Mid-year reflections and why I travel….

Soundtrack: The Theory of Everything

This year has been so fulfilling, amazing on so many levels – personal life, work, health. There’s so much I want to write about, but I will focus on one specific experience…

I celebrated life and hitting 55 countries in Raja Ampat, an area far east of Indonesia in the West Papua region.

During my last day in RA, I was overwhelmed with a feeling which is hard to put into words. Two months has passed as I write this now, and I’m still overwhelmed by this feeling.

55 countries and hundreds of cities visited over the last 30 years of my life… 3 destinations/experiences have given me this distinct feeling which I will try to articulate.

Firstly, the destinations…

It’s a feeling that comes from

  • chasing & experiencing something almost supernatural, whether it’s a type of magnificent beauty specific to that place or a story to be witnessed
  • being completely immersed in that beauty and story that unfolds in front of you – the people, the site, nature
  • exploring with friends and sometime strangers. A feeling that comes from the satisfaction of trekking thru jungles in the heat, or wading thru water and seaweed to get to my homestay, diving with sharks or hundreds of fish, or traveling 40 hours in every mode of transport to experience a specific type of place. Friends and strangers who you instantly bond with, because for god’s sake if they are in the mindset to do this, you know they love many of the same things you do. And they do as you hear their stories that are so enriching

Raja Ampat. Jesus. This region is a collection of 1,500 islands, has 10x the number of coral species in the Caribbeans and is home to 75% of all known coral species in the world. It is also pretty remote and hard to get to. All of the above equates to a raw type of beauty both in nature, culture and very few tourists. I had initially thought this would be a that holiday where you just lie by the ocean and do nothing, but no.. as soon as I took the first boat trip to snorkel, I knew I had to do this and explore everyday. My first snorkeling trip to Arborek was mind blowing. I swam amongst formations of hundreds of fish, beautiful corals, sharks and turtles. God knows what else I could discover in the other areas.


So you have that raw beauty – seeing the beautiful life that exists above and under the ocean.

And I discovered something else… 

I don’t think I’ve met so many amazing travelers within a week, whether traveling solo or non-solo. I met and talked intimately with roughly 20 people, whether at my homestay, the trips or at other home stays. Every single person was not only fascinating, their personalities, souls were so enriching. Some were the kindest I’ve met, others were beaming with positivity or had a sense of humor that would make me laugh for hours. In a nutshell I was so drawn to everyone, I could have spent my entire life happy being surrounded by them. If it’s anything we all had in common, it was our love for exploration, nature and seeing the rawest parts of the world.

As soon as I arrived at my very very humble homestay (a homestay that had a total of 4 bungalows), Katia and Laure, 2 French girls who had been there for a few days immediately came up and chatted up with me. They brought me on their first trip to Piaynemo in my first full day which they organized with Freddie, our homestay host. Another guy, one of those who is the epitome of doing EVERYTHING at the very LAST minute, joined us on our trip. His whole demeanor screamed “I’ve just been through so much shit trying to get here solo, I’m so damn tired and and am so glad to have found you guys to share the costs of this damn boat trip to the most visited viewpoint in Raja Ampat”. Yet, he was in good spirits and funny throughout.


That very first night, Laure, Katia organized a group dinner (the alternative was a depressing affair having dinner in our individual bungalows) in our homestay. Fazia and Matthieu from the 3rd bungalow joined us. Together, every single person in that homestay congregated, broke bread together and we shared our stories, our backgrounds, what brought us here and laughed so hard talking about all the crazy things we’ve encountered.

This particular dinner is one of the most beautiful memories I have on all my travels. The concept of strangers coming together for a meal, brought together by something in common AND having a good time. Laure, Katia, Fazia, Matthieu were all French, and I was very appreciative of them communicating in English merely because of my presence. The last memory I have of something uniquely similar to this was from roughly 8 years ago, where I went on a 3-4 day hike at La Ciudad Perdida with a group of people from all over the world.

That night, we talked about our plans for the next day, to avoid cabin fever and explore as much as we could. The previous day, Laure and Katie had waded across to Kri island from Mansuar (the island we’re on) during low tide to look for people to get information from. They found Yenkoranu, a homestay with a dive center that organized daily diving/snorkeling trips. They met David, the dive manager, got his number and later, used my phone (Indonesian SIM card) to organize a last minute trip the next day. What they did, was the start of something beautiful, that I’m still experiencing, that I will struggle today to put into words and need to wait it out…

In the days that followed, I passed on the kindness that Laure, Katia showed me – information sharing, group dinners and laughs.

This trip has evolved me.. it was like my body, soul was injected with passion, love and all sorts of introspective thoughts about life. It has also propelled me forward to take action on some things I’ve been thinking about for ages.

