A Travellerspoint blog

7.15.10:Goa, India

Loungin and Lovin it..

Today was a lazy day filled with relaxing. We had plans to go to the Anjuna flea market, a must-see Goan experience. Although when we inquired about it we found out that in the off season it's a can't-see. Our plan B was to go to the beach in the town of Arambol, known for it's rocky bays and hippie culture however that was a bust too. It too is closed in monsoon season.
0Picture_035.jpg
I went and laid on the beach and read a book for a while before it started to drizzle. I ran for cover and decided to grab some lunch at one of the restaurants facing the water. I peruses the menu and settled on the perfect meal. The waiter came over to take my order.

Hi I'm gonna start with a banana milkshake and -
No banana milkshake.
Ok, then I'll go with a mango milk-
No mango
Strawberry?
No milkshake.
How bout Lassi?
No lassi?
Juice?
Yes juice
Ok, I'll have a fresh pineapple juice.
No pineapple.

(my mom asks me if I make this stuff up, I assure you I do not.)

Ok ill have a fresh orange juice.
No fresh juice only canned.

By this time I have pretty much gone through the whole beverage menu excluding the sodas.

Why do you have it on the menu if you don't have it.
It is off season madam.
Do you have sodas?
Yes, sprite, coke, diet coke.
Ok I'll just have a diet coke.
No diet coke.
But you just said.
Not today madam.
Well I would love a coke then!

I'm not joking when I say that was the conversation verbatim. This has actually happened to me several times where I have to ask for 8 different listed menu items before I find one that is actually available. I understand it's the off season but if only a fourth of your menu is available, get a new freaking menu! Don't make me read through a novel of items that I can't even have. That's just taunting! Now I can't get the damn banana milkshake out of my mind!

  • it took me 3 days of ordering banana milkshakes off different menus every meal before one was actually available and it was glorious!

I ate plan F of my meal and made some new furry friends as I scarfed down the food.
Picture_036.jpg
I spent the rest of the day loungin' around and relaxing.

Posted by emichele 21:44 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.14.10:Goa, India

Tour of Goa..

7.14
Today we decided to go on a tour of South Goa, although we wanted to go, we were also pretty much forced into it because everything else was closed for the season. There were about 5 stops on the tour and they told us it would be an all day activity, so we loaded up the cameras and mosquito repellent and hit the road.
6Picture_022.jpg
9Picture_030.jpg
The first stop on the list was ancestral Goa. We paid our admission and walked into a building where we met our first guide. She talked to us briefly about the way ancient Goans once lived as she pointed at pictures hanging on the wall. Then motioned to us to follow a path outside where we would meet our next guide. We did as she instructed and waited for our guide.
6Picture_001.jpg
Without introducing himself he launched into an incomprehensible rant about the hardships of life in the old days as he motioned toward poorly painted ceramic sculptures of people roasting walnuts. I could not understand one word of what he was saying and he did not seem to care whether I could hear or was even listening. I think he would have delivered his speech just the same if I was comatose. The only thing I did hear was him instruct us to go take a picture with a big cardboard walnut. I tried to say 'no thank you' more than once but he was insistent that the tour would not be the same with out this valuable piece of memorabilia.. So I made Max do it.
8Picture_002.jpg
The guide walked away without a word and we stood there awkwardly for a moment before our next guide sulked down the steps to meet our acquaintance. She guided us in a monotone slurring together of words that was so monotonous I could hardly keep my eyes open.
3Picture_003.jpg
Not that staring at ceramic people doing housework isn't titillating already, I have to get the guide who just walked out of an opium den? I spent the whole tour wondering who pays to see this crap besides duped tourists like myself. The only highlight was at the very end where we saw India longest laterite sculpture, a 14x5 meter Saint that was chiseled into rock in just 30 days.
4Picture_005.jpg2Picture_004.jpg
It was time for the next adventure so I chucked up the deuce and peaced out of Ancestral Goa, more than ready to move on.
8Picture_008.jpg6Picture_011.jpg
Next stop was two Hindu temples and having never seen one, I was excited. The first was Shri Mahalsa Temple, which I wasn't too impressed with.
8Picture_006.jpg1Picture_007.jpg
It definitely looked nicer from the outside. The next temple was the Shiva temple of Shri Manguesh.
6Picture_020.jpg41Picture_021.jpg
5Picture_013.jpg9Picture_010.jpg
This 18th century white temple is a local landmark in Goa and the first stop I was actually glad to have visited. We walked up a few flights of outdoor stairs lined with people selling candles, flowers, food and other items to bring as gifts for the gods (not even outside sacred temples can you escape the notorious Indian salesmen). As we get to the exterior of the temple we are ushered to an area where we must remove our shoes and rinse our feet before entering the temple.
4Picture_015.jpg4Picture_012.jpg
I stand for a moment contemplating if my desire to see this temple is greater than my desire to keep my shoes on, my reasoning being two-fold. 1) I simply don't want my shoes to get stolen. I've heard that this happens a lot, even at holy places. 2) I don't want my clean piggies wading in the filth and the grime and the athlete’s foot and the toe jam and all the other nastiness of the people around me. My desire to see the temple supersedes my germ phobia, I kick off my shoes and say my last goodbyes just in case. I tip toe through a few inches of crap water as I approach the door of the temple.
Picture_019.jpg6Picture_016.jpg
There is a long closed-off aisle running down the middle of the temple separating the praying men from the women and children. There is a sanctified area at the front of the temple where a shrine is set up to honor the specific deity, in this case Shiva, the destroyer. As we walk around the temple we are approached by the priest who asks us where we are from. We tell him we are from the United States and he thanks us for coming and tells us that he will pray for us.

