Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: September 2015

Ubud Bali

After my blissed out week at a retreat in the northern beach town of Bondalem Bali I headed inland to Ubud, the island’s artistic hot spot. I had visited Ubud back in 2008 the first time I was in Bali, and let me just say I was unprepared for how much it had grown. Ubud was jarring coming out of the tranquility of the meditation retreat I had been at. So much traffic, so much noise, so many tourists. It was a total assault on the senses, and that first day was really overwhelming. Thankfully, my first 2 nights I had booked to stay in the rice fields just outside of Ubud, which was much calmer. Well relatively calmer. That first night I was awoken at 4am thinking someone was in my room and violently shaking my bed, and then in my disorientation it also sounded like someone was trying to get in the room by shaking the door in its frame. Turns out there was a 5.3 earthquake off the coast. Once I determined that a) I was not crazy b) it was unlikely the room was haunted and that c) this was very likely an earthquake, I did what any savvy person would do……I googled “what to do in an earthquake” so I would be prepared if there was another one, and checked social media. Come on. I know that’s what you all would do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After 2 nights in the rice fields I moved to Ubud proper. For 5 nights which extended into 6 when I rescheduled my flight to stay an extra night. I had initially booked at a cheaper hotel, but after some issues there I moved to the hotel next door which turned out to be the nicest place I’ve ever stayed. In my life. Nicer than the Maldives. And that’s pretty hard to do. To be fair I didn’t really know what I was booking. I basically called to ask if they had a room available, a pool, and wifi. They said yes and I showed up. The lobby was beautiful. During check-in I asked is there AC? And the lady was like yes. In each room. And in my head I was like- of course it would be in each room lady. Then she took me to the room. On the way she referred to it as the “Canopy Suite.” My eyes almost burst out of my head. It was bigger than my apartment in Saudi. It had separate rooms- with an AC in each room. Then there was the infinity pool. And the amazing breakfast. And the tub in the bathroom was like bathing in a barrel. Ok. It was actually bathing in a barrel. And they pulled my covers back every night and left me cookies. So now you see my dilemma about having to stay another night. If you go to Ubud you should look into staying at Bisma Eight. Well worth over extending my budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ubud is full of shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. I spent my time there catching up with my other retreat-sisters, and walking around town. There are many great restaurant choices. One that was at the top of my list was Locavore. They have a very well reviewed tasting menu but they book out a month in advance and I wasn’t able to get a reservation. By chance I stopped in there for lunch one day. Table for one? And they seated me overlooking the kitchen. It’s not cheap by Bali standards, but by western standards it’s a steal. I had a 7 course meal with a couple glasses of wine and it was culinary heaven. Half of it I wasn’t exactly sure what I was eating- what exactly are fish lips anyways?  But it was all so good. If you are in Ubud make a reservation and go. I’ll be thinking of this meal for months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the days I did a day trip with my French Canadian retreat-sister. We had an energetic Balinese guide named Gusti who took us to 3 temples in the southern part of the island while telling us of Bali culture and the practices related to Balinese Hinduism. It was such a great day. We visited Taman Ayun Temple mid morning and we basically had the temple to ourselves. This temple is from 1634 and was once the royal temple. It has beautiful gardens with the traditional tiered Balinese pagoda roofs and many ornate stone carvings. The temple is surrounded by a moat which used to hold alligators. The sky was very moody when we visited which made for great photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here we dove about an hour to Tanah Lot Temple which as legend has it has snakes that guard the entrance to the caves below the temple. This temple is situated alongside the sea on a rocky cliff and it is nothing short of spectacular. The waves were large and frothy as they crashed to shore. This complex was quite large with a smaller temple off to the right and then the main sea temple to the left. By sea temple, I literally mean in the sea. Depending on the tide you may or may not be able to visit. Tide was in when we were there so we couldn’t go but it is beautiful nonetheless. You should be very careful of the cliffs though- our guide had seen tourists fall over the cliffs and get swept away so he kept us well away from the roped barriers. As we were getting ready to leave we randomly ran into 2 of our other retreat-sisters. Bali was full of of many such encounters. It was amazing that we all ended up in the same spot of land at exactly the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then got back in the car and drove another 90 min to Uluwatu temple. Bali is not at all equipped to handle traffic. Most roads are 2-laned roads with little room to pull over or passing lanes. And then of course they are filled with cars, trucks and loads and loads of motorcycles. When we arrived at the temple we were greeted by signs and loud recorded warnings about the bulglarizing monkeys. As I’ve previously mentioned. I’m not a huge fan of monkeys. Or rabies. I was mildly terrified which caused Gusti our guide great enjoyment as he bravely tried to protect me. We did see monkeys, but they kept their distance. This temple is also alongside a steep cliff. In fact we could see Uluwatu temple from Tanah Lot temple. I read somewhere that the temples along the sea were built as a chain so you could see one from the other. There are 2 parts to this temple and I would highly advise wearing good shoes and bringing plenty of water. I would also recommend a hat, but can’t guarantee it won’t get pulled off your head by a cheeky monkey. This temple also had mesmerizing ocean views. I basically kept taking the same photo over. And over. And over.

