Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia: The Gleeful Gilis

This post is emblematic of my continued attempt to recount past adventures that I've written or posted next to nothing about. I'll be in Nicaragua in about two weeks, and I'll be moving to Istanbul in a few months, so this seems like the appropriate time to try to play catch-up. Honestly, I don't envision myself harkening back to my Southeast Asian travels on my blog while I'm experiencing all the new sights and smells of Turkey and the surrounding area. Forget about the future for now - let's go back to late 2012 in Indonesia.


Visible from the shores of Lombok are the stunning Gili Islands. Bri and I had flown in from Singapore a week or so prior and spent a very memorable week on Lombok - split between our time in Sengiggi and Pemenang. Our time in Pemenang was spent couchsurfing with a wonderful woman named Moya who welcomed us into her house and made us feel comfortable from the very beginning. Moya, if you're reading this, I will certainly write my own post on that experience in good time. For you, Bri and I, and, of course, Ikut the chicken. You know what I'm talking about. You're the best.

We found a gentleman with a horse-drawn carriage, known as a cidomo,  that could take us (and our backpacks) to the Bangsal Docks where we could take either a local boat or a fast boat. We were headed to Gili Trawangan, the largest and most popular of the three Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan, known as Gili T, has a reputation for being a remote destination with no automobiles or motor traffic, and generally no real enforced laws either. It was kind of like a traveller's paradise, especially for those travellers who had just traversed through large, busy Southeast Asian cities like ourselves. 

We spent a majority of our time on Gili Trawangan, but did venture off and do some snorkeling with a little break to feast on a tuna steak on Gili Meno. The experience we had in the Gili Islands is owed almost entirely to Herry, a native of Lombok and an outgoing guy who helps run a local tour company there. If you find yourself there, you must find him and his friend Nizar and go on one of their arranged adventures through their company Barracuda Tours. They're both legends, and they'll not only help you out, but show you a great time around both the Gilis and Lombok. Both Herry and Nizar were good friends of Moya, which is why we were so fortunate to meet them.

Thanks largely to them, we were able to go to several beach parties and gatherings, some great bars and restaurants, snorkel at a very reasonable price, organize our ferry to Bali (also at a very competitive price), and a whole bunch of other intangibles. One of my favourite memories was taking the last day to wander around the entire perimeter of the island, which is really only about 8km. I should also mention that we were able to rendevouz again with Freddy, with whom we couchsurfed with in Bandar Seri Begawon, Brunei. He's a very fun guy with a big heart. It is to these people that we owe our memories.

The trip started off with a bang, as our ferry on the way over was quite close to capsizing. Literally, I was preparing my backpack to hop off into the sea, and waves violently crashed into the sides of our tiny boat. It makes for a good story in retrospect, but at the time, I wasn't quite as fond of the scenario. Now that I've given the context, here is our experience through a series of photographs. 

Bri deserves credit for this photograph. She says this is her favourite photo from Gili T, and I can see why.

As always, thanks for stopping by. I'm hoping to be posting with more and more frequency, so try not to forget about me.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chiang Rai, Thailand: "The White Temple"

It was a late September afternoon, and Bri and I found ourselves crowded into a white rusted van bumping along the back-roads of the Northern Thai country side. We had just spent several days in Chiang Mai, which offered some intriguing adventure opportunities, as well as a healthy dose of Muay Thai Boxing, naturally. The idea was to cross the border in northern Thailand in the small river-side city of Chiang Khong, then take the slow boat down the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang, Laos. That's precisely what we did, and it was quite the experience. However, what I want to write about today is a temple that we stopped at on the way to Chiang Khong - one that I'll never forget.

After spending a year in South Korea and visiting Japan a few times, I'd certainly had my fill of temples. It's not to say that I was "bored" of temples by any means, but more than I had seen hundreds upon hundreds, and so I generally had a hankering for something unique.

We chose this particular route to Laos with the understanding that we would be able to visit "The White Temple." We had heard about this temple from a traveller we had met in Vietnam only weeks earlier. Officially, the temple is known as Wat Rong Khun, but among many travellers and foreigners it's known as the White Temple. This temple was made by the well-known Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kostitpipat not so long ago (1997). He blends together Buddhism, imagination, and surrealism while using the temple as his vehicle.

