Monday, November 30, 2009

Goodbye India - Hello Australia!

Well the time has finally come to change locations - country and continent - and continue our adventure Down Under. Tomorrow we will take a taxi from Varkala to the Trivandrum airport (1.5 hours, 800 rupees or about $18 Cdn), then fly to Chennai on the east coast of India, then catch our flight to Sydney with a brief stop in Singapore on the way. We are booked into the "Sydney Central" backpackers hostel (check it out on the web if you want). We plan to stay in/around Sydney for a few days to check out the sights there - Sydney Harbour Bridge, Manly Beach, Opera House (from the outside!), Blue Mountains, and others. Our itinerary after that is open at the moment as we will try to decide the best way to budget our time until we get to Adelaide to visit friends over Xmas.

We'll catch up with you soon - from Sydney, Australia!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom!!

Just want to wish Norleen a happy birthday and let her know that we are thinking about her. Hope you have a great day Ma!!

Friday, November 27, 2009


Teri - No I'm not looking for sympathy, but yesterday I got heat exhaustion / dehydration. I've come to accept that it is impossible to spend any amount of daytime on the beach here without getting sunburned. I think the beach umbrella actually makes it worse, since your body is in the shade and the sun doesn't feel as intense, you spend way more time out there than you should. And those ancient threadbare umbrellas do not block the UV rays very well at all. Yesterday we only spent a couple hours on the beach, but after a very sweaty 90-minute yoga class my skin felt it was on fire and I felt worse than I have since my experiences of 'Delhi Belly'. I'm sure the couple mojitos I had with dinner didn't help matters either.
Chris's lip actually blistered from the sun, and he is darker than I've ever seen him. Feeling weak and tired, today we laid low in the room mostly and drank lots of water.
We're going for shiatsu massages tomorrow and are considering taking a Reiki workshop. The yoga classes have been great, but they're very strenuous in +30 temperatures with high humidity, so now we're in need of some cooling and relaxing. How's this for a reversal - we've gone from longing for a warm shower in most of India, to wishing the water from the tap were colder!
Hope you're staying warm or cool or whatever you're needing back home!

Here's a few more pictures - included is a glimpse into our lovely hotel room where we've been for almost 2 weeks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Escape from Neyyar Dam / Reflection

Hmmm, how shall I explain this tactfully...
Chris and I planned to spend our final two weeks in India at the Sivananda ashram at Neyyar Dam, but we checked in on Monday, November 16, and checked out on Wednesday morning.
I think it boils down to...We just couldn't handle the chanting!
At my yoga teacher training in 2006, we sang kirtan (chanting the different names of God) on a daily basis, but for some reason, maybe because I had paid my tuition and was fully committed to being there for a month, I just accepted it and even enjoyed it by the end.
This time around I was not receptive to it and did not want to be receptive to it.
India's plethora of religions and rituals has not really incited spiritual feelings in me. I find myself becoming more and more cynical as I observe crippling poverty and so much unanswered need. Where is God? (Where are Hinduism's 36 million gods for that matter?) People put faith in gods to help them and/or they accept their lot in life and hope karma rewards them with a better next life, but in the meantime there is so much suffering...I can't wrap my head around it.
I feel spiritually vulnerable at the moment, and the ashram felt too risky. I've learned there are many fake priests and gurus out there who take advantage of people's longing for a meaningful connection. I don't mean to say anything negative about the Sivananda organization as I really didn't experience enough of it to pass judgment. The ashram just didn't feel right for me (or Chris) right now. I will continue to question and ponder in a more neutral environment. And I will spend the next week or so studying yoga asana in the many classes here in Varkala.

Here are a few pictures of the ashram...they had beautiful grounds as you can see...there is a picture of Chris' dorm bed and also a picture of the dining hall with all the plates set up (yes, on the floor which is where we ate - with our hands!)

Varkala (part 2!) - The "Mini-Vacation"!

