Chennai and the Sru-Kalyanam!

#throwback
Three months late! I’m totally skipping like…weeks of my India trip and all of my time in Thailand so far to write this post about dearest Shrewpa’s wedding! Updates about the other bits in between may or may not follow in the months/ weeks to come, so stay tuned.

Robin (my friend from the UK who really wanted to attend an Indian wedding so I invited him to Shrew’s, with her permission) and I arrived in Chennai from Pondicherry. Pondi is only 150km away from Chennai, but it took almost 5 hours for that journey – don’t ask why; the only explanation is “It’s India”. After Robin dropped his stuff off at his hostel, we headed to meet my mum at her hotel.

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Mum in India!

Bit of backstory as to why my mum was there – when I told my family that I’d be travelling around India next and that I’d be in Chennai for Shrew’s wedding, they very excitedly decided to meet me there for a few days to check India out (after 20 years) and do some shopping. It worked out perfectly, because I needed to buy clothes for Shrew’s wedding anyway, so they could do the shopping, I could wear the clothes, and then they could take the clothes back to Singapore while I carried on enjoying life. My dad had gone to Thanjavur for a couple of days and my sister and niece weren’t arriving till the next day, so it was just mumsie, Robin and me for shopping day 1 of 1000000 (I kid, but it felt like we spent sooooooo many days shopping).

My aunt who lives in Chennai had invited us for lunch, so after stuffing our faces with superamazing biryani and mutton and chicken and all sorts of other things (it’s definitely a thing: Indian families = eat till you burst), we headed to an 11-storey Pothy’s to get ourselves wedding-ready. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was overwhelmed before we even began but off we went.

Robin’s outfits were first order of business, and since he’s a guy, he was done with his outfits in about 20 minutes. He hung around valiantly for another 30 minutes or so while mum and I tried to pick outfits out for me, but eventually gave up and went back to his hostel, leaving mum and me to it. Good thing he did too, because we only finished with the shopping about 4 hours after that. x_x

 

 

 

 

End of Day 1 in Chennai.

Day 2 was slightly better – we visited the Kapaleeswarar temple and Valluvar Kottam, before picking my sister and niece, up from the airport. Decently fun, and the heat of Chennai made bearable by the fact that we were ferried around for most of the day in an air-conditioned car (perks of travelling with family)!

 

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Huge chariot at Valluvar Kottam

 

 

The next day was Shrew’s wedding Part 1! The morning was some sort of ceremony for the couple to get blessings from their elders so that the wedding would go smoothly (I think). Robin and I turned up mostly to mingle, to eat and to get some henna done. It was probably the only time I managed to have a conversation with the kalyana ponnu, Shrewpa.

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Kalyana ponnu, Shrew, and me, with a very distracted Shnoo

 

After that, it was back to the hotel to chill and relax before getting dressed for the evening celebrations! The nichayathartham, or engagement ceremony, is basically where the two families officially and publicly promise to marry their kids to each other. We basically spend most of it taking pictures and trying to figure out what was going on (as people usually do at Indian weddings).

 

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Wedding glow.

 

 

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No escaping now.

 

Robin and I showed up just in time for the Kasi Yaatra the next morning, where the groom pretends he’s going off to Kasi to live an ascetic life and the bride’s father stops him by promising his daughter’s hand in marriage. Rather elaborate play-acting which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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“Here is an umbrella full of flowers! Marry my sister!” – Karthik

 

After that, the bride and groom were hoisted on their uncle’s shoulders and they tried to garland each other. It looked like fun for the couple, but I can’t imagine how the uncles must have been feeling. (Bursting with joy, of course!)

 

Next was the couple being sat on a swing (that represents the ups and downs of married life, apparently) and fed bananas and milk by the married ladies of the family.

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Shrew’s face – ups of marriage, Ram’s face – downs of marriage.

 

The proceedings after that point were not too clear – some sort of prayers, and then more prayers, and then eventually Sru-Ram were married! Woooohooooo!

 

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But we decided to take pictures anyway.

 

Throughout all of that, there was a ton of food, and one of Shrew’s uncles constantly kept checking in on us about whether we were enjoying the food and festivities. It was good fun and like at all Indian weddings, I ate too much.

After that, it was time for some much needed R&R before I got dressed to go for the evening reception. Robin wasn’t feeling very well, so I didn’t have a date but still, it’s hard not to have a good time when there’s good food. And just like that, it was the end of SruRam Kalyanam! Thank you both for having us at your wedding!

 

The wedding was over, but our stay in Chennai was not. The next day, Robin and I met up with my parents, sister and niece (cute little grub child I want to eat her) to head to Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We tried (and failed) to pass ourselves off as locals, and ended up getting a guided tour around, which was pretty informative.

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With the family at Mahabalipuram.

 

The rest of the time my sister and niece were there were spent shopping and eating for the most part, so I’ll skip over that to the other interesting thing to happen in Chennai.

