You May Be in India

You might be in India if:

1. You get hit by a motorbike in broad daylight.

2. You get head butted by a cow in the street.

3. You get head butted by a cow in the street again.

4. Kids shake your hand everywhere you go.

5. You get about 487 "hellos" each day. (and "where you from"/ "what your name")

6. There are balls, triangles and tubes of things being fried on every corner.

7. A saree is an outfit, not an apology.

8. You eat vegetarian food 3 x a day.

9. You can get a great deal on cumin.

10. You are on a train for 24 hours and you have only covered 1/10 of the country.

11. You have 3 people, a dog and a windshield on a motor scooter.

12. A lassie is a drink, not a dog. And we drink a lot of them!


Editors Note

I was told that my last post may have been a little off. Actually, I do think that Big K looks more like Zeus than Caesar. And for ST, I think Big K is missing something....a skull maybe? And a bald spot. But yeah, I see the resemblance. For the original photo, see HERE.What do you guys think? Zeus? J the B? or.....???? You decide.
taken by Me in Old Goa
found at www.fanpop.com using Google Images

Hail Caesar!

I had to put this online, it was just too funny. We tried to find a sheet because it would have been a better toga, but this was all I could get my hands on. Since Mr Lovely has decided to forgo all attempt at civilization while traveling and to grow a humongous, nappy ass beard, I thought I would immortalize him here, on the internet. This pic has been posted with his (reluctant) permission.

Staring is Caring (and Other Randoms)

Vegetarian Thali, Gokarna
St Sebastian Church, Panjim
- From what we have heard, India is 40 percent Muslim, 50 percent Hindu and 10 percent other. Our first stop was Goa, which was a formal Portuguese colony, so there are many churches. They are all is such bad disrepair. It is like being at a Roman ruins, except everything is moldy. Here is a photo of one, to show you. They could be so beautiful, but they just aren’t kept up very well.

- In the south, I didn’t notice this, but as we started to travel north, I am all of a sudden the victim of an intense staring phenomenon. In Egypt, the men stared a lot, and made comments, hisses and whistles. In India, they just STARE. And STARE and STARE. And it is not just the men! The children do it, although this is more understandable. You’re first time seeing a non-Indian, especially when they are WHITE and BLOND, must be a little weird. The women do it, but they are a bit less obvious about it. But the men actually just stand there and gawk. We were on the train and there are open windows with bars, and they would crowd around the windows on the outside of the train and stare at me sitting in the inside. Like 4 or 5 or 9 of them all huddled around the window staring! Talk about feeling uncomfortable. And what do you do? Do you stare back? Do you scowl or growl at them? Do you ignore them? I take option 3, but it doesn’t really work very well. It doesn’t help that Mr. Lovely has a HUGE beard. So we are both freak shows now.

- We had a really great day yesterday exploring the spice markets, cemeteries and lakes in Udaipur. The good thing about India is when the rickshaw picks you up at the train station and asks you what you plan on doing the next day and you say I don’t know, he says, “I can take you around the city.” You think -- whoa, private ride and guide, must be a fortune. But no. For about 8 dollars, this guy took us both around to a bunch of different places and waited as we looked at them or had lunch or whatever. When we said we wanted to have dinner, he said, “what time will you be done?” Then he picked us up at 11 pm and took us back to our hotel. I could get used to this. Usually we just take the bus. What a luxury!

- We usually don’t get any TV in our rooms, but sometimes we do and we need to relax a bit we end up watching the crappiest shows that I would never voluntarily watch normally. But when you just want to relax and watch dumb TV, that is really literally what you do sometimes. There really only is DUMB TV. Usually there are only a couple of channels in English. A news channel. A sports channel. If you are VERY lucky, the Discovery Channel, but that almost never happens. But when it does, its like the best thing EVER.

- The food here is delicious. I always loved Indian food. What I have realized is as much as everyone said this would NOT be the case, the food I have gotten in San Francisco is very much like the food I have been eating here. So to me, the Indian food at home IS the same as “real” Indian food. I have learned that Chutney, which is usually sweet in the places I have gone to at home (mango for example), can be any mixture/jelly/paste of items, sweet or savory. And Masala, which I usually eat in the form of Paneer Tikki Masala and thought meant “red sauce” is really just a mix of any spices. They call the chai spices “tea masala”, which is nutmeg, cinnamon etc. rather than curry spices like I thought of it.

- Cows wander around wherever they want. You know, Hindus consider them a god. So they wander the streets, eating trash and even walking into people’s shops or sitting in the middle of the road, but nobody is allowed to shoo them out or run them over. Mr. Lovely is going crazy, as his favorite food is beef and they don’t eat beef, since it is a god. I think it is hilarious, as it doesn’t bother me to go without beef for a month.

