After a bouncy 20 minute tuk-tuk ride away from Siem Reap, I arrived at the world’s largest religious structure, Angkor Wat, while licking fresh wounds of a hurtful betrayal. However, one step inside these colossal remnants of Khmer Architecture, and I thought it best to put my tongue back inside my mouth.
Travel never fails to remind us that our battles pale in comparison to battles that came before us. Someone had to move these massive sandstone pieces of rock from quarries miles away, somehow manage to stack them on top of each other, and then carve thousands of devantas and stoic Buddha-esque faces that emerge from towering formations like faces pressed into a pin screen. Who was I to be moping around this incredible temple?
Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complexes stand as symbols of endurance and strength; in the presence of ancient, commanding structures like this, we are called to see beauty, even in moments of pain. We are able to restore ourselves by opening our eyes to wonders of the past. We indulge our spirits in split seconds of awe and inspiration powerful enough to make us forget the rest of the world. I live for these poignant travel moments.
Like all great wonders of the world, my pictures fall short of capturing the grandeur of Angkor, but here are my favorite 24 pictures anyway.
After admiring several different complexes for 16 hours over 2 days, I understood that at one point in time, each stone had its exact, special place, like people in our lives, but as giant trees clung around these structures like vines and undermined the very foundation of it, Angkor let the shakiest of structures collapse in order to find space for new roots.
The beauty of Angkor matures with its slow demise; however, the focal point is not the fallen ruins, but the remarkable structures that are still standing tall enough to tickle the fiery orange sun as it rises over Cambodia.
Fusion is defined online as the ‘merging of different elements into a union.’
My favorite slam poet Joaquin Ziohuatanejo captures several beautiful fusions in his poem, ‘Speaking in Tongues’…
“Look… I have a brown daughter. You have a white son. Don’t let language be a barrier between them. Let them dance a salsa meringue together to the music of Johnny Cash. Let them eat arroz con pollo with a side of mac and cheese. Please… Let them be a blending of all accents, all colors, all things. Let them be new variations of old themes.”
Last night, I found myself eating at Above Eleven, a swanky, 32nd floor restaurant (with a spectacular view) which serves up new variations of old themes. It’s well known for its Peruvian & Japanese fusion cuisine, also called Nikkei, which began a long time ago with Japanese immigrants in Peru.
This fusion cuisine merges the Peruvian sauces and main dishes with fish and spice mixtures telltale of Japanese influence. To create Causa Kani (above), the culinary artists have taken Peruvian style mashed potatoes, topped them with crab meat in a Japanese Togarashi mayo sauce, and pulled it all together with the rich Peruvian huancaína sauce. Delectable!
Or take Anticuchos, a common street food item in Peru usually made with beef heart, but it’s grilled in Japanese Yakiori style, and served with 3 Peruvian sauces (below). As I was eating these unusual yet alluring combinations, I realized that one cool thing about our global society is that we can take best culinary and cultural delights from all over the world and merge them. Like eugenics, only for food.
Nowadays, our food can’t always be categorized into neat, conventional labels such as ‘Peruvian’ or ‘Japanese.’ We have the best aspects of both seamlessly blended into each other, so it’s hard to tell where one style ends and one begins.
Just like fusion happens in cuisine, fusions in our life happen when different elements come together. We are products of fusion ourselves, beginning with our DNA, and we require a continual merging of elements when it comes to our experiences and knowledge, our relationships, our styles, our hobbies, our words.
Our fusions might be as unexpected and tasteful as Japanese sashimi drizzled with Peruvian sauce or as disastrous as green curry pizza (pic below). I tried to think of the different elements in my life as fusion cuisine… would my life taste good? If my relationship, the merging 2 people in a union, was fusion cuisine, would our styles and spices jive together?
We choose what we fuse. We need to balance all the elements in our life in order for it to taste right. If one element is too powerful, the whole fusion is thrown off. Luckily in life, we are able to discard any element that has too much flavor (or not enough), and we can merge all things we love and enjoy to create our own scrumptious, customized, fusion cuisine.
If your life was fusion cuisine, would it taste good? Do you have a favorite fusion?
Many countries have a catch phrase that sums up the nature of the inhabitants, while capturing the eternal state of the country.
‘Pura Vida’ is the catch phrase of Costa Rica, and an abundant manifestation of the way of life.
