Friday, January 23, 2015

Living it up in Singapore.; 4 days in the hub of Asia

I arrived at my hostel feeling like I had been hit with a ton of bricks. I was struggling to keep my eyes open, but I knew that I had to fight off the jet-lag after the almost 40 hour journey from the states. I sat in the kitchen and drank several cups of coffee before heading out to tackle the sites of Singapore.

Typical wares in China town

After grabbing a map, I wandered around the streets of Chinatown, where I was staying, to familiarize myself with the area. Shops were lined up and down the street selling various Chinese wares; lanterns, rice carvings, paintings, statues, silk robes, clothing and just about every generic souvenir item you could think of.  
 I was overwhelmed by the options, and, as usual, when I see the same thing over and over again, nothing seems attractive to purchase. I stumbled upon a beautiful temple and found myself drawn inside. A security guard handed me a wrap skirt and scarf to cover my “scantily clad” body (skirt and tank top) so I could wander around the temple.
Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore
The Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple was beautiful.  It was my first time getting to see a building with Chinese architecture,  The upsweeping roof called me inside.  A simple, giddy happiness overtook me as I felt the "being" in Asia.
Statues lined the walls, floor to high ceiling. Each one appeared to have different hand positions or animal body parts.  I did not understand how one could ever learn about all of the symbolism I am sure was represented within each figure.

The worship hall in the Buddhist Tooth Relic temple
I found people worshiping in an extremely beautiful and ornate hall with three enormous statues and a thoughtful alter set at the front.  Columns wrapped in gold carvings framed the hall, and many people came to kneel and pray before the deities.

After wandering around the temple for some time, I returned to the street and weaved back through another street of trinkets and knick knacks.  Sales people tried to sweep me into their shops, and I examined some jade jewelry, and made no purchases much to dismay of my newly made best friends.  :)
Dressed temple appropriate
Next I found a Hindu temple, and was again provided with garb to cover my knees and shoulders before entering.

The temple had all sorts of amazing paintings on the ceilings, and people making offerings to various deities again.  Men were rubbing chalk on some peoples foreheads and offering blessings, but tourists were not allowed to go past many of the entrances, so I stood and watched from a distance.  Occasionally, a trio of men would play mystical sounding horn instruments and drum, building up a rhythm and then stopping.

 I then decided to tackle the MRT system, Singapore's' subway/train system. I found it incredibly easy to navigate. I made my way to the Singapore Botanical Gardens.
Beauty at every corner of the Botanical Gardens
Just one of the hundreds of orchids
This botanist had found her place. The gardens were ENORMOUS. Inspiration lie around corner and I found myself lost in the trails meandering through different themed gardens.  Foliage gardens, healing gardens, native gardens, ponds, bonsai gardens, orchid gardens, ginger gardens, formal gardens, rainforest, cacti, you name it, there was a garden themed around it.  There were large yard spaces with people lounging about, and it seemed to go on forever.  I was overwhelmed with beauty.
After a few hours, I realized I was famished and completely dehydrated. Looking at a map, I had several miles to make it back to the trail so I hopped into a restaurant near the Orchid and Ginger garden. The food was very expensive, but I really had no choice at this option, so I ordered a lotus root, bokchoy, and honey glazed fungus salad. It came inside a puffed bread and was elegantly topped with various flowers and greens. I also ordered a spicey coffee with ginger and cardamon. The whole meal cost me about $35, but it was delicious and completely satisfying.
My fancy salad at the botanical gardens

Hidden waterfall at the botanical garden

After my meal, I wandered around the gardens for another couple of hours, taking photographs and just letting the beauty seep into myself.

 Once I finally made it back to the MRT station, I could feel the jetlag catching up with me and I forced my eyes to stay open until I made it back to the hostel. I chatted with a few fellow travelers about what they had done and found out there was a spectacular laser show on Marina Bay each night. I had another cup of coffee and took off walking. It took me about 30 minutes to reach the Bay, and I stopped to enjoy the views and the iconic MerLion, Singapore's icon.

Merlion and Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Spewing water out of his mouth into the bay, the courtyard surrounding the merlion was packed with tourists taking selfies. In fact, all of Singapore is full of people taking selfies. The “selfie-stick” which holds a camera or phone in a way that allows for better selfies, is common. I found myself stuck on paths and walkways constantly waiting for people to finish taking selfies.

Completely exhausted after walking another few miles around Marina Bay, I knew I did not have it in me to stay up for the light show. I wandered through town back to the hostel and found myself in bed by 8pm. I slept for 12 hours, and finally felt rested when I awoke the next day.

Threading: no walk in the park
For my second day, I explored the quaint streets of little India. The neighborhood is full of people selling food, spices, electronics and textiles. I was happy to be surrounded by vegetarian food and wandered into a little cafe for lunch. At one point I ran across a small sign for a beauty parlor and I walked up some dark stairs to a second level. I wanted to knock something off of my bucketlist, threading. For only $15, an Indian woman took a piece of string and placed one end in her mouth. She created a triangle shape with the string in her hand and proceeded to use it to rip all of the hairs out of my face. I did not even know I had that much hair on my face, but I sure felt it as she pulled them out. The worse parts were my upper lip near my nostrils and the edges of my face along my hairline. She laughed at me as I made horrible faces. Afterwards, I felt baby smooth. She told me it would last for about a month.

