Author Archives: tlorenz

Natural Building Internship at Panya

The last month at Panya has been spent participating in a Natural Building Internship.  I went into it with a bit of trepidation, having never build or to have wanted to build anything in my life (I don’t even assemble Ikea stuff), and Kelly was intrigued and wondering how natural building could actually work.  The project was to redesign and rebuild the Sala which is the community space where we eat and relax.

What the sala looked like before we started and now

We started with building a proper office where people could set up laptops and which will house the hundreds of books available (I helped make the bookshelves).  We use mud bricks that are made in the dry season.  They are made of a mix of clay, sand, and rice husks.  The we use a fresh mud mix of the same materials as the mortar.  For this mud mix we dug a huge hole in the ground and every day about 5 people get to stomp around in the mud adding clay and rice husks to get the right consistency.  It amazing how fast walls come together, and what’s great is you can shave down the bricks easily so you can make all kinds of interesting shapes.

We also built some arched walls, columns, benches, and stairs.  There is still lots of finishing work to be done.  I really enjoyed doing things like plastering the walls and painting (we use paint made from water, tapioca flour, and natural color), but when it comes to doing things like taking out the support beams without the roof collapsing I tried to stay far away.  A great learning experience overall!

Posted from Ban Pao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Ha Long Bay

Tanya gazing at the scenery

After much debate we decided to go on a 2 day boat ride on Ha Long Bay.  Ha Long Bay is a World Heritage Site in Northern Veitnam and is about 1,500 square kilometres in size.  The bay has thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.  Arguable the most popular attraction in Vietnam for both Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese tourists is a boat trip around the bay.  You can take either a 1,2, or 3 day excursion and you sleep on the boat.  We decided on two days and being the low season we where able to bargain down the cost one of the nicer boats on offer (there are literally hundreds to choose from).

In Surprize Cave

At dusk

In the bay, there are over 500 boats

Mystical, maybe a bit too much so

Fishing boats, the lights help attract the fish

After a 4 hour mini-bus journey we arrived at Halong City and jumped on the boat.  We were not dissapointed.  The boat was really clean and nice (we heard stories of rust buckets and rats) and had the second most comfortable bed I’ve slept in.  The meals went on and on, upward of nearly 10 courses  (we tried to count but lost track thanks to the bottle of wine and good company) of tasty Veitnamese (mostly fresh seafood) at dinner.  Other than that you just lounge around on the upper deck, enjoy the incredble scenery, and chat with the others on the boat.  We did stop at a “surprise cave” which was lit up with tacky strobe lighting but was also pretty amazing because it was so incredibly huge!    And we did some kayaking around the karsts and a floating village.  All in all is was a great trip (the pictures don’t do it justice at all though)!

The limestone islands covered in greenery

Posted from Vietnam
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Hoi An

No cars are permitted in the centre, it was great

Hoi An is charming riverside town (I copied that description from the Lonely Planet) in the middle of Vietnam. There is a distinctive French influence…in the old town buildings, architecture, and the food (baguettes and pastries). Once again, Vietnam is tops on the awesome value accommodation and we found a great hotel with an even greater indoor-outdoor pool and our 3 days here went like this:  Wake up and eat all the fresh fruit we want at the free breakfast by the pool, rent bicycles and ride for 1-2 hours along a beautiful road on the ocean that is basically free of any traffic, come back sweating hot and jump in the cold pool, lounge in the sun, go for lunch, type up a post like this in the afternoon because it’s way to hot to be outside, then once it starts to cool down we hop back on the bikes to explore the streets and alleys of Old Town (which is closed to vehicle traffic – although it allows motorcycles).

Two spoons were needed to finish this dessert

The beach, and no one was on it

Looking down the river

Plenty of shoes to go along with all the clothes

Night Time in Hoi An, old buildings, great food

Lanterns on the side of the road

Clothing shops everywhere (every 2nd or 3rd shop)

Besides the historic old buildings, Hoi An is famous for Tailor-made clothing.  I’d say about every second or third shop is a tailor shop with enticing looking apparel…suits, jackets, tops, skirts, and dresses.  You can either a) choose from their samples b) you can bring in absolutely anything and they will copy it, or c) you can look through their stacks of photo albums full of magazine tear-outs of designer clothes they will make you for a fraction of the cost…in one day or less.

I couldn’t bear to spend money on something without knowing what it will look like in the end, however Kelly decided to take the plunge.  He brought in his favorite pair of shorts, picked out the material and color of the copy and that’s it…come back later that day!  We came back and overall they looked very similar to the original pair of shorts, though the sides of the sorts looked a little funny…too much material maybe…no problem though, the tailor comes right over and knows exactly how to fix it.  The next morning we go back and Kelly’s got himself a perfect copy of his favorite shorts.

