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Monday, September 27, 2010

32nd Stop - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Whoa, careful there!
This would be my first time returning to Southeast Asia since I left Vietnam in 2005. I was excited since I had never been to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as everyone here calls it, or anywhere else in Malaysia for that matter. I was expecting a hot, humid mix of Thailand and Singapore and wasn’t let down.

I made it to my hosts’ place, Ang and Wenwen, by late morning and we had breakfast together in an Indian food stand next to their apartment. Ang recently graduated from the university and has started practicing law while Wenwen had just found a job as an accountant. Congrats to both of you! They had movie and mall plans that day and offered to take me along. Great!

JC Brian and JC John
As it so happens, I had been in contact with Brian Lee from JCI Malaysia who was helping organize a cut-athon in the Sunway Pyramid mall just outside of KL. Hair dresser students would be cutting people’s hair all day long for 10 RM (about €2.50) to raise scholarship money for underprivileged students. For those JC's who don't know Brian, you probably should. He's everywhere on Facebook but more importantly, a very active member of JCI Malaysia! Great meeting you JC Brian!
Wenwen's sister
We picked up Wenwen’s sister at the university, met JC Brian at Sunway and got a quick trim (just the back please!) at the cut-athon. Then we went to see the latest kung-fu movie, Legend of the Fist, a quasi-sequel to Bruce Lee’s legendary Fist of Fury. I assure you, it was action-packed, butt-kicking fun!

We stopped at the archery range in the mall to shoot some arrows (thanks JC Brian for the coupon!), then went to an outdoor food court for Chinese food and drinks. I think all of us were full but Ang insisted that we try the cheesy wedges at KFC since I couldn’t get them at KFC in the USA. Sure, why not!

Sunday was a relaxing day, a little more shopping, this time at the Mid Valley Mega Mall but before that, we celebrated Hari Raya. This is a muslim religious tradition where people invite you to their homes one day between the end of Ramadan and Eid to visit and celebrate with each other. I tagged along with Ang and Wenwen to one of their friend's homes. It was very nice to partake in this and learn more about Malaysian muslim traditions.

Ang and Wenwen
On Monday morning, I had big plans. I had just finished reading Richard Branson’s auto-biography and on the flight over, flipping through the in-flight magazine, I saw an advertisement for the Invest in Asia forum and guess who was going to be a guest speaker? That’s right, Sir Richard.

Entrance to the event was $1000, just the kind of money I didn’t have, but I figured maybe I could catch him on the way in or way out. Unfortunately for me, I had not set my watch right. By the time I arrived and asked where he was, someone told me he had already spoken and left. Rats!

Later that day I was changing hosts. I got my things together, said good-bye to Ang and Wenwen and then went to meet Amy. Amy recently returned from working in the Netherlands as a nanny. She used couchsurfing to discover Europe during her weekends off and the last month of her stay. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she caught a bad case of travel bugs and was already planning to leave in three weeks for New Zealand. She hopes to find a job and settle down there.

KL Menara towers view
I was reminded how difficult it can be for people to move about freely in this world and choose where they want to live and work. I hope that one day we get rid of all these borders and put an end to all these policies that hold us captive in our respective countries.

Amy and I went for dinner at an open-air food court with quite a unique way of serving food. There is an area about 200 square meters in size with tables in the middle and surrounded on all sides by small food stands. You go up to the any of the stands or even multiple stands, place your order, give them your table number and when they bring you your food, you pay.

One more day in KL, time to do some sight-seeing! First an early morning run in the park with Amy, and a mid-morning chat with Amy’s grandmother, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Afterwards, I went to the KL Menara Communications tower, one of the tallest in the world, to meet up with a couchsurfer named Zack who works there. Zack met me at the bottom and got me up to the top for free. Thanks! This is definitely worth checking out. It’s much better and higher than the view from the Petronas towers’ bridge. Plus, to get into the latter, you have to wait in line early in the morning to snag one of the 100 free tickets that only gets you halfway up to the bridge.