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I was squashed in the back with all the shopping. -_-

My sister and niece had left, and my parents wanted to do more shopping (surprise) before they left, so Robin and I bailed to go to an amusement park instead. It was quite a hassle getting there – for some reason, some of the buses on that route said they wouldn’t stop at the amusement park, so we ended up having to wait ages to get the right bus and it was all very annoying but finally we managed to get there. The entrance fee wasn’t cheap but it was worth it. We were expecting to have a laugh at the lame rides, but it ended up being pretty fun. We went on a few of the major rides (not the scariest one though – who knows when the last time was that the rides had been serviced), and had a pretty good time! Not a must-go, but decent enough to kill a few hours.

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Check out the tacky dragons at the amusement park – Dizzeeworld!

Then it was time to say bye to the parents before their flight, and that was about it for Chennai! It was fun (minus the shopping bits) but I must say I’m not dying to go back again. Still, worth it for the time I spent there.

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Bye parents!

Goodbyes Are Hard.

I started writing this when I said goodbye to you. And when you left. And when I left you. And we both went our separate ways. I started writing this in my head, after every goodbye I’ve ever said that’s broken my heart, and left me wishing goodbye wasn’t even a word that existed. I started writing this years ago, but I’ve only just put it into words.

Recently, my friend and I were speaking of goodbyes, of farewells, of separating and going our own ways.

“Surely, for someone like you, who’s been travelling for over 3 years, saying goodbye must be easy.”

The truth is, saying goodbye is never easy. And I think it’s only gotten harder and harder.

Of course, I’m not talking about saying goodbye to casual acquaintances – random people you meet in hostels and chat with over a coffee, or even people you might spend a whole day with sightseeing and talking about this and that. Those goodbyes are perhaps, not easy, but you accept them as a part of your reality. No, no. The goodbyes that I’m talking about are the ones you still think about days, weeks, months after they happen.

Travelling as much as I do, I’ve come to realize that real connections are hard to come by. People you really click with, people you feel like you’ve known for years after just a brief interaction, people you get you. When I meet these people, as rarely as it happens, it’s so easy to just be with them that I always end up being around them longer than I would ever have planned. I mean, it’s not like I have anywhere else to be, right? But inevitably, the longer I spend with them, the harder the goodbye becomes. And when we finally do part, the goodbye is always a heart-wrenching moment, as I leave with my eyes full of tears, always, fighting the urge to turn around and go right back to them.

But as with all things, the feeling fades, and eventually, I remember the wise words of A.A. Milne,

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

How lucky I am indeed. ❤

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My-sore ankle

Ha lame pun. My sore ankle is the reason why I’m writing today’s post about…Mysore! I crack myself up sometimes…

Anyway, no big deal about my ankle. India’s pavements are kinda crappy and full of random potholes / loose slabs of concrete / bits of wire waiting to trip you up and yesterday, while walking around, I stepped on a loose block of concrete and fell, hurting my ankle (same foot as the one I sliced open in HK) in the process. It’s kinda swollen from the impact and it hurts to walk (too much) so I’ve decided to be productive in other ways by updating my blog about Mysore!

Mysore is India’s heritage city, and supposedly India’s cleanest city. I took the train in from Bangalore, thankfully managing to get tickets directly at the train station after a slight panic attack that the train was fully booked when I couldn’t get tickets online. The train turned out to be massive (and late, as usual) so we only got underway at about 3.30pm.

Arrived in Mysore without incident (I even fell asleep part of the way – there’s something quite comforting about riding in a train), and found the hostel a guy in Bangalore had recommended me. At 200Rs / night, Hotel Maurya is a steal but duh, some drawbacks. Must have been a legit hotel maybe 50 years ago, but now wouldn’t count for even a motel I think. No hot water, an old-school squatting toilet and a mattress about an inch thin. Still, the price was a huge factor for me, and besides – they have (intermittent) Wi-Fi in the lobby! Someone once joked that backpackers don’t need anything more than a roof and Wi-Fi when looking for a hostel…I’ve come to realize it’s not too far from the truth. Moving on. Hung out that evening with an international backpacking bunch (2 Germans, 2 English, 1 Canadian) which was fun.

Next day, it was off to Chamundi Hill! According to legend, Chamundi Hill is where the goddess Chamundi slayed the demon Mahishasura. Mahishasura (literally buffalo-demon) had asked for a boon of being invincible from Lord Brahma, but Brahma said dude no. So Mahishasura said okay, give me the boon of being killed only by a woman. Stupid stupid stupid demon. Boon granted, he started waging war against all the Devas (angel equivalents?) with his demon army and nobody could do squat to stop him, till BOOM Goddess Chamundi (aka Mahishasura Mardini – also the reason Mysore got its name) appeared and killed him on the hill that is now named after her. How many men get a hill named after them for killing a demon, eh? (Don’t answer that.)

