The Queens in Queenstown

On 11/11, we headed to the airport in Sydney to go to Queenstown. While checking our bags at the airport, the friendly woman at the Virgin Australia counter mentioned that we would “be fine, as long as we packed our warmies…”. I turned to Moini, she had a WTF look on her face…”I thought you said it was summer there?” Yep-all my research pointed to November being the beginning of summer, low 70s…I clearly had not researched enough…we didn’t have very many “warmies” but off we went…

We arrived in a windy and chilly Queenstown. It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit (this must be clarified while traveling in this part of the world…the metric system is used here and when you report a temperature, it is assumed that you are reporting in celcius…so remember your F to C calculation!). We were not very well prepared for the cold-two SoCal girls expecting summer in the South of NZ. We learned quickly that the weather in this part of NZ is very variable and that it had just snowed the week before…so off we went to get Moini a more suitable coat (since I had only encouraged a fleece jacket to be brought along in her packed bag…oops).

We stayed in a sweet BnB on Lake Wakatipu, equipped with a fireplace (thank god). We spent a few days relaxing and enjoying Queenstown before leaving for the Milford Track trek-a 34 mile (54 km-ya know, metric system…) hike through the fiordlands of South New Zealand.

We ate some good food:

Fergburger-apparently a must go to. The line was so long and we refused to wait. BUT, no line at 8 am and they serve breakfast sammys! Check it out! Totally yum! https://fergburger.com

Hit up the Gondola-great views from up there and if you’re feeling childish and silly, ride the luge down. It’s fun and good for at least a few laughs.

While you’re up that big ass hill at the top of Queenstown (the one that took your breath away, quite literally) check out the Kiwi Wildlife Park. We spent the afternoon walking around there and learning about NZ and it’s native plants and birds (there really aren’t many animals here other than the ones people eat, sheer or milk [buffalo, cows, deer, alpaca, sheep): the only native ones were bats). We even saw the resident Morepork owl kill an unsuspecting swallow during the conservation show-guess that’s nature! Pretty sure that wasn’t part of the show, given the look on one of the keepers faces!

There is a great restaurant up there-we hit it up twice in one day which is usually against my rules but it was that good. Bespoke-https://www.bespokekitchen.co.nz : a lovely place with outdoor seating, sunshine and food that you can tell was made with care and love. Check out my Instagram page for the food porn pics!

Queenstown is the world’s adventure city-so…we figured we’d better do something other than the luge rides at the Gondola. We checked out the options: I wasn’t into any free falling-that eliminated the Canyon swing and bungee jumping. We were left with only two viable options-jet boating or canyon zip lining (only includes a 5m free fall, which was doable to me). We went for the safer option of jet boating. Why you ask? My rationale: jet boating was invented in NZ so it’s really a local thing to do and what better place to do it than the place where it was invented. That was my rationale-probably my self preservation kicking in there in avoidance of the 5m free fall.

So what is jet boating you are probably wondering, by now. Instead of a prop, the boat has powerful engines that propel it forward at speeds of up to 90 kph (yep-metric…get used to it). The bottom of the boat is flat so it skims over the water and only needs to be in about 6 inch deep water to go. The boat was developed to help fishermen reach destinations that were too shallow to fish with regular boats. They are now mostly used as a tourist attraction, complete with 360 degree spins to stop (boat donuts!).

We drove through Skippers Canyon, one of the top 20 most dangerous roads in the world-lots it windy turns with sheer cliffs (and no guardrails), the river running below. Lord of the Rings and Mission Impossible 6 were filmed in this canyon-so you can imagine the scenery. It was a stunning and the boating was a blast but a bit wet and chilly.

We headed to Ultimate Hikes for our briefing about of trek which would depart QT the following morning. We watched a lovely video about the trail-the video portrayed a family of 4, walking along the trail on a beautiful sunny day. We were stoked, apprehensive and ready! We grabbed our rental packs and a waterproof liner and headed home to do our final packing before our morning departure.

Ramen sounded good for dinner and there was a place just around the corner. We were the only ones in there (score)-and it did not disappoint: https://www.tanoshi.co.nz/menu

The following morning, we dropped off our suitcases at Info and Track (only 5 bucks per day to keep your bags safe and sound while you’re gone-no reservations needed) and headed to the bus onto the hiking adventure. Did I mention that my travel bud, who agreed to this trek is a self proclaimed “hike hater”…😬

To be continued…

I’m baaaaack! First stop, Sydney….11/6-11/11

So, after a month recovering in Massachusetts during the glorious fall, I’m on the road again. I headed out of town to LA on Halloween for a few days of SoCal sunshine and volleyball before heading to Sydney on 11/6. It was great to reconnect with my friends and the beach.

We packed up and headed to the airport on the evening of 11/6, boarded up the massive plane with a few hundred of us to Sydney and we were off….so we thought. We sat on the plane for 2 hours while they fixed the satellite and notified us that we were “about to take off” when there was a woman who insisted on getting off the plane for unknown reasons. By the time they removed her checked bag from under the plane, the crew was over their time allotment for flying. The allotment is apparently 16 hours and our flight was supposed to be 15 hours so obviously that’s cutting it pretty close. Needless to say, the flight was cancelled and rescheduled to the morning. I wonder how many flights to Sydney get cancelled for that reason. We were offered a hotel for the night which we thought might be more convenient than heading back to Moini’s apartment but turns out they were offering a voucher for a 2 star hotel in Hawthorne (reviews mentioned roaches) so we bounced and headed back to her place for a few hours of sleep.

We arrived back at the airport a few hours later (11/7), crossing our fingers for a smooth departure. We boarded the plane and sat there for an hour…worrying about the 16 hour cut off…and then we took off…finally. We were somewhat relieved and somewhat apprehensive about the next 15 hours stuck on this plane with a group of unhappy travelers.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Sydney around 10 PM (11/8), losing a day due to the time difference (+16 hours). We grabbed an Uber and zipped to our place in Millers Point quickly and efficiently. Our AirBnB was beautiful-my favorite part was that the toilet room was separated from the shower room! And there was a Nespresso maker. The beds were so comfy and we had a great place to crash at the end of our busy days of sightseeing. https://abnb.me/P6omWbn5N1

We woke up early the next morning to start the day. Arriving in the late evening and the 16 hour time difference makes for a fairly easy transition to the time change. We walked over the Barangaroo Reserve right near our place, where they were showcasing a short documentary film which was made about the Maori culture. It was a silent, beautiful portrayal of some of the ceremonial and cultural traditions.

https://www.timeout.com/sydney/things-to-do/barangaroo-reserve

We headed off to breakfast and found a sweet local cafe (https://www.bitterandtwistedcafe.com) where we learned that our new favorite breakfast of the trip would be poached eggs on freshly baked toast. We visited Darling wharf (super touristy), the Chinese Garden (really beautiful and lots of life to see there), Paddy Markets (don’t bother), the Opera House and Sydney bridge (a must do), Botanical Gardens (no bikes allowed-we learned the hard way-park is huge, beautiful and had lots of cool birds to see including the local sulphur crested cockatoo gang).

For some reason it seemed that most restaurants were not open in Miller’s Point on Saturday. We still haven’t figured out why. We settled on the only open place we could find (I was hangry) and got the fish and chips. It wasn’t very good but it took the edge off and made me stop complaining about hunger for a bit. Even though the food was not great, we listened to an old 80s band play a few hits and sang along. With hangry behind us, we were off on our bikes again!

We rented Lime e-bikes which made getting around the city easy and fun! The hills are so much easier with the e-bikes and they are cheaper than Ubers, faster than traffic and better for the environment. Win, win, win. You can sign up for the app, put in your credit card and the app charges you based on how long you ride.

The following day, we headed (on our e bikes) over to Centennial Park which is a huge park with many ponds, lakes, native birds, fields for cricket and soccer, a labyrinth, eucalyptus forests, food trucks and more! It’s definitely worth a visit.

The following day it was time to wrap up of brief stay in Sydney and head to a more adventurous Queenstown.

I loved Sydney, the food was great, great parks and easy to get around the city on foot or e-bike (or Uber if you prefer but traffic is a bit rough).

Stay tuned for NZ adventures up next!

Dengue Fevah in Thailand!

