Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hong Kong - Life of Luxury for a Backpacker ;)

Hong Kong - Life of Luxury for a Backpacker ;) 

An afternoon of indulgence in Hong Kong.

God I live for last minute arrangements. It had totally slipped my mind that Lara was in Hong Kong at the moment until literally as I happened to scan through facebook quickly the evening before I was due to fly through HK that I noticed her photo of the beautiful skyline from her apartment. I immediately emailed and asked for advice on how I could fill my 6 hours or so in transit.

The lovely Lara responded to my facebook request to friends about whether a trip into city was viable in 6 hours. She offered to come and meet me in town OR have me come to where she is staying at the moment and hang out by the pool. Which was an offer that was far too good to refuse! So generous of her, and such a luxury thing to be doing on a 6 hour layover after a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, and Delhi to Hong Kong overnight and with backpack in tow. 

From the moment I landed I loved Hong Kong.  The organization was beyond words, and everywhere you looked everyone moved smoothly and everything worked. The wifi was working from the moment you got off the plane which is such a simple thing but such a luxury for a backpacker letting people  know you arrived safely, and finding out where the hell you are meant to be travelling to next when you realize you forgot to write/print details out.

I walked to the train station and a wonderful woman pointed me in the direction of where I was going, telling me happily “it is so close, so easy for you maam”. It really was, just two stops away and then a walk through a glamorous mall (which made me feel super under dressed lol).

Lara was amazingly generous, she made me fabulous coffee from a real coffee machine as soon as I arrived. Helped me to lose a lot of stuff from my backpack including about 6 books which were probably the reason my back is so damn heavy ;) Then we retreated to the W hotel upstairs and my jaw dropped as we walked through the doors. I was instructed to say nothing so I didn’t give away that I wasn’t supposed to be there. I couldn’t have spoken if I had tried, with the exception of saying WOW anyway!

It was SO wow that Vueve Clique were doing a photo shoot with super skinny young models and handsome young men by one side of the pool. So we sat ourselves down and stared in amazement! 

It felt SO good to have the sun on my skin, and wear a bikini, and have an infinity pool right in front of me with the most spectacular back drop of Hong Kong harbor in front of me. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world right then in that moment. As it if couldn’t get better, Lara suggested cocktails and honestly it has been so long since I have had a cocktail I couldn’t say no. I had a strawberry dacqueri and then proceeded onto a mango one shortly after J Happy days!! She was adorable company, and we sat there as if a single day hadn’t passed between when we had last been face to face (which was in Bermuda in 2011) and today.  We covered so much gossip and stories about life, my travels, her move to Hong Kong, my life plans and ideas, boys, lack of boys, the like lol. I felt like a million dollars for this afternoon of friendship and normalness albeit in a completely unnormal and extravagant environment.  The most wonderful thing about it all was that Lara is so thoughtful that she said she had suggested we meet at hers instead of in town with the sole purpose being to spoil me, and treat the backpacker to some much needed luxury right in the middle of an away from home, away from luxury time in my life. I could have cried I was so extremely grateful. What a girl J  She treated me so generously.  The cocktails flowed, and we had delicious tapas and watched the world go by underneath all the time gossiping away.

Normally days like that, with limited time spans, go so quickly it is scary. However, that particular afternoon went in slow motion and I could have kissed the powers that be for this loveliness once again. I needed that day so, so much and loved and appreciated every single second. 

The lovely Lara walked me to the train station (I was like a walking packhorse….as ever) where I was able to check in for my flight. Another luxury which meant I could travel bag free all the way on the train which was sheer heaven.

What a wonderful surprise of a day J Lara, I honestly can’t thank you enough for this little piece of heaven and your kindness in looking after me. Such generosity. I can’t wait to come back and visit Hong Kong Disney World with you – woohoo!!!!

