Shall we just not go back?

Ever had a panic attack in a Buddhist temple? Me neither, but boy, I was pretty close. 

We visited the sacred ‘Temple of the Tooth’ in Kandy. The temple protects Buddah’s tooth in a phenomenal golden casket. The crowds cluster and swarm to see such a spectacle. Adam encouraged us to push and shove. “Push past, stay with me, otherwise we will never see it!” I did my best to obey and queue jumped like I’ve never queue jumped before. I actually quite enjoyed being rude. It felt very unnatural but reminded me of my theatre days. It’s just being another character. Yes Mum, that’s the spirit! Elbows out! No sorrys here! We’re here for the tooth! 

Hi tooth. 

I only saw it for a second and then the crowds got so bad out of no where I suddenly found myself in what can only be described as a mosh pit at a rowdy music festival. A large boob hit me right in the face. I got stuck under someone’s armpit. Still giving it my best efforts to get a photo of the tooth casket, someone fell into me and I lost my balance, accidentally hitting some poor woman really hard on the head with my phone. 

I got the photo. Just. Blurred though. 

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Then the heart palpitations started. I needed to get out. And fast. 

***

We arrived safely in Nuwara Eliya. A beautiful town, up in the Sri Lankan hills, 6,000ft above sea level. 

Sri Lanka is such a luscious green country, and here in particular, the greenery really glows.

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We left the hotel at 6am to take on a hike in Horton Plains. The route was about 9k and allowed us to see an amazing view called ‘World’s End’ and a waterfall called ‘Bakers Falls.’ The whole way around it sounded like a wooden xylophone remix… Frogs. 

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The climate is more like Britain here. Fresh. And of course, rain. Luckily the sun shone for our hike, but in the afternoon back in Nuwara Eliya, the heavens opened. 

Speaking of British, are we Brits comfortable making complaints? Goodness no. Well actually, we moan all the time, but just to ourselves, or just to our friends or partner. But making a formal complaint? That would be far too uncomfortable. We’d rather just act polite and continue to be miserable.  

Must say, much to my Mum’s (and my boyfriends!) disappointment, I buck the trend here. I really don’t mind complaining. Of course, I would never complain for ‘complainings sake,’ but if I strongly believe something is not right, or something is unfair, well then, that ought to be put right. Now I don’t generally expect luxury (unless I’m promised it), and my standards are actually generally pretty low as I enjoy ‘roughing it.’ But my standards are extremely high in how people should be treated – manners, respecting others, keeping promises etc. 

Mum and I specifically requested a vegetarian breakfast picnic to take on our hike. I didn’t request it as a joke. I requested it because we are vegetarian. So when we were promised cheese sandwiches but served salami, I believe we had every right to complain. Mum cringed and creased. “No it’s fine! We’ll just buy something else! Don’t create a scene.” 

Didn’t listen. I sought out the hotel food manager. I politely told him I was very disappointed in the service provided when we had made a specific request, having to go on hungry on our hike. (Ok, I exaggerated here: we were also given croissants, muffin, yogurt, cereal bar, banana, orange and an apple so we weren’t exactly going to starve). But anyway, he was very kind and apologetic (he probably sniffed the risk of a bad trip advisor review!) We had only paid for Bed & Breakfast, but he made it his priority that we were treated like queens for the rest of our stay, and were offered an excellent vegetarian dinner which happened to include, quote Mum, ‘one of the best desserts’ she’s ever had. All complimentary. 

“Thanks Liv…”

“You’re welcome Mum…”

***

Why don’t we have hoppers in the UK? They’re so yummy! Super thin pancake cups made of rice flour. Either with an egg in the middle or just plain, dipped in spicy chilli. Salty, zingy, delicious! The Sri Lankan’s sometimes have it with their breakfast, or as a mid morning snack. Or an afternoon snack. Or maybe as a snack before dinner on their way back from work. We also tried a savoury jackfruit snack. YUM again. All yum. Always yum. Maybe if I lived here I would start to crave one of our classics: choccie digestives dunked in a cuppa. But not yet. Sri Lanka is too great. 

***

Spent 7 and a half hours in a car today. That was shite. But all part of travel. 

Nothing else to report. 

***

Last day spent on Beruwala beach. It’s been a quiet one. I’ve felt a little under the weather, perhaps prematurely feeling the end of holiday blues. Swollen glands too. Goodness knows why. 

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It’ll be a full day of travel tomorrow. More than a full day in fact. Probably consisting of worrying about the work inbox, reflecting on the cultural whirlwind we have experienced and also giggling at some of the classic moments we have had. A couple which I missed in the blog and just must share; 

Before climbing Sigiriya, when at the entrance and getting our tickets, a loudspeaker announcement startled us. Then loud music began to play. It was upbeat. Jolly. We joked and laughed and bobbed up and down doing silly dance moves. Then to our shock horror, we see 100s of others around us, respectfully stood tall, silent, hands behind their backs. It was the Sri Lankan national anthem!!! We must have looked so disrespectful! (lol though). 

Another moment of hilarity was trying some of the traditional Sri Lankan foods. One caught my eye. Didn’t know what it was but it was wrapped up in a leaf and looked exotic. 

“Vegetarian?” I asked. 

The lady nodded her head. I gestured to buy one. 

I assumed it would be salty and spicy. Wrong. It was sweet as sweet can be, like treacle, but grainy and coconutty. I bit straight in. Chew chew chew. 

Our new Sri Lankan friend, Adam, burst out laughing when he saw me. “You don’t eat the leaf!!!!’ 

So lessons learned: 

Sri Lanka is beautiful. Genuinely beautiful. The scenery, the food, the sweet smell of cinnamon. 

The people are warm, kind, and many are blessed with gorgeous smiles. 

I would love to return one day. I encourage you to visit if ever you get the chance. But remember, don’t eat the leaf. 

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Mum goes off-piste and visits a Sri Lankan hospital

Regret: Noun: A feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over an occurrence or something that one has done or failed to do.