We arrived to a light rain, and the white of the temple marvelously contrasted the stormy skies above. Immediately, I was taken aback, and I likely would be again if I had the chance to visit sometime in the future. As you cross the bridge towards the temple, suffering hands reach out towards you. Demons and guardians adorn the bridge's rails, along with silvered dragon scales. Symbolic heads hang from trees nearby. The list goes on, and the detail is just astonishing. During my year and half in Asia, it's possible that I saw a thousand temples or more, but none were like this.

Everything catches your attention.

Not to get decidedly metaphorical, as I'm fairly wont to do as an English major and travel writer, but this temple is full of symbolism and metaphors. All good surrealism should be, it seems. Perhaps the most prominent symbol or metaphor for me was the notion of crossing a difficult path to find meaning and, to some extent, enlightenment. The initial bridge presents itself as something any reasonable person should turn around and run from, but only in crossing in it can you discover the temple's true meaning and beauty. So to in life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

15 Interesting Facts About Countries Around the World

At times, my endless curiosity perpetuates itself in peculiar ways. For example, one fine afternoon I spent my time (and some would argue wasted) searching the internet for intriguing and obscure facts that I hadn't yet encountered about countries around the world. I found myself scratching my chin in wonder and nodding my head in understanding at what I now knew, that I didn't know only moments before. I thought that I would make this post if only to afford you the same opportunity. Exciting, right? These are facts that I came across from a number of resources and I'm fairly sure they're accurate, but if they don't happen to be completely and utterly accurate for some odd reason or another, don't barrage me with long-winded, aggressive emails.

Without further adieu, here are 15 facts that I thought were too interesting not to be shared.

1) With a population of overweight people that far exceeds that of the United States, the small island in the Southern Pacific known as Nauru statistically has the most overweight populous on the planet. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that prior to being called the Republic of Nauru, it was called "Pleasant Island." 



Nauru, in all its splendor. (source)


2) Australia is the only continent in the world to have no active volcanoes.


3) One of the official anthems of the micro-nation of Ladonia is the sound of a stone thrown into water. 


4) All of China is on Beijing time despite geographically spanning over 5 time zones. 


5) Here's one for the homeland that I knew but felt I had to include. At 1896 km, Canada's Yonge Street is the longest street in the world. 


6) With enormous expanses of forest, Russia produces the most oxygen for human consumption on the planet. 



The Great Vasyugan Mire, Siberia (source)



7) New Zealand was the first nation to give women the right to vote in 1893 - a move that was followed two years later by its neighbour Australia. 


8) Kudos to India who has never invaded a country in its entire history. 


9) Abkhazia is the most recent country to declare independence, which happened on August 26th, 2008. 





10) I cannot blame them in the slightest, but Switzerland consumes the most chocolate per year with approximately 10 kilos a year per person. Hey, they're known for their chocolate, right? 


11) If you count overseas territories, then it is actually France that covers the most time zones with a whopping 12. 


12) With over 60% of all lakes in the world (over three million in total), Canada has the most lakes on the planet. Luckily, I've been able to swim in a few of them. 




13) The first ever Olympic medal for Ireland was won in 1924 in the category of painting. Yes, painting. The category doesn't exist anymore, of course, but in that time John Butler Yeats won for his painting "The Liffey Swim," located below. 





14) Looking for a spouse? Singapore has the highest ratio of millionaires in the world.


15) With 45 of 80 seats taken by women, it is the nation of Rwanda which has the highest percentage of women in parliament. 


As always, thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon, anonymous yet appreciated internet user.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Photo-essay: Enamoured, Ecuador

I was driving home on the congested Toronto highway today when my mind drifted towards the vibrant colours of Ecuador. Before me stood kilometers of dusty cars, winter worn pot-holed roads, and cold weather that has beaten down a population of otherwise cheery folks...for months on end.

I thought, maybe I'll glance at a photo or two when I get home, it's been a while. Then I thought, maybe I'll post a "photo-essay," seeing as I've never truly done that on my blog before. So, here it is. This is my story of Ecuador in photographs. And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, than this is the fastest I've written 20,000 words in my life.

Quito's Madonna on El Panecillo Hill

Mt. Chimborazo

Cathedral of Quito

Chimborazo Province


Lakes of Ozogoche


Sheering sheep alongside the Sumak Awana Women's Group


Home sweet home in Pacaritombo

Quality time with one of Ecuador's famous guinea pigs near Mt. Chimborazo

Chimborazo Province

Chimborazo Province

San Miguel

Chimborazo Province

Building with the Maestro - San Miguel

An array of Ecuadorian delights

Getting stitched up in Riobamba after an old sink collapsed on me at a Hacienda called Tortorillas


Hasta Luego.