While Bali is full of tourists it’s still good to dress and act respectfully. Most temples won’t let you in if you’re dressed inappropriately anyways, but here’s an idea of what you should wear. Buy a sarong- you’ll need to be wearing one to enter a temple, and they double as a towel or beach cover. You will also need a sash to tie around your waist but many temples provide these, or do what I did and just use a scarf. Make sure your shoulder are covered- a simple t-shirt will do. Don’t try to enter a temple in a swimsuit top and hot pants. It seems pretty logical but you know there are people who try this. Also as with any temples/religious sites the world over- ladies if it’s that time of the month you’re not supposed to enter. One of my retreat sisters told me how her guide made her read the list of rules before entering a temple and she basically had to give him the “all clear” to tell him she was safe to go in. Also most temples have donation boxes- your call on how you feel about donating. I usually opt to.

So that wraps up my time in Ubud Bali. As I write this I can’t believe it was almost a month ago. I’m going to Munich for Oktoberfest this weekend for 5 nights and then I don’t have any major travel plans until I go home for a visit the end of November and first bit of December. I’ll be spending Christmas in Dubai which I’m super pumped for. Seeing as I’ve decided to stay in Saudi another year I’ve just requested a bunch more vacation time in the new year, with many ideas but nothing concrete as of yet.

Where are your upcoming travel plans taking you?

Saudi National Day, Hajj, and Eid al-Adha

I was going to try and write this post yesterday as September 23rd was Saudi National Day, but I’ve been working night shift the last 3 weeks, and am flip-flopping back to day shift. Yesterday my brain was complete mush- and nothing logical or sensible would’ve been written. This year National Day coincided with the Hajj holiday. This week at work non-essential hospital services are closed- ie clinics, and non-emergent OR’s. Yesterday it was announced that the King has extended the Hajj holiday an additional week. I’m eagerly awaiting to hear whether this means extra vacation days or not. Inshallah it does!! So here’s a brief explanation about what each of these 3 holidays are about….

Saudi National Day

It’s like any country’s day of independence. Think Canada Day or the 4th of July. September 23rd marks the same day in 1932 when King Abdulaziz announced the Kingdom as a country. National pride is at an all time high and there are flags of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia all over. There are festivities for families, and I saw some excellent footage of fireworks at the Ritz Carlton hotel here in Riyadh. People take to the streets in costumes with green wigs or wearing flags, or the colours of the flag (green and white.) Traffic is reported to be a nightmare. I had wanted to run out yesterday early in the evening but my lovely driver “J “flat out refused. He said “people very crazy. They leave eggs out in the sun for a month and then throw them at passing cars. If they not throw eggs they throw rocks. Very bad.” I couldn’t really argue with that. He also said that most of the hospital drivers wouldn’t be going out after 7pm. On Canada Day back home we get day drunk. In Saudi Arabia the youth reportedly throw rotten eggs at motorists. Kinda reminds me of kids back home smashing pumpkins in the streets on Halloween. I rang in National Day from the comfort of my couch as I tried to stay awake watching Netflix until a reasonable bedtime hour with the hopes of sleeping thru the night.

