Sunday, 27 July 2008

12 - Exploring Titan and the Mountains of Madness


This is a brief transpond from a distant planet. These are the first images sent back from the manned probe sent to Titan.

Indeed a foreign world - barren but for the ice and liquid methane rivers plus terribly dangerous glacial sinkholes that caused no end of consternation to the psychonauts Doctor Lobster and El Dawid (aka Davey Crockett). Signs of life were certainly encountered in this patch - in fact a complete Alma footprint was found - Note distinctive extra 'ball' of the foot and single horizontally long toe plus claw. (Reality aside: The Alma is for all intents and purpose the (Mongolian) equivalent of the Yeti)

After exploring Titan's surface and being reminded of the power of Nature (said sinkhole and caving ice edges) we retreated in the face of an almighty gale to our now-broken landing pod (tent) to weather the worst ice-storm we could possibly have encountered in the height of a mongolian summer. We received about an inch and a half of sleet/snow overnight. And to illustrate how cold this was... in the morning the stream near us had frozen over. I broke the ice (haha) to get some water to make tea... Returning to the same place 45 minutes later to clean our pots etc I found that section had re-frozen. This was in the morning AFTER the sun had risen! Brr...

However after that the weather turned into the most glorious sun-baked day. We hiked and climbed for 7 hours from our base to the peak of Mount Malchin. This was an arduous climb far beyond what I thought I was physically capable of. I had approached the horizon hunt with a purpose (a magic spell if you will) and this plus the spirit of the place seized me and pulled me up to the summit. A testament to the power of the (bloody) mind(edness). By far the highest thing I have climbed I know by doing so I extended my personal envelope (and gazed deep into Russia, Kazakstan and back into Mongolia).

I have no doubt that I will add much to this in the future but in terms of Mountains and Valleys here is an insight:

If Mountains represent the remarkable learning experiences (positive or negative) we encounter in life then the Valleys are the periods between the momentous occasions in which we come to understand the lessons taught by the mountain. Because I can tell you I am not capable of climbing another mountain of this ilk in the same day. I am also happy to announce that care of David Haupt I can add that sleep is counted as very solid Valley-time. It is during sleep that we assimulate the experiences.

And finally below a few more shots of our locale.

And yet I have not even told about the jungle horror mosquitoe horizon-crossing hell-march from west of the sun to east of the moon I did less than a week ago. It involved a day's horse-ride, 2 nights out, 25km hike and a 36 hour period without seeing a soul other than my own! A sight I was quite surprised by truth be told. Its quite the thing to wander close to the edge of one's endurance. And a good thing to note for future reference. Lovely.

Ok, here's campsite 1, 2 and a lunar curiosity from there. Love ya x

Friday, 18 July 2008

11a - Out and about in Ulaanbaatar

Quite a city… they say it’s crowded and I suppose it is but where I come from its not.

You see it’s a big country with a small population. So by Mongolian standards it’s crowded. By London standards this is a breeze. Really. But it is dusty – I’ll give the guidebook that.

I’ve been in the country for 36 hours and done a lot of wandering around. Befriending the occasional traveller but mainly hitting the language barrier at full speed when encountering Mongolians. Sigh.

Still it’s the kind of place you wish you had 10 eyes in. just to take in the multitude of different sights and sounds. One interesting (and annoying) bit is getting served on plates loosely wrapped in cling-film. Is that done for some benefit of the plate or the customer or a desire not to do any washing? Who knows but it’s definitely unnecessary in my eyes.

So far I have been out both nights I’ve been here, you know getting the feel for the place and all that. I’ve also managed to find the uber-trendy cocktail lounges. And encountered the same hostess in the same outfit at both. Shame about that language barrier. All I can do so far is mutter something akin to ‘thank you’. So in the first one The Crystal Lounge, while nursing a Black Russian alone in a low chair I observed a young Mongol complete with Fohawk leave his booth, come to the bar to grab a straw for a compatriot. He dropped it on the floor. Then picked it up, replaced it back among the others, took a different one and returned to his table. Not having much else to do but watch and think about this I imagined he may have thought “I can’t give this to one of my friends now, its been on the floor and I’m sure they saw me drop it, but if I just throw it away unused then this might be the straw that breaks the planet’s back. But what you don’t know won’t kill you so I’ll just put it back and no-one will be the wise, the next dude will just use it no problem.”

Obviously he could’ve thought a load of other things but more than likely was not thinking at all merely acting on what his current level of social conditioning/learning had led him to do (and in whatever state of intoxication he may have been operating at who knows).
But the back-story for me has to be in his social awareness. He believes the group of friends would not want a straw from the floor but won’t think harshly of him for putting it back. Or he didn’t believe in the 5-second rule for him using the straw if it was for him. That said the 5-second rule doesn’t apply in trendy cocktail lounges anyway as everyone knows their floors are much dirtier than normal bars.