Love xoxox

Monday, 29 July 2013

Chilled out café days in Kathmandu

Kathmandu - life after the Annapurna Circuit

It was hard to leave behind the sleepy town of Pokhara to return to Kathmandu, the hustling and bustling little town from which our Annapurna Ciruit adventure began all those weeks ago.  Pokhara had a mellow chilled out relaxed vibe about it, and Kathmandu (which had once upon a time felt super relaxed to me post India lol) had a more happening and go getting vibe about it. Every man for himself kind of feeling and an energy which is hard to describe.  Typically I found wonderful places to hibernate in and hide from the world which I will tell you about shortly :)

The drive was Pokhara to Kathmandu took 8 hours, and wow was I glad to get off that bus. The roads are so rocky and bumpy through Kathmandu, and what starts off as quite amusing very quickly becomes unbearable after a short while. Both Kate and I sighed a huge sigh of relief when we pulled into Kathmandu, even though we knew we were about to be bombarded by pushy taxi men trying to charge us ridiculous prices for a ridiculously short journey (one that was too twisty and windy for us to remember from before lol).  We were excited that the entire Annapurna mountain range had decided to make an appearance for us at the bus station that morning. Something we had waited days for to happen!! Very lucky :) You can see it in the handstand pic above! 

Once we had reclaimed our belongings from the hotel we departed from, Kate helped me to find a new hostel for the next few days.  I think I scared the poor boy at the hotel that I picked, as he showed me two rooms and I picked the more expensive of the two. Probably the only backpacker who has ever done that judging by his shocked expression lol! The first room was fine, but the second had more space and an awesome bathroom and just felt liberating and free. 

I got the most amazing sunsets from behind my hotel too. Every evening when the sun went down you would find me hanging out of my window at a funny angle and steering my camera towards the mountains! Beautiful colours! I was so grateful that despite being back in the bustling city I could see and feel the mountains and gorgeous sunsets!! I learn every single day on my travels the things in life that make me happy and have to (read HAVE to lol!) feature in my life moving forward, my new exciting yet to be seen or properly defined life! :) 

Next step was organizing clean laundry! I am sure it will sound insane to you just how excited I was at the prospect of a washing machine actually being used to clean my clothes!! It was out of this world exciting in that moment. I had been away from home for 4 months and had become a champion at hand washing my clothes every week.  However after the dust and disgusting amounts of dirt that we endured trekking through the Annapurna Circuit, there was every possibility that my backpack may just reject my clothes! I handed the entire contents of my backpack to the laundry shop next door to my hotel, to his delight, and he told me it would cost me $2.50 and would be ready for collection the next day. Honestly, at that point he could have charged me $50 and I would have paid it for that clean, freshly laundered smell!! I was so deliriously happy to collect my parcel of clothes, that I sat on my bed smelling each piece and smiling. I even took a photo :) Nothing beats fresh laundry. Nothing. Maybe fresh coffee. Just maybe though. Or the smell of new books. Someone once asked me what my five favourite smells are - I must give some thought to that. Noises too....

OK so that is a really long paragraph on laundry but I think I made my point ;)

Kathmandu quickly became a place about visiting and making new friends, catching up with old ones virtually and drinking coffee, beer or wine in gorgeously chilled out cafes hidden away down windy little side streets and alleys for me. You may have picked up on the fact I love hidden away little cafes :) And me time ;)

My favourite place to hang out was a small bar/cafe called New Orleans which was open from breakfast to dinner, and was just the most chilled out place ever for me. I would literally go for a late breakfast and then be chilling the morning away with breakfast/lunch and then the day would run away with me. I spent the days either writing postcards, surfing the net, chatting to Facebook friends around the world or contemplating my life. After weeks of trekking it was perfect.

The evenings became about meeting old and new friends for yummy dinners and drinks. We met up with Rhian who we had met in a hot tub around the Annapurna Circuit, and again in Pokhara. She had come to Kathmandu ahead of us so had brought her friends along with her who were just lovely. We went to this fabulous Israeli restaurant with neon signs and amazingly chilled decor. People who have been to Thailand, picture the thai cushions everywhere and short and long tables to sit at and deliciously amazing food options! Died and gone to heaven! Of course our eyes were bigger than our bellies ;) On our last night we ate at an Italian place called Dolce Vita which was delicious. We had long since abandoned our feelings of guilt for not always eating local food after 3 weeks straight of rice, potatoes and dahl every single meal. So good, and red wine :) YUM.

Through Rhian I met the lovely Yuliya who I was lucky enough to do the Mount Everest flight with while in Kathmandu! Awesome experience, and such a positive and friendly girl.  Looking forward to seeing her in Sydney one day. We also shared taxi to Kathmandu airport together on our last morning, thankfully as that is one hellish airport to manage on your own. People just stare, and so unhelpful. You find yourself in one large room with a zillion men. It's like woman don't exist and then add to that the fact you are a westerner. Never before have I seen such an expensive cafe in an airport either...a packet of minstrels was over $10!!

I have already mentioned in my previous blog just how many things came up for me in Nepal while trekking, and how much it brought up an immense level of homesickness for me. Or something that resembled homesickness. It made me miss India and the wonderful girls that I had met there, my yoga practice and my routine whilst studying there. It also made me miss Bermuda like crazy - my friends, my Bermuda family, my coach, my training regime, my lifestyle - the beaches, the views, my bedside harbor view, my cats, my world as I had known it for 4.5 years.

I spent a LOT of time thinking about my travels and wondering how it was that of 4 months I had spent only a week or so on a beach and 3 weeks diving! I had imagined that my travels would take me in the direction of beach babe living and I would be this super tanned yogi and dive bum beach babe. LOL it couldn't be further from the truth as I reflected on my journey so far. I have been to India to learn more yoga, and Nepal to trek for 21 days and recover from trekking. Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai, were all quick visits with my 'must see as much as I can rather than relax' hat on. Ok so Dubai was luxury but still a sightseeing expedition. Koh Samet was chilled but I wasn't in the right head space to sit still too long then, and Koh Lanta was abruptly cut short because of my India visa. Lembeh - Lembeh was incredible and day after day of incredible diving.

It was days like Lembeh days which got me analysing my journey and thinking about what direction I need to take my journey next. There has to be more diving and more beach time for me to chill. I will stand by what a good friend and mentor of mine -Art - says to me often, "Caroline you are exactly where you are meant to be, now breathe". Wise words and so true.  However in the moments in Kathmandu when panic hit my thought process about what am I doing with my life, my trip, my journey - I briefly forgot this line which with hindsight is so, so accurate. He's a wise man that one, and apparently listened in detail to me and what I wanted from life when we shared a liveaboard in the Bahamas in 2011 :)

I spent a lot of time one day talking to some good friends remotely on Facebook.  People as far spread as Hong Kong, Saipan, Romania, England, Singapore, New York, Toronto, Bermuda, and more.  Each person, without realising helped me to regain some clarity and perspective that day.  I learnt a lot about each person from those conversations, and even more about myself at the same time. Everyone told me to go with the flow. My lovely friends guided me through my questions, self doubts, thoughts, worries and excited moments and helped steer me to a place where I know now where I am supposed to be and trust it. It's almost like reading a novel about myself and trying to not read it too quickly, and so many different outcomes available to me but trying not to try to predict the final outcome. Do you remember those books when we were young? With several different endings depending on choices you made throughout the various chapters? How clued in was that author? That is my life. Welcome to my life!

Right now, I am enjoying yoga, running, diving, traveling and writing my blog! So these are the things I have decided to focus on while I travel, and see which ones picks up the most and follow that direction. Feel so much calmer after these conversations. Each and every person I spoke to that particular day influenced me in more ways than they will ever realize :) Thank you wonderful friends.

The yoga piece has been tough for me since leaving India. And it worries me that everything that I learnt in that intense 6 week period is at risk of leaving me! A beautiful friend Amanda wrote me the most wonderful email while I was trekking which helped me realise that what I learnt in Rishikesh will never leave me. Darius told me the same thing today too and told me how he his keeping India alive in his European existence and how I can do the same while I am traveling. It's been tough while I was in Nepal trekking, but now I am on the road again and I have heaps of energy so watch this space :)

Nepal was a special country with a beautiful landscape, and beautiful people.  I learnt a lot about how little we really need to be happy through these people. Such basic ways of living, living on so much less than us in the West yet always smiling, always focusing on the positive and enjoying their lives. There is a lesson in there for a lot of people... A fantastic opportunity and a great experience, would love to come back and attempt to trek Mount Everest Base Camp next time!

Namaste xox

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mount Everest Flight :)

Guess what I saw this morning?! MOUNT EVEREST :):):)

An amazing morning flying above the clouds :)

Mount Everest is the Earth's highest mountain, with a peak of 8,848m (29,029 ft) above sea level and is the 5th tallest mountain measured from the centre of the Earth. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. The international border between Nepal and China runs across the precise summit point.

Interesting crazy facts huh?

Yuliya and I met at the airport for our early morning flight from Kathmandu Airport! I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the adventure, and was so excited to bump into Yuliya so we could share it with me.

