Birds and Loops

Sometimes we become unaware of each other.  And over time, we begin to take even the simplest of gestures for granted. Simple gestures which have somehow turned into reflexes without any thought. Gestures such as a gentle nod of approval, or even holding hands eventually become overlooked.

Koh Chang is where it all began. Our first scooter, or as we like to refer it to as the “putt putting” machine (because the engine makes this continuous putt-putt-putt-putt sound when you’re on the go). It was the most brilliant decision Phil made for our trip, despite our initial fear of broken bones and road rashes. The scooter opened up a whole new perspective for us. We were no longer restricted to the five-mile radius around our hostel. We no longer had to wait for shared tuk tuk rides. We were always on the go, and we went everywhere we pleased and stopped whenever we wanted to.

Sitting in the back as Phil weaves us through the traffic, dodging pot holes from ill constructed roads, getting lost on the mountain trails in utter darkness, or getting drenched from sudden downpours has become my favorite part of the day. It’s when we make up silly songs to sing aloud as if no one can hear us.  It’s when I get to wrap my arms around his waist and feel him breathe steadily. It’s also when he suddenly becomes the little spoon. It’s when I stretch my arms out and attempt to flap them as fast as I can, pretending to fly. It’s when I get to close my eyes and rest my head on his back after a long day out. I’ve never felt safer, never closer, never freer.

IMG_3016

IMG_2982

IMG_3021

IMG_3017

IMG_3020

72 hours: Varanasi

As we come close to the end of our week in Varanasi. We are finally settling into our travel routines, and finding out just how we prefer to spend our days. To be honest, I’ve never been particularly active or enthused about seeing artifacts and visiting temples. So Phil and I have come to an agreement that we will do as we please, and plan each day as we wake.

One place that you can’t possibly miss in this holy city would definitely have to be the burning ghats of Varanasi. During the day time, you can walk along the ghats. But the best would be at night, when the ceremonies begin. We’ve seen boats with actual tour guides speaking through microphones, and travelers who just walk along the ghats on their own. Our hostel offered somewhat of a “private row boat” which was just two minor kids rowing us up and down the ghats around dusk and then we stayed on the river to watch the ceremony. I’d also highly recommend waking up early to watch the sunrise across the Ganges and witness the morning rituals of children chanting and people bathing along the river bed.

If you happen to find group of locals and sitting down around a kettle, don’t hesitate to get yourself a small cup of freshly brewed chai and a maybe a biscuit or two. This will be the best chai, even on a steamy hot day. The chai is creamy, it’s sweet, and smells of captivating spices. Every shop seems to have their own masala recipe. Try different stalls, sit down, watch your chai brew in a kettle and manage to start a semi-conversation with a lot of hand gestures with the locals. Trust me, it’ll warm your heart.

Varanasi also serves the best lassi, or drinkable yoghurt. It’s completely fresh, and churned to order. It can be ordered just plain or with different fresh fruit toppings. My favorite lassi shop is Blue Lassi, the one recommended on Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. It may seem to be a tourist trap with travelers flocking in and squeezing in through the tiny street and filling in the shop. But the lassi here is beautifully crafted. It is thick, creamy, naturally cooling and best of all, they serve you a good heaping portion of it. Phil and I came back every day.

There are a few western eateries which serve up wonderful breakfast/lunch and baked goods. For the days when you just can’t seem to consume anymore curry flavored dishes. Most of these cafes are opened by expats and are all about giving back to the community and empowering underprivileged children/workers.

I recommend Om Cafe near Assi Ghat. They have a wonderful selection of vegetarian dishes and have a very relaxing atmosphere. The eggless omelet and homemade pancakes are pretty top notch. Brown Bread Bakery is another place I would recommend. The restaurant is a little hard to find, since it is nestled in a tiny street near the Golden Temple. There is another bakery with the same name inVaranasi, but only one is the original. The authentic Brown Bread Bakery has a yellow sign and rooftop seating over seeing the city and part of the Ganges. The best part of this restaurant is the free bread basket you get with your food order.

IMG_3679

IMG_3680

Tip: The rickshaw rides should not cost you more than 50 rupees per ride from the train station to Assi ghat. That’s how much we paid, and I know we were completely ripped off. Always settle on the price before you get on the rickshaw, make sure they understand fully that you are paying however much for the ride, not per person. If they refuse, just walk away and find another rickshaw. Someone will take you up on the offer.

Immerse

Come to think of it, I can’t even tell you when was the last time I picked up a hair brush and thoroughly brushed through my hair, nor can I remember what it feels like to wear an under-wire bra. The back of my heels are starting to look grey and small cracks are beginning to form. It must be the combination of walking in sandals all day and being in the sun so much.

The last time I had a really nice, long hot shower was at a hostel in Singapore That was about thirty days ago. And of the forty or so days that we’ve traveled, we’ve been vegetarians roughly eighty percent of the time. The other twenty percent, we’d share a poultry dish, which comes with maybe a few pieces of chicken with too much breading, and always, always drowned in a pool of veggies and sauce.

We arrived in India about a week and a half ago. And if you were to ask me four days ago, about how I felt about this country, I would have told you in a heart beat of the twenty things I hated about this filthy place and how I couldn’t wait to drop our itinerary, cut it short, book our flight out and never look back. But as of today, if you were to ask me the same question, I would still tell you about the twenty things I dislike, and I would tell you of the twenty things I’ve come to love and adore about this vast and vibrant country. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m an expert of all things India related, because just as I’ve mentioned earlier, we’ve only been here for a week. But I must say, India is really starting to grow on me.

I am able to dodge on coming cars, tuk tuks, and bicycles without flinching at the sound of their constant honking. I can skillfully ignore the persistent shop owners, rickshaw drivers, even the ‘Japan?’ or ‘Korea?’ from locals when we pass by, all the while maintaining a graceful smile. I can also manage to avoid stepping in cow waste without having to look on the ground much. But most importantly I feel myself more in tune with my surrounding. It’s like waking up in the morning with perfectly tousled hair after a night of sweat and sex, you know, like in those big Hollywood movies scenes.

By the way, we bought our alibaba pants and pashmina. Phil bargained like a rock star! Jaisalmer camel safari, bring it on, because we’re ready for you.

The places we call home

Phil and I are sitting out on the porch of our bamboo bungalow. He’s reading George Orwell’s 1984 all the while taking small bites and mixing his muesli and yogurt. There’s a nice breeze coming through from the south, therefore the porch feels much cooler than the inside of the bungalow, a rare occurrence for the summer month of March according to the locals.

The interior of our bungalow is roughly 8′ by 8′ with a semi attached outdoor bathroom. It’s a western style toilet, with the exception of a flush tank with the water reservoir. In order to clear out our waste, we have to flush the toilet manually, with a bucket filled with water every time we go.

There’s a decent sized mattress on the floor inside the bungalow with two pillows and two small blankets. A giant orange colored mosquito net also hangs from the ceiling over the mattress, which has been tremendous since it shields us from all of the tropical insects and gecko droppings from the ceilings that only seems to happen over night.

At the foot of the mattress is a small coffee table made out of bamboo. On it, a small, dusty turquoise colored fan that’s been running since the day we checked in. The same turquoise as the ocean water here in Koh Lipe.

We’ve been here for nine days now. And I think it’s funny that I now refer the bungalow as our home when I speak to Phil. I guess I have finally gotten used to the idea that we will be traveling for quite some time longer, and that home is really where we make it out to be. And this here, is our home for now. Though it is just merely 80 square feet, with no air conditioner, no television, no internet and no hot shower. And even though we will be checking out and leaving to another place in just a couple of days.

Life here on the island is quiet, and relaxing. I’m sad that we are leaving, yet I’m ready to embrace whatever is coming up next in our lives and on our journey with the rest of the world.

Afterall, this world is our home.

 

A Short Separation

The boxed air conditioning unit is on full blast in the room, but I tune out the roar. There’s a soft translucent draping over the sliding glass doors, hanging loosely from the ceiling and spilling just a few inches down across the floor.  I’m sitting on our king sized bed which takes up 95% of the entire floor space of this tiny room, staring out. And all I see is the little pirate ship floating in the middle of the ocean against a cloudless blue sky. It’s truly beautiful here.

A short bus ride to the ferry dock followed by what seemed to be a long speed boat ride, we’ve left Penang and arrived Langkawi several hours ago. After the boat docked, Phil was able to find a few other backpackers to share a taxi into town with us. It’s always comforting to spot another backpacker. There is always this unspoken mutual respect and understanding of why it is that we have chosen to leave a part of us behind to to fulfill an emptiness in our lives, to achieve a dream.

But Phil’s not here with me now. He is actually on his way back to Penang to fetch the iPad we left behind at the hostel. He also won’t be able to catch another speed boat back tonight so he’ll be spending the night in Penang, while I sleep here in Langkawi. It’s the first night we’re spending apart since we began traveling. I wonder if he’s anxious to return.

photo 7

photo 10

photo 12