Hoping to beat the traffic, I left pretty early (8am is early by India standards where things only get going at 10 or 11am) and on the advice of the hotel guy, I took bus 201 from the City Bus Stand all the way up to the top of the hill. They have a giant statue of Mahishasura where the bus drops off. Nice touch, getting the dead demon to welcome people to the hill.

There was a nice view of Mysore and the temple was pretty cool too. Not that many people were there yet, so I got a nice look around the temple. Pretty standard stuff.

Wandered around for a bit and then decided to look around for the huge Nandi (Shiva’s bull) statue that was supposedly around there somewhere.

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Not Nandi, but maybe a reincarnation of Mahishasura?

Asked around with a few people (Pro travel tip: People don’t often know where things are but will direct you anyway. Ask 3 or 4 people and if most of them point you in the same direction, you have about a 73.4% chance of getting to where you need to.) and eventually found the Nandi, 300 steps down from the Chamundi temple.

More photo ops, and a quick refuel with some chai and I had to decide if I wanted to walk the remaining 700 steps down, or walk back up to where I’d started. Since I’d initially wanted to walk up the steps to get to the temple anyway, I decided it would be cool to walk down instead of just taking the bus. As I was walking down, I came across several devotees on their way up, stopping at each step to adorn it with turmeric powder, vermilion and flowers.

The steps are a gorgeous pink/ yellow/ red because of those powders and make for a wonderful sight. But also, much respect for the devotees – it’s intense, back-breaking work to do that up 1000 steps.

I eventually made it down and caught a different bus back to the city (again by asking several different people where the bus stop was) and had lunch before heading off to the Government Silk Factory to see silk being processed and woven into beautiful saris. The guy at my hotel had mentioned a bunch of buses I could take to the silk factory from the City Bus Stand, but apparently those buses don’t exist, but several different buses do pass that way, so just ask around till someone points you to the right bus. A giggling group of school girls who barely spoke any English helped me out and I made it to my destination without much mishap.

So the silk factory is free of charge to enter and walk around, and if you stand around watching intently for long enough, one of the workers will call you over to show you what exactly it is that they’re doing. It’s a really long, complicated process that involves winding and unwinding and rewinding the silk thread collected from the cocoons of silkworms before the silk is ready to be woven. The weaving is also done in the old school method, and I do believe that each weaver is responsible for the designs on the saris he makes (didn’t see a single female weaver).

 

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Not a sheet of material, but individual strands of silk! Madness.

 

It requires a lot of attention to detail and incredible amounts of precision to make sure each strand is perfect. I would go crazy after just a day of trying to do that.

 

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When the silk runs out, the weaver has to manually attach each strand to a new one. A painstaking and time consuming process.

 

It’s been great so far and I like Mysore quite a bit. That’s all about Mysore for now. Stay tuned for Mysore part 2, where I talk about my visit to Srirangapatna, incense-making and beedi-rolling!

Wedding, Kalyanam, Shaadi

The real reason I came to Bangalore – Reshma and Ankit’s wedding (#reshkit), and now it’s over. The festivities have passed somewhat in a blur, but it has been absolutely wonderful being among friends and seeing one of my best friends get married to a man who makes her face light up and her eyes sparkle. ❤

The wedding festivities started off on Tuesday with…dance practice to rehearse a performance for the sangeet that evening! It was fun (and funny) learning the steps and dancing along (really badly) while also joking around with the others who had come for the wedding. It was really great seeing people I haven’t seen in years and the dancing wasn’t too bad too.

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The boys learning their dance steps.

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The girls were obviously better.

After that, it was back to the hotel and a mad scramble to get dressed for the evening’s festivities! Trust me, three girls getting dressed in less than an hour and a half is no mean feat. And…back to the venue we went!

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Sindhu, Aditi and Sruthy – Gorgeous as usual!

With all the lights and decor in place, the venue looked absolutely magical. Fairy lights everywhere, lanterns hanging from the trees – it looked like something out of a movie set.

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I’m not part of the decor.

Reshma and Ankit eventually made their grand appearance and they both looked absolutely stunning (not that they don’t always). The whole event was wonderful, and I especially loved how intimate everything was.

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Spot the couple!

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The Prabhu mothers-in-law showing off their moves!

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RGS/RJC Represent at #reshkit

The evening’s celebrations ended not too late (thank goodness) and we headed back to the hotel to catch some shut eye before waking up at the crack of dawn (not even – it was still dark out when we woke up at 5.30am) to get ready for the actual wedding ceremony. We eventually piled into the van at about 7.30am and off we went. What a transformation! The wedding prep team must have worked all night to tear down the previous night’s decor and set up for the morning ceremony! It was so gorgeous and almost unrecognizable as the same place.

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Same place, different decor!

