The Golden Temple, where I became famous

 

Continuing south, in search of warmth, I was planning on staying in Amaritsar for a few nights. Beside the temple is a facility that offers free accommodation, some meals and Internet. I am still a bit confused as to what the actual purpose of this place was, but it fits the backpacker budget! They also offer the same things to Indian tourists, but we are kept separate. Again, I don’t understand all the details.
Once arriving, realizing it’s still cold here, and being asked to be in about 15 photos, I decided to get a night bus to Delhi. One full day was going to be more than enough hectic energy for me. I can officially say I would not enjoy fame. I should see if I can find myself on Instagram using #goldentemple or #whitegirl! I tackled the Golden Temple and Wagu Boarder closing ceremony. Which form what I understand is all I needed to see there.

I ended up splitting a Tuk Tuk out to the Wagu Boading closing ceremony with 3 families and had the best time with them. Fact: Tuk Tuks can hold 5 adults and 3 toddlers – when in India! Every single night, when the boarder closes from India to Pakistan, there is a celebration filled with dancing, music and the lowering of the Indian flag. Intense! I could see Pakistan! The energy and excitement was above and beyond this day though as it was Republic Day (a national holiday for India). It was so filled with people, I could hardly see the ceremony, but the energy and people watching alone was very enjoyable.

After visiting a few temples with the family as well, they asked if I would join them for dinner. The temple we visited last serves a free meal to anyone during lunch and dinner. In Canada we would compare the serving style and meal to a soup kitchen I’m sure, but here it was beautiful. Everyone and anyone could come in and be served delicious curries, rice and chapati. Sitting on the floor, served out of a large pale, it felt so welcoming and unique. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures in case anyone took it as rude. After all, I felt uncomfortable all afternoon walking the streets knowing people were taking my photo.

Trying to teach English, and learn Hindi, it’s amazing how much you can understand by simply watching people talk. I know maybe two or three words in Hindi now, and only one of them could speak English, and yet we spent hours together. It was very refreshing to visit with the ‘local tourists’, knowing they weren’t trying to sell me something. I am not sure who had more fun and took more photos, them or me. A priceless day I will never forget!


  
  

Home of the Dalai Lama

I’m on a train! I’m not sure why I find it so cool, but it is my first train ride so I’m allowed to be a dork! I’m behind on stories, it was hectic getting through the mountains. But here’s my journey from Srinagar, home of the houseboat con artist, down to Dharamasla a.k.a. Macleod Gonj. 
Of course, the journey wouldn’t be complete without a hectic drive. Taking a jeep down to Jammu, where I needed to hope on a bus, was a really cool way to see the country side. There is a good chance the highway is on some ‘Dangerous Roads Around the World’ list. Not only are you winding through mountain ranges amongst tons of construction and transportation trucks, but your on roads we could call single lane/one way back home. Than you add in the crazy drivers here passing people on blind corners, thinking honking will make it all okay. If I wasn’t so obsessed with the mountains I am sure I would have freaked out, but there was no time for that, too much beauty to soak up. Oh, and the laughs over the road signs (although I was laughing to myself, the locals I was with didn’t understand the humour I found in them): “After whisky, driving risky”, “This is not a runway, don’t take off”, and “Life is a journey, complete it”. 
Part two of this journey had a lot less humour, and lot more confusion. How a bus reaches your destination at 2am when you were told 6am, and that destination being a different town name than you were expecting, I will never know. I supposes I am lucky the bus man woke me up. I am thankful for the kind people that are out there, and my good travel vibes that got me to my hotel room in once peace. And to Ms. Katie Klein for talking me off the ledge when I was having a “I’m booking a flight out of India” moment. 
Everything looks different after sleep though. Waking up in Macleod Gonj was very pleasant. The little town is tucked up in the mountains, and filled with spiritual vibes. After all, the Dahli Lama did decide to call this place home. I spent 3 days wandering narrow windy streets filled with market shopping, coffee shops and street food; Mediating and gaining a larger interest in Buddhism; afternoon hikes with a lovely Monk whom I met at breakfast one morning; and evenings filled with food, drinks and new people. I also learnt to eat with my hands, rice and paneer, not finger food in my eyes ;). It’s been told to me a few times now that the majority of India hold this custom still. It felt awkward and funny, but the food was still spicy and delicious. 

    
    
    
    
   

First Impressions

I now understand the look I would get when I told friends that I was going to start my backpacking adventures in India, friends who had been to India that is. It’s this “Your world is about to change, and I don’t even have words to help prepare you” look, and I reckon they were all correct.

