Saturday, 23 January 2016

Love is a many splendored thing

I have been in India for three weeks now. Wait! Three weeks?? Has it been that long?! Yup, but it sure doesn't feel like it!

In these three weeks, I have been asked about the purpose of my travel, the experiences I have gained, and where I will be travelling to next. I am sure everyone has the same questions so here goes!!

My main aim during my year away is to hit all 7 continents by the end of 2016. Woah, right?! I call this my SEVEN by 31 plan; after all, I turn 31 in June.

The way I will be travelling will push my boundaries; I will only seek accommodation once I land in each city, and I will only use my limited budget. Money will not be an excuse to postpone my dreams!

As I continue my journey, I hope to inspire others to pursue travel and to pursue their own dreams, especially women. I also hope to instill a sense of confidence in the families of the dreamers around the world, that we can be safe with a little bit of caution to boot. It is not impossible!

So far, I have visited three continents and five locations in 50 days. This count does not include my launching pad; Toronto, Canada. I have met some amazing people along the way, who have fed me, housed me, and yes clothed me too!

50 days into my trip, I am in India. 

I have considered carefully how to blog about a country that I call home time and again, where my family and friends live, love, and care for others.

In this post, I would like to show you the India that I see; an India that is filled with an incredible business intellect, has an advanced non-profit network, and is gracious in its beauty.

A respectful India

In the cities that I have visited so far, I have experienced a respect that I have not experienced anywhere else in the world. Case in point - I was accompanied to a fancy restaurant by two men (friends) in Jodhpur. As the doorman held the door open for me, I was the only one greeted by him, "Welcome Madam".

We finished dinner, and the host only gave me the book to review the restaurant's service and food. Wow! Talk about respect!

Mumbai is a different beast. I am not given special recognition as a woman.

But, I feel just as safe walking alone on its streets after the sun has set. Even in the train compartments used mainly by men, I know I will be defended if anyone reproaches me physically. They may ask later why I did not travel in the " ladies-only" compartment, but, for now, there isn't even an inkling that I will be harmed in any way.

Having lived in Canada for most of my life, and watching media reports about assaults against women, I am still relearning that India is not as unsafe as we assume.

But, yes, it is best to be cautious in every part of the world as a woman travelling alone. There are always people and places to avoid.

Tips for solo travelettes anywhere in the world -
  • I always tend to walk confidently while holding a serious look on my face. Although, even if I shoot a genuine smile at those who look trustworthy, I know they will surely smile back.
  • Be aware of your surroundings! I have walked with my phone in my hands everywhere I have visited, but it is best to keep it away; you never know right?!
  • Know where you are going and how to get there. But, do not be scared; you can rely on people along the way too!

An intellectual India

I was recently invited by my uncle to speak at an awards ceremony for manufacturers in India, the COSMA Awards. Surrounded by the best of the best in the industry, I wondered if I was out of my element that night. What did I have to offer; would they even be interested in my travels?

Despite being present amongst leading businessmen, I was given just as much respect and gracious recognition after my speech. India's fathers and mothers showed their support for their daughter's/ my challenging goals. As I sat there listening to them, I felt myself soaking in their love and wisdom.

That night, I found out about cutting edge consultancies that provide expertise on family-managed businesses, educational institutions that provide vocational training to India's talented youth, and projects that have contributed to the manufacturing industry and transportation infrastructure in India. These initiatives rival many countries around the world!

Tips on learning while travelling -
  • When you travel, observe how people interact with other and listen carefully to what they discuss. I have learned about various topics through offhand conversations, including about the rise and fall of the stock market.
  • Be open to conversations; you never know where it will lead. I have heard and learned from people about migration, politics, family dynamics, and crime.

A caring India

As I travel, I continue to meet amazing people along the way who do not tire in spite of giving their heart and soul continuously to their communities.

My family has been similarly involved in services close to their heart, from providing educational services to children from a lower socioeconomic background, to supporting cancer patients in their rehabilitation efforts.

My family is supported by many other similarly talented, caring women who are trained as social workers, counsellors, and doctors; women whose families may have overcome struggles with their own health.

Some women I have met carry the torch entirely on their own as well. In Jodhpur, I met one of the most caring women I have ever met.

She has worked tirelessly to help babies who have been affected by various issues.

Inspired by her spirit, I am now working with her to seek medical guidance for a child who has water logged in his brain. Wish us luck!

A loving India

I cannot write about India without writing about the love I have received from my own family. Yes, it has been a bit overwhelming being fed constantly and when they constantly worry about my safety, but I cannot thank them enough for caring enough to worry about me!

In the depths of the night, as our elders sing old songs in each other's company, and as our peers share a caring moment together encouraging each other to pursue their dreams, this is an India that I treasure.

