Walden by Henry Thoreau

Caveats: this post won’t have photos and won’t detail any of my travels lately.  Also, no page numbers, but Walden is FREE on Amazon for the kindle!  Buy it for $0!

Walden

I’ve been camping for much of my time since I arrived in Punta Arenas (Chile) and traveled throughout Patagonia (since Jan 25)..  And of course I relax in hostels after strenuous hikes, or have done workaways where I stay in a nice bed for the duration of my work-exchange.  I just want to say that I’ve done a fair amount of camping, whether it’s in a hostel campground or in a national park campground!  Here are two reasons I’ve done it so often.

  1. I love camping!! The sounds of nature are very soothing to me, whether it’s the insects croaking or the water going by.  Additionally, no one snores, enters way late in the night, or keeps me up with conversation or other noise.  My sleep is undisturbed – and wonderful quality.
  2. It’s cheap. It’s cheaper than a bed in a hostel (perhaps obviously), and camping in national park sites are often free.
  3. I already spent $480 on camping equipment.  So now I HAVE to, right??

I mention the camping because it’s been a catalyst for various thoughts of mine.  Also because I read my Kindle so much.  🙂  Because I love camping so much, at least when I’m warm (omg fleece sweat pants are the bomb), I’ve thought about how I can have more outdoors experiences in my life, especially my life back in the states.

First, is camping one weekend a month enough?  I don’t know.  Seems like a bare minimum for me, and not even a happy minimum – but I don’t see any more time as being feasible unless I radically alter my life.  So secondly, why wouldn’t I alter my life?  I don’t want to live out in the woods and commute in to work in the city, as I loathe commutes generally.  Thirdly, I’ve had a lot of thoughts provoked by Walden, a timely book by Henry David Thoreau – at least the first half.  I’ve been pretty bored reading the second half, so I restarted the first half and it’s as thrilling and impactful as the first time I read it.  I wanted to take some time now to discuss with you some of the themes that he mentions in the book.

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  1. Theme 1 – We make ourselves slaves to our things.

“Most of our luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.  With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.” 

 “Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more respectable box, who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this (referring to those metal cargo containers on ships or trains).  I am far from jesting.”

 “The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature.  But lo, men have become the tools of their tools.”

 

It appears to me that Thoreau is correct.  Not to be glorify grinding poverty, as I’m sure Thoreau does not, but there is something really important and valuable about living a simple life.  And really what do you NEED to have?  Thoreau answers: shelter, water, food.  Shelter is quite easy to have, as Thoreau builds his own house from scratch by himself (it’s small but sufficient with a basement and a single room, 10’x12’) in 4 months (if I remember correctly), including cutting the trees down and hauling rocks on his back – and once you have it made, it’s yours for life!  Unless you rent of course.  🙂  On a simple level, the fewer things one has, less maintenance/cleaning that one now has to do.  Moreover, as Tim Ferriss says, it is hard to showcase treasure among junk, so if you have treasure that you want to display and showcase to the world, it’s best done with fewer things covering it up, no?

Now I only have 50L of things, and I really don’t think that I have many spare, unnecessary things, but I’ve been thinking about living off in the woods in an increasingly likely fashion.  And also what kind of life I would want to construct if I was back in the states.  We’ll continue this thought later.

  1. Theme 2- Self-Limiting Beliefs (4 quotes)

“It appears as if men have deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other.  Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.”

One of the best things about traveling is realizing how different people can live.  Not only just living, even, but different values.  I don’t recall if it was my first or second week, but I was at a hostel, and with me was a Silicon-Valley yuppie (basically, everything you would picture in your head was true) who was there for 8 days, me with my savings fund and an indefinite amount of time, and I was like “Wow, we are so different.”  I’ve only met more different people, for everyone you meet is on their own journey, with what they hope to accomplish or find (or not), what they hope to get away from, different constraints, different values, different ideas of success, different fears, different abilities, just pure difference.  It really is stark sometimes.  We’re all on our own path and I like how Thoreau says that he doesn’t want anyone to follow him on his path because he wants everyone to be different – just different in a way that suits them, not in a way that suits what society tells them to do, or their neighbors, or their parents, or their close friends.  Follow your heart, your true north.  And dream big anyway!  We all fail, but we all go toward what we aim at, so you might as well aim high.

