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"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

Diary Entries

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Location: Calgary, Canada

Just thought I'd leave a quick entry saying I made it back to Calgary safe and sound in June. Phew, I have to admit it was a relief to get back to some semblance of a steady life. Also, I was way more excited than I should be to rediscover makeup and hair products (4 months of product abstinence is a long time, even for me). To everyone who travelled with me vicariously through this site, thank you so much for your support - your messages (and even the fact that you checked the page at all) gave me more comfort that you'll know during the [admittedly few] moments of homesickness while I was away.

Next adventure: Real Life?

Thursday, 03 May 2007

Location: Agra-Rajasthan-Goa-Mumbai, India

Even after leaving the country I still have mixed feelings about India. There is so much to this country, and to such great extents, that I don't know how to begin to describe it.

After meeting Sophie and Nick in Delhi, everything was one hectic, sweaty whirlwind of movement. Did the Taj Mahal (of course!)....I must admit I was skeptical that anything of beauty could exist in such a horrible city as Agra with its rickshaw drivers and vendors practically tearing my limbs off in an attempt to get my business. However, as I'm sure most visitors to the illustrious tomb must be, I was amazed - such perfection of design, from the expansive gardens to the intricate marble detailing. We watched the marble change colour under the setting sun...we were there quite a while, and it was worth every minute of it. Except maybe the stinky bit where everyone puts their shoes to enter the Taj, that was not so enjoyable.

Anyway, we were up and off early the next day to do the Agra Fort (almost as beautiful as the Taj, but more jumbled) and then on to Jaipur....and the rest of Rajasthan. We moved through Rajasthan at such pace that everything sort of seems to blur together for me - the Pink City of Jaipur, the laid-back hippie town of Pushkar, the quiet desert town of Bikaner with its rat temple (yes, we went, and yes, there were rats running over our feet, definitely a singular moment in my life), Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ranakpur, Udaipur...we saw forts and temples and castles but none as spectacular as the Taj and hence not worthy of mention here. Somewhere in between all of that, Nick left to go back to Australia, but not before an evil monkey caused him to sprain his ankle while carrying an offering of flowers to a hilltop temple. Perhaps shopping with me and Sophie wasn't such a bad idea after all.

In Jaisalmer we did a camel safari in the desert, complete with a night under the stars at the base of a sand dune. Unforgettable. Woke up to the sound of a camel snoring, a cold desert morning and a shimmering sunrise. Then we had to pack what minimal belongings we brought with us (toothbrush no, camera yes) and it was back on the road again.

After all that moving around and packing and repacking, we definitely needed some downtime, and there is no better remedy than a week in Goa. We stayed in a "hut" that was literally straw matting wrapped around some sticks in the sand, but it was 30 seconds from the beach and there was a hammock out front. What else does one need?

After a too-short week of beach-lounging and hammock-swinging in Goa, we spent a couple days in Mumbai (Bombay) for some last minute shopping and a taste of big city life in India, then it was back to Canada for Sophie and on to London for me.

Sunday, 08 April 2007

Location: Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Ahh Nepal - between climbing over half the country, white water rafting down the other half, then mucking around in the jungle, I feel like I've done Nepal really well. And, as much as I was complaining about the old and the dirty, I think I actually love this country. The food hasn't been nearly as good as Thailand (I don't think I want to see dal bhat for at least another year), but the variety and diversity of life encompassed in this one small country does not cease to amaze me. I've seen Buddhist stupas side-by-side with Hindu shrines, even seen paintings of Hindu gods right beside a Buddha image in the same temple! The people are Newars, Gurung, Sherpas, Tibetans, Indians and many more, all living side by side in relative harmony, except of course for the Maoists. Even the land itself defines diversity - from the highest mountains on Earth to the jungles at practically sea level, with some important rivers in between...

Well, enough sounding like a guidebook. The white water rafting was great - easy enough for a first-timer, with a couple rapids thrown in for fun, even 'swimming' rapids, that a couple of us abandoned the rafts for. We camped overnight on a sandy bank in the curve of the Trisuli river. Hadn't showered in days and still enjoyed it!

