Bus trip to Phnom Penh

After spending too much time in Siem Reap we were off  to Phnom Penh. The bus ride was about six hours long, the roads were bumpy and they bus wasn’t as nice as the buses in Malaysia (oh, how we miss the buses from Malaysia). A while back we found the best way to kill time on the road was to listen to a podcast. While  have heard many podcasts in my day, I thought this one was particularly good.  So if you have an hour to kill here is the link:

http://www.cjly.org/deconstructingdinner/020509.htm

The podcast is from a weekly show called Deconstructing Dinner. The purpose of the show is to ask more quesitons about our food  (how is it made, where does it come from, what impacts our purchases make on other people and current food topics). This show is from UofA Internation Week, The speaker is Frances Moore Lappe and the title is Ending Hunger, Feeding Hope.

Posted from Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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Best of India

During our mulit-hour wait to catch the bus to Mysore, we came up with a list of some of the “Best Of” our trip:

Best Scenery

Riding into Hampi (image above)

Best Riding Day

Cochi to Alleppy

Best Dal

Hotel Raya’s in Kumbakonam

Best Temple

A taste of the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Trichy

Best Pizza

New Creation Pizzaria in Auroville

Best TV show

No Reservations

Best Ice Cream

Richy Rich in Auroville

Best Indian Food discover

Parotta is amazing, white flour covered in oil and fried, great for eating right there or saving for the next day.

Best shot from inside a temple

Inside the Pattadakall temple

Best Photo taken

Us, taken somewhere along to the temple route.

Best Cycling equipment

Brooks saddles

Best Weather

The cooler weather at Kumily hill station

Best value accommodation

guesthouse in Mysore around Lakshmipuram

Best cycling energy food

peanut chikki

Best Entertainment

Open Stage nights at Sadhana Forest

Best fresh juice

Grape juice from Mahesh Prasad in Mysore

Best city not in the guidebook

Belgaum

Best Masala Dosa

Mahesh Prasad in Mysore

These were amazing, I probably had at least one a day for 30 days.

Best City

Pondicherry

Best Luck

No flat tires

Best Chocolate

Baker Street – Pondicherry

Best cycling road

The road Into Pudukkottai was quite, calm and enjoyable.

Best 10 Rs ever spent

A massive bag of basil at Nilgris market in Mysore

Best TV commercial

The Diet Sugar commercial

”Aba dabi di be” (we have not idea what this means or how to spell it but we say it all the time because it’s always stuck in our heads)

Best newly acquired skill

Discovering the very efficient way to get the seeds out of pomegranates

Best season

Mango season

Best State

Kerla with its backwaters, chilled out scene, rainforest, and diversity, it is easy to see why this is our favourite State (especially if you only have a short time)

Best Decision

To stay in India despite the terrorist attacks when we arrived

Parotta

A couple of months back we had our first parotta. It was in Kerela, and from that point on we ordered them at any chance. A truly amazing taste, something that is hard to explain, if you know you Indian food, is kind of like butter naan, but smaller, thicker and more delicious. The yeast free dough is coated numerous time with oil during the cooking. While we were on the house boat I was able to watch the cooks make some, but it wasn’t until Madurai (in Tamil Nadu) that I was able to photography the procedure of street parotta. Like most street food, parotta is cheap and delicious and you get see them make it right in front of you.

Although the details are little blurry right now, but I kind of remember the cook making the dough like you would any other dough (water, flour, salt, oil and sugar). You mix it and kneed it and let it sit for a while. Then you make several small balls and let that sit for 15 min. Take a dough ball and smash it against the table until it is flat, round (like pizza dough) and really thin (like a crepe).

After that you fold the sides in (now you have a long three layered crepe). You take the other sides and roll it up into a roll. Then I think you let it sit for 15 minutes.

Take the roll and flaten with you hands and the table and take the flattened roll and put it on a grill or frying pan (don’t for get to add oil to the pan). Cook for a while and when it starts to brown, flip it.

After you watch this you really feel at ease, this is about to end. You take a bunch (like 6 or so) in between you fore finger and you thumb. Lay the parotta down (like a log) and smash the log with your free hand (make sure you remove you other hand). The first time you see this you think: What are you doing? Those were perfect pieces of bread you just ruined. You would be wrong however, the smashing of the dough is essential.