That being said, I am having a good time! My journey started when I got off the metro in Delhi, sorting my way to my hotel, when I was told I need a permit to be in the Main Bazaar because there was a festival going on. When I arrived at the Tourism office (after experiencing my first rickshaw ride – video to come!), I learnt that I actually couldn’t get to my hotel till Monday and that lots of Delhi was closed down until then. After looking at trains, cities and flights to create a plan B with, it was suggested I head off to Srinagar to stay on a house boat, trek the Himalayans and site see Kashmir. I ended up blowing my budget a bit and booked a tour of sorts. I was definitely ripped off though, and I would say parts have been great, and some not so much! But at least I am learning all my lessons in the first week.

Eight hours after landing in Delhi, another flight, traumatic shuttle ride, and about my eighteenth hour of no sleep, I arrived to the house boat. A warm welcome, lots of spicy curry and hot chai made everything alright. (I am saving you all from the drama of those eight hours though, it’s better that way. Sorry mom, for freaking you out at 3am ;) xo)

Staying in the village of Naranag, with Golum and his family was by far the highlight of Kashmir. I spent two nights and three days hiking the Himalayans, learning to cook Indian food (on a camp stove, on the ground, in the house), playing cards, and sleeping all cuddled up to an Aussie family! We couldn’t stop asking questions about how the village works, the local people, their traditions etc. All the way down to a fun fact that Indian people do not have any sort of ‘tooth fairy’, no crazy shenanigans they tell the children (or at least not in Naranag).

To wrap up my time in Kashmir I managed to find the top of the world, almost literally! We took a day trip to Gulmarg to check out the ski hill, and be amongst some of the largest mountains in the world. Once we managed to fight through the locals offering a guided service, and people selling everything from ski suits to chocolate bars, we took the gondola to the TOP, 4,224 meters above sea level. Looking out at two of the highest peaks reaching 7,000 meters (comparable to Mt. Everest!) it felt like I was on top of the world, and slightly out of breath. These pictures hardly do the sights justice. What a totally wicked day. The only thing that could have beat it would to have went snowboarding. There’s wasn’t enough snow… And there was several warning signs basically stating they do poor Avalanche control and your there on your own risk! I’ll save shredding the Himalayans for now.

I would have never ended up with these experiences if it wasn’t for the hectic first day. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ still holds true in my world.

Off the backpacking trail

The last leg of my trip – it came up so fast. Reading my notes, it seems these plans hit me in the face out of no where. When I was in Belize, I learnt a group of my guy friends were going to be in San Juan around the same time I was. And the plans worked out! I love traveling for that, I only really knew one of them going into it, and now to this day I consider them great friends.

Anyways… these guys really knew how to take a backpacker off the ‘gringo trail’. The house they rented was amazing. Absolutely breath taking. The views, the pool that looks like it rolls over to the ocean. Having a shower you don’t need flip lops in. Sleeping in sheets you know are clean. It was a fantastic end to my trip. I was able to relax and completely ground myself before heading home again.

The house was actually in Mederes. Therefore, I did miss some of the hostel shenanigans and Sunday Funday. How I went to San Juan and didn’t hit up Sunday Funday is beyond me but I guess thats why I have to go back.

We did some legit surfing lessons here. I thought I could get into it with being taught everything but I just couldn’t. I was getting up and ‘riding’ the waves. The guys were killing it too. But I just couldn’t get over the wave beating me up the second I fell off the board. I gave up to go drink on the beach, typically.

Checked out a show, The Funk Hunters, in San Juan the one night too. Great party scene, and good DJ show. I actually ended up flying home with the DJ’s and we all had our luggage lost together. Small little world (and the first time I ever had luggage lost).

Volcano boarding

I only stopped through Leon, Nicaragua, for 2 nights. There isn’t too much going on their in my opinion. Except for Volcano Boarding. Making a stop through Leon is well worth it for this activity. I thought it was going to be all hype, typical tourist draw. That being said, it did teach me to do all the ‘silly tourist things’ because tourist do them for a reason.

I stayed at the Big Foot Hostel and booked the volcano boarding through them. Of course the night we got in, we partied, so the whole adventure day was a little ruff at moments. The night life was pretty good. We found a few clubs to hope around. I ended up walking home alone, not the smartest, but it happened. Despite my friends efforts to make sure I was ‘looked after’.