For instance, why can’t I go off and live in the woods?  It wouldn’t be hard.  I could totally make it work.  I could build my own house of wood, live in a tent until it was done, dig a little cellar, cook and eat outside until my chimney was constructed, etc.  I’ve not only seen it done, and I can imagine doing the rest (or asking local villagers for assistance with ideas) but Thoreau talks about his entire process of doing so in his book!  I just don’t know if that’s what I want, and if not, what kind of life do I want to construct?  Options are too many.  Open your mind!

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.  If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?  If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes.  All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.  Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty or old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles!”

Our consumeristic society loves to tell us that we need to change our clothes constantly – different seasons, different looks are in or out, different colors and color combinations are fashionable or ugly, we need to change clothes after we use them instead of re-using them over again (I wear almost all of my clothes 2-4 days in a row.)  Thoreau reminds us to look within, to be determined by who one IS instead of how one APPEARS.  This lesson may be easier to learn while camping solo and being determined for months and months at a time by 50L of stuff (half of which is clothes and half of which is other necessary stuff, like a sleeping bag, tent, etc.)  But still, it’s a lesson I’m enjoying learning – to keep in mind the important things (which is my identity(s), to be open to new layers of self-revelation, to treasure the shadow of my own being.

“What of architectural beauty I now see, I know has gradually grown from within outward, out of the necessities and characters of the indweller, who is the only builder – out of some unconscious truthfulness, and nobleness, without ever a thought for the appearance and whatever additional beauty of this kind is destined to be produced will be preceded by a like unconscious beauty of life.  The most interesting dwellings in this country, as the painter knows, are the most unpretending, humble log huts and cottages of the poor commonly.  It is the life of the inhabitants whose shells they are, and not any peculiarity in their surfaces merely which makes them picturesque.” 

 A couple weeks ago, I camped at a place where the guy was, quite literally, building his own house, and it was super nice with brand new boards and logs and everything.  He bought it and had it shipped over so it would be to spec and proper measurements (he made cuts when necessary, but he wasn’t out in nature chopping down trees if you know what I mean).  And his house was beautiful!  No, it didn’t have that rustic charm of a log cabin that Abe Lincoln made with his bare hands because the boards had the unstained shine of new boards you might see at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  But there was an undeniable beauty in it – it was functional, specifically designed a certain way, and not just to waste energy to make it “ornate” or “pretty” or anything like that, like we do in our suburbs.  Thoreau goes on a rant about how fake beauty, or maybe I should say non-functional beauty like adding designs that doesn’t help do anything, is everywhere in the world and he condemns it saying we all know it’s a waste of energy and time.  True beauty, for him, is pure function that’s maybe hard to describe but easily recognized and perceived.  I can’t say I disagree with him for the wood or bamboo houses.

“This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.”

Hard to think of a better summary of one of my three reasons for traveling – the mini-retirement idea!  Unfortunately, the best time of your life to travel is when you’re young, healthy, without attachments.  But simultaneously, the best time of your life to work really hard and save/invest a lot of money is ALSO when you’re young, healthy, and without attachments.  Can’t do both – you gotta pick one.  So pick wisely!  Oh, and not choosing is a choice.

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  1. Theme 3- The danger of consumerism and capitalism

 “When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living, some sad experience in conforming to the wishes of friends being fresh in my mind to tax my ingenuity, I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do, and its small profits might suffice – for my greatest skill has been to want but little – so little capital it required, so little distraction from my wonted moods, I foolishly thought. While my acquaintances went unhesitatingly into trade or the professions, I contemplated this occupation as most like theirs; ranging the hills all summer to pick the berries which came in my way, and thereafter carelessly dispose of them; so, to keep the flocks of Admetus.  I also dreamed that I might gather the wild herbs, or carry evergreens to such villages as loved to be reminded of the woods, even to the city, by hay-cart loads.  But I have since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.”

