New Tee & Bag Designs for Hub City Co-op (200 Words)

Just wanted to share my latest design project for Hub City Co-op.

I designed these t-shirts and tote bags based on the original mural I painted inside the store. They came out so great and hopefully they are gonna fly off the shelves. 

I put a lot of thought and research into sourcing these.

The tees are super soft polyblend material that people will actually love to wear. They are manufactured in Nicaragua by Next Level, a socially and environmentally responsible and WRAP certified (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) which means no sweat shops, no child labor and environmentally responsibility. 

The 100% organic cotton tote bags by econscious donate a portion of sales to non-profit Partners like 1% for the Planet, the Rodale Institute the Organic Trade Association and Green America. 

They were printed and delivered by a local business, Carolina Headwear

Not only are they fun & functional merchandise, but they also serve as grassroots marketing, as long as customers wear and use them in public. My focus here has been ideas and promotions that are win-win-win and benefit all parties involved, especially the local community. 

So thankful that these peeps let me keep experimenting with and expressing my creativity! 

Mural Methods, Madness & Monsoons (550 Words)

I'm a little late in writing this. I'm still getting acclimated to the full-time freelance schedule which entails a really inconsistent but exciting work-life balance. 

 The original design.

The original design.

Anyways, Hub City Co-op liked the first mural I painted outside enough to commission me to paint another one inside. The space is approximately 17' x 9' (5.1 m x 2.7 m). They requested a creative way to display the Seven Cooperative Principles, which are supposed to guide all cooperatives. 

In retrospect, I slayed this project. It took me five days from concept to completion. Most of my git-er-done motivation came from the fact that the block party to celebrate the first mural was being held that Saturday and I couldn't stand the thought of the mural being seen as anything less than awesome by all the people I anticipated would attend the event. 

 Projecting/tracing: my least favorite part. 

Projecting/tracing: my least favorite part. 

In contrast to the rainbow garden of yummy colors outside, I kept this one much simpler. It's important to consider the mural surroundings when planning the design. I selected just three fonts and two colors to contrast the hodgepodge of endless products surrounding it that are already competing for your attention. 

 WIP

WIP

I picked shapes that, to me at least, represent traditional Southern cooking and culture: a lemon (lemonade), a skillet, a mason jar, etc. I knew there were some obstructions on the wall but I wasn't sure exactly where so I intentionally created a design with puzzle pieces that I could move around if necessary. Of course it ended up being necessary.

So here's how it happened:

Monday: Design (5 hours)
Tuesday: Projection & Tracing (4 hours)
Wednesday: Painting (6 hours)
Thursday: Painting (10 hours)
Friday: Painting (17 hours)
Total: 5 days, 42 hours

See what I mean about the inconsistent schedule? Now I wish I had started at least one day earlier to save my sanity during that last marathon painting session where I started talking to my wall, specifically, Missiour Poulet, the French-speaking rooster. (Read the full, funny story on Buzzfeed.) 

 WIP

WIP

When you look at the finished product, it looks easy. Except that it's not and its a pretty tedious process: paint 2-3 coats of white, outline with black, fill in with multiple coats of black. Each "puzzle piece" averaged about 3.5 hours to complete. 

But it's totally worth all the effort. I'm happy with how it turned out!

 Finished! 

Finished! 

I just wish I could say the same for the Block Party. The party had infinite potential but attendance was no doubt hindered by what seemed like a monsoon sent by some spiteful, mural-hating deity that I must have unintentionally offended.

It literally hadn't rained a drop all day until minutes after the celebration started. There was thunder, lightning, a diagonal deluge of rain and all of our smartphones chimed in unison with flash flood warnings. I had an epiphany and realized where the term fair weather friends must have come from. 

I want to thank all my friends and family who did come, especially my bestie Christina who is a face painting pro and helped me transform kids into butterflies, cats, dogs and other assorted, creative creatures. We did it for free but had a tip jar that collected $51.51 which we donated to the Children's Advocacy Center here in Spartanburg. 

I definitely earned my monthly massage for July!

 I really enjoy creating public art & design and think more places should have it, but obviously I'm biased. What do y'all think? 

