A Little Icing Sugar

Attention all fellow winter-haters: think again.

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What happens when you infuse stunning alpine landscapes with adrenaline rushes, dangerously low sleep, and ten days of alcoholic merriness? Apart from serious fun (and what turned out to be over a month of pneumonia), cue juicy insights and that fabulous travel high.

Sliding off the best corner of the map is a magical stretch of mountains that look as though they’ve been delicately sprinkled with icing sugar. Less delicate however, is the descent into these mountains, which is said to be one of the most turbulent and difficult flight paths you can make in winter. Definitely sifting out the worthy there. But plummeting down through those clouds and bouncing unpredictably along the tarmac is surely one of the most stunning sights to behold. Especially with the bestie grabbing your wrist and squealing in belly-dropping anticipation by your side.

Unfortunately, this was not me, as I discovered at the airport a few hours earlier that I had booked the wrong flight, so was forced to abandon my travel buddies and bolt to the opposite end of the airport to board my own plane. Yes, we paid extra to get adjacent seats – which we DID – but on different planes… Good start.

So there I was, looking out fondly over an empty 25A, through the window, at Queenstown. Let’s establish my morbid fear of all things cold, so a blast of one-degree air when disembarking the plane is about on par with death. Despite this, the view of The Remarkables for the second time this year was still striking enough to settle me till I got into the terminal. Then it was just a matter of circling the tiny airport till the homies landed (side note: ninety minutes alone in an airport with only a handful of stores and unlimited free fudge can only go well, right?).

Any prediabetic concerns were obviously cured by the magnificence of Ferg (all hail) and the first night of an illegal ten-day bender. Not even mid-way through the month and I watched Dry July drown helplessly in the rest of the night. And because luck was in our favour, we managed to coax out the snow, so day one was filled with much midnight snow dancing by the still lake with happy faces that were sprinkled with snowflakes.

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Picturesque views for 360 degrees

This special little town not only quenches all those crazy adrenaline dreams, but even has local activities to amuse you. Where else can you use your frozen fingers to launch a frisbee blindly through a forest of stunning pine trees in the hope that it doesn’t take out an innocent tourist or land in the lake, but rather perfectly in a designated basket that you can’t see? Frisbee-golf is a legitimate thing, and despite taking hours to a complete a course (with mild tricep casualties), is the most entertaining forest activity. And then there’s the main reason for booking tickets: the Luge. Yes, you can race toboggans down a mountain with the pressing fear of getting pushed off the road by a fellow luger, or obliterating a child who’s stopped mid-course.

And when you thought it couldn’t get much better, think free pub crawl. I’m talking limbo contests (double yes) at bars where you can play connect-4 while sipping hot rum chai and being served free shots all night (Dry July was a joke). Nightlife where etiquette is to dance on counters, swing on beams, and run into endless streams of adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers from all over the globe. You know it’s been a big one when you actually delete your late night snap story the next day before anyone’s had a chance to behold its insanity… In this snow-sport hub where people literally bid farewell with “see you on the slopes tomorrow”, predictably we didn’t make it up for skiing the next morning.

 

When we did manage to get ourselves up the mountains however, it was James Bond-style darting between other skiers and round flags (ft. one fall off the ski lift, getting stuck on the chair as it started going back down the mountain, and an ironic crash through the ‘Go Slow’ sign). Injuries acquired: zero. Score.

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Whooshing down sun-kissed, snowy slopes?

The rest of this wintery adventure included running off a cliff into free fall (said limbo contest prize), eye-popping pizzas bigger than dinner tables, ludicrous punch concoctions (NB: shower and shave BEFORE your first drink), late night yoga bliss (hang in there stretchy jeans!), heavily endorsing swimming in icy lakes (friend of the year award), being offered jobs daily in such a employment hotspot, and it wouldn’t be a true Catherine trip without smashing a glass.

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Air temperature: slightly above zero, water temperature: don’t even want to know, but my legendary mate managed to go head-under and come out alive

After skipping Dry July for good reason, I’ve had five bedridden weeks of a definite Dry August (including many an antibiotic to cure me of what x-rays revealed to be a pretty brutal lung infection) to confirm that it was all undoubtedly worth it.

