7-bullet Sunday – day 345

7-bullet Sunday – day 345

What’s it been like being me the last 7 days?

1. Tambo – coming out of the jungle after spending 8 days alone living in an isolated palm leaf hut, eating nothing but rice and potatoes delivered twice a day, and drinking Tree medicina prescribed by my Maestro: Sapote Renaco.

Stood inside a 600 year old Sapote Renaco tree
Imbibing the strength of the medicine, listening entranced to the sounds of jungle, reconnecting with nature: a truly awakening experience.  Stillness speaks, and in the simplicity is the truth.

My Tambo hut – home for 8 days

2. Final Ayahuasca Ceremony at Santuario, ¡A qué grupo! So full of love, feeling reborn and transformed by nature and this ancient curandero practice, and so honoured to meet such a bunch of beautiful souls.

A que grupo!!

3. Writing my very first song, and getting to sing it to Maestro at close of the last ceremony – honoured to take the stage, and even more proud to get a round of applause and praise from Maestro himself! #bashful #humble #proud.

 

4. Leaving the sanctity of Santuario much changed and with new additions to my #globalfamily, with full intentions of returning and with a new connections both to myself and Mother Nature. Gracias la selva! Gracias Santuario!

5. Arriving back to civilisation and the poshest hotel I’ve stayed at during my whole trip – the Manish Ecolodge in Pucallpa. Enjoying/remembering the tourist perks, but wincing at the price tag.

Plenty to catch up on from being off-grid for 21 days, blue squad catch up (TLDR), the all important calls back home to much loved and missed ones, and some goodbyes to new and dear friends – not long my friends, we will see each other again.

Friends are the best

My thoughts turn back home and to the ensuing festivities as I spy a Christmas tree in reception – first one this year, and my oh my how this year has flown by!  This time last year…

Christmas in Peru

6. Hitting up the Peruvian bus networks once again, opting for a punishing but cheap 48 hour 2,000km bus ride from Pucallpa – Lima, Lima – Mancora for £60, instead of a 7 hour £200 flight, to get me back to the Pacific coast after a long time inland. Buses, buses, speed bumps, speed bumps, corners, corners, loving the inexpense but missing the ease of cheap long-distance travel of the India Railway.

I decide to spend the dinero I’ve saved going by bus to treat myself to a nice beach side apartment for Christmas instead. #Winning.

The 2:30 Tepsa: Lima-Mancora
7. Heading back to the Ocean and the beach town of Mancora. By morning I’ll be swimming in the Pacific, giving kite surfing a go, watching the sun rise & set with the sand between my feet. Bliss. Not a bad way to spend my last days in Peru.

Mancora Soul

Writing this from my sleeper seat of the Tepsa bus Lima-Mancora, with the warm  afternoon sunshine in Lima, once again, streaming through the window and striking my face.

7-Bullet Sunday BUMPER EDITION:  “Days of Funder” #261 – #276

7-Bullet Sunday BUMPER EDITION:  “Days of Funder” #261 – #276

It was day #261 (Saturday 24th September in old money), and “The Day” had finally arrived.

Giddy with excitement like a kid on Christmas Eve, unable to wipe the smile off my face and barely able to stand still, hopping nervously and excitedly from foot to foot, gripping the barrier in the Arrivals Hall at Lima Airport with my heart fit to bursting – any moment now my friends would be walking through those unassuming arrival hall doors would reunite me with familiar faces in this unfamiliar land, halfway across the world.

[I’ve never given Arrivals Halls much credit or even a moments thought before, but then I’ve never been the one waiting for someone, or vice versa, so I went all a bit Richard Curtis about the whole thing… they could probably make more of it, just saying…]  

You don’t realise there’s a piece of you missing till it comes back and immediately takes the piss out of you, or how much you missed that signature Bold-strut until it’s strutting towards you.  T’internet, blogging, whatsappalanches, social media are all a great comfort and e-lifeline/umbilical cord to those I cherish, but you just can’t beat a Bold IRL.

