Saturday, June 13, 2009

2 Years Around the World, an Overview

I return to the States soon, can't say how soon because Mom and Dad still don't know. It is soon enough though that I began writing a summery of how I feel as things come to a close. I was blaming my recent 10 days of monastic silence for my inability to express how much this trip has meant to me. Really though, to sum it up, in a witty interesting way, how a trip around the world - but more sincerely through my heart - has changed my own little world, is completely impossible. I'm going to continue to try. Hopefully, at Bottle Beach (see best beaches bellow) I will find some inspiration. For now though, on my 2 year anniversary, all I leave you with are some figures that mean more to me than you. I won't be offended if you skip it. It will leave us something to talk about when I return shortly :)

:::NUMBERS::: (year1/year2)
# of LP's: 8
# of wounds gone septic: 4 (always thinking of Alan, blek)
journals filled: 4 1/2
continents: 5
countries: 28
largest time zone gap: 18 hours
longest train journey: 3 days, GOA --> DEHLI
Overnight treks: 9
hospital visits: 5 (4/1)
friends to visit: 12
haircuts: 3
CD's burned: 25-30
passport stamps: 95 (46/49)
bus rides: 206 (107/99)
boat journies: 84 (52/32)
plane flights: 26
dancing nights: 52 (39/13)
toilets sat on: 83 (43/40) Year 2...mostly squat but many more Guesthouses where I was more inclined to relax :)
bottles of wine consumed: 257 (191/66)
longest period w/o showering: 4 days

::: EXTREMES :::
Best treks: Cerro Llao Llao, Bariloche, Argentina/Helambu-Langtang, Nepal
Best Sunsets: Serengetti/Jaisalmer Desert/ Helambu trek over the clouds
Best Sunrises: all 10 @ Lucknow Vipassana Centre after already meditating 2 hours- music, mist, love/ Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
Best Book: Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts/ Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Most $$$: England
Least $$$: Nepal

Best Big Cities: Buenos Aires, Kathmandu, Madrid
Worst Big Cities: Lima, Agra
Best Little Places: Shangri-la, Bariloche (too many)

Best Star Gazing: Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Zambia
Best Beaches: Vilanculos, Mozambique/ Bottle Beach, Thailand (where I am now!)
Best smiles: Tibetans and Thais
Favourite Animal: elephant
new fear: spiders
Best music: British
Worst Music: Thai Pop
Most overplayed music WorldWide: Bob Marley
Craziest Parties: Spain, Laos, Goa
Most Mellow: Nepal
Best Surprise: Bolivia, Romania, Zambia
Biggest Let Down: Peru
Best (and only) work experience: Barmaid at Baobob's Beach
Worst toilet: Bulongshon, China...can still see the maggots
Buddhist precept broke the most: KILLING, I am lethal when it comes to Mozzy Murder

Hottest Local: Jaisalmer, India
Coldest: Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia/ ABC Trek, Nepal

Best Food: Greece, China, India, Natasha's Parents
Worst Food: Hungary (oh the irony)
Best Wine: Mendoza, Argentina
Best Beer outside of Europe: BeerLao, Breweries in Bariloche
Best Pastries: Greece
Best Western Food outside of the West: Kathmandu, OR2K Israeli food
Best Cheese: South Africa
Worst Cheese: India, paneer, blek


S. Africa

Places Added to my Must-See List:
Western Africa
New Zealand

Places I will definitely return to:

Players and Participants (# of visits):
Natasha 6X
Jess 2X
Tim 2X
Lynne 2X
Mom and Dad
Brooke and Leann
Olly G
and Hernan

The MVP going to Natasha, having visited one another 6 times, not including the 6 weeks we traveled together in Bolivia and Argentina.
Natasha Chatur:
travel style: wherever, whenever
Dance style: Reggaeton
Fashion style: better than mine
Life style: RockandRoll

I could continue to spout off my highs and lows of this adventure in volumes. I have already done so in my journals. I have taken thousands of photos to document landscapes and architecture and toilets. It is the people who I have met though, that need no documentation, they are guarded safely in my heart. The people are more beautiful than any sand dune, any coral reef, any Patagonian glacier. They are the lovely, amazing people I've met and who have let me into their lives that have made this trip what it is too me, literally: a dream come true. Thank you so much.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"The simple and astonishing truth about India and Indian people is that when you go there, and deal with them, your heart always guides you more than your head. There's nowhere else in the world where that's quite true." - Gregory David Roberts

This is not traveling. I'm on holiday. Goa is a holiday- it is a release from whatever it is you need to free yourself from. A release from the travels of India: a beautiful coastline full of sunbeds and palm trees, a release from the rumblings in your stomach: menus full of western, eastern and even Indian cuisine, a release from that pain in your neck or gut in your abdominal: massages and yoga to the rescue!!

