Saturday, March 3, 2012

Easy come, easy Gokarna

Zero blog posts, one case of Delhi belly, two moons, three books from the Game of Thrones series, and four beaches ago, we landed in India. A lot happens in two moons on the road; so much so, that I hardly know where to start.

We've spent our time thus far in the south of India. In Kerala and Karnataka. More seasoned Indian travelers tell us that these places are the most chill places in India. When I'm white-knuckling it as our bus attempts to pass another bus at breakneck speed on a road wide enough for one car, with another bus barreling toward us, my life flashing before my eyes, I remember how this -- this breeches-filling, knuckle-breaking, heart-stopping traffic -- this, is the "chill" southern India.

When you're not in transit, it's a much different story. The pace of life is relaxed. The smiles are bright. The people, for the most part, are very kind and helpful. In the more remote places, my celebrity-empathy increases, as throngs of Indians ask you to take photos with them. There is prestige associated with having many pictures with foreigners. Pictures of foreigners are collected like trophies, to be displayed on Facebook so all of your friends know how special you are ('look at Prabu with the goras! oh Prabu is so charismatic and popular!'). But even if you refuse their photos (sometimes, being an animal in a zoo is just too much; family members lining up one at a time to get their picture taken with the whiteys, when all you want to do is watch a sunset) the people are friendly.

Sunrise arrival in Gokarna
Photo courtesy of Clara Bitcon, fantastic Aussie

For the last two weeks, we've been staying at a little beach called Om Beach (named for it's shape) in Gokarna, Karnataka. The days have blurred together, and most days I'm not sure what day or date it is. It's really a wonderful feeling. I still know the month. Days are spent reading, swimming, eating, playing cards, and relaxing with a group of wonderful people that we met here. We live in a tiny mud hut with a thatched roof, complete with a sloping 5 inch gap above the closed door, and a holey mosquito net (that we've patched with duct tape as best we can). Alas, our time in Gokarna is coming to an end. The restaurant at our accommodation (which served good food, and overlooks the beach) closed today. The majority of the people we have been spending our time with left yesterday en masse. So, in the next few days we'll head up the coast. The time here has been really wonderful. My shoulders are receding away from my ears. Not a bad way to turn 32, not bad at all :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hair plugs

So I get off the train for Easter, and get a big hug from my mom and another from my dad. Then within about 2 minutes, before we've even gotten to the car in the parking lot...

Mom: "So, that blog entry was pretty depressing."

Me: "What?"

Mom: "Wellll... you know it doesn't matter if you have a receding hairline and don't have a girlfriend, we still love you."

Me: "Are you kidding? The blog entry was a joke, I laughed the whole time I wrote it."

Mom: "Well, ohhhkay..."

Me: "No, really mom, I'm fine."

Dad: "I had an abrupt wakeup this morning when your mother punched me in the face, waking me up telling me you've written just a horribly depressing blog entry, and she just doesn't know what to do. Like you're pre-suicidal or something."

Pre-suicidal?! hahaha, what does that even MEAN! He and I are both laughing at this point. Mom, hesitantly, joins in. Mothers and apple pie.


So then mom spends some time doing the taxes over the weekend, and at dinner time the second night, sits down with a smile so big it almost explodes off her face.

Mom: "Hey Jonathan, great news!"

Me: "Oh ya, what's that?"

Mom: "Hair plugs are tax deductable!"

Then we all laughed ourselves into a stooper.


Thursday, April 9, 2009


Well, it's that time again. Birthday time. Reflection time.

So, I'm turning 29. Great. Let's evaluate. There's a very simple checklist for success in our society, which determines our social class, lifestyle, ability to climb to the upper echelons of society, make a name for ourselves, and inevitably determines our happiness. I think I'll just go through it briefly, I could really use a pick me up (along with some hair plugs).

1) Has employment which provides income.


2) Has a wife, or a long-term girlfriend** which will lead to marriage. At the very least, has a girlfriend.


3) Has a non-receding hairline.***


4) Isn't writing his blog entry from his parents house.

MAN. I should just stop now.

Okay, so I'm feeling light as a feather after that little activity.

