Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I just discovered these videos by Rick Mereki.  It took 3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, and 38 thousand miles to create these short films.  Pretty creative!  Watching them I feel the need to start planning another big trip...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The journey home...

Planes, boats, and automobiles...

Our journey home began at 7am Monday morning, catching the ferry to the airport. I had some anxiety about how this was going to pan out with my foot, but Kelley and Kate were fantastic helpers and I managed it without a problem. At check in, I was offered a wheel chair. I was mortified to be wheeled around, but it was nice not to have to hobble. My other leg muscles are getting a workout.

We took off for Sri Lanka, which I am intrigued to make a future trip to Sri Lanka...add that to the travel to do list! Again, I have to note how impressed I am with Sri Lankan air. Their planes are all new and clean, and service is fantastic.

After a layover, we were off for Delhi. Delhi has a nice airport, but some things are just a bit strange. Since we didn't book our flights all together we had to go through immigration and check-in all over again. The guy at immigration was a bit confused with what we were doing, so it took some time to explain and get through. The check-in part was another hassle. We went up to departures and had to pass through a security check point to enter the departure check-in. He asked us for our tickets, but clearly we didn't have these since we hadn't even entered the check-in area.  Luckily, Kelley and I had print out itineraries and were able to pass through. Kate, however, had a bit of a struggle but finally found her confirmation on her phone.  So then we proceeded to walk a couple feet to another guarded entrance, where we were stopped and had to go through the same process.  Mind you, the other guard was in visibility. It made no sense why we had to do this again.  And this time around I had a bit of a struggle but finally made it through, as for Kelley and Kate, they had to go find someone with a printout of all passengers and show it to the guard (this happened when we were flying to Male too, but not as many checkpoints).   I know it's good they are trying to be secure, but some of this could really be streamlined!  Efficiency doesn't appear to be a strong suit!  If you find yourself traveling to Delhi, make sure you print off all your tickets first.

After all that frustration we were able to take advantage of Kate's dad's airline status and chill in a swanky lounge. This worked out well since my flight was two hours after Kate and Kelley's. I was able to catch up on free internet, and enjoy a cocktail before my fifteen hour flight back to Chicago.

Over 24 hours of travel, and three modes of transportation, the trip has come to an end....SAD FACE!

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Left my heart in the Maldives

I'm writing this post as I am on my last leg of a long trek home. Currently, I have 7 hours left into my flight from Delhi to Chicago. It's been approximately 24 hours since we began the journey home from Male. I'm feeling a bit bittersweet about this trip coming to an end. I'm excited to get home to do laundry, visit a doctor for the foot, and properly catch up with some people. After that I would like to teleport back to the Maldives and make that my permanent residence. My mind is racing on business ventures and opportunities to make this happen.

It was really hard to say goodbye to the boat crew. They were a fun group of guys, who really had a pride in their country and it's offerings. They did a great job sharing that with us. I kept trying to persuade the boat crew to let me stay and join the crew. One of the crew guys, who I like to call Smiles (he always had a giant smile and fun giggle), offered me a room in one of the storage compartments. Sold!

I think another reason it was hard to say goodbye is because of the group we had. Between the five of us we really had a great dynamic, with no drama at all. I walked away from this trip with some new friends and look forward to having boat reunions in the future.

Our last night on the boat was one of my favorites. The weather was perfect (we had a bit of rain throughout the trip as it's the off season) for one last happy hour sunset swim! The crew even joined in the fun. People were diving and flipping from all stories of the boat. It was a blast, with lots of laughs. We then proceeded to whip out the twister board, which was hysterical. Crew members were coming out of the woodworks to observe the craziness. We even got a couple of them to participate. We left the board as a parting gift. After that we had a fierce game of uno with everyone. It was so fun to have our new friends join in our crazy fun. Hopefully, they don't think we are too crazy, but after performing the Armed Shark dance (a dance that evolved throughout our trip - There may or may not be video footage) that could be questionable

The next day we were taken to Male kicking and screaming. None of us wanted to leave our week's home. We had arranged to meet for dinner at Seagull cafe, and were excited to hear Ali would join us for a bit before dinner with his family. One last hoorah. It was a nice, chill end to the week, with some fancy ice cream treats to top it off.
I can't stop thinking about the trip and the Maldives itself. The island has stolen my heart. It is quite possibly one of the most amazing places I've ever been, the crystal blue water, the marine life, and the many islands. It has a charm that I have not felt from many places. I also found the locals to be extremely nice, helpful, and attractive. Though tourism is a big part of their economy, it doesn't seem to be overrun with tourism, they still maintain their own character. Probably due to the fact that it is still pretty unknown for westerners, and quite a long journey. The journey is worth it!