I'm not going to lie - it feels like I'm cheating. If feels a little too easy in Goa. Of course I went to the Mexican restaurant 2X, I've been craving it since LA. It also means a 40 Rupee samosa when you can find it (not many tourists want street food) knowing you can get them on the train for 5 rupees each (and for 2X as much grease!). I also won't be lying when I say I love it here. Mango juice in pop glasses, live music almost every night, fireworks, cows wandering the beaches, bamboo huts and fresh seafood daily. Who wouldn't want to stay longer, I ask myself as my 6 month visa runs out next week. After talking to a few people about my experiences in the north, I fear I might have frightened them away from the subcontinent forever. This is a grave mistake!!

My 2 month stint in Nepal, separating and soothing my 2 different experiences in India, gave me the break I needed to feel my way through India, instead of think my way. "Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender before you let yourself win." And so I did. Or maybe I was now without expectations. Being the country most heavily looked forward to has it's burdens and maybe I was looking for the wrong things. By far the most rewarding and challenging country, it has stolen a special place in my heart. Not that I haven't been reserving a spot for it. Anticipating this wondrous and spicy land for years, it was difficult at first. I was trying hard to create that magic that, of course, only arrives after hope is abandoned.

And so I sit here, sipping my espresso, sighing that sigh only a tourist village can provide knowing that the "real" India is a 5 minutes walk where tomorrow I will catch 2 buses to Anjuna for the Wed market. A 2 hr journey, I know, I took it from the train station yesterday in a moment where I thanked at least 8 ppl for their kindness before collapsing off the bus. You see, I fainted on the bus yesterday night. Packed in like sardines, standing, there was no need to hold on to the bars because there was no room to fall. Or so I thought. Sweating a waterfall I'd never sweat in my life, I thought it was strange even if we were that packed, it wasn't that warm. The last thing I remember before the man asked, "My friend?! My dear Friend?! Are you OK Madam??" was me telling him, "I'm very sorry sir, I think I'm going to faint" and then falling to his knees. With more compassion than I've ever felt from a group of people; a group of people that 20 minutes before were so concerned with their standing room (kicking, shoving, shouting and scratching) had turned their concern to a stranger. I was offered a bottle of water, a woman to hold my bags, a man to guard my backpack--taken off my shoulders by another man, an elderly woman to offer me her entire frame to lean upon and a man, when noticing the younger man taking advantage of my closed eyes and trying to feel for my sides, shoved so violently the molester from the moving bus and offered me his seat. This is the India I've fallen in love with. This is the India I was hoping for.

I'm reading a memoir of a man who escaped an Australian prison and fled to Bombay (Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts). In a passage I read yesterday, a group of mafia dons were describing suffering and how it is impossible to know happiness without it. They are each others equals and opposites. It made me think, in the last 5 years, I've gone from suffering the most I have in my short being the happiest. This makes me excited for the future and all of the unimaginable possibilities it possesses. It also elates me that it is in India, where I feel I have begun to perfect my skills for enjoying the simple beauty of the present.

Enough now! See what this place has done to me?! Off to Thailand now to see what other adventures life wants to throw at me...well food really. I'm all about the food.

Happy 2009, wishing you all
Love and Laughter;
Health and Happiness

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Nepali Thanksgiving

I've just spent 25 days on the trekking trails of the Nepali Himalaya. One in the Annapurna Region with Teo getting lost in conversation, over streams and under towering peaks and creaking glaciars. The second with Lynne laughing over our "guide/porter" and exchanging travel stories while walking next to yak herds in the Helambu/Langtang region. Both heart-breakingly beautiful in their own right.

The connections and laughs with friends (wondering if we would find out our new president on the trail/ "Are you a yak?" "I think so.") were just as memorable as the stunning scenery. I was so excited to be here and see what my parents had seen 30yrs ago that I recruited these 2 before I'd left the US, Teo even a few years before that! Even with such great company on the trail, there was a lot of down time to contemplate our circumstances. Or maybe we just stopped talking on the uphills, being too winded :) Something I thought a lot about was just how much I have to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for all the friends, old and new, who have made this experience so beautiful.

I'm thankful for the mental and physical health that have allowed me to continue so strongly.

I'm thankful for finding meditation when my energy levels needed a boost and coming away with an added perk: the realization that I'm in charge of my own happiness and then actualizing it.