In the centre of the city

A bright blue window, drab yellow decaying walls

Good to be back on bikes

Posted from Hội An, Quang Nam province, Vietnam
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Champaign Taste – Beer Budget

While we might claim to be budget travelers, and certainly we have stayed in more than our share of accommodation complete with cockroaches, moldy walls, suspicious sheets, and rats…any chance we find a place to stay or restaurant to eat at that is really good value and still within budget (or…well…almost within budget) we go for it.

Pool side

This is exactly what we’ve done for the last few days we’ve spent in Mui Ne. We met a couple in Dalat who just came from Mui Ne and said we would never stay in a place so nice for so cheap, and this turned out to be true. For a price (basically) within our budget , our hotel has a swimming pool literally right out our door, the ocean and beach about 10 steps away, and includes things like free breakfast, free laundry, free wi-fi, free water, a DVD library, and an in-room kitchen and computer. It’s going to be hard to leave!

Computer geeks, the room came with a computer and we have our own, you would not believe how productive we are in this set up

Wifi breakfast, here we have free wifi and free breakfast

Since we’ve been in SE Asia we’ve made the great discovery of the benefits of low-season travel and the great deals to be had!! While you do have to put up with 40 degree weather and the occasional downpour of rain, you get hotels for way cheaper and happy hour specials galore.

We have taken a vacation…from our vacation!

Posted from Phan Thiết, Binh Thuan, Vietnam
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Da Lat

 

The very nice to see Urban Agriculture Interface, in Da Lat

After a long, windy, bumpy but very scenic bus ride (all the while wishing we were riding our bikes) we arrived Dalat. Stepping off the bus we were instantly refreshed by the weather here! It’s probably colder than Canada right now…no more that about 20 degrees Celsius! It’s been between 35-40 degrees basically everyday since leaving India (with really high humidity) so Dalat has been welcome relief! We actually wore sweaters for the second time on our trip (the first and only other time was in Hampi in December)

A small one speed tandem bicycle

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Tanya and her driver

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p style=”margin-bottom:0;”>For our second day, we couldn’t pass up the chance to experience the highly recommended motorbike tour with the “Easy Riders”. The Easy Riders are a group of local motorcyclists that take tourists on 1 to 5 day motorcycle tours of the Vietnam highlands. We had a fantastic time seeing the major sights (a pogoda, a waterfall and silk factory and the crazy house) in and around Dalat. It is an incredibly scenic area full of hills, trees and lots of farmland slightly resembling the Okanagan Valley.

One of the sights we saw, a huge waterfall, and we got pretty close (we were soaked when were done here)

The guides got us to get off the bike and hike into Romatic Forest, here is the veiw

Dragon at the Pagoda, a stop on our motorcycle tour

We were really tempted to do one of the longer tours for a couple days but we decided to save our money. We both really like seeing the sights on a motorcycle and perhaps some day we’ll do a long motorcycle tour….but based on how many times we change our minds you just never know!

Posted from Đà Lạt, Lâm Đồng, Vietnam
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PDC (permaculture design course)

We’ve just finished our PDC at Embun Pagi and we both learned alot.  The course was two weeks long and we went from 8:30 in the morning until around 9:30 pm most nights, it was a really busy schedule!!  (note: all the pictures on this post were not taken by Kelly or Tanya, their were taken by Ruyu, who was helping to run the PDC).

To describe Permaculture in a quick sentance is somewhat difficult, but it is basically a “system of design for creating sustainable human environments”.  It is organic agriculure combined with design and ecology.  (I can almost hear my parents laughing now because as a child when we used to visit my grandparents farms I would always say how I could never live or work on a farm!).  The course is a combination of lecture, hands-on expereience, and a big design projects.  There were about 15 students in the class, from either Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Canada (us!), and the instructors who we met in India are from USA/France.  We’ve met some great people in the course!

Here are some of the topics that were covered in the course:  site design, design methods, pattern understanding, climate factors, water (ie. greywater systmes, water catchment/harvesting), trees, soils, natural building, earthworks, aquaculture, transition towns, urban permaculture, etc.  We did some interesting hands-on, such as building a vermicompost (yes, worms!).  We are looking forward to using some of the info we learned when we are volunteering in Thailand.

Posted from Rawang, Selangor, Malaysia
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Kuala Lumpur – ChinaTown

Welcome to Malaysia

We arrived early in Kuala Lumpur to pouring rain.Chinatown is the area of town with the budget accommodations so we thought we’d head there.I didn’t have very high hopes for a decent place (just based on Chinatown in Edmonton).However the neighbourhood was much nicer than I though and we found a good place to stay quicky. We ate breakfast at McDonalds…yes, McDonalds as it was the first place we saw and I really just wanted to go to the hotel and sleep.The make their Sausage McMuffins out of chicken here for the Muslim population.