The thing is.. what evolved, energized me isn’t necessarily what makes everyone evolve, energized. I get that.

What I hope to get across through this post, is that I hope we all find those moments, experiences, things that bring energy, love and passion to our lives. The kind of energy that makes us gaze out into the skies, smiling, thankful for the world we live… contentment, peace, love and happiness.

2017 -> 2018

2017 Reflections

2017 felt light. I danced and twirled from one thing to another. I felt carefree. It was a year of little worry, pain and challenges in comparison with the past years.

One of the best things I did early this year was read a letter (for the first time) I wrote to myself in 2013 (thank you Sara and Siobhan for the idea!!).  It’s a bit too personal to share, but the letter touched on four areas – work, personal growth, health and love. It reminded me of the things that were important to me, the things that invigorate and motivate me. My letter to myself had so much zest, it did what I had intended it to do when I wrote it. It woke me up and injected another level of energy into my being. An excerpt from the letter

“I love being with people that challenge me, question my opinions. I would die a horrible slow death if I didn’t surround myself with these type of people. I want to always maintain this. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking, and helps you grow as a person. If I ever run my own company, hire people who have this courage.”

The letter also reminded me of something so deeply ingrained in my personality (something confirmed through multiple personality tests).  I live in the moment. I live for the journey, the adventure and the unknown.

I live in the present, make the most of it, but I know and want things to be constantly changing.  You make a goal at work, you meet it, and put in 200%, you reflect, and then you move on to the next.

I recently went back to a blog post I wrote in 2007. 20 freaking 07. This whole love of the unknown, working on a goal, something I had no idea what I was getting into, and moving on to the next, was screaming at me.

I did one of those #bestnine things, but when I actually sat down to write my favorite moments of 2017, social media wasn’t a reflection them…  so here’s an attempt to capture some of my favorite moments in writing….

1. April 2017, Penang and KL – Visiting home (Malaysia) and having the opportunity to share it with Mia. We’re both huge foodies, the number of gastronomy related experiences we’ve had over the years of our friendship is something I’ll always treasure. Malaysia is home to the best food, food that represents the diversity and many different cultures we have: Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc. And even within those cultures, the nuances are vast.

2. July 2017, Formentera –  Eniko and I organized a last minute trip to Mallorca, Spain to get some beach holiday on the books. As part of the negotiations to get her down, she made me promise that we go surprise her cousin in Formentera. Little did I know that making the trip from Mallorca to Formentera in one day basically meant 14 hours of traveling in one day… So we set off at 6am and got on every mode of transportation possible. And it was so worth it. What was worth it? The beauty of Formentera (crystal clear beaches), cycling and ditching our broken bikes on the side of the road and last but not least, the emotions and uncontrolled happiness as soon as Eni’s cousin realized who was standing in front of her.

3. July 2017, Kerry, Ireland – So Siobhan and I have this history of getting into running together and also lots of adventures. Early this year, she sends me a text asking if I’d like to go on the annual 180km Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle in Ireland. We are not cyclists and had no perspective going into this. An hour into the cycle, I’m thinking, “Oh shit, ok, I’m starting to see how this isn’t going to be easy.” 11 hours into the cycle and I see the that I’m 2km away from the finish line. I start welling up in tears, tears that represent “I don’t know how the hell I did this, but I did it, and I’m so damn happy”. I couldn’t walk straight for a few days following that…

4. August 2017, London – I LOVE going to live sporting events. Wimbledon is one event that I’ve been to about 6 times. I was also fortunate to have lived in London during the 2012 Olympics and got to see a number of events. This year, I went to watch the World Athletic Championships and got to see both Usain Bolt and Mo Farrah race. It also turned out to be Usain Bolt’s last event before retirement. The atmosphere of the stadium combined with being able to watch these super humans who put in so much hard work and dedication into a career that offers little security was highly satisfying.

5. Mid 2017, Stockholm – This year I’ve had many opportunities to visit my dear friend Sara who lives in Stockholm. With Siobhan, we are godmother to her 3-year old daughter Elsa. During one of those visits, while Elsa and I were playing on the couch, E looks up at me and goes, “I love you Ruth”. God knows if she even remembers that, but in that moment, she grabbed my heart in a way that made me well up.

6. Gothenburg – This moment.

7. Dec 2017, NH – Something I’d been working arduously on throughout 2017 was elevating the impact of the team I manage and making our team more visible on an organizational level. Early Nov, I was roped into a meeting and our agile coach team was given a responsibility – design and facilitate a 2018 strategy meeting with 50-60 people from our Product & Engineering teams.

