Buenos Aires, take three

I had been to BA twice before, the first time more than ten years ago at the end of a two and a half month South American backpacking trip, and the second time in 2011 before flying to Patgonia and boarding a ship to Antarctica. I remember loving BA and Argentina as a place I’d happily call home – the mix of horses, music, dance, meat, wine, European and Latin American culture too good to be true. I wanted to become a tango dancer and speak Spanish after my last visit, and both are more or less functioning today, so I felt warmly welcomed, especially in the late summer season when Carnival would also hit our neighbourhood of San Telmo.

Carnival street performer

We were 5 gauchos and gauchas, meeting in an Airbnb affectionately called ‘Bohemian Apartment’, only a few blocks from the San Telmo market. We ate steak and wine, chorizo and more wine, except for little Jana, our token vegetarian. We walked the entire neighbourhoods of San Telmo, La Boca, and the fabled cemetery de la Recoleta, and I ran a few kilometres every morning in a different direction to keep up with my marathon training. We saw a tango show, and I tango danced in the milonga that followed with men I never had to open my eyes for.

La Boca

We learned that Carnival in San Telmo meant buying pressurised soap foam and attacking kids in the street before they showered us first, and failed to get close enough in the crowd to really watch the main event – hordes of marching bands and beautiful, feathered and sparkling dancers paraded down Av. de Mayo street while we kept the eyes on the backs of our heads open.

the cobblestoned streets of San Telmo, and us, in our hats and shoes

Nearly all of us bought a cowboy hat, some cowboy boots, and two of us, a boina hat and alpargatas slippers in true gaucho fashion. The smell of leather in some shops felt like we had already walked into the stable, but we were headed northwest to Cordoba province for our 6 day riding trip, 120km away from the Cordoba airport to a slice of heaven called Ongamira valley.

dinner at Orilla with Mr. Trocca himself

After eating our way through the San Telmo Market and the wonderful kitchen of Fernando Trocca at Orilla, we also stayed a night in Palermo near the large, green parks and modern highrises that felt no different to upper eastside New York. The weather was perfect in March, and the constantly fluctuating peso was always cheap, so leaving was hard, but a polo and horse festival trip for Januaray 2020 (Festival de la doma y el folclore) is already in the works – you want to join?

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Two Birthdays in Ireland

In Goa last year, during our yoga teacher training, Rbberta and I realized we had the same birthday. The only difference was a few years (it was her 60th), but us pisces were drawn to the coast of Northern Ireland to celebrate together.

Roberta and I with Nell

I stayed with Roberta and her husband Brian, and their dog Nell, in Bangor by the sea. Brian had two motorcycles and offered to take me on a roadtrip to the Mourne Mountains and Portaferry and Strangford, where we were hot on the trail of the Games of Thrones doors.

Brian at Bloody Bridge

Robertas daughter joined us for a night out to Portrush for our birthday dinner, where we dined on mostly meats, strangely enough, at the Neptune and Prawn. We walked it off on the strands near by, at Port Stuart and East Strand, and visited the nearby Dunluce Castle.

Dunluce castle on the Causeway Coastal Route

The major highlight, as a good tourist, was the Giants Causeway, where we walked over perfectly formed Basalt columns and admired the giant’s organ. The sun was shining and Northern Ireland couldn’t have been more green, and not to mention warm – it was over 15°c in February!

the Giant´s Causeway

Of course we had to do some yoga together, attending Michael´s and Tom´s classes. We visited Roberta´s second home, the Aurora Rec center where she goes every morning before the crack of dawn to keep her 7% body fat figure… she´s healthier than I´ve ever been and looks younger than me from behind! We swam laps and I played on the slides, trying not to lose my top.

yoga on East Strand

We had many, many birthday cakes, extending the celebration a day longer every time we could make some fun out of it. We had Nepalese food at a restaurant that put up banners and candles for us, and treated us to an entire cake and bottle of Prosecco. I had a slice of cheesecake every day, sometimes twice, and chocolate whenever I could, because I felt I deserved it as an older woman.

happy birthday to us!