" Do you have any American currency? Just a note of currency? You give me and I pray for you" he asks us.

I think he is requesting some change as a souvenir but when I hand him a quarter he scoffs at it. He puts it in his pocket and with a disappointed look on his face he says he will pray for me. Should that make me feel better about treading barefoot through the fungi-infested sludge before entering this place? It didn't.

We hopped back in the van and watched wading water buffalo and lush green trees as we drove to our next holistic site.
Picture_023.jpg
0Picture_024.jpg8Picture_026.jpg
The Basilica of Bom Jesus (infant Jesus) is a beautiful brick church surrounded by huge tress and well maintained gardens.
3Picture_027.jpgPicture_028.jpg
The interior is impressively simple besides featuring a shining golden alter.
9Picture_029.jpg
Our next stop was Panaji where our guide told us that there would be a nice market where we could shop for goods and souvenirs. The moment we stepped out of the van, the rain came pouring down without mercy. The "market" turned out not to be a market at all but a weaker version of an outdoor mini mall.
95Picture_033.jpg9Picture_034.jpg

After attempting to tough out the storm for about a half an hour we jumped back in the van and headed back to Goa.

Posted by emichele 21:40 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.13.10:Goa, India

Beach, Rain, Spices, and a rub down

5Picture_002.jpg
Once we got off the train from hell we were finally in the beautiful beach town of Goa, India.
8Picture_004.jpg
We took a cab to Colva beach where we checked into La Ben Resort, a quiet little hotel only a block from the shore.
0Picture_011.jpgPicture_008.jpg
Goa is beautiful; a beautiful mix of lush green jungle and chill hippie beaches, it was a perfect place to wind down after the frantic collage of trash and traffic in Mumbai.
6Picture_015.jpg4Picture_010.jpgPicture_020.jpg
It was raining when we got in but luckily it didn't last long and we booked our first excursion to a tropical spice plantation. 0Picture_027.jpg
1Picture_021.jpgPicture_041.jpgPicture_014.jpg
We passed rice farmers and water buffalo during the scenic drive through dense jungle and finally we arrived at the Sahakari Spice Farm.
Picture_022.jpgPicture_025.jpg
Surrounded by lush fauna and chirping birds, we were greeted with a lei around our necks, the traditional red dot on our foreheads, and some fresh lemongrass tea to warm us up.
0Picture_043.jpgPicture_026.jpg
We were taken on an informative hour long tour of the spice farm where we saw a variety of my favorite aromatic seasonings. They harvested everything from cloves, all spice, cinnamon, and cardamom, to curry, hot chilies, walnuts, fresh pineapples, bananas and more.
Picture_029.jpg5Picture_035.jpg
We learned how to pollinate vanilla and they introduced us to one of the world’s hottest chilies a pepper that is 2800 times hotter than the typical spicy pepper. They also taught us what ailments their herbs could heal and they had cures for everything from diabetes and psoriasis to acne and eczema.
8Picture_034.jpg
We ended the tour with a complementary buffet featuring foods made with the all natural ingredients grown on the plantation.
0Picture_030.jpg5Picture_033.jpg
It was fresh, pure, and delicious!
1Picture_031.jpgPicture_032.jpg
We came back to the hotel and walked around a little bit. Being monsoon season, it wasn't exactly beach, tanning weather but it was still nice to be in a chill atmosphere. We did a little shopping but not much was open.
6Picture_040.jpgPicture_018.jpg
After asking around about what was available for our entertainment we slowly found out that we had about a third of the amount of options we thought we had. Apparently when monsoon season comes around and all the tourists are gone places close up quickly.
Picture_017.jpg
There was one hotel nearby advertising ayurvedic massages and at 600 rupees for an hour, (which is about $12) I figured that would be a good way to spend my lazy afternoon. I went into a cute little hut that was set up next to the pool in the back of the hotel and was greeted by a man who would be my masseur. Although I normally prefer to have a female massaging me, I didn't really give it much of a thought because he was the only person available.