We ‘youths of today’ are encouraged to live each day by YOLO standards and we worship the #NoRegrets lifestyle. But as I’m sat here scribbling down this blog post, I am drowning in a cloud of regret. Why? Well actually, because of you. You, the reader. (And my desire to please).

For this post I feel I have not done my duty as a ‘yet another’ travel blogger, sharing weird and wonderful travel experiences to you via the combination of the written word, selection of iPhone5 images and an amateur WordPress account. 

Basically, two days ago, we suffered quite the travel trauma… Mum had to visit a Sri Lankan hospital (actually 2 Sri Lankan hospitals) due to some crazy allergic reaction in her right eye or possibly an aggressive infection. Her eye was ginormous – red, puffy, seeping liquid was running down her cheek like a tap. Her vision was so blurry, it basically wasn’t there. She was in a lot of pain. 

Now, my shameful regret kicks in… 

I didn’t take a photo. 

I DID NOT TAKE A PHOTO of her looking a right state. Gah, it would have been such great blog material. Quite the spectacle.

“Surely you took a selfie, Mum?”

“No. I was in too much pain.”

How inconsiderate of her. 

Jokes aside, I’m thrilled that after a very worrying day, the hospital gave her some strong prescription eyedrops and steroid cream and the following day it had genuinely really improved. Thank goodness. We are still unsure what it was. It could have been anything – such as grit / bug / bacteria getting in her eye and then just going to town in there.

Including the hospital visits, we had an action packed cultural day. Poor Mum probably doesn’t remember much of it; so here Mammy, let me jog your memory…

We visited a Buddhist temple in a cave. All 174, intricate and impressive Buddha statues were carved out of the same huge rock within the cave! The carvings and paintings were simply stunning. Staring at them you instantly felt respect for such craftsmanship. 

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The temple is located up high and the beauty of the panoramic views, once again, can have the power to make you feel quite small and insignificant, but at the same time: peaceful. 

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Back down all the steps we went and I was carefully watching out for Mum and her unsteadiness. Then who trips over their sodding flip flop? Me. Classic. No injures occurred just life flashing before my own eyes (LOL and Mum’s one good eye).

Our next stop was to peer in on how the carvings and artwork are made. Even the paint they use is fascinating as it is all natural and comes from wood. Firstly it was the colour red. Then by adding other natural ingredients such as lime or chalk it turns colour – purple, pink, orange, yellow. So clever! It does make me ponder…. who an earth thinks of this first? Who thought 100s and 100s of years ago that squeezing some lime juice into your wood juice would create an epic colour change and create a paint that would be weather proof and stand the test of time. Legend. That’s who. 

I once thought I was on to something when I accidently dropped a shreddie into my cup of tea. I spooned it out and ate it and it was blooming delicious. Next day; I make a bowl of shreddies for breakfast and rather than milk I pour over a cup of tea into the bowl.

Not good.

Do not recommend. 

I digress. But what I will recommend is where we visited next. To learn about traditional healing methods in Sri Lanka: Ayurvedic medicine. They believe Prevention is better than cure. Our nature provides a remedy and health benefit for everything and modern medicine genuinely shouldn’t be necessary…Most of their beliefs is what many of us already know in the UK, such as: fill your life with fruit, veg, and lots of warming spices (like turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, chilli, curry etc). Some things were a little new to me though, such as, avoid too much pineapple – but if you have too much (more than 2 or 3 slices) you can counteract with lime. The harmful properties in beef is also eased with lime. Another one was, avoid too much cucumber. Can counteract with curry powder. Who knew. 

***

The Ayurvedic gods have spoken. As we awoke the following day Mum’s gammy eye looked significantly more human. Maybe it was the steroid cream or the chemical properties of the eye drops…however I’m holding out on the belief that it was the healing cup of tea the Sri Lankan man made for us at the Ayurvedic garden, and the warming natural scent in the tropical air: cinnamon. 

Seeing as she was feeling better, time to get our Sari on! We had a super fun day which included trying on traditional sequinned saris and gawping at the beauty of the handmade cashmeres and fine silk. 

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We visited a tea plantation to see the whole process from leaf to brew. We sipped and sampled and I fell in love with a sort of tea I have never tried before. Pure white tea. “Yes Mam, this is the most expensive tea. It is not generally available in UK.”

Classic. What can I say, gal’s got expensive taste. 

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Speaking of the dollar. We next explored the world of sapphires (Sri Lankan’s precious jewel). Diana (And now Kate) has this wonderful Sri Lankan diamond on her engagement ring. How lovely for her. 

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The extravagant vibes continued into the evening when we had our evening meal. Rather than a roadside ‘eat with the locals taste sensation for probably less than a £1” type dinner, we splashed out at a lavish Sri Lankan buffet. All the works. Too good. No words. Food baby galore. 

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If that wasn’t enough, the luxury continues into tomorrow as for some unknown reason, apparently for our next hotel reservation there has been a mix up. So instead we have been upgraded to ‘The Grand.’ Said to be the best hotel in Nuwara Eliya. Well, won’t be questioning that. To Nuwara Eliya we go! 

Great quote from our driver, Adam: “Don’t get the High Tea there though. It’s not as good as they say. They only give you two muffins. At a High Tea you should get at least 5 muffins. Outrageous.”

“Is that noise your stomach or is that a giant sloth bear?”

We arrived safely in Habarana, although it was a little uncertain drive as our very sweet driver, Adam, risked taking an unknown shortcut, which actually resulted in us asking locals for directions on every little corner. Old school Sat Nav, ey. 

The following morning we awoke to greet the day with climbing up Sigiriya Rock – a bold statement of a 274m rock standing proud in the Sri Lankan countryside, which has gained a respectful reputation of being the 8th wonder of the world. With that kind of status = an overcrowding sea of annoying tourists. 

Why are you here. 

Why did everyone come in the morning. 

Why are you walking so slowly. 

