Oaxaca, Habana, Kathmandu
Storyteller: Olga Lopez, USA
My first MILK Book was "Oaxaca de mi Corazon" in 2011. I'm a freelance photographer who does special events so I'm used to always having a camera on hand. Oaxaca was a place I dreamt of, although I had never been. When I finally made that journey for my 60th birthday , I felt at home and everything was so familiar to me. I loved the colors that intoxicated and the people who opened their doors to me.
On my first day there, I ran down the street following the sounds of a marching band and found myself in the middle of a funeral procession. This led me first to the church and then to the town cemetery where I was invited to participate in the celebration of a life with food and drink. Later that day I attended a birthday party out in the country where the family made their own mezcal following old traditions. I was there for the Day of the Dead celebrations and so loved learning the meaning behind the rituals for opening the veil between life and death and then closing them a few days later. I was able to enter homes that had set up their altars for the recently departed and join them for a repast of hot chocolate and day of the dead bread. I visited towns on their market day and sat with the vendors over coffee and a torta. I came home with hundreds if not over a thousand images and completing the book allowed a sense of closure to that journey, but one that I can revisit again and again.
I shoot for a living but when I travel, I shoot from the heart and find that I learn so much about myself in each journey. I prefer to travel alone and find that it makes me more open to meeting people and that makes such a difference. It's also a time of renewal for me and reawakening, like meeting myself again. I would often take my working camera and lenses, but now rely so much more on my point and shoot that still gives me good images. There are limitations, but it makes me get up close and I'm comfortable with that.
So, travel has become a way to feed my spirit. On my list, Cuba was always somewhere I needed to go. Almost made it in 1982, but my visa was revoked at the last minute. Southwest flies there now and is reasonable so that I didn't need thousands of dollars to go with a tour group. It was so reasonable that I took my son with me last May. We did the typical tourist must-dos and enjoyed them all.
Kathmandu also became an opportunity that I grabbed. I had read "Lost Horizon" in high school and had always had a great vision of Shangri la. I imagined Kathmandu as that garden. Not so, but I definitely was in another world and it is so awesome to really find a place that is so foreign to my own reality. I was able to learn about tolerance of religious groups in Kathmandu from a Muslim jeweler who had fled India. I heard about equal pay for men and women there from my guide. One cab driver thought life had been better when the king ruled, but I heard from others that it was not so. I marveled at the cows that were holding up traffic because they had stretched across two lanes but no on would move them. I felt a lot of tugging from vendors and beggars but never felt unsafe.
Besides the myriad of temples and stupas and famous squares, which I enjoyed, my most favorite moment was visiting a grade school. The preschool children recited the alphabet in English and the first graders sang "Twelve little monkeys jumping on the bed." I sang along. They were all learning English and I was glad to help. And then there it was, I did discover the garden, "The Garden of Dreams." It was a place of tranquility and beauty and I could breathe. Namaste.