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Posts Tagged ‘beach’

Love Knows Not Its Own Depth

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Who would have thought that arriving from Bangkok to Los Angeles would have been culture shock? Being that I’ve lived in the US for the better part of my 40 years, landing on US soil should have been like arriving home, but instead, it was a jolt to my senses, a reminder of why I decided to travel on the other side of the world.  Don’t get me wrong, LA was amazing.  It is a great city, at least the small area that I saw, and it is one that I feel drawn to, actually feel kindred with, yet after spending the last 8 months as a backpacker in Asia, it was…well…different.

[Let me just bring in an aside here, since the whole reason for this hiatus was to be reunited with my boyfriend, even if only for a few days.  I am incredibly blessed.  Most men wouldn’t wait for a woman who was traveling the world for a year, but mine is.  When I left, we had no idea what would happen and no solid commitment, but after a short while the realization of what we do have hit us both.  Matt had shared this Kahlil Gibran quote with me, “And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation,” and it rang true.  Matt Hughes is without question my best friend, my soul mate, and my true love.  It may have taken some time and life lessons to find him, but everything is in the timing, and this timing is just right.  He totally spoiled me, made sure I was in the lap of luxury for five days, and we had an absolutely fantastic time.  Staying just a few blocks from the beach, we spent our days walking and bike riding, and eating lots of amazing food.  Thank you, my love, for being so supportive, so patient, and for being downright awesome.  You fill me with great pride.]

It is interesting that only eight months ago I landed in Mumbai, feeling the shock of being in a foreign land where everything was completely different.  The myriad of languages, the style of dress, the tradition and culture, the public transport, the squat toilets, and that India is dirty, so dirty.  On the other hand, eight months later, Los Angeles felt foreign because everyone did speak my language, because it is really clean, because there is the culture of NFL and Thanksgiving, because I didn’t need to carry toilet paper with me everywhere I went, and because the taxi driver from the airport became very upset when he learned we didn’t know exactly where we were going.   This last point is especially distinct because if it had been anywhere in Asia the driver would have been thrilled with the prospect of an extremely high fare.  I mean, come on guy, how big can Playa del Rey be?  As we learned, it is not very big.

Playa del Rey is located right at the center of The Strand, 22 miles of bike trail right on the beach from Torrance to Santa Monica.  The commercial part of Playa del Rey is basically one road with several restaurants, bars, groceries, and a small strip mall.  We had two fun nights of drinking at Prince O’ Wales and The Harbor Room, and two great dinners at Tower 42.    Two days we headed north, rode through Marina del Rey with all its tall masts, Venice Beach with its funky vibe and street art, and Santa Monica well known for its old time pier.  We spent Thanksgiving on Venice beach, having dinner at The Fig Tree, and another afternoon of microbrews and gourmet burgers.  Another two days we headed south, through Manhattan Beach which is home to beach volleyball, Hermosa Beach and all its surfers, and Redondo Beach with its gaudier pier.  We liked the feel of Hermosa Beach, and spent two afternoons there.  It seemed a bit more down to earth then the pretentious Manhattan Beach right next door, boasting that it is home to many pro athletes.  In Hermosa we enjoyed an authentic Mexican dinner, and an afternoon of NFL and pizza.

All of these beaches have prime coastal real estate, crazy beautiful homes featuring floor to ceiling glass windows, and who can blame them, the view is amazing.  The beaches are wide and roomy, and the dunes are covered in succulents (these are a type of plant, for those who don’t know or have dirty minds), which we hope help to protect the dunes from erosion.  And on a beautiful day, which I think most of them are, there are hundreds of people of all ages out walking the beach, riding bicycles, playing Frisbee or volleyball, surfing, doing yoga, sunning, picnicking, etc…  It was great to see that Angelinos are such active people; that is a part of their culture that I could really resonate with since I love being outdoors, and the climate is so temperate there, that seems possible more days than not.

Los Angeles, I enjoyed my time with you.  I loved the foggy mornings and the cool nights; the long stretch of coast with mountain ranges in every direction; and the way one could be who they are.  Expect to see us again in the future.  For pictures of LA, click here.