Why can’t Mum and I have a selfie with the rock without someone else’s selfie stick poking me in the back. 

I’m a terrible person. Of course, Mum and I are also making everyone else feel that way too. 

(Note: I haven’t yet progressed to the selfie stick dark-side and I only sink as low as the classic long arm and forced grin). 

Apart from the irritating crowds, Sigiriya was a phenomenal experience. Our calves were burning from the never ending steps and our scalps were burning from the penetrating sun, but those views at the top: wow. It’s mind blowing to see the ruins of the palace up there. Imagine building that on the top of such a rock!? And what ‘King’ wants, ‘King’ gets. He even had his workers put two swimming pools up there. How the heck did they get the water all the way to the top!? What a lad. 

It was a little touch and go being so far away from the bathroom up at the top… 

Due to the nature of travelling, the way of life out here, and the exotic and occasionally risky food… Tum tum is in for a bumpy ride… 

I feel over the history of this blog I’ve already revealed too much about my bowel movements, but take a look at any of my previous India or Thailand or Indonesia posts and you’ll get the idea…We’re actually (touch wood) not too bad at the moment, but equally in a constant state of never wanting to be too far away from a washroom… 

We next made our way to a traditional rural village location. Now I’m gonna risk sounding like an awful human (again) here, but our local guide who we had leading the way did my nut in (thank goodness it wasn’t a full day tour). He was like an overgrown Boy Scout / Dora the Explorer type. The type who definitely always raised their hand in class even if they didn’t know the answer. The type that takes too many selfies. The type that says too much irrelevant information. The type that would probably make great First Dates material on Channel 4, offering high doses of cringe…

We took a catamaran across the lake to meet a Sri Lankan family who showed us how to make traditional roti and coconut pol sambol for lunch. All old traditional tools were used for making it – like an outdoor sturdy table and big rolling pin for crushing the chillies, salt and lime, and also a large old blade for slicing and grating the coconut. All very heavy equipment. They joked, “no need for the gym here!”

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We ate with our suncreamy fingers off a large banana leaf as our plate.  Warm roti (almost like a thicker chapatti made with rice flour / coconut) was so good it feels like your tummy is smiling when you eat it. And the fresh, fiery red chilli pol sambol was utterly mouthwatering. Cleanliness of the whole process: questionable. 

We rode back to meet Adam via a bullock cart and were greeted with a much appreciated air conditioned vehicle. Soon to change though. After our bad luck over the last two days with no wild elephant sitings… we have both agreed to pay for safari number 3. Thanks to making a Sri Lankan friend with local knowledge, he found ‘our guy’ with a jeep and knowledge of the wilderness tracks. (As with anywhere in the world… it’s who you know!!) 

***

Well aren’t we two lucky ladies. My dream to see one wild elephant – no fences, no cages, no vets bills, roaming free, living off the land… That dream was injected with steroids and multiplied as we were greeted with SO MANY WILD ELEPHANTS. I stopped counting at 26.

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We first cast our eyes on 3 females and a baby – no older than 6months old. Tugging at the foliage. Wandering. Who knows where. Just free. 

It was an unusual sensation I felt when seeing them. Joy. Excitement. Slight guilt. Intrigue. 

The slight guilt comes from even though these guys are wild, the fact I was there, looking at them, holding my camera, still sparked some negative feelings. 

Maybe they don’t want me looking at them. 

Maybe they don’t want their photograph taken. 

Have I gone ‘must get consent’ mad? 

Am I too sensitive? 

I tried to stamp on my niggling negativity and just embrace this moment and feel blessed for looking upon such beautiful creatures. 

We saw more as we drove deeper into the wild park land. Sometimes we were extremely close, at one point, so close I could almost lean out of the roofless jeep and touch her. 

Thank you, Habarana, for giving me my wild elephant dream! Next stop: Kandy… 

Buffalo & Brexit

Ayubowan! (Sri Lankan greeting). 

The journey from North Yorkshire – Heathrow – Colombo – Wilpattu was a long one, but, you’ll never guess what – smooth. What a shame. I thought we may have done a boob and flown to Colombo (Brazil) by mistake. We didn’t. (What a blog piece that would have been though!). Or I could have drawn the predictable short straw and spent an 11 hour flight sat next to someone stinky, such as frequent bottom burper. But no, it was actually just Mum and she was fine. Surely I at least accidentally left my retainers at home? Alas, no. The experience was genuinely smooth as silk. 

It was still a 4.5 hour car journey from Colombo airport to our first destination, Wilpattu. I don’t think we said a lot to each other (Mum and I). Or maybe we nattered the whole way. I wouldn’t know. Being overtired and experiencing some jet lag means existing in a bubble of confusion. Maybe we were in Brazil? 

Fear not, we made it. Wilpattu National Park: Sri Lanka’s precious land where one has the best chance in Sri Lanka to cast their eyes on a wild leopard. Perhaps an elephant too, if you’re lucky. It has always been a dream of mine to see such creatures in the complete wilderness. No cages. No fences. Just roaming free and living off the land. 

For our first night we slept in a treehouse. I think a squirrel of some sort was in there too along with mosquitos (of course) and a family of unnamed exotic bugs. 

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It was a long night but the sun eventually rose and I felt blessed to greet the day in what already feels like, a rather special, beautiful place in the world. I’m in Sri Lanka, I thought. 

I have just woken up in a tree. 

I have just woken up in a tree, in Sri Lanka. 

I like it here. 

Breakfast is usually my favourite meal of the day so I was looking forward to what our first Sri Lankan breakfast would bring. They smile fondly at us, the foreigners, expecting to eat with cutlery. Sri Lankans just get straight in their with their fingers and hands and I’m sure they think we’re rather odd and rather demanding for expecting a spoon. 

Firstly we were given a ‘Leaf Soup.’ They call it ‘Green porridge’ and it’s basically a leafy green warm smoothie with some rice in there too. 

