This is a journal of
Elisabeth's trip to India, Vietnam and Cambodia from November 2007 -
November 29 - December 7
Auroville near Pondicherry in the Tamil Nadu Province
December 7 - 14
Chennai studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram
December 15 - 27
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
Ramana Maharshi Ashram and Mount Arunachala
December 29 - January 4
Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Ashram, Neyyardam, Trivandrum, Kerala Province
January 5 - ?
Varkala Beach, Kerala Province
January 26 - February 4
Vietnam, Cambodia & Angkor Wat
February 5 - 10
Tioman Island, Malaysia to Cambodia
I found out what it's like to be in an
airplane for 19 hours. It was the longest day I've ever experienced as
we followed the sun. It was like a kind of time warp. Fortunately when
we arrived in Singapore it was night time so we could actually get some
We (Susan and I) spent a day in Singapore. Our separate flights from
Singapore to Chennai (Madras) were supposed to leave around the same
time - 10 p.m. - She was flying with Singapore Air, and I booked a
budget airline called Tiger Airways. We planned to meet in Chennai, and
there was a driver already arranged to drive us the three hour trip to
Auroville. Well my flight ended up being delayed by 6 hours. Each hour
they would tell us it was going to be another hour. I was worried that
Susan might not wait for me. I really did not want to arrive in India in
the middle of the night - 5:30 a.m. after a night with no sleep and have
to try to negotiate a taxi driver to take me to my destination. I was
very happy to see Susan still there waiting for me.
India is a total sensory experience. There is a distinctive smell - a
rich and smoky one. The sounds bombard your ears, honking, traffic
noise, and then a deep silence if you're in the right place at the right
time. In the beautiful guest house we are staying in the bird sound, and
jungle noises are amazing. The colours in India abound with brilliant
coloured posters of movie stars, saris in rich purples, blues, and reds,
and temples - a small one about every kilometer along the road.
The traffic is amazing to me. There is actually some kind of rhythm to
it. What appears to a westerner like me to be chaos, has some sense to
it. There really is a reason they are honking their horns so often. It
is part of the requirement to drive in India - horn honking. The mix of
cars, motor bikes, cycles, people walking is interspersed by the
occasional cow. They seem so serene and solid.
In our trip from Chennai to Auroville there was even a point where a
whole herd was in the middle of the road, some of them lying down, and
somehow they managed to leave a small winding path - just enough for one
car to get through. It's just part of the rhythm.
In my second day at the Verity Guest house, I sat waiting to rent a bike
- here they call them cycles - a bike is actually a motorbike. I had to
wait awhile. India teaches us patience. How to wait. From past
experience traveling in India I know there is no point in being
impatient. Take everything in stride. When you push the river it pushes
The bicycle is one of those old styled ones with no gears. It is a
simple basic cycle. At first it felt strange being on it - it was hard
to stear because the handle bars are so small, but once I got going I
loved it. There is something so basic about it. I feel connected to all
those masses of people, including my ancestors, who use it as their only
means of transportation. It feels so simple and organic. It even has a
simple lock attached right to the bike.
Auroville is a great place to start my trip as it is a kind of refuge in
the midst of some of the chaos of India. The guest house is great, quiet
and there is meditation from 6 - 7 in the morning and then a yoga class
from 7 - 8:30. The food is great too. Auroville has a center called the
Mantrimander. It is a huge building shaped like a globe. It represents
the Divine Feminine. The philososphy of this conscious community is to
create unity by honouring our differences. We have a time booked to be
able to go into the Mantrimander. It is not just open to the
public. You have to make an appointment to go in. I look forward to that
and will tell you more in the next India Journal entry.
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Did I already mention how much I'm
enjoying getting around on my cycle. It is my favourite form of
transportation. It slows me down. It feels very grounded and I love the
sound of the bell. It lets people know that I'm coming. It is very
important here to know the rules of the road. Driving on the left side
applies to cars, motorcycles, mopeds, people walking and cycles. The
only ones it does not apply to are the cows. We (Susan and I) went for
our first appointment to go inside the Matrimander. The Matrimander is
the center of Auroville. It is a huge golden globe building. Inside is
completely white with only a large crystal in the center. In the ceiling
there is an opening that lets in a perfect ray of sunshine that shines
directly through the crystal. In order to go into the Mantrimander we
have to book appointments. We went for our first introduction and today
we will go for an hour to sit and meditate inside. As I said it is the
center of Auroville. Auroville is basically a town that started in the
early 60's. It was based on the teaching of Sri Aurobindo. The
philosophy is to create a community with Unity through diversity as the
theme. It is a conscious community. The attempt to do things like have
organic farming, solar and wind power, and various activities like yoga,
meditation, etc. Yesterday I went to a free flow dance class. When the
leader they call the Mother chose the sight for this town she pointed to
a spot on the map and it happened to be right where there is a huge
banyen tree. The banyen tree in India is symbolic of regeneration,
because roots grow down from the branches to the ground and then grow a
new tree. It is right beside the Mantrimander. In 1964 people came from
124 different countries to take part in the ceremony to start the
building of this place - they each brought a handful of dirt to place in
the center and to bring all the 124 nations together. The community is a
mix of westerners and east India people who are from this province Tamil
Nadu. So they are the Tamil people.
Susan and I have been going to bed between 8:30 - 9:00 p.m. every night.
And we usually get up at about 5:00 a.m. At the guest house we are
staying at there is a meditation gathering from 6 - 7 a.m. and then and
yoga class from 7:00 - 8:30 a.m. It's a great way to start the day. The
food is great too. It has been a really good place to start our trip.
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I think I've finally figured out some of the rules for the road
regarding honking. It makes total sense now that I think about it. You
honk when you're approaching a curve in the road. You honk when you're
passing someone. You honk when you're trying to squeeze between maybe a
car and some people walking or on cycles, and everyone here seems to
know what they're doing. Since I love my cycle and now have figured out
how to stay on the left side of the road I also ring my bell at the
appropriate times. My cycle is costing me 60 cents a day to rent. My
accommodation and meals here have been $14 a day.
