Thank you for this beautiful and wordless experience!

An amazing journey. A life experience. A deep and mindfulness trip.

If I try to put into words I will never be able to express the incredible experiences/ projects I participated on, feelings I felt and wonderful people I met. Since I have arrived, a lot of people have asked me several questions about my trip “How was it?”, “Which country did you like the most?”, “What do you recommend?, etc. In some situations I felt quite apathetic. It is so difficult to explain this beautiful journey and the endless learnings it brought me. Also, I am not able to choose one country or city. In each place I experienced different situations and sensations, some easier than others, but all of them with important and strong messages to my inner growth and path.

The learnings from this trip are wordless and will always be part of my “new” self. With this “new self” I do not mean a different person, but a more genuine and self-conscious one. As I wrote before, the main purpose of this trip was to broaden my vision of the world and to grow as a human being. After these 4 months of intense experiences, I believe I succeeded in my mission. I can now say this trip has tremendously impacted my way of seeing life, people, relationships, daily reactions, unconscious feelings, hidden fears, etc etc etc. All these aspects, which are inevitable part of our daily life, showed me we are owner of our happiness. Not only should we be aware of their purpose in our lives but also, we can learn to use and control them so that we can enjoy every moment and live life at its fullest.

I am extremely grateful and I end this trip with a “heart full” of positive feelings and thoughts. I could not have asked for a better itinerary, experiences, projects, people. It was just PERFECT. Thanks to everyone who was part of this beautiful journey: thank you for teaching me so many important things about myself and people around me, for helping me understand the crucial role of some challenging situations and experiences, for broadening my vision of the world and human nature, and most importantly, for contributing to my personal growth. I will never forget these learnings and hope I can continuously apply them in my life!

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Sydney, the city of dreams

I have waited for so long for this moment. As a fan of big trips, Australia has always been in my bucket list. While planning this itinerary, focused on Asia, I immediately decided to extend it and include one of my dream cities: Sydney. My initial route and flexible destinations/ dates made this dream finally possible!

Following almost 4 months in Asia, Sydney could not have felt better. I can easily remember the feeling when I landed: I was back to civilisation. I immediately loved Sydney’s light, logistic organisation (everything works efficiently) and its broad-minded people. I also remember asking myself some silly questions, such as “Can I brush my teeth with tap water?”, “Can I eat this and that?”. Of course I already knew the answers but still, I could not stop thinking about them. After several months in the Asian continent, your mind gets used to this type of thoughts/ concerns.

In addition to the initial impact, I was lucky to have two friends living in this amazing city. I could not have been better received. It felt so good to be at home! I stayed almost one week in Sydney and had time to experience its local life, amazing shops and restaurants (what a breakfast culture they have!), boat trips, scenic walkways and also, to try two incredible yoga studios (Urban Yoga and Humming Puppy). Sydney’s natural beauty is unquestionable. There are no words to describe its endless viewpoints, beaches, light and easy/ healthy lifestyle. You can easily feel the city’s good energy and be positively impacted by its healthy culture, either in terms of sports or food. I could finally understand why so many people fall in love with it.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit other places in Australia but I am sure I will come back to explore this huge and beautiful country in the near future.

Bali, a good surprise!

It has been an AMAZING trip. I could not have asked for a better way of do it. It has brought me so many experiences and teachings. One of them is, without a doubt, the incredible surprises life continuously gives us. You are always being surprised by places, people, food, smells, routines, traditions, etc. When you think you already know something, or control situations, life does not cease to surprise you. One thing that definitely amazed me was the magical and unexpected feeling of revisiting places. There is always something special and different. Usually you do not see things the same way and also, as you have changed as a person and so do your interests/ desires, same situations have a different taste. You no longer look at places the same way.

That was what happened to me in Indonesia. As I had been there one year before and did not fall in love with it (specially Bali), I decided to stay 2 weeks in this country. I thought it would be enough to visit other islands and see a “different” Indonesia. Guess what? Not only did I extend my trip in this country, but also I did spend the whole period in Bali. Following a friend’s tip, who is a yoga teacher, I decided to stay at Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga, in Canggu. I could not had done a better choice. The place is just amazing and combines my two main passions: yoga and healthy food! After my first day there, my intuition told me I had to extend my trip. I just needed to get familiar with this place and truly enjoy all activities it had.

Serenity is a guest house with an incredible variety of yoga classes, meditation, massage centre, and a great healthy restaurant (Alkaline). Its concept is based on permaculture. Staying conditions are good and yoga teachers amazing (had never done so many types of yoga before!).