As typically happens with anything where Indians are involved, there was a delay in getting the pujas started and everything eventually only got under way about an hour after they were supposed to. Thankfully, breakfast was provided so we all stuffed our faces with fresh idly and dosai while waiting for things to get under way.

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Vivu, Sushma’s adorable son with his idly! ❤

First major event of the wedding ceremony was the baraat, or the entrance of the groom. Ankit rode in on a horse, preceded by a whole bunch of dancing people and two (!) very enthusiastic bands. It was great fun to watch, but I think the people dancing had more fun!

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Baraat dancing and singing, with Ankit on a horse!

Reshma’s family was waiting to welcome them and there was obviously more dancing (Indian weddings feature a lot of this)! Fun fun fun stuff.

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This is Sushma’s “welcome groom’s family” face

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Dance-off between the bride and groom’s families!

Then, Reshma made her entrance and it was on to more serious stuff as the actual wedding rites started. The priest was cool and explained a lot of what the Sanskrit mantras were saying, so that was very informative. The key point that I gleaned though, was that Reshma is Ankit’s Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), and that she has the final say on his expenses. Oh, and that if Ankit needs to travel for more than 3 days, he has to bring Reshma along. Very interesting stuff – I had no idea that’s what all those mantras meant!

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Reshma’s dad giving her away to Ankit.

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Ankit takes Reshma’s hand in marriage and promises to hand over all his money to her.

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The happy couple and their parents!

The Konkani part of the wedding rites over (Reshma’s family is Konkani), Reshma was sent off to change into a different outfit for the Punjabi half of the ceremony (Ankit’s family is Punjabi). By this time, the midday sun had gotten to most of the guests and they decided to hide out in the sheltered area…which gave us the chance to get up close to watch the ceremony right on stage with the couple and their families!

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Walking seven times around the fire

The rites were completely different, but eventually ended off with the tying of the traditional mangalsutra and finally, at long last, #reshkit were married!

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Adorning Reshma’s forehead with kumkum to signify she’s off the market, y’all.

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Tying (? he kinda clasped it) the mangalsutra. Officially traditionally married!

Wedding festivities were almost over, but not before it filling our bellies with an incredibly tasty South Indian thali and we finally waddled off back to the hotel at about 2pm. I was exhausted, so I can’t even imagine how Reshma and Ankit were feeling – especially since they sped off to do a house warming ceremony too!

While they were being busy bees, we headed back to the hotel for some R&R before the afterparty planned for that evening. It was a nice chill afternoon with good conversation with friends I hadn’t seen since…Sushma’s wedding. How time flies, eh? The afterparty was also really nice – very chill at a cool brewery in Bangalore, so plenty of time for chatting and relaxing after the frenzy of activities at the actual wedding. Excellent time to unwind.

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Totally unrelated picture of my feet in the very trippy hotel lift, because I didn’t take any pictures at the brewery.

And just like that, the #reshkit wedding was over! I had an absolutely fabulous time – it was great seeing all my friends, and a huge thank you to Reshma and Ankit’s families for organizing everything and making everyone feel so welcome. Mad props also to the couple for planning such an amazing wedding – it couldn’t have been any better.

Here’s wishing you guys a very wonderful married life and all the very best in Barcelona and wherever else life may take you! ❤

Busy, Bustling Bangalore!

Quick update on Bangalore so far! I arrived on Wednesday (thanks family + Kalpy for coming to say bye to me at the airport!

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Thanks Fam! ❤ Will miss you guys!

I’ve been here 3 full days and a bit, and I feel like I’ve been here for 3 years. Bangalore is busy busy busy and all the streets are always bustling with so much energy.

I met some lovely people at the hostel and it’s been absolutely wonderful wandering around the crazy mess that is Bangalore together. The traffic is absolutely mad, the honking drivers are driving me nuts already, and we’ve almost been killed by awful auto drivers who look you right in the eye as you’re trying to cross the road and then speed right toward you, but we’ve survived. The food is absolutely amazing – delicious, spicy, bursting with flavors, and the people are so great! An elderly gentleman on the bus started talking to my friend Anna, and found out her entire life history in the duration of the bus ride. It’s absolutely great.

Anyways, I have to run now – it takes about 2 hours to travel 12 km in this mad city, so I gotta go soonish so that I can get somewhere…before the sun sets (it’s 11am now). Okay I’m rambling. I’m meeting up with some friends, Aditi and Sindhu, who are also here for Reshma’s wedding so that’s going to be fun. Really looking forward to the #reshkit wedding on Tuesday and Wednesday. But I shall stop here and leave you with some pictures instead!

 

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Anna, blending in with the flowers.

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Dancing by a sacred site on top of the giant rocky plateau in the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

 

 

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Giant tree in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

 

 

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At the flower exhibition in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens with Zu, Arvind, and Anna!

