My year in books

I don’t read a lot nowadays. While I loved reading during my childhood and as a teen, I kind of stopped when we started analyzing literature in school and I was forced to read some books I would still classify as super boring. Funny how being told do do something you like can actually make you like it less.

While travelling however I pick up a book every now and then and in the past few moths I read a few books that made me reconsider dopping the habit of reading. It is also interesting how I came across some of them, so I decided that I would briefly introduce you to everything I have read this year in cronological order.

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Reise durch einen einsamen Kontinent [Journey across a lonely continent] Andreas Altmann (2007)

How we met: It was gifted to me by my colleagues as a goodbye present

In one sectence: Journalist Altman travels through lesser visited areas of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Chile, meeting different people while making observations on their lives and culture.

What I thought of it: The book is an easy read. At its best it’s interesting and anyone who has been in Southamerica will come across familiar observations. Someone selling an overpriced all-curing tea on a bus, weird religious quirks, the constant backround noise of honking and reggaeton. The book strings together everyday situations and interesting encounters. But at times Altman goes a step further than just observing – he knows what the people are really thinking, he has an explanation for everything and sees what is really wrong with these coutries. Just like him people should read more books and realize that religion is a delusion. And why the hell are they sleeping or watching a movie on a 12 hour bus ride when the landscapes are so pretty? Stupid Southamericans! I don’t know if Altman would be just a judgy about Germans sleeping on trains, but he frankly comes across as a huge dick in some chapters (see also this german amazon review which is on point).

In short: Meh with a side of eurocentrism.

Should you read it: No. You could be reading something more entertaining and less smug.

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On the roadJack Kerouac (1957)

How we met: Another gift, this time by my former flatmate Georg who claimed it was one of the best books he’d ever read. And he reads a lot!

In one sentence: Kerouac recalls several years on the road with his crazy friend Neil Cassady, crossing the coutry no less than four times and even crossing into Mexico with their group of friends, aquaintences, wives and lovers.

What I thought of it: I loved this book! I know everyone and their mum has probably read the book already, but it completely changed my perception of the fifties, travelling and youth culture in general. Although it doesn’t have a storyline in a classical sense it is like a rush and I always wanted to know what happens next. The language is amazing – bold and honest as if a friend was telling you a story, but still very poetic. Knowing that all these characters really existed and the legends surrounding the making of this book certainly add to its appeal, too. I can see how this book influenced a whole generation.

In short: Amazing, wild and rebellious!

Should you read it: Hell yes! I think even I will read it again and I have never read a book twice in my life!

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V wie Vendetta [V for Vendetta] – Alan Moore & David Lloyd (1982)

How we met: I found it at Nowhere in the Dustybrary (a kind of book exchange) shortly after flicking through a friends comic books which made me very curious about graphic story telling.

In one sentence: In a totalitarian facist Great Britain anarchic terrorist V tries to defy the system.

What I thought of it: This comic has so many amazing facets I don’t even know where to start. First of all the story and dialogue are really well written, with unexpected turns and interesting charcters. But then the drawings reflect the mood and characters perfectly as well. I especially loved how surreal and artistic the whole thing felt at times while still keeping up the very real scenario of an opressive dictatorship. My expectations of the comic were far exceeded and most importantly it really made me think about freedom, morals and civic responsibility in a new way (much more so that ‘The Strager’). Finally it made me realize how much I’d been missing out on since my childhood. Comics are awesome (hint if anyone is already thinking about my next birthday present ūüėČ )! I guess I had alway thought about comics as a form of light entertainment and I have to admit that I was super wrong about this.

In short: Clever and thoughtprovoking.

Should you read it: Defnitely! This comic sucks you in, manages to surprise and make you think.

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The Stranger – Albert Camus (1942)

How we met: Another Nowhere Dustybrary find. I have to admit that I mainly chose it because of its pretty cover and because I thought the first sentences were odd.

In one sentence: Shortly after the death of his mother, an ordinary man gets drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach.

What I thought of it: This book is a little weird in how simple and unemotional it is. This of course reflects the character of its first person narrator and is a large part of its message, but it takes a while to figure out what this message could possibly be. In fact the book  left me puzzled in a way and even now I am not shure if ‘I got it’. What I really loved though was that it is very engaging. It’s a quick read in easy language, which proves that philosophy does not need super long overly complicated sentences that require years at uni to even try to understand them. That said I had to google after I read the book to understand more about it – but it did make me very curious and I guess if I read it again (which I probably won’t) I would now probably see a lot of aspects that I failed to notice the first time.

In short: Simple, yet philisophical.

Should you read it: Yes, I think so. Though I was not blown away and a lot of its deeper meaning was probably lost on me, it was very interesting and it’s a quick and easy read.

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Engel, Kif und neue Länder [Desolation Angels]РJack Kerouac (1971)

How we met: While sorting books for a free community shop at my workaway in Portugal I came across this and as I am obsessed with Kerouac now I had to read it.

