The Heart of an Elephant

~ This story was first published as a travel writing application on World Nomad. ~

“This is a story about my experience with the natural beauty of Thailand, Thai culture and people. But mainly this is a story about a beautiful creature named LD (Lady Gaga) a baby elephant I met while traveling in Thailand. She was just 32 days old when I met her, but held lifetimes of love and joy in her heart.

It was the end of November and I had been in Thailand for just under a week. Among other experiences, the week had been filled with a very long overseas flight, loud traffic in the streets of Bangkok, sketchy hostel stays and awkward attempts to properly request vegan meals from street food vendors. I had been reading about all the beautiful temples and breathtaking natural sites in northern Thailand for weeks and weeks prior to my trip. I had been looking at the all gorgeous beach photos shared all over the internet lusting to be there. I had even attempted to learn a few phrases in Thai, but the locals would just stare at me with a half smirk and what I first thought to be full on judgement while I’d end up finishing my statements in English. It had only been a few days, but I had experienced so much! And I was tired, so tired. I had not slept a full 8 hours length since I left home, that place that seemed so distant on the other side of the world…

I had made flexible plans to head up north from Bangkok, eventually making my way up to Chiang Mai. I had read so much about this place, supposedly being the hip spot in northern Thailand. And once I got there I found that it was, sort of… After an overnight train ride I made it there bright and early, with no set plans of where I was going to stay. Upon arrival I felt overwhelmed and a little lost among all other backpackers, mostly from northern Europe. Secretly I wanted to blend in and pretend I was local, but I sure did not. Deep down, all I wanted was to learn the culture, to better understand it and experience it.

After wandering the streets of Chiang Mai for 2 days, I decided it was time to make it up to the hill tribes, the place where the true locals were. And the place where the elephants were… After a lot of research I found a place that really cares about the elephants, and the native people there. My visit was a frozen day in time that I will never forget. I got to spend all day with the sweetest group of elephants caring for them, bathing them and feeding them. Words cannot describe how much love and happiness those creatures emit.

That was one day I will never forget. That was one day that when I felt most at home, away from home! ”

This place that I visited is called Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai Thailand. Eco-travel and animal rights is a topic of high importance to me so I always research places that offer encounters with wildlife to assure their ethical practices. From my research and personal experience I found that EJS does just that. Even though this post was in no way sponsored, solicited, or even asked for by the organization, I felt inspired to share it with the world to help other travelers and animal lovers in their research as well.

One of the most common issues that is encountered in Thailand and other countries with, what we may consider, exotic animals is the tourist entertainment offers for animal riding or circus type animal performance. These types of performances have a great negative impact on the health, well-being and longevity of the animals, hence they are highly non-advisable even though some places try to convince tourists otherwise. This is a topic of great controversy so I highly recommend doing your own research from various sources before making decisions and bookings. I was fully satisfied with my experience at this place, hence I decided to share this post. If it perked your interest you are welcome to learn more on their website.

I hope you enjoyed this sharing, and above all I hope that you explore our beautiful planet with a light foot and an open heart!

~ Erinda

 

Nature Therapy

Musing . . .

When it seems like the world is about to boil over with turmoil and pain, it is crucial to find your inner peace and anchor yourself in whatever self-care practice works for you. For me, Nature is my therapist and I am immensely grateful to live in a place where natural paradise like this is in the backyard of the city I call home… What  makes you feel grounded in the most loving way? There lies YOUR answer for inner peace!

These photos were taking during our visit at River Place Nature Trail this past weekend, a beautiful hiking spot just 14 miles from downtown Austin TX. For trail maps and more info, including how to get involved to help maintain this natural paradise, please visit their website linked above.

With love,

~ Erinda

 

The Rising Phoenix

Notes from the heart . . .

Redefining yourself is never easy. But just like the seasons change, so do we. It is not easy but it is natural. You get to look at your old layers, stories, patterns, facets that no longer represent you and learn to release them. Judgement too. It never served you anyways. One by one, slowly and maybe painfully as they’ve become part of your skin. You get to shed… It may hurt, it will hurt, but one thing you’ll soon learn is how strong you really are. You’ll see.

Shadows may come up, monsters from under the bed and skeletons from the closet will all make themselves at home in your house of fear. Old patterns may attempt to replicate themselves, over and over, until you learn to observe them. Self-doubt will show up to join the party, all uninvited taking up the space you need to breathe in…

You may find yourself in an inner storm of questioning everything, self-worth first and foremost, sanity next. It is all part of shedding. Just like the caterpillar, you may not know what’s coming. You can choose to let fear masquerade you from the inside out… Or, you can choose to trust. Allow a spark of hope to ignite within. It’s there, it has always been, since the womb. Find your breath, bathe in it. Find the eye of the storm deep within you and allow everything else to fall off. Doubts, fears, stories, patterns, limiting beliefs… Let their madness storm up around you and stay strong in your breath. It will all pass… It is all passing… Keep breathing. Let the cocoon fall off, you have wings now. It is time for you to learn how to use them!