A full 7hours of sleep later, we set off exploring the older part of town. We first went to the Central Market (which is more souvineers than anything). After walking through the nice a/c bazaar (nothing at all like the markets in India) we went to see some older Islamic influenced architecture.

A small white mosque surounded by green trees and tall buildings

Arches

Red palm trees? Nice gardens here

Islamic Tiles

After the sun set we went to a street totally lined with you-name-it knock off goods…need Gucci sunglasses, a Coach or Louis Vutton bag, Rolex or Tag watch, some trendy shoes, well they’ve got it…and the quality was very good actually, a person into fashion could easily tell the difference I’m sure, but I really couldn’t.We left empty handed (though most tourists we saw didn’t) and instead went to a really nice Malaysian restaraunt where we had a meal and I had two…yes two glasses of wine!

Posted from Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
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Last Day in India

Well, almost 5 fantastic months later, we’ve made it to our last day in India. We ended up going on a bit of a roadtrip with a friend from yoga, Viola from Vancouver, and her friend Prashanth from Mysore/Bangalore. All of us feeling like we needed a break from the city, we hopped in a car (with a driver of course – it is basically essential here) and took off.

We were going to go to an area called Coorg which is in the Ghats, but being India, things ran a bit slow and we didn’t have time. So we went to some waterfalls, about 2-3 hours drive from Mysore, off of serveral small and bumpy roads.

At first I didn’t think I’d go in the falls, but thanks to the heat it was too tempting to pass up! It was really fun because, unlike Canada where you would be freezing under a waterfall in 30 seconds, you could sit in the waterfall for like 30 minutes and be totally warm!

India has been great, and tonight we are off to South East Asia!

Kelly and Tanya vs. India Post

I thought I’d post about our experiences and time spent on the simple task of mailing home some from stuff from India:

Day 1 – Because of our new plans for the remainder of our trip, we decide it wouldn’t be feasable to continue to hall our bikes around with us and thought “hey – what don’t we just ship them home…no problem”
Estimated time: 15 minutes

Day 2 – Tanya does some online research to find out the process for shipping from India – and finds no information of any usefulness

Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 3 – Kelly and Tanya decide to go to the main post office to find out the info from the sources – and again receive some vague info about prices but no concrete answers

Estimated time: 1 hour

Packing, putting everything carefullly in the box

Day 4 – Kelly and Tanya thought “hmm…maybe using a courier like DHL would be a better way to go”. They take a rickshaw to DHL, explain a few times, to a few people, what we want to do and get an estimated cost that is much more money than our bikes are worth.
Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 5 – Kelly goes to get packing boxes – despite our lack of information about mailing them. Kelly finds out that apparently boxes are worth something in India and nobody just gives them away…we pay 150rs ($4 – a lot for India) for 3 cardboard tv boxes.

Estimated time: 2 hours

We took our wheels apart to save weight.

Day 6 – Kelly decides to skip yoga, buy a beer, and take the spokes out of the wheels (to save space). He gets two wheels done instead of four (perhaps due to the beer…).
Estimated time: 2 hours

Day 7 – Tanya does a preliminary dig through all of our stuff to see what we want to send home. Kelly takes the rest of the spokes out.

Estimated time: 2 hours

Day 8 – Kelly takes apart the rest of the bikes while Tanya cleans each and every dusty, dirty bicycle part

Estimated time: 3 hours

Day 9 – Tanya and Kelly pack the bicycle parts into the boxes.

Estimated time: 1 hour

First attempt, but no room for the driver

Day 10 – Tanya does some research on customs requirements and ends up more confused that when she started
Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 11 – Tanya realizes that they need a list of every item in each box, so Kelly helps Tanya take everything out of the boxes and bags to write these lists

Estimated time: 2 hours

Day 12 – Kelly and Tanya finally have packed and taped up boxes ready to go! They then realized that they have no idea how these very large and heavy boxes are going to get to the post office…it’s not like in Canada where you always know someone with a truck.

Estimated time(to figure out what the heck they are going to do): 30 minutes

Box on the roof, anything is possible in India

Day 12: Kelly thinks he’ll be able to flag down one of the water cooler delivery trucks and pay them to drive us to the post office, he goes and tries but comes home with just a regular rickshaw and a very confused looking driver
Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 12: A small crowd of people gather to help do the impossible…get two huge boxes somehow into and on top of the rickshaw…I didn’t believe for a second it would work, but I realized that this is India…anything works!! What we did would never meet safety or legal standards in Canada.

Estimated time: 30 minutes

Day 12: Kelly, Tanya, the rickshaw driver and the two boxes make it to the parcel wrapper-upper place…whew!