Hajj Pilgrimage

Hajj takes place every year according to the Hijri calendar during the last month and lasts 5 days. It is considered to be the 5th pillar of Islam and every Muslim is required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime assuming they are physically able and can financially afford it. In 2015 it is projected that 2 million Muslims will take part. A reported 800 flights per day take off or land at the airport in Jeddah- there is an entire terminal dedicated to Hajj and is only open during this time. I won’t pretend to be any sort of expert on Hajj- most of what I’m writing is summarized off the interweb, or drawn from conversations with Saudi’s or ex-pat Muslims that I work with. I wanted to share it with you though because I think as an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia it’s always a great idea to understand the culture. And since religion drives this culture, it’s equally important to understand the major religious practices in this part of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike most of Saudi life the sexes are not segregated at the Holy Mosque during Hajj. Men often wear 2 pieces of white sheet or towels while women are required to dress traditionally with their hair covered. Interestingly, women who normally cover their faces when out in public are NOT allowed to do so during Hajj. As far as I can tell the actual pilgrimage is quite orderly as each day is broken into different rites that are practiced that day. Most pilgrims travel in groups with guides and handbooks explaining the requirements of Hajj. These requirements include praying, declaring their intention to perform Hajj, and performing Tawaf which entails walking counterclockwise around the Kaaba. The Kaaba is a large black box and is the holiest site in Islam. It is considered to be the House of Allah. After Tawaf the pilgrims go to Mina for a day of prayer. This is the first day of the Hajj. The second day of Hajj is spent at Mount Arafat- this is where it is said that Muhammed delivered his last prayer. Pilgrims stand in vigil listening to a sermon and repent for sins for the afternoon. After sunset they move to a place called Muzdalifah where they have evening prayers and sleep outside on the ground. The third day pilgrims take part in a ritual called stoning the devil which involves throwing 7 pebbles at one of 3 pillars, and after that animals are slaughtered and often given to the poor. This coincides with Eid al-Adha. Male pilgrims then shave their heads and women clip the ends of their hair. Day four the pilgrims repeat the “stoning of the devil” by throwing 7 pebbles at the 3 pillars. They must then leave for Mecca that day. Before leaving Mecca they again perform Tawaf around the Kaaba. The fifth and final day is a repeat of the rituals on the fourth.

This years pilgrimage has been marred by tragedy with the crane collapse earlier this month which killed more than 100 people. Sadly, earlier this morning while pilgrims were taking part in the “stoning of the devil” there was a stampede and the latest reports say that over 700 people have died.

Eid al-Adha

Eid al- Adha is the second Muslim holiday.  Eid al-Fitr is the first holiday which marks the end of the fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Eid al-Adha centers around the story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son. Meat is sacrificed on this day and divided into 3 sections. One portion for the family, one portion is given to other family members, and the last portion is given to the poor. Eid is seen as a time of celebration. People dress up in fancy clothes, and exchange gifts. Happy Eid to all!!

 

I hope you’ll be kind to me if I got some of the above information wrong. I have pretty elementary understanding of the Islamic religion, but still felt it was important for you, my readers, to be informed!

Blissed out in Bali

I normally have a strong dislike of the word “bliss” or phrases like “finding your bliss” and equally so of the phrase #blessed, but I’m at a complete loss of words to describe my time in Bali. The only word I keep coming back to is bliss. It really was bliss. So even though the word is kinda new-agey, and used to make me gag, it will be my word of choice for this post.

