Stuck in the rainforest?

Important note: 1 hour after writing this, we were informed that our upcoming plans and adventures for the rest of the trip have been cancelled. We have now been instructed to get the next flight home… If we can…

2 hours ago, I wrote this…
Today is Monday. Actually, I just checked my phone and it is Tuesday. The last time I put pen to paper was Friday evening and so it seems about time that I shared with you, our latest story. As I write this, I am stomach face down on a little beach cove on the edge of a rainforest in Borneo. Every few words I’m plucking ants from my arm hairs and counting the 11 mosquito bites on my legs received by one angry blighter in the space of less than 10 minutes.

We are staying in a treehouse here for 2 nights and we feel like the only humans on earth. It is deserted here. I dread to think how the situation regarding the coronavirus is evolving back at home (and the rest of the world at that matter). We caught a glimpse of the UK news yesterday morning when in the city of Kuching and things were not looking good… ‘The beginnings of lock down…’

In our travelling bubble, the last few days have been jam-packed with adventures and touristy goodness. I don’t want to bore you with a ‘we did this, we did that’ type of account. But feel free to feast your beautiful self isolating eyes on some pics, showing our journey from Heathrow – Kuala Lumpur – Kuching – where my sandy little arse is sat now, on a deserted beach in Borneo.

 *apologies, will have to insert photos when at home. Jungle WiFi not strong enough!!

Of course, there have also been moments when I’m not with a camera… Either because I’m pre-occupied wiping sweat from my upper lip, I’m too busy reading out loud all the signage because mum’s not wearing her reading glasses, or, wait for it, I’m too transfixed on seeing an Orangutan IN THE WILD, in a trance, watching him as my heart dances with excitement. This morning Mum and I went on our own hike into the jungle trails and, when stopping to sip some water, some branch movement caught my eye. We both immediately froze like statues. There he was…using the weight of his glowing orange body to swing from tree to tree. He stopped on a branch high above our heads…looking at us… I wish I had got him on video…

I also wish (going back to Kuala Lumpur now) that I had videoed Mum asking where the Petronas towers were, when we were literally so close…at the very bottom of them. “Erm. They are right here, Miss.” The local man pointed upwards.

I took lots of photos at the Batu Caves and I’m so glad I did because we had an epic time gauping at rainbow coloured temples and climbing a steep set of colourful stairs to reach the temple at the top inside the caves. Monkeys pranced at our feet and we had the joy of seeing a mum and baby who hilariously was using the baby’s tail as a makeshift child leash when he tried to scramble off to do his own thing.

On our way back to the centre, we found ourselves in the ‘Ladies only’ coach on the train. No worries, we thought. We are in fact, Ladies. We do Lady things. (remember when Little Britain was a thing!?) Anyway, there we were, hanging out as Ladies do in the Lady coach, when a group of ten or so men waltz in. Some of the local ladies looked horrified. The men sat down confidently and didn’t see the sign. I hear they are speaking Spanish.

“Shall I milk this whole power thing and tell them to shift? I know it’s not exactly equality, but there is a sign… Values are different here…”

“Do it, kiddo!” encouraged Mum.

Let’s keep in mind I haven’t done Spanish since school so it’s a little rusty.

“Hi. Hola. Hello. Sorry. This is a Ladies only coach.”

They look at me with confusion as if I have just recited Shakespeare in Arabic.

“Aqui” I point to one coach door.
“A aqui” I point to the other coach door.
“Para los Mujeres…. No hombres…” I then point to the pink sign with a cross through a man.
Very roughly translated to ‘Here. To here. For the women… No men…’
They look at each other and laugh and say sorry and I laugh too. They slowly amble out and a lady, wearing a head scarf and a face mask with her young daughter sat on her lap, smiles at me with her eyes.

I have just re read that paragraph and seeing the phrase ‘epic time’ does brew a concoction of emotions. We are so lucky, so blessed to be experiencing such an amazing trip together, however…Things are changing by the hour so what’s to come is unknown and the unknown is unnerving. But as I sit here, listening to the sound of tropical bug virbrairons and the South China Sea waves, I compile a list of positve things to be grateful for.

1. Where we are is magical and we are very lucky to be here.
2. We saw a freakin’ orangutan in the wild this morning.
3. The Nasi Gorneg we had for our lunch was bangin’
4. We have each other.
5. We have managed to avoid getting the shits (hope I haven’t spoken too soon)
6. I only have 11 mosquito bites on my legs. 111 would be worse.

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.”

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…. 

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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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.

