It’s common sense – says Marta – the year ends in autumn and starts again in March. And in between? In between is hibernation, or change, or centrifugal force carrying one through the winter months, or nothing. It is the stretch in between the dreams that are born as the summer dies, and the flowers that bloom with the spring, filling the fields with latin names, with the ideas, the projects, the fruits of the autumn dreams. That stretch of a few months is the gestation period of the New Year. Because everything needs to grow before it’s born. And she explains it drawing on the air a wheel of time that questions all physical theories yet known.
The year ends in autumn and starts in March. But last October we challenged this logic and stepped into winter, decided to see what exists outside of time. We left our home on a grey day in search for the sun, making from the time lapse between one year and the next our playground of landscapes and borders. The days came and went, filled with more adventures, encounters and thoughts that we can count. We did not escape winter, but we shuffled the seasons at the rhythm of rolling dice. And the year stretched till it was no longer a walk around the sun, and it grew from 12 months to 14 and a half, and devoured the soles of our shoes, and loaded our backs with to many memories, leaving us speechless by the roadside.
Turkey was a trick to the seasons, summer assaulting the fortress of autumn. It was November by the beach, oranges, pomegranates, mandarins, thyme, cheese. The smell of weed and the voices of friends. Turkey is walking up and down hills, the sun melting in the warm Mediterranean. It is hitchhiking at night. It is the landscapes of Anatolia hidden in the dark, a place where the known blends with the unknown, it is comfort and fears, a piece of baklava offered by a friendly man I can never fully trust. Turkey is the freezing fingers of winter catching up with us, coming to say there is a frozen beauty we can’t deny.
Georgia was a dreamt retreat, a home on the other side of the Black Sea. We wanted Svaneti, and villages and towers, and flowing rivers of wine. We got mountains by the sea, the surrealism of grand Batumi, all the winter food in Tbilisi, and friends, and workshops, and open doors and broken cars. Georgia is equal measures of kindness and madness, brought into the table with chacha and pride. Georgia is a schizophrenic universe that evokes the delirium of alcohol nights, of liquor for breakfast, of chimeras. Georgia is a home to hide from the cold, is khachapuri and churchhella in the house of strangers, is mandarins in the snow. Is all the joy we want to remember, with a taste of the bitterness we want to forget.
We will always remember Abkhazia’s silent charm. The golden sun and the smell from the sea, and Sokhumi’s caffees along the boulevard. Is january with a spring touch, and life sprouting from hills and from ruins, dandelions, nettles, mint, and one more time we are out of time. Abkhazia was the melancholic home of memories we have not lived. It was stepping into roofless rooms, into abandoned wardrobes, it was finding someone’s dresses and recipes. Pretty with a sad smile, and grotesquely wrinkled by war, it is an ever young woman trying to cover up the scars.
Armenia brings to mind the coldest nights. Sleeping in between mice. Smoke climbing up from grey rooftops to kiss the fog. With frozen toes we walk the stone floors of monasteries and chapels, with frozen eyes we look around for a wooden stove to warm us up. Armenia weeps a winter song. It says it’s not time to travel, she is not dressed up for visitors yet. And only in Yerevan we can hear her beating heart, an oasis in the snow, promising that underneath that harsh reality shine a thousand gems.
We have said it before, Iraq is green, and vibrant and alive. Iraq makes my heart tremble from excitement, it is the place where I always want to be, but just as long as I am not actually there. Ironically, for us Iraq is not Iraq. It is Southern Kurdistan – a country within a country. It is pride and kindness and sugar and smiles served with dubious looks at a woman sitting for breakfast in a place she should not be. The friendliness of the Kurds, the curiosity of Arabs, the colours of women, tourists, big cars, new developments, shopping malls, the illusory freedom of capitalism. Passport control. We come and we go, like the spring green of this country that will fade away with the summer heat. Iraq is stunningly beautiful and full of life, but sadly its shadow is doomed to cast blood and war.
Iran does not fit in one paragraph. It is millions of people who are here to help you, to make you feel good, to entertain your hours under the sun. Whatever we imagined, Iran was not that. Iran was much more, so much that we still need to sleep for months to begin to understand. Like in a happy dream my senses celebrate the sweet taste of fresh and sticky dates while my teeth unexpectedly crunch a stone. Iran is the country that left Boris speechless, and made Marta cry. For its landscapes, people, boundless hospitality and sheer madness.. Iran is the beauty of heritage and arts, is the footprint of history and is stories of hidden love and life, and cheeky winks and sweat underneath hijab. In Iran we shed tears of laugher, of innocent happiness and of deep sadness and shouted and smiled, and loved and hated and were born and died. It is a place I love as much as I want and need to escape, like a rebellious teenager fleeing a home where she will inevitably come back.