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Selfie in front of ISKCON, one of the largest temples in Banglore/ India/ the world / I don’t know. Photo Credit: Zu

 

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Last selfie with Anna 😦 Safe travels! Photo credit: Anna

Travelling is awesome, but it also really sucks when you have to say goodbye. 😦 On the bright side, the world is a wonderful place and life is magical, so maybe we’ll meet again someday.

Till the next update, safe travels everyone!

Sorry, Boat Adventures is on hold till I settle into some sort of travel routine! Keep watching this space!

2017 #002 – TBT Hong Kong!

New year, new efforts to be more rigorous about putting up pictures and keeping track of my travels! And since there’s a ton of places to post about, I’m just going to start with the most recent one (yes, I went to Boracay for my cousin’s wedding after HK, but I don’t have a single picture from that, so never mind). So, here goes!

HONG KONG!

It was a trip courtesy of my very good friend Seema (LOTS of love to her!) who was going to HK for a colleague’s wedding and invited me along because a) I’d never been before, and b) I was already kinda sick of Singapore after being back for a mere week. To be honest, I’d never been very interested in Hong Kong as a destination to visit/ explore because it seemed too much like Singapore, but it was a chance to check out a new place and spend some quality time with Seema after soooooo long, so off we went!

First stop once we arrived in HK after our evening flight was to…EAT. Cause we are generally hungry people. Seema’s friend, Perry, met us at the airport, and we had some typical local food at a chain restaurant (Tsui Wah) – it was pretty good! Well, all food is good when you’re starving.

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Seema and our first meal in HK!

Bellies full, we headed to Seema’s colleague, Andre’s apartment where we were crashing to dump our stuff before wandering around for a bit and getting a beer to chill out. Initial impression – HK is super grungy. But with a nice vibe. It was pretty cool. Also, LONGEST OUTDOOR ESCALATOR WOOOOOO (well it’s actually not that long – it’s a bunch of escalators up a very steep hill)!

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Blurry pic of Seema and Perry on the super long mid-levels escalator!

It was a Friday night, but none of us were really up for a hardcore night of partying, so we said our goodbyes to Perry and Seema and I headed back to the apartment. I went to take a shower before and just as I was finishing up, there was a tremendous crash. I turned around and the entire bathroom sink had fallen off the wall bracket and shattered on the floor.

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Who knew a sink could fall off a wall? [Photo credit: Seema]

Seema and I freaked out a bit (I mean, we’d manage to break a sink within a few hours of being in Andre’s apartment, but eventually he replied saying it had been on the verge of falling off anyway and not to worry about it. Welcome to Hong Kong living! Crisis averted, but we were too lazy to clear up the debris so we kinda swept up the smaller pieces and left most of the mess there to be cleaned the next day. So much for getting an early night – we finally went to bed at past 2am.

Our first proper day in HK! We tabao-ed breakfast from Tim Ho Wan and went to a lovely roof terrace to eat and fuel up for the day.

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So much yum in this pic! 😉

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Not a bad view of HK!

Dragon’s Back Trail was the next item on our to-do list. It was a good hike – easy, but lots of nice views. Absolutely zero shade though, so Seema got a little burnt by the time we were done because we cleverly forgot to bring sunscreen.

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I forget the name of this bay, but it was better looking in person.

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Somewhere along the Dragon’s Back Trail. [Photo credit: Seema]

Hike completed, it was back to the apartment for some R&R before Seema got dressed and went off for her friend’s wedding. Since the plan was for me to meet Seema at the afterparty. Left to my own devices, I decided to take a wander around town and do some of my own exploring and eating.

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Giant Wontons for dinner

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HK is crazy busy

Pretty cool stuff. I must say I liked HK more than I thought I would. It has a really interesting city vibe, and a lot more soul and character than Singapore. Also, I found a great bar that was playing Latino music so the throwback to my time in Latinamerica added to my warm and fuzzy feelings towards HK.

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Lan Kwai Fong Street, all set for Halloween

Anyway. Seeing as how I had to meet Seema soon, I headed home to take a shower and freshen up. (A reader who has been paying attention to the story so far might remember that we hadn’t cleared away the shattered sink in the bathroom.) I happily finished my shower and walked out and felt a sharp pain in my foot. Obviously, I had grazed my foot against the broken porcelain and there was an inch long gash leaking blood on my foot.

Well, no big deal. I cleaned it up in the bathroom, taking care not to cut myself again elsewhere, (BTW blood + water = bloody mess), covered up the cut with a couple of plasters and off I went to the party.

The party turned out to be pretty fun! Seema’s colleagues were really friendly and it was great to be dancing and partying again with Seema after too fricking long! (No pics cause my shitty phone doesn’t take good pics in the dark.) Eventually, the festivities wound down and it was time to call it a night.

Anyone who’s been to HK would know that it’s very hilly. I, being the genius that I am, did not know this, and brought super high heels to wear to the party. So when faced with the prospect of tackling the hills of HK in my heels, genius me decided it would be a good idea to take my shoes off and walk barefoot instead.

