Adventure updates, photos (mostly of food and bicycles), and amusing stories (at least I think so).

16 February 2012

Welcome to India

Strangely, I can trace my desire to travel to India to the semester I spent in Cameroon when I was a junior in college.  In the northern desert area where I spent most of my time, Bollywood movies and music videos were hugely popular.  There was even an evening call-in radio show dedicated to the goings-on of various Bollywood actors.  Why didn’t Hollywood dominate the way it does in most other parts of the world?  (I have my speculations about this, but I think they would both bore you and lead us away from the point of this post – to tell you about Delhi and Jaipur, not to muse pseudo-academically about the possible cultural correlations between to regions of the world I know very little about).  All of this to say that, while in N’Gaoundere, I woke up first to the dawn call to pray and then to Bollywood music videos blaring on the family’s t.v.  The music was strange and beautiful, the colors in chanting, and the dance moves unreproducible.  I wan’t to go.

During the following semester in France, in an attempt to explore my growing curiosity about India, I enrolled in a Histoire Religieuse d’Inde course at the French university.  The professor spent the first day explaining that the religious history of India had only developed in the context of the mousson.  That without the mousson, India would not be India!  Not other country in the world had the mousson!  In fact, to understand India at all, one must first understand the mousson

My notes from that lecture read:  “Figure out what mousson means.”  Then later:  “Monsoon.  Duh.”

The only other thing I remember from that class is the stunning slideshow of pictures of temples that the professor showed one afternoon.  The temples were mystical, stunning, crumbling, and sometimes topped with monkeys.

During my senior year of college, India seemed to appear more frequently in the books I read for class and the novels I read for fun.  India seemed to confuse yet inspire every character who came to her (except maybe Kipling’s and the postcolonialists have pretty much written him off).  Lauren and I listened to the sound track of The Darjeeling Limited a lot. 

The next year in France, Lauren and I took a Bollywood dance class with our friend Julie.  I learned that I can’t do different symbolic hand gestures with each hand while dancing and that a surprising number of French women can’t do a sit up.  We went to see Slum Dog Millionaire.  I read Satanic Verses.  I read The God of Small Things.  I read Interpreter of Maladies.

I bought an Indian cook book in French.  The next year in Switzerland I was given an Indian cook book in German (by an Indian friend I met in German class). 

And that’s about what it amounts to: a growing curiosity that I never really actively pursued but continued to encounter, a series of indistinct impressions and ideas, a developing taste for cardamom.


So, what did I expect when I landed in Delhi?  I don’t think I would have been able to tell you.  What I didn’t expect was that everything would be just like what I imagined, but More.  It was a Bollywood music video, Mother Theresa, chai wallas, a scene from Slumdog, rickshaws, fuchsia, the echo of the Marabar, cows, hennaed feet, the Enlightenment of Buddha, burning trash, a cold lassi, Shiva, bracelets, coal-eyed babies, honking horns, and everything-for-sale.  It was everything (and more) all at once and all the time.

For the two days we were in Delhi, the whole city crept around in a bone-chilling, low-lying fog.  And, I think that was the only thing that surprised me.  It was cold.

Delhi, as you might expect, was jampacked and difficult to navigate.  In our time there, we had a couple fabulous meals (including a rose-scented lassi – a cold yogurt and filtered water drink – yum!) and visited a few sights.

Jumping at Delhi's Red Fort - a massive and intricately inlaid marble fort/palace dating to the 17th century.

The room (now part of a museum about Gandhi's life and the history of partition) where Gandhi spent the days that ultimately lead up to his assassination.  These were his only possessions.

After Delhi, we headed to Jaipur (the “Pink City” that looks more terra-cotta than rosebud) for the Jaipur Literature Festival, lauded as “The Greatest Literary Show on Earth!” (which must be true since Oprah came). 

 Jaipur street view.

Entry badges to The Greatest Literary Show on Earth.  (Watch out Barnum and Bailey).

We spent three days in literature-lovers heaven.  We listened to many Indian and international authors give a variety of talks, the highlight probably being listening to Tom Stoppard talk about how he writes plays.  And, we magically ran into Jamaica Kincaid at the city palace and turned into fawning school girls.


City Palace architecture.

The lit fest was great but Jaipur is big and busy, and added to the hustle and hassle of Delhi, we’re excited to move on to the calmer waters of Pushkar.

