Category Archives: I want to know about…

Carnaval 2015, em Ouro Preto!

Recentemente foi celebrado o Carnaval de 2015 – meu primeiro carnaval no Brasil! Claro, a maior festa de carnaval que vêm à mente é no Rio… As escolas de samba, as baterias e as garotas que usam as fantasias únicas de carnaval… E logo, uma outra imagem vem à mente: as ruas cheias e a possibilidade grande de não encontrar vaga em um hotel ou hostel. 
Eu e Kiernan começamos planejando um pouco tarde: depois do ano novo é a época que todas aqueles que não planejaram “acordam” para o carnaval. Então, a segunda opção que decidimos foi ir a Ouro Preto.

Morros e morros! Subi, desci, subi e desci de novo.

Morros e morros! Subi, desci, subi e desci de novo.

A cidade de Ouro Preto é pequena e compacta. Há muitos morros e de qualquer morro pode ver pelo menos três igrejas antigas! A gente não pode entrar em todas, mas os interiores delas são muito parecidos. A natureza em volta da cidade é maravilhosa! Árvores e espaços verdes… Ainda tem as cachoeiras entre Ouro Preto e Mariana, a cidade vizinha.
Nós ficamos em Mariana: de ônibus é trinta minutos de Ouro Preto. Todas as tardes/noites nós fomos a Ouro Preto, para as festas e celebrações de carnaval (os ônibus funcionaram em todas os horários) 

Houve as maiores festas aqui.

Houve as maiores festas aqui.

A prefeitura de Ouro Preto organizou muitas bandas para tocar as músicas deles e de carnaval na cidade – em qualquer lugar pude escutar alguma banda. Não só teve bandas de samba, também teve rock, eletrônica, música popular e outras que eu não conhecia. Tinha vendedores das bebidas álcoholicas em cada rua, latas de cervejas jogadas em toda parte e também tinha barraqinhas de junk food. Apesar de lixo nas ruas, cada manhã as ruas estavam limpas! Deve ter tido limpadores das quatro horas da manhã até as nove horas para parecer limpo assim – muito impressionante!

Vi desfiles únicos e interessantes! Alguns têm uma bateria, alguns têm os cantores, alguns têm os manequins como acima.

Vi desfiles únicos e interessantes! Alguns têm uma bateria, alguns têm os cantores, alguns têm os manequins como acima.

Nas manhãs nós exploramos uma parte de Mariana ou Ouro Preto – caminhamos e subimos muito. Mariana tem uma linha de trem antiga, entre ela e a cidade irmã, que passa ao lado de uma montanha. Acho que tem uma vista deslumbrante dos vales. As igrejas são bonitas e eu fiquei surpresa que ainda usadas. Umas igrejas estão recebendo reformas, mas outras funcionam. 
As casas e os prédios das duas cidades são charmosos e singulares – a construção verdadeiramente me faz pensar em colonialismo e no mar também… Não sei porque o mar; talvez é porque eu, frequentemente, as casas similares nas cidades litorâneas na África do Sul.
Eu acho que as coisas mais bonitinhas são as fontes – elas ficam em lugares muito aleatórios, todas elas não têm nada de água (exceto uma), e têm aparências terriveis (terriveis no significado antiga da palavra) com as cobras espiraladas e os dragões. 

Eu estou muito feliz, porque neste tempo matar dois coelhos com uma cajadada só – visitar as cidades históricas e participar de um carnaval muito divertido! 

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SA Leg 5: Kruger National Park – Swaziland

I’m preparing myself to be most surprised by the Kingdom of Swaziland… For being a country inside the borders and surrounded by South Africa, I know precious little about it. I mean, I know that it’s still a kingdom and I expect that the fauna & flora probably wouldn’t differ too much from our own (after all it’s not a large country…).  Other than that I’ve only seen tourist brochures touting the life-changing experiences people have had visiting traditional hut-villages.