Anyway, sorry about the random thoughts but I couldn’t really form a complete thought today. My brain is having trouble stringing together ideas, so instead of trying, I just put all the blips down as just that.


Avoiding the Delhi Belly

Ah, the famous Delhi Belly. You may not know it as such, but you have probably heard that if you go to India, you will most likely end up sitting on the toilet a lot. THIS is the Delhi Belly. Similar in nature to the Montezuma’s revenge, it is usually the result of bad water or food, and can render you incapacitated for days or weeks, ruining your vacation.

So, what is our strategy for this ailment? I have a two fold strategy. First, straight from the beginning, eat as much Indian food as I can. I love Indian food. I am not going to deny myself all the Indian food I can eat just because of some possible ailment. However, I think that if the DB is going to rear its ugly head, we may as well get it out of the way pronto. I am hoping to avoid it, but if it is meant to be, so be it. Secondly, if I do get the DB, I make sure to have a room with a toilet (sometimes you have to pay extra for this, but I would say its TOTALLY worth it) and thanks to my Dr at home, I have antibiotics that are supposed to cure the ailment in three days.

Today is day 9. So, I know you are wondering, “how’s everything going with the DB fight?” Well I will tell you. Not to get too graphic about these kinds of things, but I have to happily admit, so far, all is well. No sign of the beast yet, room with a bathroom just in case and pills at the ready. I am fine. I will be sure to alert you all happily if anything bad happens. I am sure you are very interested.

Ewww, Wetness

Oh the horror. Have you ever lived in a really humid place? I mean, a REALLY humid place. Okay, so you have. Now, think about living there without air conditioning. Or a dryer. Or a car. With mold everywhere. And rain all the time. Now we are getting somewhere. You might understand what it is like in India right now.

I thought New Orleans is bad in the summer time. It rains every day. The temperature is in the 90s and the humidity is also in the 90s. However, I think in India the humidity is in…the 190s! Everything is wet. Everything. The bed is wet; my backpack is wet; any book you read - you guessed it - wet. I am afraid to take anything out of the double wrapped plastic bagging system I have developed. I don’t want to use my iPod or my camera or write in my journal. What if they get wet?

You take a shower, get out, dry yourself and hang up the towel. The next day, my hair is STILL wet, the towel is STILL wet. You never dry. It is so gross. To top it off, it rains every day AND it is hot. We came to the beach to relax but the water is warm and you never really get dry and if you get your clothes (or even your bathing suit) wet THEY never dry so you have to carry them around wet all the time. All our clothes smell moldy, probably because they ARE. There is no end to this insanity.

So, we are going north. We thought it would be a good idea to go where everyone said it was so nice - Goa (south of Mumbai). So we went to Goa. But its too wet and the water is actually dirty, sandy and warm. So we are going north (towards the Himalayas). We have not decided where yet, but I think the desert or the mountains. Anywhere where your feet don’t feel damp all the time and where your blanket on your bed feels dry. I can deal with heat but the wetness is driving me crazy.

Editors note:  I wrote the above a few days ago. Yesterday I found MOLD on my backpack. I am completely grossed out. I was never really a fan of Air Conditioning, but I may have to join the club after all. If only to be dry. I am totally disgusted.

Plans, Schmans (a Small List)

So we made it to India. Hurrah. It is a huge place, with varied climate and scenery. There are the Himalayas, the Thar Desert, jungles, beaches and temples galore. We only have three weeks in India, so the question is: what to do. Here are some of the options we are considering.

Goa: the beaches are supposed to be beautiful and it is a former Portuguese colony, so big K is excited about the prospects of “real meat” (elsewhere in India they are mostly vegetarian due to their beliefs in reincarnation).

Jaisalmer: here there is an old fort, as well as it being close to the desert, where you can do camel treks for a day or overnight. I am excited about that as a camel trek is one of the things on my “to do” list. The stars are supposed to be quite bright there.

Agra: home of the Taj Majal. I have heard countless times this is a must see, although it is crawling with tourists and they just upped the price. I think the tourist price is about 30 dollars; the local price is about 2 dollars, something like that.

Himalayas: we don’t know where yet, but we are considering going to try to see the Dali Lama. It is near impossible, but who knows, we may get lucky. Also there are some really nice small mountain towns which seem worth a look-see, as well as a possible trek or two.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? We are trying to narrow it down, but it seems there is so much to do!!!

Getting From A to B

The worst thing about traveling is getting from point A to point B. If we could just have Scotty “beam me up” to our grandma’s house or Mt. Everest (not to say I wouldn’t hike the mountain, but how about just getting me from Africa to Nepal in 2.54 seconds) it would be a lot easier. In fact, I know many people who don’t go places because of the anxiety of getting there.

