Travel musings

No tigers – world’s best masala chai instead

Next stop was Ranthambore National Park which is the best place for spotting Bengal tigers. It was once the private hunting ground for the kinds of Jaipur but since 1957 has been a safe place for them to thrive.

Jaipur the “pink city” in which Western things happened

Okay so #1. Jaipur isn’t really pink. It’s called the the Pink City because in 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the colour of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink to welcome the guests. #2. I didn’t really see much of the city. Jes and I needed a break from the touristy things so instead we did Western things. (I love how “Western” means “stuff white people like” in India, but from a West Coast perspective, it means “cowboy”).

Madhoghar Fort, Bassi

The first really cool place the tour stayed was in a small village with a fort converted to a hotel.

Tearjerker Taj Mahal

​The next morning at the ungodly hour of 5 am we assembled at the train station to catch a train to see the Taj Mahal. We were still putting our luggage on the overhead bins when the smell of smoke started sliding into our nostrils. It got strong then I heard an authorotativel voice say “evacuate the train slowly! Take your small bags” so I grabbed my backpack and politely started walking out.

Delhi in which Beth dances Bangra on new years

​One week ago which seems like forever ago i arrived in delhi. I was picked up at the airport and delivered to my hotel. I had a whole day to kill which was fine by me. I just took it easy,  caught up on email,  chatted with my sweetie and got some laundry done. I wandered around for a couple of hours and checked out the local markets.  The traffic was pretty mental but I stayed on the smaller streets. It was nice not to get hustled by the touts as this is not really a touristy area. I waited for Jes to show up for what seemed like forever on new years eve. At about 11:45 I went to the lobby because I was confident she would arrive before midnight and she did! With 10 minutes to spare.  I took her up to the room and as she was unpacking the clock struck midnight and we hugged. I let her settle in for a few minutes then dragged her next door to the bar for a drink. There were some locals there dancing to Bangra music and of course we had to join in. They really enjoyed that and hooted and hollered and of course took selfies of us… in exchange I took selfies too. We met three members of our tour group there too having some drinks. We toasted the new year in with some indian whisky. They were great fun. Maybe it was mean of me but I dragged Jes out on the Metro the following day. We had most of the day to kill since our...

Backwaters of kerala in which no booze was to be found

​After an air conditioned “local” bus full of other white people we arrived in Allepy which is the center for backwater boat tourism. Our guest house was in a lovely dutch heritage home run by a very sweet man who always seemed to be hustling business on the phone. We saw the Indian business network in full force here. They all employ family members and friends for drivers restaurants etc. one of whom was a very attractive man named Sheffi who told us how he wasn’t married and didn’t have kids because he wanted to live his life free and party in secret. Well turns out he’s a total liar. Married with two children. I was really mad at being lied to like that. I called him out on it later and I could see him squirming then he decided to stick with the lie and adamantly deny he was married. Carrie confirmed later he’s a big fat liar.  Just remove the plants,  honking,  garbage,  heat, and rickshaws and this could be Amsterdam! We went on a search for food the first night which is harder than it sounds. We were in an isolated area so had to walk in the dark past gangs of young men all just hanging out and looking at us pass. We ended up at a tourist restaurant but waited an hour for our order to be taken. The only other option was a muslin restaurant full of only men which was super weird and intimidating. We ended up storming out without ordering and ate chips for dinner. Also frustrating was the fact that no...

Fort Kochin in which puppies were saved

​The train was about an hour late in leaving. This time I got our reservation correct and there were no hiccups along the way.  Each compartment on 2nd class trains has stacked mattresses/seats like bunk beds. During the night two people climb up and sleep on the hard beds. Sheets are provided which seem clean enough even though there were some black hairs stuck to mine. Our bunk mates were very nice… an Indian family complete with grandpa and two children currently living in Dallas Texas working for Philips. I had to pee twice during the night which totally sucked. And my curtain by the door kept getting stuck in the door letting all the light in. People were going back and forth to the toilet all night. There were only indian style squat toilets which can be challenging to use while rocking on a train. You have to yoink your pants in such a way that they don’t touch the icky floor.  They were nowhere near as dirty as I was led to expect. Maybe we got lucky? We were supposed to meet a friend of a friend for breakfast since we had a few hours in bangalore but he didn’t make it. I’m still not quite sure why. So we had some spicy breakfast in the train station and found the bus to the airport ourselves. It was pretty easy. Our plane was delayed a few hours due to fog/smog so we splurged a while $10 and bought admission to the VIP lounge. It was so awesome! Free wifi free buffet and lazyboy chairs! And $12 wine....

