Perspectives on Budapest

Before visiting Budapest, I had no real expectations or idea about what I would see, feel, or do. I did take some time to learn a few bits of the Hungarian language, which allowed me to more easily connect with the locals. Once I opened the dialogue with their native words, they were accommodating and switched to English. The young people spoke nearly perfect English, and I learned about the recent history out of communism. Budapest felt like a very free city, and it wasn’t until my final trek to the bus station that I realized I hadn’t seen a single law enforcement officer or military personnel during my week there. I don’t know what daily life is like as a resident of Budapest, but I do believe that Americans have some growth opportunities to learn from the resourcefulness, creativity, and expression apparent in this city.

Szimpla Kert

Inside of Ruin Bar
A quick view inside Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s most famous romkocsma, or ruin pub. This particular ruin pub was constructed inside a closed factory that was scheduled to be torn down. The owners decided to turn it into somewhat of a community center instead. Now it offers a farmer’s market, a few places to eat and drink, and spaces that Hakim Bey might call, “temporary autonomous zones.” I think these ruin pubs could be positive inspiration for those of in the States who are tired of the empty big box retailer buildings and the unfilled strip malls. Szimpla Kert is filled with post-modern art, permaculture decor, quality food, electronic music, and life.

Szent Istvan Bazilika

Basilica
St. Stephen was Hungary’s first King, and his right had is supposedly stored and preserved inside the church. I didn’t take the tour, but this is where I arranged to meet a person from Couchsurfing who wanted to show me around the city.

Public Fountain in front of Gellert Thermal Bath

Public Mineral Water Fountain
The public water fountain offers anyone the opportunity to fill their bottles with the healing mineral water, famous in Budapest. The waters are said to help with pain relief, stomach and digestive issues, skin problems, and general stress and malaise. I sampled three different thermal baths, which I will write about in another entry. Gellert is located on the Buda side of the city. You can see Liberty Bridge connecting to Pest across the Danube in the background.

Szechenyi Lanchid

Crossing the Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge crosses the Danube River to connect the two cities of Buda and Pest, representing the link between the East and the West. This is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in Budapest, and based on the long line of people walking across, I believe it. This is the Pest-facing view of Gresham Palace.

St. Ivan’s Cave

Castle in the Hillside
Also called Gellert Hill Caves, or Gellerthegyi-barlang, St. Ivan’s Cave is named after the monastic hermit who lived there and healed the sick from the mud and the thermal water that flows through the cave system. This cave was then used as a Nazi army hospital during WWII. Under communism, the cave was sealed and the space was closed. It opened again in the late 1980s, and was restored in the early 1990s. Today it is now used again as a sacred space for Catholic monks.

Pedestrian Side Street near Vaci utca

Pedestrian Street
Vaci utca is a huge pedestrian shopping district. It is lined with elegant cafes and upscale shopping. I’m not particularly in the market for Zara or Swarovski, but I walked through to take a look. In my opinion, these streets are much more aesthetically pleasing than the American inner-cities packed with traffic, homelessness, over flowing trash cans, and people plugged into headphones. The district was reminiscent of San Francisco, without the wealth gap and substance abuse.

Nagyvasarscarnok

Public Market
This is the Central Market Hall. The building had been badly damaged during the World Wars, and was restored in the 1990s. On the basement level is pickled vegetables and fish, on the second or ground level are spices and produce, and on the third level are crafts and eateries. I bought some grapes from a vendor, and the language barrier was a bit challenging. It was also very crowded. I didn’t stay long, but I left with a few bunches of grapes and 500ml of fresh squeezed grapefruit and orange juice.

 

 

Perspectives on the American West

Northern California

The Lake as Art (1)
Lassen National Park, glistening in late July snow and bubbling with mud pots.
Monitor Pass
California State Route 89 after passing the summit at Monitor Pass, heading toward Highway 395. At an elevation of 8,341 feet with a 9% grade from Markleeville, Rte. 89 and Monitor Pass is considered one of the most hazardous roads in California.

Southern California

Mojave Desert
Owens Valley, California, nestled within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Inyo Mountains, is one of the deepest in the United States. On the southern end of the valley is Owens Lake, which was drained in 1926 to give water to Los Angeles, and is now a dry endorheic alkali flat.

Utah

Utah's Dixie
Utah’s “Dixie” rests between St. George and the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. Although the Virgin River Anasazi were the first residents, the area became home to the LDS Church cotton mission during the Civil War. Rumor says it was named the “Dixie” to commemorate the cotton production.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Dramatic shadows contrast upon unique sandstone rock formations within Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Idaho

Sawtooth Scenic Byway
Idaho’s Sawtooth Scenic Byway passes through fertile farmland and alongside vista points of lava and wind-blown sage.
Salmon River Scenic Byway
Idaho’s Salmon River Scenic Byway parallels the Salmon River from northeast of Sun Valley, until the Montana border. Few towns dot the landscape, but horses watch on as I take a break from the road and the cliffs.

Montana

Phillipsville, Montana
Phillipsville, Montana, is a surprising tourist village along Montana’s Highway 1. It’s well-kept historical downtown is quaint, and good for a quick break and walk.