I'm thankful for the people who have loved me and have taught me how to love and be loved :)

I'm thankful for Obama winning the presidency!!

I'm thankful for the promise of a beautiful future while enjoying an even more stunning present.

I'm thankful for baby wipes and q-tips.

I'm thankful for my dodgy New Balances holding up for 3 1/2 weeks after my boots missed their flight across a few continents and friends who lend their down sleeping bags!!

I'm thankful you are in my life :)

Happy Thanksgiving from Kathmandu. Namaste

Monday, October 6, 2008

Holy Cow!

Incredible India:
Vibrant, Spicy, Holy & Stinky

The destination I've had my eye on for so long that the Lonely Planet I carry looks like a collector's addition, the new one having come out last year.

After postponing my flight from Africa, I was ready to be here. I was also relieved and excited when my friend Olly, whom I'd met on Fanny, decided he needed some extra spice before starting his career.

Traversing the streets that look like they haven't changed for centuries we set out to collect experiences and this is what we came up with:

Together we:
-sweat out kilos of weight (who decided women should cover up from head to toe in the hottest country on the planet)
-battled fierce touts (& children who clung to our legs as they sat on our feet)
-climbed unsurpassed stairs (forget temples, they put us on the seventh floor!)
-got in numerous fights with strangers (over the price of a rickshaw)
-were violently stoned and molested (by a pack of 8 year olds when we became lost)
-slept 7 nights without paying (6 night trains or buses, 1 room was too hot to justify)
-spent 3 days in the Thar Desert with our trusted steeds (or camels)
-won numerous golden tickets!! (all Cadbury's are wrapped in Willy Wonka-esque foil)
-bathed in the holy Ganga (the shower pumped water straight from the river leaving what looked like a sand dune)
-visited the greatest monument to love (the Taj Majal)
-learned how to feed a nation (or the tiny Indian family who taught us how to cook. Don't worry Mrs. Chatur, they've got nothing on you!)
-found the cutest fixer-upper should we move to India (a dilapidated monsoon palace in Udaipur...waiting for them to put it on the market)
-celebrated 10 days dancing, singing and dunking statues of an elephant-man-god in lakes (self-explanatory)
-learned that Cressida is the better cards player of the two (thank you very much)
-and were successful in avoiding Delhi Belly for 3 whole weeks (to have our smug smiles wiped straight off our faces for the disastrous and comical last week).

To put it simply, Olly and I had a blast trying to figure out one of the most alive and chaotic places I've ever known.

Thanks Olly for helping test out the waters, even if they made you sick, and making all of the awkward, uncomfortable, delicious and colourful experiences truly laughable and beautiful.

(now what about that Stella?)


And then I left the country without crossing any borders. Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalaya is the home of the 14th Dalai Lama and many Tibetan refugees and exiles. Atop a mtn and amongst the clouds--it is the most peaceful and calming place I've been on this trip. Perfect after a month in India! As I mentioned before, I feel that something powerful led me to this place and just in time to hear His Holiness speak.

The teachings were ethereal. Sitting in a sea of red-clothed monks, chanting mantras and prostrating to His Holiness--I've never felt so much love and compassion is a room full of strangers. This is saying a lot considering that the group sponsoring the teaching were from Taiwan, making the Chinese over 40% of the attendees. The very same people responsible for the violent over-taking of Tibet that took over 1.2 million lives were invited to India to learn about love. The Dalai Lama welcomed them, his "enemies" reminding everyone how we were family and even telling a couple of communist jokes.

Surreal and moving it's difficult to say how this experience might influence my life and personal relationships for years to come. I walk away feeling very lucky and light.

There are many lessons I learned during the teachings, the simplest and most important being the foundation of Buddhism:
Try your hardest to help others.
If you cannot help others, then do not harm them.

I leave Dharamsala now, knowing it's too soon but another once in a lifetime opportunity awaits. I've been accepted to study Vipassana Meditation in Lucknow for a 10 day intensive course: no speaking or eye contact and at least 10 hours of daily concentrated meditation, starting at 4AM. I'll let you know at what degree of sanity I'll reemerge into the world!

Love you all, as always.

A Mozambique Backtrack

I feel I owe it to my amazing experience in Mozambique to backtrack and let some people know what exactly happened after the tour ended in Africa and life began.

My accomplice: Beth
Our goals during our couple of months roadtripping S. Africa and Mozambique:
1) detox, the lovely tour did a toll on us and our poor bodies: enough with the bad food and good wine.
2) exercise
3)find amazing jobs as barmaids on some idyllic beach on Mozambique's infamous coast.