After viewing another Hindu Temple and doing some window shopping, I hopped on the MRT and went to explore Gardens by the Bay. These gardens were home to the Supertrees, which I had been wanting to see for years.
  I found myself having one botanical orgasm after the next. Gardens by the bay was simliar to the botanical gardens in that it had many areas and themes and you could wander down beautiful paths for hours. Gardens by the Bay had more cement structure and less lawn area, but it was fantastic nonetheless. I found myself mesmerized by kids running though a fountain playground, jealous that I had not packed appropiate clothing to get wet in.

As soon as the sun went down, I wandered back to the center of the Supertrees, laid on my back and waited for the lightshow. Every night, a beautiful spectical of lights and music bounces across the supertrees; I was instantly transported to a fantasy land, surrounded by color and beauty. I wanted to just move into the supertrees and stay there forever. What a magical place.

Light show begins!

Once the show was over, I tried to make it back to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in time for the laser show on the bay. I arrived just as it was finished. I was disappointed to find out that another show would not be on for a couple of hours. I meandered around the pier, finding entertainment in street performers. A woman playing guitar, a man riding a bike with flashing lights and a boombox, and a group of Chinese people doing western line dances to slow melodic music.

Once again feeling the effects of the time change, I was unable to make it up for the late show, and decided to walk back towards Chinatown. I stopped for dinner at a Hawker Center, where food stalls are lined up next to each other in huge buildings. After making my way to the 3rd level of the food maze, I found a place with some veggie pasta. On the way out I bought some fruit that I had never seen before for breakfast the next morning. I hit my bed fairly early again.

I finally awoke the next morning feeling full of energy and well adjusted to the time change. I decided that I had been spending entirely too much money, which is very easy to do in Singapore, as it was recently declared the most expensive city in the world. Remembering the $18/day I was able to survive on in Peru, I looked for options to save money.

I made myself a large fruit plate for breakfast with Joomba, a redish pear shaped fruit that was crisp and sweet, and some brown relative of lychee which I have forgotten the name of. It was a round brown soft shell that you cracked open for a beautiful sweet white fruit. I decided to check out the last ethnic neighborhood, Arab street. A sultan had built a beautiful Mosque, complete with golden spiked orbs on top. Most of the wares available were silks, persian rugs, batiks and various fabrics. I resisted purchasing anything, constantly reminding myself that Malaysia and the Philippines would be much cheaper for purchasing gifts.

The Sultans house on Arab Street, Singapore

I had read online that Buddhist centers served free vegetarian food every day, so I made my way to the largest one in Singapore, The Singapore Buddhist Lodge. I walked in and found a wonderful buffet of about 8 types of food and filled up a heaping plate. I liked almost all the dishes except one, which was bitter and made me want to gag. I tried to hide my distaste for the dish, but my neighbors shot me some weird looks when the first gurgle came uncontrollably from my throat.  Not wanting to waste any of this free food, I forced it down and followed each bite with something more pleasant from my plate. I wandered around the swastika-laden grounds and enjoyed the 3 story tall Buddha statues. I even kneeled down on a pad and bowed to the statue, quietly thanking them for my free meal and the serene setting. I lit some incense and added them to the large pot outside the door filling the room with sweet scents. The building had a few small gardens with pagoda statues and intricately carved stone walls. I spent about an hour just enjoying my surroundings while I digested my food.

Feeling quite and reflective, I decided to walk back towards town instead of hoping on the MRT. About an hour later, I found myself back in my room catching up on emails, booking flights and relaxing before my evening plans.

My boyfriend had visited Singapore when his father lived there a little over 10 years ago, and he had put me in touch with a couple of their old friends who still lived in the area, Mackie and Virginia. I met them both that evening and was instantly met with open arms and good times. They took me out on the town for dinner, shopping, stories and local insite. Makie met me the next morning at the MRT station, and guided me onto a bus to the Hort Garden near the South Ridges.

I spent another morning admiring beautiful gardens and wandering down hidden paths.
The wonderous Star Apple!!
I could never get sick of this. The hort garden was great because it had all sorts of suggestions on how to design certain things displayed, which has given me some good inspiration for back home. I made it to the fruit garden and one of the horticulturists encouraged me to try several of the things that were ripe. A peanut butter fruit, a few types of cherries, and my favorite, the star apple.
Another fantastic orchid garden!
The trail continues beyond the hort garden and into a skyway walk through the forest. I kept going for quite a while, hoping to find some Monkeys swinging from the trees, but, alas, there were none. I ended up walking all the way to a large University before hoping on a bus and making my way to Sentosa.

Taking the canopy skywalk on the South Ridges

Not too shabby for a beach in such a large city!
Sentosa is basically the DisneyWorld of Singapore; there is universal studios, resorts, the aquarium, insect and butterfly domes, indoor skydiving, you name it. Definitatly not my cup of tea, but I did have fun wandering around. It was complete tourist ville, and I had not desire to pay for any of the attractions. However, I found myself on a beautiful beach, sitting at the “Southernmost tip of Continental Asia” Since I was on an island, I didnt really understand how that was possible. I found a schmancey beach bar with lounge chairs and splurged; I paid $20 for a Singapore Sling, ripped of my clothes and sat in the sun with my bitch drink tanning in my panties. I slept in the sun for a while and had another beverage before waking up and making my way back to the hostel.