What really struck me about all of this was the impenetrability of his thinking to me. I had to imagine what he thought without any chance of really finding out.
You see, as I can’t even say hello yet in Mongolian there was no danger of me asking: “Excuse me, when you picked that straw up were you concerned for yourself, your friends, what they thought of you or trying to spare the planet another 3 cubic cm of plastic?”

Mind you I’m unlikely to really have risked that kind of “calibration question” in most circumstances anyway. Which is also why I try not to talk to anyone 12 hours into an expedition from 7 hours behind on almost zero sleep. That’s not really true either… actually that’s exactly what I do try to do. But it’s a good thing I’m incommunicable.

That’s what this kind of travel is like – coming to one’s own conclusions and examining what I would do in the same place. And Christ I really hope that in a similar situation I do not pause to consciously consider it! Around that moment I also considered that I had better not have another Black Russian cocktail either. It had mixed far too well with my jetlag.

So here’s another revealing incident. Foreign toilets. This one had an inner toilet room and an outer basin and mirror room. All western normality except I can’t find the light for the inner department. At all. So I convince myself there is none or it’s broken. I manage. Go back to my Black Russian. Incident above happens. Finish and go to leave. Go back to toilet to find the light is on… try to find its switch, fail again. Laugh at myself. Reminds me a bit of the things one accepts while travelling and excuses one makes for altering one’s social conditioning. All good. Except strip fluoro lighting is never acceptable.

Now all this communicating with others is good and adventurous but one also has to be very careful and always understand that a good exit strategy will help in “Survival from the Thickest” e.g. I met 2 Italian newly weds who’d Trans-Siberian expressed their way to Mongolia starting from Cracow. They tried to show me ALL of their photographs of that journey - yes very nice – Polish you say? Beautiful? Yes I see, and that’s you with all those bottles of wine? Ha-ha, very good, oh Auschwitz and Birkenau… yes… lovely… I mean hideous of course, (sigh)… for your honeymoon you say? Man that encounter sent me heading for the hills straight away.

Other than that I’ve some time spent testing my “photograph monks without them knowing” skills – not very good yet. I’m struggling with attachment issues to the $5 they ask for the pleasure. Though I understand they are not photo opportunities and need a way to fund their mobile phone and ipod purchases too - just like the rest of us. I’m managing my expectations about this. And if I sound jaded its just because I’m trying to be funny and still jetlagged, up late at night worrying about who I’m going to rent my apartment to next year. That is how much I am NOT living in the moment right now. I’m sure tomorrow will be different to this late night.

Met a bunch of folk trying to get themselves organised for an eclipse trip over to the west… a Russian, some Brits and an American. Nice people. But I’m glad I am on an organised tour for this one… just easier and I’m ok with that for once. Having thrown some money at the problems of unreliable cars and 3-hour flights rather than 4-day drives! And met a British/Japanese couple who've also been to all the eclipses i've been to so far... party people. Nice.

Not many other eclipse-heads around so far. There was a major eclipse close to the capital back in 1997, which was clouded out so I think the Mongolians have just given up on the event. Back then they expected 6000 visitors and only got 1000, tour operators lost money etc, so they don’t see it as a big tourist attraction either, … and perhaps it is not…

Anyway – tomorrow I am abandoning civilization for a whole 3 nights as I head out into the wild to see what finds me out there.

Then I am back to meet up with the eternal David Haupt – he’s going to be in for a rough time as I drag him around Ulaanbaatar while He’s jetlagged and I am not!

Right now see also this stuff about Horizons.

Oh and this about Black Moons

The snaps included here are 2 entries into the sneaky monk shots but they’re not gonna win anything – I’m just showing you I‘m trying! Note the pigeons clustering in the shade…

A man-in-the-box artwork reminding one to think about getting out of the box

A shamanic temple sign but no sign of the shamans – just some VERY drunk, very toothless types. And yes I know a shaman could look like anything but these were probably just temple guards… we’ll see… I do hope to encounter some of this business...

My offering for silly foreign sign...

And best of all a VERY cool dinosaur(s) fossil of a protocerotops battling a velociraptor. Apparently they were covered by a sand-dune midfight.

I have a bit of a pattern with writing these things... I want to communicate and really enjoy doing so. However I leave it to the last minute usually. Just like a school project. It generally means that they're a little rushed. So it goes. I'm noting that in my own life - i'm generally a little rushed... and its also often with self-imposed deadlines... awareness... disconnection... dialogue... recycle to a positive alternative...

11b - Horizons

Let’s have a chat about Horizons. Odd things. As an analogy they represent the extent of your world - being as far as you can see. What you can surmise about a horizon is that there is something on the other side. You just can’t see it right now. You can approach a horizon in two ways.
1. You can rise up, high above wherever you were as if in a hot air balloon and through this greater height you might effect a great change in your horizon too.
2. The other is to go right up to it. Depending on where it is it may change with each step towards it you take (curvature of the earth type) or it may remain resolutely the same until you are super close and then suddenly it will rush away and settle like the end of a rainbow oh so much further away and out of touch.