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In love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is This the Best Burger in the World?

We’ve all been asked that question: ‘What’s the best burger you’ve ever had?’

If you’ve been to the adrenaline junkie hub of New Zealand – Queenstown, then it’s more than likely Fergburger would be up there in your considerations. And what’s not to love about a burger joint that’s open to satisfy your potential 4:30am munchies?

Open 21 hours of the day, this hunger-crushing heaven seems to have gained reputation as the gold standard of burger houses not only in New Zealand, but internationally. And I’d be first to raise my hand to vote Ferg #1 (make that two hands), as even the classic  Ferg is utter mouth bliss with their genius combination of tender meat, soft buns and that sweet, sweet aioli (cue drooling).

Whatever various health-related hold-backs you have, throw caution to the wind and abandon them for one perfect night with one of these bad boys. Tucking cautiously into half of one of these guys was – albeit at doctor’s instructions – my first baby step into breaking over three years of vegetarianism, and I can say it definitely set a high standard for further reintroduction of meat. That said, I hear the vego options here would give the carnivores a run for their money.

If you’re beyond that simple life and game enough (*cough* intoxicated enough) for a feast, prep yourself for one of the Big Als. This monster isn’t even part of the main menu, and sits not-so-humbley at the bottom of the page waiting for some worthy soul to step up and attempt to consume a tower of burger bliss.

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The Big Al. Image via Google

If you time your plan of attack well enough, it’s possible to avoid the often hour-long queue from fellow burger enthusiasts. There are generally two lulls in the constant stream of hungry travellers (let’s be real – there are virtually no actual Kiwis in Queenstown): the first being around 10:30am when the breakfast burger goers are all nursing their food babies or getting out early to suss out their activity game plan. You want to get in that line before people’s early lunch hunger kicks in, so plan for a solid brunch burger. Then the dinner rush seems to extend till around 9:30, and the wise drunks who’ve decided to soak up their night’s efforts and succumb to those Ferg cravings come out around midnight, causing burger-tantrum-inducing wait times. 11pm is perfect for minimising the suspense so you can sink your teeth into one of these legends and avoid any serious burger withdrawal symptoms.

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Burger with a view?

Best burger in the world? Let’s just say my plans to go back to Queenstown in ski season aren’t just for the skiing…

“Do You Even Lift?” The invisible issue that we’re not addressing

Sexual objectification of women. How many times so far this year have you heard that issue get raised? Infinite? Me too.

So much of current social awareness seems to be focused on the relentless objectification of women, and the measures we can take to prevent this. While I am all for the removal of this objectification, I can’t help but feel that there might be another side of this issue that we’re overlooking.
Every. Single. Day.

Sexual objectification of men. I said it. We’re living in a society where “do you even lift” and gym culture are the norm. Many issues are raised about the need for more realistic representations of women in the public eye, but don’t we see that this should work both ways?

If we look at the image of something as trivial as children’s toys, the difference is so blindingly obvious. Barbie. Side-stepping the hilarious fact that the inspiration for this iconic ‘50s doll was actually based on a German doll designed for adult men – not children, the toy has has been resized, ditching the “implausible proportions” of their previous dolls, to “better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience”. Barbie is now complete with “solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling”, with the thigh gap “officially gone”. While this is undeniably great for the image of women, show me the resizing of the Ken Doll, or show me any man doll without ripped abs and bulging biceps. We’re so worried about presenting unrealistic bodies for women, but what about the pressures of body expectations that young, growing, and adult men face too?

This is the era of Marvel films. It’s the era of superhero bombardment into our media left, right and centre. And it’s not just superheroes; male protagonists on the screen and in the public eye are expected to be ripped. Little boys and girls are flooded with images of men who have spent months preparing for a role. There is an oversaturation every day of shirtless men whose bodies consume all their time. The recognisable, lanky physique of SpongeBob has made a comeback in the new movie, but now features huge muscles. Being on the low end of the muscle spectrum just isn’t represented in the media, but that doesn’t seem to be as ludicrous as it is about women. Curves are in for us. Kim Kardashian’s glorious behind is celebrated, plus-size models are endorsed, but what’s the equivalent? Where’s the “embrace your figure” attitude towards men who don’t fit a mould?