Wellll, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em… so he did…

The next 15 days would take us (at an eye-watering pace) to Lima, Huacachina and Cusco, crossing Peru’s southern border to briefly dip our toes in the wonders of Bolivia – La Paz, Lake Titicaca and back again to Cusco… holiday warp-speed, engage!

This bumper-edition features two very special guest editors:  the one, the only, Mr Richard Bold, & the fearless, unflappable (dark-blonde) Italian, Marica Dapporto.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then buckle up, and Mr Bold will begin…

1. LIMA [RB]:  Lima could be described as a dump if you go to the wrong places:  which we may have done.  But, amongst the inner city ring-road motorway and the proliferation of terrifying poverty, a fecund and electric overflow of humanity can be found.

Taking one wrong turn led us into the midst of a none-more-Catholic parade:  widows wailing, young men either chanting or forcing their incantations through a full range of brass instruments, musical notation sellotaped to their backs for the following musician behind to follow.  In the centre of it all, a golden Christ held aloft on the shoulders of the devoted.  Swaying left and right to the beat of gospel horns as thick copal incense fills the air, the procession forges forward through the packed crowd.

All of a sudden the grey, dilapidated city had come alive with music and voices and, with the turn of another corner, silence fell once again.

img_8281
navigational mistakes in Lima

TRAVELLER NOTES:  we stayed in the Barranco district of Lima for a laid-back bohemian vibe; lots of bars and restaurants, views of the Pacific Ocean and well worth a stroll.  We recommend bunking at Barranco Backpackers Inn, which nestled us nicely amongst it.  Mira Flores is about a 15/20 minute walk up-town from there.

 

2. PERUVIAN HISTORY [JH]:  Upon a recco, we hit up the Museo Larco to do us some learnin’, be well cultured n’that, and marvel at “the finest gold and silver collection from Ancient Peru” (clang).  If you believe the history books then “Peru is one of 6 regions of the world where the first civilizations emerged independently, uninfluenced by other societies and known as the Cradles of Civilization”.  Peru was first inhabited some 14,000 years ago. You’re probs alllll dying to know what the other 5 are now, aren’t ya – China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Mesoamerica… History fun FACTS! 

pots pots pots
…and then, discretely tucked away in a separate building there’s the erotic archaeological collection, noted as one of the “most visited Peruvian tourist attractions” (sniggers).

Trying to be terribly grown-up and respectful about the whole thing, I even attempted to read the plaques underneath the exhibits, and I did learn a bit about what it all meant, but there’s just something about statues with giant stiffies, depictions of various sexual acts painted and sculpted on (yet more) pots, and the way they’re presented in a serious way – a contrast of content and form – that just brings out the child in you – like when you read the Kama Sutra for the first time at your mates parents place – feeling naughty for taking photos, snatching a sneaky picture here and there, and I could sense we were all moving at a slightly quicker more embarrassed pace through this collection than the one before.  I don’t know why we all feel a little awks when it comes to sex and bodies and stuff, I mean Life’s a sexually transmitted disease after all! but I mean, come on… when faced with relics like this… who wouldn’t snigger a little?

3. HUACACHINA:  a 5 hour bus (book with Cruz Del Sur in Lima) will cost you around 40 soles each and deliver you to the desert Oasis and sand dunes of Huacafuckingchina (their words, not mine) – a beautiful one-horse town with just 96 inhabitants, who maximize their assets by exclusively offering Dune buggying and sandboarding experiences to the truckloads of tourists arriving each day.

You can join a group sand buggy from 4-6pm (to catch the sunset) for only 45 soles a piece (~£10), or a private buggy for 50 soles each for an hour.  Both options include sand-boarding, which entails lying down on a beat up piece of wood vaguely resembling a snowboard, throwing yourself head first, elbows in! down a sand dune, and is a lot of fun.