In one sentence: Although Kerouac has now decided to lead a quiet life dedicated to writing he is dragged into new adventures by his friends and ends up having a revelation on Morphium which makes him move across the country with his mum.

What I thought of it: This is kind of the aftermath of ‘On the road’ and to be honest it is not as good. It reveals more about Kerouacs relationship with William S. Burroughs and even more so his mum. I personally missed Neal and the rush of events that makes on the road so amazing, but it is interesting to get to know more about Kerouacs doubts, fears and indecisiveness – being torn between different worlds.

In short: On the road, part two.

Should you read it: Maybe. To me ‘On the road’ is far better in a lot of aspects, but if you loved ‘On the road’ you will also like this book.

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Herr Lehmann – Seven Regener (2003)

How we met: While visiting my friend Sarah I was looking for a new book to read and found this one in her collection.

In one sentence: Mr Lehman, who is almost 30 and works in a bar in Kreuzberg in Westberlin, is unambitious and hates change but a number of people and incidents might force him to leave his comfort zone.

What I thought of it: Again, I am probably the last German to read this book and I haven’t even seen the movie although it was hyped. And to be honest not too much happens in both this book and Herr Lehmanns life – but you can’t help but like him and his group of friends. Everyone has probably met someone who is a bit like the hero of this book and can relate to him on some level. He is comfortable in his own routines, loves his parents but prefers not to be visited by them too often, is almost 30 but without goals and ambitions and likes to spend his free time drinking beer. If he could he’d avoid to ever leave Kreuzberg for anything. So this book is really about him and his thoughts and in the process of reading it Herr Lehmann becomes like a friend to the reader.

In short: A book like drinking a beer with an old friend.

Should you read it: Yes. Especially if you like beer and bar conversations.

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Looking back at five months of travel…

I never noticed I had missed the singing sparrows until I walked up to my parents house. Springtime and the changing of the seasons is so magical and something you don’t really have in Southamerica. But except for the birds everything was so quiet! No honking, no music, no screaming, no chatter – it was as if someone had turned off the volume.

Not one week back in Germany and I already miss the crazyness and chaos of Peru and Bolivia. Although my trip was different from what I expected it was defnitely just as amazing as I had hoped. If you have been reading my blog from the start you might remember my first post where I tried to come up with some personal goals for the journey. Today I would like to have a look at them again and let you know what became of them:

  • Being aware of my needs and taking good care of myself: I defnitely did a good job at taking care of myself physically and mentally – and it was a lot easier than expected! Fortunately I didn’t really get into many uncomfortable, let alone dangerous situations and the longer I travelled the less challenging situations I got into. I felt comfortable and confident so quickly that the hardest situations for me were saying goodbye to some friends I made on the road. I I guess that just shows I had a great time with them.
  • Learn peruvian embroidery and / or weaving: Sadly, the workaway host that was going to teach me this cancelled on me and then my priorities gradually changed. I would still love to learn peruvian handicrafts, but other plans came up whenever I could have made time to learn it. I did however learn macrame from Melina and went totally overboard with buying supplies! You will find me in the streets trying to sell my braceletts to other hippies…
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Some examples of my new skills

  • Going on a multiday hike in the Andes: If I over-accomplished one goal it must have been this one. My love for trekking grew so much during this journey and each hike excelled the previous one in some way. In addition to some other day hikes I walked with luggage for the first time, went up an incredibly high volcano, made my way to Macchu Piccu by foot and spent six days hiking and camping at over 4500m (including a hailstorm and several passes). Unsurprisingly my legs got really strong and my hiking boots fell apart completely.
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Ausangate Trail – so far the most amazing hike of my life!

  • Asking people more questions about their passions, views and inspirations (instead of e.g. their jobs or which sites they visited): Ok, I didn’t completely skip the small talk, but sometimes I got more creative with my questions. I also spent a lot of time with some people which allowed us to naturally end up having more meaningfull conversations. Also I noticed that as a rule of thumb the longer people travel and the less tight their scedule the more interesting the conversations usually are.
  • Explore the Amazon: The Amazon was defnitely a personal highlight. My granddad always dreamt of seeing the Amazon djungle (he never did) and I get why. It is amazing!
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Melina swimming in what later on becomes the Amazon river

  • Do some yoga: I’ll be honest – of all of my goals I defnitely failed on this one the most. I can count the times I practiced yoga with my fingers and I have no good excuse because each time I actually did yoga it felt amazing! So this is a goal that will stay on my list to hopefully become more of a routine in the future.
  • Write a diary to hold on to beautiful memories and new ideas: In five months I filled more than 150 pages with memories, notes, tickets and occasionally even convinced other people to contribute to my journal. I also bought pencils to add a little colour and soon my journal became my most valuable posession. Yes it was difficult to catch up with all the stuff that happened, but I am so gald I managed to write a little bit about each day to prevent forgetting about all the little precious moments and many people I met.
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One of the beautiful contributions to my diary