Susan and I are leaving this haven called Auroville tomorrow Friday and
heading for the city, Chennai (what used to be called Madras). I'm a
little nervous about that in terms of the pollution and chaos. We will
go to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for private sessions. I have
also found out a lot about two centers in Chennai that may also be a
refuge in the busy city. One is the Theosophical Society. They have 250
acres of beautiful gardens. And there is the Krishnamurti Foundation
that also has beautiful gardens and trees. So we will check out both of
those places and may be able to take part in some programs there, so I
will tell you more about that later.
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Susan and I are in Chennai (which used to
be Madras) and the city traffic and pollution is more intense than you
can imagine. But it's a matter of relying on the autorikshaw drivers and
just saying: "We're in Gods hands now" And of course there's all the
negotiating the price of going anywhere. They always try to get as much
as they can. If they offer a cheap fare they want to take us shopping
somewhere as part of the deal. We have gotten used to how much it should
cost. We tried walking somewhere more than 3 blocks away and got
hopelessly lost so for longer distances it is better to use the
We have been studying at KYM which is the Desikachar organization and I
am loving it. I have much respect for the man Desikachar. Everything I
am learning shows me he is a teacher with high integrity, humility, and
dedication to helping others. They way they work with people is private
sessions, individually taylored to each person. I had a consultation and
am now having a few private classes specificly designed for what I need.
It is very good work and I have been experiencing the benefits. I am
also enjoying learning how to chant the Sutras. Susan and I are taking a
couple of chanting classes together. I have been reading about
Desikachar and will get to attend a lecture on the Sutras with him on
Saturday morning. I plan to bring back books on the Yoga Sutras for my
teacher training students.
On Sunday night we went to a special video presentation at the
Krishnamurti Foundation. It was one of Krishnamurti's last talks which
was in 1979. It was wonderful. His words of wisdom remind me a bit of
Echkart Toll. Here is a quote from one of his books:
"The mind that has put it's house in order is silent. That silence has
no cause and, therefore, has no end. Only that which has a cause can
end. That silence - which has no ending - is absolutely necessary
because it is only in that silence that there is no movement of thought.
It is only in that silence that that which is sacred, that which is
nameless, and that which is not measureable by thought, is. And that
which is, is the most sacred. That is meditation." Krishnamurti from a
Public talk, Madras Nov. 29, 1981.
Krishnamurti is someone who was originally involved in a society called
the Theosophical society. He left that organization and renounced any
organized society like that but continued to have a following. There is
a foundation here in Chennai on a beautiful piece of property. The
Theosophical Society also has a huge beautiful piece of property 250
acres in the middle of Chennai that is like a park. We plan to go
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We are finally in Tirovanamala. It is a smaller place. Easy and a lot
more relaxed than the city.
The transition from one place to the next is always a little difficult.
We did hire a driver from Chennai to here and it was about 4 - 5 hours
at times in a fairly intense heat. But the driver was a good driver and
on these India roads that is much appreciated. It cost us about $35 each
but it is worth it.
So now I am feeling settled in our new place. We will be here for 2
weeks. It is a town beside the Ramanamaharshi Ashram and right beside
the sacred mountain called Mount Aranachula. There will be a big
festival at the time of the full moon Dec. 23, around the mountain. I
found a nice simple room on my own. Susan is in a place a few buildings
down from me. I'm very happy with my nice simple room. There's enough
room to do my yoga practice and there's enough air circulation with the
windows at night. India is still noisy where ever you are.
We were just having tea and funeral procession went by. Very noisy. It
is a blessing to witness India life and death.
That's all for now.
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Before I move on to the next teacher and place of learning I wanted to
include some quotes from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram from my time
in Chennai. The teacher is Desikachar. I really enjoyed my work at KYM.
Here are some words of wisdom:
"Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies
to the other." Desikachar
"The Mastery of Yoga must not be measured simply by the ability to
master the techniques of Yoga like Asana and Pranayama, but how it
influences our day-to-day living, how it enhances our relationship and
how it promotes clarity and peace of mind." Desikachar
Now we are in Tiruvannamalai. It is focused on the Ramanamaharshi Ashram
and around the sacred mountain Mount Arunachula. Last night we went to
the daily chanting session at 6:30 p.m. It is in a huge building in the
Ashram and it reminds me of a huge church with the accoustics.
Beautiful. There is an area where you can do a kind of walking
meditation. The men all sit on one side and the women on the other and
the chant is like a call response in Tamil. I listen - the men chant a
part and then the women. It sounded very beautiful. The chant is a
little too complicated to sing along.
Yesterday as I mentioned when we were having tea at a cafe a funeral
procession went by. It was very noisy. They carried the body on a
platform on the back of a pick up truck. The platform was surrounded by
flowers and there was a procession of people behind with flowers
everywhere. Just before the procession started there were very loud
noises like firecrackers and then drums etc.
It is very rich. In the procession the women were weeping and wailing
loudly - their grief exposed and open to everyone to witness. Life and
death here are together right in front of us.
Today it is raining and last night there was a wind storm much like home
west coast of Canada type weather. It is coolish. The rain has been
continuing all day and it's muddy.
I'm enjoying my simply room with the sounds of the Indian family
downstairs - a baby crying now and then and other living sounds - I like
it. I feel part of India life and yet I have my simple room with enough
room to do my practices - my yoga. At night it has been a little windy
The time of celebration here is at the time of the full moon which will
be a couple of days before Christmas. At that time people walk the 16
kilometers around the mountain in a kind of ceremony called Pradakshina
- there is an outer circle following the road and an inner one following
a path. I will do the inner one at some point - it can be done at the
time of the full moon or any other day. Also sometimes people hike up
the mountain to the top and it takes 2 and half hours - it is a good
idea to start in the middle of the night 4:00 a.m. so that you get there
for the sun rise and miss the heat of the day. I may see if I can do
that one night but I need somebody to show me the way. I'll let you know
how it goes.
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December 24, 2007
Our Christmas celebrations
and solstice celebrations have been mainly yesterday for the full moon.
