Kunitachi/ Stripped down

I had been told about the onsens before I came, but never really understood what they were all about, and had some men’s sauna type club in my head. So when my mums friend offered to take us and show us the ropes, we were well up for it. Though neither rachel or I were shy of nudity, it was strange to think in half an hour, the three of us and her 19year old daughter would all be walking around, kit off. 

Entering it was much like a private gym. A restaurant, vending machines with snacks and ice creams. Then as we turned things got crazy again. A room full of fat boy chairs, each with their own tv. Bookcases of dvds to choose from. The room was filled with people in their robes chilling out, relaxing. As we kept walking to the changing rooms, we passed a massage parlour. Coco explained how people sometimes would come and spend the day here; steam room, hot spring, food, movie and so on. We stripped down and filled our lockers, left only with a small square towel equivalent to a face flannel. To everyone else this was all very normal. They would grow up coming here with their parents, just like going to the swimming pool. 

Laid out in front of us we’re two rows of open boothed vanity mirrors. Sat on low stalls were long slender backs of clear fair skin. Their slight curves delicately balanced as they reached up to run their hands through their long dark hair. Water showering upon them. 

Every unit, had a hand held shower hose, and three large pumps of high quality fragrant shampoo, conditioner and shower cream. Each women would sit on their stall and slowly wash themselves. Taking their time and enjoying the ritual. It was a strange experience to sit their naked, to be publicly sat in front of the mirror watching yourself wash. Intimate and relaxing, apposed to the shower rush we would have in such a space at home. The idea was that you took your time to cleanse yourself before sharing the water with others. It was a sign of respect and therefore done thoroughly. 

Once clean, you would place the little square on top of your head, balancing it their in case you need it later. As for the pools. So many opinions, a cherry blossom infused spring, a normal hot spring and cold bath. A shallow pool, maybe a few inches to lie in and rest your head on the wooden block. A jacuzzi with chairs inside to lie back on outside looking to Mount Fuji. Deck chairs to just lie naked under the starts and feel the fresh air. Back inside a steam room, equipped with a tv to sit and watch the latest episode of a Japanese soap. Then finally the steam room, again tv, but also buckets of sea salt to scrub on you and let melt in the water. A full spa experience for sure! 

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Toyko/ A dichotomy

 

Arriving in Japan I was ready for a glimpse of the future. Of bullet trains and tall glimmering towers, of technical advancement, robots and super slick efficiency. It certainly was all that and more. Filled with quirks and contradictions, it took me a while to get my head around both the city and the culture. 

The first thing to observe entering the airport was how clean everything was. Four bins lined up to separate out rubbish for recycling. No litter, sparkling floors. For the first time in months I wasn’t in mud, dirt and flies! Instead I had traded by bucket of water and hole in the ground, for a toilet that not only provided you with a warm seat and music, but would spray warm water and dry you too! 

The next thing I would start to notice, was how ordered everything was.  People stood patiently in lines to board the metro. They generally kept themselves to themselves, quiet, reserved. Later I would experience how much so, when getting stares for crossing the road- not a car insight, but people would wait until the light was green to cross. They respected the system. They were well dressed and presented, smiling, friendly. It would seem they didn’t often show much outward displays of emotions, no holding hands. Just small notions to recognise each other. Soft uttered words. Modest people. Though here lay a city screaming with adventure, a playground of lights and oddities, anything but reserved and modest. High fashion luxuries, harajuku girls, the skater goth crowd with purple streaks in their hair. Cat cafes, maids cafes, love hotels, 7 storey sex shops covered in sexualised anime characters, manga, gaming centres, rows upon rows of bars, magic bars, massage parlours, puppies parlours, naked Onsens, geishas, robot kabore, robot run hotels, sleeping capsules, comic stores with sleeping capsules, kareoke booths, vending machines serving meals….the list goes on. 

Here lies a city that could keep you entertained for years. Incredible art exhibitions, beautiful parks, even better food. Behind all of its tall glimmering buildings, something to please your every desire! 

Boracay/ Drum to the rhythm of your heart

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Long white beaches, crystal clear waters and a stirring drum beat that echos from bar to bar. The party island. With my best girlie in hand, together we were ready to take on the island. Checking into your classic party hostel, where beers were being served to hungover travellers for breakfast! By day enjoying the many beautiful beaches, getting our tan on, sampling one to many beachside cocktails, making our way to Spiderhouse for sunset as come night Boracay had different plans for us.  The night would bring The jungle boys. 15 Filipino Rastas drumming to the night, howling down the moon. Jumping the fire. Chests bare, hair swinging they’re primal beats filled the air as we were sired in to dance. Learning more about the island drum circle we discovered one of them, from New York, was in fact the lead drummer of Santa and part of the New York 72nd circle, but left for love of the island! Later I would try my luck at drumming only to wake up the next day with swollen bruised hands- oops! 

El Nido/ Paradise on earth

A horizon of sparkling deep blues and greens sit beyond us. Crystal clear waters wash upon the powdered white sand. On either  side shadows the valleys of lagoons, heavy, dark rocks, with their imposing weight framing the tropical pallete upon us.

Digging our toes into the sand and sipping on a fresh coconut and rum, surely this had to be paradise. Natural beauty. Completely untouched, a breathtaking force of scale and power. Serine. It makes you think what the hell we did to the rest of the world, how could you destroy this- pollute it, cut it down!  From private islands you can hire for dinner for two, to my favourite floating rum bar, or the tower catherdral caves and shallows of nemo styls fish, this was incredible. To top it off we stubbled across the beautiful Bird’s Nest. Set up by honeymooners Mark and Camilla, they had created a glamping spot just off the beach in the hills looking out to the ocean. Decor that you wish was your house, great playlists, the perfect book collection, homebaked treats in the afternoon and delicious large bottle of red for sunset, what more could a gal ask for!

Manila/ Wacky races

Its hot, sticky, noise in every direction. Street food vendors calling out at you, the whiff of fried chicken and BBQ meat. Tightly compact buildings and a skyline of towers in the distance. Manila was familiar to many other Asian cities I had previously explored. Only this time it was like real life had been inter cut with a comic strip. A brush tainting reality. Bright pops of primary colours filled the streets, as 1/3 men passing you by rocked a basketball jersey. Big trucks, scattered everywhere where tricycles. Colourful geometric- transformer like boxed shaped vechiles, powered by a bike. Each one rocking its own cartoon like slogan; ‘thunderbird’ or ‘princess leia’ Even the bikes looked like the belonged to power ranges! With their sharp angular shapes and vivid paint jobs. Nothing about the public transport here was either subtle or formal! 

As the traffic whizzes by it was like looking at a scene from wacky races- the cars, vans and tricycles in all their shapes and sizes, waiting for the lights, revving ready to take off. 

Amongst the madness, Manila holds its own quirks- with loud brash kareoke, obscure cafes such as the random Harry Potter cauldron cafe or cockerel fighting, which I made a swerve for! 

Inle lake/ Stilted

It’s so bloody cold. Dressed to tan, we wrap the blankets around us, as the water splashes back and the air hits us hard. The long narrow boat cuts through the water, through the hazy grey setting, as we lookout to a what seems like a sea of pale blues and whites. The river is wide and on either side is the occasional spouts of the green and muddy brown marsh land.  Entering our vision, are what seems like flamencos; gracefully stood dancing on the water surface, long silhouetted lines of their extended legs, forming balletic postures.  In our sight were the famous long boat men. Each with a foot wrapped around long sticks, as they guide their boats and fish.  We had arrived at Inle Lake, a cluster of villages living on the nearl water, home to over 70,000 people!

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Unlike in Kerala, where man made banks had been made around the houses, these villages sat wholly on the water. house raised on stilts and boats parked underneath. As you go through you can find temples, monasteries, markets, silversmiths, silk makers, blacksmith. Rowing through the villages, past the small raised spaces you can start to feel claustrophobic, the idea of being prohibited to this defined space. Yet on the other hand you are in awe at the way they have utilised the space, wondering how different it would be to live in this way moving from boat to station, to pavements or large spaces to run free.

The most innovative use of the water is the floating gardens. You see men hauling green gloopy weeds out of the river into their boats, as it engulfs all around them, sure to soon sink the boat,  yet they keep on loading. Later they will use bamboo poles to create an initial structure buried into the ground, where they will then weave the greenery around them creating a layer which they can then add compose to grow above. Lanes of fruit and veg will start to grow, a women on very narrow boats can then weave through piking up the produce as they reach out on the very edge of the boat. Watching this happen makes you think what the world could be like if we continue to flood all around us, the way we may have to life- on the edge of a boat!