My time in Bali was split between a retreat I had wanted to do since earlier this year in the northern part of the island, and Ubud, the island’s artistic and cultural hub. Bali is an island in the Indian Ocean, one of an estimated 17500 islands that make up Indonesia, or “Indo” as hipsters refer to it. Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, but the island of Bali is the exception. Here over 80% of the population practices Balinese Hinduism which governs every aspect of local life. There are religious calendars that are followed to dictate when birth, puberty, tooth filling, marriage and cremation ceremonies should take place. It’s a very colourful and spiritual place. There are temples both large and small and shrines seemingly everywhere, garnished with daily offerings.

I flew from Kuala Lumpur via AirAsia and let me say it was in stark contrast to my previous flight with Etihad airways- but thankfully we made it. I spent one night in the touristy beach town of Seminyak as a meeting point for the retreat I was attending. Here I met up with the other 17 ladies who would also be attending the retreat organized by Sarah of Sarah Somewhere. The retreat’s theme was “Return to Wholeness” and I went into it with a pretty open mind. In fact I didn’t even really learn the name of the place where the retreat was until after the retreat was over. (Thanks Google.) Nor did I learn that we were on the northern part of the island. I literally didn’t have a care in the world and just rolled with it. Turns out that was a great way to be, as this week long retreat would prove better for my soul than I ever could’ve guessed.

The ladies of the retreat were a diverse group ranging in age from 25-71ish. We came from the Philippines, Singapore, Canada, the U.S., Australia and Mexico (sorry if I’ve left anyone out!) Some people knew each other previous to the retreat, but many like me, were strangers. We would leave friends. Friends who had the privilege to see each woman’s core. To see each other stripped away from the roles we play in our every day life and just be seen as we are. We all came running towards or away from a multitude of things but with the same shared goal of becoming whole.

The retreat took place in a small resort called the Bali Mandala Resort over looking the ocean. It was total bliss. The huts were out of an island romance scene, the pool was lovely, and the food was amazing. I’m notorious for getting sick on every single trip I take. But not this one. Not even once. There was a spa on the resort where I had some of the best massages of my life. I spent the days eating, going to a morning and afternoon meditation class, dipping in the pool or ocean, or reading and journaling listening to the ocean waves lap against the rocky shore. Even as I think about it now my breathing becomes more relaxed and a calmness washes over me. It really was bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During that week we did an early morning sunrise dolphin tour with a local fisherman. Right before going one of the ladies I’d gotten close to asked “are you going to take something for seasickness?” And I was like “no. It’ll be fine.” Famous last words. The fisherman laughed at me as I repeatedly vomited over the side and then handed me a Balinese pastry and an orange to settle my stomach. We visited the nearby school that is funded by the resort, and spend some time signing and dancing with the kids. We visited a local hilltop temple and received blessings from a Balinese High Priest. We witnessed sunrises and sunsets that left me speechless. We had a day of noble silence in which we weren’t supposed to talk with one anther, but encouraged to just be with our thoughts. We were entertained by local Balinese dancers on our last evening and spent the night of the full moon dancing as if no one was watching. After the impromptu dance party we changed into our swimsuits and guided by the bright moonlit sky swam in the pool, and did a “whirlpool.” This night I will likely remember for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most importantly we formed friendships- many who’s paths will likely intersect in the future. I felt whole. Like all the parts of me that were scattered miraculously found their way back to one another. I let myself be seen in my most bare form. I looked into the eyes of those 17 other ladies and saw them in their most bare forms, and loved every bit of them. I meditated and got some needed clarity on where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. I felt blessed. Blessed for the opportunity to travel to Bali for the sole purpose of finding inner peace. Blessed to disconnect. Blessed to meet these amazing ladies. Oh, and I felt pure bliss like I’ve never known before. Deep rooted joy that I hope I can channel into daily life.

What experiences have brought you bliss or made you feel blessed?

 

 

Kuala Lumpur and Batu Caves

Last week I returned from a 3 week solo trip to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and Bali Indonesia. It was such a great trip that I actually forgot I had a job. Like 2 weeks into the trip I saw photos of a work potluck on Facebook and my brain clicked in and was like “oh right. You do actually have a job.” Part of my time in Bali was spent at a yoga/meditation retreat (which I’ll tell you about soon) and my work-related amnesia must have been due to some massive uncluttering of my brain. Either that, or I have early onset dementia. Hard to say.

