All posts by emily

Backpacking India: Mamallapuram

India - Mamallapuram - Shore Temple
Mamallapuram was the second stop on our Indian adventure – a tourist-friendly beach town just south of Chennai.

When leaving Chennai, we knew that we could take a city bus to Mamallapuram, we just weren’t sure exactly how. Google maps told us to take an urban bus and then transfer to a longer distance bus that goes into Mamallapuram. Since there is so much traffic in the city, we thought it would be faster to take the train out and then catch the long distance bus, so we found a station that should cross the bus route. Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way. We had to walk a few blocks from the station to the bus depot and ended up getting on a different bus than we expected to Mamallapuram. But we got there and it only took just over an hour.

India - Mamallapuram
When we arrived in town and started to wander around our guesthouse, we felt like we had been transported to a different world. There were more tourists than cars on the street, every shop was selling the same tourist items (water, toilet paper, clothing, and stone carvings), the restaurants were advertising seafood and coffee. Eventually we realized that the town really has been built around tourism, especially after the Shore Temple become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that there was another part of town where the locals conducted their lives.

India - Mamallapuram - Five Rathas
So many tourists come to Mamallapuram because it has the earliest surviving Pallava rock carvings. There are numerous rathas, caves, bas-reliefs and temples right in town and within a hundred meters of the beach. Most of the structures were created to show off the talents of the local stone carvers, an art form which is still done in town but as stand alone pieces. The carvers created these massive structures by chipping away at rocks embedded in the ground, from the top down. The detail is amazing, even after centuries of wind and ocean beating them down.

India - Mamallapuram
There is a nice sandy beach, but the waves are too strong for swimming. It’s mostly used by fishermen, dogs, and cows. We did end up walking back into town from the Tiger Cave (about 5 km’s) along the beach and it was quite pleasant.

India - Mamallapuram
We sampled a few of the tourist restaurants, in addition to our regular pure veg meals. It was generally disappointing, either because of the food or the service. The tourist food usually includes seafood, burgers, pizza, pasta, Chinese, and other things that aren’t particularly vegan friendly. So we often ended up ordering Indian dishes for four times the price and half the tastiness. Some of the touristy restaurants have a nice ambience, and it was a treat to have things like walnut pie and beer (Tamil Nadu is technically a dry state).

India - Mamallapuram
Since Chris was recovering from his food poisoning, we ended up taking a taxi from Mamallapuram to Pondicherry. We were disappointed to miss out on another bus adventure.

Backpacking India: Chennai

India - Chennai
Five days in Chennai was more than enough. In many ways it was a good place to start our indian adventure, but we’re happy to move on.

The food was excellent and cheap (except for the night we splurged for Emily’s birthday dinner at Royal Vega). The public transportation system was good and will be even better when the new subway lines are done soon.

There aren’t a lot of sights to see but there are a lot of interesting neighborhoods to explore.

India - Emily's birthday
Kapalishvara Temple – beautiful architecture, relaxed for a holy site, interesting place to sit and watch rituals being performed.
Fort St George – awkward to get to, mostly restricted access for government business, but the museum provides a good historical context for the city
Government Museum – four museums in one covering stone and bronze statues, natural sciences, art, children’s, puppetry, etc. The site contains several old buildings with neat architecture, some falling into disrepair, but they are over 150 years old.

India - Chennai
Mylapore – new shaded side streets to explore. Interesting juxtaposition of new, rich areas, and some really poor areas.
Triplicane – a bit more hectic, a big mosque they wouldn’t let us into
T Nagar – big shopping area, an unbelievable crush of people, particularly around the train station. We went to an interesting theatre complex to see a dance show.
Georgetown – the area inhabited by the locals when the Fort was first constructed by the British. There are lots of narrow streets selling anything from pots to motorcycle parts to fruit.
Egmore – the area around the train station with the most tourist restaurants and hotels we saw. Quite hectic into the night with people coming and going.

The biggest downside of Chennai is how hostile it is to pedestrians. The sidewalks ware rarely walkable so you’re often in the street fighting off space with honking vehicles, people, cows, goats, and trees. We only found one light with a pedestrian signal and almost died trying to follow it.

The biggest advantage to Chennai was being able to act like a local. You can take public transit, shop, eat, and never get different, tourist treatment.

Countdown to India: Packing Lists

As the obsessive planner that I am, I’ve been thinking about what to pack for 4 months in India since we booked the flights. Between Chris and I, we went to MEC six times to survey our options for bags, shoes, clothes, and other travel necessities. I decided to stick with a 45 litre bag to limit how much I could bring. I also splurged on a pacsafe purse with anti-theft features. Chris is using his 60 litre camping backpack plus a 28 litre daypack.

We’ve left room in our bags to buy Indian clothing and souvenirs … or add that essential item we didn’t think about.

Emily’s Packing List:

  • Tops: 2 t-shirts, 1 icebreaker long sleeve top, 1fleece
  • Two dresses (thanks for the last minute addition, Marsha!)
  • Two pairs of pants
  • Gloves & neck warmer
  • Bathing suit
  • Shoes: light trail hikers, sandals, flip flops
  • 7 pairs underwear, 5 pairs socks, 2 bras
  • Rain jacket
  • Towel
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp
  • iPad

Chris’s Packing List:

  • Tops: 2 t-shirts, 4 button up shirts, 1 long sleeve top, 1fleece
  • One pair of short and one pair of pants
  • Running shorts and a dryfit tee
  • Gloves and a light toque
  • Bathing suit
  • Shoes: trail runners and sandals
  • 7 pairs underwear, 4 pairs socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Towel
  • Sleeping bag liner and pillow
  • Toiletries
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Cellphone, e-reader, and camera
  • Journal
  • Chargers and universal power adapter
  • Swiss Army knife and sporks
  • Clothes line, first aid kit, sewing kit, hand sanitizer
  • General purpose antibiotics

We’ll check back and let you know how we did.