We walked around the base of Mount Arunauchala. It is a special ritual
called Pradakshina they do for the full moon. It is about 14 km and
usually takes about 4 hours. We started at 5 p.m. so that we did part of
it in the daylight and part in dark so we could see the full moon. There
were laks and laks of people. Lak means a thousand. It was an interested
experience - rich and crowded - many temples along the way that people
were stopping at to do what's called puja. Most people were Indian most
barefoot. They close off the traffic after 4 p.m. and some people start
in the middle of the night. It's like a big festival. I wore my shoes.
Especially because the previous night I got hit by a bicycle as I was
crossing the road. It was just the edge of my heal that got nicked. I
was wearing my sandals. So I realized the importance of wearing fairly
solid shoes. So for Pradakshina I put on my solid shoes. We walked for
about 3 hours around the mountain and when we started to get into the
really busy town area decided to jam out and grab an autorikshaw. But
since the main road was blocked off in terms of traffic he had to go a
round about way and that was quite an adventure onto itself. He had
trouble getting through a few very narrow streets and back roads. At
times I didn't think we'd get through but he finally managed to do it.
It was nice to get back to our little neighbourhood where we have what's
called the rooftop cafe where they have some western style food. I had
pumpkin soup, a salad, and carrot cake. This restaurant is one of the
places where we can trust to have a raw salad.
Earlier this week we had monsoon rains for 3 - 4 days with the rain
coming down in buckets at times. The streets were muddy and running with
water. The air was very humid and nothing was drying. Finally it cleared
up on Friday and the sun coming out. It was heavenly and felt very
uplifting. That morning we hiked up the mountain to an ashram or cave
where Ramanamaharshi spent a number of years meditating and living until
he moved down to the ashram at the base of the mountain. The morning we
went was relatively quiet. On the way up we met a wandering swami and
took a break to chat with him. He had some teachings to pass on to us -
it's called Satsang or the passing on of knowledge in a gathering. It is
traditionally how it was done centuries ago. And some of his knowledge
was very helpful to me in terms of my own teaching and understanding
some of the ancient teachings of India. When we got to Skandashram, the
cave, it was very beautiful. They have done a lot in the last two years
to plant a lot of trees and shrubs and improve the path, so there is
shade (much needed in the heat) At Skandashram they ask people stay in
silence. It is small building built around the cave where Ramanamarshi
spent years meditating. I went in and sat in the silence and in that
moment it was a fairly profound experience. I could actually understand
why someone would spend time meditating in a cave. The connection to the
earth was profound, the sound of waterfall close by was refreshing, it
was cool inside and there was a deep silence. For some reason it brought
up in me a deep sense of connection with this place and my loved ones. I
felt my heart breaking open as I wept.
At times I find myself resisting what India has to offer. Sunday morning
I went to a chanting gathering. In a way I thought of not going,
resisting and judging because it was mostly westerners at this
particular gathering. But I went anyway after a night with not much
sleep and found myself in the middle of it feeling like my heart was
breaking open again. And I thought to myself: "Don't resist - let the
experience whatever it is carry me - surrender to it"
The night after our time up at the cave - for some reason I had some
trouble sleeping that night. I'm not sure why but after another
gathering later in the day I bought some flowers and I was lying there
in bed, the room was filled with the heady fragrance of jasmine, and my
thoughts of the day. I was okay with being awake in the night. There are
often so many sounds going through the night anyway. So a few nights
with no sleep won't hurt me. I've been reading the autobiography about
the Dalai Lama so that is very interesting. Last night after Pradakshina
I slept some more but it was noisy all night. I think it will be a
little quieter tonight. On Christmas day I will be going to a children's
concert. I look forward to that.
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We are leaving
Tiruvannamalai tomorrow so I am sending the latest update. Our next
destination is the Sivananda Ashram in the Kerala province and we may
not have as much internet access while there so I'm sending this update
On Boxing day Susan and I did what's called inner Pradakshina. It is the
inside trail through the forest around the base of the mountain. Outer
Pradakshina represents the outer journey and is along the road with many
people. Inner Pradakshina represents the inner journey. We started early
in the morning and remained in silence during it so it was like a
walking meditation. It was nice to start so early. It is quieter at that
time of the day 8:00 a.m. and much cooler. The trail is through the
forest and fortunately it is well marked or we would have gotten
hopelessly lost. It is done as a ritual to release old karma. So as I
was walking it in a meditative way I was reflecting on what I wanted to
There were a few magical moments. The first was towards the beginning.
Early in the morning we came to a clearing where 4 - 5 sadus were
gathering around a kind of watering place like a pond only purposely
built to collect water with a little brick wall to contain it. We came
upon their morning ritual. A few were almost completely naked except for
a small loin cloth. They were different ages. They all wear orange to
symbolize the fact that they are sadus. One of the younger ones was
quite fit, dark, and had long hair tied up in a kind of bun on top of
his head. They noticed us but didn't pay much attention. I felt like we
were intruding somewhat so didn't stay or take pictures. The thing that
was so magical was the fact that it was like an idealic scene in the
forest that was ageless. It could have been taking place 2 hundred years
ago or 2000 years ago. It is ancient and yet here now. A little further
down there were a few very small little huts perhaps where a few of them
Some one told me that the sadus apparently can have meals at any of the
ashrams in the area. They can have 3 meals a day if they want. Sadus are
like wandering gypsies on a kind of spiritual journay. They always wear
orange as a symbol of their chosen path.
The next idealic scene during our pradakshina walk was a very small
temple (very small by India standards) in the middle of the forest. This
place was actually completely quiet and there were only a few people. As
we walked up the steps there was a man dressed in orange (a sadu)
sitting on the cement floor meditating and facing a pillar that had the
words written on it "Silence". The words were intended for us or whoever
else comes upon the temple but I found it rather profound that the man
was facing those words. We stopped at the temple to sit for awhile. It
is a rare moment to find a place of actual silence in India. This little
temple is far enough away from the main road in the forest and it was
We continued along our way. The trail was about 10 km. It took us about
2 and half hours and we came out at about the same place we ended the
outer Pradakshina walk on the other side of town. We grabbed an
autorikshaw again and went into town to the really big Siva temple. It
has 9 towers. It is huge and covers quite a few acres. They had security
as we entered the temple gate - and the funny thing was that the main
thing they seemed to be checking for was shoes. In any temple it is
customary that you take your shoes off and leave them at the door. I
decided to carry mine with me rather than pay someone at a booth. I put
them in a plastic bag in my clothe bag, but Susan was carrying hers and
that's what security stopped her for. She put them in her bag but then
later another security person stopped her again and told her she had to
leave because she had her shoes with her even though she wasn't wearing
them. Here shoes are called "chapels" so later we sort of joked about it
- calling security the "chapel police"
Other than that of course it is very interesting to be in one of the
large temples. There were many people - and in the middle there was a
live elephant giving people blessings if you fed him a snack.