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Posted in Food, nature, travel | 6 Comments »

Good Morning Vietnam…or…Watch out for Purse Snatchers

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon, full of excitement, in anticipation of having an amazing time in Vietnam.  After Cambodia, I was really excited to be in a more modern city, and had hopes that Vietnam would be significantly different.  Cambodia had been a great visit.  I loved the sightseeing and the beach, but like Sri Lanka, I felt that as a tourist I was a target, that Cambodians got dollar signs in their eyes upon seeing me, to the point that I felt uncomfortable at times.  So, I wanted to see what else SE Asia had to offer, and I’d heard so many great things about Vietnam that were inviting.  Fellow travelers boasted about the beautiful countryside and jungles, the amazing beaches, and the food.

First impressions of Saigon were positive, all the energy of a big modern city, influenced by the French, and convenient for travelers.  As Dore & I headed out our first night there, the proprietor of our guest house gave us a warning to watch our bags, keep them in front, and hold onto them.  Tourists were targets of a different kind in Vietnam, still in hopes of big money, but in a different ruse.  We wandered through District 1, an area that caters to travelers with lots of outdoor eateries and bars, t-shirt and book stores, and massage spas.  Feeling the vitality of the city, we returned that night excited for the prospect of the next few days.

We spent the entire first day walking the city, taking in this Eur-Asian mecca.  The city is spotted with pocket parks; it has its own Cathedral Notre Dame, and an interesting combination of Asian and French architecture, both colonial and modern.  After dinner at a street side eatery, we wandered, doing some window shopping and perusing the area.  And then it happened, just like that.  We were standing on the side of the road looking at a spa massage menu, and in the blink of an eye, a scooter pulled up beside us, cut the strap on Dore’s bag, and was down the street with it in hand.  When you are told to beware of purse snatchers, take that advice seriously, because within a short time after that we met several other people who had been victims of the same kind, including a guy who had his iPhone grabbed right out of his hand.  Thankfully, Dore was not hurt, but now camera with pics that hadn’t been downloaded and phone are gone, as well as our enthusiastic feelings for Ho Chi Minh City.

We tried to stay positive for our time there, but needless to say, that had become difficult.  Regardless, we made the best of it.  We did end up going back for those massages the following day, which helped some.  And then there is always food.  One thing the French did for Saigon was leave them with a taste for really great food.  You cannot turn a corner in HCMC without passing a Banh Mi cart, this is the amazing baguette sandwich that starts with pate and then conforms to the desires of the customer dependent on the ingredients available.  There are cheese and wine shops, as well as patisseries everywhere.  One morning we had crepes, one night we had a fine French meal.  And speckled in there were lots of stops for Vietnamese coffee, which is now my favorite coffee ever.  It is rich and delicious with chocolate undertones.  Hot or iced, it is amazing.  This year, Vietnam actually became the largest exporter of coffee in the world, beating out Brazil and Colombia.  Well deserved.

We did manage to see some sights, too.  One afternoon we visited Reunification Palace, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked during the Vietnam War.  It is comprised of living quarters, conference rooms, meeting rooms, and underground bunkers.  Having been built in the 1960’s, the style is art deco, decorated with fine pieces of Asian art, furniture, and rugs.  Afterwards, we visited the Museum of Fine Arts, which had one level of Ancient pieces, but mostly displayed contemporary paintings, drawings, etchings, and sculpture.  It was really great to see modern art from an Asian perspective, and I was happy to learn that there are lots of impressive Vietnamese artists.

The next stop was Mui Ne, a surf beach (i.e. ex-pat community) almost directly east of HCMC.  As I shared in my last blog, it was on this journey that I decided that no matter how beautiful Vietnam is, I wouldn’t be able to see it like I want to this time around.  Still though, Mui Ne is a nice little fishing village, fun ocean and waves, stand-up paddleboards, kite surfing, and an amazing Indian restaurant called Ganesh (we ate there twice).   It was a wonderful relaxing time, allowing for time to unwind after so many cities and the drama of Saigon.  There is a fantastic night market along the beach consisting of dozens of seafood restaurants displaying live seafood in tanks, allowing you to pick exactly what you want to eat.  The lobster was amazing; razor clams were great, too.   The one downside to Mui Ne, I was coming in on a paddleboard and was knocked off by the surf in really shallow water, the board hit the sand and popped back up to jar me in my ribs, 5 weeks later I’m still healing what has to be a cracked rib.