01 February 2012

Same Same (But Different): Adventures In Chiang Mai

After Bangkok and the beach, Lauren and I headed north to Chiang Mai, a city that utterly enchanted us.  With its vibrant glowing street markets and ancient crumbling temple ruins, the city kept our jaws dropping and our cameras clicking.  We stayed on a street that was filled with tiny boho art galleries, Thai coffee shops, tea houses, and secluded temples (including this one that was apparently dedicated to dogs).  Not only was the courtyard filled with statues, there were real dogs wandering everywhere that seemed to have found a safe home with the monks.

Would have been my favorite temple as a child, hands down.

Chiang Mai is known for its many temples.  Each one is brilliant, stunning, and entirely captivating in its own way.  Some are secluded and out of the rush (like the dog temple) and some are buzzing with activity.  In some there are monks chanting.  In some, not a soul is present.  At each one I told myself not to take too many more pictures, but I couldn't help it.  Here's a handful to give you an idea...

Novices (young boys training to become monks) trying their best to be still and pay attention.

After taking so many photos of temples, I really didn't think there was anything else I'd go quite as snap-happy over.  But then came the magically-light, food-packed, music-filled Sunday street market.  On Saturdays and Sundays, the main street in Chiang Mai is blocked off to cars and jam-packed with pedestrians.  Street musicians come out to entertain and sell C.D.'s or raise money.  Food vendors fill street-side courtyards with every Thai treat you can imagine (sticky rice with mango, Tom Yum soup, fried everything, cake-wrapped bananas on sticks, fruit smoothies, fried quail eggs, curries, banana leaf-wrapped mystery treats, etc.)  And vendors of every imaginable trinket and accessory display their wares, from spices to scarves to carvings to knock-off RayBans (proving that Thailand is very up-to-snuff on hipster culture).  

After seeing so many enthralling things, I really didn't think our visit to Chiang Mai could get any better.  It did.  The morning we arrived in the city, Lauren and I just happened to walk past a vegetarian restaurant on the way to our hotel.  We came back in the evening to check it out.  The food was drool-worthy scrumptious and the menu informed us that the restaurant offered cooking classes.  Bah!  We barely had the patience to finish our meal before signing up.  We got to choose 9 dishes from the menu and spend 5 hours with the chef learning how to prepare them.  It was, without exaggeration, one of the best days of my life.

So much fun to cook when you have a kitchen staff preparing every ingredient for you!

The chef, Lauren, me, and our lovely classmate, Minda.

We made these!  But, don't get your hopes up.  As it turns out, one of the biggest secrets to fabulous Thai food is fabulous Thai ingredients that may prove impossible to find in the U.S.  Another one of the secrets is having your own personal chef standing beside you telling you whether you're putting in too little or too much of any given ingredient.  The exchanges would go something like this:

Chef:  "One teaspoon mushroom powder."
Me:  "This much?"
Chef:  "More!  More!"
Me:  "This much?"
Chef: "Haha!  Too much.  Little less."
Me:  "This much?"
Chef:  "Ok."

I don't have high hopes for success at home, but I'm excited to try.   I'm already telling myself that if the dishes don't turn out the way they did in Thailand, at least I'll be the only person who can tell :)  As our chef was fond of saying - in response to queries like "If I don't have a T-shaped bamboo basket to cook my rice in, can I use a pot?" -  "Yes, yes. Same same, but different."  

29 January 2012

High Noon, Bangkok

"High Noon, Bangkok."  This is what Diel and Luzi (my dear Swiss/Thai friends – see blog archives Oct 2009-July 2010...hahaha) and I have been saying to each other for nearly two years.  We began joking about meeting up in Bangkok in January 2012 when I was living in Switzerland.  The stars aligned and what started as a joke, as a “wouldn’t-it-be-fun-if...” became a real plan.

We met up in Bangkok with Diel and Luzi and some other Swiss friends who had been traveling with them as well.  We stayed in what’s got to be one of the most touristed (and tourist-y) districts in the world.  The narrow, winding streets were packed with festively light cafes, food stalls, massage houses, street vendors selling everything from fried grub (in both the figurative and literal sense) to knock-off RayBans, and drunken beach-clad tourists who acted like there were on spring break in Cancuun.  In short, very charming aside from the Phalangs (Thai for “white people”).  But, the hotel was nice and the watermelon shakes (blended frozen watermelon...why didn’t I ever do this in the summer before??) at the cafe below were divine. 