Turkmenistan meant resurrection, the fleeing of freedom in jail. It is dust chasing wind and wind chasing sun. We saw no golden statues, no flaming craters, no wonders on earth. Five days of travels, the beauty of women, the camaraderie of men, interrupted conversations, the heavy weight of the police gaze. Turkmenistan is an enigma I wish I could unveil.
Kazakhstan never ends. It is steppe, and space and silence. Is a planet of eternal sunsets, as vast a beauty as its name evokes, that hides it secrets in the open. When the wind wakes us up a cup of camel’s milk brings us back to life in the cabin of a truck. It’s learning to fing happiness in a kilo of tomatoes, or three eggs, or one more cup of tea. Kazakhstan is discovering landscapes behind dusty paths, the roads of anachronic caravans, cities waking up from nothing like a mirage. Discovering that even the smallest sea has a blue horizon.
Kyrgyzstan is Issyk Kul. And Issyk Kul is a reflection of heaven. The mountains are a ladder to the sky, where electric fire burns. Kyrgyzstan is woolen homes, and white kurut and all the milk we can drink and the meat we won’t eat. Kyrgyzstan was walking without any other aim than finding food for dinner, it was unimaginable landscapes, it was hiding from the night in people’s gardens and homes. It was all we could wish for. In Kyrgyzstan we remembered that the Earth is our home. It was wishing to cuddle in its hills until winter came to greet us or kick us out.
As we stepped into China we only knew that we did not know where we were. China is home to way too many differences to comprehend, a puzzle of pieces that do not fit into our heads. China was the hostility of a grey Taklamakan, a beautiful corner of Gobi that appeared by surprise and colourful mountains and dust. China is not the Great Wall or Xian or Pekin or Shangai. For us it is the heights of a Tibet that cannot call itself as such. A land where time comes to rest, to take refuge and listen to the neverending mantras of the monks. Tibet is a party of clouds and flags, is the tribute to the wind of the people of the sky. It is a place we dream of coming back to.
“You will see – said the German guy – Laos is like a big, soft pool of jelly where you are just about to land”. In a way, he was right. Laos is Luang Namtha for us, and Luang Namtha moves around in small motorbikes. Laos is a rice paddy at noon, unearthly beautiful, silent like a picture that does not move. Laos is a hammock of banana leaves swinging to a tropical music from somebody’s yard. Laos is six weeks that passed like one, and is a routine of sticky rice and tomato sauce, or papaya salad, sweet potatoes and mango shake. Laos is realizing that the travel weights far more than 15 or 20 kilos and that we need a place to crush.
Thailand is whatever you want. Whatever you want and much more. Now it is everything we need, is sinking in the Pacific to come back to life. It is the rest that we search, and maybe the place where we will find time to write, and cook and walk and look for our peace of mind. Because such is the essence of Thailand, that one can find whatever he searches for, probably even Thailand itself.
The truth is that the Earth has no notion of beginning or end. It goes round and round without counting years, without finishing or starting once and again. It walks around the sun without bothering about imaginary graphics on its perfect orbital circle. We do, though, we know circles and lines and clocks and we know all about slicing up time. So we forget that New Year is every day. Our year started and ended in every corner, at every border and in between them all, with every morning under a different blanket and every night under a new sky, the year fell on us like heavy snow, and was blown away by the wind, only to start again with the promise of the waves song. And now that we have reached the ocean on the other side, we need to close our eyes, to dream all the memories, and let the sea wash away all the heavy dust that is precious but loads our tired minds. Because India is near but is still far, and we have borders to cross, trucks to ride, landscapes to walk, languages to try to understand. After 14 months and a half we want to hibernate in a Thai paradise, and inhabit that empty stretch of time in between the end of one year and the birth of the next. Because, in fact, from now on, our travel East turns West.
What is Veo Veo? Is the Spanish name of “I spy with my little eye”. It is, above all, a game, an excuse to get to know places seen by others, to tell each other stories, to travel even when we do not have the chance, and to find ourselves along the way. It takes place once a month and the subject of the post is chosen colectively in the Veo veo group in Facebook or through the hashtag #VeoVeo in Twitter and other social media. Would you like to play? “I spy with my little eye…”
Here are other posts written by the participants this month under the topic “the end of the year” (fin de año). I think most of them, if not all, are in Spanish, so all that family and friends of ours that complain we do not write in their language, here you go!