Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do you knowa Goa?

It is a strange experience to write about traveling a little while after having done it.  In these posts there are excerpts from moments before the trip was complete. It's a bit like watching series one of friends, I always have this overwhelming desire to shout at the screen just how very famous these characters are going to become. On the flip side it is refreshing to see where my head was at during those times, even if it was spinning for most of them.

Here is what I wrote while I was in Goa.

Today we got up and had breakfast, we said goodbye to Raj and headed to Goa. Jen and I have gotten better at saying no to the locals and as they tried to take our baggage we were pretty insistent that we take them the eight steps into the airport ourself. Air indigo was really nice, all the air crew ladies wear indigo make up and have their hair in buns. The aeroplane ride was short but not as short as the bus ride to the aeoplane, they literally bussed us across the road from the airport to the plane which gave me an explanation as to why india has such a huge carbon footprint. When we landed we drove to our hotel Julie Jolly, if I thought driving in Mumbai was mental then driving in Goa is insane, our driver sped at about 100km down windey roads speeding onto the wrong side of the road to pass slower cars, I started to sweat and I couldn't help but panic when we missed a bus by a quarter of an inch. Jen also looked a little worried and we were relieved when we arrived at our destination.

After a stiff drink we went to explore our surroundings. We were told the beach was five minutes away but after walking for ten minutes we were wondering if we had been swindled. We walked down tiny roads with tonnes of market stalls and shoppettes but this time no-one hasled us. People were still staring but in a more polite manner. We finally could see the beach when a young man on a motorcycle called to us and asked if we could answer a question. We were curious and when he asked us why tourists never talked to the locals we realized this was our chance to prove him wrong.

Dave introduced us to his friend Sayid and he invited us into the cafe for Chai Tea. It was delicious, we all got a couple of beers and started chatting overlooking a perfect beach and the ocean. Sayid and Dave were full of jokes and acronyms, they seemed endless. We laughed and drank for way too long and the sun set rendering our beach time impossible. We all headed to hill top market which is the hot spot in Goa on fridays. It turned out to be right next to our hostel. The market is full of amazing stuff, as well as live music and a bar. We shopped and drank and listened to the music before heading to Daves house for some good drinks and food. It was delicious we played card games all night until I practically passed out from exhaustion on the couch. They sensed I was about to collapse and drove us home.

The shower here is actually hot and the toilet flushes properly, me and Jen were a little giddy and sang a song about horses Jen had nicked from youtube we also found out one of the rules of the hotel was not to rub your legs on the wall, which got us laughing for a very long time. Talking of toilets the cafe we met Dave and Sayid in had a tolet to rival the one in trainspotting, I'd go into more detail if i wasn't trying to block the memory from my mind.
Day two

Today we got mobbed at the market, people try to describe what it is like here but it's impossible, the pressure to buy is immense and once one vendor is talking to you the others flock. Its different in Goa to Mumbai, here they ask you how much you think something is worth and when you name a price they say 'you are killing me'. They are good humored about it telling you must haggle. Jen has gotten excellent at it so I have started leaving it to her. Sayid was a good teacher at the friday market and the vendors look genuinly annoyed that we had an indian friend with us bargaining.

We had breakfast before the beach and again it was amazing. The eggs here are really yummy not to mention it comes with fresh made bread and Jam made that morning. The jam was like nothing i've ever tasted or as Jen said 'it ain't no smuckers' After a brief stop at the internet cafe we finally made it to the beach, and before being mobbed we enjoyed being in the sun.

Three hours later we went to get henna done. It wasn't what we expected and we ended up sitting down with a group of about ten people all having a go at drawing henna on us. There were two tiny babies that we tried to buy and slowly more and more people started to crowd in. It was pretty special moment for the both of us. Talking of locals, I have been told by many a local that I am so white I look like a white chicken I don't think they realize that that's quite insulting lol. 

To pay for the henna we had to get money from our room, so one of the young boys from the market walked with us to collect it, on the way back we bumped into Sayid who offered us a lift the rest of the way, he drove so fast that Alex (from the market) turned green, the poor guy seemed to be reconsidering whether risking his life was worth the money we owed him. We arrived in the room sunburnt and hot and got read for dinner. We decided we must have fish and chips and headed to an amazing restaurant before going to the massive market that opened only on saturday night.

The fish and chips were the best I've ever had, and I'm English, plus the restaurant we ate at was right on the beach. We befriended the restaurant dog and he got lucky as the two of us fed him scraps from the table all night. It was so peaceful which was ironic because everything was about to get a bit crazy. The Saturday night market is very busy and crammed with tiny stools filled to the brim with weird and wonderful products. We grabbed a couple of drinks while we walked around nonchalantly when all of a sudden Jen looked really freaked out and grabbed my arm and shook it really hard. She spilled my drink over everyone around us until it flew out my hand and I looked at her like a dangerous animal. I thought she had had a stoke but then found out there was a massive bug on my back and kindly she had shooken it off. We laughed about it so much that people were stopping to stare, but we are kind of used to it by now.

We left the market early and went home to sleep. Nothing else to report really except that when we were on the beach Jen's sunshade fell over and I got up to stick it back in the sand, when I jokingly said ' I claim this land in the name of...' and then stopped abruptly realizing this was the event that Gandhi had dedicated his life to reversing, we laughed a lot about it.

Also we realized that locals are not allowed past a certain point outside the hotel and we have named it the Indian Forcefield. We are not sure why it exists but we are determined to find out and I will report back.