4. CUSCO [JH]:  Catching our first glance of the vast and expansive Andes Mountains out our plane windows “THIS is more like it!” I thought.  At times, it felt as if we were close enough as to skim our shirt sleeves against them as our Captain skillfully threaded the plane through the eye of an Incan needle that was the narrow mountainous approach into Cusco – “the belly button of the world”, and the epicenter of the ancient Incan civilization.  If that wasn’t breathtaking enough, the 3,467m (11,374ft) [FACTS*] altitude literally took our breath away.  There are several remedies to help tourist with altitude malaise, such as chewing on Coca leaves – new experiences.

*to put things into perspective, the U.K. barely raises her regal head more than 162m (531 ft) above sea level.

 TRAVELLER NOTES:  We highly recommend staying at Casa de la Gringa in San Blas, Cusco.  A breathless climb for the newly arrived, but worth it for the warm and cosy refuge that awaits. Single occupancy costs 50 Peruvian Soles (about 12 quid) – slightly more expense than my usual backpackers budget, but deffo worth the extra investment for the home from home feeling.  They also facilitate San Pedro ceremonies from here for 340 soles pp.

the approach into Cusco

llama selfies

5. CEVICHE:  [RB] Despite since becoming a vegan (a disconcerting viewing of Cowspiracy’s fault), ceviche is the finest use of fish since the finger.  If you ever come anywhere near South America then take on as much of this citrus-soaked wonderfulness as possible.  Greens on Cusco’s main square was a massive find, allowing us to gorge ourselves on the stuff…

img_9031

6. BOLIVIA: [JH]:  ahhhhhhh road border crossings, how I’ve missed thee.  We crossed into Bolivia through the rather rough-round-the-edges scruffy border town of Desaguadero.  The first thing that struck me were the bowler hats, everywhere.

I’ve borrowed this from the Internet: “Since its invention in 1849 in London, many famous people have been sporting bowler hats. You may recall the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr.Potato head from Toy Story 2 wearing these types of hats. However, none of them have worn the hat with the same style and flair as the “Cholitas” of South America – specially the women in Bolivia.”

But WHYYYYY? The story goes as follows:

Back in Manchester, shortly after the bowler hats were invented, two brothers were manufacturing a line of bowler hats. Their plan was to sell them to the British railway workers who were working in Bolivia at the time.  However, when the hats arrived to South America they found that they were way too small to fit the heads of the men.  So, instead of throwing them out they decided to create a “fictional” story to tell the Bolivian Cholitas.  This story was that all the fashionable women in Europe were going around wearing these bowler hats and it was the new fashion trend!  The locals embraced them as part of their traditional clothing, and nowadays the bowler hat is part of Bolivian national pride, the El Sombrero.

We also learnt an extra level of cultural subtlety to El Sombrero:

1.  Wearing the hat in the middle of the head in a smart upright position indicates “Hands off Chico, I’m married”

2. A subtle tilt denotes “I’m available (or possibly widowed)”.

3. Wearing them to the back of the head jokingly means that their relationship is “complicated”.

img_9183
Cholitas wearing El Sombreros, snuggled up on the boat to Isla Del Sol, Titicaca

7. THE DEATH ROAD:  Ciao! Marica here.  The Death Road (Bolivia, La Paz) was one of the best and worst experiences of my life so far.  We began at 4700 metres above sea level in light snow, which quickly turned into totally obscuring fog and freezing rain.  Hands were frozen and our sunglasses rendered as useless as a frosted window.

Thankfully, this slowly turned into clearer skies and eventually beautiful sunshine as we descended, revealing the incredible peaks and terrifying drops as the road simultaneously went from Tarmac to the uncertain gravel we would get used to over the next 5 hours.

My personal style was to remain seated the entire time and focus generously on my brakes, as the rest of the team stood pointlessly (in my opinion) on their pedals and hurtled to certain death at every unguarded corner.  No barriers, sometimes less than 3m width of road and 1000m crevasses to try and ignore as my vertigo screamed its warnings in my ears.

My style of riding meant that the rest of the team had plenty of rest stops as we progressed and I was given the proud title of “slowest in 20 years” but at least I didn’t suffer the fate of one of our team: a rival squad of riders mixed up with us at one point, shaking the grip of our most confident member, a German whose name escapes me.  He came off his bike hard and managed to dislocate his shoulder!

