Category Archives: Travel

Sintra, Lisbon, Portugal Review

OK, so confessions first, facts later. I didn’t prepare for this trip to Portugal in the slightest. I was excited about seeing another Mediterranean country, thought I would get by on my Spanish, and that was about it. I was super busy leading up to the holiday, and by then, I just wanted to chill with my girlfriends drinking wine in the sun. That did kind of happen, and so did a few surprises along the way 😀

We spent a couple of nights in Lisbon itself and then we img_7165went out to Costa do Caparica for a few nights. We met a few people and decided to go for a day trip out to Sintra with them. Sintra is a town about a 40 minute train ride outside of Lisbon. It’s almost like a well-preserved medieval town with four big castles up -almost hidden- in the hills. They all cost money to go in, and you pay for each separate palace/castle/fort. You can buy a bus ticket that takes you on a route of all the castles and back to town for about 5 euro. Again, our unpreparedness kind of caught us off guard a couple of times, so do your research before you go as to which castles you want to see!

 

We only went into one fort because we’re tight and we were hungover, and of course I’m going to say it was the best one. No, really! It’s called Castle of the Moors. It’s old, like really old. Built in the 8th or 9th century if I remember correctly. And it was built during the Muslim empire days, so its architecture really stands out compared to the other castles, and of course more ‘modern’ old buildings, if you will. The castle offers fantastic views across sprawling towns nestled in lush green patches of nature. It’s really rather wonderful.

It takes you a while to get around the Castle, it’s so big! It even looks a bit like the Great Wall of China! (Hohum… was this before the great wall or after? Who inspired whom?) img_7214There are great little nooks and crannies to chill out in. Seeing as it was the day after my birthday we went, when we were all a bit hanging, it seemed only appropriate that some of the leftover wine (yes there was leftover wine. When it comes at 1 euro 50 a bottle, yes there is leftover wine) was consumed perched on some rocks in the shade, hiding from the heat of the afternoon sun. It was absolutely dreamy.

 

I img_6991kind of wish that we had spent more time in Sintra because it looked absolutely fabulous. The little medieval town had a few windy streets filled with trinkets and restaurants. Granted, it can feel very touristy but that also brings part of its charm. We had so many ginjas it’s hard to count. What are they? Oh, they’re just Portuguese cherry liqueur shots in chocolate cups. The whole atmosphere of the town is very friendly and relaxed, which makes for a lovely afternoon of hanging around. It also would have been great to see the place come alive at night, as nightlife in Portugal can be quite lively, too! Definitely try it out! There seemed to be plenty of hostels and hotels around to find a decent room in your price range.

 

Top 3 Things To Do in Amsterdam

From one expat Dutchie to you, here are my 3 must-do’s in Amsterdam.

I’m not only an expat Dutchie, I’m like a full-time expat Dutchie. If you don’t already know, I grew up in Asia. My Dutch life consists of summers in Holland, odd weekend trips here and there while living in Europe, and a weekly phone call with my grandma. Yes, it’s a wonder I speak Dutch, albeit a bit broken at times.

This is exactly why you should ask me for top tips for Amsterdam because I see it through a tourist’s eyes and I’ve been enough times to also have a more seasoned, perhaps less hazy, view of it too 😉  First and foremost, I’m going to tell you loud and clear, I do not know anything about coffee shops in Amsterdam. While I’m not against it, I just don’t have much interest in it, and never bothered with it. What I do know, weed is still the main attraction it seems, especially for younger folk from across the Sea, so it’s very easy to find. Just walking around Dam you will get propositioned if you fit in that young tourist demographic.

1. Canal Boat Tour

Right so first things first: the Canal Boat Tour. There are several different companies, and I’m sure there’s not much difference between them. I went with City Sightseeing twice and both times I wasn’t let down; especially if you’ve only got a couple days to make the most of it.  It can feel a bit steep when you’re paying up for the 24h pass, but your legs will thank me for it. I’ve done Amsterdam by foot as well and that was just tiresome. A Canal Boat Tour will give you an audio-tour as you go along, and there are several stops you can stop off at, walk around, and catch the next boat. You know, the typical hop-on-hop-off. Cos if you’re like me, and you like hearing about history, but don’t want to get caught up in it, this is really ideal. You hear a few good stories about the important bits, and you get to hop off the boat and explore! And also, on a rainy day, this is literally a saviour. You get to sit in the (relative) warmth of the boat, with a clear roof over your head, while still taking in city sights. Oh, and City Sightseeing let you have a free tour of one of the most established diamond workshops/museums in Amsterdam. Ladies, feast your eyes. Gentlemen, hold your breath and pray she doesn’t find ‘the one’.

