Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beware: This is probably a 2 cups of coffee length post

[Due to running around like mad and shoddy Internet service, this post is seriously delayed.]

Okay, so where was I? Oh yes, we were leaving Palolem... reluctantly. Got up at the break of dawn and headed for the trainstation. Train was a tad late and very crowded when we got on. Andy and I had to stand and the bumpiness of the ride made us break into a spontaneous boogie, causing much giggling and stares behind us. We changed trains (spending sometime talking to a young Norwegian lad* who was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend, whom he hadn't seen in over a month.* When the train arrived, we launched ourselves onboard like professionals and found our seats -- yet again with a bunch of other white folks -- Jimmy the Scotsman and a Russian couple. The ride to Hampi was about 9 hours through very differing landscapes -- mountains, rolling hills, flatlands and finally a very strange rocky moonscape upon arrival in Hospit.


I finally negotiated my first rickshaw ride and off we went for a bumpy 9km ride to Hampi. Hampi is very small with a large temple in the middle, a main road and at the other end a hill that leads up and over to a very Indiana Jones-esque temple.

Monkeys are everywhere. There's another area across the river that is heavily Israeli with cheaper accommodations but since the boat stops running at night, we decided to stay on the main side. We found a couple of rooms for about 7.50 a night each and headed for the far temple/hill to watch the sunset. Not too shabby. We decide then and there that we'd return at sunrise because it was sure to be amazing. Headed back up main street to find some dinner. My tummy decided to take a minor turn for the worse so I cut my night short. Fell asleep fairly early and slept well despite the copious vomiting noises coming from outside my room around 2 a.m. And cow noises (earlier in the day -- I'd noticed a young woman trying to do the dishes in the alley, but a cow decided it was a good time for a slurp of water from the spigot and stepped right into her clean dishes. Oh, the things you put up with for sacred cows...)


Got up around 5:30 to head out. Andy was shocked that I was up and ready when he knocked on my door, knowing my extreme non-morning-ness. I told him that if I know I have to be up, I can get up. If someone wakes me up when I don't need to be up, I am murderous. We persuaded a chai seller to let us take our chai with us (he served his chai in metal cups) and we hiked up to find a place overlooking the temple to watch the sunrise. It was looking a little grey. We found a rock (only after I managed to plow my way into a bunch of thorns so I had blood running down my ankles) that was suitable and plopped ourselves down. The sunset didn't happen.The temple below was empty (except for very angry ground squirrels -- "pew! pew! pew!"-- and a couple of dogs with their puppies. There were bats hanging inside.


We meandered around and then out behind the temple where there was a strange oasis and a running man-built stream. And monkeys. Monkeys coming towards us. BIG monkeys. After a bit, we realized we'd left the chai cups behind, returned to fetch them and then headed back into town. A little breakfast while people watching. At one point, I saw a procession of some sort comin towards us. I reached for my camera, before realizing they were carrying a platform with the body of an old man on it, and put the camera back down. Nothing like a funeral with your nutella/banana pancakes. We did a little interneting and decided to head out on our own for a bit. Andy went across the river and I (after spending a lot of time uploading photos) headed up the hill where I made two young friends. They were selling stickers and really wanted to try out my camera. They showed me around a bit, we took each others pictures, they showed me how they sled down the rock covered surface of the hill on flattened water bottles and I took them for mango juice at a cafe. Andy showed up a bit later and they recognized him from when they'd run into him earlier. I suppose he's hard to forget -- the white guy with the red hair.
We went to the main temple next. It was 10 rupees to get in and 50 for the camera. We suddenly found ourselves with a guide who would tell Andy the history and then direct me exactly where to take a perfect photo. He had a good eye actually. Then he led us to various shrines -- each with an old man in a man-sari asking for money. We received blessings and had our foreheads dotted with red and smeared with white.