Wyoming

Bighorn National Forest Tundra
The 1.12 million acres of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming includes two mountain peaks that rise over 13,000 feet, and both forest and tundra ecosystems. This gravel road through the tundra ends at the trail head to hike Medicine Mountain. The Lakota, Crow, and Cheyenne people all consider the Bighorn mountains to be sacred spaces.
Deer Family in Grassland Bighorn National Forest
After a chilly and exhausting night camping in the Bighorns, I stumbled upon this family of deer grazing in the meadow. Some sources suggest that the deer is a symbol of intuition, regeneration, and the ability to move gracefully through life’s obstacles.
Buffalo, Wyoming
Downtown Buffalo, Wyoming. Groups of bikers were passing through alongside me, heading eastward toward the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Devil's Tower National Monument
According to the oral history of the Crow people, the grand monument now called Devil’s Tower grew from a rock that sprang into the sky to protect two young girls from becoming bear food. The deep groves on the side of the monument are bear claws. The Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota people all have versions of a legend as well, and the bear is a common thread between all the histories.

Nomad on the Move

It was a week ago to this day that I closed my position at the environmental justice non-profit in northern California, and said goodbye to friends, coworkers, and the life that had become familiar for two years. I felt no sadness, as my return to my own personal wilderness was manifest from a plan sketched in my mental notes a year earlier. It was closure and peace, and in the final months of my time, I visited old friends from grad school and connections from my Red Cross days, people I had not seen for years.

A comfortable awareness of transition eased the relationships along, and in each interaction, I felt profound gratitude that my life had shared space with these individuals for a moment in time. As I shook hands and said goodbye to the Executive Director at the non-profit where I had worked, he said, “thanks for stopping by,” and that went on to explain that’s how life is; we come into one place, meet people, gather experiences, and then continue onto somewhere else. Spoken like a true nomad.

The day after my job was done, I wasted no time getting on the road. I packed my car with what remained of my belongings, trimmed down to the essentials of camping gear, clothing, a single bin of household goods, and my dog, and crossed Monitor Pass south of Tahoe to pick up California’s legendary Highway 395.

Big Pine Creek Campground (1)
Camping in Big Pine.

I paid $5.00 per gallon for gasoline in Lee Vining beside the ancient Mono Lake, phoned a friend back east while borrowing WIFI signal in a McDonald’s parking lot, and camped beneath the distant roar of thunder in Big Pine. The next day, I detoured far south to Long Beach to relax at a friend’s house with her beautiful family, and she and I laughed together as my dog played tag with her three year old son. We planned our professional futures, discussed the class struggle, and noted the temporality of life itself.

Now with an expansive desert between myself and California, the moments feel antiquated, like they unfolded in another lifetime, and this body has already lifted itself from those roots. From where I sit on this outdoor patio at a vegan coffee shop in downtown Ogden, Utah, I see only the mountains before me, and their new challenges to overcome. It’s northward from here.

We all know, intellectually, that life is short, that time slips away, that unfulfilled dreams never die, and that in the end we will want more love and not really care much about money. Those truths are more difficult to grasp and build as tangible foundations on our earth in the chaos of economic volatility, global injustice, and the president or some other celebrity’s latest inflammatory tweet. Let’s slow down, find whatever gives us faith, and enter the wilderness. If we are afraid to cross the desert and the mountains, we will never know what’s waiting on the other side.

Lessons from Five Months with a Backpack in South America

A few years ago, I spent five months backpacking through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. I covered roughly 10,500 miles on the ground, traveling between sweltering below sea level jungles, to breathless high-elevation mountain tops. Although I stayed in hostels and showered if possible, it was difficult none-the-less to live out of a backpack for about 150 days and nights, especially when roaming through so many climate zones. While I learned plenty of tangible skills, the deepest lessons are philosophical, and I am still integrating them into my life years later.

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Leaving Minca, Colombia.

Negotiate a balance between control and chaos.

Circumstance is an unknown variable in the formula of time. Although we might think we know our next three moves, elements beyond our scope of action could interfere. Reality is a shared manifestation between our own desires and the wishes of countless other factors. Keep the vision loose, and observe obstacles on the horizon. Outline contingencies and alternative paths when important outcomes are at stake; if nothing much is at stake, allow for cosmic alignment to guide the decision. On a day of abundance, flip a coin. On a day of scarcity, measure all possibilities and choose the most conservative option. Some things can be known, but the future is untold.

Release attachments.

Life is a temporary arrangement. We are accustomed to believe that a place is “ours,” that we have a home and it belongs to “us,” but even those people and those spaces that we inhabit once the adventure is closed will someday fade into the archives of our moment of time on this planet. We are all travelers, but some of us move more often and move faster than others. We are all nomads who haul our belongings behind us, but some of us drag a much smaller heap. The less baggage we carry, the easier to accept our own impermanence. No matter how beautiful the sunset over a canyon, the morning dew upon a meadow, the touch of a lover, the laughter in an impossible friendship, the moment will end. Appreciate what it is, a fleeting blessing. Accept it, and carry on.

Prioritize.

Choices between competing options are an inevitable consequence of the attempt to live fully, to dream grandly, and to grow abundantly. It is impossible to accomplish everything, to meet everyone, and to experience the destinations along all the paths through life. A full cup gives as much nourishment as one that overflows, without the waste. Decide what is most important to see, to do, to become, and travel fully in that direction. We can always look back, but that creates a risk of becoming stuck travelling one length of road over and over again. It is an expansive world. Try to focus.