My lifestyle as a travel blogger is rarely full of glamour and luxury like most people think. The past week has been a good example of that. I spent the days working my butt off for a family running a Permaculture retreat and education center in the mountains near Biella Italy. Compost toilets, not-so-hot hot…
Standing next to the 100-foot waterfall, feeling the water spraying over me, the sound was deafening. It was the day before Mother’s Day, and I couldn’t help but feel blessed with the beauty of our dear Mother Nature, and the Kayak Wailua tour is a great way to see her at her finest.
What to expect
The day began with a meet and greet with the cheerful staff at Kayak Wailua. I was excited that my daughter, Jamie, would be our guide for the day. She explained to our group what to expect on our expedition. The tour would take about 5 hours total and would include about 5 miles of kayaking through the Wailua River and an easy one mile hike (in both directions) up to Secret Falls, called Uluwehi by the Hawaiian people.
The only other people in our group was a family of four from Santa Cruz with two young energetic boys. We all loaded into the shuttle and headed for the marina. While our driver unloaded the kayaks, we received some last-minute paddling instructions from Jamie and loaded up our gear. Soon we were on our way up the river. The Wailua, which means Spirit in Hawaiian, is surrounded by beautiful jungle, with tropical trees, colorful flowers and lots of interesting birds. We paddled past the Sleeping Giant, known as NouNou Mountain and Mouna Kapu, then into a narrow and overgrown area where we disembarked and began our foot excursion.
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 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 had an extraordinary time visiting a real Indian farm in Southeastern Goa. Dudhsagar Plantation is a guesthouse spread on about 50 beautiful acres. They have 5 cottages scattered amongst the agricultural paradise and employ around 14 people. The farm is owned by Doris and Ajit Malkarnekar who started it over 30 years ago. Doris is from Germany and still lives there. Ajit is Goan. Their son, Ashok, was my host. His wife actually lives in Indonesia. I found it fascinating that both couples are international and live apart most of the time. I guess when running a large plantation, you do what you have to in order to keep the place running smoothly. In fact, I’ve met many people in India that live apart from their spouses in order to meet obligations of extended family and work. It’s not terribly uncommon.
Beside the 5 cottages, the grounds also have a fair sized swimming pool and open air common dining room. It has a thatched roof and is situated just outside the main house. The food was delicious and featured many of their farm grown fruits, vegetables and spices.
Ashok gave me the grand tour and I was captivated by every amazing detail. Their main crop is coconuts and they harvest 3 to 4 times per year. They cook with their own homemade bio gas, which is basically methane made from liquefied cow dung. Cow dung is a popular fuel in India. Traditionally, many homes dry cow dung discs and cook with them year around. Sometimes it takes a little getting used to because the smell of burning cow dung mixes with the aroma of the food and is a little pungent for western senses, but food cooked on biogas does not have this odour.
Everyone is always talking about Goa like it’s some sort of exotic dream vacation destination, so I had to find out for myself why it’s so popular. I’ve only spent three days here and I never want to leave! Goa is heavenly, and my accommodations are sheer paradise!
What and Where
I’m staying at a charming home stay called Olaulim Backyards, situated on 3 lovely acres located about half an hour outside of Panjim. Panjim is the capital of the state of Goa. Home Stays are popular in India and one of my favorite types of places. They are typically a cheaper alternative to a hotel and provide a “no frills” style of accommodations. However, Olaulim (the name of the village) Backyards is an extraordinary exception.
I arrived after dark, weary from a day of travel. Pirkko Fernandes, co-owner and hostess, met me with a smile at the car and introduced herself. She is originally from Finland but has lived in India for over 20 years. Her hospitality and graciousness were evident from the very beginning. I felt like I had just arrived home. She showed me to my cottage and I was immediately impressed with every beautiful detail. The bed was soft and actually had sheets (unusual for India unless staying in a 4 or 5-star hotel). The bamboo accents and soft golden lighting instantly helped me relax. The bathroom was an open air style with a 6-foot solid mud wall around it, thatched roof and a concrete floor. It makes you feel like you are part of nature yet still have all the comforts of home. I really had no idea though what a charming and beautiful place it was until the next morning.
I awoke to the sounds of birds singing cheerfully outside of my cottage. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a peacock calling in the distance and wind chimes making soft music in the cool morning breeze. I made myself a cup of coffee and then headed out to the pool area to meditate, do some yoga and watch the sunrise over the bay. It was the perfect start to an incredibly relaxing day.
Nepal is a beautiful country full of gorgeous countryside, fascinating cultural and a rich history. But my favorite thing about the country was the people. They left me with a lasting impression of peace, happiness and love.
They are happy
The Nepalese people were always so happy! They had big smiles on their faces and always gave us a warm greeting. According to Phycology Today “a happy person is someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness,anxiety and anger. Happiness has also been said to relate to life satisfaction, appreciation of life and moments of pleasure.” To me this has never been more evident than on the faces of the Nepalese people.
They are simple
This may be closely related to number 1. Perhaps when you don’t have to spend two hours a day commuting or have to worry about posting on all your social media it is easier to just be happy. The people that I saw were very poor. They lived in little shanties and were lucky if they had electricity. Yet they seem to genuinely appreciate what they have, instead of focusing on what they don’t have.
I’ve been home for a week now from Triund and my legs still hurt. What’s worse is that my heart aches to go back. I think I may have left a part of me behind in those Himalayan Mountains. Triund does that to a person. It’s an experience you will never forget, and here’s why.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. The most beautiful places in India are the hardest to get to. Triund is a perfect example. Triund is basically a small camp area, about 10,000 feet up in the Himalayan Mountains. To get there, you have to first reach the town of Mcleodganj, India, then you must hike 9 kilometers straight up a mountain, which is why my legs still hurt.
Living as an expat for a year in india hasn’t been easy. Here are the 10 things that I’ve learned about myself and the world around me.