Why not?

I found this while browsing the web and I couldn’t help thinking how accurate it is: most of the time I take decisions based on these two words I have amazing experiences. I usually use the “why-not method” in my personal life, not at work, but I find it very rewarding, it opens a world of possibilities and surprises.

In 2016 I was in Sukhothai, which was the capital of the Sukhothai reign between the beginning of 1200 and mid 1300. Now it’s a relatively small town, with an interesting heritage of temples and ruins and while I was there I saw there was the possibility to see the sunrise from one of them, so I said “why not?”, and booked a tuktuk for an ungodly hour of the morning. We reached the place and I started to walk up the hill, on a narrow path in the middle of the tropical forest lit only by the light of my cell phone, I heard rustling in the trees and I started wondering if that had been a good idea; then I reached the top of the hill and I was completely alone with the huge statue of the Buddha, chanting started from a monastery that was still in use but I could not locate; and then, after some time it was not so dark anymore, the statue took a blue hue and waited patiently for it to change to pink, orange and yellow.

It was a memorable experience.

In 2017 I visited the Chapada Diamantina national park in Brazil, and one of the suggestions was a two-day hike to a waterfall, and again I said “why not?”. It turned out the uphill hike it was a bit over my possibilities (especially in that kind of heat) and I will not do it again, but I made it. We slept under the stars, but unfortunately it started raining in the middle of the night, so we had to gather our stuff, cross the river on foot and sleep in a hole in the rock wall, and we did not even manage to reach the main waterfall we were supposed to go to, because it was too slippery and dangerous, but what an experience! I am glad I did it.

You need some “why not?” in your life to make it worth it, it’s like a little chilli pepper that makes your chicken breast interesting.


The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

I was at the Grand Canyon the other day
I knew it would be overwhelming. I knew it would be impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t actually experienced the vastness of its gape. I knew it would be unforgettable.

And yet, I thought it was a bit of a let down when I first saw it, as there were too many tourists (like me), the children were either bored or hyper, most of the adults just hopped off the bus, took a picture, ticked that viewpoint off and went.

It was a bit depressing. But then I started walking on the Rim Path and, after the first few bus stops, people really did thin out. I had some spots all for myself, I had the time to observe my surroundings and to notice the contrast of a cactus growing next to a pine tree. I guess that’s the only place on Earth where it happens.

I reached a rock jutting out of the main path, everyone else had left, I was left alone with the huge gaping valley and the red river below. I wanted to take a picture so I walked right to the rim, I stared out into the distance and the air called me: I felt a sudden urge to jump off. I wished I had wings to soar on those jagged rocks, to reach the condor nests, to dive straight down and then come up again brushing the many-coloured canyon walls.
I wished I had a glider at least, to be able to mock the grace of birds.
It was so powerful that I had to step back.

Shortly after that a crow flew up from a bush near me and gave a call. Then I saw it again a bit further up the way, it flew above my head and called and then came back and waited for me on a tree along the path. It was really weird. Can you have Stendhal syndrome in front of a marvel of nature?
Grand Canyon sunset

<3 the envelope

I have just been away for a week-end with cabin luggage and I have had the chance to try the Eagle Creek Pack-it Specter Folder I have just bought (and talked about here).
Well, it was fantastic! I left home with a dress neatly folded in it, but then I went shopping (it was planned) and I managed to fit 3 dresses and 2 skirts in it, with some leftover room for other things, if I needed it. I am really glad I bought it, even if, at first I disregarded it and focussed on the cubes, and didn’t think it would be so useful in compressing my clothes, while keeping them wrinkle-free.
When I took the dress out, at first it showed compression marks where the folds were, but it immediately became wearable.

The only thing I am not too happy about is the Velcro, as, when the folder is full, part of the stiff side remains exposed and catches into ‘Velcro-friendly’ things. But this is my only quibble.

I’m all packed up

When I first started packing I was 11 and my mother had sent me to her good friend in Germany for a couple of weeks, however I hadn’t chosen what to bring, I just had to put everything back into the bag when it was time to come home.

Fast forward to my first interrail trip with my friends: I had a huge backpack with all sorts of possible clothes, carrying it was not a problem, the problem was fitting it into lockers. At one point I remember carrying a portable drying rack that I could hang from the back of a chair.

Then sense came to me and I started cutting down on the things I brought, so my packs got smaller. I think flying was one of the reasons, but also the fact that I realised I didn’t need so much stuff.

