India’s Selvamouthou Koumarasamy ~ How the Tourism Industry Changed His Life

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This photo is courtesy of Mouthou’s Facebook

There are so many facets to traveling that I absolutely adore. Of course experiencing new cultures, seeing our world’s beauty and trying new things are just some of the aspects that I thrive on. But what pulls at my heart strings the most is meeting the many amazing people around the world.

I recently traveled to southern India where I met one of those remarkable people. His name is Selvamouthou (also goes by Mouthou) and he just happened to be my tour guide. When I first met Mouthou I got an immediate sense that with his big, bright grin he truly loved his life.  Over the course of the week that I spent traveling around Kerala with Mouthou by my side, I got to see first-hand how his zest for life is simply infectious and how his kindness has no limits. For this reason I want to share Mouthou with all of you and let you hear his story.

Meet Selvamouthou Koumarasamy…

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This photo is of Mouthou and Richard Woodward. It was taken by Lucy Michael and shows the bond that Mouthou creates with his travelers. 

Mouthou was born on March 24, 1972 in Pondicherry (now called Puthucherry); a city on the south eastern coast of India. He was the fifth and only son to be born into his family; and with the importance of having a boy to carry the family name, this was a glorious day for the Koumarasamy family.  His father owned a grocery shop and his mother stayed home to raise the children. His family was fairly well off by Indian standards; enough so that they could afford to send their only son to the most prestigious schools in the area. The family’s income would be pooled together to pay for the school fees for Mouthou, but his sisters would have to sacrifice because they were merely girls. Although this is the norm in most Indian households, you would think that this would put an enormous amount of pressure on Mouthou.  After grade school Mouthou went on to attend University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in BA History.

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It seemed that the world was at his fingertips and there were so many opportunities in store for Mouthou. But it was at that time that his father’s business went bankrupt and his family had to sell all their possessions; everything from the country home to the gold jewelry that his mother wore for her wedding. Times were extremely trying and Mouthou needed to help out with his family’s financial situation immediately. He took an entry level job as a truck driver which required him to work odd hours and in terrible conditions. The roads were extremely unsafe and his family urged him to find another job.

Because the territory of Puducherry was under French rule until 1954 many French dignitaries still visit this part of India. With that, tourism catering toward the French was thriving at that time and the possibilities of working in the tourism industry sparked an interest in Mouthou. He sold his truck and bought a tour bus. Soon he was transporting important French officials around the city. His cheerful disposition and hard work ethic quickly sprung him to the head of his industry where Mouthou became the go-to person when visiting Pondicherry.

Because of his outstanding reputation, Mouthou was asked by a reputable tour company to join their team. They didn’t want him to be a driver, but instead offered to train him to work as a tour guide. Being a tour guide is a very sought after position in India so Mouthou jumped at the chance at this opportunity. He truly has everything a tour company is looking for; perfect English, extensive knowledge, great people skills and most importantly a heart of gold. Mouthou excelled and thrived in his field.

In his personal life things were changing too. He was at the age where his parents were involved in arranging his marriage. The festivities surrounding his wedding were lavish and having around 1700 guests in attendance made him feel like a local celebrity. In 1999 he married his wife and a year later his daughter was born. Adjusting to married life seemed to be difficult for Mouthou’s mother. Women show their love and affection through serving and taking care of their men. For Mouthou’s entire life his mother had doted over his every move. He was the only boy and truly was the golden child of their family. In an instant he was being passed on to his wife, and it became a struggle to let go of her only son. Tension grew within his family and Mouthou slowly became depressed. He coped with the stress through alcohol and over time his addiction took over his life.

Relationships at home were unravelling and his work was greatly suffering. Because he was so intoxicated Mouthou would forget who owed him money or what services had already been attended to with the business. Some people knew he wasn’t functioning at his highest level and thus took advantage of his generosity by using and stealing from him. Mouthou was sending his family into debt and he truly felt trapped and unable to fix the problem. In 2004 Mouthou had hit rock bottom and decided the only way out of this mess was to end his life. He waited until his daughter came home from school so that he could see her one last time and after silently saying his final goodbyes he made his way to the river where he drank poison. He explained to me that when he put it in his mouth it burned so profusely that he had a hard time swallowing. He drank the entire bottle and slowly made his way home on his motorbike. He had to pull over on the side of the road because he started to black out, and while he was laying there a friend drove by. His friend instantly knew something was seriously wrong and took him straight to the hospital. It was clearly an act of God that his friend came by when he did, because if Mouthou would have waited much longer the doctors were sure that he would have not survived that day.

It was definitely a long and uphill road as Mouthou slowly put the pieces of his life back together. In 2009 a Dutch company heard that he was healthy and was ready to begin working again so they quickly snatched him up and he began working in operations, designing and developing tours. This company took a chance when they hired Mouthou and in return they truly gave him his life back. By 2013 Mouthou lead his first group with the reputable sustainable adventure tour company called G Adventures and that is who he works for to this day.

