Sunday, December 18, 2016

Hey, You Particularly Attractive Individual, Vote For Me! It's 12 Seconds Well Spent! (Kerala Blog Express)

Hello everyone! Some of you may have seen my post yesterday on my Facebook page asking for you to take a moment and kindly vote for me in regards to Kerala Tourism's "Blog Express." Essentially, Kerala Tourism is choosing 30 bloggers to travel on 1 bus for 15 days, and I'd like to be a part of that. The thing is, merit alone won't get me aboard, but your votes just might!

The truth is, many bloggers have had a month or more head start as far as the voting goes, so I'm trying to claw my way into the fight. If you've got a moment, I'd love it if you could cast a vote in my direction. I can assure you (and Kerala Tourism *wink wink*) that, if selected, I won't let you down. As many of you know, I'm always trying to learn, better myself, and find new opportunities, and this is the newest venture I'm chasing! So, what I'm saying is, help me out! Thanks in advance, you wondrous person.

In less that 24 hours, I've worked my way into the top 100, so If you do have that special moment - CLICK HERE. Thanks!

The page looks like this: 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It Left a Mark on My Heart: Lombok, Indonesia (2012) - Guest Post by Briana Leigh

Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of our almost four months spent backpacking in Southeast Asia was experiencing the magic that is the sometimes overlooked island of Lombok, Indonesia. While Bali and the Gili Islands (which are technically part of Lombok, but are typically discussed independently) are often the mainstays for backpackers and vacation seekers alike, Lombok is a special slice of heaven whose less combed-over atmosphere lends a truly relaxing experience for all those willing to open its arms to it.

Now, this is not to say no one knows about or goes to Lombok--on the contrary, it's widely a touristed place in itself with some of the warmest, kindest residents I've encountered. However, I find that so many discussions with fellow travellers about Indonesia are dominated by talks of the inspiring yoga retreats of Bali or the stunning snorkelling on the Gilis, so I wanted to pay tribute to a place which has left such a memorable mark on my heart over the four (yes, FOUR!) years since we travelled there.

I've pondered the markings on my heart fondly and have determined this metaphorical tattoo is made up of three key elements:

  1. The food 
  2. The people
  3. The views
Stunning views from the lookout at Pantai Nipah Peninsula

The Food

This is a quick one to cover on the list which can be encapsulated in one short phrase: "fish and satay all day". We ate some amazing grilled Mahi Mahi plates while we were there and while I don't think we were able to sample all local cuisines during our visit, I distinctly remember the delicious taste of all different types of beef, chicken, and fish satay. There are so many sauces and flavours. Typically, you make your way to the local street food vendor and they'll prepare and package everything for you in a wax paper package of delightful, saucy goodness. Add a side of noodles or rice to that, and you're set. No frills, just pure and delicious joy.

Street food satay and
noodles in Pemenang

Chris enjoying his grilled Mahi Mahi
from Square Restaurant and Lounge in Senggigi

The People

We met some pretty amazing souls on our short stay in Lombok. From expats running small businesses, to Lombok natives teaching at surfing schools, attending university in Mataram, and running tourist businesses, it was a great privilege to meet so many kind, ambitious people. I think we ended up meeting more people on that leg of the trip whom we still keep in good contact with now than from any other place we travelled in Southeast Asia. The warmth of the people on Lombok was something I remember strongly. It felt like I was consistently meeting more members of my extended family, a feeling which resonated very strongly through the generosity of our couchsurfing host, Moya. Moya is a wonderful soul from Melbourne, Australia who truly helped us feel even more connected to the people and places of Lombok. It was the moments spent connecting on her front porch--eating meals, drinking sweet tea, and hanging out with her Pemenang family and Ikut the Chicken--which brought so much joy to our trip. Because of Moya and her family, Lombok will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Unwinding with some fun-loving surfing instructors in Senggigi;
I've lost track of their names, but remember their spirits!
Hanging out with Moya and Ikut the Chicken in Pemenang
Sweet tea on Moya's laid back front porch.

The Views

When I think of Lombok, it's these images which come to my mind: winding roads along the coast and through jungles, coconut groves with neverending droves of palm trees, luscious green rainforests and fields, and the vibrant, colourful evening sunsets. Renting a scooter and just driving was the most therapeutic practice while on Lombok--just taking it all in and hoping the memories of the views would stay with me. I'm blessed to say the feeling I get when I recall these images fills my heart with the relaxing feeling as if I was still there. Lombok is truly a beautiful place to find yourself.

One of the many coconut groves along the coast near Senggigi
Playing in the Monkey Forest en route to Mataram
Scooter break: stunning coastal views between Senggigi and Pemenang
Following Moya along the bustling road outside of Pemenang
Somewhere on the coast between Senggigi and Pemenang
The view from our beautiful cottage at Puri Bunga Beach Cottages, Senggigi
Tree-covered sections of road
Up high in the Monkey Forest
Enjoying one of many beautiful sunsets from Sira Beach

The Pantai Nipah Peninsula

Dusk from our Puri Bunga Beach Cottage, Senggigi

Despite only owning a point-and-shoot when these photos were taken in 2012, I think it's safe to say our cameras were still able to capture the stunning beauty that is Lombok. Revisiting these photos has been so fulfilling, and I think this picture can best sum up what this mark on my heart looks like: love, friends, and natural beauty.