We were out of cash by the end of it -- when our guide demanded 200 rupees! Five bucks! ha... no. We gave him a hundred and he grumbled. We made our plans for the next day and had a little dinner. Bed early.Got up early (9 a.m. checkout - ugh) and convinced our landlord/host to let us keep one of our rooms with our stuff in it for 100 rupees until 4 p.m. He refused at first but his wife clearly had a level head and needled him to allow it. We had planned to walk around a bit before heading for a 6 pm bus, but instead we ended up sitting in a rooftop cafe most of the day - reading newspapers and year-old OK! magazines. I finished "A Fair Balance" and was depressed for the rest of the day. At five we found a rickshaw back to Hospit and waited for my first trip on a nightbus. The bus in the brochure was a spiffy, modern, shiny beast. The bus that showed up was about 15 years old, beaten to hell, with the roof rack strapped full of bananas. Andy and I made friends with a couple of Canadians: Carl and Debbie. They are on a year long trek around Asia, ending in China during the olympics where they have family. Everywhere they go, Indians shout at them, "Arrigato!" or "Japese!" They are of Chinese descent. We climb into our bunks which are tiny and just as the bus departs, I realize I have to go to the bathroom. And there's no bathroom on the bus. And it's a twelve hour trip. Luckily, about an hour in, the bus stops alongside a field. The men all take about two steps away from the bus and unzip. Lovely, guys. The women have to wander down a bit and into the field behind some bushes. I was grateful I was wearing a skirt. I haven't had to do that since I was a girl scout, I don't think.
Just as everyone was about to fall asleep, we made a second stop -- an Indian truck stop. Dinner time. We drowsily exited the bus and tried to figure out exactly how this dingy, dirty "cafe" worked. No menus. Just dal and chapatis. And no utensils. We slopped rice into our mouths and got back on the bus. Around 5 a.m., the bus stopped again, dumping those of us who were going to Gokarna at a darkened hotel/restaurant, to wait for the second bus. Andy, the Canadians, an Irishman, a Dane and a girl from Poughkeepsie waited for an hour and then got on a tiny bus that took us closer to the beaches. Then a rickshaw up and over a hill where we were dumped -- too early to check into a guesthouse. The sun was starting to rise and we sat on the sand, waiting as the staff roused. Beach huts were 150 rupees a night (less than 4 bucks). I picked a hut, tossed my stuff down and passed out. Woke around 11 a.m. and Andy and I discussed what to do. We were there to go see Jog Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world. The Canadians wanted to come too so we hired a driver for the day. The falls are only open on the weekend. I don't know how that works -- I imagine a giant spigot somewhere that is only heaved open on Saturdays or something. It's because they put a dam in somewhere and now there's less water going over the falls so they have to control it if they want anything more than a slight drizzle -- sad. We got there after a 3 hour trip and a fog bank rolled in -- completely covering the falls. Awesome. Debbie, Carl and I managed to see the falls for a split second -- but not enough to get our cameras out in time but Andy had dawdled behind and missed the whole bloody thing. Also, A had been under the impression we could walk down to the bottom and swim -- not possible. So we decided on lunch instead. Some homemade (amazing) samosas at a nearby cafe. The woman made them right in front of us. When we emerged, sated and sleepy, the fog bank had lifted.


We meandered about the viewing area for a bit.. then decided to head back. With our driver's crazy ferocity towards taking curves at full speed, I felt it best to get a move on before it got dark. On a lark, I decided to see how long the driver could go between honks -- I never got more than 30 seconds. He honked on approach of every curve.

[sidenote: I started this email several days ago but ended up feeling queasy in the middle of it. Lurched out of the internet shop and a few feet to my hotel and promptly got sick. Ugh, horrible. Spent the next 3 days with the infamous Delhi Belly. And if I hate being sick by myself in New York, being sick on the other side of the world is a whole lot worse. I wanted my mommy. Feeling better now -- but weak. Still not eating much. Banana lassis and toast and lots of water]

Got back to Gokarna and headed for dinner. I had an amazing veggie pizza, actually. I had them add chilis to it, which made all the difference. Back at our own "resort", Andy and I got into a heated discussion about the treatment of women in this country (thanks Kingfisher!) and eventually called it a night.

Slept in until the heat in the tiny hut was unbearable. I had emerged around 8 a.m. to see if Andy had gotten up to go jogging, but his hut was still firmly locked. I went back to sleep. We decided we'd catch a late train out so we had the day to lollygag.



At some point I realized it was St. Patrick's Day. The Irishman we were hanging out with expressed his consternation about when he was in New York and every other person came up to him and proclaimed that their great-grandfather was Irish so they were practically Irish as well. This irked him to no end. I got into it with him then -- explaining to him that he should have been flattered more than irked because as an American (and because most of us probably only have family going back to the early 1900s when our grandparents or great grandparents or whomever first arrived) we don't have solid roots like most of the rest of the world does. So if I know that my grandmother's parents are Swedish, I want to clamp onto that bit of heritage and feel a kinship when I meet actual Swedes. It's not an insult and it doesn't mean we're hanger-ons. We want to feel a connection, something more than a 100 years old. He understood my point -- but yeah, I think if a hundred different frat boys in NYC grabbed onto me during a visit and proclaimed himself practically my brother -- i might get annoyed as well.
I then told him Jess' St. Patrick's Day Parade joke. I don't think that helped matters. Andy kicked me under the table.