Either method is equally good. If there was a qualitative difference between them it could best be described as the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy is about a longer view while tactics require much quicker reactions. For me a nice thing about horizons is that while they define the extent of your world they are never barriers or boundaries. The minute you arrive at them they effectively melt away revealing a whole new world to explore. They’re just hiding something from you. As horizons are generally crossable the limitation they emplace on you is generally just on your own imagination. That said nothing stops one’s imagination from wandering over a hill and having a fantasy! In fact at times it’s quite nice to just imagine what is over that horizon rather than really climbing to the ridge or digging out that hot-air balloon.
Though on a personal level I’m all for going and having a proper look because I quite do believe this world is a far more amazing place than my own imagination can conjure and thus I am constantly surprised by it and richly rewarded for extra-horizon peeking. And experience is the mother of all wisdom.

An interesting note: horizons tend to be on mountains. Unless you’re on a ‘valley-trended’ elevated area in front of a very wide valley plain when only the curvature of the earth supplies your horizon. So if you do look to the horizon generally you are looking up in life, to a time when after a period of success or endeavour a new world will be yours (for better or worse). Not a bad trend or general rule of thumb. Keep your gaze on the horizon. But do keep an eye on your footing. No need to stumble when the going is good but more important not to stumble when the lie of the land is treachorous.

And who would not want to have a horizon. Imagine never being able to wonder what was just over THAT ridge or what’s behind THAT dune. No thanks. A lot of my forward momentum is created by curiosity and the draw to the unknown. Many will see that as good argument to back the claim that I will never be happy with what I have etc. And my answer to that is absolutely I am happy with what I have but I will not remain happy if it all remains exactly the same. I am an experience-driven individual yet recognise even the smallest changes can be worth experiencing.
I’m also very aware that nothing remains the same – everything is bobbing along the river of time so every moment we experience is different from the last and it may be worth having continuity too.

Thinking back over the period known to me as E4 ( which began 29 March 2006 and includes E4-B and E4-B2) there have been many thunderously momentous occasions. Such as 2 Burning Man excursions, Quintiple Inter-continental Travel, Inter-dimensional Great Love-mongering, Divine Moments of Truth, Extreme Moments of Sleep-deprivation, the sweetness of First Kisses, the process culminating in my name in “Lights”, the Hoffman Process and surfing a wave for more than 30 seconds! Each of those moments have been a stratospheric expedition in the Hot Space-Balloon of my life. From each I have seen far beyond all my previous horizons. But as after each moment I sink back to the ground of my default reality I have to rely on my memory as to what is over those horizons.
Still having seen over them once, I feel much better placed to travel in the direction of the horizon I would like to cross with a better choice of the valley I would like to explore or reside in next. Useful.

Yet at times rather than being high (sic) I felt I was pretty damn close to those horizons. Nestled up against them. Sneaky like a hungry Bedouin sniper spying on a camel train winding its way to an oasis in the Promised Land. And then I’d find myself thinking, “What the hell, I’m just going to step over this horizon and into that other world”. Liberation! I could see a different place to be, could see the way to get there and had the courage to just take that step towards my goal. As I crossed that threshold the world would shift and rearrange itself with me as the new centre. Its obviously not that I am the centre of THE universe but I am the most important thing in my own life (for now – I am sure it is possible for this to change...). My Bedouin would leave his rifle, and in taking one single step be in the lush palm forest on the shores of an abundant world fresh and ready for an entirely new type of pirate! Or knight, cowboy, vampire or muppet.
But I also note that despite the wonder of all those moments I still choose to measure the period back to that previous eclipse in Turkey. And so I note its full moon tonight. Thus I am only half a lunation from that next entrancing eclipse and entering the period known to me as E5. And this cycle has been 2.5 years. Nice.
I am horizon hunting tomorrow so I’ll be away from the life-support system (laptop) and I just wanted to put something out to all of you who are important to me in case I do not get another chance before 1 August.
Clear Skies for the sake of restoring Mongolian interest in eclipses
Doctor Lobster

11c - Black Moon Rising

Black Moon Rising

Now another thing, pretty minor but I think it’s worth mentioning… You may know the phrase “Once in a blue moon” referring to something rare. And you may know that when there are 2 full moons within the same calendar month that’s a Blue Moon. Of course full moons tend to get noticed – they’re pretty obvious after all. Great heavenly altars to the Lupine Lords. But new moons rarely feature much of a mention. After all – its like they are not really there! In other words NOTHING to notice. Well this August contains 2 new moons. And that’s called a Black Moon! Does this portend anything? Dunno. I think one can read into it whatever one likes sooooo I’m gonna read into this that this is a hugely positive time. Even more so if you are in the Northern hemisphere – cos its Summer. And August is about the only reliable month in Europe. At least one can rely on the Italians not to work that month. And before you think I am being facetious – I’m not. I truly am impressed that pretty much the whole country takes that month off – I have yet to experience it at first hand but by god I plan to indulge in a Tuscan august one of these days. But not this August… this one starts with an Eclipse and ends at Burning Man. Pig - Shit -Wallowing. Yes please.