So, here we are - the end of 2016. And what a year it was.
It sucked right!?
Over the past 7 months, i have had moments that been hard, moments that have been beautiful, moments that I have wanted to cry, but mostly, I have been amazed by the world. Amazed at how much beauty is out here, amazed at the kindness of strangers, amazed by how much there is to see and do out here....
Hearing the announcement, I felt a pit of anxiety form in my stomach. Why are they calling my name 45 minutes before my flight? My seat was confirmed, so it wasn’t that. I wasn’t carrying illegal contraband (that I knew of). Oh, please don’t have me miss this flight, I thought as I rushed to the ticket counter.
Turns out they just wanted to know if I had read the fine print. Which I had – 3 hours ago and $400 later.
Turns out you cannot fly into Argentina without proof that you are leaving. seems like a big detail that I shouldn’t have missed. Well, I hadn’t totally. I had read about it 6 months ago. And at that time I figured no problem, I will surely have my return ticket by that time. But, now it was four hours before my flight, I am sitting in a dumpy hostel room in Saigon that I got for $5 for 3 hours to shower and repack and, thanks to government controls, I cannot access a quarter of the websites I am trying to research.
Panic has begun to set in.
You see, my plans are up in the air. I don’t know when I am returning to the states. I don’t know when I am leaving argentina. All I really know is that I have a flight to El Calafate less than 24 hours after I arrive in Buenos Aires. That i would really prefer not to miss. And that Qatar Airways is not going to let me leave Vietnam without proof that i am leaving Argentina.
Finally the interweb, my credit card and government controls have all conspired to allow me to purchase a, hopefully fully refundable (how many times can one read the airline fine print and still be confused?), airline ticket to Chile. Which I hope to not use.
Sure enough, that was the reason I heard my name over the intercom. They let me board the flight. And here I am, 30+ hours of flying time later, listening told men gossip in the coffee shop where I am fighting jet-lag in Buenos Aires.
As I am about to board my VERY VERY (did I mention very?) long flight to south america, I am struck by this transition. This feels big — both from the perspective that it is the half way point of my trip and that it is a big transition in location, and away from Asia.
By the way — did I mention that my flight is long? Yeah — almost 29 hours of flying time, plus just under a 3 hour layover. how is that for long?! I guess I am traveling half way around the world.
So, what is it about this part of the world that I have fallen in love with? I could say that it is the people (which is true) or the food (which is also true), but that is not the full story. In Nepal it was the moutains, along with the people. In India, it was the diversity, the food and the people. In Bangkok and Vietnam, it was how different it was (for me), and the food!
But, that isn’t all of it either. That doesn’t fully explain leaving part of my heart in India and Nepal. Maybe it was how hard you (sometimes) have to work in those places to get your big rewards. Or the contrast of worlds. Or the interplay of spirituality and every day life – and all the messiness that it brings. That there is this dicotomy between simplicity and complexity, and how nothing is one or the either. Maybe it is how much those two countries make me smile (and sometimes make my angry). Whatever it is, it is powerful.
So — away I go – off to another place, another world. Which, I am sure will be amazing and full of greatness — just as all of the world have proven to be for me. But, seeing as I am leaving part of myself here, I will just have to come back some time soon.
See you all in Buenos Aires!
So much of my recent time has been spent on trains and traveling – i thought i would share some of what i have been experiencing…
It seems that traveling by train in India is one of those adventures that everyone should have before they die. For being a massive country with a massive population, train travel here is amazingly easy, efficient and cheap. I have not had any problems getting tickets – once I discovered the foreign ticket office found at almost every railway station. The agents have been super helpful, even when I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head (I had a moment the other day when I _almost_ went south again!). And here is the most amazing thing — it is all done on computer, but each train has a print out of all it’s passengers. So – I can walk up to the train I am about to take and taped to the compartment is a list of all the passengers. And the conductors walk around with their lists of passengers when they check the tickets I know that does not sound that impressive, but I just think that for every train that is traveling through India at all times has a print out of every passenger – which is thousands of passengers daily. I mean – that is a whole other level of organization (and I cannot help but think that if they have this figured out why a) we can’t have it in America and b) there is such disfunction in other areas – like why I get ripped off every time i get in a taxi….)
As I have said, I _prefer_ traveling in AC — it is cleaner, you get sheets and a blanket, you have a curtain that you can close around your compartment (though not around your particular berth) and just all around nicer. But – my last couple of trains have been in sleeper — which is a bit more ‘real’, I guess you could say. Or another way to say it would be that they are noiser, dirtier and not a whole lot of privacy (not that you are going to sleep nekkid in AC – but at least you don’t have people staring at you while you are sleeping!). But, the price! I just took a sleeper from Mumbai to Ajmer – it took 20 hours and cost me just under 400 rupees — which means it costs all of 8$ to travel that distance. Yes, I agree, pretty unbelievable!