Hello, dear ones! It’s been a while since my last post. Too long. I feel like I start off every post with that disclaimer-“it’s been too long.” This time I have a good excuse though! On September 11th, I got sick and have been down for the count since then.

As I lay here writing, I have just a few short hours left in Chiang Mai before I board a plane back to the U.S. For those of you that have been following me on social media, the cat is already out of the bag as to the what, where, when, and why of that decision but if you are interested in the juicy details-well, here you go.

So I arrived in Chiang Mai from Bangkok on September 5th. I had a great time in the Bangkok and really enjoyed the big city. It felt kind of like NYC. But after 5 days, I was definitely ready to move on despite not having had time to see everything Bangkok had to offer. If you remember, I was experiencing a mild cold while in Bangkok and that was clearing up nicely. The day before I planned to leave Bangkok, I developed some enlarged, tender lymphnodes in my armpits which I figured was just part of the cold like illness or something. They were fairly quick to resolve and I didn’t think too much of it.

I arrived in Chiang Mai on the 5th and was off the the races exploring. My plan was to be in Chiang Mai for a week before heading to Pai and then to the south for the beach cities. I walked around the city-probably about 8 miles each day; popping in and out of coffee shops, restaurants, temples, and Thai massage places. I was staying at my first ever hostel and loving the experience of a little travel community. I had my own room with a bathroom and shower and a queen size bed-it was nice to have a private space to retreat at the end of the day. But there was a nice communal space where everyone gathered for breakfast and an area to relax with bean bag chairs too. The hostel sleeps 58 people but since it is low season, on average there are between 5-10 guests, so it was very quiet. Despite that, I met a few cool people and had some…interesting experiences.

Night one, Pap, the hostel owner, asked if myself and one of the other young guys would like to get dinner at 10 PM. That seemed REALLY late for dinner but I agreed since I wanted to have the experience. So Tom, my new German friend, Pap and I headed out in his truck for some “dinner.” We pulled up at a street market area and sat down at the child size play table and chairs and she served us each up a bowl of soup. The liquid was red and there was what looked like finely ground beef on top. Now, Pap knows that I do not eat meat from prior discussions. When I inquired, “What is this?,” he shrugged and answered “Fish stuffs.” I was pretty sure this was not “fish stuff” but I didn’t want to be rude and so I begrudgingly ate the damn thing. It tasted fine but I am still thinking about it even 2 weeks later and wondering WTF it really was. It cost 20 baht (less than 1 dollar). You get what you pay for…right?

Then there was a dessert stop-the dessert was even stranger, if that’s possible. There was a menu with pictures to choose from but no description of what each item was. It looked kind of like ice cream but I was assured that it was not. When I inquired about what it was, “a runny egg floating on some liquid stuff (the Thai guy wasn’t even sure what the liquid stuff was) with bits of corn and taro”. Barf. No thanks. I passed on dessert. But….not so fast-Pap grabbed an extra spoon and bowl and insisted I try some. I had one bite and it was as disgusting as it sounded. So I went home hungry. And that was the last time that I went out to dinner with those guys.

Sunday night, I went to the weekly Sunday Street Market for some shopping and food. I had stumbled up on it accidentally and didn’t have enough money with me to really buy anything so I headed back to my hostel to grab my ATM card and go get some cash. I headed to the ATM at 7-11 and headed back to the market. I bought a few bags full of stuff and headed back to my hostel at 11 PM. When I arrived, I reached into my fanny pack only to find that my ATM card, credit card and hostel key to my room were gone. It was 11 PM and the hostel was locked for the night. Luckily, Tom, my German friend was awake and in the common area. He opened the door for me and I called Pap to let him know what had happened. He hopped out of bed and came to let me into my room. He was so calm. When I returned from putting my stuff in my room, he handed me a post it note with Thai writing on it and said, “Let’s go find you cards. When we get to the places, give them this paper.” We hopped on the motorbike and off we went, me on the back. First stop, 7-11. I started to blabber in English to the woman at the counter, “Have you seen any credit cards?” She looked at me puzzled and I remembered the paper-I gave it to her and she turned around, grabbed a pile of cards on the counter behind her and handed them to me. My ATM, credit card and hostel key card, all right there. I apparently took them out of my fanny pack when I was digging for change and placed them on the counter…and never picked them back up. I was SO relieved. Fewf. I couldn’t believe it. I wonder what Pap had written on that paper-“Hi, I’m a dumb American… and I lost my credit cards…all of them…help me.”

Monday came and I was ready for some action. I did some googling and found a cool hike up to one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai called Doi Suthep. It was a bit out of the way and it required some under cover directions I found online, but I made it. The hike started and was fairly easy. The first part led up to a beautiful temple in the woods called Wat Phra Lat. The look out from there over Chiang Mai was beautiful and the grounds were stunning. Then up another mile or so, straight up, to the next temple and final destination. That was a bit more tricky. It was HOT, I was sweaty, and there were a lot of mosquitos. I lathered on the DEET bug spray but between the sweat and the rain, that was a losing battle. I hike for about an hour, wondering if I’d ever make it to the top. Finally, I crested up a hill and was at the junction of the trail and a road. I was sure I was at the top but when I pulled out Google maps, I had another 0.5 miles to go! I followed Google maps up a path and ended up at someone’s house-oops. That was clearly not the way to go. Tired, hungry and thirsty, I headed back down and hiked up the main road. I got to a little town and was excited to grab a soda water and a bag of Nori flavored Lays to rehydrate and salinate my body. Then I hiked up the rest of the way. The temple was at the top of another 300 or so steps. I arrived around 5:30 PM in the last hour of day light. The rain had just let up and a beautiful rainbow was coming into view over a lookout point. I stayed at the temple until dark-viewing the temple in the light of day and the dark of night was a treat. Bearing witness to the day, leading into night, the sunsetting and the beauty of the sky losing light was epic (and great for photos). Around night fall, the monks come into the temple and chant and pray. It’s a magical time to be present and witness this act of spirituality and reverence for Buddha.

The following day, I went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. I was picked up at 8 AM and loaded into the back of a pick up truck. The pickup trucks here have open cabs installed on them with bench seats and grab bars so that you can use them to transport herds of people. I was the last one in, 8 others filled the seats already when I climbed in. There was just enough space for my booty at the end. I didn’t mind being at the end-it made the experience a bit less claustrophobic. We rode in this vehicle for 1.5 hours on windy back roads until we arrived at the sanctuary. In our car were some cool cats-a 70 ish year old Catholic priest from Australia who was there doing mission work (with a bloody toenail, I didn’t ask…), a 40ish mom and her 2 kids (a boy, age 10 and girl, age 12) from the U.S. but living in Seoul for 8 years (Seoul pronounced *Sou*l NOT *SEE-ole*-don’t embarrass yourself, like I did), a young 25ish year old German girl and a few others that didn’t talk much. We had a great time chatting it up on the ride there. When we arrived we were able to feed the elephants mini bananas and sugar cane. They didn’t care much about us humans, just that we had food and they wanted it and fast. If you didn’t feed them fast enough, they’d put their trunk into your pocket and just take it themselves-how rude, right?!

We had the chance to take lots of pictures and to witness and watch their majestic ways. Afterwards, we were able to interact with the 2 other elephant families. They keep them separated due to risk of fighting between families, especially the male elephants. There is only one male in each family, for this reason. We had a brief lunch and then spent some time relaxing, watching the gentle giants. One of the elephants was grazing over the fence and just decided he wanted to go further, so he stepped right over the fence, knocking the fence post over and continuing on his way, closer to us. Photo op-yes! The guys that worked at the sanctuary went over and shooed him back into the penned in area and fixed the fence. It’s so funny to know that these animals really are the ones in control-they could take you over in a second. But, because they have been rescued and somewhat trained by the workers at the sanctuary, they are pretty amenable to the cues.

We then got to play with the elephants and give them a mud bath. That was kind of gross. The mud pit was pretty shallow and as we were walking down to the pit, you could see one large elephant taking a giant dump into the mud pit. Then we were in their with bare feet and bathing suits. I tried hard not to think of all the infectious diseases I was putting myself at risk for. So maybe I’m lucky that Dengue is all I ended up with…so far, anyway. After covering the elephants with mud, we went over to the river and washed them off. It was fun but I could have done without the mud and washing. Feeding, photographing and admiring them in their natural habitat was enough for me.