Mouthou credits his life to the tourism industry. He truly believes that he wouldn’t be where he is in life today if it wasn’t for this industry. He has also seen first-hand how so many others have been positively affected by tourism in his country. From the small business owners like tuk tuk drivers or farmers who are able to supply restaurants; the demand for resources goes up and with that locals are benefiting from the profits.

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I asked Mouthou what propelled him out of his darkest days and he simply stated ‘every problem in life has a perfect solution…time; when we wait answers will come to us and each problem will sort itself out’.

Looking at Mouthou today you would be shocked that this jolly, middle aged man underwent something so traumatic in his life. He loves his family and would do anything for his two children.  He exudes strength and positivity and I am truly a better person having met him for this brief time. I think the important thing that I hope to convey is how tourism truly is a life saver to so many. It brings so much joy and purpose to those of us who get to travel and see the world, but it also is an important industry that provides so much to those living in developing countries.

If you are looking into taking a tour and don’t know which company to go with check out G Adventures. Mouthou is one of their many amazing guides who I was lucky enough to meet during my travels in Kerala.

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The Thaipusam Festival ~ My once in a lifetime experience at a Hindu festival!

 This post is originally from February 13, 2017
Because Varkala is known for its many yoga classes I felt like I needed take a class at least once while I am here.  I’ve been really good at home and have gotten my lazy ass to class once a week for the last five weeks so I might as well keep it up right?!
The location for my 8 o’clock class couldn’t have been any better. A roof top overlooking the Indian Ocean! In the distance I could see men climbing up palm trees and cutting the coconuts down. I was definitely in the OMMMM SHANTI mood! The class started off okay, but truly I couldn’t have been happier when it ended. This guru’s style of yoga killed my injured hips and sore back because we had to stay in positions for long periods. And to top it off any time I had to bend upside down (which was most of the time) the snot from my head cold made me feel like my head was about to explode. Kris liked it more than I did but let me tell you, I was a happy camper when that puppy was over!
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Next on the agenda we were off to a Hindu Temple where masses were celebrating the Thaipusam Festival which celebrated Shiva and Parvati. Only a few of us actually had the guts to go because there was a ‘disclaimer’ before we left – what we were about to see may be disturbing.  Describing this festival in one word ~ MENTAL! I mean this in the best way possible because honestly this was the highlight of my time in India, but holy cow people in India take religion to an entirely different level!
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 So here’s the lowdown – basically when someone has gone through tough times like either an illness or a financial problem and nothing seems to be helping, the last resort is to pray to either Shiva or his wife Parvati ( I might have some of the details wrong but you get the gist). You would ask them to help you and if your prayers are answered, in return you will inflict pain on yourself as a symbol of thanks during the Thaipusam Festival. Now you’re asking how exactly do they cause pain to themselves? Why not stick hooks through your back and hang!!! Yes-this is no word of a lie! So thousands gather to the streets like a parade and the procession is full of drummers as well as those who are ‘saying thanks’, who eventually make their way to the temple. There were people with hooks in their backs that were pulling wagons. Then there were others who were hooked from their backs and legs and were swinging from a hitch that hung from moving trucks. (This is definitely not a pair of carnival dice hanging from the rear view mirror). Then there were others who had long sticks pierced into both cheeks through their mouths. Then others had a million tags hanging from their wrist, across the chest and to the other wrist. Then others had tags pierced all over their face. Some had peacock feathers sticking through their backs. Another who was also hanging by his back from the truck then had his nipples pierced with a bassinet hanging and a baby inside. Everywhere you turned there would be another mind blowing spectacle. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
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The atmosphere itself was euphoric and something that I have never in my life felt before. I felt like I was in a National Geographic special. With the loud drums, music blaring from the vehicles, dancing and cheering it made you forget that these people were clearly suffering. Not only that but the temperature was definitely over 35 degrees and they’d be walking in bare feet on the black asphalt! People would be pouring water on them to help with the heat and all the wounds were covered with white ash so that they wouldn’t bleed. I have to admit that at the beginning I had goosebumps and by the end I had become almost desensitized to what I was seeing.
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 What also made this experience so incredibly special was the feeling you get when you connect with the locals. Being the only bunch of white people we stood out like a sore thumb. The ladies and children would poke their friends and when you smiled back at them or waved, their faces would just light up. It’s hard to explain but that connection you get with a stranger with a smile between two totally different cultures is something that I will cherish in my heart forever.
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This all happened before noon if you can imagine!  The rest of the day I had to enjoy the beach and swim in the ocean. Pretty spectacular I’d say!
Yesterday we took a five hour train ride back up to Kochi (the town we started in) and today Kris and I will fly to Sri Lanka. I have to say that this trip to India was nothing like my last. I am so glad that I experienced the north a few years ago but the south has renewed my love of India. I feel like the people are happier and friendlier, and the poverty and begging is so minimal. It’s beautiful, lush and the culture is vibrant … and apart from the near molestation by the masseuse I couldn’t have asked for a better week! I highly recommend the state of Kerala to anyone thinking about traveling to India-I promise that it will not disappoint!
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Until the next leg…namaste!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventures ~ Kerala Beaches & Backwaters

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The Sights, Sounds and SMELLS of India!

