Ana Varela

Old soul, young body

Corpus Christi, Texas (atm), United States

By the time you're reading this, I hope to know more than I did when I sat down to tell you about myself. Writing does that; it shapes and molds you faster than you could ever do from the comfort of your silent mind. Writing is learning about yourself and the world that surrounds you in its most tangible form. While you're not traveling, writing can keep the wanderlust at bay. When you're worrisome, writing has the power to transfer the chaos onto a sheet of paper to set aside and revise in some future. I write because I can't see myself settling into one place for too long. I'd like to think I'm on my way to diplomacy or nonprofit work. Until then, every place and every paper has something new to share, and I'd like to pass on those messages to you.


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A choppy four-hour boat ride from the southeast of Taiwan leads to a secret island. Its terrain is rugged and, at first, the island feels dark and mysterious. To visit, you must be brave enough to give up English, scale through steep mountainside jungles, and zip past radioactive terrain. It is Lanyu- one of the last displays of Tao aboriginal life amidst our ever-modernizing world. Lanyu is best-enjoyed side by side with locals- they know the island intimately and are weary at first of showing you around but, if you stay at least a few days, they may open up their lives to you. Lodge with locals at a homestay to be invited to traditional aboriginal meals and tour secret sights, unseen by non-locals. We spent our first night on the island watching the men gamble before they went night fishing. They offered us fish from the morning catch, and they read our palms. My hand outstretched, they studied the lines of my hand, looked at each other, and silently rolled away my fate- apparently, mine was better left unspoken. The next morning they made up for the mystery of my future with an incredible display of the clash between the past and the present. We explored ancient coral reefs that had crawled onto the shore over thousands of years. Towering ten and twenty feet above our heads, the jagged caverns would have been impossible to navigate alone. Our wordless guide knew each turn past various bright blue swimming coves and reassured us that the swimming blue snake we saw wasn't poisonous, but that he liked to bite. Transportation on Lanyu is only by scooters with which you explore roads framed by a buzzing tropical jungle. Trace the island's perimeter of jagged volcanic, steep, and ancient coral shorelines. In the southwest, drive by quickly- there is radioactive waste forcefully stored here. You won't forget- the locals remind you daily. You need a few days to enjoy the lush forests and vivid crystal-blue ocean waves and your scooter will get you everywhere. Try fly fish- the islanders traditional food and source of income. Each night the men go out to the ocean in their traditional Tao boats, with large painted eyes and colorful designs on either side, to return in the morning with a fresh catch. For less traditional recipes, order from the all-Chinese menus and use the pictures to help you order. This island is a treasure map. As if mother nature made the island to feed the imagination, you'll see enormous volcanic rocks like the elephant head, twin lions, lovers arch, and the open-mouthed dragon. Their outlines are so clear that it isn't difficult to see how all of these towering rock formations got their names. The stops are clearly labeled and each one is an adventure of its own. Get a 360 view of the entire island from the silent top of the mountain, 550 meters above sea level. There is a weather station that you can explore there. If you are lucky, the sky will be clear for you to catch the mysteriously elusive sunrise. One morning we woke up well before daybreak to ride up to the station and despite waiting for hours, the sunrise never came. You may not believe it and at the time, neither did we. Discover the hidden bodies of water at the top of Lanyu's mountains. Ride up a steep and winding road from the northwest of the island to a small pond and towering ivory white lighthouse. Avoid going just after rainfall as many trails meander through muddy and tangled tree roots. There is a moment on this trail where you may choose left or right. Turning left leads to a sudden drop off where a waterfall used to roar over the edge. Needless to say, turn right. Hike through the thick jungle to find a wide mountaintop lake. Locals swim here in the mornings. A few other tourists may arrive by the afternoon. Small monkeys play at the water's edge. The Tao aboriginal group can only be found on Lanyu. While the Tao traditions remain pure, the neighboring Green Island, Luda, has lost its aboriginal culture to the grasps of heavy tourism. On behalf of the Tao, this travel guide must remind you that this is not a vacation destination- it is a secret of humanity that has prevailed despite the modernization of the rest of the world. Ask the locals before taking pictures of boats, homes, and other locals. It is not recommended to stray from roads and well-worn paths as private graves are often unmarked throughout the jungle. Furthermore, the island is rich with the aforementioned dry waterfalls and sudden sheer drops that would be an unfortunate find for the careless wanderer. The Tao will remind you that they are fighting to defend their sacred traditions and the health of their land whether it is from encroaching tourism or from nuclear disposal. If we respect the breathtaking landscape and this unique culture, the island will receive us with open arms. Experience life as a local on the last Tao island. In this way, the Tao and their traditions may be preserved for many generations to come.