Websites like Tripadvisor weren’t much help in telling me what I wanted to know, having asked completely the wrong questions. My absolute disinterest in shopping malls and luxury spas left me with limited inspiration for this part of the trip. However, social inquiry rapidly put me on the right track: there are three major wildlife reserves in the kingdom, all managed by the same non-profit wildlife trust to promote environmental education, preserving wildlife and giving people the opportunity to get closer to nature[1]. These parks are Hlane, Mkhaya and Mlilwane, this last being home to Sondizela Backpackers, where you can set up your own tent for R80 /night. 🙂

Other than wildlife viewing (which in its own right is awesome here), other things which caught my attention are exhilirating outdoor activities: abseiling and white water rafting are booming businesses. Similarly popular are multi-day hikes[2] or the challenging but none-the-less attractive Ngwempisi Day hike[3]. The Ngwempisi trails cover 33km, from the rim of the gorge, to the bottom and out the other side.
Still another experience up for offer is an outing of evening caving[4] that includes a walk through the forest, a serious & strenuous trek/climb/scoot/squeeze through the Gobholo caves, topped by dinner and a dip in ‘hot springs’. o.O I don’t know about you, but this seems like the perfect balance between exertion and leisure! 🙂 The whole affair lasts 5 hours and the two of us would pay R1700 total.

Now it seems like there is too much to do for the time we will be spending in Swaziland :/ We will be spending one night here, and if Ngwempisi really does take the whole day, we may need to come back to do the caving/hot spring-ing another day.

Riveting references
[1] Big Game Parks/a> Accessed 10 September 2014
[2]The Kingdom of Swaziland – Hiking accessed 10 September 2014
[3]Visit Swazi Accessed 10 September 2014
[4]Swazi travel: Adventure Caving Accessed 10 September 2014

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SA Leg 4: Kaapschehoop – Kruger National Park

In my mind our most famous and accessible wildlife/safari destination and at about 2 million hectars, certainly one of the biggest in Africa [1] to experience all of our “big wildlife” in their natural habitat, is the Kruger National Park. The biggest rest camp and park headquarters is at Skukuza, making it the most developed and luxurious; however, these criteria are not high on my priority list, especially in a nature reserve. For convenient access to the park we would enter the park at Skukuza, and proceed directly to Satara (do not pass Go, do not collect $100… kekeke… though really, you wouldn’t want to drive any faster than “sedately” inside the park, lest you miss baby babboons pointing at you with their genitalia); a couple of nights here and another couple at Crocodile Bridge would serve to both recall wonderful memories and create new ones.

At first I say “a couple of days” off-handedly, but further investigation shows that while it’s not that much more than I would have expected, the price I was looking at is for South African citizens… Whereas two Saffers would pay R1 115 to camp in Satara for 3 nights, my “foreign tourist” boyfriend and I camping together suddenly changes that number to R1 710. Though this jump was surprising to me at first, it doesn’t make it impossible or even inconceivable. Continue reading

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SA Leg 3: Waterval Boven – Kaapschehoop

Initially I had planned for Kaapschehoop to be a day trip from Watervalboven, but this does not allow enough time to enjoy everything this tiny town has to offer. Am I laughing? No, look at my face, I’m being absolutely serious. 
First-off there is a highly recommended “pannekoek huis” in residence… *Side note – pannekoek and pancakes as they are known all over the English speaking world, are miles apart! Pancakes are thick, fluffy cake-like stacks of syrupy indulgence. Pannekoek is much more creamy, crispy; less like bread and more like smooth, golden-brown mouthfuls of buttermilk & lemon. At once perfect with a spicy chicken curry filling, or dark chocolate and strawberries. Therefore the “best pannekoek huis in the area” (as Koek ‘n Pan restaurant is described) is truly a reason to smack your lips with warm anticipation!

Later, when you can support the weight of your belly again 😉 you really should be off. However good a time you have over memorable breakfast / lunch, you can hardly spend all day dallying at a restaurant, and besides I’ll need to get off my behind and walk off the extra pannekoek (or two) that pushed me into that ‘uncomfortably stuffed’ direction. 
Kaapschehoop is home to South Africa’s only wild horse herds, though they’ve gotten less international attention than their counterparts in the Namib desert [1]. They were not always here! They were left here after the gold rush petered out, the Boer war left many ownerless, and cattle ranchers left for greener pastures [2].