10 Simple, Free or Low-Cost Things to Do For More Authentic & Adventurous Travel (125 Words)

Here's my mental cultural checklist for each country I visit. I'm not super strict about it. I just try to let things happen naturally and I've rarely regretted it! 

• Ride a public bus and/or train

• Eat something local from a street vendor (preferably cooked/avoid meat)

• Buy & try local fruits, veggies (preferably peelable) 

• Learn to say Hello and Thank You in the local language

• Talk to at least one new person each day 

• Visit at least one museum

• Visit at least one park/green space 

• Look for local street murals and/or public art

• Drink a local beverage (non-alcoholic, usually tea) 

• Participate in local events/festivals or volunteer for local organizations when possible

 Holi is celebrated in Nepal and India in March

Holi is celebrated in Nepal and India in March

 Local produce in Cairns, Australia

Local produce in Cairns, Australia

 Local fruit shake with a new friend in Nusa Penida 

Local fruit shake with a new friend in Nusa Penida 

 Riding the local Circle Train in Yangon, Myanmar

Riding the local Circle Train in Yangon, Myanmar

 Street Art + Yoga in Singapore

Street Art + Yoga in Singapore

What's something you enjoy doing to enhance your travel experience? 

Much Love,

Kandy, Sri Lanka (Cultural Orientation)

I’ve had lots of great experiences but limited internet so this is going to be a long one! (But there are also lots of pictures!) 

ARRIVAL

I arrived at Colombo airport in Sri Lanka mid-morning on Sunday. I knew I would need cash for pretty much everything so I tried to use about three different ATMs, all of which denied me money and displayed messages saying that my card was ineligible or reported lost.stolen. After connecting with my Green Lion volunteer group, I used the free airport wifi to skype my bank, but was cut off mid-call due to the shoddy internet signal. (I actually ended up having to borrow money from a new friend until I could sort things out with my bank four days later. But I was thankful this was the worst I had to deal with because another girl was without her entire suitcase for several days due to the fault of the airline, so a lot of us pitched in toiletries and clothes for her to borrow until it arrived after several days. Travelers are the best!) 

Five of us and our luggage were piled into a van for the three hour journey to Kandy in the mountains. This ride started out a bit terrifying because although there are only two lanes painted on the road, there can be up to 5 or 6 lanes of busses, trucks, cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Our driver was swerving all over the road and honking erratically, not unlike everyone else. After the first dozen or so near-misses, we relaxed and listened to Abba’s greatest hits. Which was blaring out of the speakers for nearly the entire trip. 

We surprisingly arrived all in one piece and after removing our shoes at the door of course, were sent to our respective rooms. I was the last of six to arrive in my room, which was tucked away in the corner of the third floor. 

ACCOMMODATION

 Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

I ended up really disliking my room, mostly because it was too small for the six bunks (three sets of two) that occupied it. Three German girls had been there for several weeks and their stuff was everywhere. Then what little space was left was taken by and English girl and Dutch girl who arrived just a bit earlier than me. I had to lean my rucksack against someone else’s bed frame and there was literally no more room on the floor so I had to keep my backpack my top bunk with me, which occupied a significant portion of my already tiny sleeping space. The mattresses were ultra thin and I could always feel the metal bars of the bunk frame beneath it. The pillow felt like I was sleeping on a soggy sack of flour and we were each given two thin, tattered bed sheets which never stayed tucked in. I always slept on top of them both because it was still too warm at night for any kind of coverings. 

My bed was against the wall and under the single oscillating fan which blew directly over my bed so I didn’t really benefit from it’s cooling effect. Of course there was no air conditioning so we often kept the window open at night, which consequently let in mosquitos and the stench of cigarette smoke. The bathroom was tiny and I was grateful for a flushing toilet, but the space was wide open so whenever anyone took a shower, everything inside got wet. We did have hot water sometimes, but I actually crave cold showers after accumulating a layer of dust and sweat everyday. I saw several other rooms with ceiling fans and a bit more space so I know every room wasn’t exactly like mind. There were only two outlets so it was a battle to get your phone charged. I was pretty proud of how I was able to Macgyer my converter to be able to power the fan, my phone and at least one other device. We were also allotted two hours of slowish internet per night, which I really appreciate considered there is no internet provided at my new house in Ambalangoda. But, it was tolerable for a week, and the food and the new friends I’ve met helped to make up for it. 

