Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: Indian Subcontinent

Sacred Places

During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.

Palmyra in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.

Solo Travel

I’ve just returned from a solo 11 day trip to Italy. It was awesome and I loved every minute of it. There’s no other way to describe how solo travel feels,  other than to say I felt free. And empowered. And brave at times. Each day was mine to do with it what I want. No one else to consider, only what I felt like doing, or eating, or whom I felt like interacting with. I was out there drifting in the world with only myself to answer to. Free and open to a world of possibilities.

While I’ve traveled quite a bit, most of my travels have included a travel partner.  I have traveled alone before though. To Portugal. To an ashram in India. To Malaysia and a yoga retreat in Bali. To Frankfurt to see the Christmas markets. These are some of my favourite travel memories. And truth be told I met some of the nicest and dearest people on these trips. A kind and funny Czech guy who I hope I cross paths with again soon. A quirky British girl who matches my inappropriate sense of humor and schemed with me on how to smuggle alcohol into our ashram.  A Spanish guy who just thinking about him makes me shake my head and laugh. A lovely woman from Montreal whom I know I’ll meet out in the world again. And most recently on this trip, I met the kindest family who adopted me in Rome and made sure I didn’t have to eat dinner alone and then also a couple from Texas whom I shared many laughs with. So even when I’m traveling solo I have found that I’m never really alone for very long if I don’t want to be.

Portugal- my 1st solo trip

With my lovely Ashram friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often when I’m traveling alone I meet people who tell me how brave they think it is, and then immediately say “but I could never do it.” And I always respond by saying “I reckon you could.” Because I firmly believe that if I can do it, then anyone can. I also think it’s especially important for a woman to see the world on her own. There is something so empowering about standing on your own 2 feet, and trusting in yourself, your smarts and your intuition.

Don’t get me wrong- it won’t always be easy, but I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. I’m a terrible researcher. I like to have an accommodation booked, but I’ve gotten really lazy about actually researching things. I cracked open my Lonely Planet guide maybe 2 days before I left for this trip. So sometimes that means I’m not as prepared as I wish I was. Hand in hand with this is the fact that I don’t speak a lick of Italian. Well besides Bonjourno, and Spaghetti, and Ciao. But as with most places almost everyone speaks English so you can get by just fine. Often when I travel with others I leave the navigating to them. I never hold the map, I never look up directions. I’m hopelessly directionally challenged . And yet when I travel solo I make it work. Sure sometimes (a lot of the time) I get lost. But I have found that people are for the most part helpful, and I never stay lost for very long. Every now and then I still make rookie travel mistakes like ordering something without checking to see how much it costs- apparently directly across the street from the Vatican Diet Coke costs 8 euros. For a can. Of Diet Coke. Facepalm. The one downside of solo travel is that if you plan on documenting your travels you need to get very good at taking selfies (or buy a dreaded selfie stick) or speak up and ask others to take photos with you. So often I have fewer photos of myself on solo trips than I would if I was traveling with a partner.

Getting the “selfie” down

Or just ask a fellow traveler to snap a pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the thought of traveling alone abroad still seems too scary why not try a weekend away in a city you’ve always wanted to visit in your own country. Sign up for a yoga or meditation retreat- something that encourages being alone while still being around others. Or book into a group tour where you’ll be sure to meet others. I have found that when I’m alone I’m more open to meeting others, and it’s easier for others to approach me. So unless you are going to some truly isolating location, you will cross paths with other travelers.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should make solo travel a priority. I think it’s essential for your growth and development. You will never learn more about your strengths than you will when you are exploring a foreign city solo. You will most likely feel more independent than you have in your entire life. You will learn to listen to your intuition. You will learn to put your wants and needs and desires first. You will make travel memories that you will be proud of because they will be yours, and yours alone. You made them happen. You trusted yourself enough to go and know that you would just figure it out. So do yourself a huge favor and go.