I walked in and the first thing I noticed was that, instead of having a base sheet that covered the massage table and another sheet for you to cover yourself with, there was only one sheet. He told me to disrobe and lie down and I promptly requested another sheet. Normally in a massage I only wear underwear and I don't ever feel uncomfortable because the masseuse will fold the top sheet down to view only the area that she is working on, so the client does not feel exposed and can maintain a degree of modesty. This was not the case here. I undressed and laid face down with the requested towel draped over me which he promptly removed leaving me vulnerable and leery. Although I was skeptical, I also had no concept of what Indian massage was like (something I probably should have looked up before volunteering) and I just told myself to relax. Then he reached for my underwear. "Leave them!" I exclaimed in an 'I mean business' tone that I knew he'd understand despite any language barrier. He was a little taken aback by this, as if he actually thought I was going to get butt naked and let him rub on me. I don't know how they do it in Goa, but I don't play that.

He explained that he was only pulling them down a bit so they didn’t get in the way. Now I’m not talking about some, end of the month, need to do laundry, type of granny panties, I was wearing a thong. How much of an obstacle can the little strings be!? Mama didn't raise no fool. But once again I tried to think logically, he seemed professional, this was one of the biggest hotels on the beach, and I was naive to Indian massage technique so maybe I was being paranoid. I literally was just walking back from the beach and saw the sign for massage and wandered in. I didn't even know what Ayurvedic massage was. Maybe Ayurvedic means 'buck-naked oil massage' and I was the ignorant one being too modest or maybe the post traumatic stress of my first out of country massage left me with myopia. In this situation you can only think positive.

So I let the massaging begin. I could tell he was trained (not like the sadistic Bolivian woman whose idea of a pressure point was jabbing my skin at random) but his style of massage had little focus on aching muscles and relieving tension and more on lengthy stokes and slathering of oils.

In one fluid motion he would rub from my neck to my thighs, resituating my underwear each time as if to let me know what an annoyance they were to his 'technique'. Not having a towel covering me made it very hard to relax and as he was massaging my legs and thighs I could just picture this pervert staring at my butt gyrating like a Jell-O mold.

When he told me it was time to flip over I almost laughed out loud. "Towel please" I requested. He handed me a towel and I flipped over leaving it strategically covering my lady parts and tucked behind my back for safe keeping. After I was situated he tugged on the towel gently to see if I would give it up which I did not. The towel was staying.

He massaged my neck and shoulders along with the top of my chest, each time getting a tad closer to the towel covered portion. After he was done groping the front of me, he asked me to sit up for my head massage. I sat up carefully and made sure the towel was still protecting my assets. I held my arms close to my sides, pinning the towel to my chest as he tilted my head to one side and started with a neck rub. As he applied pressure on my neck, he worked his was over my shoulder and tried to stretch my arm out horizontally. Unfortunately my arm was busy doing it's job keeping my towel in place so this did not work. I was on to him and his boobie-scoping scheme and it was not gonna work, not today, not on me. I stopped him, looked him in the eye and said "the towel stays" as took both ends and tied them behind my back with a nice firm tug.

Finally the massage "therapy" was over, I handed him the money, shot him an incredulous look, and walked sheepishly out of the hut. I walked back to the hotel shaking my head at the fact that I just paid an Indian man to molest me and quickly took a hot shower to wash off the nasty. I am 0 for 2 in the massage game.

At a loss for entertainment I decided to rest my head a minute and ended up sleeping from 5 pm till 8 the next morning. The jet lag was a pain but nothing that a good fifteen hours of sleep can't fix!

Posted by emichele 20:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

7.12.10: Mumbai to Goa

The train ride from hell...

Today we prepared for the first of many train rides throughout India. We had to catch an overnight train from Mumbai down to Goa, leaving around 8pm. We had all day to pack and relax and do a little shopping before we said farewell to the food hawkers, street stands, and the hootin' and hollering of the vendors in Mumbai. It was now time for the beautiful beach town of Colva Beach, Goa, India..

Prepare yourself for the rant of a lifetime...

We already bought our tickets ahead of time and were advised by a friend who had been to India (good lookin out Christine) to buy a ticket on an AC2 train cabin. This is compared to 2nd class, more value for the money, just as comfy, and you don't get locked in as I've heard they do with first class.
We took a taxi to the train station and opened my door to chaotic madness. A zillion people, no signs telling you where to go, no kiosks where you can ask where to go, no information anywhere, it's insanity. Indian train stations are like a visit to the mall on black Friday, something I avoid like the plague. By some miracle of God we found our cabin and headed for our berth.
9bunks.jpg
The cabins are set up like two bunk beds right across from one another and another bunk bed running perpendicular across a small,one-foot aisle. We got to our seats/beds which were already occupied by a large family. As the children ran around like wild banshees, we showed them our tickets and prayed that these were not our seats. Surely there was a mistake and we were supposed to sit far, far away from here, surely there is no way nine people were supposed to sleep in an area fit for six.
Of course I was wrong ... and the hell began.