This morning we hiked part way up the mountain for the last time. The
construction crew was there consisting of people carrying bags of sand
on their head walking up the stone trail like steps, some barefoot. It
is amazing to see how strong they are. I tried carrying something on the
head for a short distance but it would certainly take some practice to
carry it without using my hands. You have to have very good alignment
and be very centered to carry something on your head.
We have been here two weeks and it is time to move on. Tomorrow night we
will be taking a 12 hour overnight train ride to the Kerala province.
That should be an interesting experience.
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January 9, 2008
We left Tirruvanamala on December 29. We had previously booked a train
from Villipurum to Trivandrum and bought the ticket ahead of time. It is
cheap way to travel - about $25 dollars for a 14 hour trip. Villupurum
is near Pondicherry and Trivandrum is in the Kerala province and the
other side of southern India - the west coast. Our train leaving
Villipurum was leaving at 10:30 p.m. and we booked what's called a 2nd
class ticket - 2 Tier. They didn't have 1st class so that's why we
didn't book 1st class. We took a taxi from Tirruvanamala to Villipurum
and didn't know how long that would take so we gave ourselves lots of
time. It didn't take long though so we got to the train station about 5
hours before our train departure time.
It was nice to arrive in daylight. Susan kept telling me that at the
train stations they have these people called red caps who help you with
your luggage etc. But in this train station they didn't have any. For
some reason while in Tirruvanamala I accummulated more stuff - clothes
etc. So I have more luggage than I started with.. It's really too much
to carry around. At the train station we had to go up a big flight of
stairs and then down a big flight of stairs. The train station was an
open station not inside is what I mean.
At first I thought it was sort nice to be in an area with no westerners.
We were the only westerners. Everybody else in the train station were
Indian people. It got quite confusing because we weren't sure where our
particular car would end up along the tracks - so in other words we
weren't sure where we should be waiting to get on. It was a very long
train so we didn't want to end up far away from where we needed to get
be. Nobody seemed to be able to understand or speak English to be able
to tell us for sure, but we finally figured it out and in fact just
before the train arrived there were signs with numbers etc directing us.
We got on at 11 p.m. and many people were already on the train sleeping
- they got on in Chennai. We found our sleeping births. I was in a
compartment with a man across from me and somebody above - 4 sleeping
births all together. It was airconditioned but I did not like the
feeling of stale air - no fresh air. I was not able to sleep at all.
Somehow Susan has trained herself to sleep on trains. Not me. Also as
morning came I started to feel quite ill. I thought at first it was just
motion sickness. Yuk. I started making trips to the western style
bathroom to throw up.
Other people started getting up - folding the berths up and sitting up
for the morning. Fortunately the person across from me changed in the
middle of the night and the new person was a very nice young India man
on his way to medical school after holidays. It was nice chatting with
him as it distracted me from feeling sick. He spoke very good English
and was an interesting person. Susan and the one other westerner on the
train joined us and I continued to be distracted from feeling so sick.
When we got to Trivandrum I was very glad to be walking on solid ground
again. We did find a red cap to help us with our luggage and found a
taxi quickly as well to take us to the Sivananda Ashram. So all together
the whole train experience ended up being not very pleasant for me as I
did not get any sleep and I felt quite ill.
I was at the Sivananda Ashram 20 years ago. And 20 years ago I was also
not feeling well when I arrived. The drive to the Ashram was relatively
short and everything seemed more clean and modern compared to 20 years
ago. It also seemed more clean and modern compared to Tamil Nadu. It was
an easy taxi ride compared to what I remembered so many years ago.
When we got to the Sivananda ashram we had to check in - in the heat of
mid day and I started to feel very ill again - like a I might faint. But
I finally made it to my bed in the dorm. And that was it I started
throwing up about every half hour until there was nothing left and even
after there was nothing left I was still throwing up. It was a complete
purging. Finally at about 10:00 p.m. it stopped. I tried using some
Chinese herbs I had with me when I could keep them down and then Susan
got a few western medicines that I promptly threw up, but then I stopped
and went to sleep.
I really don't know what caused me to get so sick. I haven't figured it
out and in India it can be difficult to figure it out anyway. I have
been very careful in terms of drinking purified water and very careful
about what I eat. Maybe it was a combination of motion sickness and what
I ate. Who knows but it was a purging. The next day I gradually started
eating a little fruit at first then some rice and by the 3rd day I was
up and around going to yoga classes meditation and chanting.
That's how I spent New Year's. It was quite an experience to be at the
Ashram again after 20 years. Wow. It was very different in terms of the
buildings etc. I hardly recongized it. They have built a lot of new
buildings and they can accommodate so many people there. For the teacher
training program starting Jan. 6 they had 220 people registered. Wow. I
think my Teacher Training people are lucky to have a more intimate kind
of experience for their training. The program at the Ashram is a full
experience. The daily schedule is: 5:20 a.m. they ring a very loud bell
to wake every body up. 6:00 - 6:30 a.m. is meditation 6:30 - 7:30 a.m.
Satsang (chanting) 7:30 a.m. tea 8 - 10 a.m. is Asana class 10 a.m. is
breakfast (they have two meals a day) 11 a.m. is Karma yoga 2 p.m.
lecture 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. another Asana class 6 p.m. Supper 8 - 10 p.m.
meditation and satsang again.
So that is quite a full schedule. I loved the chanting and meditating
with a big group of people. I attended the beginner asana classes. It
was nice to be there again and to be able to acknowledge in myself how
far I have come in 20 years. As everyone (220 people) started arriving
for the Teacher training course we left and headed for Varkala - the
We are in Varkala now. I was also here 20 years ago. Wow. It is also so
different. Back then there was nothing here - a few guest houses up on
the cliff. There were very few people as well. Now it is a full blown
holiday location. Many hotels and guest houses along the cliff, a
sidewalk all the way along the top of the cliff. There are many
westerners - mainly Europeans. At times it seems like it could be
anywhere tropical on a beach with so many Europeans here on holiday.