OBSERVATIONS

Honestly, before I arrived, the only two things I knew about Sri Lanka were that it’s an island located off the southeast corner of India and it’s where M.I.A. was born. Now I know the majority of the people are Buddhist (there are statues and temples everywhere) and there was a civil war in the north between the Singhalese and the Tamil Tigers that really only ended recently in 2009. In general, the men tend to be skinny and the women tend to be thicker and curvier. They wear a mix of traditional dress and western-style attire, with traditional being shirts and long sarongs for the men, midriff-baring saris for the women and sandals or flip flops for both. Everyone’s been pretty friendly so far and the kids get especially excited and always shout “Hello! Hello!” when they see foreigners. There are also stray dogs and garbage all over the streets. 

ORIENTATION

Our cultural orientation started on Monday with some history and language lessons where we were taught a few phrases in Singhalese. Ayu Bowan is a common greeting and means I wish you a long life. You can also use this as a farewell phrase (kinda like Aloha means hello and goodbye.) We also learned some basic conversation starters: Mage Nama Miranda. Mage Rate United States, and pleasantries: Karunakarala means please and Isthuthi means thank you. The written Singhalese language is very lovely-looking but I can’t even begin to read a word of it. 

We rode a public bus around Kandy and ended up thoroughly enjoying a showcase of traditional Sri Lankan dance, costumes and performances. It opened with the blowing of the conch shell and drumming, which is a traditional welcome. This was followed by the Pooja dance, the Panteru Natum, the Cobra dance, the Mask dance and few others. The most impressive for me personally was the duo of plate spinners who balanced like 7 ceramic discs each and then the two guys at the end who ate fire and walked across hot coals that were then set on fire and walked across again. 

Tuesday was very touristy but informative. We visited a local Ayervedic (natural healing) spice garden where they grew and processed medicinal plants like aloe vera, cinnamon and ginger followed by a visit to the Kadugannawa Tea Factory Centre Garden where we had a tour and enjoyed a cup of Ceylon tea. Fun Fact: Sri Lanka is the second largest exporter of tea after India. Our last stop was Premadasa Gems & Jewelry where we watched a short video about traditional mining in Sri Lanka and then they attempted to sell us all kinds of shiny, sparkly things. This was pretty much the pattern all day: give the tourists a quick tour then encourage them to buy a bunch of stuff. Fun Fact: There are 28 different gems and precious stones found in Sri Lanka; almost everything except diamonds, rubies and emeralds. 

Wednesday we split into groups and had traditional cooking lessons in the homes of some very talented local ladies. Cooking is huge here, and women can typically spend half of each day just cooking. I got to assist in the kitchen and use a coconut grinder to help make our pumpkin curry, banana flower “slaw”, fried papadils (which ended up kind of like puffy potato chips) and rice. We even ate the traditional way with our right hands, sans utensils. Everything was so fresh and flavorful. This was my favorite meal in Kandy by far.

Later that day, we visited a Buddhist temple and chatted with a nun with a shaved head and everything who was originally from England but had come to this temple after converting in Burma. She had an open dialogue with us about Buddhism, answered several questions and misconceptions and then led us in a short meditation. That was really interesting because she had a unique perspective of being able to compare it to the traditional Western lifestyle instead of being born into it, as they are here. Some monks get recruited really young at like 7 or 8 years old. I’ve seen some this young in town and at other temples in the area. 

Thursday we visited the incredibly crowded Temple of the Tooth Relic, which was packed with tourists and devotees alike. Our guides encouraged us to buy flowers for offerings at one of the several carts outside the temple and it only cost 100 rupees (about 75¢ USD) so we obliged. It was more like a palace than a temple with ornate murals and sculptures everywhere. There was a horn player and two drummers at the front and a huge line that wrapped around the inside of the temple to actually see the tooth (of Buddha) so instead we just walked past the outside of the relic room. There were people everywhere offering prayers and fruit and flowers and tourists taking pictures and even groups of children on field trips in their adorable white uniforms and red ribbons. 