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

Kindness of Strangers

We spent the day driving down the NH8 from Halol to Valsad in the Indian state of Gujarat. In a three-wheeled rickshaw. Myself and my 2 dearest friends a Kiwi and a Yank. On a six-laned highway going our top speed of 50km/hr. We arrived late afternoon and after getting our rickshaw a quick oil change and check up, we got back on the road looking for the nearest hotel. Of which there were few. The first one turned us away because they were fully booked. The second place we tried was some sort of Indian country club that refused to rent us a room on account of us not having any relatives in Valsad. No shit Sherlock. Sadly, the check in guy was a stickler for rules and my blond hair wasn’t getting us anywhere. This was how we found ourselves back on the highway heading towards the town of Pardi as the last bits of sun started to dip below the horizon. We had made one pact before we started our India adventure and that was to never, ever be on the roads after dark.

This was how we met Ambalal. Had the sun not been setting I can guarantee our paths would never have crossed. As we dodged motorcycles and large overloaded trucks we spotted what appeared to be a truck stop/motel. As we pulled in we were startled to see that there were very few people staying there, and that the lack of people were made up for with life sized statues of animals splayed out on the lawn adjacent to the restaurant. It was super bizarre. The kind of place that loosely resembles a dormitory for truckers and I can pretty much guarantee that we are the only western women who have ever stayed there in the history of it being open. But what were we to do?! It seemed less likely that we would be murdered in this strange zoo like setting than we would be killed driving on the road after dark so we booked 2 rooms. Naturally, the staff were super excited to see us.

After dragging our bags upstairs to our uber basic rooms we made our way to the restaurant. The hotel owner made his way over which is how we came to meet Ambalal. Ambalal was the manager and spoke near perfect English. He spoke the kind of English that makes me love India where you are asked “what is you good name?” and they say things like “most certainly” and “very excellent” and other very formal sentences. I liked him immediately. He previously had worked at a fancy hotel in another part of India, which was why his English was most excellent, but had moved closer to where his family was. Over dinner he and the owner sat with us and were very curious about our adventure and how it was that 3 western girls had come to drive an auto rickshaw 3000km across India. Ambalal acted as the interpreter between us and the hotel owner. After dinner the hotel owner pulled out a photo album and regaled us with stories of times past, he kept pointing at the same man in the photos over and over saying “best friend.” In this photo album was the missing piece of the puzzle as to what the heck was up with the zoo animals. As it turns out these fake animals were a real hit for Indian weddings, and we were shown photos of large Indian wedding celebrations with the animals in the background.

The following morning we were awoken by Ambalal leaving us buckets of boiled water for our morning bucket bath. By the end of the trip we would become professional bucket bathers. We packed up and went down to load the rickshaw up. The mornings were often misty and the rickshaw would have a layer of watery film covering her. But not this morning. The night security guard who had been in charge of keeping an eye of the rickshaw had taken it upon himself to give her a wash and swept her out. So unexpected. And so sweet and kind. Our kiwi teammate was a little under the weather so we needed to stop off at a pharmacy as we headed for Nashik. Ambalal was very insistent on taking us to the pharmacy in the town of Pardi.

This was how I found myself sharing the front bench of our rickshaw as a tiny Indian man directed me along the side of the highway. Going the opposite way to traffic. One of the girls in the back took a video as we were instructed by Ambalal to drive on the shoulder as large trucks and other rickshaws speed past us. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Eventually we crossed to the other side of the highway and made it to the pharmacy. To our surprise Ambalal then asked us to take him to his village because “it is most certainly on the way.” He had already been so kind to us we just went with it as he directed us the 30 min to his village thru the bumpy graveled roads.

The closer we got to Ambalal’s house the clearer it was that this was quite the adventure for him. It wasn’t likely every day that he was driver home in an auto rickshaw by 3 western girls. It’s also worth noting that the rickshaw we were driving was hot pink. To say we stood out is an understatement. He took to it like he has leading a parade float. He was waving and the smile on his face was enormous. On the downward section of a single lane gravel road he directed us to take a right turn. We passed a small house on the left that belonged to his son and then at the end of the road  were 2 other houses. One where Ambalal lived with his wife, and the other one belonged to his mother. We quickly realized that Ambalal hadn’t informed his wife or mother that he was bringing guests. After they got over the initial shock we were ushered inside and given 7-ups and instructed to use the western toilet in Ambalal’s mother’s house. We then got a full tour of the house he had built for his mother. It was a pretty cool experience and very unexpected to be welcomed into a family home.