After rafting we headed to Chitwan National Park, widely hyped with possibilities of seeing rhinos and the elusive Bengal tiger. As we checked in, we were warned to lock our doors and keep all belongings inside, as monkeys have been known to cause trouble. Three of us brave (stupid) souls decided we would take on the challenge of a Jungle Walk. From what we heard from the hotel manager and our tour guide, it was almost guaranteed that we would have to either run zig-zag or climb a tree to get away from a tiger or rhino or sloth bear or something like that. Exciting? Not quite, the most exciting thing we saw was a crocodile. I left Jamaica to come to Nepal to see a crocodile? Only slightly less thrilling was the tiger poo we attempted to 'track'. After the jungle walk, we all went on an elephant safari, where from the relative comfort of an elephant's back, we actually did see rhinos. Great, but definitely overhyped. We didn't even get anything stolen by the monkeys.

Anyway, on to India! Land of the Taj Mahal, butter chicken and about a zillion religions. Can't wait!

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Location: Kathmandu to the Annapurnas, Nepal

I'm in Nepal! Kathmandu is nothing like anything that is familiar to me. The streets are narrow and hazardous with motorbikes, rickshaws, pedestrians and cows all fighting for the same space. Everything seems to be old and dirty, and surprisingly cool here after Thailand, although at 1300m ASL, I should have expected that. I was actually a little hesitant to venture out when I first got here, didn't realize how comfortable I was getting in Thailand.

Just got back from a 4 day trek through the Annapurna range. After climbing a couple steep mountains ('hills' they're called here, even though some of them are more than 2500m ASL, I guess you can be choosy when you have mountains like Everest at 8850m), I've come to the surprising conclusion that I like hiking. I blame the altitude for the delusion. I suppose the environment might have had something to do with it as well - walking through terraced rice paddies and corn fields, stopping to let a procession of donkeys pass, or to take a picture of the snow-capped mountains in the distance and wonder what the hell a Jamaican/Chinese/Canadian like me is doing in Nepal with a bunch of Aussies. Can't even begin to do justice to the scenery in words, so I'll just promise to post some pictures (eventually).

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Location: Bangkok to Koh Phangan, Thailand

Doug made it to Thailand! Quite glad he managed to come on such a random whim. After the meditation retreat I don't think I'd have liked being on my own in Thailand for another 10 days. His first day here we did the sights in Bangkok - Wat Pho and the Grand Palace (with the Emerald Buddha), then wandered around Khao Sahn road for a bit. I preferred Wat Pho to the Grand Palace, which I'd already seen with the girls - the Grand Palace is a bit too showy, a bit too in-your-face with its splendor. Wat Pho was a bit more eclectic, a bit more of a mish-mash of styles since Ramas keep adding on to it, each with their own taste.

Then we headed off to Koh Phangan, which is honestly the most beautiful place I've ever seen on earth. It's even hard to think of somewhere in Jamaica that comes close in terms of beauty and serenity. Too bad it took us forever to get there - we flew from Bangkok to Surat Thani, took a bus from the airport to the sea port, ferry from the port to Thong Sala on the SW coast of Koh Phangan, songthaew taxi from Thong Sala to Hat Rin, longtail boat from Hat Rin to Hat Yuan, then hiked over some hill to get to the next set of bungalows since the place we stopped at was full. Phew! It was completely worth every second of it, though - there's just something magical about that island. The beach where we ended up staying was relatively secluded, and perfect with golden sand and turquoise water. Everyone, even the foreigners staying there, was just so relaxed and laid back, not rushed like Koh Phi Phi, with tourists trying to see every sight and buy every souvenir. I'll try and post some pics as soon as I find a decent internet connection, hopefully that's before I get back to Canada!

We managed to take in the Black Moon party while we were on the island - that was crazy! Hundreds of foreigners under the influence of some substance or another jumping around on a beach lit by black light to the sound of mind-numbing psytrance. Not as crazy as I've heard the Full Moon parties on the island are - those seem to involve miles of beach and thousands of foreigners. I think the experience would have left a better taste in my mind if we didn't end up at the pier for another 4 hours or so after we left the party, waiting for a boat to take us over to where our bungalows were, as there is no road between the two beaches.