In addition, Canggu is a lovely place. Even though the beaches are not that beautiful, the lifestyle, restaurants and overall environment are amazing and welcoming. There are so many healthy restaurants (my paradise!), with the best breakfasts ever. When I was there, I used to spend several minutes just looking at the menu and at the tables around me: there is a broad range of healthy options, ingredients are fresh and colourful, and food presentation is beautiful. You definitely eat with the eyes!

During my stay in Serenity, I took a break and spent one week in Bingin. Bingin is a calmer place in Uluwatu, with better beaches, nice restaurants and a familiar environment.

I stayed almost 3 weeks in Serenity and felt at home. I had time to get familiar with Canggu, with all types of yoga classes, teachers, people working there, and overall functioning of such a complete “healthy community”. Also, I had time to calmly reflect on the amazing experiences and teachings this journey has given me. It was just the perfect place to be in the final days of my trip!

Myanmar, a paradise on earth

I love travelling to unexplored places. Visiting a city/ country with low touristic activity, and seeing its local traditions and genuineness, is something that truly amazes me. For this reason, Myanmar was on the top of my bucket list for this trip. The country’s government only started encouraging tourism in 1992 and still today, much of the industry remains poorly developed (even though foreign visits have increased at a considerable pace, Myanmay still receives much less tourists than its neighbour countries).

My expectations on this country were high, but I did not feel disappointed. On the contrary, I totally understood the descriptions and recommendations given. In Myanmar, you feel at peace just by talking to local people and experiencing its beautiful and wild nature. These were definitely the things that most fascinated me in the country. I was completely amazed with Myanmar’s different landscapes, beautiful colours and endless tons of green. I saw nature in its purer state. In addition, Burmese remain pure, open and always ready and happy to help tourists. This is also reflected in their curious reactions and requests: people ask you to touch your skin and take pictures/ selfies with them, invite you to their houses, want you to try the local cosmetic paste, Thanaka (picture below), always with a pure and humble smile. You immediately feel at home and warmly welcomed.

Unfortunately, our stay in the country only allowed us to visit 4 places: Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon:

  • Mandalay: we did a funny bicycle tour across this busy city. It is worthwhile as you can easily feel local life and the chaotic traffic, which is definitely part of the experience!
  • Bagan: one of my favourite places on earth. Just magical! In addition to the sunset at the Shwesandaw Pagoda, we saw it from a small lost temple, which had one of the highest views.
  • Inle Lake: Incredible place. You still witness local life in the lake’s villages, which have amazing views over the floating gardens and temples. The landscapes and colours are breathtaking and the view/ sunset from the Red Mountain Vineyard is a must do experience.
  • Yangon: a busy and more developed city (used to be the capital of the country). We did not have enough time to explore it but the Shwedagon Pagoda (the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar) and the Inya lake are beautiful and worthwhile!

After these amazing days, I am sure I want to come back to this incredible country and continue exploring its special and secret places! Hope to see you in the near future, Myanmar!

Mindfulness Project, a “Be Youtiful” experience

Unplanned trips are always magical. The possibility of spontaneously deciding the itinerary or having the chance to follow unexpected tips from friends made along the way allow an amazing feeling of freedom and constant adrenaline/ surprise. This was one of the things that most excited me in this trip!

The idea of joining the Mindfulness project started in Nepal. I had not heard about it before but Rafa, my Brazilian friend from the Indian ashram, highly recommended me. Just like me, she was very interested in all subjects related to healthy eating/ nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and their impacts on environment.

After a first look at the project’s website, I fell in love with it. Its values and purpose seemed to put together some of my interests/ curiosities, and would allow me to learn and understand better a broad range of subjects (something I have always wanted to do in this trip). The idea behind the Mindfulness project is to create an innovative approach to a holistic lifestyle. The project is based on permaculture values and seeks to create a healing system to transform people and to reverse the environment destruction. For that, the community life combines different methods/ values from meditation and yoga, natural building and arts, sustainable agriculture, Buddhism, etc.

In order to deeply experience the community life and values, it was recommended a minimum stay of 10 days. The conditions were quite basic but with eco-friendly and decorative details: there was a big dorm for all volunteers, with mattresses and mosquito nets; the showers were a big bucket with cold water; and the bathrooms were simple. It was only allowed the use of natural products (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, etc) so that we did not contaminate the soil and environment.