Hold the Parotta between you forefinger and your thumb

Then SMASH the parottas with your other hand (and I mean smash)

The smashing of the porotta causes all the layers to seperate a little, making it easy to pick apart and enjoy fully. The end result is beyond words. Most places porotta cost about Rs12, but on the streets of Madurai, they cost Rs4 (10 cents!). We used to get a parcel of these at night and eat them in the morning with peanut butter and bananas on them. Much better the toritillas, peanut butter and bananas.

Posted from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
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Sadhana Forest – Tanya’s Perspective

I thought I’d write another post about our time at Sadhana Forest. Kelly, as you’ve read, was busy everyday working on a specialized project because of his mad Forestry skills.  I, on the other hand, got to learn and do a wide variety of different tasks:

  • Developing an irrigation system in preparation for the upcoming monsoon (aka – digging trenches!)
  • Working on the creation of new garden beds and plots (aka – digging dirt from one location and moving it to another)
  • Helping to create organic, vegan meals in the kitchen (aka – peeling and chopping 100 cloves of garlic or de-seeding 30 or so pomegranates at any given time)
  • Maintaining the composting toilet system (aka – poop scooping)
  • Processing mulch (aka – breaking branches and twigs)
  • And more….!

Working

It has been so much fun though doing this work and I’ve learned a lot!
Our day basically went like this:
Wake up call at 6:00 am
First work is at 6:30-8:30
Breakfast from 8:30-9:30 which is usually porridge with fruit salad
Second work from 9:30-11:30
After that it’s time for a nice bucket of cold water to wash up, then its lunch, which is typically Brown rice, Dal (lentil stew) and one or two salads.
After lunch is mostly free time (unless you’re helping to cook dinner), in which there are often activities you can do if you want to.  A few times a week we’d go into town on our bicycles to use the computer or get additional food.  Dinner is at 5:30 which varies, but is usually something like a soup, a grain, and a salad, sometimes a desert!

After dinner there is always something going on, often there will be a movie or even an open-mic night which is really fun.

Alternative Power

Oven

Washing Station

The Kitchen

We’ve met so many great people and had a fantistic time at Sadhana Forest!

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Making a Map

In forestry, I couldn’t imagine working without a map. For the past five years, Sadhana forest has had no detailed map, it has all been pretty much all in Aviram’s head. Which is amazing, and it really shows you don’t need a map if you know the land really well. That however didn’t stop me from making a map. Using free aeral photos, and open source software, I was able to create a map for Sadhana forest that they can post on web, print off on very large scale, or to give to some one who is interested in the project.  Click Here for more informatrion

On top of that, I was also showed a few of the long term volunteers how to do a very simple PSP (permanent sample plot). Although the plots were not randomly or systematically chosen (not enough time for that), they were set up in the areas that were planted in the past couple of years. The plots were done with a 5.65m plot cord (made from some rope that I had), a steal steak and a measuring tape. There were over 150 different species planted in the past, and there is no realistic way to identify them all, so we did a very rough species ID (Planted, Natural or Acacia). We also took some more photo points (N, E, S, W, Up and Down). The idea is to visit these site once every 1-5 years and gather some data on planted survival rates, growth rates, success of different planting techniques and to update the photo points. In 20 years, there should be a very complete and interesting collection of data that will paint a neat picture of this ecosystem. Too add to this, a handful of these volunteers will also be headed to Senegal to start up a similar project from the ground up, being able to start sampling at year zero would also be great, and part of the reason why I trained 6 volunteers how to do this. It is pretty neat when you can show a group of people who are interested in this sort of thing. My stay at Sadhana Forest has been very enjoyable, and I would recommend it to everyone (a chance to see that you can live on $3 a day and have a great time being part of a community).

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Surveying the forest

After one shift of work at the forest I heard of someone who needed some help getting GPS points of the forest. My head perked right up and I met up with a guy named Yoav. Yoav is an American who got a scholarship from the US gov’t to make a book on landmark trees in India. He has done a lot of research in the forest before and had some really good ideas of he wanted to contribute to Sadhana. After a few minutes of talking (in which he asked me a bunch of questions) we got off to do some surveying of the forest.