There are tens, nay fifties (haha… nay, neigh…) of kilometers of trails from which to enjoy the natural scenery, wild horses and rare blue swallows [3]. Most trails are meant to be done over 2 – 5 days, with self-catering huts along the way. Sadly I didn’t get to do any multi-day hikes while traveling around the U.S., so this is my chance! I will opt out of day hikes and commit to 3 days on the trail. 🙂

Riveting references
[1] Wild Horses of the Namib accessed 12 Sept 2014
[2] Wild Horses on Horseback trails accessed 12 Sept 2014
[3] Blue Swallows on Kaapsehoop Info accessed 9 Sept 2014

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SA Leg 2: Waterval Boven – God’s Window

God’s Window sounds like a typical pretty name, but you can only truly understand its significance when you’ve visited this wonder! You earn the view by parking at the bottom of a substantial hill and taking a short hike up to the viewing platform. The steps/path is well-maintained and the parking area is safe – the entry fee of R10 supports this infrastructure. Dude… when you get up there it’s spectacular! 🙂 You are 1829m above sea level, looking out over the Blyde River Camyon, as if you’re in the Heavenly living room and the curtains have just been yanked open… And witness.
Apparently on a clear day you can see the Kruger National Park in the distance. There’s not much else I can say about it except: go there and see it for yourself. Take in its splendour and share it with the world. 

God’s Window is in the (take a deep breath) Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve. Along the same canyon is another natural beauty (which must be a well-kept secret, because I was joined in my ignorance of it, by everyone I asked about special little spots in SA). These are the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, but contrary to its name it is not just a glorified hole in the road, which are plentiful enough on our roads. They are holes and hollows in rock, made by the swirling and eddying of water. The first picture I saw of the “potholes” convinced me right away of having to behold these. You’ll have to drive to a different parking area to get to the potholes – even though it’s in the same canyon, it’s not walking distance. So you pay another R30, walk a mere 700m to view these extraordinary rock formations from various paths and bridges.

Bourke's Luck Potholes by BC Torrissen under Creative Commons license.

Bourke’s Luck Potholes by BC Torrissen under Creative Commons license.

The Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve is spitting distance from Watervalboven, provided you have a 10-foot spitting-champ-llama doing the honours ;). It’s a leisurely 240km to the Northeast, perfectly accessible as a day trip. I imagine us getting up early to do the walk up to God’s Window and whiling away some time on the viewing platform while the sun is out, before it gets too sunny. Bourke’s Luck Potholes are 30km from there, so really you can have an afternoon picnic with the closest man-made structures out of sight, hopefully with nature singing in your ears with grass beneath your bum. On the drive back we can even stop and explore a couple of smaller towns, (in some of which I remember finding awesome second-hand bookshops): Graskop, Sabie (where you can found countless other beautiful waterfall hikes!), Sodwala Caves. The afternoon can wind down as quietly or as busily as we choose… 🙂

Boven - Motlatse Canyon

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SA Leg 1: Pretoria – Waterval Boven

This first stop has been prominent in photos and recommendations, especially from my brother and his fellow climbers (the photos are also theirs). Though Waterval Boven wears the badge of “climbers’ paradise” proudly, it’s more than that; there are many other exciting outdoor stuff you can do (caving at Sodwala, mountain biking, hiking and swimming in mountain pools)… and it’s only about 240km outside of Pretoria [1]. After seeing pictures, I would absolutely have to hike to the Eland’s River Falls! Well… um, it’s not actually much of a hike. Climbers can see the falls from different angles, but without the harnesses and climbing gear you’ll simply drive through the ZAZM tunnel on the N4, and there should be a wooden viewing platform to watch the 70m plunge of water. 🙂

As a base camp Tranquilitas Adventure Farm is awesome, and besides being a home away from home for climbers (I hear), they organise a bunch of other activities you can do in the area. And… at R70 per night for a campsite, they’re the best bet for accommodation too. We would hopefully be camping a lot on our trip, starting with Tranquilitas! Waterval Boven is super close to a couple of oh-my-gosh-I-have-to-go-there! spots on my list, so we’ll camp here for a couple of nights and do day trips. Oh yeah, and they’re dog friendly. It doesn’t seem like there’s much else in the town of Waterval Boven (or Emgwenya, as it is now known), but I’m sure we can find something special there if we don’t rush through. When we’ve made the effort of driving away from the city, we would be absolutely content to simply enjoy the sounds of the night, and the smell of nature. The cute coffee shops and mouth-spasming gastronomics all have their special place later on this trip. 🙂

Riveting references [1] Watervalboven, Highlands Meander Accessed on 6 September 2014 from SA Venues website

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OSP: Altered States of Consciousness

Float tanks are a fairly recent introduction to the ongoing and dynamic domain of altering our consciousness. In fact, people have been experimenting with altering consciousness as far back as “the great leap forward”, (to use Jared Diamond’s term for the jump in our evolution). That is, according to Terence McKenna, as we’ll see a bit later in this post. However, first I want to discuss where ASC comes from, and perhaps even probe the answers to why people keep venturing into manipulating consciousness (this is where Terence McKenna comes in). I’ll take a specific look at sensory deprivation as a way of playing around with consciousness and brain function, as well as the more modern approaches to ASC, including the dark side of how it has been used in the past. Finally I’ll come full circle in this Obsessive’s Starter Pack post-series and talk about the introduction of modern floating as a positive means to alter consciousness and how it has become more accessible to us today.