The trip was a great success, and I even managed to keep up with my marathon training, believe it or not. We walked Nell, Roberta´s dog whenever we could, and even in the fog and rain, Bangor by the sea was more pleasant to visit in February than I could have imagined.

the harbour in Bangor

Skiing the Swiss Alps in Engelberg

After a few days in Lyon, the bi-annual ritual trip to Sirha and Bocuse d’or, we needed to get to Engelberg. Europe is connected by so many trains, flights and buses that its hard to chose the best route – flying was too expensive, buses took too long, but the train made a happy medium. We went from Lyon to Mulhouse, then Basel where we could stop for an hour and eat at the mouthwatering food hall ´Alte Markthalle´ beside the station. We got the next train to Lucerne and then changed for the third and last time for the local train to Engelberg, but still felt nothing from the journey – when you get to skip the mundane security of airports and baggage controls of budget airlines, travel truly is a pleasure. The journey took us through the French mountains and up into the Swiss alps, past lakeside villages and snow-topped glaciers, with views to Titlis at the end, and within a few hours, we were checked into the Baenklialp Hotel, recently bought by some Icelandic friends.

That flag…

We ate cheese, fondue, and more cheese, not missing the chance to visit the famous cheese factory Schaukaserei Kloster just a few hundred metres from our hotel. We skied both sides of the mountain Brunnihutte and Titlis/Jochstock, and a 3-day pass was the perfect amount of time to spend on the slopes. We went to the top of Titlis, with unlimited visitbility over the valley in all directions, and without any fear for heights, also had to walk the Titlis Cliff walk bridge at 3041m above sea level.

the picnic tables started disappearing under all the fresh snow

Our last day on the mountain was the first time in my snowboarding history that I can complain there was too much powder. It had started snowing the night before, and over 40cm of fresh snow had been groomed before the runs opened, but the snow kept coming. With the help of other riders carving snow into piles and the wind gusting powder in random banks, there were places on the runs with waist-deep powder, and if the angle of the downhill wasn’t steep enough, you’d slowly slide to a halt, your feet and board buried in powder out of sight, and the risk of sitting down meant utter disappearance. I wasn’t sure we’d even make it down the mountain on the last run, and I lost Thrainn in the powder for nearly 30 mins, with a couple of glimpses of orange jacket between the whiteout to be sure I was waiting for him in the right place.

on the way to the top

I’d never been to German-speaking Switzerland before, and having just left France, there were a few moments when I’d forget where I was. But people understood French and English more readily than I could speak either (German trips me up so much), so I always ended up looking like the stupid tourist, especially when I kept calling francs euros. We left via Zurich, a cheap and easy train ride from Engelberg, where Icelandair flew directly home to yet another frozen, winter wonderland. It’s never as pretty without fresh snow though, especially if you cant ride your snowboard thru it.

Guernsey, country #218

Though Guernsey is closer to France than England, but not in the EU. Its also not technically part of Great Britain or the UK, but they use the pound with their own coins and different pictures on the bills. If I pass thru border control and can add pieces to my worldwide money collection, then hey, it’s a new country for me.

The south coast of Guernsey

The roads on Guernsey were built or horse carriages, and never really widened after the car was introduced. This made renting a new car and driving it on the wrong side of the ride extra difficult, since oncoming traffic was literally head on. The shores were rocky, the weather windy, and the skies a dramatic mix of clouds, sunshine and rain, so being outside never got boring. Once in a while there was a sandy stretch of beach and you were sure to find a dozen joggers and dog owners enjoying the space. We drove around counter clockwise, starting at the airport near St. Martin, to Pleinmont, then Vazon and Grandes Rocques and Bordeaux harbour before reaching the capital, St. Peter Port.

