La pura vida

Not too long ago, probably back in November, I was at the gym doing some kettlebell swings, when I felt an unfamiliar crack and unsettling destabilization in my right knee and right ankle. I’m no stranger to knee injuries, but that one seemed relatively harmless, as it just felt like my joints cracked when I was standing up. For about 6 weeks afterward though, things didn’t feel right. I had pain all the way down into my foot, and my hip/IT band were tight, offsetting the instability in my knee and ankle. I’m just now getting to a point where there is less pain. The worst was the cold making everything stiff, especially in the middle of the night when I just needed to make my way to the loo with no lights on, but walking was a feat in itself.

I went to the physical therapist (PT) a few days after my injury, and every two weeks since. I call him a PT because that’s his job, but I really chose this place and him due to his credentials in chiropractic care. I had a chiropractor in San Francisco with certification in active release techniques (ART), and found a chain of gyms with professionals with this same designation upon moving to Seattle. For those that don’t know, ART is a soft tissue/movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Once those are loosened, often the movement-constricting issue is resolved, but sometimes a chiropractic adjustment is still needed. Rather than just going in to crack a back or neck with little to no prep work or stretching, the treatment of the soft tissues around the site of constricted movement usually resolves whatever is causing us pain or stiffness. It’s easier on your system and your soft tissue with these techniques. And hey, free mini massages in targeted spots when you go to the chiropractor!

However, the place I found in Seattle near me has a more holistic approach rather than a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am chiropractic adjustment. They provide half an hour of chiro-care time, and half an hour of physical therapy with exercise focused on body areas wherever little nagging pains or tightness happens to be. I have been going every two weeks, 1) because my insurance covers these sessions, and 2) preventive ongoing maintenance means fewer and further between major breakdowns/pains.

In the session just after Christmas, before New Year’s, after my mother and aunt left from spending the holidays with me, something funny happened at the PT. Dr. Donuts, as his name was in school for eating donuts in class, was working out some of my tightness and making adjustments, as he normally does. My body’s response was anything but normal that day.

Maybe it was the stress of entertaining family for the holidays, or the stress of the impending doom scheduled to take over the White House. All of his adjustments tickled, and I giggled. Everywhere he touched me, the stress relief came in the form of laughter. Normally, I crack jokes and make general embarrassing deep, guttural utterances when he adjusts me. That day, my released tension took the form of giggles (much to my dismay.) So much more embarrassing, but very telling about the stress I was holding.

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Luckily, I’ve redeemed myself since, and Dr. Donuts and I continue to have amusing and lighthearted appointments. I’ve noticed many differences for the better just by making sure I go every two weeks. Plus, I feel better about my body when I can move it the way I need to and the way I like. Everybody wins.

I’ve also since been focusing on diet and exercise to build my strength back up after my injury.

Translation:
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I booked a holiday in Costa Rica at a yoga and spa retreat for a week, and I don’t want to embarrass myself in the 2x-a-day yoga classes. There are half day and full day excursions, as well as 3 healthy meals a day sourced with local ingredients. The package also comes with one massage that week, and my room has a sweet view of the central valley. I plan to hit up Poas Volcano, local hot springs, do a coffee tour through the fields that surround the resort, walk through a cloud forest (skywalk) and maybe zipline between trees, and check out the waterfall gardens and butterfly observatory. Factor in to this that I used airline miles I’ve accumulated to cover airfare, and this is an all-inclusive fairly cheap adventure for me. I’m planning to go by myself at this point, which I’m eagerly anticipating.

It feels good having more travel booked this year, since I didn’t quite make it out and about last year. It was a big year, purchasing a home, moving cities, starting a new job, and all of it required my attention on the homefront. But now that I’ve nested sufficiently, it’s time to get out there and have more adventures, take more pictures, and live la pura vida (the pure life).

A year ago to now

A year ago, I was experiencing the joys of a relaxing day at the Blue Lagoon, outside Reykjavik, Iceland. I had a silica mask, then an algae mask regime, as I soaked in warm waters heated naturally by geothermal energy. I was wrapping up two months of travel throughout 10 countries in Europe, and really living my life to its very fullest. I was experiencing nature in all its glory, sans work, as I was on a much-needed sabbatical. Those were the days.

Fast forward to today, and no, I’m not anywhere glorious like Iceland. I’m not inside the magma chamber of a dormant volcano, repelling against the rocks, and modelling a hard hat. I’m not hiking to the top of and behind seemingly unreal, yet still very real, waterfalls. I’m not treading upon a quickly-melting glacier in a much too thin jacket.

I am in a new city (for me), in a new condo, with a new kitty, and a new job, though. I didn’t realize so much had changed from a year ago until I typed that, and reread it. Seattle has been a great move for me, but it’s just everyday life now. My condo is a work in progress, but it’s in a state where I’m able to live comfortably and happily every day. My kitty cat sleeps with me most nights, and while he isn’t the best at grooming, and sometimes just wants to play with all the toys at once when all I want to do is veg and burrito myself on the couch, he’s wonderful. I love that little fucker so much.

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My new job is lovely. I love going to work. There used to be days when I wouldn’t leave my apartment for days at a time, except to go to the gym or get food. Once, I didn’t bother going into the office for 3 whole weeks. It’s not like anyone missed me. I just worked from home. The stress of living and working in San Francisco was too much for a post-Australia me. Seattle is just right. It’s had some foggy days of late here, and it feels like San Francisco, but without all the shit that made it awful.

My coworkers are smart, funny people, and I enjoy being part of a great team. I’m finally feeling more comfortable in my role, now that I’ve been here for nearly 5 months. The hardest part of my role, which I was specifically hired to oversee, the audits, finalized yesterday for the last few funds for the 2015 reporting year. There were some definite table-flipping, chair-throwing moments of intense stress, but I survived and handled those moments with as much grace as I could muster.

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There’s still a matter of other business duties that goes along with operating hedge funds, like capital calls, distributions, annual investor statements, performance releases, management fees, month-end and quarter-end responsibilities, other review functions, and a slew of other lesser issues popping up. It’s all manageable, though. And interesting, since I didn’t really ever get to see this side of things, being in the auditor role for the last 12 years of my career.