Trying to do a Half Marathon in Delhi

4th March

Today was long and hard work. We left the hotel in Shimla at 9am and did not arrive in New Delhi until 11.45pm.

Our local guide was a woman – that was a surprise. Smaller than me, big beautiful brown eyes and smudged red lipstick. She told me that she would not eat anything all day because her stomach hurt. She even refused the boiled sweet that I offered her. I think she said her name was Charylee. Whatever it was, it sounded pretty.

Charylee escorted us onto the Toy Train. It was old, small and quaint, moving very slowly and showing off the panoramic views of the Himalayan mountains. The old railway had many twists and turns and took us through over 100 tunnels on our journey Shimla > Solan, which took three hours. Something about travel seems to make my bladder weak… never have I been so desperate to use a stinky, filthy hole-in-the ground. And never have I been so desperate for hand sanitiser.

We’ve had some incredible culinary experiences on our trip so far. But today, it was a disaster. I wanted something bland and so ordered boiled eggs on toast. It was vile, disgusting, and resulted in a terrible sense of humour failure on my part. If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a spice lover. So why pick something so tasteless? I’m hoping to do a half marathon tomorrow… that’s why.

Two hours of bumpy roads and mad over-taking left our tummies feeling very turned – probably not helped by my bad eggs and Mum’s deep-fried cheese. (Why on earth did she choose that!?)

The train food was ‘interesting’ let’s say. In an attempt to protect my little stomach for tomorrow, I stuck to pre-packaged food. Mum ate a couple of fried things and a few mouthfuls of suspect curry. STOP!!! I told her. She reluctantly stopped. The only unpackaged food that I did eat was a huge naan, wrapped in foil (in an attempt to carb up for tomorrow). Due to the hectic journey, I’m worried that I haven’t fuelled up enough for tomorrow’s race. My carb loading today has consisted of cereal and porridge for brekki, two dodgy eggs, three slices of toast and jam, two slices of banana bread, cereal bar, muffin, four bread sticks, a huge naan and three bananas. Will that be OK? We’ll soon find out…

When arriving in Delhi (late) as you can imagine, the traffic was hellish. After near death Mario Kart experience number sixty-eight, we finally arrived at the extravagant Maidens Hotel. The men were dressed in white and gold and had the kindest of smiles. After checking in, booking a taxi for the race tomorrow at 4.15am, guzzling a complimentary hot cocoa, my head hit the pillow at midnight (too exhausted to even change my clothes). I set my alarm for 3.30am. What am I doing?

5th March

It’s dark. We’re lost. The taxi driver is lost. Nobody knows where the Yamuna Half Marathon start line is and I’m buzzing off my tits, at 4.30am, thanks to very little sleep, an energy drink, a power bar and pack of jelly beans with added electrolytes.

In broken English, the taxi driver suggested we call the race organisers. He offered me his phone. I didn’t think that there would be any point calling – it’s 4.30am for goodness sake! Who on earth would be in the office? Once again, India surprises me – a man answered.

“Cancelled.”

No explanation, just: “cancelled.”

Annoyed, deflated, but still wide-eyed from sugar and additives, I sulked back to the room.

I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. I had stomach cramps instead. “Oh no!” said Mum, trying to be sympathetic. She was about to put her arm around me, but then ended up barging me out of the way instead, so that she could be violently sick in the loo.

My stomach pain passed as quickly as it came on. Mum on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. Delhi Belly has struck. I repeat. Delhi Belly has struck. This is not a drill.

This meant I was to explore Delhi by myself. Poor Mum, she would have loved to experience it too. I was shown around by a local guide – Bubbu, who looked after me ever so well.

My hopes weren’t all that great for Delhi. ‘Smelly Delhi’ they call it. But wow, it was so much better than I imagined! Even with no sleep and feeling a little lonely without Mum, there were moments where my jaw would ache from smiling ear to ear, feeling so lucky to be seeing this colourful chaos, the madness of it all.

Bubbu and I rode on the back of a Rickshaw (a cart lead by a bike) through tiny backstreets and through the bustling spice market. We rode along a main road too and almost got clipped by other vehicles, including a bus. At first it was a little scary, but then after each near miss, I laughed out loud, feeling truly alive. It was electric. I could feel my heart beating in my head (although that could be due to no sleep). Who cares.

It was a surreal experience to wander around India Gate and see the President’s House. But it’s more of a palace than a house. In fact, it’s more of a city. The President has over 7,000 workers and the house has its own post office, school, hospital, tennis courts, football pitch… and in the garden, it is said to have every type of rose on earth.

