Guatemorphosis

Guatemorphosis

Central America was never on my destination list for this trip…

Back in June, I was in Asia, in Kathmandu, the other side of the world.  The next logical step after that would be to hop skip and a’jump over to Tibet, Myanmar, or Thailand etc, but if you read my recent blog You Can Go Your Own Way, then you’ll know I threw logic out the window some time ago.

After Denso ultimately departed Nepal destined for Blighty 😢 I had a decent period of procrastination & inertia, somewhat stuck whilst I digested my Indian adventure and mused about my present situation in Nepal:  y’see, it wasn’t really the right season to be there – monsoon season was upon us so the humidity was simply ghastly darling.

I was surrounded by keen beans all pumped and ready to go, or freshly back from Trekking, but to be honest I just wasn’t feeling it, and I mean, what the hell else do you do in Nepal if it’s not trekking (FML)?  I just had this feeling of not really knowing what I was doing there – but hey! you’re in Nepal, so you know, you suck it up and enjoy the present moment!  Time operates differently now, and the Downtime is as important as The Go.

Enjoyment (read: many Everest beers) led to chance meetings (read: synchronicity) with Andy, and the goddess that is Kali Indigo (off’ve El Salvador).  Whilst sat licking our hungover wounds (late) one morning in our Kathmandu hostel (Alobar1000), she told me about the Moon Course in San Marcos del Lago, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.  It sounded perfect, and just what I was looking for. Later that same day in an entirely separate conversation, my roommate also told me about the Moon Course, that she’d done it and that it was life changing.

OK Universe, I get the hint.

After revelling in the delights of Nepal, a month and a half later I was booking 4 tickets, voluntarily subjecting myself to 4 flights (sorry Rebs), celebrating my 36th birthday in New York JFK and Dallas Airport, and all in all a 52 hour door-to-door journey to the other side of the world to arrive in Guatemala – from where the Rainbow takes its colours – and eventually my ultimate destination, Lake Atitlan.

I was lucky enough to spend 2 marvellous months and 7 magical days by the Lake, I found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

I leave Del Lago, San Marcos and Guatemala changed, with it imprinted upon my soul and forever grateful that I came.  Maltiox!
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this, everyday

Today, I touched down in South America – a brand new shiny continent for me to explore, and another unexpected destination on my journey.  First stop: Peru, and two glorious weeks with Richard Bold!

Whilst I was sad to leave my Guatemalan home and family behind I know I take them with me, and I can’t think of a better reason to move on and discover the next part of my treasure hunt – dam, I’ve missed that boy!

Only one more sleep till Bold Times are a’foot, and our 15 days of Funder begins!

view from Tupac Hostel, Lima

Here I go again… 

Here I go again… 

Day 112: Kolkata – India’s second biggest city: simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate, and I fell in love instantly. A much welcomed friendly tonic following the Hyderabad fiasco, and I threw myself into the madness.  

Poverty’s certainly in your face here, more so than I’ve seen elsewhere, and starkly contrasting with the colonial buildings, air conditioned shopping malls and old fashioned service.  The streets are packed with your usual market traders, mechanics, people beavering away fixing this or that, always enterprising.  Most places in India seem to have “A” thing you then see repeated on every street, here it seems to be welding (no masks, obvs), Enfield bikes and mechanics.  

Kolkata’s streets are also paved with bhar – the standard vessel for chai. Fragments of the handmade dusky orange clay cups lie everywhere, remnants of a piping hot 4 rupee chai that’s been smashed back into the ground from whence it came, only to be replenished the very next day with a fresh batch, knocked up by the bhar wallahs.  Street vendors conjure up who-knows-what Bengali food that tastes delicious, if you’re willing to take the risk (I did). 