“Very good. Very nutritious” said our new friend Sanjay who served it to us. Mum and I shared a glance between us both. Quite a clear “Erm. What the fudge” sort of glance. But then we both smiled that “bottoms up / when in Rome” sort of smile and put the green porridge to our lips. 

My response boiled down to an unimaginative, unintelligent, “errrrmmmm…..” basically meaning; it’s not vom in your mouth awful. But I also shan’t be adding it to the weekly shopping list.” 

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Next is what you’d expect for breakfast before 8am – potato curry and spicy chutney. Why not. Must say, it was pleasing to have some sliced pineapple and watermelon too. 

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Our next couple of days would be spent with wildlife enthusiast, Namal, who would unleash on us his incredible knowledge, humour and truly exquisite Sri Lankan hospitality (staying in one of his very cool tents at Wilpattu safari camp). 

He has a kind face, a fascinating brain and a rather round belly. “I. Just. Love. Food” he told us as he cradled his stomach and pops his 4th chunk of chocolate Swiss roll into his smiling little face. “Come, let’s go and find some leopards…”

***

As we sat around a camp fire, under the Sri Lankan stars, (Just the 3 of us: Mum, Namal and I) I had that wonderful “pinch me” sensation. It’s only now looking back at it, I was in a little bubble of present moment bliss (something I rarely experience). For once, I wasn’t worried about work. Life. Relationships. Self doubt. I was just sitting, watching a campfire. Wondering if a leopard was watching me. Starting to smell that delicious Dahl, Sri Lankan String Hoppers (like rice noodles) and coconut sambol. Dinner was served…. (must add, these moments of forgetting about life back at home can’t be said when in the car listening to Sri Lankan radio, for even THEY are barking on about Brexit). 

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***

It’s 5am and we’re up ready for safari day 2. Just had a questionable coffee and some cream crackers to line the stomach before the bumpy Jeep ride into the depths of the wilderness. 

***

During our two days in Wilpattu, unfortunately we didn’t see a leopard or an elephant. (So I’m holding out for our next location, Habarana!) We did however see deer, buffalo, exotic birds, mongoose, crocodile, snake and a giant sloth bear! The sloth bear stopped in his tracks when he heard our engine. He looked right at us. All I could think of was FLOPPY EARS. He has such floppy ears!!!

We had a picnic breakfast in the camp as the sun slowly started to warm our skin. Namal had kindly packed some boiled eggs and egg sandwiches in the back of his jeep as a vegetarian option for us. I told him yesterday I liked bananas and so he had bought be a whole bag full of sweet mini bananas for me too. 

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As we bid farewell to Namal I truly do wish him a treasured life, for he is such a gem of a man. May his Swiss rolls always be sweet and his curries always be fragrant. And may he always look back fondly on his memories doing Iron Man before he, quote Namal, “did his back in.” (That guy really was full of surprises!) Take care, Namal. Now on to Habarana we go…. 

To hitchhike or not to hitchhike? (When alone)

Hitchhiking as a woman in a different country is a pretty nerve-racking experience.

My knees were bleeding. My elbow and hands were bruised. My hair was matted and dreadlocked from the wind. I was a mess.

Shaking a little, ready to raise my right arm and stick out my thumb to oncoming traffic on the 395 highway, I did nothing but think of my worried Mother and hope for the best…

Now before I give away the story, let me tell you how I got here.

I’m on a blissful mountain holiday in Mammoth Lakes, California (a town tucked away in the Eastern Sierras. A town that boasts serene lakes, snow peaked mountains and Ansel Adams worthy photography). It’s a snowboarders / bikers / runners’ paradise. One might say it’s, ‘gnarly, dude.’

I’m training for my first triathlon coming up end of June. How blessed am I to do the final few weeks of training in such a place! The views, the altitude, and some great tips from professional athletes who live and train here.

My trickiest element of the triathlon is the bike. Now I’m no dolphin, but so far in training, I have felt more at ease in the water than on two wheels. You see, with running and swimming, it’s just you. All you. In my opinion the bike just gets in my way.

Having said that, the breathtaking rides I’ve had out here on my trusty ‘rental roadie’ with new friends have been nothing but exhilarating fun. It’s clicked, I thought. This is why middle aged men in Lycra are out and about on their bikes so much… it’s bloody fantastic!!!

So, with my new found biking confidence, I’m on a euphoric high after biking the hilly backroads…. after parting ways with my new American pals, I have about an 18 mile ride back to where I’m staying.

(this is how we get to being alone on the 395….)

Cue gale force winds.

Zooming traffic to my left. Open meadows to my right. My knuckles are white and I’m clenching my teeth trying to fight the wind. I take a tiny breather as it softens and finally, my cadence can pick up a bit as the wind basically disappears.

Then out of nowhere a HUGE gust shoves me from the side and whips me right off the bike without even a millisecond to try fight it.

I’M OK – were my first thoughts. Bleeding and scraped but OK.

Thoughts quickly go downhill. Stupid bike. Stupid wind.

Shaking a little, I get up, try to compose myself, but even this is impossible. The wind is now so strong I can’t even stand and hold my bike. I’m not strong or heavy enough and before I even attempt to get back on, I get knocked over again.

Cue sense of humour failure. F***ing bike! F***ing wind!!!

A car pulls over.

A man is driving and the woman to his left says “hey sweetie. You ok? You came down pretty hard there. D’ya need a ride?”

(Think fast, think fast, make good choices, make good choices).

“I’ll be fine. Thank you though. That’s really kind. I’m absolutely fine though.”

The car pulls away.

The wind howls, my body throbs, and I look into the distance at the never ending rolling hills ahead. Bad. Bad. Bad decision. Bad choice.

I knew I didn’t want to get back on the bike. I couldn’t even stand up let alone balance on two wheels. I didn’t want to hitchhike either. I wish I didn’t care, but the fact is if you’re a young woman in a different country, you’ve got to have your wits about you. Make that a young woman who looks about 15. EVEN WORSE.

My thoughts race as blood starts to congeal and I look onto the mountains….