No no, getting older has all sorts of benefits. Take for example, having bad knees. Is this the cat's ass or what! I love this shit. At least the physiotherapist is young and cute, and is paid to make conversation with you. What, you've got 2 kids? Oh that's nice.

Or let's take a second to talk about metabolism. Why, when I turned 28, did nobody tell me I was going to get fat? Please people. I'm still single, that's just cruel. I know, it's God's way of being like "shoulda gotten married son." A little less subtlty next time.

No no, I've got it. Let's talk about normal social circumstances. You go out to a party. Everybody is your age, SCORE. People start rolling in, two by two, maybe four by four, arm in arm with their significant others. Okay, no problem. So Barney and Sally are happy. I'm happy for them.

"Ding dong!"

Great, more people, fantastic. Oh, it's Sheila and Ted, how nice, they look really happy. Oh, you're pregnant? Fantastic, that means we'll have lots to talk about.

"Ding dong!" Yes, finally... oh, it's Bill and Michelle, how nice. Oh you're buying a house? Great let's talk about home renovations and how the tongue and groove is so 80s, but making a fashionable comeback. Puhlease.

No problem, I'll just drink myself into a stooper, and pretend like I give a shit.

"Oh, really! You're considering refinancing? (*gulp, gulp*). What a fantastic idea! Good idea while interest rates are low, I hear." *glub glub glub*

"SSShhhure, I'd love to see baby photos." *glub glub* "Ya, he's going to grow up to be a fireman, what a looker." "... what's that? ya, 'she', that's what I meant." *glub glub glub*

"Well ya don't say! Tongue and groove! The only thing I know about tongue and groove..." *head swager, one eyebrow up, smirking* *glub glub* "... what? What do you mean that joke is so 90s? Next thing you know, knowing the lyrics to Billie Jean isn't going to be cool." "Billie who?" *glub glub glub*

Finally the night ends. At 11 o'clock. I'm shitfaced. Everybody else drives home. I walk, cause clearly I don't have a car.

Now a special part of being almost 29 is the way your body metabolizes alcohol. I get home, knees aching, and drink 6 litres of water, swallow 2 aspirins. Great, the old faithful anti-hangover trick, it's never failed me. And still, the next morning, I wake up to find that even amongst the tough economic times, my brain has decided to do construction and the brain jackhammer is givin'r 90 on my cerebellum. At least I don't have to go to the office. And thankfully this'll be gone by the afternoon. Oh wait, I'm 29, and the other little surprise, is that hangovers last for TWO DAYS.

Next time, I'll just go to the bar.


* Not to give the impression that I'm not working. For all the hunnies, I'm workin' it. Oh believe me, I'm working it. I just don't get paid. Not getting paid is the new getting paid. Everybody's doing it. It's so avant garde it hurts.

** "partner" I'm sure is the the PC term, but who are we kidding, hopefully we're almost over the notion that restricting language doesn't stop people from making judgements or tackle the underlying problem.

*** I would just like to remind all those lovely ladies that are probably lining up after this post, that Jesus too had a receding hairline (see last year's birthday post). Dude could turn water to wine. Don't forget that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aaaand, that's a wrap!

I'm writing this blog entry from the comfort of my den in Madoc. I can hardly believe it. Not four days ago, I was walking through the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

Jen and I crossed into Costa Rica about 3 weeks ago in the middle of a torential downpour. It was raining so hard that it changed our plans. We were originally going to head for a world-famous cloud and rain forest reserve called Monteverde, but it was raining so hard for so long that we decided to bypass it (for the time being) and head to San Jose, the capital, to meet up with an old friend of mine, Jose. Jose and I met 4 years ago, in Vietnam. He'd invited me, mi casa su casa sytle, for the last 4 years, and I finally meant it. And he really meant it to, he and his family welcomed us into his home and were the best hosts that we could have imagined.

(4 years ago, Vietnam)

(2 weeks ago, Costa Rica)

Jose had a car and some time, so we were able to ride around with him and see way more of the country (and in more style). Too much happened to really go over it in much detail. I'll do a show and tell of some of the highlights. I wish I could do a scratch and sniff, but the internet just isn't up to sniff yet.