It’s a much leafier city, with plenty of parks and open spaces that seem to make it easier to breathe in the 39 degree heat.  Getting around is super easy too – your pick of an efficient air-con metro, bashed up trams, bashed up buses, bashed up Ambassadors, TukTuks, horse drawn carts or man powered rikshaw, all vying for their space on the same road to get you from A to B through the busy traffic, of course beep beep beeping all the while.  Or better yet, a good old fashioned stroll down the back alleys where I got a much better feel of Kolkata.

The light skinned Indian’s just left for Delhi, and I’m off to Varanasi tonight – just a short 14 hour/760km overnight train journey away. By morning, I’ll be by the Ganges River, with a whole new gang of Steves.  They say “Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth. Varanasi takes no prisoners. But if you’re ready for it, this may just turn out to be your favourite stop of all.”  I say, it’s got some hefty competition, and I’m ready for the challenge.
  
  

  

A Day In The Life…

Bottomless Thali served with effortless beauty on banana leaves and eaten with one hand, the spectacle of watching hot sweet chai brewed by the side of the road, scalding your fingers and throat as you drink it, the call of the lyre bird, the rust bucket scooters, the Hindustani Ambassadors, Kites and Eagles circling overhead, piles of spent coconuts, kids playing cricket, everywhere, cranky air-con fans, ill fitting idiosyncratic mosquito nets, endless negotiation, street dogs running wild and yet always keeping you company, cows in the street, the fervent steamy production of simple delicious fast food, the chaos, the head wobbles, the glint in the eyes…

It’s the small details in India, the ones you don’t think to mention when someone asks during a phone call to home “So how’s it going?” that are so rich in meaning. These are the ones that seduce you, and ultimately make you fall in love.

Click to watch  A Day In the life of India

Invest Wisely 

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that we all need some kind of income to survive.  It’s unrealistic to say otherwise.   

We all swap our precious time in return for income; the question is, what do we choose to spend that hard earned cash on? 

Uruguay’s former president, Jose Mujica, might just be one of my favourite people when it comes to this topic.  Bear with me, it’s worth it.

Coined “the poorest president in the world”, Mujica shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provided for its leaders, opting instead to live on a ramshackle farm and give away 90% of his presidencial salary. Pretty different.

He gave a speech recently that sums up his austere approach to life.  I’ve transcribed the speech below, along with a link to the video.  He might be seen as a little eccentric, but what he has to say might make you think a little deeper about what you spend your income on,
 

the money you’ve swapped for hours of your life.

 

We could all learn a thing or two from Jose, so I implore you to invest a little of your precious time reading/watching his speech: 

Either you’re happy with very little, free of all that extra luggage because you have happiness inside, or you don’t get anywhere!

I am not advocating poverty, I am advocating sobriety.  But since we have invented a consumer society, the economy must constantly grow.

If it fails to increase, it’s a tragedy. We have invented a mountain of superfluous needs, shopping for new, discarding the old…

That’s a waste of our lives! 

When I buy something, when you buy something, you’re not paying with money.  You’re paying with the hours of life you had to spend earning that money.

The difference is that life is one thing money can’t buy.  Life only gets shorter. And it is pitiful to waste ones life and freedom that way.” Signed: Big love, Jose Mujica xx

Watch Jose’s video here: Uruguay’s Jose Mujica – the poorest president in the world 

Along that same theme, George Carlin (Rufus off’ve Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) talks amusingly about Stuff and things in a classic clip from 1986. Well worth a watch.

Carrying all my “stuff” through India on any day is a sweaty penance for materialism.  It’s surprising how little you really need.  The most precious things I own right now are the things I’m not carrying – the experiences, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learnt, and the sense of adventure. 

Invest your money in life, that’s what I say. It’s got the best interest rate going. Jess Holliday™

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have stuff, or should cut ourselves off from the world and lock ourselves away in caves. I obviously have material goals, and we should enjoy them – I’m Swiss Army Jess for goodness sake, I LOVE a gadget – but the external stuff will come and go. 

Reconnecting to who we are at a core level is how we find the answers. One day we have to wake up and listen to our inner guide and ask, what do I really want from my life?
Wake the F#ck Up – Brett Moran


We all have the choice, so choose wisely.  For now, I am choosing to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” (H.D.Thoreau).  What do you choose?