Two other surfers were there at the same time, and we chatted about our travels, where they were going next and so on. Zack then got us into the Malaysian village park so we could see what traditional homes look like and watch a dance concert. Thanks again Zack! Max, one of the couchsurfers, and I even got to dance!
Traditional Malaysian dance

Max and I took a bus to meet Amy at the Mid Valley Mega Mall to see the new Wall Street movie, but first stopped for lunch. It was right about this time that it suddenly dawned on me: my flight was tonight and not tomorrow night! I had kept looking at Wednesday on the paper and forgetting that it was Wednesday morning at 12:45 am. In other words, Tuesday night.

We still had time to catch the movie, grab dinner, get back to Amy’s before heading off to the airport. A big thanks to Amy and her nice family for hosting me for one night and to Ang and Wenwen for two nights. That’s three more bednets to protect a several children for the next 5 years!

Next stop: Casablanca?

No smoking unless you're on fire!

Reserved for marsupials and people with exploding stomachs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

31st Stop - Bangalore, India

I had one more night in Bangalore before leaving for Kuala Lumpur. Naturally, I met up with Vijay, Bela, Deni, Chitra, and one of Vijay’s friends, Gopu, for dinner. We had Chinese food that night, and topped it all off at a nearby creamery with milkshakes and sundaes.

On Friday, Deni and I met Vijay and another friend of his, Sam, for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall we would have never found on our own. Sam is a professional photographer who studied and worked in London for several years before coming back to Bangalore to set up his own photo studio and production company.

We all set out to Sam’s photo studio after lunch and he gave us a tour. Then we went back to his place for tea and to check out his portfolio. If you appreciate photography, I highly recommend you check out some of fantastic photos on his site:

My flight that evening took off a little after midnight and I was sick of getting there in just the nick of time, so I left a good four hours early. Good plan. Earlier that afternoon, around 4 pm, I had said to Deni, “We’ve had some great weather in Bangalore the past couple weeks, I don’t recall it ever raining.” Smart, real smart.

When I got into my rickshaw at 7:45 PM, it started to rain snakes and monkeys. My initial plan to go to the bus station and take the airport bus was thwarted by massive flooding along the route. I had to think quick. Ok, driver, swing back, we go around, bring me as far north as possible and I’ll grab a cab. Despite the wet legs, a rickshaw is your best bet during Friday night rush hour in the rain. The maneuverability can easily save you an hour of traffic jams. We eventually made it north of the city, I got in my cab and even had a few minutes to spare.

Strangely, the cab driver must have assumed we wouldn’t have any problem making it there on time, so he stopped to get himself take-out! That’s a first! Got any other errands to run? Just double park, I'll wait in the car.

Good-bye India, good-bye to all the wonderful people I met in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Kerala. I look forward to seeing you all again very soon!

Next stop: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!
Sorry, no pics! this one is from Varkala

Thursday, September 23, 2010

30th Stop - Varkala, Kerala, India

I parted ways on Monday morning with Deni and Bela as they had to return to Bangalore and I was staying a few more days in Kerala. I got to the bus station about 15 minutes before the direct bus was scheduled to leave. It took me about 4 people to figure out where to find it. The last person I spoke to, a young man in his early 20’s, told me it would probably be late. Sure enough, a little over an hour later it pulled into the station. In the meantime, we struck up a conversation. Once we had covered all the usuals (country of origin, job, weather, where I’ve been in India, and favorite Bollywood movie), we started talking about girls.

He told me about the love of his life, an Irish girl he had met earlier this week, traveling through the country with a guitar, a genuine beatnik beauty, fair as a princess with a voice to put Sinead O’Connor to shame. I then surprised the hell out of him by saying, “Sure, I’ve met Paige too.” (Ran into her two nights ago with Alex from Fort Cochi, see previous post). His eyes literally popped out of his head. After several failed attempts to hear her play and sing, she left and he didn’t have a chance to say good-bye. I convinced him to write her a love letter that I could give to her in Varkala if I ran into her.

I had slightly changed my original plans which were to head into the mountains first to see some tea plantations. Tired of all the running around, a quaint beach town sounded like just the break I needed.

The bus dropped me off in the center of town and I started to walk towards the beach area. I figured I’d eventually grab a rickshaw to take me to the Skylark Guesthouse where I would meet Faith and her husband Sanjee who would be hosting me for a couple of nights. Then I spotted a post office and remembered that I needed stamps.