This post is originally from February 11, 2017

Yesterday morning we got up bright and early in order to catch all the action at the local fish market in Kollam. It just amazes me how many people are out and have started their day before 6 am! We drove past a cinema and literally hundreds and hundreds of people were lined up cheering at 5:30 am for the opening of a Bollywood movie! We later stopped for road side chai and right there before us walking among traffic was an elephant. We saw this again later in the day when driving to the next town and my jaw hits the floor every time. This elephant had a reflector on his butt so that other cars would see him. Although this looks incredibly cool, my heart breaks because he’s got chains around his ankles like shackles. Elephants shouldn’t live like this!!

Anyway, on to the next spectacle … the fish market! If you could get past the smell, this was something you only imagine in your dreams. A melee of thousands of people yelling and jostling amidst the biggest fish ever … like organized chaos!! Boats would pull up, dock and they’d pull 600lb fish from the bellies of their boats. In a sea of thousands of people there would be auctioning going on and deals being made. The sword fish were absolutely massive and in abundance but what was also shocking to see were the humongous sting rays. The chaos of people shouting, fish coming through, blood and guts on the ground and birds swarming overhead may sound like an utter nightmare but I have to say it was such a cool experience to witness.

Our day then took us to Varkala which is this really cool hippy beach town. One massive beach and then at the top of the cliff are yoga studios, shops, restaurants and of course Ayuverdic massages spas. This is definitely a backpackers haven and a place where you could spend loads of time.

First things first was hitting the beach and going for a swim. Later food and shopping. I wish I could freeze time and stay here forever!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventures ~ Kerala Beaches & Backwaters

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An Ayurvedic Massage – or in my own words ~ getting violated by a little Indian woman!

This post is originally from February 9, 2017

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Southern India is well known for its Ayurvedic Medicine. To be quite honest I don’t know a lick about it, but I have always had this philosophy that when I’m in a foreign country I should always try the local practices.  So before leaving the beautiful village in Alleppey I decided to sign myself up for an Ayuverdic massage. I’ve been so excited to have a massage on this trip and have been talking about it for weeks. So yes please sign me up.

I get taken to this house in the village that serves as an  Ayurvedic clinic and am greeted by a lovely older lady. She walks me through her house and takes me out to the back yard (this should be my first clue that this massage might not be all that I had expected).   In the backyard another lady awaits behind closed curtains. This ‘room’ has a plastic roof  that resembles a green house ~ so let me tell you that it is as hot as hell in there!!  There is a long table that is covered in plastic and a stool sitting next to it. The lady tells me to take off my clothes. So I strip down to my bra and underwear and I ask her ‘my bra too?’ Yes she says ‘everything’. I tell her that I’m keeping my underwear on and she looks at me in utter disgust and clucks her tongue. She then asks me to sit on the stool. As I’m sitting there I notice that the curtains surrounding me have a massive gap so if there are any lookie loos, they are going to get a nudie show!  I then notice that the massage table is just covered in ants…tiny little ants in swarms!!! I now realize that I’ve probably signed myself up for a once-in-a-life-time-not-so-great-experience…good one Halpern! As all these thoughts are running through my brain the lady comes up behind me and pours a bowl of oil over my head. An entire bowl…this is not good. As it drips down my face she proceeds to man handle my head like nobody’s business and I realize that my hair will never be the same…probably be a grease bomb for the rest of the trip! None of her methods feel good and my mind is racing. Oh god, what’s next? As the oil is running all down my body I’m realizing that maybe my underwear isn’t the best clothing option at this time. But if I’m not wearing them, then my naked ass will be sitting on this stool that is also crawling with tiny little ants. What do I do? She pulled at my underwear and yelled ‘off!’  Well fine then, I guess my decision is made –  I’m going buck!

So I get up on this hard ass table and she asks me to lay face down. There’s no place to put your head so my face is literally being smushed face down against the table. I realize at this point just how big my nose really is! The amount of oil this woman pours on me is endless and I feel like she’s preparing me as the next meal! Now laying face down on a plastic table I am not only sweating profusely but also feel my body being exfoliated by the ants that are crawling all over my body. Her tugging and brutalizing me might have felt good in a normal situation but at 35+ heat in a green house, ants being smushed all over my body and about 3 liters of various oils, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of dodge!