Ha. Barely 10 meters after I took my shoes off, I stepped on some broken glass and cut a giant hole in my foot. Blood started gushing out, but I couldn’t really do anything much about it, and there weren’t any cabs in the vicinity either, so I started limping in the direction of the apartment, holding my heels in one hand and leaving a trail of bloody footprints as I walked. Thankfully, a really nice guy I walked by saw me dripping blood everywhere and insisted on flagging me a cab. Back at the apartment, I limped in and apologized to a rather horrified security guard as I bled all over the sparkling marble floors. Once back in the apartment, I cleaned the wound up as best as I could but it refused to stop bleeding. Since no pharmacy would be open at that time of night, I created a makeshift bandage with tissues and a garbage bag before crashing for the night.

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Makeshift bandage to stop the bleeding

The next morning, Seema and I assessed the damage. The cut was pretty deep, but it looked clean, and I flat out refused to go to the hospital, so we put some antiseptic cream on it and covered it up before heading out for brunch.

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Pretty big cut, and some pretty intense bruising HA.

Incapacitated by the hole in my foot, our wanderings were limited (not to mention extremely slow) but it was lovely hanging out with Seema.

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Nice sunset

So that was pretty much it for that day. We both went to bed pretty early, kinda exhausted from the weekend. Monday – Seema had to go to work, so I was left to self-entertain. Obviously not content to spend my time sitting in Andre’s apartment, I headed out for some hipster coffee and then to wander around the cute little streets and perhaps even take the ferry across to mainland HK.

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Coffeeeeeeeeee

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Hipster street art, ft Hipsters

 

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HK has a Giant Wheel too!

I even got caught in a typhoon (quite a joke – apparently kinda heavy rain and some wind counts as a typhoon, but I appreciate their attention to safety)!

 

2016-10-17 14.19.42

Typhoon warning!

That evening, I had dinner with Seema and some of her friends, some of whom I knew as well. It was a nice evening hanging out and chilling, and we even remembered to take a group photo at the end of it! Success!

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Group photo!

 

We all retired early that evening, and Seema and I packed up our stuff in preparation for our flights back to Singapore. We also realized we had completely forgotten to take a photo together what with the dramatic events of the weekend, a problem we quickly remedied ❤

 

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Sofabed friends! ❤ [Photo credit: Seema]

All in all, hipsterland Hong Kong was pretty neat, even if it did leave me with a hole in my foot.

2016-10-17 16.15.19

Quintessential HK

 

All of Rio de Janeiro is a Favela

15 Mar – 22 Mar

The title is in jest – if your delicate sensibilities are offended, well, I don’t really care.

Rio de Janeiro is not too far from Paraty, and we managed to catch a relatively early bus, so when we arrived, it was mid afternoon. Honestly, when we arrived, I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Rio seemed rather filthy, with a vague air of malice hanging about it. Perhaps it was because of all the hype, but I was not impressed.

Leftovers from Carnival, adding to the generally unsavoury atmosphere in Rio. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Leftovers from Carnival, adding to the generally unsavoury atmosphere in Rio.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Anyway. Dona Raquel, Daniel’s mum, had invited us to stay with her, so we headed over to her place, where we met Daniel, who was in Rio as well. After lunch and a quick shower, we headed to the bus terminal to buy Daniel’s bus ticket back to Paraty, a journey during which Daniel and Junior tried to spook me with horror stories of Rio (Junior had lived there for most of his life before he moved to Paraty). It kinda worked, probably because the area around the rodoviaria is pretty shady, with a significant number of homeless people (who looked like they were drunk or drugged or both) wandering around aimlessly. Well, once that was done, we headed to Niteroi, Rio’s less (in)famous little brother, the city on the other side of the bridge. It was a nice bus ride over, with a great view of both Niteroi and Rio.

No picture of the bus ride, but here's a picture of the sunset instead Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

No picture of the bus ride, but here’s a picture of the sunset instead
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We ended up in a tiny town called Manilha, where we first headed to their friend’s home (he is also called Daniel) for tea and then to church, where Daniel was giving a guest sermon. It was a pretty nice evening, and Daniel (of Niteroi) gave us a ride back to Dona Raquel’s place.

Happy churchgoers! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Happy churchgoers!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The next day was Sunday, and Junior wanted to go to his parents’ house to surprise them. But first, he took me on a little tour around Rio. We saw the Maracana stadium (only from the outside, sadly),

THE Maracana Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

THE Maracana
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

went to a park

On the way to the park - in the background, some mountains that pretty much surround Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

On the way to the park – in the background, some mountains that pretty much surround Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and visited a museum that used to be the old residence of one of Brazil’s governors

Gorgeous building, really Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Gorgeous building, really
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

but had an exhibit on dinosaurs (and a whole bunch of other things) instead.