There were seven of them.. Seven.
Four adults and three children. In a sleeping area for four. The cherry on top: they were obese.
8photo_2_.jpg
They had obviously assumed that there was not going to be anyone sharing the space with them because they had made themselves right at home, with their stuff sprawled out over our beds and their luggage stowed under our bunks, and they acted like it was the inconvenience of a lifetime for them to make room for us.
The three demon children were running all over the place like all they'd eaten in the last week was cotton candy, so we started by plopping our bags on the lower bunk and sitting up top till the train started moving. We pulled out some playing cards and before I could shuffle I looked down and two of the adults had made themselves comfortable on our lower bunk and were preparing to feast on dinner by pulling out a buffet from their bag.
"Excuse me but that's our bunk"
"Yes for a minute"
"No you can't-"
"Just while we eat, we have a family"

As they unload, curry and rice and chai and sauces and a smorgasbord of other Indian delicacies.

"No I'm sorry but you can't eat on my bed, I have to sleep there"
"We move when you sleep"
"No, that's not your bed and I don't want to sleep on your crumbs"
"We will clean up after"

Finally I had to get mean and blunt to be taken seriously.
photo_1_.jpg
"No you have four beds you can not sit on mine" I said as I climbed down from the top bunk to stake claim to the lower model. As I watched the three children (ages 4 to 7) turn their own bunks into a finger painting of food, I breathed a sigh of relief that mine was still somewhat sanitary.

Over the next two hours I was forced to listen to the piercing sounds of wild children as the adults stood by idly and unforced their laissez-faire parenting policies. The kids played tag in the foot-wide aisle, running back and across within inches of my face. I was more pissed than when I found out LT went to the Jets. I was silent with anger. That's the type of anger where you don't even know what to say, but you know that if you do speak, you'll unleash a fury a few notches below chipper, so you just sit in silence radiating contempt for everyone around with a scornful look permanently etched on your face.

Finally as the lights in the train went dim the children finally laid down to sleep I was actually able to get a good nights sleep... And that's when the morning came.
I awoke to a blinding fluorescent light punching my face, it was six am and apparently if the parents were awake, we had to be also. There were no courtesy whispers, not at all. And even though we had about two hours until we reached our destination, the parents thought it would be a treat to wake up the little beasts anyway. The children rose like a tidal wave of energy clawing to come out. I sat on the bottom bunk, head in my hands, trying to shield my ears from the shrill of children.
Why God!? Why me!? Why is everyone else in the whole train sound asleep and I am here with these God awful hooligans!?

These kids had no sense of personal space either. They we climbing on me like I was some sort of jungle gym, all over me like a jealous boyfriend without a hobby. Their parents, if you can call them that, because there was no visible parenting going on, just let them do what ever they like. The only time one of the dads even attempted to stop his child/children (I'm not really sure who belonged to who) the kid turned around and returned the reprimand with a few fast punches to his fathers fat face. These people should win the parenting Olympics.

The last few miserable hours of this horrid train ride were spent listening to the screaming bastards and trying not to resort to violence. I’ve never wanted to sterilize myself more than after listening to those rambunctious rug rats for hours on end. My ovaries had barricaded themselves on a rooftop and were threatening to jump. With every screech, my brain told them to take one step further toward the ledge. At least then my shriveled lady parts could exist in blissful silent solitude.

Posted by emichele 20:18 Archived in India Comments (3)

7.11.10: Colaba, Mumbai, India

The madness of Colaba

We started the day on a hunt for the 'typical' Indian breakfast. Still on a whacked-out sleep schedule, we had missed breakfast on the first day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and, by far, my favorite meal, so I was anxious to find out what I was in store for. We got to the restaurant and started with a large glass of apple juice, which was sweet-smelling, slightly clumpy, and non-transparent, in other words, it was superb and fresh.
casa_david_lara_002.jpg
Then, having no idea what anything on the menu was, I randomly picked something called Masala dosa.
casa_david_lara_001.jpg
When it came out it looked like a piece of art accompanied by two sauces (you know how I love my sauces). A treasured classic of southern India, a dosa is a crepe-like mixture of fermented rice flour and dhal. The masala dosa, the classic dosa, is stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and curry leaves. The sauces that traditionally accompany it are a bowl of hot orange sambar (soupy lentils) and another bowl of mild coconut chanti (chutney). It is not something to miss out on!