In the month leading up to the meeting, what ensued was…

  • hard work
  • panic
  • hard work
  • stress
  • hours or hard work
  • major team bonding experience
  • 5am PT calls

Day 1 of the actual meeting, I remember a moment at 3pm, where I thought, I have no idea how things are going to come together, ok breathe, trust the process. At 5pm, as we watched the presentations based on the deliverable template my team had put together, I remember thinking, holy crap, it’s coming together…

On Day 3, and in the following retrospective surveys, the number of accolades my team got was so damn fulfilling, and justified all the hours we had put in. I remember that as soon as the meeting ended, I ran out of the room and jumped  (or collapsed?) for joy.

That was an amazing way to end 2017.

Another chapter… again

I seem to go through a pattern, moving cities every 3-4 years (not sure if that’ll continue!), blogging consistently for the first 2 years. I wonder why…

And now I’m 5 months into San Francisco. I do think I love the city, I have so much more to explore.

2016 was epic and hectic.

Work wise, it was fulfilling, I climbed the corporate ladder, got more exposure to management, my boss in 2016 was truly a mentor and one that made the most impact on me, growing me in a way I hadn’t expected to grow. I travelled a ton for work, worked with a ton of our other offices in Europe and India, and established a ton of relationships globally. This is something I love and that I thrive on: travel, continuous improvement and meaningful relationships.

Travel wise, I visited 7 new countries: Costa Rica, Bahamas, Denmark, South Africa, Tanzania, Greece and Japan. Bahamas, South Africa and Tanzania were highlights, having adventures with my dear friends and exploring the unknown together. Ah friendship and the unknown… I LOVE that.

What was challenging about 2016? 

Living in NH became tougher for me personally. I did enjoy the first few years exploring and making the best of it, but at the end of the day, it didn’t mesh well with my personality. I’m one who loves city vibes, culture, art, music and NH did not have it to the extent of other cities I’d lived in (KL, Philadelphia and London). I was ready to leave. It was somewhat bittersweet because I was sad to leave the office that felt like home.

I also spent an early part of 2016 recovering from the end of a relationship. I somewhat remember the intensity of the pain I went through. It was a beautiful kind of pain, one mainly from sentimental reasons: we had a lot of things in common, our passion for travel, our discomfort with NH, our passion for exploring together. Yet we both knew deep down it wasn’t going to last. The pain I felt was one from losing something that was once good and someone I did care deeply about.

Another challenging part was my boss from 2016 leaving the company. He’s one I’d truly call a mentor. He grew me in a way I’d never expected to grow and I overcame certain ingrained challenges with his guidance. I smile remembering that day he pulled me aside to tell me he was leaving. I remember having my best poker face on. I remember very quickly finding a way to excuse myself after some polite chatter about the why and when. And I remember giving in to tears and sadness as soon as I was alone. And I remember telling him the truth of how hard it had hit me, us joking about how we are so shitty dealing with these things. Today I look back on the last few months, and I can very tangibly see how he grew me to be self sufficient and hold my own ground in the role I’m in today. And for that I am so thankful.

And now I am in San Francisco…no challenges yet but lots of getting acquainted with my new home!

In the last few months, I have had city type moments I used to have that I dearly missed in NH. Those moments I used to have in London, NYC (I’d drive down 4-5 times a year in NH to see my best friends) where I felt carefree, sheer happiness and passion about life, swept up in experiences that a beautiful city like San Francisco has to offer.

There’s the usual stuff, but I wanted to share a random yet beautiful moment that occurred. My friend/colleague E was in town. She had heard about a Diego Rivera mural at the San Francisco Art Institute. I didn’t know about it but was familiar with Rivera having been to Mexico City and seen his house and other murals, so I was excited to go! We stepped into a beautiful courtyard at the Institute and walked around in circles trying to find the mural. We finally found the big room, stepped into it with loud haunting folk music in the background with this beautiful 15feet mural in front of us. The only reason the music was on was because a worker had left it there while doing some maintenance work in the room. The music were songs from Dark Dark Dark, and while I was unfamiliar with them at the time, it’s exactly the type of music I loved (think Daughter or Phosphorescent).

We went to the back of the room and sat on the floors for ages staring at the mural in front of us listening to the beautiful music in the background and being present in the moment.

The music ended when this cool chick came in to grab her speakers and pack up. That in itself was another moment we observed in fascination. She was one of those interesting feminist type chicks, unshaven armpits, bra-less, huge gaping sleeveless top, boots.

At some point in this room, we look at each other and go “wow, that felt that a scene from a movie”.

Here’s to more random yet magical moments in San Francisco!

Takeaways from Egypt

A post three months too late, but watching The Square tonight inspired me to resurrect the draft that had been sitting around for ages.

