neighborhood where I grew up and my mother still lives. I want to see that house, that house in the corner, that dream of my mom, but it’s all a blur, and yet I say, yes mom, I know, I can see it, and as I say it a picture of a beautiful house begins to shape in front of my eyes. Perhaps a house that in some years, when I become older or a mother myself, I would like to live in. She tells me the house is big, colonial perhaps, and that it has fine woods and big windows and that she would fulfill a dream of her own: to have a private large room surrounded by books. And now I can see my mom, with her dyed her that covers her age, sitting on her large bed, sheltered by hundreds of volumes that she hopes will say something about who she is, something deeper than a testament, something that will subsist longer than children can do. I see her in that ample room, I see her smile, I feel her pleasure, and I smile myself. I feel connected to that woman that perhaps without knowing, gave me that love for books. I know, like the most transparent truth on Earth, that we belong together because I, as well, treasure a picture of fulfillment in the same way, me surrounded by books that I hope will tell a story larger than myself.

And then my mom moves on to different topics, still related to the new house in the corner. She talks about money and percentages. Her partner can put in more than she can. A flash of disappointment crosses though me. Why, does she make more money than you? I ask. No, my mother says, and she shakes her head, covered by her dyed hair, and fixes her glasses, which fell out of place. It’s simply that she can get a loan, and I can’ t, not anymore. It’s not certain, but her partner is 20 or 25 years younger than her. I blink and shake my head as well. No more loans to my mother, never again. I hear the ocean that separates us, and has for 10 years, roar. I feel it stir while I imagine my mother slowly walking with a little collection of personal belongings towards the paradise house in the corner, where she will look at her books with a pleasant smile, until she can.

And then we hang up because silence begins to swallow our voices. I stare at the screen, still seeing my mother walking slowly down the road, and I realize, as I always do, that once again I failed to say this: I love you, mom, and I always have.

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15

08 2013

Nostalgia de la patria

Me hace falta encontrarme a gente conocida en las calles, me hace falta lo pequeño en esta enorme ciudad. Es el clima, los días húmedos y nublados de este extraño verano londinense, lo que ha traído a superficie la nostalgia costarricense que nunca antes, en mis once años en el extranjero, sentí.

Me desperté una mañana, hace unas dos semanas, y no me moví de la cama por unos minutos, confundida, sin saber en qué cama, en qué ciudad, y en qué país me encontraba. La sensación al abrir los ojos fue la todas las mañanas de mi vida, hasta los 24 años, cuando dejé mi país para empezar una odisea que me ha llevado a vivir en distintos continentes, y lenguas. Al abrir los ojos pude haber sido la niña que despertaba en Cartago y escuchaba el sonido del río Toyogres, o la universitaria que vivió en varios apartamentos de Sabanilla y que se arremolinaba en las sábanas, a veces a sola, a veces no, y poco a poco se incorporaba a la realidad de ser una estudiante universitaria, de estar preparándose para ejercer como psicóloga en un futuro; cosa que nunca llegó a suceder.

El aire de esta mañana londinense era denso y cálido, como el aire tropical, y al mirar afuera vi un cielo nublado, que es como tiendo a recordar el cielo del valle central costarricense, un cielo preñado de lluvia, de gotas por caer. Entonces me quedé en cama sin moverme, siendo la niña, la universitaria, y poco a poco la mujer de 36 años que he llegado a ser. Miré a mi alrededor, mi marido ya había salido al trabajo, vi la forma de su cuerpo en la sábana, vi de nuevo hacia fuera y no quise moverme por un buen rato por temor a que esa sensación de hogar que se me había impregnado en la piel humectada me fuera a dejar.

No fue así. Sigue aquí, en estos días londinenses que continúan cálidos y húmedos aunque ahora también soleados. Una extrañeza me acompaña desde esa mañana dos semanas atrás. Ando en mi bicicleta, visito los lugares de siempre, realizo las acciones que me producen y me siguen produciendo placer, pero hay una parte en mí que no está aquí. Esa parte que durante los 11 años que llevo en el exterior no extrañó su país de origen. Una parte que extraña el olor a fruta madura, la lluvia estruendosa, los ríos caudalosos, el ir por las calles y poder encontrarme a gente que me diga Sara, o Sarita, como me solían decir en esa pequeña ciudad donde crecí, y donde cada mañana escuchaba el caudal del río susurrar.

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06

07 2013

Walking Alone

The truth is that I love my husband and I don’t like to be far from him. The truth is that it’s hard to accept this. I pack my suitcases, I plan my trips, I save my money, I tell myself: I can live alone. But as I walk along the streets, hearing my lonely steps, a lingering echo fading in a foreign air, I stop and look around and can’t remember how I got there, where I’m heading next. I go back to the hotel, look at the streets that my steps traveled, stare at the people from above, walking alone, so many people walking alone on this Earth, and I don’t want to go out anymore. Not without my husband, my husband whom I love although it’s hard for the person that dreams with walking alone to accept.

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31

03 2012