For those considering a trip, the boat safari is the way to go. It is loads cheaper than the resort, and you get to see & do so much more. It was also great to learn about the country from the guides. They were very knowledgeable about the history and the best spots to go for various activities. Many of the resorts you have to pay extra to do the activities and dining, which was all included in what we had paid for the boat at a better rate. The only additional charge we had was booze, which really wasn't as bad considering it was a week's worth. It's the route to go in my opinion.

Maldives, I will be back!!

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yachting adventure in the Maldives...broken toe and all

We arrived at Male airport about three in the morning, after some flight delays in Sri Lanka. I must note, I was rather impressed with Sri Lankan airlines. They had the planes with humidifiers, free alcohol, and food on both flights. Although, I don't know why they woke us up, and gave us our food for an hour flight from Sri Lanka to Male at 2am. It was left uneaten, as we went right back to sleep.

When we arrived at the airport we had to have our luggage scanned as there are strict rules about what can be brought into the country, including alcohol, & religious idols. The Maldives is strictly Islamic. You can only be a citizen if you are Islamic. Kate and Kelley both bought decorative sandstone Buddha heads in India that were confiscated. Luckily, they'll be able to pick them up on the way out.

The Male airport is on it's own island, so we had someone from our hotel pick us up and ferry us to Male, the most populated island. I was pretty excited to have someone waiting with my name at arrivals. It's weird, but I have always kind of wanted that. We crashed once we got to the hotel and spent the next day exploring Male. Male is a clean, cute, safe island town. Interesting note, no alcohol is allowed on Male. Our hotel did have mocktail hour.

At 10pm we were back at the airport, where we met up with Elliot and Heather (friends of Kate from London). We were supposed to have more friends join, but several had backed out. Luckily for us, their deposits still allowed us to embark with only five passengers. After meting Heather and Elliot we met our guides and they took us to our yacht. We were all pretty stoked. Our guides, Hanu & Ali seemed pretty cool, kind of envious of their job. I think they were a bit surprised to learn we all were beginner surfers. They quickly realized this when they asked where are nonexistent surf equipment was. The charter we arranged through Wavehunters was specifically a surf safari. We tried to rent boards from the surf shop in Male, but they don't have boards (potentially a new business venture for myself). Later we found out our group was a nice break for them.

We were woken the next morning to beautiful views of crystal blue water and island resorts. We sat on the back deck and enjoyed a delicious breakfast (all meal have been great!). Then we assumed sun bathing position on the front deck as the boat set off. I had to pinch myself once or twice to realize I was actually in this amazing, exotic location. At one point, while we were cruising, we approached a group of dolphins. It was pretty amazing to watch them jump out of the water and swim along the boat. The water was so clear that we could see them really well, an unbelievable site.

We arrived at our first stop for the day, where we snorkeled. Again, I just can't quite express how unreal it is that I am here and witnessing this amazing marine life. Witnessing it, made me question why I never pursued my dream of being a marine biologist when I was younger. Although, there are still some marine creatures that I thankfully did not see that freak me out (sharks). But the stuff we saw was pretty awesome. There were so many colorful and exotic fish; neon blue and yellow striped fish, turquoise and purple fish, iridescent glowing fish, orange polka dot fish, and so many more (pictures taken don't quite do it justice). We learned that the coral had once been brighter, as the Maldives have suffered from bleaching in the last few years. It was still pretty amazing, if you ask me.

After that we moved on to a break to watch some surfers. Apparently the women's world champion was out there, she was pretty impressive. Our guide, Ali, the Maldivian bodyboard champion, rode a few waves. That was fun to watch. I definitely want to learn to surf, but the location we were at was not good for beginners because of the reefs, so we observed.