Hampi part 2 in which Beth melts and sees monkeys

​Carrie and I woke up early to catch the sunrise at a temple near our guest house. After a bit of bushwhacking (we missed a turn which had nice but slippery stone stairs) we made it to the top of the rocky hill just in time to see the orange ball peek up over the horizon. There were no safety rails. Certain death if you took a wrong step taking a selfie. But that’s what the Darwin Awards are for right…. I heard a stat that more people died from selfies last year than shark attacks. A Yogi jesus appeared from nowhere (perhaps he camps at the temple up there?) And began to do fancy yoga moves. Carrie had names for all the poses… I had no idea what he was doing. The tourists were taking photos with him. He seemed to be enjoying himself. We knew there was a temple elephant Lakshmi so we went looking for her. There was a line up for blessings.. lots of school kids waiting their turn.  Since we came in the side entrance we didn’t remove our shoes and got told off. So we high tailed it out of there and went down to river to await Lasksmi’s bath. She came lumbering down the stairs but her handler was a meanie. He had a long stick he was hitting her with to make her lie down to bathe her. Carrie cried and I couldn’t watch any more so we left. We had the most amazing dosa at a little hole in the wall our guide Vijay told us about where we made a...

Week two in which Beth sees naughty carvings

​We got up at an obscenely early hour I thought was the stuff of myth but here I was at 4:30 catching a taxi to the train station to Hampi. It was our first experience with the trains and it’s a very confusing complicated process. Made more confusing because we were early and the platform signs weren’t lit up yet. When the train arrived the mad scrambling rush of workers trying to push in front of each other and jump onboard was quite terrifying. So this was the infamous “sleeper class” everyone warned me about. I had booked 2nd class which was practically empty. We could stretch out on the bed/seat very confortably. Carrie and I prematurely high fived each other… Until the ticket guy told me my ticket didn’t match the seating assignment. My heart rate went up. Did I screw up the booking?!  Turns out I had bought two by mistake… so all was good. We mostly had the section to ourselves until grandpa and wife and their grandchild showed up with a pile of stuff. Carrie wisely ignored grandpa’s questions about where were from where we’ve been etc etc but he was nice and seemed harmless. He helped get us off the train at the proper stop then asked for my phone number and gave me a secret handshake… rubbing my palm with his finger. Wtf was that? ! I waved goodbye. Bye bye pervy grandpa! We got picked up at the Hospet train station by a rickshaw driver Pampa. This place is cleaner then Palolem. But still we were dodging cows and goats on the road...

India week I in which delicious food was eaten on the beach

​After the initial piña colada and amazing dinner in palolem, I had a great sleep (of course after my heart rate went down due to previously mentioned centipede incident) My cankles needed some attention so Carrie and I caved to some high pressure sales tactics and got a “massage” for swollen ankles. We were taken to a sketchy back room in a hut covered in a blue tarp. The nice lady disappeared and left me and Carrie at the mercy of her brothers one of whom decided to massage my legs the wrong way and push the fluid down more; I think resulting in further aggravation. My feet are finally back to normal today. I’m so old and embarrased about that. But not too embarrassed to tell everyone. Then for some reason I let them talk me into a head massage which was actually just an oily head scratch. Trip advisor told us to visit a spice farm a 40 minute cab ride away. Tanshikar is a 40 year old family run farm growing a host of spices including vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, birds eye peppers, betel nut (more on this later), cashews and others I can’t remember. The man who runs it and who gave us the tour is a real sweetie. Half way through the tour we were joined by an overly sincere English couple and their precious little boy Nathaniel in a baby carriage. On a path in the jungle.  “Should we leave the pram here?” Ya think? The toddler started having a hissy fit and tearing up some of the precious spice plants and Dad...

India week I in which Beth stops fretting and captures centipedes

The flight on air France was good and uneventful. I had champagne because I could. Aperatif ma’am?  Why yes mademoiselle  would love some. Anyone who knows me would chuckle to hear that I was seated beside two seven year old girls with a two year old sister next door and two hyper cousins in the vicinity. But they were quite sweet.  Taxiing down the runway one girl kept asking if we were in the air yet. Nope not yet sweetie! Then I fell asleep and the kids were all watching movies and playing on ipads and kicking me. I woke up being poked and prodded… opening my eyes I look down and there’s Cindy Loo Hoo no older than two smiling and looking up at me. Hard to be annoyed. The second leg from Paris to mumbai was pretty uneventful. I did notice that European ideas of special meals did not equal indian ideas of special meals.  Plus they kept swapping seats. There was a lot of discussion with the stewards about the veg/Hindu veg/indian veg meals and whose belonged to whom. When I arrived at the mumbai airport I went on an immediate search for cash at the atms. Exchanged US money at the currency exchange. Couldn’t withdraw money at the ATM. The driver was there to pick me up which was great.  He’d been waiting for two hours! Customs took a full hour. The next morning I went on a search for more cash. My two visas and my bank card were all generating sad errors. I tried many many ATMS.  Absolutely nothing. Exchanged more US cash....