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2. Get lost in the Red Light District

The first few times I went to Amsterdam, the prude in me was very reluctant to go to the Red Light District at all. I was like, ‘yeah, great, so prostitution is legal here and women are safeguarded, good for them’, and I never really bothered to properly walk around. Last time I went, I not only walked around, but got lost, did circles, had a few drinks, and stayed later into the night. After dinner, the whole area kind of comes to life. Bars start filling up, fairy lights along the canals give you a cheery mood lighting, and the sheer amount of people is amazing. Walking around, you find yourself not just watching all the entertainment there is available to you (apparently there’s a liquid you can drink to get rid of your hangover? Yeah, right), the other tourists are also great entertainment! When I look back on that night, I just remember being very entertained by everything around me. It was like carnival except with drugs, sex and everything in between on display! There were so many cute (and scary) little sex shops everywhere. The way people reacted (and probably the way I reacted) was also comical. Everything was accepted here in this heathen’s paradise, just smile and be good to everyone around you.

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Yes it’s an Instagram filter. No, I’m not ashamed.

3. Heineken Experience 

Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. But Amsterdam is all about the tourist traps and making it your own, so go with it! Book online and get a couple of euros off the ticket price (and avoid the long queue to buy tickets once there). The museum starts off mostly self-guided in the beginning. See a bit of its history (ugh yay…?), and then you go through to the brewing process, which is done really well! Heineken have definitely made the best of modern technologies and worked with different sorts of videos, touch-screen stuff, img_7796sensors, etc to make it interactive and genuinely quite interesting. After you go through that bit, you get to see some horses that work for Heineken (promo horse drawn carriages is still a thing), whose grandparents also worked for Heineken! Very cool. Then you start getting corralled.If I’m honest, it’s a pure genius move from Heineken. A bit of crowd control about halfway through the museum is a great way to make sure that things are running smoothly and avoids clog-ups at the free drinks rooftop bar. And in return for being corralled, you also get a very fun surprise (I’m not going to ruin it here) as well as a super crisp, fresh Heineken drink at the demo of how to actually drink beer (seriously, I never knew so much science went into it).

After that, you get to go through the sponsored stuff. There’s a chill out room playing all the latest hits because Heineken sponsors lots of concerts and festivals. And of course, sports!! There are lots of fun interactive sports stuff to do. Kick an invisible rugby ball, play foosball, and a lot of stuff I don’t remember, etc. Among other things, you can get your picture taken with a green screen, pick a Heineken museum background, and see the result! If you don’t want to pay for the printed version, you can ask for it to be sent to your email (again, SO SMOOTH!). Then, after a few rounds of losing miserably at pulling a pint with a ‘virtual’ pint glass thing, we finally get to the lift to head up to the rooftop bar for our two free Heineken beers! The day was gorgeous so I could say we were lucky. A great, leafy view of Amsterdam with a cold Heineken in hand. Ahh. I do have to say, Heineken never tasted as good, and never will taste as good as it did there. Definitely go!img_7809

One More Thing…

Before I sign off, I wanted to recommend one more thing. My dates and times unfortunately didn’t match with their tour times, so I didn’t get to try it myself. But I heard about it on Al Jazeera I think, and I was just so impressed by the efforts and the programme that I want to take a moment to shout about it. Rederij Lampedusa, the canal boat tour is called. It’s an initiative to bring attention to refugees living in the Netherlands and the plight of refugees trying to come to Europe right now. The boat is actually a boat that crossed the Mediterranean, and refugees volunteer as tour guides. Definitely worth looking into and asking about! Check them out here.

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Advertising in Amsterdam. Classic.

Bai Sha Wan Minus Tourists

If you’re looking for a tourist’s guide to BaiShaWan with this post… you’re halfway there. If you want a quiet beach to yourself with as few Chinese tourists as possible, then yes you should read on. I’m not going to talk too much about Kenting either… I just want to remember the beautiful weather tbh…

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What a baller. This is the first time I use baller. And also the last. #ChineseTourist #Superman
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Look at them all, pretending to love water… This was around 2pm.