We need to address this. Too often it’s brushed off as a joke. Women seem to be able to share how they’re feeling about these issues – full support at the ready, but we still appear to have the “man up” attitude when it comes to how men are actually feeling. The number of times I’ve opened up about how I feel about this to my male friends is countless, and the number of times I’ve heard them open up about body image to me, or other dudes, is approaching zero. And what would be said anyway? “Feeling low about your body image? Why don’t you just go to the gym then?”

When you find out a woman has been suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s such a delicate and supported issue – and rightly so. But these obsessive, overly disciplined, and often exceptionally unhealthy behaviours are paralleled so frequently in the gym-junkie lifestyle, without the same concern, but rather with expectation and encouragement. It is expected that men go to the gym. It is expected that men work out – often for over four hours a day, and at the expense of friends, family, work and commitments because of the standards of what’s “attractive”. “Buff” is now the standard, and extreme is commended.

Surely it’s this unhealthy mindset filled with pressures and expectations of a possibly unachievable standard that we’re trying so hard to fight. The movement towards a more diverse selection of female models is ever present, yet male models are almost exclusively shredded. Where is their diversity? I saw a billboard last week displaying a male underwear model with no ridiculously chiselled form.

This shouldn’t be novelty. This shouldn’t make my jaw drop through the floor.

Too often I hear women in the street discussing how hot some guy is across the road. Of course he’s ripped etc. How are men affected when they hear women saying these things about someone who’s just spent their entire afternoon in the gym?

We’re so hyperaware of how women are affected by objectification, but it’s time to extend that respect and sensitivity towards our men.

My Most 007 Trip Yet

If, like me, you are an avid James Bond devotee, you may be aware of a little visit Sir Roger Moore makes to a glamorous Indian land to take on Octopussy. While my own adventures in this Rajasthani city – christened Udaipur – did not include any battles on top of planes mid-flight, classy crocodile submarine disguises, or yoyo blade throwing, it did turn out to be the most undoubtably beautiful city I experienced in India, leaving me awestruck repeatedly.

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The contrast from Mumbai was shocking. There was grass here. There was shimmery water here, space to think, room to breathe. Trailing around the winding, intimate stoned streets instantly took me back to Venice and the dreamy parallels didn’t end there. I’m talking beautiful bridges overlooking stunning historical architecture, wandering lovers, sparkly rooftop dinners, and the perhaps obvious factor that Udaipur is known as “the Venice of the East”.

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Grass > Pollution
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Hard to find a bad view
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Feeling familiar?
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That archway love

For a start, our hostel was unimaginably gorgeous. After stumbling around the cobblestones in the heat with too many bottles of sunscreen weighing down my backpack, arriving at a palace was out of this world. It was fit for a king. Bunkyard was exquisite with exceptional service and an amazing vibe, making the short time in Udaipur extra sensational.

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I was actually so obsessed with taking photos of this stunning stairwell that most of my Udaipur photos are of it…
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Unparalleled luxury

The diary entry of the day read:

“I’m sitting by our window, looking out across mirrored lights on the lake. I can see hundreds of archways. It feels baroque and Muslim and Balinese and Islamic and Arabian. Many mountains. Rooftop chai bliss as the sun sets. Amazing. Why were we in Mumbai when this exists…”

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Room with a view?
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At 6:10 every night, there was a “chai bell”. This is at 6:15.
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Night strolls around the City Palace and City Temple

So it was quite a treat. Getting lost in the streets and culture of “The City of Lakes” was a highlight of its own, but if you’re a fellow view-hunter, this place is heaven. Climb above two floors and it’s eye ecstasy. The merchants in this character-rich city have a solid, unofficial competition for the highest restaurant. As you can imagine then, there were a lot of stairs to be climbed. Though the “high” buildings only reach five or six floors, when one is expected to climb to the top before being able to assess the suitability of each menu, believe me there was much quad work. It has got to the absurd but equally brilliant point where many buildings have fashioned several somewhat dodgy extensions to their rooftops to achieve an extra few metres with which to brag. Despite this though, almost every restaurant we came across boasted “highest restaurant in Udaipur!” The other brag point, is obviously the Octopussy card. And yes even though it’s been over thirty years since the film hit screens, locals honestly milk it at every possible moment: the restaurants around us had nightly screenings of the spy movie. Nightly.