From Mui Ne, Dore & I parted ways again.  I headed to Da Lat, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.  This city is considered by many to be Vietnam’s Little Switzerland or Paris, and when you are there you do feel like you are in the Alps rather than Asia.  Surrounded by farm country, this area supplies most of Southern Vietnam, including HCMC, with produce.  They grow everything from vegetables to flowers to fruit to coffee.  It is beautiful hilly green country, covered in jungle where it has not been cleared for crops.  I took a moto tour one day with an amazing guide, Viet.  We hit a flower farm, coffee plantation, silk farm, Elephant Falls, the big smiling Buddha, and the Crazy House.  The Crazy House is this wacky guest house in Da Lat designed by a Vietnamese woman who studied architecture in Russia.  It reminded me of an Asian art deco version of something Gaudi would have designed in Barcelona.  Bizarre, interesting, and oddly beautiful all at the same time.

Aside from the French influence to Vietnamese cuisine, they have done pretty well on their own.  Noodles are the thing in Vietnam, whether in soup, or fried or steamed and served as the main part of a delicious dish.  Pho, the rice noodle soup which is a breakfast staple, became one of my favorites.  In my opinion, when a person is served soup accompanied by a side plate piled high with greens, herbs, and sprouts to add to the soup as you eat, one cannot go wrong.  I quickly learned to watch out for the soups containing random organs and this blood pudding sort of stuff.  I realize some people may like that, but not me.  I tried it once, and didn’t even finish it.  For those of you who know me well, you know that that is out of character, but in my opinion, it’s an acquired taste, and my taste buds said “yuck.”   The Vietnamese have a couple of different desserts that they make out of beans, and I liked those a lot.  Some were served with coconut milk, others just boiled with sugar water, but somehow they came out as a satisfying dessert.  Like beer, beans are not just for breakfast anymore.  For more pictures of Vietnam, click here.

One quick night back in Saigon, and then I caught a flight to meet Dore in Phuket, Thailand.  The last 4 weeks have been spent island hopping, and it has been amazing.  My favorite part of SE Asia so far, yet that story is to come…

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Hey, Lady…Need Tuk-Tuk?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

“Hey, Lady…Need Tuk-Tuk?”  These five words are ubiquitous with my stay in Cambodia, and while I was there, I felt like if I heard them one more time I might smack someone, but everyone needs to make a living, so I took it all with a grain of salt, would say “no thanks, not today,” and continue on my way.  But the tuk-tuk is the primary tourist vehicle in Cambodia, and it’s funny how they vary bit-by-bit from country to country.  In India they were a little smaller, painted black-red-and yellow, and were personally decorated with photos, pictures of the area or of the driver’s interests, had Ganesh or Shiva figurines on the dash, sometimes massive sound systems and tassels hanging from the windshield.  In Cambodia they were larger, more open-aired, colorful, but not as decked out and decorative as in India, and they served as advertising billboards.   In Vietnam, it’s all about the motorbike.  I don’t even recall seeing a tuk-tuk there.  The moto driver will throw you and your 20 kilo (that’s 44 pounds) pack on his bike without even thinking about it.   But the phrase starting with “Hey Lady” will remain in my mind forever.

From the Angkor Temples, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.  I was planning to take in some of the Khmer Rouge history, visit the memorial sites of S21 and the Killing Fields, until I had the worst night I have had on my entire trip so far.  I’d met a brother and sister traveling together from Holland on the bus.  We decided to have dinner and some drinks together.  When we arrived back to the hostel it was late, the area was quiet, it was time for bed.  Well, time for bed for the humans, but not for the bed bugs.  Yes, disgusting nasty horrible bed bugs.  I had never experienced anything like them before, and it was miserable.  As soon as the lights went out, they came out.  I noticed that I was being bitten right away, flipped the lights on, and there were lots of them.  The bed was infested.  I immediately freaked out, ran out to the manager, and upon seeing them, even he said “oh my god.”  He apologized profusely, but then tried to blame the infestation on a woman who had been there the night before, saying she had just come from Laos.  While that bit may have been true, I am no fool, and that infestation did not happen overnight.  Being that it was past 1:00am, I was promptly moved into the dorm, and told they would have a bed for me at their other location the next day, for $5 more a night.  Well, needless to say, I didn’t have a great night’s sleep, and being that I was totally grossed out and unimpressed with the customer service, I left at 7:30am for a hotel I’d found on Booking.com that had received very high cleanliness ratings.  Granted, it was a bit more expensive, but still, it was better.  Even so, I decided that the next day I’d be leaving for the coast.  I knew Dore & I would be coming back through Phnom Penh together, and I’d wait to do the tourist thing then.