After that, we took tuk-tuks, which is kind of like a cross between and motorcycle and a golf cart, up the hill to a wood shop and a batik shop. Again, they gave a quick lecture and then escorted us to their ginormous gift shops in hopes of us buying souvenirs. I finally gave in at the Batik shop and bought a small print of several birds roosting on branches called The Tree of Life. 

 Artisan at the woodworking shop

Artisan at the woodworking shop

 Tree of Life Batik

Tree of Life Batik

It was a pretty short day so a couple other girls and I stayed in town to shop at the local markets. It can be overwhelming if you’re not used to crowded places with everyone promising you the best deal. “Special price for you. Student price. Volunteer price.” I ended up with an awesome pair of printed elephant pants and a matching purple t-shirt that were comfortable enough for traveling and conservative enough for temple visits. 

 The Central Market

The Central Market

Friday was our last official orientation day and we started it with a public bus trip and a steep hike to the Bahirawakanda Temple which housed a giant Buddha statue that overlooked all of Kandy. We took tons of pictures of the statue and the great view of the city below before having tea and being blessed by a young monk who tied white string around each of our right wrists. Apparently you are supposed to make a wish when you receive the string and then when the makeshift bracelet falls off, your wish is supposed to come true.

We then went back down to the city and visited a large Hindu temple where people were praying and offering fruit platters. Once the offering has been blessed, you get a little dot on your forehead and you’re supposed to eat the fruit. I’ve visited several Hindu temples now and they’re always so bright and colorful with intricate carvings. This one even had a bunch of flashing neon images of gods and goddesses that reminded me a bit of a casino. At lunchtime, we headed to Balaji Dosai pure vegetarian restaurant where we all enjoyed a roti-like dish with a couple different curries on the side. Either the spice was toned down for us or I’m finally starting to increase my tolerance! 

That night, a group of about 20 of us packed up and loaded into three vans around 11 PM for a three hour drive to Adam’s Peak (or Sri Pada). The plan was to arrive around 2 AM and then hike to the top in time for sunrise. We figured we’d be able to get some rest on the way there - but boy were we wrong. The driver of my van at least was swerving around the hairpin turns of the mountain road like a maniac and blaring whiny-sounding Sri Lankan music. There were no seat belts and no handles or anything to hold onto inside so we all just kind of tumbled over the top of one another each time we took a hard turn. One girl in the back threw up a few times and another had her head out of the window on the verge of puking, herself. When we finally arrived, it was dark so we all got out our flashlights and started up the dirt and stone-staired trail. It started raining so I put my raincoat on over my backpack and opened my umbrella. A few stray dogs followed us, which was ok and even a bit reassuring until a couple of them started growling and snapping at each other. 

 Sri Pada or Adam's Peak ( More image here ) 

Sri Pada or Adam's Peak (More image here

The rain only got worse and our one large group scattered into several smaller groups. I was struggling with the altitude since I’m used to living at sea level. I also started feeling a slight pain in my knee but I was determined to reach the top. The rain only got worse and flooded the trail. It got colder the higher we climbed. And the nonstop precipitation caused the steeper stone steps towards the top to turn into a gushing waterfall. I could feel my pants stuck to my legs and my feet sloshing around in the water inside my hiking boots. It literally felt like torture in the cold, wet darkness. I pressed on as much as I could until the pain in my knee was unbearable. This happened less than half a kilometer from the top, according to a couple who had already reached the peak and was on their way back down. A friend and I stopped at a police station on the way back down to see if they had any first aid supplies and happened to run into a different group of trekkers. One of them was a girl in her mid-twenties who happened to be training as a humanitarian aid worker and immediately wrapped up my knee and gave me some ibuprofen. The Sri Lankan police were very kind and offered us all hot tea, which was the motivation I needed to start hobbling back down the mountain. The sun came up at some point during the descent but the rain still never fully stopped. I was lucky I only found one leech as most other people were attacked several times. 