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Exhibit A
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Exhibit B
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“Best view in Udaipur” ft. more arches

When we weren’t trying to avoid being run over by rickshaws speeding around corners, or getting told by palm readers that I am emotionally weak, we were watching women dance while balancing mountains of pots on their heads, bargaining clothes vendors to their most “happy price”, getting lost in the maze of colourful streets, staring in amazement at puppeteers manipulating their dancing puppets, and learning the secrets of Indian cuisine from the Indian cooking greats themselves: the locals.

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Findings: emotionally weak, two kids, strong creative force, not ambitious enough.
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The blur of colours at the Rajasthani Cultural Show

One particular morning I woke to the normal blare of repetitive but joyful singing somewhere in the city. This was the day to visit the City Palace and cruise over the lake to Jagmandir Island for some prime Bond-location-hunting. Whilst waiting for the boats to start running, we hovered around the entrance to the majestic City Palace and decided to get some street food for breakfast. This is a big deal for me as allergy is high and Australian to Indian communication is often poor.

Once back in Sydney, I discovered that Bond has a car chase past the stall we stopped at. With that Hollywood value in mind, you’d think this street vendor would be quite civilised right? Not quite. After clarifying numerous times “no mungfally (peanuts)”, I cautiously bit into my first 30c meal – kachori. This spicy snack is basically a deep-fried pocket of flour stuffed with curry. Once the anxiety that I wasn’t going to die from it had passed, I started getting up to get the attention of the teenager who had served us initially, to ask for another one. It was at this moment that I felt a significant cultural difference. Here in the doorway of the tiny seating area, sat the teenage waiter on his phone with his back to us. The seating area was so small we could see everything on his phone with minimal effort. This young man was unashamedly invested in an unmentionable video. After several days of witnessing the different culture India had to offer, it hadn’t occurred to me that the people here might watch porn too. What was most surprising though, was his ability to switch so intermittently between serving customers, and returning to his phone. In fact, I was somewhat impressed at his diligence to return after each customer and find the spot he was up to so he could resume his absorbed and curious stare.

I was less impressed when he then served me my second kacholi with his bare hands…

 

Several “Namaste”s later, we were zooming around the majestic Lake Pichola Bond-style (it was much more of a slow chug on one of the tourist boats), till we got to Jagmandir Palace. This exquisite island is everything I imagined a romantic Indian city to be: elephant statues, breathtaking views, archways looking out to historical cities…

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007 island – check; stunning architecture – check; view over crystal waters – check

And then there was Monsoon Palace. If you too are on a quest for sights that make your eyes leap out of their sockets, this is the place. If brave enough to venture up the twisting mountain side in a rover that’s managed to squeeze upwards of 12 people in, without falling on the driver as he swings round the corners, then you’ll find yourself face to face with the glorious Aravalli Hills that envelope the city (complimentary monkeys swinging around the stunning architecture).

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Scarf about to escape
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Locals at the Monsoon Palace
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Some pretty stellar views from the highest point

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In terms of sheer beauty, cultural immersion, and “that one place on the trip you’d go back to”, Udaipur has smashed out first place 110%.

Cue Bond theme.

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Hard to deny
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I fell in love with Udaipur’s cheeky charm
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Truly spectacular

Tips to Surviving Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai was a wake up call.

With just under the same population as the whole of Australia, this city can be quite overwhelming.

Here are some handy survival tips:

  1. Carry your own toilet paper
    We were often fortunate enough that the hostels would ration us a roll upon assessment of our ethnicity. Other than that, public toilets are a no-no if you don’t
    have your own supplies…312991
  2. You cannot bring too much hand sanitiser.
    Indian food is wonderful, and often it is eaten with the hands. It’s great to know that your hands are clean when you do this, plus, Mumbai calls for stray dog patting, visiting dirty bazaars, and shaking hands with many other people. Come fully stocked with hand sanitiser.