As I try to remove myself from more and more material stuff, my mind also begins to unwind and I enjoy a lighter mental load too.  

Taking everything away and creating a void has allowed me to add back in what really matters, little by little.  I know it’s easier said than done, I know it’s idealisic, and yes, I know I’m having a marvellous time in Inj’a right now – by the standards of the real world, I’m “bumming around”.  I’m not earning money, but I’m filling my days with a different purpose, even if it is only a very simple purpose.  That is not a waste.  

A day working hard on something I care about is a day well spent, even if that’s just getting up mid-morning and learning a song on guitar, getting know a stranger, or watching a friend grow – I Thoreau’ly recommend it.  That is all.

Speed dating Sri Lanka 

We needed to leave India, temporarily, to go sort Denso’s visa out. We chose Sri Lanka, and it just felt like another stop on my trip. 

Sri Lanka was lush, beautiful, expensive and full of tourists. On the surface, it’s a great place to have your honeymoon or go on holiday. But that’s what it felt like, going on holiday. I’m not here to spend all my hard earned cash on a long jolly. I haven’t exchanged precious time for money just to go and piss it up the wall and sit on a sun lounger surrounded by tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying myself, I’m having the time of my life; but this is more than just a mini break for me. 

Plenty of people love SL, and that’s fine. I’m sure I will when the time’s right, just not now. I was only there on a perfunctory VISA run, and we barely scratched its surface, barely got past first base. This I know. If we were on a date, I’d be coming off as standoffish – truth be told, I was in a bit of a mood with SL simply because it wasn’t India, and that made me realise just how much I’ve fallen in love with this country, and how much this love affair ain’t over – not by a long chalk. 

Oh India – you’ll always be my love affair. There’s never been a jewel so rare. There’s no one like you anywhere

Pranaji – Oh India

Being in Sri Lanka burst my Indian bubble. It was what SL lacked that made me realise what I love and cherish about India: I missed the people, my friends, the culture, the smiles, the head wobbles, the dirty fingernails, the no rules, the chaos, the traffic, the chai, the language, the rhythm, the food, the music, the budget, the disorganisation, even the squalor and the rough round the edges bits – India has done something to me, and I missed all her assets terribly. 

I never expected to feel such an accute urge to abort abort abort and run back as quickly as I could, but my short time away only renewed my reason and reward for being here. 

 

To understand India you have to see it, hear it, breathe it and feel it. Living through the good, the bad and the ugly is the only way to know where you fit in and where India fits into you.

Around India in 80 trains

So where does India fit into me? I’m not here just to look, gawp and snap away like a tourist, I’m here to see. To scratch the surface, to respect, understand and learn about it; to meet inspiring, interesting and fun people along the way; to allow her magic to impress further upon me, for the kindness of strangers to continue to surprise me again and again, and forever be humbled by Indias implicit welcome. 

Missing India was the best bit about going to Sri Lanka. I’ve come back with a renewed love for this special place, a renewed sense of purpose as to why I’m here, how I fit, and what travel means to me:

Regardless of how my road unrolls in the future, this walk has reminded me what a life of adventure is really about. More than anything else, it is a state of mind. It is an attitude of curiosity, bold enthusiasm, ambition, effort and a rejection of mediocrity. I don’t need to walk across India for that. I can find it anywhere, if I am only willing to chase it. I have the choice.

There Are Other Rivers

So here I am, on a 7hr overnight train from Madurai to Vakala that cost me 230 roops (~£2.30!) to travel 350km, living it up in 3rd class sleeper class once again (the only way to travel), experiencing India solo for the first time, loving it but missing my mate terribly due to an epic eTV admin fail, confident India will deliver us back together again in Kerala, and just so blooming relieved to be home. 

Chai? 

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.