Erosion

The surveys were simple, probably not statistically significant, however they do paint a picture of what is out there in the forest (which happens to be a whole lot of introduced nitrogen fixing pioneer species from Australia). We had a small crew and some crude tools, and we measured the trees that landed in our systematically placed 100m2 plot. It was cool, both Yoav and I could breeze through this process. After work was over we went walking in the forest geeking it up, talking about different species and land formation. I learnt a lot about ecology from Yoav.

A Forested Area

We also took some GPS points, took some pictures and got some data for making a rough map for the area. Which was also cool. I was using a borrowed computer though, which complicated things, but I got it nearly completed. With only using 2005 aerial images from Google earth, I was able to construct a pretty good map, all that is missing is some information from Aviram (and he is a very busy man).

Next week I am going to show one of the long term volunteers how to set up a PSP and do some simple sampling (like tree planting plots, with a plot chord). I am also going to pound some steel into the ground and take pictures of those places, and make a SWP (Standard Work Procedure) so that anyone can come back and take pictures of the this forest as it grows (every 5 years). Aviram is pretty excited about this and it is neat that I am able to contribute to the project like this.

In the canyon

Spider

A young Acacia

Mistletoe?

Watering Hole

It looked cool

Also looked cool

Watering hole

We have really enjoyed our stay here, it has been a lot of fun. We are planning to stay a little bit longer and then it is off to Mysore.

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Sadhana Forest

I realize that the sound of going to forest in which you work for you room and the food you get is vegan doesn’t sound like the most popular tourist destination. That is because it is not a tourist destination. The minimum stay here is two weeks, and everyone works for 4-5 hours in the morning. Without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, Tanya sent an e-mail to say that we were coming.

There are more people here then ever, over 100. Which may not seem like a big number, in the monsoon, there is only about 20 people here though, and this place is starting to swell with the tourist season. The community is going through some growing pains, infastructure is being build encredibly fast accmodate the extra people.

Tshere is a couple that started this forest, their names are Yorit and Aviram Rozin, fueled by a dream, the community was build around non-violence, whole foods, and clear minds (no drinking or drugs while your stay here). There is also a forest (the main focus of the project). The whole area is about 30 ha which is tiny, but it contains a rare ecosystem that is nearly deforested.

Life at the forest is simple, you sleep in simple huts, eat simple food and you do simple tastes. Not that technology is forbidden, quite the opposite, there is wifi Internet access for everyone (if you brought a laptop), the workstations are dotted with iPods and speakers, which play familiar music. There is a projector in the main hall in which movies are played twice a week.

Like I said before, the food is vegan, which has been a lot better then expected. I often finish lunch thinking I could eat more, but I don’t and I’m not super hungry when dinner is served. There is no refined food allowed, no oils or sugar. The food is actually pretty good.

We plan to stay another week or so, and then it is off to Mysore to do some yoga. The posts for the next two months are going to slow down. As we start to spend more time in the same place, we just won’t have that many things to write about. This is a heads up, I will send out another e-mail when we start cycling again. Our ticket to leave India is near the end of April, so some time in May we will be back on the road cycling.

The landscape, this used to have no plants on it, but in the last five years, water conservation has brought the introduced Acacia seed bank alive

Moon Cocoon (or Ecodome), was an experiment to see how packed dirt can make a structure.

A different way to plant, y ou just can’t plant trees like you can back in the forests in Canada

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Pondycherry

The rising Sun

Tanya and I are rolling over our boated belly’s reminiscing about the dinner we just had. We splurged (we have been doing that a lot lately) on dinner. A buffet, and it was very tasty (and only Rs400 each). Pondycherry has been good. The four days we have been here have passed quickly, which is surprising as there are no real sights to see here. There is however good food, great service and exceptional value.

The Beachfront of Pondycherry

Pillars stand tall surrounding the Gandhi Statue

Pondycherry is a union territory of India, and a former French colony. The result is a super clean town that holds onto its French culture with more automy then the average city. It is still India though, there are rickshaws and the smell of raw sewage still enters you noise. You forget about these realities when you are reminded of the cheap beer though.