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  3. Only drink bottled water.
    This includes for tooth-brushing. Most travellers in India get sick at some point, and water can be quite risky if you’re not used to it. It’s also essential to check the seal on the bottled water you buy. Make sure you open it in front of them before you pay for it incase they’ve just recycled old bottles and used tap water.
  4. Accept that your body will respond differently.
    Forget your normal bodily functions, curry and spice is no longer a one-off. It’s daily. And Indian cuisine uses a lot of spice that westerners are not used to. I’m talking spicy breakfasts (because their attempts at western breakfasts aren’t really worth it), spicy soda if you’re into that, spicy pasta and spicy snacks. Get ready for the spice, go gently on your body, and don’t be surprised if your routine is quite different.

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    Get prepared for lots of carbs and lots of spice…
  5. Take advantage of the Hyralyte your mum encouraged you to bring.
    India is hot. It’s sunny, and if you’re on the move a lot, you probably won’t notice yourself start to get dehydrated. Electrolytes in tablet form are super easy to pop into your water for some extra hydration. It’s also really handy in case you do get sick and can’t stomach too much fluid.
  6. Bring your own pillowcase.
    I swear by this as my one main travel tip. If you are going any place where the hygiene standard is less than home, it makes such a difference putting your face against something that smells neutral and that you know is clean. A pillowcase is tiny and light so it won’t destroy your weight allowance, and you can just throw it over the pillow.
  7. Get used to avoiding eye contact.
    Locals will stare. Men will stare A LOT if you’re female. I spent the first several days trying to work out the rationale behind this since I stuck to the guidelines religiously and covered up ft. long, loose pants and a shawl. If you’re blonde like me, it’s best to keep your hair tied up when on the street, as i’ve found a wave of golden locks stands out like a sore thumb. It’s best to accept it’s going to happen, stay in a group, and don’t let the pointing, talking, photo-taking and occasionally curious giggling slow you down. Imagine you’re a celebrity for a few weeks and appreciate you’re something interesting.
  8. Get amongst it.
    This was the quote of the trip as Mumbai is such a different culture, and if you’re not open to going with the flow, you’re going to get frustrated and struggle. Most Indians are vegetarian – roll with it. The driving is pure anarchy (no seatbelts, no indicators, no lanes etc.) – roll with it.

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  9. Eat well.
    Your appetite may completely vanish for a while due to the unfamiliar surroundings and often confronting hygiene of the city. It is, however, important to have enough sustenance for all the walking, and for the energy that is unknowingly expended in the hectic business of the city and the heat. We found that having one or two main meals during the afternoon and evening was best for keeping alert.
  10. Accept that you can’t fix everything.
    It can be quite an overwhelming place to be in terms of poverty, pollution, and animal treatment. People will come up to you. If you give them something, there will be many more who will then plead you for something (yet Mumbai is home to the most expensive house in the world – worth $1 billion!). It’s better instead to have conversations as best you can about where you come from, and get to know the people and their fascinating culture.

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    A regular day: swerving round sacred cows on the street.

Multiculturalism: 2 Aussies in a Russian-Inhabited Portuguese City in India

 

A quick Google search of “Goa” will show you this:

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Image via Google

Pretty nice right? You drooling too? Those White sandy beaches featuring palm trees and relaxed, clean vibes aren’t the only things to behold in this southern state of India. There is much more character to the vibrant ocean-side culture than displayed on the beach, and the area’s fascinating Portuguese architecture alone is reason to put your shoes and helmet on and stray inland.

My own first impression of Goa was being chased down a dark highway at 10:30 at night by an angry taxi driver who was determined to drive us to our hostel (NB: don’t express interest in one taxi driver, and then tell him later that you’ve found another way – turns out Goa airport takes their employees’ opportunities quite seriously. A suggestion would be to research every other transport option before you arrive, only falling to the horrendous airport taxi prices as a last resort).