All we could do was make uneducated medical suggestions (including the group leader) as he nearly passed out from the pain, sat on a convenient road-side barrier. We had been told – in humour we thought – that statistically only 5 out of every 6 riders make it.  Our party was 6, so losing the German meant the remaining 5 were safe for the rest of the trip! #everycloud

The landscape was phenomenal, the riding more than exciting, and I never thought I’d be able to achieve anything like it.  My war against my fear of heights achieved a huge victory.  More please!

img_9175
5 people and 10 intact shoulders

A Bold death-road technique
TRAVELLER NOTES:  There are tons of agencies offering tours to the Death Road in La Paz.  We booked ours through Free Bikes, offices near the Witches Market and the main Bus station. We bargained a deal for 300 Bolivianos each (35 quid) for the most economical bikes.  A lot of companies take large groups – we had 6 in ours and I think that’s Free Bikes MO – depends on your preference, but fewer people suited our taste.

8. WITCHES MARKET, LA PAZ [JH]:  Encountering macabre dead Llama feotuses, lotions and potions at the Witches Market in La Paz is an insight into Bolivias soul. At first sight, the Witches Market didn’t seem so witchy.  For the first 10 meters or so it’s just stalls with small figures stapled on top of each other, some herbal tea and old women sitting lazily on the stairs of the cobblestone streets.  You’d never guess that this is the place to buy powdered dog’s tongue, which can be secretly added to a man’s food to make him loyal to his lover like a dog is to its master. But it is – for the right price.

9. TOURS OF LA PAZ PRISON [JH]:  Turning up drunk at the entrance of La Paz prison, and asking the Guards in bad Spanglish “can we, like, come in?” because we were told that was “a thing“.

“After gaining notoriety from the book Marching Powder, the not-exactly-legal tours of this bizarre prison without guards became a popular part of backpackers’ tours through Bolivia. Inside, visitors could observe a prison unlike any other – where inmates with the right resources were afforded luxuries unthinkable anywhere else like saunas, alcohol, and full-service restaurants.”

Sadly, this “tour” is no longer available… but disdainful looks from affronted Prison Guards is freely available to any drunken tourist who wants it.

10. LAKE TITICACA: ISLA DEL SOL [JH]:  Ahhhhhhhhhh, after the hectic fast paced schedule of the preceding days, arriving by boat to “The birthplace of the Sun” felt like coming home to Lake Atitlan.  Space, peace, horizon, lake, pure terrain (no cars), lots of Sun and our home for at least 48 hours this time… a chance for some RnR and to be swathed and swaddled by Incan history, as it’s believed their Sun God was born here…  an ideal spot to settle in, catch up on some much needed meditation, and to watch Sunrise and Sunset.

View from our hostel balcony
Sunset on Roca Sograda with this good egg
 

We opted to stay on the Nonorthern part of the Island, Challapampa, which has a beach and is close to some of the famous pre-Columbian ruins.  It’s a small farming/fishing community with a basic but pretty plentiful approach/supply of accommodation, restaurants and shops etc.  We didn’t bother booking any accommodation in advance – as soon as you step off the boat there’s a swarm of local lads/tour guides, poised and ready to either take you to where you want to go or to help you find somewhere, but it’s easy enough to just wander around and find somewhere you like by yourself.  Walking through the small village to the beach, we managed to find a hostel with a balcony view (recommended to make the most of those sunsets), costing me 35 Bolivianos for a bed in a Compartido (shared) room, and around 130 for a Privado.
The 70 sq km island was reminiscent of my beloved Isles of Scilly – small enough to walk from tip to toe in 4 hours, and definitely merits at least night or two – you can then devote a day each to the northern and southern ends, taking a walking circuit of the main sights across a long day.  There were some that arrived with the intention of hiking the Island in a day, which is possible but far too much of a box-ticking exercise for me.  If you have the time, I’d highly recommend sticking around a while, drinking in the quiet serenity and gorging on plenty of Trout before heading back to the port of Copacabana.