A car pulls over about 50 yards ahead. It then creepily reverses towards me.

The man in the passenger seat gets out first. Then the other man.

My initial thoughts were: This is dodgy. Not ok. Nicht good!

“Need a ride?” Said the older man in a well spoken English accent .

“You having trouble with your bike?” said the other. He was a couple of decades younger, perhaps in his 40s, he had dark skin and an accent I couldn’t make out.

“It’s so windy.” I replied. (Think fast, think fast, make good choices, make good choices). “Where are you heading?” I asked.

“Just up to Mammoth Lakes,” said the older guy. (Good answer).

“Me too….”

He opened the back of the car to see if my bike would fit in. My eyes violently scanned what was in the vehicle. I saw tools and rope. (WEAPONS!?) (probably just hiking equipment… we’re in the mountains). I sneakily took a photo of their number plate. (What good is that going to do? You’ve got no signal, you tit).

I wearily got in the back of the car.

“I’ll just text my friend to let them know I’m getting a ride back.” (Lie).

Thoughts turn to my parents. They would be having such a wobbly right now.

^^^ looking back on all of this now I’m a little ashamed to have so little faith. Turns out these two men were nothing but kind, generous people, wanting to help someone. However, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as we all know, bad things do happen. Horrible things. On this occasion, I’m very lucky to have met the good sort.

We exchanged emails as I wanted to thank them properly and articulate how much it meant to me to have the help and to encounter such kindness. Then after a quick google search I find out they live in Hollywood and he’s a world famous neuroscientist!

I BLOOMING LOVE TRAVEL

Now to spend the rest of the afternoon sourcing anti-sceptic wipes and band-aids…

Visiting Home from Home

My tangled mind woke up at 3am this morning. PANTS. I forgot the pants.

I’m flying to California in a matter of hours and my dearest friend and occasional worst enemy, ‘Life’ has certainly been at a record breaking ‘MANIC’ these last few weeks. My head has been mangled and then buried into thousands of brain compartments – moving house, increasing workload incl evenings and weekends, triathlon training, trying to visit friends but probably failing because everyone else’s heads seem to be playing this juggling (more like ‘struggling’) game of life too…

I digress. My point was I remembered to pack the Tiger Balm (used to soothe sore muscles) yet I forget the very essential – pants.

Now I’ve arrived at the airport, this is the first time I’ve managed to have the time and space to feel excited. Mammoth Lakes (a small mountain town near Yosemite) is my Home from Home. Probably my favourite place in the world. The mountains and the wilderness allow for excitement, danger and physical adventure. Yet it is also the mountains and the wilderness that allow for stillness, peace and adventurous thoughts…

When I’m not hiking or sat outside admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear, I’m lucky enough to be staying with one of my best friends who lives in Mammoth – Joe. (Even with a lovely roof over my head, will still probably be found gazing out the window admiring a tree or a mountain or a bear).

It’s my dream to one day hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from Mexico to Canada). The PCT would take about 5 months to complete. Mammoth is in fact part of the PCT! I’m only here for two weeks, but hope to have a few days taster of the PCT experience. Maybe in the future I’ll be a super fit Granny and complete my PCT dream during retirement.

Damn it. Forgot the mosquito spray.

But passport, purse, visa is in check. Let’s go!

 

Top tip for cheap travel: check flight compare sites regularly and be beady eyed for deals. My RETURN flight to California was purchased about 3 weeks before. I’m flying direct from Manchester with Thomas Cook and direct flight back too. The grand total was £369 incl 23kg bag allowance and 2 in flight meals. That’s cheaper than a lot of return flights in Europe and it’s over 20hours of flying!

Top tip: try find a hobby you enjoy that’s free. I’ll be spending most of my time out there hiking. Happy days.

India: Yoga daze = no panic attack?

10th February

Yin yoga, Vinyasa flow, Hatha yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga, Restorative yoga, meditation… we’ve tried and tested quite a few variations out here in heart-warming India.

We’ve also sampled plenty of the local food. Man, I love Indian food. Gimme something lentil based, a serving of freshly made naan, a questionable pickle array and I’m all yours. Only £1 you say? I’m definitely yours….

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AND THEN A 10p CHAI TEA THAT’S IN THE TOP 10 MOST DELICIOUS THINGS I’VE EVER HAD? WHY THE HELL NOT. (Below is our favourite roadside chai stall served by our favourite chai lady. She didn’t say much but she had such a kind smile and her chai making skills were award winning (according to my tastebuds anyway).

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Everything is so very cheap here. Although I didn’t expect to buy quite so much. The bedding and fabrics are so gorgeous out here… I may have gone a little overboard (think handmade kingsized bedspread, pillows, the lot!) So much so, I may have to buy another suitcase home. That will cost an arm and a leg. MY BAD. (But yay ‘memories’….right?)

***

Now I didn’t come out here to furnish my future home. I came here for yoga. Here’s an extract from my handwritten diary: “If I’m completely honest I’ve neglected the diary for a few days. That doesn’t really need to be a confession, does it? As it is pretty obvious from the dates. I’ve been in a blissful yoga daze, unaware of time. Unaware of time going so quickly. Unaware of my fears.”

From practising yoga so intensely out here, I have learned so much. Not in terms of perfecting the headstand or being able to open my legs wider or wrap my feet around the back of my head. NONE OF THAT. (seriously, can’t do any of that anyway). That’s what I have learned…..None of that really matters. You see, how yoga poses look aesthetically, really is secondary. Yoga is about you and how you feel inside. We are always feeling different, therefore each yoga practice will be a unique learning experience. You could be the strongest, most flexible person in the world – but that doesn’t suggest at all that you would be ‘good’ at yoga. You can’t really be ‘good’ at yoga. It is something that you practise. If you’ve never tried it before I cannot recommend it enough. Since practising yoga regularly my mental health has seen significant improvements. Decreased anxiety. Increased positivity. Through practising, I’m learning to slow down, appreciate things and learn what is worth putting energy into getting worried about, and what isn’t. (99% of things fall into the ‘isn’t’ category).

