Filthy in Flores

We arrived in Labuan Bajo in a state of… well to be honest we arrived in a state. We were incredibly happy but dear god we were filthy. Having spent four days on our Komodo boat trip adventure, peeing in the sea, not showering, and not caring, we had reached such a level of uncleanliness and disarray that instead of being the magical mermaids of our imaginations we were more like sea lions, complete with hoarse voices, pink noses, and salty manes. One of our Finnish boat friends – whose limited English was fantastic in its creativeness – tried to run his hand through my tangles, looked at me in horror, and after a second of puzzled pondering described my matted hair as ‘closed’.

[Quick aside to say that Finnish is a weird and wonderful language, it sounds sort of like how dolphins might sound if they were imitating humans. Plus their nouns are beautiful: the literal translation of ‘cloud’ is ‘sky pillow’.]
Boat Girls

We weren’t checking into a hotel for our one night on Flores – we were sleeping on the top deck of the boat again – free of charge – before we caught our flight to Java. This was a very sensible plan. (After all, frugal spending on accommodation equates to more money for cake.) There was only one teeny tiny flaw… we were going out to dinner with our little boat gang that night and everyone else was going to stay in a hotel and be able to shower all the salt and sweat and suspicious smells off themselves beforehand. When everyone needs an introduction to some soap it’s perfectly acceptable to be filthier than the set of Russell Brand’s daydreams (no offence intended, Russell) but if you’re the only ones who haven’t showered in days then working out how to remain down-wind of all other sentient beings with noses becomes an issue. Especially in a restaurant.

We had jumped in the sea to shave under our arms, and optimistically decided that our Deet would probably work just like perfume. (Disclaimer: Deet is not perfume. It is poison. Slight difference.) After some decidedly feeble attempts at hair taming, mostly comprising of us picking up clumps and putting them down again in despair, we headed to shore. Made in Italy – which according to Jess’s Lonely Planet guidebook seemed to be the best place to eat in Labuan Bajo – was luring us with the promise of carbs. Arriving at the restaurant, we unapologetically hugged everyone despite how beautifully clean they looked and smelled, and we ate pizza and drank wine and cocktails and we sat smiling with our greasy hair golden in the glow of the sun setting over the harbour, and over our time on the boat.

 

Made in Italy, Labuan Bajo
Jess and Manda

Sunset in Flores

Important life lesson is that there are some things more important than hygiene. You’re probably expecting me to say “friends” or “adventure” here, aren’t you? I’m actually talking about pizza.

But my favourite part about this story is that Jess didn’t wash her hair for like a whole other week after this. More on that later.

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5 Photos from my Travel Bucket List

As well as being an expert in terrible jokes and outlandish sandwich filling combinations, my dad is a photographer.

(Quick aside to say: ham, lettuce, French dressing, potato salad, and salt and vinegar crisps. Yes dad. This insanity is otherwise known as the stuff of my pre-vegetarian childhood dreams.)

I’ve been playing with DSLRs since those pre-vegetarian mad-sandwich days, so fifteen years later I like to think I can hold my own in a point-‘n-shoot off. There are currently 985 photos on my personal Instagram account. I’m the girl who frequently forgets her purse, and often her purpose, but who has a camera on her at all times.

There were thousands, and I really do mean thousands of unplanned photos which I will treasure forever and have backed up to like sixteen different hopefully-secure locations. But there were also a few that were on my travel bucket list. Had I returned home without these, there would have been regret, sadness, and a fair amount of sulking.

1. Sunrise over Bagan

Sunrise over Bagan

This photo is maybe the best thing my camera has ever done. This is why I didn’t want to be in a balloon watching the sun rise over the city of 2,000 pagodas anywhere near as much as I wanted to be on the ground watching the balloons. Simon Amstell would probably say that my photography addiction is just a way of me only being able to enjoy the moment retrospectively. I would say, Simon, I love you, but you have no idea how covered in goosebumps I was when I was taking this. My best travel gang were sat on top of our own little piece of history (in pagoda form) while balloons soared, the sun climbed, and pigeons wheeled through the mist. Such was the extent of all my hair standing on end that I must have looked like a very petite werewolf. I have never loved pigeons more in my life.

