Deutschland | Portugal

 

🅗Ī-Ā′🅣Ə🅢 → “a gap or interruption in space, time, or continuity; a break [from completing uni].”
From a third-party perspective, that likely sums up what the past year has looked like. But let me tell you, muchachos, this 🅖🅐🅟, 🅘🅝🅣🅔🅡🅡🅤🅟🅣🅘🅞🅝, and/or 🅑🅡🅔🅐🅚 has been one of the most wildest, enlightening, and confusing figurative rollercoasters I’ve ever been on (figurative, because I’ve never been on a rollercoaster #lol) – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To all the life-long and new pals who have come along for the ride: “you rock, don’t ever change” (Lizzie McGuire, 2003).

[Somewhat personal disclosure finito.]

In case it wasn’t clear, this wee snippet of a video montage captures Gonzo’s most recent jaunt in 🇩🇪 and 🇵🇹 (#mysterious). Big ups to the folks who let me crash at their pad; show this gringo around town; and straight up lived la vida loca with me. If my tokens of appreciation in the form of Indonesian clove cigs and paid-for meals wasn’t enough, I welcome you to my humble abode in Canada.
Ø NOT FEATURED Ø
↳ Copious amounts of döner kebab and shawarma
↳ An absolutely smashing jam sesh
↳ Netflix binging on South Park and Chef’s Table
↳ Club-Mate™
↳ A questionable number of Gullón™ digestive biscuits boxes
✪ YOU HEARD IT FROM MISTER ISAAC HIMSELF ✪
↳ Watch full-length footage for and extra special viewing of Julia busting a rhyme with the dude himself at the end
∞ LIVE LONG AND PROSPER, MY FRIENDS ∞
Happy trails,
Gonzo

Lugies, Waterslides, Commemorating a Day of Birth, etc.

As per the caveat in the former post, this blog entry regards life mid-May onwards. However, instead of taking the tradition “dear diary, today we…” trajectory, let me begin with a little ‘survival guide’ to Nepal that I’ve accumulated in my notes.

The Nepali Survival Guide (or rather, Things to be Mindful of When in Nepal)

  1. Go with the flow/Nepali time: For example, when someone says the bus will depart at 13:30, be ready for the set time, but always bank for at least and extra 30 minutes to one hour of that set departure time. Further, being late isn’t the end of the world; far from it in fact: folks seem to just go with the flow, and let their activities melt with the passing time.
  2. Snot central/lugies: “Hcwhaaack puu”. Don’t know if it’s from all the dust in the air, but a rich lugie being hucked out into the big, wide world is fairly normal, and by no means nasty as it may be in some nooks and crannies of the world. To all those sensitive to ‘inappropriate’ sounds such as belching, farting, and all things booger-related, brace yourselves for a thick blend of saliva and snot being skillfully accumulated in the esophagus and fired out of the mouth with good aim. Nonetheless, however, practice your reflex when sitting behind a cab driver, as the wind my counter their lugie’s intended trajectory.
  3. Face masks: With dust in mind, you may want to conjure the surgeon-esque look with a chic face mask. You can find patterns ranging from tie-dye, to cute flower prints, to abstract and bold designs, and to simple one-coloured face masks in order to coordinate your garb with these dust-fighters and up your fashion game (if that’s a thing).
  4. Electricity and water: Both of these babies are scarce. In regards to the latter, use it precariously when washing dishes and/or taking a bucket shower. With the former, note that power cuts change day to day. You can download nifty applications to your Smartphone or Android device in order to plan for the day’s loadshedding schedule to ensure that you can boil water (in the event that you don’t have a gas stove; cold coffee doesn’t quite make the cut); charge any necessary electronics (jumped on the chain-smoking train after Smokey Robinson – my e-cigarette – couldn’t be charged); or need to have things cooled down (what can I say, the mushiness of warms apples and grapes just get to me).
  5. “Are you Nepali?”: for my fellow Caucasian-Asian hybrids, be prepared to be asked if your Nepali at least once a day. Not bothersome for myself at all; in fact – with by no means of consolidating the ‘science’ of eugenics – the blend of my pop’s ivory juice mixed with my mama’s mocha juice birthed a questionable Nepali broad (i.e., yours truly). Personally, I’ve found that the product of this mixing has resulted in a quasi comradeship with the locals that is only separated by the fact that I’m not actually Nepali.
  6. Head nod or neck stretch/dance?: Sure, what we know as a head nod – bobbing your head up and down – means yes here as well. But what is more common in Nepal (and I’m sure many other parts of the world) is a little dancing of the head side to side to denote “yes” (or, “ajer”). For myself, I initially found the latter a bit ambiguous: at first, it looks like the person is indicating a sense of uncertainty – kind of like an “eh, I don’t know”, or “your straight up crazy, but this is a subtle way of noting my feeling towards your question”. But increasingly, not only do you become accustomed to fact that this does indeed mean yes; but it’s a convenient way to loosen up the muscles in your neck, a groovy/funky way to respond to someone (I feel like I’m dancing at the clubs, hey), and it’s overall pretty contagious.
  7. Why are people always talking about China?: I’ll admit, I didn’t bother studying even the basics of Nepali before coming here. Because of this, I thought there was way too much conversation revolving around China (but then again, hell, who am I to say what people can/can’t talk about); or that too much attention was being brought to my ethnicity (I’m not Chinese for god’s sake!). About two weeks into my arrival, I found out that it means “no”. So, with that, “china, I’m not Chinese”.
  8. Dal bhat: Literally, lentils and rice. Every. Damn. Day. Two. Times. A. Day.

These are just the highlights of ‘survival tips’ that I’ve accumulated, and I hope that they can be of use to those traveling to Nepal, or spark are chuckle for fellow nomads who have encountered similar experiences.

Okay, so now to the classic “dear diary, today we…” post, with shenanigans organized on a weekly basis.

WEEK 3:

  • Started a daily ritual of climbing up the Swayambhunath Stupa (or, the Monkey Temple) in order to ensure the intense definition of my legs (not). But seriously, the combination of monks chanting, spinning prayer wheels, and the lighting of candles to symbolically offer to the Triple Gem, makes this sweat-inducing climb of its 365 steps that much more of a meditative way to burn off all that dal bhat.

Monkey Temple, and of course, monkeys.

  • Accompanied the national Hong Kong rugby team to Sukute Lower Secondary School aforementioned in the post before this, of which they’ve made substantial donations to. That weekend consisted white water rafting, watching Monica bungee jump, sleeping in tents near the Nepal-Tibet border, and overall, exercising our roles as representatives on behalf of the NGO we are volunteering for.

HKFC at Sukute Lower Secondary School.

  • That same weekend, we took the kidlets bowling and to the HKFC vs. Team Nepal Friendship Rugby Tournament, in which monsoon-like conditions during the latter made for a rather soggy group of people watching an even more soggy and muddy bunch of competitors during the match.

WEEK 4:

  • Monica and I surprised Darren (who popped over for the weekend to the Kathmandu District after a week of his rural school placement in the Sidapolchoke District) for his birthday with a cake at a restaurant in Thamel (which came before even ordering our food – perhaps due to the rarity of partaking in what is standard in ‘Western’ cultures?; that is, having a surprise cake in public eating places). To be sure, Darren’s birthday wasn’t until the week after, but since this would be the last weekend our trio would be together – as Monica was heading back to Canada in a few days – we decided to celebrate a tad early.
  • The next day, we took a very authentic excursion to Kathmandu Fun Valley – one of Nepal’s leading water/amusement parks – ft. one of the kindest, humble and honest workers at the NGO. The day consisted of cheeky grins, the 2.5 gringos foolishly dancing around to the blaring club music, and later, attempting to hail trucks and buses to Sukute of the Sindhapolchoke District to spend one last night in a Three Muskateer fashion.