On our way back, one of the girls mentioned wanting to go to Sticky Falls the next day. I hadn’t really heard of it but it sounded fun so I was in. She had organized a group of 10 people from her hostel to go and they picked me up on the way. We drove about 2 hours to get there. The waterfalls were beautiful. There were ropes put up along the way to make descending and ascending easier. But for the most part, you could walk up and down easily without slipping due to the calcium buildup from the limestone over the rocks that the water ran over. I met some great young travelers, it was a wonderful afternoon. We headed back into town in the late afternoon and I went to grab lunch at my favorite vegan place in town. When I arrived, some of the people I had gone to the falls with were there finishing up their food (I had recommended the place to them during our day trip). I said goodbye and began eating. But not long after I started eating, I felt strange. Really strange. I was nauseated and suddenly felt extremely weak and out of it. I paid my bill and got up to walk home but wasn’t able to make it back. My legs and arms felt so heavy. I was scared and wasn’t sure what was happening. The crazy thoughts that were going through my head-was I drugged, did I have acute onset MS, was I having a neurological event? I tried to keep myself calm and grabbed a tuk tuk and headed back to my hostel. I laid down and slept for a few hours. When I woke up, I realized I had a high fever. I had a pounding headache with pain behind my eyes. I went to bed that night hoping I’d wake up feeling better the next day.

No such luck. I woke up the next day and headed to the pharmacy for some Tylenol and a thermometer. The rest of the days after that until yesterday (September 18th) are mostly a blur. During the first couple of days of fevers and worry, I talked to my medical friends from home, sharing my worry about the possibility of Dengue fever, malaria, etc. They were helpful in getting me a list of the medical facilities recommended by the U.S. consulate (Thank you, Salma) and Moini for urging me to go get checked out. I finally decided to go get checked out at a local clinic on Friday, September 13th.

Friday, the 13th…I didn’t think of that until just now….hmmmm….

I arrived at the CM Mediclinic and was called in to the back office area. A young woman sitting at a desk asked me, “So what’s going on?”-no introduction, no nothing. I paused and asked, “are you the doctor?” She said yes. She didn’t have any qualities about her that made me assume she was the doctor. She was barefoot, in stretch pants and a white top. No coat. No stethoscope. I asked for a card-nada. I didn’t have much of a choice or options so I told her what had been going on. She brought me into the back and she took my vitals and drew my labs HERSELF. I waited 30 mins for them to return-they showed I was leukopenic (low white blood cell count) which is common in Dengue. So then she ran the NS1 antigen test which came back positive. I sat in her clinic office, crying, telling her I was all alone in Chiang Mai. She didn’t really even bat and eye. There was not a drop of empathy exuding from her. She mentioned that I would probably be fine and that I just needed to “rest and relax.” But to make sure I watch out for bleeding, shock, coma and death. Perfect. Also, she never touched me, not once. No exam what-so-ever. She did at least ask if I had a rash though, so that’s something, right?

I left the clinic feeling like shit, in every way possible. Emotionally and physically. I was terrified. Everything I had read about Dengue talked about all the possible terrible things that can happen including hemorrhagic fever and death. I wondered if those painful, lymphnodes in my armpits in Bangkok were the result of the inoculation that lead to this awful virus or was it the hike with the sweat and rain….I’d never know.

I spent the next several days in my hostel room sleeping ALL DAY. I only left my room to go to 7-11 for water and electrolyte solution and out for food once per day. Those outings were physically painful and very blurry but I knew I had to stay hydrated and somewhat nourished if I was going to do okay. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have a choice. Since it was Friday and the clinic was closed on the weekend, I was instructed to go to the hospital every other day for labs so that they could check my blood counts, liver function tests and vitals. I went to the hospital Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and each time, my labs got a little bit better.

The outings to the hospital were about 3 hours in total and consisted of taking a taxi to the hospital, arrive at the hospital, check in, vitals, get labs, wait 1 hour for labs and then see the doctor when labs come back, then pay and head back to the hostel. The hospital was freezing cold, AC bumping but each time, one of the women working there would feel sorry for me, shivering and curled up on the lobby couches and come with a blanket and wrap me up-they always made sure I was comfortable during my wait. Each time I went to the hospital, it was about $50 and I would pay in cash before leaving. Overall, the experience was pretty seamless and good. However, those 3 hours took a lot out of me and by the time I would head home, I was in for a long nap upon returning. My head felt fuzzy and my body felt heavy and the only position that seemed to feel comfortable was laying down.

Everything I read about Dengue talked about prolonged fatigue in adults-lasting 2-10 weeks and I was feeling more and more alone and deseperate. I reached out to my family and my friends and mentioned that I was thinking of coming home. I felt like I was fighting against myself trying to stay on my trip when I wasn’t feeling good and wasn’t able to take very good care of myself here. I knew I had the means to fly home if I wanted to, so what was I waiting for. After my labs came back and were stable on Wednesday, Sept 18th, I booked my flight home.

Although it was a difficult decision and there have been moments of self judgment about my decision, I know this is right thing for me right now. I asked myself, am I giving up, chickening out? Am I lacking courage or bravery? But, this is what I feel like I need to do right now to be well-mentally, physically and spiritually. Traveling is amazing but it takes a lot of energy and that is something I do not have right now. I am looking forward to going home and being with my family and friends and being nourished by good home cooked food so that I will be able to be recuperated and rested when I join back up on my trip, the first week of November (when I head to Australia and New Zealand).

So, as a write this, I am packed up and headed home tonight. It will be a 22 hour journey back to the U.S. through Seoul.

Stay tuned for more journeys ahead. I am not sure what the next few weeks have in store yet but I may do some state side travel once I am a bit more recuperated in the states.

Thanks for all your love and support, along the way.

Goodbye Kochi, hello Bangkok!

Ahhhh-I’m not the best at keeping up with this blogging thing! It’s been a little over a week since I last wrote and the time between entries gets a little longer each time. I’ve never been great at keeping a journal either. I’m not sure what that says about me…maybe I’m just too busy having a good ole time to record it? I’ll tell myself that at least, ha!

So…A LOT has happened since I blogged last. When I left you last, I was about the “purgate”…is that even a word? In Ayurveda, it’s a word. So thank you for the prayers because it was a success. Not what I expected, of course (is it ever?) but it was what I needed, apparently. I spent a total of 5 days at the Ayurvedic hospital and overall had a great experience. I learned a lot, felt well cared for, relaxed and rejuvenated upon leaving. The food was amazing. People were nice. And the butterflies and flowers were simply stunning.

I left Aluva for Fort Kochi on 8/27-where I would be spending the next 5 days until heading to Bangkok on 8/31. I had originally planned to travel around Kerala to the tea plantations (Munnar) and the backwaters (Alleppey) but due to the weather and prior flooding, I was advised not to. So, I booked a place in Fort Kochi that I found in Conde Nast Traveler magazine-the hotel is known for the art exhibits throughout the rooms (http://www.malabarhouse.com). I arrived in the late afternoon on 8/27 and was pleasantly surprised by both my hotel and the surrounding area. I didn’t do that much research prior to choosing this destination. In fact, I have been flying by the seat of my pants a little bit-researching and booking only the next place I’m traveling to. For some of you that have traveled this way, you probably know it’s very exciting and freeing. For those that are planners, this probably terrifies you-try it sometime! The art did not disappoint-the room had so much character and even the furniture was artistic in design.

I headed out of my hotel on foot and was bombarded with TukTuk (auto-rickshaw, a 3 wheeled vehicle that can buzz through traffic easier than a car-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_rickshaw) drivers asking for my business. But this girl needed to move her legs-so I kindly said no (about 50 times). And off I went. I wandered aimlessly but there was plenty of signage to point me in the directions of tourist attractions. Fort Kochi is an old fishing village with deep history. There are old Chinese fishing nets which were introduced by the Chinese in the 14th century. The community history goes back as far as the 1300’s or earlier!

I found the Chinese fishing nets and watched the fishermen lower and raise the nets-only bringing in a few fish at a time. Since the nets are so close to shore, there are not many fish to be caught. So why even do it then? For one, it is a huge tourist attraction and for second, there is a large Muslim population and the fish caught this was are considered “halal”-which to my understanding means “lawful” to consume since the fish are caught in a more humane way. I saw the fishing boats come in from their day at sea with boats full of fish-grouper, tuna, snapper-all auctioned off one by one by an auctioneer.