My aunt hates to fly; she had a bad experience when her kids were both young and there was a snowstorm, making her miss her connection and she had to spend the night in some god-awful Midwest airport with two small children. She lives on the East Coast. We barely get to see her unless we go there. My mother is the same. She can’t smoke on the plane, she gets airsick and she has a bad back. If only there really was a Scotty, she would be a lot happier. She loves to visit friends and family, but doesn’t love the pain of getting there. And I understand her pain.

I have spent a lot of time on busses and trains, cars and airplanes. Most of the time it is fine (for me) but it is that one time that is not fine that sometimes makes you wonder if it is all worth it. Generally I decide it is, but sometimes….

Getting to India was one of those times. Luckily we are not on a time crunch. Knowing someone is waiting to pick you up and you are already inconveniencing them and now are going to have to do it even more because your flight is delayed sucks. Luckily, we are on our own. However, our flight to India went like this.

We started in South Africa. On a Wednesday. Around 10 am. After turning in our rental car, we learned that the airport did not have a bus into town, which is where we would need to catch another bus. We asked about a shuttle and were told that we could get one but it would be 50 dollars each. Unfortunately, we barely had any SA currency left as we were trying not to have any left at the end (which is another puzzle in itself). We finally found a nice set of businessmen who gave us a ride into town, but this was after quizzing everyone as to where they were going and practically begging for a ride (done by big K, he is much more brave than I). From where they dropped us off, we hiked with our backpacks (mine by the way must weigh about 50 lbs -- how did it get so heavy?) for about 15 minutes to the minibus station.

At the minibus station we found a bus going to Maputo, which is where our flight was (Maputo is in Mozambique). However, it cost more than we had left, so we tried to bargain, but the guy wouldn’t budge, so we worked out a deal. He would take us to the border, then we could use Metacais (Moz money, which I had some of) to get a ride from the border to Maputo. Fine. By this time it was about 1 pm and our flight was not until 11:30 pm, so we had plenty of time, but we were also happy to get our journey started.

All went well until we reached the border. Everyone else passed through like a breeze. Let me preface this by saying that we had been to/through Mozambique twice already: once when we had first arrived, by plane, where we had to pay 27 dollars for a 30 day visa and once when we transited through from Zimbabwe to Malawi, where we had to pay 10 dollars for a transit visa (good for 24 hrs). So, we thought (and why not) we could get another transit visa. Unfortunately, two days after we arrived in Mozambique and bought our original 30 day visa, things changed. So now there is no transit visa. There is only a 60 day, SEVENTY EIGHT dollar (USD) visa. We tried to explain, we are on our way to the airport as soon as we cross the border, but they would not budge. Where was this visa 7 weeks ago!!???? I was not happy. However, we had no other choice. We had a flight to catch.

To top it all off, the process (them typing it up or whatnot) took about 45 minutes and THEN the guy said he didn’t have change for my 80 dollars. Yeah, I know, its only two dollars but I was fuming. You know they could give it to me in Metacais, but by now the WHOLE bus is waiting on us and the driver keeps popping his head around the corner asking if we are almost finished and there is a long line behind us and this guy is speaking Portuguese to me like he doesn’t understand, he is so innocent, even though I heard him speak English a minute ago…..so now I am out 80 bucks and I am going to be in Mozambique for about 8 hours.

We get into town and then have to get a cab to the airport, where we sit and wait for the next 4 hours for our flight. You thought getting there was hard, but the flight is even worse. It is a one hour flight at 11:30 pm, with a  45 minute layover, then another 3 hour flight after that. We arrive in Kenya around 5:30 am with about an hour of sleep under our belts. Next, we have a 13 hour layover before getting back on a plane at 6:45 pm. I thought I would sleep a little in the airport, but it wasn’t possible. Back on the plane at 6:45, and then a 5 hour flight (and another 2 hours of sleep) to Mumbai, where it is 3:30 am.

The good thing is that there are tons of people at the airport and it is no problem getting a taxi. The bad thing is that even though we used points to get a nice hotel near the airport, the driver has no idea where it is, nor does he speak any English. So we spend the next hour or so driving around Mumbai asking anyone who is awake where the hotel is. People keep telling the driver where it is and then he must keep passing it, and then he asks someone else and they tell him where it is and then he passes it… I was so cracked out from being awake so much over the last couple of days that at the time it was actually funny. Really funny. The driver was pissed off at us because we totally were not understanding each other and I was laughing every time he stopped to ask for directions.

The best thing is that when we get to the hotel at 5 am, they let us check in early (normal check in is at 3 pm) and we sleep, finally.


These are Africa Photos

Today we leave Africa. We got rid of the tent that S and R gave us -- pay it forward; it is the traveler's way. We are headed to India to start a new adventure. You can find some photos of our adventures in South Africa HERE. Enjoy.