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The next thing I know she is down in my bum vicinity. Oh god – she then pulls apart my legs and she is sticking her hands in my crack. My entire ass from my ‘vagine’ to my ass hole is being severely man handled by this little Indian woman! Now at this point I have to go to my ‘ happy place’ in my mind where I can only think happy thoughts! 1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi 3 Mississippi! At one point because my eyes are closed she yells out ‘madame madame don’t sleep’. I’m not sleeping lady I’m just pretending I’m safe in my own bed!

Turning over while doused in oil is a feat in itself. I’m trying to use my elbows as leverage but oil on plastic = a human slip and slide. I feel like a large naked version of Bambi falling on the ice. The lady has to catch me and pulls me back on to the table. It’s a whole different experience laying face up…rather unnerving  being totally naked. I feel completely exposed and hearing footsteps outside of the curtain makes me feel like I could actually be part of a peep show!

Again doused in more oil she rubs my boobs and then proceeds all the way down to my crotch.  Seriously this has to be the longest hour of my life! It is impossible to keep my legs together because the oil on the plastic and my legs make for a seriously slippery situation! Eventually she says she is almost done but is going to give me a face massage. Oh no, not more oil!!! Squeezing my nose so I cant breathe is less than calming but I know that I am in the home stretch.

Once we are done I am literally dripping in oil and need to get some of the excess off before putting on my clothes. Not only do I need to remove the gallons of oil but I also have a million little ants stuck to my body.

The lady grabs a towel and starts to rub me down. She even rubs between my legs and when I started to laugh in embarrassment she says ‘you’re my baby’!

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When I go over to put on my clothes I have yet another little surprise waiting for me. My clothes are now covered in a village of ants. Getting them out of my underwear is a challenge and I am afraid that I might have a guest or two staying in my ass crack after this is all said and done. Oh lord help me!

I ran back to the guest home and everyone thought I had been swimming. This is how oily I was! This massage was by far the most violated I’ve ever been. And I can safely say without a doubt that i will not be getting another while in India!

If you are interested in taking a tour that covers the places on my adventure check out G Adventures ~ Kerala Beaches & Backwaters

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Kochi and Alleppey ~ A taste of Southern India and I am already hooked!

 This post is originally from February 8, 2017
Waking up to the call to prayer is such a cool feeling. Even though it is at the mere hours of around 5am I honestly just soak it all in as part of the experience. But I have to tell you the Imam this morning had a voice of an angel…NOT! My own dad could have done a better job and no word of a lie he was asked to just move his lips in grade school because his voice was so terrible!
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One of the cute streets in the Jewish Quarter

Our morning started with a tour of a few of the major sites of Kochi (also known as Cochin). Our first stop was St. Francis Church – the first European church to ever be built in India in the early 1500’s by the Portuguese.
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Next was the fish market which although was smelly beyond belief, was my favorite stop. They catch fish the traditional Chinese way with massive nets attached to a pulley. From shore they lower it down and about 20 minutes later the net would be full. It is so interesting to see people hard at work in daily life that is so different from us at home.
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Our last stop was the Jewish Quarter but the street signs named it ‘Jew Town’…sounds a bit derogatory to me don’t ya think? We got to visit Paradesi Synagogue, which is the oldest active  synagogue in the Commonwealth. It was built in 1567 and the impressive floor is completely laid with intricate hand painted tiles. The Jewish Quarter also has a cemetery where it awaits its final 5 residents.  We were told that there are only 5 Jews left in Kochi…funny to me that everyone knows exactly how many Jewish people live here. They even told us a story that the only single woman went back to Israel to find a husband but came back empty handed! She is destined to be a crazy old cat lady like me…but she will be called the crazy old Indian Jewish cat lady!
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Eventually we hit the road to make our way south to Alleppey (also called Alappuzha). What we’ve seen in the state of Kerala is lush green tropical backdrops. It is absolutely beautiful and resembles very little of the India that I experienced before. It’s cleaner, greener and the people have genuine smiles on their faces.
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The drive was nothing short of starts and stops – jerking, weaving and near side swipes…and I’m guessing you all know where this sentence is leading to!?! Yes Heather the Barfer is back in full force! Oh joy – gotta love initiating the group with my lovely wrenching!IMG_1610
After the ride of doom (my barfing fiasco) we were met by a large canoe to take us across to a little island where we would be staying the night. Alleppey is an area where waterways connect and where lush green mangroves and palm trees line the shores. This is the area where house boating is a major tourist attraction because this back water way of life is so enchanting and exotic. The island itself doesn’t have a name but the village we are staying in is called  Chennamkary. It Is approximately 27km in circumference and approximately 10 000 people live on the island. It is perfect land to grow rice because the island is basically a floating bog. If you were to dig you would actually hit water. It has a small village feel and we are so lucky be able to experience staying at a Homestay here. There are about 10 families that participate in the Homestay business where they take travelers like us in, feed us and make us feel like home. It started about 27 years ago when a group of Swedish travelers were stranded and asked to house them for the night. Now it has grown into a sustainable business where tourism and local life have become a viable way of life. Travelers come in all forms – from tour groups like us, to families, to people that stay for free but come to volunteer in the village. Everyone on the island knows each other and they greet you with genuine smiles and outstretched arms.
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A typical houseboat that travelers can stay on over night

