Monday, 10 December 2012

Bewitching Beguiling Bali-utiful

Oh my! What enchantment! Bali is definitely a must with its rich culture, lush vegetation, and enchanting people.  And, anyone sharing my love for peanuts, there is sate everything, fresh fruit in abundance, and yes, rice.  While there, I kept thinking about the similarities and how Cambodia could be as day. 

My journey started by taxi to the border, motodup to the bus depot at the border, bus to Bangkok, and taxi to the hotel at the airport.  No real glitches although flying budget Air Asia was interesting.  Stewardesses wear jeans, EVERYTHING costs money even the water, and there is no first class...just "hot seats" (the ones with more leg room etc.).  I won't complain as it only cost $300 return including taxes.  Once out of the airport, I was embraced by hot and humid air filled with the smell of jasmine.  (The hot humid air wasn't new but smelling jasmine sure beat plastic burning and sewage.)  

I met fellow volunteer Meghan, whom I met during the one week training in Ottawa.  It was fun to hear about her experiences volunteering in Indonesia while we caught up on all sorts of things.  Together with another Canadian volunteer, we relaxed on the beach, had a tasty dinner and met volunteers from Uganda, and Kenya.  Humph, they get to go to Bali for their annual VSO programme meetings.  Lucky people.  As much as I love Phnom Penh...

Then, off to my retreat...

My own private balcony

The view from my room and balcony

My oohh so comfortable bed

View of the yoga hall from my balcony

Sun salutation to a sunrise


Orchids galore

 week of morning meditation followed by 2 hours of yoga, breakfasts of fresh fruit, organic yoghurt, delicious multi-grain bread, red rice pudding, and more.  After breakfast, time to reflect until lunch.  More lovely organic food, usually an amazing salad and other surprises.  Massages 2.5 hours, oooohhhh, what could be better.  Before dinner there was another 2 hours of yoga just to work up an appetite for more creative gourmet delights.  In the course of the week, we enjoyed a cleansing ritual at Hindu temple, a bike ride through the quiet hamlets and rice paddies, one day of silence where all meals were brought to our balconies and a very moving and powerful letting go ceremony. The other participants were lovely and I so enjoyed all the interesting conversations.  I have to say, during my reflective time, I was trying to calculate if I could afford to live there for the remainder of my life.  NOPE...just can't do.  

There is more to Bali and so meeting up with long-time friend Jennifer, we set off to see what we could.  

Lovely lovely Jennifer...the one sitting on the steps :-)

A wood carving of progress

Charming scenes everywhere

Sunset,  not all that spectacular, at one of many famous temples

And then, the snorkeling!!! It was so spectacular.  My camera really doesn't do it justice.  The colours were so vibrant, the fish so numerous, and the coral...WOW!!! There were even little Nemos (clown fish) in the anemone.  I had forgotten how much I love snorkeling (and diving).
Betty, these are the plaid fish I was telling you about. 

You can just barely see the iridescence
Just a glimpse of the varieties

 Jennifer and I were like two little kids out there, talking through our snorkels, giggling at how comical some of the fish looked, squealing with excitement every time we saw yet another "new" fish, and the awe at watching a sea turtle gracefully manoeuvre into the depths.  It was hard to leave our comfy pad steps away from the wonder but time does march on, even in Bali. Our next stop, the rice paddies of Sideman (pronounced Cid e mon)

View from our balcony in Sideman

At the Terta Ganga water gardens 

Flowers flowers everywhere

An early morning walk through the rice paddies on my birthday

More from our walk

More walking
What a birthday!  Up at 6 to walk through the rice paddies and watch the sunrise, drive to Ubud with a young man who had spent 1 year and 5 summers in Burn's Lake to learn English and earn money planting trees.  Not many Balinese can say they have skied.  Then, an avocado chocolate shake (a first), for lunch, back to the retreat for a last massage with Jennifer having one next door, then a walk to have dinner at the Lotus Cafe.  The setting was lotus-filled ponds with an ancient temple as the back drop. The temple was dedicated to the goddess, Saraswati,  of learning, literature, and science.  We ate the house speciality, listening to Balinese musicians, while we sipped a Chilean wine and toasted to friendship. Couldn't have asked for a better day.

The courtyard at Teba Guesthouse in Ubud
And so, leaving Bali was very, very hard.  As will getting back to my life in Sisophon.  Tomorrow I head to one of my schools where I am sure to be delighted by smiling children, appreciative teachers, and a much needed step into reality.

I do hope you are all well.  I wish you all a very very merry Christmas.  Enjoy the snow, connections, and merriment.  There is no doubt I will be thinking about you.

Love and thoughts from this distant land.  

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Am I C-R-A-Z-Y?

Born to be wild

So, I have to admit that the idea may have been mine or was it Ellen's way back last May.  Back then I was keen and open to the excitement of driving around on my little semi-automatic Honda 125.  It was a thrill zooming around the chaos of Sisophon and I thought I was ready for bigger and better challenges.  WELL, driving a manual out of Hanoi was only the beginning of what was to challenge and at times scare the @#$% out of me.  As you can see, I did survive, more or less in one piece, once again with bruised ego and a few scrapes and scabs to talk about.

Fortunately I was travelling with a younger and enthusiastic trio from the Netherlands who were very good at making sure all discussions of a discriminatory nature were in Dutch. Or, maybe they were actually so impressed that they didn't want my ego to be inflated by their praise...right.  All in all, I was in awe of their good nature, sense of adventure, and their ability to avoid the beaten track.  I was indeed lucky to have such an accommodating crew who kept me in the middle on the way into and out of Hanoi as I was paranoid about losing my guides and navigators.  So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank Ellen, Steven, and Tessa for their patience and kindness it taking this "olderling" on an adventure I could never really imagine doing...EVER.


A huge city with an old quarter which is what remains of the French influence before Ho Chi Minh liberated the country in 1954.

outside our hotel in the Old Quarter

Fresh flowers everywhere in Hanoi...I so miss that

you don't really get a sense of the bedlam on the streets

And, our first encounter with Pho Bo which was to be eaten at least once if not twice a day during our tour.

Ellen putting in the order...4 Pho Bo "com un" 
Pho Bo (beef) but there is a variation Pho Ga (chicken) 

On the road...

Yes Andy, get those mirrors adjusted!!! 

There aren't any photos leaving the metropolis as we were all so busy concentrating...Me staying alive managing clutch, gears (which are opposite my little Honda), and ready on the brakes; Ellen and Steven, keeping me in sight and navigating us out of the city.  Once we were on the road, the easy rider in all of us took over. 

Get your motor running

Head out on the highway

Looking for adventure

And whatever comes our way

I took off the poncho after this shot...once I was sure the rain had stopped


Ellen's flat

All good things must come to an end I guess.  The easy riders found themselves on a route with major road construction...let the dirt biking begins.

ubiquitous road construction

Oh my, really dirt biking!!!!!

Oops!  Not very good at it yet.  Crash # 1 (to the left)

It is nice to know that we provided the entertainment in this mountain village when Ellen needed repairs to the clutch/gears.  We ended up sleeping in the most basic accommodation...the local shopkeepers shop and "garage".  
Ellen's clutch/gears...kaput!

The scenery on the border with Laos

Fall #2 to the right.  

Well, okay, crash # 2 happened but by then I was really tired of construction, the black muck covered the edge of the pavement which caught the front tire pulling me down on the right this time.  Well, as our Sapa hiking guide said; "now you are balanced in your falls so no more". I would really hate to take all the glory when it comes to injuries.  Ellen gleefully declared that she was the only one who didn't fall during this trip.  It took me a while to think of a come back but she is right.  Let it be said that no one came out of this unscathed.  How is that burn on your leg healing Ellen?  

the town of Sapa close to the border with China

Sapa, is definitely a tourist destination but our intrepid organiser Ellen, managed to find us a home stay in a remote mountain village amongst the Black Mung people.  We saw few westerners and none on our hike.  How Ellen finds these places is a mystery to me but all of our home stays were with delightful people with delicious food.

High in the mountains with the Black Mung indigenous people

Scene from our mountain village home for 3 nights

Our host for 3 nights and hiking guide Dat. Technology is everywhere.  Count them 2  cellphones!

Ice cold, brrrrr, refreshing
part of the hike through rice fields and jungle

View from Dat's guest house in a tiny mountain village

Sitting in the jungle with 2 friends, listening to music, x-stitching 

Boy, are these people fit and so strong!!!!

such simple amusement

Everyone gets in on the act of carrying bricks along the mountain path.
We left Sapa taking a more direct route to Hanoi. The way back was on a busy highway and luckily for me there was very little construction and mostly solid pavement.It was a petty fast trip with a 2 day stay in a mountain park a few hours from Hanoi.  The last day involved a ferry across the Red River which wasn't all that reassuring.  While we were directed to a temporary ferry landing, we witnessed a boat rescue which involved moving vehicles (motorcycles)  from one boat to another with planks as a ramp between the 2 boats in the middle of the river.  Yikes!  Safety standards, what are they anyway? On the home stretch one minute we were looking for a place for lunch, the next we were in Hanoi, at the Hanoi Motorcycle rental shop.  I should have figured it out when Ellen waved me to the middle of the pack, and the traffic started to get really nutso! Good strategy gang.

My final 3 days in Vietnam were to be in Halong Bay with a bit of kayaking but after a long bus ride, and lunch on the boat, Halong Bay was to be evacuated as Typhoon Son Ting or something-or-other was scheduled to touch down at midnight.  So a long journey back to Hanoi in the traffic jams of a Vietnamese evacuation, then a rescheduling of my flight back to Cambodia. To be honest, it felt great to be back amongst the friendly and gentle people of Cambodia.  Would I go back to Vietnam?  Glad I saw it but probably not.  Cambodia is the jewel of SE Asia to me now.  

I will close with a photo of the only glimpse I got of Halong Bay.  Perhaps in another life.  

Getting back a few days early meant I was home in time for a surprise visit from Lauren (see previous blog)and friend Isaac who stopped by on their way through from Bangkok.  Such an awesome way to end my holiday. Once again, it was such joy to see and talk to people with whom I feel a connection.  Not to mention how flattered I was to have had 2 visits from Lauren during her journey.  I would have tried to keep her here but alas, I had to say farewell, as she continues her adventure in this lovely land.  

I will be very very busy for the next 3 weeks before I head to Bali for my next but very different kind of holiday.  Stay tuned.  

I do hope this finds you all well and not too cold with the early snow.  Those of you in Sandy's path, I hope you stay safe and dry.  It sure sounds like a doozy of a hurricane.  Lots of love and hugs from afar.  Miss you all so very very much.