11. GOODBYES [JH]: Writing this from Casa de la Gringa, back in Cusco, some days after those good eggs left, reeling emotionally and physically from their fleeting but warming visit and excited about what South America has in store for me next.

7-Bullet Sunday: day 234

7-Bullet Sunday: day 234

What’s it been like being me the last 7 days?

1.  Becoming a Moonie graduate, bursting out my moon bubble and becoming a San Marcos Lake Atitlan local, for two weeks at least.  

In his 1934 travel book “Beyond the Mexique Bay”, Aldous Huxley compared Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan to Italy’s Lake Como.  The Italian body of water, he wrote, “touches the limit of the permissibly picturesque.” Atitlan, however, “is Como with the additional embellishment of several immense volcanoes. 

It is really too much of a good thing.” 

Lake Atitlan is indeed breathtaking, but nowadays it is leaving many visitors gasping for breath.  A thick brown sludge tarnishes its once blue waters – the result of decades of ecological imbalance, brought on by economic and demographic pressures. 

The unsightly and smelly layer, more than 100 feet deep in some areas, is chasing tourists away from Mayan towns in the area and posing huge cleanup expenses to a government already strapped for cash.  

Worse, the results of a University of California analysis found that the bacteria is toxic.  Scientists are urging residents to avoid cooking with, bathing in or drinking the water.    

Over here in San Marcos, thankfully the Lake’s not quite as unsightly as it can be in the main towns of Panajachel and San Pedro, so a dip in the Lake every day is still an enticing activity.  However, it seems to be taking a toll on business here too – I’ve seen several For Sale signs around town, and knowing the condition of the water is less than perfect is a stark reminder of the delicate Eco system we live in, despite the idyllic vistas we see everyday, and the impact we have on it. 

2.  Taking some valuable time for myself in San Marcos to re-acclimatise to the real world outside the Moon bubble, drinking in the transformation – figuring out how to blend the old and new into one sublime reality;  a sublime group of people brought together, who just want to make a positive contribution to the world (aww), now armed with knowledge, freedom and potential, how best to direct it, to integrate it all?  

The foundations are set, and experience is my best messenger, so it’s time for some action and to build my way. 

3.  Taking a week of intensive Spanish lessons – immersing myself (or trying to at least) in Latin American culture. Hoy, estoy hablando Espanol! Mas o menos :). 

4.  Several staggered and emotional goodbyes to my fellow Moon Course graduates.  Reflecting on the space we’ve held for each other the last 30+ days.  From the moment we met there was a beautiful understanding of each other, that we were all in exactly the right place with the right people.  

This is not the end dear friends, ’tis only the beginning #globalfamily.

5.  Getting into the swing of my own meditation, yoga and Prana Yama practice, holding my centre, keeping me connected to my light, and surrounding myself with that which supports my fullest expression. 

6.  Looking after Zeus, the resident Perro a Las Piramides: a mahooosive beautifully calm Alsatian, with a slight tendency to wander off, a big heart and a fear of fireworks – arghhh responsibility!  Where have you been old friend?

7.  Writing this from my current home, Jenikas place at Las Piramides, which has both a DOUBLE BED (yes, I’m star fishing) and A BATH!  Such a joy to still be near the temple and in this amazing place – lucky lucky lucky me! 

 

7-Bullet Sunday: Day 178

7-Bullet Sunday: Day 178

What’s it’s been like being me the last 7 days? 

1. Returning to Pokhara after 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Lumbini, armed with a new outlook on mySelf, and feeling so tirribly hippy.  Namaste.

2. Witnessing a natural phenomenon, a magnificent epic rainbow halo around the sun, hovering above Phewa Lake – nature continues to be “in my face” and I’m continuously blown away by it.