So, after getting some sleep, I just wandered around PP, not a bad city, and decided to check out a location for our return.  This hostel had very high ratings on all the websites, and literally, The Mad Monkey saved my life on that very down day.  I wandered in just as the rain began to fall, it is still monsoon season, and it poured for hours on end.  The reception/restaurant area was loungey, comfortable, and inviting.  The staff was great, all Cambodian, but English owned, so well trained for the industry.  The music was relaxing, but modern.  The restaurant menu and the food, varied and yummy.  And the rooms were clean, so yes, that is where D&I stayed upon our return. For photos of Phnom Penh, link here.

From there, I headed southwest to the coastal town of Sihanoukville, and more precisely, Serendipity Beach.  I stayed at a place that was recommended by a friend I’d made in Siem Reap, and ended up rooming with a woman we had both met from Pittsburgh.  It is nice to have someone to share expenses with, as well as having the company.  I ended up staying there for 9 days.  Dore was arriving 5 days later, and we ended up chilling there for a bit.  The weather fluctuated, but it was the beach, and rain or shine, I love it.  A few days it rained continually, but thankfully wifi was available in most places, fellow travelers were friendly and fun, and there was a movie theatre there.  Gotta love these theatres, we had experienced one like it in Bagsu, India.  This one was owned by two British men.  They’d built it 6 years earlier, and it was 6 small private screening rooms and one large theatre.  For $4/person, $3 for each film after the first, you could pick from a huge library of illegally downloaded digital films.  They had classics and new releases, and everything in between.  It was a great way to whittle away a rainy afternoon, and would be an amazing concept in the US, except there it could never be done so cheap because it could never be done illegally like that.

And we had sunny beach days, as well.  The water was beautiful and tropical, crystal clear and warm, there were waves to play in, but they were not strong.  Lovely.  The beach was lined with cafes featuring local seafood and Western favorites, as well as cheap beer and fruit shakes.  Local vendors wandered the beach selling all sorts of seafood, fruit, soup, etc…and also touting various services (threading and massage) and wares.  It was laid back, and the perfect way to recoup from lots of travel (at this point I really hadn’t stopped since I’d landed in Sri Lanka) and to let the horrible experience of Phnom Penh drift away.  I didn’t visit any of them, but there are several offshore islands one can stay at, too, and the diving is supposed to be good there, but because of the rain the visibility was about 4 meters (12 feet) max, so I decided to pass.

We decided to check out another coastal town, Kep.  The beach there was not as inviting, but we did have the best meal in all of Cambodia there.  The area, Kampot especially, is known for it’s pepper, and here they are famous for Crab with Green Peppercorns.  It was one of the best crab dishes I’ve had in my life, and if I can find fresh green peppercorns at home, I will most definitely try to recreate it.  For photos of Sihanoukville and Kep, link here.

Rested and recharged, we headed back to Phnom Penh for a few days.  Mostly, we chilled at the hostel with other travelers, wrote, read, that sort of thing; explored some of the local markets (if you are traveling through several countries of SE Asia, do not plan to do your shopping in Cambodia, it is expensive); and visited S21.  So, S21 and the Killing Fields, these are not nice pleasant tourist sites.  They are the places of genocide from the time of the Khmer Rouge’s rule, 1975-1979.  S21 had been a school in Phnom Penh, and ended up being a prison/torture center/and death camp for 20,000 Cambodians.  We hired a guide, a man who was 15 when the Khmer Rouge came to power, and he had an amazing story to tell.  He was put to work outside the city, and after being injured he was lucky he wasn’t killed, but relocated as a fisherman.  He did defy death twice, and you can read this account on Dore’s blog.  Thankfully, we followed up this melancholy afternoon by meeting up with Dore’s friend’s brother who has been living in Phnom Penh, and saw a comedy show with him and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a huge expat community in all of Cambodia.   I think it is really easy to acquire long term visas, and to extend them, as well as to find work or start businesses.  We met several people from all over the Western world, who had been there for many years and weren’t making plans to move on anytime soon.   From Cambodia, we decided to cross the border into Vietnam, another country with a huge expat community.  That blog is to come…

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Ancient & Tropical Sri Lanka

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

India must have won my heart.  While I would return there in a heartbeat, Sri Lanka, eh…probably not.  Not to say that I didn’t enjoy my visit, or that the country is not interesting or beautiful.  It is, yet in my perception it just didn’t have the soul of India.  Now granted, I was in India for 4 months and Sri Lanka for a rushed 9 days, but still, for those who have travelled a lot, when you get somewhere you just know.  Regardless of those feelings, I did have a great time, saw noteworthy sites and met many people.