The town has many old, beautiful churches-many of which were originally Catholic Churches when the Portuguese settled here in the 1500’s (that’s old!!).

Fort Kochi is a town that survives off tourism and therefore, there are many shoppes and restaurants around every corner. I wanted to do a tour when I arrived so I googled a few tour companies and settled on one that I found through a famous blogger “Hippie in Heels”-(https://hippie-inheels.com-who died in May this year after a heart attack at her Bachelorette party-horrifying! Her blog is amazing for anyone thinking of solo traveling! Check her out and help her memory live on…) called GoMowgli. I called the office which was located in a nearby hostel, “Happy Camper” and no one answered. I wasn’t quite sure whether or not the tour company was still operating since their website was functional but there was no active way to pay for the tour that I was attempting to book. I looked through TripAdvisor and didn’t find any recent entries so I was pretty sure they may have closed down. However, before I had much time to think about where to turn next, I received a call on my phone (on my India number) and wondered who it could possibly be. Usually I ignore such calls but was strangely curious. Sure enough, it was someone from the hostel I had called, who knew about GoMowgli, because he used to work there! He told me they were no longer in business but to come on by and he’d be happy to help. So, I headed over-just really short walk from my hotel and met Girish. He is a really nice guy, about my age, who was interested in meeting new people and clearly loves this place. He offered to take me on a bike tour through the town of Kochi the next day and I was psyched. The tour was great! The company, “Raw Adventures” (website is TBD-http://rawadventure.in/about-us/), is an up and coming tour company there-if you go to Fort Kochi, you have to check them out. We became fast friends and he showed me around the area-the best spot for coffee and cake (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g297633-d12938457-Reviews-Alice_Delices_French_Bakery-Kochi_Cochin_Ernakulam_District_Kerala.html), best chai spot (no link for this one-it was street cart!). Gotta love someone else that loves to share their good eats spots!

There was a great crew at the hotel I stayed at where I ate all my meals-I couldn’t bring myself to venture out, it was that good. The restaurant (http://www.malabarescapes.com/cuisine/) is incredible. The staff there were so kind and helpful and a lot of fun to chat with. Breakfasts were curated by them, I asked them what Keralan inspired dish I should try that day and they would pick it out for me-each one interesting, new and delicious. Shivji, the executive chef is creative and excited to make new dishes to please the palate. After night 2, he took the menu away and curated my meals night after night. I was sad to leave, to say the least. (If you are wondering, I have not gained any weight (I don’t think….and I am not eating lunch-2 meals a day is plenty! I am getting in exercise every day too!). Did you see that justification, right there?

It’s hard to believe the cost of things on this side of the world (or in India and SE Asia anyway). The worth of a dollar is so much more here and money goes so much further. 6 dollars for a French press coffee and 2 pieces of fresh baked cake at a French bakery (no, both were not for me). 3 dollars for an Uber ride 15 km to the airport. And only $0.02 to weigh yourself by the pier (not sure who would pay to weigh themselves-certainly not me after all the food I have been eating). $0.27 for a 1 L bottle of water. Certainly the hotels gouge you more, since you are a tourist and they know the value of the U.S. dollar in the U.S.. But, you can find things for so much cheaper if you are willing to just look a little.

Technology has always been something I have struggled with-I love it but I’ve never been super interested in it or good at using it. I was one of the last of my friends to join Facebook or IG-social media seemed like a colossal waste of time and invasion of privacy. But it was been AMAZING to have technology while traveling. Between the Maps app in the iPhone, Google maps, Google itself, What’sApp, FaceTime, Uber: they have revolutionized travel and allowed things to be so much easier. Especially staying connected with family and friends. Although I still am a bit weary/cautious about social media and the phone zombie phenomenon (it’s global guys! Phone zombies are real-don’t be one and I’ll try not to, as well.), we really are part of an amazing era of technology! And the familiarity of using it really helps when you are in an unfamiliar place.

So what did I take away from this part of my journey:

  1. If you are looking for experiences, they will find you. Even the ones you don’t expect.
  2. Ask people their names and look them in the eye. People feel valued and seen-it’s the beginning of a connection.
  3. People are kind.
  4. The universe is small.

This place felt like a little piece of home-it felt a little like the beach town, Cardiff, that I lived in while living in San Diego. Reading my book down by the water, smell of fresh cut pineapple filling the air, young lovers snuggling up and flirting on the park benches….there was a familiarity in a place so unfamiliar. It was a great way to end my time in India. India did not disappoint. I heard so much negativity about India before I left when I told people I would be spending a month there. “Be careful…India is dangerous.” Anywhere can be dangerous. You have be be careful no matter where you are. But my experience-India is amazing. The people, the culture, the food-just beautiful. Don’t be afraid to visit India. Go!

I headed on a late night flight to Bangkok at 1 AM on 8/31. BTW, you would be proud to know I am down to 21 kg of shit in my 70L backpack and another 10 kg or so in my carry on bag. Still a lot…still too much but the downsizing is happening slowly as I start to get more comfortable and confident traveling.

My flight was great-I had the whole row to myself and laid down and slept for the 3 and a half hour flight. It was about as comfortable as sleeping on a flight can be, I think (unless you pay for Business or first class and have one of those high end recliner seats-I hope I’ll be baller enough to do that someday).

I arrived in Bangkok very early in the morning and was all ready to fill out my visa form, only to learn I didn’t even need ANY visa at all. THANK GOD because the line was > 2000 tourists from all over Asia, long. I’ve never seen so many people in a line, in my life. I let out a huge sigh of relief and I headed through immigration and customs in a snap. Living in the US, we have a lot of privilege that we are generally unaware of, the freedom to travel into other countries being one of them. It’s generally very easy to do so. This is not the case for people who live in a lot of other countries so, take the opportunity to travel internationally, if you are able! It’s not that scary!

I was afraid that immigration would question whether or not I had my out bound flight booked (since this happened to another fellow traveler, previously, who was forced to book his flight right in the airport before they would let him through immigration) but they did not question a thing (you can only stay in Thailand for 30 days as a foreign tourist and they want to make sure you don’t overstay your welcome-there is a hefty fine and possibly jail time, if you do). In fact, they didn’t speak a word to me. Just checked my passport and waved me through.

I headed out to the gate, grabbed my bag and went to the area where my taxi was waiting. The ride was quiet (no constant beeping in honking like in India)- then it dawned on me, it was early on a Saturday morning-no wonder it was so quiet. And the city is pretty clean! I was at the hotel in Sukhumvit 15 within 30 minutes and it was 8 AM. The hotel check in time usually isn’t until 3 PM but they had me wait in the Executive Lounge, served me a coffee and breakfast and got my room ready in a jiffy. By 9:30 AM, I was comfortable in my room! That’s service! The service industry here works very hard to please their customers-it is greatly appreciated! Especially when you are tired after traveling all night.

I unpacked, rested a bit and hit the city around 2 PM. I wandered aimlessly-I’m serious-with no plans and no direction. I didn’t have a Thai SIM card yet so I just walked. I headed to the nearest shopping mall called Terminal 21, since that’s what the hotel folks advised. It’s a 6 story shopping center where the floors are split into countries and each floor is a circle or stores with “streets” that house stores and food from all different places; Paris, London, Istanbul, San Francisco, etc. It’s pretty cool, for a mall. I’m not very into shopping though, so I headed out on foot to see what else I could check out. I found a really neat place called “ARTBOX” with live music and street food. It was kind of like a “farmer’s market” of sorts. The live music was great-a male and female duo singing a lot of covers of American music. I have realized that people from both India and Thailand LOVE American music-especially Bruno Mars! They sang a lot of his stuff. But it was a blast. I met two Filipino women who upon learning I was alone, invited me to sit with them. I had a delicious dinner-Pad Thai (60 baht-2 bucks), a bottle of water (20 baht-0.65 cents), a caramel PB brownie (80 baht-$2.60)….and I headed back to my hotel fairly early around 9 PM to rest, since I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. I felt like I needed to justify that since the nightlife here is popping, nonstop, all night long….