After breakfast we decided to check out of our hotel and head down to Colaba, a more touristy area of Mumbai that sprawls down the cities southernmost peninsula. Colaba is a lively district filled with street stalls, markets, bars, traffic, and swarming with people. There is a new shocker at every turn; naked children on sidewalks, adult men peeing where ever they like, teenage boys swimming amongst the garbage infested sea,
casa_david_lara_016.jpgcasa_david_lara_017.jpg
it's a feast for your senses.

casa_david_lara_011.jpg
We checked into out new hostel, even bigger than the last, it's not the Ritz, but I was stoked just to have air conditioning.
casa_david_lara_008.jpgcasa_david_lara_009.jpgcasa_david_lara_010.jpg
It's amazing how your standards plummet dramatically downhill when you've been traveling in third world countries. I find myself getting excited about small things like warm water, cold beverages, and shower curtains. Going back to my mother’s all-natural stocked refrigerator and immaculately clean home is going to seem like Buckingham Palace. Any of the places I've stayed in over the past months would surely fail a white glove test and I shutter to think about the results of a black light test.
casa_david_lara_022.jpgcasa_david_lara_015.jpg
We decided to start the days explorations with a walking tour of the city.
casa_david_lara_005.jpg
casa_david_lara_006.jpg
We started at the Gateway of India, just a block down from our new hotel. Facing out into the tip of Mumbai's harbor stands this colossal colonial archway, that was built in 1911 to commemorate the royal visit of King George V.
casa_david_lara_012.jpg
It is big and bold and the gatherings of masses of people give it a bazaar-like quality.
casa_david_lara_019.jpg
People pedal everything from giant balloons (for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would buy such a thing or how anyone even makes a living selling them) ice cream, roasted nuts, leis, and henna.
casa_david_lara_027.jpg
There are Indian and foreign tourists, beggars, and peddlers, and it's a great place to people watch (although you can't stand idly by for long without being pressured to buy something).

casa_david_lara_021.jpg
boat_docks.jpg
Next we were on to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (try saying that ten times fast) also known as the, more pronounceable, Prince Of Wales Museum.
casa_david_lara_039.jpgcasa_david_lara_038.jpg
This was noted in the guidebook as the biggest and best museum in Mumbai and, along with the Gateway of India, was built to commemorate King George V's first visit to India.
casa_david_lara_029.jpgcasa_david_lara_032.jpg
This mammoth museum houses British, Islamic, and Hindu architecture from all over India as well as sculptures, paintings, ornaments, coins, armor and weaponry.
casa_david_lara_033.jpgcasa_david_lara_034.jpg
All the artifacts inside were remarkable but the exterior architecture of the beautiful domed building, as well as the gardens adjoining it was equally as impressive.
casa_david_lara_037.jpg
We walked around for a little while longer and went back to the hotel.
casa_david_lara_024.jpg
We had been told that the final world cup game was on at 3pm and it was pushing 2:59. As we hustled up the stairs of our hotel and surfed through all the channels twice we still couldn't find it. We looked up on the ever-handy iPhone that the game wasn't going to be broadcast until midnight.
Here is another interesting yet inconvenient aspect of Indian life; if an Indian person can't decipher what you are saying, didn't hear you, or doesn't know the answer to a question you are asking, instead of responding appropriately with 'what' or 'I don't know' you will, most likely always get a fabricated answer. Another common way to answer you is by a sideways head wobble, which to any westerner would clearly mean no, but to the people of India, answering like a bobble-head doll can translate to: yes, maybe, or sometimes. This alternate way of communication has screwed us over more than a few times.

With no game on for another nine hours, we decided that a power nap would do a body good so off to dreamland I went. It was a peaceful 45 minutes of rest until I was abruptly woken by an awful banging of construction that was so close it was as if someone was jack hammering through my skull. This is by far the worst way to wake up from a nap and I was less than pleased. This devil hammering went on for another twenty minutes until I dragged my grumpiness downstairs to see what I had done so wrong to deserve this torture. The manager told me that the construction was on the third floor and that since the hotel only owned the first two floors, there was nothing he could do. I glared at him with eyes of death, the hammering still echoing in my brain, and envisioned my hands gripping tightly around his cheerful neck before I turned on my heels and marched upstairs. My nap was over. I threw my stuff in my purse and ran out of the hotel as fast as I could just to get the unrelenting pounding to stop.

I was back on the hectic streets in no time, getting hounded from all angles to buy stuff for 'very good price'. From toddlers to the elderly, everyone was trying to convince me to buy crap I didn't need, nor did I want. It is pandemonium, immovable pleading, promises, negotiating and renegotiating, it is all a game and I, the targeted tourist, am just a pawn.