2. That Wanaka Tree in Winter

That Wanaka Tree

I was surprised how easy it was to find the most photographed tree in the world. And then I realised that was a really silly thing to be surprised by. My old friend Ben had taken me on a walking tour of his new home, and our first stop was the right corner of the lake to see this tenacious little tree. I love this photo, but let’s face it, I could definitely have benefited from a tripod at this point in my life. When (not ‘if’) I go back to Lake Wanaka I will be arming myself with three legs. I would like a longer exposure and a silken blur across the surface of the lake next time, please and thank you, weather gods.

3. Dusk on The Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

This was the highlight of our time in China. We had climbed onto an un-restored and blissfully desserted section of the wall in the afternoon, and pointed our noses (and our trembling knees) at the highest point within sight. Jess and I reached the high ground gasping, with a sinking feeling that the sun had sunk before our hearts and that we had missed it. And then we turned and saw the whole sky ablaze in a haze of golden glory. Thank you tiny legs for not failing me. This photo is during our climb back down, while the sky turned soft shades of pink and purple in the midst of our Walter Mitty style elation as we were singing the Mulan soundtrack and looking forward to dinner.

4. Angkor without hoards of tourists

Angkor Thom

Ah. Angkor without hoards of tourists. I’m not entirely sure how anyone gets themselves to Angkor on their own. You probably need to be famous or an expert in Khmer archaeology. Or maybe best friends with a bear or something. Being – clearly – none of those things, I had to fight to get photos using a mixture of manners, elbows, and a kind-hearted loud-voiced American man who took pity on me and basically directed traffic in order for me to take this. Was it the magical spiritual experience I had hoped for? No. Could I have done with more space to the right of this photo to bring the kids further away from the edge? Yes. But sometimes things that aren’t perfect are still pretty great anyway.

5. Ferg Burger. Yes, seriously.

Ferg Burger Bun LadenI’m not joking about this. I didn’t just want, I needed this Instagram photo with my whole heart… and stomach. During my time in Queenstown it was remarkable how little I cared about The Remarkables in comparison to this burger. If you aren’t already familiar with my Ferg feelings, I can summarise them by saying that I dreamed of that ‘Bun Laden’ falafel burger for months, miles, and many gallons of saliva. I then ate nothing but BLs for a beautiful boozey week. I even wrote a borderline-erotic blog dedicated entirely to its lemon-y chipotle-y majesty. Check that out here if you have snacks to hand. (I probably blame my dad for giving me his sandwich enthusiasm for this whole slightly embarrassing affair.) So yeah, I wanted a photo that I could devour with my eyes for many years to come, when I’m far away from Ferg and after I quit stalling and finally become a vegan. This does the trick.

Now, excuse me while I go print these/cry over the 11, 761 air miles between London and Queenstown.

Backpacking: Leave Your Stuff, Love What’s Left

One of my best friends from university has been in love with the traveller lifestyle for longer than I have known him. Years of ditching everything to escape to the next far flung corner of South East Asia have helped shape him into a man who was, before my trip, sometimes (infuriatingly) hard to understand. Just over a year ago, within days of my adventure beginning, I was walking across a Welsh beach with him while he talked about his dislike of attaching himself to anything. I wondered in part awe part disbelief how he could be so clinical. (Five minutes later he thought he had lost his favourite pen and went into a mini meltdown. His accidental comic timing is excellent.)

At that point, my feet were on the ground. I couldn’t appreciate where he was coming from, because I hadn’t been where he had been. I had never taken flight. I knew what colour my future front door was going to be painted and what breed of dog would be waiting with tail wagging behind that door when I came home each day. I had favourite pens too, and favourite pencils, and favourite paintbrushes. I had favourite mugs, favourite bed linen, favourite dresses by the rack load and favourite books stacked as high as gravity would allow.

I was not just my mind and my body. I was that with a layer of finesse, not to mention a layer of makeup. I was the way I styled my hair, I was the jewellery I changed each day, I was the clothes I wore like costumes to make me seem smarter; taller; thinner; more interesting; more attractive. I was the time I took to consult the mirror each morning. I was my laptop, my phone, my camera. I was what I ate, and what I wore, and what I bought. I was me, but me beneath a collection of labels. Brands, relationships, tags. I was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cat owner, sometimes a girlfriend, sometimes that girl who you don’t know very well but who inexplicably always eats your food anyway… Ahem.