Yesterday, I worked out at the hotel gym in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast and coffee and then readied myself to head out to the amazing temples here. The temples are just magnificent. I visited Wat Pho (with the reclining Buddha) and Grand Palace (with the Emerald Buddha). I had my first Thai Massage at the Wat Pho Traditional Medicine and Massage School (http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/wat-pho-massage-school.htm)-I had a 30 min foot massage and then a 1 hour whole body massage with oil for 1020 baht (33 USD!). It was amazing. Aon was my therapist-she was awesome! She gave me an interesting outfit to put on-the pants are called Fisherman pants and are baggy with a tie that ties from back to front (see pic in the photos section). The top, a loose tank top. I didn’t care-I just wanted to get out of my sopping wet clothes from the downpour I had been stuck in just prior to arriving (where my only umbrella also broke..damn). You may be wondering, what is Thai massage? It’s a method of massage where the masseuse uses his/her hands and feet, elbow etc. to loosen tight muscles. They also stretch the body between massaging. It is awesome-if you’ve never had one, I highly recommend it. Especially in Thailand. (https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/everything-you-know-thai-massage/)

Today, I am feeling a little under the weather with a cold. So, I actually haven’t left my hotel. I planned the next leg of my trip, applied for my Vietnam visa, uploaded and edited photos and wrote this blog post-ya know, the housekeeping things. Tomorrow I’m hoping to feel better so I can get back out there and explore more of Bangkok before heading out to Chiang Mai on Thursday.

What’s on the docket for the next few days:

  1. Checking out Soi Cowboy and Nana’s adult palace because that’s a must, right?! http://www.bangkok.com/nightlife-go-go-bar/soi-cowboy.htm
  2. Silom cooking class (https://www.cookly.me/by/silom-thai-cooking-school/?&utm_source=google&utm_medium=sem&utm_campaign=b_silomthaicookingschool&gclid=CjwKCAjw-7LrBRB6EiwAhh1yX81CwKSb8jUnOSdjwl7PqseqJbPn4fLJ6LK78FarO2bgHkgdnwj_ZxoCzRMQAvD_BwE)
  3. I’m going to try to get a hair cut….we shall see how that turns out!
  4. Maybe some Muy Thai observation, a yoga class, or intro to buddhist meditation class at the Wat Mahathat temple

If you have any other suggestions-send em’ over guys!

Sending lots of love from Bangkok! xoxo

Part III: To “God’s Country” I go….

Hello Dear Ones! 

Sorry for the late post-it’s hard to believe that 9 days have come and gone since my last post. What day is it again?  Who’s keeping track of that, anyways?  Ok…I know.  I’m the only one not keeping track-which is a really strange feeling.  

So where have I been and what have I been doing the last 9 days…After arriving in Pune on Wednesday, 8/14, I spent some time exploring the hotel and the city on Thursday-Sunday, since it was a long holiday weekend and the office wasn’t open.  I spent my first day, Thursday, decompressing.  I took full advantage of the hotel amenities which included a very nice gym and spa area with a sauna and steam room.  I spent one day luxuriating in the spa for a few hours with a full body massage, head massage, body scrub and herbal soak. The hotel food was delicious-three five star restaurants to choose from and breakfast was included every day.  It was an interesting experience-I haven’t stayed in many (if any) five star resorts prior to this one.  They do a great job of making you so comfortable that you never want to leave-you almost feel like you are getting everything for free since you don’t have to swipe a card to pay, “just charge it to the room”. The service was over the top-almost too good!  I was told Indian hospitality was amazing but this…this was exquisite.  After a couple of days of realizing that there was more to Pune than the JW Marriot, I decided it was time to get out into the city and explore at bit.  There was a lovely temple called the Chattushringi Devi, (http://www.chattushringidevasthanpune.org) which was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel-I took a saunter over there, stopping to explore the local grocery store-there were surprisingly (to me) a lot of the same brands for things like cereal and toiletries.  I didn’t buy anything-it was just an experiential stop.  Later that day, I booked a half day tour for Saturday where I explored several of the local sites (temples, museums, etc.) with a local driver.  That was a lovely experience.  It felt good to leave the comforts of my hotel and really be part of the city and the culture. That evening, a friend (who is a medical student here) that I met during my last trip to India came to visit for dinner and we caught up over delicious North Indian cuisine.  

Monday it was time to get back to work!  I spent the days at the office between 9A-5P giving leadership workshops and having product review meetings with several specialized teams for the product we are working to develop.  It was a great experience and so nice to reunite with several familiar faces from the Exxat team!  In the evenings, I usually headed back to the hotel to relax and have dinner before a few late night calls with the U.S. team (because of the time difference-we are about a half a day ahead of the U.S., depending on what time zone you are in there).  After a day of talking, discussing, lecturing, thinking, interacting, I couldn’t wait to have some quiet and the JW provided that with ease.  I finished my contract on Thursday and said goodbye to the Exxatians. A few of us shared one last delicious dinner together at a restaurant nearby the hotel.  

I left Pune yesterday, 8/23. I had a quick breakfast and headed out but not before getting showered with lots of sweet goodbyes and kindness from the staff at the JW Marriot.  I connected with 2 of the young men (Arun and Federick) who were working in the restaurant that I frequented daily.  We shared a few selfies and Arun gifted me a beautiful package that he asked me to open later.  I grabbed and Uber and headed to the airport (an Uber here to go 15 km to the airport is approximately 5 dollars!-bargain, right?!  Things are so much cheaper here than in the U.S!).  In the Uber, I opened the package and found a beautifully wrapped blue package with a Ganesha statue inside.  Ganesha is a religious deity who is worshipped in India and is known as the “remover of obstacles”.  I was brought to tears, overwhelmed with the feeling of gratitude and deep appreciation for this journey and the sweet gesture by my new friend.  

I took at short flight from Pune to Kochi and arrived around 1 PM.  Anjit, the driver for the place I am staying at, picked me up at the airport-complete with a typed sign with my name on it-he was waiting right at the exit of the airport which made it so EASY for me!  I appreciated that more than you know!  As you can probably imagine, there is some anxiety that comes with arriving in a new city and not being sure who you are meeting or where you are going, so to have that be so seamless and easy was a gift.  After a 30 minute ride, we arrived in Aluva at the Health Village, an Ayurvedic center.  I was checking into the “hospital” as a patient.  I have had a great interest in Eastern Medicine since working with Oncology patients and realizing that the care we provide in allopathic medicine, especially for cancer patients (at most places in the U.S.) is very symptom and disease focused rather than holistic.  We spend so much time chasing after symptoms rather than working to prevent them.  I have seen so many patients go through treatment for cancer who end up cured, but subsequently have persistent side effects which may include neuropathy (numbness), permanent hair loss, fatigue (tiredness), depression/anxiety, etc.  In my opinion, we, as a system of providers in the U.S., don’t do a good job of preventing, preparing and supporting our patients through the entire process of disease and treatment.  In fact, many people that I have talked to have felt abandoned and hopeless in the process. So where am I going with this? Eastern medicine has a wonderful way of focusing on establishing and maintaining balance in the body-understanding the reason for the symptoms and trying to rebalance the body to treat the symptoms holistically. Most of us don’t relate with the concept of balance within the body.  Have you ever felt like something just wasn’t right but you couldn’t put your finger on it?  Or ignored a symptom and just chalked it up to, “it’s just me-I’ve had this forever.” Eastern medicine delves into those nuances and encourages/allows for you to really check in with yourself on a deeper level (emotionally, spiritually and physically).  Ayurveda, is a type of Easter medicine; a system of medicine with roots in India, means “knowledge of life and longevity.”  It focuses on understanding and balancing your bodies constitution using food, herbs and physical treatments for the body. If you are interested in learning more about Ayurveda:https://www.keralaayurveda.biz.  And if you are interested in learning about your “body composition”, check it out here: http://www.ayurvedaacademy.com/academy/?q=resources/doshaevaluation