In Goa, drug dealers seem to be as common and persistent as street vendors in crowded Mumbai – where else would you be offered “LSD or ecstasy for you, my friend” when in a traffic jam on your motor bike? (It would have been easier to ignore this had I been wearing a helmet – another of Goa’s cheeky dismissals of safety.) As a result of this easy access to nevertheless “prohibited” substances, the taxi driver we did end up escaping with (literally, we jumped into the car, locked the doors and yelled “GO” as we could see the angry airport employee running down the road), was quite content speeding along to deafening trance music while blowing puffs of his hand-rolled marijuana joint out into the Goan night/my sleepy face in the back seat.

After an hour of swerving down narrow, windy backstreets at midnight, we pulled up outside a 50s style yellow set of buildings in the bush. Much like the position of accomodation one would expect a horror movie protagonist to enter. It turns out much of Goa has a similar outback feel to it, and there aren’t really big cities in the same way there are in the other states, making it an ideal getaway.

There are, however, denser areas with amazing architecture of Portuguese influence. On route to the “Church of Immaculate Conception” (turns out it’s actually not an IVF clinic), we were stopped by “police” who were suspiciously only pulling over white people to check their licenses. My intuition says that even if we had been carrying our Australian licenses, we still would have been charged the $30 “fine” (or bribe – it’s hard to be sure).

I found that Goans, along with many other Indians I’ve been fortunate enough to come across, are excellent cooks. Every aloo (potato) dish I encountered in Goa was outstanding, and as I always examine milkshake standards, I discovered they too got a double thumbs up (unlike other areas of the country).

That said, ice cream vendors were a different story… I passed on every ice block I bought to my boyfriend for fear of permanently scarring my tastebuds, and was not impressed at the vendor’s attempts to short-change us (CHECK YOUR CHANGE!). As with other parts of India travelled, there seems to be some communication difficulty with the word “orange”. Apparently it is synonymous with “mandarin”, and if, like me, mandarins make you gag while oranges are liquid heaven, steer clear of “orange juice”. Apart from that, the communication was surprisingly ok, except when the kind people at the train station tried to poison me by sprinkling peanuts onto my rice, despite written and verbal assurance in both English and Hindi of my peanut allergy. I was waved away and brought a separate bowl of rice, while they left the peanuts in front of me. An interesting approach.

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Happy Anaphylaxis!

If there’s one thing Indians are not known for, it’s their alcohol. With a predominantly Hindu population, this is entirely understandable, but given that I tried repeatedly on the beaches of Goa to amend this common theme, it must have slipped my mind continuously. If I were to offer one piece of advice to fellow Goa explorers, it would be not to touch the alcohol unless you pour it yourself (the $2 bottle of rum we shared with our Russian neighbour as we practised the art of communication was delightful). Hopefully the only time I’ll ever secretly tip my cocktail over the wall of a beachside bar was in Goa. As it’s safer than the water, it seemed like a good idea to continue trying their drinks, including the local “fenny”, which has claimed first prize in the definition of “vile”. We were unsure if “Rainbow Bar” just served us toilet cleaner, though, by the state of the toilet, I’d assume toilet cleaner isn’t something they come across often. Maybe they should use the fenny for it and save everyone the two awful experiences.

At least the Goans can drive. Or can they? As it wouldn’t really be travelling if no one left their passport somewhere, we had to make the 90 minute taxi ride between our hostel and the airport three times in twelve hours. This included a road trip at 2 am with a car that shouldn’t have been on the road, a visually-impaired driver who stayed above 100 km/hr even in the concealed, windy back roads (sports bras can only do so much when you go over speed bumps at this speed), and barely missing a cow on the highway.

Despite the madness of Goa, I found myself instantly missing the warmth of the Indian ocean and the super relaxed atmosphere as soon as we left. A beautiful and exciting adventure for any fellow wanderlust victims.

Sand, Stars and the Space In-between

Have you ever seen one of those cliché coming of age movies? You know, the ones where a mellow song comes on just as the protagonist is staring out of the car window questioning life pensively? Well, much of my three-week bus trip from Zambia to Cape Town was a constant priceless movie moment. The wild, African roadside was the setting, and I was the stargazing traveller.