Altered States of Consciousness goes WAY back
One of the most obvious and most radical ways to manipulate how your brain works, even for a short time, is using drugs: sugar, coffee, alcohol, hallucinogens etc., some of which are more socially accepted or less stigmatised, but nevertheless have the desired outcome. Pamela Watson is a retired anthropologist and pharmacist, and retired though she may be, she still actively runs her blog Prehistoric Drugs on WordPress where she discusses (among other really interesting things!) psychoactive drug use in human society through history. She writes in her abstract, published on her blog:

“Psychoactive drug use has great antiquity, and not only because taking drugs makes individuals feel good. In the distant past, as now, people also used drugs as tools for social bonding; for contacting the sacred/spiritual; for expressing identity; for manipulating others; and as aids in confronting culture-specific problems. In short, for millennia, drug consumption occupied a central place in the economic, political, religious and social life of human beings.”

Similarly, this ‘spiritual journey’ with drugs is not solely a human phenomenon either. Michael Pollan writes in his book “The Botany of Desire”[1] that while there were Native American groups that used to keep an eye on which plants animals were using to “get high” (like jaguars with Ayahuasca vines or plants containing DMT) and use it themselves, there are also wild animals that would consume psychoactive plants to their own absolute detriment: “bighorn sheep will grind their teeth to useless nubs scraping a hallucinogenic lichen off ledge rock”. Continue reading

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OSP: Float Innovators and Advocates

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license
Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Innovators and advocates

Ashkahn Jahromi, Graham Talley, Quinn Zepeda and Christopher Messer are the founders of Float On in Portland, Oregon, they made a Youtube video for first-time floaters which provides excellent info and really shows their enthusiasm. In fact, their passion has driven them to promoting other creative projects surrounding floating (check out the results of their artist, musician and dancer programs). The artist program really caught my imagination – they invited local artists to go for a float, and produce something artistic inspired by their experience. (As I’m writing this post, they as well as about 350 people are at the annual Float Conference in Portland. Lucky bums!)

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Artwork from the Void, cover image is Copyright of Float On

Another eloquent speaker on the subject is UFC host, stand-up comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan; he talks about his own experiences on his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience and encourages friends, guests (and incidentally listeners as well) to try floating. He’s got a couple of great videos about floating and other states of consciousness. Unlike the fortunate Mr. Rogan who has a tank at home, usually a person would find a center or spa where you prefer to float. I am in the inconsistent, ever-changing situation of having to find a float center close to wherever my travels have brought me. In Taiwan I could jump on the bullet train and two hours later be at Dream Waters, where Damien would meet me/us with the happy smile I’ve seen on every person involved in REST. The Where to Float website has amazing resources for finding float centers, reading all about others’ experiences, and getting acquainted with related horizon-broadening philosophies and advocates.

Enter Zen Float Company… William Hill, Shane Stott and Sean Stott launched a super successful Kickstarter campaign (the people have spoken!) and are now manufacturing float tents which are considerably cheaper than other float tanks. US$ 1700 is not bad for having access to your own float tent at any time.

XX
Indecisive Obsessive

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OSP: Floating (REST)

A state of mind
[2]

The quick-fire description of floating is something along the lines of ‘voluntarily spending an hour or more in a tank where all your senses are stripped away’. Sensory deprivation, also called REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy). Before I ever did my first float this sounded incredibly intimidating – I’d never spent that much time in the company of my own mind, with nothing to distract me… And that’s the point. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself :).