I haven’t had much of a desire to travel, after depleting my savings to make a down payment on said condo. I feel good about my decision to purchase a home when I did though, as that meant selling out of all my long positions in the stock market before this Brexit market nonsense happened. And before the Seattle housing market begins to cool. I would say I’ve definitely enjoyed some appreciation on my home, just for taking the plunge on a purchase sooner rather than later. Crazy what a difference a few months can make. I’ve nested at home as well, not wanting to take any long trips or be away from Cheddar for an extended period of time. I didn’t have the money anyway, as I was furnishing a home three times the size of my place in San Francisco. I’m currently paying off those credit cards, and once I’m back at flat ground again, financially, I think I’d like to start looking into another international trip. It may not be two months long, but I’d like it to be longer than a week, with a couple destinations included.

I find myself getting that old familiar travel bug again: the desire to see new places, experience new things, gain new perspective, and push the limits of my comfort zone. I’ve built a strong comfort zone in my new home, and soon it will be time to leave it again.

Until then, though, this will be my spirit animal, resting in its comfort zone:

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200

I published my last post, about my cousin with aggressive brain cancer, on April 2. He passed away on April 8. It’s been a hard couple of weeks, just wrapping my head around how quickly the cancer spread and took over. He hardly got a chance to fight the cancer… it was more like a bloody massacre. 3 days after having surgery to remove the two largest tumors, it had regrown to the same size.

I wanted to head east to be with family during this difficult time, but it ended up not coming to fruition that way, for many reasons. Not being with my family on the east coast during this difficult time does not mean I care any less. I just have to be resourceful and do my mourning on my own. I found a great way to say that in a photo meme recently, so here it is as I pass that wisdom on to you.

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It also happens to be my busiest time at work. Literally, all the things came at me this week, demanding attention before Friday. So I didn’t feel like I could take adequate time to mourn anyway. I took Monday off, but it wasn’t enough. People asked me why I was out Monday on Tuesday when I returned, and being the honest person I am, I told them, not mincing words.

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People I work with at my new place of employment are incredibly smart, funny, empathetic people. I really enjoy working with them and they provided the right mix of what I needed to help get past recent events. Distraction has been a great tactic for dealing with grief this time around, and when you have people around you who keep you laughing, it’s even better. Yesterday, I tackled everything that had piled up and shoved all that poop onto other people’s desks, effectively removing it from my own. It was fantastic.

My taxes were done a couple of weeks ago, and refunds have already been deposited. All the furniture I’ve needed in my new place is here, with the exception of a couple handmade Adirondack chairs I ordered back in March that take two months to custom make for each order. Those will undoubtedly be worth the wait. Life at home is coming together, though I do have a few small repairs I need to tackle. (Yes, “a few small repairs,” are lyrics from the Shawn Colvin song “Sunny Came Home,” and I did that on purpose.)

Overall, I’m taking it one day at a time, and trying to find joy and happiness everywhere I can. Moving to Seattle was absolutely the right move for me. I’ve made a couple good friends, and those can be hard to come by. There is a phenomenon called the “Seattle freeze,” I think I’ve experienced the tip of that iceberg (pun intended.) I don’t have quite as many friends here, or people I keep in touch with on a daily basis, so it can get a little lonely. People here don’t seem to want or need that kind of contact. Especially when mourning the loss of a loved one, I don’t need anyone to be my rock or take care of me, but a little extra care would be nice.

I’m actually proud of myself, as I think back to my many dances with grief. I’ve written past posts on the matter (see Grief and Recovery), and I’m probably the least graceful person at letting go. But I look at myself now, and I’m impressed that I’ve been able to grow each time I’ve encountered grief to be able to be on my own, on the other side of the country from my family, without much of a friend/support network, and be OK. I didn’t know it was happening, but I’ve been growing. I’m strong. It feels pretty good.

In other news, this is my 200th post to my blog. I started my blog in June of 2014, after moving back to San Francisco from Australia. I look back to my many posts and can’t believe I have something incredible to show as a diary of sorts over the last two years. I guess you could say I’m in a brief period of reflection, and I like what I see (said in my best Australian accent of Kath from Kath & Kim, the Australian TV series.)

So here’s to you, and here’s to me, and if we should ever disagree, fuck you, and here’s to me. Cheers, mates. Thanks for being on this journey with me, even if only as an extra, sipping coffee in the background.

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Let’s do it

Soldiers do it. Kids hopped up on sugar at birthday parties do it. Not to mention the homeless. I’m not talking about falling in love, like the old diddy by Ella Fitzgerald. I’m talking about sleeping on the ground/floor.

By choice, I’ve resigned myself to abstaining from a night in a San Francisco hotel since all my furniture and belongings have been picked up. I can’t bear to pay close to $300 a night, nor can I bring myself to pay for an Airbnb in the city that started the initial housing crisis nearly all by itself.

So last night I “slept” in a sleeping bag on hardwood floors. By “slept” I mean I tossed and turned, had to contend with a kitty bed-hog who in the end just wanted to touch me at all times, and was able to conclude there are NO comfortable sleeping positions without a mattress. I do miss it so already, and I still have one more unbearable night like this. Let’s just say I’ve rediscovered that I do, in fact, have all the muscles required to get oneself down onto and up off of the floor. Nothing like doing pushups to get oneself out of “bed” in the middle of the night, only to step in wet cat vomit, I always say.

Why did I do this to myself? Oh yeah, that’s right, I didn’t want to be wasteful, didn’t want to impose on friends, wanted to save money, and have as few interruptions for Cheddar’s routines (like food and litter) as possible. Boy, he’s lucky he’s cute. Cause if it was just me to look out for here, I’d like to think I’d have a much softer place to rest my back and knees.

I’m a little brain dead and delirious because of the horrid sleep last night. I’m catching things the maids didn’t clean this morning that they really should have, had they any attention to detail. But bad on me for not catching it while they were here. And little sleep means less patience and general crankiness.

Despite that though, I’ve eaten at all the restaurants I could think of to google before the move that won’t be in Seattle. I had my last Ike’s Sandwich today… oh man, I am gonna miss those.

A good part of my luggage is also full with stuff just for Cheddar – a small makeshift litter box, a clean pooper scooper, toys, treats, food… so high maintenance, that one.

Once I get him settled on the other side, I’ll feel a lot less stressed. All I need to do after that is focus on my new job, until I can move in to the new place.

Yes, my apartment is empty, but my heart is full. Because of this little guy and all the good things we have coming our way when we start a new chapter in Seattle tomorrow.