Spring is here. Allow yourself to open up to the sunshine and let yourself bloom. Like the wildflowers, your redefined beauty may pop up unexpectedly in the most random places. Nothing is random. You brilliance will be noticed exactly where you are meant to be. Come through the cracks of the pavement and spread your beautiful petals toward the light. Rise, step up, grow, embody. Like the phoenix, ignite from your ashes…

The world awaits for your magic. Now go ahead and spread it!

~ Erinda

Demystifying Indian Food

DISCLAIMER:
This blog post may make you drool, so prepare yourself accordingly 🙂

Indian food feast – photo by Erinda Martin

I already loved Indian food before going to India. But while traveling and living there for three months, I quickly discovered how few dishes I had even tried from this vast and delicious cuisine. I vaguely remember way back when I first started going to Indian restaurants in USA and trying to understand the menu so I can decide what to order. Usually, I would end up confused and just order some type of curry with rice and naan bread, missing out on so many other dishes because simply I did not understand them or had not seen them before. This was before the time of “googling” your food. I bet many people have experienced this before, whether it is with Indian food or some other exotic cuisine. With this in mind, I prepared this blog post in attempt to simplify some Indian food staples for anyone out there who is curious to try it but is not familiar with it yet. Some of these dishes may not even be available in typical Indian restaurants outside of India. At least, this list of dishes with photos and explanations will give an idea of the variety and options there may be available when considering ordering something else in a restaurant, instead of some type of curry dish with rice, naan bread…. Are you ready for a delicious ride?

 

Breakfast Dishes:

Masala Chai, spiced black tea with milk. Traditionally this is made with cow milk, but I found places that offered plant based milk options as well. Visit my previous blog post here for the step by step recipe including the full list of spices.

Kashmiri Chai, spiced tea from the Jammu and Kashmir area of northern India

Lemon Ginger Honey tea, a staple in every eatery I visited across northern India

Paratha, a pancake type flatbread, with porridge and Masala chai

Paratha with poha, flattened rice mixed with spices, veggies and roasted nuts, served with sauteed vegetables and curd

 

Lunch and Dinner:

Thali, a buffet style dish typically served for lunch or dinner

Matar Masala, a spicy sauce dish with green peas  served with rice and Chapati, unleavened flatbread

Khichd, a dish made with lentils, rice and variety of spices and ghee

Dosa, an Indian style crepe made with spices and fillings, served with chutneys

Masala Dosa with sambar,  a spicy stew, and coconut chutney served with chai
Masala Dosa in the making
Dessert Dosa (Banana Chocolate) in the making
Dessert Dosa (Banana Chocolate)

 

Street Food and Snacks:

Alooo Chaat, mashed potato cake with lentils, spices and chutneys

Aloo Chat in the making
Aloo Chat ingredients

Pani Puri, also known as Gol Gappa, crispy puff balls served with sweet & spicy sauce

Momos, a type of dumpling, filled with veggies and served with chili sauce

Steamed momos
Fried momos

Aloo Bonda, potato bread roll made with spices

Vada, a savory doughnut made with spices

Papad, crispy spicy and savory bread chips

These are only a few of the dishes and snacks I experienced (and loved) during my time living in India. Keep in mind how large of a country and vastly diverse India is, even though in the west we tend to categorize Indian food and culture as one size fits all. Each region of India has its own style of cooking, spicing food, and preparing as well as serving dishes. My experience was primarily in northern India, but I know for sure that soon enough I will experience the rest of this beautiful country and its cuisine.

~ Erinda

A Perfect Cup of Chai

Chai stand in India – photo by Erinda Martin

During my travels across India I got spoiled with delicious Masala Chai everywhere I went. Masala means spice mix, and Chai means tea. I find it funny that we usually call it Chai Tea in the west, because obviously we are calling it “Tea Tea” if you think about it. Anyways, whatever you want to call it, there are tea stalls everywhere in India and there is no shortage of spices or the will of Chai makers to prepare a fresh cup upon request. A cup of freshly prepared Masala Chai became a daily ritual for me, one that I knew would become challenging to maintain once I returned home in USA. I find that any Chai that I have tasted in USA is saturated with cinnamon flavor and aroma lacking on all the other spices. Realizing this quickly as I have just arrived back home in the U.S., I decided to make my own Masala Chai following the authentic recipe that my good Indian friend and fellow Yogi, Sumit, shared with me in India. Are you ready? Below I have listed all the ingredients for a spicy cup of fresh Masala Chai. If you are trying this on your own, I recommend testing out the amounts of each listed spice until you find the perfect balance for your own taste buds. Ready, go!