Anyways, turns out this adventure is rated in the top thrill seeking adventures around the world. The record on the site we were at was 97KM per HOUR. Note, your literally just sitting on a board. You are not strapped in, you do not have breaks or steering. We had sexy orange jump suites and the plastic goggles you get in science glass across all high schools.

Now for my bragging part… I went 54KM! I was the second fastest girl of the group and only lost first place by 2KM. I was very excited. Especially when I learnt I beat all the guys I had been traveling with. Typically, after their the ones making bets with each other on speeds and being big tuff guys.

The only other piece I would say about Leon is stay on the beach! I went to the Big Foot Hostel on the ocean for drinks one night and wish I stayed their. This is also the area that Surfing Turtle is located. Its an eco lodge you have to walk out to when the tide is low… lots of really cool stuff going on. I need to go back to Central just to spend a few months in Nica. It seems lots of Canadians are doing that these days, so I am sure I will find my way back there.

J

The best change in plans yet!

Throughout all of my planning and reading I didn’t see myself going to El Salvador. Firstly, as I was travelling alone, I was told it was one of the least countries to hit in Central. I was going to bus straight through it to Nicaragua.

All that said, it turned out to be one of my favourite spots I hit – ironic how that happens. Mel said she was on her way there to learn to surf, so I jumped on that plan pretty quickly. Immediately after crossing the boarder from Guatemala you could tell you were in a different country. The men were taller, the women dressed differently and the heat hit you like a wave. I have never experienced heat like that.

I only had time to hit one area, El Tunco. I stayed at the Papaya Lodge for 4 nights (when i planned to stay for 2). The place was perfect. The exactly combination of pool side relaxing, fun party guests and friendly locals. El Tunco is poster area for surfer bums. I knew this going into it, a girlfriend of mine actually got ‘stuck’ there for several months shortly before me.

We also seemed to find the best food here. It was the fresh fruit, smoothies, vegetables and healthy food I imaged Central to have (that I didn’t find until here). And they have Papusas. This is their ‘local’ food. You pay pennies for a little fried pastry filled with meat and veggies. Yes, they are as unhealthy as they sound. The only other thing I will say about the food here is a panini shop Mel and I found. We couldnt get over how good they were – so good in fact we ordered one each for the bus ride out of their at the end of the week. Its a few shops down for Papaya Lodge if you go looking!

This is where I first gave surfing a whirl. And when I say ‘whirl’ I mean i just drowned in the ocean for an hour. Consuming so much saltwater I actually ended up getting heat stroke (heatstroke in 47 degree humidity is possibly the worst experience as far as illnesses go that I have been through). Anyways, prior to that, I had a great time. We had linked up with a few guys who actually did know how to surf and give me a bit of a lesson.

Of course, no ocean side stay would be complete without drinking buckets of beer as the sun sets. This quickly became my favourite travel tradition which I ended up taking home with me. I often drive to a look out in YYC to watch the sunset now. Its almost as satisfying as a hot yoga class at the end of the day or something.

After extending this trip as long as I could, I was off to see Nicaragua. A few of us actually kept on together, and the yarns continued…

Antigua has a fantastic private hospital.

Unfortunately that’s one of the few statements I can say about the beautiful historic city. Antigua was a few day stop over as we made our way from Semuc Champey down to El Tunco, El Salvador.

The group I was traveling with seemed to have drank the river water in Semuc and was dropping like flies. Luckily, I didn’t get sick. I recommend the Private Hospital there though if you need any care! We showed up later in the evening, knocked on a sketchy door and entered a clean and quite facility. We seemed to be the only people there. After a quick doctor check up, a large scary needle and a shockingly small payment – we were back on our way to the hostel.

The sick one was still well enough for snap chat yarns!
The sick one was still well enough for snap chat yarns!
It did smell weird...
It did smell weird… 

 

I highly recommend El Hostel as well. They were a fantastic Bed & Breakfast style hostel. We were able to do laundry and sort our selves. Felt good to have a few down days.

Although I would have loved to do some of the volcano hikes. I didn’t pack the appropriate clothing, nothing warm at all in fact. Bring your sweaters, it gets cool at night! You could see a few volcano’s from the city though, Fuego Volcano actually erupts every twenty minutes or so, you can watch from the cobblestone streets!

 

I did make it to the Chocolate museum though – YUM! They even had a gluten free brownie – double YUM!

I can not wait to go back to Antigua, one day. It truly was a beautiful city. I also met lots of travelers there who were taking English courses. They offer one on one sessions, for a few weeks, at a great price. I certainly have kept it in mind for my next adventure.

The cloud blocked my photo moment!
The cloud blocked my photo moment!