But it is still India, even though I hear Bob Marley playing in the
restaurant and djembe drums in the background in the guest house I'm
staying at. It is still India and one of the big attractions here at
Varkala is that there's lots of yoga going on and there is also lots and
lots of Ayurveda offered. Every body and his brother and sister is
offering Ayurvedic treatments. I wanted to experience some of that while
here so through some people that Susan knows we did find one of the more
reputable centers. I have decided to do a week long program that
involves massage and herbs etc.
In terms of the beach the waves are quite big here and the rip tides is
something you have to be careful of. I did go for quite a tumble with
one big wave a few days ago when we were swimming and hurt my right hand
a bit. My pointer finger is a bit swollen and bruised but it is healing
quickly. I can still manage to write and use the computer.
That's all for now. Happy New Year and many blessings to everyone.
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I'm almost finished my
week of Ayurvedic treatments. It has been wonderful. It has been a
program designed specificly for me and my constitution. Ayurveda is the
science of health in yoga and is based on a wholistic program depending
on one's dosha or constitution. The three doshas are: Vata - air, Pitta
- fire, Kapha - earth.
I am primarily a Pitta. When I went to see the Ayurvedic doctor I said I
wanted to do something about muscle and joint stiffness and I have a bit
of cough since I was sick.
For my situation I was given some herbs that I take 3 times a day and
every morning I have been going for treatments. The first 2 mornings the
treatment was a general massage. With the general massage they started
with me sitting on a chair and the practitioner massaged my head with
oil. Then two people worked on my arms and then I laid on a table. The
massage is done with quite a bit of oil - special medicated oil - and
two people massage on each side of the body in unison and it is a fairly
vigorous massage. It felt wonderful and after the massage they took me
into the washroom and completely bathed me. That felt very nurturing. I
felt like a little girl having somebody wash me - there is a warm bucket
of water they use with a small container to pore the water over me and a
special Ayurvedic soap that doesn't wash all the oil away. So it feels
wonderful at the end because you leave feeling relaxed clean and
For my week of treatments the doctor recommended that I eat a diet of
mostly raw fruit and vegetables. So it is also a kind of cleanse. Most
people eat there at their restaurant and have an Ayurvedic cooked meal
but my diet is different so I have been eating at restaurants and eating
fruit salads and vegetable salads. Here fresh salads are safe to eat.
The general massage was for two mornings. Then the next treatment for
two days was something called Njavarakizhi - a pounding technique. That
starts with a massage and then they wrap certain herbs into a clothe bag
and it's called a bolus. Two people use the boluses to massage and pound
the body. It sounds a little aggressive but it actually feels quite
good. After those treatments I felt much more tired for the whole day.
It is a treatment that helps with muscle and joint pain.
This morning I had the first of two treatments involving a kind of oil
bath. The first part is the head - a technique called Sirodhara. They
poured a steady stream of medicated oil over my forehead and scalp for
about 30 - 45 minutes. Then they stopped that part and used a medicated
oil that they poured over the rest of my body. You lie on a special
wooden table so they can collect the oil and keep pouring it over my
body again. That felt great and that was a process that took about 30 -
45 minutes. Again after the treatment was finished I got to have a bath
so I left feeling very calm and refreshed and clean when I left.
Tomorrow I get another treatment like that and then the last day will be
a treatment to clean the ears and sinuses.
It has been a great experience. In the middle of the week of treatments
I felt very tired but that is part of the process. It is important to
rest and take care while doing treatments. I am feeling better today
after the oil pouring technique. For a series of treatments they
recommended a week as the minimum. My friend Sandy is doing 14 days. But
sometimes it is possible to just get one massage. There are a lot of
Ayurveda programs offered here. We are using one called Kairali and it
was recommended by a friend of Susan's who was here before we arrived
and doing a series of treatments.
I'm not sure if I mentioned it already but there are now 3 of us hanging
out together. Sandy Melnyk from Denman Island joined us. She has been in
India since mid November but has mainly been in the north where it is
colder so she decided to join us here for a warm holiday on the beach.
We are staying in a guest house called Paradise Hotel. It has been okay
but the first week there was a group of young tourists from Russia. They
were fairly noisy at night sometimes partying quite late. They left and
just yesterday there was another group of Russian tourists who arrived.
Apparently the hotel is owned by a Russian person - so there are groups
that come from there. It was quite a lot of fuss and upheaval when they
all arrived but now they have settled in so I think it will be fine. I
have moved rooms a few times because of one thing or another but I'm
fairly happy with my room now. At night there is music you hear from
some of the restaurants. I guess it is still relatively quiet by India
standards. And the other thing that is heavenly staying on the cliff
here is that we don't have to deal with any traffic. There is a walk way
allow the top of the cliffe where all the restaurants and hotels are but
cars and rikshaws can't get in that part. It's nice to walk around
without having to worry about traffic.
One thing that seems to be more noticeable in a place like this where
there are more European tourists is the number of people who smoke. So
in restaurants that is something we have to deal with but at least
restaurants are actually outside areas covered. We are so lucky in
Canada that there are less people smoking and they are not allowed to
smoke in public places.
I will be here in Varkala until January 23. So it will be two and half
weeks here. It is nice to just stay put. I want to experience India but
I don't want to be travelling all the time. So I am staying put here
until I leave India. On January 23rd I leave - fly to Singapore - and
then to Vietnam for 2 weeks.
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Today was the last day of
my Ayurvedic Treatments and I got a pleasant surprise for the last
treatment. It started out with one person massaging my head and arms
while I sat in a chair and then she had my lie on a mat on the floor.
She stood over me and there is a rope she hangs on to help her keep her
balance while she massaged me with her feet - one foot at a time. It
felt wonderful. She first did my whole back, arms and legs and then I
turned over and she did the front. It was great. Then I got another
wonderful bath. And I finished with a kind of nasal cleansing technique.