I am not suggesting replacing Western medicine with Eastern.  I am suggesting a more integrative approach would be beneficial for many.  I feel that we can provide better care to our patients if we are looking at the whole picture of who they are as a human being and supporting them through treatment with nutrition, herbs (when appropriate) and physical treatments for the body (like massage, acupressure/puncture, aromatherapy, etc.).   When I speak to Western physicians about my opinions regarding this, I am often brushed off with the statement, “there is no evidence.”  And they are right-there have not been any large scientific studies on many of these modalities but consistently, people will tell you that these therapies make them FEEL better, more whole.  And additionally, it is a wonderful means of self-care.  So maybe we do not have evidence that we are prolonging overall survival or time to relapse but if we can help our patients FEEL better while they get treatment and improve their quality of life WHILE giving them standard of care with chemotherapy etc., that counts for a lot….just ask someone that has been through it.  So…I decided to embark on this journey with the plan to experience authentic Ayurvedic medicine treatments myself so that I can truly understand what it’s all about, how they are delivered, how it feels, the impact on my body, mind, spirit, etc.  My intention is to do this in as many places on my journey as possible so that I can bring back my experience and incorporate these ideas into my next medical practice that I work in (that is TBD…)

So here goes nothing….upon arriving at the center, I was whisked off to lunch.  The meals are served in a communal area in a buffet style.  They are all prepared with Ayurvedic principles (utilizing certain spices, oils and vegetables).  All meals are vegetarian here at the Health Village which is just fine with me!  I really love Indian food and I have not had a bad meal since I came to India.  Those close to me can vouch for this-that says a lot since I am highly critical of food and love to eat.  The food in India feels like comfort food to me-like there is love infused into it.  After lunch, I met with 2 Ayurvedic doctors (if you are wondering-Ayurvedic doctors go to school for 5.5 years in India and complete a 1 year internship prior to graduating).  They asked me questions about my health, body, mood, etc. They took my pulse, looked at my skin and my tongue and together, came up with a plan for the 5 days that I would be visiting.  I got the impression that 5 days was considered to be a very brief stay and that they were a bit concerned that not much would be able to be accomplished.  But I was sure that I would get a lot from this experience regardless of the length of time.  I was whisked from the consultation to a synchronized abhyanga massage from 2 female practitioners (wondering what that is: https://ayurvedawellness.wordpress.com/tag/synchronized-massage/).  It’s wonderful.  Imagine a massage with 4 hands and warm oil.  It felt like they were really working with intention to care for me and to heal my ailments (shoulder pain, constipation, melasma of my face).  Each stroke was with intention-both women working together in a synchronized fashion, one on the left and one on the right.  After about 45 minutes, they concluded the massage with a steam treatment where they provided localized steam to my upper back and shoulders.  They took care to dry me off, wrap me with my robe and escort me to my room.   I felt deeply cared for and supported after the treatment.

I arrived back to my room around 4:30 PM and was instructed to take a warm shower and drink a glass of water.  The shower is a bucket system where you fill the bucket and dump water over yourself-takes a little coordinating but the water was warm and I was grateful for that (when I was in India a couple years ago, we didn’t have hot water….so this is luxurious! Although not compared to the JW Marriot-ha!).  I went to a cooking class from 5-6 PM where we learned to make Green Gram Porridge and Ginger Curry and then got to taste it-yummm!!!  Then Pranayama (meditation and breath work) class, followed by dinner.  Dinner was to follow but not before a very nice nurse arrived at my room door with the medicines-a Collin’s size glass of murky brown liquid and 1 brown tablet.  (In my mind I was thinking: “Did I agree to this? Did I sign up for this?  I thought this was just supposed to be treatments and learning about my dosha and how to nourish my body with food…and herbs…oh these were the herbs…shit!”)  I was hesitant to consume these medicines since I hadn’t been provided with the specifics about what I would be receiving but I really wanted experience this and after all I sought out this experience and paid for it….so, after some mental negotiations, down the hatch it went but not without some gagging.  The tablet was very dry and stuck to my throat on the way down.  (P.S. For the record, I HATE taking medicine and avoid it at all costs.  Tablets always get stuck in my throat [even the tiny ones] and when I take liquid medicines, I stand over the sink gagging before I even attempt-my mother can vouch for this). It’s like I set myself up for failure.  

What I later learned is that medicines are served 3 times a day, 6 AM, 6 PM and 8 PM.  I knew that there were more brown murky drinks in my future….and they said 5 days wasn’t enough?!  We shall see! J  

After sucking down (and gagging on) the medicines, I requested a list of exactly what I was consuming into my body which was later provided to me.  A list a mile long of herbs that I have mostly never heard of but I have some solace in at least knowing what they are and what the intention of them is.  Don’t be afraid to ask your providers: “what is this, why do you think I need it, what will it do and are there other options!”  We should all know what we are putting into our bodies and why-not just trust someone else with that decision and abide without question, even a health care provider.

I had dinner with a few of the women who are here studying Ayurveda from Chile and listened as they spoke Spanish-understanding every 4thor so word and once again feeling slightly embarrassed at my lack of ability to speak any other language except English…next bucket list item to conquer, maybe? 

I went to bed-tossing and turning a bit due to the firmness of the mattress (the bony parts don’t like that-hips and shoulders) but overall had a good rest and woke at 5:45 AM to prepare for my next dose of the brown murky medicine which was coming at 6 AM. I had wrapped my head around this task but when it arrived, the nurse informed me that they had added some oil to it for “my bowels”.  On top of the brown murky liquid, floated a thick layer of yellow oil.  I had to psych myself up for this on a whole other level now. I took a deep breath and took a sip. The oil was warm and very sour.  I swallowed it down and it came right back up. I vomited a few times, just water and the oil and raised the red flag-Brown Murky Drink + Oil 1, Me 0.  I was disappointed in myself but instead of conceding or lying and telling them that I had drank it, I requested a meeting with the doctor and explained my situation.  She told me that she would change my medicine to a powder form, instead.  Score.  I hoped that would be better.  

After the medicine this morning, I headed to a 6:30 AM yoga practice where I was reminded of how tight my hips and hamstrings are, followed by breakfast.  Following breakfast, I took a walk around the grounds and listened to the birds, watched the butterflies and admired the flowers in the garden and on the grounds of the property.  I read my book for a while-a book I have been reading for a long time and haven’t finished (I won’t tell you how long because that would be embarrassing).  Then I had my first treatment of the day at 11:45 AM. I receive 3 rounds of oral medicines and 2 treatments (1 major and 1 minor) during the day.  The first treatment was a treatment called Patra-potola svedam, a therapy which uses chopped, pressed herbs in cotton cloth poultices which are dipped in hot oil and applied all over the body using rotational movements.  This was followed by sudation which was a steam treatment where I was placed into a wooden box from the neck down (it kind of looked like something a magician would put their assistant in to cut them in half) and medicated steam was pumped into the box.  It all felt very therapeutic and relaxing.  

I had my most recent medicine dose delivered tonight and took it like a champ.  I said a little prayer to help myself to accept this medicine (that I asked/paid for) graciously and with gratitude rather than with anxiety and resistance.  Funny, it went down so much easier!  Thank you, Ganesha, for clearing those obstacles!  Tomorrow I go through a Virechnam, a therapeutic purgation where I cannot eat and have to do a bowel cleanse (similar to a colonoscopy prep). Pray for me that I can drink the medicine they provide tomorrow.  Pray hard. 

All in all, I am good. I feel privileged to have this time. It feels a bit weird, like I am relearning how to live my life.  I am so used to rushing; filling my schedule with to-do’s from 5 AM-9 PM.  I am accustomed to the stress and anxiety that comes with that and with the profession I have chosen.  I have adjusted and learned to thrive in that state since college, really. So this is all weird for me.  The feeling of not having anything to do. Not having a schedule.  Not having anyone needing me for anything.  No email to check.  I am learning to SLOW down in everything-when I eat, when I walk, when I talk.  I am learning to listen more and talk less.  Learning rather than teaching.  Observing more rather than acting/doing.  Nothing is directed at a goal….most of the time, it’s just an experience in the present moment.  I hope to hold on to this pace a bit when I return to the U.S.  There is so much value in making space for deep relaxation regularly.  And we shouldn’t have to take 5 months off of work to do it either.  I almost forgot what it feels like to let go.  In fact, I’m not quite there yet-it’s still a process for me.  I am in the process of letting go some.  Some days I feel like I lack purpose and value because no one is needing me.  But I am reminded in those moments, that I need to be able to fulfill that feeling internally and not rely on any external source for fulfillment.  So, I’m doing my best to enjoy every moment, even the ones that are hard.  This part of my journey is the first time that I can remember where I can honestly say that there is nothing tying me down or holding me back.  I have no commitments, no meetings, no phone calls, no nothing.  Just me, this journey, this moment, this world.  