We mucked about in the ocean and relaxed in the outdoor cafe, reading and listening to music. I tried to order green beers. "Like Heineken?" the waitstaff asked. Um no. Not that they had that either. Just the usual Kingfisher. We watched the sunset and then grabbed our gear to go. Since the train was an hour way but wasn't arriving until midnight, Andy thought we should get there early and get tickets (it was a 14 hour trip after all) and then perhaps just hit a bar or something. Except that there was nothing around the train station. And we couldn't buy tickets until one hour before the train. Nor could we buy sleeper tickets since the ticket guy didn't know if it was full or not -- we had to buy normal tickets and get on and then see about sleeper tickets.

This left us with 4 hours to kill.

We had dinner at a nearby restaurant -- a big thali meal for about a buck each. Then we sat there for another hour. Then we finally decided to head back to the train station... where we sat for another hour. Finally, at 11, I went up to purchase tickets. Train is delayed one hour. Come back then. UGH. Meanwhile, poor Andy is falling apart. He had a headache, and all I had on me were Tylenol PMs. Since they never had much of an effect on me, I handed one to Andy and now he was deliriously tired. He was afraid to fall asleep and miss the train (he said if he'd fallen asleep, there's no way I'd have gotten him up again) so he walked in zombie-like circles on the platform. Finally I was able to purchase our tickets, and we were directed to the second train car to board when it arrived at 1:15 a.m. We got on and instantly found ourselves in hell. It was hot, it smelled and every square inch was covered with a human body. Babies lay sleeping shoulder to shoulder on the dirty floor. Men slept up on the luggage racks or literally on top of each other. I carefully stepped my way inside, screaming inside, moving towards the back of the carriage, thinking we'd just move through the train until we found the sleepers. I clung to bars to keep from squashing the babies underfoot -- maneuvering with my giant backpack, withstanding the glares from other passengers. There was a German couple behind Andy and when i made it to the far end of the car -- I wanted to cry. No way out. No moving between cars/classes. And it reeked. Absolutely reeked. I've smelled some awful stuff since I've been here but the though of getting trapped near that toilet for anything more than a minute would have been horrible. We turned around. Andy and the German man fought a bunch of Indian boys who'd commandeered an entire section for themselves and forced them to let us sit down. we squashed in. The boys reorganized themselves and tangled up onto each others laps and feet in each others' faces and fell back asleep. Andy fell asleep rather quickly, head tilted back. There was NO way I was staying here for 14 hours.



About an hour and a half later, I shook Andy when the train came to a stop. "Let's move to the next class." We were afraid of not making it out though, so Andy said he'd go, I'd stay with the luggage, then he'd phone me if there was enough time -- or else we'd try again at the next stop. But even before he'd picked his way through the babies to the door, the train lurched forward again. 1/2 hour later, another stop. Andy was asleep. The Germans had long since vacated. "Andy. Let's just run. I can't take it." Andy came awake and we grabbed our gear and made it out. We sprinted down the platform and leaped onto the next class of cars - the a/c sleepers. We moved through them until we hit the non a/c -- but not one bunk was available. Andy left me with the bags and scouted -- looking for even a conductor of some sort. Nothing. We were stuck in a limbo area, where men came to smoke or use the bathroom or just stand in the doorways and watch the passing dark countryside. After awhile, we stopped again. A man was getting off and Andy stopped him, "Where's your bunk," he asked. The man gestured nearby. Andy made me take it -- saying he'd get the next one that came open. I was instantly asleep.

2 hours later, the sun was getting up. And Andy was still up as well. He was sitting on a seat in the same area, reading or chatting with the young men nearby. I got down to give up the bunk but he claimed he was still wired. I didn't push it and went back to sleep for another hour then made him take the bunk. I don't think he slept though.

We got to Kochin around 2ish. It was shorter than I thought. We were going to Fort Cochin (I can't remember which spelling is which, forgive me) to meet some mates of Andy's who were in town before 2 of them ran off to Thailand and the other to Australia. A rickshaw driver demanded 200 rupees to get to the Fort. A bunch of drivers confirmed it was 200 rupees. Andy argued 150 for a minute or two and they continued to laugh at him. Finally, I leaned in and said, "Andy. It's a dollar difference." Oh. Right. We settled in for the ride. The guesthouse the girls picked was lovely -- a homestay. Our hosts were very easy going and friendly -- the Indian head bobble a constant. I love the Indian head bobble. It's much more prevalent, I've noticed, in the south than in the North. It's a bobbing of the head from side to side (ear towards the shoulder) with only a slight swivel of the chin (a western "no"). When I first noticed it, I was asking a waiter if they had Coke. I thought it meant "no." Then he returned with the Coke and later I realized it meant a lot of things - "No problem" "I agree" and just general goodwill towards others -- sort of a greeting. I love it. I've practiced and practiced but I'm not so good at it (and now that I'm up in the north it's not as natural -- unfortunately).