We literally are eating inside the family home and the meals are all prepared by the mother in law of this family. The food was to die for and the family was more than welcoming. I spoke to the father in greater detail about life here on the island and he was open to all my questions. The island itself is continually sinking so it’s an on going process to dig up mud from the water and add to the land. This constant sinking is obviously problematic for maintaining the houses. We can see the effects where some places that 40 years ago were elevated houses now are so sunken that the entrance looks like a basement. This is one of the main industries on the island – construction as it is a never ending battle.
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As well, we talked about the education of those in Kerala. The literacy rate in this state is 94% which is clearly the only state in all of India with these statistics. I asked how this came to be and he said most families have someone living abroad who earns money for the family and continues the cycle of  stressing the importance of education. This man lives part of the year in Manchester and works as a financial advisor for banks when he is in England!

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The sweet village man that rowed us around the back waters

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Just some of the local children that followed us around

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Life is simple on the island and the majority of villagers here are rice farmers, coconut pickers and construction workers. We were able to truly experience this when we went on a three hour walk through the village. Children were running and playing freely, people were bathing and doing their washing on the banks of the waters and everyone greeted us with genuine smiles. This one lady I came across looked to be about 60 or so and had a massive growth on her forehead. She took my hands and kissed them and when I went to give her a hug she again kissed me on the cheek. Children would follow us and want us to take their pictures so they could see themselves on the display, and we sat and watched the sun set on the edge of a rice paddy while drinking chai from a little hut that served as the local cafe. To top off the night we got back into a canoe and were taken around the back waters by a couple of local men while they sang traditional songs and lullabies to us. The evening was nothing short of spectacular and it’s times like these that I pinch myself because it all feels like a dream!
If you are interested in taking the same tour that covers the same places on my adventure check out  G Adventures ~ Kerala Beaches & Backwaters
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Are we ever going to get there? ~ trials and tribulations of air travel

This post is originally from February 6, 2017
So with our Visas in order and bags packed it was time to get the show on the road and blow this Popsicle stand!
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Literally as I was going through the entrance into the Edmonton airport I got a text message from the Alaska Airlines representative telling me that our flight to Seattle had been cancelled. Ummmm…this can’t be true…but as I got to the check-in line I see that everyone else got the very same message. Hmmmmm. We stood in this line that literally didn’t move for a good hour before anyone from the Alaska staff came to talk to us. At that point it was obvious that our only option to get anywhere was to change the flights ourselves. I got on the phone and it became a race as to who could get through to an agent the quickest. After talking to an agent and getting somewhere with her, my call dropped and I had to start all over again. I felt like we were on Amazing Race and getting through was like winning the million dollars. Eventually I was able to speak to another Alaska agent and our flights had been rerouted. Instead of flying over the pacific through Seattle we were now going to Dubai via Toronto over the Atlantic on drum roll please… the highly exotic Air Canada! At this point it was a sigh of relief that we would be going at all. If all goes according to the new plan we would be arriving into each airport in the nick of time to catch the next flight.
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When landing in Toronto we literally had to run to catch our flight to Dubai. We got to the gate just as they were announcing last call. But all was well and we got on. The rest of the flight went off without a hitch right? WRONG! As we were crossing the Atlantic there was some commotion going on and announcements were made asking if there were any doctors on board. By the time we reached Europe it was announced that we were going to have to make an emergency landing in Frankfurt so that we could get this passenger off the plane. As we landed on the tarmac ambulances and fire trucks were there to greet us. It took quite some time for the emergency team to stabilize him so that he could even leave the aircraft. Eventually the man was taken off in a stretcher and the outcome for him seemed touch and go. Later in the flight one of the attendants had verbal diarrhea  and basically spilled the beans as to every detail (Super professional!). This 41 year old man was traveling to Dubai from Los Angeles for work. He wasn’t feeling well before he left but felt he needed to go or else he would lose his job. He has a wife and kids at home and on the plane went into a diabetic coma. The attendant said it was 50/50 whether she thought he would survive. So sad and scary.  Unbelievable!
Although our troubles of missing connections were nil compared to what this poor man was going through we were a bit concerned about missing our next flight. The flight attendant told me she would talk to the pilots so they could contact ground crew and see what they could do. Wow now that’s service! Eventually she came back later in the flight  to tell us that this was her last flight ever and after this she was retiring! Clearly this lady was ready to blow!! She then proceeded to tell us that when she spoke to the pilots about our situation they were a little side tracked because at that very moment when she went to ask them we were flying right over Iraq and I guess air space is a bit touch and go. Holy hell!
So fast forward a dozen hours or so we now arrive in Dubai but our connecting flight to Kochi has already left. Nobody really seemed to know what to do or who should take responsibility for changing our flights since it was originally Alaska Airlines who were originally at fault. Good luck contacting anyone from Alaska from Dubai at 2am in the morning! So eventually a wonderful lady from Emirates went above and beyond to get us our flight to Kochi. Yay Emirates!
Arriving over 5 hours later which wasn’t bad at all considering all the obstacles we had been through we stepped foot on Indian soil! Yay!!!!! The drive to our hotel was nothing short of interesting. At first you probably couldn’t wipe the smile off my face because seeing all the scenes of India flash past us as we whizzed by just sparked a flame in my heart. The outrageous billboards, the men and women carrying loads so massive on their heads, the bright coloured saris, the tropical flowers on the trees, the brightly painted tuk tuks and the men pissing on the side of the road … it was an extravaganza of sights until the motion sickness kicked in. With all the stopping and starting, honking and near collisions my damn gut couldn’t take it anymore. It took everything in my power to try to breathe and not jump out of the moving vehicle to join in with the pissing men so I could yak beside them. When we eventually got to our hotel I must have been a lovely shade of green. But we were here…we finally made it!
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Later we met up with our small group of 10. We are doing a tour through Kerala with G Adventures. For those of you wondering what tour I am taking here is a link to G Adventures. This is my 7th time using this adventure company and I highly recommend it to anyone! Our group this time consist of people from U.K. Germany, Australia and New Zealand – all seem super nice, as well as our local guide Selvamouthou. The night was a blur, but nothing wakes a girl up more than crawling into bed with lizard! Who knew I wouldn’t be sleeping alone!
At this point I am just be thankful that I’m here alive, in one piece and ready for this adventure to finally begin!
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Getting ready for the next adventure – troubles getting an eVisa into India

