Out on the town of Lagos

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So I made it to the Three Monkeys that night.

Click on the photo and read the sign!

I took this photo the evening before on my way back from my ad hoc date, the same date I had to rush and end when I realized on my second drink that I had forgotten to shave my left arm earlier that morning. The sign at the door, in addition to the loud music coming from the inside, made me determined to be back on another sober evening. Yes it does say: ‘Hot weather is God’s way of telling us to drink cold beer and jager, cheers Jesus!’. If you think this was the only quirky and cool thing about this place, you cannot be further from reality.

Lagos is full of them –the bars. They’re all over the town, a stone’s throw from each other and appear in almost every photo I took. As a matter of fact, aside from its beautiful beaches (providing surfing opportunities for some, just lazing breaks for others), the vibrant night life makes up one of the main attractions of Lagos, making it by far the most visited town in the Algarve area of Portugal. The majority of visitors get to know about its history once they’re already there. I have to mention that its history is quite substantial that I will dedicate a separate post for it.

Narrow cobbled streets full of cafes, restaurants, shops, bars (Bon Vivant, Taberna de Lagos, Eddie’s, Zanzi Bar, Bar 21, DCs). CLICK ON THE PHOTO FOR A LARGER VIEW AND TO CAPTURE THE AMBIANCE.

Back to the Three Monkeys – the plan was to have 2 drinks and head back home. I usually give myself the time of one slow drink when I go to a bar alone in a new city. My few days in Lagos however proved to me that it is a town where it’s relatively easy to hook up with anyone over a drink, swim, chat, etc. and laugh the day or the night away.

One of the many framed pictures.

It all started with a chat with the really friendly bartender before I was lured into accepting her invite for a free shot along with some other people at the bar. Communication was easy, in English as many of the staff working at bars in Lagos are from Australia, UK, Ireland and other places, folks who drop by for a season of work, of a stress-free existence and hmmm probably of a dose of excesses of all kinds. Few fall into the black hole of Lagos and stick around for years -my out of the blue date is one of them. After all, it is true when they warn visitors that Lagos is a difficult place to leave. I personally delayed my departure by 6 hours, trying to soak the most of this town and this ‘most’ was mainly its intangible relaxed atmosphere.

The crowd was awesome, in a great party mood. None were Portuguese though, only few, very few mixed Portuguese. The majority were Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Brazilians, Dutch, UKish, etc. and moi.

Another drink, more amazing chilled tunes, laughs around the pool table in the back, shaking it around that same table, I tried as best as I can and as regularly as I can to capture it all with my Canon EOS.

Believe me when I say ‘as best as I can’ because there is too much happening at this fun crazy joint. It’s not just people dancing and jumping, the usual you see everywhere. It’s some taking their pants down, bartenders dancing on the bar, setting it ablaze at one point, sprinkling the crowd with alcohol, people going for the beer funnel, the hide and seek and shower game with the staff. Anything goes at this bar. And then more shots!!! Did I mention the drinks in Lagos are strong?! As in with really high alcohol content?! At great prices too!!! Here are some photos to give you an idea of my night.

Anything goes and I mean ‘ANYTHING’! CLICK TWICE ON THE PHOTO FOR THE LARGEST VERSION.

The following morning, I opened my eyes having the greatest feeling in the world, one of an empty head … though in a bit of pain. I don’t know what time I left but once you’re used to traveling alone, you’re led by your instincts when it comes to knowing the right time to return home. It was my last day in Lagos  and I was partly regretting having not been to this crazy bar earlier during my stay in Lagos. Then again, there’s a reason for everything. I probably wouldn’t have been able to tick off my list all the other things I did in Lagos and Algarve had I been there before.

Exploring Portugal

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Map from planetware

Hello everyone!

I’m on a trip to Portugal from 3rd to 19th May, spending time in Lisbon the capital, Porto up north and Lagos down south.

I opened a page on facebook sharing briefs and photos from the road on a daily basis.

Until I am back to writing detailed blogs about what I see, do and experience there, I do hope you enjoy my daily updates on Anne Marie does Portugal‘s page and a beautiful Portuguese song I heard here.

See you soon🙂 and much love to you all.