Reuben and I decided to meet up in Egypt over Christmas.  I was apprehensive about the situation there, well sort of.  Was secretly hoping I’d get to see a demonstration…but that didn’t happen!

Some takeaways/notes from Egypt…


Just like Colombia, I was met with skepticism when mentioning I’d be going to Egypt.  Having spent a total of 10 days in Cairo and Sharm, I’m happy to report that things were quite normal there, apart from the very obvious hit in tourism thanks to the media and travel alerts.

Two days into Cairo, and you could sense the people’s sadness and keenness to restore this beautiful country back to its days of tourism glory.  This was noticeable by the rows of closed street carts around Giza & Memphis and by the tone of vendors that were somewhat pleading.  At one point, I was in a pyramid in Dashur all by myself.  From conversations with various Egyptians, they report that tourism has declined by 90% since the revolution.  With tourism being the nation’s main source of income, it has affected millions of people.

What does this mean for us travelers?  This is one of the best times to visit Egypt.  The hoards of tourists are not present.  You have the loving attention of locals who want you to feel safe and happy with your experience.  Prices of hotels, excursions are currently very very reasonably priced.

Travelling solo

In my first two days in Cairo as a solo female traveller, I was cautious.  Not so much about revolts, bombings, but more about being in a large city.  I wasn’t sure how I would be seen or approached in a different culture.  As the days went by, I began to relax.  Having walked around some really dodgy looking streets, talking to vendors, cafe owners, smiling at the friendly locals, I felt at ease.  There are certainly other cities in the US where I’ve felt more unsafe.  Regarding the current political situation, there were a few incidences throughout my time in Egypt, a bombing at a police station north of Cairo and clashes at the al-Azhar university.  I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t read the news.

Egyptians encoutered

When traveling, I look forward to conversing with the locals.  I love hearing first hand accounts from people with backgrounds different to mine and then arriving at a mutual understanding of “I’ve let you into a special place, you get it.”  There were some memorable folks we met: Peter, our Coptic Christian contact in Sharm who shared personal accounts of the current political situation, Yasser, my funny diving instructor, Maha, my tour guide who shared a lot about Cairo life with me, and Mohammed, our Mount Sinai guide.  Mohammed was my favorite.  I think he hated me at first as I kept wanting to wander off from the group by myself, but by the end of it, we were running down the mountain, stopping for tea, sharing Bedouin jokes while the others caught up.  He also shared some very sad personal experiences, and I admire him for how he’s been able to move on.  He was full of life.

Having a guide

A guide in a vast city like Cairo can be helpful for any first timer.  I’ve never done this previously, but with the advice of my brother, I asked for a guide during my time in Cairo.  Guides here have to get licensed, i.e. they have to study, pass exams.  Maha, my guide was like a textbook.  I could literally point to anything anywhere, ask her what the story is, and she’d get into it.  In a city insanely rich in history and culture, this is quite helpful to have.  She also prepped me before we’d walk into a site, how much to tip, what is a reasonable price, what to do to avoid hagglers, etc.  I spoke to other travellers and on a few occasions and they were overcharged, sometimes up to 10 times what I paid.  I also noticed different behaviors when vendors saw that I was with an Egyptian woman, versus when I wasn’t.


Food.  God, I love Egyptian food.  Koushari, fresh grilled seafood in Sharm, bread, Egyptian tangine….  I love carbs, seafood and spices.  Koushari surprised me.  It is a Egyptian dish where they mix macaroni, rice, beans, vinegar, tomato and hot sauce.  Sounds weird and atypical right?  It’s delicious.


Getting Padi certified in Sharks Bay was an incredible experience.  During the last day our group took a boat to Tiran Island and dived around Jackson Reef.  The sights were incredible.  My brother and I stayed at Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village which I’d recommend it to anyone who visits Sharm.  It’s the complete opposite of the loud, Russian tourist filled, all inclusive hotels that populate the coast.  They have a lovely spot by the beach (with its own jetty) which seemed to be used by a number of pro-diving groups.  Food was reasonably priced, delicious and the restaurant was cozy and comfortable, with an accompanying bedouin tent area where you could sit on the floors, smoke shisha and have tea.

Facebook and connections

Facebook can be pretty annoying, especially when loads of people post nonsense like “ugh worst day of my life”. Period. I don’t mind the rant, but my dear friend, why don’t you say specifically what happened that made it the worst day of your life? Same goes with garbage like “best dinner ever (pic)”. Where in the devil was this meal? I’d actually like to go there when I’m in the area next time! Add value to your posts, share specifics with the masses. After all, this is one of the biggest benefits of social media. Crowd sourcing.