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Troopers

Well December, like the rest of 2015, hasn’t quite turned out the way I thought it would be. I feel like I got so frustrated this year when things weren’t working out the way I wanted, and every door I seemed to try was closed. I had a great 2 month trip in May and June through Europe, but after coming back home from that, I was infinitely more disappointed with my life. Work took over, and I couldn’t really seem to catch a break. I wanted it to be more like life was when I was traveling. It’s not that life at home was so bad, it just wasn’t that free, happy feeling I had while moving about every 5 days or so, having new adventures, seeing new places, and meeting new people.

December has surprised me in good ways, though. It would be much too preemptive to disclose what’s happening publicly as it’s much too soon, and nothing is official yet. I don’t want to jinx it, and if it ends up not coming to fruition, it’ll be that much harder to stomach if I have to tell people those things didn’t end up happening, again. Maybe the tides are turning, and the doors are unlocking. Maybe I can be satisfied where I am now, knowing things may change for the better in the very near future. So I’d like to bid 2015 a not so fond farewell, and already begin looking toward 2016. As my travel companion for part of my summer trip, Hank Moody (as I’ve affectionately dubbed him for purposes of this blog), used to say, “This is the year of the scrappy dog. This is the year it’s going to happen and come together.” I know we’ve been saying that every year, but I mean it this time.

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I sit back and look out the window to the woods behind my mother’s house in the sticks, with a gray sky and steady rain, hoping it’s washing away the slate for yet another clean start. The rain always makes me happy. It makes me hopeful. It’s never good to get one’s hopes up, but in this case, I need something to look forward to.

I decided to bring Cheddar with me to upstate New York, on 2 plane rides, through 3 airports, as my emotional support animal. He’ll log 2 more plane rides on the way back, and 1 more airport. Cutest little jetsetter there ever was with four paws. He rode along in a mesh carrier with plenty of airflow and soft sides, so he could fit under the seat in front of me and be at my feet the whole trip. He was such a trooper – he can’t speak English. He had no idea when I slipped cat sedatives into a treat and dropped him into a carrier that he’d emerge 12 hours later in a strange place. He rolled with the punches, without being able to ask any questions. Trusting me. He knew he was with me the whole time, as I’d often stick my hand in the carrier and give him pets and lubs. He was a hit with the other travelers, and seemed to calm the other passengers just by chillin all drugged up, slung over my shoulder.

He’s been enjoying exploring grandma’s house, from the fish tank and the new hiding spots, to calmly handling the seemingly endless barrage of family that wanted to meet him and treat him like one of the gang. Fur babies are big in my east coast family. He’s eaten probably more than me, and everyone wants to give him treats and play with him. He’s exhausted and just burrows deeper in the pillows to sleep. He’s been such a good boy though, not getting into trouble. Goo’boy.

I’ve been logging in some good family time while here, since I’m related to basically the whole town of Rome. I caught up with my 90 year old godfather, a veteran of the Korean War. I’ve seen my aunts, uncles, cousins, and had time with my mother. For a quiet introvert, to say I’ve been overstimulated is the understatement of the year. Everyone yells, because they either don’t wear their hearing aids, or because they’re fervent New Yorkers. Maybe people will put in their teeth for an occasion of a family gathering.

I’ve had to bring my work laptop and take some work calls while here, which does irk me. I was assigned two new clients recently, one of which files January 21 in Sacramento, which means lots of commuting in January, and working over the holiday break to ensure we meet the deadline. I’ll be making the trip to Sacramento for 2 days every week in January, logging sometimes upwards of 5 hrs of driving each trip. Not to mention my full plate of other clients happening simultaneously. Screw me, right? This busy season could be one of the worst I’ve had in a while. So this is what I have to tell my teams when I’m stretched too far, and must rely on them to find the answers instead of trying to help them out:

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I head back to San Francisco in time to celebrate a quiet New Year’s Eve back home. I get a few treasured vacation days before my hellish January. I plan to spend them the best way I know how: concocting an optimistic 2016, meeting new people, saying good riddance to bad rubbish I’m choosing to carry no longer, and taking back my life. I said when I repatriated from Australia that coming back to San Francisco was only temporary, and was meant to be a launch pad to bigger and better things, once I stabilized from major life traumas I’d experienced. So here’s to San Francisco in 2016 becoming the Kennedy Fucking Space Center. Major Diana to Ground Control, motherfucker. Over and out.

Doppler effect in real life

It’s hard to perceive, when travel plans are coming at you with the full force of a siren, that there could be any kind of Doppler effect when it comes to adventures. Compared to the emitted frequency from my trip, the received frequency is higher during the approach, identical at the instant of passing by, and lower during the recession. It’s science; look it up.

Prior to leaving on my trip, all I could think about, all I could focus on, were the impending plans, hostels, what to pack, who and what I would be seeing, and louder still, the daily grind, the rat race in the workplace hamster wheel, yearning for that release to sabbatical mode. It was so loud, like a wailing ambulance zooming off to save a life.

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When you’re finally on that trip, and deep in it, it’s not quite so loud. You rushed and planned before, so you could slow down. You then take each day as it comes while traveling, and embrace the sense of adventure, heartbreak, accomplishment, and the facing of fears. You watch the sunset at the end of the day, knowing you lived that day. Or as close to sunsets as you can get in the land of the midnight sun.  If you’re successful, you’ve managed to forget all passwords, not think about what emails you might be “missing”, and removed the source of all work thoughts and the “grind” part from your daily routine. You can get comfortable in your surroundings, and finally enjoy the forest for the trees, or the boobs for the bed. As you like it.

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But after it’s over, the trip begins to recede. First, it’s your senses of your immediate environment. Suddenly, signs are in languages you can read with words you can recognize and pronounce, again. Then the ambient noise of conversations around you is suddenly understandable, again. The memories you made of smells and tastes begin to ebb away first, as if waking up from a dream; then, suddenly, if you didn’t take a picture of it, you perhaps can’t remember it actually happened.

When I was in Berlin, the soundtrack in my head was basically every Pink Floyd song from The Wall. One in particular, Comfortably Numb describes this post-travel Doppler recession.

“There is no pain; you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can’t hear what they’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now…”

I was performing my final sort on photos before posting them to my Flickr account today, and my photo editor crashed on me just as I started into the Berlin album. Nooooooo.

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Now, dear reader, what you may not know is that Berlin was one of the most sensitive times for me on this whole trip. A butt-load of feelers creeped in when I wasn’t looking, which were then exacerbated by moving experiences at concentration camps and other heavy historical sites, and I was a bit of a mess. It was bittersweet. Mostly bitter.