We showered, freshened up and then went out to meet Andy's friends. We immediately headed to the only bar the girls knew of (Kerala is very dry) and later had dinner at a fantastic roadside cafe. Then back to the bar after trying to find out if the local posh hotel had whiskey (Andy was determined to find Jameson in order to celebrate a late St. Pats Day). Sure, the concierge said. We have Jameson... 1000 rupees a glass. That's about 25 bucks, folks. No thanks.

Next day we all went on a boatride through the backwaters in large canoe type boat that one poles. At one point, Andy got the men to let him pole for awhile and very nearly ended up in the drink.


Later, I got my eyebrows threaded (which was surprisingly painful but efficient), did some interneting, and went to a tea shop for lunch. In the evening we went to see a Kerakala performance.



One of Andy's friends was missing though, she didn't show up, so they each kept getting up to run out and make phone calls and scout the streets. Turns out she didn't have a key to the hotel, didn't know where to meet us and was livid. We finally met up with her afterwards for some dinner. We ordered beer at the restaurant, and were told they didn't have any. But they did have "special tea" -- which they brought out to us in teapots with mugs. A little under-the-table Kingfisher.


Back to the bar again though we called it a night fairly early due to 2 of the girls having to catch an early flight to Chennai and then to Bangkok.
Next day, the three of us left, Ellie, Andy and I, took a rickshaw tour of the Fort area. The spice market was lovely -- bags and bags and boxes of every spice imaginable.


A whole yard of drying ginger.


Lunch at a locals cafe -- plate was a banana leaf and you didn't have a say in what you were eating -- rice was plopped in front of you followed by a bucket of tasty gruel ladled on top. Eat with your fingers. I'm getting the knack of it.
Andy and I were taking a 4 p.m. bus down to Kerala and said goodbye to Ellie, leaving early the next a.m. for Australia for a year. Rickshaw driver took us to a local bus that would take an hour or so to Kerala. It was also PACKED to the gills. Luckily for me, the bus conductor would walk around, tapping men's shoulders who blatantly refused to notice when women got on the bus, making them get up and give them a seat. I took advantage of the situation and sat down. The young man next to me was completely conked out on his friend's shoulder and during a particularly bumpy part of the ride, his head lolled over onto my shoulder. I didn't wake him and found that all the locals were staring and giggling at him/me. Eventually, his friend noticed and poked him in the shoulder. He awoke -- and was instantly mortified. He couldn't even look at me. It took a few minutes and finally, I guess as a show of apology, he heaved my backpack onto his own lap. Cute.

We arrived in... somewhere in Kerala. Alleppy. I think my brain is mush. A rickshaw driver persuaded us to check out his friends' guest house. We had no where to go, so we acquiesced. It was decent and cheap, so we stayed. They had a nice houseboat, they said, and we said we'd check it out. Then headed out towards the beach for a walk -- playing the little game, "How far can we walk before someone says, 'HELLO!' to us." We generally can't get far. Eventually we made new friends with a group of boisterous young men who thought of themselves as India's biggest motorcycle gang. They directed us towards the tourist info area to find out about other boats. The tourist people assured us they had several boats for our choosing. ONe of the guys was wearing a Penn State teeshirt. I took his picture.

for andy

Andy wanted a bar so we found one, and also found ourselves sitting with a British mother/daughter couple who were quite chatty. We spent 2 drinks with them and then excused ourselves to look for food as it was getting late. Found a cafe, ordered and waited. Our waiter had a Chicago Bulls shirt on.


Ten minutes later, he came back to tell us they didn't have what I wanted. Now, there were only 2 other couples in the cafe. Not exactly busy. An hour went by. I was livid. The people who had come in after us were eating. Everyone else was gone. We stormed out. Andy tried to placate me with chocolate cookies. Didn't work. I went to bed mad and hungry. I don't know when Andy went to bed -- I think he was scared.

Okay, that's really quite enough. I'll continue at some point. The day is awasting...*And I thought New York was small. A couple of days ago, in Udaipur, about 900km from where we first met at the train station in Goa, I ran into the Norwegian guy and his girlfriend as I crawled out of the internet place to go back to my hotel room. He and his gf are biking up India on his motorcycle. He gave me some "rehydration" (electrolytes you add to a bottle of water) for "exploding arse." I thanked him and crawled back to bed.

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