I started to write this blog while I was sitting in a beachside café in Uppuveli, taking in the second to last day of my stay and a bit of peace for a short time (next stop is Bangkok, which I do not expect to be tranquil in the least).  I’m really glad I made the long bus ride to Uppuveli, the beach there is beautiful, tropical, serene, and romantic (if only my man were with me).  Through my eyes, Uppuveli is much nicer than Negombo Beach, where I spent my first two nights a short distance from the airport, but a good place to get my bearings and figure out “a plan.”  The northeast area of Sri Lanka, where Uppuveli is located outside the city of Trincomalle, was hit hard by the tsunami, as well as being one of the last places the civil war ended only a few years ago.  They seem to be recovering well though.  There are lots of tourists, both Sri Lankan and Western, on the picturesque white sand beaches.   The village is poor and simple, there are lots of concrete structures that appear to have been bombed out, but the people are happy and grateful and always smiling.  Perhaps this is because they are on the other side of things, life is getting better.  I heard from a few locals of my generation of how hard life used to be, and how it has been improving in the last several years.

This area is also the best place for diving.  I didn’t go diving, but I did snorkel the reef at Pigeon Island National Park.  More and more I realize how spoiled we are in the Keys.  (Oh, tropical beaches and sultry ocean breezes, how could I have thought I didn’t love you anymore?)  The coral structure is very different then what I’ve experienced before, there was a lot of diversity in the variety of tropical fish, saw some small reef sharks, and it was very beautiful on many levels, but not quite the variety of the Keys, known for the large number of fish.

In between beaches, I spent four days exploring the cultural ruins of the ancient Sinhalese civilization, which dates back to the 4th century BC, but peaked in the 12th century.  The government is doing a fair bit of restoration to some of the sites, and some are preserved better than others, allowing for a good feel of what these ancient cities may have been like.   My travels took me to the city of Kandy, not an ancient city, but it is green and temperate with scenic views, set in the foothills of the tea country.  Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist, and Kandy is home to the largest Buddhist temple in the country, the “Temple of the Tooth,” which houses a tooth of Buddha’s.  What I really enjoyed was the fairly new Museum of Buddhism, which takes us through Buddhism as it spread through 18 countries in Asia.  It offers a really interesting history and some gorgeous statues and artwork.

From Kandy I took the bus to Sigiriya, with a stop at the Dambulla Caves on the way.  These five caves, on the top of a hill, are adorned with numerous Buddha statues, and the walls and cave ceilings are painted with colorful murals depicting religious life.  I really enjoyed the scenic walk up a stairway that was built in between huge boulders and is lined with many beautiful trees, in addition to the amazing views of the surrounding area.  On to Sigiriya, a World Heritage Site, which is known for the palace built atop Sigiriya Rock.  The esplanade which leads to the rock is lined with a water garden, supposedly a very intricate system, but bone dry at the moment because Sri Lanka is experiencing a major water shortage.  Some areas have not had a drop of rain in eight months.  Here, too, the stairs up were built into the boulders and mountainside.  They have put in stairs for tourists to use because to climb the stairs that exist one would literally be scaling the rocks.  Not much is left of the palace, but there are some impressive cave paintings and they have done restoration on lion’s feet which flank the stairway up.  And, once again, the view is stunning.

Next stop, Polonnaruwa, the second largest of the ancient cities in Sri Lanka.  This site is incredibly well preserved considering how old it is.  Supposedly, this is due in part to the fact that it was hidden in the jungle until discovered by the British in the mid-nineteenth century.  Many walls, pillars, and statues survive, while all the roofs, which are believed to have been made of wood, are gone.  Polonnaruwa covers over four square kilometers, so I rented a bike and explored for about 6 hours.  Influenced by Buddhist and Hindu religions, there were temples, monasteries, and stupas.  There were signs of an advanced civilization with a hospital and town center lined with vendor stalls.  This is also the site of three of the most beautiful well preserved Buddha statues carved from stone, in addition to the countless statues which now stand headless throughout the site.  And it is from Polonnaruwa that I ended up in Uppuveli.

