Friday, March 26, 2010

birthday blessings

we awoke today (carson's birthday!) early and ate some street food, watching the people pass by (puri, idly, and sabji, followed by chai of course!) then we walked down to the ghats by the river and were delighted to see lakshmi the elephant having her daily bath! she received quite a thorough scrub-down from her faithful attendants, laying in the water on both sides of her body, slapping her tail on the surface and breathing through her snout intermittently. we bought some bananas for the future monkeys we would meet, and then got on a boat and crossed the river to the otherside. we bought a chocolate croissant and a doughnut! and rented two bikes from a sweet young man there. mine was pink and said "divine" on it, and carson's was black and was not *quite* as sleek as his REI bike back home. but the ride was absolutely beautiful, down the dirt road and onto a street 1km away, through some villages, so many lush vibrant green rice paddies, the everpresent boulders, cows, one camel (!! where did he come from?) and sheep and goats, and white egrets balancing on the cow's back. we rode for 2km more and stopped to drink a coconut. we then climbed up 600 some odd steps to the hanuman temple on the hill, the birthplace of the monkey god hanuman! we saw many monkeys on our hot sweat drenched walk up, some were yelling at each other, and we gave out some bananas gingerly as they ran quickly away with their treasures. at the top, we took off our shoes, circumnavigated the small temple, and were then invited inside by the baba attending the main temple room. we felt lucky to be invited in, and we kneeled in front of a shimmering hanuman as he painted red bindi lines on our foreheads and gave us some sacred water to drink and some very large sugar granules to eat. magical. then we were invited to sit in another room in the temple and eat some little fried lentil filled cakes and some chai with all of the other Indian people also visiting Hanuman. we walked out over the rocks to a lone plumeria tree, and overlooked the 360* view of the beautiful land all around us, ruins, rice paddies, boulders....ahh! heaven on earth (though a hot heaven at this time of year!) we walked down and sat for an hour with a 12 year old boy selling coconuts; i gave him a US dollar that I had in my camera case, for he collects coins and bills from all over the world. he showed us his collection, and he and carson traded bracelets with each other. we talked of king kong, the price of rent in the USA (he couldn't believe it!) and how much money a coca cola might cost in the US vs. India. he was great. we rode back in the noonday sun and caught the boat back across the river, and ate lunch at our beloved Mango Tree restaurant. oh, Mango Tree, you cook such good food and employ such nice people! we will miss it, and Hampi, for we leave on a train tomorrow morning headed to Goa. (on the Arabian sea!) We will spend 2 days in Goa, and then we will bravely embark on a TWENTY FOUR HOUR STRAIGHT train over 1600 kilometers up to Rajasthan! eeek! better get some good snacks and a couple books for that one! we will bypass the Mumbai craziness (maybe next time, India) and will land in Bundi, Rajasthan for a couple days before heading to Udaipur, the "most romantic city in India" on the lake, and also to Pushkar. The rest of our trip is sill formulating itself, for there are always so many options, but we are so enormously grateful to Hampi for letting us taste India's sweetness and magic, and finding a home here. I am sad to leave; already we know and recognize so many people here, and staying in one place helps home seem much closer and more tangible.

Happy Birthday to dear Carson! Still a sunset to enjoy for his special day, and another trunk blessing from Lakshmi to receive in the temple.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

shades of green.

closing hands, holding tightly. opening hands, letting go. Scrunch your eyes so hard you can shut it all out and open them up and see a different something than you saw before. My mind idealizes the places that i am not. i know this by now. the rice paddy is always greener on the other side they say. but today i got to see the rice paddy here for all the beauty that it is. we rented a motor bike today in the late afternoon and i took my training wheels off again and hopped on a (much less) sophisticated motor bike than i'm used to in lovely thailand. up the first steep hill we went and melissa hopped off 3/4 of the way as the motorbike revved full up to a stop. we made it to the top of the hill and drove another short distance before stopping at a ganesha temple. and then we continued riding passing temple after temple each devoted to a different deity. and palaces that blend in with the large oval rocks here, some built right into the sides. old palaces laying in ruins, pillars striking up into the sky. rice paddies brilliant green setting off the red tones of the earth. i used my horn today on this bike often, as that's what you do in india. it sounded like a frog croaking and was not the least bit manly of a toot, but i enjoyed it none-the-less. i tooted it often (melissa might say too often) at passerbys who gave me big grins back, and some blank stares. and kids on bikes riding old cruisers that waved as we went by. we wandered around after parking and found an old shiva temple, which we both felt like suddenly being transported into an episode of indiana jones. walking past ornately carved pillars through several antechambers to peer upon a black room which opened up onto a box with a shaft of light beaming onto it. it was so eerie that we couldn't get any closer to inspect it but just stand with reverence at the awe-inspiring scene before us. paying homage to shiva we sang the intro chant from our favorite yoga-style, anusara, which is memorized in our hearts forever, harmonizing-- and had an india moment. we ate at the same restaurant three times today, which we found out is run by our guest house owners father. we had porridge and fruit meusli with curds (yoghurt) and banana fritters with lassi's to boot. a special curry and spinach paneer and chapathi for lunch. and paneer masala and coconut curry for dinner. on the walk there and back fireflies lit our way along the path overlooking those same rice paddies that made me appreciate being here so much. yes, life is much better here in hampi!! the rollercoaster of yesterdays feels distant and we are hopeful again that india will take us into her arms and carry us through this trip! after going through a pretty intense culture shock..questioning who we can be here and how we can fit into this already existing.. wild wild culture..we have come to a very relaxed pace here and feel excited about continuing on with this journey. thanks for all the support everyone, we love you and miss you all!!