Dry spices for Masala Chai – photo by Erinda Martin

Ingredients:

  • Milk – whole or hemp milk for non-dairy option – half cup milk per one cup Chai
  • Water – half cup of water per one cup of Chai
  • Black Tea – English Breakfast type, unflavored – 1 table spoon per cup
  • Ginger – 1 inch or 2.5 centimeter piece
  • Nutmeg powder – half teaspoon
  • Cardamom pods – 2 to 3 pods
  • Cloves – 2 to 3 buds
  • Fennel seeds – about 10 seeds
  • Cinnamon stick – about 1 inch or 2.5 centimeter long stick
  • Whole black peppercorns – 2 to 4 or more for spicier Chai
  • Saffron – 1 to 2 pistols
  • Sweetener – jaggery, brown sugar, or coconut sugar for low glycemic diet – amount to taste

You will also need a mortar and pestle to freshly grind the spices, as well as a fine mesh strainer.

Preparation for Masala Chai – photo by Erinda Martin

Preparation:

  • Peel and chop the ginger.
  • Break up the cinnamon stick to small chunks.
  • Crack open the cardamom pods extracting the seeds and discard the shells.
  • Mix the cinnamon, cardamom, clove, fennel and peppercorn and grind them with mortar and pestle.
  • Add the nutmeg powered to the ground spices, along with the ginger and water in a pot and bring them near boil over medium heat.
  • Add the black tea and bring them to quick boil.
  • Add the milk and bring them to another quick boil, occasionally stirring the mix to avoid over-boil.
  • Just before the boil add the saffron.
  • Remove from heat and pour over fine mesh strainer onto a container.
  • Double strain to remove spice residue, pouring directly to cup the second time.
  • Add sweetener of choice to taste.Here you have it, a delicious home made cup of Masala Chai, spicy and delicious to make your taste buds dance with excitement! Cheers!
Masala Chai ready to enjoy – photo by Erinda Martin

Special thanks to my friend Sumit for passing on this recipe to me. I have tested it on my own and shared some homemade Chai with family and friends, with satisfactory feedback. I hope you all give it a try and enjoy it as well!

~ Erinda

 

 

Memories from Southeast Asia

I wrote this post last year around this time when my husband, Seth, and I had just returned from an unforgettable trip to southeast Asia. I got to celebrate my big 30th birthday there scuba diving among many other amazing experiences… I never posted this entry anywhere, and I actually never finished telling the story. So, I’ll start by sharing the beginning of it this time. And hopefully in the near future I’ll finish sharing all the rest of it.

______________________________________________________________________

3 weeks. 3 countries. Big 30th birthday! No expectations. Just miracles!

Southeast Asia stole my heart. I absolutely loved it, all the ups, the minor downs, and everything else in between! From bathing with baby elephants to feeding monkeys, from sunrise at one of the ancient world’s wonders to scuba diving among beautiful marine life, along with endless ancient temples and gorgeous serene beaches, Southeast Asia provided more than I even imagined. I fell in love every morning waking up and stayed up late night after night as life in those moments was more exciting than the idea of a good night sleep.

We spent a few months planning this trip, although the real planning started just a few weeks before the departure date. This was certainly the trip of a lifetime, but only until the next one… Yes, the travel bug has inevitably bitten me and therefore more worldly adventures are in our near future horizon already. More on this later so stay tuned!

~ Erinda

To be continued…

Hello from India!

Hello world, I am writing to you from beautiful India, filled to the brim with excitement to be here! I arrived in Delhi on November 1st and I am planning to travel around this fascinating country for three months. During this time, I plan on visiting sacred sites, explore forts and royal dwellings, advance my Yoga practice and teaching, experience and learn new styles of meditation, enjoy some beautiful nature, and most definitely eat the most delicious food, ever!

Words could not do justice in explaining the vastness of my joy right now. I have been wanting to make this trip reality for years, and so now it finally is. In my best attempt to showcase glimpses of this beautiful country and culture, I will continue on this post with photos instead, hopefully expressing a thousand words through them. I hope you enjoy! Make sure to check on my public Instagram feed here for regular posts as I move around the country.

Chalo Chale? Basically meaning “let’s get going” in Hindi 😉  I do love languages after all!

India Gate
Red Fort
Traditional Indian dancers outside Red Fort
Red Fort gates
Inside the Red Fort
Qutub Minar
Qutub Minar
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

POST NOTE:

If you enjoyed these photos from my first few days in India, you may really enjoy the new Instagram account I created specifically dedicated to travel photography. Check it out here and show some love with your thumbs and words!

~ Erinda