Surrounded by friends, love, and mother nature's bounty at the Pantai Nipah Peninsula.

Guest post by Briana Leigh, Chris's go-to travelling partner

Monday, December 12, 2016

Reflecting on my Second Home... - Istanbul, Turkey

It's interesting, all day I've been desperate to find a moment to write something down - to begin to process what has occured this weekend in Istanbul. I didn't know what I had to say, and, frankly, I still don't, but writing has always been my way of deconstructing that which may, on the surface, seem like a rope far too tangled to ever again be useful. What I do know is that despite the fact that this was not the first bombing, or even the first "near miss" for me, this was different.

Istanbul is not a war zone, despite what the media might depict, but I'm also struggling to honestly say that you can live here now without incurring a certain amount of risk. I know that I love living here, but I also know that I would tell my family and friends not to visit at this time. Certainly, the large explosion outside of the Beşiktaş stadium is not emblematic of any sort of everyday experience here, but I'm also not necessarily shocked this occured. And that's painful to admit. Since the tumultuous times of the summer, I was relieved to see that violence and hostility hadn't yet made its way back into Istanbul, but I, like many others, was waiting with my eyes closed and fingers crossed. With yesterday's blast, I feel like I was jolted awake just shortly after I felt as if I could let my guard down. I was confronted head on with my own naivety. 

I didn't just hear the bombs or feel the tremble in the concrete, I saw the blast from a vantage point which gave me an opportunity to see exactly what had happened, and made me wish I hadn't seen it at all. Let's be clear, this isn't a "woe is me" story. That would be selfish and ridiculous.  I was, at the time, at an engagement party surrounded by 20 or so friends I've been blessed to meet. We were together, we were able to debrief what had happened, and we were safe...when many people weren't so fortunate. So, when writing this, it's not pity I want, and, when I think about it, I don't think it's pity that Istanbul needs. I suppose, in a sense, writing this is trying to figure out what it is that both Istanbul and I do actually need, and the acceptance that I may not have the answer to either question, nor the power to solve any problems if I did. 

The flash of the bomb reached the 20th floor of the Marmara Hotel in Taksim like a devilish crack of lightning. The dim room was illuminated, and time seemed to stop as all of us tried to think of ways we could justify what we had just seen. With all our attention looking towards Beşiktaş, we saw another explosion (which I'm to understand was a suicide bomber) in Maçka Park, just to the left of the stadium. I took my phone out, took a picture of the stadium, and did what I could to warn people to steer clear. And, It also sunk in that the explosion I saw had just cost countless people their lives, and I was so close I could nearly smell the smoke.
My phone, like many of my other friends' phones at the gathering, instantly went into overdrive with messages and phone calls asking whether we were safe, with the respective messagers and callers knowing we weren't sound. Friends reached out to me from across the world after seeing this very tweet on Al Jazeera and many other news outlets. It was the feeling of having a role in a play you would have done anything to not be a part of. My friend took a video around that moment:
Perhaps the most disturbing footage comes from a group of teenagers playing guitar across the water. It gives the best idea of just how large this was. It was bizarre seeing the initial news reports of "dozens injured" or what have you, and knowing yourself, with certainty, that the explosion did more than just wound.
When this happens, you first ensure your family and friends are safe. Then, afterwards, you make sure you can get yourself to safety. In our case, we waited for an hour or so, then walked to a friend's place nearby. We went there to unwind, to talk in circles, to feel familiarity. I ended up chatting to a journalist working with CNN about the whole affair, and for the most part she just ended up repeating "wow," over and over and over again.

And I guess that's what I'm having trouble with. In many ways, I've become de-sensitized to what can and has happened in the city while I've been here, and to hear someone react so strongly, or with such shock...was, in a sense, shocking for me.

I feel as if I've come to know Istanbul so well, and come to love Istanbul so deeply, that I'm almost completely unable to look at the situation here objectively. I want to believe that things will change for the better so badly, that I'm worried I'm unable to see that they won't.

I weave back and forth in my mind between thinking that I'm overreacting when I feel this sense of worry about what the future holds for me here, and under-reacting when friends back home see the news and ask when my plane is landing tomorrow. And I teeter between what I know is true about this city with my own two eyes, and what I can't comprehend with the entirety of my brain. I feel guilty for thinking of leaving when so many people I care about here don't have that luxury, and I feel stupid for thinking of staying when so many people I care about have their arms wide open 8000 kilometres away. I feel a haunting rush of adrenaline to be in the heart of the world's top news story, and I feel a sense of crushing defeat to realize that the city in the headlines is my second home.

So, here I am, searching for a manual that doesn't exist, and cherishing all that this city and its people have given to me, while I try to figure out if there is anything left for me to give back.

I'm trying to figure out if it's time to put a period at the end of this chapter of my life.

I'm trying to figure out if I should move to another city, and accept that Turkey will always be firmly etched into my heart, but that I still may have to leave its shores.