For me, words and advice are great and inspiring. But ALWAYS easier said than done as the mind is so complex. YOGA however, working with the body and the mind, starts to put it all into practise – much more so than a motivating meme on Instagram, even more than a therapy session can ever do.

Oh dear, I’m writing too much. I’m getting carried away. Let us finish on a light-hearted note. (I say light-hearted but it actually had the potential to be a near death experience).

Ehem. So, it’s the last day. The yoga in India has come to an end. I’m walking along the beach (alone) watching the sunrise. As I walk over the sand, I happen to be carrying my favourite black jumper in my hand. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a wild dog snaps his teeth onto my jumper. For a few seconds we pull on the beloved material back and forth, back and forth. He’s dribbling. His eyes are wide. His teeth are big.

*Enter about 7 other angry, hungry dogs.

I immediately let go. Catch my breath.

Maybe it’s the yoga daze, but I’m genuinely not scared. I just watch the pack of wild dogs fighting, snarling over my jumper (did I mention it was my favourite?) and ripping it to shreds.

Goodbye India. Goodbye jumper.

I really don’t want to leave but I think this will be my last blog post for India. I could write and write and just keep writing but I think more of a poetic summary is best.

the sides of our lips
move
upwards
towards the Indian sun

sparks alight our hips
spine
triceps
during the vinyasa flow

synchronised passions bloom & dip
up
then down

“we are beautifully imperfect”

the sides of our lips
move
upwards
towards the Indian sun

 

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Suncream required when sitting on the loo

5th February, 2018

It’s always a fine line with poo jokes as to how much detail I can / should go into on this blog. Being respectful of the more reserved, I’ll keep it fairly low key.

Ever heard of Delhi belly? I haven’t.

Literally, WHO gets constipated in India?

Who has a 3 day no show in INDIA?

(Me apparently).

 

We’re right on the beach. No floors – just sand. Open toilets and showers (brilliant for passers by wanting sound effects). Keeping my promise of holding back extravagant descriptions (for the more reserved readers amongst you) In summary,  I’m uncomfortable. I’m being careful though, making sure I lather my scalp in suncream each time I ‘try to go.’ Like I said – open air toilets….35 degree heat. That sun on my head and my thighs is HOT.

My little bloated belly and I are still getting fully immersed in all the yoga though. It being a yoga & meditation centre, that is what I’m here for.

Our afternoon / evening yoga session was 90 mins of Yin Yoga. I’ve done this style of practise only once before (in Bali). It is where you hold each pose for 5 – 8 MINUTES. Long. Slow. Deep. Feelin dat burn. 2 minutes in you’re like, this is easy, this is totally fine, this is, ow, ow, this is actually quite uncomfortable. (Then by 7 minutes, shaking) DEAR LORD MAKE IT STOP.

Unlike most yoga, when you need to be gentle with yourself and listen to your body, we learned with Yin, if it is COMFORTABLE, you’re not doing it right. (of course if anything is sharp or stabbing then stop!) But for the benefits of Yin: you need to burn.

It is the discomfort of Yin that is a blessing for helping to train your mind to deal with uncomfortable moments in life. Don’t give up. Hang on in there. Yes it hurts but you are strong. This pain won’t last forever.

Holding the posture for so long works your inner muscles and body so deeply to the point when your muscles actually give up and let go. This sensation of truly sinking into the floor is a-a-amazing. It is the feeling of the fascia (connective tissue) releasing that is really intense. The teacher warned us at the start of the class that because it is so intense, it is not uncommon that unexplained sensations or emotions from the unconscious may be brought up. After the intensity of some Yin poses (especially vulnerable positions such as chest / heart opening), some people may laugh, some may burst into tears and they cannot explain why.

“Ha! What a load of old rubbish” I thought. How melodramatic.

Apparently not. The joke’s on me. At the end of the session I was blubbering like a baby – trying to be discreet, whilst in child’s pose, dribbling dribble and streaming snot into my yoga mat, hoping that nobody would see. My tears after Yin were for reasons I can guess but don’t want to think about too much… However, after the 90 mins of Yin and fascia release, I felt lighter, more relaxed and genuinely happier, more positive and grateful about the future.

(Still constipated though….)

 

 

 

Having an ugly baby whilst travelling to India

2nd February 2018

A few hours ago, on the train to Manchester, I wrote the date in the top right hand corner of my diary. I then gave a long pause; stared out the train window, trying to look all wise, hoping that some profound, or perhaps witty introduction would come.

It didn’t.

I swiftly closed the diary and placed it back in my tatty rucksack.

Some 7 hours later, on the plane to Goa, my pen returns to the page.

Hi.

My 7 hour brain delay irritates me. Why could I not write something before? Why could I not just live in the moment and go with the flow – accepting whatever may arise onto the page – whether that be brilliance, or utter crap.

Then being irritated irritates me – this ‘obsession’ to achieve perfection.

This ‘obsession’ for things to be good, great, perfect. Why can I not trust what my Second Year Playwriting tutor taught us? (Sounds a bit off-piste, I know, but hear me out…)

You see, to prevent the dreaded ‘Writer’s block’, in class, she repeatedly told us, loud n’clear: ‘HAVE THE UGLY BABY.’

Have the ugly baby. Have the ugly baby. This translates to — For goodness sake just write something down. It will probably be ugly, messy and shit, but you can tidy it up later. Be brave, do it now. Yes it may be ugly, but it will be authentic and you know what? That is really beautiful.

I truly love that advice from Poppy (the Second Year Playwriting tutor). The problem is, I heard Poppy’s advice but I didn’t really listen to it. It goes without saying that ‘having the ugly baby’ in terms of writing is likely to make you a braver, more innovative writer as it will nudge you to write more and more and thus, hone your skills. What I didn’t realise though, until sat on the plane to Goa 4 years later, was that Poppy’s advice of having the ugly baby can refer to… life.