Back at the base, the vans and about half of the group were already waiting. Once there were enough people to fill up the first van, it took off and I was the only one left waiting for the rest of the group, who I assumed had reached the top. They returned pretty disappointed because although they went as far as they could, the actual peak was gated and locked since it was off season and they couldn’t even see the sunrise due to all the rain and mist. The ride back was even more miserable because we were all soaking wet and we had to sit idly for over an hour due to a downed powerline in the road. I really wish someone had given us a weather forecast and informed us it was off season before we left, but now I have a story to tell about that hike from hell I did that one time in Sri Lanka.  

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Singapore & Supertasting

So here's my first impression of Singapore so far. It's pretty much one big urban sprawl of glass and concrete as far and wide as the eye can see. There is no shortage of shopping as you have multiple, giant mazes of air-conditioned malls to choose from, spanning the spectrum of retail; everything from Forever XXI to Armani Exchange. The streets are full of speeding cars and taxis and while there is public transportation, it seems to be underutilized. It's also an interesting feeling to be the ethnic minority as Singapore is mostly made up of Chinese, Indian & Southeast Asian inhabitants. It's not really intimidating though, because almost everyone speaks English and there are enough Europeans and Ex-pats around that my sister and I aren't much of a novelty. 

There are some green spaces that serve as a respite from the industrial landscape, which I have yet to visit but am looking forward to. The city is pretty modern with a few strict rules like imprisonment for chewing gum and the death penalty for trafficking drugs.

 Death to drug traffickers

Death to drug traffickers

(However, I find it ironic that they don't want drugs and gum littering their streets yet a ton of people smoke and there doesn't seem to be much consequence for stray cigarette butts.) I love the architectural and cultural diversity as you can see Sikh temples and Buddhist temples and Catholic Churches all within a few blocks of each other and according to my Uber driver at least, everyone is pretty tolerant of each other. For such a modern city, I haven't noticed a ton of recycling, but I do like that all of the restaurants (except the American fast food joints which we avoid, of course) use metal utensils and real, washable dishes. 

I flew from Cairns to Darwin to Singapore and Jamie met me at the airport. I'm incredibly thankful that I get to stay at her flat for a few days and I even get my own bed since her roommates went back to Switzerland. My fist meal was at a Hawker Center, which is basically a Pan-Asian food court on steroids. Think of the foodcourt in your local mall, then dim the lights, double the amount of people and triple the overall size. 

There was little English and even fewer vegetarian options, but I found a cool little spot where you use tongs to fill a metal bowl with fresh, raw veggies and protein of your choice before they weigh and cook it. The cashier asked me two questions: soup or dry and spicy or not spicy. I very clearly said dry and not spicy but they took the liberty of adding peanuts, a not-at-all-mild sauce, chunks of red chili pepper and cilantro to my bowl during the cooking process. Gag. 

 Hawker Center = Singapore food court

Hawker Center = Singapore food court

 Notice that nothing is labeled

Notice that nothing is labeled

OK I'll admit to being a bit of a picky eater - but now I can prove it's genetic and there's nothing I can do about it! I hate cilantro because I have this recessive gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. Seriously, it's science. And my sister has suspicions that I might be a supertaster after she stumbled across some research about it so I investigated further and now I'm 99% sure I am.

About 25% of Americans are supertasters, which means we have an abnormal amount of tastebuds and are far more sensitive to taste. Particularly the bitter stuff like coffee, beer, grapefruit, dark chocolate etc, which are all things I find repulsive. We also tend to avoid really fatty foods which would also explain why I don't like meat or things smothered in cheese. More intense taste also means that I have a lower threshold for spices so a dish that may tingle someone else's tongue will set my mouth on fire. And as much as I hate bitter food, I alternatively love the sweet stuff. Even as a baby, my mom said the only baby food I liked was carrots and sweet potatoes; so much so that I actually turned orange. It all makes sense now! See, mom, green beans really do taste like anger and misery if you're a supertaster! 
(Sources: WSJ, Supertaster Labs, Wikipedia

So back to my first meal at the hawker which turned out to be burn-your-face-off spicy. I could barely eat it so my sister took on some of the torturous food as well. After that, we planned the rest of our meals a little more carefully. We went grocery shopping and have cooked a few meals at home, paired with white wine, which is hella expensive. It's hard to find anything under $25 per bottle - even the Australian Yellowtail costs over double what it does in the US - which is about as close to local as you can get here.