I finished off my day by treating myself to an Indian head massage. The coconut oil that they used made my hair greasy for days, but the wonderful experience was worth it. Although, questionable at times. I closed my eyes in sheer relaxation, but then my eyes widened as there was definite boob cupping as he massaged my chest.  I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed, but I was too exhausted and relaxed to care. I thought what the heck, it actually felt quite nice.

Hurrah! Mum was feeling brighter and was going to attempt to join me for dinner. I couldn’t get over how beautiful she looked, even though she had been so sick all day. We ate outside on the garden terrace. The candle lighting and the warm evening air made the whole place feel like paradise.

I can’t believe our Indian adventure is almost at an end.

Before visiting, I thought it was a bit of a cop out when people said, “words cannot describe” in their response to, “so what is India like?”

Now I know what they mean. I don’t think we have the language to describe such decadence and such dirt, such beauty and such pain. My experience of India has been a constant, fighting juxtaposition between heart-fluttering madness and inner peace. It is a country that makes you feel alive. It is a country that makes you feel everything and nothing.

 

 

The severe dedication to avoid Delhi Belly

1st March

I’m squatting. For once, not squatting over one of India’s famous hole-in-the-ground-toilets, but I’m squatting next to an open fire, helping a lady who is dressed all in blue. I’m helping her make chapatis.

I’m outside the Judge’s Court Hotel, situated in the Heritage Village of Pragpur. My rolling-pin technique isn’t quite as speedy or efficient as the lady in blue, but her white smile is warm and her kind eyes tell me that she is grateful for my help and my company. She doesn’t say much but her aura is peaceful and content, so much so that it is contagious – whilst throwing raw dough onto the orange flame and sitting (squatting) by her side, I feel a calm happiness in my head and through my entire body.

Our dinner that evening was incredible and I definitely over did it. I waddled up to the bedroom feeling like I was about to give birth to triplets. Triplets cushioned by garlic naan and swimming in a platter of vegetarian curry.

2nd March

7 hours drive to Shimla. It’s only 200km away, but it’s all narrow, twisty roads, heading up the mountains. Jesus Christ the driving was hairy. It truly is the real life Mario Kart experience – who doesn’t love over taking on bends? But each time we overtook, we beeped the horn three times so we’ll be safe, right? My knuckles were white for most of those 7 hours (made worse by one too many coffees this morning – stay strong little bladder. Stay strong!) I feel really bad that I don’t know our driver’s name. We’ve been with him these last 5 days, but it would be too awkward to ask now.

Good lord, Shimla is cold. Much colder than I expected. Wearing practically the entire contents of my backpack in an attempt to keep warm, fashion has completely gone out of the window. I currently resemble an unfashionable 14 year old that would be found in a French GCSE text book.

Shimla is beautiful though. It’s much cleaner than any of the other places that we have previously visited. Smoking is prohibited and there is a ‘no spitting’ rule. The roads are steep, the forest trees are tall and the glowing sunset resembles an acryclic painting, painted by a talented optimist.

3rd March

Today I saw a girl get attacked by a monkey. She wasn’t hurt, so it’s OK that I laughed, right?

A temple visit and then some more monkey shenanigans, I later purchased the best thing since sliced bread – a Yak wool scarf from a kooky little Tibetan charity shop. #FreeTibet !!!

After mopping up my plate of black dahl with fresh chapati, both my tongue and my stomach reached a level of satisfaction so much higher than is possible with the foods back at home. I’m being daring with trying new flavours and spices (I love hot food), however, I’m being extremely cautious of all uncooked foods – especially fruit and veg. And even though I’m the gelato queen, after reading up on food safety in India, I’m staying away from ice-cream too. And it goes without saying – bottled water, always bottled water (and make sure it’s sealed! Sometimes they have been sneakily refilled and sold on).

Upon recommendation from a local, I went to Baljeet bakery to try one of their famous ‘Barfis.’ I opted for ‘coconut barfi.’ It was sweet and delicious but unfortunately the after-taste took a dramatic turn, resembling what I can only describe as ‘sour milk.’ I quickly rummaged for a soft mint to try and mask the taste of stale vomit in my mouth. Note for next time: BARFI = BARF. (Although I would like to brag that for someone who usually has a sensitive stomach, I manned it out, wasn’t actually sick, and therefore feel like an invincible warrior).

7 days in. Touch wood, Delhi belly has not yet arrived. However, my intestines are having a new experience. For example, they love love loved a fragrant pea, yogurt and cashew nut curry that I ate on March 1st, they loved it so much, they did not hesitate to remind me of that fragrance all throughout March 2nd. And the 3rd.

