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.

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!
​ 

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

Is there Life on Mars?

Is there Life on Mars?

“Hello! You are from England?”

“Yes! You speak English?!”

“Yes! I learned it!”

“Fantastic! Where did you learn it?”

“Yes!”

“….” 

My basic get-you-through Hindi has been coming along nicely, but since Kashmiri, Dogri, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi are all spoken here, the language barrier is a little tougher – cue lots of sign language, patience and smiles, which thankfully the people of Jammu & Kashmir have in spades. 

The overnight night train from Delhi pulled into Jammu just over a week ago, and it’s like we landed in a completely different country.  A lot of Kashmir looks like a war zone, exacerbated by the omnipresent Indian Army/Military Police that punctuate the highways (there’s still a bit of a spat with Pakistan), but a great deal more looks utterly spectacular.

After nearly 10 years clocking up 100’s of driving hours on some challenging roads, Dumball made me match-fit for the drives that were to come: 

1. The drive from Jammu to Srinagar:  like driving in the mountains/on the roads of Albania, Hungary, Monte Negro and the Western Ghats all combined.  

This is the ONLY way to reach Srinagar by road, so that makes it their M1 and main supply artery.  Chuck in A LOT of Trucks, traffic, herds of goats, horses, shepherds, all competing for the road (in both directions), a few landslides to dodge, hair pin bends, pot holes, dramatic drops, gridlock, men at work, assertive aggressive overtaking (on blind corners, obvs), military police presence, a toll booth! (fifa) with opportunistic tradesmen taking full advantage by trying to sell us Cricket bats (for reals), boxes of cherries, strawberries, pashminas… You know, all the things you need 6 hours into a 12 hour journey – this is the life force of India that just never goes away, and I love her more for it. 

   
  

2. The drive from Gagangir to Leh.  Just six little words.  Looks like an awfully small affair doesn’t it?  Completely belies the spectacular 12 hour/350km journey that climbs and crosses the Himalayan Zoji La Mountain up and over into Ledakh – a road that grunts and grinds, climbs and zig-zags relentlessly, sometimes slicing through the glaciers and snow drifts.

The narrow passes, perilous drops and occasional (often) bad condition of the road means there ain’t too much room for two way traffic, so you have to wait at the bottom in a somewhat orderly queue with no real idea of what’s going on until the last of the descending group of traffic has passed by the Traffic Officials, indicating your turn to make the ascent. 

The condition of the road elicited some squeaky-bum-time considering I was in a Jeep that was fit for purpose, and then an idiosyncratic massive Indian truck hurtles past in the opposite direction, it’s customised metallic decoration glinting in the sun like its throwing a metaphoric “fuck you”, all guns blazing, not giving a shit and showing us all how it’s done – how the bejesus did that thing even fit up here?!  

   

We watched the vast, enormous landscape change and grow from the dirty back seat windows of our very bouncy Mahindra jeep, being thrown left and right, both hands on the Jesus handles.  

The peak of the pass is at 11,650ft, and surrounded by Himalayan snow capped mountains.  No sooner had we hurtled past that than the landscape changed up again to mountain ranges of epic Tolkien-esque proportions with Mars and Lunar-like terrain, and it just didn’t stop either.

   
  
  

The drive to Leh was one of the most challenging, varied, awe inspiring roads I’ve ever had the pleasure to survive/drive on, with the most phenomenal, uninterrupted mountain landscapes I’ve ever seen.  I’m out of superlatives.  There’s almost nothing in between except for an abundance of Tibetan prayer flags adorning various stupas, flapping in the wind to remind you in which direction you’re headed, and to give a bit of moral support.  Not much hope of a wee stop around these parts. 

 

*before you say it, I know it’s upside down – I can’t fix it
 
  

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.
  
  

  

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!

Friends Reunited 

So it worked! Best way to get an Indian eTV in Sri Lanka definitely approved, (when you’re applying from within Sri Lanka and you’ve been told the stats are 99% against you) is to get someone with a U.K. IP address to apply on your behalf, and lie (fib/claim innocence) that you haven’t been to any SAARC countries (aka Sri Lanka et al). 

You might also need to remember to book a flight to one of the 12 entry airports that India allows with the eTV, off’ve not getting refused entry at Madurai (failed there), a bit of some lastminute.com panic booking of a new flight for Denso at Colombo airport to fix it, some tremulous au revoirs, leaving your best mate behind with your emergency debit card and 1000 roops, no mobile data access, only sketchy airport wifi, and all fingers and toes crossed that everything will be ok and she won’t get deported… But we got there in the end! I’ll let her fill you in on her side: Caroline Densley blog

After all the kefulffle, we arrived in Varkala this morning about an hour apart, reunited at Shiva Gardens and delivered straight into the heinously hungover bosom of Jack 1%, few… Time for a Kingfisher or two to celebrate – well, it is the King of good times, AND Rich got some splendid news today too, so it’d be terribly rude not to raise a glass to the good fellow! Cheers 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?