Happiness is good beer, good views, and great company!
For my last eve in Singapore, Makie and Virg met me again and took me to a brewery on the 33rd floor of one of the buildings lining Marina Bay. After tasting all the beers, and enjoying more fantastic company, both my wonderful local hosts had to leave for other plans. With an amazing view, I stayed for one more beer and watched the laser show over the bay from above.

Lasers on Marina Bay Sands
With a perfect end to my stay in Singapore, I headed back for a good nights rest before embarking on the next leg of my journey. I was off to Kuching, Malaysia to realize my lifelong dream of seeing the oldest rainforest in the world and the most diverse place on earth. A biological orgasm of sorts, I was off, to Borneo.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Getting to Asia; My 38 hour trip to Singapore

As I boarded the plane in Portland, I felt the joy of heading to a new foreign land overtake me.  My heart was full of excitement.  The day was finally here; I was heading to Asia. 

"Everyone please grab your things and exit the plane."  As the pilot made an announcement that we had been delayed, my heart sank.  I only had a 45 minute layover in San Fran, and I knew this meant I would not catch my plane to Hong Kong.  I called united and re-scheduled my flight.  Looks like my 25 hour journey to Singapore would now be a 50 hour one.  Fuck.

Naturally, I returned to the airport bar for a stiff 10am double whiskey ginger.  The bartender saw my dismay as I slurped down my drink so she finished off the bottle of seagrams seven into my drink.  "Looks like you need this."

A few hours and beverages later, I re-boarded.  Luckily, almost half the plane had been sent elsewhere, or put onto other flights, so I sat in the back of the plane with a row to myself.  I struck up conversation with a couple of fellow travelers from Portland sitting in the seats behind me.

The man behind me was headed to Kuwait for his 3rd tour of duty, and was happy to be delayed.  He was not excited to go back.  The girl was off to meet her long-distance boyfriend in Texas.  We all had a few drinks under our belts.  What was originally a bad start to the trip quickly turned into a party plane!  We felt like the cool kids in the back of the bus.  Singing, laughing and chatting it up.  Stacey, our amazing flight attendant came back and provided us with some free drinks.  It seemed like we were the only ones on the flight in good spirits, and she enjoyed that we were not being grumpy like the "kids" at the front of the bus, err, plane.

I made up a cheesy song about Stacey being the best flight attendant in the world (if you have heard me sing to my dogs, you pretty much know the song already), she came back and discreetly threw a few more mini bottles of whiskey our direction.  Our drunken "back of the plane" crew sang "fuck her gently" by Tenacious D loud enough for the entire plane to hear.  A few people smiled, most ignored us with slight shakes of their heads.

When Stacey made her final announcements preparing for landing, I shouted "I LOVE YOU STACEY!" from the back.  She, in turn, proclaimed her love for me over the intercom.  She grabbed me and gave me a huge hug on my way out and told me that I had made her day.  She had been dealing with some very disgruntled people. What a great first flight.

My new friend Jessica and I decided to walk our Army gentlemen to his next flight.  He had only moments to get to his plane, and he was completely inebriated.  He had spent much longer at the bar then I had.  After hugging it out and putting him in line for a flight to Frankfurt, Jessica and I wandered around the airport together and grabbed some lunch.  I talked with another United agent, got another flight routed through Tokyo to Singapore.  We parted as I had to board my next flight. Jessica and I exchanged info and made plans to reunite when I come back to the states.

Fourteen hours and one hangover later, I arrived in Tokyo, planning on staying for a 12 hour layover.  I went to another desk to try and negotiate a free hotel and the lady put me on an earlier flight to Singapore, and gave me access to the VIP lounge.

I have never been in an airport lounge before, but it was SPECTACULAR.  There were showers, private rooms, comfortable seating, and a Japaneese buffet, with plenty of veggie fixins, a serve yourself bar with high end scotch and sake.  Time for round 2.  :)  Caught up in the glory of VIP treatment, I almost missed my next flight.

My first authentic Japanese meal.  DELICIOUS!

Only 10 more hours of flying to go.  I couldn't sleep despite the Sake and full tummy.  A baby sang for what I can only assume was a special serenade just for me, for several hours.  Pure joy.

After 38 hours, no sleep, cranky muscles and 2 hangovers, I finally landed in Singapore.   I hopped on a shuttle to check into my hostel and went off to fight the jet-lag with some coffee-fueled city exploration.  

I am so happy to be in Singapore!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Remembering Lima, Peru; My first solo travel stop

It was the first day of my first solo international trip.  By the end of day one, I had been lost, sunburned, ripped off, and nearly hit several times by crazy drivers in the bustling streets of Lima, Peru.  I was already addicted.  THIS was traveling!

I flew from Seattle to Lima in March of 2010, and was instantly swept up in the whirlwind that is South American driving.  I would soon come to love and know this chaos well. As my taxi driver zipped me off to the hostel, I finally felt the reality of the adventure kick in, I was DOING it.  YES!.  Hostel Kokopelli in the Miraflores district was AWESOME!  Even in all the years of travel I have done since, I still remember it fondly as one of my favorite spots.

The hostel was three stories with walls covered in artwork, including, the best part, a rooftop bar. I immediately went to get un cervesa after the flight and ended up chatting with some travelers and drinking pisco sours until around 430am. Lucky for me everyone at the hostel spoke English, so it made meeting people easy.

