Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hiking: a quest of pain and beauty

And so I return from a quest. The quest of hiking around this island, which I had taken upon myself to endeavour. On a bright and sunny morning (as are most mornings around here, but still) I walked out through the door of the telescope building, and set forth upon the mountain path which winds its way along the crest of the caldera, precariously close to the precipice. My rucksack packed with enough food to sustain me for days in the wilderness, a tent, a sleeping bag, and other things useful for somewhat convenient survival in nature. An adventure stretching ahead of me, determination guiding my steps, and joy filling my heart. Four days later I return in triumph. On a moonlit path, with an exhausted and blistered body but with an unbroken spirit, with memories of sweetness and wonders and agony, and a desire to sleep for a week.

I walked ninety kilometres in four days. Mostly uphill and downhill through rocky terrain. I was by no means sure that I was going to make it, and many times during the hike I contemplated giving up and calling for a taxi. I had never before walked so far for so long, with almost a third of my weight on my back, in such difficult terrain, and by myself at that. But apparently my willpower is far from insignificant, and I made it through what proved to be the physically hardest thing I've ever done. Fuck modesty, I'm proud as hell of myself!

And it was so thoroughly worth it, just as I had hoped. There is that to be said about agony, that you really get to know a land if you let it torment you for a bit. Through pain, sweat, blood, tears and exhaustion I've gotten to know this island. I have seen most of it now, and not only that. I have heard it, smelled it, felt it, even tasted it. Sensed it in every way possible. Dizzying heights and petroglyphs and ravens eating nuts out of my hands on mountain tops. Silent, mossy, dewy and sweet-smelling pine forests. Clouds, poked and prodded from above, below and inside. Volcanoes, with craters and petrified lava streams and many-layered geological beauty. Picking wild cactus fruits, figs and almonds. Meeting goats, chickens, horses and stray dogs. Seeing the cities by night and the moon reflected in the sea or illuminating the sea of clouds. Trudging along up the steep mountainside, miserably wrapped in a cloud that's been raining on me for hours, and then finally seeing the clouds clear before my eyes as I break through the cloud layer. Never in my life have I been so happy to see the sun, and I cried out with joy as I saw its evening rays gilding the mountain tops so close to home.

Home. Yes, that's how I feel about this place, now and for five more weeks. I have completely and utterly fallen in love with this beautiful, dramatic and interesting island. I would like to just lie on the couch and read books for a week right now and let my poor feet heal a bit, but no matter. I managed this ordeal far better than I had expected, and I am positive I have my running to thank for that. My legs groaned and complained about the constant going up- and downhill, yes, but I could convince them to continue onwards in spite of that much better than I could a year ago. My neck and shoulders had their share of stiffness, but my back could cope with the weight of the rucksack without taking damage. My heart pounded on without cramping, and with some disciplined breathing I could push myself through things that seemed all but un-aspireable to my fatigue-dazed brain (eleven to thirteen hours of walking a day for four days takes its toll on the psyche if you're not used to it!). And even though my toes got blistered and started bleeding after a while, I think my feet and calves hurt considerably less than they would have without all that barefoot training. The best thing of all: I didn't feel the slightest hint of pain in my injured knee, despite walking so hard for so long in such difficult terrain, without the support of either staff or bandage. Seeing as my main motive for starting running was to make hiking less of an ordeal I can only say: mission incredibly successfully accomplished! Just think what another year will do.

So, after having spent three days descending 2000 metres, and then one day ascending as much, I have now spent an extremely lazy day doing not much more than surfing the internet. I am now off to sleep in an oh-so-comfortable bed and waking up to dry clothes and a warm cup of tea. These luxuries that we take for granted. It teaches you a lot about nature and yourself, hiking, not least to be thankful.

Love and adventure,

Thursday, 12 September 2013

I've looked at clouds from all sides now

It's been a cloudy day today. The definition of a cloudy day around here is pretty much being inside a cloud. It certainly intensifies the feeling of isolation when you cannot even see the nearby telescopes anymore. Just damp whiteness. So yeah, we didn't even open up today, which meant I basically had the day off. Spent it mostly napping and reading, but also running (in an attempt to offset the laziness). Running inside clouds has the benefit of (extremely) humid air, which makes my sore nose happy and less clogged.

I've also been on adventures at evening- and nighttime. Went to see the Mercator telescope, and also MAGIC. Both very interesting and high-tech! And yesterday the William Herschel telescope shone their laser to calibrate their adaptive optics system. I have never seen a cooler laser! A 40 watt green beam pointing out into space, and I got to stand right under it and look up. Squee!

Have been down to Santa Cruz as well on my free days this week. Got to practise a lot of driving while getting lost in search for a particular beach on the other side of the island. It's still stressful, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. Arrived at the beach at last only to find it closed off due to risk for falling rocks. Typical. Oh well, it still was a beautiful place. And I got to see a fair number of banana plantations, I guess that counts for something.

Also seized the opportunity to go for a run in abundant oxygen-levels. Ran to the beach, took a swim, then ran back to the hotel. Turned quite a few heads and got whistled after since I was barefoot and wore nothing but swimming trunks and a sports bra, but what the hell. I was too busy enjoying the sensation of being strong enough to run that far without a problem to be bothered by the stares.

It is a lovely feeling, and it helps keeping me sane. Running endorphins are a really good way to cope with the occasional loneliness and oversocialisation around here. An effective way of finding peace.

I heard a storm is coming in tonight. That usually lulls me to sleep very effectively. And tomorrow promises clear skies. In any case I've got to get up before sunrise, so off to bed I go.

Love and clouds,

Friday, 6 September 2013

SST villanelle*

We spend the days here looking at the Sun
From the tower watching the sunrise
And hoping for a good observing run

The plans for this had long ago begun
In Sweden because Stockholm thought it wise
To build this place for looking at the Sun

The telescope has lens of metre one
And artefacts in cameras from mice
All optimised for good observing run

Sometimes the hope for data is all gone
Calima or high clouds will once or twice
Destroy our chance of looking at the Sun

When polcal, darks and flats have all been done
We make a quick-look movie for our eyes
While hoping for a good observing run

Sometimes observers have a lot of fun
Recording when the seeing's looking nice
A day well spent on looking at the Sun
Then bringing home a good observing run

* This happens to be my first attempt at a villanelle, so please regard kindly the liberties I've taken with the form.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Learning to live

September is here. Today the term starts at the university back home. It feels overwhelmingly strange to not be responsible for and stressing over and being excited about a dozen things. September is usually one of the busiest months for me, what with new courses to study for, an astronomy club to organise activities for, the culture night with the planetarium and the institution to work at, new pieces to practice for the orchestra, a fantastic film festival to attend, roleplaying to take up again and new friends to meet and old ones to recap with after summer. Routines to get into again, both the good and the less constructive ones.

Now, none of that. This September I'm spending at the top of a mountain, at an island in the Atlantic ocean. It feels good. Peaceful, even. This is a calm and beautiful place, and the days are much the same. When not helping the observers I have time to read, to go for long and interesting walks, to run, and to think. I haven't felt this relaxed and generally on top of things in ages. Apart from missing my friends and my cat I absolutely love this place and my existence here. It's probably doing wonders for my mental health as well, solitude and sun and all. I hope I will bring some of the good habits I've developed here with me back home. From this place which feels like an island in both space and in time.

I'm missing out. Back home people are carrying on with their lives without me. Maybe they don't even notice that I'm gone all that much. I don't know how big a hole I've left in existence. In their worlds there is only one person missing, while inside me is this gigantic abyss filled with aching where all of them used to be. But I actually don't mind so much. I am finding myself up here, under these clear skies and amidst this timelessness. I can feel myself evolving towards something I only ever dreamt of, and I realise that I've been doing so for a long time now. And the adventure carries ever on. I'm learning to live.

I need to live life, like some people never will
So find me kindness, find me beauty, find me truth

Another chance to lift my life
Free the sensation in my heart
To ride the wings of dreams into changing horizons
It brings inner peace within my mind

The way your heart sounds makes all the difference
It's what decides if you'll endure the pain that we all feel
The way your heart beats makes all the difference in learning to live
Here before me is my soul, I'm learning to live

Love and beauty and truth,