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Dec 30, 2017 6 years ago

Weekend. The word is a breath you can feel stretch your lungs with crisp Autumn air. Weekend has the weight of two days, or two nights, or two late-rise mornings. Weekend is dazed people crawling out of routine cocoons and emerging as butterfly tramp-stamps. Weekend is the gentle, however excited beginning to a Friday-night conversation; “What are you two doing tomorrow?” Tired from our first day's hike, we sit down heavy and hungrily on benches and fold-open picnic chairs around the ash-pit. Rolland and Glenis, an outdoors-loving snow-bird couple from Australia, have let us share their campsite; all the others are full and we're just four gentle-looking college kids. I suggest from memory of years before, the Vernell and Nevada falls hike for Saturday. “Us two? Well I don't know what we're doing tomorrow. Glenis! What do you say we do the hike they're on about?” Weekends out here are full of wonder and curious maybe's. Glenis has gray eyes like morning-ash that spark lightly when he says her name. With his beanie and worn-in triple parenthesis smile, Rolland looks like his weekends are a happy green and purple haze. These chilled sunsets bring me comfort like an old friend that I had gone to visit again. Two years ago, over a November weekend, my feet flew from rock to rock down the side of a Yosemite mountain. Glacier point rose far above us as we ran towards the bubble-gum pink horizon, away from the fattening shadows just behind our ankles. Maybe, the ever nearing campground valley could hear the echoing of the quick crunches of leaves under our boots. Like birds in flight we ran in a line, taking turns for the front where the bravest steps were chosen sooner than the cold air rushed by. The mountains here held many of my memories from that weekend. During another early morning on the Vernall falls trail, I was sipping Yerba Mate with two Mendocinos from Argentina. We would share Mate again in the future, as close friends. I want to go back, and see if the Misty trail up to the falls has changed since the last time I climbed its tall granite steps. My lungs, then and now, will not believe that there is a far away place, where the steps are higher, and the air is thinner. So far as my lungs are concerned, the Misty trail could be any Nepali sky reaching steps - and simply talking about doing it again, makes my heart beat furiously. A mountain weekend rises above weekday worries and burns planners, post its, and deadlines as kindling for a fire. Good, this will keep me warm. Yosemite hasn't changed much since then, and in the expanse of her years I won't leave a dent deeper than a moment. Her weekends are swarms of people flowing in trails across her skin. By every Monday most will have gone back to their less than natural homes. We warm ourselves with fire and yellow-tail wine under the bright Yosemite moon. We wonder how it can look like it's wearing a halo, but none of us dull the magic by reaching for a phone and looking for an answer. Among this immovable granite and redwood glory, we forget having ever drowned in the woe of a weekday. Rolland and Glenis, after traveling for months, will finally go back down to their home on the other end of the globe. With a memory of climbing thousands of feet towards the sky, an outdoor loving couple and four gentle-looking college kids shared an October weekend. The word is a breath you can feel stretch your lungs with crisp Autumn air.

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Dec 14, 2017 6 years ago

There is a place where sacrifice is normal, where consistency is required and existence is still. Waiting and weaving and hardly moved by the wind, she watched as I moved by. I saw her too, wrapping her kill, otherwise, she was still. Done mending her web she returned to her center where she waited unaffected by the sun circling around her. There is a place where sacrifice is normal, where consistency is required and existence is still. Until...the odd day that she wasn't watching or weaving or waiting at all. There was a day that she was gone.

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Weary White Collar Woman, Rest Now.

Dec 14, 2017 6 years ago

I remember the Los Angeles streets where the palm trees swaying look like they're waving a Southern California goodbye. I remember their dreaming minds. White collar woman. Blue collar man. Their small truck and their big expectations. They know only that they might know nothing so, they follow the snow birds wherever they go. Snowy beards and braids. Young souls in old bodies that call the road home. They say to keep going, and that's all that they know. White collar woman. Blue collar man. Old souls in young bodies. The Joshua Trees transform to Saguaros. From Slab City to Quartz they find no rest. Through New Mexico the world is a dry desert. Highway ten seems to extend farther than forever can remember. Days pass. Hill country rolls by. A warm breeze from the East guides them to waves of peaceful waters. Sighs of relief under signs for Corpus Christi. Wake up, you weary woman. Blue collar man, wake her, please. They have reached a bay. Finally, this is where they will be. Come on down snow bird savants! Forget those traffic crowded people shouting Los Angeles dreams. Corpus Christi isn't a city like anything you've seen. This city feeds an art hungry society. Live music sounds are poured out for the thirsty. Warm weather week long welcoming hug, this is a new kind of Downtown. Green glowing buildings and haunted blue ships. Motorcycle engine humming ride in museum memories are free. Painting heals pain here. Storms cannot over power prose here. Easy East bay sunrise days become South Padre summer Sunsets. Old souls and young bodies shaking the old ways. Young souls abound, Can you see them in the crowd? A man sees palm trees waving their South Texas welcome. A woman smiles at white pagoda lined streets. Downtown in the background. Weary white collar woman. Blue collar working man. Walking the silent seawall, you can rest now. This is where you will be. You have found home in Corpus Christi.

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