When dining out, we had an amazing soup and salad lunch in Chinatown and a delicious dinner in Little India. We're still not sure exactly what we ate at a place called Komala Vilas but I wasn't particularly worried because the menu was all vegetarian. Our food was served on Cafetaria style metal trays and Jamie's involved some kind of Briyani rice with lots of side dishes, I had a Masala Dosai which was kind of like an Indian burrito and that radioactive-Pepto-Bismol colored beverage was rose milk. Mmmm, flower flavor! (We asked for tap water because its totally safe to drink here but he brought us a bottle instead.) We were definitely both full for just $16.90 SGD ($12.50 USD). Then we spent the rest of the night wandering around Little India, taking in all the exotic sights, sounds and smells before cabbing it back to the flat. 

 Legit Indian Food

Legit Indian Food

 Statues for sale in Little India

Statues for sale in Little India

Another highlight so far was a free concert by the Victoria Alumni Chinese Orchestra that was part of Singapore's Festival of Biodiversity which we discovered accidentally, but enjoyed for sure because the Chinese instruments gave it that twangy, distinctly Eastern sound. My sister and I also have a tradition of getting a manicure and/or pedicure together so we continued that legacy as well with an Express (no spa stuff and cheaper price) to freshen up our feet. 

 

Mirambling Muses: Cairns, Australia

I had so much fun in Cairns that I wanted to share my favorite cheap, free, local, sustainable, inspirational and/or must-not-miss things to do there. It's incredibly tourist and backpacker friendly, boasting tons of hostels, rentals & hotels and there is free community wifi in several spots throughout the city. The main part of town is relatively compact and easy to walk to all of the locations listed below. Oh and one last tip: the locals drop the i and the r pronounce it like cans

7. Snoogie's Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant 

This gem is a bit hard to find, tucked away in the Main Street Arcade (82 Lake Street) a bit north of Gilligan's. I found out about it myself after chatting up a local shop owner after lusting after her lunch. It's pretty much the most affordable and delicious healthy food and juice bar you'll find in Cairns. I really wish I'd discovered it sooner because this was my favorite food place. And I'm not alone; it's ranked #1 out of 381 restaurants in Cairns based on its 42 glowing reviews on Trip Advisor

6. Cairns Regional Gallery

An eclectic Art Gallery with a variety of exhibitions where you can escape the sun or the rain and see lots of work from Aussie artists. Admission is only $5 per adult and they're open 7 days a week. Or just visit the shop which offers a unique collection of design, crafts and jewelry by local and national artisans. You'll find much better souvenirs and gifts than the generic, tacky tourist shops you'll find everywhere else. 

 Image Source: Trip Advisor

Image Source: Trip Advisor

5. The Night Market

Located 71-75 on the Esplanade, the quirky Night Market is not to be missed! There is a self-serve food court serving up a variety of Asian favorites, hair and nail services, lots of souvenir shops and the famous $15 massages. You can find everything from locally crafted clothing & jewelry to custom airbrushed hats to postcards to kangaroo scrotum keychains. Shops are open 5-11 PM, Food Court from 10 AM - 11 PM and Massages from 12 noon - 11 PM. 

 Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

4. The Esplanade

A super fun and free place to hang out, situated along 2.5 km of the Cairns coast. The lagoon is a free, public swimming pool, there's a boardwalk for exercise and/or people watching, plenty of open grassy areas and playgrounds and free community wifi. I often saw street performers and lots of people relaxing with a book or enjoying a picnic. If there are any events or festivals going on, they'll most likely be here. There are some free Active LIving classes you can take advantage of as well. I participated in yoga on Fridays at 6:30 AM. 

 The Lagoon

The Lagoon

3. Graff Alley

The largest concentration of Street Art I could find in Cairns. Located off of Grafton Street almost across from Gilligan's (the biggest and most infamous hostel in the city). Amongst all the murals, there's also a rather popular coffee shop called Caffeind and the Alleyway Paint & Skate shop. 