What is this and why do you call it ‘floating’?
You climb into a pod/tank and lie down in 25cm of body temperature water, saturated with about 360kg of Epsom salt – this combination means you float on the water, not touching the ground below, neither do you feel where the water makes contact with your skin, once your skin has acclimated to the water’s exact temperature. As long as you don’t stir the water, all tactile sense is effectively neutralised. Another strange thing happens: as you relax into the water and find that your head relaxes completely (don’t worry, you won’t go under) it finds a completely natural position; your neck suddenly doesn’t need to support your head’s weight and this relaxation & “letting go” softly drifts throughout your entire body, seeps out of every limb, every muscle, every joint. The natural tension that keeps your body upright and balanced melts away until it feels like you are suspended in space, weightless and free even from gravity…
Sight and sound are done away with when the pod’s lid seals you in; fresh air is circulated through the tank and the lid/door is pretty easy to open from both inside and outside. Now you are deprived of your major senses and left with your mind, unhindered by interruptions, even of your own body. (*use the WC before you get in;)

Image Copyright of Dream Waters

Image Copyright of Dream Waters

But… why?
On the one hand people float for the physical benefits of total relaxation achieved in the tank, relief of chronic pain [3], lowered blood pressure [4] and as a treatment for insomnia [5]. On the other hand, rich opportunities exist to turn your attention inward: a meditative state comes more easily, self-awareness and self-exploration can be very intense; some people even achieve states of altered consciousness with relative ease. “Altered state of consciousness” (ASC) simply means there’s a temporary change in normal brain activity while not unconscious; dreams are a temporary change, but you’re unconscious, so it doesn’t fall into the category of ASC. Unintended examples of altered consciousness is when you are delirious with fever, in fight-or-flight panic mode or in a state of sleep deprivation [6]. These are not the most exciting ways to experience ASC! Thank goodness there are better ways to get there (in this post I only consider Floatation therapy, but in my next posts I’ll discuss other ways to have fun inducing ASC as well). In the case of floatation therapy, something special happens in the brain… Our normal state of consciousness happens on beta frequency brain waves (as is explained expertly and concisely in this Youtube video by BrainWaveCollege), but while in the float tank, it’s easier for the brain to switch to theta frequency [7], which is associated with creativity, problem-solving and more intuitive thinking. ‘So… I should do a float when I’m stuck on a problem / studying for exams / designing / creating content…?’ Absolutely!

The experience of floating is different for everyone, though, and ASC can manifest in many different ways, from subtle brain wave frequency changes, to auditory or visual hallucinations. In fact, if you stay awake and keep yourself aware, you can have a different experience every time & learn to drive your time in the tank in new directions. In the case of my first couple of floats at Dream Waters in Taipei, Taiwan, the first was purely a come-what-may experiment, after which I took more care to be aware and use the time actively and constructively.

Now that you’ve dipped your toes into floating, check out what the experts are saying in the next post and where technology is going. 🙂

Image Copyright of Where to Float

Image Copyright of Where to Float

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

Original image by adrigu on flickr under Creative Commons license
Quote by Seth Stevenson [1]

XX
Indecisive Obsessive

Riveting references

[1] Stevenson, S. (2013) Embracing the Void Retrieved 8 August 2014 from Slate online magazine
[2] Zen Float (2013) Entering the Floating Zone. Retrieved on August 9 2014 from Zen Float Co blog
[3] Kjellgren, A. (2003) The experience of flotation REST: Consciousness, Creativity, Subjective Stress and Pain. Retrieved 9 August from Academic Archive Online
[4] Turner, J., Gerard, W., et al (1993) Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environment Stimulation. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4684-8583-7_25
[5] Suedfeld, P., Bow, R. A. (1999) Health and therapeutic applications of chamber and flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) DOI: DOI: 10.1080/08870449908407346
[6] Lavoie, S. Altered States of Consciousness. Retrieved 5 August from Education Portal
[7] Brain Waves Retrieved 5 August from Where to Float

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Obsessive’s Starter Pack: Floating!

If you’ve done some floating before, you know exactly what I’m talking about and are most likely longing for the next one (I know I am!) If you haven’t… 🙂 you’re about to be obsessed!

This Obsessive’s Starter Pack is divided in two posts:

I explore what it is, and why people do it; there are many awesome info videos, and research projects i’ll point you to.

So many exciting things are happening, because people believe in what they’re doing! These people know so much more than I can impart in a post, but I hope I can share with you their passion and where float technology is going.

  • Sensory deprivation

The origin of floatation therapy and its wider context; I’ll ferret out how and why it started and then dig into the more esoterical side of altered states of consciousness related to floating.
(Post some time after Aug 9)

 

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