Some of the ways in which Sri Lanka has been an incredibly different experience to India: it is obviously more developed, which is most noticeable in the prices.  SL is way more expensive and Western in things like clothing and music, and as a tourist you do feel like you are being taken advantage of with the prices of entry fees and the like.  It was odd in that almost every tourist I met mentioned how much more expensive it was than they had expected, and how much it cost to see the historic sites;  The food is spicier, yes spicier, the seafood is incredible, and then there are the two traditional dishes of rice and curry, the heaping plate of rice accompanied by 6-12 vegetable dishes and sambol (the Sri Lankan version of chutney), and Kottu Roti which is their version of stir fry;  Then there are the people.  They are very friendly, super nice, and inquisitive, although with many of them once you get past “which country?” and “how long stay Sri Lanka?” they understand minimal bits and pieces.  It’s funny in that in India the children were incredibly curious and asking lots of questions where in SL the children seem to be a little more timid while the adults will engage you in conversation.   And let’s not forget the tourists.  I met many really terrific people from Australia, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, and Israel.  They each had a part in making Sri Lanka a wonderful experience for me.  For more pictures of Sri Lanka, click here.

Now, on to Southeast Asia, and I am ready.  Super excited for Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Thailand.  Til the next blog… sà-wàtdii kà.

 

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Posted in nature, Spiritual, travel | 6 Comments »

Going with the Flow

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

It became apparent early on in our trip, that moving around a country as big as India requires patience and flexibility.  It was in our first couple of days in India that we had to change our travel plans to the ashram, and within the first week at the ashram that we made the decision to cut out China and Tibet all together.  Yet, not once have we fret over major itinerary changes or the smaller inconveniences of daily travel plans, knowing each time there is a change, everything is unfolding exactly as it is supposed to be.  We recently had a couple of experiences, proving this point again.

We had planned to leave Kundapura, the closest train station to Nammabhoomi, on Saturday.  When we attempted to book our train ticket to Goa, we learned that this was not going to be possible, so we decided to wing-it and take the bus.  On Friday, four CWC volunteers showed up from Bangalore for the weekend.  We were invited to join them that night at the beach house owned by one of the founders of CWC.  Dore declined, as she was fully enjoying her time with the children and wanted to finish up with them, but for me, I was ready to go, and a night on a secluded beach sounded awesome.  So, I went with the 4 volunteers (1 Brit, 2 Canadians, 1 American; all law students) to Bijadi, a beautiful, clean, secluded, tropical jungle laden beach just outside Kundapura.   The ocean was clean; the waves perfect size for swimming, and the weather perfect, with a break from the monsoon.  Dore joined me the following morning, after she finished up at Nammabhoomi.   Without a train to catch, we were able to fully enjoy the day at the beach, have a delicious lunch, and then hit the road.

We decided to head for the beach town of Gokarna, midway between Kundapura and Panjim.  We’d never heard a fellow traveler speak of it, but there was a small blurb in The Lonely Planet, aka “the bible”, so we decided it would be the perfect place to stop for the night.   This was a pleasant surprise for us, such a cool little temple-beach town, and again, someplace we would not have gone if we’d booked the train.  Gokarna infused a combination of local color and tourism, beautiful views and coastal walks, and 4 temples in an ancient city of only 25,000 people.  The accommodations were clean and affordable, the food we found was excellent, and for a small town, it had everything a traveler might need.  Click for pictures of Gokarna.

The next day, we finished the trip to Panjim, the capital of the state of Goa.  Goa was a Portuguese colony until the Indian army finally forced them out in the 1960’s, so there is a lot of European influence in the architecture and Catholicism is prevalent; and it is apparent that this small coastal state relies on tourism.  It is the peak of the monsoon in Goa, raining more so than anywhere else in India, so tourism is low and deals are good.  We spent one night in Panjim, mostly because we had to take care of business (we both had to buy new cameras; mine fell victim to a strong wind while taking a self-timer photo in Hampi, Dore’s was victim to an incoming tide in Bijadi, thus not the best pics of Nammabhoomi or Gokarna).  Business taken care of, we jumped on the bus to Vagator, a beach town that boasts being less tourist influenced than the surrounding Anjuna, Mandrem, and Arambol.