I laughed out loud (no one was nearby) when I read this by a waterfall.  Honestly, seriously, and often – our man Thoreau thought of picking huckleberries as his “real job”.

But why not, really?  I see the attraction actually.  If you have to work for someone for a wage, so that you can have money to trade for other goods and services that you want, picking huckleberries isn’t a bad choice!  I’m reminded now of some German girl who would travel every year to Australia to pick oranges as her main job for 3 months, and then fly back to Germany where she would live for the rest of the year…just off the savings she accumulated from picking oranges.  Not a bad life, really.  Work hard for 3 months out of the year, out in nature no less, and then not work at all for 9?  She must have a simple and cheap life in Germany, but … maybe I should look into that.

But even if I did…how would my pursuit of MONEY affect my satisfaction with life?  Maybe Thoreau is right, that it would poison the experience.  I kind of think he is.

Theme 4 – Who do you surround yourself with?

“Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East – to know who built them.  For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them – who were above such trifling.”

I really hate the idea that I am the average of the 5 people who I spend the most time with.  I think it’s false, but talk about a kick in the pants!  I was reminded of that idea when I reflected on Thoreau’s quote which….what a great quote!!  The people that Thoreau values are those who do their own thing, who aren’t sucked into the current world – with its specialization of labor, being told what to do, being directed by the circulation of capital, ruled by the accumulation of money, the pursuit of goods and status symbols. The ones who do their own thing, who decide for themselves what they’re going to do and go and do that, instead of submitting to others’ plans and ideas and filling a cog in a machine role.  Granted, if that’s WHO YOU ARE, then Thoreau would say fantastic, go and do that as best you can.  But he doesn’t think that the majority of people in the world are like that, which is why he laments how people just don’t seem like themselves.

And as I’ve traveled, I’ve also met some of these people, and these are truly special and inspiring people, who encourage me to be myself, to focus on what I want (or my selves want), to follow my own direction, and to not be discouraged.  I do my best to stay in touch with them, even though I may never see them in person again, just because of how much I treasure their influence and effect in my life.

 

“Not till we are completely lost or turned round – for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.  Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.  Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

Lest I conclude by implying that “who you surround yourself with” can only be human persons… this quote reminds me that my sphere-of-being-influenced also includes nature.  It’s the infinite extent of my relations, which is not just human friends but social groups, identities, affiliations, desires or repulsions, the natural world, the unnatural world, the realms of the internet.

“W” trek of Torres del Paine park

I just came back from my 4-day trek on the “W” circuit of the famous Torres del Paine national park.  I have some amazing photos from when I was able to recharge my phone (once).  Yay!  I didn’t get all the photos I wanted, since the phone died at numerous points and I wasn’t always able to recharge it, but I still had a great time experiencing it.  The Towers are perhaps the iconic view (since the park is named after these towers/torres), but clouds covered the middle/tall one unfortunately.  I did see the top of it, but I never got to see ALL of it.  You can see the picture below.  This was actually our last day.

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My favorite place was actually Glacier Grey, which coincided with our second day.  The first day was just arriving and getting settled in the southernmost part of the park (basically we entered and then settled down with our stuff very close to there).  Day 2 traveling to Pehoe Campsite (the bottom of the W corner if you look at the map) and then hiking to Glacier Grey since since it takes all day to get there and back.  And yes, I have some pictures for you to see.  But first a map.

As a reminder, our first check-in night was spent looking across the water at Pehoe Hotel (south).  Our second and third nights were at Refuge Pehoe (for hiking to Refuge Grey day 2 and then the middle part of the W for day 3).  Day 4 the guys went from Pehoe Refuge to Las Torres hotel (campgrounds) and I took a ferry /bus to get there…ferry back to Pehoe Hotel and then bus to Las Torres Hotel.  We slept at Las Torres Hotel that night (4th night) after they arrived and then hiked to the Torres Glacier where the towers are…for our last day, day 5 and then traveled in the evening back to town.  🙂

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The ice was blue at parts, which contributes to its beauty for me, and the lake in front had icebergs in it.  It was a fairly long hike, about 25km, but thankfully we left our stuff at the campsite so we only had to carry our lunch there.  I also used walking sticks to help with my knees/ankles, but my knees still hurt at the end lol.  At least I had no blisters on my feet!  (yet)  Here is a picture!