It started with the use of steam around my head and nostrils and then
while I was lying on a table the practitioner put some kind of drops in
my nostrils. It sort of cleared things up and at the same time somebody
was massaging my feet and hands. Cool. I have been a little congested
since I was sick so I hope it clears that up. It feels pretty good so
Now that my treatments are complete I feel calm relaxed like I'm on a
holiday. I'm sleeping better and my joints and muscles feel a little
looser. There was a point a couple of days ago when I felt quite a sense
of calm and happy almost euphoric. So I thought "Wow this Ayurvedic
stuff is really working." And I expected the next day to be the same but
it changed as everything does.
In Desikachar's book "The Heart of Yoga" I am learning about the Yoga
Sutras and an essential truth is that everything is in constant flux.
But there is something deep in us called "Purusha" that does not change.
To help us with the fact that everything changes we can do three things:
1. Tapas - a discipline such as yoga, pranayama, meditation
3. And faith in something greater than ourselves
These are just a few things to reflect on.
I leave India on January 23 and my next journal entry will be from
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I want to make a
correction and add some information regarding the teachings of
Desikachar from his book: "The Heart of Yoga" These teachings come from
the Yoga Sutras. This is the book I am reading for my yoga study right
As I mentioned earlier everything is in constant flux.
Also we are subject to Avidya - which means incorrect comprehension.
When we have incorrect comprehension we make poor decisions. "Vidya" is
"correct comprehension". When we have correct comprehension we make good
Avidya manifests in 4
Asmita - ego - "I know
I'm right" "I have to be better than other people"
Raga - demands - we
want something today because it was pleasant yesterday. wanting
Dvesa - avoidance of
what we don't like
Abhinivesa - fear -
insecurity, fear of death, fear that people will judge us etc.
What can help us in our
lives to deal with Avidya and impermenance are the following:
Tapas - disciplines
such as yoga pranayama and meditation - in other words health.
Adhyaya - study or
investigation - inquiry - self-investigation
this is normally considered to be "love of God" but it also means a
quality of action. We can pursue everything we do with a quality of
action and a willingness to let go of the fruits of our labour.
I love this last
interpretation of "Isvarapranadhana" according to Desikachar. It is
important to remember to put everything into what you do so there is a
quality of action and to remain slightly detached from the outcomes.
So in short the three things are: health, inquiry, quality of action.
So those are my words of wisdom for those who are following my journey.
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There has been a bit of a
break in my India Journal. So it is time to catch up.
My last few days at Varkala beach in India were wonderful. The day
before I left I suddenly decided to try to purchase a tabala drum set
for my sweetie back home. So that was a bit of an adventure. The manager
of the Paradise Hotel offered to go with me to the city Trivandrum. It
was a slow ride in about two hours by autorikshaw. But we managed to
find a place and I bought a set - I think I got a fairly good deal. But
it did mean a lot of extra luggage. I already had quite a bit of extra
luggage because of things I was buying in India. I bought an extra bag
to carry it all. I was planning to carry the drums on the plane as carry
on luggage. I am pleased with my purchases so it's worth it I guess.
My last night in Varkala I got to sit in my favourite spot in my
favourite restaurant, had the best meal ever, and it was the most
beautiful sunset ever as well. So it was a very nice send off before
beginning the next chapter of my trip.
I flew from Trivandrum to Chennai. That part was very easy. When it came
time to check in for my flight leaving India I was a little worried
about the excess luggage. Since I was flying with the budget airline
Tiger airways I knew they had a limit on the luggage you can check at
only 15 Kg. Well it turned out I was at 30 Kg which ended up costing me
almost $100 dollars. So much for all that cheap stuff I bought. I did
manage to still take the drums on as carry on luggage - I got away with
it. I left quite a lot of stuff including the drums at a "Left Luggage"
place at the Singapore airport.
At the moment I am in Cambodia.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (what used to be Saigon) on January 24. I
had previously booked a hotel called Madam Cuc's. I arrived after many
hours of traveling Chennai/Singapore/Ho Chi Minh City with one night
overnight on the flight from Chennai to Singapore. So I was pretty
And the city - Wow - it was overwhelming. I thought maybe I got used to
Asian cities after being in India - but no - it was too much at first -
in a city with 11 million people. Wow. It is busy and noisy. I also did
not feel especially comfortable at the hotel. It was right on a fairly
busy street - lots of noise - I didn't get much sleep. I also found that
I was adjusting to a whole different culture again.
It's different from India. The language is very different and at times I
felt quite frustrated with trying to be understood or understanding what
they were saying. I was in tears at least once.
So lets just say I was feeling a little more fragile and vulnerable than
usual - tested to my limit - on my own after traveling with Susan for 2
At one point I was sitting in a restaurant and a woman came in selling
books. She had a stack in her arms and I thought "Yes, I need a new book
to read" I pointed to the one called "The Girl in the Picture" She
pulled it out and I recognized it immediately. It is that famous photo
of the girl just after a Napalm attack in the war running naked. When I
saw it I burst in to tears. The woman selling the books must have
wondered but nevertheless I think she completely understood and said
"Yes, it's a sad story" My heart breaking open. I thought maybe I could
avoid facing the war issue while here. I decided not to go see the
famous tunnels dug by the Viet Cong for example. But nevertheless it is
part of this country. You can't really avoid it and perhaps it is part
of the reason I came to have it be part of my experience here. So I
bought the book. I figure it's a sign you should buy the book if when
you see it you start crying. The woman selling it felt touched by it too
- we felt a connection and she said "maybe next book you buy a funny one
so you can laugh too."
At the same time I knew I needed to get out of Ho Chi Minh city. Part of
me wanted to leave the country and just go to beach some where else, but
I knew there were things I wanted to do here. At the end of long journey
I was already pretty tired from traveling etc
I booked myself on a tour that included the Mekong River by boat ending
up in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was a way of getting me closer to my
destination of going to the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I will
continue with part 2 in my next entry.
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When I first arrived in Ho
Chi Minh (most people here call still call it Saigon so that's what I'm
going to start doing) I found out that I arrived right around the time
of Chinese New Year. They call it TET here so that meant that things
were going to start getting even more busy with a few days when
everything would shut down - everybody on holiday celebrating TET.