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This post is originally from February 3, 2017

Hi there Everyone!

So today is Friday and tomorrow I leave for my next adventure – India and Sri Lanka! The last few trips I have done I have been solo but this time I am super excited because I get to share this adventure with my friend Kris. For those of you who don’t know Kris, she is my friend that lived in Australia with me. That goes way back 15 bloody years!!! No longer are we spring chickens…just old geese!
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This month has been nothing short of eventful for Kris leading up to this trip. Three weeks ago she was skating and tripped on her ice picks, falling to the ice and fracturing both her elbows! At that point it was questionable whether she’d be healthy enough to travel. She had her arms in slings and was at the mercy of anyone around her to help her get dressed! She was determined to still come though, and instead of bringing a backpack like most other backpackers, this shining star will be dragging a wheelie suitcase! haha (I am laughing, but I will be the one who has to hoist it into vehicles and onto conveyor belts!- who’s laughing now SUCKA)
So in the midst of the lack of use of limbs Kris waited to submit her Visas to get into both India and Sri Lanka until just under two weeks until our departure date. Apparently I was told that getting an eVisa is ‘fool proof’ but I do pity da fool cuz getting a Visa into India has been an absolute nightmare for Kris. It wasn’t straightforward for myself either, but I got my Visa within a week of trying. Kris on the other hand…
Attempt #1 She submits the eVisa and it comes back with an error message the next day saying there is something wrong with her photo and she has 48 hours to resubmit or else she loses her money and is denied. (this happened to me too, so we figured this was normal). I end up resubmitting the photo for her so that it is exactly how it was when I did it. A day later she gets notification – Visa DENIED.
Attempt #2 Kris comes to my work and we start from scratch. The website looks normal until we get to the portion where you need to submit a photo. From there we are both dumbfounded as to why the site looks different and why it is not taking the photo. We were in a rush because we both had to go back to work so we clearly didn’t investigate as we should have. By the time it asks for payment the fee has increased to $170 which is double the amount I paid. Again ‘Dumb and Dumber’ think that it has increased because we are asking for a Visa in such short notice. I pay the amount and go back to work. When I get the receipt emailed to me I noticed that the seller is not the same as the one on mine. Yes people…we were scammed! Dumb and Dumber got Duped!
I have to say in the midst of all this we were both calling the Embassy and any number we could get our hands on. NOBODY would help. They would just say ‘we don’t do that’. I was talking to one lady and asked her if she had the number to call and her response was ‘not right now’. WTF?!!!
Attempt #3 I resubmit Kris’ eVisa to the correct website and now we wait. The next day we get the same message that we have to resubmit the photo and have 48 hours or lose everything. So, we submit the photo yet again…wait… Wednesday night DENIED. And let me explain that they give you no reason when they deny you.
So now we are seriously freaking out and have come to the conclusion that there is a  fairly big chance that I will be flying solo to India and Kris will have to meet me in Sri Lanka. That night Kris spoke to a friend of a friend who is from India and he called the number in India to find out the problem. They hung up on him too!  So last resort he suggested Kris go to this business in Edmonton (who we had called and was ever so NOT helpful) and show up at 8 am in person. He said chances are they will be more helpful in person.
Attempt #4 We are now at Thursday and Kris goes to this business and the guy is amazing. Super helpful and sure that she will get approved in 24 hours. He said the reason her Visa was getting denied was because it needed both a passport photo heads hot AND a photo of her passport, however I most definitely did NOT include a passport head shot. At this point we are hopeful, but I wouldn’t hold my breath too long. And this morning (the day before we leave) Kris finally gets approved for her Indian Visa! Yay! Nothing like last minute!
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So tomorrow we head to Kochi, India via Seattle and then Dubai. I have never flown with Emirates Airline before but I hear that it is AMAZING! I am sure that this will be the most luxurious part of our trip!  I look forward to what lies ahead and I hope you don’t mind me sharing my stories with you once again!