When my photo editor crashed, I lost a good 5-7 photos from the beginning of my walking tour, which commenced at Brandenburg Gate. Some of my best shots are now lost in my Macbook Air abyss and I’m absolutely inconsolable right now.

I had those images, and I had those few moments of memories in photos, and now, they are gone. Is this what a miscarriage is like? Not that I’m trying to poke fun or belittle the horrible experience. But as an artist, as a creator, I had a few pieces of work that I put effort and time and care into; they were made with love. I didn’t get a chance to birth them to my Flickr site, and now they are gone forever. So I shall pour one out for each of my lost photos, whimper a silent sob, and try to move on. Just know my Berlin album is missing some gems.

But the more important result of the above loss is that now my Flickr account finally has some albums on it. It’s now live! Go check it out! It’s under Photography in the menu above, or you can go straight to my albums here:

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I still have yet to tackle Bergen and Iceland photos for posting, and somehow this whole day got away from me, editing photos and posting them. I love how I spent my day today. I bathed in the memories of a portion of my trip. Suddenly work things were quiet again. I wasn’t thinking of the future, either. I could just be right there, in the moment. Even if my Swedish haircut is growing out from 5 weeks ago.

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It calmed my soul and almost made me feel like the whole experience wasn’t receding quite so fast. I got to go back to each of those beautiful places around the world again today, without a travel hangover or jetlag. But boy, am I tired now.

More to come from me, as I get totally caught up on my trip images, and continue immersing myself in this train wreck of daily life again, making this less and less of the travel blog it temporarily was, and more and more of the whatever the hell it is now.

Rough. Area.

Iceland’s geology: a love story (part two)

I somehow managed to amass 586 photos in total of Iceland in my very brief time here. The 2nd place vacation destination on this trip was not a close second – some 379 in Rome, Italy. By far, my love of Iceland is present in the number of photos I kept after a first round of edits and sorting.

My last post, Iceland’s geology: a love story really should have included biology too, since I mentioned arctic lupin and wild horses. But if you can’t tell, I’m really more about the geology and rocks and formative events that pave the way for the biology of new life, including the moss on the volcanic rocks which grows first and essentially starts the process for lichens, then arctic lupin, then small trees and shrubs and the rest of life to catch up with the newly formed lithosphere.

I covered the waterfalls, the recent volcanic eruption in 2010, and hinted at my upcoming adventure when I wrote it of descending into the magma chamber of dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano. After a grueling 3-kilometer (2-mile) hike over uneven terrain and new lava flow, and some gravel laid just that day to help with the hike, it was clear how subjected to the elements one really is in Iceland.

The wind was howling quite strong, and the rain blew horizontally into only my right ear as we hiked. I didn’t bring proper hiking boots with me on this trip, as it was never really intended as a backpacking/camping/hiking trip. So I will say the hike was probably made more difficult by my inappropriate footwear. But I only brought 3 pairs of shoes with me on this trip, and one of them was a pair of flip flops. I didn’t have many options. But I wore my sturdiest pair.

I also forget in physical challenges like that, that I have had 5 knee surgeries. I’ve tendons from cadavers in the place of my own torn ligaments, and way less meniscus and cartilage than a normal person. I feel the hike through my ankles, hips, and back more than the normal hiker, as I overcompensate for structurally weak knees.

Once we got to the mouth of the volcano, I was surprised by how quiet my typically boisterous fear of heights was. I walked the plank to the German pulley lift with no hesitancy, and even the slow descent into the chamber wasn’t scary. I was proud of myself that I had worked to conquer my fear of heights so fervently over the years that this previously terrifying feat passed without concern this time around.

What I saw, once I got in there, is beyond words. I could throw scientific terms at you about what type of rocks they were, the geologic processes and the unique case of this particular volcano that makes it the only one of its kind which allows us to view it from the inside instead of collapsing on itself like all other volcanoes do when they die. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll share with you the colors and just what I saw. I’ve applied no filters to these, only touched them up because the lighting was quite dark in there, as you can imagine. It started with the bright reds of the actual magma at the mouth of the volcano, which is where it would have oxidized with the air upon erupting, giving it the bright red color from iron.

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Then as you got down into the bottom, everywhere you looked around you were beautiful colors that indicate just how much pressure and heat the environment contained thousands of years ago. There are purply blacks, greens, ambers, all totally natural and not modified by man in any way. Beautiful.

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Then, I went to the Blue Lagoon the day after being inside the volcano. The Blue Lagoon was formed originally as a mistake – some men were drilling to create a geothermal power plant on the site, a type of energy which powers more than 85% of Icelandic homes. The drill hit a pocket of pressurized underground heated seawater, and it came bubbling up to the surface. No doubt, someone was fired for that. But at the time, they didn’t realize the beautiful pool they accidentally created. The water is rich in silica, and helps alleviate psoriasis and many other skin conditions.

It’s probably the most visited tourist attraction in Iceland, about a 45 minute drive outside of Reykjavik, and in my opinion, well worth the visit if you’ve never been. If I lived nearby, I’d probably be a regular. The water isn’t too hot, and one of the great natural by-products is the silica buildup from the water. If you scrape the silica mud off of anything (they have an area where it collects in buckets), it can actually be used as a mud mask that does wonders for the skin. Then, their R&D team developed an algae mask that replenishes the nutrients stripped from the silica mask. I soaked in the pool for about 5 hours yesterday and applied two rounds of silica and algae masks. Today, my skin has never felt so much like a baby’s butt. You can believe that sold me on the products, and I purchased two sets of the silica and algae mask for use at home. Now if only I could take the pool with me too, and fit it into my tiny little San Francisco apartment.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the Blue Lagoon yesterday:

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Now, also in yesterday’s post, I also mentioned a couple of other things that I thought were worth sharing with you. Firstly, some scenes from Game of Thrones season 4 were filmed in Iceland, as Thingvellir Valley, a national park, is the land north of the wall. This is the stomping ground of whitewalkers, and also the Bloody Gates, and the actresses who played Arya and Brienne of Tarth were spotted wandering Iceland by locals as well. Arya and the Hound wander through the countryside, and Brienne searches for Sansa and runs into other characters. I can see why they chose to film here – it’s simply stunning.

The other great piece of geology about Thingvellir national park is that it’s the above ground portion of the mid-Atlantic ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are spreading, creating a rift valley which has filled with water in between. I had the pleasure of standing directly above the rift and where the land is separating at a rate of approximately 2 centimeters (less than 1 inch) per year.