Ambalal would  become one of many kind men that helped us along our way across India. We had a difficult time connecting with Indian women during our 2 week adventure driving from northern India to the south. They often seemed confused by what it was that we were up to. We would wave as we passed in the rickshaw, but it was hard to get a response. Numerous times we found ourselves in situations where we had to rely on the kindness of strangers, and India would reward  us time and time again. From young boys who changed our front wheel when the bolt had loosened up after the gravel roads to and from Ambalal’s house, to the kind rickshaw driver who taught us how to drive one and believed in us, to the mechanic who opened his shop on a Sunday to get us back on the road and refused to allow us to pay.

I have always believed that people the world round are generally kind. For me, travel often proves this. If you are kind you often get kindness in return. I sure hope that Ambalal’s days are filled with kindness as he definitely showed his share of kindness to us!

What are your stories of experiencing kindness on the road?

If you’re wondering why the heck I was driving a rickshaw across India in the first place you can check out our team website here, or entertain yourself with the numerous videos of our epic adventure on our Facebook page. You’re welcome ahead of time, because trust me, they’re entertaining as hell.

Why I Loved Bangladesh

Last year I convinced a dear friend of mine to travel to Bangladesh with me. Yes. I really said Bangladesh. For at least a couple years prior I had wanted to visit this country. The first time I was in Saudi Arabia I had a awesome driver named Saybel who was from outside of Dhaka. We would often talk about what it was like to live there, and about his family. Later that year Lonely Planet named Bangladesh in its list of top 10 best value countries of 2011. I was intrigued. Over the next couple years I listened to podcasts from travelers who had visited the country, and read blog posts. Although few tourists go to Bangladesh the overwhelming message the ones that did carried home with them was to go. You will fall in love with the people they said. They also spoke of how even though it bordered India, the country felt completely different. Bangladesh quickly moved to the top of the list of countries I wanted to visit.

Since we had already planned to do the Rickshaw Run and drive an auto-rickshaw 3000km across India, it was fitting that we would also visit neighbouring countries. From India we flew to Bhutan and from Bhutan to Nepal. It was while traveling in Nepal we bought our flight to Bangladesh. We bought them very last minute as in the weeks leading up to us going there had been Hartals which are politically motivated city or region wide strikes that affect transportation and can incite rioting. We closely tracked social media, and things seemed safe, so we registered with our embassies abroad (me with Canada, her with the U.S.) and off to Bangladesh we went.

We arrived at Dhaka international airport where I wrote in my journal that there was a significant military presence. We got a VOA (visa on arrival) and were met by a taxi organized by the hotel we were staying at. The sun had already set and the traffic was insane. We weren’t really very far from the hotel, but it took over an hour to get there. It was complete chaos as cars, buses, auto-rickshaws, pedal-rickshaws, and people powered rickshaws all inched forward into any seemingly available space. If I thought traffic in Delhi was something, Dhaka was a whole other story. Eventually, we made it to the hotel and while we were checking in we got an email from the U.S. embassy informing us that there was another hartal planned for the next day, and that it was inadvisable for westerners to leave the hotel. We asked the hotel staff about this and they said we would be fine going out. “No problem.” They said. And then one of the desk clerks casually said “just don’t take the auto-rickshaws.” Naturally we asked why. He replied totally matter of factly “petrol bombs.” Huh. Good to know. Being the sensible, life loving gals that we are, we stayed on lock-down the following day. We ordered room service, and read, and watched Titanic on the smallest TV known to mankind.

 

 

 

 

 