AM xx

It’s not about giving up

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For many years, I thought sitting still and letting things happen without stirring them in the direction I want is a form of passivity I would live to regret. This fear, like other kinds of fears referred to in online pedias, was more of a controlling drive for me to always instigate and cause a reaction as long as I don’t look back and admit the hideous ‘what if’ one day. I had to come to terms with so many ‘what ifs’ at a relatively advanced phase of my life that allowing one more of them represented another possibility of failure ….. and loss of opportunity, happiness …… or so I thought.

It's about going forward the best way you can ... until it stops raining

A rainy December day in KL - Malaysia 2009

Quite a few crisis, bumps and bruises down the road, I discovered lately that sometimes in life, you do your best in certain situations then you sit on the sidelines and watch. Some situations need to be allowed to run their natural courses without continuous interferences from our side. Because they simply need to settle on their own before they give back to us ……. or not. They at least need to be allowed this choice. This needs not be a time of mute confusion, anxiousness and stress but a time to let time do what it has to do. You keep going forward the best way you can while occasionally pausing, giving it a fresh glimpse in a light less tapered by emotions, getting ready for a new lesson. One of learning acceptance of what might and might not be and acceptance that progress -even when we don’t see it as one to our advantage- can sometimes come entirely from external influences rather than from anything we push.

PS: photo is only figuratively related to the post.

So what brings you here?

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Having spent almost two hours watching people from the last row of surprisingly ‘banquet’ chairs in this hot desert, avoiding eye contacts which could get me stuck in conversations with complete strangers, I had no intention whatsoever to answer this question hitting me suddenly from the side.

‘More or less the same reasons which seem to bring everybody else here I guess’ were the few words I uttered minutes before stepping for the first time in my life into a meditation hall, from there right into the noble silence period which would last ten days.

Little did I know at this time that this question would come back to my curious and wondering mind at different times during my Vipassana meditation bootcamp.

When I wasn’t swimming in my own sea of thoughts during lunch time, I watched them, their distracted many-times-tired faces, their thousand-miles-away gazes, wondering what would make these moms leave their children and husbands behind for ten days. And what about these working single and newly married women of many nationalities, dropping mentally and physically out of their worlds, giving away voluntarily their phones, blackberries, i-phones, books, note books i.e. all forms of distraction. This discipline is certainly not for everyone!

At times when I felt blank, frustrated at my inability to feel any sensation on my body during meditation hours, I opened my eyes, looked around and wondered again. What shook these people’s lives so violently and drove them to stick to such a rigorous schedule of meditations with days starting at 4 am and ending at 9 pm, feeling repeatedly the pain of the back and the thighs, sharing rooms and bathrooms with strangers, starving for food for long hours between the two meals a day, constantly watching for rodents and snakes in all places.

Even when I could hear clearly their sighs around me, appearing much like my own deep breaths each time I was exhausted at the thoughts which were emerging, I wondered again. What made them so desperate then so determined to transform their lives, digging deep into their minds, descending deeper day after day into this unknown -not necessarily pleasant but most of the time scary- territory. It’s overwhelming spending time with your skull!

I wondered for a couple of minutes each time but never tried to figure them out. Instead, I calmly understood that their reasons must have been as strong as mine and did not ask. None of us did. Conversations on day 10 revolved around how we knew about the Vipassana meditation, never about what made each one of us go for it. There are times in life when some things are better left untold … and that was one of those times.

The best thing I have ever read

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“On Marriage” by the Prophet Gibran Khalil Gibran -subtly and poetically telling it all about space and togetherness in relationships- whereby both are like an oak tree and a cypress tree, side by side feeding from the same source, yet having separate roots.

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God

But let there be spaces in your togetherness
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you

Love one another but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts

And stand together, yet not too near together
For the pillars of the temple stand apart
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow

Praha – the city of red roofs

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In many books, she is referred to as the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’, ‘Golden City’, ‘Symphony in Stone’, ‘Mother of Cities’ and ‘Paris of the East’. On few online pages, some call her casually the city of red roofs -a name I prefer to use. Any panoramic photograph of Prague one takes from any corner of the city, captures a cluster of its signature red-tiled roofs. 

I am not sure how long exactly it took me to get this shot right with my new Canon EOS 400 back then;  all I remember is that I angered my mother and few other people on the city tour trying to obtain a proper focus of the gloomy horizon. We were there in August 2007 and still managed to experience steady rain and clouds for an entire week.