All aboard the Bangalore Express

All aboard the Bangalore Express

Day 66: Gokarna-Mysore

At 3.30pm, the Bangalore Express pulled out of Gokarna destined for Mysore, 550kms away. To steal a quote from a book I’m reading, Around India in 80 Trains: 

“Taking trains in India involves a process wholly different from taking trains in England. At home it is not uncommon to arrive at London Euston 10 minutes before a Virgin Pendolino departs to Birmingham New Street, slip a credit card into a machine, grab a ham and cheese baguette from Upper Crust, and hop onto the train with a saver return ticket in hand. The booking system in India opens 90 days in advance and is instantly flooded with reservations, building up endless waiting lists. Fortunately Indian Railways has a useful system in place for latecomers, emergencies and the disorganised.”

It was into this first category that we fell. Three hours before our train was due to depart, we made the snap decision to leave magnificent Gokarna. All the decent class a/c tickets had been snapped up already, but somehow we managed to bag ourselves general class sleeper tickets for 680rps (~£6) each, which is basically code for “anything can happen”. 

     

With much excitement, we boarded the train and held our breath about what was to come – as it turns out, Indian trains and General Sleeper Class is ACE, and there’s even space to hang a travel hammock! Satisfyingly the windows open, making what could have been an uncomfortable 14 hours very pleasant and airy. 

    
   
 
The main carriage doors also remain unlocked for the duration of the journey, meaning you can sit in the doorway and watch the world go by with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, and no one bats an eyelid. The air, the loud clackety clack of the train and the lack of any real health and safety concerns fills me with exhilaration for The Go, the journey, and admiration for India’s general approach to stuff like this. 

Chai wallas, biryani and various food sellers march through the train at break-neck speed, or up and down the platform from window to window at each stop, refuelling hungry, weary passengers for minimal fare. All quite civilised, and a world away from those regimented trolleys yielding extortionately priced beige goods in the UK. 

We touched down at Mysore Station at 5.30am this morning, urghhhh, but in a change to recent energy levels we were ready to smash whatever Mysore had to offer, just needed a snooze first.

“One of South India’s most famous tourist destinations, Mysuru (which recently changed its name from Mysore) is known for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. Its World Heritage–listed palace may be what brings most travellers here, but it’s also a thriving centre for the production of premium silk, sandalwood and incense.”

Unfortunately for us, the night we’d arrived a VHP activist (the Indian equivalent to the IRA) had been murdered. As a result, this morning a bandh (Hindi word for “strike”) had been called in protest. That meant processions in the street, shops shut, businesses closed, and everyone advised to stay in doors for their own safety. So, we’ve been on curfew at our hostel alllllll day. Mysore says No. Balls.  

Endings and Beginnings

Endings and Beginnings

Day 50: after 27 magical days in Arambol, it’s time to move on. We leave behind some wonderful people – the lovely Heather, Spencer, Matthieu, Violet and Prana – heading East with Jack, Clay and Jim, bound for the ancient ruins of Hampi, Karnataka: they say “an unearthly landscape that will leave you spellbound the moment you cast your eyes on it. Plan on lingering for a while”. We say “Ok then.”

To get here involved our first sleeper bus experience from Mapusa – 10 hours in an economical double bunk (in relation to humans anyway), shared in a cosy shoulder to shoulder manner whether you know your neighbour or not – untold numbers of people have lain their heads here before me. the a/c is cold, consistent, assertive, often wakening, and the curtains indifferent about their job – but who wants an easy journey? thank you India, and thank you Xanax. 

   

Bleary eyed, I step off the bus the next morning at the sacred centre of Hampi Bazaar, straight into a swarm of enthusiastic Tuk Tuk drivers, each vying to take us where want to for 100rps (84p), if only we knew our own names. 

Factoid: set over 36sq km there are some 3,700 monuments to explore in Hampi – it would take months to do it justice. It’s early, but the suns already fierce and the Xanax only just wearing off: makes for a dizzying combination. The temperature’s set to hit 36 today too. Jeese. Think we’ll ease ourselves in gently. 