Facebook has its share of benefits and it’s ahhh moments. I wanted to record one of these ahhh moments as it made my heart all warm and fuzzy.

I love human connections. Especially physical moments where you’re getting to know someone, it’s just you and that person conversing, and something specific you both share sparks this mutual understanding of “I’ve let you in to a special place and you get it.” This is one of the main reasons I love traveling. Being in a foreign country, out of your comfort zone, listening to someone’s (a local) story from a background completely different to mine is priceless.

These days, in a work environment, you typically converse with colleagues from all over the world on a daily basis, some of whom you never get to meet. In my head, I’m thinking of all the missed opportunities for the scenario above! A certain colleague of mine, I shall call him Zack, works from Bangalore, and I talk to him pretty much every day. Four months into working with Zack, I finally had a chance to meet him in Mexico, during a company yearly trip. Because there were 800 colleagues, and the 3 days are hectic, you typically spend your time working for the most part, trying to talk to as many people as possible and catch up with old colleagues you worked with in a previous location. We spoke a few times, but not enough. I did get many opportunities to observe him while doing something else, and he was life. Always smiling, in a great mood and had such positive energy that was infectious. We parted ways and continued working/talking to each other everyday.

A few months later, after observing pictures of his beautiful baby daughter on FB, we were on a conference call and had a few minutes where it was just the two of us. I referred casually to the pictures. He went into this 2 minute monologue about her, and said in the most genuine voice which tugged on my heart strings that “she is my life and soul”. I wanted to die. I’ll never forget the way he said it.

Following that, there was a new type of understanding between us, on the phone, and on FB, I.e. his increasing “likes” on almost all of my pictures, and I made an effort to stay up to date with his. Now, simply seeing a Iike on one of my updates brings a smile to my face and seems to mean so much more. Of course he might not feel the same way, but my point here is that he brings joy to my life in small doses.

There are these situations where FB helps facilitate these human connections via the interweb. It could provide context prior, or in this case, after meeting someone.

It can be enriching.

And I’m thankful for this.

Living… how long does/can it last?

Two main things have occurred in the past weeks that have jolted my insides…

1. I get this question a lot, “Why do you blog?”.  It’s simple.  I live for new experiences, and I want to learn and grow from them.  But I also know that I have this tendency to put things aside easily, not remember that one profound moment I had, person who inspired me, and move on to the next.  I don’t want to forget what I’ve experienced (through travels, meeting new people), how that experience made me feel, want in life, and what it taught me.  This particular blog is public, because I know there are many others out there who can relate.  I’m touched by the mostly private responses I get from childhood friends, strangers, anonymous readers sharing their thoughts and experiences.

2. My two friends, S&S, were out last night, and they had a brilliant idea.  It started off with the often asked question, “Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?”  They then decided we should all write letters to ourselves, based on what we are, feel right now.  We’d hide them away for the next 10 years, and promise to only open them in 10 years.  I started thinking about my letter.  I started thinking about my 38 year old self.  I had a moment where I panicked.

Right now, I freaking love life.  I am passionate about certain things, I run, am a firm believer in certain things.  I don’t ever want to lose sight of these things.  Yes your personality, character can change, but I don’t want to lose this passionate side of me, and get jaded by certain things.  I’m passionate because I’m able to find inspiration.  If I lose that creativity to find inspiration, I might as well be dead.  I’m so excited to write this letter to myself, and it’s going to start with something like this..

“Dear Ruth, when you were 28, this is how you felt about life, and this is how you lived.  Do you still feel that?  No?  Why?  What the f*** are you doing?  Snap out of it you pompous shi*t.  If you still feel this way, congratulations, you still have a soul.  Your 28 year old self is proud of you.”

On a more somber note, my brother has been sharing pictures/comments on his current experience, which is pretty challenging.  There was an article about how the camp where he’s been working at was attacked.  Reading that article, his reality hit me, it hit me hard.  I was at work, and it took every ounce of me not to shed a tear.  Anyway, long story for another time, but this is another moment I don’t want to forget.

A response

A reader’s response to the post below, which couldn’t have summed things up more perfectly…

Our passion and ambition to live life fully can make life complicated.  Yet we know that very few things really matter and that life is simple: choose happiness, love, breathe in life, be present.

I’m at peace.  The past two weeks in London and Ireland have been filled with love, laughter and music and my soul is content.  Being jet lagged flying from the East to West is a wonderful thing.  Being awake while the sun rises, getting things done while listening to music, chatting with my other two jet laggers and having  some me time is just grand.

I’m terrified of growing old.  It scares me.  I want my legs to stay strong, my heart to keep beating with vigor, so it can support the many adventures I’ve yet to have in the next few decades.

If there’s anything I learnt in Ireland, it’s that growing old is a beautiful thing.  You age gracefully, you hold a thousand more stories, life becomes simpler and the number of things that matter decrease substantially.

I haven’t been back to Malaysia for almost two years now.  In Ireland I reached a level of homesickness I haven’t felt in a long time.

Four months ago, Siobhan, Sara and I had to go back to London in August for various reasons and decided to get together and fly to Ireland where Siobhan is from.

I think I have the best friends in the world.  I really do.  I think they outdo any other person on this planet.  They continuously give me perspective, challenge me, make me laugh, cry, and sometimes I want to murder them.  I could write an entire novel and it would make you laugh, cry and feel the same.

If there’s one thing all 3 of us have in common, it’s our love for music.  We don’t necessarily love the same music, but a lot of it overlaps.  If it doesn’t, it’s easy for us to understand why the other loves that seemingly odd tune, as we’re all very close.

I don’t know how best to eloquently describe the experience we had, more so in Dingle, than in Dublin.  The Slea Head Drive was beautiful, and Dingle was full of pubs with character, musicians, and those who loved and adored music.  The musicians were older, but they played with so much youth and vigour, that I felt my heart was going to give way at certain points.  It was an experience, one I won’t do justice trying to put into words, and will instead end with something I wrote while listening to a beautiful piece performed by a husband and wife…

It’s moments like these, where nothing else matters
I’m swept away by subtle love, beauty, passion
By the beauty of figures strumming away
Led by delicate harmonies
It’s only three layers, but they are the only ones that matter
I want to be reminded every day that life is this simple
Nothing else matters
Nothing…but only what invokes the fluttering of our hearts

Song and dance

La Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City

The hike to La Ciudad Perdida was the highlight of my trip to Colombia.  I’m writing this a day after returning from Santa Marta (my base pre & post hike), and I’m still overwhelmed with emotion (and pain in my legs).

La Ciudad Perdida is the Lost City, and it takes about 2-3 days to get there on foot navigating the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The hike is about 44 km, and is moderately difficult.  You need to be somewhat fit, really for your sanity if nothing else.  The ascents consist of steep scrambles or climbing rocks a foot high. Doing that 30 times in a row numerous times over the course of 4-5 days is numbing.

LCP’s history goes back as far as 800AD, and is older then Machu Picchu.  It sits on a 1,300 meter (4,265 feet) high ridge above the valley and consists of 169 exposed terraces over 3000 square meters.  Another 9000 square meters is hidden by the jungle.  It was once inhabited by the Tayronas and abandoned during the Spanish conquest.   It is now guarded by the Kogi, a tribe that lives in the surrounding areas of LCP, whom we crossed paths with frequently.


In summary, the hike was absolutely beautiful, and it was the scenery, the joy of reaching the top and the group of hikers I was with that made it worthwhile.  Apart from our group, there were about four other groups we frequently bumped into.  The sort of people you get to meet on trips like this is just inspiring.  I was probably the only person doing a 10 day trip.  The others had been traveling for months and a few were traveling solo too.  I felt very much at home.

lcp2We had Luis Bergel and Junior (from Guisa y Baquianos) as our guide and helper, and they were fantastic.  Luis lives in the Sierra Nevada mountains and has been doing this for over 20 years.  Being a guide is something he does out of passion, roughly twice a month.  He loves showing and telling people about the cultures here, and he has a special love for the Kogis.  It was very evident in his stories and interactions with the Kogis whom we passed frequently.

1st day – I’d sign up with Magic Tours, and was shuttled from Santa Marta to Sierra Nevada with a group of others hikers.  We arrived around noon, had a light lunch, and began the hike which was about 3 hours long.  The first day was already tough as we began to ascend.  I was with a great group of about 10 people, travelers from all over, Germany, Switzerland, US, UK, Australia.   That first night we slept in hammocks which was a funny experience.  I kind of thought they’d look like the wide hammocks you see by the beaches, but not really, they look more like cocoons.  Mine was as high as my elbows, and I almost died laughing trying to get in.  I found it comfortable, really, although not many others agreed. Haha.

2nd day – The next day, David and I woke up at 6am and split off from the group we started out with.  We opted to do it in 4-days instead of the usual 5-days and joined another group doing the same from a different company.   Now…this group was REALLY fun, young and were from Netherlands, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  I called them speedy gonzales, because they were a bunch of fast, young hikers, even our guide, Luis (who had absolutely no trouble with this pace) commented on our speed.   These guys really gave me a workout, and I was seriously considering climbing mountains every week to maintain this level of conditioning.  We hiked for a total of about 6 hours traversing terrains, river crossings, more ascents and ended up at the base, where we would climb 1,200 steps to the Lost City the next day.  We were all fast asleep by 8-9 pm.

lcp33rd-4th day – On the third day, we woke up early and began our trek to the lost city.  It’s an indescribable feeling observing the 1,2000 stone steps the Tayronas had constructed back in the day.  We arrived at the terraces and Luis took his time describing the various structures we passed and we soaked in the stories and beauty around us.

As we started our journey back, which was mainly downhill, I was astounded at the steepness and lengths of the ascents we made.  I don’t remember climbing a lot of it, probably because I was so focused on the pain and making the ascents while controlling my footwork and gasps for air.

On the drive back to Santa Marta, I had a huge smile on my face throughout the 3 hour ride.  We also had a hilarious driver.  Along the way back, we stopped at a house, to fill up gas.  Yes a house.  The driver rang the doorbell, a lady answered, and a guy comes out with two large cans of gasoline.  We were speculating that it was gas from Venezuela (where it is way cheaper).   A gallon at the stations costs about $4.42, which is really expensive considering Colombia’s purchasing power, and that is produces petrol.

I look back and think “I did it”.  I will keep doing shit like this.


Some practical information below.   Thanks to the many bloggers, reviewers who wrote about their LCP experiences.  It was really helpful in terms of being prepared and keeping that damn backpack as light as possible with essentials.

Packing list

  • Headlamp for the nights and early mornings.
  • DEET, at least 25%.  You get bitten by mosquitoes a shit load without it.
  • Sunscreen, and keep spraying.  I forgot to put some on the third day, and got insanely burnt, still paying for it a few days later.
  • Light towel (I saw some travellers with these Karrimor quick drying towels.  While mine was light, it was not quick drying, and it was annoying.  Once something gets wet, it stays wet in this climate.)
  • Dry sacks.  I got a 15L for dry clothes (for my 22L backpack), and a couple of smaller dry sacks for my camera and Kindle reader.
  • One long sleeve shirt and long pants for the nights.  It gets cold.  You don’t need more than one.
  • 3-4 shirts.  I threw away the first one I wore, mainly because it was still so wet in the morning.  Keep to the dri-fit, lightest possible, quick drying material.  You sweat non stop during the trek, and drying them overnight doesn’t quite work.
  • 1-2 extra shorts
  • Band aids, bandages – which I used.  Although I will say that in my group, I was the person with the most minor bruises. 🙂
  • Flip flops
  • Good shoes.  I bought Merrell’s Barefoot Swift Glove, a comfortable wet shoe with good traction, and it was a good buy.  You cross rivers daily and your shoes inevitably get soaked.  I didn’t bother wearing socks for 3 days with them.
  • Sleeping bag liner – this is more of a personal preference.  You sleep in beds after the first night in a hammock and … in a nutshell, I was glad I brought one.
  • Toilet paper (you can also buy them at the camps)
  • Bring pesos.  You can buy Gatorade, beer, snacks along the way.  Gatorade/beer costs about 5,000 pesos each.
  • Bathing suit.  There are numerous chances to swim in the rivers.  The later bases are by rivers too.
  • Water treatment tablets – A lot of blogs recommended them.  I got these from Wal-mart, and did not use them at all.  You have sufficient opportunities to refill your bottles at the camps with treated water.  At one point, our guide pointed us to a tiny waterfall which we drank water from.  No one in my group was sick.
  • Bring snacks – although you can buy them, there’s nothing more satisfying than having snacks YOU like, on a trip like this.  I’ve been addicted to honey roasted cashews/almonds/walnuts lately and brought a quart of them.  Between lunch and dinner, you do get hungry.

Other worthy mentions..

  • When we returned, I noticed that the back of my hands were full of brown looking freckles.  I was kind of worried, and came across this post on the internet.  I did recall having Lulo, a fruit which seems like a cross between an orange and lime in the middle of the day while the sun was blazing.  The post says they fade in about a month, but mine has already faded halfway 4 days after noticing them. 

Cartagena de Indias

hatsI’m writing the first part two days into Cartagena and this city has swept me off its feet.  Over the past few weeks when speaking of my upcoming trip to Colombia, I’ve been met with various reactions.  Of course there’s the usual: “Are you sure it’s safe? Be careful, it’s dangerous, a lot of bad things happen there.”  Inside I think “But that was years ago when Colombia was in the news a lot for the wrong reasons”.

Now that I’ve been here…..  Yes there are dangerous regions in Colombia, as Fernando, Carmen and many others tell me, but they are in the south east of Colombia where the climate and landscape is kind to growing Coca.  In Cartagena itself, as long as you don’t wander off to the unrecommended areas, you’re fine.  It’s really down to being practical and cautious in any large city, just as you would in NYC, London, Philly, and avoiding the dangerous areas.  I did not feel any less safer than I did living in Kuala Lumpur and Philadelphia.

San Pedro

San Pedro Cathedral

I’ve been traveling solo.  I feel safe.  The police and military are EVERYWHERE, in the city, on the highway, even in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  They are friendly and terribly cute when they smile.

When visiting a new country, the thing that does it for me are the conversations & interactions with the locals.  I’m thankful for Carmen who lives in a beautiful part of the old city.  It is her home that was my base the first few days for exploring the old city.  I’ve found a cute spot on the ancient walls (on the right of Cafe del Mar, for watching the sunset, listening to music, reading and people watching.  Carmen is naturally funny as hell.  She gave me an overview of how  Catholicism is so ingrained in people’s lives here in Colombia.  There’s a Saint that represents everything, e.g Santa Marta is the Saint to pray to for immigration matters, i.e. if you want your visa to US/UK/etc approved.  Locals travel to the Santa Marta cathedral in Bogota on Tuesdays, and it’s packed and overflowing.  You give your name to the priest who then reads out your name during service.  And it’s literally hundreds of names.  If you don’t get approved its because “god didn’t think the timing was right”.

Carmen tells me a bunch of other hilarious stories like how sometimes the Chinese end up in Colombia on a boat, of course “by accident” (trying to make their way to USA) and because there are practically no Chinese living in Cartagena, they are sooner rather than later caught by the police and unfortunately sent back.

I’m currently re-reading Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and Carmen’s stories of Colombia have helped me understand the Carteganian/Colombian nuances throughout the book.


Fernando was sweeping the floors outside his shop on an early morning. I was searching for coffee, he read my mind, and asked if I wanted from Kaffe. YES Fernando!

I’ve traversed the streets over and over again.  I keep bumping into the same friendly people.  Fernando whom I met at the San Pedro monastery, who shoved me into a free emerald tour and told me where to get local coffee.  “Don’t go to Hard Rock Cafe!” he tells me. Don’t you worry Fernando, I would never step in there).  Then there’s the guard outside of Parque de Bolivar who I’ve bumped into thrice now and has helped me find my way over and over again.  He doesn’t speak a word of English, i don’t speak a word of Spanish, and yet we converse in utter confusion and laugh it off.  And there are the others who want to help genuinely and ensure I’m having a good time.

The Cartagenians are proud of their city, and it shows.  I love the enthusiastic, passionate love they exude as I talk to them.

During the time I was hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I met a number of travelers who had been traveling for months throughout South America.  I heard over and over again that Colombia was their favorite country because of the people and authenticity here.


I’ve spent the last few days following the La Ciudad Perdida hike in Bocagrande, where I “splurged” at the Hilton.  “Splurged” as in I really didn’t splurged, but had all these points I was able to redeem for a 2 night stay there.  I initially had the impression that Bocagrande was going to be something like that horrific strip of hotels in Cancun, but I was wrong.  The locals like to call it a Little Miami, and it’s also a residential area with great street food and ambience.  I spent my last full day with Carmen’s friends and family by the bay, and the conversations have been hilarious, entertaining and educational.

Notable restaurants/places:

Espiritu Santo Restaurante

Espiritu SantoI came here for lunch with Carmen and Marcus, and the experience is like walking into Royal China (a damn good authentic dim sum place in London), I.e. filled with Colombians, hustling, bustling, with good food.  I ordered pescados de coco, fish in coconut sauce, which came with a soup, salad, rice and plantains.  The portions are hearty and satisfying.  As I finished my meal, Carmen goes “Wow I’m really proud of you!”.   I beam at her and accept the compliment with pride.  I’m pretty sure my stomach’s ability to expand during the right moments is something I’ve mastered as a Malaysian.  We love food.

La Esquina Del Pan de Bono

IMG_8060I’m glad Carmen recommended this bakery on the first day, because I’ve gone back everyday that I’m in Cartagena.  I never know what I choose, and it’s a delightful experience biting into the pastry discovering its filling.  Mmmmm.  I love the round buns.  They have this light frosting which tastes a bit like condensed milk, with butter and cheese in the middle.   Their juices are pretty amazing too – lulo and melon are my favorites.  The bakery is opposite this cute little plaza in front of the Cartagena University.  There are counters and bar stools which look out onto the bustling crossroads and great for people watching.

Riquisimo BBQ

riquisimoGreat tasty food.  Ordered off the specials board: red snapper, coconut rice, plantains and salad.  The coconut rice was particularly delicious.  Got the limonada de coco as recommended by another reviewer and did not regret it.  It came with shaved coconut on the top, and it was sooo refreshing.