A typical day in the project included the following schedule:

  • 5h30am: Wake-up call
  • 6h00am: Yoga class
  • 7h30am: Meditation
  • 8h00am: Karma Yoga (helping in community tasks)
  • 8h30am: Breakfast
  • 9h30/10h – 1h30/2pm: Working time
  • 2pm: Lunch
  • 2pm-6pm: Free time
  • 6pm-9/10 pm: Talking circle and Buddhism/ psychology lecture

My 10 days in the project were wonderful! I was not expecting it to be so “complete” and well structured. Even though I had been interested in this kind of subjects before, a lot of concepts were quite new for me. Seeing how activities, such as gardening, cooking and spiritual issues were approached allowed me to learn a lot and to be even more interested in the culture of the Mindfulness project. Not only was the community designed to reverse the environment destruction, but also, to restore and spread Buddhism and peaceful values. All community tasks and activities (toilets, showers, gardening, cooking, etc) were developed to save water, boost gardening efficiency and positively impact the lives of people living in the nearby community (there were also additional activities such as English classes, given by the volunteers to the community’s children, and the indirect impact on local shops and restaurants).

During the working time, several tasks were available (depending on the project’s needs) and one should volunteer based on his/her preferences. I found it quite interesting as I could try different activities during my 10 days: from cooking (all meals were vegetarians and we were the ones who decided the menu), helping in the gardening, walking in the mud and making mud bricks for natural buildings (what an adventure!), among others.

In addition to the working time, in the afternoon/ evening we had one of the most important parts of the day: the talking circle and lecture. In the first part, all of us had to answer 2 main questions: (i) “what was the best moment of your day?” and (ii) a random question, which usually referred to a personal topic/ past moment. Based on these answers, everyone would speak and Christian (the founder of the project) would start a group chat and a Buddhism/ psychology lecture. These reflective moments allowed us to get to know better each other and to approach life from a more positive and peaceful perspective.

Working days were usually 5 a week with one free day and one Buddha day every week. I experienced one Buddha day while I was in the project: we spent the day in the village, prayed and had breakfast with local people. It was a beautiful experience! I was amazed with the generosity of Thai people, who immediately and genuinely offered us the food they had prepared, not expecting anything in return!

After these days, I can only feel very grateful for this incredible opportunity. Not only was I able to fully understand and learn about the project’s values and culture but also, to get to know wonderful people, with a huge heart and an endless desire to change the world. I will never forget this experience and truly hope to continuously bring these amazing teachings into my life!

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And it was finally time to rest…

Following the intense days in the volunteer work, and the physical pain in our body, we felt we were in need of rest and decided to stay an additional week in Nepal to cool down before heading to our next adventure. As such, we chose Bhaktapur and Pokhara as our final destinations in the country.

Bhaktapur is one of the main cities of the Kathmandu Valley and is known by its beautiful and old temples. Surrounded by amazing mountains, it was tragically devastated by the 2015 earthquake. Nonetheless, its environment and cozy streets, shops and restaurants make this city quite special.

Afterwards, we headed to Pokhara, my favourite Nepali place and the perfect spot to recharge energies. We stayed near the Lake Side, where we could enjoy a peaceful environment and a beautiful landscape. In Pokhara, I finally had the opportunity to run (how I had missed it), do some yoga classes and try a different meditation style, with singing bowls (amazing!).

Also, as we still had one week left before starting the Mindfulness Project in Thailand, we decided to do two pit stops in the country:

(i) Bangkok: we were warmly welcomed by Rita, a Portuguese friend who was living there, and who invited us to stay at her place. After 2 months travelling in Asia, it felt like home! Also, after these 2 months in India and Nepal, it felt we were in New York or in other super developed city 🙂

(ii) Hua Hin, a seaside place near Bangkok, where the Royal family built summer palaces and where people from Bangkok usually spend their weekends.

The resting days were amazing and I feel now 100% prepared for the next challenge: volunteering in the Mindfulness Project! Let the adventure continue…!

My Hands at All Hands

When I started to plan this trip, I set one main goal to myself: this trip had to have a broad purpose and to be truly meaningful for me. Not only I wanted it to bring me value as a person/human being, but also to give me the opportunity to help those in need and leave my comfort zone.

While planning the itinerary, I came across with All Hands, an US Non-profit Organisation (“NGO”) focused on the immediate and long-term support of communities impacted by natural disasters. Following a detailed analysis of the organization and its current projects, I found out they were in need for volunteers in their Nepali base. The country had witnessed a devastating earthquake in 2015 (c. 9,000 people killed, c. 23,000 injured and mass destruction of infrastructure and homes), and was still requiring massive investment and support in a broad range of areas. All Hands was helping in the (re)construction of schools, in an attempt to provide a better future for the future generations. I was so happy to find it. That was exactly what I was looking for! Nepal would be my second country and the project/ organization looked quite interesting and serious.