I have seen the love between friends as they laugh with each other while singing during pre-wedding celebrations, as they share a car when driving to and from places they frequent in the city, and as they tease each other about their significant others.

A beautiful India

This is the India that is familiar to those who travel here. So this may not be a surprise to many.

When I landed in Jodhpur in January, that night I fell in love with India. At night, in a palace hotel, I encountered one of the most beautiful moments of my life as the sun set on the lake by the hotel, and the dark silhouettes of monkeys raced by me on the terrace of the hotel.

Watching the lights play on the fort and palaces in the city was an indescribable feeling.

These are memories I should not and will not easily forget. And there are so many more stories to share about the people and organizations I have met so far.

I hope you continue to read my blog as I fawn over the love that I have experienced.

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And thank you for helping me reach 3,000 page views!! You are with me in spirit!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A journey to the centre of my soul

On the date of my year-long trip's first month anniversary, I felt an appropriate post would be one that recognizes where I have been so far, and what  I have learned along the way. This post is dedicated to everyone I have met so far - the dreamers, the advisors, and the companions close to my heart.

For the past month, I have traveled to three different continents, and admired three different landscapes. My emotions in each country have also been different - from one of awe, to one of emotional conflict, and ending with the best emotion of all -  one of comfort, family, and love.

You may have seen my three faces on Facebook group One Woman Empowered; now I would like to share three different stories with you.

The Beginning

Arriving in Punta Arenas on December 9, in the few hours before I left for Antarctica, I experienced the city in a way that I always imagined I would. When I left Toronto a day earlier, I wanted to live the aura of each city, see its good with its bad, and experience the city like its local residents.

I now believe that your experience depends upon the people you meet. In walking the streets from the hostel to the local grocery store on that first day, I received a glimpse that may be elusive in the "touristic" hub of any city. As we left the store with a few groceries, we weaved through many different streets until his house. The aura of this city was just like any university town in Canada, with small houses scattered across the town, and few people walking along the roads.

The house I reached had a gas heater that required a flame to start up; a couch and a table that were not the best but would do, in a small 10 X 10 feet dining room at the entrance; a separate similarly-sized kitchen towards the back of the 10 foot corridor; plus a few rickety stairs up to the second floor.

This would be my home when I returned from Antarctica.


In the two weeks that I spent back in Punta Arenas after I returned from Antarctica, I learned a few lessons that I will always keep with me.

Number 1 - It is necessary to manage expectations, or have a plan.

My first day in Punta Arenas, I was disappointed... no hook to hang any clothes in the washroom, no toilet paper, and no soap... The room's window had cobwebs and dust; the sheets had stains; and I felt like I had been transformed back into my university days because of the type of accommodation I was in... I felt spoilt after the luxurious trip to Antarctica, and guilty that I had high expectations.

(All my provisions)

Housemates to the rescue!

They had already cleaned the washroom and made me food by the time I was done leaving my bags in my room. With lots of laughter, conversations in Spanish, and caring gestures, the perceived shortcomings of the accommodation no longer mattered. Fresh home-made bread and many meals later, I think that was the highlight of my 12-day stay in Punta Arenas.

But, some days I would wait all day at home for my friend, the person who had arranged for me to live there. He would be busy with his job, and hour after hour the day would pass by; my time in Punta Arenas would slowly slip away without learning much about the city.

I learned a valuable lesson though. If you want to experience a city:
  • Plan - Make a plan the previous night about what you want to do the next day. 
    • Save the directions you find in Google Maps offline, before you leave home. 
    • And, take off around the city. It is very safe!
  • You do not need WiFi - If you are concerned that you are relying solely on WiFi, and your friends will not be able to find you in the city.  
    • Let them know that you are leaving your WiFi hotspot behind for greener pastures, that you will not be able to communicate much.
    • When you are ready, connect with them. 
  • City Attractions - Research the surrounding areas by talking to tourists. 
    • They are the best source of information, as they have pursued extensive research about nearby attractions. 
    • And, map out all your days; you can always change your plan. (The best way to meet like-minded tourists is in hostels).
Number 2 - There are many ways to find safe accommodation

Yes, safety was a concern but, with care, careful consideration, and personal wisdom, safety is not unachievable. Yay!!

Whether it is couchsurfing, or hostelworld, or a spontaneous request that a stranger help you find a place; whether you land in a city and walk around to different hostels to find the best rooms and prices; or whether it is a low-budget hotel room, you can always be safe.

In fact, you should always ask to see the room before you begin paying for it. And, once you start staying there and making friends, you will find wonderful people who will help you along the way - giving you rides through the city, teaching you Spanish, and cooking the specialities of the region.

Number 3 - Visiting Patagonia

My expectations may not have been met to the same standard that I was accustomed to after the trip to Antarctica - in Antarctica, I had soap, toilet paper, hooks to hang clothes outside the showers, yummy meals 24/7, and a fantastic vista and pre-arranged excursions. (I have recommendations for 2 amazing travel agents, in Ushuaia, Argentina!).