About 15 minutes later, I was back on the street and had just started negotiations with a rickshaw driver when a white woman approached to make sure I wasn’t getting ripped off. Then she looked at with a puzzled expression and said, “John?”

“Faith?” I replied. Faith wasn’t expecting me for another day or so. I explained how I had changed my plans and figured I would rent a room at her inn for the impromptu days I was there. “Ok, no problem!”

Faith is originally from Washington state in the USA and has been in India for a few years. She married a local man, Sanjee, from Varkala, and they are now running a guest house together. I really liked a couple of things Faith has up on her CS profile:

  1. Get rid of the UN and have everyone join couchsurfing. It’s a surefire way to achieve world peace. I couldn’t agree with you more Faith.
  2. Faith does not wear, nor own any socks. She lives in a tropical paradise, why bother?

As for Sanjee, he’s a trained chef and thus an excellent cook, but by no means megalomaniac. in fact, he’s rather laid back. He whipped up an delicious spicy red curry the first night I was there.

The next day, I went with Sanjee and two other guests, Tosh and Natasha (the puns and figures of speech were really fun: it's Tosh, not Tasha!) from Canada, on a day trip to a waterfall in the mountains. It was a wild day. Not the Canadians, they were tame; it was the two elephants, a snake, millipedes, and monkeys that kept us on our toes.

After a refreshing dip in the waterfall and gravity-induced aqua shoulder and neck massage, we went for lunch. What luck! It was a very special day in the region, a day to commemorate a deceased guru, so the village we passed through on our way to lunch was preparing a communal meal in the park. We joined about 50 others as the guests of honor for a spicy curry and rice dish, cooked on the spot in the biggest pots I’ve ever seen and served on a banana-leaf.

It was another one of those eat and run affairs, we were off before they had time to cook dessert. We cordially thanked them, snapped a few photos, and then went to an eco-tourism park to walk through a sculpture garden. A dense, sticky, storm haze oozed in by mid-afternoon and we got the feeling that rain wasn’t far behind. So we picked up the pace, got in the rick with Sanjee and headed back—in a torrential downpour.

The next days I hung out with another couchsurfer from Texas, Chris, who had studied art at Yale (sculpture) and was working on a museum project in Delhi for the past 5 months. He had pretty much finished up and was now taking some long-needed vacation before heading back to Austin.

Just a few last words on Varkala. I’ve never been to a place quite like it. You have to imagine standing on a 50 meter high cliff overlooking the ocean with a few scattered beaches below but hardly any beach at all. You are standing on a foot path that runs for a little under 2 km along the cliff’s edge and behind you are small restaurants, guest houses, and souvenir shops. Not too overbuilt, no cars, no noise... it’s just right.

Thanks again to Faith and Sanjee for hosting me a couple nights in Varkala. Drop in and stay at their guest house if you ever make it there. They really make you feel at home: they write your name on your door in chalk, let you use the kitchen to cook your own food, have a great collection of books and movies, and even play scrabble with you in the early evening.

Next stop: Bangalore!

Monday, September 20, 2010

29th Stop - Kerala, India

As we stepped out of terminal and walked towards the bus in the sweltering heat of tropical India, I couldn’t resist the fresh squeezed sugar cane juice stand—it’s been ages! The best fruit juice in the world, plus it’s healthy (I think). We took the bus into town and got off in in the outskirts of Ernakulum to meet up with Steve from Unfortunately, we couldn’t get in touch with him so we took another bus and rickshaw to the ferry terminal to cross over and spend the night at Fort Cochi.

Fort Cochi is an old trading post along the tea and spice routes. It was ruled by Indians, the Portugese, the British and probably a few more in-between. Now it is a sleepy fisherman town and tourist attraction. We checked into a hotel and then went out to a bar for drinks.

We had a late lunch so we skipped dinner altogether. After a few drinks, some other tourists started to show up. Mike, a former financial portfolio manager from Hawaii, recently left it all behind to teach in Thailand and would be traveling around India for a few weeks before the semester started promoting his new website A Scottish girl from Glasgow who insisted that it was not a good idea for a girl to travel alone in India (especially in Delhi) after experiencing it first hand for the past few months. Apparently, she almost got gang raped in Delhi which explains the hard feelings. Then there was the Australian girl who was on a round-the-world trip and was traveling around India on a motorcycle. Cool.

Up early the next day, we hopped on a bus and rumbled on down to Alleppy, the gateway to Kerala’s famous backwaters. I was engrossed in my book, Losing my Virginity (Richard Branson’s autobiography) for most of the ride, looking up from time to time to take in the scenery. At one point, when we had almost reached our destination, I spotted a JCI banner with a picture of Roland Kweiman, this year’s world president, on it! Wow, JCI is truly everywhere, even in the most remote, “backwaters” places like Alleppy!

That afternoon, we checked in with Antony, our CouchSurfer host who owns a tourism business and resort: We had a cup of coffee and then he sent us out on a relaxing canoe trip.

The backwaters gets its name from the 1,000 km of canals and rivers that intertwine in a dense tropical fruit tree paradise. Also a tourist photo-happy paradise (thanks by the way to Bela and Deni for all the photos!).

By the time we made it back to our residence, it was dark and we needed to make plans fast. Antony and his Finnish girlfriend decided to join us for dinner so we all went to a nice hotel for cocktails and Indian fare.

Rarely have I relied on guidebooks for my travels so far, but I do look into them from time to time, especially when one is readily available (thanks again Bela and Deni!). The Lonely Planet advised us not to miss out on a backwaters house boat tour, despite the fact that the price would be about 50 times more expensive than anything we’ll have done so far in India. Let me reiterate their advice: you have to do this if you go to Kerala, you won’t be disappointed!

We got on the houseboat around noon, put our things in our rooms and slipped into our houseboat attire: shades and bathing suits! Our captain took us to the middle of the lake first so we could cool off with a swim. Getting into the water wasn’t hard; swimming in the water on the other hand brought back memories of Indiana Jones trying to cross the river of man-eating crocodiles in the Temple of Doom. Our fears got the better of us, so we climbed back aboard for lunch!

The rest of the afternoon we tooled around the canals, listened to Bollywood music, read books, took pictures, and meditated. If you ever go to India, do make a stop in Kerala and tour the backwaters. Thanks to Bess and all the Indian friends who told me to come here! Thanks also to Antony who hosted me on Saturday night.

Next stop: Varkala, India!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

28th Stop - Bangalore, India

Photo courtesy of Sam Mohan
When I arrived in Bangalore, it was pouring rain. I took the bus to the terminal stop, which is next to Vijay’s place, my host from When Vijay pulled up, I was pleasantly surprised: he was riding a 1993 Enfield motorcycle, with a military khaki paint job and side car to boot! One-of-a-kind in Bangalore, that’s for sure.

We went back to Vijay’s and had a nice talk over whisky and dinner. He told me about his wife and new-born son, who were staying with her parents for a while, his furniture design and manufacturing business, and his hobby: creating bicycles out of bamboo. Not only had I probably met the only guy in Bangalore with a side-car, but also the first Indian to make a bicycle out of bamboo! Check out his site:
Vijay's other bike

On Saturday, we met with a potential business partner of his for some late morning beers and cigarettes at a private fitness club. I was praying to god we wouldn’t have to work out afterwards! Then we went for a drive to M.G. Road, met some German students in the street and got another beer at a classic rock joint with Led Zep, Frank Zappa, Rolling Stones, and Grateful Dead posters, among others, plastered over every wall and stacks of cassette tapes to hammer home the authenticity of it all. Then we a late lunch of Tibetan food, ran into the Germans again, and went for coffee.

Photo courtesy of Sam Mohan
That night, one of Vijay’s friends who works as a PR consultant, was having a small party and Vijay brought me along. I met a lot of nice people there and had some interesting discussions about spirituality in India. Interestingly, they talked about Art of Living which I would learn more about in the coming days.

On Sunday, we went back into town with the sidecar and had an excellent lunch at a famous local joint called Nandhini’s Palace. An assortment of dal, veg curry, raita, and other tasty dishes are served on a banana leaf and you eat the whole thing with your right hand. After stopping for coffee, we started to head home but it was early and we didn’t have to go to Vijay’s employee’s wedding until late that evening, so we turned around and went back to M.G. Road.

Not a photo from the restaurant but to give you an idea
Just before we were about to park, I saw a girl sitting outside on the steps of a shop. I smiled at her, and she smiled back and waved. The only sensible thing to do in a situation like this is to go up and talk to her, so I did just that. We introduced ourselves and it turns out that Deni is Albanian, studying in Norway and currently doing field work with poor children in Bangalore. I think I impressed her with my knowledge of Albanian language by telling her “pune mbare!” which means “good luck with your work” (something I picked up last year when I spent a few days there en route to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia).

Deni was at a saree shop trying on dresses with her friend Bela, another Albanian, and she invited us into the shop to meet her friend. At some point, we let slip that we were going to a wedding and Deni shamelessly asked if they could tag along. Sure!

We picked them up an hour later and went to the wedding. I’m not sure if it was because we got lost and arrived rather late, but this was definitely the shortest wedding reception I’ve ever been to. We went into the main auditorium, met the bride and groom who were standing in front of a large floral arrangement, gave them some gifts, and then took pictures with them. As soon as the photographer had taken pictures, everyone started asking us if we had eaten yet, gesturing towards their mouth with fingers pressed to their thumb. As we hadn’t yet eaten, we made our way downstairs and had a delicious banana leaf meal like the other day. Once we polished that off, Vijay told us that that was all there was to it, time to go!

Vijay and his designs
During the week, I got a chance to visit Vijay’s factory and see some of his designs and the bamboo bike. My personal favorite was the small seat/stool made from used tires. I also went with Bela, Deni, and Azzam to the world-famous Art of Living ashram and learnt more about Sri Sri Ravishankar. We got a chance to meditate; I was either really good at it or sleeping because I don’t remember much. Deni also took me to the school in the slum where she was working to meet some children. I was very impressed by the kids’ level of English and their eagerness to talk and find out all about us.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough trainees for the trainings I scheduled. I would however like to thank Dolly from Evoma Hotel for helping me arrange a seminar room. On Thursday night, I conducted the second half of an online Wordfast training. Though this format needs to be refined, I definitely see a lot of potential in it.

Deni and I met Chitra from couch surfing for coffee one afternoon and had a really nice chat before going for a walk in the park. Thanks Chitra for contacting me out of the blue and meeting up with us, it was a real pleasure!

On one of the last days, Vijay introduced us to another friend of his, Sam Mohan who is an amazing photographer. He's the one who took the spectacular photos of Vijay on his bike (see above). His work is quite impressive and I definitely recommend that you check it out on his website:

Bela and Deni had planned to go to Goa over the weekend but hadn’t booked tickets, so I convinced them to come with me to Kerala instead. I met up with them Friday morning, then we went for a coffee and Vijay joined us. At one point, Vijay asked, “What time is your flight?” To which we replied “4 pm.” With a look of consternation, he said “You guys should not be sitting here right now!” So we grabbed our things and rushed off to the airport, arriving minutes before the check-in closed.

Next stop: Kerala, India!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaria in Cameroon... Michel's story.

I received an e-mail from Michel, one of my hosts in Cameroon, not too long ago and it stirred up a lot of emotions. I asked him if I could share it with you and he said sure. Thanks Michel. My apologies in advance to my English readers. Please use Google Translate.

Alors comme ce soir Poseidon nous a rendu la connexion, le mieux est de t'envoyer mon adresse par la haute technologie dans ce monde ou même là devant mon ordi mes pieds sont léchés par les fourmis...

Ici çà va bien, le temps n'est plus aussi agréable que lorsque tu es passé, il pleut bien plus, ahhhh ma Bretagne à Kribi ! Non je plaisante tu sais bien... qu'il ne pleut pas en Bretagne.

Dimanche dernier, vers midi, ai eu de forts maux de tête, et des sensations d'engourdissement aux membres, ai consulté lundi matin, c'était bien le palud, (rien à voir avec mes lécheuses de pied, là ce sont les as de pique !). Je t'assure que la nuit a été horrible, je crois même qu'elle a duré plusieurs jours, si si, heureusement que ma petite femme est là pour s'occuper de moi, elle n'a pas dormi non plus, elle s'est occupé de moi et a prié...

Alors les médicaments, ma femme, et Dieu, ils se sont tous mis ensemble et on vaincu le malin, si toutefois c'était lui, mais c'est sur je suis guéri... le moins marrant dans l'histoire, c'est que je n'ai jamais vu autant de moustique que ce soir dans mon salon, après ce message je lance une attaque foudroyante (c'est ce qu'ils ont écrit sur la bombe) mais rassures-toi, rien à voir avec Hiroshima, si ce n'est la toxicité, mais je n'en abuserai pas...

Bref John, pour être plus sérieux, et pour info, dimanche midi, premiers symptômes ; lundi midi, diagnostic ; mercredi midi, ça va, vendredi, guérison totale.  Comme quoi, quand on s'y prend à temps, ça se passe bien, je te dis cela car j'entend plusieurs qui me disent devoir prendre des perfusions, mais en les questionnant plus, j'arrive à savoir qu'en fait ils commencent les premiers jours par prendre quelques dolipranes ou autres, avant d'aller consulter, alors qu'à l'intérieur la maladie avance, voilà le truc...

Thankfully, Michel caught it in time and got immediate treatment. Unfortunately, most of the people who die from malaria are children under 5 years old and some of them can’t even tell you how terrible they’re feeling because they can’t talk yet.

Thanks again for sharing your story Michel and wishing you well from around the world.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

27th Stop - Mumbai, India

The first thing that greeted me when I stepped off the plane in Mumbai was the thick, humid air that condensed into beads of water—or was it sweat—on the back of my neck. I would be spending three weeks in India during the monsoon season so I had better get used to it fast.

I went straight from the airport to Manich’s place, my host, in Santa Cruz West. Manich is probably the best person who can give you a crash course on India politics, the economy, and Indian society in general. There is always a disclaimer, considering that India has more than 1 billion people and nothing is the same everywhere. You have to consider that each state has its own language, add in the mix of religion and different values and you get something similar to the melting pot in the USA, at least in Mumbai.

On Friday, some locals from were organizing a walking tour of downtown Mumbai, so Manich and I joined them, at the end of the walking part, for dinner and ice cream. Thanks again DJ for organizing this and for the delicious ice cream!

After dinner, we decided to go for drinks at one of the tourist hotspots. This gave me a chance to get to know some people from the group a little bit better: Aurore, an English teacher from France, who had just started a round-the-world trip, Jasmine, also from France and 19 years old, who would be spending a few months in India before going to Cape Town to pursue her studies; Narendra, from India, who owns an adventure team-building company; Rupsa, from India, who is a writer; Nachiket, from India, who works for a market research firm; and Javier, from Spain, who has been working in Mumbai for the past year or so.

After the drinks, the few left standing, meaning Narendra, Aurore, Jasmine, Rupsa, and I, went to the Zenzi Bar night club to dance. Thanks Narendra for taking us all there and for the thrilling ride through Mumbai!

Saturday evening, Nachiket invited everyone to a Krishna dance recital at Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). When I first got there, I went into the main temple area where there was a religous ceremony taking place, people singing and a little bit of dancing, but mostly clapping or foot tapping. I looked around for the group but couldn’t find them. I kept texting back and forth with Nachiket, until I gave up and went to eat a samosa. Only about a good half-hour later, I realized that they were in the auditorium! I finally managed to find them and enjoy the last part of the dance recital.

Afterwards, a few of us headed back to Manich’s place for a small party. Thanks Manich for hosting a party for everyone!

By Sunday, I was finally going to do some typical tourism: check out the Bollywood beachfront hotspot in Bandra West, take a local train, check out the Colaba area and the Gateway to India monument. I went with Rupsa, her roommate, and Robert, a young German student studying to be a doctor, for lunch in Bandra West, then down to the tip of Mumbai for pictures and a relaxing Sunday afternoon walk with Aurore and Jasmine. We ran into one of Rupsa’s painter friends on the boardwalk and another DJ/photographer friend, MC Roops, next to the Gateway to India. Thanks Roops for the great photos and collage!

From Monday till Friday, I mostly worked, running a Wordfast training at the Instituto Hispania with six participants and an on-line training with four people from around the world. Nothing too exciting except that I did manage to forget to pick up my visa at the Vietnamese embassy.

Do you believe in fate? Strangely, I had said to myself before applying for my visa that if I had any problems getting it (I was worried about the time it would take), it would be a sign that maybe I should change my plans a bit. So when I failed to pick up my visa, I decided to return to Casablanca, get my car and drive it back to Nice, but more importantly, spend a couple of weeks with my son, Louis. Oddly, I had just met Lando in Mauritius who was planning on driving the car back to Nice for me, but I didn’t want to mess with destiny. It looks like the round-the-world trip is going to be somewhat hub and spoke as well!

Next stop: Bangalore!

Friday, September 3, 2010

26th Stop - Mauritius

According to Mark Twain, Mauritius was created first,
then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius!
Despite several attempts to contact some JCI members in Mauritius, I only received replies from people who were no longer members. I appreciate their efforts nonetheless of having forwarded my message on to active members.

Lim, another person on, and I failed to firm up plans before I arrived because of a communication breakdown so I contacted Sandy from Feast of Mauritius, a bed and breakfast in Flic-en-Flac, and checked in for the week.

Sandy has an interesting concept for her bed and breakfast. She proposes an all-inclusive formula for a bed, breakfast and gourmet dinner each night. She is the author of a best-selling cookbook in Mauritius which I had a chance to look through. What I really like about the cookbook was that she adhered to the KISS principle. No, there were no pictures of glam rockers and extra long tongues. KISS stands for Keep it Simple Silly. The recipes are creative and tasty, but more importantly, easy for anyone to make.

I met her brother from France, Colin, who was there on vacation, her husband, Rajan, and son, Kingsley. Everybody was very pleasant throughout my entire stay. I was shocked when I told Rajan that I had lived in Saigon and he started talking to me in fluent Vietnamese. He had spent the first 20 or so years of his life there and fled when the communists took over. I also attended a joint birthday party on Saturday night and met their extended family and friends.

On Saturday, I took the bus into Port Louis to meet up with two other couchsurfers for lunch, Jennyfer from Mauritius and Lando from the USA. Thanks Jennyfer for arranging this! It turns out that Lando was also staying in Flic-en-Flac so we rode back and he told me all about what brought him to Mauritius.
Me with Manu and Côme in Bel Ombre

Lando had left the high-rolling world of hedge fund management after the crash (and Madoff fallout) to pursue something more noble in life. He started out volunteering on a sustainable farm outside of Cape Town and then went on to Kenya to help farming cooperatives reschedule their debts and clean up their balance sheets. After that, he decided to take a vacation in Mauritius and the Réunion and ride some waves. Yes, Lando is also a surfer.

Lando and I rented a car on Wednesday to go South and try to catch some waves or maybe hook up with a German friend of his, Basti, who was kite-surfing at the Morne. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any swell and we couldn’t get ahold of Basti, so we went on to Bel Ombre to meet up with Manu and Côme, two people he had met through Jennyfer.

Manu, from Mauritius, and Côme, from Lyon, are working at the Bel Ombre Foundation for Empowerment which provides skills training to the local population that empower them to get jobs. Manu gave us a tour and introduced us to Oriana, the operations manager, who went into more detail about their different programs. Thanks Manu for giving me the chance to tell the young group of students about my project!

Seven Colored Earths
Afterwards, Lando and I went to see the Seven Colored Earths natural wonder in the middle of the island. This is a unique natural phenomenon created by different metals in the earth. The dirt is in seven different hues ranging from reddish pink to orange and purple.

A quick stopover in Flic-en-Flac to get changed and then we went to Manu’s parents place for dinner. Thanks again Manu and to your parents for a lovely Mauritian dinner and some fascinating conversations. Lando and I both learned about the forced eviction in the 1970s of the Chagossians (former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands) by the British so that that Americans could build a naval base there. Check out the article:

On my last day in Mauritius, Lando and I drove out to the East coast of the island and checked out another kite-surfing spot, but unfortunately we didn't have time to learn. Then he dropped me off at the airport and I was on my way to India!

Next stop: Mumbai, India!