We were successful in all 3. Our days on the perfect beaches of Vilanculos were as follows:
8 or 9am-wake up to free coffee and tea and the breakfast included in our wage
10 or 11am head to our spot on the beach behind the shipwrecked fishing boat, taking turns floating and meditating, reading and sleeping
2pm shower if there was water that day, eat an early lunch if not
3pm-->11-1am quench the thirst of many tourists and locals (2M, Manica, Laurentina, Savannah and who could forget Tipo Tinto!) earning a whopping 25 cents/hr.

It must have been a pretty lush existence if we were complaining that all of the other travelers had such cool horror stories on public transportation when our were so relaxed and easy. We even sat shot gun one journey because the back was full of Amarula and red wine. You've got to be kidding me! We did get what we asked for though when after politely debating the price of one journey, the driver decided to give us a scare and drive off with out bags, just far enough that we screamed and hollered and hung from the windows. Awesome story and awesome bruise, check check.

We actually had the conversation on one particular wine and cheese night, what was the perfect adjective for paradise. After much discussion on linguistics from an international crowd, we decided that yes, Vilanculos was very paradidicall or paradiceal, however you prefer.

We were living in Paradise AND I got a best friend out of it!! :)
Love you Beth

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


There is no self.

This is what I learned this morning from my first teaching from the Dalai Lama himself!

"There is no other place I want to be." Not knowing that such a momentous occasion was happening in Dharamsala, there was really only the one place I wanted to be. Staying in Rishikesh, a holy Hindu place, I was confident I'd be taking a meditation course there. My mind changed after learning these three pieces of information: 1) I just read a book inviting the reader to say yes to more opportunities as they arise. The author also finds himself interviewing some Buddhist monk and I was reminded how much Buddhism has intrigued me since I read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha in 9th grade. 2) I wanted to pick up a specialized yoga tool for my Africa tent-mate, Alethea, that she lost while in Zambia. I thought the place was Rishikesh, it was actually Dharamsala. 3) My best bud Jess just informed me that she was starting Buddhism classes in San Francisco.

So I woke up on the morning of my sixth day of Montezuma's Belly (what you get when you eat Mexican food in India) and decided, instead of taking the 1 hr bus ride back to Rishikesh, I'd take the 15 hr bus ride to Dharamsala. And it was worth it. After an excruciatingly long journey where every single person stared ruthlessly even jumping off their bus to board mine and take my photo, arriving at 4AM, my least favourite time to arrive in a place while traveling sola, a friendly Tibetan woman offered to share a cab and then walked me to my front door. Thanks friendly Tibetan woman, I was not in the spirits to get lost!!

I woke up around midday, not having slept on the bus, had a late lunch where I met Andrea, a German teacher here. Casually, she asked me if I was attending the teachings tomorrow. "What teachings?" you ask. Just those meditation teachings by His Holiness himself. He only teaches to the public 4X a year and because of his fragile health, he will only be conducting one next year! What a freaking amazing opportunity. I feel like many circumstances and opportunities I have said yes to have led me specifically to this place. AND Andrea even knew what was up with my stomach. (Olly, maybe if you are still ill, check out Giardiasis--it's in the LP!)

I invited Ol to India => he said yes => we ended up seeing loads in a short amount of time allowing us to hang out with our angry stomachs in Rishikesh, earlier than I had planned for myself => things started happening to push me out of Rishikesh => It's like Andrea said: "Taking Buddhism lessons from the Dalai Lama is like taking Catholicism classes from the Pope." My response "That's exactly what it's like." Big smiles for all :)

What I learned during my first day (of 5):
From Ignorance we gain Knowledge, from Knowledge we gain Wisdom, From Wisdom we gain Compassion and from Compassion we gain Love (or enlightenment).

Well, this, in so many words!! Cheers to me being in my first step: Ignorance!! I feel like I've mastered it well...

His Holiness has actually got a pretty great sense of humor. At least, that's what I can tell from the laughing Tibetan monks all around me! Jokes don't exactly translate....

High: the Spanish dude in front of me lending me his jacket to sit on the hard, cold temple floor.
Low: the butter tea that they handed out this morning was exactly that, more butter than tea though. Not too great for my suffering stomach!

More Incredible India details to come....Much Love to all and another Thanks to Olly for making another country truly special. (now please send me my Stella.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Gonna do the things we never haaaaaaad"

How do I describe the experience of a lifetime?
---Easily, I tell you to go look at the photos!

I am in Cape Town now. The last of the 23 overlanders who have all returned home or continued their journeys. These 23 beautiful adventurers who have become a family on what was our home: Fanny, the big, yellow truck that brought us from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa. These people (mostly English and mostly under 22) who brought such enthusiasm and passion, made my experience in Africa as special as it was. So a thousand thanks to Meg & Will, Beth, Ollie C, Alethea, V, Ed, Add, Joe, Tom, Nicky, Cath & Mike, Alan, Javiera, Jason, Chell & Sarah, Jo, Charlie, Ben and Olly G. And a big applause to Stu, our 'wicked' driver and Princess Kristy, our tour leader.

My parents traveled to Kenya and Tanzania over 30 years ago and I'm confidant that Africa is the only place that I thought Pete might have ever visited me. So as I stuck my head out from the roof of our Range Rover in Serengeti, and we sped looking for the last of our Big 5 sightings, the leopard, it is no wonder that I thought my trip had finally begun. Being on Fanny and part of a tour let me relax and live in the present. I no longer needed to think of the next step or plan in advance. Everything I enjoyed was to the fullest because I was living inside every moment. Looking back, it's funny to me how anxious and hesitant I was about any kind of group travel-thinking independent travel was the only way to go and worried that I couldn't back out if I wanted to. I was wrong.

It is completely impossible to describe all of the crazy and amazing experiences I've collected while in Africa. According to country, here is a short list of the highlights:

Tanzania:seeing 4/5 Big 5 in Ngorongoro Crater in this order: elephant, buffalo, lion, black rhino, dancing on the beach (and tables) in Zanzibar, the first night at Snake Park where we celebrated my Birthday 4 days late (and no I wasn't sick), staying up all night at Macardi Beach, volleyball, sunset and watching shooting stars in Serengeti, DB, our 1st booze cruise, being called Mzungu's (white people), Kilimanjaro Beer

Malawi: Lake Malawi in general, dancing with kids at local dinner, hiking up to Livingstonia (and hitching back--shhh), crazy t-shirt night (HOOTERS), larium dreams, NOT roasting the pig at Kande Beach, bush camping and the song game (one love, one heart), the children chasing Fanny as we drove, leaving the aggressive touts in Tanzania for the friendly faces in Malawi

Zambia: S. Luanga National Park, night game drive and all of the stars, the first leopard spotting, elephants invading our campsite at Flatdogs, flying with Pete during the world's 2nd highest bungee jump, booze cruise #2, house boat on Lake Kariba: twirling with Ollie C, spelling with our bodies, watching the stars with Add, coming in 1st (alright 4th) during Trivia Night, keeping Stu up all night ;), swapping tents and watching all the confused campers crawl into the wrong tent

Botswana: Canoe ride through Okavango Delta, Olly's Birthday, dancing around the fire doing the Kudu dance and listening to stories told in the click language, flying over the Okavango Delta (we were so low, there was grass on our landing wheels!)

Namibia: Etosha National Park: proper leopard spotting, the flood lit watering holes with Olly the first night and V the second, desert tour in the Namib, skydiving, worlds best toilets bush camping and our Christmas in June, climbing to the top of Spitzkoppe and then sleeping under the stars, playing Snow White in Nicky's pantomime "Snow white and the Dirty Dwarfs", the love shack in Swakopmund, 75km/hr sand boarding, eating ostrich, kudu and gemsbock--delicious!

South Africa
: having the piss taken out of Americans by Joe and Ben for the entire 6hr drive day, wine tasting, the 5 minutes on Table Mtn. before it started to hail, Cupcakes on Long St., Chinese food night in the guesthouse (Thanks Lovelies) and learning how to cook apple crumble!

Trip Highlights: Any and all upgrades or tent sharing ;), volleyball, tent time with Alethea, dancing with Ben while we cooked and cleaned, picking up some ridiculous English slang (zeb-ra not zee-bra, I get it!), snuggling in Fanny and staring out the window listening to a particular i-pod.

We slept in tents named after African beers (Hansa, you rock), took cold showers, cooked delicious meals for 25-save the 2 chili nights, took malaria tablets, had daily bowel movement conversations (thanks nurse Beth), applied and reapplied moisturizers, helped to peel each others skin and wounds, laughed til we cried, jumped off things together and shared our best and not-quite-best moments together.

I'm so thankful for this gorgeous experience with these colorful people and that I couldn't postpone it as I had wished. Thanks to Stu on his last overland trip and to Kristy for telling us we were her best group. Thanks to the person who made this trip magical :) ...Truly Unforgettable....

"If you could change one thing about this trip...?"
"I wouldn't."