For some reason, I awoke after only a couple of hours of sleep, amped and ready to go. No sleep needed when traveling.  Extreme curiosity and adrenaline would drive me for the next several weeks.

I decided to get my free breakfast at the local cafe Z, and then walk around Miraflores for a while. It was when I tried to make it to the open air market that I first got lost.  It was only a day into my first adventure, so instead of letting myself get scared, I just went with it and just wandered around town.  I had water, I would be fine. I did find a fruit and meat market, which was appalling to smell.  The fruit was curious looking but I did not divulge as it was a little too close to the unrefrigerated mess of carcasses piled about.

I bought some coca leaves and maca root from a lady for when I planned to go hiking in the higher altitudes. Both are basically cure-alls for the headache and fatigue that is common for lowlanders like myself in the Andes.  I was surprised when she also offered me some Peyote.  Barely able to understand her English, she manages to ask, "oh Peyote, you want to get loco? You know Peyote??"  It was funny, and I declined. and the damn lady ended up ripping me off 10 soles (about $3).  It was in part my own fault for not checking my change right away.  It was an official life lesson that I had to learn, do not trust anyone selling any form of Coca.  It was the first official time I had been ripped off, and I am thankful it was for such a minimal amount. 

After wandering aimlessly for another hour or so, I made it back to the hostel and met up with a girl who was traveling solo from Washington, DC named Natalia. We decided to head towards the beach and get some cerviche (the national dish here in Peru) at the Fishermans warf. A friendly taxi driver, Carlos took us to a small place and he actually sat and ate with us (and drank a beer... before driving us back). Tons of people were wandering about trying to sell us things, even when we were eating.

Ate it, not vegan...

One guy had giant balloons stuffed in his shirt for boobs and two in his skirt (yes wearing a skirt) to create a big rear end. He was trying to sell us candy. "No nessisito, gracias" quickly became my new favorite term. We wandered around and did some window shopping. We got lots of whistles and comments from the local boys, Machismo at its finest.

Anybody want some candy?

I was immediately amazed at how many other girls were traveling solo.  It gave me a sense of security and confidence that I was going to be alright traveling by myself. In my room alone, there were 5 other single solo females. We all became quick friends and spent time exploring the streets of Lima together. Its amazing how easy it is to meet people when you travel alone.

One of my nights in Lima, I met up with Chris, a chiropractor and old friend of a friend whom I had never met, and a couple of his friends, another chiropractor from Missouri and one guy from Sweden who does ayhuasca tours in the jungle. I did manage to get a free neck adjustment from the chiropractor! We stopped by a friends apartment to start the night off with some wine. Then we went out to the cliffs above the beach to view the city and lit sparklers and had a 5 minute sparkling dance party. Afterwards we headed out to Barranco, the "bohemian district" according to Lonely Planet. It is basically streets lined with trendy bars.

Living it up in Lima!

The first bar was absolutely gorgeous, it was in a huge Spanish colonial mansion which was completely refurbished. We had a few more pisco sours, it seemed to be the only thing people drink in Lima... Not that I am complaining, but I had to slow myself down.

One quickly notices in South America that they know how to party!  I felt proud of myself for making it up until 6:30 in the morning, heading to bed much,  much earlier then many of my hostel bunk mates...

I met another girl from Seattle, and we walked around the parks enjoying tons of artwork, live music and dancing, and eventually made it to the open air markets where every souvenir you could ever want is available. It was very colorful place with rows and rows and streets filled to the brims with alpaca everything, leather goods, jewelry, beads, pottery, trinkets and knick knacks. It is exciting at first, but eventually you get a little tired of seeing the same thing over and over and it makes it difficult to make any purchase decisions. I tried not to buy anything since I still had several weeks of travel ahead, but...  well, you know.

Fun artwork in the parks around Miraflores

After a short few nights in Lima, I was ready to take the 16 hour, overnight bus ride to Arequipa to trek up into the Andes.  Arequipa sits at about 7000ft, is surrounded by volcano's and the deepest canyons in the world.  Heavenly!!

 Traveling to Arequipa from Lima started out with a BANG, literally. I got dropped off at the bus station by another crazy taxi driver.  The station is in a less then pleasant neighborhood.  I was wandering around trying to figure out where to go with my stuff and nobody was speaking any English.  I was a little frustrated as everyone laughed at me while I asked poorly pronounced questions referring anxiously to my mini Spanish phrasebook.  Even if they did understand what I was trying to communicate, I had no idea what they were saying in response.  Welcome to the language barrier, made up sign language, charades and quickly scribbled notes.  After purchasing what I thought would get me to the correct city, I went and found a seat in the waiting area, scanning the station like a hawk to make sure I would know when I needed to go.

As I was sitting on my bags near in the waiting area, a huge ¨POP POP¨ went off behind me.  Screams rang out and I turned to see smoke coming from by the entrance and everyone rapidly dashing away.  Rapid and anxious Spanish was being yelled from all directions.  Thinking we were in the middle of a terrorist attack, I grabbed all of my belongings and trampled my way through the crowd and out the back door.  I had no idea what was happening and if I stepped on anyone or not.  I was OUT!  Once outside, no one could explain to me what was happening.  Women were grabbing rosaries in one corner whispering and staring at the sky.  I stayed with the crowd but crept towards the edge to make sure I could book it if need be. My heart raced as I recalled all the horrible things happening that I had feared before embarking on this solo journey.