I went in the beginning of November, midweek. It was a bit of a last-minute decision that we made on our day off. The sun was so hot that we happily paid the 300NTs for a parasol even though we only stayed for a couple of hours (for that price you can actually stay for the rest of the day). Both times we went, it was obvious there were lots of Chinese tourists milling around. But guess what? There’s a trick to this. Most people enter onto the beach through the ‘main’ entrance, where the campsite is with the bars (there also used to be shops). Well, if you just keep driving a little further down (as if you’re Kenting-bound), there’s a massive parking lot too, with very few cars. On both week days that we were there, there were also no people actually enjoying the beach for being on the beach. I even have photos to prove it! Below you’ll see photos of about 10am on Thursday morning, where there were no people!

It’s such a lovely place to chill out. The water was exceptionally gorgeous, too. I wouldn’t recommend trying to tan in the sun too long though… it got pretty damn hot after a while.

Top Tips:

  1. Go early. Late afternoon is Tourist High Tide
  2. To avoid Chinese tourists, try and go as far down the beach as possible (see above for how, relatively easily)
  3. Get a tent. It’s not expensive and will save you that horrific sunburn later
  4. BYOB. There are so many 7’s on that main road you might as well buy a few beers. Maybe bring a cooler bag. Also clean up after yourself!
  5. There ARE jelly fish. They’re small ones (so small I didn’t realise I got stung til like 3 days later, ha oops).
  6. Bring a snorkelling mask, or, failing that, just your swimming goggles. You just might see some ocean wildlife. The water gets deep real quick.
  7. Great place for watersports. If you go down to that middle bit of the beach like I say, there’s a few guys that’ll do some funky water sports with you. Definitely fun!

You’ll Find Me in the Water @Xiao Liuchiu

They say that the water of Xiao Liuchiu is super clear, and that the difference is stark between mainland Taiwan and this beautiful coral island. Boy, they weren’t wrong. We couldn’t really get excited about the prospect of spending the next 24 hours on the island as we disembarked because… well… it was raining. We were met by an old lady from our B&B who showed us to our bikes, and then led us into the small city centre of Xiao Liuchiu, where, in one of the back alleys, we were shown a courtyard to park our bikes.

After checking in and deciding we didn’t want the discounted ticket for all the caves and hikes, booking our all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner, and being told if the weather was good at night we’d go stargazing, we headed out on our motorbikes anyway because well… we’re in Xiao Liuchiu. So what if it was raining? We weren’t going to sit inside all day. In hindsight we probably should have gone to the caves… it would have been dry inside at least. But oh well.

We took our time riding around the island. We stopped several times to take in the view that the island had to offer, despite being shrouded in cloud and rain. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and asked my friend to stop by a small, natural bay. There were people swimming in the sea despite the rain, and I couldn’t help myself. It’d been ages since I’d been in the ocean and as soon as my feet reached the water, I was sold. The water was beautiful. I mean, the Med was going to have to work hard to top it. The water felt warm and cool to the touch. We wouldn’t get cold if we stayed motionless, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. We must have stayed by the sea for an hour before donning our 30NT raincoats again, this time completing a circle around the island and heading back to the B&B for a shower.

 

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Our BBQ, round 1. I stopped counting after round 3.

The only pictures I took of the first day were of the BBQ. Taiwanese people love a BBQ, and my friends and I were no exception. We were so excited about this BBQ, in fact, that we were the first ones to arrive (a small backstory: my friend Teresa and I didn’t even have a BBQ for the mid-Autumn Festival so we definitely felt ‘due’ a BBQ).

After dinner we headed out to a few bars that the island had to offer, but unfortunately it wasn’t very busy, especially considering it was Saturday night. In each of the two we visited, we were one of two sets of customers there. And when we were about to head into the third, we saw no one in there, so abandoned ship for the night. We got some fried chicken and vegetables instead, and took it back to our room to eat it instead.

 

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Breakfast out in the traditional courtyard of our B&B!