India part one. In which Beth stresses out.

​Well I promised to write my first blog post ages ago.  Here i am on day four having some spare time to myself at last!  I first wanted to write about my high anxiety coming into this trip. India to me has always been sort of the epitome of travel. .. a master’s degree if you will. If you can successfully navigate india you can get around pretty much anywhere. .. save for places like Syria or Liberia.  On my round the world trip in 2010, I was headed to india but decided not to go because I’d  spoken to a few people who said they were happy they went but even more happy to leave.  Why would I want to go to a place like that? ! And yet I still wanted to go. I can’t really even explain why exactly.  I’m not into yoga or retreats or finding myself on a spiritual journey. I have a pretty good idea who I am and am not seeking enlightenment.  I believe enlightenment comes from experiencing different cultures and learning from them.  Travel is my guru. An opportunity arose that I couldn’t turn down… my friend Carrie decided to go for a four and a half month tour to india, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I decided to join her for two weeks in the south. Then my friend Jes said “I wanna come too!” so we booked a two week tour in rajasthan together, starting right after my time with Carrie comes to an end.  For seventeen years my back has been a traitor. The pain and episodes come and go…...

Tips on Havana

I visited Havana, Cuba, in January 2015. It was interesting timing, as about a week before I left, the US announced that it was working on thawing the 50-some year old frosty relationship it has had with Cuba. I am very glad I was able to see Havana before the American invasion, which I’m sure is imminent. Many of my Canadian friends are eager to get to Cuba before the Americans invade, as well. It will change the country in many ways, expected and unexpected. The good: Cubans will be able to travel freely to visit their relatives in the US. The bad… well that remains to be seen. Cuba is currently the safest Caribbean country, they have free education and health care, and a character that could not have been invented. Where else can you go back in time like that? American tourism will greatly strain the infrastructure of Havana and the beach areas, and hopefully the government will ensure that the money gets distributed amongst the people and not to foreign investors. Ya, right Beth. Okay so shut the hell up Beth, and give me some tips like you said. Money: ATMs are few and far between. It is a cash-based economy, and credit cards are not widely accepted. I would recommend you get a butt-load of crisp $100 bills and hide them in your safe in your hotel, if there is one. Otherwise carry it around in your money belt I guess. Always carry around small change to tip the buskers / wait staff / maids etc. I found I spent a lot of coin on very...

Last day

Slept like a log but woke up at 7:15 like clockwork. Shit! Wandered down for breakfast and had missed the gang at breakfast but saw Monique, this other guest who is staying at the hotel. Her husband Al likes to sleep in so I joined her for some bread, pancakes and coffee. We decided to go downtown together on the hop on/hop off bus. It’s only $5 for the day which is a good deal. I got home for free basically. Walked down Obispo street which is quite touristy and shopped for cigars. There was a good selection at the one near near the capitolo building. They cigars stores are all called “Havana Club” and they sell rum and cigars. The rum is so cheap! $7 for a large 1.1 litre bottle. Gotta get me some of that. I bought eight cigars for John. All the local touts by the way have rum on their breath. They’re a bunch of alkies. I wandered around the book fair again for a bit but couldn’t find that calendar I bought. I wanted to buy one for Phil too but no dice. I ended up buying him a Che cap instead. Ate some pizza at the Cafe Paris. The pizza was the same price as my Fanta, and they charged me a peso for a tip. Then there was some argument about giving me my change. I watched the bartender pour a mojito. And the rum seriously was 50/50. They must pour 3 ounces in a small glass. That’s why I got so wasted last night. Went to the museum de revolution and...