There was such an exciting vibe going down at the airport with all the climbers there getting ready for either flying to Base Camp to begin their attempt to climb to the top of Mount Everest, or those flying to begin their fabulous trek to Everest Base Camp. Regardless of their destination, the energy was fantastic and made me full of envy that they would be witnessing Everest first hand. I often wondered during the Annapurna Circuit if I had picked the right trek for me, would I have found Everest Base Camp more physically challenging and therefore had a better experience and more of a buzz. But everything for a reason, and if anything then this trip to the airport confirmed that I do need to come back and get to Everest Base Camp in the near future for the experience itself :)

Our plane was teeny tiny and we were so excited to see it.  I stupidly missed the opportunity for a handstand photo in front of it, instead choosing for a photo of me on my feet in front of the little plane - as everyone pointed out to me afterwards LOL! I just love how everyone now expects every photo of me to be on my hands now and sees it as wasted opportunity when I don't take every possible exciting picture! Love the enthusiasm that the handstand 365 challenge has evoked in everyone, not just me and those traveling with me!

We grinned from ear to ear like cheshire cats every single step of the flight.  The view was out of this world exceptional, and that was on a cloudy day. I can't even begin to imagine how those people must feel who are actually climbing it - what an adrenaline rush every single day.

The staff on the plane were fantastic and we were all allowed one at a time to stand in the pilots cock pit and have him show us exactly where Mount Everest was and take photos. They took us around it so that both sides of the plane (1 person only sat each side of the aisle) got to see the range properly and fairly. It was such a special morning. The hour really didn't fly by as I had imagined which was great.

It wasn't cheap, but it was a once in a lifetime experience for me and I am so thrilled that I got to do this while in Kathmandu and that the weather allowed for it.  Especially pleased that I got to share the experience :)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Perfectly peaceful days in Pokhara, Nepal :)

Things I loved about sleepy Pokhara, Nepal  :)

The highlight of Pokhara for me was undoubtedly PARAGLIDING!!!! What an incredibly fabulous day! I literally ran off the edge of a mountain with a French man attached to my back (of course he had to be French ;) lol) and tried PARAGLIDING for the first time ever!! What an absolute buzz that was. I felt like I was flying, I want to go again, and again, and again.... such enthusiastic people working there, such positive energy. We flew with the eagles (literally - 3 of them) and floated slowly across the mountainside. We caught light winds into the clouds, and then slowly flew across Lake Fewa and landed in a field across the water. I LOVED it!!

It is so unbelievably peaceful up there, it is almost as calm and peaceful as being 30m underwater. This could become an expensive hobby...they do a 10 day course to learn how to fly them solo later this year ;)

How do you beat a morning like that exactly? You can't, but you can use the excitement to inject even more enthusiasm and gratitude into your life for future adventures. By being open to more new things, more new things will find you :) Or share it! I gave a blow by blow out of this world enthusiastic account of my journey to Kate and Rhian, which resulted in Kate racing straight to the paragliding shop and signing up herself for the next morning! I should have been born a story teller :)

I spent a totally chillaxed afternoon on a boat on the lake with Kate and Rhian swapping old stories and life experiences while the most adorable man ever rowed us around giggling with (and possibly at...) us!! It was the most beautiful day weather wise, with the sun completely out and a glimpse of the Annapurna Mountain range in the background briefly. We have not had sunshine the whole time since I arrived in Pokhara until the Paragliding day - obviously it happened for a reason, and that reason being Kate and I getting to throw ourself off the mountain and fly through the sky for the first time ever :) <3 The boat trip was just stunning. You can see from the photo just how calm and amazing the water in Lake Fewa was that day. The calmness, the reflections in the water and the sheer peacefulness being there right then was stunning and so special.

Given that I spent the first part of my time in Pokhara feeling completely sick and exhausted, things were definitely looking up. I was feeling grateful to feeling human again today so decided to celebrate and make things happen to make me smile :) Hence the paragliding :) A great day!!!!