Originally my plan was to go to Cambodia and then come back to Vietnam
and go to the highly recommended island called Phu Quoc. But when I
tried to book a flight nothing was available for the time period I was
looking for February 1 - 8. Nothing going there or coming back. Since I
had only a short time for Cambodia and Vietnam I wanted to get a flight
there at least one way. Given that I wasn't sure if I would have enough
time to go all the way to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and get back to Vietnam
and go to Phu Quoc.
So instead of trying to figure it out ahead of time I just knew that the
priority was Angkor Wat so I started heading in that direction. Thus I
booked the tour in the Mekong Delta by boat ending up in Phnom Penh,
Camdodia. I just wanted to get out of Saigon as quickly as possible.
The tour (which only cost $26 US) started by bus and as we were heading
to the boat the tour guide mentioned that if we wanted to stay overnight
on a boat it would just be an extra $10. The original tour plan was to
stay overnight at a hotel. When the over was made at first I was a
little anxious about what to do - since getting a decent nights sleep
was important to me. I had no idea what to expect on the boat or the
hotel. As we got closer though I decided to take a leap of faith and go
for the overnight on the boat experience.
We we got to the Mekong River we started on small boats that took us on
some tours in that area. It was really fun being on the Mekong River -
so much going on. It's like a big highway. We started heading up the
river and there was much to see. Myself and a few others on the trip
decided on the overnight boat experience. And I'm soooo glad I decided
to do it.
The boat itself was pretty rustic and there were about 15 tourists on
it. Even though the tour guide said we would have our own room. That is
not what happened but I was okay with whatever experience was being
presented. The sleeping space was like one big dorm with little
compartments would could pull a curtain across, so there was some
privacy. And the engine noise wasn't too loud so I actually got some
sleep. In the evening we had supper watched the sunset and I sat out
front in the dark watching the night life on the river - stars in the
sky. It was really neat.
But the most amazing thing was waking up on the Mekong River watching
the sunrise at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of a river market area. It was
beautiful. It was definitely a high light of my trip. So I was sooo glad
I decided to take the risk and go for the overnight on the boat
For the next part of our boat trip we switched to a smaller boat again
and continued heading up river. When we got to Cambodia border our tour
guide helped everyone with their Cambodia visas and we had lunch there
but had to wait 2 hours for the next boat on the Cambodia side - it was
2 hours late. Finally when we got on that boat it was quite a bit
rougher - much noiser and the seats were very uncomfortable. It was
interesting to see the view from the river of the country side in
Cambodia - it was more in the country - few people - and farms - poorer
conditions but farms that looked well cultivated. The boat ride at that
point was way too long - 4 hours of noise and uncomfortable seats.
We were all pretty exhausted by the time we got to Phnom Penh. I wasn't
sure where I was going to stay in Phnom Penh. I was starting to get a
little nervous about being in another big Asian city. We ended up there
after dark about 7:00 p.m. The last part of the tour was by bus along a
very bumpy dusty road and the bus took us directly to a hotel called the
King Angkor Hotel. By then I was talking to a fellow traveller from
Montreal (Claude) and we both decided to stay at the King Angkor Hotel.
It was fairly nice - quiet rooms - a good price. Claude was also heading
for Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat so we talked about doing that together.
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The hotel was down a side
street so was not too busy or noisy. And the staff were very helpful.
One person in particular (Tholl) spoke very good English and was helpful
with my ongoing travel arrangements. He also helped me get another Visa
for Vietnam since the one I had was only a single entry visa so I needed
another one to get back into the country. I needed to wait the morning
for that. Claude and I both decided to take the one hour flight to Siem
Reap - he took a noon one and I had to wait for the Vietnam visa so took
a flight later in the day at 6:00 p.m.
I had some time in Phnom Penh so went a place called the Silver Palace
which was very beautiful and other parts of Phnom Penh were also nice -
clean - some culture - I thought I'm liking it more than Saigon. I
decided also to go to the Killing Fields. I took a tuktuk there - a long
and dusty ride. I thought "this is part of the Cambodia history. It is
important to face that fact." There was a huge monument which had inside
it stacks and stacks of skulls. The area also showed were there had been
mass graves. It is all a very difficult to comprehend how something like
could happen. They say 3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge
While I was in Cambodia I continued to do some reading and talking to
people about finding out details to help me understand it.
It was right at the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge
took over and it lasted for 4 years. The Khmer Rouge were guerilla
fighters trained by the north Vietnamese originally and part of the
communist cause but many joined because of the bombing by the US in
Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Pol Pot was the leader. The Khmer Rouge
Regime ended in 78/79 when they were defeated by the Vietnam army. Those
are just a few of the basics facts.
I'm not sure if it really sunk in when I was at the Killing Fields
monument. But the thing was very interesting is that on my flight from
Phnom Penh I was sitting beside a Cambodian man who now lives in Geneva.
He survived the Khmer Rouge period. It was fascinating talking with him.
He was a very well educated man - a lawyer - who immigrated to the US as
a refuge in 1979/80. He was a warm and friendly man and talked about his
experience openly. He survived. He said a few things which I will pass
on. During that time people were not allowed to read or have books. They
would be killed if they did. He found 4 books and secrety read them. The
4 books he found were:
1. An French/English dictionary (so he could learn English) (he already
knew French from school)
2. A James Bond book
3. A book by Freud
4. A book written by a Jewish man who survived the Holocaust.
In a sense these blessings being able to read these books helped him
survive. He got a quote from one of them I believe that went like this:
"Hope is the willingness to understand that everything has an ending,
and the ultimate ending is death"
He had the hope that the Pot Pot Regime would eventually end. And it
How could it happen? After the holocaust perhaps the world thought never
again could we allow something like that to happen - well in 1975 - 79
I thought it important to include something about this in my journal. I
said good-bye to the fellow I met on the flight and felt blessed to have
an opportunity to talk to him.
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I stayed in Siem Reap 3 days. It is a
dusty touristy place centered around seeing Angkor Wat.
