Good bye Puerto Natales, Hello Navimag!

It’s our last night in Puerto Natales.

Well, technically that’s not entirely true. It’s our last night at the B&B in Puerto Natales – tomorrow night we’ll be sleeping on the ship as we have to “check in” the night before it departs (feel certain there must be a specific nautical term for this occurrence but have no clue what it might be. “Sets sail”? Only the ferry doesn’t have sails to set. Hm.) early on Sunday morning.

As usual, I’m experiencing pangs about having to leave some place I’ve come to love. (It’s an interesting sensation, having a simultaneous abundance of both wanderlust and sentimentality)

We have a draft itinerary for the rest of our time in Chile and there is no place we plan to spend as much time as we’ve ended up spending here in Puerto Natales (unless more unexpected things happen – never say never 😉 ). I’ve arrived in Chile with only a vague sense about the country and I still can’t really imagine what awaits us as we travel north through this shoe string of a country. What I can say though is that Puerto Natales has given us a lovely introduction and welcome. It’s felt really natural staying here and I’ve enjoyed every moment. The city is the gateway to the Torres Del Paine national park and yes, the park IS as incredible and beautiful as everyone says and I’m not lessening it at all but it’s really this little tourist-town-on-the-off-season and the experiences we’ve had here that have charmed me entirely, and entirely unexpectedly. What a lovely thing to have gotten stranded here. 😀

Happily we have something really exciting and adventurous as our next step, which tempers the verklemptness somewhat! 🙂 And that is four nights, three days on the Navimag ferry!

This is a trip through the Patagonian fjords along Chile’s southern coastline, and from all accounts, it can be either sublime or downright hellish. I suspect the reality will fall somewhere in between – so long as the weather isn’t too uncooperative.

(Well, we will see – according to Navimag’s website we are traveling during the second rainiest, second coldest month of the year. There is probably a reason why there are only two other tourists traveling on the ship with us. In fact we’re bunking with them in a room that appears just big enough to fit two bunk beds. Please keep your fingers crossed for both decent weather and decent company!)

I don’t think I can explain it better than Lonely Planet, so please excuse this large excerpt:

The Navimag Experience: The good, the bad & the ugly

Back in the prehistoric Patagonian travel days of the 1980s and the early ‘90s, travelers had to beg and swindle just to stow away on the rusty cargo freighters that plied the waters between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales. No regular passenger ferries were installed as tourism to the region increased, but the Navimag shipping company caught on and decided to dedicate a section of their boats to passenger transportation. So, these days, you can have that same experience of stowing away on a freighter – packed with 18-wheelers, drunken truck drivers and cattle – but you can make a reservation online and they will charge you hundreds of dollars for your bunk.

The Navimag is not a cruise. If you are looking for a cruise, check out Skorpios and ready your credit card. The Navimag is a quirky travel experience that comes with the good, the bad and the ugly. If you like to have different experiences and are adventurous it just might be the highlight of your trip.

The Good

The boat takes you through days of uninhabited fjords, close encounters with glaciers and views of surreal orange sunsets over the Pacific. It passes through Aisen’s maze of narrow channels, navigates the Angostura Inglesa (a passage so confined that the ship seems to graze the shoreline on both sides) and stops at the impossibly remote Puerto Eden, a small fishing port (etc. etc. – other things that we probably won’t do because of the time of the year, as I’ve been told by the guy at the Navimag office here in town…)

Beyond the stellar scenery, the trip has become a unique bonding experience for independently minded travelers. Strangers become tight friends after numerous bottles of wine, round after round of pointless card games, sympathizing about queasy stomachs (I hope we have enough Dramamine to go around!) deck-top soccer matches, late-night dance parties and plans to meet up in Torres del Paine (most travelers do the opposite direction apparently). Even though the ship’s common spaces are bare and not particularly comfortable, the crew does a yeoman’s job of trying to entertain with games, slide shows, music and a respectable selection of English-language movies.

The Bad

If the weather is poor, your views are limited and you will spend much of your time watching movies or drinking in the dining area. If the weather is worse, you can spend a day or so pitching back and forth on rough seas and fighting to hold down your lunch. If the weather is worse than that your trip can be delayed (for days) prior to departure and you can even be delayed en route if the Golfo de Penas (on the open Pacific) is too rough to cross (the guy at the office told me that too rough means waves higher than 4.5 meters. Yikes.)

In the winter the boat can have less than a dozen passengers (check!), which can be fine or can really detract from the social experience. In the heart of summer, it is often so full that people are packed on top of each other and must dine in shifts. A very crowded boat can make the cramped downstairs dorm rooms seem less bearable.

The Ugly

During the winter, when there are fewer passengers and more cargo, hundreds of head of cattle are kept on the top and middle decks in open-top trucks. They are packed together so tightly that not all animals can keep their feet on the ground and after a day or two the stench of 300 cattle can be tough on your nose – especially if you are already seasick.

However, as you should know by now, no valuable travel experience comes without a dose of hardship. If you have the time, trips on the Navimag will not only change the way that you understand Chilean Patagonia, it will also add depth to your entire trip.

So, let’s see what happens.

Earlier when we booked I was really wondering what we were getting ourselves into. I’m definitely feeling calmer now and mostly just curious to see what it will be like.

Also, it helps to remember our time on the cargo ship in Myanmar – how those three days became and remain one of THE big highlights of our trip so far. Yes, we were sleeping on a one-inch mattress, the nights were freezing cold and I didn’t shower for days, but it was just magic and I wouldn’t give up a second of it. The fjords and open ocean will be something completely different from the Irrawaddy River, and the Navimag ferry is at least 10 times cushier than our ferry in Myanmar.

So, let the adventure begin! 🙂 We’ll be offline for at least a few days, so see you again once we reach Puerto Montt!

Before I go though, here’s a quick peak at Chilean Patagonia… Tons more photos to come at some point in the future… 🙂

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Travel is ruining me

Being on the road again after the three-month break in the States with my family has got me thinking.

If you don’t count the visit with my family as being home (which it is and it isn’t, since home for me for nearly six years prior to that had been Switzerland, and living with your parents temporarily isn’t the same as having your own home, even if you DO feel wonderfully at home with them and in your childhood house as I luckily do.), I’ve been homeless and traveling for a year and 8 ½ months; Roman’s been away from Switzerland three weeks shy of that. Kinda crazy.

It’s feeling totally normal and wonderful and great to be traveling again. Australia, I have to say, is a fantastic country to get back in the saddle with after the comforts of my parents’ house. No language barriers like in Asia and thus far the people are tremendously friendly and it’s been drop dead gorgeous. But I digress.

I’ve been catching some of the thoughts that float from time to time through my mind since we’ve been on the move again and I’m wondering if travel – this sort of travel anyhow – isn’t making me into a slightly worse person. You always hear that travel broadens your perspective of the world but I am wondering about the areas where things might be getting more narrow.

This first came to my attention in Sydney, where we met up with some friends of ours.

The couple we met worked at the same company I did in Switzerland. They quit around the same time Roman and I did to do an extended trip around the world, just like us. We traveled to different places, but some themes were the same. One was how it’s often difficult to talk about the trip with “the folks back home”. We loved being able to “talk shop” with fellow travelers, we oohed and ahhed as we compared itineraries and travel experiences in a way that we would never inflict on most people.

Another friend was an awesome guy we had met and hung out with in India over a few days in Varanasi and one super dinner in Delhi. We met for drinks and dinner and although we caught up about life in general, we also spent a lot of time collectively missing and loving India. Between the good memories, wonderful conversation and delicious wine, I felt like I was floating on clouds by the end of the evening, basking in the goodness of what was and what had been.

These get-togethers were fantastic, but they made me ponder about shared experiences and if my/our chances of sharing about some of the places we’ve been and things we have done have grown narrower as we’ve spread ourselves more widely across this big planet.

And then I realized that maybe even having thoughts like this make me into a wanker. Like, who has these kind of problems/musings??

Let me demonstrate. Here are some of the ways that this kind of travel is ruining me.

  • We’ve been in Australia for 3 ½ weeks. We just booked our flights out of the country, which means that we are currently half way through our time in Australia. Considering that we spent over three MONTHS in India, which is about half the size of Australia, 6 weeks in a country this size now seems like only a short visit. While most people in America only get 2 weeks off per year. I may be a jerk.
  • We’ve been to some absolutely amazing places. We are becoming increasingly hard to impress. (Although on the flip side there is a lot of stuff we love and are interested in so we aren’t at all jaded about any of the stuff we’ve done.) For example, while on the Ocean Road here in Australia we went for a tree top walk through a gorgeous rain forest in Otway. The woods were lovely, the trees stunning. The dinosaur exhibit was hilarious. We enjoyed it totally but there was not much “wow factor” compared to the views of the ocean we’d been treated to earlier and indeed we were a bit disappointed by the lack of fauna, since that morning we’d literally woken up under trees inhabited by super-cute-adorable-cuddly-looking koalas. Which was just as awesome as it sounds. I may be a snob.
  • If you’ve been following this blog at all you may have noticed that I. Love. Food. Well, let me be more specific. I love good food; I really love REALLY GOOD FOOD. We’ve had all sorts of REALLY GOOD FOOD all over the place. Which is awesome. And awful. Cause now I’ll find myself craving home cooked Indian food from my friends’ house in Delhi. Or that bangin’ ginger salad that the totally rad skinny little chef made on the cargo boat on the Irrawaddy River. Or mango sticky rice from my favorite place in Thailand. Or a Beerlao. Or that incredible fish dish from Cambodia. Or the best espresso I have ever had in Siem Reap of all places. Or fried up lotus root that we had at our Chinese school in Yangshuo. You get the point. And the point is, when the heck am I going to get to eat those delicious things again?? The point is also that when you get to eat such awesome stuff, your tolerance for sub-par food goes down. There is no “may” about this one, I AM a food snob.

So, is travel opening my eyes, heart and stomach to big, wonderful, exciting world? Yes! Is it turning me into a snob and possibly a jerk and/or wanker? Yes to the first and quite possibly to the second. Am I ok with this? If being ok with it means we get to keep traveling, I think I am. 😉

Thai Island Dream: Part 2 (Phuket Boat Charter continued)

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The three days on the Aquila passed like a dream. Hours melted leisurely from one to the other until the moments felt timeless. The scenery changed around us continually but gradually and, whether a gently rippling ocean marked by distant islands on a hazy horizon, towering cumulus clouds ablaze in a fiery sunset, peaceful strips of white beach on seemingly deserted islands or chunks of limestone the size of buildings covered in green foliage and appearing to hover over the water, it was always absolutely spectacular.

I lost track of time and the names of all the places we dropped anchor pretty quickly. Roman was more organized than me however, so thanks to him, here is the laundry list of places we apparently stopped to visit or spent the night anchored off of.

Koh Racha
Koh Mai Ton
Koh Phi Phi Don
Ko Yung
Ko Lanta

A lot of time was spent just chatting and enjoying the scenery and relaxed vibe on deck, napping in the sun, listening to music on the boat’s great sound system, snacking on coffee awesome fresh banana bread. When we weren’t doing that, there was plenty of other fun to be had.

Markus is a certified PADI instructor and gave us a basic intro to diving. The first morning we stopped at a resort beach where he took us through the beginner diver exercises in the clear waters just off shore. We spent the night by the shores of another island that had a great spot to do some easy diving. After a leisurely breakfast and getting warm in the sun, we got geared up, hopped into the dinghy, and got underwater to check out the underwater action.

I’d done a couple of hotel dive courses years ago, but it was Roman’s first dive. We both totally enjoyed it – except for the big patches of stinging particles we encountered. I got one big bunch right in the mouth – so painful! Luckily when you’re underwater no one can hear you curse! 😉  Aside from that though it was great – I love the feeling of moving in three dimensions under water like you’re flying, and the fish and other animals we got to see around the reef were fascinating and fun to see. It was enough to whet our appetite for more… 🙂

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View from the ship of the beach where we learned diving basics the first morning

Another thing I loved was swimming and kayaking right off the edge of the boat.

We went to the island where scenes from the movie “The Beach” were filmed. You can get there by the main beach but then you have to pay an entrance fee. We went via the back end of the island. Markus parked, and Roman, Narita and I hopped off and swam through deep, jewel-colored waters to a rickety ladder attached to sharp, craggy limestone. After clambering up the ropes and boards, we made it to a jungle path that led to the main beach. This was packed with tourists, but beautiful none-the-less, and we enjoyed a leisurely swim in light aquamarine waters book-ended by towering lime-stone cliffs before returning the way we came and swimming back to the Aquila.

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View from the ship of the ladder (top right corner) we swam to and climbed to get to the island from “The Beach”

We went kayaking at a couple of places. First within a lagoon created by another set of limestone cliffs. Apparently the place was usually full of tourist-packed motor-boats but we went late enough in the day that we had it nearly to ourselves. Roman and I were in one kayak and Markus and Narita in the other; it was surreal and fun to hear Markus’ perfect Swiss yodel echoing across the water and limestone walls. 😉 Roman and I did a solo kayak run the next day, exploring the edges of some massive limestone boulders off the shore of an island, where we got sprayed as the surf got sucked through small caves, watched beautiful crabs scale the vertical walls of rock and dare-devil swallows wing wildly from their cliff-side nests.

Snorkeling was also amazing. I’d never done that before and once I got the hang of it, I loved it and was totally mesmerized by the amazing world to be seen and experienced under the water.

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A school of sergeant major fish come to greet Roman (and beg for food) as he descends for some snorkelling

The food was also a major highlight – Uan is a phenomenal cook and the meals we got on board were hands down the best Thai food we had while in Thailand. The ingredients were fresh and the cooking was inspired – Uan didn’t plan ahead but let the ingredients and his mood lead the way. Breakfast was western – and even Swiss on occassion. 🙂 Sunday morning Markus was thoughtful enough to serve us Zopf with Nutella – the classic Sunday breakfast treat in Switzerland.

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Fresh tuna just pulled out of the ocean. It may be small but it still made blazin’ good sashimi!

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Fish in an incredible orange sauce with yellow peppers. I wish I had this recipe!!!

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The crew knew I am crazy about asparagus – so, asparagus with shrimp in a simply but delicious sauce

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Another incredible fish dish – tons of garlic and green onion = heaven for me and Roman

I really can’t rave enough about our time on board with Markus, Narita, Uan and (if I remember correctly!) Mai – so I’ll end the post here and let just some of the photos of the beautiful things we saw do the rest of the talking for me.

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Sunset, the first night on board

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The ship’s anchor, with marigold garlands

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Islands on the horizon

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Afternoon coffee on deck

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View from the deck during afternoon coffee…

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Long tail boat in front of limestone karst

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There was heat lightning each night we were on board. This photo is from the second night, docked off of Monkey Beach, when it was particularly beautiful. I tried for ages to capture it; in the dark on a moving ship with my camera, this shot (slightly altered in iPhoto) is the closest I got. The red dot on the water is a ship close by, the green dots on the horizon to the right are the neon lights from squid ships further afield.

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Our neighbor, morning at Monkey Beach

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Morning view

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Uan, Narita and Mai eating food they picked up on shore at Ko Lanta – way too hot for us farangs

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Sunset, the last night on board, off shore from Ko Lanta

Thai Island Dream: Part 1 (Phuket Boat Charter)

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We spent the last two and a half weeks before my trip home with some absolutely amazing island hopping in the Andaman Sea along Thailand’s west coast.

We decided to skip the coast’s best-known beaches at Phuket and Krabi, but went all out setting up a dream itinerary:

Three days and three nights on a private boat, sailing and exploring islands on the way from Phuket to Ko Lanta.

A week taking in the beautiful views, tasty food and charms of Ko Lanta.

Another week getting our dive certification on and around the sun-drenched, white-sand beaches of Ko Lipe.

Certainly the most expensive bunch of travel we have done our entire trip, but we were helped out by an incredibly generous gift from Roman’s mom (thank you Petra! 🙂 ), and it was all so amazing – I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could! 🙂

The beginning

We booked the boat with Phuket Boat Charter. The price was all-inclusive and covered the crew, including a chef, all food and drinks to our preferences and drop off at the island of our choice. All we had to do was meet Markus, the Swiss skipper, at the dock at the appointed time, and our adventure would begin.

We had booked the charter while we were still up in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province on the east coast, so we caught a VIP night bus (insanely decorated in deep blue and painfully bright neon – I felt like I was inside a black lit fishbowl – but comfortable enough, especially once the lights were off) from outside of Ban Krud to get down to Phuket.

The trip was easy enough and we found a room at dive shop called Crystal Clear. Their rooms were off of a stairwell at the back end of a lightly populated bar serviced by a somewhat intense lady-boy. The rooms themselves beautifully cool and clean in all white with a lovely, fluffy duvet on the bed that reminded me of Switzerland. We were staying in a part of town called Chalong, away from Phuket’s beaches but close to the dock and, conveniently, the immigration office where we had to extend our visas.

After a day and a half to rest up from the overnight drive and sort out admin, we woke up early and headed to Jimmy’s Lighthouse where we’d arranged to meet Markus. He and his cute Thai girlfriend (her name escapes me at the moment. 😦 She was totally sweet though. Maybe I’ll remember after some coffee…) were both totally easy-going and sweet and made us instantly comfortable. We took off our shoes (wouldn’t see them again for days!), loaded our bags and ourselves into an inflated dinghy and headed out to meet our boat.

First sight

The Aquila is a trimaran, a sailboat with three hulls. The central hull is the largest and holds the control room, a simple kitchen and dining room, space for the crew. The smaller outside hulls are bedrooms with private bathrooms, simple, but nice enough since the real place to be was on deck, which ended up serving as a superb out-door dining room, bar, lounge for reading, napping and sunbathing and pool-side.

Roman and I were both agape as we boarded the ship, gleeful at the realization that this was going to be our home and life for the next three days. Markus introduced us to his daughter, Narita, who was a fun addition to the party, and Uan, the chef who doubled as crew when an extra hand was needed, and invited us to relax at the breakfast table while the crew got us out of the harbor and on our way.

That pretty much set the tone for the whole trip. The crew was totally friendly and easy-going and the atmosphere was so relaxed. It felt like hanging out with friends. But when it came to meals, equipment prep and the like, we never had to lift a finger and we ended up feeling totally spoiled by Markus and company.

So, that first morning we sat on deck with a lovely breakfast, enjoying the morning sun glimmering off the bright waters of Phuket’s harbor as the island pulled away from us and we headed towards our first destination.

India recap: Christmas

After the overnight in Bengalaru, we flew to Cochin where we’d arranged a two-day package that included an overnight on a houseboat – our Christmas present to ourselves, (from us and my sister – thank you Smoo!). The package was a bit pricey, but really well coordinated and it all felt incredibly indulgent. 😀

We were picked up at the airport and driven through small, tropical towns towards our first Kerala destination, Kumarakom. It was funny to see things like houses, gas stations and shops in the midst of what – to my inexperienced eye – looked rather like a jungle. It seems like the plant life in that part of Kerala definitely has the upper hand. As buildings and concrete tends to encroach upon any greenery in large cities, so the flora seemed to be crowding out all the man-made structures in the towns leading up to the Kerala backwaters.

After driving for well over an hour into the increasingly lush landscape, our car took a turn onto a narrow dirt path flanked by rice paddies on the right and the start of the backwaters on the left. We bumped along until we came to a simple but lovely hotel at the edge of the peninsula where we spent the night. Highlights that stand out in my mind:

-Enjoying the soft breeze on the roof of a boat during a “sunset cruise”. As the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, we watched as one by one, hundreds of massive fruit bats winged slowly out of the palm forest and flew out above the backwaters.

-Dinner of Karimeen (pearl fish – a typical Kerala dish) in the outdoor restaurant. Fun was when the power cut out and we were left in the pitch black, listening to all the sounds of the critters in and around the backwaters. 🙂

-Our room came with a very effective air conditioner. The exhaust for the AC went directly into the bathroom. After 5 minutes of the AC being on, the bathroom was hotter than an oven! Built in sauna! 😉

In the morning of Christmas Eve, our houseboat arrived to pick us up. It came with a three-man crew; two guys to man the ship and a cook who were all lovely. The boat was massive and I was excited by our on-board bedroom – one of the cleanest places we’ve stayed in India! 🙂

It was a bit surreal trip being on a houseboat again – I had done an overnight on one towards the end of the group trip and it had been such a highlight of that portion of my travels. It was wonderful to be able to share it with Roman as well but my mind did wander to the wonderful folks I traveled with during my first three weeks in India.

My thoughts were also very much with my family in the States. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I love celebrating it with them at home. But the past few years I’ve been in Switzerland for the holidays. Being on a boat in the tropics and knowing that they were all sharing in my nephew’s first Christmas, I felt further away than ever.

I know I am so blessed to be able to be doing this trip, to have the life that I do – I am so grateful for this. But sometimes I wonder how long it will be till I get to share Christmas with them again. Part of this big trip is about figuring out where to live next and daydreams of holidays with my family certainly factor into my speculation, but right now the journey is still feeling so new and I don’t have any sort of clarity on when I might next be passing out gifts from the under the tree at my parents’ house…

My pining aside, it was a magical Christmas Eve. The boat docked in a lagoon filled with water hyacinths and Roman and I watched the sun setting over the water and the fireflies emerge in the darkness. The peacefulness and splendor of the pristine nature were just amazing. Later in the evening we had a lovely meal on the boat, and were even visited by a group of local boys who sang us a very lively Christmas carol and passed out sweets. I have to say, the paper-mache Santa masks kind of gave me the creeps – felt a bit more like a visit from Halloween trick-or-treaters. 😉 Definitely a different Christmas! 🙂

Wildlife at the hotel in Kumarakom

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Dragonfly at the water’s edge

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The big blob in the middle of the shot is one of those massive fruit bats!

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The picture quality is not great, but here it is cropped so you can get a better look

Christmas on the houseboat

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Our houseboat pulling in! 🙂

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Look at that clean, lovely bed! 🙂

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Fishermen on the backwaters

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Soda for sale

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Docked for the night

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Sunset on the backwaters

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Trick or treat?

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Water hyacinth detail. These plants were all over on the backwaters and I just loved them. Hundreds of the flowers were open in the morning sunshine on Christmas day. This photo was taken with the digital zoom on Roman’s camera from very far away, so the quality is not the best, but  wanted a close up – I love the pattern on them, like a little flame on the top petal.

Delhi delights

So, catching up with the here and now finally in this blog: We are in Delhi, have been and will be for a bit longer. It’s an extended stay as I’m helping my dear friend Ritu out with a couple of things while we are in town. Not to mention we are also getting spoiled totally rotten by her and her family! They’ve taken us in as their own kin and we are really getting the royal treatment.

We are taking advantage of the time here to check out some of the tourist sites Delhi has to offer and get a bit of an insider’s view as we wander around town with Ritu and her mom. I’m also enjoying the girl time immensely – long chats with Ritu, checking out the shops, a spa visit (:-D ), glasses of wine. Feels totally indulgent and lovely! And we are also indulging our love of the food here – trying new things every day and so far everything has been delicious. (with one exception: Paan! ;-))  I am pretty sure we will be leaving Delhi a bit heavier than we entered it! 😉

Last night we had an unusual treat – Italian food at the Imperial Hotel! This has got to be one of the poshest places I’ve ever been to. Massive, elegant, clean, peaceful and, above all, incredibly opulent inside, it felt worlds away from the Delhi we have come to know and it was surreal to be transported in this way simply by driving through the gate and stepping through the hotel’s doors.  I know wealth like this exists everywhere in the world but somehow it felt more extreme due to the massive gap between rich and poor in this country. Bizarre but also a really fun night out with Roman, Ritu and her mom. I think my stomach was equally confused and delighted by the re-introduction to pasta and Parmesan after so long! 😉

We’re also using the time to work on the logistics for the next leg of the journey. It’s incredible to me that we have so many options and so much freedom to choose where, what, when. What a blessing. Life is GOOD! 🙂

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Paan: intense flavors – almost too intense 😉

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We got henna designs on our hands

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Apparently, once the henna sets, they say that the darkness of the tint indicates how well your mother-in-law will treat you. Looks like I am in luck if I ever get married. 😉

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Night markets

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Statues for sale, viewed from behind at the night market

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I love the bags hanging from the trunk of the tree

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Fake flowers for sale

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Yummy roast sweet potato

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Back at beautiful Qutb Minar – love it there. Woman on a cell phone among the ruins.

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Building detail

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Bamboo scaffolding inside of the buildings

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Building detail

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Building detail, tower in the background (unfortunately the program MarsEdit seems to have a bug; it cuts off some of the landscape photos. 😛 )

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Fountain and fine art inside the ultra posh Imperial Hotel

Photo impressions from the group trip: Part 5/5 (Kerela)

After four days in Mcleod Ganj, we flew to the southern state of Kerela, where we visited multiple destinations. Our first stop was Cochin, where it was amazing to see the huge Christian presence; there were churches everywhere and pharmacies and banks were often included something Christian sounding in the name.

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At the oldest European church in India, St. Francis.

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Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama used to be buried here.

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The Chinese fishing nets

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Men handling the rocks that counterbalance the nets

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At the fish market

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Pigeons looking for a snack

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On the way to the old synagogue

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Outside the Cochin Jewish Synagogue. Unfortunately we couldn’t go in, as it is closed on Fridays.

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Synagogue detail

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The next stop on the Kerala tour was Kumarakom, where we stayed at the most amazing hotel of the whole trip: the eco-resort Coconut Lagoon (http://www.cghearth.com/coconut_lagoon/index.htm). Accessible only by boat, focused on sustainability, local tradition, serenity and quality, this place was just amazing!

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Upon arrival, we were all handed coconuts with straws in them. After drinking the refreshing water, we could have them cracked open at the coconut hut so we could eat the meat inside.

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There is a butterfly garden on the grounds, which was full of the beautiful, fluttering things. This one was the largest – nearly as big as my hand, but it refused to stay still to have its picture taken. 🙂

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Kingfisher (the bird, not the beer 😉 ) hanging out by the butterfly garden.

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The food on offer was just great. My lunch: vegetable thali.

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As cool as everything about this place was, my personal favorite thing was the outdoor bathroom. 🙂 Too cool!

We were sad to leave Coconut Lagoon the next day already, but soon forgot our dismay when we saw our next form of accommodation: an incredible houseboat that would take us along the Kerala backwaters in Allepy! Incredible ambiance, service and food, this was possibly the most relaxing part of the whole group trip for me, as mostly I just lounged, ate and enjoyed the great scenery and company. 🙂

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View from our dining room at the front of the boat.

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View from the upstairs lounge.

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Lunch included local fish – delicious

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Along the backwaters

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Docked for the night

Our final stop in Kerala was Kovalam. We stayed at a massive hotel on a hill overlooking the Indian ocean. The beach was beautiful but the waves were massive and wild – nothing for a weak swimmer like me. Happily, the place had a beautiful pool, an ayurvedic spa, a fantastic restaurant, and my longed for Pina Coladas – I was a happy camper (and too busy lounging to take too many pictures ;-))!

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View of the Indian Ocean from the hotel grounds

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Statue of Ganesh in the lobby.

After the beautiful stay in Kovalam, it was time for the group to head to Delhi and then head on to our next destinations. I was so excited to meet Roman in Delhi, but was also sad that the group trip was coming to an end. For me then, it was a wonderful bonus that there was a mix up in the flights, and most of the group ended up spending an extra night and day in Delhi. It was such a gift to have some bonus time with them and with Roman that next day! 🙂 Thank you again everyone who was on the group trip with me for making those first three weeks in India so amazing. 🙂