I am not an impossibly light traveller, but I can manage with a far smaller pack than I used to. I have developed a travelling wardrobe made up mostly of black and white items, so that all match one another and I can pull out a decent outfit for almost anything I decide to do.

But I wanted to talk about my week-end backpack (that can actually fit enough for 5-7 days, if necessary). I bought a Tatonka Flightcase that is really comfortable to carry, both as a bag and as a backpack, even if I mostly use it as backpack, and complies with carry-on measurements. I use a Muji plastic bag with containers for my toiletries, which is also really comfortable, especially because you can get any size and shape you prefer, all in compliance with airport security rules. And my most recent purchase is a whole set of Eagle Creek Pack-it Specter Cubes and a Folder. And while I was at it, I also bought a couple of Pack-it Shoe Sacs, which will be more than enough, as my feet are so small that I can easily fit a pair of flip flops and a pair of sandals into one of the bags; the good thing is that they are waterproof, so even if you have muddy (or dusty) boots they won’t affect your clothes.

I like the Flightcase, but with it being soft and not having dividers inside, my clothes come out quite crumpled when it is not full. I think the Specter set is the perfect solution as it’s really versatile and so light that it’s almost like not having it, but I can keep my undies and bras separate from my T-shirts and my camera. I can keep dirty clothes separate from clean ones, I can keep all my socks together. It’s true that the bag is not huge, but this way, it feels more organised.
Of course I know that the pack-it cubes have been around for a while, but they were too stiff, which resulted in me being able to fit less in the bag.
The new Specter cubes are almost shapeless, as they are made of the very light and supple silnylon fabric used for ultralight tents. The material is ripstop, water-resistant and durable, but gives practically no support to your clothes. I chose them on purpose, as they can adapt to the shape of the bag I put them in, and that’s exactly what I need. The Flightcase is a rectangle, but my larger backpack is not, so I think these will be most comfortable.

I can fit about 6-8 rolled-up socks into a quarter cube. I pack my bras and panties into a half cube and t-shirts and leggings into the cube. I have a spare cube for dirty laundry, when it’s empty it takes up almost no space at all and weighs only 1 ounce. The first time I used it I was amazed at the amount of clothes it can hold!
I was so happy with the cubes that I have just bought a Folder: I went for the smallest size as I am only going to pack dresses in it, so it will probably be enough. I will try it very soon.

Many cheap airlines do not allow more than one piece of hand luggage, so I also got a Lifeventure Packable Daysack, in light stone grey. It folds away neatly in its own pocket and, when open, has a lot of space for everything in the main compartment, and handy external pockets for Kleenex, sunglasses, and so on. It also has two net pockets for water bottles.
I have sewn a strap inside the main compartment so that I can attach a Pack-it Sac to it with my wallet and passport, that hopefully won’t get stolen.
The straps are, of course, not padded, but they do not dig into your shoulders, unless you really overload the rucksack. I manage to carry around my iPad, my mirror-less camera with a spare lens, a water bottle, and other bits and bobs without problems.

I hope this was not too boring and maybe included some suggestions for travelling lighter in style.

Mono Lake

Last summer I set off for my very first trip to the USA. I have been around a fair bit, but somehow I had never set my foot in the land of the free, it was just about time to do it.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do and to see, but I don’t like planning too much, so I had quite a random time out there, especially because I rented a car, so I depended only on my stamina at driving and my slight tendency to get lost at times…

Well, to cut a long story short I ended up spending a couple of nights in a hotel on Mammoth Mountain near Mono Lake, which I hadn’t even known existed before seeing it on the map.

After a long day out trekking in the mountains, hearing the roar of bears in the distance and suddenly remembering I was carrying jerk beef in the backpack, I decided I wanted to see the lake.

I had read that it is the last vestige of volcanic activity in the area and, since it has no outlet, its water is very alkaline and saline – a bit like the Dead Sea. Worth seeing, isn’t it? On top of that, unique wildlife lives there, such as alkali flies, a special brine shrimp which is the food of the migrating birds nesting on the island in the lake, and even bacteria that can metabolise arsenic. I didn’t see any of that, but still the memories will stay with me forever.

I went there to have a look at the tufa towers, the limestone formations typical of the lake.

When I arrived the sun was setting in a perfectly clear dark blue sky, there were only a handful of people around, the plain was huge around us, surrounded by the Sierra. It was so magical, so beautiful, that it didn’t even seem real. While I was there I kept thinking that I wanted to stay a while, but it all was so short that it seems like a dream now. I think I will never go back, as it will never live up to that moment – a bit like a good love story, there’s no going back for seconds.