Our day ended with more delicious meals, sun bathing on the front deck, and then followed by a sunset swim off the back of the boat. This place is seriously unbelievable. It was hard to believe I was swimming in the middle of the crystal blue Indian ocean, with maybe one or two deserted islands near by, and an amazing sunset into the ocean! Yeah, going back home was looking more and more unappealing!

Kate and I are both certified divers, and wanted to get a couple of dives in. Nahu, our main guide, called his brother in law (a dive guide and part owner of the boat) to join us. We were able to get two different dive sites in on Tuesday. The first dive, I felt a little rusty, since I had just gotten certified, so it wasn't quite as relaxing. I had one little panic attack under water, but I quickly gained control and proceeded to enjoy the dive. The visibility was about 10-15m and we had gone about 80ft deep. Again, unreal the fish that exist underwater in the Maldives. We also saw some bigger fish and a wreck site (created by a resort). The guides pointed out a tiger fish and an octopus. I liked the big spongy looking starfish. The second dive was a little smoother than the first.

While we dove, Ali and Hanu took Heather, Elliot, and Kelley to a break to attempt body boarding. Kate and I arrived to our main boat to find one of the crew doing make shift knee boarding from the back of our dhoni (a little speed boat) with Heather, Elliot, and Kelley. He was driving, while one of them would lay on the surf board holding on to the anchor rope and being pulled from the boat. They looked like they were having a blast.

The next day we set off for the south atolls. We pulled up to a deserted island where we were dropped off for snorkeling, and relaxing on the beach. The snorkeling site was pretty incredible. We saw some new varieties of fish, along with some of the others. The reef appeared to be a bit brighter. The group then read on the beach for a bit. There were some great swinging lounge chairs they took advantage of. I sunbathed in the clear blue water on a lie-low (British term for raft or Seabed if you are Maldivian) for a while. I had forgotten to bring my book, and I began to get antsy. I also think the fact that I was on a deserted island had something to do with it. I didn't really know what to do and what time our dhoni was coming back for us, so I got a little stir crazy. I guess I'm not very good at relaxing. The group wouldn't entertain the idea of me burying them. So I began doing cartwheels. How often can you say you did cartwheels on a deserted island. Finally, the boat came for us and we resumed positions on the front deck. Again, we went for a sunset swim. Kelley had some impressive flips off the boat. And Elliot and Heather did a little fishing from the back of the boat, while our captain took the dhoni for 'real' fishing. All Heather and Elliot caught was coral. Our crew did come back from their trip with some pretty big fish that we later enjoyed for lunch and dinner.

Thursday, was a bit of an earlier day for our crowd. We had breakfast and then Kate and I set off for another dive, while the others snorkeled. This dive was pretty sweet. I finally felt more comfortable and could enjoy the dive a bit more. We dove along a huge reef wall. Again, the fish are unreal. This time we saw even bigger fish. We also saw about 20 Mobula swimming above us. Mobula are eagle rays I think. They are in the Manta ray family.

After lunch we were taken to another deserted island. This time I brought my book and was able to relax. After the island, we played on the speed boat again. I gave the make shift kneeboarding a try. It was a lot of fun! It's crazy to think I was in the middle of the Indian ocean knee boarding. After my final turn we head back to the big boat. I had a little accident getting in to the dhoni from the water. I totally slipped, biting it as I stepped in. I nailed my foot into the boat wall. When I looked down, I noticed my second to last toe was turned outward, the opposite direction it is supposed to be. Sure sign that I definitely broke it. I began to get that nauseous, jittery feeling I have felt with other broken bones. As I was transferring from the dhoni to our main boat, I realized I had also cut skin and was bleeding. The guides were great about cleaning it. There was talk of going to an island hospital, but jack of all trades Kate is a certified EMT. She took a good look at it and said it wasn't too deep, that I should be okay. I agreed with her. Plus, I really didn't feel like dealing with an island hospital, or the idea of leaving the boat. I knew it was broken and there isn't much you can do for a broken toe. I was going to tough it out. I'll visit a doctor once I've hobbled my way back to Chicago.