I had never condensed my belongings into a backpack or relied entirely on one person before. I still shopped in pounds sterling rather than in kilos; I didn’t yet know what it felt like to measure everything by the amount I could carry on my shoulders. And Jess. Jess was one of my best friends, yes; but she hadn’t yet turned into the all encompassing bestfriendsisterloveofmylife human deity in small girl form she is to me today.

I left home and, as my life was so physical, so tangible, so impossible to fit into a bag, I felt like I was leaving it all behind me. I didn’t see it as my new life beginning. I was stood on my own metaphorical beach freaking the hell out over losing my pen.

The thing is though, and this is one of my favourite totally cliched travel lessons: you are your life. You can add as many things to it as you like. But at the bottom of it, it’s just you. You already carry your life around every damn day of the week because your life is just your thoughts, your feelings, your passions, your heart beating and your senses working and your synapses firing.

And if you love someone, well good news folks: that doesn’t weigh a thing.

I don’t know the moment I became… less. There was no lightning bolt of clarity when I suddenly didn’t have the protective but restrictive layer of everything else in my life to hide behind anymore. All I know is that when I came home and walked through my door I felt overwhelmed and almost burdened by the extent of my possessions. I looked around my bedroom, littered as it is with fairy lights and candles and art and books, and I felt lost in the mess of it. I loved it all, but I could not fit this into a backpack. I could not even fit this into a car. It was not portable.

I had that favourite pen and I really didn’t want to lose it, but I didn’t want it to own me, either.

I no longer know what colour my future front door will be, or whether I will even have a door. I don’t know if I will have a dog who will take me on walks. And that’s ok, because I have plans for Patagonia, and Kenya, and India, and Iceland, and a hole heap of other places too.

At the risk of sounding more cheesy than my walking shoes after trekking through Myanmar, I’m taking that metaphorical pen and writing a to-go list with it. I finally understand the desire to sell all your belongings to fund your next adventure.

… Maybe not the books though. They can stay.

 

 

Letter from Higher Up Mount Kinabalu

15.12.15
Laban Rata Lodge, Mount Kinabalu. 3,273m.

Hi Dad,

I’m on a mountain and in these circumstances I couldn’t think of a better person to write to. Shall I paint you a word picture? We’re sat in a hotel restaurant guzzling Sabah tea, sugary coffee, and banana bread, wearing Christmas hats which don’t seem to be impacting on anyone else’s eyebrows. The place is dripping with Christmas as well as soggy climbers who have emerged from the rain looking varying degrees of shattered.

The climb so far has been hard work, but the sweat and sore legs at the start has nothing on the whirling head when altitude sickness hit about 1,000m ago. Our guide, Janili, tore a handful of leaves from a tree and gave them to me, which is the best present I’ve had in ages. Crushed up, they smell like how you might imagine an apple to smell if it grew on a pine tree. Sniffing them helped with the dizziness, nausea and sore head. Did you have anything similar in Scotland?

(Speaking of which, would you fancy climbing some mountains with me when I come home? I would really love you to show me Scotland. I don’t have Grandad’s legs (or any legs to speak of at all really) so it might need to be more of a tortoise and less of a hare type adventure, but I think it would be fun! We could take photos and when we get tired we could eat tablet and the legendary Kendal mint cake. And we could stay in bothies which would just be tremendously exciting.)

I’m running amock, chain of thought wise here. I am extremely tired and so cold that if Janice were here she might say that my aura was blue. I’m very happy though, it feels really good to use my body as something other than a sun sponge. And the cold is so festive – 10 sleeps until Christmas now! Jess is counting down in her diary and I’m decorating the title of each new entry with a Christmas doodle. It’s her advent calendar for this year. Personally I think it’s even nicer than a Lindt Lindor one, not sure if Jess would agree but she’s been enjoying colouring them in. She generously/foolishly gave the majority of her colouring pencils to a three year old kid at the hostel we stayed at in Kota Kinubalu though (hence there being colouring pencils on her Christmas list) which means I can only draw things which are red, green, and brown. Her penguins will have to be naked for a while!

The sun just came out and reminded us with a smile that we’re above the clouds. And we still have 822m to tackle in the darkness of 3am. My legs just whimpered involuntarily. It’s going to have to be bedtime soon. I’m sat gazing at a mountain range of clouds, which are currently obscuring the actual mountain from view, and my eyes keep investigating the inside of my eyelids of their own accord. The air up here is like drinking icy water after a long day in the sun – so crisp and clean you can almost hear it crunch and see it sparkle, like frost on Autumn leaves in the morning. I have high hopes that all the hard work and fresh air will give me visions of sugarplums dancing in my head before long.

Will email this when I’m back down. Fingers crossed the summit isn’t too hard and I won’t be in too much pain when I next speak to you!

Love you loads,

Gem

Gembarrassment: Sleeping Around

For those of you who were disappointed by the notable lack thus far of bad puns and stories based around me accidentally making a fool of myself, this post is going to be a special treat. Although, in the sake of fairness I should clarify now that it isn’t going to involve any sex. Sorry-not-sorry for using a pun as click bait.

In the first few weeks of travelling, I existed in a near-zombified state of exhaustion. I had never really been the kind of person to be especially enthusiastic about sleep, which is par for the course when you get six or seven hours a night without trying and think morning is the most beautiful time of day. But that was at home. In my own bed. In the peaceful countryside of Hertfordshire. I had always known, and somewhat foolishly never worried that I couldn’t sleep in light, or noise, or motion: I needed to be stretched out – vampire like – in a still tomb of silence and darkness. (Although I don’t know any vampires who wear pink button-up pyjama sets with pictures of cats on. Yeah, I’m really cool.) It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the practicalities of backpacking turned this habit into a bit of a nightmare.

In Chinese dorm rooms, in the backs of buses, and on ‘sleeper’ trains, I gazed eyes wide into the darkness of my insomnia. I had no control over my lack of unconsciousness. Sleep would not come. She would not be tempted or cajoled with herbal teas or less friendly spirits. I could have paid David Beckham to dance in front of Sleep wearing nothing but those H&M briefs and a ‘come hither’ grin and Sleep would merely have rolled her eyes… and still refused to come.

There is a week or so in which I was probably the most unbearably useless human being to have ever existed. I shall not write about it.

At some point amidst the haze of my growing fatigue-induced hysteria, Sleep took pity on me and taught me some of her tricks. Warmth was more important than darkness. Noise was something to be tuned out of at will. Motion could be a friend, albeit a fickle one around whom you should always keep your back to a wall (or car seat, or train window). Things became more manageable. And I became cocky.

Safe (or so I thought) in the knowledge that I could snooze through discos, tropical storms, and Jess’ rendition of ‘Memory’ from Cats, I forgot to fear the cruel retribution of a neglected deity, and Sleep awoke from her slumber in the middle of my journey, and got up on decidedly the wrong side of the bed.

I was on a public bus in Bangkok when I first discovered the angry Goddess Sleep had returned. Jess was sat in front of me, Manda across the aisle from me. I twisted in my seat to talk to them, facing out into the aisle, with my backpack on the window seat beside me and my day pack cuddled to my chest like a bright green rather lumpy baby full of electrical equipment. (If your baby is bright green, lumpy, and full of electrical equipment then now is the time to call 999, or to check you haven’t been accidentally procreating with an alien.) I blinked and opened my eyes to find myself sprawled on the bus floor, with Jess, Manda, the bus driver, and about twenty Thai locals staring at me as though I was utterly ridiculous. (To be fair, I imagine they don’t see too many totally sober white girls falling through the air in those parts.) I also don’t think I’ve ever seen Manda laugh so hard.

From there my inability to control or even predict my sleep pattern escalated. By the time we reached Myanmar, I managed the superhuman feat of blinking whilst being in the middle of a four way spoon on a single bed with Manda rubbing tiger balm in to my tummy while we watched Life of Pi, and opening my eyes to find myself alone in the bed, in pitch darkness, seven hours later. Back in Thailand, I started getting ready for a night out and managed to sleep through the whole thing. In New Zealand, I fell asleep in front of a rugby match and dribbled all over my favourite Kiwi’s shoulder. In Hong Kong airport, which by all means is a story in itself, I fell asleep in the middle of a queue which turned into a mini riot.

So if you were expecting to see me in non-daylight hours, well, sorry. You can find me curled up in bed with my cat and no shame by 10pm on a Friday night.

I used to be a sun worshipper. Worshipping sleep is cheaper.