BUT I’M NOT ILL YET SO YAY ME.

Time for rest. Tomorrow is a full travel day to New Delhi. And then the next morning, I might do a half marathon. Because, well why not?

The countdown to India

For the last few years I have fantasised about India. The fragrance, the textures, the tastes and the noise. The decadence and the dirt. I knew that one day I would do whatever I needed to do in order to visit the country that was a mysterious, enticing dream to me.

Cue January sales.

It’s happening. Last minute deal. Absolute steal.

I’d happily go and travel alone again, I thought (much to my parents’ horror). Or – do any of my good friends want to go with me? ANY TAKERS? That would be cool. I knew as soon as I saw that deal online that I was definitely going to go (subject to work giving me the OK, which luckily they did!)…But I knew the chances of any of my friends also wanting / able to jet off to New Delhi in a few weeks time was pretty slim.

Alone it is.

I thought I should be a good daughter and keep my Mum in the loop. I sent her a text message.

 “Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?”

I smiled to myself at my hilarity. Of course Mummy Mulligan won’t want to go to India. Carolyn Routine Mulligan. Carolyn Everything Must Be Clean Mulligan. Carolyn The Biggest Worrier In The World Mulligan.

Beep Beep. My phone buzzed.

Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?

“Yes.”

I’m sorry, what?

Of course, I gave her a call to clarify that she meant to agree to something else. Such as Dad wanting confirmation that dinner would be at 6pm like it has been every evening for the past 30 years of their marriage.

To my disbelief, my Mum wanted to travel to India with me. And not just lie on a beach and be served cocktails (she wouldn’t like that anyway because she gets sun stroke really easily). But she actually wanted to travel through the North of India with me, exploring, travelling by train, making our way to the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

I am beyond excited! I know I make fun of Mummy Mulligan, but she knows I love her dearly and she knows she is one of my best friends.

MUM AND DAUGHTER ADVENTURE.

But now the departure date is very fast approaching, I think it has dawned on her what she has signed up for. When I was trying to explain to her what the humidity would feel like – she gulped and her face turned grey.

She has turned to buying Yakult drinks and over-priced probiotic tablets in an attempt to prepare her stomach for what’s to come.

Her Google search is an obsessive repetitive list of ‘Weather in Delhi’ / ‘Tourist scams in India’

She is losing sleep at night at the thought of not being able to drink Yorkshire tea.

“I’m taking my own teabags.” She told me.

I’m going to just let her be and do her thing. But I can’t wait to see her face light up as we sample chai tea together. The real deal.

The countdown to India begins!

 

!!! I feel I must mention that whilst writing this blog post my Mum text me. I’m not even making this up. Do you know what she sent?

“Shame weather is terrible. How is your foot? Have you been taking Yakult?”

Oops I did it again

In 2012 I caught an aggressive bug as I inter-railed around Italy and France. I should have known it would happen. I slept in dirty hostels in Rome and ate cheap bread and cheese for days. I wore crinkled, back-pack-squashed clothes and got a lobster stomach from the French sun. I’m not sure whether I caught the bug from the questionable hostels, the dirt cheap food, maybe even the crammed, budget airline flight home? But catching the travel bug hit me hard. “Time to start saving.” I thought.

Fast-forward 4 years and I have just come back from a trip of a life-time exploring New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Determined not to get the ‘travel blues’ when I arrived home, I pumped myself up and put my energy into looking forward to getting a job in London again, and catching up with my beautiful family and friends.

But during my job-hunt and catch ups galore, an incredible opportunity arose… I won’t go into too much detail right now, but long story short, I got the chance to go to California for 3 months.

Mammoth Lakes.

I visited there last summer. It is, hands down, my favourite place in the world. The appeal is a combination of breath-taking scenery, challenging running routes and the community’s support of athletic endeavors. It’s also a place where snow-capped mountains, peaceful forests and bald eagles are often the runner’s only companion. I remember getting the plane home and thinking, ‘I’ll be back. I don’t know when, but I know that I’ll be back.’ I certainly didn’t expect it could be so soon!

I pride myself on being sensible with money. Somehow, I managed to come under budget for my last trip. So the money for my flights to Mammoth was sweetly staring me in the face.

‘But you’ve just had an epic trip’ I told myself. ‘You don’t deserve this.’

So the London job-hunt and catch ups continued. Now, I’m not usually one to crack under peer-pressure, but EVERYONE who I spoke to about the Mammoth opportunity said, ‘GO!!!!!’

So I did.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt