Quiet of the Desert

“Here, I find absolute quiet…I struggle to remember the last time in my life where I could hear nothing at all.”

Here, I find absolute quiet…I struggle to remember the last time in my life where I could hear nothing at all. There are sounds here and there but they are all natural and non-man made. The wind blows full gusts across my body, to hear the rocks move or jolt under my feet as I step over and around them to soar to new heights, and to listen to the sharp squawking of the desert falcon soaring into the air above me.

For the first time in a long while, I am completely alone with my thoughts and my feelings. There’s no one else around and I am alright with that. I am finally able to take a much-needed breather in this fast-paced world and able to concentrate on nothing but the natural sounds around me, intermittent at best. As a city slicker and former suburbanite, the desert is so unfamiliar to my senses that it feels overwhelming to me at times.

Away from any civilization, on my own, and accountable to only myself for once, it is truly refreshing to be able to live deeply in each moment, putting one foot in front of the other as I focus on my singular goal of hiking through the Sonora desert landscape, enjoying every sight and sound without a screen or a person in sight. “This is the way that life should be more often”, I think to myself.

Still though, I am not quite used to the quiet and I struggle to remember the last time I went an hour where I heard nothing but natural sounds or sights. Too often, we desire to be in the hustle and bustle, to be constantly in front of a screen, or each other. Maybe what we need more of is more time in a natural environment where our primordial ancestors were born and raised to hike, fish, hunt, and bathe in environments much more natural than our own today. While cities and towns have their modern advantages, as I get older, I crave these nature experiences. Also, I desire to be alone with my thoughts and feelings, but to fully take in each moment that passes as my life narrows down to the minute here rather than to the week or the month ahead.

As I crisscross the hiking trail I’m on in the desert, I am reminded that nothing in life is ever guaranteed and that the desert suffers no fools indeed. The quiet of the desert can lull you into true tranquility but if you are always not fully aware of your surroundings, you can become one of its unknowing victims. Checking to see if you are conserving enough water, getting some shade in the sun, making sure you are on the right trail, and have a path back, these are necessities to making your desert stay a pleasant one. Luckily, your senses are heightened to the 9th degree as your priorities become solely about both survival and endurance rather than about paychecks and promotions.

I continue to watch my footing, check my pulse, and even observe the environment for snakes that could be disguised as branches. I am once again thrust in a foreign place where I must take care, or I could end up not coming back at all. However, unlike being in an average city or town or even a farm, I am truly alive here and for that, I am grateful. Not everyone gets to experience the multi-colored hues of sediment and rock formed over millions of years. Not everyone is able to see the huge mountains, the unique canyons shaped like chimneys, and the red rocks, and the deep valleys that were molded for many millennia before man first walked the Earth. How wondrous it is to experience this kind of environment, for which we are all caretakers of. I treasure these moments because I know that as we live on a planet under threat from our short-sighted actions and careless deeds, the need to protect the quiet of the desert rings true.

Making my way to the summit of Thunder Mountain, I hear nothing but the gasping of my own breath and the sweat dripping down my neck. I am in awe of the large green plants like the cacti, the red mountains, and the bright, blue desert sky. What a great joy it is to hear absolute quiet at the summit of this mountain and I hope it is not long until I can be here again to enjoy a silent hike, to see the beautiful views, and to be able to hear nothing, nothing at all.

As I reach the end of my hike, I realize how the natural environments are best for people and too often today, we try to drown out the quiet because we have little or no peace in our lives. My trip to the desert taught me to embrace the quiet, to embrace my own thoughts, and to remember to be present with myself when no one else is around. The desert asks you to hone your survival skills a bit and if you can persevere, do your homework, and act wisely, you’ll be rewarded with the absolute silence that many of us crave but few of us ever take action to have.      

When it comes to my favorite thing about being in the desert, it is no contest for me: the stillness, the quiet, and the vast nothingness calm me in ways few other things in life have. That revelation, for me, is worth the strenuous journey to get together, to be there, and to come back having learned more about who I am as a person and what I truly need in this life of mine.

Barichara

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Barichara, Santander, Colombia

The Art of Traveling Solo

The famous English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, once wrote in his poem “All that is gold does not glitter” a line that should be noted for its’ truth and its’ profundity. The 2nd line of the poem states, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This is a fitting statement for those of us travelers who have stepped foot in another city or country being completely on our own. It’s not something that can be easily done and requires a bit of mental fortitude to be able to enjoy it despite the inherent challenges.

While most travelers like to go from place to place in packs, big groups, or in guided tours, I believe that it is necessary to try out traveling alone especially if you have prior experience in traveling to other cities and countries. Once you are comfortable with the art of traveling itself, I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself by traveling alone. I won’t choose to judge you if you decide to never try it by I respect any fellow traveler more when they tell me that they have been by themselves in a new country for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time.

In order to travel alone successfully, I would recommend that a person be able to adapt or inherently have a few traits or characteristics that will put them more at ease with the idea. First, you have to be comfortable being alone. You have to be able to embrace the solitude of your thoughts and to be more observant of the world. This is a hard thing to accomplish for strictly extroverted people who thrive off of the energy of being around others. However, if you’re a strict introvert or fall somewhere in the middle of those two broad categories like myself, then you won’t find traveling solo as hard as pure extroverts. Sometimes, you will have to be alone in a restaurant, in a museum, or in your train/plane/taxi.

I think there’s a benefit to this because then you’re more likely to focus on the place you’re traveling to and be able to better absorb the culture, customs, and especially the food/drinks of the new place you’re traveling to. When you’re with your friends and family on a trip, you’re often wrapped up in what they’re thinking, what you’re going to do with them for the day, if they’re having a good time or not, etc. With friends and family, you’re in a mini-bubble that’s hard to break out of. When you’re traveling with another person or a group in general, you’re less likely to appreciate other aspects of the trip. How can you focus on the sheer beauty of the Coliseum in Rome, Italy when your close friend is trying to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode with you?

Some critics of traveling solo also forget about the fact that you will still meet people during your travels to new places. You’ll only truly be alone if you never open your mouth and be social. It’s easier now than ever to connect with new people and make new friends due to the wonders of the Internet. Due to the popularity of websites like AirBNB, Couchsurfing, and the ubiquitous amount of hostels in every part of the globe, even if you travel alone for an extended period of time, it’s still easy to meet people due to the sharing economy’s emphasis on affordable, shared living spaces.

I also couldn’t forget the sheer amount of other opportunities to have language exchanges, expat gatherings, and to just make the effort to open your mouth to someone and start a conversation. I find that it’s easier to meet people on the road than it is when I’m at home because they’re curious about where you’re from, how long you have been traveling for, and what you are doing in their country, etc. and you’ll also be curious about the same things.

During my recent trip to Santa Marta, which was done solo, I was able to befriend my kind AirBNB host from Bogota, hang out with the locals at a bar, and practice my beginner Portuguese with a Brazilian woman from Rio de Janeiro. When you’re traveling alone, you really have to put yourself out there and be more social. That’s not easy for a lot of people but it’s important to try it at least once. If you have any kind of social anxiety or shyness, you’ll be able to overcome it more and more due to solo travels.

Traveling alone is something that you have to ease into over time. I think it’s wise to start with a day trip to a nearby city where you don’t know anyone and then eventually work your way up to visiting a new country by yourself for a few days or a week. Personally, the longest that I’ve traveled by myself for has been about two weeks. I’d like to eventually reach that level of a month or more on the road without anyone holding my hand. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone and mentally challenges you. You have to navigate a new city and country, practice the language by yourself, and be able to handle flights, trains, and buses without the guidance of others.

While this is not easy and takes practice, you’ll feel more confident and sure of yourself as a result. The times where you could have been taking selfies with your friends or partying until the wee hours of the morning are instead focused on having a nice coffee by the river or taking your time in an art museum by going through the galleries at your own pace. Traveling solo is a good time to be selfish as you can set your schedule, your own destinations, and decide where you want to go and when you want to go. There’s nobody holding you back and that’s quite liberating. I often get a feeling of true freedom while traveling alone that’s not easily replicated.

Even if there was no one else physically with me, I have nice memories of my past solo travels. The moment when I woke up on my train to Krakow, Poland in the early morning to open my window to see fresh snow on the ground and the sun rising as we entered the train station. The feeling of pure relaxation as I enjoyed a nice mid-day cappuccino with a view of the Prague skyline in the Czech Republic, and the absolute quiet I felt as I sat on the beach in Parque Tayrona, Colombia and heard nothing but the soft, sea breeze and the waves splashing against my feet. These are the memories that I will cherish and never forget. That is why I enjoy the art of solo traveling.

Moments of Quiet Reflection

In a world full of noise and frenzy, it’s to one’s advantage to have some quiet moments of reflection every now and then. It doesn’t have to be every day but five to ten minutes for a couple of times per week can really make a difference in helping you do some self-reflection. Activities like Yoga, Meditation, or just doing deep breathing exercises will allow your mind to quiet itself and reflect on nothing at all or to concentrate on a specific thought. Hearing your own voice and thoughts in your mind is not easy to do but it helps put your past, present, and future into a clearer perspective. It’s a real and underrated pleasure in letting your thoughts run away to new places and but to still control where they go.

Personally, I enjoy my own reflections late at night when the world is quiet and I’m getting ready to fall sleep. I can freely think about past memories that make me smile, and contemplate events on the horizon in my future. Having tried meditation in the past, I can also let go of any and all thoughts that I want to do away with in order to become a clean slate unto myself. Reflecting upon my actions, thoughts, and feelings makes me more introspective and observant, which allows me to acknowledge my overall strengths and weaknesses as a person. Being self-aware of who you are, where you’re going, where you’ve been, and how you got there are all elements in developing a personal sense of meaning and fulfillment.

Listening to ones’ conscience and honing ones’ idea of self is increasingly important in maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Too often these days, we are with the world all of the time and are constantly absorbing the thoughts and feelings of many other people. While interacting with other is a crucial part of life, we must continue to listen to and reflect on our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We shouldn’t always act on what we feel, or say what we think, but having these thoughts and reflecting on their origins and meanings should not be discouraged.

Often, we as human beings can care way too much about what other people think, feel, and say about us. It is simply not productive to let others’ thoughts of you consume your own sense of self and purpose. All of us have a limited amount of information that we can take in to our minds, absorb, and act on so we have to choose what’s really important to let into our heads.

In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and social media in general, it’s all too easy to get caught up on in what’s going on in the external world without taking note of what we’re experiencing in our internal world. Indulging in everybody else’s words all of the time will leave you disoriented and overwhelmed. Listening to your own voice above everybody else’s is necessary to have a true sense of self. Make sure to always have a strong identity and a purpose. If that takes more daily quiet reflections, then you should make those a priority in your life. When you are always tuned into the lives of other people, you forget to live your own life.

Live according to your own purpose and vision before considering the thoughts and opinions of others. Yes, while it’s always important to listen and seek guidance from friends and family, sometimes you have to go your own way and follow your destiny, even if you don’t know where that road may lead. Having an active life makes for a stronger and healthier individual.

Be quiet and reflect when your mind feels cluttered and overwhelmed. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Let your mind shut off or let it wander into your memories and experiences. Turn off your phone and the computer to just ‘be present’ in the moment. Let the flow of information and data of the world not influence you in these precious few moments.

The only thoughts and feelings you should be listening to should be your own during these times. Hear your own voice and think about your past, present, and future or try not to think at all. Remember your own ‘why’ of living and maintain your personal bearings. After these crucial moments of quiet reflection, you’ll better understand who you are as a person and what your conscience is telling you. Always allow yourself some time to be present in your own mind, and your mind alone.