On the way back to Bangkok, we ended up staying in Surat Thani for the night, before our flight the next day. Met a really fun bunch of people from France and Germany and ended up partying Thai-style at one of the clubs in Surat Thani (I think it might have been the only club in Surat Thani actually). Another surreal experience - seeing a Thai girl, backed by a Thai band, doing Diana King's "Shy Guy" with a plausible Jamaican accent. Weird!

Then, back to Bangkok to do some laundry and last-minute shopping before Doug flew back to Japan and I flew on to Nepal. Goodbye to Thailand! I will definitely be back sometime!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Location: Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

The meditation retreat was indescribable. For six full days, I lived as a Buddhist nun - I wore white clothing, took no food after noon, maintained only minimal conversation (not so hard when everyone around you speaks only Thai), slept on the floor, and meditated for about 8 hours a day. It was the best thing I've done in Thailand so far. Meditation being such an individual experience however, I will not go into any detail of that aspect, and will instead attempt to describe what it was like to stay in the monastery.

Section Five, the Vipassana meditation section of Wat Mahathat, is like a break from reality in the middle of the hectic, overcrowded, touristy area of Ratanakosin in Bangkok. Staying at the monastery was the only time I felt like I was really experiencing what it is like to be Thai - there were no foreigners around, and we had only authentic Thai food; mostly rice and fish and chili, lots of fresh fruit. I love Thai food. I stayed in the female section of the monastery with the nuns, who shave their heads, and other female meditators. These other meditation trainees all seemed to be embarking on major transitions in their life, such as just graduating from school or moving to another town, and they were there to ... I am still not quite sure, no-one could explain it to me. Perhaps to collect their thoughts for the change, or to make merit with the gods for a smooth transition?

I found the distinction between monks and nuns and everyone else quite interesting. For example, I could not hand just anything to a monk, as I would hand you a pen. Food and other offerings had to be placed with both hands on a gold silk cloth, which had to be held with both hands by the receiving monk. Also, before and after any ceremony, such as ordination into the monastery or chanting before meditation, we had to prostrate before the monk leading the ceremony. All very different for me. I am still very glad I did this retreat - what I learnt about and through meditation I will take with me always.

Monday, 05 March 2007

Location: Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok, Thailand

It's been a while since the date of my last entry - that's because all I've been doing is laying on a gorgeous beach on Koh Phi Phi for a week or so, then trying to sort out visa stuff in Bangkok.

Koh Phi Phi is pretty much paradise. Our first night there we stayed at Phi Phi Hills, which probably wouldn't have been our first choice if we had a choice, considering there are about 1000 steps up to the bungalows, and we were in serious pain from that hike. The rest of the time we really were in paradise, Paradise Pearl Resort to be exact, on Long Beach. Beautiful, and only a sweaty half-hour trek in +40C through rocks and beaches to town. Loved it.

Now I'm back in Bangkok, which I actually don't mind, I quite like this city. I find it more 'real' - Chiang Mai (or at least the cooking class and the trek) and Koh Phi Phi were overrun with tourists and it all felt a bit like a play for us farang. Here in Bangkok I feel like that veil has been lifted and this is real life.

Tomorrow I check in to Wat Mahathat for a meditation retreat of sorts, until the 14th. Quite looking forward to not speaking with anyone but the meditation leaders, not eating after noon and wearing white robes only.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hod's "Oh my Buddha" Boot Camp for Beauties

The trek was incredible! After a rough start yesterday with my almost fainting (I knew I shouldn't have eaten the 1000 lbs of rice they gave me for lunch!), we ended up hiking for about 3 hours total, more than half of it steeply uphill. I think I started enjoying it sometime into the 2nd hour, or maybe I was just delusional. Our tour guide, Hod, was great, except he kept making these random cow noises, especially when we were on a break. Our hike ended at a hill tribe village clustered around a cloudy mountain peak, where we stayed in a large bamboo hut covered with palm leaves - we slept on thin foam pads under mosquito nets and blankets. Fortunately, our group was small, so we could spread out as comfortably as we wanted - there were only 2 other girls with us, Paulina and Perla from Guadalajara, Mexico, great girls, loved them.