The broken toe was a bit of a humbling experience. First, I didn't like all the attention when it first happened. I don't do well when I'm the center of attention. Plus, I felt stupid in front of the crew, especially with my guide crushes...why couldn't I have been smoother? The other thing I realized, is that I'm not very good at letting people do things for me and help me. I like to be independent and in control. However, stepping down on my foot and walking caused throbbing pain. I quickly realized getting around the boat was a bit problematic, I clearly would need help. The rest of the trip I just hopped around the boat (I felt like Lisa Turtle in the Saved By The Bell sprain episode), succumbing to the fact I needed help. The first night I was determined to partake in the nightly social on the front deck, regardless how daunting it was to hobble there. The frustrating thing was that my bladder was pretty small, and going to the bathroom was a daunting task. My bathroom was downstairs, and of course I had the room at the very end of the hall. I managed to master the stairs going down on my behind and up on my knees. At one point, I resorted to crawling from the bedroom to the stairs. Ali, saw me, and I was a bit mortified. Looking back, it was probably a funny site to see. Everyone, crew and friends, were all pretty great throughout. The crew was quick to react when it first happened. I know they felt bad about the incident. The one good thing that resulted from this incident is that they gave us a free bottle of wine with dinner (alcohol is expensive in the tourist spots due to the fact the country doesn't really partake). I'm thankful for to everyone for being so helpful!

The rest of the trip was spent laying low on the big boat, reading and sun bathing. At least the foot injury happened towards the end of the trip, and I got to try out all the activities, with the exception of body boarding. I guess I'll have to come back next year and try that out. Nahu did tell us to come back. I've had an incredible time in this exotic paradise (contemplating a way to move here) that I will return to the Maldives again sometime.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Delhi Round 2

Funny how driving into a city the second time around has a whole new feel. It's more comfortable and welcoming. When I first arrived from the airport that first night, I had some mixed emotions. Though I had read up on the city, and talked to others that had visited, it was a bit scary and overwhelming. It was not like any other city I had ever visited. This second time around it was more familiar and there was a new ease to the city. I was happy to be back.

We began our morning with yoga once again. Shanna, our instructor, chatted with us for a bit at breakfast and provided some more recommendations for the day. We were pretty excited when she asked about having dinner with us that night. She invited us to a members only restaurant that had the same chef as our hotel. Ironically, it was in the same establishment as the American diner we stumbled upon at the habitat center.

The day began in New Delhi, shopping at some stores Shanna recommended. We found some great things. I'm pretty excited about the purchases made. We then had lunch with Vishnu at this cute cafe in the shopping area. The apple beetroot juice was AMAZING! Vishnu suggested going to a Bollywood movie that afternoon, and that sounded like an amazing idea after all our fort and palace tours. When in Rome.

We saw the Bodyguard, which had just come out. Vishnu seemed so excited to go to a movie with us, and we were pretty excited too. Though there weren't any subtitles we were able to figure out the plot line with little confusion. I have to say Bollywood movies are pretty entertaining. I really enjoyed the singing and dancing. Couple of interesting things about going to the movies in India. One, there is intermission. Two, mobiles ring and people answer their phones in the middle of the movie. Three, you enter through metal detectors and purses are searched, sneaking snacks and cameras in are not allowed.

Vishnu dropped us off and we were very sad to say goodbye. We took one last picture with him. It was funny when the photographer started to take the picture, he wasn't quite sure how to work the camera, and had it facing him. We could see his face enlarged in the view-thru. We corrected him, but it would have made a funny/cute picture. Hopefully, Vishnu will keep in touch.

We ended the night enjoying a delicious Pan Asian meal with Shanna at the Oriental Octopus, the members only place. Who would have thought we would end up at a members only place?!? It was really fun to hear about her experience growing up in Kashmir and her recent experience in Delhi. We had a great time, and I discovered a new food that I like - lotus roots.

Our final day was spent with morning yoga and some quick shopping in Old Delhi. Shanna guided us to this fantastic oil shop. I got my jasmine oil! Then we went through kilnari market (the wedding bazaar). Beautiful sparkly saris. Then it was off to the airport for the Maldives!!!