Two months later, and following a busy month in India, there I was in an overcrowded bus, surrounded by Nepali and with no space to breath or move. Was I prepared for the All Hands experience? I thought I was. After going through the program, I can say I did not expect it to be that hard and demanding. I have always practiced a lot of sports, namely high-intensity cardio exercises, and used to feel physically well-prepared, but this “challenge” demanded much more than this.

While arriving at Thulo Pakhar’s bus station, we met two volunteers (easily identified by the blue All Hands t-shirts), who kindly helped us with our luggage. In the first day, we had a brief introduction of the program and were told the basic rules of the base: how to live in community (there were more than 100 people in there), the emergency evacuation procedures (there had been a little earthquake that morning!), standards of behaviour (namely in what concerns children). As I had already been warned about and read in a great book called Little Princes, the traffic of children is a serious problem in the country and thus, every precaution should be taken to avoid the disclosure of information and pictures on social media. Also, we attended the mandatory daily meeting, where (i) the projects’ managers provided an update and planning on each school’s works, (ii) new volunteers introduced themselves, (iii) each attendant had the opportunity to leave community notes, and (iv) additional messages were disclosed (service tasks, additional details on the sites, etc). There were people from all ages and nationalities, which made the environment quite interesting and, at the same time, socially challenging.

The 8 days spent in All Hands were physically and emotionally demanding. Not only the staying and hygienic conditions were basic (and the temperature at night was extremely low I could not sleep properly one single day), but also, the busy working schedule required strong commitment and dedication. We woke up at 5h30 am and hardly worked for 8 hours (from 7 am to 4h15 pm), with two water breaks and one lunch hour. The majority of the tasks were physically demanding and involved digging, carrying heavy weights (cement, bricks, sand, etc) and making “masala”. Other main tasks included bricklaying, helping in base improvement, housekeeping, and other construction and community works.

During our stay at All Hands we had the opportunity to enjoy our free weekly day at the base and village. The night before we attended a King’s day party (farewell of a Dutch volunteer) and during the day we walked around the Thulo Pakhar village and got some rest/ recharged energies for the following days.

After completing my 8 day stay in the project, my whole body was hurting. The physical marks were “visible” and I was feeling quite tired. Nonetheless, I can say the experience was worthwhile, and I truly hope my hands help the lives of Thulo Pakhar’s children.

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Kathmandu, you had me at hello!

Calm. Peaceful. Silent.

I know these are not the common adjectives used to describe Kathmandu, but I was arriving from a month in India, and my last stop had been Varanasi. India is beautiful and has its own charms but its noisy and chaotic environment can make you feel exhausted after some weeks.

This feeling just started when I crossed the India/ Nepal border: there were no horns anymore! How was it possible? You definitely get used to these maddening noises and do not even realise they exist and have a direct effect on your well-being. I immediately felt in heaven, my mind was again in peace.

After spending some days in the country, I can say Nepali are the warmest people I have ever met. I have never felt so welcoming and well cared for as in this country. In every place I went/ passed by, I received a sincere smile and a genuine “namaste”. People truly care about tourists and frequently ask you about the quality of their services and food, always trying to improve them. In addition, every time we mentioned our volunteer project in the country, they immediately started saying thankful words and giving us discount on their services/ products.

Before heading to Thulo Pakhar, where we would join a volunteer work at All Hands, we spent 3 days in Kathmandu. Even though in 2 of these 3 days it was raining cats and dogs, we had the opportunity to visit some of the main attractions of the city: (i) Swayambhunath or The Monkey Temple (Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage, a hilltop with a beautiful view over Kathmandu), (ii) Boudhanath (one of the largest Stupas in the world and UNESCO World Heritage), (iii) Pashupati (Hindu temple, where cremations take place) and (iv) Garden of Dreams (amazing place to have lunch/ dinner, read, relax, etc).

Also, we visited Patan, the third largest city of Nepal and one of the main cities of the Kathmandu Valley (the remaining main cities are Kathmandu and Bahktapur). Patan truly fascinated me. Just walking around the city and finding little yards, where many temples are hidden, is worthwhile. Moreover, the amazing colours in its buildings, shops, mandala paintings, clothes, make the city very attractive.

Unfortunately, in both cites you still witness signs of the devastating earthquake that hit the country in 2015. Even though I was already expecting it, it is really sad to see beautiful buildings, temples, and shops completely destroyed and abandoned. Huge efforts have been made and many places are currently under reconstruction, but major investment is still needed to completely recover these cities and give their populations similar living conditions.

In addition to the previous sightseeing tours, and as we stayed in the centre of Thamel (the most touristic part of Kathmandu), we had the opportunity to briefly live Kathmandu’s local life. I was amazed with traditional shops – many are focused on trekking – restaurants and bars. The small streets and businesses make the walks extremely easy and pleasant. Also, there are several beautiful and diverse rooftops (totally recommend OR2K restaurant), bars with live music and many other lively places. In this area, it is also common to find a lot of tourists. Tourism is Nepal’s largest industry: the country possesses 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world (Everest – 8,848m, Kanchenjunga – 8,586m, Lhotse – 8,501m, etc), being a hotspot for trekkers and people seeking adventure.

Following these initial days, I can definitely say: Kathmandu, you had me at hello!

¡CURIOUS EYES!

Nepal, a central Himalayan country, has a population of 26.5 million people and a total geographical area of 147 km2. Nepal was significantly influenced by its position in the Himalaya region and by its powerful neighbours: India and China. Due to these diverse influences, Nepali population is known by its multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious and multilanguage (Nepali is the main spoken language).

From 1990s to 2008, the country was in civil way, struggling for democracy. In 2008, a peace treaty was finally signed and Nepal became a federal republic.

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The Nepal flag represents some of the main characteristics of its population. It is the only national flag that is not a rectangle or square. The blue border symbolizes peace and harmony. The crimson red is Nepal’s national colour, and indicates the brave spirits of the Nepali people. The two triangles symbolize the Himalaya Mountains. The celestial bodies represent permanence, and the hope that the country will last as long as the sun and moon.

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Varanasi, the most spiritual city of India

It has been an interesting experience in India. Visiting a country for the second time allows you to see and analyse things from a different perspective. Not only am I a different person (it has been 7 years since my first visit) but also, the trip type/ mood is not the same. Strange as it may seem, this time I came with a lower budget and with the intention of truly learning from locals and from their culture.

So far, I have had the chance to use a broad range of transportation services. Undoubtedly, land transportation such as (night) bus/ (night) trains/ tuc tucs/ rickshaws gives you a real picture of the country and its population’s living conditions. Also, it can lead to awkward and challenging situations, which are definitely part of the travelling experience.

In addition to the previous sleeper train, we caught an AC night bus from Agra to Varanasi. Following a quite scary and strange change in the bus stop location and time (at 2 am!!), we finally arrived at our “room” for an entire night: a closed and claustrophobic “box”, where we spent c.10h!!

Our stay in Varanasi was not the most pleasant one. When I was completely recovered, Catarina got a terrible virus! Travelling has its ups and downs and Varanasi was the first down of our trip. Nonetheless, I still had the chance to revisit the city (so far, the dirtiest city I have been to) and to get to know a Portuguese couple (Susana and Alexandre), who supported us in this adventure.

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Below are some pictures of an interesting adventure while buying our bus tickets alone with a local… 🙂

¡CURIOUS EYES!
Varanasi is considered the most spiritual city of India. As in Rishikesh, the city is on the banks of the Ganges river. Varanasi is known for its many ghats, where locals bath, pray, wash clothes, and where crematory ceremonies take place. Due to Varanasi’s spiritual relevance, Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage. It is quite common to find cremation ghats, and the main one is burning 24/7 (crematories are organised by casts and women are not allowed to participate in the ceremonies). When cremation finishes, ashes are lain in the Ganges River.

The city is so special for Hindus that I was truly amazed with the devotion showed by local people to Shiva Goddess and their city. I heard a lot of times people happily saying they were so lucky and thankful to be born in Varanasi.

Taj Mahal, one of the Wonders of the World

And so, the adventure continued…. Considering we were travelling in India, I can say the trip had been quite calm and “controlled”. Where were we going next? Agra, to see one of the wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. The options to get to the city were limited as the best price/quality tickets were already booked until the beginning of May. As such, we decided to embrace the “sleeper train” adventure.

So far no good. The only thing I was not expecting was the high temperatures during the entire day (43º with no AC and cold drinks!!) and the food poisoning I got -> 7 hours of despair and dehydration! A typical Indian experience… It can happen at any time!

We spent only 2 days in Agra as the main attractions of the city were the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Subhash Bazar, which you can see in one day. Some friends from the ashram – Jacque and Gustavo (Brazilians), Sarah and Phil (Australians) and Ellen (American) – also stayed at our hotel so we had the opportunity to continue with the Phool Chatti family/ mood. Unfortunately, in the end, we had to say goodbye to the Brazilian and Australian couples as they would follow different itineraries. Hope to meet you in the near future!

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¡CURIOUS EYES!
The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahalbuilt. The monument was built between 1631 and 1648 and houses Mumtaz Mahalbuilts’s tomb. The Taj Mahal is considered a jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.