carson (and melissa)

Today Could Be The Best Day Of Your Life


melissa on the hill in hampi, sunset ruins

carson very happy to be eating banana fritters at the mango tree restaurant in hampi.

overlooking the rice fields at the shanthi restaurant, across the river, hampi.

we bought some anklets from this woman...when i asked her where she was from, she said, "i'm a gypsy."

as you can see, the train bunks are quite spacious, especially for tall people like carson! ;)


floating the backwaters....making rope out of coconut fiber (and there's suji my new friend on the right!)...women cooking a keralan lunch for us...and our lunch on a banana leaf, looking out into the backwaters.

nilgiri villages


children on our nilgiri walk; carson with the italian and our guide anthony (far left) and other men outside the restaurant we ate at for lunch in the village; tea plants and silver oaks; the shepherd and his baby goat

carson walking up ancient steps...

Monday, March 22, 2010

some visions of the journey

hiking the ruins at sunset in hampi; the palace and surrounding temples alight on saturday evening in mysore; hanuman.

us at the top of a nilgiri mountain

Saturday, March 20, 2010

stuck (and about to move)

i'm either on the verge of a huge cry or of punching someone in the face. ever since the perfume incident two days ago, carson and i have been in a funk. we've spent numerous hours in our room in hotel dasaprakash, mysore, trying to figure out where to go next. often, we both admit we would like to leave india asap, though the prospect of that makes us feel like we've failed on our ability to give india the time it needs to win our hearts. we talk about all the prospects: north to hampi and goa and gokarna, places recommended to us by friends that might help us to relax and reconnect to nature. or, do we fly up north to udaipur or amritsar in rajasthan, the desert? or do we fly way north to dharamsala, the tibetan refuge in the foothills of the himalayas? (that prospect sounds quite nice to me actually). or, do we go to we fly to delhi and then spiral out from we fly to bali and retreat, or thailand (but what about the protests in bangkok?) round and round we've gone these past two days, between trying to figure out where to go and how to get there (flight prices increasing, trains and buses booked or sold out, etc.) and between being so frustrated with our exchange with the perfume man. really, how could i let something like this get to me so deeply? i feel i should have known better, but this man was so seemingly authentic and helpful that i totally trusted him. talking to a man yesterday, we found out these scents are 90% alcohol based and cause do we trust him? do we trust the taxi driver that told us to not buy from the market, only to go with him to the "real" sandalwood oil factories outside of town? but then they will overcharge us to get their commissions. do we trust the guy who sold us the oils, who showed us book after book of happy customers' photos and writings from all over the world, saying how great his products are? well no, now i don't trust that, even though carson and i at the time of purchase wrote our own glowing recommendation in that book as well. it's not the money, it's the fact of being lied to over and over again, being taken for a ride, and then dropped on the wayside. we tried to take the oils back but he was 'gone to bangalore' both days, and no refunds possible, said his brother. oh gosh, i'm sorry to bring this all to the blog; i'm really needing a journal entry and this forum will have to do for now.

this perfume experience really set me off for a downhill spiral though. we had set off that morning excited to be here and explore; after being smeared with scent and fooled, i have not been able to recover. suddenly everyone we encounter wants something from us; either to take us somewhere, to sell us drugs, to bring us to a silk shop, to look me up and down, to stare at us with such serious eyes that my smile can't shift anything. so i walk around with a guard and defense up, walking quickly in front of little children holding their hands to their mouths, asking for some rupees for food (will the rupees even go to them though? will my rupees help them, or someone else?) and mothers and children asking for money, and men with one leg asking for money, and men selling "sandalwood" boxes and fans asking for money, and guides wanting to take us somewhere...we just walk fast and try to avert their "where are you from?" question, because as soon as we answer it's like an invitation into our space, for them to walk with us and try to persuade us to give them something. i have never felt so closed off and protected in a place before; i feel mean and cold. but how else can i be? if i am open and smiling, then it's such an invitation to people to come up to me. it's obvious that i need to get out of this city asap (luckily we finally booked a train ticket after a long train station learning process this afternoon; we're heading north to hubli on the sleeper train tonight, and then in the morning we'll take a bus to hampi for a couple/few days to relax among the rocks and ruins). i seem to sigh a little relief into my body, and then something else happens, like carson and i's brand new cold bottle of water; as i was on the computer, a young indian man came up and grabbed it and said "i want your water, i'm thirsty" and i looked at him in disbelief as he unscrewed it and took a few drinks. he walked away, the indian woman next to me laughed, and i felt such a well of frustration boiling inside of me that i hardly knew what to do. i have a sliver of perspective that i am taking everything so seriously and personally at the moment, how everything that happens keeps stacking onto everything that is already happened, and i don't have the perspective to laugh it off, accept it in the moment, and move on. i am missing out on whatever beauty or preciousness that is around me, for the past two days have been such a round and round of stuck-ness!