We are back in Varkala Beach after an abbreviated stay at the yoga ashram at Neyyar Dam. Here are a few pictures of where we're living for the next several days!
The first picture shows a view from the beach looking towards the North Cliff promenade where all the shops, restaurants, hotels/resorts are located - you can see the lights of the businesses. There are also a couple local dogs lying in the background. The second picture is the "Santa Claus" resort where we stayed for a night. I have no idea why they came up with that name! Our room had a gorgeous view looking out over the Arabian Sea...800 rupees a night ($18)!! The third picture is a sunset from the beach looking northwest out over the Arabian Sea. The fourth picture is outside one of the many local restaurants along the cliff, showing some of the day's catches from the ocean. When an order is placed in the restaurant, they simply cut out a serving size from the fish (a fresh marlin in this case). I am in the background with a girl we met from Winnipeg - Megan Firth - who we met a couple days earlier at the ashram and had a chance run-in on the beach at Varkala. Small world! The fifth picture is during a breakfast at the "Sunrise" restaurant, looking south towards the beach. Teri is enjoying a fresh pineapple juice and we are sitting underneath an almond tree. The sixth picture is a sunburned Chris & Teri enjoying a cocktail and a beer at the "Abba" restaurant (served in a travel mug because the restaurants do not have beer licenses and need to hide the beer from the police!) The seventh picture is Teri enjoying a whole pineapple on the beach (70 rupees). The eighth picture is another dusk shot of Teri on the beach. The ninth picture is of a few of the stray dogs taking a rest on the promenade along the cliff. All the dogs are friendly - fortunately - and they can be found pretty much everywhere in India! The tenth pic is a view of the beach and Arabian Sea looking north from the cliff promenade.
mini-vacation during our travels

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Varkala Beach

Teri - Hi everyone. The last couple days have been spent along the Arabian Sea. Varkala is a strip of small hotels, cafes, internet places and shops perched along a cliff at the edge of the Arabian Sea. Breathtaking views and fresh ocean breezes!

Steps go down to the beach where we play in the ocean waves and try to body surf in the warm water.

Our GAP adventures tour ended this morning with the rest of the group departing to Kochi, but Chris and I stay here another night. We moved to cheaper accomodations at Santa Claus's Village. Cheesey name, but our room is almost on the edge of the cliff looking out to the ocean.

South India is receiving the retreating monsoon a little late this year. It rained on Friday evening after we arrived and absolutely POURED for hours and hours yesterday! I went to a yoga class under a tin roof and the teacher's voice was completely drowned out by the deafening sound of the rain.

By the time we headed out for dinner there was water up to our ankles running down the walkway and our umbrella was broken by the wind.

Fortunately today the monsoon has held off and we managed to get sunburned on the beach.

Tomorrow we're headed to the ashram for two weeks (if we can stick it out that long!) Don't know what the Internet access will be like out there, but we'll do our best to keep you posted...Take care everyone!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adventures in Keralan Dining

Teri - India is the easiest place in the world to be a vegetarian. Especially in northern India, vegetarian is the default , with 'non-veg' receiving its own category in some restaurants only. I haven't missed meat one bit!

We have eaten very well, and very cheaply in India thus far. Our favourites include stuffed tomato, parantha, butter naan, basmati rice, and masala chai tea. We tend to lean toward an 'American' breakfast of two eggs, toast, juice, tea/coffee, and sometimes porridge or cereal. All this can be had for 75-150 rupees (roughly $1.50 - $3.00CAD). The bread is sliced almost paper-thin, and in Delhi our corn flakes routinely had strange black flecks in them.