Pura Vida is a please and a thank you, a kind gesture, and a constant reminder to never take life too seriously. In a rough translation from Spanish to English, it’s the pure, full life.. the good life.
How are you? I asked my Taxi driver in Spanish. “Pura Vida” he answered with a simple nod and a knowing smile. How are you? How do you feel? It’s an answer to many questions. And as Magdalena, the owner of Nomadas Hostel told me in Spanish, “you can even say it to your mom!”
Pura Vida captures the yin and yang of the lifestyle of the Ticos, Costa Rican natives.
It embodies the wiry jolt received only from fresh Costa Rican coffee, needed to begin strenous work in the daytime sun. Several hours later, as the effects of these potent coffee beans wear off, the sluggish state that follows is received warmly by hammocks, which provide intense bouts of relaxation.
Pura Vida is also reflected by the weather. The whole country is under a soft, constant mist, as if the countries of the world made up a grocery store, and Costa Rica is the needy vegetable, which need to be misted most frequently. As earth needs water in order to thrive, this soft rain always brought about a buzz from the locals and the landscape grasped onto even greener shades than before. Bits of brilliant colors peeked out through the green spectrum.
Back in the city, although McDonalds and Wendy’s plagued every street corner like a bad infection, the streets still oozed with a vivacious, lighthearted people.
My new years exuded the aspects of ‘Pura Vida’ from its pores. We generated an irresistible fusion of mangy gringos and trendy Tico’s with dreadlocks, which made for a wonderful night of Tecate’s, tents and fires along the rocky beaches of Dominical. With a flavorful group of people, all whom I had know for less than 24 hours, we rang in our New Years together: new friends, new experiences, and the lessons of Pura Vida to help us in the approaching year.
For me personally, Pura Vida took into account the backbreaking work of digging swales, gardening, creating beds for the plants from organic materials we gathered, and planting every fruit I’ve ever wanted to know. As life in Costa Rica would have it, this work would sometimes call for a fiesta afterwards, which could be appropriately accompanied with copious amounts of ‘contrabando’, the pungent handmade liquor, which was created with the local, abundant sugar cane.
Pura Vida was knowing that the afternoon jumps in the private rivers would always prove to be more refreshing and cleansing than any shower. It soothed the bug bites on our bumpy, red legs and never failed to be an experience with nature, which continually renewed our relationship with Mother Earth.
My spirit was consoled and cajoled as I stood under a waterfall and felt the weight of falling water pound on my head, and I could focus only on laughing, because…. I dunno, at the time, that just seemed like most logical and natural thing to do.
The oh-so-refreshing jumps in the hidden rivers and waterfalls tucked behind fields of green was enhanced with the sounds of the distant howler monkeys and the fact that we could always gaze up at the small, sleek toucans with the signature fiery, lime green circle around their beady, black eyes.
Pura Vida was knowing that the ‘Morpho’ butterfly with a deceivingly brown outside would fly past the screened-in deck just about the time when we were all sitting down to breakfast. It would reveal its brilliant blue inside wings as we gathered to eat together and enjoy the food we had just harvested.
Pura Vida encompassed the ever-average combination of rice and beans, and if you you got tired of rice & beans, you could have Gallo Pinto… rice and beans pre-mixed together… this, folks, is the simplicity of Pura Vida at its finest.
This attitude and mind-set makes it impossible to neglect the little things; the sharp blade of the machete coming into contact with the juicy, fleshy, inside skin of the coconut made for an ideal afternoon pick-me-up.. far from insignificant.
As our amigo Jeffery, a Tico, said in practiced English, “when you need to do something important,.. there will be a problem.” This is the last thing most people want to hear, yet, a wise observation. As in many other countries, the Ticos are well-versed with life not going as planned, but with a nonchalant, ‘Pura Vida’ attitude, nothing is ever a catastrophe. In fact, the biggest news story of the day will probably be that a crocodile ate one of you cows.
Pura Vida is a stability and steadiness of all opposites. It comes down to a very simple equation, which is really a question that wish I could ask myself more:
How can I do this outdoor work most efficiently so that my hammock time is maximized?
It’s finding that sweet balance of working hard, and relaxing just as hard.
I’ll take advice from the Ticos; balancing work and play with unscripted equilibrium is the radically simple solution for living our lives.
If I can lay in a hammock with a good book after a productive day, with not even a hint of tomorrow lingering in my mind, then, by golly, I’m living ‘Pura Vida.’