Before I took a train in India, all I could picture was scenes from Darjeeling Express or people crammed into trains – hanging off the sides, but it is not quite like that. I think what is most incredible, besides the whole train-travel-as-a-way-of-transportation (as America hasn’t done so well with that one is):
Almost every train i have been on has been predominantly men and mostly all Indian. yesterday was the first train that I was on that had another tourist sitting in the same compartment as me. I get lots of stares, but I am pretty much used to that now, but what I love is watching these guys start up conversations with each other and imaging what they are talking about. I love seeing them become friends on the journey – laughing together. One of my favorite scenes was from Hubli to Mumbai. The compartment I was in had a group of men that were boxers and weightlifters (if their shirts with the name of their gym hadn’t given them away – their barrel chests and tiny waists would have. Well, that and the fact that they outweighed most Indian men by a gazillion pounds (as Indian men might be the skinniest group, on a whole, of men EVER!) And it was hard to remember, seeing them, that they were Indian – as they could easily have been American gym-rats.
[Side note: I have told you how affectionate men are here, right? They hold hands, they put their arms around each other’s waists, they sit against each other with arms resting on each other’s thighs – ok, now that you remember that, read on…]
But these muscle-heads — their affectionate touch reminded me of their Indian-ness. I want you to just imagine this scene — a bunch of gym rats sitting around with their arms around each other, on each other, their hands resting on another one’s knees – and then wanting to make sure I had dinner and ready to share their dinner with me! I unfortunately had already eaten, as I would have loved to eat with them as they were so intriguing to me. Do you think that they are vegetarians (like so much of India?) Did they carbo-load? watch their protein intake? drink shakes? so many questions….
In Mumbai, I had to take a commuter line in order to get to another train station where my next train was leaving from. I read that 2.5 million people travel through the main Mumbai station every day, and I believe it! It was a pretty crazy scene at rushhour – and me there with my backpack — not so helpful to the locals. But I got myself figured out and got on my commuter train – it was leaving shortly so I hopped onto the nearest car and found myself surrounded by… women! I had to look twice, all around me, women. Wait a second… this cannot be India – the land of men! Sure enough, I had accidentally, but correctly, landed in the women’s car of the train. It was an amazing sight – all the different vibrant colors of the saris and clothes, the western dressed women, the women texting and talking on phones and resting their eyes after a long day at work. I got some smiles as I tried to deal with all my stuff — and best of all — no staring! I mean, I was staring at all of them, and some of them were watching me — but how different it felt! No cold stares, no one watching my every move, not the feeling of being so utterly watched. It was great. I smiled to myself and sat back – relaxed. Which is how so many of them must feel as they ride to and from work (otherwise, why would they ride in that compartment?).
I only have one more train to take – from Jaidpur to Delhi. It is sad to not have any more big train adventures in front of me…
Some of you have asked how I am doing on my $30/day budget and I am happy to report that I am doing really well with this! In fact, the first three months have been under budget – which allowed me to buy a plane ticket from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (instead of taking a 30 hour bus ride) to meet up with my friend Beth to do some trekking before to big climb (or – in other words – an attempt to get in shape before the climb). And the best part of my budget is that I have not had to really work at it! I have had a few days that have been WAY over budget – but usually that is because I have been ripped off in some way – but for the most part, it has been easy to stay below. In India, my biggest cost is accomodations – but I try to keep that close to $8-10/night which is pretty easy (there is cheaper but after the bedbug fiasco cleanliness is high on my priority list).
Then for food — it would be easy to spend a lot there, but as I have mentioned, my favorite place to get food is the hole in the wall places — though that is not always feasible (it was super easy down south — not sure what it will be like up here). but, even if I go really big, which would be about $4/meal — that still leaves me with 8$ a day to do stuff. And most of the stuff that I like to eat does not cost much – so it is pretty easy to stay in budget (basically, i stay away from the western food – which is fine by me!). I definitely could be doing things cheaper – but so far my lifestyle feels pretty good.