Countdown to India: 6 days

A few months ago, Chris and I decided to take advantage of being (relatively) young, established in our careers, and debt free. We’ve opted to pick up our lives and travel across India for 4 months. I am leaving my job for good, but Chris will be returning to his in April. Life has been a flurry of subletters, cat sitters, boxes, visits, guide books, and work work work. Despite all the hassle of preparing for a trip like this, we’re really looking forward to exploring a totally new place with such diversity and amazing food, and approaching life differently, taking time to enjoy the little things and opening our minds to new possibilities.

Iconic India

The Plan: We’re flying into Chennai, via Toronto and Frankfurt, December 9-10. On April 15, we depart from Delhi, through London. Chris is coming back to Vancouver and I’m taking advantage of being unemployed by spending some time with friends and family in Ontario. We want to travel at a relatively slow pace, taking in not just the big sites, but really getting a feel for life in India. We’ve planned out our first few weeks, but want to keep the flexibility to stay somewhere we like and leave somewhere we don’t. Generally, we’ll travel from south to north as the weather gets warmer.

We’ve had a variety of different reactions when we tell people our plans. Many are jealous, wishing they had or could leave their lives to travel for an extended period of time. Some think we’re absolutely crazy to leave stability for a country with a billion people, chaos everywhere, and poor sanitary conditions. But most are supportive of our choice and excited for our adventure. So we want to stay in touch! We plan on posting tales of travel and mayhem here every week or so and uploading pictures to flickr.

Emily’s Reflections from the Welfare Food Challenge

Building on Chris’s recap, I wanted to share my reflections from the Welfare Food Challenge. Organized by Raise the Rates, the challenge is to live off a food budget of $21 per person for 7 days – what the average single person on welfare has after housing and transportation costs. And we did it! Our food was boring, we lacked certain nutrients, and we put off a number of social activities, but we survived for one week doing part of what many do for a lifetime.

Welfare Food Challenge
We spent a lot time planning and cooking. Prior to the start of the week, we scouted out the cheapest items at the cheapest stores. We meticulously wrote down the cost by weight and made a spreadsheet when we got home. (Details of our shopping trip here.) Since most meals involved dried beans, we had to plan at least 24 hours in advance to soak and then cook the beans before making the meal. We’d often come home from work, make dinner, eat, and then make lunch for the next day. This was particularly difficult when we had things to do in the evening.

In some ways we had a very different diet than most people on welfare. I think this is mostly attributes to the differences in our lives. I live in a nice two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen. I have a day job and middle class friends. I enjoy food and planning meals. All of this means I’m willing to take the time to plan out how to stretch $21 over a week. If I was forced to eat one meal out, even if it was fast food, I would have blown my budget. Or if I had given in to stress and, say, had a drink or ate some chocolate, no eating for 2 days.

Making Chapatis
I definitely felt low energy and grumpy at times. After did Chris the nutritional breakdown, we realized how low our fat and calcium intake was. We were probably also missing vitamins like B12 which doesn’t effect us right away, but can cause permanent damage in the long term. Nutrition and mood are so closely linked. And our mood effects what we’re able to do in a day.

Mostly I found that this challenge changed my relationship with food. I spent a lot of my time thinking about or preparing food, and yet it brought me no enjoyment, it was a chore, it caused me stress, I ate so that I wasn’t hungry. We usually cook a fair bit, but also enjoy eating out. We like having friends over and showing how good vegan food can be. The one think that didn’t bother me, but seemed to come up for others, was social isolation. Maybe I’m just used to eating different food than everybody else. I found it a good excuse to talk about welfare rates (as opposed to my usual, why being vegan is awesome).

4 Tips for Everyday Biking in Vancouver

Urban Cyclist

Guest post by Emily Beam

Biking can easily be your main form of transportation in Vancouver all year round. But it’s easy to get intimidated by all the spandex-clad road bikers and too cool for school bike couriers. This is how I bike around the city without compromising style or having to worry about end-of-trip facilities.

1. Get the right bike and set it up to carry all your stuff. I have a hybrid step-thru from trek with fenders and a back rack. I got a kick-ass, multi-purpose pannier by Detour that transforms into a should bag or backpack and a folding basket just in case I do a really big shopping trip. You’ll also need a helmet and lights (safety first).

2. To bike in this city year-round, you need solid rain gear. There is no way to bike in the rain and look stylish. So I opt for rain gear that goes on top of my clothes. This way, when I get to my final destination, I can shed the layer and look like I just stepped out of my house. Must haves: rain jacket with armpit vents, rain pants, shoe covers, and waterproof gloves (which are oddly hard to find).

3. Get to know your city. Vancouver does a lot for cyclists – maps can be found here. I’m lucky to live in a central neighbourhood and I never had to travel very far. Whenever possible, I take a separated bike lane or dedicated bike street. And don’t forget there are lots of hills. After years of honing my skills, I’ve mastered the advanced hill avoidance techniques. You’ll learn the hard way which routes are Vancouver’s hilliest.

4. Take your time and enjoy the ride!