"Hello madam, you like pashmina?"
"No thank you, just looking."
"It very soft, good quality, I give you good price madam."
"How much"
"400 madam, good quality"
"Oh no thank you."
"Ok 300 madam, good price"
"No thanks"
"350 madam, it's pashmina"
"You just said 300"
"good price madam"

This never-ending haggling exchange from every angle quickly wears me down and eventually I get into fight or flight mode. The constant conning and annoying, unwanted banter is enough to turn me into an asshole and soon my 'no thank you’s' turn to nippy preemptive "No's". Their tenacious sales tactics drive me out of the market. I did find time in my maze of 'madam' callers to stop and get some henna along the way, a right of passage for a tourist in India.
casa_david_lara_040.jpg

We ate some dinner at a classy Indian restaurant, Ali Baba, where I enjoyed some fresh mint tea and keema naan (Indian bread filled with minced meat) before an appetizer of aloo chaat (Indian spiced potatoes) and handi mutton as an entree.
casa_david_lara_041.jpgcasa_david_lara_042.jpg
I know it looks like a spoonful of slop but it was scrumptious slop!

Posted by emichele 20:11 Archived in India Comments (1)

7.10.10: Mumbai, India

Navigating Mumbai, Day One

Today was day one of Mumbai, India.
Picture_012.jpg
The intention of the beginning of the day was to track down a guide book on India. We had intended on buying one in the mall Newark, but come to find out, people in Newark don't read. I have never heard of a mall without a bookstore, let alone a city without one, but according to Google book stores were extinct in Newark.
Our guide book for Peru was such a reliable partner in our South American travels, we knew we needed one. The hotel staff recommended a mall about 45 minutes away and we thought that would give us a chance to check out the city as well so we flagged down one of the many rickshaws driving down the street.
05.jpg
Here's the thing with rickshaws, in South America, you always negotiate the price before you get into the cab, but not in India. The rickshaws go by the meter and then some. I had been told by many people who have visited India and a lot of the Indian people living here, that they will try anything to rip you off. To them I am a walking Rupee and nothing else. Although they go by the meter, I always ask the hotel clerks about how much it should cost to go here or there, as well as asking the rickshaws drivers themselves.
Picture_011.jpg
We have been advised not to let the drivers charge you more than X amount or to refuse to pay more than X amount and I have no problem heeding that advice.
We were told that this mall was about 20 minutes away and would cost no more than 110 rupees, so when we arrived at the mall 45 minutes later and he tried to charge us 190 rupees, an amount that was far greater than the meter, I had no problem telling him where to go. The first thing we did once we got to the mall, after fleeing from the rickshaw, was to buy a map, where I discovered, as I had suspected that the driver had intentionally driven us around in circles to run up the meter. It should have only taken us twenty minutes and a lot less frustration.
We did the necessary shopping, bought a map of Mumbai. This behemoth poster-sized map was the hardest navigable map I've ever tried to read in my life, and I'll realize later that this is because Mumbai is a behemoth in itself and equally as hard to navigate.
Picture_043.jpg
We found a guide book and headed back to the hotel to plan our next move. Mumbai is the largest city in India, bustling with over 20 million people. I have heard that you either love it or hate it. It is a combination of culture and madness.
Picture_040.jpg
Having this reputation, I could only attribute it to what I know of La Paz, the busiest city I have ever been to. I didn't mind the madness as long as I wasn't living in it so I put that same logic to work and booked a hotel that was on the outskirts of the city but right across from a huge park and wildlife sanctuary nearly ten times the size of central park. This seemed like a good plan but when we returned to the hotel and talked with the staff about our options for the day, it turns out that we had barely any. Apparently when the hotel website said the 'outskirts' of Mumbai, they meant 'the boons'. They informed us that there was nothing around the area to do and that to get anywhere worth while would take about an hour. What a way to promote yourself.
The closest semi attraction to us was a place called Joggers Park, about 30 minutes away on the coast of the Indian Ocean. They described it to us as a nice park where you can jog and exercise, see some animals and go to the beach and in a short, life-threatening rickshaw ride, we were there. This time we had the manager flag down a driver for us and prearrange the price so we were sure that any issue of a language barrier would be bypassed. This did not stop him from trying to ring our pockets dry of every last rupee in a non-negotiating, matter-of-fact, overconfident manner which we kindly threw back his way before scampering into the park out of view.
Now I had expected this park to be somewhat of a spectacle since it was recommended by the hotel staff, even by locale default, however this was not quite the case.
Picture_027.jpg
The park was the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot, perhaps smaller. Encircled by two jogging tracks was a small pond that housed squawking ducks and timid rabbits.
Picture_031.jpgPicture_030.jpg
The beach, if you can call it that, was a toxic wasteland of debris and murky gray water. None of the beaches in India, even the nice-looking ones are swimable; everything I have read has labeled them as poison.
Picture_033.jpg
Now I consider myself an adventure-seeker and on many occasion leapt before looking, but swimming in garbage and fecal matter is in an 'adventure' category all its own.
Picture_034.jpg
Being a native Californian, I am fish in the water, so being at a beach that I can't swim in is like an itch I can't scratch. I was bummed. Trying to make light of the situation and laugh at the fact that we just paid for a thirty minute ride to a patch of grass, we decided to mosey around a little and humor ourselves. That's when the downpour started. India has only two seasons; wet (monsoon) and dry. The temperature is always warm but the high season for tourists visiting India is in December and January when the weather is dry and tolerable. The summer months is when the monsoons plague the country and India becomes half sizzling humidity and half torrential downpour.
Conveniently this is when I decided to plan my introduction to India. I am an avid planner, a trait I inherited from my 'always on track' mother, so it was not lack of environmental knowledge why I decided to come during the rainy season, I was fully aware (I use the word 'fully' loosely). In all actuality, I just didn't mind. I looked at it optimistically and thought that at least this way there would be hardly any tourists, allowing me to truly delve into the culture.
As I strolled along the park I could see impending doom hovering over me in a black cloud. Almost instantaneously I was drenched and my cheap, flimsy, TJ Maxx umbrella was barely holding up. The rain was pouring in from all directions and I felt like Forrest Gump in Vietnam, unable to shield myself from the storm. We toughed it out and walked along the boardwalk a few miles half expecting the cloud above to get bored and move on. We walked till we were soaked and the excitement of our first dose of monsoon rain had faded. We schlepped our bags and our sopping wet bodies into the first rickshaw that we saw and headed back to the hotel.
That morning we dropped off our dirty laundry, which was all of our clothes, and we crossed our fingers that it would be done so that we could change out of our rain-soiled clothes. Were not disappointed when our fresh clothes were ready for us when we walked through the door. Not only were they nicely folded but they were in individually sealed packages. Wasteful, in my opinion, but courteous and the extra effort was dually appreciated.
Picture_035.jpg
We grabbed some dinner which was just as delicious as the previous night and turned in.

side note: The rickshaws in have hilarious bumper stickers on them; everything from 'no dancing' to 'ok honk horn' to instructions on how not to spread disease.. here are a few..
Picture_015.jpgPicture_042.jpg

Posted by emichele 22:04 Archived in India Comments (1)

07.08-07.09: Newark, New Jersey

Newark New Jersey to Mumbai India

Imagine my excitement at 7am the next morning when I woke up in the lovely Newark New Jersey, the gateway of my dreams! I had an eight hour layover to adventure around the city, so naturally, where do you think I went? Jersey Gardens Mall!
outlet-jersey-gardens.jpg
No kidding. Since the cabs there cost more than my kidneys and I had some shopping to tend to, I got a shuttle from the airport and reverted to the 11 year old mall rat I used to know. We lost a few items in our hostel hopping month in Peru, so we replentified our supply of necessities, mailed home the last bit of South American knick-knacks, and feasted on some of the American food I yearned for, buffalo wings and cinnabuns! Mmm mmmm!

We had a plane to catch at 10:30pm, a 15 hour flight to Mumbai, India. The flight was actually pretty comfy. The TV’s on the back of the headrests helped a lot! I watched two movies before I popped the rest of the sleeping pills I bought I Peru, and I was off to LaLa land. I woke up and we were there; my morning, Mumbai's evening.
Picture_001.jpg
It was 8:30 their time and I was wide awake.
Picture_002.jpg
We hopped in a little taxi and, in a short fifteen minute drive in the rain, it's monsoon season, we were at the Ace Residency hotel. It was an alright hotel, clean and spacious and after some of the shanties I have stayed in, I was perfectly content.
Picture_003.jpgPicture_004.jpg
One odd thing was that there was no shower curtain, no separation between the shower area and the toilet at all, just one open room.
Picture_005.jpg

We headed out, in search of food, and hired a rickshaw to drive us on our hunt.
Picture_010.jpg
An auto rickshaw is a rickety jalopy half car, tricycle mobile. They can get up to about 34 mph and the ride is turbulent at best. All autos drive on the left, or wrong, side of the road here. Actually, scratch that. They are SUPPOSED to, however they pretty much do what ever they like. Some of the roads are in such poor condition that the cars have to bob and weave through obstacles of crater-like pot holes, bathtub sized puddles and stray dogs. It makes for an interesting ride.