While Diel and Luzi spent more time with her family, Lauren and I bopped around Siam Square and visited some of the city’s most stunning temples.  We spent hours wandering around the vast grounds of Wat Po (Wat is Thai for “temple.”  I think it’s pronounced “vot,” but I was with a group of native German speakers, so that might not be entirely accurate.)  By the end of this trip, I will have enough pictures of temples to wallpaper a small house.

Just a Bangkok street view.

Wat Po.

One of hundreds of pictures of the inside area of Wat Po.

Many beautiful Buddhas.

Monks chanting in the evening.  Mesmerizing.

After two and a half hectic days in the city, we flew south to the beach to relax and hang out with Diel and Luzi and Sigal and Daniel. 

Arriving at the airport, trying to figure out how to get where we're going.

It was perfect.  The beach was gorgeous.  You could get watermelon shakes and cold beers at the bar and manicures and Thai massages at the massage hut.  I spent hours reading and lounging punctuated by dips in the water to jump in the waves.  Every evening after we would shower and walk into “town” to have dinner together. 

Low tide at the beach.

Book + Beach = Yes Please

Lovely ladies enjoying an "apero" on the beach.

Perfect ending to a wonderful vacation.

I got to spend another fine (that’s for you Luzi) adventure with Diel and Luzi and make two wonderful new friends, Sigal and Daniel.  They made me miss Switzerland and remember with fondness how lovely my year there was.  I got so lucky to meet the people that I did and, in addition to planning a future trip to China, am counting the days until I can visit La Suisse again. 

And, speaking of getting lucky to meet people, as we were waiting for our luggage in the airport in Bangkok on our way back from the beach, I heard someone behind me say my name.  I turned around to see Lisa, one of my best friends from high school, and her husband Ryan!!  Neither of us had any idea that the other was in Thailand, so the shock (and then glee) rendered us nearly incapable of having a real conversation.  What a delightful stroke of chance!  

In the end, it's a small world.

25 January 2012


This blog post for one… 

Also, the lovliness of Hong Kong.  I spent my glorious weeks at home over Christmas doing many things.  One of them was to mentally gear myself up for sprawling Asian mega-cities. 

I’m not a big city gal.  Paris, of course, has part of my heart.  And I do have a certain soft spot for Chicago as well.  But other than that... I’d rather be with the bugs and the birds – out aways somewhere. 

And so, I expected to dislike Hong Kong.  So many people, buildings, cars, chaos.  Even though all those things were present to some extent, the city still managed to charm my socks off.  It’s shockingly calm.  I swear I never heard a car honk or a siren sound (the sound-track of D.C., Paris, New York, you-name-it).  The public transportation system is brilliantly engineered and a breeze to navigate.  The city is full of green spaces, water views, quaint cafes, and tiny art galleries.  And it has one of the most beautiful night-time skylines I’ve ever seen.  Just lovely.

I’ll fess-up here to the fact that I may have had a different experience of Hong Kong than the average Joe.  Lauren and I arrived without a guide book, any plans, and really no idea what there was to see or do.  Our only committment was a lunch rendez-vous with one of Lauren’s aunt’s former colleagues who’s from Hong Kong.  During the scrumptious lunch of sauteed pea shoots and other dishes I can’t name, Martin asked us what our plans in Hong Kong were.  We said we were hoping he’d have some advice.  He said he wasn’t using his personal driver the next day, so how about we just make an itenerary with his assistant.  We said ok that sounds fine.  Just kidding.  We said REALLY?!! That would be amazing!!  And began giggling like schoolgirls.

It was amazing.  Thanks to Martin’s unreserved generosity, we got to see places on Hong Kong island that we would have never gotten the chance to see otherwise.  We visited several breathtaking beaches whose horizons were dotted with misty islands.

We went to a rambling market that was filled with trinkets, art, knock-offs, books, watches, dragons, jade, and scarves.

We ate lunch at a small cafe and walked along this beautiful pier.

We visited an old, cozy temple by the sea (thereby starting an “oops-I-just-took-270-photos-of-this-temple” trend).