There is a walking bridge over the rift, and here are photos taken from each side of the bridge:

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I also wanted you to remind me to tell you of the geysers here in Iceland. There was one, named Geysir, which is Icelandic for “erupt”. An earthquake some years ago actually made this one no longer shoot up into the air, but Geysir has a little brother named Strokkur (“to churn”) a few meters away, which erupts every 4-8 minutes or so. A new friend I met at the hostel got a great picture of the eruption just as a bubble, before it because the pressurized spectacle shooting 20 meters into the air we usually know as a geyser. However, I was no so lucky to snap a photo of that in time, and didn’t stay for enough eruptions to try hard enough to capture it. But here is what I caught of Strokkur (pre-eruption and during eruption):

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And finally dear reader, I leave you with this gem of a story. My tour guide Albert, on the South Coast/Glacier Walk tour through GeoIceland, imparted it to me in such a way that left it entirely up to me if I wanted to believe it, but many Icelanders do believe in this. Icelandic folklore has stories of interactions with “hidden people.” Apparently, in the Bible, after Adam and Eve had the apple, and had many children, God sent them a message that He wanted to come by and pay their family a visit. Eve set to bathing all of her children so they could be presentable to God when He arrived. However, God was a little early, and Eve sent the children who had not yet bathed and cleaned into hide so God could not see them in such an unruly state. God knew there were more children than what He was seeing, and he asked Eve about it. She indicated that she had hidden them. As such, God decided that all the children she had hidden would remain hidden. So there are stories even up through today of children speaking to “the hidden people” in the hills, much like imaginary friends.

I would choose to believe just because I typically believe in phenomena like that, but what put the nail in the coffin for me was an unruly and unkempt, very forward Icelandic woman who identified herself as 51. She tried to pick me up in a Danish bar, Den Danske Kro, elbowing my travel companion Hank Moody completely out of the way, only to tell me that she thought I was beautiful, and we are the same (shhhh, lesbians.) I believe she was a hidden people, and probably by the end of the night, was removed from the bar for being a nuisance. She came from nowhere, she spoke to me, and my trusty travel companion saw her, so I know I wasn’t talking to myself… but she disappeared shortly after I disappeared from that bar, completely weirded out. I didn’t take her bait, and I don’t think she knew what to do with that.

So there you have it, dear reader, the second part in my own Icelandic saga spanning 6 days in June 2015 here. I want to come back. I love it here, and could really see myself living here… in summer. I may totally regret that decision by October, if I chose to move here next summer… but only time will tell.

I love the scenery, the people, the things to do, the things to see, the geology, the folklore, the vibe, the live music scene, the thick language, the wild horses, the new earth being formed, the everything. Maybe one day if you come here too, you will as well.

Now, I must see to having some lunch before my shuttle to the airport. I still can’t believe my two month sabbatical from work across 10 countries is coming to an end. I would be in mourning, but I’m already pondering my next adventure.

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Or pizza.

Iceland’s geology: a love story

As I sorted through 392 photos I’ve taken in Iceland over the past 3 days, I realized I’m in love with this place. Have you ever traveled to a place where your soul felt at home and you just connected?

Granted, it is summer time, and winters can be excruciating and insufferable, so I can’t say this is an unconditional love at this point… but I do know I have barely scratched the surface here, and I’ll leave in 2 days wanting more. I’d like to come back here again and explore more. I haven’t said that about many travel destinations I’ve been to, and that says a lot.

First off, you need to see these flowers. They are indigenous to Alaska but were introduced to Iceland to help topsoil erosion from wind so that new vegetation and life could begin on fresh lava flows. It now grows nearly everywhere: arctic lupin. Some locals see it as invasive because it’s spread so much, but it truly is helping the environment here so, one can’t hate too much.

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Now, on our South Coast and Glacier Walk tour through GeoIceland tour company, we saw some amazing rock formations. One of my favorites were the basalt column that form a cave on a black pebble beach. There are rock columns just past shore that also add to the dramatic effect. I won’t go into the longwinded boring story of the geology of how they came be, but needless to say, I don’t find it boring at all. It looks like a black and white photo, but I assure you, this was shot and kept in color.

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Also on the same tour, I touched Solheimajökull glacier, and I liked it (to the tune of the catchy Katy Perry song about kissing girls.) Only when you see the glacier in person, melting fast than it can flow down the valley, do you realize the true impact of global warming. Our tour guide explained to us that 2 weeks ago, a large part of the glacier broke off into the smaller glacial lake forming in the melt zone, and we saw the remnants floating like ice cubes. It saddened me a little to know this second largest glacier on Iceland will be gone in a matter of fewer than 20 years probably, at this rate.

Now, this glacier was covered by volcanic ash with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, and ash seeped into fissures in the ice at the time. With the melting, that ash only serves to make the glacier more beautiful and have more character. The glacier doesn’t have to be fully blue and white and pristine. Glaciers are a major form of erosion many people do not think about when they hear “erosion.” They’re full of big rocks and debris and move them through massive valleys creating dramatic mountains and views. Here are a couple of my favorite shot sof the glacier from the other day:

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Now the eruption in April 2010 of Eyjafjallajökull volcano also brings with it a story that demonstrates the nature and heart of the Icelandic people I’ve come to respect. A woman who lived on a nearby farm to the volcano, who happened to be directly downwind from the volcano, in fact, had zero visibility at her farm for nearly 3 weeks as the ash and smoke covered everything. She could not evacuate and had to take care of her livestock on the farm. In 3 weeks, she finally stepped outside and could see ash just everywhere – over all the grazing land, on her roof, windows, everywhere.

Then, a cavalry of nearby farmers arrived with a group of men who in 3 days managed to clear the ash off of everything like nothing even happened. Icelanders do not rely on the likes of FEMA when a disaster strikes; they know no one is coming to their rescue. So they come to each other’s rescue. The sense of rugged individualism and independence also comes with it a strong sense of community. They didn’t say to the woman, “let us know if you need help.” She didn’t even know what kind of help she would need. They weren’t fairweather friends. They just showed up and helped. That brought tears to my eyes. Good eggs, the lot of you, Icelanders. Keep it up. I love that.

Now, on the long drives between beautiful geological formations here, there are wild horses grazing on the side of the road, as well as sheep and cattle. Our tour guide pulled over our minibus to the side of the road, and went out and called the horses over. Up close, they appear to be miniature horses, a smaller breed, not as large as some I’ve ridden back in the US.