Skyline of red roofs, cathedral spires and Vltava river - Prague - August 2007

 I took this second photo from the stairs going down to the Lesser Quarter while heading to the castle – I think. I don’t recall we entered a castle but stood outside what looked like a castle for what felt like quite a stretch of time. I don’t pay attention much in tours, I remember in one country I had to cancel and claim a refund when I found out I’m alone on the tour. I made a big scene in order to get my money back, demanding to speak to a senior person, someone who understands psychology, yes I did that!  Finally I got someone who grasped my ‘I cannot take a one-to-one guide focusing all his attention on me FOR A FULL DAY and compromising -in such case crowding- my space’. I tag along with a group, connecting at times, retreating at others into my own thoughts, day dreams, photography, reading, etc. which I do at my own pace, mood and comfort. Hmmm did I just say too much now? :P 

Back to Prague, the view is breathtaking from up there. What I liked most in addition to viewing and taking photos of the red roofscape was walking down the cobbled streets and admiring the coloured buildings on both sides. We walked much that day, so much that the first thing I did once the tour was over was without much guessing: lunching + local beering + surrendering to my mother and her million and one hmmm adorable comments.

Mekong Delta – the tour guide who could read the future

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An hour and a half away by bus from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, I booked this day trip to My Tho the previous evening after having realized once again how little did I read about this country before boarding my flight to Asia. One of the pluses of traveling alone is that you have more chances of being added to a tour even when you book late. ‘It should be enough to get me a feel of the Mekong’, I thought, ‘until my next visit’.

Originating from the Tibetan Plateau and running through a part of China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the mighty Mekong is one of the largest rivers in the world, so large that it has two tides a day.

The Mekong River - where everything floats: houses, boats, markets, etc.

My Tho lies on the left side of the river and is the first city you reach when heading down to its Delta. Though it was founded by Chinese refugees who fled Taiwan back in the 1680’s, the Chinese population is small today having been forced out by the Vietnamese government in the late 1970’s. This was a history bit.  

The thing with arranged tours is that you have to follow a set program, which was not bad on this trip -diversified and fast enough to eliminate the boredom factor. It included a stroll in the market, a visit to the coconut candy workshop and a bee farm, a sampan ride through mangrove swamps, another boat ride through side canals and finally a stop for a local lunch, all giving a glimpse of the typical Mekong Delta rural life.

The market in My Tho

Pick up point for the sampan ride all the way to where our boat is waiting in the river

Could there exist a fakER smile? ... thinking 'it's your only chance to prove to the world that you did it, c'mon, CHEEEEERS'

Now, I may not be the first to volunteer to carrying a python around my neck. As a matter of fact, not only was I the last, I went so far as to ask for extra time to make up my mind. With my ‘I am thinking about whether I go for it or not’, it seemed I unintentionally managed to baffle the guide, snake handler and around 7 of the group who looked at me as if they never experienced hesitation before!

I may neither be someone who’d give her full attention to the explanation of rice making in the Mekong Delta –regardless whether this area made of Vietnam one of the largest rice exporters in the world, the nation of rice omelette, rice porridge, rice wine, rice noodle soup, you name it.  

But I definitely am the first one to drop it all –bag, money, ID, books, map- and jump in less than a second from the rear end of the bus when the tour guide asks if someone is interested in palm reading on the way back to HCMC. My only concern was: ‘which hand do you need, the left or the right one?’

What he said:

– I already shifted my career path once and will do it one more time before I settle ( true)

– I will earn lots of respect with whatever I will be doing next career wise (crossing fingers)

– I like the art (true)

– I walk in nature when I am looking for answers (very true)

– I look strong to most but am like marshmallows inside (damn true)

– I will get married in my thirties, that’s when I will find love (crossing fingers)

– My finances will always be enough to afford myself a decent life (no millions for me damnit😦 )

– He refused to answer the children question and did the same later with everyone else (shame I could’ve used some help on this subject which is pretty confusing to me)

– When pushed by the few around me to answer the question of the rich husband, he looked at me and said ‘this is not what makes you happy, you’re looking for a soul mate’

I felt tears forming up so quickly I had to stand up all of a sudden, dismiss them for later, just later and enforce the enthusiasm I had started showing right before that last question -an enthusiasm which as usual gets everyone on board, wherever I am so why would Asia be any different.

The guide was good, so good a guy next to me (read this well ‘A GUY’) was mumbling ‘we need to give him a good tip’. And so we did!