Back on topic. We headed down the bumpy road a block or two and came to a little area with three restaurants. We eenie meenie mineied between and my mother told me to pick the very best one, a mildly elegant restaurant called Chakra. We weren’t even sure if anything would be open as it was now pushing 11pm. To our surprise and relief they were open and lively. We found out later that Indian people typically eat dinner late, around ten pm and most places still serve full dinners until one or two in the morning. We were greeted with warm smiles and impeccable service, something now foreign to us having just come from a country where the waiters would barely acknowledge you let alone crack a smile. The soft, uncrossed atmosphere was comforting and we were admiring our surroundings in awe. I needed a drink after the long flight, even if it was my breakfast time, so I ordered a cucumber Collins, a tasty spin on the traditional Tom Collins.
Picture_006.jpg
Our dinner was everything I'd looked forward to after the bland nothingness of the typical south American French fries and white rice meal. We had a spicy chicken dish and mutton along win garlic naan (a hindi, oven-baked flat bread). Saucy and rich with the best use of spices known to man. I was living in a food fantasy. Our waiter, one of five who were constantly but not obnoxiously at our beckon call, brought around a mouth- watering dessert tray filled with ice creams, custards, mousses, and cakes. They only thing that I was puzzled about was a dish with two ball-shaped cake rounds in a clear sauce.
Picture_007.jpg
I was intrigued and they were delicious. Gulab Jamun, also called 'waffle balls' is a popular dessert served in Pakistan, Nepal, and India. The dough is made mainly using milk solids and is served either warm or cold in sugary syrup. It is fattening and it is good.
I think I've made a new goal for myself, to gain as much weight as possible, since its pretty much inevitable. That way, when I get home, instead of being disappointed that I've become such a fatass, I'll feel accomplished that I have achieved my goal.

Posted by emichele 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (3)

7.05-7.07: Lima, Peru

Farewell South America, Nice to meet you India!

The next morning I headed out for the last leg of my South American journey, a three hour drive to Lima. We check into one of the cheap hostels we liked from the first few days of the trip and tried to relax a little. This was easier said than done because, unlike last time, our chill little hostel was overrun with a group of raucous British high school kids on some sort of field trip. What happened to the days where a field trip meant a day at the zoo? I never got to go to Peru for a class trip. They invaded the entire hostel. There were obnoxious adolescent kids oozing out of every crevasse. Sixteen of them and two of us, the odds of survival were not in our favor. The next day we decided to wave the white flag and check into a new hostel a few blocks away.

I spent most of the day blogging and getting stuff together for the trip to India. We headed into downtown Lima, an area we hadn't explored the first time we visited, to check out the sights and eat some dinner before our redeye to Newark New Jersey.
Downtown_Lima.jpg
We admired the impressed gothic architecture and scoped out the Presidents house in the center of downtown.
church-catedral.jpg
He had requested that a giant big screen be erected outside of his mansion for the public to view the world cup games. They do love their futbol. We navigated the busy streets and swam through the sea of people and hunted for places to eat. We were pressed for time and chose the first sit-down restaurant that looked sanitary. We chose a roasted chicken joint and sat down. Mediocre food, horrendous service (I swear, the waiter must have been deaf, blind and stupid) and an overall disappointment.
lima_cathedral-2.jpg
As we sat back and reflected on our month in South America, we both agreed we were ready to leave. We were tired of unrefrigerated beverages, terrible customer service, and bland carbohydrate-rich foods. We were ready for India!

Here's a quick little summary of the rollercoaster ride of South America:

list.jpg

New stuff I did while in South America (besides everything)
-Ate alpaca meat
-Drank Chicha Morada
-Got assaulted
-Ate guinea pig
- White water rafter... Twice
-Ate salchichas
-Hiked Machu Picchu
-Smoked a Cuban cigar
-Ate intestines
-Sand boarded
-Drank Pisco
-Ate sour cactus
-Bathed in a natural hot spring
-Lived without electricity
-Dressed like a Peruvian
-Danced like a Peruvian
-Got a stomach parasite
-Flew on Taca Airlines

Weird stuff:
-South American use the SMALLEST napkins known to man. They are made for teeny tiny dwarf fingers. Might as well have handed me a single square of toilet paper and told me to go to town.

-All over Peru and Bolivia there are more photocopy places than I have ever seen in my life. There is probably a 2 to 1 ratio of people to photocopy stores in both Peru and Bolivia. What the hell are they copying!?

-In Arequipa there are about two, very long blocks where every single store sells only eye glasses....every one.

-You never get your drink at the beginning of the meal, usually it's in the middle, if you're lucky to get it at all.

-Very few drinks (beer, soda, fruit juice) are ever served cold and none of them are ever served with ice.

-If you order a cafe con leche, (coffee with milk) you are given a full cup of milk and a tiny pitcher of concentrated coffee to mix yourself.

-The keyboards here are in Spanish, something that hadn't even crossed my mind, complete with different symbols and strange key placement. Some keys I couldn't find at all. So, please forgive my typos and sporadic lack of punctuation, I don't have much to work with.

- The only milk they use for anything and everything is evaporated milk.

-When buses say "direct" they actually mean "very indirect"

-Everything is designed for smaller people (bus seats, doorways, tables,etc) because Peruvians are so much smaller than Americans.

-Everyone beeps their horns for no reason and every reason.

All in all South America was a wonderful experience and I am so thankful that I got to go, but now it's on to India!

At 10:30 I boarded my plane and was off!

Posted by emichele 08:16 Archived in Peru Comments (3)

(Entries 41 - 48 of 74) « Page 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 »