so we will see what happens....thanks for reading if you've gotten this far; it's important to discharge this stuff, and writing works well for me sometimes. also, it's important to share the nitty gritty parts of the trip too, because i am often on the lookout for the beauty, and the hard stuff is harder to show. i knew india would be a challenge, and that's why i was afraid to come here. so far, there have been moments (the backwaters day and the trekking day in the nilgiris) where i have been very happy to be here, and know those experiences couldn't have happened anywhere else. but at this point, both carson and i are at the end of our ropes, and wonder how long we want to put up with some of the behaviors we witness here. do we want our trip to be a constant challenge? what are we hoping to fulfill here? what do we want from india, and what can we give back to india and her people to thank them for having us? because right now, it feels that india could care less if i was here or not. i know i have to shift my perspective if i want to create positive experiences, but i just feel so darn stuck! hopefully moving out of this city on the train tonight will help to shift the energy! because otherwise you might see us home in the NW much sooner than we thought!


Thursday, March 18, 2010


india, the seventh day.
walking into the mysore market, after 5 minutes being whisked into a
man's shop after looking at the piles of vibrant pigment on the
outside....he shows us how he makes incense....he shows us painted
wooden elephants made of rosewood....he shows us dozens of "essential
oils", smearing bits on our skin or blowing it towards us or putting
it up to the fan and having orange scent waft over our faces...he
gives us chai...we smell more and more, intoxicated by the
scents....from not wanting anything, suddenly i am writing down one
after the other that we want....up to 10...a free wooden box
included...and now the other guy in the shop has anklets....and we
spend $22 on the oils....and 10 on the anklets...and we ask about a
tailor...and they whisk us across the street and i have a silk sari
wrapped around me....touching much..... luckily carson
realizes we are hungry so we escape the fabric shop and sit down at
lunch and it all comes crashing down. wait, why did we just buy a
heavy box of 10 essential oils? and 4 silver anklets? are they really
essential oils? we take them back to our hotel and suddenly they all
smell like perfume...oh how could we have been fooled like this. why
were they so cheap to begin with? swindled! we are overwhelmed and
frustrated. we talk about it for far too long and take them back to
the store (are returns even possible here?) the guy who sold them to
us is gone, but supposedly he will be there tomorrow. we will try
again then. on the way men walk in front of us with wooden fans and
whistle instruments. a woman and her child follow me and she pulls on
my arm asking for money for food. they follow us across the street,
into the market, and then back out again. more fans, more instruments,
more bangles to buy, and traffic and busy streets, and how can i walk
away from a woman and her child, try to brush them off and ignore
them? do i give something or nothing? i don't want fans, i don't want
little wooden whistle instruments, stop pulling on me, stop following
and talking at me when i already said NO ten times! argh! one of the
days in india i have heard about, a lot to be learned in being clear
on what you want, on not buying something just because someone is
spending a lot of time with you, and of not feeling bad for saying no
(and perhaps learning to say no more clearly & effectively). some
days, i can't wait to explore more of india, and some days like this
moment i feel ready to leave tomorrow and go somewhere easy like
thailand or bali. ahhhh! i feel like screaming. the blue-walled
internet cafe is a welcome retreat.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


the sixth day.

oh my, what do i say? there is so much! i constantly have new chapters of books i could write playing themselves out in my mind, my eyes open to new images in every moment, new experiences. each moment something different, sometimes unexpected, sometimes perfect, always right. always a lesson, or an omen, or an illumination, or a smell (sometimes spicy, or incense, or urine, or garbage, or exhaust, or?? things i don't know yet) to put it into words in this moment? first a flow of images, not necessarily in sequential order!

walking through nilgiri tea plantations yesterday on our trek through the mountains with 2 germans, 2 italians, and our indian guide anthony. seeing the new tender green tea leaves curling up, and the silver oaks growing interspersed (they give the perfect amount of shade to the tea tree's liking)...65 year old trees, but so short as they are harvested regularly. (after working at the tao of tea in portland, now i finally see one place where tea grows!) it is so peaceful and gorgeous up in these mountains, i understand why tea makes us feel centered and relaxed and happy when we drink it. seeing the colorful village homes and the cutest children all running up to our group, wanting their picture taken (sure! i have been wanting to take pictures of people and have felt shy; the children made it so easy for me to snap away! after i took each picture they run up to me and all huddle around the camera to see themselves on the screen, precious!) they all want chocolate or pens, but we have none of those so just smile and say thank you.) we saw a shepherd and his goats, one a small baby that he set down to take some of it's first steps, and the mom goat baaaad away as he gave the baby to erika the italian woman in our group, and the rest of the goats scampered down the hill and the shepherd ran after them, and the mom goat bahhhed, and erika ran after him, and we all laughed. the view of the valley below, and the tea plantations, and the mountains, and the distance, and the sun (ooooh sunburns were our leftover from our day, high altitude makes for a heavy burn, ouch!) was truly magical, strolling through the villages, eating lunch in a small little restaurant in the village, a thali plate with south indian goodness.

floating down the keralan backwaters on our second full day, being led by two guides through canals and by villages, meeting suji a 12 year old girl from the store where we were dropped off at in the morning...her dad could see that she really liked the french woman emmanuelle, the german woman dorotee, and i, and so he raced his motorbike to a nearby area and we pulled up on the boat and picked her up! (it was her first journey on the backwaters with all the tourists!) she was so sweet; she sat with us all day. my favorite part of the day was near the end when she and i were sitting in the back, and i shared my journal with her, and then her dad's friend (our hilarious and genuinely wonderful guide) let us listen to the radio through his cellphone...91.9 Radio Mango, bhangra-style keralan music, one earphone in her ear and one in mine, floating along in the backwaters and a lake, both tapping our feet to the tunes....oh it was precious! i had the strongest sense of deja vu in those moments, like i had been there before, or dreamed it more clearly than any other dream i've ever had. like i was in the most perfect place at the most perfect time! for lunch that day, we pulled onto an island and two women cooked us the most delicious keralan thali feast that we ate with our hands on banana leaves, looking out over the backwaters, surrounded in coconut trees and a faint breeze.

oh kerala, it was so hot and humid...our friend at our guesthouse said 100% humidity, and i would not doubt that. after we showered and dried, we were already wet again with sweat. i have never been in such a humid place. it was a nice starting point though, mellow and easy. our guesthouse guide was great, we had many long talks with him learning a lot about the town, about india, about indian people through his experience and perspective. at night we'd walk in after dinner and he had a keyboard set up and was singing the most sacred, heartfelt songs....a german couple sat there too, and the woman couldn't leave because his songs were so beautiful she was nearly brought to tears. we would lie under our fan at night and try to sleep in the dense heat. we found an *amazing* home cooked authentic keralan style restaurant called shala, fish curry, pineapple curry (!!), tomato curry, keralan red rice, ****cucumber mint lemon juice*** the best!...different veggies prepared excellently, papadam...oh my goodness, every bite heaven! we learned some of the ins and outs of rickshaw drivers, and did one a favor by going into a shop (he got a liter of petrol for us doing that) and later decided we would never do that again, as we got trapped in the back of the store in the rug room and had to slowly inch our way out, disappointing our sales person immensely (no, really, we don't need a rug or a big mango wood statue of ganesh! thanks anyways!) later our friend suwash told us that it's okay to just say no and walk away; we western people are so used to and concerned about being polite and find it hard to say no. a good lesson for me, i keep learning. and also a lesson in not saying "maybe"...just saying yes or no, because often people mistake "maybe" for yes. there are many lessons i learned from him, more to come later i'm sure :)

we were happy to head out from kerala, even though there was more to explore south i'm sure. we took off in the morning to coimbatore, jumped off the bus 4 hours later in a bustling city, found an airconditioned restaurant, and learned another lesson: be CLEAR about what food you are ordering, otherwise your server might just take the liberty to order something else for you that is higher in price than the two things you really ordered combined! oh well. we got fueled up and hopped in the queue for the local bus up to ooty (a 3 1/2 hour bus ride for 32 rupees...hmm...that's about .70....70 cents!) carson and i squeezed on the last 2 "seats" on the bus, the back of the bus bench, squeezed with 5 other people. it was crazy! neither of us could move, and carson was half on/ half off the bus ticket man's seat "cushion" metal frame. when the ticket man was done collecting money when people got on, he'd squeeze in next to us and we literally couldn't move a centimeter...we were sweating buckets, closing our eyes when dust came in the open door next to us, but it was really fun actually. i had a wonderful woman next to me with her hands dyed yellow (we deduced from her hand gestures trying to explain to us, that she dyes fabric for a living) and we shared many sweet smiles. halfway up the mountain the bus broke down (as often happens with the local buses, one man told us; apparently they just run them and run them with no maintenance until they bust). we looked at the tires and most of them were bare of tread...hmmm....another bus to ooty came by about 20 minutes later and people from our bus squeezed on that bus until they were hanging out the door. we waited and a little a/c minibus showed up with "Jesus" all over it, on each seat...we were told it would take us to ooty for an extra cost, so we squeezed on their with the other mob who would pay 100 rupees (a little over $2, not bad, but still so much more than the local bus for the distance we had to go.) so literally we were saved by jesus in that moment :) the drive up the mountain was gorgeous, through tea plantations and the like; ooty was too busy for our taste, but we really enjoyed our guesthouse in a more quiet part of town, and the kindest ba'hai manager who helped us book our tour and feel welcome. we slept well that night in the cooler air (much higher altitude!) and went out for our trek the next day.