The next day started with a phenomenal sunrise, a good breakfast and an early start. We hiked for maybe an hour or so downhill, ending at a waterfall, where some of us were brave (or stupid!) enough to swim until another tour group showed up and took over. Another 'short' hike around and we were at an elephant camp, where we got to ride elephants! We lumbered around on elephant back for about an hour then, covered in elephant snot, jumped into white water rafting. The rafting was pretty mild, nothing too exciting, which was good for my first time white water rafting. This was followed by an hour or so floating down the river on a bamboo raft - so much more relaxing than the crazy trek uphill! All in all, quite doable (although I may not have been saying that on the 3 hour hike uphill), and probably really good preparation for Nepal, where I will be doing all of the above over the course of 12 days instead of two. I will, really.

P.S. Check Carrie and Natalie's blog at www.getjealous.com\carriequinn7 for their take on the trek and for more pictures and videos!

Monday, 19 February 2007

Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand

The girls and I are currently at the most beautiful place you could ever imagine - Jirung Spa Resort, in Chiang Mai, north Thailand. For about the same rate we paid for a rather boring typical hotel room in Bangkok (Davis Bangkok hotel), here at Jirung we get an entire suite to ourselves, complete with bedroom, kitchen, 1.5 bathrooms, living room and balcony, all overlooking a fabulously serene lake and surrounded by rich greenery and the sultry air that pervades all of Thailand. The hardwood floors have been polished to the point that they are almost difficult to walk on, the furniture is all hand-carved and someone has thoughtfully lit a candle under an aroma jar in the room, releasing a scent that relaxes every muscle once you walk into the room. I would like to move in here.

Today we had a fantastic Thai cooking class at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Han, our instructor, was perfectly fluent in English and had a wicked sense of humour. We made some typical Thai dishes, like Phad Thai, Green Thai curry, fish cakes (waay better than they sound) and a typical Thai dessert of water chestnuts in sugar syrup and coconut milk. I am now quite sure I was a professional Thai cook in a previous life, although I will admit that Han's instruction may have had a little to do with how well our food turned out.

After our cooking class we headed back to Jirung to experience Thai massage Jirung style. In the words of my cousin Natalie, "I think that was the best thing that ever happened to me." I don't even have a hint of a muscle knot remaining in my back or shoulders.

Probably good timing for such a good massage, as tomorrow we head out for a 2 day trek through the mountains of Thailand. Good luck to us!


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Recent Messages

From Toby
Robyn,
This is hands down the most organized journal I've had the pleasure of reading, I now have unabashed aspirations of monkhood. I'm afraid reading these entries will send me from paper jockey to elephant jockey...I think I have the right build.
From Dan B. from work
Good thing you posted, we were starting to worry about you. When are you going to download your India pictures for us to see? Can't wait to see if you saw many of the same things we saw when we were there.