After a 30 minute period that extended for what felt like an eternity, people calmed down.  An official looking gentleman stepped outside, saying things in foreign jibberish and we were called back inside. Apparently an electrical box on top of the front door (maybe the alarm system? I'm not exactly sure) had exploded.  It did not smell good at the bus station anymore. However, It was all cleared up pretty quickly.  People went back to their places.  Welcome to Peru, Lacy....  Welcome.

Luckily, after the chaos, I found a few Germans who were also on my bus and I just followed them around like lost puppy until I got through the lines and to my seat.  I lucked out (errr, or so I thought), and got a seat on the second story in the very front. I was safely off to the next leg of the adventure...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mangroves of La Boquilla, Colombia

When I stayed in Cartegena, Colombia in 2012, I spent most of my time wandering the streets with tourists and enjoying the historical aspects of the city.  Sure, I had fun playing in the streets and people watching, but the nature lover inside me called out for something more.  Desperate for some fresh air and trees, I made arrangements for a private mangrove tour in the quaint little fishing village of La Boquilla, a quick drive north of tourist-ville.

Never having gotten around to editing these photos, I thought I would leave a little photo blog of my adventure that day.

My tour started in the small village of La Boquilla, Colombia on a small boat

 I was lucky enough to have 2 guides all to myself.  A local  man steered the boat and pushed us through with a large paddle as if we were strolling through the Grand Canal

Entering the mangrove forest
A lineated woodpecker hides up in the trees

My second tour guide was a naturalist and cultural interpreter.  She told me all about the mangrove trees.  The botanist in me was intrigued.  I had more questions then she had answers for.

Baby mangrove trees establishing themselves along the bank

Young mangrove seeds float along until the sharp tip can penetrate the ground

 I saw more wildlife then my camera skills would allow me to capture.  Birds surrounded us with beautiful songs, iguanas glided through the water and frogs leaped off adventitious roots. No matter where I end up in the world, nature really makes me feel at home.

Reflections of a Colombian mangrove forest

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Volunteering in Argentina; Gardening, cob houses, yoga ......... and Hare Krishnas

Cassie's mom was freaking out. Cassie tried to explain the situation, I had found the place on the internet, and I cant read Spanish, but the giant white dome looked awesome. They had an organic garden and did sustainable building.  Plus they provided free yoga classes after work and three vegetarian meals a day!!!  I hadn't really looked over the website too well, or it would have been very obvious.... We were volunteering at a Hare Krishna commune. Cassie's mother believed that the Hare Krishna's are a cult and was extremely worried about her poor daughter being brainwashed, even other members of her family were contacting her to make sure she made it out alive (and sane).  All stereotyping aside, they were friendly, peaceful people who made no effort whatsoever to brainwash us. And the white dome really was REALLY COOL!

The dome at sunset, it called to me!

Cassie's mother didn't care about the awesomeness of the white dome, she suggested that Cassie remove my decision making privileges for the rest of our travel time together.   Ha!

I had been traveling in South America as a solo female for about a month, and had met up with my friend Cassie, who had been volunteering at an organic farm in El Bolysen, Argentina.  After wandering up to Buenos Aires, we looked for another opportunity to volunteer. 

To get to the eco-park from BA, it was only a short trip. Thankfully no 20 hour bus ride this time (I had been on far too many during my South America travels). We took a taxi to the train terminal, and I prepared for my first train ride. EVER. I know, not that exciting, but it was cool. At the station, they were actually selling vegan friendly pizza. Well, it wasn't anything fancy, just onions and red sauce on pizza dough, but I was happy about it nonetheless.  Vegan food isn't the easiest thing to find in South America.

I had always imagined my first train ride to be a big fancy ride through majestic mountains, over rushing rivers on giant bridges, surrounded by breathtaking scenery on every turn, with dining cars, wine and waiters serving my every need. My dreams were crushed. This was nothing like that. We hopped on and the seats were rock solid, and people piled in around us, filling up the train quickly. We were lucky to have gotten on early as to have a seat and place on the floor for our backpacking gear. One girl shoved her crotch in my face for the entire ride. Our breathtaking scenery was the ghetto neighborhoods and slums surrounding Buenos Aires, complete with enormous piles of trash, homeless people, graffitti and gangs of wild dogs. There was the usual crowd of people trying to sell things by throwing it in your lap and yelling loudly. One guy had no legs and cruised up the isle on a skateboard. We received many many stares from the local people. We were not on the gringo backpacker trail anymore, our pasty white skin gleamed in the crowd.

We arrived in Moreno, where we were to locate a bus to take us to General Rodriguez. There was a lot of confusion, we finally waited in a line for about 30 minutes to get a ticket, all the while Cassie wisely saying that we probably did not need to stand in line for the ticket. She was right. After wandering around for a few blocks gazing at the multiple bus lines and their various stops, asking several people where the one to Gral Rodriguez was, we loaded onto the bus and noticed people paying change right onboard. We did not know which stop to get off on, so we picked a random one after seeing the city sign and found a taxi to the yoga park.

We walked through the gate onto a beautiful piece of property, with natural buildings, and the massive 100ft tall white dome, covered in green windows created from old wine bottles. We were immediatly attacked by mosquitos, being eaten alive while trying to locate someone to show us around. We met with Takoor, one of the head guys who was dressed in flowy orange shirt and a skirt to boot. We were shown our room, which we were very pleased to find out that we had our own room. Bonus.

