Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. It is commonly known as the Festival of Colors and takes place over two days. It is a celebration of fertility, color, and love, as well as the triumph of good versus evil. The festivities start in the evening the day before, and as is…
My stay in Goa was entirely too short. It’s the type of place where you immediate relax and never want to leave. In fact, many people do just that. Agonda Beach and Palolem are two of the lesser known gems of the area. They are located only about 30 minutes apart from each other in the southern part of the Goa coast.
Agonda is tiny and very laid back. It consists of mainly one road that is lined with vendors from one end to the other. Everything you need is there, from colorful clothing, to a pharmacy, tourist booking offices, laundry, fruit stands and so on. In India, your entire day can easily be taken up by running a few simple errands. They don’t have giant one stop shopping centers like we do in the USA. Instead, you buy everything individually from small shop keepers. These people quickly because friendly faces that brighten day with their big smiles.
I stayed in a small bungalow at a place called the Seat Star Resort. The cost was about $30 USD per night. It was about the size of a small hotel room. It consisted of a bed, a small wardrobe closet and a private washroom. It was simple but cute. The best thing about Sea Star is that it is situated on the beach. A short sandy path leads from the reception desk, down to the café and finally to the beach. The sand is brown and a little rougher than some, but still a lovely place to spend the day basking in the sun and watching all the beach activities. There are volleyball nets set up and ready for play, along with boat rides and kayaks available. The beach is lined with resorts and restaurants so anything you need is readily accessible.
After almost a year and a half in India I’ve gotten to know the country quite well. There are so many things I love about India, like the beautiful Himalayan Mountains, delicious food and fascinating culture. However, there are a number of things that I have really missed from home. These 10 things I will never take for granted again.
India has more cell phones than toilets. There are very few public toilets, which means that public urination (by men) is common. One day, out of pure curiosity, I decided to count the number of men I saw taking a pee on the way to work. In 8 kilometers I counted 14 guys relieving themselves on the side of the road. If you are lucky enough to find a public toilet it will probably be an Indian style squat toilet. Western style toilets are even harder to find.
Hand towels in wash room
If you are able to locate a public restroom be prepared for it to be dirty, even disgusting! They don’t have the same sanitary standards that the west does. I have only found one hand dryer or filled paper towel dispenser in a public bathroom my entire time in India, and that place was operated by foreigners.
I had no idea when I left America to manage a large software project in India that a year and half later I would be a different person. India changes people. Its effect on me has been profound in almost every way possible. If you are my friend or family member from back home, prepare yourself. When I return home in the next month or so you will see that I’m not even close to the same person I was, and I’m glad. They call it Incredible India for a reason and here are the many ways that its changed me.
When I came to India it was because I was offered the highest paying job of my career. I was excited to finally achieve a long time goal of mine; to break the $100k a year salary mark. A year and half later the money is insignificant to me. When the price of your morning cappuccino is more than some people will make in a day, or even a week, it puts things into perspective. I’ve seen naked hungry children wandering the slums in India and its left a lasting impression on me. When I think about all the frivolous things I bought and the money I squandered, it sickens me. It’s all perishable. I can’t take any of it with me when I die. All I want to do now is eat, sleep, breath and be. That’s right….BE. Why are we as a society so obsessed with what others are doing, with deadlines, pressures and achievement? What is really important is THIS particular moment. This day could be your last. It might be the last time you see someone you love. Enjoy it. Count your blessings. Just BE.
I tend to make a lot of new friends during my travels. The human connections are an important part of my journey. Some people leave a lasting impression on me, and my scuba instructor was a perfect example. Nick Parry surprised me with his intelligence. When I found out he speaks fluent Chinese and Thai, I knew there had to be much more to him than just a 27-year-old adrenalin junky teaching scuba at Kon-Tiki Lanta.
Where is he from?
I was surprised to find out that Nick is from my own neck of the woods. He grew up in McMinnville, Oregon, which is about an hour away from my home. McMinnville is a small rural town, probably not well known for turning out adventurous world traveler types. But Nick learned to scuba dive with his father when he was only 14 years old and went to work in China as an interpreter immediately after high school graduation.
What does he do for fun?
He went back to the USA to attend the University of Montana, where he earned a degree in Linguistics and English Literature. He also got certified as a snow board instructor and as a mountaineer. Nick says adrenaline sports are his thing. He has summited Mount Rainier 3 times and has also climbed the peak of the Three Sisters. His dream is to one day tackle the Himalayas.