Early morning, because when traveling in Taiwan you start early and finish late. Breakfast was ready for us in a little basket, and we got to eat it al fresco as the sun was finally shining! Hooray! After a quick breakfast we snorkeled… you can read all about it here. It deserved its own post.

 

 

 

After the snorkeling, one of my friends took us to her ‘secret hiding place’ which essentially is a tiny beach hidden among massive coral rocks, where we could swim and take selfies to our hearts’ content. We must have been there for a good couple of hours, (me) taking in the sun, (us) bathing in the crystal-clear, warm water and taking photos.

By the time 11 o’clock came round, it started getting really hot. We were also getting a bit peckish, so decided to head off back into town to grab a bite to eat. But then, on the way back, we passed Venice Beach, which is the one of the few beaches on the island that has actual sand rather than small coral rocks… so… well, we had to stop and at least take a look. Besides, there were some Bao-a’s left from breakfast we could snack on in the meantime. So we headed on down and got to take in a pretty cool beach. The great thing about the island is that due to all the coral, the beach is shallow as, and so you can go in quite far and still only have water up to your knees. It’s really great for warming up that water and just soaking in the ocean.

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Me and ma girlz!!
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OK we had already eaten a lot of the food… but you get the idea…

Eventually we got hungry so we had to head back into town for some food. We went to one of the most famous seafood restaurants on the island (of course), where you ordered meals by the number of dishes you wanted, and it all came in quick succession. It was pretty darn good. I mean, I could have lived without the sushi because it wasn’t very fresh and badly cut, but the rest of the food was awesome. One of my friends also got us snails as a treat which was yum!

 

After lunch we went and had a late check out from the hostel, and washed up changing into summery clothes. The day was still hot and the sun was glorious. I lathered myself in sunscreen for the third time that day. We had some time before the boat took us back to Kaohsiung so we went for another little ride around the island, looking for vistas of sweeping oceans and the famed Xiao Liuchiu sea turtles. We did end up finding some down some country road that brought us to a campsite on a cliff, with the sea turtles swimming in the vast sea below us. It was absolutely gorgeous. My camera and photo skills are nowhere good enough for it so you’ll have to go to see it for yourself.

All in all, I would go back to Xiao Liuchiu but definitely not to go snorkeling. I wish that we’d had the time to do the caves because of the Dutch/Taiwanese history of the Black Dwarf Cave (a.k.a. Black Devil Cave…), and just to see what all the fuss is about. The island is tiny and takes about half an hour to get all around, which is really ideal for just zipping here and there exploring different corners and harbors.

And the water… oh… it was so beautiful. I could have laid in either the secret hiding place or Venice beach all day and had food brought to me. Seriously so gorgeous. I would go back just to chill by the beaches and really take in the island rhythm.

You can easily do Xiao Liuchiu in two days one night, but if you want some time to chill by the ocean and not worry about catching a boat, I would stay two nights. You might find that nightlife is a bit meh on the island, which is isn’t really an issue. If you really want a drink you can still go to one of the bars on the island, just don’t expect to have a wild night out. And if you get really bored you can always take a hiking trail as well.

TOP TIP: If you have water shoes bring them because the coral starts feeling like an intensive foot massage after a while of exploring beaches.

Here are a couple more shots of the day:

Claustrophobia by the Sea

Have you ever fed fish in a pond or a fish tank? Wasn’t it amazing, watching the fish scramble all over each other, trying to get a scrap of food or two? Wasn’t it fascinating? The fish can’t get enough of it, and they will do anything in their physical power to get as much food as possible.

Snorkeling on the small coral island of Xiao Liuchiu is one of the must-do’s, or so I was told. It was fantastic there, they said. Okay, snorkelling we would do. It’s included in every hostel package anyway, so everyone gets a chance to do it.

Sunday morning. At 7.30am we were up and eating breakfast alfresco outside the hostel. Breakfast was a simple ham and egg sandwich with milk tea. Within 20 minutes, the ‘instructor’ from the snorkelling school was there to pick us up and take us snorkelling. My three friends and I climbed onto our scooters and dutifully followed him on the shop. He was terrible at riding at a pace. There were already about a dozen other people milling around, getting tacked up. We had to sign a waiver agreement, and we were told we’d have to wear wetsuits and a life jacket.