St. Peter Port

The pubs were in great supply, and even a handful of good restaurants, and the main attractions were a few lighthouses, port towns and an aquarium. Tourism is dead here in the winter, since many hotels shut down until the summer season and the ones that were open were only partly open. The island of Lihou was my favourite stop, and we arrived there during the only 1.5hr window when the ride was low enough to walk over. A handful of guests were doing the same to check into the only hotel (and only building) on the island, but a tractor carried their luggage in a rickety hay trailer since the rolley suitcases would have killed a few too many limpets and barnacles.

the underwater road to Lihou

The best hotel on the island was Ziggurat; it was a boutique hotel with cutely decorated rooms, a bar with views of the city to the sea, and a stone staircase leading straight into the center of downtown St. Peter Port. Breakfast was included, a hot meal with the feeling of being home cooked and served by a long lost aunty, and the eggs and sausage breakfast was a refreshing change from the seafood we’d been gorging on every other meal.

Photo Highlight: Winter in Vestmannaeyjar

My father was from a tiny island on the south coast of Iceland where men proudly call themselves the first and most original Icelanders, since Iceland is their biggest colony. My father was born January 7th 1952 and both my grandparents were born January 11th, so January seemed like the best time to go and visit their communal grave. The cemetery in Heimaey is always lit up with festive lights until January 23rd, the anniversary of the 1973 volcanic eruption start date. If only everyone could Rest In Peace in such a paradise as this.

Backroads´ Active Adventures in 2019

Backroads, the worlds #1 active travel company, has recently expanded its activity horizons by adding yoga to their trips! There is still biking and/or hiking and the multi-sport type trips haven´t been dropped or changed, but Backroads has simply added yoga as an extra option. In fact, Backroads has always been a yoga friendly company, with free yoga classes at lunch time for their head office staff and dozens of existing leaders already being certified yoga teachers. But now, you have the opportunity to book an active-packed adventure in one of the many countries Backroads is working on incorporating yoga into.

the yoga space at Hotel Húsafell, Iceland

The yoga classes will usually be offered in the early morning or late afternoon, getting in hour of yoga after big meals, and somehow connected to sunrise and sunset times, theoretically (hard to do in Iceland with only 4 hours of daylight). The yoga is Hatha style, a slow flow intended to stretch and strengthen the body. The yoga is not just seen as its own activity, but an exercise to help increase and improve the experience of the other activities offered on trip, since a little bit of yoga never hurt a cyclist or hiker! After the yoga classes, guests (and teacher) felt relaxed and better prepared for the next days activities, and I even noticed I was sleeping better.

Dark and wintery Iceland offers lots of time for cosy indoor yoga

The first ever yoga trips started just this year in Costa Rica and Iceland, and I was grateful to be the yoga teacher leader on Iceland´s two yoga departures this January. The first Iceland trip was a shining success, and more yoga-enthused guests means more yoga options with Backroads in the future. So far, we have California, Florida, Hawaii, Utah and Arizona in the US, plus Costa Rica, Iceland, India, Italy, Mexico, Bali, Indonesia and Mallorca, Spain. If those segments go well, who knows where the yoga will stop – perhaps it will slowly creep into trips in all of the 60+ countries Backroads operates at!

your Backroads yoga teacher leaders have all gone through YTTC training

Check out your active adventure dreams at backroads.com, especially if you´re thinking of traveling with a bit of yoga in your future. Or if you´re a yoga certified teacher and have ever thought about teaching yoga as a Backroads leader, why don´t you try applying for the 2019 season?

Christmas in Bangladesh

I arrived in a place that felt like India and Saudia Arabia had collided. As a traveller, I experienced it the same way I experienced Lagos, an overwhelming, chaotic, crowded filth of a poverty stricken, mega city. It was a place where people’s faces were a blend of Indian and South East Asia, all the while still feeling a little middle eastern. I saw some Burmese faces, smelled clove cigarettes, and ate things authentically Bangla that I swore I had eaten in Mumbai. The alphabet had changed from Hindi and all English had been subtly dropped, even the numbers didn’t make sense.