Waves come crashing in

I awoke today to the sound of a Muslim prayer call. I was awake so I got out of bed to see what Pondycherry looked like at 6am. To my surprise, the ocean front was packed full of Indian tourists. There were hundreds of people, kids running around, people meditating, people doing yoga, and people sitting on rocks, facing the ocean waiting for the sun to rise. And it rose, quickly, leaving a orange reflection upon the choppy ocean. I snapped off a couple of pictures, and wandered down the heritage building lined steets. I stumbled across a bakery, I got a chocolate danish and some bread and headed back to our guest house. The baked goods were great (just like everything else you can eat in this town).

Posted from Puducherry, Puducherry, India
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To Chidambaram and Pondicherry

To Chidambaram
Distance: 79km
Roads: great
Traffic: Light (except for the last 7km)

The day started as any other day, asking for directions out of town. Having thought ahead, I had our route writen out in Tamil so it was smooth sailing. Except for one thing, our Rough Guides map blows. Often incorrect and not detailed enough, we kept second guessing the directions that we were given. Luckily we also had an Indian Road Atlas produced by TTK’s Health division (I can’t figure that one out either).

The view of rural India

The TTK map has been correct everytime and has much more detail, it is just hard to use. Never the less we arrived at our destination taking secondary highways the whole way, and it was great roads. Tanya and I must be in pretty good cycling shape by now because we finished 80km by noon.

On Feb 4th (the day the events in this post happened), there was a general strike by everyone in Tamil Nadu. Until 6pm, nothing was open, except for hotels and the odd shop. This came to us as a shock, mainly because we were hungry.

The temple we didn’t see

We couldn’t get lunch, luckily we keep a couple jars of peanut butter handy in case we can’t find food. We also found some bread (if you can call it bread). We went back to our hotel and ate our peanut butter sandwitches (yum yum). There is also a temple in this town, but since we have see so many temples lately we skipped it, they are all pretty much the same anyway.

Like clockwork, everything was open at 6pm. India usually comes alive after the sun goes down anyway, and today was no different. We were relieved because it meant we could eat some dinner.

A big colourful statue

To Pondicherry
Distance: 69km
Roads: Moderate
Traffic: heavy

Along the delta is there is a lot of fog in the morning

There was no logical way to avoid a national highway, so we were stuck on it the whole way to Pondicherry. This was trying on our patients and made the day very difficult (especially for Tanya). Tanya even claimed this has the hardest day yet. We made it though and found a nice guest house, which was great value (A/C, free breakfast, free internet and a view of the ocean from their Cafe), all for Rs1200, which is a really good value.

The view from our guest house in Pondycherry

After settling and showering we headed out to find some lunch. Pondicherry is known for its French Influence. This was a coloney back in the day and it is nice to have a change from the same Tamil Nadu flavors. Lunch was very tasty, but it wasn’t until dessert that we realized just how good the food was here. Chocolate cake, done better then back home. After that we stumbled upon a liquor store (called wine shops here, but have mostly whiskey and very little wine). It cost Rs45 for a 650ml beer (sweet). Across the street there was a store selling French Delicacies. We went in and had some cardamon chocolate truffles. After trying this we knew that we at a special place, some of the best chocolate we have every had and cheap beer. Life is good, I think we are going to enjoy the next couple of days enjoying the Franco-Indian cuisine.

Posted from Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India
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Kumbakonam

Yesterday we took a rest day. We found a nice business hotel with room and checked out of our overpriced bad hotel and moved down the road to the nice AC room. The rest day was needed, as we were very tired  after having two days of intense temple trekking (life’s rough eh?).

Distance: 43km
Roads: Fair
Traffic: Moderate

We got on the road a little latter then usual, but we only had 43 km to go so we took our time getting going. We checked many hotels and none offered great value, not until we checked out the one in the Lonely Planet (usually the ones in the lonely Planet don’t have as good as value). The Raya’s Hotel is one of cleanest in town. I worked on the bikes for a while and Tanya got settled.

After a short nap we headed to the Airavatesvara Temple. In the past week we have seen so many temples and you would think that this one would be the same as all the others. It wasn’t, this one was more basic then most of the others, and more like the ones in Badami. It was also deserted, there was only a handful of people there which was enjoyable.

After that we headed back to town and checked out a couple of temples bathing in the late afternoon sun.

Posted from Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India
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