The foreigner in me couldn’t help but gripe. I’m not wearing no life jacket to go snorkelling. We weren’t even going out to sea and I can swim, goddammit. No, no, we had to wear the life jacket or we couldn’t go. Shitty customer service 1, Arna 0. I was moody. I was so moody, I didn’t even nicely decline the wetsuit. And when the man handing me a life jacket was looking me up and down to check my size, I just said bluntly, “I have big boobs”. He flashed his beetle nut stained teeth abashedly, but I remained deadpan. He gave me a bigger lifejacket. I sighed as he put it on me. I sighed as we put on our water shoes (No FLIPPERS?!), and sighed as we were handed the snorkelling gear. Off we went, again on our scooters, not before I got my friends and I to take a sad faced selfie.

The beach where the snorkelling took place wasn’t more than a 10 minute drive away (okay… pretty much everything is about a ten minute drive away here), and I felt like I was in some sort of apocopolytic movie. People were suited up everywhere, in their freaking wetsuits and lifejackets. One of the instructors that came with us made us all take a photo, and then we were herded into the shallow sea. The small stretch of beach was covered in coral, as was the water. There was very little sand, everything was littered with coral. There was very little sand that I could see, we were all standing on coral. Two instructors then went on to explain to us a) how to use the snorkelling gear and how to breathe, and b) how to hang on to the life ring and ‘just float’. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. Each instructor had three life rings tied to each other about a meter apart, and up to three people would have to keep one hand on a life ring at all times while we floated, and the instructor would pull us around the reef.

I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘don’t be shitting me Arna’ but no I’m not. I cackled out loud and was met with another exasperated look from the instructor. Eventually, after some nervous trialling of the snorkel gear from people in my group, we were off… or should I say…off we ‘hung around’. It was really kind of ridiculous. We never really went into any water. We were never more than 10 meters away from shore. The coral was all brown and dead. I think I saw about three fish. We kept going through really shallow waters; I was worried I was going to scrape a knee or something. My friend hanging onto the ring in front of me kept bumping into me because she was too close in front of me, with her legs stiff and nervous. It started getting crowded. In our immediate area we must have been one of about 10 different groups of snorkelers, all snorkelling with their instructors towing them. We slowly started closing in on each other.

That’s when the panic happened. I felt the commotion: water was sloshing, my friends were thrashing helplessly… what the hell? I pulled my head out of the water and about 5 meters in front of me, instructors were all pointing to the water and shouting to look at the turtle. I was upset up until this point, and now I wanted to cry. “來來,有看到了嗎?烏龜就在這裡!” People started crowding and standing up in excitement to try and get a better look (what the fuck dude get your head in the water that’s how you see with your bloody goggles). I started yelping helplessly, “Get down, get your legs out of the water!” Then, an instructor, maybe in excitement of seeing a turtle or I don’t know what, started saying “Shall I pick him up for you? I’ll pick him up for you.” That’s when I went into full panic mode. Tears filled my eyes and I could hardly get the words out, “Don’t pick him up! Don’t pick him up!” I had just finished saying this when my instructor came over to me and my friend and asked if we’d seen it. I complained that everyone was standing and I could only see legs. I wanted to go home. People were everywhere. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain under my knee and I gasped. Someone had pushed their way over me, crushing my leg onto the coral reef. I don’t actually remember much of this. I didn’t see the turtle, I refused. The instructor kept asking if I’d seen the turtle, his voice strained and loud. I took a deep breath and shouted, “I DON’T WANT TO SEE THE POOR TURTLE”. With that he turned his heel and continued pulling our group of 8, this time away from the madness of people.

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The poor turtle. Our instructor took this snap with his waterproof.

My saving grace was when my friend Erin said she desperately needed to pee and couldn’t do it among all these people. She shouted up to the instructor that she was going to go back to the beach, and without saying anything, I followed her. I did not want to take part in this gross violation of nature. The poor turtle.

I’ve always understood theoretically that humans destroy nature with our nasty chemicals and our nasty habits. But to see it play out right in front of my eyes? To know that I took part in it? I wish I could say that I at least refused, but didn’t I play along too? I was, and am still, crushed. I’m crushed by the barbarity of humanity. I’ll never forget the legs all stepping all over the dead coral and people panicking from forgetting to breathe through their mouth.