Standing outside of our house for the week

That evening there was a meditation class and tibetian music therapy which we were invited too. The music therapy was cool, but it was really just them singing to the Krishna dieties. They have an altar set up in the dome where, behind a giant red curtain, three gods are arranged with photographs, candles, jewels, beads, feathers and more. They sing 800 varieties of the same song, ¨Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare¨ But the instruments that they play are very cool and the girls voices are enchanting. We later found out that 5 times a day, the dieties clothing is changed, as well as the positioning of their hands and the items they are holding. They are brought food and tea as an offering. I wonder what happens to all the wasted food.

looking up from inside the dome

Meditation was relaxing, we layed on the floor while Takoor describes in detail that our bodies are getting lighter with each breath, eventually turning to liquid and flying around the universe. We see continents, water, waves lapping, then planets, stars, entire galaxies. Once we come back to Earth, we have a variety of mental places that we can visit or see.... Swimming in crystal clear blue waters, feeling the waves push on our skin. Sometimes we are walking through a forest admiring moss dripping from the trees and feeling the texture of the bark. Or sand being pushed up between our toes. Or just focusing on a bright red apple, and its curves and redness. In the background relaxation music was playing and Takoor would add to it with tibetian bowls and chimes. After about 45 minutes of this, we all sit in the generic meditation position and chant things together. ¨Ohm¨, ¨Ohm Shanti Ohm¨¨Ohm Rama Ohm¨ the Hare Krishna song, and to finish ¨Ohm tat sat.¨ The way the dome is designed, the sound reverberates and it is a really cool feeling when everyone sings together. A little cheesy, and I still dont know if I really meditated or anything, but I did feel relaxed afterwards.

Cassie and I with the Hare Krishna ladies

The next day we had to wake up at 730 for breakfast, which was usually fruit and tortillas or dry granola. We got the pleasure of meeting Maria, our tiny Bolivian Slave driver, who ran the garden. She was a fiesty little lady, could not have weighed more than 85 pounds, and she showed up to work in all black sweatpants and long sleeve fleece with rubber boots. I was wearing jeans and a tank top and was roasting. I had a good laugh because of her, but she was very serious. Constantly yelling at us in spanish to work faster, hurry up, faster. She would shoot dirty looks at us if we didnt do something just her way. Monday was harvest day, so we started off with an easy few hours. First ripping up palm leaves into strips and then collecting various leafy greans which we tied bunches together with the palm strings. We also harvested Arugula, Lettuce, round squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, eggplant, bell peppers, basil, and several other leafy greans. After collecting an entire row of one particular green, we wrapped them up and then cut the bottoms off to make it look good. I cut my first bunch about half an inch too short, maria shot me a dirty look, ripped it out of my hand and then tossed it into the ditch. She made me pick enough to replace it.

Slave driver Maria monitoring my harvest technique

The rest of the workday consisted of endless hoeing and weeding, and more slave driving from Maria. You could either laugh about it or be angry. I chose to be completely amused by her. Sometimes you would be hoeing or weeding and partially done with a row and she would come rip your tool out of your hand and then move you to a completely different project for no apparent reason. She had us weed very poorly, often using a kitchen knife to cut just below the soil to remove the weed, but never the roots. I think I could have done a much better job managing the farm, but if she didnt like efficiency, I was not going to correct her.

Along with all the great volunteers we met along the week, we also met a very, for lack of a better word, interesting guy at the farm named Alex. My first conversation with him went something like this. Me: I would like to work on the cob house sometime this week. Alex: You get dirty working on the house.
hmmmm, ok really? building a straw and mud house you get dirty? Weird. He had a very arrogant demenor, but seemed harmless. He also gave us many of his philosophical insites throughout the day. They were interesting, but he believes that all life is suffering. And he doesnt have a religion, but he worships the three people who he feels have reached the state of highest enlightenment; Jesus Christ, Buddah and, of course, Hare Krishna. This guy was going to make things entertaining around here.

That evening after our snack, Cassie and I were still hungry so we decided to go for a run and pick up some crackers and jam on the way. We decided since we are doing yoga and eating so well and not allowed to drink, we should take full advantage and try and get back into shape since we have not been being very good to ourselves for this vacation. We spent a couple evenings doing ab workouts as well.

The next couple of days were spent in the garden, with similar itineraries, and more slave driving by Maria. We found that Alex, in addition to being a pessimistic, was also very lazy. I could hoe three rows by the time he finished just one, and we would often find him leaning against his tool staring off into space like he was a city worker or something. So, we decided to start him on a point system. Maybe its not very nice, but it made things entertaining for Cassie and I. He often lost points for being lazy, or being arrogant. He gained points for doing our dishes for us (he often did everyone´s for them).

One night we wanted to go to town to use the internet, because the connection at the retreat was extremely slow, and it took 20 minutes just to open my inbox. Alex decided to join us. We walked to the bus station and waited for almost an hour, then got frustrated that it never came. Cassie laughed and suggested we hitchike, and I said, lets go for it. We put out our thumb and the first truck that went by stopped for us. Cassie and I climbed in and Alex jumped in the back. They told us that we should never hitchhike this late (7pm) because it is very dangerous. Then they all belt out a sinister laugh. Cassie and I glanced at each other, but it was too late to get out now, we were flying down the highway towards town. Cassie continued to converse in spanish and when she explained we were from Seattle (closest major city anyways), they asked us to sing some Jimi Hendrix. We performed the shittiest version of Purple Haze I have ever heard.  But if they wanted us to sing, I was singing.....