I flew from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi and then on to Kuala Lumpur via Emirates Air. Never having flown with them before I was super impressed, even more so after flying cargo class with Air Asia to Bali. I spent 2 nights in Kuala Lumpur before going to Bali and 3 nights there on the tail end. It’s no surprise that I liked Kuala Lumpur. I love bustling international cities. I love having great international cuisine and anywhere that has an abundance of bars. The first 2 nights I stayed in Bukit Bintang which is known as the shopping/entertainment district of KL. It’s very walkable, and I felt safe walking around as a single woman. On my return I stayed in KLCC which is where the Petronas Towers are and Suria KLCC a great shopping mall.

Biktu Bingtang

Bukit Bingtang

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent my time in Kuala Lumpur eating some amazing food, and getting to pair it with wine or beer. This is one of the major things I miss while living in Saudi- I love to go out for nice food and have a nice glass/bottle of an adult beverage to go with it. I think I ate sushi like 3 or 4 times. I ate some delicious Chinese dim-sum. I went up the Petronas towers and checked out the aquarium nearby. I shopped and lost myself in a huge English bookstore. I saw a movie, which was great because by North American standards it was super cheap. They oddly played what I’m assuming is the Malaysian national anthem prior to the movie and everyone in the audience stood up from their seats until the song was over. That was a first for me. Mostly I spent my time doing normal everyday things that I would do if I weren’t living in Saudi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One morning I took a taxi to Batu Caves which are about 20-25min from the city center depending on traffic. You can reach the caves by train, but I was feeling super lazy and had lost my travel mojo at this point so I opted for a taxi. Batu Caves is a hugely popular Hindu shrine built into the side of a limestone hill. It’s a pilgrimage site for Hindu’s worldwide. I’d seen pictures of the towering statue of Murugan with the staircase leading into the caves and it was at the top of my list of things to see while visiting Kuala Lumpur. The caves have served as a temple since the late 1800’s.

There are some 270 steps leading upwards into the cave. When I visited there were a pretty even mix of tourists and Hindu worshipers. There were also numerous menacing thieving monkeys lining the railings leading into the cave. I really don’t like monkeys so I kept a close eye on them, and kept my things out of reach. Other visitors weren’t so lucky. I witnessed the monkeys steal bottles from babies. Seriously. 2 separate incidents of bottles full of milk were taken out of the innocent hands of babes. Others lost bags of fruit and hats. Pretty much anything a monkey could get their hands on. Don’t get me wrong- they’re super cute from a distance, but that’s where they can stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So up the steps you climb, and it’s really humid, so you’re sweating from pretty much everywhere. Coming up from the bottom the steps appear to just disappear into the darkness of the cave. It’s a very impressive view. Once you get into the main cave there is a temple off to the left and there are several statues of various Hindu gods tucked around the walls of the cave. You then climb another smaller set of stairs which takes you into a smaller cave with another temple where Hindu worshipers were lined up to get Puja which involves making an offering and then getting a purification blessing from the priest. It was pretty surreal watching all the goings-on from the inside of a massive cave. Also the priests were all sporting 70’s style mustaches which are always a hit for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the drive back into the city I had a unexpected chat about world religions with the taxi driver. Malaysia is over 50% Muslim, almost 20% Buddhist, and then the remainder split between Hinduism, Christianity, and the various other Chinese religions. He asked me where I lived and I told him I was a Canadian, but that I lived in Saudi Arabia. He then asked if I was Muslim, I said no, and then asked him if he was. He replied “I like all religions but am none. All are the same.” I told him that back home we described this as being “spiritual but not religious.” He liked that phrase a lot. Chatting with him was  one of those random and unexpected things that happens when you open yourself up to meeting people who you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s one of the things I love the most about traveling. We all come from different backgrounds and places, but essentially we are all the same. Chatting with him  reminded me of a song from one of my favourite artists Ingrid Michaelson called Blood Brothers. I’ll end this post with the lyrics from the chorus…..

What you need, what you need I need too
What you are, what you are I am too
’cause we’re all the same under a different name
We’re all blood, we’re all blood, blood brothers
We’re all blood, we’re all blood, blood brothers

Lastly, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Expat Blog for featuring me as their Blog of the Month, and a Hello to my new readers, some of whom have sent me lovely messages. So thanks for reading. And don’t forget you can subscribe to get new blog posts in your email to the right-hand side of this post. Or you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

That One Time my Passport was Stolen…..

So in my last blog post I alluded to that one time on my first international trip where my passport was stolen. The year was 2006. I was super green to the world of travel and still under the delusion that at 27 I would likely get ID’d on a musical pub crawl in Dublin. And that when I did get ID’d I thought my driver’s license wouldn’t suffice so I had best have my passport on me. How naive.

It was a Saturday night. After bouncing around between several bars that evening and making friends with many locals and an American couple we ended up at a dance club. As memory serves me there was dancing involved. My recollection is part memory, part drunken photos. I ended up with a stolen passport, but somehow didn’t have my camera taken. My travel mate’s camera wasn’t as lucky. So after the bar closed we ended up on the street in front of the bar and this is where I realized I was sans passport. Initially I thought I’d just put it somewhere else in my purse. That initial feeling where you think you’ve lost something is awful. It feels like burning in your throat followed by a fluttering in your upper chest. Oh Shit. My passport isn’t in here.

After the initial shock subsided the water works kicked in. Followed by us madly banging on the bar door for them to let us back in. They were in the process of cleaning up. We checked to bar floor, the bathrooms, but no passport. Shit. They also stole my US work visa which was affixed in the passport. Double shit. Adrenaline and being scared shitless are powerful antidotes to alcohol. I sobered up pretty much stat. We went back to the hotel. I called my parents. I cried like  baby. Through sobs I told them of my predicament. I called the Government of Canada’s emergency assistance number. In retrospect it wasn’t a true emergency. But let me tell you it was an awful feeling being abroad without a passport.

Lucky for me there was a Canadian consulate in Dublin. Unfortunately, they were closed until Monday. Remember how I said prior to this that I was under the belief that embassies were open 24/7. Like 7-11. Nope. It still cracks me up that I thought that!! So here it is in the early hours of Sunday morning and we are to fly out early Monday afternoon. After a few hour of restless sleep we went to the police station to file a police report, I got passport photos taken, and printed off an application for a temporary passport. Then we did what anyone would do- went on a ghost tour of Dublin later that night. Because what else could we do?

So Monday morning we show up at the consulate with all my papers. Unlucky for me the lady who could’ve issued me a temporary passport had called in sick, so the best they could do was to issue me an emergency passport which was basically an 8×10 piece of paper with a couple stamps and my picture on it. It would get me from Dublin to London, but not back to the US (where I was living at that time). In London I was supposed to go to the embassy there and they would be able to issue me a new passport. So I boarded the flight to London. And then in London the airline (which shall remain unnamed) allowed me to get onto the flight to LA. With an 8×10 piece of paper as my ID. So get on the plane I did. In my head everything would be ok once I landed because they have my fingerprints on file and they can see that it’s me, and that I’m legally allowed to work in the US. Wrong. Dead-wrong.

I landed in LA, and immediately the immigration people were less than pleased at my arriving from the UK with only a mildly-official piece of paper. I was pulled from the immigration counter to a separate area where I was left to wait for what seemed like a couple hours. In this waiting area were other people- most did not speak English, but like me were in varying degrees of immigration greyness shall we say. Eventually I was brought to an office were it was decided that I should be put back on the returning flight to London….except that the flight had already left. So then it was decided that I had 3 days to get a new passport and work visa or I would be asked to leave the country.