Anyway, it is more interesting I'm sure, to learn of some of the quirks of Indian dining. In Kerala, we've experienced a few:
- At our hotel in Periyar, the staff brought out 7 platters of toast for the nine people in our GAP tour group! We almost finished them!
- At dinner the other night, I ordered Vegetable O'Gratin, expecting a pasta dish. Instead I received a big bowl of cheese sauce with a few veggies!
- In Varkala, Chris and I went for breakfast at a lovely cafe facing the Arabian Sea. About ten minutes after we sat down, a DOG walked out from under our table, where it had been snoozing unseen under the tablecloth! It returned later on, and we snapped this photo after it got comfortable.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Teri - Yesterday we toured a spice plantation. It was way more interesting than I expected! We saw cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric, coffee, black tea, ginger, cloves..the list goes on. We also got to smell and taste many of them. It's good to see where foods we eat regularly come from. I had no idea pineapples grew close to the ground - I always imagined them hanging from tree branches!

This morning we did a two-hour trek in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. It's the home of 46 tigers and over 700 elephants and many more exotic creatures. We saw butterflies, spiderwebs, and one elephant from a far distance. :( Still the nature walk was pleasant. We walked right by a bunch of monkeys just outside the gate of the sanctuary!

Last night we also went to a performance of traditional martial arts.

Today Chris and I went for ayurvedic massages. Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga; it means "the science of life" and focuses on nutrition and lifestyle practices. The massage was interesting...
I stripped down completely naked to receive a head massage from the lady massage therapist. She had me sit on a small plastic stool (I wondered how many others sat naked on this stool before me and if they clean it in between) and standing in front of me, she took my head in her hands, nestled it into her ample bosom, and rubbed the back of my head!
For the next hour I was slathered with tons of oil, rubbed, slapped, and 'chopped' from head to toe. A face massage and steam sauna finished off my ayurvedic experience. My skin feels nice and soft.
At one point the therapist asked me how old I was and if Chris was my boyfriend. When I told her I was 33 and had been married for 5 years, she expressed shock and dismay, "Married for 5 years and no children! Why not?! " I'm pretty sure she went on to massage my ovaries and told me she was massaging me with 'good luck'!
(Ask Chris how his experience was with the male massage therapist! ;)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I love Kerala!

Teri - After two nights in Goa, we said goodbye to most of our GAP Adventures tour group and continued south to the state of Kerala. Well actually, we took a flight north back up to Mumbai, caught another flight south, and landed in Mangalore before reaching our final destination. (Our original direct flight was cancelled.) So we spent pretty much the entire day of November 9 in transit. But we enjoyed three decent meals on the three flights, and I'll take plane travel over overcrowded local bus any day!
Kerala is so beautiful...if you ever visit India you must come to Kerala! As much as the urban centres in the north are noisy, polluted, chaotic, and frenetic, the south is quiet, green and lush, tranquil and serene. The streets are more organized, less crowded and seem to mostly maintain typical traffic rules as well.
Yesterday we met up with our new tour group and new guide. We rode by air conditioned mini tour bus (this part of the tour seems much more luxurious!) to Alappoozha/Allepey, which is sometimes referred to as the 'Venice of the East'. It's a region below sea level, where backwaters are the main roads and canoes and houseboats are the main vehicles. We took a boat down the backwaters to our homestay at the Green Palms where our hosts treated us to the best meals we've had in India! (And we've eaten very well all along!) The host family explained how they grow their own rice and other vegetables, pick their own coconuts and filter collected rain water. Everything tastes so good when it hasn't travelled further than from the backyard. We had local catfish, rice, coconut curry, paratha, long beans, salad, the list goes on, it was quite the feed!
Our host Matthew took us on a walk and boat ride and talked about Keralan history, culture, economy, etc. We stopped at a 'toddy' shop where we sampled the local brew - a mildly alcoholic beverage made from the coconut tree.
The sky opened up and we got to experience the retreating monsoon! It poured and then rained steadily for hours, and we continued walking, and then rode in the slowest boat ever back to our homestay. Fortunately Matthew and the boat men entertained us with traditional Keralan songs as we shivered in the wet, cold and dark.
I was sad to leave this morning - the family that operates The Green Palms is gracious and charming and the perfect host family for experiencing the backwaters way of life. Fortunately, more great adventures awaited us...but I'll save it for the next post. I promise to liven up this blog with more pictures soon.
Thanks for reading everyone, hope you're all doing well, send me an email sometime will ya?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Melting in Goa!