Days after days of watching country-sized game parks fly by the window, and observing giraffes gently grazing by the side of the road led me to fall head over heels in love with Africa. About a week into the trip, I entered Namibia – a golden, duney land of desert that is home to ‘Mad Max Fury Road’, and a sizeable segment of my heart.

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While preparing for the impending heat, we were warned about the necessity of hats and sunscreen, and most importantly, water. Lots and lots of water. Every two days or so, we would stop at a store and have to buy at least one five-litre water container each. Hydration was even more vital in the desert (three hours was the ballpark given to us for survival time without this precious liquid).

During the briefing at our campsite one night, our fellow travellers enquired as to how much shade there would be, the quality of hand-dug latrines, and tactical escape plans from encounters with deadly scorpions (eternally grateful for tent zippers). It was thrilling to say the least. Camping at its finest.

Now imagine that scene from Jaws where the townspeople are discussing their plans to deal with the shark, and the eerie but experienced bad guy from the back forewarns them of the tragedies that may ensue. It was like that as one of the Dutch girls in our trip spoke up to caution us about the desert.

“Some people lose themselves in the desert… They go insane… They just can’t take all that raw, open space, and it drives them to madness…”

If I’d had a mouthful, I would have gulped. It was terrifying.

But despite the warnings, the next leg of our trip proved to be the most exhilarating travel I’ve experienced yet. The endless hours of watching the glare bounce off uninhabited, illuminated, sun-scorched, red earth in every direction for as far as my eyes could see.

Key expectations from an African adventure:

  • Layers of sand on top of sweat on top of bug spray on top of sunscreen on top of more sweat.
  • Getting stage fright when trying to pee behind the truck when on the road.
  • Sunrise and sunset yoga in bikinis atop wildlife viewing towers while your washing dries in seconds from the intense dryness of the air.
  • Watching out for scorpions when you need to relieve yourself during the night
  • A canvas of stars so vivid and unaffected by light pollution that Van Gogh himself would surely trek to the desert with paintbrush and easel at the ready
  • Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn in upwards of 40 degree heat
  • Sunbathing on mattresses in the middle of the desert at sunset (with ample supply of ‘Savannah’ beer)
  • Learning how to make fire with natives
  • Trudging aimlessly (and slightly deliriously) across the desert with no guide, map or water supply, but merely the directional gesture of a local driver

 

It was somewhat frustrating on the drive to and from Spitzkoppe (that magical word still gives me chills). My tent buddy and I were unfortunately at the back of the bus as we drove along the very bumpy and long dirt road between the main road and the towering dunes. The frequent and painful lurches of the bus kept causing my earphones to dislodge themselves, disrupting my movie-moment-window-gazing bliss (and the stomach contents of one of the poor Germans). Once the pure-hearted had proved their worthiness by managing to endure the hour-long road hurdle, they would find themselves in the middle of the Namib desert, surrounded by Mad Max-style splendour like no other. It was surprising that I found such bewildering beauty in this place that was so bare and expansive. Hello insights! The peaks were surprisingly easy to climb, and we took full advantage of this by perching ourselves high above the sparse trees to behold a flawless sunset. Incomprehensible distance existed at every angle: our vision only hindered by the natural curvature of the planet.

 

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Cue epiphinal moment #846 from this trip. You know how people argue over whether it’s black with white stripes or white with black stripes? What we witnessed in the sky this particular night would no doubt be considered a white backdrop with fleeting moments of darkness, as the celestial glow that lit up the Sossusvlei as we sat (wide-eyed, stunned, and possibly being nibbled by scorpions) outshone every inch of empty night space. Stargazing in silent awe, we literally tilted our heads from side to side, trying to take in the sheer number of stars that was spread across 180 degrees of African sky.

 

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We continued to be exposed to this splendour long into the night where, in our sand-infested tents, our unobstructed stargazing blurred into existential questioning. Somewhere amidst all the sleepy “what is life” moments and shooting star anticipation, I fell into the most restful sleep in this magical, star-kissed land.

 

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Untouched and unforgettable