(road trippin')

Costa Rica, what we saw of it, and I assume what we didn't, is an incredibly beautiful country. It's very lush, at least in the rainy season. They've put a tonne of money into conserving their environment, usually in the form of nationional parks and reservations. And in these places, we saw wild, wild animals. But, for you, dear readers, in the face of danger I managed to take some death-defying pictures. Now, I shall make them known to the world:

(wild slug)

(a very wild, wild boar)

(wolf spider)

(wild tarantula - this picture was taken just minutes after I ate his comrades)

(wild cows, and alligators - this picture was taken just minutes after I successfully wrestled some of the biggest alligators in this alligator posse)

(mccaws in the wild - I harmed these in no way shape or form)

(old monkey - there were other monkeys, and other monkey pictures, but they were so not pg-13. Everybody knows doggy-style, but have you ever seen monkey style? *hubba hubba*)

Of course, we paid hommage to the awesomeness of mother nature too. And we let her know, as all humans should, that we're on side with nature. We've done enough damage to this planet, time to give it some love, no?

(now THAT's a tree)

(still treehugging)

Naturally, we followed the Bible of Travel (aka, the Lonely Planet) to all of the places that we, as tourists, should not miss.

These included a volcanic crater (Irazu)...

(Irazu crater)

(top of Irazu - "Hey guys, let's all stick our fingers in our noses, it'll be funny" -- Jose & Jen)

(it was c-c-c-cold up there, and the clouds blew in as we watched)

Then, we went to the Orosi valley. You shoulda seen the pictures that were advertised of this place. They were incredibly beautiful. There was a giant lake, and a river that runneth into it. However, they forgot to put the asteriks' beside it. If they had, it would've read:

*lake drained once a year to clean the accumulated silt
** takes 4 months or so to look beautiful again
*** will happen in early September

Turns out that the lake was drained the day before we showed up. So, instead of the magnificent view, we decided to sleep on the side of the hill, and enjoy the weather.

(chillin' and hillin' in the Orosi valley - missing lake out of view to the left)

Later on, we went to the Caribbean side. This was my favourite part of Costa Rica -- the beautiful long white sand beaches, the big puffy white clouds, the caribbean vibe and food, and just the whole vibe. We rented some bikes and rode up the coast, popping in to all the beaches on our trip. There was hardly a soul on one of them.

(bike ride)

(caribbean beach)

Then the three of us took off for Arenal, home of the famous Arenal volcano. Arenal is famous, because it's gone off almost every day for the last way too long, allowing tour-groups to watch the lava flow down the side from a safe distance. Unfortunately, when we were there (only for 1 night), we arrived a little too late to go on one of these tours. Thankfully, our souls weren't crushed, it was cloudy and you couldn't really see anything anyway.

(Arenal volcano)

On the way up we decided to take a canopy tour. This involves putting on a snug-fitting harness and putting your faith in the ability of complete strangers to secure you correctly to the metal line that is the only thing separating you from a 100 foot fall to the ground as you zip from platform to platform among the giant trees. Yessss!


On another note, we smushed ourselves in the sand on both coasts too. White sand, black sand, I love them both. I don't care about the colour of the sand. Neither sand makes the best tooth-paste. But don't just believe me, you can only truly understand something once you have experienced it experiencially.

(full body / lookin' good)

(black face)

(white face)

(sandy face Jose)

Back in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, we decided to take in some culture. There was a 14 year old Costa Rican boy putting on a Chopin piano concert at the National Theatre, the nicest building in San Jose.

(fancy theatre)

(fancy piano)

(very elegant)

(very elegant - note how the pants don't cover the socks.)

And on that note, I will conclude this entry.

The sun has set on my latest adventure.

(Jaco sunset)

It's time for me to make some decisions about my next move. Anybody have any suggestions? Please, do email me! I'm open to all options at this point. If you have one, or know of one, please do let me know, I'd appreciate it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

here to there

My time in Nicaragua has ended on a great note. The last few Nicaraguan experiences really helped smooth over my opinion of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people. They were all that I could have asked for.

(sunset at San Juan del Sur)

As soon as I was physically able, we got out of Granada. My back still wasn't nearly 100%, but I could move enough to endure a few hours on a bus to get to a beach, where sitting around doing nothing -- to mend my back -- is much, much more palatable. So with Jenny's help (she ended up carrying her bag and then going back to the hostel to get mine too cause I couldn't lift it), we were off to San Juan del Sur. San Juan is a famous tourist destination in Nicaragua, probably their most famous (and therefore, touristy) beach. But really, all in all, for the amount of tourist traffic that they see it was remarkably chilled out. And it being low season, there weren't many tourists around either. Nothing too exciting happened there, other than an anti-inflammatory injection in my butt that really helped me out.

A few days later, I was able to lift my bag, so we got out of there and headed to Playa El Coco, where we spent only the one magical night watching the sea turtles nest (see the other blog entry). Playa El Coco is a 1 km slice of paradise, essentially undeveloped, with only one hotel and one over-priced restaurant on the beach. The "road" to get there is all mud and water in the rainy season. The bus had to cross a few rivers which were in the place where the road previously was -- apparently, sometimes in October the road is closed for a week at a time if it's flooded out. The bus boys have learned to collect money before they get to the hills, in case they can't make it up a hill, at least they've already collected the fares.

We stayed at a beautiful place on a hill -- the top part of a retired Canadian's house, and as far as I know, the only non-hotel accomodation in Playa El Coco. It was gorgeous! For $20, we had a deck with picnic tables, hammocks, and wicker rockers, a fully-equipped kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. And the view, wow! The house was built on a hill, so the view overlooks the beach and the ocean, with Costa Rica to the left, and Nicaragua to the right.

(our deck)

(dusk at Playa el Coco, view from the deck)

From Playa el Coco we headed to Isla de Ometepe. This place is really what fairy-tales are made of. It's an island formed by two volcanoes with an isthmus between them, in the middle of a gigantic lake (the 10th largest lake in the world).

(heading for Isla de Ometepe)

There are two towns and a couple of small villages, and the pace of life is very, very slow. The days just kinda go by, all melting together into one pleasant and somewhat indistinct memory.

(hippy haven)

The days we spent there, and I think in total there were 5, were very relaxed. We went to the fresh-water beach a few times and swam in the beautifully tepid lake water. We rented bikes a few days and visited the local attractions, like a natural swimming pool (that you have to cycle through fields and a banana plantation to get to) and the wholly under-whelming 35 meter waterfall (that requires a few hours of biking and an hour hike to get to). But what really made the time here, was where we stayed.

(banana bikin')

(my pipes are bigger than this waterfall)

We stayed at an organic farm run by an Italian father and son called El Zopilote. There's a winding 500 meter walk from the road up through all sorts of vegetation along a little footpath (complete with bamboo bridge) to reach the reception. The accomodations are very basic: the occasional thatched-roof hut hidden amongst the vegetation just off the maze of footpaths. This was perfect: even though there were maybe 10 or 15 other people there, you could always retreat into a private place.

(butterfly kisses)

There was a wood-fire stone-oven used 3 times a week to make home-made Italian pizza for pizza nights, and bake fresh organic whole grain bread and cookies, and some other goodies like quiche and muffins. There was a common area near the kitchen where people would congregate to play guitar, listen to music, chill in hammocks, play chess or cards, read, or just hang out. And one of my favourite parts of the farm, was the mirador. They had built a look-out tower over the top of the banana trees for the view of the sunset over Conception Volcano, or the sunrise over the lake.

(sunset from the mirador at El Zopilote)

Almost nothing was wasted at Zopilote, they re-used what they could, recycled what they couldn't re-use, and had a very small garbage footprint. People were encouraged to pee wherever you wanted (girls and boys) although preferably not on the footpaths, and the toilets were all dry compost-toilets. Our shower was a Japanese shower -- basically, an overhead tap hidden amongst some tall bamboo and banana leafs for cover. Brilliant! It was so hot all the time when it wasn't raining that a cold shower in the outdoors was such a great relief!

(Japanese shower)

El Zopilote has a massive gravity. It's hard to leave. People were always saying "ya of course I'm leaving... tomorrow!" Eventually tomorrow came for us, and we packed our bags and headed for the Costa Rican border.

Fittingly, it was raining the day we left Nicaragua. Pouring really. But only when there was no shelter around. We were walking through the border checkpoint between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and even though it was pouring, I had to stop and take one final picture. This guy takes the cake for how to beat the rain.

(stayin' dry in style)

And now, Costa Rica! La Pura Vida!

Oh, and I've bought a ticket home: I'm coming home in less than 2 weeks.

I wish all turtles carried nunchucks and bo-staffs

It'd been raining for days. The roads were awash with pools, mud splashing through or over the sides of our flip-flops with every step. It was as black as a hallowe'en cat when we set out, and somehow seemed to get darker as we got closer to the beach. It was 7:30 pm, and we were heading toward something amazing, not that we really knew it at that point.

We stopped for a minute and turned out the flashlight, to admire just how dark it really was as we walked along the deserted road toward Playa del Flor. But when we shut off the torch, the most amazing display of fireflies that I've ever seen was found to be lighting up the night sky. Hundreds of them, dancing, shining, playing in the night, like shooting stars making magic in a dreary sky.

We kept walking, until the bus came by and told us how incredibly dangerous it was to be walking on that road. We boarded, on their insistence of danger and distance to the beach, even though we figured we were fairly close to the destination. Two minutes, and the price you'd normally pay for a 1 hour ride later, they dropped us off at the entrance.

We had arrived at Playa del Flor, famous turtle nesting ground, on the night that marked the quarter before the new moon.

It was sheer luck that it was the quarter before the new moon, we really had no idea. And even if we did, we wouldn't have known the significance. We were later told that the turtles only come to nest during that part of the moon cycle, once a month, and we just happened to arrive at the perfect time.

When we arrived, the rules were clearly explained to us:
  • you can only take one photo per person (with flash)
  • never shine your light in the face of a turtle
  • don't surround a turtle
  • don't get in the path of a turtle
  • don't touch the turtle
  • don't use yellow light, all lights were covered in red paper before being allowed on the beach
  • no more than 5 people around a turtle at any given time
  • be quiet

Simple. Any buffoon or set of buffoons could follow these rules. And it's not like these rules are just for fun or to exercise power, each one exists to project the turtles. And they need protecting, as buffoons are more civilized than humans a lot of the time.

When we went down to the beach, there were only a few other people there, and the two guards patrolling up and down the beach keeping an eye both on the tourists and watching out for any poachers that might be trying to get the turtle eggs. Turtle eggs, sadly, are a delicacy in Central America.

We immediately spotted a turtle, and then another, and another. Three turtles! Awesome. Then the guard came over and summoned us to come with him. Shit. Did I flash my light in the face of a turtle? Did I accidently get in the path? What gives?

Well, he guided us over to another turtle who was digging her hole. Then he scooped all the sand out from behind it, and we sat there, watching this amazing woman give birth to about 100 eggs. Each contraction, one, two, or three eggs would fall down into the pile in the whole. Each contraction requiring a tremendous amount of effort and energy, the turtle breathing heavily, and making some "I'm really given'r" noises.

Finally she had dropped them all. Tired as all else, she then proceeded with her giant flippers to fill in the hole, and pound the sand down for protection. About 20 minutes later, when she finished this, she slowly crawled back into the ocean.

That took quite some time to witness, by which point, some other tourists had arrived. But this time, in a tour group organised by one of the hostels, notoriously bad for their turtle tours and lack of care. Honestly, I think that monkeys would be smarter. There they were, standing in a group around a turtle, occasionally flashing lights in its face (curiousity and stupidity are oft cousins), touching it (granted, they were trying to remove some fishing line that had twisted around the flipper), stopping it from going where it wanted to.

We wanted no part of this, so we went for a walk to the far end of the beach, where there was only darkness. On our walk, the storm over the ocean started to gather steam. The lightning started to get closer and brighter, and what a show!! Every time the lightning would crash you could look down the beach and see hundreds of turtles coming and going from the ocean, lit up by the storm! What a spectacular sight!

I'm sure we're not the first to witness this event, I mean, the turtles have been around for 200 million years.

(my one picture!)

The next day, we went down to the beach to do some swimming. When we got there, there was a turtle coming out of the ocean and some locals were going to get it. It was so big and beautiful!

And dead.

We learned from the locals that what happens is poachers have boats and catch turtles before they come to sea. Then they cut them open, take the eggs, and drop them back in the ocean to bleed to death. What a waste. By the time it washes up on the beach, it's too late to use the meat as it's rancid, and the locals didn't have any use for the shell. So the turtle, which they estimated was over 100, was left to die for the eggs. The eggs sell for about 220 cordoba ($12) in Managua (the capital of Nicaragua), but I'm not sure if that's per dozen or per turtle, although I got the feeling it was per turtle.

(sad, empty eyes)

There was nothing we could do but bury it. The locals had a shovel, and we all buried it on the beach. They said this was the first of the season, but certainly not going to be the last.

(a grave sight)

Don't buy turtle eggs. Or for that matter, any part of any endangered or protected animal: all you're doing is making behaviour like this profitable. And for what? To say you ate this or that? Or to have a silly souvenir to show to your friends that will no doubt, when the world is a little more conscious, just reflect badly on you? We all have a chance to make the world a little better place with all of our decisions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Central American Snippets: Transportation

In a previous entry, I had talked a little about the over-crowded minivan that I took in Guatemala. I feel like I should explain a little more about the adventure that awaits every time you try and take public transportation, because it IS an adventure.

(standing in the aisle: age and sex are irrelevant, timing is everything)

Although the exact details of the transportation varies from country to country, I'll do my best to give you a basic understanding of what it's like getting around.

The smallest trip anywhere, when taking local transportation, can take you all day. Here in Nicaragua, with the schedule-less microbus system, things have been a little easier, but it's still always a challenge. I say schedule-less, but it's a little more ordered than that: microbusses, which are really just minivans, leave whenever they fill up. And that's pretty often, because getting around is necessary and cheap. You can take a microbus for an hour and pay between $1 and $2.

The microbusses are the faster, more expensive option. For a few cordobas less (Nicaraguan currency), you can take a far slower and more adventurous local bus. Here, as everywhere else south of Mexico, the busses are old school busses, privately owned and operated.

I almost never check bus schedules. Why? Well, unless I'm going a long way, the information, if you can access it, will almost certainly be wrong. And it will be different from each person you ask, or sign you see... all that you can assume is that it's probably not accurate. In the end, I figure I save time and frustration by not going to the station in advance and trying to track down the correct information, and just going and waiting for a bus to leave toward where I'm going. And always, this works out.

Luggage, that's a whole other issue. The microbusses are hit and miss for luggage storage. Sometimes they'll throw it on the roof. If you're lucky they'll tie it down. And if you're REALLY lucky, like, winning the lottery kind of lucky, they'll throw a tarp over it to protect your gear from rain. The other half of the time, you and your bags are crammed in with the other 14 passengers, sometimes it's behind the seat, sometimes it's in the precious space allocated for your legroom, and sometimes, it's on your lap. And that's just the way it is, so people smilingly accept it.

(bed on a bus)

With the local busses, it's a great transport system. They take your cargo, whatever it is, and hike it up onto the roof. I've seen guys carry 100 pound sacks of rice up the bus ladder, balanced on the back of their necks, and chuck it on top like it's nothing. Amazing. And they'll take anything. ANYTHING. So with our bags, although I initially felt a little guilty about the weight, until I realized that our bags are like feathers, perfectly packaged feathers.

Other local modes of transportation include...

(horse and carriage: something you see here, and don't even flinch)

...and the ever popular...

[pictures to come... on a DVD]
(two person bike!)

Of course, there are cars, trucks, and motorbikes all over the place too...

I thought I'd mention one of my least favourite things about Central America in this section also, even though it's not directly related to getting around.

Garbage disposal.

It's disgusting. Look at this photo that I took at the "bus station" (where all the buses park on the side of the road in the market) the other day:

(note that there IS an almost empty garbage can)

This is unbelievably common. There is just no social consciousness when it comes to pollution and littering here. None. When you finish something -- plastic, rubber, styrofoam, glass, whatever -- all you do is drop it, or pitch it out the window if you're in a vehicle. It's the norm. And it's sad, because you see the littlest of kids see their parents doing it, and then you see them turning around and do it. Okay, this is a small problem relative to some of the other problems here, but one that's so easy to fix. But alas, that would take public education, and government funding, and I'm pretty sure that it's not way up there on the 'to do' list.