To live in the moment

To feel blessed that what will be, will be

To accept your frequent mistakes, your frequent ugliness. For this frequent ugliness is real and authentic.

Authentic is beautiful.

Ironically, the desire to feel comfortable with the here and now is why I’m on the plane to India in the first place. I’m heading towards Patnem beach to stay at a Yoga / Meditation centre – something I have wanted to do for a few years now.

Like so many others, each day, I struggle but fight with anxiety. Yoga practice helps me – strongly and deeply helps. I’m heading to a retreat to develop my understanding of the practice and to help train my mind and body that all that really matters in life is THIS moment; even if it’s ugly…

(Speaking of ugly… Literally what was that plane food? Powdered egg and an indescribable sauce marinated in fart).

Underwhelmed with the plane food, OVERWHELMED at the fact I’m about to immerse myself in a week of no technology, no social media, no nonsense. Just yoga, sunshine, local curry, more yoga, more yoga, more yoga

INDIA UPDATES TO COME SOON

 

What the heck is Hygge?

Gently putting my lips to a steamy Yorkshire brew. The lighting is cosy. I’m wearing fluffy socks. My heart-rate has slowed down. This is hygge.

I came across this term about a year ago in various health mags / Instagram accounts. Someone I overheard said it meant ‘cosy.’ I wasn’t that interested if I’m honest. I just thought it was people being proud of their interior design and photo editing skills. I also read the word hygge in my head as, ‘hi-gee.’

Turns out, the word ‘hygge’ (pronounced hue-guh) is a Danish concept (and a glorious one at that!) In June, I was lucky enough to live and breathe the hygge lifestyle during a long weekend away in Copenhagen…

June 10th, 2017

I met Maja over a year ago, when we were both travelling independently in Australia. We met in Hervey Bay, explored Fraser Island together and then after continuously messaging and keeping each other up to date, we met up again in Cairns! (Read more about our first meet here)

We had shared so much together and got to know each other so very well in such a short space of time. Our humour, morals and life ambitions clicked instantly and it felt like we had known each other for years. It felt strange to part ways, but we both did the polite thing of saying, “you should come and visit me some time.”

In reality, that rarely happens, does it?

Maja lives in Copenhagen. Whilst our ‘every few months little catch up’ over Facebook messenger was taking place, I found out that return flights to Copenhagen from London Heathrow were only £50. Done.

Visiting Copenhagen

Alongside lots of girly squeals, hugs and catch ups, Maja helped me embrace the true Danish lifestyle!

Whilst we sat in her beautiful, minimalist apartment, she said:

“I don’t think there’s an English word for hygge. The closest translation is ‘cosy’ but I don’t think that is a very good translation. Hygge (pronounced huh-guh) is something that brings inner peace and happiness. It really can be anything as long as it is something that you crave / desire. Hygge could be snuggling up in front of the fire. Hygge could be eating a cake. Hygge could be meditating. Hygge could be laughing with friends. If you walk into a room and get good vibes you could say it’s ‘hygge’ … The Danes are using this word a lot lately and doing whatever they can to achieve it.”

How did we achieve hygge?

Experiencing Tivoli Gardens is a must when visiting Copenhagen. However, Maja’s top tip was to go in the evening, when the sun is beginning to set. The air was cool but not cold and the sky showcased swirls of pink, orange and indigo. Twinkling, dainty-lights surrounded our footsteps and laced the trees whilst our eardrums were filled with notes from the violin and the piano. We watched the world go by as we drank fruit tea from intricate tea-pots and pretty cups.

Of course, the next morning I had to experience a modern Scandinavian breakfast. Maja carefully prepared boiled eggs, luminous pink grapefruit and skyr yogurt. The Danes love to eat natural foods, rich in protein to fuel them for the day ahead.

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Fully fuelled, before we knew it, it was lunch. We had spent the morning cycling around Copenhagen (here: BIKES ARE LIFE). We explored nautical Nyhavn and I took some touristy postcard style pics to please my Mum and Dad.

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Lunch was a real treat. We made our way up to the top floor of The Tower to indulge in the famous Open Sandwiches whilst having a sweeping cityscape view.

Nutty rye bread, juicy king prawns, and a view across the water to Sweden. What more could a girl want!?

If no hate and no rules are what you’re after, then head over to Christiania (a tiny town within Copenhagen). Found on the island borough of Christianshavn, the Free Town of Christiania is a unique and somewhat controversial part of Copenhagen. It was established in 1971 when, in the midst of a housing shortage, squatters took over an abandoned military base and formed an alternative society. Best known for its Green Light District (filled with marijuana dealers and smokers – but it’s all OK, cos no rules!) The Free Town is also home to restaurants and bars, a market, artist workshops, and concert venues. There is plenty of street art to admire here, and residents live in converted army barracks or unique hand-built homes. It’s a fascinating place to catch a glimpse of a non-traditional way of life. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was like a dream. Maybe we breathed in too much air whilst walking around, as we both felt a little wobbly and giggly on our bike ride bike home.

Returning the favour

Summary: Copenhagen is a very happy city filled with happy people!

Hopefully I’ve helped to unpick the ‘hygge’ concept a bit for you (with thanks to Maja!) Again it was difficult to say goodbye to her, but I can’t want to return the favour and have her stay with me in the UK.

But what can I do to match up to her excellent Danish culture weekend feat. Hygge!?

Fish and chip Friday?

Keep your head down and don’t talk to anyone in London Saturday?

Get muddy, wet and cold in Yorkshire but ‘av a proper brew Sunday?

 

Anyway, hope to see you soon, Maja!

All the best,

Liv x

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Visiting Barcelona: Always a good idea

You could say my trip started when I asked myself the question: why have I never been to Barcelona before? It’s a city rich in culture with mesmerising architecture cradling you on every street. It’s a city that offers exquisite tapas, sangria galore, and it’s always ready to cater to your fresh paella desires. It’s a city for the fashionistas, the beach bums, the health freaks, the foodies, the history geeks and the artists. It’s basically a must-see and therefore a must-go. To top it all, it’s so close (just over two hours flight, and you can get very very very cheap flights). So to answer the question, WHY have I not visited before? I really don’t know. This must change.