We finished the day at a vegetarian cafe in Hong Kong’s dazzelingly charming SoHo after wandering around the too-cute boutiques and even a night-time produce market.

And, if the day weren’t spectacular enough, we accidently ended up at the harbor for the nightly Lights Show.  On a scale of 1-10 it was cheesy (family joke), but fun.  Lauren took a short video that really does it way more justice than this photo.

Hong Kong was the perfect christening for the second half of this trip.  After a difficult goodbye to Adam and my family and friends, it reminded me of why I love to travel.  Hong Kong was so different from what I expected.  It surprised me.  It captivated me.  It changed the way I imagine Beijing, Shanghai, even China in general.  And, it made me excited for all the adventures and imagination-altering experiences to come.

Nice photo.  Unfortunate framing.


16 October 2011

I have never had the experience, at home or abroad, of walking along picturing the root structure of every weed that lines the sidewalk.  After spending the last week and a half weeding an entire organic operation, I have developed a fondness for dandilions (very satisfying main root to remove) and a deep-rooted (haha) hatred for clover.  Clover is sneaky.  With all of those connected, hair-thin roots, I have a hard time believing it's ever brought anyone luck.

That said, there is something quite fulfilling about ending a day with grimy fingernails.  Compared to applying to graduate school (which seems like a never-ending process), it's soothing to look at plot of well-turned soil and think that you have single-handedly made possible the lives of a thousand quinoa seedlings.

Incredibly beautiful quinoa plant.

Steamy, well-weeded greenhouse.

The setting made the days satisfying as well.  Mawenko (the name of the farm we were at) perches on the coast of Chiloe, an island off the coast of southern Chile.  Our hosts, Nelson and Venecia and their two too-cute children, had a beautiful house for volunteers.  

The living room of the volunteer house.

View from the table pictured above.  

On several mornings, we even got to see dolphins jumping around in the bay.  The only downside of the house was the teeeeeeny wood stove that was meant to heat the entire building.  It's the beginning of spring here.  Mornings and evenings are downright cold.  Lauren spend an un-godly amount of time coaxing our capricious stove into flame.

Looks friendly but isn't.

We got to spend a good bit of time with the family during meal times, but we also got to spend most of the evenings on our own in this cottage.  It was a relaxing balance.  After busing around from place to place for a while, it's nice to be in a place long enough to unpack and put some things on a shelf.  On a particulary rainy day, we even got to make a mosaic for the volunteers' cottage as our "work" for the day.  

 Aine and Caur in fine-form.  The hammoc in the volunteers' cottage was an endless source of entertainment.  
And I just realized that I don't actually have the mosaic pictures as they're on Lauren's camera.  You can check our her blog for a peak:

On our day off, we rode with Nelson to a nearby town and artisan market.  He told us a lot about the history of the island as we bounced along nodding and saying "Si, claro."  I think we might have been the least linguistically prepared volunteers they have ever had.  But they were both incredibly patient with our nods and ridiculous comments.  Venecia spent a good while one afternoon talking about the state of agriculture and the food industry in Chile.  She asked (mostly to be polite as she already knew how limited our Spanish is) what it was like in the U.S.  I was dying to enter into a conversation with her, but somehow ended up pantomiming "Happy Meal" in an effort to explain the marketing that's directed toward children.  "We have happy food, to the children, with small cowboy or doll!" (how I know those two words and not the general word for "toy" is beyond me).  Anyhow, back to the market.  Thank goodness we only had about 45 minutes.  Any knitter would have gone crazy.  I think I officially have an entire sheep in my pack.  U.S. Customs loves when you try to bring farm animals back in the the states.  

Me gazing longingly at wool rugs.  

One our way back to Puerto Montt from the farm, we spent a day in Castro, the capitol of Chiloe.  We had some lovely coffees and treats out and enjoyed a sunny amble around town.  It was a nice day of transition between farm life and the next adventure.  

In front (and slightly blocking) the picturesque, waterfront houses in Castro.

That's better.

I'm currently writing this from a quaint hostel in Puerto Natales, the gateway city to Torres del Paine National Park.  Lauren and I leave tomorrow morning for a week-long backpacking trip through some of the world's most stunning scenery.  It's time to pack up the netbook, set grad school work aside, and revel in mountains and glaciers (and day-dream about the shockingly easy boat ride to Antartica).