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OK so I already mentioned the first day (arriving, unpacking, relaxing) and the second day (Glacier Grey, my favorite!).  The third day was the middle part of the W trek, to the Britanico lookout.  Again, we left our stuff at Campground Pehoe (2 nights there), so we traveled very lightly.  This was a long day, about 30km (the most we ever trekked).  My knees were sore from the previous day’s hike at 25km, but they definitely were hurting after this day.  I did develop some blisters because of this day.  The lookout was beautiful, and Niv’s favorite place to visit (the guy on the left).  Here are some photos.

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The fourth day was basically me taking a break while the guys trekked with their stuff to the next campsite.  It’s the bottom of the W, which I had already done half (going to the lookout Britanico, of the middel part of the W).  They just went that same way and then more to the end of Torres Central where Torres Hotel is.  The guys went from Camp Pehoe (at the bottom corner) to the top right corner before you go up (Torres Central was the name but on the map you see, Hotel Las Torres).  This was the fourth day, and second-to-last day.  I instead was feeling a little sick and my feet hurt and I didn’t want to stretch my body too much, so I took a ferry and a bus and met them there.  I beat them by about 3 hours and took a 5 hour nap.  I napped from 4-10 and then woke up and cooked dinner.  They arrived at 7 and cooked dinner and stayed up until 10:30 when we caught up with each other and realized, miraculously, that we had camped like right next to each other without knowing it.  How funny!  I did take some photos while on the ferry and listened to music/podcasts while I was on the bus/ferry since I had some extra battery (60% and I normally used about 30% per day so I figured I had some battery to kill).

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The last day, day 5, was hiking the top-right part of the W trail to the Towers (Torres).  I wondered how they were made, but thanks to Wikipedia, it was glacial erosion that wore away the softer granite and left behind the harder granite (hence the tall towers of a different color than the granite “mountains” below/surrounding them).   After we finished, around 4:30, we came back, had another brief lunch (our original lunch was tuna and a hummus-like garlic and lemon mixture) and then went back to the main city of Puerto Natales.  I hitchhiked, and they took a bus back.  I saved myself a bus ticket ($12), but I spent $40 for the bus and ferry while they walked back with all their stuff, so I still came out behind on the money.  🙂   But everything else worked out great!

 

This experience taught me a few things.  First, camping equipment is real expensive, but when you have nice stuff, it makes a big difference.  Secondly, most people travel with others.  I met a few (very few) people who traveled solo, and even fewer women (relative to the men) but camping, like most any human activities, tend to be social in nature.  Thirdly, it’s nice to hear the sounds of nature. I would be sitting in my tent and just listening to the birds, to the sound of the wind, the soft fall of the rain, and I would feel very calm, tranquil, and at peace.  I took a shower once, which was really nice (to wipe off the grimy dirt and sweat off my body, not to mention any sweat from the sickness that I was fighting the whole time), but normally, showers and hot water are just nice when you have them but certainly not necessary!!

My Spanish is pretty good.  Almost all of my conversations, at least with those who are fluent in Spanish, seem slow (when I speak) but at least functional.  I understand most everything that’s said, and while I’m not having any serious conversations, at least I’m doing pretty well!  Spanish has too many words!

Next up for me is a “return” South to Punta Arenas (close to 3 hours) and then Ushuaia (close to 12 hours).  I’m going to try hitchhiking since hitchhiking seems pretty popular in this area of Patagonia and because I want more experience and because it’s cheap and I’d rather go cheap at this point with my budget.