3. Trekking just a wee bit of the Annapurna circuit, in monsoon season, proving that it’s totally possible to do it in trainers #noneofthegear.  The backpacker Hiking Boot vs Trainer debate, done.  The stone in Nepal is simply beautiful – flecks of gold and silver in nearly every rock, and Quartz all over the place, you really get a feeling of walking on jewels and gems.  The fact that some of the paths have had elegant stonework steps built into them, the work that went into making them just beggars belief.  Amazing.

4. Encountering and enjoying the natural hot springs in the jungle of Jhinudanda, juxtaposed so dramatically next to an awe inspiring monsoon-swollen river, thundering it’s way down the valley as the rain came down on top of us – a spot in time not to be forgotten.

5. Witnessing the effects of the Nepal Monsoon season on the trails as we walked – some parts completely, and freshly, torn away – a sobering reminder of the earthquake that hit Kathmandu, a very real threat of danger, and the Asian approach to health and safety.  Also seeing first hand the rice farmers who hand-harvest their paddy fields by hand, bent over double and calf deep in the muddy waters, just a short distance from the trek routes, and finding a new appreciation for who and how such a basic food staple actually makes it to our shops. 

6. Still reeling from the EU result and the ensuing fall-out, trying my best to keep up from abroad and to make sense of it all, amidst the very loaded reaction and coverage.  Thank you Michael Dougon.  

7. My thoughts turn to home and loved ones as the Cabaddy due date approaches. Buckle up world, this ones gonna be a great one! 

   
   
   
 

7-Bullet Sunday: Day 143

7-Bullet Sunday: Day 143

A tardy summary of happenings and musings from the last 7 days:

1.  Ledakh – one of the most remote places I’ve ever visited.  The roads that give access to this place from Kargil in the West and Manali in the South are seasonal, and were only just opening up when we arrived.  Newly defrosted/scarred/under-construction roads, men at work breaking rocks, several bumpy, cosy, shoulder-to-shoulder boob bouncing jeep rides, patience/physical endurance/tolerance, a new appreciation for smooth tarmac like you wouldn’t believe.

The roads in Ledakh are like a metronome for its development:  the community need/want progress, and there’s a race to get the roads safe/give access in and out to those who’ve been cut off for months as well as getting the tourists in the quickest.  At the same time, they risk/worry about losing that delicate Ledakh heritage/identity that will begin to melt away as the Tourism soars.  I hope they succeed in protecting this special place. 

Nubra Valley

2.  Getting my first taste of Tibetan culture and getting excited for September! A new language, prayer wheels, stupas, prayer flags hung literally everywhere and flapping in the wind, Tibetan refugee markets full of beautifully tempting souvenirs, a new set of symbols and meanings, a kind of innocence, a thinner atmosphere/less oxygen (10k ft above sea level), brisk, colder temperatures, space, SNOW! breathless acclimatisation, peace and quiet (no beeping, no TukTuks), a much bigger, fluffier and teddy-bear-like breed of Steve, weathered and almost purple wind-burnt friendly smiling faces, clean, fresh mountain air – it’s enough to make you forget you’re in India, but with the pace of life set at 3 knots and a very relaxed/non existent approach to health and safety (thank god), you’re soon comforted by that familiar “Indian way” of doing things.  

 

Leh – not at war, LaLa’s Art Cafe with Leh Palace in the distance
 
The town balances looking like a construction site, a war-zone and an historic religious memorial all at the same time with a graceful simplicity, one of the many idiosyncratic talents of India.

3.  Driving 1 1/2 days to reach the Pakistan border, weaving and climbing through the vast Nubra Valley – another long, but stunning journey that took us up and over Khardungla, “the highest motorable road in the world” (18,380ft), and eventually spitting me out at Turtuk – the last village to be occupied by India and the closest I can get to Pakistan.  

Stood by the border check-point (a familiar sight for a Dumballer), it was a sobering moment for this kid from the Midlands – took the opportunity to pause and reflect on my fortunate predicament:  free to travel anywhere in the world, and at the same time acknowledging the slightly bonkers/surreal location that I found myself at on day 140.  I can see Pakistan!? 