Diary, 06/10/15: from Home to Hong Kong

I’m sat in a bathroom in Hong Kong trying to get a sense of the city through a slightly open window. The noise and smells and humidity and hickledy pickledy skyline is overwhelming. The wet heat seems to amplify everything so the impression is of a million lives colliding into each other to create an enormous tropical urban cacophony. I feel tiny. From outside, in my dazed sleep deprived sweat covered state it was too much – Read More »

El Nido

I loved El Nido for years before I ever jumped in those turquoise waters or danced on those white sand beaches. I loved El Nido on the commuter train; at my desk; in the shower. If there was one destination in our trip plan which gave me goosebumps, it was El Nido. Starting point for Palawan island hopping boat tours. Pitstop to paradise. Dream within a dream.

After all those daydreams (plus some more time spent stranded in Cebu City waiting to find a flight) we finally caught the ferry from Coron, and arrived in El Nido after ten hours of sunbathing on deck, finding stories in the clouds, plaiting our hair like mermaids, and singing Follow the Sun.

El Nido felt my love coming from far away and gave it back and then some. This is a town where people use the word ‘beautiful’ a lot, and smile even more. A town of dogs and daiquiris and dancing. A town where reggae floats around on the air amidst the noise of wind chimes and waves breaking.

Adventures happened here, don’t you worry. There are so many stories to be told. But for now, I just want to send you some postcards.

We stayed in Ogie’s Beach Pension, watched the sun rise and set from their terrace, played with their dog, ran about in own bikinis and jumped in the ocean to cool down.

Girls in El Nido

We drank mango daiquiris at Las Cabanas Beach.

Las Cabanas

We ate banana crepes covered in melted chocolate at Seaslugs Bar.

Banana chocolate crepes

We danced at Pukka Resto Bar and drank tequila from Squidos.

Pukka

We loved this place and we let it love us. It was here, with my best girls, that I fell in love with my new life. This is where I put on my (obligatory backpacker uniform) anklet and stopped wearing makeup. This is where I started dancing like nobody was watching in places where everyone was watching. This is where I started to become myself.

 

Letter from Mount Kinabalu

(Monday 14.12.15)

Hey you.

(Please excuse the lack of stamp, envelope, and long delivery period.)

I’ve been living in a wifi-less dream world for a few days (or perhaps the dream world is actually just reality, but it’s hard to recognise it through the smog of Internet withdrawal symptoms), I’ve devoured five books back to back in what can only be described as a gluttonous binge of page flicking, and I just had cheese and crackers for the first time since we ate cheese and crackers in bed – it wasn’t as good without the marmite – and somehow all of this added up to me deciding to write you a letter. Hi.

We’ve been on a river safari in Kinabatangan, disturbing pygmy elephants, wild boar, civets, macaques, silver langurs, proboscis monkeys, all kinds of exotic birds with flamboyant feathers and equally flamboyant names, and a lonesome baby crocodile along the way. (Hence the hiatus from technology – our jungle accommodation was unsurprisingly not set up for Facebook addicts.) One of my favourite parts of this particular adventure was counting the number of different things people in our tour group were calling the poor proboscis monkeys. It was like playing Chinese whispers where every mispronounciation was picked up on and then misprounced again. ‘Prebiscus’ was a highlight. Had we been there for much longer they would probably have become ‘pro-biscuit’ monkeys, which is entirely ironic as they can’t digest anything sweet.

Anyway. Back to the present. (Although of course if you’re reading this then the present to which I just referred is deep in the past already. But let’s not let a little niggle like that get in the way of letter writing tradition.)

It’s about to be evening here. We’re sat in the expectant shadow of Mount Kinablu, which I swear is looking down on me and making provocative remarks under its breath, like a confident opponent in an upcoming fight. That is tomorrow’s challenge. We should reach the summit in time to show our new blisters Wednesday’s sunrise over Kinabalu Park. The trail only opened again a few days ago – it has taken a long time to recover from the earthquake – so we have solemnly sworn not to take off all our clothes at the top in a fit of disrespectful frostbitten foolishness. We wouldn’t want to cause a second one, after all.

Right now the world around me is far less adventurous. Jazz is jittering out of an open window. Mist is seeping from the sky. A small puppy is nosing her way around the yard propelled by her wagging tail. Jess is sat next to me providing some welcome skin and blood warmth in what has now become a cold night, laughing at drunk messages from a guy she met in a hostel kitchen a few weeks ago – it seems he’s a little enamoured. (That last image is not quite as Romantic with a capital R as the others.) Jasmine scent and darkness infused with chirping crickets is pretty much the mood of the scene.