Yay dinosaurs! But really, a history of Brazil's Portuguese colonial times would have been more fitting. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Yay dinosaurs and mummies! But really, a history of Brazil’s Portuguese colonial times would have been more fitting.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, it was to Junior’s home in Rio, which (according to him) is in what used to be one of the worst favela’s in Rio. Honestly, it didn’t seem that bad, but there was a significantly larger population of scantily-clad women and cars with Funk music blaring out of their boots.

Big open market where the bus dropped us off Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Big open market where the bus dropped us off
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

But back to the surprise! Needless to say, when his mum opened the door for us, her expression was absolutely priceless. She (and the rest of Junior’s family) was absolutely delighted to see him, and it was really good to see them all again as well (even as I write this, several months later, the memory brings a smile to my face). I got to meet the rest of Junior’s wonderful family, and it was an absolutely lovely day.

Newest addition to Junior's family - Vitor! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Newest addition to Junior’s family – Vitor!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, since my phone died in Paraty, I was essentially uncontactable in case of an emergency, so I wanted to buy a new phone in Rio. So that evening, Junior brought me to one of the million shopping malls in Rio to try to find a phone that suited my needs (i.e. cheap smartphone with whatsapp capability that wasn’t blocked for international SIM cards). The bus ride there was absolutely insane – a less experienced driver would surely have caused an accident at the speed he was driving at, on the kind of streets he was driving on, but we arrived to a delightful surprise! There was a funfair going on, and being the children that we are, Junior and I decided to go on the most exciting ride they had. Super fun and such a throwback to childhood days.

Funfairs turn adults to kids again! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Funfairs turn adults to kids again!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, the mall was boring after that, and I found a phone that worked but didn’t buy it because the store closed while we were distracted by ice cream. So it was another roller-coaster bus ride (all bus drivers in Rio, and possibly in all Brazil/ Latin America have superpowers, I’m sure of it) back to Junior’s house after that, where we called it a night.

After lunch the next day, we headed back to Rio to explore a little more. I also got a truly Carioca experience, because we took the train back to downtown, something tourists never do, apparently. It was a really interesting experience, and I got the chance to see what Rio’s favelas are like. I even made a video of the train ride, secretly.

It is apparently common for people to hang out of the doors (which they force open) of the train Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

It is apparently common for people to hang out of the doors (which they force open) of the train
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Favelas don't look that bad, but maybe I'm blind Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Favelas don’t look that bad, but maybe I’m blind
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Having made it safely back downtown, we explored a bit of Rio, checking out some of the iconic sites there. It was great having Junior as a tour guide, because I could focus on soaking in the city without worrying too much about where we were going (or how to navigate the crazy traffic).

Cool building in downtown Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cool building in downtown Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After wandering around for a bit, we caught a ferry over to Niteroi!

Crazy queue for the ferry though. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Crazy queue for the ferry though.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

If the view on the bus was good, the ferry was better.

Rio, from the ferry Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio, from the ferry
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And cheaper too (God only knows why anyone would take the bus instead).

Niteroi, from the ferry Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Niteroi, from the ferry
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We walked around Niteroi(‘s shopping centre) for a bit, and then took the ferry back to Rio.

Row of lights which is actually the bridge which connects Rio and Niteroi Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Row of lights which is actually the bridge which connects Rio and Niteroi
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We caught a really strange, but interesting performance at a museum

Performance art, where people actually talked to us. It was odd and we didn't quite understand what was going on. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Performance art, where people actually talked to us. It was odd and we didn’t quite understand what was going on.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio at night is a lovely(ish) sight Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Rio at night is a lovely(ish) sight
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and then it was back to Dona Raquel’s house for me to get my stuff and head to my CouchSurfing host’s place.

It was, quite frankly, the worst CouchSurfing experience I have ever had. Well, to be honest, I was somewhat aware of the situation, but I guess it was just more than I had expected. So, I had sent CouchRequests some time back, asking for a place to crash for Carnival. This guy had invited me over, and when I checked his profile, he had quite a number of good references, but also a bunch of people who had said that his place was dirty, because of the 7 or 8 dogs he had. Well, generally, a dirty places don’t bother me too much, and I’m a big fan of dogs, so I thought I could deal with it. Unfortunately, this was not the case, because when I got to his place, I was greeted by a very strong smell of unwashed dogs as well as poo and pee. He informed me that one of his dogs had just had puppies, so there were now a grand total of FOURTEEN dogs in his relatively small apartment. He showed me to the place where I was to sleep, and left me to my devices. I tried to settle down to sleep, but unfortunately, the entire atmosphere of the place was making me really uncomfortable. To top it all off, the dogs spent the whole night yowling and barking, which was really just…I don’t even know how to describe it. I decided that I couldn’t stay there any longer, so in the morning, I made my excuses and left for a hostel. The guy seemed pretty cool about it, but he later sent me an angry message, so I guess not 😦 such a pity, because he seemed pretty cool, despite the state of his house. Well, in any case, that’s in the past now.