Also, Kerala has the first fully solar powered airport-how cool is that?!  

Miss you all! Xoxox 

And remember, please pray for me that I can go through this purgation with grace and ease.  

Interesting choice of quotation here…

Part II: Pune, India: Happy Independence!

Happy Independence Day, India! Today marks the day where commemorating India’s freedom from the UK.  Did you know that during this time, India was also divided into “British India” and Pakistan?

I arrived in Pune last evening and what a welcome it was.  I arrived at the airport at 5:30 PM, uneventfully.    My taxi driver arrived to pick me up at the airport-we had some trouble finding one another because he was unable to understand me over the phone.   Eventually we found one another after about 40 minutes.  I was finding myself, for the first time in India, so frustrated by the lack of ability to connect with someone because of our difference in language.  I became irritated and flustered (not my best look) and had to remind myself that this is all part of the experience.  After all, I cannot expect that everyone speaks English.  I was frustrated with myself for not being able to communicate effectively-wishing that I had spent some time at least trying to learn some basic Hindi before coming to India.  (Did you know that the 2018 Indian census stated that there are 19,500 different languages and dialects in India?  There are 22 languages that are most commonly spoken-the top one spoken by about 50% of people is Hindi.). We arrived at the car after a short ride on a cart to carry my 100 pounds (or so) of luggage, myself and my driver, to the taxi.  (BTW, I am starting to become acutely aware of the need to ditch at least half of this stuff and travel lighter.  The plan is to only move forward from Pune with my Osprey 70L backpack….and I am hoping to have it weigh no more than 40 pounds.  Why?  Well-as you can imagine trying to lug these bags is literally painful.  Oh and cars here run on CNG (natural gas) so they have a large tank installed into the trunk that does not allow you to fit large bags in there. We had to wedge my massive suitcase in the front seat next to the driver.)  When we opened the trunk and I saw what appeared to be a large propane tank, I did not put two and two together-I was wondering why a car would be equipped with such a tank (I was enlightened only after I arrived at my hotel and looked it up).  

So the CNG tank in the back explained the constant gas light being illuminated on the car dashboard that gave me a little (okay more than a little) anxiety.  For a moment, I wondered if I would arrive safely at the hotel-not just because of the gas light though.  Driving here gives the word “merging” a whole new meaning.  We managed to only hit 1 pedestrian (it was just a small bump, no harm done) and 1 large bus (also just a bump, they probably didn’t even notice) on the way.  The 2 adorable puppies playing in the road nearly avoided death with just a few honks of the horn.  And I only almost peed my pants (both out of fear and having a very full bladder after a nearly 2 hour bumpy ride).  I swear that every time I looked at the GPS, it said we would arrive in “27 minutes.”  If you think LA traffic is bad folks, you have NO IDEA!   The ride was eventful to say the least.  But rest assured- after 1 hour and 45 minutes (not 27 minutes), we successfully traveled 8.1 miles (this is not a typo) from the airport and arrived at the hotel.  

Side note: I was gifted a gemstone bracelet from a prior student (Thanks, Allie) prior to leaving on my trip. I wear on my wrist as a reminder of strength and protection-whenever I feel frightened I find myself twisting the smooth stones in my fingers.  I have a feeling this bracelet is going to have a lot of wear and tear on this trip! 

I was reflecting on my time in Baroda and how comfortable I felt navigating the city with my friends who spoke the native language there, Gujarati.  There is an ease that is palpable when traveling with someone that knows the language, it’s a priviledge-almost like a protective armor that allows for a higher level of confidence.  It allows for a deeper exploration and desire to try new things.  I am trying to lean into the unknown and accept the challenge of communication as an experience, not a barrier to travel but damn, it’s hard sometimes.  Next time I encounter someone that is struggling with English, I will be sure to go the extra mile to help, offer kindness, and SMILE (it’s a universal sign no matter the language).  

During one of my workshop sessions at the office last week, we talked about body language.  Body language (including expression of the face) is the universal language.  When you can’t speak the language, you find yourself watching everything and everyone in a different way.  It gives a whole new meaning to “people watching.”  I notice so much more; the glances shared between parents and children, 2 friend or lovers-so much being said without words.  A friend shared a podcast about traveling with me this past week (“Thou Shalt be Generous”-Everywhere) and in the podcast they are interviewing a man who says something like (and I am paraphrasing a bit) “traveling allows for being more mindful about your place in the world and what is happening around you.”  I really resonated with that statement and believe that it truly expresses my experience so far on this journey. 

I have a few days to settle in here before going to the office on Monday.  The office is closed for celebrations of Independence Day for the long weekend.  For me, I will explore the new area and the amenities of the new hotel-indulging a bit here (Indian hospitality is quite a special treat!) before I head off into adventures with much more minimal accommodations in the near future.  I think I will avoid being in a car until I have to be on Monday!

Happy Independence Day, India!  Thanks for the adventures.  

T

These are the children of the Paschala at the Exxat office.

Celebration of Indian Independence Day complete with flower petal art.

Familiar faces make the experience even better! Thanks for a great breakfast, Sanit!

Part I: India

What a long journey….I left the U.S. from Boston on August 1st-first leg from Boston to Paris. Upon arriving to the airport I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I said goodbye to my Dad and headed into the airport with my mom and 100 plus pounds of luggage.

Side Note: For those of you wondering WTF I have 100 pounds of luggage for….this is how I justified that one to myself: I would be leaving one suitcase behind in India which included all my business professional clothes, etc. (approx. 50 pounds worth) and needing my 70L backpack (another 40 or so pounds worth) for the remainder of my travels. I attempted to fit everything into a smaller pack and it just “wasn’t possible”-try not to judge me. I have a friend who recently traveled around Thailand for a month with a single change of clothes and a backpack-that was just far too ambitious for me. My thoughts on this…it’s interesting, my attachment to this stuff…The fear and worry that I won’t have what I need on my trip and won’t have anywhere to get it so I pack all of the possible comforts I may need along the way. It’s silly, really, to think that I can’t get sunscreen or shampoo or makeup or socks etc. in another country (as if only the U.S. has these things, ha!…) but I’ve noticed that when taking a big plunge into a new adventure, I tend to want to hold on tightly to the comforts of the “stuff” that I know and am comfortable with since everything else is so uncertain and new. So…all 100 pounds of that stuff came along for leg 1 of the journey.

Back to the story: when we entered the airport, there was a line of about 2000 people waiting to check baggage at the Delta counter….I’m not over exaggerating. I went to the front of the line and asked the state trooper if I need to wait in the line if I had already checked in and he said yes but promptly alerted me that he would allow me to cut the line. I was planning to have my mom wait with my bags while I went to the bathroom (for those of you that know me well, that’s not surprise that I had to pee, I always have to pee) but this was an offer I couldn’t pass up so I said a very abbreviated goodbye to my mom (which was probably better for her anyways-goodbyes are always hard for us) and I headed into the line with my 100 pounds. Even though I was shuttled to the front of the line, the bag drop line still took an hour and then there was security….Finally, about 2 hours later, I got to my terminal area which was jam packed with people. I wanted a glass of wine badly to relax before my 8 hour flight and walked around to the 4 places in the terminal near and far….every single one of them was over flowing with people and a long line out the door of other people that were craving the same. No glass of wine for me. I was feeling all the feels-overwhelmed, excited, nervous, fearful, anxious, sad, happy, grateful…I sat down at the gate and my tears flowed. It felt like a release of the last 9 months of endings, goodbyes, moving, packing, preparing….the day was here to start this long awaited adventure-I had arrived to the moment.

I was also sad because I paid 70 dollars for an exit row seat only to learn later that the seat was right next to the bathroom and that I was unable to change it (helpful for the always having to pee situation but not so much for my sensory experience on the flight). Lovely. But little did I know, the universe was conspiring to have me meet Marciano. Marciano was my Parisian seat mate (who also tried to change his seat and was unsuccessful). I entered into my seat and he was already seated in the window seat. We exchanged smiles and pleasantries while I quickly arranged my things for the flight. When I sat down, we started chatting about where we were coming from and going to-the normal pleasantries of a quick introduction to the person you will sit next to (and hopefully sleep next to) for the next 8 hours. But neither of those ended up being the case-the pleasantries turned into 3 hours of amazing conversation. We talked about our jobs, the world, politics, relationships, love, parenting, health…you name it, we talked about it. The conversation came easily and was so organic. Side note: I had ice cream with 2 of my girl friends the night before I left and we were talking about how we deeply dislike talking to people on airplanes. Well, this definitely changed my prior opinions on that subject. It was a signal to me from the universe that things are changing…that I am right where I am supposed to be and that this trip will open windows and doors for me to meet people from other walks of life and areas of the world who see the world similarly and differently, people who will deepen and challenge my perspective and enrich my life with conversations and experiences.