The following day we emerged. And it was hard to get a feel for the situation. We commandeered a non-English speaking bike-rickshaw guy to take us to the bus station to see about getting tickets to Bogra and we passed police in riot gear at almost every corner. They didn’t seem to have a real purpose, but were rather just milling about. We later found out that this is the norm, and actually had little to do with the hartal the day before. After getting nowhere at the bus station we tried unsuccessfully to get train tickets (sold out) so we had the rickshaw guy take us to the Ahsan Manzil otherwise known as the Pink Palace. The Pink Palace is beautiful and has quite the sorted past. It was completed in 1872 but abandoned a decade later when it was badly damaged when a tornado hit. It then became a slum until it was acquired by the government who turned it into a museum. It sits along the shores of the Buriganga River and is well worth a visit should you find yourself in Dhaka.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While visiting the Pink Palace we were approached by a guy named Hassan who told us he was an English student and wanted to practice his English with us. I have to admit that my initial thoughts were “how much is this going to cost us?” We were slightly jaded from our time in India where it seemed like nothing was ever free. Turns out, he was actually an English student, who really did want to practice his English, and meet the few tourists that visit Dhaka. He also spoke German, and a couple other languages. Hassan toured us around the palace. He told us it’s history while a crowd of some 30 people followed us around and took our photos or asked for photos with us. This would become a recurring event as often we turned up to a tourist site only to become the tourist attraction. From here he took us to the other main sites in Dhaka, walking us thru the winding streets to see the Armenian church, we visited the home of an artist who is famous for his pieces that adorn local rickshaws, and we visited a beautiful Shia mosque. We also visited the  Star Mosque which oddly has a tile of Mt Fuji in it . While there a lady asked us for a photo and then asked if we were from Japan. Konichiwa lady!

Later in the week we met up with Hassan again and he took us to Lalbagh Fort. It was built in 1678 by a Mughal prince and reminded me a little of the Taj Mahal. The following decade the fort changed hands but was never completed after the death of the new owners daughter Pari Bibi who’s tomb is there. The surrounding gardens are beautiful and you can climb on top of the old soldiers quarters for lovely views of Dhaka city. From here we walked towards the Buriganga River where Hassan helped us hire a boat to take us out on the river to the opposite shore. The waterways are essential to Bangladesh’s economy as many places are only accessible via the rivers. The ferries (as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news) are jam packed full of people and goods, and are often very weighed down and extremely unsafe by western standards. The river itself is the colour of oil. It’s black and greasy, and the river banks are littered with garbage. And yet, I loved it. People in passing boats and ferries would go out of their way to wave at us. And do the universal sign for “please take our photo” or take return photos of us. The people of Bangladesh are undoubtedly the most friendly and curious of any country I have ever visited. I smile every time I think about my trip there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finished off the boat trip with a visit to the ship breaking yard. The sounds of hundreds of hammers clinking against the steel hulls of the ships made a sort of urban symphony and I remember being mesmerized by it and taking a lot of video while we were there. Again we were greeted with smiles and waves by the men working here. We had the boat drop us on the opposite tour and Hassan led us through the local vegetable market as the sun was starting to set. The river looks beautiful at this time of day. Hassan led us thru the narrow back streets and with everywhere we went in Bangladesh we had a crowd of curious followers trailing us. We jumped in an auto-rickshaw where Hassan was able to convince the driver to let me drive and I inched the rickshaw thru the chaotic Dhaka traffic. Later that evening as we chatted on the street I wrote in my journal how a local man came up and gave us bubble gum and asked where we were from. Not five minutes later an elderly man came up to me and gave me a high-five. I wrote “I love it here!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to see by the many positive random encounters with Bangladeshi people why I have such a fondness for their country. I love taking photos while I’m traveling. In fact photography and trying new foods are two of the big reasons I love travel. I’m a great scenic photographer, but I’m nervous taking photos of people. Bangladesh changed that for me. People requested and even demanded to have their photo taken. But here’s the thing. They never, ever smile. The one Bengali word I learned and used over and over was “hashi” which means smile. Whenever anyone was posing for a picture I would yell “hashi” and they would always smile. I’m sure part of that was amusement at the fact that I would speak a Bengali word, but it worked. I took some of the best photos I’ve ever taken here. Below is the power of “hashi” in action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong-the poverty and over crowding are assaulting. Bangladesh is one of the most populated places on earth. And the travel there isn’t easy as there isn’t a lot of tourist infrastructure. But to travel in Bangladesh is to be rewarded in ways you will never imagine. There is a kindness and a curiousness that is incomparable to other countries. Rest assured you will be raving about your time here long after you’ve left. I should know. It’s coming up on 2 years since I visited and I have pictures of the many friendly people I met adorning my walls here in Saudi Arabia. So go. Visit. Be awestruck by the friendliness of the locals. Take photos. Explore. Visit amazing UNESCO sites and have them mostly to yourself. Mostly, I say because you will likely have quite the entourage where ever you go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hassan was the best part of our trip to Dhaka. Without him we likely wouldn’t have explored half of what we did. He recently started his own tour company called Dhaka Urban Outings. So when you go, be sure to connect up with him. Tell him I sent you!! You can find him here on Facebook.

Have you traveled in Bangladesh? Do you agree? What off the beaten track country is your favourite?

Overcoming Fear…..

I have a completely irrational fear of the water. I blame the movie Jaws. And one time when we were house boating as a kid and I was swimming in a lake with my mom and she said “Imagine if something grabbed your foot.” Thanks a lot mom. That’s the type of thing that keeps a kid awake at night. This fear is so irrational that I’m uncomfortable even in the deep end of a pool. Especially if I’m alone. Because my mind thinks there might be a shark lurking. Yes, even in a pool. I warned you this was an irrational fear.

I’m even more skiddish in the ocean. Don’t get me wrong. I can swim, but I would never go into the ocean alone. Like ever. But if I’m with someone I trust I will, but not very deep. One of the long standing things on my lengthy list of things to do before I die, was to try scuba diving. Here, you’re probably saying to yourself….didn’t she say she’s afraid of water?? Yes I am, but I’m a firm believer of walking head first into my fears. Which is why when I was in the Maldives in April, I signed up for a beginners scuba diving class.

I signed up the day before the class. And immediately that voice in my head was like you’re going to die. Or be eaten by a shark. I started to have sign-up remorse. The following morning before the class that same voice was trying to talk me out of it. You don’t have to go. You don’t feel well. And the voice was right- I didn’t feel well, but I knew it was just anxiety. So to the class I went. It didn’t help that the dive instructors took great pleasure in playing off my fears by making jokes like…..Do you know what happens if you see a shark. You die. Not. Funny. FYI.  So the class started off with the group of us watching a video. There were 6 students and the 2 dive instructors. So we watch the video. And I’m like this isn’t too bad. And then we don the dive gear. And that wasn’t so bad. It’s heavy and throws your balance off, but we were still on land so everything was ok.

SHARK......

SHARK……

Regular Fish...

Regular Fish…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we entered with water. And did a quick lesson in the shallow water. It was difficult to remember to breathe only thru your mouth. My mask kept leaking which didn’t help my anxiety and I was having a hard time clearing it. Luckily, one of the dive instructors (probably realizing I was the weakest link) was at my side. We had to show a couple skills before going into the deeper water. This included clearing your mask, and how to get your regulator back if you lost it. So then we moved into deeper water. I’m not even sure how I made it to this point except that it took so much effort remembering to breathe with the regulator that I didn’t have time to be scared of the water or to be looking around to see if Jaws was coming. Every time I went down my mask would start to leak, which would cause me to panic and I would make the signal for I’m going up like a mad woman. And the dive instructor would come up with me, and give me a pep talk and we would go back down. Then my mask would leak, I would panic, and back up we would go. We got down to about 5ft. And I lasted for about a minute at that depth. And then that was enough for me. I felt bad getting all the attention from the dive instructor. And my leaking mask wasn’t helping the situation. But I got further than I thought I would. My travel mate said she didn’t even expect me to get into the water. But I did. And to be honest, I’d like to try it again. Without a leaking mask. And with an instructor who’s only responsibility is me. I’m not saying I will love it, but I would definitely like to give it another try. I’m even making plans to in August, when I’m in Sharm el Sheikh Egypt for a long weekend. So scuba diving I will see you again very soon….

Calm Seas……

There was an afternoon that I spent on the back balcony of our bungalow in the Maldives where the sea was perfectly calm. Where it was difficult to ascertain where the sea ended and the sky started. Where boats on the horizon appeared to be floating in the sky instead of sailing on the sea. The only thing that appeared to be moving were the fish jumping. They would momentarily break the otherwise calm surface. It felt, for that portion of the afternoon at least, as though time were standing still…..

 

 

 

 

 

On another note, I’m off to Morocco for the next 2 weeks. I can’t wait to eat some delicious food, catch up with my dear Yankee friend, and take about a million photos!!