(Chris) Hello from Goa, India! We're on the west coast about an hour's flight south of Mumbai. We arrived here yesterday Nov 7th and leave tomorrow Nov 9th for Cochin in the south of India, also on the west coast. I know absolutely nobody at home is going to feel sorry for us but we are absolutely melting here...temperatures are in the mid 30's during the day and the humidity is keeping me in a constant sweaty state. Goa is apparently one of the more "touristy" places in India, with many beaches and its warm climate. It's also obvious by the presence of all the "touts" or people trying to sell us stuff wherever we go. It is incredibly annoying, but I guess it's a part of being a visitor to another country! Some examples of items for sale this morning on the beach (and by 'for sale' I mean people come right up to you and ask your name, where are you from, are you married, do you have kids, first time in India?, first time in Goa?, and it goes on while you're trying to catch a few rays...) Anyway some of these items include cucumbers, an ear wax removal service, henna tattoos, massage, peanuts, fruit, and a bunch of other crap like necklaces and bracelets etc. My head is now conditioned to move back and forth in a "no, thanks" motion whenever I hear the dreaded words "Hello, my friend!"

As it was Teri's birthday while we were in Goa, our tour leader arranged a birthday cake for her when we were out for supper at a karaoke restaurant on the 8th. I have included a picture of the cake as well as our tour leader, Mahipal. There is also a picture of the hotel we stayed at.
Well internet time is up, 30 rupees spent and you're now a bit more caught up...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Costs of Traveling in India

(Chris) I though I would post some typical costs we've seen or encountered here in India so far on our trip...

gasoline (petrol): 50 rupees per/litre = $1.13 Cdn
1 litre bottled water (ex. Aquafina): 15-30 rs = $.34 cents - $.68 cents Cdn
bottle of Coke or other soft drinks: same as water
taxi/auto rickshaw: avg 50-100 rs per trip = $1.13 to $2.26 Cdn (so cheap compared to getting around a city in Canada!)
avg meal: 200-300 rs = $4.50 - $7.00 Cdn
chocolate bar: 15- 30 rs = $.34 to $.68 cents Cdn
internet use: 15-20 rs per half hour = $.34 - $.45 cents Cdn
tailored pants & shirt: 1600 rs = $36 Cdn
paperback novel: 250 rs = $5.65 Cdn
3 star hotel (decent): 1500-2500 rs per night = $34 - $56 Cdn for 2 people

if anyone is wondering about any other costs let me know and I'll get back to you!

Mount Abu Hill Station, Rajasthan

Teri - Well it is probably for the best that I couldn't access Internet the last few days - I was quite sick, and feeling horrible was affecting my outlook on the whole India experience in a pretty negative way. But fortunately my health is rebounding, and my spirits are buoyed!

I never saw a thing in Udaipur except my hotel room and the toilet, but today we travelled about 5 hours to Mount Abu, the only hill station in Rajastan, and a popular holiday spot for Indians looking to escape the unbearable summer heat of lower altitudes.

Everyone's on holidays here, so the atmosphere is fun and cheerful. Tonight we hiked along with hundreds of Indian tourists to 'sunset point'. It was a fun experience because everyone made such a big deal over the sunset - vendors selling popcorn, people oohing, ahhing, cheering and clapping. I guess Mount Abu doesn't get many foreign tourists, because we still posed for lots of pictures - me with groups of giggling girls, and Chris with groups of guys who just think Chris is a Hollywood movie star.

Sorry so few pictures on this blog so far - we have a ton but the computers are old and slow and it's not usually possible. Imagine us looking fabulous and glamorous, k?