Apparently this is so common, they know they are getting treats when someone makes the clicking noises they can somehow hear over the cars whirring by on the side of the road, so there was no hesitancy in paying us a visit. They nibbled on my empty hand, nudged me with their noses gently. One feisty one even tried to bite my forearm and elbow, as it was roughly apple-sized thickness, apparently. Cheeky little fellow, with curly black hair, he was. Here is the horse that let me give it cuddles and pats the longest, with the sweetest eyes I’ve looked into in a long time.

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It was covered in mud and dirt, but we didn’t care. After we left, the horses began what looked like kissing – licking each other’s necks to see if we left crumbs on our hands when we petted them. And here’s the rest of the lot, who heard there would be pats and food.

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Now, in the last 3 days, I’ve seen many waterfalls. There have been 3 famous ones, Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Gulfoss, and many lesser ones from glacial runoff and snowmelt for summer.

I hiked the stairs on the side of Skogafoss, to prove to myself I could. The fall is 60 meters high (or 200 feet), I was cold, without any windbreaker or waterproof jacket. But, I challenged myself. I’ve been going through a bit of a healing process for my little heart recently due to an unrequited love, and with every step to the lookout point, I repeated in my head, “Fuck. You. Fuck. You. I’m climbing a waterfall.” I got to the top, wheezing, with shaking legs, and terrified to see through metal supports and the grate floor all the way to the bottom. I got the full effect of the vertigo from such great heights. Let’s just say every selfie I took up at the top shows the struggle of getting up there to that moment, and the look on my face of being absolutely terrified and winded. That won’t be shared here. But, I did it. I can do great things when I put my mind to it.

I walked under another waterfall the same day, Seljalandsfoss, after hiking Skogafoss, and got even more soaked. But I knew I had to walk under it. The perspective afforded by letting such a massive deluge of water, your problems, your worries, pass by over you, as you watch it go by regardless of whether you’re there to see it or not, helped to ease my troubled mind. The world still goes on. The water still falls to the pool; it’s on its own journey, too. It’s not troubled or worried right now. No one could see the tears in my eyes and down my cheeks, because I was so wet anyway, so it was just waterfall mist from the falls if anyone asks. I needed that waterfall, too.

By far, my favorite has been a lesser-known waterfall called Faxi. Faxi isn’t that high – in fact it’s maybe 15-25 meters high, a wide shelf, with not a long drop at all. There was a modest homemade salmon run going up the side as well, as it’s on a freshwater river. This was probably the closest to paradise on earth I’ve ever come. I’ve been in caves, and seen a lot of things, but the pristine and serene beauty of this last stop on our Golden Circle tour yesterday was by far my favorite. There were no busloads of tourists littering my photos. In fact, I didn’t even see most of the people on my own minibus for most of the time I was there.

Here’s foxy Faxi:

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I must sadly end this, as I could keep going on about wonderful things I’ve seen and done in just 3 short days in this country. I’ll try to put those in another blog post, and just so I don’t forget, I’ll briefly list them here. Remind me to tell you about Thingvellir valley, where some of season 4 of Game of Thrones was filmed, the mid-Atlantic ridge and spreading of the tectonic plates creating new crust on the surface of the earth, geysers, as well as the local folklore of the hidden people based on the story of Adam and Eve.

I need to run off and go do more. I’m going into the belly of the beast itself today. Yes, I’m descending 120 meters (400 feet) into an empty magma chamber of a dormant volcano. There is a moderately challenging hike on either side of base camp, and my ever-present fear of heights to conquer yet again on the German designed pulley elevator (with North Korean cables on them, or so the running joke says.)

Reykjavik so far

I’ve only been in Iceland for about 24 hours, and I already think it is one of the coolest places on earth. Besides that being a literal statement, given at the height of summer it’s a cool 54°F outside at nearly 4pm, it’s also got some amazing natural wonders here.

First off, the cost of electricity and heating your home is so cheap here, because nearly 100% of the island runs on geothermal energy. It’s efficient, and no one freaks out if you leave the TV on a little too long. Our hostel room was super warm and toasty last night, and despite usually enjoying a chill in the air when I sleep, it was a welcome warm-down-to-your-bones feeling.

Our hostel is alternative, with great ambience as a former biscuit factory (google it if you’re interested, Kex Hostel.) There is an old barber’s chair by reception, a bar with an actual scene even the locals frequent, and lots of character oozing out of the signage and décor. We’re within walking distance to one of the oldest pools in existence on the island, and we visited Sundhöllin public baths last night. Pre-soak shower, steam room, geothermal pool, drink from the water fountain, hotter geothermal pool, cold swimming pool, repeat. And my first “sunset” here yesterday in the true land of the midnight sun, was so purple, with bright oranges and deep blues, you’d think from my reaction watching it, I’d never seen a sunset before. Squeeeeeee. Love.

We did a free walking tour of Reykjavik this morning with a genuine Icelandic gentleman who rolled his R’s harder than anything I’ve ever heard, and with tinges of ginger in his beard. He indicated the language has strong roots in Scottish, but Icelandic is a very old language that did not suffer the evolution and bastardization that came with introduction to the Norwegians, Swedes, Finnish and Danish mainlanders.

Iceland only became independent from Danish control in June 1944, at a time when Denmark was actually occupied by the Germans in World War 2. They could not maintain control of their offshore territories, so Iceland saw fit to declare its independence at that opportune time. What I love even more is that, apparently, Icelandic independence was won without any blood being spilled. It was a battle of thought and education and wit, and no one had to die for it. One could argue perhaps it does not mean as much if people did not die for it, but I don’t necessarily ascribe to that chain of thought. If independence can be attained in a peaceful manner, by all means, proceed. More power to you for taking it as well.

The population of Iceland is only about 300,000 people. So tiny! It’s like a cute little baby puppy. But really, that’s not very many people at all. In fact, when an Icelandic person goes to a bar on a Saturday night, meets someone they may want to consider as a life partner, or maybe just an overnight partner, the threat of incest can be real. It’s not a question of whether you’re related to someone, but more just how far back, or how distantly are you related? There is actually a website that traces connections for genealogy called the Book of Icelanders (Íslendingabók) which has information on inhabitants of Iceland that go back centuries. The website wasn’t expressly created to avoid incest, but more to identify connections between families. Our tour guide joked about how many hits that website gets on Sunday mornings, possibly after walks of shame, or while they’re still in the bed next to each other. But there is truth in jest…

The tour guide also explained naming conventions to us. Children are always named after their father. For example, there is a Skúli Magnússon statue in the middle of downtown, dedicated to the “Father of Reykjavik”. According to the naming convention, Skúli’s father was named Magnús, so his last name is literally, the son of Magnús, or Magnússon.