  • Approach new people openly: Not that I was ever really bad at this, but I guess I got better. I stopped even thinking about it and just talked to people when I felt like it. Yes there was the awkward moment when I couldn’t come up with any good questions, but it happens to the best of us.
  • Regularly share photos and blog about experiences: You judge if I did an ok job on this – but honestly, I enjoyed sharing things on this blog and will continue to both travel and occasionally share stuff with you!
  • Take the time to mindfully enjoy new places: I spent three months just in Bolivia so I was relatively slow. Of course being slow doesn’t guarantee mindfullness, but it defnitely helps! And I did improve over the months really looking with my eyes and feeling a place with my senses and not just snapping pictures without stopping to actually enjoy it. Occasionally I had to remind myself to take my time to lok and forget about my camera but all in all I did improve.
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Enjoying the sunrise and changing colours at rainbow mountain (not pictured)

As you can see my evaluation is pretty positive so my plan to plan less and enjoy more worked out! Of course this was really just the start of my journey as I plan to continue exploring parts of Europe and even Africa until spring 2017 so we will see how my goal evolve from here…

Living in a movable home

In the last months an idea has been creeping in the back of my head. It all started when Seven told me about his dream to build a free tea truck. His vision was to live in a transformed boxtruck while serving free tea to random people on the street, bringing people¬†together and¬†encouraging conversations and connections between strangers. The teatruck would be a movable home and free tea kitchen giving out a cuppa to anyone as long as they stay to drink it. There would also be a “gift and take box” where instead of money, people could¬†¬†offer their skills for free or contact others whose skills they needed. I loved the idea instantly and thought I might visit Seven to help him build it or at least travel around with him for a while, but did not really consider the idea as a realistic option for me yet.

Then, about a month later, I met Ricki from Leipzig. She lives in an old UPS bus she bought and built herself with little money and time. In summer she travels around a lot to different festivals to work there while the rest of the year she lives with other people on a trailer site. What she told me about her life in a bus sounded amazing and got me thinking again. Could this be something for me? I’m living off of my savings at the moment so this would be the perfect time to invest money in something I’m passionate about without getting worried about money and time. I started thinking about pros and cons. The first obvious pro would be being able to move my home around and also taking it to festivals (I can already see myself driving crazy art installations to Nowhere), but I also realized that this could save a lot of money on rent. This would mean having to work less, especially when I start my psychotherapy training. On the downside I hate driving – but is that reason enough to keep me from living in a bus? I guess I could get used to driving again and I know I am not¬†horrible at it. I am also completely new to constructing stuff, but usually I enjoy creative challenges and Ricki already gave me lots of tips where to get help. There is also tons of inspiration on the internet. The biggest challenge would probably be to find a suitable bus before I run out of time and money. I guess I will try and if I can’t find a bus in time maybe it wasn’t meant to be. On the upside Ricki has good contacts in the community and will inform me whenever someone wants to sell.

The last but most important realization I had about living in a bus is that I’d need to get rid of a lot (!) of stuff. Maybe this will be easier after living out of my backpack for months. I’m sure I’ve already forgotten about half of the stuff I own. But still I am very attached to my stuff (especially my huge collection of vintage dresses). There are¬†also things I¬†would not want to¬†live without: an oven to bake cakes, a comfy bed and chillout space, a place for my sewingmachine and craft supplies… but none of these seem impossible with a bit of planning. Maybe this whole living in a bus plan will just stay a dream, but who knowns? Maybe I’ll be living in my tiny movable house soon…

A few thoughts before heading off

To be honest I had planned to start this blog on a more positive note. In my mind, three days before my flight to Lima I was going to be excited, perfectly prepared and without doubt but I guess life hardly ever plans out like imagined. Now I am a ball of nerves, sitting in my parents guest room with stuff all over the floor, a long to-do list of things to bring into storage, organize on my computer, e-mails to be send and last minute buys to do. Feeling poorly due to a throat infection and having been reminded of taxi kidnappings (thanks Jason) certainly doesn’t help my worries either.

But then I also know that once everything is packed, I feel physically better, have survived the 13h flight and found the way to my first couch surfing host things will probably look different to me. My general plan this year is to plan less and have faith that everything will turn out great so this is probably just the first small challenge of letting go and trusting more. And while I have medicine for my throat, I have a list of things to look forward to for my mind. Because despite my plan to plan less I do have a list with some personal goals and ideas for the following months which includes in no particulat order:

  • being aware of my needs and taking good care of myself
  • learn peruvian embroidery and / or weaving
  • going on a multiday hike in the Andes
  • asking people more questions about their passions, views and inspirations (instead of e.g. their jobs or which sites they visited)
  • explore the Amazon
  • do some yoga
  • write a diary to hold on to beautiful memories and new ideas
  • approach new people openly
  • regularly share photos and blog about experiences
  • take the time to mindfully enjoy new places

Just looking at this list now makes me excited and a lot less worried. So I am positive that everything will turn out amazing. I’ll try to keep you all up to date on this blog¬† (I might switch to German from time to time) and hope to seen you again happy and well at some point in 2016 (or 2017)…