As for the rest of things… well, some of my stuff has taken a beating — my pack is ripped in several spots, two (of my four) t-shirts have holes in them but it is my silk sleeping bag liner that is suffering the most! I have had it for 3+ years (got it for my first trip to India) so, i have definitely slept in it countless times — but it is ripping on pretty much every seam – right now there are 3 very large holes . And I have sewn it together in a bunch of spots, only to have it rip again, right next to where I repaired it (thanks to Jess for the sewing kit — i love the hot pink thread!). It will be interesting to see what kind of shape it is in by June! And yes, for those of you wondering, I am already sick of my limited wardrobe. All I can think is – thank god I packed those extra pants…
be well friends. i am sitting here in the restaurant of my guesthouse, having rice pudding and chai (after having a good masala dosa from a street cart) watching the lunar eclipse through the window.
love — aurora
Arrival in India hits you – hard. Last time I was here we arrived in the middle of the night and had our senses assaulted with the sound of horns, the smell of spices and jasmine and the sight of cows and ricksaws and people- so many people….
This time is no different – except it is a dusty border and it is day time. When you arrive by bus, you are dropped of two kilometers or so away and you hire a bike rickshaw to take you to the border. It was a feeding frenzy when the bus arrives. I was quoted a price but when we arrived at the border, dude told me that price was in Indian rupees. Whatever. And that was after he tried to get me to change my money at his buddies place (I might have been swindled on the rickshaw ride but not on the money).
Getting over the border was quick. On the Nepal side I went to the office and filled out my departure paperwork and they stamped my passport. Then I walked under a big arch along with tons of other people and trucks honking their horns and lots of dust. Then amid street side stores and noise and chaos and people telling me to change my money, there was a table with two men reading the paper. You know, border patrol.
I had purchased my ticket from Sonauli (the border town) on to Varanasi up in Kathmandu — and was told I just needed to find the ticket agents office and they would help me out. I eventually found it – amidst the staring and the dust and the many offers to ‘help’ me out. Upon arrival, Mr. Bablu looked at my ticket very nonchalantly and told me to come back at 5. I asked why and he told me the bus was at 5:30. No, no – I am taking the bus at 6:30 tomorrow morning (decided a night time bus ride my first day in India wasn’t quite what I wanted…). He said fine, and showed me where the ‘hotel’ was — the one place the Lonely Planet half way recommends…. to say it was a shit-hole would be kind…. There is no need to go into details on that place or the food or how depressing it was – but needless to say, I arrived back at the travel agency at 6, on the dot, as Mr. Bablu had requested the day before.
And that is when things got interesting…..
No one was there at 6. So, I just stayed there. A non-Indian female by herself with bags gets lots of attention – so I figured that soon enough people would find me. Sure enough, a guy came down the stairs asking what I needed – I told him that I needed my bus pass. He called to another man and they came downstairs to unlock the office, inside of which a 3rd man was sleeping. None of these men were Mr. Bablu.
Upon looking at my ticket , the ‘head’ dude tells me that this bus is late this morning, but I can take the express bus for an extra cost. What?! So, I try and reason with him. I tell him that there is no such thing. I tell him I will not pay the price. Meanwhile, time is passing — it is getting closer to 6:30. I really want to get on that bus. I really do not want to stay in Sonauli a second longer. Then, another foreigner comes in with his confirmation note for the bus. He is told the same thing. He also tries to argue and is told that he has to pay more for the 6:30 bus. These guys aren’t budging and they just talk in Hindi to each other, laughing. They tell this guy that it will be 495 IRs to travel on this bus. At that point, it is close to 6:30, so I pull out the money in my pocket – 300 IRs. The guy takes it and asks if I have any dollars. What?! Oh, hell no. So, I tell him I have no other money – and he takes me to the bus. So, now – both myself and the other foriegner have paid extra for this bus (the guys in the office told him that if he did not pay he could go back to Kathmandu!). The men continued their intimidation on the bus, thankfully not with me, though. Two other foreigners were forced to pay more – and all three guys (they were all men, these other foreigners) were asked for more money for their bags – and one was even asked to open his bag. They all said no – and eventually these men from the travel agency went away. But, it was simply infuriating. There was nothing we could do (though, in hindsight, I wish I had called the travel agency in Kathmandu).
Oh, and the express bus? yeah — it took 13 hours.
It was suppose to take 11, but our 4-speed bus (in which I could see the road through the gear shaft) did not go all that fast. And our driver, well, it is tough to be a driver in India. Here is what he needs to avoid hitting:
And did I mention how comfortable the seats were?! ha!
Anyway — 7:30 at night, I arrived. Found a phone and called my guest house. A guy came and picked me up and brought me back – on his scooter. It was a crazy ride – me trying not to fall off b/c of my big pack. And of course — lots of people staring. The hotel is nice enough, though my room is really really cheap. I have to figure out what costs will be in this country to see if I can upgrade…. but there is wifi! 🙂
So here I am
Amid the noise and the dust and the cows and the honking and people wanting to ‘help’ me out, here I am. amazing how, admidst a billion people, you can be all alone.