If Skúli had a son, and he named him Magnús, then his son’s name would be Magnús Skúlison. His son would not have the same last name as him; rather, the son would have his father’s first name for a last name. Which explains why every Icelandic male’s last name ends with “son”. The same goes for daughters, who would take their father’s first name as their last name, but instead of son, it would be daughter, or dóttir.

So if Skúli had a daughter, and he named her Mary, her name would be Mary Skúlidóttir, or the daughter of Skúli. So everyone knows who their father is by their last name. Interesting stuff. I’d still be doomed in the last name department, though, if that was the case for me.

After our walking tour today, we took a short walk over to the nearby Lutheran church, Hallgrímskirkja. Just looking at it from the outside, and knowing what I do about geology, I immediately made the connection between architecture and the basalt lava flows it was meant to resemble. It is a relatively new building, only completed in 1986. But, Iceland as a whole is still so young.

Tourism only bypassed fishing as the country’s main source of revenue a few years ago, as outsiders could only afford to visit after the global financial crisis in 2008. There is so much construction happening on the island to keep pace with tourist demand, and most of the new construction is hotels.

This is truly a whole new world to me, with so many unique and interesting things to learn about life here. For example, there is one high school in Reykjavik, and it’s on their 500 krona bill. Education and health care are free here, but the big price tag for that comes in effective tax rates between 38-42% for citizens.

We have many more activities planned here in the 5 days I have left. We will see Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls, and walk across Solheimajökull glacier. With crampons. Which apparently are NOT a combination of cramps and tampons. Say those 10 times fast.

We will do a Golden Circle day tour, which includes the “three jewels of the Icelandic crown,” the Gullfoss waterfall, the Thingvellir valley (which is the site of formation of new earth crust where tectonic plates are spreading), and the Geysir hot spring area, which includes a steam vent that “erupts” every 5-10 minutes.

Then, in what might be my most physically challenging part of this trip, moreso than the hardcore, nonstop hike to and from Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside of Berlin, we will walk 3.5 kilometers across a lava bed (which I equate, in my imagination, to walking on the moon) to a dormant volcano which hasn’t erupted in 4,000 years, and actually descend into the magma chamber of the volcano, then walk the 3.5 kilometers back on that uneven terrain.

With all that grueling touristing coming up, we also have an afternoon booked at the infamous Blue Lagoon on our last full day here. I’m eagerly anticipating these challenging adventures as I bring my two-month excursion to a close. By the way, as a heads up for all travelers who come after me to the Blue Lagoon, it will be closed for renovations as they’re adding a hotel just next door in January 2016. Sounds like the project will be complete in 2017, so if the Blue Lagoon is one of the highlights for you, be sure to book around that to get the most out of your time there. 

It’s hard to believe in just over 5 days, I will be back in San Francisco. Back to life, back to reality, and somehow containing within myself the experiences I’ve had on the road.

I have taken to heart this quote I found while on the road, but I’ll expand more on that another time.

“Travel not to find yourself, but to remember who you’ve been all along.”

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Concentration camp outside Berlin

I wrote this blog post yesterday, after going to Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, at the site of the original concentration camp. These are my initial thoughts, immediate reactions, and do not necessarily encapsulate everything that I learned yesterday. I highly recommend you visit the camp for yourself and form your own views. I thank you in advance for reading this blog, as it’s not for the faint of heart or stomach.

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Today, I went to a concentration camp, and was brought to tears, that I tried to hide. I didn’t expect that.

As part of my 3-day stint in Berlin, I decided I wanted to visit Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp just outside Berlin, about 35 kilometers. The first German concentration camp, as my tour guide informed me today, was actually in Dachau, outside Munich. I only recently found out my grandfather was a defector from the Russian army and wound up at Dachau as a political prisoner during the late 30’s or early 40’s. I don’t know much about my father’s side of the family, and everyone seems to have their own truths, which change frequently. This made the concept of one of my relatives having been at one of these places all the more real to me.

When we arrived in Berlin yesterday, after a very smooth and brief flight from Oslo, we immediately went for a 4pm walking tour, which kicked off at the Starbucks by Brandenburg Gate. We saw the Gate in all its glory, the Hotel Adlon (famous as the place where Michael Jackson dangled his baby), the double bricks in the road signifying where the Berlin Wall ran, the place that is now a kindergarten playground but held 8 meters below it the barracks where Hitler hid and ultimately shot and killed himself. We saw the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Humboldt University, and the square where the infamous book burning was.

Here is a photo of the memorial in the square where the books were burnt. If you look down, it appears as if you are looking into a mirror, with the sky and your own silhouette looking back up at you. But if you look through this, you will see many rows of empty bookshelves. There is a great quote (in German) just across the square from this memorial, from Heinrich Heine years before the book burning that was almost prophetic. “Wherever they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

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At the conclusion of the walking tour yesterday, we bought tickets to visit Sachsenhausen, which we chose to use today, through the same tour company. We had the same meeting point this morning, the Starbucks by Brandenburg Gate, and many people were turned away because only two guides were available to give the tour.

I ended up with an alternative fellow named Mark as the guide – he wore a blazer reminiscent of the 1980’s, rolled up to his elbows, and a button down white shirt with all buttons buttoned. He had a British accent, being from the UK, and a metrosexual haircut. He wore one red sock and one blue sock with what appeared to be unbranded Doc Martens. Mark was a history teacher at a secondary school before leaving London to specifically become a tour guide in Berlin 4 years ago, so he was very knowledgeable about the topics that we discussed. Perfect example of the alternative style I come to expect of Berlin, and provided many stories and the rich context needed for the tour.

We immediately headed to the train station at Brandenburg Gate, after much urging from the two tour guides to bring food. While waiting for it to begin, I grabbed Hank Moody and I some sandwiches at Starbucks, a fruit cup and a lovely mozzarella and tomato focaccia which they even heated for me, but alas, I had to wait to enjoy it.

The militant pace the tour guides kept proved to be a major challenge for me all day, and would have been a challenge for anyone. It didn’t help that prior to the tour, I discovered NIVEA Haus and bought a ton of skin care products, hand crème, deodorant, and shower gel for dirt-cheap. So beyond having to bring an impromptu pack lunch, I also had some heavier products in my bag, as well as a full Nalgene bottle of water and my trusty steed, my DSLR camera.