Hiking and Cranky Hostel Owners

We went to the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa, which are known for their hiking. We had a couple ideas of what we wanted to do, and we looked up the hostels in our guide book and settled on one that said was "closest to the Amphitheater", which is a place we wanted to hike. We arrived in the evening and met the owner, who was a bit snarky. He explained all the tours to us, places we could pay about 70 USD per head to go and he would be the guide for the hike. He also said, and I quote, "there are other ways to get there but I can't tell you how".

Okay, so let me just be clear on one thing. Aside from guidebooks, we RELY on hostel owners and employees to give us the lowdown on the surrounding area. Usually they do this with gusto and pride. They are a very important wealth of information to us. This guy was not a wealth of anything. So, we decided to just set off on our own and maybe ask someone else along the way.

The first day we had no problem finding the base for the Amphitheater hike. There was a bit of a dirt road (we have a TINY Hyundai with NO power), but we had no problems driving it, finding the trail head or any problems keeping to the trail along the way. We got back to the hostel that night and met a couple who had just arrived and were disappointed because they had wanted to go to the Amphitheater but the owner had told them that, "it was very hard to find, it was essential to have a 4 wheel drive for the road up there and the trail was not well marked". Which, as I explained before, is total BS.

Our plan for the next day was do another, more difficult hike, one that this hostel offered as a guided tour for about 130 dollars. We knew we didn't want to pay that much and clearly we could not ask the owner for advice, so the next day we set off on our own to tackle the mountain. We arrived at the gate, paid our fee, and were delighted when the gate attendant asked us if we wanted a map. Little did we know, all this was was a map to find....the trailhead. NO map of the mountain or the trail. We set out anyway.

Now, this hike was said to have taken 9 hours, so we figured we would go about 4 and then turn around if we hadn't made it to the top. We reached a split in the road right around hour two, and since our peak was to the left, we took the path to the left. And walked and walked and walked. Around hour 3.7 we realized we were not getting anywhere, we were definitely not going up, and this was a hike to the peak of the mountain, so we turned around sadly. But then we started thinking, maybe we should have taken the split to the right. So when we got to it, we still had a little extra time and we decided to try it. It was the correct path. It went up a hill, along a ridge, then up another hill, which was almost as high as the peak. From there it went left (towards the peak) on a flat path. So basically we did all the climbing without the payoff.

I don't mind not making it to the top, but it is SOOO frustrating to not be able to get proper maps or information. As I was walking down the hill, I was so peeved at the hostel owner, who was so into making money that he didn't make it comfortable for his guests. He had a gorgeous hostel with a pool table, jacuzzi and chill out room, but he had the bar open to everyone and everyone was there. They all stayed up until 4 and 5 in the morning (the locals) shouting and screaming, playing loud music in their cars in the parking lot right near the camping area, and tooting their horn. And everyone who comes here comes to hike, and has to get up early to do so!

I had a great time hiking anyway. The Drakes are beautiful and I would recommend them to anyone, but it does bother me that they don't make it easy to take a hike on your own. There were no signs or markings and no information to be had. I would not recommend the Amphitheater hostel unless you are going to the Drakes for a party and don't plan on going to bed early. Then it is just the place for you.

South Africa Rules (and Lists)

Some words you may hear that are a little weird:
1. Lekker - this means "cool"
2. Izzit (Is it?) - this doesn't really mean Is It, it kind of means "oh really?", so if you say, "today I am flying to India." they will say, "izzit?"
3. Howzit (how is it) - the same as above, this doesn't always mean "how is it". It means "hi" or "how you doing" or like we would say "whats up".
4. Bekkie - this is a pickup truck, like a toyota 4 runner.
5. Braii - this is a BBQ. They have a curly sausage they call Braiiwoerst.
6. "too much" - they use this in place of "too many" or just "too". For example, "its too much sunny" or "too much slow" or "too much elephants". 

Traffic rules and oddities:
1. Everyone gets over to the breakdown lane to let you pass. So essentially, all roads are two lane with a mini breakdown lane, so are used as if they are three or four lanes.
2. If someone let's you pass, you flash your hazards at them to say thanks. Sometimes you get a headlight flash as a "you're welcome".
3. Robot - this is what they call a traffic light.
4. If the coast is clear for passing, a big rig will signal with his blinker. I have seen this in the US once in a while, but it is so helpful when you cant see around them.
5. When you drive on the left, your windshield wipers and blinkers are opposite. You end  up wiping the windows a lot before turning.
6. The Car Guard - when you park your car a man "guards" it for you. You have to tip him for this service. If you don't pay him, it feels like he may just accidentally "not" guard your car. Kind of a catch 22.

...to be continued...