Now here’s where my luck was good- I was living in Orange County, just outside of LA, where there was a Canadian consulate, and where for an absurd amount of money they can issue you a temporary passport and an expedited permanent passport. And lucky for me living in Orange County I was only 2 hours from the Mexican border to get a new work visa. Work visas are only issued upon arrival to the US. Had I not been close to the Canadian or Mexico border this already costly ordeal would’ve included a flight out of the US so I could get a visa coming back in.

So in the end it all worked out. It ended up costing many hundreds of dollars, some gas down to Tijuana and a couple boxes of tissues, but I got a great travel story out of it. In fact I’m exactly the person you want to be traveling with if your passport ever gets stolen. I know exactly what to do. Stay calm. Locate the nearest embassy or consulate. Visit during business hours. Voila.

What’s the most stressful thing you’ve had happen while traveling??

 

Why I love Travel…..

Gosh, I’m sorry. I kinda dropped off the face of the earth there for a bit. Not literally, but figuratively, in that I’ve been off finding myself in Bali. I’ve been on a 3 week solo trip bouncing from Saudi to Kuala Lumpur, to a yoga/meditation retreat in Bali, and then back to Kuala Lumpur. I promise to tell you all about it soon, but in the mean time I thought I’d tell you about how I came to love travel so much, and some of the things it has taught me.

I spent most of my 20’s working as a travel nurse in the US, living in North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and Washington. I was very outgoing and comfortable with uprooting myself whenever I got bored or needed a change of scenery. During this period of time I moved more than most people will in their entire lives. As in I seriously moved at least 20 times. Even though I would’ve described myself as adventurous it was from a very sheltered perspective. Besides going to Mexico as a kid I had yet to leave North America. I was a bit of a princess back in those days- very tied to monetary things that I thought brought me comfort- I always had a flashy car, never deprived myself of whatever it was that I might “want” in that moment. The “me” of then could never have imagined living out of a backpack, having to wash my knickers out in the sink, or staying anywhere that wasn’t 5 stars. The extremes of humanity like poverty, classism and sexism were largely foreign concepts to me at that point.

Back in 2006 I took my first international trip with a friend to London and Ireland. Even though it was an English speaking country it felt very foreign. The locals had cute little accents, and the toilets were a bit different, and they used different words to describe things than I was used to. Oh, and they also drove on the other side of the road, which meant I had to drive on the other side of the road. It was all fresh, and new, and I loved it. And then because it was my first international trip I decided to live every travelers worst nightmare and have my passport stolen. Because, THAT seems like a fun idea. Here’s how green to travel I was. I was 27 and convinced that if I was going on a pub crawl I needed to take my passport with me in the event I got ID’d. Yep. Present day me never carries my passport with me if I can lock it somewhere, and yet here I was drunk on a pub crawl in Temple Bar, and my passport got stolen. Along with my friends camera. Tears ensued. Like the kind of crying where you know you’re completely effed and it sobers you up kinda crying. Now here’s how equally green I was: from the movies it always appears that people who are in trouble (or drunk and missing a passport) just run up to the gates of their embassy and the guards let them in and offer assistance. Life Lesson: that is only in movies. In reality embassies work business hours, and may not even be located in the city or country your passport is stolen from.  Eventually, I obviously got an emergency passport and I’ll tell you all about it another time!! Promise.

So after the passport fiasco of 2006, I traveled to Japan and Bali in 2008 to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. This was likely the point where the life I had been living intersected with the life I wanted to be living. And where my full blown passion for travel was found. I was able to experience 2 very differing Asian cultures on this trip. I saw the orderliness of Japan against the third worldiness of Bali. I ate foods I had never heard of, road on some of the fastest trains known to man, became accustomed to the distinctive smell of burning garbage, and had one of the worst GI illness of my life. That trip left me wanting more.

So orderly….

Before I knew monkeys have rabies…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following year I rang in my 30th birthday on the beaches of Costa Rica with an awesome groups of friends both new and old. I traveled to Guatemala to visit a dear friend who was living there and learned the life lesson that sometimes we play it a little too safe in our western bubbles. For sensible reasons I would never ride around in the back of a strangers pick-up in North America, and yet that was exactly what I found myself doing in Guatemala. I also learned that really outside of western countries there are no such things as safety waivers, just the general implied rule of “try not to act like an idiot and you’ll live.” I like that a lot. I also dragged my Pops with me to Scotland that year on a ancestry tour. That same trip I managed to drive our rental car into a low-hanging bridge about 3 hours after we picked it up. Thank goodness we got extra insurance with that one!!

Seems safe enough....

Seems safe enough….

Turns out we ARE royalty....

Turns out we ARE royalty….

When I was 31 I got the crazy idea to take a travel nurse gig in Saudi. By crazy idea, I mean my cousin Amber nagged me to go with her, and then when I decided I would, she promptly pulled out. Granted she’d recently met a lovely guy so I couldn’t really be mad. And to be fair I’m pretty sure Saudi couldn’t have handled the both of us!! The 15 months I worked in Saudi shattered all my previous world views and exposed me to cultures, languages, and religions that were so foreign to me. During that time I had the privilege of traveling to Bahrain, Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Hungary, Austria, Egypt, Portugal, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Some with new friends from Saudi, some with dear friends from home, and some solo.

India. Trying to fit in...

India. Trying to fit in…

Even in Egypt there's a......

Even in Egypt there’s a……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Syria. I often think of this guy....

Syria. I often think of this guy….

Turkey. From a hot air balloon.

Turkey. From a hot air balloon.

 

After Saudi I moved back to Seattle, but had a hard time settling in. I had changed. Long periods of travel, or moving abroad do that. They are meant to. I saw things differently, and longed for more. Within a year I was off traveling again. Exploring Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I had almost 5 weeks off and it was awesome. I didn’t want to come back. This started me planning the biggest adventure I’ve ever had and last year I took nearly 3 months off and drove an auto-rickshaw across India with 2 of my dear friends. It was life changing. After completing the “Rickshaw Run” I traveled thru Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and spent some more in India. I volunteered at a charity in Kolkata and then spent a week in Northern India in an ashram. I fell in love with Bangladesh. Specifically the people. I can’t talk of that trip without getting a goofy smile on my face. In fact I’m smiling now as I write this to you. The time I spent in India opened me up to the injustices of poverty, classism and sexism. What I saw can’t be unseen. Nor should it.

The Rickshaw Run India

The Rickshaw Run India

Paparazzi in Bangladesh

Paparazzi in Bangladesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids are the future.....

Kids are the future…..

Volunteering in India.

Volunteering in India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that brings this to my most recent travels. This year has been an awesome travel year, one that has often made me feel like I’ve been shadowing along on other peoples honeymoon’s as several of the places I’ve been have had a slightly romantic feel. While I myself have felt anything but. The winter isolation of the Lofoten Islands of Norway, the Maldives, the susets off the beach in Bali have all been uber romantic. But as I’ve already blogged about I’m not waiting around for the future Mr. Kristine wanders to experience it. If I want to go, I go.

Here are some of  the many lessons I’ve learned from traveling. My passion for travel has made me fiercely independent. I am comfortable alone, or with strangers. The people you meet are generally good. If you ask, they will help you. Kindness begets kindness. For me personal growth happens when I’m out of my comfort zone. There’s something very liberating about going with the flow. Letting things play out. Traveling will make you more aware of your “gut” feeling. Listen to it. I don’t always play it safe, but I take calculated risks. I’m also not afraid to yell at someone or become aggressive if a situation requires it. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often. Travel opens you up, it softens you. Often it is transformative. It has been for me.

The things you experience while traveling will imprint themselves on your heart. Some of them will be places, some will be experiences, but the vast majority of them will be the encounters you had with other travelers and the local people. People who are the exact some as you, but come from very different backgrounds. People who if you let them will be some of your best teachers.

What are the best lessons you’ve learned from travel?

 

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