We rode the train to the very last stop, and then had a “15 minute walk” (translation: 30 minute walk crammed into a 15 minute military light jog) to the compound. Immediately, I was confronted with walls and layouts, and the German efficiency I would expect, but not necessarily from a concentration camp.

The main area we were to visit was in the shape of a triangle – originally this concentration camp was meant to be the example of how all other camps would be modeled. With the triangle shape, the watch tower was bisecting the base of the triangle, and all barracks fanned out in concentric circles from the watch tower (forming a sort of rainbow over the base tower), to allow for maximum visibility. It had to; there were originally 290 SS officers for thousands of prisoners. At one point, the camp was so full, the 3 level bunk beds held 3 people each, and that bed was narrower and shorter than a twin sized mattress. Unreal.

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With each story Mark imparted, the feeling of sickness, of shock, of dread, of sadness built, like bricks in a wall, until it culminated in the two stories, which absolutely did it for me and brought me to tears.

The first was of the work details available for people in the camps. You see, there were death camps, and there were concentration camps. Sachsenhausen was where political prisoners, then ultimately Jehovah’s witnesses, Jews, criminals, communists, homosexuals, and others were brought to work before possibly dying from exhaustion or disease, or being sent on to death camps, like Auschwitz.

Some people were made to build bricks and then haul them, and those bricks were ultimately going to be used to build Germania, a reformed Berlin once Hitler led the Germans to a successful outcome in the war. To me, Germania symbolizes the new, pure Aryan race, which weeded out those marginalized groups listed above. Germania, as a gleaming, thriving capital of Germany never came to be, so I can’t tell you what happened to bricks made for this purpose but that perhaps it was in vain.

But the work detail that did it for me was what many homosexuals were sentenced to do: boot testers. There is a strip within the concentric circles of various types of rocks – tiny loose gravel, large volcanic rocks, and the like. Boot testers were given boots, guaranteed to be the wrong size, then were given 20-kilogram packs (which is like a 40-pound pack for all of you on the Imperial system rather than the metric system). Those boot testers then were forced to run laps over those various kinds of terrain for 12-15 hours per day. The German army did not have the money or resources to provide leather and rubber boots to its soldiers, so it was trying to develop alternative low-cost alternatives for boots to give its soldiers.

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Homosexuals were often given this work duty because homosexuals were believed to not be contributing to the nuclear family and populating missives of the Nazi regime. They challenged gender and sexual orientation stereotypes, and it was believed at that time they could be cured, reformed, and otherwise “fixed”. So they were run into the ground quite literally as boot testers. The life expectancy of someone sentenced to boot testing work duty? 6 days.

Sweet baby Jesus and the seven dwarves. The tears came and I couldn’t stop them. After he shared this story, I walked the concentric circle, across the loose gravel and large pieces of volcanic rock in my already aching feet, my empty stomach wanting that tomato and mozzarella focaccia in my 10-kilogram backpack, and couldn’t help it. All that coursed through my head were Sue Sylvester quotes from GLEE along the lines of “You think that’s hard? Try being blanked by thirteen blanks! That’s hard!”

We also saw Station Z, a part of the camp created to handle the mass murders of prisoners at the camp. There is an area outside the station, where prisoners would know what was coming, be put up against a wall, and then be shot from meters away. Often they would scream, wiggle, run, and bullets were wasted in trying to end them.

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The Nazis manufactured a more efficient way to handle the mass killings which became Station Z on the camp. It started out with a prisoner being led to a building, through a small hallway (in my picture below, the area marked 3), into a main room (room 4), under the premise they were going to be checked out by a “doctor.” Classical music even played in the main room to keep them calm and not set off any alarms as to their impending doom. The doctor would shuffle them to a room off to the left (room 2) if the person had nothing in their mouth upon inspection that would prove valuable like gold teeth or fillings. That room to the left looked like showers, but through the showerheads, gas would fill the chamber that could hold up to 35 people and they’d be gassed. However, that left bodies too far from the oven room, and those still had to be moved.

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If the “doctor” noticed something of value in the mouth, they’d mark the prisoner with a blue X on their chest, and that prisoner would be shuffled off to another room (room 7). The “doctor” would them escort them to room 13, have them stand upright against a wall, under the guise of having their height measured. The wall held a narrow wooden ruler with a space between the ruler that allowed the top flap to move up and down, which measured their height. Unbeknownst to the prisoner, this was the way the Germans would then have the prisoner shot, in the back of the head/neck, as that gap in the ruler was a tiny opening to room 14, a secret room behind room 13. Once the person was aligned and upright, the guard in secret room 14 would take 1 shot, wasting no bullets, and getting the job done, without any panic from the prisoner. The room in which this happened was just next door to the main oven room (room 17) where the prisoners would have their valuable fillings and teeth extracted, by other prisoners, and then shoved into the ovens in room 18. Eventually, the prisoners caught on to what was happening in Station Z, and they used to say they could tell what type of prisoners were executed by the type of smoke emitted from the ovens. Black smoke meant there was fat on the body being burned, but white smoke indicated it was mostly just bone being burnt.

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The other big takeaway for me was at the end of the tour, when Mark asked if we’d noticed how women were not mentioned at all on today’s tour. Being one, of course I noticed. He went on to explain the concept of the “Joy Division” – women brought over to Sachsenhausen from a nearby female-only concentration camp for the sole purpose of making the men on work duty at this one more “motivated.” The women were basically forced into rape. I would expect something like the SS guards taking advantage of them, but when I heard that other male prisoners were given vouchers to make them better workers with conjugal visits from these women, I nearly lost my shit. When someone is in conditions like that, how can sex be on anyone’s mind? When you are depressed, you’re being given 900 calories a day on which to function for 12-15 hours of hard labor, how could one possibly need the company of an unwilling woman???

Mark pointed out the people of Germany do a good job of owning what happened here in the past, in allocating government money to the preservation of camps like this one so that we learn from the past, so as not to repeat it. The Holocaust Memorial is in the middle of Berlin, within sight of the Parliament building. It is against the law to deny the holocaust, and they embrace and put on display for all to see the darkest part of their past. If there is a race of people who know how to embrace their dark sides, the Germans are it.

But fuuuuuuuuuuck. That is all I can say after today. And, my feet hurt.

But more importantly, fuuuuuuuuuuck.

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