But, what I learned from my experience in Punta Arenas has provided me a glimpse into my own travel style, an approach to how I will tour cities in the future, and what I would like to see when I visit Patagonia next!

I also learned how to keep safe on particular hikes, how long it takes to complete hikes, and how to prepare for them. For example, for Torres Del Paine in Chile, and El Chaltaine and El Calafate in Argentina, you must account for weather changes. And, you must keep your plan flexible.
  • Choose your hiking trail. Based on your speed, guesstimate the time it will take you to complete it, and leave some room for miscalculations ;)
  • Try and determine whether you will be carrying your own tent, cook wear, and food; whether you will be renting it; or whether you will rent nothing and stay at pre-established lodges along the hiking trail (which lessens your hiking load). 
  • Leave aside time to rent gear, if that is how you choose to travel - tents, cook wear, and food. Remember, the gear may not be available in time for your trip.
  • You need to allot time to wait for weather that would be ideal for a hike - please avoid strong winds as the hiking trail may be rocky, and strong winds can make your experience unsafe!
  • Buses don't even run on certain days to certain destinations - such as Christmas, and New Year's, or maybe even on regional holidays. Surprise to me, for sure!
  • And, some hikes require one full day even after the weather stabilizes, but what if buses to the hiking destination are full?!
  • Oh, and finally, based on my research and only my own, I believe Torres Del Paine can take between 5 to 9 days, El Chaltaine can take 5 days, and El Calafate 1 full day.
  • Most importantly, wear proper winter hiking boots and warm winter clothes. And, carry a small backpack and what is most crucial - snacks and water.
Number 4 - "Miscellaneous" - You need a royal sense of humour to travel
  • Specifications on what you can carry via flights can change - small scissors until India, and the no scissors around India. So, be prepared to lose some items (I did; you may not :P).
  • There may not be WiFi at airports so your loved ones may not know where you are if there are flight delays. Tip - No WiFi (Punta Arenas), Limited 30-minute free WiFi (El Calafate).
  • You will face flight delays at least once - I told you about New York, but I have experienced delays on every flight I have taken so far
    • Stanley to Punta Arenas - 3 hours in line to a ticket agent in a small corridor, and 2 hours waiting for the plane to take off. (It was an infrequently-used military air base).
    • El Calafate to India - With India on high alert due to an unfortunate incident, my flight was delayed, so I slept in the Delhi airport on a lounge-style couch; my bags in my arms!
  • Your shipment that has all your winter and summer gear may never arrive. Where did it go? No idea - I will keep you updated. Ah customs!
  • Being from a particular country may not help you receive the love you thought you would from the flight agents; you may receive more love being a tourist to another country.
  • Emotional intelligence is a foreign concept to some. I was moved out of my room because two beautiful French women wanted to stay there; I moved into someone else's room and he moved into an empty room; and then I slept 5 days on a couch in a hospital because it was simplest. I got to spend time with my friend who was admitted there, and was able to enjoy her company.
One thing is for sure, you learn a lot!
  • Punta Arenas is a medium-sized city of 120K people. There is a beautiful cemetery not too far from its downtown core, filled with trees, and with graves decorated by flowers from family.
  • The cemetery has a statue of an Aboriginal tribal member who was killed by a colonist. His tribe was not known, and so people started worshipping him. As their wishes came true, a challenge was placed by a particularly rich woman; if her wishes also came true, she would erect a statue in his honour. Guess what?!.... There is a statue!

  • There are two main newspaper printing presses in Punta Arenas, and one publishes two papers. That printing press that published two papers, does so because one of the papers has been a part of the city for ages, and so it is now published every weekend.
  • Brothels sometimes take the form of strip bars, as strip bars are legal. But the local police is unable to prove that it is a brothel, so it continues to run under false guises.
  • Oh, and you meet the most amazing people in hospitals - including consular representatives! I heard there was also a Nepalese Sherpa who broke his leg while climbing in Antarctica!!
  • P.S. El Calafate is in Argentina, and has the loveliest people you can find. Although it is a touristic town with pricey goods, you find lovely fauna and it is surrounded by mountains and lakes. It does get chilly though, even for a Canadian :)

What I learned most is that technology is untrustworthy, and you never stop learning how to edit videos and post them on your blog while the WiFi is sporadic, and the chargers do not work.

I cannot wait to share my next post with you - a post of true love, of home, of family, and of comfort in a place that is known worldwide in a way that is different from my own experience....

Please do not forget to share this blog with your friends and family, leave a comment below (they are moderated), and subscribe your email using the box on the top right hand corner (so you can receive notifications about new posts)! 

And, do keep reading and supporting me as I continue to learn and find love and purpose around the world!