They let us out in town (thankfully!) and we found an internet cafe. Alex sat in a chair and kept pondering about what time we would finish and if we were accomplishing everything we came to do. Lost point. We picked up sorbet and ice cream at the place Alex said was the best. We found out later that the place across the street has the same sizes for half price. Lost point. After rushing to the bus stop because of Alex´s tight schedule he had us on, we ended up waiting for 30 minutes for our bus. Lost point. We at some point were talking about vegan-ism (he is a raw vegan at home, but has completely given it up on vacation) I told him about the bathroom problems I had when I tried some dairy. He told me it was a physical manifestation of my guilt, not that it was rough on my stomach. Lost point.

Walking back down the road, Alex was telling us some story about how he was certified in nutrition and how his family worries when he fasts for a week. He also mentioned something about being certified for helping people to overcome personal problems and mental disorders. I asked him jokingly, "what about gay? Do you know the cure for that, we have one with a real problem here." He answered very seriously, yes. Uh oh, he was about to lose major points with us. He suprised us with his answer: ¨Pabst. Yeah Pabst Blue Ribbon. It the only sure cure for relieving ´the gay.´ If you allow the gay to get close enough to bite you, just pour PBR over the infected area. But make sure its ice cold, or it wont work¨ We almost fell over with laughter and gave him triple points for his humor and thought that he might just have some redeeming qualities after all.

Wednesday night, during our Yoga session, a huge thunderstorm rolled in. It was the most amazing yoga session ever, because of the acoustic properties of the dome, it echoed and boomed with such force you could feel the thunder throughout your whole body. On top of that the rain drops plopping down by the thousands. Rain even seeped in under the door and got some peoples´mats wet during class. I loved it, and ran out into the rain afterwards to enjoy the lightening and got soaking wet within minutes.  I felt the refreshment of my yoga and the rain. It really made me miss the northwest. It continued to rain throughout the night, flooding most of the property.

The volunteers and a few friend attending a yoga retreat

The next morning, we had a delayed breakfast due to the rain and no work until the afternoon. Finally, it cleared up enough that we were going to work on the house. I was thrilled. Ecstatic even! Alex was angry. We were going to get muddy!

The house that we helped build

How to plaster a straw and mud house: 

 - First, throw a bunch of water on the already soaking wet ground and use a hoe to break up the soil. 
 - Throw in some straw and keep hoeing.
 - Once it is broken up into pieces, remove your shoes and jump around in it for a long time until it is very small chunks of dirt.
 - After you have covered the bottom half of your body with mud, use your hands to scoop the mud into a wheelbarrow.

 - Add wet sand and more straw to ¨dry out the mixture.¨
 - Then dig in with your hands mixing the peanut butter and chocolate looking muck for at least an hour, breaking up all the small chunks of dirt.
 - Remove all pieces of glass, metal wire, and other various sharp objects and hazards.
 - Give thanks to your doctor for updating you on your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
 - Add some ¨less wet¨ mud to dry out the mixture a little more.
 - Slap the mosquitos and horseflys biting you and allow mud handprints to cover your face, arms and legs.
 - Be forced to listen to Hare Krishna versions of good music.
 -  Once the mixture is dry and smooth enough, pour ¨sanitized cow manure water¨over a section of the house.
 - Thank your parents for paying for your tetnus and hepatitus shots.
 - Take a handful of mud and throw it against the wet wall. Splatter yourself and everyone around with mud from the throw.
 - Watch half of the mud you worked so hard to create, slurp off the house onto the ground, wasted.
 -  Get attacked by hundreds of ants, who proceed to bite your foot simultaneously.
 -  Scream in pain.
 - Get angry at the ants and throw handfuls of mud at their ant house.
 - Watch it not phase them. Throw more mud and yell at the ants.
 - Feel better even though you wasted your hard work on trying to take revenge on ants
 - Wave a white flag and move to another area where the pissed ants are not.
 -  Use all the mud mixed in about 15 minutes, and then start the whole process over again, mixing for 2 hours.
 - At the end of the day, start throwing mud from 10 feet back, gaining points for making it through a window and onto the floor inside the house.
 -  Take a group photo.

Throwing mud, building houses!

Friday, we were back in the garden taking orders from drill sergeant Maria. Cassie went on a run and was attacked by mosquitoes and nearly was bitten by a pack of dogs. We were both over the bugs and decided that we would leave the next morning. I have never had so many bug bites in my life. We had really enjoyed our stay, but we were off to do some exploring. We had been asking around, trying decide between going to Uruguay and going to Northwestern Argentina. Everyone said NW Argentina was gorgeous and Uruguay was incredibly boring. AKA: "don't go there, that place sucks." Heard that before. So, of course, we booked our ferry to Uruguay.

And were off!

In case you were wondering, when we left, Alex had -37 points.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Help me save the Rainforest!!

Dearest Readers,

I am planning a trip for my 30th birthday to Borneo to do some volunteer work and exploring; saving the rainforest while working for an amazing organization;

MESCOT is a community ran initiative in Batu Puteh, Malaysia working towards the protection and re-establishment of rapidly depleting forest habitat for numerous endangered species and protecting the riverside environment.  (see more at  So my dirty 30 is going to be just that, really dirty as it will be wet season in Borneo.  But rain hasn't stopped me before.....