Not that we needed to worry about tourists.  Everywhere was very much deserted, with only a couple of guest houses and restaurants open.  Dore and I happen to love this aspect of being in India during the monsoon. Quiet, no lines, no hassle with travel plans.   A place like Goa is crazy in season, beaches and cafes packed with International tourists.  In addition, Goa is known for its party scene,  so it was a relief that this was not an influence to detract from our time there.  As many of you know, we can enjoy a good party, but that’s not why we are here.  Even so, we did discover and enjoy a local spirit, Honey Bee Brandy.  All in all though, I can’t say that I felt this incredible love for Goa, which I’ve heard so many others speak of.  The beaches, water, and towns were dirty, littered with all sorts of trash.   And, of course not all, but many of the locals were sleazy and sordid.  I don’t want to seem all negative though; it is tropical and green, too.  We stayed just off the beach, hired a motorbike, and cruised the coast for 2 days.  The highlight for me was the Chapora Fort with it’s beautiful coastal and river views.  As far as Indian beaches go, I’d return to Gokarna or Varkala, while possibly passing on a future visit to Goa.   I was reminded by Dore though,  that I am spoiled, having resided in one of the most beautiful ocean paradises for the last 15 years.  Click for pictures of Goa.

After two months in the south of India, it was time to head north.  We booked our train ticket from Old Goa, Goa’s former capital, to Mumbai.  One night in Old Goa;  a beautiful town, easy to navigate, with a cathedral up on the hill offering breath-taking sunset views over the river and old city.  Definitely worth the night.  Click for pictures of Old Goa.

Our plan was to arrive in Mumbai at 10:00pm, and jump on the midnight train to Varanasi.  Well, when we were unable to book sleeper beds, our plans changed again.  Unable to avoid a night in Mumbai, we were given the opportunity to rethink our next destination.  We had initially wanted to travel to Udaipur, the capital of the Mughal Empire, and one of the most beautiful cities in the state of Rajasthan, if not all of India.  For a brief moment in time it seemed that train schedules were not going to allow it to happen, but thankfully, now we had our chance.  Link here for Dore’s blog “Beach Life.”

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Wow, India

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

What an incredible adventure this has been already, and it’s only been 4 days.  We have already learned some valuable lessons, and experienced some amazing and interesting things.  To start, Mumbai is everything one imagines, and more.  Busy, crowded, loud, dirty, dusty, smelly, and poor, yet also beautiful, friendly, and energetic.  We spent the first two nights in Juhu beach, northern suburb of Mumbai, at Iskcon Ashram, a Hare Krishna Temple recommended by a friend, Revati, who’s dad stays there when in India.  It is listed as one of the top places to stay in the affordable range here in Mumbai, and at 3500rupees/night, about $70.  It was a great place to start, to get a slight grip on this somewhat confusing city, and to reset from the jet lag. 

Our first day we wandered Juhu quite a bit, found the beach (not as inviting as ours at home), saw a few wedding processionals (which reminded me of a second line, but with the groom being escorted in an elegantly decorated horsedrawn carriage), and got a feel for the street life here.   At night we ventured to Juhu Chowpatty, the beach which turns into a carnival at night.  It was lively, loaded with children and families (kids just started a two month break), and there were vendors hawking everything from balloons to hair ornaments to all sorts of food. 

Day two was a day of lessons.  Our goal for the day, to buy our train tickets for Trivandrum, where we will set out for the ashram from.  So, this only took us about 5 hours, 3 rickshaw rides, 2 cab rides, and 3 train rides, in addition to lots of money.  First lesson, the taxis and rickshaws have meters in them, but unknown to us, the number on the meter does not refer to the price, but rather to a number on a chart which refers to the price.  We did learn this on our third rickshaw ride of the day, when that driver was nice enough to tell us this and give us our own chart so we would no longer be ripped off.  We also paid about five times too much for a taxi ride, but so glad that we learned this lesson early on and not days, or weeks, into paying too much.  After arriving at one station, we were told we had to go to another, and upon arriving at that one, to another.  When we finally got to the right place, we were told that a ticket could not be purchased without a passport, which Dore did not have on her, so we decided to learn to use the train line.  Inexpensive and takes the same time as a taxi, and the trains have “Ladies Only” cars, which are wonderful because Indian men will gawk and grope.  Some very interesing things are hawked in the women’s cars on the trains, everything from bindis and makeup to kitchen scrubbies to coloring books and rubek’s cubes.  After we finally made all the trips back and forth and got our tickets, we stopped in the neighborhood of Bandra.  Basically, a huge street market selling all sorts of food, clothes, accessories, and other wares.  It was very fun and lively, and easy to bargain here.