I’ve have done some pretty incredible things, such as trekking high in the Himalaya Mountains, watching the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl in person, and doing the bungee swing over the Ganga River in India. But the experience I just had getting PADI certified in scuba just might top them all. It truly was a spectacular experience and would not have been possible without the wonderful staff at Kon-Tiki Lanta. Their professionalism and dedication to the sport and their clients made all the difference, and I can’t thank them enough! If you are planning a trip to Thailand to scuba dive, here is a great scuba diving guide that will tell you everything you need to know.
On the first day we were introduced to our instructor, our equipment, and then headed to the swimming pool. I also met the other 3 members of my group. Bea and Jimmy were from Denmark, and my buddy, Chew, was from China. Nick (our amazing instructor who will soon be the topic of one of my Human Connection posts) showed us how to assemble our BCD. The Buoyancy Control Device is the main piece of equipment used in scuba. It helps control your decent and ascent and is connected to the tank and regulator. After that, it was time to get in the pool and take our first breaths under water. Wow! It is such a cool feeling to breath underwater!
Scuba diving certification has been high on my personal bucket list for over a decade. So when I decided to visit Thailand and saw that scuba ranked high on the list of things to do, I realized it was finally time to go for it! So now I will be spending the next several days…
I spent eight amazing days in Malaysia. I was impressed with many things, including the general sophistication of the cities and the kindness of the people. However, it is the geographical beauty, the delicious food, and the fascinating culture that sticks out most in my mind.
The geographical beauty
By far, the lush landscape and stunning hills of Cameron Highlands was my favorite. Cameron Highlands is about 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur, and definitely worth a visit. It’s easy to catch a bus from KL airport and it only takes about 5 hours. Highlights of my visit in that area included a day touring a tea plantation, dining at The Ye Olde Smokehouse, and trekking through the ancient Mossy Forest. The waterfront area of Penang also took my breath away. Make sure you take a ferry over to George Town. It takes about 20 minutes and the view is spectacular.
Eating Malaysian Food is an adventure in itself. A lot of the seafood is sold whole, with the eyeballs still on! It was a little shocking to me. Most of the time I really had no idea what I was eating and because of the language barrier I couldn’t understand what they were telling me about the menu. Apparently that isn’t an unusual event because they would then hand me a picture menu and I would just point at something and hope it was good. The “point and eat” approach worked in my favor every time except once when I was served a dish with every piece of what I assume was chicken, was nothing but gristle. Yuck!
Cameron Highlands has been a feast for my senses. Every day I discover a new plant, fruit or vegetable that I have never heard of or seen before. Cameron Highlands is a lush tropical paradise located approximately 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur. The elevation ranges from 3,600 ft. to 5,200 ft. above sea level and the mean annual temperature is about 64 °F. During the day, the temperature seldom rises over 75 °F. It has rained hard every day that I’ve been here. The first day I was here it was sprinkling lightly and a local man was walking in front of me with an umbrella. I noticed he glanced up to the sky and then started to run. I took that as a sign so I ran for cover too. I’m glad I did because soon the sky opened in an utter deluge, but typically the sun comes out afterwards and everything smells so fresh!
Mossy Forest is an ancient forest that they say is millions of years old. In some places of the forest the moss is several inches thick. It’s a dark and damp rain forest that reminds me a lot of the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington. It looks like something out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It’s not easy to get around in it. You have to climb over ancient stumps and giant twisted tree limbs. Our guide said that 70% of the plants in the Mossy Forest are medicinal. In fact, it’s where Tiger Balm originated. Thank goodness, the plants are all now protected.
I watched the large Muslim family walk slowly away from me today without an incident. For a moment I felt envious of their extended family gathering. Sometimes traveling alone can feel a bit lonely. They were most likely on holiday, enjoying the Chinese New Year in Malaysia. As they walked away I instantly felt relief, followed by utter shame. I had just lied to them.
It has been odd watching the political events surrounding the Presidential election in America from distant global destinations. For the last few months I have been a passive bi-stander of the unraveling of my beloved nation. I must admit, I’ve wept over it all on more than one occasion.
Asians fascination with westerners
People in Asia are fascinated by westerners and are always asking me where I’m from. “America,” I’ve always said with a sense of patriotism and pride. A year and a half ago when I first came to India it would have led to conversations about Walt Disney theme parks, hamburgers or pop stars. Now the conversation has changed. Every time, and I mean EVERY TIME, I tell someone I am from America now they ask me about Donald Trump. Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m on vacation. I don’t wish to spend my precious time discussing American politics with foreigners that can’t possibly relate to my strong feelings about it anyway.