 

Kathmandu/ Dust youself off and get back up again

Driving through Nepal on arrival, felt like entering a ghost town. Quiet washed over the city, grey sky’s, and dust upon everything. A consistency and regularity to everything, everywhere had been put into order and then left. The shops front neats and tidy, no litter. Every few metres piles of bricks and mounts of dirt. Unlike India with chaos and litter everywhere, there was order amongst the rumble of the half crumbling houses. As we got closer to the city centre things got busier. People wondered the streets with masks on their faces, hiding from the dust. School kids, mums with baby’s bundled in scarves strapped to their backs. Colour started to leak through the grey, the reds of temples shrines and gold pray bells, the yellow and oranges of the the fruit filling the bowl in the front of a bicycle, rusted silver pots filled with powdered spices. Elements of Indian and Tibetian influence peaked through the square, uniformed streets. The deeper you walked into the old town, the more the layers revealed. Deep cracks through the road, turning a corner to the whole road in upheaval, climbing over mounts of mud, jumping over a ditch to get to the other side of the road, as people rebuild after the devastation that was the earthquake. 

2 years on and the damage caused is still very much prevalent. On the outskirts you still see camps where people who lost their homes still live, people who lost their business. In the city every few houses are ripped open, exposed interiors that once stood whole. The amazing part is how they have rebuilt, the strength of the people. You will find old ladies with a woven basket strapped to their head, loading up bricks as they climb through the mud to empty the heavy load into a nearby truck. At home this would be the work of young labours, 17year old boys not 50-60 year old women, but they are there working hard to make the city. With so many people affected by the earthquake our hostel owner tells us that the most advertised products on television are now cerment, followed by steel rods and then biscuits! 

Hampi/ A prehistoric journey

A roller coaster of dirt tracks, slipping off the recliner bus chairs, questioning how the bus suspension was still in tact, the cold dusty air hitting your face. The 13 hours spend on our semi sleeper bus to Hampi, one may have thought that the bus at some point transformed into Fred’s dino car, particularly when you step out into a skyline of huge stone boulders, tall trees and eroding steams. As you walk along seeings signs, beware of leopard, do not jump in lake- crocodiles!

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Hampi is protected by UNESCO as one of the civilisations it is a world heritage site, with temples and accent ruins. On one side of the river you can explore the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire of the 7th Century.But take a trip across to the other side and risk being lost for days on hippie island. A row of hostels, sit against the paddy fields and rock boulders. Backpackers, blazing slumped on cushions looking out to the views. Swimming in lakes by day and climbing the rocks by sunset, guitar in hand, spliff in the other. Feeling like I may become James Franko in 127 hours, falling down the gaps, I lept anyway to join the singsong and watch the sunset over the ancient city.

 

 

Wayanad/ Nature is King

img_3083-1Bus stop chos, stampedes of people pushing for a place on the bus to get us out of the city. Fighting our way through, we sit tightly for the next 5 hours, the dusty hot air starts to become cold and crisp as we ascend through the hairpin bends up to Wayanad national park. With waterfalls, spice fields, tea plantations, lakes, local tribes, you can spend days get lost in nature. Spending some time with a local family, we cooked dinner picking the spices and vegetables straight out of their back garden. Hitting a papaya out of the tree and learning the best way to slice open a coconut for its milk.

The family also own a pepper plantation, employing the local tribes to pick the pepper pods for them. The government supplies the tribes with food, clothes, so we are told the money they earn goes mainly towards alcohol. Booze and alcoholism being a common problem in India.

16585392_1300701019976004_5142240416514441216_n1The most popular resident however in Wayanad are the elephants! The kings of the land. Driving slowly through the main road which takes you to the next village, you will entered their land. Doesn’t matter if your walking, a car or a bus the elephants are boss. Get to close and they will not be afraid to charge at you knocking over your car, as we nearly experienced. These are wild, untamed elephants who make paths for the rest of the families of deers, rabbits, peacocks… though we didn’t quite get to see how they play with the tigers!

India/ Kerrela/Malabar fish fry

You can do this with any fish, but we used tuna steaks- yum!

For four people:

  • 4 tuna steaks
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp of chilli
  • 1/3 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 tbsp heaped coconut oil
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves

img_3603-1Mix all of the spices together, add a little water to make a paste. Rub into the steaks then leave to marinade in the fridge, ideally for a good few hours.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan, when hot add the sprigs of curry leaves. Expect sizzling and spitting oil! Add the marinaded steaks, lower the heat and close the lid and lower the heat. Cool for 10mins , then turn and leave for another 10mins until ready to serve. In Kerrela the fish is served crispy, but if you like your tuna a bit raw cook for a lot less time!