2. Rusty's Markets

Great place to buy local groceries or grab a bit to eat. I found all kinds of foreign fruits I can't get back home and I found the stall owners are really friendly. There's also a fresh juice bar and reflexology & thai massage as well as jewelry and clothing for sale. However, it's only open on the weekends; Friday & Saturday 5 AM - 6 PM and Sunday 5 AM - 3 PM. (Also located just past Gilligan's on Grafton Street.) 

1. The Great Barrier Reef

The harbor is packed with boats that will take you to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I can recommend Passions of Paradise ($159/adult + $10 reef tax) since that's the eco-certified boat that took me out to discover their natural treasures. But there are other sustainable options like the Reef Daytripper ($124/adult + $15 reef tax) and Ocean Free Green Island & Reef Pinnacle Tour ($190/adult includes reef tax). There's a full list of options on the Cairns Visitor Centre website


Athletes & Artists

So I seem to have developed a habit of automatically waking up at 5 AM. It happened again this morning so I headed down to the common area to use the free wifi. The night guy on duty asked if I had just woken up or just gotten back from partying, lol. I confirmed the former.

I ate a simple banana and granola bar breakfast in my room and left a little bit later to head to the Esplanade to watch the Ironman Cairns competition. The most ridiculous endurance athletes in the world compete in these races. I got to watch Sam Appleton cross the finish line in just under 4 hours to win the 70.3 race which consists of a 1.2 mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56 mile (90 km) ride, and a 13.1 mile (21.1 km) run. And that's just the half course!

A full Ironman is a whopping 2.4 mile (3.9 km) swim, 112 mile (180.25 km) cycle and a marathon distance 26.2 mile (42.4 km) run. I got a small taste of this when I took up sprint distance (.47 mile/750 m swim + 12 mile/20 km ride + 3.1 mile/5 km run) triathlons a few years ago in Miami. Of course my races would just be leisurely warm ups for most of the men and women I witnessed swimming, cycling and running today. 

The finish line was started to get crowded so I meandered off on a mission for lunch. The rain suddenly surged from sprinkling to soaking so I took shelter in the Cairns Regional Gallery of art which was only $5 ($3.40 USD) entry. The first floor held an eclectic collection of watercolor paintings. I looked at all of them but didn't love any of them. The second floor was more my style, titled Resolved: Journeys in Australian Design and displaying a collection of modern and minimalist design pieces. I particularly liked the colorful collection designed by Marc Harrison called Husque which incorporated crushed macadamia shells (which would otherwise just be discarded at harvest) into resin and shaped into beautiful bowls and dishes.

 image source:  husque.com

image source: husque.com

The third and final floor featured works by an emerging Artist named Nickeema Williams. She did beautiful charcoal portraits of several family members in addition to a few color photographs that honestly reminded me of instagram. When I exited the museum (through the gift shop of course) the rain was back to sporadic sprinkles. 

I found a food court on the way back to Calypso and got to break in my reusable bamboo chopsticks on some Thai food that was just a tad too oily. Back at home base, I caught up on some writing and uploaded some pictures. I also looked up the definitions of 101 words that I didn't know and had underlined while reading the last three chapters of Walden. I wish I had been more acquainted with my homeboy HD Thoreau in high school because he uses a ton of vocabulary that you're likely to see on the SAT. 

Anyways, that night the hostel hosted a BBQ where for $5 AUD you could eat barbecued crocodile and kangaroo. I had less than zero interest in this so I splurged and binged on Indian food at a nearby restaurant instead. I had naan, a mango lassi, basmati rice and Subzi Malai Balar; translation: mixed veggies in a creamy cashew sauce. I waddled back to my room and had to unbutton my pants to make room for the food baby I had just conceived. 

Earlier in the day I told myself that I was going to do some yoga before bed tonight but if I attempt anything that involves inversion right now, I'm quite certain I'll see my dinner again. I need to at least find the energy to pack as tonight is my last night in my single room of solitude and I'll need to check out tomorrow as soon as I return from my early morning excursion. 

Sidenote: I found this particularly amusing. In case you forget how to use a toilet, these helpful illustrations are posted throughout many of the public restrooms:


A few more pictures from around Cairns: