All posts by 3weeksandashoestring

You've heard it before - young dreamy-eyed person goes abroad and falls in love with travelling. Fast forward to the present and a not-so-young me still spends all of her office leave and a disproportionate share of her money on trying to see the world.

Approaches to Problem-solving from Africa’s Wilderness

Achoo! Things are getting a little dusty in here, aren’t they?

With work, holiday planning, holidaying and dealing with some developments on the personal front, my ‘Drafts’ box seems to be close to overflowing with unfinished stories; and my head, with untold ones from recent adventures. Well, before the details start getting foggy in my head, I’m taking a few tips from Africa’s wild ones on how to deal with problems and other unwanted things in life:

LIONS –

‘Problems? What problems? I think I’m going to sleep over it.’

Life is a lazy Sunday
Life is a lazy Sunday

These lazy animals wouldn’t stir even if the ground beneath them was shaking. The males sleep 20 hours a day – life can’t be too complicated if you’re awake only 4 hours a day!

WILDEBEEST –

‘Yes, I think I know how to deal with that… Maybe we can go with option 1. Or 2. Or 1. Now I’m confused, maybe we should wait for the zebras to decide. Oooh, grass.’

Does anyone know why we're here?
Does anyone know why we’re here?

The migration is such a long affair mainly because the wildebeest can’t seem to make up their mind about which way to go and can be seen standing around in confusion, till they find a zebra to follow.

BUFFALOES –

‘Problems? Well, they better turn around and run as fast as they can, because I’m not going anywhere.’

What you lookin' at, Mister?
What you lookin’ at, Mister?

These heavyweights believe in staring problems in the eye and scaring them into disappearing. If you ever find yourself making eye contact with a wild buffalo by mistake, turn around and run for your life.

GAZELLES and ANTELOPES –

‘Maybe if I turn my back to it for long enough, the problem will disappear.’

Pssst, don't turn!
Pssst, don’t turn!

The pictures say it. Gazelle and antelopes believe denial is the way to go.

WARTHOGS –

‘Problem? Did you tell me about it before? Can you tell me again? Wait, who are you?’

Yeah, I remember your birthday
Of course, I remember your birthday

With their famously short memories, warthogs must be a happy bunch – forgetting about problems, even before they get down to dealing with them.

Next time you find yourself in trouble – whose approach are you going to go with? 😉

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Contemplative Cats…

and more stories from Tanzania coming up – stay tuned!

Who’s a pensive cheetah

Flying AirAsia? Here’s What You Need to Know

Now Everyone can Fly, indeed.

Tempting sales, hundreds of routes around Asia, super-smart marketing and affordable fares almost all year long – that’s AirAsia for you. And what’s not to love?

As it turns out – the fine print. And AirAsia has plenty of that. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re thinking of  flying Asia’s favourite airline or wondering why that incredible deal doesn’t look as incredible by the time you’ve flown with them:

When booking / Before you fly:
  • Pre-book your baggage: There’s no checkin baggage on the standard booking. You have to pay to check your bags in. Pre-book this online – the cost of buying at the counter is almost double of pre-booking. If, like me, you have trouble taking only cabin baggage (7 kgs only) for a trip longer than a week, remember to do this. Check-in luggage weight purchased on the same booking can be shared between passengers. E.g. if you book 10 kg for each of you, two of you would be able to use it even as 12 kg + 8 kg in two bags.
  • Don’t count on being able to sneak in a bigger or heavier bag into the cabin: This probably doesn’t always happen, but I’ve seen people pulled out of the queue for their bags to be weighed and then asked to go back and check their overweight bags in.
  • Surcharge on credit card payments: You will have to pay a surcharge for using your foreign credit card to pay (3% I think) if you’re booking online from outside the specific flight’s ‘home country’. And these are charged per passenger. They do have a payment option without these extra charges but I’ve seen that available only for certain banks in certain SE Asian countries.
  • Insurance: Insurance for the flight is added automatically to every booking but costs very little (less than 5 USD I think) so doesn’t needed to be avoided.
  • Always web check in and print that boarding pass: There are stories around the internet of having to pay extra to have the people at the counter check you in and print your boarding pass (we did get an updated boarding pass for free in Bangkok, but that could just be a random nice person at the counter). To give the airline credit, they do open check-ins on the internet two weeks before the flight, giving you plenty of time to get things done. Alternately, you could self check in at the kiosks (if available) in the airport and print your boarding slip / voucher from the kiosk.
  • Stick with the system-allotted seat: If there are two or more of you flying on the same booking, they sometimes try and split you up when you’re doing the web check in. For example, on our Siem Reap – Bangkok flight, they allotted two seats to the two of us on the same booking that were not next to each other. If you change your seat from the system-allotted one, you pay extra. (we took the separate seats, all these extra charges were annoying me and a couple of hours of parting weren’t going to kill us :))
  • Don’t expect refunds in case of changes / cancellations: This is true for the discounted ‘low fares’, the ‘premium flex’ fares usually have more flexibility but cost the same as other non-budget airlines.
On the flight:
  • Meals are also cheaper when pre-booked but also avoidable as the variety is limited most of the flights are short-haul.
  • There is no free drinking water served in the flight and what’s offered is overpriced. Try and buy or fill up a bottle at the airport once you’re past the security check. Thankfully, you don’t have to pay to use the plane restroom. Yet.
  • Don’t ask them to move you to the extra-leg space seats even if they’re empty after the flight’s taken off. They WILL want you to pay extra for them. Why they don’t understand a ‘sunk cost’ fails me.

Crummy, old low-cost airports and surly stewardesses aside, it’s still a comfortable flight and an airline with a good safety record for the price you pay (especially if you’ve managed to book in one of their legendary sales). Just that I’m a happier flier when I know I’ve not been stung. As they say – it’s about reading the fine print and having the right expectations.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

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Have you flown AirAsia?

Which one was it for you – ‘Give me that Loyalty Card!’ or ‘Never again!’?

Lama Tales and a Lost Land

Around the monasteries in Ladakh, you often come across notices about and faded, worn pictures of a young child.

At first glance, we thought someone’s child was missing, but upon inquiring, we learnt that the boy is the Panchen Lama – in Tibetan belief, the monk in charge of finding the successor of the Dalai Lama and has been spirited away, along with his family, in 1995 by the Chinese when he was 6 years old.

20 years and counting. Photo credit: Leeky-Boy (Flickr: Panchen Lama Association) [CC BY 2.0]

The reason why the Chinese did this, is kind of obvious (China, you may want to cover your ears for this) – if they control the Panchen Lama, they control who becomes the next Dalai Lama. The topic is extremely sensitive for Tibetans and they have been raising their voices in futility for the last 20 years to ask for his freedom. China, meanwhile, has appointed a ‘faux’ Panchen Lama in place of the real one but the Tibetan people refuse to accept him, believing that the real Panchen Lama is still alive, even though they worry about his state and well-being.

Theirs has been a long and fruitless battle in trying to reclaim their lost country, lost independence and spending generations in exile. There’s a sort of determination, sometimes punctuated by desperation, in their voices – they want him to come back, they need him to come back.

Read more about the Panchen Lama’s disappearance and the movement to bring him back: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32771242

One year ago, on this exact day, I was in Ladakh – a remote, arid and beautiful region in Indian Himalayas; and a place that I would happily go back to any day and recommend that anyone who can, visit now. You can read all about our adventures on the road in Ladakh here

Like Looking into a Mirror: Versailles

A hunting lodge by origin, that ended up being the seat of the French Government and royalty and now figures on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Palace of Versailles has seen its share of glory and continues to bask in it, to this day.

If like me, you’re hungering after some non-palace, non-museum time in Paris (all that sightseeing can get heavy on the head), the Palace is an easy hop from the city and has extensive and perfectly manicured lawns, that one can happily spend a sunny summer, or even winter day in.

On a still autumn Sunday, the many fountains were given rest for the day and undisturbed, the Bassin d’Apollo‘s edge seemed to divide a symmetrical world into near-perfect halves.

Near-perfect halves

Versailles 023

Halves make a story whole here: “Half and Half.”

A Divine Sign: Bali

If you happen to visit Bali around the festival of Galungan (like we did by a happy coincidence in 2013), you’ll notice these ornamental poles of bamboo peering over you, decorated with leaves and fruits and with an offering basket suspended from their top, adorning the gateways of buildings and lining the roads.

With a little inquisitiveness, we learned from our driver and the hotel staff that these poles are called ‘penjor‘ and are symbolic of festivals and celebrations in Bali. And at the time of Galungan, a festival that signifies the victory of good over evil (much like Diwali in India, we thought), 20-feet high penjors bloom in abundance outside almost every home, office, shop on the island, for people to thank the Gods.

Captured during the famous sunset at the Uluwatu temple in south-west Bali:

Penjor pole - a symbol of Bali and the festival of Galungan
The sun, the sea and faith – all symbols of Bali

More symbols of significance with the Daily Post’s challenge this week: “Symbol.”

Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses: Bangkok

Entering the Grand Palace in Bangkok is almost an attack of dazzle on the senses*. Gold, gems, statues of precious stones, the Palace could probably rival the GDP of Thailand in value. And as you go snap-snap-snap, taking in all the fabulousness around with your camera, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed, like you aren’t going to be able to do justice to it.

* hence the sunglasses, just in case you get blinded by the bling

Here’s just one of the heavily adorned doors around the palace. And this isn’t even on one of the important buildings! I guess living royally is serious business. More about the Grand Palace and its treasures here.

A gilded portal at the Grand Palace, Bangkok
A gilded portal at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

More gateways with stories from around the world here: “Door.”