The posse ft. Mon downing some jhai muri.

  • After finally catching a bus that was headed in the direction of Darren’s hut located at some beach resort, the three of us wined and dined with some workers at the resort itself and the adventure tour company it’s partnered with.

Looking hella candid in Sukute (especially Darren’s “do I need a tetanus shot?” face).

  • Monica and Darren saying their final goodbyes were suitably situated against the backdrop of light rain and grey cloud. Us broads then headed home to Swayambhu.
  • This weekend and the following day was comprised of a traditional farewell at the office (i.e., people giving mini speeches, applying of tikkas, and the continuous tying of scarves around the departing individual; so much, in fact, that Monica looked like a lass from mid-sixteenth century Europe sporting a ruff); as well as saying goodbye to the youth at the NGO’s childcare homes later that evening. Still fathoming the sentiment that Mon was going through during all this, I can only imagine how emotional these farewells were: not only did a tear or two crack during the office farewell, but while walking with my new gal pal to our home after saying goodbye that evening (during which the youth smothered her in hugs, kind words, and hand-made cards). It truly was a reminder of why the volunteers and employees are all really here, and the experiences and attachments we develop during our time.
  • Oh yeah, and Monica got a tattoo of Swayambhu’s geographic coordinates to top it all off.

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  • However, counter to the influx of feelings of warmth and connectivity developed that evening, Monica was completely fucked over the following day at the airport. Only to arrive during the early hours of the morning, Mon found out that her flight from Nepal to India, and then India to Canada required her to get an Indian visa as her flight back home to Canada was a standby ticket. After dropping her off in Kim Dole Choke to fetch a cab to the airport and anticipating a lonely day at the office, to my surprise, a broad who looked an awful lot like Monica (i.e., Monica) was perched at the desk, madly searching alternative routes that allowed her to transit in their country on a standby flight, without requiring her to get a visa. Fortunately, she managed to find a route that would have her taking a arduous journey at 23:30 that night to Kuala Lumpur, to Hong Kong, to Vancouver, to Toronto, and finally, to Moncton. Bon voyage, Monica; I’ll be seeing you in Spain in August.

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  • In addition to the workshops held at the office for newly recruited fieldworkers, I had the pleasure of joining the guys and gals to the British School of Lalitpur, one of the NGO’s donors, who, in addition to their contributions, provides a day of sports and arts for the kiddos. The individuals presently living in the childcare homes were also accompanied by youth who have grown up in and out of the NGO’s facilities. Between the three of them and myself, we were in charge of chaperoning the event; being middle (wo)men to communicate with the staff at the office on how the day was panning out; and sorting out donations between the school and the NGO. Relative to my experience working as a camp counselor, this was by far less stressful, as – growing up in Nepal, a country which is fairly densely-populated in core areas, and therefore, crowded – locating one another was never a bother, and we always managed to find one another if separated.
  • As Darren’s birthday was actually this week, some folks at the office, the kidlets and I coordinated a surprise fiesta for him at the boys’ home. After tricking him into thinking that Shyam Brother needed help moving furniture at the boys’ hau5, we all piled up into the main gathering room, which to Darren’s avail, was a celebration of his day of birth, rather than spending the day lifting heavy objects. We celebrated in style with bottles of Fanta and Sprite, and packets of assorted biscuits.
  • Later that night, Darren and I continued this train of healthy eating with getting greasy-ass, delicious street grub on New Road. In addition to experiencing every flavour under the sun that can be deep fried, one of the most memorable things that came out of this night was a gentleman’s eagerness to ensure that we ate our food in comfort. While perching ourselves on a step just beside the main road, a man with an everlasting grin kept on giving us newspapers – not to read, but to place our food and asses on. Constantly putting his hands in prayer position to his forehead with a gentle bow, it was clear that he was doing this not for donations, but to genuinely ensure that we enjoyed our greasy goods. However, we’ve seemed to experience this intense generosity time and again, and when sharing our experience with other foreigners, there seems to be some sort of speculation of an unwritten rule to be polite to ‘white’ people (for example, in addition to this, we got priority in different queues throughout our time here). No matter how much you turn down the offer and/or present yourself to be treated as an equal, the unwritten rule (unfortunately?) tends to prevail.

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Anyways, hombres, that wraps up the life and times of Gonzo for now. Coming at you from a futon from Swayambhu, and recovering from a food hangover, Gonzo OUT.

Pastry CentralBlessings from the land of everything deep fried (hence the haggard mug shot).

नेपाल नमस्कार! (Namaste, Nepal!)

A little caveat: I wrote this post about one and a half weeks into my arrival in Nepal, but, due to some good ol’ procrastination, I am posting what I wrote then now (i.e., one month into my time in Nep). However, since none of the thoughts and impressions I had then were sheer BS, they t-o-t-a-l-l-y still apply to this very day. Currently in the process of writing the life and times of Gonzo from mid-May ‘til now – a rather arduous task considering the series of wild events that have unfolded. For readers wanting a sneak preview of Gonzo’s next post, I invite you to check out this exciting audiovisualHappy reading, my fellow Gonzites.

Swyambhu PanoramaAfter a pretty rowdy route from Vancouver, Canada; to Jiaxing, China; to Chengdu, China; to Lhasa, Tibet; and finally, Kathmandu, Nepal, I finally made it to what I will be calling home for the next three months. Hospitality and never-ending smiles, dust and face masks, and the mandatory staple of dal bhat were just some of the things that comprised my first impressions of this nook of the country. However, I just want to briefly put a major emphasis on this idea of hospitality: during my one-night layover in Chengdu, I ran into Santosh, a Nepali man, who was coincidentally staying at the same hotel as me and catching the same flight to Kathmandu the following morning. During the brief moments we chatted, before even landing on Nepali turf, Santosh had already invited me to come to his family’s home for dinner, and offered to show me around the Kathmandu area if need be. Although a bit wary of such extended warmth, it increasingly became apparent that this was fairly standard, and by no means ‘creepy’.

Further, the first night in my hostel in Kathmandu also echoed Santosh’s kindness: after missing the driver sent to pick me up at the airport – my arrival was delayed due to the plane having to quickly ascend from landing as Kathmandu’s itty bitty runway was occupied – the hostel manager didn’t only lift the driver fee (which I felt pretty guilty about considering India’s recent fuel embargo on the country), but made sure I got around safely and efficiently, and felt comfortable in this new place (e.g., making sure I paid fair cab fares, having a good night’s rest, ensuring that I had coffee in the morning, etc.). Again – generally speaking – things that we may find somewhat ‘creepy’ were just standard deeds; for example, not only has the driver and manager of the first hostel, but Santosh as well, have texted/called me to make sure I’m keeping safe in the area I’m staying in. Anyways, soaking all this in, I hope I’m getting this idea of care and hospitality across to y’all.

Touch down in Thamel.

Okay, so some readers may be wondering why on god’s green earth am I in Nepal? Well folks, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally finished the academic component of my International Studies degree (i.e., all the required courses and credits), and am now topping off my undergrad career with the required foreign exchange component of my studies – or so I thought. Literally sitting in the NGO office I am volunteering with about a week into my placement, I received an e-mail from my university noting that this requirement, has now been shifted to a recommendation of the International Studies program. As irritating as this is in a monetary sense, and the fact that it’s prolonging the time of my graduation, I’m optimistic as this organization not only addresses a human rights issue that has been touched upon multiple times during the course of my studies (namely, human trafficking and all the harms that fall under this multifaceted problem), but is giving me insight into what working with an NGO is like.

The day after my arrival/my first day of working at the NGO was initiated by the instructions: “look for two white people” (i.e., the two other volunteers – Darren from Dublin and Monica from New Brunswick – arriving a week prior to me) in Kim Dole Choke in the Swayambhu area of Kathmandu. However, being newly acquainted with the area, I assumed that the head office was Kim Dole, rather than a central area of Swayambhu. Driving straight through Kim Dole on the reliance of locals’ knowledge of the organization, my cab driver magically dropped me off right at the office – an arrival the first of its kind, as the building is tucked away in Swayambhu’s alleys.

Induction was fairly standard: signing papers, being introduced to the – yet again – warm and friendly staff, and watching PowerPoints and other media regarding all-things-relevant (i.e., from the issues that NGO tackles, to what to do in the event of a Nepali earthquake). Darren and Monica helped be settle into our home, introduced me to the boys and girls living in organization’s childcare homes, helped me identify some landmarks in order to navigate myself around town, and all the essential joints in the Swayambhu area. We wrapped up the day with watching a Hindi horror film at the boys’ house with popcorn in hand-rolled newspaper cones.

The following day, the three of us embarked on a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to Nagarkot, where we would be chasing sunsets and sunrises over the Himalayas. Although the sunrise – to which we began hiking for at 4:00 AM – was blocked by some cloud cover, we could nonetheless make out the Himalayas by sunset the night before. The weekend consisted of getting to know one another over card games accompanied by whiskey and wine.

After reeking of sweat from the arduous hike to the viewpoint tower that morning, and the overall number of times climbing up and down the stairs to our cute little cabin (the name of our accommodation was called “The End of the Universe” if that gives you a sense of how many flights of hand-crafted stairs we had to climb just to reach it); and being covered in dust (which is pretty standard when in Nepal), the three of us decided to treat ourselves in Thamel with a deep tissue massage and some tasty grub. We ended up dining at a popular joint in the heart of the Thamel called OR2K, which was conveniently recommended to me prior to my arrival by a fellow gym attendee in Canada. Although the ambience restaurant was a bit of a granola overdose, the atmosphere can be a nice little escape for Vancouverites craving something familiar; and the menu speaks to the fusion soul. However, we consumed more than our body could handle; in fact, my anticipated mild gluten intolerance became a reality after consuming some naan and focaccia bread later that evening. Sharp stomach pains and cold sweats accompanied me through the night, and had me leaving work early the following day to rest some more.

Shades of Nagarkot.

After recovering, the ensuing work week was primarily marked by us volunteers prepping for our NGO’s weekly pub trivia night, to which collected funds go to the kids’ weekend activities. We decided to go all-out and combine everything from standard trivia questions (flash question: what classic cocktail is comprised of vodka, Galliano and orange juice?); to identifying national sites; to fill-in-the-blanks karaoke; to running Pictionary; and, of course, the timeless classic activity of beer pong. The night of and before the trivia night (which we wittingly titled “Raising the Bar”) consisted of us harassing backpackers in the streets of Thamel with flyers. Our bothering seemed to pay of: not only was the night successful in a financial sense (over 300 Rps, whaaat!); but the crowd seemed to genuinely and thoroughly enjoy themselves, and became aware of the contentious issues that our NGO addresses.

After skulling back a few beves before and during the trivia (don’t worry – all within the boundaries) in order to boost our host/ess confidence, we all sporadically decided to go bar-hopping with a few of the trivia-goers that night. After running through monsoon-like rain, and tending to different joints that specialized in the punk, reggae and club scene, my co-volunteers and I arrived at our sweet little abode by the wee hours of the morning, gorging on the limited supplies of food (i.e., a jar of peanut butter and rice cakes). I’ll have y’all know that the limited food supply isn’t due to the costliness of food here; hell no – coming from Canada, the most delicious and protein-packed goods come at more than affordable prices here in Nepal. But rather, due to an extended power cut, and therefore, proper refrigeration. To be sure, these power cuts aren’t part of Nepal’s loadshedding schedule, but rather, a pesky monkey that nibbled on one of our home’s wires. Although under a week, the NGO has been doing everything under the sun in order to retrieve electricity: constant phone calls to the local electrical company (of which they redundantly reply “yes, 100% tomorrow”, but to no avail), bribery, contacting government officials, and setting out on motorcycles in Swayambhu to physically find electricians to come to our home and mend the broken wires.

Anyways, during the work day following trivia night, our lethargies were cured by the office’s didi’s tea – an infusion of flavours we cannot seem to mark nor find anywhere else in the Kathmandu area. Work proceeded as usual, but by the end of the day, we decided that we further recover with a cup of Baskin Robbins in the heart of Thamel… nothing like one of the 31 flavours melting down your esophagus to call it a night.

Pub trivia and post-pub trivia antics.

IMG_7423Not the day of lethargies per se, but nonetheless: a photo of didi and her out-of-this-world tea.

After getting back to our ‘normal’ selves, we began the weekend with our ritual of engaging in activities with the youth. Darren and the boys set out to see an action-packed film at the cinema, while the Monica, myself and the girls began the day with 7:00 AM Zumba class, relaxation and laughing yoga, and shared some inspirational quotes from a book kindly donated by my totally Zen father (thanks, pa – the text if currently and absolute his in the girls’ home).

Afterwards, Monica and I set out to get some grub from one of the weekend markets at the suggestion of the NGO’s Communications Director. After finding out the first one was closed, we set foot to the second place of recommendation: Le Sherpa Market. After calling the Communications Director to retrieve this market’s directions, only to get further lost (as the market has recently changed locations), we conveniently bumped into a lady and her children who were going to the same market after venturing through hidden alleys in the Lazimpat district. The lady very kindly accommodated us in an auto rickshaw and paid for our fare to the market. Similar to my instructions during my first day of beginning work at the NGO, the Communication Director’s hint of “looking for [a lot of] white people [with bags]” seemed to become a key indicator in finding Le Sherpa Market. Indeed, the market was comprised of a mix of tourists, but what was interesting was that it seemed to also be a little niche for expats: organic vegetables, speciality cheeses and coffees, decadent pastries, and other fine goods.

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Vietnamese salad rolls in Lazimpat (not photographed: bagels).

After burning our dough on items which we seldom give a shit for back home (Monica got a bagel with cream cheese for god’s sake, and it looked like the best damn bagel that ever graced this earth – keep in mind, she’s been here for a little longer than I), we headed to the local pool to shower. Oh yeah, on top of the power shortage, I should mention that the water has also been recently cut for some reason. After washing my hair – which had accumulated to a noodle-like mass of grease after eleven days – I felt like a new woman.

The following day, we embarked on an adventure to Sukute in the Sindhupalchowk District where Darren will be stationed for a month for the NGO’s alternative teacher’s assistance placement. Even though Monica and I will not be here, it is only part of the Three Musketeer’s code of conduct to share and be informed about one another’s volunteer experiences. We attended the inauguration of the brand new Shree Sukute Lower Secondary School after the former school had been completely destroyed after the 2015 earthquake.

It’s only been a little under two weeks since I started my work here at the NGO, but in short, I can tell you that Nepal – at least the areas that I have visited – is a country marked by smiles, going with the flow, and happiness with the little things in life. Perhaps a bit flowery to some, but if I can leave you with Nepal in a nutshell so far, take the words of the NGO’s Nepali language instructor: NEPAL – “Never End Peace and Love”.

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Buen Provecho

Let me clarify the following, as the timing of this post may seem a tad off: a little over four months after the arrival from a short but sweet adventure, I finally kick procrastination in the ass, and decide to post the following passage, which has been tucked away in a Microsoft Word document since early May.


Following an intense yet informative term at school, Gonzo and her travel sensei embark on an adventure to the two most southern states of Mexico: Chiapas and Oaxaca. This folks, is monumental in two general senses: (1) this trip has been the virginity-breaker of a series of travels that have occurred at least once a year – 2014 being my virgin year; and (2) not having travelled with my dad since 2010, our personal growths over the past five years contributed to what I consider one of the most memorable, genuine, and healthily frustrating/challenging adventures I have encountered. And with that, I bid you a happy read on the splendours of beautiful Mexico. Buen provecho.

PALENQUE, CHIAPAS

  • After completing back-to-back exams, and smashing back bevvies in celebration of my completion, a nocturnal/delusional Gonzo and her father board a plane almost promptly (I’m talking like a day, man) to Palenque, Chiapas via San Francisco and Mexico City.
  • Upon arrival, dad is struck with not necessarily culture shock, but rather, shock of the drastic changes that have occurred in this region since his last visit nearly 40 years ago (but hey, it’s slightly idyllic/naïve to assume that there wouldn’t be any change, eh?). In fact, en route to our cabañas, Mick was trying to scope out the field where he set up camp after his visit to the Palenque ruins while high on hongos where he bushwhacked through what is now a groomed, lawn-mowed tourist attraction.
  • On that note, we visited these very ruins on the informal ‘holiday’ known as 4/20. Though we didn’t formally celebrate, we lived vicariously through dad’s former experience in the Palenque ruins.
  • As a town intended more so for rest and recuperation, on our second day in Palenque, we arranged a bus to San Cristóbal de las Casas via Agua Azul and Misol-Ha in order to get a dose of some fine cascades. Our spontaneous arrangement with a lady at the travel agency epitomized one of the aspects that resonated the most with me during the course of this trip: the amount of people that genuinely reached out to us no matter how big or small the need/request was.
  • Mick, who is truly fascinated with los mono saraguatos (howler monkeys), wanted my auditory perception system to be stimulated by their howls, which I consider sound like a swarm of bees, but are nonetheless fascinating. After a couple of failures to experience their cries at near distance, dad asked Elizabeth — the lady who owned the travel agency — when and where the best time to catch their battle cries were. In light of the former theme I mentioned of people being altruistic, Elizabeth closed up her office, got us to hop in her car, and took us on a short and sweet ride to some of the corners of Palenque’s central area in a quest to find the famous mono saraguato. Although I didn’t have the up-close and personal experience with the roar of the howler monkey, it was Elizabeth’s selfless act that echoed for the remainder of our time in Mexico.

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Arriving in Palenque

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MISOL-HA AND AGUA AZUL ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL, CHIAPAS

  • After spectating and swimming in the epic waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul respectively, and chowing on mangos dipped in Tajín and sipping on coconut water fresh from the bosom of the coconut trees, Miguel realizes that his camera is missing (which we reckon was mostly likely left behind at Misol-Ha). As per usual in the event of a missing camera, it wasn’t the missing device itself that troubled us, but rather the loss of a memory card that held such solid memories on it. RIP.
  • However, reminiscent of Elizabeth’s altruistic act, was the genuine kindness of a mother-son travel duo from Texas, who — because we were parting ways, and not heading back with the group that was on our hired van/mini tour bus/whatever you wanna call it — offered to keep in touch with our bus driver if he received any information from people at Misol-Ha on Mick’s missing camera. If anything turned up, we would meet with them in San Cristóbal, where they were heading down to after their time in Palenque.
  • To clarify (because our itinerary is such a cluster fuck): the van that took us to Misol-Ha and Agua Azul was returning to Palenque. However, dad and I were heading to San Cristóbal, so we separated from our initial posse to board another bus to head further south.
  • Despite the crappy feeling of losing a camera, it was this mother-son duo’s reaching out that trumped dad’s loss, and which later blossomed into excellent encounters and discussions (as will soon be mentioned).
  • After parting with our fellow Misol-Ha and Agua Azul attendees, dad and I boarded our bus in butt fuck nowhere to San Cristóbal. What was supposed to be only a three-to-four-hour bus ride turned out to be a six-on-the-verge-of-seven bus ride, which consisted of roads full of speed bumps that not only slowed down the process of getting there, but made visits to the bathroom’s puke-filled sinks and toilets a rather daunting task (sorry for the details, but I’m trying to paint the picture as eloquently as possible).
  • Upon our near-midnight arrival in the bus depot located in the outskirts of San Cristóbal, we were offered flyers for a hostel from what we perceived was a she-hustler. Expecting to be able to easily locate the Airbnb we reserved ahead of time, we took her paper with a grain of salt. However, the midnight vacancy of the town and overall unawareness of our initially-reserved accommodations led us to an evening stroll to the hostel advertised at the bus depot. Nothing super memorable about this joint, other than the fact that I stupidly under-boiled tap water, which left me with an upset stomach, which thankfully only lasted one night.

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Misol-Ha

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Picked and packed at the peak of perfection at Agua Azul

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Looking rather angsty in San Cristóbal

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SAN CRISTÓBAL ⇢ OVENTIC ⇢ CHAMULA

  • We ended up migrating to the most epic hostel I reckon I ever stayed at. Not only did it have nice feng shui, but the families that owned Posada Mi Casa were at the same time cool and warm, making our stay comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Here, we also met Paul, a dude from Germany who has been involved in human rights observation work on Zapatista communities. In light of his familiarity with the area, he offered to give us a little tour of Oventic, an autonomous Zapatista municipality, and Chamula, another autonomous municipality, largely inhabited by indigenous Tzotzil Maya people.
  • At the gates of Oventic, we were greeting by two Zapatistas in their iconic balaclavas, who took down our information with respect to our national identities, our purpose for visiting, and any organizations that we were affiliated with. After consulting these bits of information with the community’s council, we were granted permission to enter. As a caveat, I say the following with no means of being condescending/portraying the Zapatistas as subordinate/etc., but the members of Oventic were extremely friendly and carried on with what I assume to be their daily routine (e.g., attending classes, tending the land, etc.), while our posse (that is, the three from Posada Mi Casa ft. a lad from Montreal and a chick from France) walked around the community.
  • What was very notable was that one of the many buildings that were covered in murals, had indigenous art distinct to the West Coast. It was pretty astonishing, to say the least, how something so specific to one region has ended up in the autonomous community of Oventic. Even when dad asked one of the Zapatistas if he knew anything about how the West Coast indigenous art was incorporated in their murals (which were largely tributed to anarchism and civil resistance against neoliberalism, and iconic figures such as Emiliano Zapata, Subcomandante Marcos, Comandante Romana and Che Guevara), it still remained a mystery.
  • After chilling in Oventic, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck down the hill to Chamula, where we visited the church of San Juan. In brief, what struck me about Chamula was how it epitomized the frustrating and uncomfortable ramifications of imperialism. Indeed, you’ll read a lot about rituals of individuals drinking Coke-a-Cola in order to burp to rid themselves of bad spirits, the plethora of candles lit inside the church, and — in some instances — graphic sacrifices of chickens; but the conniving practice of syncretism — which our compañero Paul told me about the night before — really got to me. Don’t mean to go on a rant here, but you still see such sly mechanisms being exercised in contemporary missionary movements, but I won’t get into that here. You got my URL/contact information. Message me, muchachos.

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Oventic

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West Coast indigenous art in Oventic

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Descending from Oventic

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Chamula

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CHAMULA ⇢ SAN CRISTÓBAL

  • Later that night, dad and I went for some grub at a generic comedor; generic, in that waitresses hustle potential customers in by waving their menus in your face on the sidewalk, even though their meals are essentially identical to their neighbouring vendors. Anyways, we ended up buying pastries from a university student who was fundraising for a cognitive behaviour therapy program at his academic institution. While dad engaged in lengthy conversation with him, one of the waitresses from another comedor chimed into their discussion, making cheeky/cute side remarks, but also, showing some mild interest in their chitchat.
  • Eventually, when the student left, we ended up talking to the girl. Her story is truly an experience that makes me not take my relationship with my dad for granted. 17-year-old Rosa doesn’t go to school because her parents forbid her from doing so. She ended up moving out when she was twelve, and rents a bedroom for herself with a house full of other individuals. She works 17-hour shifts at the comedor, and while her parents love her other siblings, according to Rosa, they don’t love her. Despite these immense complexities (to say the least), Rosa’s held a kind persona that outdid her life calamities, making our discussion and her willingness to share her personal experiences a memory that I — dunno ‘bout you dad, if you’re reading this — will carry with me.
  • The next day, we checked out the Na Bolom Museum which shares the history of/information on the Lacandon Maya and the Chiapas rain forest, all in an effort to preserve both bodies. I won’t go too in depth here, but its founders, archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, documentary photographer Gertrude Duby Blom are individuals that make me have faith in humanity. (Dad even shed a tear during a clip in a documentary showing Gertrude being awarded with the Global 500 Award.)
  • Speaking of documentary photography (the parallels will soon become apparent), dad and I ended up meeting with the mother-son travel duo I had mentioned earlier twice in San Cristóbal. Aside from learning that dad and I weren’t the only travel partners out there that got some pretty weird-ass assumptions about our relation (i.e., is this your under-aged, gold-digging, perhaps Polynesian or Asian-looking Mexican girlfriend? Or, put euphemistically: “friend”), I ended up (a) becoming more aware of even finer details of dad’s travels back in the day, (b) having the opportunity to hear about the travel experience of the mother and son — some of their adventures which require major cojones, (c) learning that skulling a wee bit of tequila with 100% agave after a night of drinking kills a hangover, and (d) although brief, got a unique scope on some aspects of Mexican social culture (such as male-female dynamics, work habits, etc., — i.e., the small things that seem mundane, but for some reason fascinate/stick with me) as the duo’s experience in Mexico/Mexican ancestry shared some information you just can’t get anywhere else.
  • Right, so I mentioned Gertrude’s — look at me, calling me by her first name like we were good chaps back in the day — documentary photography, and how that’s somehow linked to our meet-ups with the mother and son. Well, Diego, the son, is involved in documentary photography, and you can check out his work here.
  • All in all, Susie and Diego, if either of you read this, on behalf of my dad and I: thank you for the good conversation, the medical Mayan tea, your overall extended generosity, and letting us know that there are other weird travelers out there.

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Posada Mi Casa

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SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, CHIAPAS ⇢ OAXACA CITY, OAXACA

  • The next day we had to bid farewell to Posada Mi Casa, which I found quite saddening considering the effortlessly cool ambience of the hostel, and the families the lived there. I even had myself a child here:WP23
    Juuust kidding.
  • Again, the somewhat hard to follow itinerary continued in this leg of the trip: a one-hour bus ride from San Cristóbal to Tuxtla (or Tuxtla Gutiérrez — whatever nomenclature floats your boat); about eight hours in the town of Tuxtla, which gave us ample time to go to Sumidero Canyon and buy some granola; and then a ten-hour, state-crossing bus ride from Tuxtla, Chiapas to Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.
  • After cruising on our overnight first-class bus — the choice to purchase this mode of transportation being  (a) the long distance that we would be traveling, and (b) the puke-ridden washrooms of our former bus experience – filled with other gringos, we arrived in Oaxaca City at 8:00 AM the following day.
  • As per the recommendation of one of the families at Posada Mi Casa, we hailed a cab from the bus depot to Hostal Mágico, only to find that the dormitories were full, and that we could either pitch a tent on the rooftop, or sleep in their hammocks for 70 pesos/night. We went for the latter. Jackpot.
  • On the same day of our arrival, the football team of dad’s native Bournmoth won Championship title, and earned promotion to the Premier League, which is a HUGE deal. For me, not so much (not much of organized sports broad myself), but we’re talking tears-in-Miguel’s-eyes type of deal. So, I proposed a beve or two in order to commemorate this landmark moment in sports history. Thus, we ended up crushing some cans in the park, and spiking our drinks in the restaurants with mezcal (with 100% agave of course).
  • The night after this was only followed by more celebratory drinks; this time, honouring Pachamama (otherwise known as Mother Nature) and her ferocious powers. Apparently, while we were out and about in town, there was an earthquake and we didn’t even feel it. Furthermore, hurricane/monsoon-like conditions struck us later that afternoon back at Hostal Mágico, with winds wrestling the foliage and rusty hammock shelter on the rooftop, and dampening our beds (i.e., hammocks). As such, Esteban, the owner of the hostel gave dad a mattress, and me the couch of the common area for sleep on for the night. The powers of Pachamama are rather fascinating; and hell, I’ll drink to that.
  • It was quite neat: in the event of the storm, it seems like everyone in the hostel came together (aw, how fucken sappy). But we ended up getting to know some groovy-ass people. In fact, our plans to rent a car and head to Oaxaca’s Pacific coast ended up nicely meshing with one of the lads (a Brit who goes by Tinz) we hung out with that night, resulting in him hitching a lift with us the following day.
  • But before I get to that, I MUST mention that I had the most glorious, long-anticipated tlayuda that night, as recommended by an excellent Canadian amiga who studied in Oaxaca for a semester last year. Thank you, my dearest Moshi Moshi.

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A photo of people taking photos at Sumiedro Canyon

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Miguel looking beyond groovy at the canyon

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Finally enjoying a cup of pozol

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Deluxe suite at Hostal Mágico

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Yours truly and the glorious tlayuda

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HEADING TO THE COAST

  • After parting with pals from Hostal Mágico, dad, Tinz and I made our way to San José del Pacífico: a very small town, which is pretty much a street and a hill up in the mountains, and decorated in hongos paraphernalia. Though the mountains that were being constantly consumed by the clouds were beautiful, time was of the essence, and as a stop that we didn’t plan on making, we stayed here for only one night.
  • The joint — no pun intended — that we stayed at was literally ran by a dude who was high as a kite ‘round the clock. No complaints though; just a heads up to other travelers who come here: churros aren’t donuts here.
  • Our next stop was San Agustinillo via a detour through Zipolite to see dad’s old stomping grounds, which have now become some sort of hippie haven.
  • I’m pretty lax when it comes to long, windy roads, but the route from San José del Pacífico to the coast is nothing to be underestimated. We’re talking roads that curve as tight as our intestines are arranged in our belly; and not just in sporadic instances, but instead, pretty much the whole stretch.
  • Upon arrival in San Agustinillo, we said our farewell to Tinz, who got his first look at the Pacific Ocean, hopped on a four-minute collectivo truck to neighbouring Mazunte, and embarked on his spiritual journey in Mexico.
  • Our one-night stay in this fishing village functioned as a pit stop of some sort before heading off to Chacahua: a chunk of land only accessible by a boat ride through the epic mangroves that infest Lagunas de Chacahua.
  • On our way to Chacahua the following day, in the quest to find a nice spot to eat by the water, we accidentally ended up at some suave, five-star resort, where I don’t know if they took too kindly to my perma-barefoot status that I carried from San Agustinillo (and held for a good remainder of the trip).
  • Anyways, upon arrival in Rio Grande, we hired a boat to take us to Chacahua. This is probably the only scandal we faced throughout the course of the trip, and thankfully, it not being too much of a big deal. (The dude made us over-pay, and lied to us about their being cheaper modes of transportation to Chacuhua via Zapotalito. The end.)
  • This chilled-out, surfing and fishing village was a nice cherry on top of the final leg of our journey. Perched on some jagged rocks by the ocean, dad and I watched the waves violently collide against the rocks; fishermen fish; and fishing boats strategically timing their launches in order to not be consumed by the water. According to Daniel, the owner of the accommodation we were staying at: “in Chacuhua, it’s always 8:10 AM” (i.e., time doesn’t exist).
  • Not only were the people and environment here the ultimate treat to somewhat wrap up our trip (after all, we still had two nights left in Oaxaca City after this), but that evening, I had one of the most genuine and meaningful conversations with my pa. Despite the fact that I barely see him back home, and that most of our means of communication are via e-mail, our life stories/struggles poured out, and as demented and/or intense they may have seemed to one another, we welcomed each other’s peculiarities with acceptance.

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San José del Pacífico

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San Agustinillo

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Chacuhua

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Lagoons of Chacuhua

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8:10 AM departure (otherwise known as 10:00 AM)

BACK TO OAXACA CITY

  • So the winding roads continued for at least 87% (more or less) of our route from Rio Grande to Oaxaca City. Bless Daniel’s soul for giving us a 30-minute boat ride to Rio Grande where our car was parked, as opposed to taking the cheaper, but longer option via Zapotalito. Even though we left at 10:00 AM that day (or, in the official time zone of Chacuhua, 8:10 AM), we ended up arriving in Oaxaca City by 9:00 PM.
  • On top of the vicious curves of the road ahead, we drove through some torrential downpour, and the debris of boulders chipped off the mountain, which left us with an “oh shit” feeling in the pit of our stomachs.
  • We ended up staying back at Hostal Mágico; this time, being able to snag two beds in a dormitory.
  • We technically only had one full day left in Mexico, and from the beginning of our trip, we designated this day to market time (i.e., buying gifts for your mutha, your brutha, and your bruthas from another mutha). However, the fuck-up of the was that I accidentally bought WAY more ‘goods’ than the duty free limit allows for you to bring into Canada, and just felt like a schmuck for the rest of the evening.
  • Indeed, it’s super melodramatic of me to get down and out on this mistake, but I think my grouchiness that unfortunately fell on the last night was due to a mix of things: the thought of leaving this wonderful place; physical tiredness (though I don’t know to what. Heat?); and quite likely, drinking while in the sun, and while packing my pack in the heat (hey, they don’t sell alcohol in convenient stores in Vancouver; thought I would take full advantage of this here. I know, “fucken tourists”).
  • In a nutshell, my last night in Mexico was pretty somber.

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Arriving back in Oaxaca City

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OAXACA ⇢ TIJUANA ⇢ SAN DIEGO ⇢ BELLINGHAM ⇢ VANCOUVER

  • So, as per the subheading, we caught and early morning flight from Oaxaca to Tijuana; a bus from the airport in Tijuana to the United States-Mexican border; another bus – who we shared with a group of missionaries (hallelujah) – to the airport in San Diego; a flight from San Diego to Bellingham; and a lift from Kaleem (the little bruva), who picked us up and drove us to our humble abode across the border (eh).
  • The only noteworthy happening that occurred during this final leg of the trip was that I had the most random emotional moment as soon as our plan descending in Bellingham. Although my red eyes coupled with my natty hair and stinky clothes probably generated the passengers’ assumption that I was incredibly stoned, my tears were ostensibly because of this amazing journey I shared with my dad. Hence, an experience — despite my attempt here in this post — that I cannot mentally fathom, nor put down in words.
  • Love you, ayah.

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“This Meal Makes the Denny’s Grand Slam Look Like a Carrot”

Let me just disclaim that this is an extremely messy, spur-of-the-moment post that I feel the need to write for the sake of rejuvenation. After mustering up the courage to remove myself from the couch and finally post on update on life since landing on home turf in May, I just want to break the ice by wishing you all: a happy new year. May 2014 bring you all good energy, success, and new opportunities 2013 failed to do (namaste). Generally, I’m not one to have any resolutions for the new year, but more so for every month. However, it being a new year makes it extra fresco and makes me more inclined to live up to those new goals. Oh my god, what a boring and cliché way to kick off the first blog post of the year; let’s talk life from May to present, and that nagging desire that still sets up camp in my noggin to go places.

LIFE (AT A GLANCE) SINCE MAY:
So, as tradition holds, I worked (though it certainly was way too fun to call it that) as a group leader/counsellor this past summer. And – again, as tradition holds – met some very cool people along the way, some who I – without naïvety – claim to be some of my closest amigos. Not only that, but I had the most unique and genuine opportunities to get closer to mates that I formerly had done training with, worked with in past years, or gotten to know throughout the year, All in all, a really good summer made it that much more difficult (boo hoo, I am such a wimp) to adapt to the new school year. Here are some shots that only capture a glimpse of the summer:

July 27_0021On the job (part I).

August and September_0003On the job (part II).

July 27_0009On the job (part III)… just kidding, this is totally off the job.

August and September_0009Off the job (part II).

August and September_0018Having the honour of co-counselling with a long-time, long-distant chum. The most blissful days of my life.

August and September_0038Brother from another mother. Seriously considering NZ this April.

August and September_0046Sister from another mister. Mal, if you’re reading this, it’s embarrassing how little we see each other considering: (A) we live right beside each other, (B) we work as curry vendors outside at the same joint of working as counsellors, and (C) we now go to the same uni. Respect.

Now this may not pose as a big deal to some, but it’s very important to myself considering the transition from point A: my lack of knowledge of not having a single clue in this entire galaxy of what I wanted to do, to point B: finally getting my foot in the academic door.

LET ME RANT FOR JUST A HOT SECOND:
Having entered a new and larger educational institution as such an emotional wreck (yes, there were some shenanigans that happened during the last week of summer that scrambled my brains to a delicate pulp), I can say that I didn’t have the best start to my first semester at this new university. Further, in comparison to how I kicked off things at my former college (i.e. a newly formed self confidence, determination, and an all-around drive that allowed me to get shit done and get to where I wanted to), I was (stupidly) getting down on myself and just not living up to the potential I knew I could.

Though the catalysts in this weren’t clear, I think I can blame no one but myself. I don’t want to resort to issues such as family health, social relations, etc., because in the end, I always had such a good network of friends and family – maybe even better than I had before. As I sit here now, I’m thinking it was me who was closing off help or just being too damn stubborn (who knows!).

Anyways, don’t want to get too personal/intense about this little snippet of my ever-changing youth; just merely want to paint the picture of how poorly I kicked off the school year, and allowed the bad to trump the good.

So anyways, fast-forward to the end of the semester (we’re talking mid-December), and I’m fairly pleased with my final exam performance that I must celebrate with a huge-ass pancake from Jethro’s with my life-long guru (dadi) and bruva. Sitting with the two lads that I’m honoured to call my family allows me to start the winter break, and end the semester on a high note.

August and September_0048My fellow pancake munchers.

However, my winter break pretty much consisted of either recovering from hangovers or watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel series No Reservations or Parts Unknown. Picture this: a couch potato watching this ultra bad ass just travelling the world one country at a time learning all about the history, people, culture and food of every one of those places. And yes, the title of the post is indeed from one of his episodes – specifically when eating a series of deep-fried meats in Colombia. This juxtaposing image essentially portrays my time off in a nutshell, and not surprisingly made me nostalgic as equally as it made me long for future travels.

Now for those of you who don’t know, I’m an intended International Studies major. What I’ll do career-wise: who the fuck knows; but what I can say from the heart is that any title with the word “international” in it sounds pretty damn alluring to me. I hate to come off unknowledgeable about the job opportunities and ignorant about my education, but let me clarify this: during my past semesters at both schools, I’m always learning new things, and with that, learning about myself and how little I know. That being said, I don’t want to be blindly picking careers and not considering the ethics behind it, and this has been a constant theme in the course material shared with me and other students. So folks, although it may take me eons to where I’m going, I’m sure it will be somewhat worth it in the end. And hey, who knows, maybe I’ll be getting my income from being the next celebrity traveler, roaming the nooks and crannies of our globe (i.e. the next Bourdain).

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE:
I have a fresh new semester to look forward to starting tomorrow. Although I’ll be pulling out my hairs for the next couple of years getting this lousy certificate that we are largely dependent on to get anywhere in society (we’re just lacking the creativity to get anywhere without it, really), I’m doing this because I feel like by getting some sort of an education, I can contribute – as minuscule as it may be – something to our crazy planet (Kumbayah, am I right?).

But let’s get real here: the best lessons I have ever learned have been through hands-on experience, listening, and stopping to smell the roses, AKA the marvels that naturally come along with gallivanting in your own backyard, to jetting to international turf. Note that these marvels consist both of the good and the bad, but it’s from those very unique experiences that I think have allowed me to be the broad I am today. Additionally, I think I owe a lot to my family and friends (holy shit, what a pompous bitch! I sound like I’m accepting an award or something. Pardon me), especially my pa, in allowing me to exchange a set of open ears for theirs. Some of the greatest lessons to be learned are often found in social transmission (I don’t have a study to back this, but it certainly has been an experience of my own).

July 27_0004My rock – who also rocks my world.

So, I leave you, my readers with a very general, pretty bland and uninteresting update of Gonzo’s vida loca since May. More updates in the future to come (and more frequently at that, I hope).

Yours truly,
The haphazard-yet-determined-nomadic student, Amira

Today Marks the One Year Anniversary of a New Layday

Actually, that’s a lie; today marks a one year and two day anniversary of a new layday. That’s right, folks: it’s been a whole year since Gonzo returned to the True North from gallivanting in some of the nooks and crannies of SE Asia. Since then, that monumental life experience has constructed the broad that y’all know and love today (yikes, make that a pompous broad).

But in all seriousness, I can genuinely say that the marvels of travelling have forced independence; ignited curiosity; and create some sort of enlightenment and acceptance with who you are and your ‘purpose’ (if that’s the right word). So, at precisely 13:41 on May 10, 2013, sitting in my boudoir, what was the major life-changing ‘lesson’ – if you will – that I got from exploring some corners of the globe?

If we want a particular future,
use your moulding powers to its full advantage.

“What in tarnation do I mean by that, and how in Shiva’s name have I applied that to mi vida within the past year?” you may be asking. I’ll make it short and sweet. What I mean is: don’t be lazy! If you know you have the ability to conquer a goal, do it. I’ve applied this to my life so far through mostly: academics and health (if you want to know the details, leave a comment).

So anyway, there’s my opener, BUT, I also owe you an update on the finale of this year’s adventure abroad. I left off on Day 03 in Ubud, which was written in the afternoon. As fate would have it, the evening unravelled some pretty gonzo-esque events…

UBUD, BALI (CONT’D):
Day 03:

  • So later on that afternoon, after writing the previous post, I walked back to my new homestay at Ubud Sedana, where I got acquainted with my new neighbour: a German lad, who is presently residing in Australia.
  • We were both nearing the ends of our stay in Ubud, so we decided to meet back up later that evening to go to one of the most ‘happening’ pubs in Ubud to finish off our trip with a bang.
  • After three rounds of Extra Joss and vodka, and whiskey and Coke, we found ourselves chillin’ at the pub with good company and shisha. However, after topping off the former drinks with six more shots and a lychee mojito (you can’t get any more multicultural than that), I had to run back to the homestay, only to cleanse my body of the drinks via my esophagus.

Day 04:

  • Bless the souls of the roosters in the courtyard of Ubud Sedana: if it weren’t for them, I probably would have slept in, missing my flight back to Medan.
  • Because the doors can only be locked by a room key from the inside, rather than a standard lock, I woke up in laughter while still in a semi-drunk state, as I had momentarily lost my keys (which were hiding in the in crevasse of my bed), therefore locking myself in my room. Whoops.
  • Again, lucking out in Bali, my former scuba diving instructor that I had last year while living in Makassar (who over the past year has become a bro), was diving in Tulamben. He and his school mate from his studies in Holland – who is actually originally from Spain, but currently living in Koh Tao, Thailand (remember that lychee mojito? I take that back: you can’t get any more multicultural than this) – were heading down to Denpasar the same day I had to catch my flight. Perfect! Killed three birds with one stone: saved 50,000 IDR in transportation costs, travelled with old/new pals, and trekked in the comfort of the private auto mobile (a major bonus considering my nausea).

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Some hungover chick, the scuba diving master, and the Spaniard living in Thailand who studied in Holland (again, multiculturalism at its finest)..

MEDAN, SUMATRA:

  • After a four hour delay in Jakarta, my family back in Medan so graciously picked me up at Polonia International Airport during the wee hours of the morning.
  • The remainder of my stay in Medan essentially consisted of family gatherings, family gatherings and family gatherings. And I can’t complain. It was amusing reminiscing on and fascinating learning about my childhood in Indonesia (apparently I used to be covered in mosquito bites and calamine lotion. Fun fact: I’ve never gotten malaria), and discovering the Batak roots of the Siregar family (e.g.: being raised on Dutch colonial sites; the palm oil plantation bizz; each of the seven sisters’ – including my ma – adventures during their adolescence ).
  • One of the most genuine relations I’ve had with my mom’s side of the family has been with my uncle, Om (uncle) Kiki, who I remember used to carved me and my brother wooden pencil cases and draw us sketches of Earthworm Jim just for fun. When we left Medan, saying goodbye to him (and the rest of the crew, of course) wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
  • Here are some photographs of our last couple days in Medan:

ImageEnjoying ayam pecel with the most comical aunt.

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The legend (Om Kiki) himself.

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Over the short few weeks in Medan, this gazebo became the primo hangout spot.

ImageSome very modest cousins.

LIFE AFTER INDONESIA (BUT STILL IN ASIA):

  • After the expected few hours of sleep that we got during our final night in Medan, mi madre and I hopped on a plane to Singapore, where we spent one night in Little India.
  • Although we were burnt out anyway, we thought we’d exhaust ourselves out even more so we could go to bed early (having to wake up at 2:30 the following day in order to catch an early morning flight to Hong Kong). Activities included being overwhelmed by the craziness of Mustafa Centre, being overwhelmed by the craziness of Orchid Road, and not being overwhelmed by the craziness – but rather at ease with the tranquillity and aroma of shisha – on Arab Street.

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Mayhem on Orchid Road.

ImageMosque on Arab Street.

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Alcohol-free perfume shop.

  • After our short stay in Singapore,we boarded a plane to Hong Kong where we had a short (just kidding) ten-hour layover. So, we did some exploring in the city centre and had dim sum (duh) in Kowloon.

ImageRia getting her bean curd dim sum on.

ImageSleepy time in HK (I am so with you gents).

LIFE AFTER ASIA (IN CANADA):

  • Well, obviously I miss Indonesia like crazy, but we gotta face the reality that all good things come to an end.
  • Exciting things are brewing for Gonzo (work back at the summer camp and transferring universities) in the months to come.
  • However, travelling will ALWAYS be on my agenda. In fact, as soon as landing on home turf and being reunited with family and freinds, discussion of future travels were already being talked about.
  • Picked up the bruv the day after our arrival from his rugby tournament in Japan, and I am genuinely thrilled about the new lad that this opportunity has made out of him.

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Travel sickness will probably take a bigger slap to my face once I get over this jet lag, but in the meantime, let’s leave this post on a optimistic note. Welcome home, Kaleem. Hope your recent travels have brought the same joys that mine did this time last year (plus two days).

Yes, My Eyebrows Are Real

Salutations from Ubud, where Gonzo is presently mooching off a Mexican restaurant’s wifi (authentic, I know).

Since setting up camp in Lombok, life has been eventful. Let me fill you in in the most organizational manner I can provide for you…

SENGGIGI, LOMBOK:

  • In sum, adventures here consisted of bonding with my most comical aunt, and the mamacita. Also, the original intent of the trip here was to check out my mum’s old stomping grounds when she was the leader of Canada World Youth (an exchange program, AKA the program that hitched my ‘rents… essentially I owe them a big one, or yours truly wouldn’t be alive).
  • Went to the Sade Village. Members of the village still practice their age-old tradition of kidnapping potential wives, all in the name of love.
  • Later, we went to Kuta Beach (which is not be confused with Kuta, Bali), where we spent a mere 10,000 IDR ($1.00 CAD) for a fishing boat to take us out to sea so I could swim in my undies and urinate in Lombok’s beautiful turquoise waters (I’m so sorry).
  • Our driver (but I’d rather call him a homie) Zacky then drove us back to Senggigi, where my mama and auntie bought martabak manis/terang bulan (an extremely rich pancake from originally from the Middle East), while I pulled a classic Mir Mir manoeuvre and got masakan Padang bunkus (to-go).
  • Spontaneously booked plane tickets for the three of us to head to Bali.
  • Met family friends from Medan who run a pediatric centre in Lombok. Extremely friendly, and gave me jell-o. Yum.

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DENPASAR/KUTA, BALI:

  • As luck would have it, the mother was fiercely struck with a stomach illness as soon as we landed in Denpasar (I should throw in that our plane getting there was hella old school – we’re talking propellers so loud I couldn’t even hear the flight attendants on the intercom, and luscious navy blue shagged furnishings – groovy, baby).
  • But, typical Ria (my mum) was such a trooper and recovered the next day after being heavily medicated by prescribed antibiotics by another aunt back in Medan (who actually helped me quickly recover from a stomach flu when I was sick last year in Jakarta).
  • Because of the present situation, we hectically jumped to reserve a hotel right on Kuta’s main strip. Felt like I was in rap video. Yo.
  • In fact, this hotel was located right next to the surf school that me and bruv went to last year when we were in Kuta, and go figure: they remembered us! On a side note, you gotta appreciate how stoned the surfers look because of excessive exposure to salt water (or maybe it’s not the water…).
  • Checked out Pasar Krishna, which is pretty much a crazy Costco/Tesco/whatever y’all have in your country of residence, but solely committed to Balinese souvenirs.
  • Went to a Hard Rock Café for the first time, and surprisingly I thoroughly enjoyed it: the live music was good, excellent stage present, and it was grand just watching my mum and her sister enjoying themselves.
  • Mama and the aunt headed back to Medan after two nights in Kuta, while I stayed on the island, and found myself headed a bit further up north for Ubud.

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UBUD, BALI:
Day 01:

  • Before going to the homestay, the youngster who drove me took Gonzo to a sweet temple after swerving around the afternoon traffic that builds up as flights from everywhere land and provide travelers who crave the zen ambience of Ubud.
  • After arriving at my homestay (Pondok Oka), I went for a long walk about Ubud’s centre with memories of last year’s travels with family and friends (awe).
  • Went to Gianyar’s night market, which is all about the babi guling (suckling pig), which I passed on, but helped myself to some sayur pecel, tempe and papaya. PS: a lady I photographed last year who made me sayur pecel was in the exact same vending spot. Check it out the original photo here.

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Day 02:

  • Kicked off the morning with some pisang goring courtesy of the homestay and a tomato smoothie (so delish), and a morning chat with Agung, one of the gentlemen who runs the homestay.
  • I’ll throw in this: the two guys – Agung and his nephew, Agung (no joke) – who run the homestay, are some of the most accommodating and happy folks I know. Not only did they provide a bike for me to ride free of charge (all about the savings, baby), but seem to take deep interest in the well-being of their guests.
  • Went to Ubud’s art market to get some more souvenirs. But before delving into the art of the market, chilled outside with some new buds: a taxi driver and a parking guide, who initially didn’t believe my eyebrows were real. After gallivanting inside (and getting more remarks about the brows), hung outside again with the new pals, this time minus the parking guide (who was busy making it rain IDR directing motor vehicles), but ft. an toothless older gentleman, dressed in Balinese attire, offering body massages (what?).
  • Found a rice field with a cement path and stairs that allowed me to enjoy leftovers from Gianyar smack-dab in the middle of the greenery. Best lunch I think I’ve ever had.
  • Checked out the Balinese tradition of the Kecak dance (known as the monkey dance), which is followed by a fire dance, where a horse rider who is in a trance runs through hot coals. The horse (made of straw) carried by the rider and gamelan beats puts him in a trance that allows him to run through the coals. The function of this segment of the dance is to protect society from evil forces. Again, Agung’s hospitality was brought to the surface as he accompanied me and gave a lift to and from the performance.
  • Finished off the day with a night bike ride to the most delicious Thai cuisine (and most expensive meal in Indo at a whopping $10.00 CAD) I’ve had: crispy fish and mango salad ft. vegan thom kau soup. One of the owners, Rata, left me with some words of wisdom, and although I can’t quote him word for word, it went a little something like this: “if we are happy today, our future is happy”. In sum, be happy everyday folks, and your future looks bright.

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Day 03:

  • Today, being my last full day in Ubud, I decided to treat myself to a spa day (damn, I feel like a Stepford wife). You know, a sore ass (from biking; get your mind out of the gutter) calls for a good ol’ massage. However, the spa, Bali Hati, makes pampering yourself a good deed for others. Their program functions to empower Balinese men and women through education, employment and health.
  • We’ll see what the remainder of my stay in beautiful Ubud has for me. In the meantime, I leave you with a photo of the gents who have made my stay as excellent as it has been so far:

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