It’s always interesting hearing people’s Canadian stereotypes while abroad. Despite spending considerable time internationally, it appears I haven’t shook my textbook Canadian-ness yet.
As the good Canadian I am I would usually say I’m so sorry for this post being tardy, but truth be told I’m really not because I’ve been busy with Canada’s second favorite pastime (following gratuitous apologizing) of putting on the old pack and gettin’ oot and aboot, eh.
Tough being Canadian these days.
Hop Skip and a Continental Jump
The whole vagabonding mentality (quick recap: don’t make plans beyond the essential) came in handy after Kilimanjaro, and I caught some down time and rested up in Tanzania. Once my knees began forgiving me and my blisters subsided, I started to feel like my time in East Africa was naturally drawing to a close, ending on an unparalleled high.
I made my way to Kenya where my hypothesis on large cities in developing countries (loosely coined Evacuate Jam-Packed, Dirty Hell-Hole as Soon as Humanly Possible due to No Good Things Happening Here Ever) was once again substantiated. Nairobi fit the bill nicely, with screaming traffic jams playing filthy car tetris and shanty slums thick with intermingling humans and animals and all of the delightful sun-roasted smells that go along with both.
Leaving Africa was bittersweet. I’ve always had a very soft spot in my heart for the people and the land since stepping foot in Morocco as a youngster, but as I gain perspective with age and have accumulated time on the continent over the years I feel increasingly conflicted. I’m still trying to reconcile the balance between what traveling in Africa represents to me, and what it really is. I theoretically bask in the opportunity to explore to remote places and get off the grid, but I find myself struggling with what I find: poverty, annihilation of nearly every corner of the natural world, and general government corruption and fuckery. Africa presents a confusing dichotomy for me. A taste of true, uncharted adventure juxtaposed with the unsettling realities of what you find when you dive in.
My heart sinks thinking about it. Can you imagine going back even 50 years to explore the jungles and cultures? But then again, my current-age-plus-50-year-old-self would probably say the same thing.
I know in my heart I will step foot in Africa once again, but reckon it was time to give another corner of the world a wee gander.
Sidenote: I spent an inappropriately long period of time at the Nairobi airport trying to figure out what’s with Asians and plastic suitcase wrapping. Anyone?
India and Yoga, Hallelujah I’ve Seen the Light
If India and Yoga were stocks in my life they would have been stellar early buys. I’ve never been at all interested in either with my feelings ranging from indifference to active avoidance. But why, you might ask? As it turns out I’m a stubborn asshole.
BUT REST ASSURED, NOW I AM REFORMED*!
*only with regard to India and yoga. Arguably a stubborn asshole on loads of remaining fronts.
I’ve never had real beef (pun absolutely intended) with either, but I scrunch my nose at the cliche nature of it all. These new-age enlightened yogi people after a week of patchouli incense, fruit juice colon cleanses and sitting still for long periods of time without thinking about:
1) if these yoga pants from Etsy give me a muffin top in child’s pose,
2) if I should use ginger, or lemon, or both in my Vitamix blended health elixir post-class,
3) what pose against the sunset would get the most likes from my Instagram herim, and
4) who farted?*
*only applies to hot yoga
… at an overpriced Ashram (complete with a spa — indulge in a traditional ayurvedic massage and get 50% off an add-on brazilian to ensure the inevitable Lululemon camel-toe is well groomed) in India are unbearably self righteous and downright annoying.
But, lucky for me and even luckier for the entire county of India because I’m a good time, I decided to channel what inner openminded zen-ness I could muster, pour myself a generous glass of wine (as I do every time I sit down for a travel booking session but particularly when yoga might be involved), and give both a try.
Another aside. Am I the only one that didn’t realize there was a difference between Yogi Bear and Yogi Berra until an embarrassingly late age?
Holy Shiz, Being Wrong is Relaxing
I signed myself up for a yoga retreat along the southwest coast of India in a region called Goa. Let’s not be fooled, this was totally India-lite but yoga was a high-risk activity to begin with so mitigation measures needed to be taken.
As it turned out Goa was a splendid place, with meandering sandy beaches along a lush coastline and various fruit trees heavy with nature’s candy every few steps. Oh, and puppies.
In addition to being aesthetically gorgeous, people were friendly and the beaches and towns felt safe despite concern and warning from loved ones at home. “But Verity! They rapin’ everybody out here!” Yes, parts of India have a reputation for very terrible things happening to women, but it’s a huge country with a lot of people and my ‘bell curve of humanity’ states that while most are ok, a few aren’t. Aside from the usual heckling, I didn’t experience any funny stuff.
There was, however, a great deal of different funny stuff during my daily four hour yoga practice. Brits arrived at the retreat, casting aside their usual nation-wide alcohol problem, and transformed into puritan yogis before my eyes! Instructors lived up to their free-spirit metaphysical muffinry with perfection! “Sniff the floor with your pelvis. Feel the smell!” And, my personal favorite, “Roll nine times on your back for every month in utero.”
Between bouts of laughter under my breath, I actually got a lot out of my practice. I touched my toes for the first time on December 17 which was an enormous-ass accomplishment for these tight hamstrings. I’m officially a head-stander and can get ‘up and on my way’ without risking the lives of those around me. Same with arm balances, believe it or not. More than anything though, I just feel so much more flexible and relaxed and in turn have a greater respect for yoga. It’s hard, but rewarding.
Between classes I found lots to keep me busy. My favorite activity was Indian cooking! I learned how to make a number of dishes through a local cooking school and have a new appreciation for the sheer number of different spices that end up in any one Indian recipe.
Delhi and Agra
When it came time to say goodbye to pelvis sniffing and inversions, I made my way to New Delhi. It’s not a stretch to believe it’s the most polluted city in the world as it has the smog-visibility-equivalent of a snowstorm. Getting off the plane is like a incense-infused slap in the face. Unfortunately the city itself doesn’t have a great deal of redeeming qualities to counter the smog, so I imagine it’s used as a transportation hub as opposed to a destination for most folks.
I used Delhi as a jumping off point for Agra, a city four hours away in India’s Uttar Pradesh state that houses two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Driving to Agra was an adventure, as is driving anywhere in the country. You’re cruising along like you’re the only sober one on the road in a MADD commercial, and the only thing that is mechanically sound on all cars is the horn. But you embrace it, and consider becoming religious just in case.
But, back to why I was on the road in the first place. Cole’s Notes (or Sparknotes for the Yanks reading) version of the Taj Mahal is: meh. So, it’s big, like really big, and white and crowded. The grounds are beautiful and packed with monkeys and parrots. But, it kind of felt like the Trump Tower of 363 years ago. “But Verity, it was built for love!” Yes, it was an architectural accomplishment and there is a soap opera story behind it, but it lacked meaning for me. Then again, what it lacked in substance it made up for in photo opportunities.The most incredible part of the Taj is the density of selfie sticks. There’s gotta be a record in there somewhere.
I was glad that I finally took the plunge and explored a few corners of India. The country’s daunting size and intense reputation kept me away, but now that I’ve had a taste, I want more!
That has to wait though, because I have some official-ish business to attend to in Nepal!