Thanks for reading and hope you like the pictures!  It was a beautiful park.  Really loved it.  Especially the whole camping experience!  It wasn’t even super expensive (we paid $10 per night for the park, but the entrance fee $32, the food we brought $23, the buses $34, the ferries $56 stupid dollars, etc. made it quite expensive…I think like $180 for 5 days).

 

When I got back to the city (today), I tried to make reservations to do the back of it (see the red line going northeast from Las Torres Hotel up and then it ending at the top left of the map near Glacier Grey?…just imagine it continuing along the back) but they only have availability 3 weeks out and I don’t want to spend 10 days in Ushuaia, come back this way and waste a week, then do the trek, and then keep going north.  Nor do I want to go past the park (to not waste days here in Puerto Natales), go north to go hiking and such, and then come back DOWN for the park only to then, when I finish, retrace my steps going north.  I talked with one of the tour guides and he said it was an amazing trek for the Glacier Grey part of it (because you can see the whole glacier instead of just the bottom end of it like I saw already), but that the rest of the 5-day experience wasn’t really worth it.  So I guess I won’t be hiking with all my stuff the whole route!  🙂  I just did the “W” part and ended.  Next up: Ushuaia!  We shall see how little money I spend there.  I still have to buy a dang stove though!!  😦   They’re so much money!!  😦 😦

Patagonia-Torres del Paine and camping

I’m going to skip the customary “sorry it’s been so long since I posted a blog post” and just post twice!  🙂

As you may already know, I’m in Patagonia!  Patagonia is my second dream (after Galapagos, which I did already).  I arrived 5 days ago in Punta Arenas and spent a couple days there relaxing and traveling all over the town (more on that later).

But yesterday afternoon, me and my new trekking partner, a cool Israeli guy named Yoav, arrived in Puerto Natales, the town that serves as a base for the famous W trek of the Torres del Paine national park.  It’s the most famous hike in Patagonia, which is the southern part of Chile (and maybe Argentina too?), and is one of the most famous hikes in the world.  Right now, it’s their summer – which is the best time to go.  At least, it’s the warmest time to be here.  Winds are heavy, sometimes getting to 60mph/100kmh.  I’m sure it can get higher but I think normal “high” winds are about there.  As long as you have a good coat, though, you should be fine.  It’s just the neck and my ears that might get cold.

What you probably don’t know (unless you just read my previous blog post) is that I don’t have any camping equipment.  Or even cold weather equipment.  I did have a wool pea coat, which is perhaps the dumbest thing that I brought on this trip.  Hint: it’s a fashion coat.  It’s not waterproof, it’s not compressible, it’s not multi-layered (where I can take off the outer wind/water layer and keep the fleece lining inside, for instance), and it’s heavy to carry.  I am still kicking myself for bringing it!  Basically, I sent it back, and my parents got it a day or two ago.  $50 wasted shipping it back – and I never used it in Ecuador or Colombia!

But after I arrived, I realized that I am woefully unprepared for my time here.  I now don’t have any heavy coat, certainly nothing waterproof or windproof.  I don’t have gloves.  I don’t have a tent or sleeping bag or mat.  I don’t have a cooking stove or pots or pans to cook in.  I don’t have a bag that could even fit any of that stuff, as mine is full to the brim with 35L.  (it probably has 40L stuffed into a 35L bag…)

As I saw it, I had a couple options.  I could buy everything, including buying a new bigger bag.  I mean, I already had to buy a coat and gloves and a light.  I could rent everything, at about $30/day (for whatever treks I do, not just Torres del Paine which is the main one).  Or I could just not go camping.

For various reasons, I decided to buy everything.  This is my dream destination after all!  I felt more weird spending $200 to rent equipment for a week when I could buy everything for $500, so that’s what I did.  I feel like I got fair deals on everything, but when you start from scratch and are only willing to buy nice quality stuff (that I can use over and over again, including the very cold/high winds of Patagonia), it’s not cheap.

Mostly I feel two things: free to camp and go wherever I want (including hitchhiking or doing random treks without adding up the cost of renting stuff and deciding if it’s worth it) and obligated to camp (to make my expenditures worthwhile, as compared to doing hostels).

