Mexico Mandala

I love ancient ruins and I’m not exactly sure why. I suppose the mystery behind their history is very intriguing to me. No one fully knows or understands how sites like the Pyramids of Egypt, the ruins of Machu Picchu, and the temples of Tikal were constructed. And we have to rely on cryptic carvings and broken pottery to piece together how they communicated and lived. I guess I love that in their presence, your imagination is kicked into overdrive envisioning how they looked during the peak of their existence and what activity might have been happening around you.

So it’s no surprise that many of my trips are based around visiting ancient ruins. In March of 2006, Michael and I set off for a week of exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. We based ourselves in the small coastal town of Tulum. From there we visited the well-known Chichen Itza ruins, whose vast grounds are kept immaculate. In contrast, the ruins of  Coba are still partially covered in tree roots and soil, which is much more to my liking. Plus, we were still able to climb some of them, which is always a fun challenge as their stairs are very deep and shallow.

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But it was the small coastal ruins in Tulum itself that intrigued me the most. All other ruins I have ever visited have been buried in the middle of a jungle. But here on the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea sits this ancient port city. I found the location made the setting come alive, despite the fact that crumbling buildings surrounded us. And I loved the vibrancy of the green foliage and the topaz-blue seas against the charcoal gray of the ruins.

And because of this, the ruins of Tulum surprisingly inspired this lively mandala.

California Mandala

I’ve been to California many times over the years, but there is nothing like that first experience of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway. For me it was July of 1995. My friend Holly and I had just returned from six months of backpacking in Australia & New Zealand and were wrapping up our trip with five days in Fiji followed by two weeks in California.

It was a beautiful ride as we meandered our way up the coast from San Diego to San Francisco, with every turn offering an amazing view. And the further north we got, with the sharp cliffs and pounding seas, the more we were reminded of the Great Ocean Road in Australia – but even better. Ending with a camping trip in Yosemite, those two weeks were the highlight of our trip.

I loved being with Michael the first time he was going to experience driving down the PCH. It was 2006 and we were heading from San Francisco to Los Angeles. With stops in Monterey and Big Sur along the way, the views seemed better than I remembered. And it was from a photo on this trip that inspired this California Mandala.

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What pleased me the most about this mandala was that is was the first one I’ve known of that really spoke to someone. I was showing it at a local art fair in New Jersey and noticed a woman observing it for a period of time. When I introduced myself she expressed how much it drew her in and she had no idea why. Talking further, we figured out that the photo it originated from was taken from the same area in Big Sur that she grew up.

The magic of the mandala – nothing pleased me more.

Alaska Mandala

After many years of spending my travel time abroad, I decided that I wanted to see more of my own country. The summer of 2003 was the second year in a row that I did a travel holiday in the United States with Trek America, a tour operator that offers active small group adventures throughout the Americas. They offered a great opportunity to explore and camp through Alaska, a trip that would have been difficult to pull off on my own.

Our guide served as both our tour leader and driver, and our small group of 11 served as cooks, camp set-up/clean-up crew, and overall entertaining company. In our two-weeks on the road we had many incredible adventures, including:

  • Flying by seaplane to our camp site in Kachemak Bay, where juvenile eagles soared overhead as we enjoyed the first salmon of the season;
  • Carefully navigating our kayaks through the chunks of ice that calved the night before off of Schoop Glacier as seals swam along side us;
  • Camping along the river banks in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and tramping on Root Glacier where we set-up ropes on an ice wall for some intense ice climbing;
  • A breathtaking flight over the Alaskan Range;
  • And four days of 100% visibility of the majestic Denali (Mt. McKinley).

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Being in Alaska was like a breath of fresh air – its beauty is invigorating and the only other time I felt so alive was in Nepal. There must be something truly magical in areas where mountain ranges and glaciers dominate. And that is the essence I wanted to portray in my Alaska Mandala.

If one color were to represent Alaska it would have to be blue; from the sea to the sky and iceberg to glacier, its vibrancy is everywhere. And for me, this mandala completely encompasses the electricity that Alaska created in me.