Indian/Pakistan Border Crossing

4.  1st world problems: 

a) as my visa expiration date approach’eth, Jessington brain-fog sets in as to “where/what next” in the world?  For now, a no-brainer hop skip and a jump over to Nepal and a brief Denso reunion beckons – why the fuck not?!  I’m excited by the possibilities/opportunities that are to come, whenever the conclusion materialises.  

b) lengthy and quite regular Leh-wide wifi black-outs brings a welcomed off-grid quiet, save for the attempts to alleviate some acute pangs of missing family & friends through Skype and the like, which were rendered completely impossible or frustratingly sketchy #loading, #connecting, #nointernet, #1stworldproblems

5.  Finding inspiration in all sorts of places.  Most notably, from 3 talented podcasters whom I highly recommend you all take the time to listen and subscribe to:

1. The Comedian’s Comedian – Stuart Goldsmith
2. Distraction Pieces – Scroobius Pip
3. Adam Buxton

Your own podcast recommendations are most welcomed – get in touch or stick a link in the comments bit below.



6. Saying cheerio to the #GoodEggs Naomi and Clay, as they set off from Leh destined for Manali. #travelwankers, #clangers and my #globalfamily for the last 90+ days, I love the way they look at the world, the larfs we’ve shared, and the things we’ve seen together.  

Some have come, some have tried, and some have left defeated, but it’s that top-shelf calibre that glued all of us “Clangers” together.  You know who you are. “Hello forever”  😉 ©CarolineDensley.

7. Sampling Yak cheese for the first time, I can report it has the hardness/crunch of Parmesan/Manchego, yet the sweetness of Gouda/Emmental, and seemingly goes with absolutely everything on a Leh menu. Yakety Yak!  Don’t talk back.  Recommended. 

7-bullet Sunday – day 108

7-bullet Sunday – day 108

A summary of happenings from the last 7 days…

1. Experiencing Auroville – a planned Utopia built in the dust of N.East Tamil Nadu, about 15km north of Puducherry and inland from the Bay of Bengal.  Auroville is a concept community, built by two visionaries in the 60’s to “help humanity move beyond its present limitations into the next stage of its evolutionary adventure, the supramental consciousness.”  Riiiiiiiight.  This is out there, even for me (given recent events).  Based on really great intentions, Auroville just comes across a little bonkers and cultish.  You must sign up to a waiting list a few days in advance, and the intro video you have to watch before you may enter the Matrimandir is like that bit with Richard Attenborough at the start of Jurassic Park, felt just as prophetic and just makes it feel, all, theme park’y n’that.  Sorry (not sorry).

Access granted, we got to visit the Matrimandir, the “soul of the city”, a giant gold golf ball looking thing with truly beautiful architecture, but lots of rules on how to enjoy it – wholly alien to anything I’ve ever seen in India, or anywhere for that matter, and a bit like a space ship, but utterly magnificent nonetheless.  “The Inner Chamber in the upper hemisphere of the Matrimandir is completely white, with white marble walls and deep, white carpeting. In the centre sits a pure crystal-glass globe which suffuses a ray of electronically guided sunlight that falls on it through an opening at the apex of the sphere.”    Now THAT was a sight to behold, if you look past all the eccentricities, and don’t speak, or touch that, or walk there, and put on the socks, PUT ON THE SOCKS!

the inner chamber
Matrimandir “The Soul of The City”

2. Back to Chennai (Tamil Nadu), where it allllll began just under 4 months ago.  A chance to reminisce on my first impressions of India, and how much has happened since we all drove out those gates of the Leela Palace in convoy – missing my dear friends and family back home, and my fellow Dumballers. 

3. A sweaty and fond farewell to Denso and Jim, aka “Team Ginger”, as Denso leaves India with another soon-to-expire Visa, this time heading to Nepal and the next stage of her journey, in more ways than one. So much to say about the last 100+ days, but she knows it all already.  Bonne chance mon amie!