which was yesterday, which was where i started this entry. circular, out of order, chaotic, but it makes sense somehow. just like india. unlike any other place; it stays it's own no matter what influences come in. i am constantly in awe by the beauty of the women; by their clothes, the colors, their jewelry, their smiles, their eyes. i wish i could sit with them for days and talk to them and learn about their lives (maybe i will get to do that later in the journey..?). carson and i stand out wherever we go; often we smile back to the stares and get to receive warm smiles back; sometimes people do not smile and just keep staring, and i wonder what are they thinking? do they wonder what i am doing here in their country, what i hope to find amongst over a billion people, why i, like so many other people from other countries, am drawn to india? for the spiritual journey? for the rich culture? for the challenges and the lessons? for the wisdom? for the food, sites, temples, relics, history stored in every square inch? yes for everything, and for more that i am still discovering. i find that i am mostly smiling and happy here, even though so much is new and at times overwhelming, it is all perfect in some way that i know intuitively. i am reading "the alchemist" by paulo coelho yet again (it's been a few years) and i must say it's the *perfect* book to read on a journey like this. just yesterday evening in ooty, carson and i were walking trying to find a restaurant recommended to us by our hotel owner and we bumped into a girl that i used to know in bellingham from my women's group nearly TEN years ago! woah! in india! and she too on her 5th day here, and she too her first time here. amazing synchronicity! everything seems to be synchronicity, every conversation some sort of tip pointing you in the next direction, or some little grain of wisdom that will come in handy further down the line.

ahhh.....yes yes india. i am here! there's so much more to share really, but i think we are going to get going and find some dinner. i feel much inspiration from being here, and will write more again when i can! we have been taking lots of photos too, and i will try to post some of those soon! love to everyone from mysore, india!

on moustaches
i have long been of the theory that moustaches went out of style with burt reynolds, back in the day. those classic 70's pictures with the guy sauntering up to a counter and ordering a drink, or perhaps a beach shot with a shirtless guy and a big old 'stache. well, to my utter suprise it not only never went out of style here in india, but is the single handed most popular facial hair style to have. many a different kinds have i seen thus far. in fact, when i see someone without a moustache i am taken aback..something seems a-miss! ah yes, that little strip of black is missing and the person's face just doesn't have the same ring to it. the same zing to it. i highly recommend a little google image search of 'indian moustache styles' and see for yourself.
on horns.
okay, i know i already talked about the horn...but seriously it's amazing! melissa was trying on some traditional indian clothes for herself, and i was sitting at the store entrance staying away from the whole experience (it always makes me sleepy being in clothing stores for some reason) and sitting there...i was imaging myself owning the store and going through the motions of calling in all the locals and tourists to try on the clothes, watching the day go by and seeing the interactions from the chai and sweet shop across the street. people walking by for just those five seconds you get to glimpse before they are out of view. you know, good old people watching. my mind kind of tuned out of that listening and tuned into the horns. i could hear them from blocks away all echoing around. never more than five seconds went by that there wasn't some type of horn being tooted, and we were just on a smaller side road. these horns come in the beep style, the rarararr style, the country horn style, the laying on the horn style, the tweet name it, they've got it here. my mood oscilates back and forth all the time from finding it hilarious and classic, to being extremely annoyed by them--usually depending on the heat and my level of food and water intake. so horns and moustaches it is, still alive and well in the sub-continent of india. while you have your google image search going, also check out 'mysore' on the map so you can get an idea of where we're at. much love! carson (and melissa)

Today Could Be The Best Day Of Your Life

Friday, March 12, 2010


just another picture of our time:
yesterday morning we woke up in kuala lumpur, took the metro to the klcc stop, walked up into this huge fancy mall with tiffany & co., prada, etc...out the doors...looked two of the tallest buildings in the world, the petronas towers! wow! (as far as buildings go, they really are beautiful!) then we went for a jog in our bizarre vibram five fingers shoes (they really do attract attention!) around the park that is at the foot of the towers. us, two little joggers in the big city! we got some juice, and took the metro back to our station, packed up, and made the journey to the the india, where we watched the sunset on our drive to our next destination. all the things you can do in one day, sometimes it's really quite amazing! :)


hello everyone!
we've had a super smooth landing in india so far. we flew into a city called kochin in the kerela region, southwest india. we flew airasia which goes to the smaller when we walked out of the airport it was pretty mellow, a far cry from the craziness of the huge cities i'm sure. the taxi ride was harrowing, and a total trip and different reality than thailand, not to mention the US of course. the ride was pretty busy all the way through (1.1 million people). i for one have used my horn in my car all of 2 times in my life, and our great driver probably beat that number by about 100 times. the horn here is a tool of communication to be used in all conversations including "i'm here" , "i'm passing you" , "don't hit me" , "move over now!" and of course, "thanks!". there really is a myriad of horn sounds out there too depending on the age and size of the vehicle. lots of cows out there too. indeed, a very busy ride until the last turn into fort kochin where we are staying. we have a huge room at the princess inn for 14$ (which is a fair amount here for the budget level hotel..the luxury hotels go for 800$ a night though) and it's super nice, though almost unbearably hot everywhere except for on the bed which is right under the fan, otherwise we start perspiring almost immediatley. we are beginning to acclimate, trying to figure out even how to say hello and thank you as india has around 20 different languages depending on the region and most people speak decent english. it seems silly sometimes to speak an entire conversation in our language and then say thank you (because it's the only word i might know, basically) in theirs :) wheels. we had some amazing indian food last night though, northern style with amazing paneer (homemade cheese) and parantha, daal, raita, etc.. chai to finish, it was so good! tonight we're going to dine and get some food at this restaurant called 'the shala' that is recommended by the person who runs our feautures local cuisine in the kerala style made by women who know how to do it right, with traditional red rice, fresh fish, stewed in coconut milk with shallots, tamarind, and chili. there are a couple other dishes that all sound amazing too. it's a bit of a splurge, the fish dishes are almost 5$ ... but we'll probably balance it out with a vegetarian dish that is closer to $2.5 ..just my style, keeping the finances in the awareness!
the area that we're in has a varied european history dating back the 1400's. as it's a seaport it was influenced by the likes of the famous sailor vasco de gama (who was buried here) and others, who came to trade and bring catholocism. wanting to butter up the locals they offered to build some structures for free as a gesture of good faith to keep everyone placated. that has shown itself here in churches that are hundres of years old, as well as lots of old houses and buildings in a quaint old fashioned european style (like our guesthouse which has wood floors from the early 1800's). once leaving the fort cochin area you get much more of the bustling chaotic busy indian feel..but here in this zone it's like a breeze of the past. other influences from around the world also have shown up here including these huge fishing nets from the chinese that we might go check out today. supposedly requiring four people to handle they are used for ocean fishing (which is nearly visible from where we're staying...). fishmongers sell the catches, including prawns and lobster, which you can purchase for anywhere from 60-300 rupies per kilo (aka .75 to 3$ per pound) and then walk over to a shack and they'll make a seafood curry out of it. our guesthouse owner today chatted with us for a bit and mentioned how some people show up here and leave in a day, and other's who have been traveling india for a whlie show up and stay for much longer because it's such a relief to be somewhere like this. i am not sure how that'll translate to us because we have a huge intinerary of things we'd like to do in both the north and the south, including nepal, and some of it i'm sure we won't be able to fit in....

i feel a little like a small child here, trying to learn customs like eating with my right hand only, nuances of the head bobble that is quite mesmerizing to me (is he saying no??...oh no, he's just head bobbling in acknowledgement) language, how to move more gracefully in this new many things. we're very glad to have each other here, able to talk about what we're experiencing and lean on each other in the ebb and flow of this journey.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Here we are, sitting in the Chiang Mai International Airport, ready to depart. The past two and a half weeks have seemed like months in some ways; perhaps because, so far, all of the places we have visited are places we spent time during our travels two years ago. The places (especially Pai) being so familiar that it was almost as if we had never left (almost). And now, here we sit awaiting a completely new journey, a journey to a place neither of us has visited before, but that we have heard oh so much about: INDIA. India!

Coming to Thailand at the onset of our journey has acclimated us to traveling again (even though we have been on the move since our last trip for the most part, but just in the US!) It has been fun to discover “home” in such a foreign place. During our first stint in Chiang Mai, we ended up staying 6 days because we were having so much fun there! We met up with friends from home: Will, Fawni, Dana….met Carson’s Alberta Street neighbor, Shawn…met new friends through these friends, attended an Anusara Yoga class, ate tons of good food at our favorite Chiang Mai spots: Juicy 4U, Dada Kafe, the Blue Diamond, Le Spice Indian food….walked around the Sunday Night Walking Street, enjoying all the handicrafts and sights and sounds and foods (especially anything made with sticky rice, mango, and/or coconut!)…started (and completed) our Indian Visa application, walked around the old city, went to a dinner party at a new friend’s house…And this time around, our timing was blessed to intersect with the timing of our friends Flora and Lance from Portland, and we were able to spend three days in Chiang Mai with them! (It’s really such a treat to see friends from home when you’re traveling! Because you’re all traveling, there’s so much free time to hang out with each other!) Carson and I nearly succumbed even deeper to the Chiang Mai vortex by taking a 2 week Thai Massage course, but we decided against it. If our trip had been longer I think it would have been in the cards, but… time.

Going to Pai was like coming home. We saw so many famliar faces there: our favorite cook Na, our friend Nuk who used to work at the Good Life (it was her birthday while we were in Pai, and we got to meet her mom this time too!), Kay and Plaa at the Good Life (and their new adorable 6 month old baby girl Lily!), Carson’s sister’s good friend Lek (who we took a precious Yin yoga class from on our last full day in Pai!), and many Ex-Pats that we recognized from our last visit there two years ago. Pai is another little vortex that pulls some people in much longer than they initially intended to stay. Upon our first night there, we were already looking at little flyers posted around town for beautiful homes for rent by the month…”Hmm, maybe we *should* stay here a little longer!” we both thought. Pai is soooo mellow. It is very peaceful and easy to be there. I also feel incredibly lazy during most points of my time there, because what we end up doing is eating and walking around the few Pai streets very slowly. One day, we rented a motorbike and cruised around the Pai countryside, watching Thai women harvest garlic and peeking into small villages as we drove through. (one of the photos in the previous post is of a truck loaded to the brim with garlic! We saw many of these driving around Pai every day; some even go the 3 hour distance to Chiang Mai, somehow, over those mountains all loaded down like that!) On our drive, we came across an amazing guest house, with each bungalow made of a sandbags (the white buildings in the pictures from the previous post). These bungalows were way out of our price range, but we looked inside one anyways and were so inspired by the space that they created there. Each interior was painted different colors, and had unique artwork painted directly on the wall. (Pai A Ars for anyone who is interested!) Carson is excited to investigate this form of sustainable building when we get back home (or perhaps in India if we find a workshop there.)

My favorite thing about Pai was meeting our new Thai friend Aie at his his shop, La Liead in Pai. (La Liead means “slowly, slowly” or slow living, and is a perfect word for how we move in Pai). We came across his little shop on our first night there, after cruising up and down the night market street (Pai had so many more little shops than last time we were there!) Pai is higher in elevation than Chiang Mai, and so the nights actually get cool. Carson spotted some lovely hoodies right away in Aie’s shop, and started trying them on. Soon we started looking around the shop and noticed detail after detail of the creations that Aie has made, as well as the collection of coffee percolators throughout his shop (Kelly, we thought of you!). His whole idea for his shop is to create a place where everything in it is something that is handmade, to inspire people to be creative in their own space, and for people to have a place to sit and slow down and ponder/reflect upon their lives and their journey. We sat down at a cement and wooden table that he’d made, and he served us Chinese green tea in ceramic cups that he *also* made, and he began to describe his creative process to us. Sometimes having a language barrier is almost better, because the simplest truths are conveyed and repeated in a way that helps you really get the gist of what is being expressed. He told us of how he wakes in the morning, has coffee (coffee is a constant companion to this particular creative process it seems!) and begins to visualize a new creation…he sketches, and drinks more coffee, and eventually visit’s a junk yard or the river, and looks and looks and finally finds the perfect pieces for his project. He brings them home, puts them together, and what results are some of the most honest, delicate, beautiful, and precious creations I have ever seen. Made with wood, river sticks, bent nails painted white, plants planted in rusted light sockets turned upside down like a flower, bent pieces of metal….and combined with the Amelie-like piano music in the background….I was constantly brought to the brink of tears whenever I sat in that shop, simply because I was moved by how utterly beautiful everything was. Rachael, if you’re reading this, it was like that quality that we always try to come up with a name for: like the feeling we get when we listen to David Gray, or when you’re driving on a road trip and the perfect song comes on and even though you’ve heard many times before, for some reason it just FITS…it’s like bittersweet, fully alive, present, beauty, so-happy-you-cry-ness all rolled into one. I felt that feeling every time in La-Liead in Pai, and every time Carson, Aie and I had conversations (which was nearly every day we spent in Pai, as we could not stay away!) One evening he drove us up past the Lisu and Chinese villages toward the mountains, with a view of one of the most sacred mountains there, to a clearing with three Yunnan-style huts, to watch the sunset over the Pai hills. The breeze blew the golden grasses and a small flower (pictures in the last post) and the moment was perfect. March is the dry season in Pai, and thus everything is brown brown brown instead of the lush green we’d experienced on our last visit there in December 2007. And the profuse burning going on all around the area to clear the land made the sky incredibly hazy. Aie told us that in the wet season, you could see all the way to the Chiang Rai mountains which are quite far away; that night, we could barely make out the mountains across the valley! But it was still beautiful, and we looked at Pai from above, and the “sea of stars” that were all of the homes and shops of that sweet community down below.
There is so much to say about our experience at La-Liead. Perhaps more of it will come out in future posts, because our time with our new friend was some of my most favorite moments in a long time. We all felt inspired (insPAIred, you could say!) by what is possible for us to create creatively, and Aie continued to encourage us by saying “You can! You can!” to anything that we shared about that we would like to elaborate on career-wise in our lives (building projects, massage, food and healing, writing a book).

Oh, Pai. We were there for about a week, going la-liead, la-liead, slowly slowly. It has grown since our last visit, but it’s heart is the same. We met some new friends there, a lovely woman from France who just traveled solo in India for the past 4 months. Will rejoined us there, and we spent more time with him (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pai together, how fun!) Pai definitely feels like one of my homes in the world, and a place that I will always enjoy going back to.

It’s difficult to catch up on everything that has happened in the past couple weeks! I really intended to write more, but sometimes while traveling it’s easy to get caught up in the moment (or too relaxed in the moment perhaps!) to sit down and write it all down. I also am re-learning how to be a writer, as it’s not been a regular practice for me lately. And finally, sometimes the act of writing something for such a potentially large and diverse reading audience is a bit daunting; but I will do my best!

Now….now, we are in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (or KL, as it’s often called). Since we had to fly here anyways en route to India, we thought, “Why not check it out?” So we are staying for only one night. Not really enough time to do much, but enough to get a taste of the place and see if we would like to revisit it on our way back (we would!). We arrived here around 2:00pm and took a bus into the main transit hub in the city (about an hour’s drive through mostly palm/jungle vegetation). KL has a really *amazing* transit system comprising of several (8!) light rail/monorail/metro lines. More about that in a minute. Last night in Chiang Mai, I spent an extra 45 minutes online looking up info about KL. Luckily, we decided to book a hotel so that we’d have a prearranged home to migrate to in such a big, unfamiliar city. (What a great idea!!!) It was soooo nice to know where we were going and how to get here. We are staying in a 100 year-old former train station hotel! It’s quite beautiful on the outside (photos below) and has much character inside; it’s fairly clean, with rustic spotty carpets, bright lights, a 4 poster bed, and an arrow on the ceiling above our bed pointing in the direction of the nearest mosque, and also a claw foot tub! (if only it weren’t SO darn hot outside, a bath would be lovely!). The Heritage House is so picturesque, that it is a prime destination for wedding photos! We saw three brides and grooms in separate photo shoots around the hotel as we arrived, and the lobby is full of beautiful shots from previous wedding patrons. We embarked from the Heritage at about 4pm on empty stomachs and dehydrated bodies (we hardly ate anything today due to the flight). Chinatown seemed like it was close, but getting there involved crossing several busy roads and meandering in non-pedestrian friendly zones. Finally we made it there, but Petaling street was just full of souvenirs, baggage, jewelry, etc., and many Chinese and Malay style restaurants with all of the food sitting out in trays to scoop onto your plate, and lots of meat on sticks. Not appetizing. Our blood sugar was crashing, our legs were weak, we were dripping with sweat (much closer to the equator here!). We got some water, kept walking , kept walking, culture shock, oh Thailand we miss you! But then we found a hotel and got a map, and then some orange juice, and then a metro stop, asked where Little India was, found out it was one stop away….Took the metro down there, wandered around for a few more minutes, and happened upon a street with incense wafting out, saris for sale, marigold flower garlands, Bollywood style music pumping out of speakers, and a door leading upstairs to some of the best south Indian food we’ve ever had. Hooray! We did it! Averting our near disastrous low blood sugar heat dehydration crash, we ordered masala dosa, garlic naan, aloo gobi, masala chai, vegetable korma, coconut chutney, rice…..oooh, was it good! We were the only non-Indian people in the place (Malaysia has a large population of people from India). Spicy, flavorful, and authentic, our afternoon dining discovery felt like a nice bridge between where we came from, and where we are headed (India!) After being all fueled up, we though, “why not explore a little more?” So we hopped on the monorail at rush hour and headed over to the hugest shopping area in KL. We then entered the largest shopping mall in Malaysia (called Times Square nonetheless!, over 3 million square feet and 10 stories of shopping/cinema/amusement park craziness! We nearly saw Alice in Wonderland 3D but it was sold out, so we wandered around in there, and then went outside to weave around the mall area to discover a street full of dining stalls and durians (yes durians!) We ate some durian on a corner and chatted with two guys from Oman, one of who was trying durian for the first time (he said it will be his last as well!) We walked a little more, and then took the monorail and the train back to our little station room, where I am writing this now. What a day! It feels like such an accomplishment to arrive in a *completely* new place and to be able to navigate our way around so well, even on not enough sleep and empty stomachs! The Malay language is similar to the Indonesian we heard and saw in Bali two years ago, so there is something familiar about it; many phrases are the same. I am sad to not be able to say “kap kun kah” and “sawadee kah” any longer, but will begin to transition to another language tomorrow: Hindi! Carson bought a couple Hindi language tools for his iPod, so we will be trying to learn new words and phrases every day we are there. I really can’t believe that we are finally going to India; it’s been a dream and a fear of mine for years now. Simultaneously wanting to go there and experience it, and being afraid of it, have been a constant feeling for me. After meeting so many people who have been there already, we have gotten many good tips of places to visit and what to do/not to do and expect there. We are going to fly into Kochi, which is in the Kerala area in the south of India. I know it’s already hot there, so we will spend a week or two and then our idea is to fly up north where it will hopefully be a little cooler. We also want to visit Nepal at some point in our journey. If anyone reading this has any suggestions, tips, connections, etc for us, please leave a comment or write to us personally! We’d love to meet friends of friends, stay in your favorite guesthouse, eat at your favorite restaurant, visit your favorite temple or sacred space, take yoga from your favorite teacher, meditate in your favorite ashram, go on your favorite walk. I love how traveling can connect us to each other by visiting the same favorite places and meeting the same favorite people! Our email is carsonandmelissa(at)gmail(dot)com

Oh there’s always so much to share; thanks for reading all of this if you’ve gotten this far! I know tomorrow will be a whole new day and a whole new country and a whole new world! Carson and I are going to learn so much! Some words to illuminate my intention for visiting India: love, open heart, compassion, strength, prayer, understanding, health, bliss, joy.

I love you all!