My hotel was okay - didn't spend much
time there as I was out touring around. It turns out the area is so
much more than Angkor Wat. In fact the whole area used to be about
1000 years ago a whole ancient city called Angkor. It was
originally the capitol of Cambodia. So the ruins consist of many
sights and in order to see it all you have to hire a driver. Claude
and I hired somebody and took a tuktuk all over - many things to see
in a day. My first morning we got up very early so we could see the
sunrise at Angkor Wat. That was pretty amazing. Then we went to a
place father away and came back in the afternoon to tour around the
inside of Angkor Wat - and what can I say it is one of the most
amazing things I've ever seen. Beautiful ancient huge. The next
day more sights to see. My absolute favourite was a temple area
that being completely embraced by the jungle. There were huge trees
500 years old growing out walls and buildings. In fact there is one
huge tree in the middle of it that they used in the filming of the
movie "Tomb Raider". So that was my favourite. My last morning I
went on my own (Claude flew to Thailand that day) to see Angkor Thom
which was the old city and there is a place called the Bayon which
has many towers with these very large buddha faces on them. It is
one of the well known images of this area.
I decided to take the 6 hour bus ride
back to Phnom Penh that day because I didn't really want to hang out
in Siem Reap any longer than I needed to. Too busy and touristy for
By the time I got back to Phnom Penh I
was exhausted - after 3 long days of touring around and then a long
bus ride. I knew I didn't have much time left for the remainder of
my trip to Vietnam etc.
But I decided to have a rest day with
The next day Tholl took me out in the
country on a motobike. I figured it was time to have that Asian
experience since that is how the majority of people get around in
Asia by motobike. We went to a small monastery and temple and then
went to his home to see how his family lived. I appreciated having
a window into the life of a Cambodian family.
My next step was I wanted to get a
beach somewhere to finish my time in Asia with a place to rest
before the long journey home. I knew that I would not have time to
get to Phu Quoc in Vietnam. By boat and bus it would just take too
long and then I would still have to get back to Saigon for my flight
back to Singapore. So I ruled that out. I seriously considering
heading south to a Cambodian beach but I knew that I would not have
much experience in Vietnam other than what I already had. So on the
spur of the moment I decided to spend the money and book a flight
from Phnom Penh to Saigon. I called a taxi driver that I met when I
was In Saigon before. He picked me up at the airport and I asked is
he could drive me to a beach area 200 km. north of Saigon. So I
spent the money (quite a bit) to do that. I cut what would normally
be 2 full days of travel into one day. The drive took 4 and half
hours and I arrived in this beach area called Mui Ne in the dark. I
just took the first cheap hotel I could find - said good-bye to Bee
my taxi driver. He had to drive back to Saigon in the dark late at
night. I hope he made it back okay. The next morning I started
looking for the right spot. I persisted in looking for a place that
I found in the Lonely Planet guide - it took quite awhile as it was
far away from the place I got dropped off. The place I got dropped
off was a newer section with many very expensive resorts. So I was
glad I persisted because I found this beautiful little slice of
heaven (a quarter the price of the fancy resorts) but still right on
the beach - I rented a room/cottage right on the beach, away from
the road. Yea. It is heaven - the nicest place I've been since I
started my trip and quiet - heaven. So a good place to rest, get
some sleep and feel well rested before the long journey home.
I feel blessed.
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I am home - back in
Courtenay right now and here is more on the last part of my journey in
When I left my paradise spot at Mui Ne Beach I still had one night in
Saigon before flying back to Singapore and home. I was a little worried
about that because of my first experience a few weeks before. It was
still Chinese New Year or TET in Vietnam so I wasn't sure what that
meant. I wanted to see if the taxi driver I used before might be able to
pick me up upon arrival in Saigon but the owner of the resort assured me
that once I was in the center of the backpacker area of Saigon it would
be easy to find my way around and find my hotel. I booked a hotel that a
friend recommended that was supposedly down a quiet street.
On my way there on the 5 hour bus ride I was thinking: "I remember what
it was like 20 years ago when I went to India and how when I first
arrived in Delhi I was overwhelmed and disoriented, and after traveling
for 6 weeks in India I went back to Delhi and had a completely different
experience wondering what all the fuss was about in the beginning. I got
used to it."
So I wondered if that might happen with my Saigon experience as well.
Well the owner of the resort was right. The bus dropped me off on De
Tham street right in the middle of a popular backpacker area. I didn't
get swamped with taxi drivers wanting to take me some where. I had my
map in hand from my Lonely planet guide and easily found my hotel only a
block or two away. The hotel was down a kind of back lane - very nice
and quiet and it was a whole different experience. The TET New Year
celebrations by the Vietnamese people actually had the effect of quieter
streets and less traffic than usual. A number of places were also closed
but there was certainly enough open to eat out and still find a few
shops to buy some silk clothes before leaving that part of the world.
Another blessing that occurred was that as I was walking down the a
street in the middle of Saigon out of the blue I ran into somebody from
Courtenay that I knew. How amazing is that? What a small world. A man by
the name of Brett was walking down the street and he was just finishing
a month long stay in Saigon with his girlfriend Coreen. They stayed
there for a whole month - Coreen attending yoga classes and Brett
playing music with some people. So we went out for dinner together that
evening. It was great sharing stories with them and hearing about their
positive experiences in Saigon.
I got a good nights sleep that night and in the morning as I wandered
around that area I thought "Wow. I could actually hang out in Saigon for
awhile longer if I had more time, now that I was used to it" I liked
that area of the city and it was easy to get around.
I only had one night there though and then off to Singapore for two
nights before flying home. For some reason I haven't had great
experiences in Singapore. It is a very metropolitan city and very
expensive. So I stayed one night at a kind of hostel with my own private
room - more expensive than any place I stayed during my whole trip - and
it was noisy - a very loud fan noise right beside my room from the bar
downstairs and a TV in the sitting area on most of the night. Plus I'm
pretty sure I got some flea bites during the night. I moved to another
hotel the next night - even more expensive for a very simple room but
clean and in a quiet area. I slept better but the air conditioner that
you couldn't turn off was still a bit noisy. So I had two nights without
much sleep before getting on my 17 hour flight home. I didn't sleep on
the flight either. So now I'm home getting caught up on some much needed
sleep and very much appreciating my nice quiet home and my own bed.
Blessings from Elisabeth
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