Also, right when I needed my shaver to work, it broke (it had already been 4 days and I was needing to shave).  So now, I haven’t shaved in … 6 days?  And I’ve already looked in stores.  They don’t have shavers, so I’ll have to buy a razor.  Now you may laugh, but I have never actually used a razor.  I always use electric shavers!  Also, I haven’t had a haircut in 3 months?  My hair’s wild and long compared to what I’m used to, but I like it.  I think I’m going to keep my longer hair.  I want to cut it to get rid of that annoying neck hair and my sides, but I figured for the harsh winds and temperatures here, it’s better to have too-long hair than shorter hair, even if it means I’m ugly.  So I’m ugly and cheap – like any partner’s worst nightmare!

I set up my tent last night for the first time and it’s great.  It’s orange, my favorite color.  It’s great for the wind because it’s higher at one end and lowers itself down toward your feet.  That means there’s less area for the wind to rush by.  It’s a 2-person tent also, though that comes with a few caveats.  Yes, 2 people fit inside the tent, but good luck getting your stuff inside the tent.  (You won’t.)  Now there’s a little porch (it’s tiny) which is supposed to be used for cooking and putting your bags, but if you have 2 bags, you’ll have to stack them on top of each other, and then where are you supposed to cook???

But for one person heavy camping, or two people easy-camping, I think it’s a perfect tent!!  It has good insulation, is 5000mm so pretty good for water and wind (10k is maybe the max but most tents are 1-3k), and my tent was only $170.  It’s a fairly heavy (at 2.7kg) tent, as far as high-quality tents go, but everything else is fine.  I was given a yoga mat as a sleeping mat (which was sufficient, as last night can attest), my sleeping bag is supposed to be comfortable down to -2 Celsius and it was.  I didn’t wake up cold in the night, though it would take me about 5 minutes to warm the bag up from when I entered.

We have two nights at one of the campground sites for about $18 (camping, no food provided), and I think we’re going to “figure something out” for one or two more nights in the park.  If you get food included, it’s $80/night – and that’s camping with food included!!  I don’t even want to ask about getting a dorm bed in one of the refugios in the park with food!  Actually, I probably would feel better about it because then it would make me feel better for having spent $500 on camping equipment hahaha.

OK last few things.  Our reservations could only be booked on the Feb 3 and 4 nights.  So we are stuck here until then.  I think they have some day hikes we can do (hopefully tomorrow) and then Feb 1, I have some budget/invoice work to do for my friend’s company (hey a job!), and then Feb 2 we can hopefully find a hike to do.  But Feb 3 and 4 are inside the Torres del Paine park and then afterwards, we’ll see what we can figure out!  We hope to have 5 days, 4 nights inside the park.  Then I think we are going to go to Puerto Williams, on the Tierra del Fuego island (or very close to there).  I think it’s the farthest south, most-accessible place to camp.  You don’t need a guide, but you need to have everything with you when you go.  Hahaha!  We are planning on doing that for about 8 days, which includes a day or two for weather being so bad that we can’t trek (it’s a 5 day hike).  After that, I think we will split up – I’ll go to Ushuaia for trekking another 8 days or so, and he’ll leave.  Eventually, I’m going to come back to here, do some hitchhiking up the rest of Chile until I hit the end of the Patagonia area where I plan on doing some HelpX or workaway volunteering for the remainder of my time here.

The landscape here is really beautiful.  Trees are short and stubby and beautiful in a kind of ugly way lol.  Not much grass, certainly nothing like the soft grass of Oregon!  It kind of reminds me of Oregon actually.  Anyway, I’ll post pictures when I’m walking around instead of riding on a bus. I haven’t done anything here except arrive yesterday and relax today, so sorry there aren’t more pictures.  But don’t worry, you’ll get a lot soon.

That’s all, folks!  Wish me luck and hope that I stay warm!!  🙂   Love to all of you, and to those in the USA…may you find healing and hope amidst all the resistance.