Until next time! NAMASTE BITCHES!
IF YOU ARE WANTING TO GET AN EVISA THIS IS THE CORRECT WEBSITE TO APPLY TO:
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In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle…

this post is originally from February 25, 2010

The last few days were relaxing, hot and amazing. Spending time at the beach and in the ocean was fantastic. It was massively hot, but the ocean was amazing and who could ask for anything better than eating in a beach hut, jumping in the waves and soaking in the sun?  We did do a banana boat thing (one of those massive floating devises that is in the shape of a banana where we hold on to ropes and get towed behind a speed boat at warp speeds). That was hilarious until we all got flipped and one of the girls had a rope pulling her by the leg. A bit brutal, but she only left with minor injuries.24245_10150124289770434_6324500_n
Yesterday we left Colva, Goa and flew to Mumbai and then up to Delhi. We thought we would get in at 11 and then get picked up to go to Corbett National Park. Corbett is 250 km away so we figured we would get to our hotel at around 2pm. Hmmmm, big mistake. First our flight was delayed, and when we got our bags and looked for our names on a sign in the arrivals section (very excited about that too) there was nobody to be found. After finding someone to call we found our driver. We asked how long it would take…6 bloody hours!! And he shortchanged himself…it took over 7. So in the fits of swerving, honking, stopping for smokes, stopping for who knows what and driving about 40 clicks at some points we tried to sleep. It was a bit brutal…but this experience will only make my bed at home so much more sweeter.

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Our hotel here is beeeeeeautiful. It is right inside the national park and monkeys are everywhere. We were a bit hung over from lack of sleep, but at 2pm we finally got to start our safari to see the infamous tigers. We could have gone by elephant, but we chose jeep because we were assured that you can see more of the jungle (makes sense). So we spent the day in the jungle in search for tigers. We were also told that we could see elephants, bears, crocodile, cobras, panthers, and many birds. I think I may need an x-ray when I get home because I think my liver replaced my bowels and my stomach might be in my mouth. It was super bumpy as we drove through all sorts of terrain. It was hilarious though. At the beginning we saw lots of elephant shit and even tiger tracks. We also saw many, many, many deer. After a long while we came across some elephants and I have to say that it never gets old to see an elephant in the wild. Again we stalked the jungle looking for the tiger. Apparently there are only 1411 left in India and guess how many we saw??? Zip, zilch. Zero. boo hoo hoo. 24245_10150124302680434_8252426_nWe did see peacock which was cool, and lots of monkeys…and deer of course and some moose looking thing. But the elephants topped the list. Still slightly sad that the crouching tiger didn’t jump out at us.
Anyway, looks like our trip is coming to an end. We have our long journey back to Delhi tomorrow and then our flight leaves at 3:30 am. Then we are homeward bound.

24245_10150124290540434_1736940_nIt has been an amazing trip full of so many crazy memories. This country is so chaotic and at times seems backwards, but it works. Everyone lives in a semblance of harmony. If a country like ours had this many people in such small quarters I am sure the chaos would be disastrous. I have so many things that stick out in my mind and I am so happy and thankful that I have had the chance to experience this in my life. Travel is my lifeline and I have learned so much while I have been here.

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This is the place where Gandhi was giving his speech when he was assassinated.

Until next time…thanks for experiencing this journey with me and see you soon!