Havana – Santeria, night shoots and flamenco

This morning we walked down to the ivy covered trees by the river. Mitch had warned us that it was sketchy, garbage everywhere. I didn’t mind. Before we got to the ‘park’, beside the road was lying a goat head, a chicken’s body missing the head, a gutted turtle, and a blood and feather covered gourd. Seemed like a sacrificial Santa Ria thing to me. I’d heard about this, but I couldn’t believe this was downtown Havana. We kept walked down to the river and started coming across animal bits, and bones, and feathers etc., and continued to see more animal bits. Vultures were circling around, and there was a weird smell in the air. We took lots of photos, being careful to step around the holes in the ground, which are tarantula tunnels. We saw some knobby knuckled tarantula legs showing in one of the holes. Mitch got a good shot with the flash. Mitch kept asking if we were sure it wasn’t a chicken foot or something. Kind of looked like that. At one point we saw the rest of the goat hanging from a tree branch. Super sketchy. Glad I wasn’t there alone. We also saw some leaf cutter ants doing their thing. Then we went back to the hotel, changed, and took a taxi to the beach. It was cloudy and a little chilly there, but we rented some umbrellas and chairs and sat there. I got burned even though I was very careful to stay out of the sun. I guess I misjudged. I went into the water a couple of times. It was...

Havana day 6? 7?

I seem to be missing a bunch of days. I’ve been here longer than 7 days. Who gives a fuck. Yesterday was the bus trip to Viñales. We took a large bus since the other group (Mitch’s father in law’s language class) was coming with. They were pretty annoying. They’re a weird bunch. Some old Californian with sparkly t-shirts, an older woman with short wispy hair and way too much Botox, a strange slow-talker from Cowichan Bay who complained about everything, a tiny little flaky hippy woman. They were all pushing 60 or 70… our whole group is much more fun than these weirdos. So we kept trying to ditch them. And we took a long time cause we were photographing everything. We went to an orchid garden, which was very pretty. I bought a CD for $5 from the local musicians who were playing there. Then we went to this cave where we took a little boat trip around inside the cave. It was pretty cool. Then lunch at this outdoor place. I ordered a pina colada, and the waiter brought a little juice box with that written on the side. I laughed when he brought and changed my order to a beer. I’ve been eating a lot of rice. Rice and vegetables, rice and beans, and just rice. I caught the drummer staring at me while we were lining up for our table, so I smiled at him. He kissed at me. That is their way of flirting. I burst out laughing. At a cool vista, the bus stopped for a while. There were the standard outdoor tables...

Havana Day 4 – The Plazas in the old town

Is it day four? Did I miss a day? Lol I don’t care any more. How do you say that in Spanish? Holy fuck I’m so mellow. I need to find a way to keep travelling forever. What did we do today? uhhhh I finally found some COLD milk for my cereal which was awesome because then my corn flakes did not turn into a disgusting mash (the coffee has hot milk coming out of a carafe which is fine for coffee but not so great for Corn Flakes) We drove in our air conditioned bus downtown again to Plaza del San Fransisco. At which point we went into the cathedral which was nice but I guess I’m all cathedral’ed out from Europe this summer. Took some photos. We then walked to the photography museum in Plaza Vieja which was nice. Just a single room really but we all chose our favourite image and our least favourite image and critiqued them. Mitch is really into the technical stuff so we didn’t talk much about art school juxtaposition and the meaning of life etc. More about what a crappy job the photo journalist / lightroom technician did with the dodging and burning. The photos were nice… a collection of images of Fidel, Che, some baseball players, some famous people, some guerrillas going to war etc. Then we had an assignment to take some black and white photos making it look like Havana in the ‘50s. Which is difficult… but not impossible. I think I got a couple good ones. I’ve decided to not post any of my best shots on...

Havana Day 3 – Downpours and Dulce

We were meant to go on a field trip to Venales (sp?) a tobacco plantation, this morning at 8:30 but there was a torrential downpour. We were outvoted and the trip was cancelled. Which was a good thing as the morning was a write off. So instead we had a portrait lesson by Mitch in the ballroom. There was water on the floor of the ballroom but luckily there is no carpet in this place… Just stone tiles so they can sweep the water away. Water was seeping in everywhere. There were puddles everywhere on the main floor, undercover and not. We experimented with different lens lengths to see what that does to distort facial features. Quite remarkable. That was the field trip that I missed in the class a few months ago. We had lunch together afterwards (another pizza) and a “light beer” which is only .5 % less than the “fuerte” beer. I didn’t finish it as I would have been too drunk. Two women on the group wanted to go for a walk to see an old home stay family to give them gifts. As it was a Saturday Draga was hoping they would be home. So we went for a walk through the hood. Lots of decrepit buildings, lots of nice buildings, friendly people (we got lost a few times) and I swear I found a tarantula in a hole by the sidewalk. I caught a glimpse of something moving out the corner of my eye, saw the hole then looked in. I saw a large body and fat legs… I was later told there are...