When I had first arrived in Pokhara I was very excited to be there for some me time and to explore a place, however from a health point of view I was a mess! Having made the tough decision to listen to my body I had reluctantly pulled out of the final days of the trek. I couldn't regain strength following our ascent to 5416m when a cold and stomach bug hit me.  As the days progressed in Pokhara I would start to feel slightly better, and then would get these intense waves of tiredness and fatigue, sometimes accompanied with nausea.  Very, very strange and I just didn't feel good at all. I could be sitting in a cafe totally chilled out and suddenly feel like I was possibly going to pass out. Luckily my return to health coincided with the sunshine arriving in Pokhara. And after days of standing in tip toes in my bathroom and peeking out of the window towards the mountain range in the distance, I could finally see a glimpse of the Fishtail!! Which meant clear skies and good weather were finally arriving. That is the day that I decided what the hell, let's go and see if I can paraglide soon. Upon arriving in the office the lady said hey yes let's go today at 12pm (it was 11:15am...). I guess being thrown in the deep end is probably a good thing lol as I was slightly nervous and this way I didn't have time to think about it! So excited and proud of myself for doing this as you can tell from above lol :)

During my earlier, recovery chilling in Pokhara days I would literally wake up at 11am and slowly make my way through the one main street that we called 'town', hoping that I wouldn't throw up, and find a cafe to sit in and literally set up camp there for the day drinking orange juice and cafe! You could easily tell the newbie trekkers from those who had done the trekking in this sleepy town. Newbies were excitedly up early and buying North Fake products galore. Old timers, like me - totally fried, sunburnt noses, and that pathetic, exhausted look - oh and a nice LARGE pot of Himalaya organic freshly brewed coffee and mango juice parker in front of them in a cafe with wifi where I intended to sit until they kicked me out. No -one ever did. It must be my smile, lol or my weary expression ;)

During those early days it rained every day so I didn't feel obliged to do anything other than sit still, (oh my body craved that after 6-8 hours of trekking every day), people watch, watch water buffalo walk the streets, and read my newly bought Vietnam and Cambodia Lonely Planet, suss out the nearest massage places, and ask advice from passers by on where I can find decent bacon and fresh smoothies. Oh and decide if I should take antibiotics or not to get me out of the nasty little funk I seemed to have stuck in. This bug just would not go and the lethargic feelings were killing me :( I did end up taking a 5 day course, and it helped to shift it. I couldn't help wondering if this was actually something left inside my system from my India bug days... I hate taking antibiotics but they did make me feel instantly better :)

Pokhara brought to life lots of dreams for me about health and fitness and a burning desire to be near the water. I found myself missing like crazy my old life of running, swimming, diving, training for races, track work, having burning thighs from a tough session in the gym or on the road, CrossFit, my healthy paleo lifestyle, healthy nutritious unprocessed foods. I dreamed about fruit, vegetables, smoothies, big salad bowls full of goodness, herbals teas, avocados, nuts. And I really, really missed the OCEAN. I really need to run again and soon. I have just been feeling so lazy lately. LOL and as the lovely Lauren just mentioned "ummm fairly sure that a 21 day trekking trip counts as fairly hardcore exercise" and she is of course right so I need to cut myself some slack haha!!

I spent a lot of time assessing my travel journey for life after Nepal during my time in Pokhara, I didn't really get too far. All I know is that I need to get underwater and diving again soon, and based somewhere where I can satisfy my running and yoga cravings and find a bit of a routine again. Everyone at home will laugh at my craving routine when I am 'living the dream' - my dream, your dream, everyones dream LOL! I blame May 24 half marathon for my sudden dreams of running!! Seeing everyones photos and all of those wonderfully colourful lululemon outfits made me homesick ;)   Bermuda running friends - know that I was with you all every step of the way from Nepal!

In the absence of the actual ocean, I settled for a room which overlooked the lake regardless of it being outside of my 'budget'. The hotel was called Hotel Peace Plaze and was run by a really lovely guy who gave me a good deal despite being busy each evening. I also spent as much time as I could either by the lake, on the lake or watching the lake from my balcony. So I learnt something else about myself and what I want in life - no landlocked countries as they make me claustrophobic, and I MUST live by the water in order to be able to breathe. Progress :)

Cafe culture is rife in Pokhara which is something that as you know makes me very, very happy.  I love finding little cafes hidden away from the world and was thrilled to find Oasis Cafe - a very cool cafe that played chilled music, served Illy coffee, had gorgeous plants, hip artists hanging out, amazing people watching potential, and most importantly foods like papaya and mango smoothies, brown rice and veggie brownies and delicious ice cream options!! It even turned into a funky little candle lit restaurant by night time. It quickly became my Pokhara sanctuary and I literally hid out there each day until my return to Kathmandu! Happy days!

The day that Kate and I left Pokhara for Kathmandu, was the day that the entire Annapurna Mountain Range typically decided to show its magnificent self to us!! You can see from the handstand photo below just how spectacular a view it is and how lucky we felt to be able to catch a glimpse of this stunning view before leaving town :)