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Calungute, Goa

this post is originally from February 21, 2010

Yesterday was a wonderful day at the beach. Goa is HOT! Super hot! Love it, but I’m sweating like a trucker at the moment. Yesterday was also the last day of our ‘tour’. I put it in quotes because it really didn’t feel like a tour, but  just travelling with a big group of friends. We spent the day on the beach and Calangute beach was like no other that I have ever been on. Why you ask? Well, lets start off with YOGA MAN. As I am heading to the water I see a man who has skin like tanned leather. He could be Indian…but also could be an old leathery white dude. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but stare. Picture someone squatting and then putting their bum straight in the air. I was coming from behind and what was Yoga Man wearing? A g-string. Right in front of me was a bare ass and a sack of nuts!!! Oh man, I wish I had my camera to show you. This man could contort himself into all sorts of positions. What a spectacle!!!
Then there are the herds of cows and bulls that strut the beach. Some of them blended in quite well with the large old Europeans in their string bikinis, and thongs. But can you imagine having share the beach with these bovines!

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a group of crazy locals frolicking in the sea

And while relaxing in our lounge chairs a group of three children set up a high wire and started banging on drums. Here is this little girl walking the wire with a pan on her foot if you can believe. And of course there was common Indian occurrence of begging. It was hard not to watch this under aged circus but at the same time you don’t want to encourage these poor children who should really be in school. It just is so sad!circus

And over the course of this entire trip I have felt like what I can only imagine what a celebrity slightly feels like with paparazzi following. Everywhere we turn people are taking our pictures and wanting to have a piece of us. I usually smile and go with it, but for the first time I put my hand in front of the camera like a real celebrity asking the people to stop. I draw the line at me half naked in my bikini!!!
The day was amazing and our last dinner together on the beach was so memorable.
This morning wasn’t a total goodbye though. 6 of us moved on to another more secluded beach where I will soon catch the rays once we can officially check in.

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All is well and it seems so sad that in a weeks time I will be back at work!

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Choo Choo

this post is originally from February 20, 2010

Holy cow…I think that I only need to experience an overnight train in India once in this life time. Lets see…when the train stops everyone just pushes and shoves to get on. Our group was split up which meant that we were sleeping with strangers. trainWhen we found our compartment there was nowhere to sit or put our bags because the people who got there first looked like they had brought all their earthly belongings!  People were yelling at the top of their lungs and we just couldn’t understand a thing. Thankfully we have our guide with us who also took part in the yelling match. At one point an old woman was yelling at me to lift my feet…which I couldn’t because I had no room to lift them. Eventually we got things sorted and when the little woman turned all of our lights off we didn’t complain because she was a bit on the scary side. Once we pulled the beds down and tried to get comfortable the old woman’s mobile started ringing and she decided to have a full on conversation at top volume. Then the old man beside us decided to answer his phone in the middle of the night and started having quite the conversation in Hindi – again in a yelling voice. Meanwhile I had to pee several times and thus required me to make my way from the middle of three bunks down and to the toilet. I wont elaborate on what the washroom looked like, but I am sure you can use your imagination. 16 hours was plenty and it was more than a joy to get off in Mumbai. This train ride of ours could have been worse…one of my group members woke up to a hand tickling her body. When she pushed the hand away it kept creeping back to find her. This was all through curtains and she couldn’t see who the man was.  Creepy with a capital C!!!!!!!

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Mumbai is crazy interesting. I can’t get over how many people actually exist in one place. It is unbelievable. The city itself is cleaner than Delhi and the beautiful Victorian architecture is amazing. But what lies within the city and is at every 24245_10150124302375434_5316752_ncorner are the slums. At one point our taxi driver stopped  to let everyone get out to go walk through the slums. I was disgusted because the slums should not be a tourist attraction  – so I waited in the taxi with Jess. Can you imagine what those poor people must think when all these westerners gawk at them?? I was completely embarrassed. We then saw all the ‘real tourist’ sites, The Hanging Gardens, Hotel Taj, The Gateway to India, Dobi Ghat…and for supper we went to the infamous restaurant called Leopold’s. Leopold’s has been a target for past terrorist attacks and bullet holes still paint the walls. (By the way, if you are looking for a great book, read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a lot of the scenes in the story take place here at Leopold’s.)24245_10150124302430434_5076056_n

And this morning we  were off to Goa by plane. It was so great to land in the tropics and the heat is wonderful. 34 degrees today. Splendid!!!!!! The first thing we did when we got to our hotel was strip into our bikinis and head to the beach. The water was wonderful – the perfect temperature and the waves were super fun to jump into. We had supper on the beach and watched the sun set. Ahhhh, now this is the life.

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And just a few minutes ago we got back from a massive market with hundreds of stalls. This really is my kind of place. I had to fight off the little woman that kept grabbing my arm so that I would look at her goods, but overall I am proud of myself for not caving into the temptation to buying more beautiful bedding.
I am so excited to be here. It is so beautiful and will be a nice change from the nonstop touring that we have done.

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