Take care,

Dan
From ken
Hello Robyn!
It is great to read about your travel adventures. It sounds like you are having a wonderful time!
I hope that you continue to have a fantastic time and a safe journey.
From McT.
Hello Miss Shackie
I do hope you are exploring to the fullest and enjoying every moment. Big hugs to you and miss you lots and lots. PS I enjoy reading your virtual guidebook to the world.
From "Auntie" Phe
Hello Robyn!
I finally can get through to your blog! So happy and envious of your trip--what wonderful memories you'll have! Be safe and have fun!
From Janet
Hello Robyn,
It's breath-taking to think you are in Nepal. It looks like the end of the world! Glad to hear you're having a good time. Hope to see those photos soon,
Love, Janet
Response: Hi Auntie Janet, nice to hear from you! Will try to post pictures soon...failing that, next time I'm in Toronto, I'll show them to you in person! Hope everything's going well, and say hi to everyone at Lyncroft for me!
From Lori
Your tied-down with a house and 2 kids second cousin (Your mom's cousin Daphne's kid) here... I wish that I'd thought to do a trip like this before I turned 30. Anyway, enjoy this trip of a lifetime. (It looks as if you are.) And if you get to Paris, don't order any menu items that read like English (i.e. le hamburger); your budget will thank you. Also the Carte Musees et Monuments will save time in line and admission fees. Bon voyage!
From karen
Hey, what are your Europe dates? I would soooo love to meet you out there. U sure u don't have time to stop by in Oz? Yeah, i'm still here & lovin it. Talk soon.
Response: Planning to be in the UK May 2 to May 9, and between Amsterdam and Frankfurt for the next 2 weeks after that. Not 100% sure yet cuz I still have to get my Schengen visa for Europe. I'll probably apply once I'm in the UK, so I might be in the UK longer than the week. YOU SHOULD COME MEET ME AND ADAM IN EUROPE!!!
From KC
Hey babe. Love your stories. I'm not doing so good at keeping my own. Doing too much and too lazy to type. In Sydney now. We should have a huge party for us when we get back to Calgary. I might be back in later July. Keep on having fun. Maybe you should stop by in Oz before you go home. We could do an east coast tour here. You would love it (even as much as you love me). Talk soon.
Response: Hey girl, return party sounds good! I should be back early June. Would love to do Oz while you're there, but not enough in this budget for that! Hope you're enjoying it and you don't miss me too much.
From Auntie LizHi
I'm by your Mom right now and visited your website. Sounds like you are having fun. Your stay at the monastery sounds like a experience with a difference ....right? Anyways my dear this is just a short hello. Have much fun and enjoy every moment of it. It is an expereince in a lifetime.

Love
Auntie Liz
From Natalie
Hey Cuz,
Nice to see that you survived your time at the meditation retreat - I am glad that it was a positive experience for you. Sorry I haven't e-mailed you until now have been very busy moving into Vinh & I's new house. Very exciting & exhausting.Haven't had any time to review finances, if your wondering why i haven't sent a e-mail with our expences on it. When I find it in one of our boxes I will e-mail you. Carrie & I are not in a big rush. Anyways hope that you had an amazing time in Thailand because we loved having you with us. We will definately have to plan another trip in the future.
Love you to death. Stay safe.

Love you cuz
Natalie
Response: Hey cuz,
Hope the move went well! Loved Thailand - almost wish I was back there now. By the way, hear you and Daddy cleared everything up, let me know if anything's missing. Take care of Mummy and Daddy for me, you'll have to be their surrogate daughter till I get back!
From Odfather
Sounds like you're having a great experience - very jealous. Had dinner with your Mum & Dad Wednesday - all three of us here in Jamaica at the same time for the first in 2 years!

Will check back & see how you progress - enjoy!

Unc. Stephen
From Ray
Hey, sorry I am about a month or so late on your journal. I am catching up, just finished reading all your entries. You are living a life I once only dreamt about and don't know I'll ever could do what you are doing. Sounds like you are having heaps of fun. Good for you. Really enjoy your journals, will try to keep up todate from here on. Take care and stay safe.
Response: Ray!!
I guess I'll forgive you for not being up to date with this site - I think I'm about a month behind in posts anyway. You should know that there quite a few old farts like you on this trek with me in Nepal, so it's never too late! Drop me an email sometime, I left your email address in Calgary (bad project management on my part!). Hope Encana's treating you as well as you deserve!
From adam
just checking, im applying for a uk visa and a shengen visa right? do i need anything else?
Response: Hey Ads,
Yeah, just a UK visa and Schengen visa are all you need. Get them ASAP! Does this mean you're definitely coming? For the full 3 weeks? Europe's gonna be so hype!!!
From maria
heyhey... man u are lagging on these journals.. i need to know all your fun exciting things you are doing.. I thought we went thru this..THIS IS HOW I KNOW YOUR OK IN A COMPLETLY DIFFERENT PLACE!!!ha ha... hope things are going really good and i better see or hear something soon or ima kick some butt when you get back
maria
Response: Beeyatch, I know...I'm waaay behind on this site...I've been stuck in the mountains for the past week!! (well, 4 days) Maybe you should email me and tell me what's going on in Cowtown!!
From Chris & Rusty
Miss you loads but this is a wonderful idea to keep us all abreast of your travels!!! Keep up the good work and we'll have notes to compare soon. Rusty says: MEOW!
Response: Chrissypoo!! We will definitely have to get together when I get back to Calgary and trade travel stories and pictures. Give Rusty a kiss for me, and make sure to experience as much as you can in Australia so you can tell me all about it!
From Daddy
Hi Robz,
Just letting you know I fed Lola, and even finally gave her a bath - first one since you left. She was a bit mucky.