Estimated time: 30 minutes

Repacking our 2 overweight boxes into 4 boxes with weight restrictions

Day 12: We unload the boxes from the rickshaw and Syed, the parcel wrapper-upper guy and his two helpers, get to work. They weigh our boxes and realize that we are way over the weight limit…so our carefully packed boxes were thoroughly and completely dismantled
Estimated time: 30 minutes

Day 12: The parcel guys totally re-arrange the boxes (which have now become 4 boxes instead of 2) and Tanya realizes that she needs to write new lists with all the stuff in each of them
Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 12: The parcel guy gives us the customs forms to fill out, we realized there is only a tiny little place to describe every item that is in the box. Tanya and Kelly fill out a total of 8 customs forms (2 for each box). Once completed, the parcel guy basically tells us we filled in half the things wrong and scribbles all over them. We need to fill them out again.

Estimated time: 2 hours

Altering our boxes, now smaller and within the weight limit

Day 12: While the parcel guys are preparing our boxes (every parcel needs to be wrapped in light cloth that is custom sized to the box…I think it is a make-work project to keep more people employed)…Kelly goes to get snacks and stops in at the post office…we find out it is too late to send a parcel today and guess what…tomorrow is another holiday…so have to wait.
Estimated time: 30 minutes

Day 12: Kelly and Tanya deliberate about whether or not we should keep the parcels with the parcel guy for 2 days or if we should find a way to get the now 4 boxes back home, and then back again to the post office. We decide to trust the parcel guy and keep them there.

Estimated time: 15 minutes

Sewing the package up

Day 12: After three hours with the parcel guys, we pay and we go home.
Estimated time: 15 minutes

Day 13: Kelly and Tanya take a well deserved rest day from dealing with anything related to the postal system

Estimated Time: None

Day 14: Tanya and Kelly head back to pick up our packages from Syed. Each box is intact and accounted for. Syed then pastes on our now fully complete, but probabley still inaccurate, customs forms.

Estimated time: 30 minutes

The Custom Forms

Day 14: Now four of us each pick up a box and walk the half block to the main post office. We were informed of the price by the postal clerk (which hurt the wallet but is still cheaper than brining them back on the plane with us) and paid up. We were then informed that the two largest boxes, in addition to the required custom tailored cloth covering them, also need to be in a special bag that we need to purchase.
Estimated time: 1 hour

Day 14: We finally get a rickshaw home, Kelly buys a beer and we do nothing!

Estimated time: 15 minutes

Total time: 32 hours X 2 people = 64 hours

It’s a good thing we have more time than money!!!

Now all we can do is wait…and hope all of our boxes arrive into Canada and that we don’t get charged for import customs (which we shouldn’t because pretty much everything we’ve sent back was bought in Canada!)

All in all, this was a typical Indian experience we will never forget.

(oh yeah, and if anyone is in Mysore – we recommend Syed as a great parcel wrapper-upper (that is, if all our stuff makes it to Canada!)

Posted from Mysore, Karnataka, India
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The Dog Days of Mysore

Like everything we’ve done on this trip, we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into when signing up for a month of yoga in Mysore. But, also like every other unknown thing on this trip, it has turned out great!

Prana Vashya Yoga

Based on the recommendation of a previous yoga student, we decided to do our yoga with Vinay Kumar, a young teacher but has spend most of his life immersed in yoga. He is a fantastic teacher, encouraging, caring, and very dedicated. I would recommend him to anyone debating which yoga teacher to study with in Mysore!

As in a previous post, we do yoga twice a day (well most days), 5 or 6 days per week. The morning class is similar to Ashtanga yoga, in which you do the same series of yoga asanas (postures) everyday, it is challenging due to the fact we are both usually sore from the day before still! The evening class is more relaxed and is more focused on increasing flexibility, and everyone in the class does something somewhat different.

Tanya enjoying the shade

As for our accomodation during this time, we found a really great place ran by a guy from France (who we have not met because he went home to France just before we arrived and will be back after we leave). It is really well set up, there is a fully stocked kitchen with anything you could possibly need (this is very unique for India), such as things like a pannini press, a blender, coffee maker, a fridge (!), and more! There is wi-fi internet, hammocks in the garden out fount, and hot water. There are also two Indian ladies who are here everyday to wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, etc! There are 4 rooms here and we’ve met some great people also staying here. In any other place but India, I cannot even imaging how much it would cost to stay here. Everything we need is within about a 5 block radius, like…Nilgris – a great market with things like cheddar cheese and basil, and Mahesh Prasad – the tasty restaurant always packed with locals and some yoga students.

Where we get our grocieries

We’ve really enjoyed our time here, and could easily stay longer…but believe it or not, 4.5 months is not enough time for India.

They know you what we are going to order here before we tell them

Kelly making lunch

The Mysore Palace (for Tanya and Kelly)

Inside the Palace

Posted from Mysore, Karnataka, India
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