Spicy notes from a journey.
Bitácora: or more precisely, cuaderno de bitácora, is the log book in which sailors write down atmospheric and astronomical observations, as well as any notes worth mentioning about the journey.
Curry: a mixture of spices.
Bitácora + Curry = Bitácurry
Friday, February 4, 2011
The Golden Hand
Lorenzo is making his daily pilgrimage west. We usually call him “El Rubio”, The Blonde One, but our friend Suria likes to call him Lorenzo. I like it. Sounds poetic.
As he approaches the horizon, memories of an empire are transformed into silhouettes against an orange-hued backdrop.
Sukhothai was the epicenter of a kingdom that dominated the area of present day Thailand starting in the 13th century. Its position of influence was short lived, as the Ayutthaya Kingdom to the south, took over the region in the early 15th century. Luckily, the remains of its old capital are relatively well preserved. They are reminders of an era of architectural brilliance in Southeast Asia. The architectural style of Sukhothai is often compared to the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia. I hope to corroborate this claim in person soon.
Reflections of Glories Past
We have spent the day, followed closely by Lorenzo, cycling around the ruins. We now chill like villains under the shade of a tree, the sweat of our skins being whisked away by the warm breeze.
Travel is dominated by movement, but moments of calm are indispensible to organize the neural file cabinet full of new impressions.
I pull out the map of the site, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as I feel that there is something that I have yet to see. Earlier that day, in the lobby of our guesthouse in Phitsanulok, which we suspect was also a brothel, I had seen a postcard of a monk meditating next to a large golden hand. Cross-referencing the complimentary map with my guidebook, I realize that this hand belongs to a large Buddha statue a few kilometers northwest of where I sat.
Lorenzo is flirting with taking repose for the day.
As he gets closer to the horizon, my urge for making a photo of the golden-handed-Buddha becomes stronger.
Clari senses my anxiety.
She tells me to go quickly, by myself, and we will meet back at the bike rental place. I kiss her goodbye and hop on the bike.
I push the squeaky hunk of rusted metal as hard as I can to get there in time to take advantage of Lorenzo’s last rays of the day. My body is focused on pedaling, my eyes are looking out for signs, but the brain is lost in creating the next .jpeg file. Aperture settings, shutter speeds and ISOs running through my mind.
I notice a large structure to my left with the right thing scribbled on a wooden sign. Wat Si Chum.
I approach the enormous structure through a dirt road. I leave the bike unlocked without giving it much thought. Inside is a giant concrete Buddha covered on all sides, except for a small sliver in the front. This space is enough for the large Buddha’s eyes to peak out. As soon as I leave the bike, and notice those eyes, they capture me like tractor beams and pull me inside.
As I’m being pulled in, something I had not considered crosses my mind. I have to pay to get inside, instantly realizing that I had left my wallet behind.
It was in Clari’s backpack.
An older Thai gentleman stands next to the ticket booth and greets me with a smile. With puppy dog eyes I look back at him and gesture that I had no money. Then I notice a sign that says it is already closing time. I plea for access and he responds with a reassuring smile, while motioning that I can go ahead.
5 minutes is all I get.
5 minutes is all I need.
I bow in gratitude, saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” accompanied by a smile. I start thinking that today karma is on my side.
I enter and stand frozen in my tracks.
All along, my thoughts were on lenses and remote flash settings.
The bike lock.
The man at the door.
Never thinking what I was truly there for.
Suddenly, I am alone in this box with metric tons of enlightened stone. The Phra Acana Buddha, “one who is not frightened”.
My good ol’ friend, Siddhartha stares right into my soul.
I sit in front of my friend, mimicking his pose, taking in a few mindful breaths to calm my mind and steady my hand.
Lorenzo’s final rays start to melt away.
Light is low, but plenty.
I put the strobe on the platform, crank it up to 11 and set it to bounce off the wall. I push up the ISO as far as it can go. I tune in to an Italian-accented voice in my head. It is Master Paolo. The photographic Yoda to my Luke.