rikshaw ride

The rickshaws were actually the tricycle pedal bikes, where anyone seated looked like a regal passenger endorsing modern human (paid) slavery. The Indian style rickshaws had been downgraded to dull, green cages. I didn’t understand why until I rode in one, and realised that it was safer to be locked in from the crowded streets and angry pedestrians and over-worked human pack donkeys.

ubering thru the streets, with election advertisements overhead

They have Uber here, on motorcycles, and I took an 8 km ride across town as someone’s first ride, breaking in his brand-new passenger helmet. He was nervous, not only because he was new on the job, but because I was the only foreigner for miles, a female, and directing him where to go since he had no idea and hadn’t thought to get a phone holster for his bike to follow directions.

pedal boating on the river

I took a sunset boat ride on the Buriganga river, which was, without exaggerating, as black as tar. Only the setting sun put a twinkle of lightness in the water, which was the top layer of oil and petrol shimmering like a greasy rainbow. I suddenly became hyper aware of the fact that I don’t have black hair, and being brunette with any sun kissed streaks meant I wasn´t local. I was a foreigner, no matter what I wore, and covering my hair wasn´t enough since the tone of tanned skin isn’t the same as having dark skin. I couchsurfed with a much whiter, larger Turkish man, but luckily for me, he had two local Bengali friends to show me around while he worked, and their presence made me feel a little less noticeable.

my christmas family

They have a funny way of peeing, the men do. They squat like a female and wee with their little man out of sight, but I wondered then if they also deal with the same splatter back problem women do when squatting too close to the ground to be discrete. I visited the deserted town of Panam and took another sunset boat trip where we couldnt see the sun and had to row ourselves. That was when I realised two out of four of us were afraid of water and didnt know how to swim. That kind of stuff doesn´t get lost in translation no matter how little we say, but I sort of managed to make everyone relax and laugh about it.

boating around the moat of Sonargaon

I took Uber motorcycles everywhere I needed to get to in Dhaka, including the zoo where I finally saw a  Royal Bengal tiger. Tourists normally need travel permits or militarized escorts to leave the capital, and traveling for run around election time as a foreigner was a big no no, so there wasn´t much chance to try and go trek for one in the wild.

National Parliament in Dhaka

I saw the old part of town and some markets and mosques, but was most impressed by the National Parliament house – it looked like something either from former Yogoslavia´s communist past or out of the future, George Orwell 1984 style, with security around it tight enough to impress the US Embassy. I walked around worried about where I could look, walk and barely mustered up the courage to take a photo, and then realised the satellites and internet signals around the parliament weren´t normal; google maps located me in a totally different part of town and I wasn´t able to order my uber motorcycle to where I was actually standing.

the one and only Royal Bengal tiger in Dhaka

A fun fact about the Bengali language: In English, its simple and all to have just cousins as a word for male and female relatives, and in Icelandic, we don’t even differentiate between an aunty, cousin or niece, they’re just all cousins. In Bangla language, they refer to an aunty from your moms side totally differently than an aunty from your dads side, and same for a paternal or maternal uncle. Mama is the word for your moms brother, which still makes me snicker.

The Star Mosque

A very useful fact for overland travelers to Bangladesh: visa on arrival from Kolkata to Dhaka thru the Benapole border is not possible during election time, and sometimes possible at other times. I was refused entry, blatantly stamped in my passport, after being told to go there from the Bangla authorities in Kolkata. But the immigration officers at the land border told me I wouldn´t receive the visa on arrival there because of elections, but I could fly from Kolkata to Dhaka and get the VOA at the airport, even though the elections are mainly happening in and around the capital. I took the risk of traveling back to Kolkata Airport and buying a one way flight (my return flight thru Delhi and back to Iceland was from Dhaka so I figured that was a strong argument to have after already landing in Dhaka) to Bangladesh, only to buy toyed for another hour about the difficulties of getting a visa during election time. My couchsurfing host was Turkish, which the authorities didn´t love, but the final yes came from a muslim Bangladeshi man named Salman, named after Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman empire in the 1500´s.