After dumping my stuff at the hostel, I went out to meet Junior and finally bought my phone. Good thing Junior was there too, because non-Brazilians apparently can’t buy phones in Brazil (weird system, I know). Armed with my new phone, we set off to climb Pão de Açúcar.

Pao de Azucar, which is now commonly known amongst tourists as Sugar Loaf heh Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pao de Azucar, which is now commonly known amongst tourists as Sugar Loaf heh
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Well, actually the smaller hill next to it, but you know, same difference. It was an easy trek

View from a secret spot off the trail Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

View from a secret spot off the trail
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We met a little monkey on our walk too! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We met a little monkey on our walk too!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and with great view of the bay area.

I'm not part of the view, but it was a cool tree to perch on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

I’m not part of the view, but it was a cool tree to perch on
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We even got to take the cable car down (for free!) which was the perfect icing on the cake.

Cable car view! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,

Cable car view!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, we headed to Copacabana beach for a leisurely evening stroll,

Copacabana beach - that's the full moon in the distance! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Copacabana beach – that’s the full moon in the distance!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

unfettered by the hordes of tourists who usually occupy almost every square inch of space during the day. Lovely day that really got my mind off the CouchSurfing fiasco.

One of the most famous things in Rio, apart from Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, is the giant statue of Jesus Christ, Cristo Redentor, on Morro do Corcovado. And get this – despite having lived in Rio for most of his life, Junior had never been to visit it. He finally had an excuse to, with me around, and we decided to go the next day. As I was heading there, I met a Brazilian girl, Dani, and her two Argentinian friends, Wally and Dario who were also heading there, so we decided to go together.

Pretty cool view on the train up to  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Pretty cool view on the train up to Morro do Corcovado
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Despite being quite expensive, it was worth it – fantastic views,

Overlooking Rio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Overlooking Rio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Back view of Jesus Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Back view of Jesus
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And the front! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

And the front!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and good laughs at the silly tourists who were making the typical pose (I plead guilty as well).

Silly tourists Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Silly tourists
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

After that, we split from Dani and friends who were heading to the beach, and wandered around Rio a bit more before heading to Arpoador to catch a gorgeous sunset.

Walking along Ipanema Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Walking along Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Sunset  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Sunset from the Arpoador – View of Morro Dois Irmaos
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

We chilled out there for a while, and then it was off to Lapa to check out Rio’s famed nightlife. Maybe because it was midweek, but it didn’t seem particularly impressive.

Lapa at night Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Lapa at night
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The famous arches of Lapa Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The famous arches of Lapa
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

I still had fun though, and Lapa, despite its distinctly hobo vibe, still seemed like a quaint, bohemian place.

The steps of Lapa, which are (also) famous and add to the bohemian vibe there Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The steps of Lapa, which are (also) famous and add to the bohemian vibe there
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

It was quite late by then, so I accompanied Junior back to his home for the night.

After being in small, quiet little Paraty for almost three weeks, being in Rio was rather overwhelming (I really am a small-town kinda girl at heart!), so we had a quiet (or as quiet as a home with more than 10 people living in it can be) day in Junior’s house, just hanging out in the pool and watching TV. Very coincidentally, there was a program on TV about Singapore (can you believe that!) which I enjoyed watching, but which also made me miss (the food back) home. It also happened to be Junior’s mum’s birthday that day, so in the evening, there was a celebration with the rest of Junior’s family. Such a lovely bunch of people, and being there reminded me of my own family celebrations back home.

Feliz aniversario mae! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Feliz aniversario mae!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The next day, it was time to say goodbye to Junior and (my) family (in Rio), as Junior was heading back to Paraty. Back in Rio downtown, I had a relatively calm day, running errands and taking it easy. That night, I went with Dani and friends with some other people from the hostel to Lapa again, and it definitely was more vibrant, with lots of people partying on the streets. Very fun night, although my wallet fell out of the taxi as I was getting out without me noticing and I lost maybe R$40 due to my own stupid carelessness. 😦

One of the people I met during the church retreat in Paraty was Camila, a really sweet girl who lives in Rio. She had invited me to hang out with her the next day, so we, along with her friend Mimi, headed to the Jardim Botanico, for an afternoon of sightseeing

Giant trees and a tiny Camila Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Giant trees and a tiny Camila
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The largest lily pads in the world! Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The largest lily pads in the world!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cristo looked quite cool, shrouded in clouds Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Cristo looked quite cool, shrouded in clouds
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

and camwhoring.

The garden trio Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

The garden trio
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

A very pleasant day we ended by going to Copacabana beach and chilling out to Camila playing the guitar and singing.

Entertainment for the evening Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

Entertainment for the evening
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 2014

With that, I had had enough of Rio for the time being, and I decided to get back on the road. But not for long, because my next stop was Buzios!