Me: “Lauren (colleague*), what are you doing a couple of weekends from now?”

*I use the word colleague very loosely. We’re great pals.

Lauren: “Nothing. Probably an Aldi shop. Maybe going for a run. Why?”

Me: “How about going for a run up Montjuic? In Barcelona. Let’s go.”

We then both did that thing that girls do when you jump around a bit and dance excitedly but you’re too excited you don’t really make any noise. (Note: no one else was in the office at this time).

We’re both the kind to save, save, save, and the odd splurge on an exciting last-minute travel plan, well, I don’t see anything wrong with that. We were lucky and found very cheap flights and cheap hotel. We’ll barely be in the hotel anyway, we’ll be too busy having fun, seeing new things and trying new food.

***

(Sighs). The concept of time is mad. Like the blink of an eye, it was about to start and then it was over. We went, laughed, ate great food, took some photos, got blisters, laughed some more and then came home. We’re back in the office.

Weekend trips away certainly don’t give you as much space or thinking time as a big backpacking trip and there isn’t enough time to feel part of a new community, BUT, they are very special in their own right. If you’re subject to the chronic travel bug, weekend trips to a new city will give you that quick fix, a boost of travel pleasure, if you may. In some ways they actually trump long-term trips as they’re less tiring and you’ll constantly have that energetic wide-eyed enthusiasm. (Unless you’re Lauren, having a sense of humour failure whilst getting harassed by locals selling mojitos and a foot massage on Barceloneta Beach).

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I hope that after reading this, you might consider saving the pennies to visit a new city in the near future! Or how about a national park you’ve never been to or a new museum in your hometown? Keep doing things that excite you.

But before you go, I’ll leave you with my tips on where to go / what to do in Barcelona, should you be visiting soon.

  1. Dine at Les Quinze Nits on the Place Reial. AMAZING food, great prices! It was so good, we went here twice and I had (big statement) the best dessert of my life. The Catalonian special was a magical concoction of coffee gelato, crème brulee and rich melted dark chocolate. (Video evidence of my foodgasm is available upon request).
  1. Trek (run if you’re a keeno) up Montjuic to see the Castell de Montjuic. Top tip: if you want incredible views, go early before 8am. No tourists.
  1. Rent bikes and ride along the pathway, parallel to the beach. It goes on for miles and miles. This was our favourite activity!

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  1. Meander around the Gothic Quarter and be in awe of the architecture that towers over you. Don’t plan too much, just get lost amongst it all and see what you find!
  1. Drink coffee in Els 4 Gats. It’s cute, quirky and has a great selection of drinks. To make it even cooler, it’s a café that Picasso used to hang out in.
  1. Visit La Boqueria market, one of the best food markets in the world. They say, ‘if you can’t find it in La Boqueria, it’s not worth buying.’

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  1. Of course, do the classics too! See La Sagrada Famila, Park Guell and eat tapas to your heart’s desire!

Shout out to Lauren: I’m usually a bit of a loner and I use this blog to encourage solo travel. But Lauren, I loved every minute with you. Thank you for such a special weekend. And thank you for walking all of those miles with me to get that sandwich that I really, really wanted for lunch.

Should we go to Sri Lanka tomorrow?

GP appointment. Physio appointment. Psychotherapy. Gastroenterology. Dietician. Rheumatology. Safe to say my health hasn’t been too sprightly these past few months and life has seemed to be one big appointment, just prodded in a different place.

Now for the next appointment: Heathrow Airport. Now I wouldn’t say I’m the strongest version of my self right now… so is it really a good idea to venture to the other side of the world to camp in a tent under the Sri Lankan stars, in the hope to cast my eyes on a dream of mine: a wild elephant… Mystical. Wise. Roaming free.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” My Mum asks.

(Am I up to it?… Thing is, I’ve worked blooming hard to save up the $$$ to taste that fresh coconut fish curry & sip fine fragrant tea & feel a rich sun on my back & search for wild leopards. So yes. I’m up for it).

Yesterday I went for a stroll across quiet fields whilst listening to a podcast featuring one of my favourite authors, Matt Haig. He speaks openly about his own mental health struggles and was speaking about the power of not trying so hard. He had been trying so hard to ‘get better’ and to ‘put labels’ on his flaws, that this was actually winding him up even more, thus, making life even more of a struggle.

Perhaps my adventure will actually be an act of healing in itself?

If you’re a return reader of me ol’ blog (hi! Thanks!) you’ll know that 2 years ago I branched away from my beloved solo travel and went to India with my one and only Mum! The MamaDaughter adventures continued the following year too (India again, because we were hooked). This year I suggested Sri Lanka to use a couple of weeks annual leave. (Didn’t take much convincing, she must be addicted too now). She immediately agreed.

So now, time to pack the things that excite me the most:
Mosquito spray.
Imodium.

My stomach flutters and flicks with excitement when I think of a long haul flight. I just love it. It’s actually a length of time that forces me to slow down in life. For example, I often struggle to stay focused for an entire film as my mind will be flirting with a thousand other possibilities of what I could or should be doing in life right now that would be more productive (not a healthy trait and something I am trying to work on!) But on a plane, I’ll happily binge watch 3 films back to back. IT’S GREAT.

Also the plane food is great. I love the surprise. Even if it’s the surprise of tragic disappointment.

Speaking of tragic. I really don’t mind if I’m sat next to a complete loon. Or a heavy breather. Or someone that looks like they’ve eaten their family-size suitcase and so their stomach & side-back flop over half my seat too. You see, the weird and the distressing makes for a funny story and good writing material. I like it.

Let’s see if I get any decent writing material soon, ey? Will try to keep the blog updated. Bon voyage!