I was feeling revived and energized by this experience. Good thing because the seat was terribly uncomfortable and I was not able to sleep for more than a few minutes here and there. We landed in the early morning in Paris, exchanged contacts with future plans to maybe reconnect later in my journey or at least exchange email updates about the unfolding of our life (he and his long term girlfriend, Ann, are quitting their jobs and moving to Thailand to own a guest house-umm, how good does that sound!).

I had a brief layover in Paris and was headed to Mumbai. I grabbed a coffee and stretched out in the airport a bit to gear up for the next leg of the journey-9 hours. I met a young man over a shared need for a computer charger on this layover and we shared a brief conversation about living in the U.S. He was coming back to visit his family in Mumbai after having lived in Washington D.C. for the year (and Italy for the year before that). I was thinking how brave one must be to take the plunge on those adventures-moving to a new country alone (never mind twice in 2 years)! It’s so cool to meet people like this-it is a solid reminder when I feel scared-if they can move to another country and thrive, I can go on this trip and thrive too!

As I posted my blog and invited others to follow along, I received a lot of positive feedback and many notes that people feel that I am acting “brave” by taking this journey. I’ve never really seen myself as brave but these comments really resonated with me and made me think a lot about my own fears. The truth is, I am fearful as I move into this journey. I am not blind to the risks of traveling alone in “foreign” countries. But I want to lead my life from a place of courage to overcome those fears. There has never been a time in my life when I have faced a fear head on that I have regretted it. After all, even though I am far away from my home and the comforts of familiarity, we are all human beings whether in Massachusetts or India or Thailand or Vietnam…Whether we speak the same language or have the same cultural beliefs, we are all the same more than we are different. We all crave the same things-love, respect, acceptance, kindness, comfort, security, safety, prosperity success, etc. When I feel scared or lonely, I try to remind myself that I am not ever really alone. I try to continue to have the courage to see the similarities rather than the differences between us. Because the similarities that we all have as a species are really where the possibility for something beautiful lies. Whether it’s a smile, glance, or a word shared, even when brief, the connection is palpable. It is an acknowledgement of a shared experience as a simple human living together on this beautiful planet.

Namaste ya’ll! I am so grateful to share this journey with all of you-thanks for following along.

Sending lots of love from India!

Grounding down…

When I spoke to my brother about the big changes in my life and my upcoming journey, he suggested that I set an intention for this time and for my life moving forward. He lives in upstate NY on sacred grounds with a small spiritual community. There is a sweat lodge on the property and I had the honor of calling a sweat for myself. What’s a sweat lodge and why would you want to do something like that? Check this site out for more info: https://www.pachamama.com/sweatlodge/

I asked one of the sisters in the community if she would pour the sweat for me and shared my intentions for my life and journey with her. She was kind enough to accept.

I traveled to Accord, NY on Wednesday to the new (ish) home of my brother and his partner, Miguel. They live in a beautiful home in the woods of the Hudson Valley on Mohonk Mountain. Upon arriving, we had the blessing of seeing a beautiful bard owl in the woods while we were leaving a sweet swimming hole where we took a brief dip to cool off from the sticky heat of the Northeast summer.

Friday morning, the guys woke up at 5 AM to start the fire for my sweat. My brother told me that there was a snake and a pregnant spider on the wood pile-2 good omens for me! And that a pair of blue herons flew overhead-I later learned that water birds are a sacred sign in the Native American tradition. An auspicious start to my day and to laying down my prayer for the spirit and the universe to help me to manifest.

The sweat was beautiful, purifying, healing and HOT! I was accompanied by my brother, his partner, Alison who poured the sweat and another new sister friend, Jill. I felt so much love and support.

The rest of the week was spent enjoying nature with hikes in the vast, green, beautiful woods, dips in cool, purifying lakes and swimming holes and quality time on the beautiful land where my brother lives.

Just before I departed to return to my parents home in Massachusetts on Sunday morning, I had the honor of being invited to witness the end of a tepee ceremony (a Native American tradition) on the land where my brother lives.

It was a wonderful experience to see a community of people loving and supporting each other whole heartedly. I cannot remember the last time that I experienced meeting so many strangers that immediately looked me in the eye and embraced me (and each other) with no judgement or questioning-just love.

My spirit is restored to know that there are communities in our world like this and that my brother lives in one of them. And someday I will too.

The message that I really received here is how important that these two things are: community and love. We cannot live in this world and be well, supported and happy with a limited community and a lack of love-it really does take a village, a loving one.

My take aways-love and accept each other fiercely. And community is so important. Going this world alone is lonely and limiting. Having a large community village to support you leads to the ability to build beautiful things-both tangible and intangible.

Thanks for being part of my community, beautiful spirits! xoxo

Moving day(s)…

And so the moving began. My plan-to sell all my belongings except those that were sentimental and/or not easily replaceable. As I walked around my one bedroom apartment sizing up my stuff, I realized I have A LOT of stuff. I thought to myself, how can someone that lives in a one bedroom apartment with one decent size closet and one small one (oh and a pantry closet too) have all this stuff?

I began sorting-there was the GoodWill pile, the give away pile, the throw away pile and the keep pile. It’s hard to keep all the piles straight!

I had my first love hate relationship experience with OfferUp and LetItGo. Have you tried them? It’s so simple to post on there and to engage with possible buyer/sellers but damn, people can be really unreliable. Them: “I want your mattress.” Me: “Ok, great. When can you come get it?” Them: Radio silence. This happened over and over again. However, this was punctuated by MANY trips to WholeFoods to do my undercover sales (ya know, so that randos weren’t coming into my house with plans of killing me instead of picking up my jade plant-I’ve clearly watched too many 60 minutes episodes).

On Friday, June 28th, RoRo (my car’s name; short for Rogue) was picked up for her ride across the country. After 5 transmissions in the course of 10 years, my Dad was 100% convinced that she is a “good car” and wanted to take on the financial burden of shipping the car cross country for my bro who lives in NY. And off she went.

We had some impromptu “estate sales” where friends scavenged through my stuff to lighten the load. It was great to see that my stuff was going to good homes all across the land (LA land, anyway). I had momentary glimpses of why and how people become hoarders-the thought “well, I might need that someday” occurred on the reg during the process. But the more I let go of, the easier the process became. By move out day, I was pretty much cleaned out. Except for my mattresses. It turns out that it’s super hard to sell a mattress (who wants a used mattress from someone they don’t know?). Even with my catchy description of my nearly new mattresses which were great quality and only slightly used, selling them was a no go. Don’t worry though, they went to good homes of friends and family eventually.

I moved out of my place on June 29th-notified my landlord of the impeccable condition of the place and off I went….right? Not so fast. During the move out the chandelier light fixture in the living room randomly tore out of the ceiling (while I was standing under it). Luckily, it did not fall down completely (onto my head) but remained hanging by just a precarious wire.

Despite that, I moved on out and headed off to celebrate with some friends for dinner (notice that I didn’t say S’mores here).

It was official-Things got real for me leaving LA (with just 4 large suitcases in tow-perfectly weighed out to ensure they were all less than 50 pounds even though Moini doesn’t think it matters what your suitcase weighs).

My flight out of LA was scheduled for July 2nd which made room for a few more volleyball plays with the crew! We had a little going away brunch at GoodStuff which included libations and lots of laughs!

July 2nd, Moini and I took the red-eye back to Massachusetts. The airport and the flight were smooth sailing and we arrived safely in Boston in the morning. My parents were bright eyes and bushy tailed waiting to pick us up when we arrived.

It felt good to see the wide open spaces (particularly the highways) and the green, green, green everywhere you look!

Oh and it was 90 degrees and 100% humidity too. But the green was nice. And the traffic was nonexistent.

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