4. Reaching Hyderabad, (the capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) and with it the first low point on my trip.  Suddenly struck with an irrational fear and vulnerability from being alone in a big Hydera-bad city.   The pollution/smell/traffic so bad it gave me a nosebleed!  Pathetic and panic stricken I followed my gut and made a plan to run away, fortunate enough to be able to throw money at the problem – not before I’d had a word with myself:  There I was – a western affluent woman, with a passport, free to explore the world, not burdened with the stress of working, hoovering the stairs, or having to go to Tescos, suddenly rendered inert by my own imagination and concept of “fear”.  Whilst the feeling was real, what do I really know of fear?  Come the f**k on Holliday, chin up and crack on.

5. Quote: “I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened.” Mark Twain

6. Heading North, I arrived in Kolkata in West Bengal this morning, immediately feeling more comfortable despite the 3am heat.  Yellow Ambassadors queued up neatly outside the airport – a familiar sight and a warm welcome.  Excited to be in one of my Dads favourite cities (when captaining for BA), which makes me feel closer to home, and heaps keen to explore all his recommendations tomorrow. 

  

7. Writing this from Royal Guest House, Kolkatta, watching Life of Pi with a glass of Old Monk in hand – hello old friend!

7-bullet Sunday – day 73

7-bullet Sunday – day 73

A summary of goings on from the last 7 days

1. This week marked our second visit to Mysore (the first being on Dumball), and also marked the second time we didn’t make it to the #1 tourist attraction, Mysore Palace – #shitanecdote. Turns out there was plenty else to keep us entertained.

Sri Chamundeshwari Temple – cue inappropriate posing, obvs
2.A political murder in Mysore, strikes, protests and a hostel curfew: a sobering reminder of real goings on outside our reverent bubbles, but a good reason to plug into local news and discover that Indian newspapers are a rather entertaining read. #Everycloud

3. Meeting Aslam by chance: a delightfully friendly local lad only too pleased to show us around his home town, and introduce us to some local delicacies (cough cough). By far the best way to see Mysore, AND I got to learn how to drive a TukTuk. No strings, just a really really nice dude.

Kesava Temple

4. Invited for lunch with Aslam’s family – turns out THAT was the Mysore Palace worth visiting. Heart melting whilst having a drawing/scribbling sesh with Aslam’s 4 year old nephew Moslan, owner of possibly the cutest smile in the world (second only to my gorgeous niece). So touched to have been welcomed by such a lovely, massive family. Immediately made me revise my list of significant moments on this trip.

5. The T20 World Cup continues to be a conversation starter and recurring surprise that two girls a) like cricket and b) know the rules. Watched NZ v India from Shilpa Shri roof top restaurant, overlooking Ghandi Square. Thanks again Aslam.

6. Sampled the authentic essentials oils, sandalwood and incense that Mysore’s famous for – well, you can take the girl out of perfume…

7. Expiry issues for Denso means exiting India for a quick VISA run. Sri Lanka it is, which means getting a flight from Madurai. We choose to stop off at the quiet and picturesque Kodaikanal Hill Station (7k ft above SL) en route from Mysore. In reality, Kodaikanal Town is like a tacky alpine resort, centred around a Lake teeming with serious tat to rival Blackpool pleasure beach, and plenty of Indian tourists all keen to take our photo, racing pedalos FFS – it’s bonkers. Felt like we’d popped over to Skegness or a shit Chamonix for a few days. Wouldn’t recommend it.

On the plus side the cooler temperatures at altitude suited Denso down to the ground. I got “the pelt” from the chilly 18 degree evenings and had to don long lengths for the first time in ages. No one will feel sorry for me about this.

She hooked me in to the Sri Lanka plan with talk of Jeep driving around the island for a week (she’s no fool), what the heck. Factoid: current humidity in Sri Lanka is bobbing around 70%. We fly out tomorrow. Buckle up.

“I wish I loved anything as much as my kid loves bubbles”
Writing this from our new lodgings Vedanta Wake Up!, off in search of Marugan Idli for lunch – delicious.