What is happening in the land of rolling hills and green fields? Are all the trees naked and stern? Is the sky perpetually the colour of old socks/tea the way my mother drinks it? (She puts in a hilarious amount of milk.) Has the cold turned everyone into dragons? My England stays a warmish rainy day at the start of October, and is likely going to remain that way until summer is disappearing around the corner of next year and I come home.

How are you? How goes planning the proposal? (Order a pizza and ask the staff at Dominos to spell out “Marry me?” in pineapple chunks, then bring it to your dissertation in bed. Every thesis dreams of such a moment.) Are thoughts bouncing around happily or does it feel like you’re thinking through treacle? Please tell me things to make my brain work, philosophical thought is probably hiding under my hair brush and some other things in my suitcase that haven’t seen the light of day for months.

I think that might be enough words for now. Stars are appearing and the gravitational pull of my bed seems to be increasing rapidly by the minute. Letter writing is tiresome work, especially when there’s a notable lack of pens or papers.

Gem

Zombie Apocalypse in Sydney

After touching down in Sydney, like any self-respecting Instagram addict I was deaf to Manda’s local-girl groans and dragged her into the centre of her city, through the “ughhhhh tourists” to plonk her pouting in front of the Opera House to take the obligatory ‘Look I’m in Australia, suckers!’ photo.

Manda and Sydney Opera House

It was a grey afternoon in Sydney. The morning sunshine had burnt off leaving the tan-seekers and rather mysterious camels on Bondi Beach disappointed. Clouds rolled across the harbour, throwing shade on my Opera House composition. We walked towards the spot where I planned to sit poor protesting Manda, through the crowds of tourists.

Suddenly, in the midst of all the people, Manda clutched my arm.

“Look,” she whispered, an expression of disbelief in her brown eyes, “they all have it.”

(Insert music from 28 Days Later here.)

“What?” I asked, slightly distracted by a photogenic-looking seagull and not yet realising the gravity of the situation.

“We’re the only ones here who aren’t playing Pokémon Go.”

I looked up; looked into a sea of downward facing faces; eyes glazed, phones held out in front of them, mouths slightly opened in concentration. There were literally hundreds of them, and we were surrounded.

Desperately our eyes scanned the crowd, hopeful to meet the gaze of another person with immunity (or no roaming data). But we were alone.

I held Manda’s hand tightly as we (moving slowly so as not to raise suspicion) started to walk back towards the metro, but to no avail. She was already infected. She’d downloaded the virus, ahem I mean app when she was bored a few days before. And her hand slipped from my grasp to her phone screen before I could save her.

Pokemon Go in Sydney

To this day, I don’t know why I survived. Why was I chosen, when so many were taken? Had I been deemed worthy by some omniscient god, or was it because I had always kind of prefered Yu-Gi-Oh! as a child?

It is best not to ask many questions. All I know is, when I’m alone at night, missing my loved ones who lost their spare time to the Pokémon Go virus, I’m glad I have my Instagram addiction.

Killing Fields: One Tree, No Words

I’ve been sat in front of this blank screen for a while now, trying to find a way to put the haze of my memories and feelings from this day into words. And I just don’t think I can do it. Some stories are so terrible that it’s hard to know where to begin.

So I won’t tell you all about the Killing Field tour. I’m just going to tell you about standing in front of a tree, my feet planted in the dust of the dry season, sweat on my back, deep disbelieving horror making my hair stand on end. The audio tape tour at Choeung Ek is quietly, respectfully heartbreaking. There is no need for sensationalism. Just facts. And here I was, a tourist in the middle of a ten month dream trip, a white middle classed occupant of a country where bad things don’t happen, stood in front of a tree being told that this is what they used to kill the babies. They would swing them at it. This tree, not so many years ago, had been covered in blood, brains, skull fragments. Babies had been murdered here, where I was stood. And I was staring at the weapon.

I took my headphones off and looked up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. The vast blue emptiness up there seemed to have crept inside me. I could stand and look at this tree and from my position of privileged innocence to the horrors that humanity is capable of, I just couldn’t reconcile the past with the present. I was looking at a tree and my imagination was on strike.