Daddy
Response: Hi Daddy,

Quite scared you fed my car. Maybe I'll just stay in Nepal another month to get over it.
From Dan B. from work
So jealous ...

Was the cooking school in Chiang Mai the one I recommended? Let me know if you have any questions about the countries we discussed before you left, if I can't be travelling now I can at least live vicarously.

Dan B.
Response: Hi Dan!
I will definitely drop you an email if any questions come up, maybe about India. Nepal's been fantastic so far, Geckos has been really good about thinking about our every need so life's been relatively hassle-free, except for the couple mountains we climbed. I can't believe you did Everest Base Camp, I'm tired just from the 4 days we did in Annapurna! Hope things are going well, and say hi to everyone at work from me!

Talk to you soon!
From Lynn
Hi Robin,
I'm on my spring break and living vicariously through you since all I have is a list of chores I have to get finished! I'm going to get a world atlas so I follow the towns you are visiting. It's so thrilling. Go for it!! Love, Lynn
From Richard
Hi Robin
I know you a little through your Mum - and you know how she can talk, especially about her children! She seems particularly proud of you and your trip (anxious of course also!). She invited me to read your blog which I have just done and you have a gift for easy description and the eye-catching phrase. I am in the process of buying your house on Wellington - me and my wife Sharon (she is Fong Kong, an Immaculate girl. I'm Irish and we came to live and work at Alpha Boys' School in 2004. Still going strong there despite the challenges. So I'll conclude, wishing you continued enjoyment and learning on your trips. God Bless & take care.
Richard Foran
Response: Hi Uncle Richard! Mummy's told me all about you and Auntie Sharon, I know you'll enjoy our old house and treat her well. Thanks for the travelling well-wishes!
From avril
Robyn,
Admire your spirit of adventure and willingness to experience the new and different. I enjoy reading your accounts - journalistic gift there somewhere.

You are in my prayers,
Avril
Hi Auntie Avril, thanks for the prayers, God knows I might be needing them on this trip. Hopefully see you soon!
From Sher
Ok so i am a bit late on the journal. So i had a bit of catching up to do. Sounds like you're having a blast over there. Yeh man some post cards sound kool for real send on one nuh. Lol.
Neil says he is jealous of you and that he wants to travel too lol i told him when he gets rich like you =)
As for me, i still have a bit of saving to do then mayb i can get started on my own trip. On the other side of the world. (Poland, Spain, Italy, London and the list goes on ) Well i am glad you are doing what you always wanted. Be safe and talk soon
* Sher *
Response: Yow my girl, don' know bout di 'rich' business, a figa sometimes yu jus haffi mek di jump, an' deal wid consequences lata. G'waan do what yu doin, mash up graphics school, an mek sure sen me nuff email yu hear?
From Kurth & Lynn
Hi Robin,

We are living vicariously through your adventures and are excited about your travels. We plan to follow you on this website so keep blogging ... Kurth & Lynn
Response: Hi Uncle Kurth & Auntie Lynn! Your travels have been an inspiration, itchy feet must run in the blood. Glad you checked in on my blog, hopefully I'll make it to Florida one of these days, it's been ages!
From MARIA
OMG WE NEVER GOT TO DO THE CHRISTMAS EXCHANGE.. WELL I WILL MISS U BETTER SEND MY ASS A POST CARD OR SOMETHING HE HEHE I WILL KEEP CHECKING THIS OUT HAVE FUN AND BEHAVE...
Response: Hey girl, email me your address, I'll send postcards if i don't run out of money! Umm, you'll get your gifts eventually, I swear!
From Suddha
You are doing it Robyn... I'm so happy for you. You better keep posting entries on a regular basis because I'm following your trip. Wish I was there... Have fun and don't be too naughty!!!
Response: Too naughty? I don't know what you're talking about. If you have some spare time and cash, come meet me in India!