Back on the beach, my friend had finally peed (you can imagine where). We were both complaining about the horrendous experience, both of us rather shell shocked. I didn’t know what to do, so I scanned the beach, and noticed a lot of rubbish. We started picking up bits of rubbish, knowing that the snorkelling wasn’t going to take much longer anyway. Besides, we had to wait for our group. We managed to find two plastic bags and filled them both with plastic, glass, and styrofoam. Two typhoons had ravaged this island in the two weeks preceding our visit, so the beach was horrifically dirty.

 

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The poor turtle. Our instructor took this snap with his waterproof.

When members of our group started coming to shore, I worked up the courage to go speak to an instructor. With all the control I could muster, I asked some questions, and told him that I disliked the experience because of how intrusive it felt to nature. There were too many people, I complained. The instructor was very nice (I could tell he had his customer service face on– first one I’d seen today so I appreciated it). He said that the snorkelling schools agreed to use this as the snorkelling reef so the others could stay protected and untouched. This reef also had a ‘regeneration period’ between December and March every year, so it had some respite. I told him about how some other instructor had said he was going to pick up the turtle and he said, ‘well he must have been joking’. When I told him I was probably the funniest person on the island right now and I didn’t find it funny, he didn’t laugh. I guess islander sense of humour is a lot different to mine.

With that awkward conversation, we left. We drove back to the shop and gave back our snorkelling gear. They gave us a CD with some photos on there, and that was that. We played our part in the destruction of nature, and we get a CD momento to take home with us to prove it. Later my friend told me that the instructor that I’d been speaking to told her that it was a total waste of time to try and pick up trash from the beach, because ‘there will be more tomorrow’. I don’t have the mental capacity to process that, so I won’t comment on it.

The only thing I can think is, what a wasted opportunity to teach others about reef conservation or why we were seeing so little fish, and why there were so many people crowding on this once beach. What a wasted opportunity to not bite that jack-ass kid’s head off for touching the turtle. The entire experience was a wasted opportunity.

Fish fighting for their food, I can understand- even appreciate. They are trying to survive and to live to see tomorrow. But humans getting in a tizzy over a bloody sea animal?  How useless was that? How absolutely pointless is our presence, really? What is the point of our existence is we are not only harming, but intentionally harming without giving the wellbeing of this other animal a fleeting thought?

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Multiply the number of people you see here by about 5/6 and that’s the number of people on this beach, at 8.15am, ‘snorkelling’. I tried getting a pano but my phone didn’t like being stuck in the waterproof case so wasn’t playing ball.

Leave the Fears by the Sea

I’m embracing the Nordic lifestyle. I really am. I will get rain boots next time I go downtown, I promise. And I will buy an umbrella next time I see one on sale. It’s funny how good intentions of doing something don’t ever really end up happening. I’ll watch that documentary tomorrow; I’ll learn to knit next week. I’ll start my diet after this meal; I’ll learn Danish when… who am I kidding? I’m never going to learn Danish.

And such good intentions keep snowballing until you don’t actually do them anymore because you’ve lost track of them… until you do. This is what happened with the Swedish Sauna. Sweden, just a stone’s throw of a 20-minute ferry ride away from my school, was tantalizingly close, and we couldn’t avoid going out to explore Helsinborg for the day. And no trip, absolutely no trip, to Sweden is complete without an experience of the Swedish Sauna.

Stripped

Some of us in our group were extremely adamant they were not going. Being naked with 20 other women in the same room was not something they felt comfortable with, and that’s fair play. It takes a certain kind of blasé to subject yourself to the scariest criticism of all: your naked body. When we reached the spa, some people remained adamant, and others were persuaded by the excitement of the group.

We walk in to the spa, a one-storey, unassuming building along the shores of the beach boulevard, our group divided by gender, and are led straight to the lockers, where we strip down to nothing but a towel. Shy laughter punctuates the air as us girls discuss the many layers of clothes we have on. The narrow hallway, brightly lit by the ceiling-to-floor windows on the left, overlooking the sea and wide sundeck, leads us to our next destination: the shower. After fidgeting with the buttons and avoiding eye contact, we shiver under the shower for ten seconds, before swiftly picking up our towels to wrap around ourselves again. We then enter the resting room. Although not heated, it is warm enough for you to sit naked around little round tables and take a drink from the water fountain. It is especially nice if you can’t motivate yourself to jump into the ice-cold water of the sea, but still need a break from the stifling heat of the sauna.

The House on the Sea

Finally, through a heavy glass door, we enter the hot room. The sauna itself sits on the corner of the spa, which actually rests right on top of the ocean. Four kilometers ahead, with a sea between us, is Helsingor’s Kronborg Castle, whose outline we could just make out through the misty November afternoon. To our left was the rocky Swedish shoreline, our naked bodies vaguely protected from public view with a long wooden fence. The view to our right was limited, with the men’s sauna room being separated only by a temporary wooden partition. We could even hear them speaking. We settle down, keeping a ‘safe’ distance from each other, some girls clutching their towels to their chests, others forcing themselves to ‘be cool’ and just let it all hang.

Small talk ensues, and we trade stories on the day’s events while trying to make out what the guys next door are cheering at. Slowly, as the room fills with our fellow friends and classmates, we settle into a comfortable atmosphere. More and more, towel-clutching slackens, and a few comments are made about how beautiful we all look sitting on the steps of the sauna, different shapes, colours and sizes. Individuality lost all meaning, we were all the same- the big boobs, the small ones, the thin legs, the big hips… it was all there for us to specifically not judge. We were all too different.

The Main Event

Of course, the highlight of the spa is not the sauna itself but the ‘jumping into the sea’ bit. The sun had broken out through the clouds, so with bolstered confidence, a couple of us march off to the patio, where a small set of stairs will lead us to the clear, icy water of the Sound separating the North Sea from the Baltic Sea. My feet were the first to touch the icy liquid, and my body’s immediate reaction was to jump back a step. After much self-convincing, I finally ran into the water, forcing my body into the icy fire. Either feeling relief or shock, my brain took a moment to respond before I dance my way back out of the waist-deep water, up the iron steps, and back into the safety (and relative warmth) of my beach towel. My feet ached- the icy water did not agree with them. Perhaps it was my Asian tendency towards chilblains (winter feet)?

But my, oh, my, was I rejuvenated! My heart felt a bit lighter, my shoulders less tense. I felt like a bit of weight was lifted off my shoulders. I am so excited by this that I actually run back into the water, almost immediately after having come out of it. Of course the next fifteen minutes are spent warming back up in the sauna, wiggling my feet, willing them to stop stinging. The feeling of euphoria doesn’t last long, but the comedown isn’t quite as hard. You keep a state of zen-like contentment. And each time you go in the sea, you stay a fraction of a second longer- improvement! I guess it should be noted right about here that everyone else in my group was a lot less chicken than me, and managed to actually do two breaststrokes in the waist deep water before jumping out. There were others that managed to actually swim out a bit before coming back, cool as cucumbers the sea.

Lessons Learned

I’m not saying that I’m going to start walking around naked every chance I get. I’m not saying that I’m now headed into the icy ass ocean every time I get a chance. But… I am saying that I’m proud of myself. I faced a fear of being stark naked in front of people, and I fucking went into the 10-degree-ocean. If you’d met me a year ago I probably would have given you the middle finger. I’m now giving you the middle finger for a whole other reason: I’m taking leaps that I never really thought about before, and jumping, trusting myself that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not going to let people’s presumed judgments stop me from taking those leaps and bounds.

We all need to bare our all sometimes, and trust ourselves to be doing the right thing. Sometimes, probably most of the time, we would be surprised at how well that works out for us, in the long or short run. Here’s to jumping into the next adventure.

front of people, and I fucking went into the 10-degree-ocean. If you’d met me a year ago I probably would have given you the middle finger. I’m now giving you the middle finger for a whole other reason: I’m taking leaps that I never really thought about before, and jumping, trusting myself that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not going to let people’s presumed judgments stop me from taking those leaps and bounds.

We all need to bare our all sometimes, and trust ourselves to be doing the right thing. Sometimes, probably most of the time, we would be surprised at how well that works out for us, in the long or short run. Here’s to jumping into the next adventure

Mozambique Part 1

By far, and I mean, by FAR, I am sorry to say that Mozambicans are not the friendliest people around. As a population, I mean. I come from Asia, my country is right behind Thailand in the ‘land of smiles’ category for the Kindness Awards every year, so yes I do get to say that with some authority. I am not so thick as to paint a whole country with one brush, so in the same thought I have to stress how there are also amazing, friendly, and warm-hearted people there. Without those people, we would never have made it to the ferry, or had help getting our heavy bags from hotel to the bus station across town at 3am.

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I was in South Africa last year and fell in love with the country and the people. Seeing more of the country now only reaffirmed my passion. I guess I wasn’t ready for Moz. But damn, did that hit me hard in the face. THIS IS AFRICA. I mean, this is ACTUALLY Africa. South Africa is modernised, has enjoyed relative economic wealth and does well. But Mozambique was plagued with civil war for twenty years which ended just about two and a half decades ago, and it shows. The government is corrupt to no end, and even that is evident in the 1200km that we witnessed from a bus window. Whenever our bus stopped somewhere, dozens of people would swarm around our vehicle, trying to sell Coke, a bag of oranges, or even, on several occasions, women’s undergarments. I can’t say I was shocked by it, the poverty. But coming from SA where we mostly followed a well-beaten tourist path, I wasn’t prepared for the tourist-un-friendliness of it all. Signs are only in Portuguese, people tend to ignore you, and it’s almost always by chance or luck you find the right place.

Our first hostel was also disaster beyond belief- maybe the comfort of the fancy Kruger lodge we had booked as just a little bit too stark of a difference to the hectic city of Maputo. But… then again… the internet didn’t work and when we asked about it all we got as a response was a shrug. While the bunk beds all had individual mozzie nets, the ones on the lower bunk (where I slept) basically was a net covering for you- mozzies could just literally sit on the nets and have their fill of you.

Our endless bus rides were kind of an accident- or should I say, we didn’t really check where we were going. Before the trip, I couldn’t even find the places on google maps because I couldn’t spell it right. As soon as reality hit us, though, it was too late to book flights (and we were already sitting on the damned bus). But no matter- this is all part of it: going with the flow and seeing where we end up. In a way, it was great- never do you get a clearer picture of a country than when you are saddled up in a chappa for 12 hours, wedged between your friend that can sleep on any mode of transport and a young Mozambican girl whose head keeps lolling onto your shoulder as you stare out into the undeveloped countryside. Even towns didn’t seem to have much town planning. Often they consisted of the main road, which we were driving through, lined with banks, a few market huts, and unfinished cement brick houses that were only one storey high, and no roof. Almost no houses were neatly stacked in a row. Some were 4 feet from the road, others 6, a few more 10…. there was no rhyme or reason. And, most important and telling of all, most of the abandoned shacks without roofs were painted Coca Cola red- often for Coca Cola, but more frequently for Vodacom, the nation’s biggest mobile provider. There is no supermarket, and most kids aren’t at school but trying to sell you bracelets. But anywhere and anyone will sell you Coca Cola. Fucking capitalism.

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Back to the bus- no aircon, loads of people, 30 degree humid heat. Everyone seems to just chuck their trash on the floor, so at the end of the journey you’ve not only got major BO to deal with but also a small mountain of chicken bones, styrofoam takeaway boxes, soda cans, all collecting at your feet. One toilet break in 12 hours- I quite literally, shit you not. I’m so scarred by the toilet at the ‘rest stop’, you’ll have to buy me a few drinks before I let you in on that secret. When we booked our seats for the big bus from Villy to MP, the conductor literally plucked the seats off the chair and hid them in the compartment above- essentially guarantee that you get a seat when you arrive at 3am to claim it.

There are police checkpoints every 50km or so, I would say. Sometimes they wave thee bus down, sometimes they don’t. This is why foreigners cant drive in Moz- they’ll see you’re white and charge you on something ridiculous like having your arm hanging out of te window (yes this is illegal in Moz). Our bus driver, I noticed in my inability to sleep, would anticipate the police by the sudden slow down of traffic. Discreetly he would slide on his seat belt, wave and smile at the cops, and as soon as they were behind us he would unclick the seatbelt. Literally, ever time. He wouldn’t just leave it on.

But once you arrive, oh my god do you arrive!! Water so blue, blue eyes will never have an effect on me anymore. Skies so deep, I’ve seen the other side of the universe. And water so clear… you get the picture.