I have started a fundraising campaign for my trip and reaching out to you for any support that you may be able to provide.

More details about my trip plans and how you can donate can be found here:

Every little bit helps. I know that not everyone can back me with funds, so there are a few other ways you can help;

Please share it on your social profiles or via email to any who may be interested in helping - this is the most helpful thing you can do as the more people who see this the better my chances of reaching my goal will be.

Have some extra airline miles or buddy passes laying around?  I would be happy to use them!

Advice on travel in the area?  Let me have it

Want to get your hands dirty, join me on this epic adventure and help with reforestation and conservation efforts yourself.

Thanks so much! Let me know if you have any questions about it.

Much gratitude and love,

Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting muddy in Cartagena, Colombia

I flew from Medellin to Cartagena for only $56 dollars thanks to the local airline, Viva Colombia; less money then the 15 hour bus ride would have cost me. It was bittersweet to leave the beautiful Andes behind, but I welcomed the sweltering heat as I knew how cold it was back at home.
I booked the next 5 nights at a loud party hostal, surrounded by bars and restaurants that played music at the highest level possible, even when no patrons were in them. I did not sleep well, but I was too lazy to pack up all of my belongings so I just dealt with the mind-dulling, constant noise.
The best part of the hostal was that they had a couple of adorable pets.  Two Larakeets? (not positive on that), a cute dog and a cat as well.  They all got along with each other.  The dog loved the birds so much he would climb into their feeding area almost every morning.  The birds nibbled on the dog's fir and the pup nibbled on them back.  I also got to help hand-feed the birds each morning.
Doggie bird kisses!
I decided to take a tour to the mud volcano, Volcan de Totumo.   A woman from Portland and her husband were also staying at my hostal (although they switched places after the first evening....) so she joined me for the day.  They had driven from Portland all through Central America and were waiting for their jeep to arrive.  They had shipped it from Panama, and said their only problems so far on the trip was dealing with the jeep at every border.
We took off in a mini bus and travelled for about an hour to the "Volcano."  In reality, it was a very large mud hill.
Volcan De Totumo
We stripped down into our swimsuits and climbed up some precarious stairs to the top.  The gray brown mud is located in a large pit at the top and is known for its healing properties, is full of minerals and promotes healthy, glowing skin. The mud is about 100 feet deep.
One man took the cameras from everyone in our group so that he could take photos.  He was quite the site with about 15 various sized cameras wrapped around his neck.  I have no idea how he kept track of each one, but was pleasantly surprised to find he took several of me on my own camera.
As I climbed down into the pit, I enjoyed feeling smooshy muck between my toes.  A few local men were waiting in the pool.  The first guides you down the stairs and rolls you gently into the mud. He had me lay down on my back and then he glided me across the top of the mud to another man who gives an invigorating massage and exfoliation.  He focused on my arms, legs, belly and back.  At one point he grabbed the opposite leg and flipped me over to do my back.  I was so awkward, and he rolled me so fast, my face slammed into the mud and I spent the rest of my massage working the grit out of my teeth.
Getting my mud rub
The mud was so dense, it was impossible to sink.  I even tried to claw my way down the wall to see if I could completely immerge myself and could not hold my body down. It was hard to even keep my feet straight down at times.  Occasionally, someone would get tilted onto their back and struggle like a beetle who has been flipped over.... legs and arms flailing to find balance.  Others would assist in pulling them back into an upright position. We got another half hour or so to play in the pit and I ended up getting a second massage. It was really fun to lay on my back and have the men glide me across the pool of mud. 
Happy, muddy me.
  After climbing out of the pit, another man slicked the mud from my body over an iron gate so that it slops back into the pit.  I was lead down another staircase and towards a large lagoon.  Several native woman beckon from the water.  I entered the lagoon and immediately two woman ripped my bikini top and bottom off as I sat in the water.  Breasts exposed to the entire crowd they poured bucket after bucket on my head.  They scrubbed every nook and cranny (and I mean EVERY nook and cranny) on my body to remove the mud.  I did not notice if everyone else was naked or not, as each time I would wipe water from my face they would throw another right over my head again.  It was difficult to breath, let alone look around. They also washed my bikini before guiding me out of the water. After my  free10 minute molestation, I picked up my shoes, dried off and dressed.
At the base of the hill they were selling the mud in old used coke litter bottles.  It looked exactly like those high-end mud face masks that people pay hundreds for (sans the cheap plastic bottle).  I did not purchase any, because I could only imagine the faces at customs; me with my dark mud explaining the medicinal properties held within my plastic coca cola bottle.  Last time I was in South America, a customs agent in Houston scrubbed my hiking boots with a toothbrush and toothpicks because they had soil from another country in them.
To finish our tour we headed to a small fishing village with a beautiful beach for lunch.  I had brought my own meal, but was surprised to find  they could have accommodated a vegan.  Although, I am always leery of any "vegetarian" soups.   I spent my time sleeping and sun tanning on the desolated beach and soaking up some sunshine while the others waited for food.  My new Portland friend woke me up some time later and I found a bus full of impatient people waiting to return back to Cartagena.  I was sunburnt.  So much for my skin healing mud bath...
Beautiful beach to myself.