The Maldives

At the end of April I spent 6 blissful nights in the Maldives. The Maldives are an archipelago of some 1190 islands in the Indian Ocean spread out over 90 000sq km. It is the lowest country in the world with an average elevation of 1.5m  which has major implications with global warming and the rising of sea level. 80 % of the country actually lies less than 1m above  sea level. Some reports state that these islands could disappear in the next 50 years resulting in the displacement of any entire country. The Maldives is a Muslim country that prior to converting practiced Buddhism. Given it’s natural beauty it’s no surprise that tourism is it’s main economy.

We flew into Colombo Sri Lanka, and then took a 90 min flight to the capital city of Male. From here we took a 20min seaplane flight to Veligandu Island Resort which was to be our home for 5 nights. The Maldives are synonymous with luxury travel. Most accommodations in the Maldives requires a seaplane or speedboat transfer to reach your resort. Often this adds on hundreds of dollars to the price of the hotel, which trust me is anything but cheap. I traveled with my kiwi sidekick and we booked 3 nights in a water bungalow with an all inclusive option and then 2 nights in a beach bungalow. There ended up being an issue with our original booking so we were upgraded to a water bungalow with a jacuzzi for the entire time. Too bad we weren’t on our honeymoon cause this place was super duper romantic, and obviously bursting at the seems with couples in love. So here we were 2 single gals just wanting to get our relax and drink on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bungalow we stayed in was gorgeous. We had a balcony with a couple lounge chairs and stairs that led into the water. We had a fully stocked mini bar, and all you could drink at the 2 bars on the resort. This was my first experience with an all-inclusive resort, and while it’s really not my thing I fully embraced all it had to offer. Champagne for breakfast? Yes, please. Mam, you want drinks at the pool? Yes. Please. More wine? Yes. The answer is always going to be yes. So I spent my time split between laying by the pool, swimming in the pool, or relaxing on our back balcony. We begrudgingly did all the romantic couple things like having dinner overlooking the beach by candle light, or taking a sunset dolphin cruise. To be completely honest it was such a beautiful vacation, but being around couples 24/7 took it’s toll. I’d like to say I rose above it, but sometimes I wanted to just yell at them to “get a room” and secretly took pleasure when some of them got irritated with each other. I’m not especially proud of this, but it’s just how I felt after spending 5 days on other people’s honeymoons.

 

 

 

 

 

We saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed, and cherished the calm evening sound of the Indian Ocean brushing against our bungalow. We took a boat excursion to a local village and wandered in the alleyways listening to children recite the alphabet. We saw pods of dolphins doing acrobatics and playing with our boat. The water was so blue I’ll forever think of that colour blue as Maldivian Blue. We had some much needed down time, and I was able to reflect on where I’ve been, and where I hope I’m heading. I attempted to overcome my fear of water, and surprised myself (more on this in an upcoming post.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last night in the Maldives was spent at a budget hotel on the same island as the international airport. It’s a quick 10 min ferry ride to the jam packed island capital of Male. This section of the Maldives is in a conservative Muslim area so alcohol is not allowed, and it’s recommended to dress a little more conservatively. It was nice to spend a night with the locals. There are a ton of budget hotels here, but I wouldn’t recommend staying here for more than a night or 2 as you have to take a speedboat to the western beaches if one wants to swim in the sea in what we consider a normal swimsuit. We didn’t get to explore the capital city of Male, which I would’ve like to have done had we more time. Pictures of the city show that literally ever square foot of it is taken up, and would’ve been interesting to explore. So that’s the Maldives. It’s so very worth seeing. But go with your lover, and not your best mate as you might be like me, and find all that newlywed gushy love a tad bit nauseating…..

 

Sunrise….

Sometimes a sunrise is particularly amazing. Where it looks like an artist’s brush has painted hues of colour on the adjacent clouds. Or, where the sun breaking thru the clouds gives the impression of molten lava bubbling below the clouds surface. Yellow and orange turning into red. With coral hues softening into pale orange and yellow. This one took place 37000ft above the southern tip of India, on route to Sri Lanka. I awoke to see the light coming over the horizon and then watched it for some time completely mesmerized. Awestruck by the beauty of it. Momentarily forgetting my deep rooted fear of flying to concentrate on a single. Beautiful. Sunrise.

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