I have to say, India far exceeded my expectations, and we meant some incredible people, who made our trip especially memorable! Hopefully, we will keep in touch!

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Jaipur - the pink city

We had a little change of plans and left Agra a day early to head to Jaipur. Agra was nice, but there wasn't a whole lot to see outside of the Taj. So we set off for the pink city.

We arrived in Jaipur around six and went straight for our hotel. When we walked in, there was an immediate weird vibe. We were finally taken to our room by the hotel manager, Erik Williams. There was just something about him that screamed creepy used car salesman. After they dropped off our luggage we evaluated the price and the lonely planet book to realize we were getting ripped off. Luckily there were similar hotels recommended by LP, just down the street for more than half the price. We viewed a couple and made a switch. We were pretty pleased with our decision. We ended up in a quaint little place, and they even had a Dachshund running around the courtyard. That sealed the deal for me. See you later Erik Williams!
Vishnu and our tour guide came to pick us up for the day. Kate and I both find astrology pretty interesting, and noticed a place that uses Vedic astrology (moon signs, US uses sun signs) in the lonely planet. We thought it would be fun to hear our horoscope, but turns out he charges pretty high and we didn't feel it was worth it. Probably for the best!

BK, our guide, then took us to Jantar Mantar (means instrument of calculation). This was an observatory with several sun dial sculptures. This was pretty interesting, especially the sun dial sculptures, arranged for the 12 zodiac signs. All the zodiac sculptures in sight of your own are said to make good partners for you. So, for Kelley and I - the Sagittarius twins - Leos, Scorpios, Virgos, and Libras would all make good partners.

After that we ventured into city palace. BK definitely had great pride for his city and the places he took us. He was very eager to show us everything, even if it wasn't something we weren't to keen on seeing - armory/weaponry. He didn't wamt us to miss out on anything. He finally convinced us to enter,
and there was a pretty sweet ceiling with gems. It was funny how he kept pointing out weapons saying, "come, don't look at the weapon but see these stones in the handle."

The afternoon heat was pretty hot and we had seen a good deal, so we decided to head back to the hotel for lunch and relaxation. We did make one stop at a gem wholesaler first. They showed us how they cut and polish the stones, which was pretty cool to see. Then we drove back through the old city, also known as the pink city, a cute little town. We kept passing this beautiful building when we drove through, called Hawa Mahal. It was a pink sandstone, honeycombed building with stain glassed windows. I managed to get a few good pictures from the car. The more we drove through Jaipur, the more I grew to like the city.

In the evening, Vishnu picked us up and we drove up this curvy, steepish hill to Nahargarh, a fort that overlooks the city. I sat up front for this adventure, and quickly wished I hadn't with my fear of heights. Vishnu was doing a great job driving, but I was more concerned about other drivers coming down the windy road, especially after witnessing the crazy driving in India. With sweaty palms, we made it up safe and sound. We sat at the top, enjoying some beers and snacks, and taking in the awesome views. We invited Vishnu to join us, and it was a lot of fun hanging out, even if there was a bit of a language barrier. We really grew to like Vishnu, and he also was very protective of us everywhere we went. Couldn't have asked for better company.

Day 2 in Jaipur, we packed our bags up to go back to Delhi with a stop at the Amber Fort first. We rode elephants up to the top, and explored the fort on our own this time. My favorite thing at the fort, other than the elephant ride, was the Jai Mandir (hall of victory). It's this hall with intricate mirror designs in the ceiling and walls. Beautiful! We wandered a bit more and then ventured back to meet Vishnu. Of course as we were leaving there was a street performer with a cobra. By this point in the trip, Kelley and Kate were getting good at helping me avoid the sight of them. Chills just thinking about it.

And then back to Delhi we went.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wondrous Monument Built for Love - The Taj Mahal

We had arrived in Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal, Monday evening. Vishnu dropped us off at our hotel for some rest and relaxation before waking up bright and early to see the Taj at sunrise. Lonely Planet and Kate (her second time visiting the Taj) both recommend sunrise because it is less crowded, and has an exceptional magical feel with the ethereal
colors at sunrise.

My number one goal was to purchase a sari before heading to the Taj. I really wanted a picture in front of the beautiful structure, embracing the Indian culture. Luckily, there were some shops within our hotel grounds that weren't terribly expensive. I also was able to work out a deal with the kind man. Success!

Alarms went off at 5am, and we actually spent some time doing make up and coordinating decent outfits since these pictures most likely would be framers and potential holiday cards. At 5:30 we set off to meet Vishnu and our guide (included with the fee for hiring a driver). Kelley and I were both pretty excited to see this magical wonder of the world.

One funny thing we saw, as we rode the bus to the entrance, was a mama pig and four baby pigs running along the street. Not sure what they were running after, but they sure were the happiest pigs, running with zeal. It made me think of 4 little pigs going to the market.

After making our way through security we reached a courtyard at the North end of the tomb. Our tour guide (unfortunately forgot his name, as I had one thing on my mind - seeing the Taj) began explaining the structure and history. I was getting a bit frustrated and impatient as I wanted to actually enter and see it, I sort of was half paying attention. I did catch a few things. The reason it's the structure of love, is because the emperor had the monument built as a memorial for his wife, who died giving birth to his fourteenth kid. We entered at the north end, which I believe the heads are faced north in the tomb. He also explained that there are Quran verses inscribed on the gateway, and the inscription is larger on the top. The gateway is built with red sandstone. He explained some of the Mughal empire. He also talked a bit about the illusions of the Taj, and that It took about 22 years to build with many artisans involved.

Finally, the moment we were waiting for, entering the sandstone gateway and catching the first look of the Taj Mahal. It is quite possibly one of the most breathtaking structures I have ever seen. Absolutely incredible! Our guide showed us one of the first illusions, standing in the gateway at the center line and walking backwards, the structure begins to look larger. He also started pointing out the incredible symmetry that was designed in the monument. I've always been a big fan of symmetrical things (maybe the inner perfectionist in me) and this was just amazing to see.

After walking through the gateway, our guide pointed out some fantastic photo opportunities and we snapped away. He sat back as we took our time getting all the shots we wanted. I got my sari picture, Kate got her super hero cape shot, Kelley got her handstand photo, and we even introduced India to planking. We took a couple cute pics on the VIP bench (remember I'm famous in India) where Princess Diana was filmed. The guide then suggested doing some pics to highlight the illusions of the structure - we got some crazy height jumping pictures, and we were so strong we could hold the monument with two fingers.

It was just amazing to see this structure made of all white marble glistening in the sunrise. At some angles, there appeared to be some sparkle to the design. The colors at sunrise were pretty fantastic. The other thing that was really cool, especially since we all live in big cities, is to see this beautiful building with nothing but a blue sky and no other skyscrapers. It was so peaceful and serene.

Our guide told us that the four minarets, at each corner of the marble platform that the Taj sits on, are slanted outward in the event that if any happens they won't fall on the Taj. Also, they are half the height of the Taj, and it does not appear that way. One of the many illusions.

Looking closely we could see many gems and stones in laid in the marble. Inside were two replica tombs (the real ones are a floor below). There was supposed to be a third, but the son of the emperor never ended up there due to an estrangement with his father. I guess he imprisoned his father when he became emperor. Around the tombs were some intricate filigree marble designs. Our guide also pointed out a gem in the boarder that would glow when a light was shown on it. That was pretty cool. I forget the name of the stone and will be doing some googling with better internet. He pointed out a few more illusions of the structure. As Kate said, it's ironic that the structure of love is full of illusions.

It's pretty amazing to think of all the thought and design that went into the Taj.

One last interesting fact, the monument is all held together with tree sediment and egg yolk. Apparently this was a super glue during this time. Amazing that it is still holding it up today!

At lunch later that day we were showing Vishnu our pictures from the Taj and he was telling us about his future wife. We asked if he has ever been to the Taj. He told us that as an Indian you can't go until you are married (this could have been a lost in translation thing, but it's what we gathered from the convo.) He and his wife will see it once they are married. I thought that was interesting.

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