   

Due to Hampi’s religious significance meat and alcohol are banned in the Sacred Centre, but across the river is Virupapur Gaddi where there are no rules – ideal.

 

A tightly-squeezed Tuk Tuk ride, a short boat crossing and a sweaty walk later we land at The Goan Corner, a guesthouse run by the sharp witted matriarch Shamila, and for 900rps/night it’s our home for… well, let’s see shall we? It’s the usual basic room and we have a hammock, so I’m sold. 

7-Bullet Sunday – day 38

7-Bullet Sunday – day 38

A tardy summary of events and anecdotes from the last 7 days, and what a week it was! 

– Cultural sensitivity gets cranked up to 11, as we teach Max ‘ow to swear in English (and giggle like school girls explaining the usage), and how to speak Mattox. ‘E is a Lad in ze, ow you say, errr, making? Peu t’etre oui (I probably spelt zat wrong, mon dieu).

  
 
– Cow Surprises BBC Journalist at Magic Park in Stealth Attack: Cows are everywhere in India, and I mean all over the place, so after a while you really do just stop noticing them. Really. So much so they can sneak up on you in the dark whilst you’re having a quiet conversation, stick their heads nonchalantly and inquisitively in to your circle before you’ve even realised they’re there, and scare the bejesus out of Denso. Favourite.moment.ever

– The Max and Jess school of music opens for business on Kalacha Beach. Rahul, our first pupil, turns out to be a musical prodigy. I blame the teachers.

  
– Around 10-15 minutes walk round the cliff side of Arambol gets you to Sweet water lake – a secluded fresh water lake made from the river off’ve the in-land jungle. it’s beautiful, and what’s more not many people know about it so it’s pretty deserted. Makes for a nice combination: a salty dip in the sea, followed by a fresh water bath in the lake with pleasant layed back vibes to match. If you trek about 10 mins into the jungle from there you can get a mother nature mud pack made from mashing up the clay in the spring water. 15 or so minutes further in, if you follow your nose and the small hub-bub of people and music, you’ll find a huge Banyan Tree: a popular pilgrimage site for hippies with a Baba in residence, and made famous by being the place that spurred John, Paul, George and Ringo’s Sgt Pepper era. we deffo sat in John’s spot. Just saying. 

   
   
Arpora night market: Mental. watching our good friend Spencer and his band Spencer Maybe play the equivalent of the Saturday pyramid slot at Glastonbury, in busking terms anyway. Compared to the relative quiet and layed back of Arambol, Arpora night market is like heading to Blackpool. Lots of tourists, traders, stuff and things and noise, and for us a bit like that bit in the beach (urghhhh, I’m quoting the beach, kill me) when he does the supply run to the mainland. Loved it. Hated it. Crap at shopping, didn’t buy anything. Loved the headliner.

– We’d recommend you stay Cliffside @  Naik Guesthouse… ocean views from your window, crashing waves to permeate your dreams, a private beach no less, et un tres bon voisin – what’s not to like? Our new venue meant we got to hang out at spirit of shiva and watch India vs Sri Lanka 2020 cricket (a much needed Denso sport fix). Ironically, us two girls spent the evening explaining the rules of cricket to Max, whilst we both knocked back Kingfishers and cheered on Sri Lanka (just for funners) with Max looking on, gallically perplexed. Pro Kibaddi also featured – combines rugby, wrestling with a dash of British bulldog, the opposition has to say “kabaddi” the whole time during their attack, or they’re out. It’s fast paced, confusing and as ridiculous to watch as it sounds, but we got the rules explained, sort of. All of us crowded round their small TV set it felt like we were in someone’s living room instead of a bar, and sledging back and forth during the cricket, we got a comforting feeling of home that we hadn’t realised we’d missed so much. Go hug your sofa, and your tv. 

 

    

  
– music we’ve been listening to: Serge GainborgGeorge Brasse.