Day three, we moved to the neighborhood of Colaba, old Mumbai.  The buildings here are beautiful, from a time of money and prestige, the time of British rule and before.  Yet, they are also in decay, as are so many things here.  In Juhu, we saw hardly any other foreigners, in Colaba, lots of them.  We visited Leopold’s for lunch, an establishment from 1861, that was a central hangout in a book I just finished reading.  It was packed with foreigners, and the food was very good, Chinese and Indian, as well as Continental, but the prices certainly reflected that we were in a tourist establishment.  Also, the atmosphere was so different than I thought it was gonna be, I expected more of a pub, this was more of a tourist burn and churn.  From there, we headed to the Gateway to India, a monument built in honor of King George V’s (I think)visit in the early 1900’s, along with the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel just across the street.  Both beautiful monuments, but the reason we come here was to catch the ferry to Elephanta Island.  The ruins of Elephanta are quite impressive.  There are a series of caves here with statue carvings of several Hindu dieties and stories relating to them, including Shiva, Vishnu, Paravati, and Ganesh.  I really enjoyed it for all that, the history, and the views.  No one really knows when they were carved, but the first recorded history is around 600BCE (more or less).  On our return, we decided to have a swanky cocktail in the Taj Mahal, and swanky it was at about 900R, $18, per drink, but we figured worth it.  We hadn’t had a drink together yet, and know that we will be cloisted for the next month, so what the hell.  It was fun, and very very posh, and drinks were good.  After dinner and a shower, we headed back out to a club where we met a very nice Indian man, Narij, who then took us to a local dance club.  It was as cheesy as any cheesy club in the states, with pulsing lights and mirrors, playing standard dance music, but still tons of fun, and probably one of the only times we will have an experience like this on this journey.

Today, day four, we found the Jewish Synagogue.  Beautiful building with stained glass and gorgeous woodwork, as everything else, in need of some TLC, hosting 50 families, about 250 people.  Only 5000 Jews remain in India, from what used to be a thriving population. We also finally ventured into the realm of street food.  We followed the one rule of very busy places only, and then added in our own rule, where women are eating, as well as men.  For 50R, $1, we had a fantastic lunch, are no longer scared of street food, and looking forward to exploring more.

We head south tomorrow, don’t know when the next post will be, but hope I will be able to include pictures.  Until then, thanks for your emails and comments, keep them coming, because I do look forward to hearing from you all.  Namaste.

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Connecting with Another on the Mat

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Yesterday was a great day.  I was given the opportunity to teach something new, a Partner Yoga class, and it was fun and creative and a pure pleasure to share.  I had never taken a partner yoga class before, and I had only explored a few poses in various classes and yoga teacher training.  One of my students, who is training to become a teacher herself, had approached me about practicing some partner poses with her.   From there, the idea was born.

In conversation, I had mentioned to Nancy Curran, owner of Yoga on the Beach, what we were practicing.  She needed a teacher for the themed first Sunday of the month yoga brunch class, and I was given the opportunity to, with Bonnie, create a partner yoga class to share with others.

We explored compassion together in twists, such as Half Lord of the Fishes.  In a blustery wind, we learned to trust one another, in the balancing poses Eagle and Tree.  We found strength in one another in Warrior poses, and we came to surrender in Child’s pose.  All in connection to another.  It was a really beautiful, heart-opening experience.  

 

I am grateful to all who joined us, and to Yoga on the Beach for the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travels South

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Road tripping from Key West to New Jersey, and back, is often an eye-opening experience.  I always seem to be at some crossroad in my life, a place of growth, change, manifestation.  Spending so much time in the car allows me the opportunity for contemplation, insight, self-realization.  Sometimes I laugh at myself, and sometimes I cry, but I always end up feeling better, energized, excited for my destination.

 

One wonderful destination this trip back to the Keys was Savannah, GA.  What a beautiful town.  I love the European influence in the architecture and the city design.  The city boasts 24 squares, beautifully lawned and oak shaded parks, within its limits.  One of the many wonderful things about yoga is that you can practice anywhere, so the one morning we were there, my friend, Dore Ann, and I laid out our mats in one of those squares. We followed that up with one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had, at Clary’s.

Just a side note, if you are ever driving past the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, NC, it is worth the stop.

Back in the Keys, we took advantage again, laying out our mats on the old Bahia Honda Bridge, practicing bridge, wheel, headstand, and more, at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t heard me say recently, “I Love the Florida Keys,” well, I do, and it sure feels good to be home.

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Yin Yoga Class Today

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

It will be a beautiful afternoon for Yin class.  What a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday today, my parents are arriving for a visit, and Yoga by the water’s edge.  I am blessed with another year.  Namaste.

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