Day Three

The only disadvantage of being in India is that so much happens everyday it is difficult to get it all down. Luckily today was elephants, so it was impossible to forget. We were lucky as the day before we had gotten into a cab to go from the beach to home and the driver asked us where we were planning to go while we were in goa. When we told him we wanted to see the elephants he set it up so that he would pick us up the next day and take us to Ponda (1 and half hours away) and we could visit the spice plantation while we were there.

We got to ride an amazing elephant called Mala who performed for us a tonne of tricks, we made the guide laugh by demanding he take us back to our hotel by elephant and he gave us extra time on our ride. The spice plantation was spectacular and truly enchanting. We had a great time walking around hearing about the different spices, and smelling them and tasting them. We decided the spice plantation would count as time that Jen was studying as it was practically part of her herbology course. We got chatting to the cab driver and he told us a couple places we could stop on the way home. We saw a couple of temples, and then headed to a museum the driver recomended. There we met Mumin a guy from Kashmir who was really nice and gave us Kashmir tea, which is delicious. He told us about Kashmir and told his brother we could try on all the expensive jewelerry in the museum even though we weren't going to buy any. Jen was getting sick so we went to the pharmacy to get antibiotics, which cost about 25 cents each.

Finally we arrved home took a ten minute lie down and headed to Vagadar, the beach that really was five minutes from our hotel. To get to the beach you have to walk down this crazy cliff, and luckily we met ben, who helped us not tumble to our deaths. We got talking and took him for a beer, he instead had a coffee which turned out to be the best coffee i've ever tasted in the world. When we asked him what it was, he told us it was nescafe instant, we were both confused and surprised, but i swear the nescafe in India is different. It was dark by the time we finished talking and ben had to hold our hands and help us back up the cliff. A few times we walked around a huge rock only to realize it was a sleeping cow. When we got to the top ben offered us a ride on his motorcycle. I freaked out and refused to go, but Jen made me. I clung to Ben's back and squeezed him so tight his eyes nearly popped out.

He took us to a veggie restaurant Jen had heard about, which i was very unenthused about however the food was superb and it turned out to be one of my favorite meals in india. Our waiter for the night was a really nice guy and was really funny, and we got served noticably quicker than everyone else at the restaurant. We even helped a poor guy from Wimbledon out, who could not get served no matter how hard he tried. We walked back to the hotel and changed and headed out to one of the 'raves' we had heard so much about, it was weird and people danced funny so we left after and hour and went home to catch up on some well needed sleep.

So in short Goa was crazy amounts of fun, but it was also one of the calmer parts of our trip. The next stop was Delhi, which I will write about tomorrow, and you'll notice once we hit Rajasthan my notes get shorter and shorter! Its so exciting to tell you all about India, and if you have any questions you would like to share please add them to the comments below, alternatively you could write your favorite word below, or letter - just write a bloody comment ok xxxxx

Monday, February 22, 2010

Back In Town

So I'm still fighting off the jet lag, and still paying off the bills, but if I could go back in time and do it all again, I would in a heartbeat.

India is the most spectacular place in the whole wide world, well from what I have seen so far, and to sum it up in one blog entry would be impossible....impossible you say, we'll see about that.

No Meryl it's actually impossible, there's a lot to say, and only so much text space.
Did you never see Thumbelina Meryl? Did you never hear the impossible song? Nothing is impossible.
Yes I did, but I've never been massively keen on taking advice from a bird.
You've got a point there Meryl,
Thankyou I know.

Ok so the jet lag may be winning at this point, but I do think I'll have to blog a couple times to get everything I want to say out there. Luckily I did some manual blogging - as in pen and paper old school blogging, and I will put some excerpts from them for you to read.

To start us off I will tell you all about the south. Sit down kids, get some warm milk on the boil and settle in.
The first place in india me and Jen visited was mumbai and here is what I wrote.

After a seventeen hour connect plane journey all we wanted to do was get out of the airport. It's funny, the minute we stepped out, the airport felt like a warm bed inviting us back to safety. Adventure, can only be that if you are doing something completely different, and even though we were slightly overwhelmed and extra sleep deprived I knew we were stepping into something extra-ordinary.
It was about six o'clock in the morning and the air was warm and the place was busy. We bustled our way though the crowd and walked the wrong way out of the airport but managed to find our way to our prepaid taxi. Driving in India is something that needs to be experienced rather than described and the one hour cab ride to Colaba (10 dollars) was more terrifying but far funnier than the turbulence we'd experienced hours before.
There are between two and four lanes on the roads in India, but between four and eight cars trying to ride them. I think the main aim of driving here is not to stop at all, and as we ducked and swirved around bikes, people and cars I found myself flinching at how many times we nearly crashed. Oh and seatbelts seem yet to have made it in india.

We got to Hotel Moti which is beautiful and rustic and basic, and were told our room would be ready in a hour. Keen to explore but still a little overwhelmed by the city we walked over to a small cafe called Olympia and had black tea, omlettes and bread (2 Dollars)

We met with Raj, the owner of the hotel and he showed us to our room. Raj turned out to be awesome and funny and gave us kingfisher beer so we could sit in the garden. Our bathroom is opposite our room but private, it is a massive room with a shower that doesn't drain underneath but into a tiny whole in the corner, there are also two buckets filled with water but i have yet to figure out exactly what they are for. There is no hot water but cold showers are nice when it's 30 degrees outside..yes you heard right thirty.

Seeing as we left on the 25th and arrived on the 27th today has felt like the longest day of all time. Even though we were tired we got ready and walked to the gateway to India, It was beautiful. Weirdly because we are white everybody stares at us and people ask for pictures. It's like being a celebrity only really creepy like.
Being white in India also means scouts follow us around offering us trips, and salesmen try and get us to buy stuff by walking next to us continually dropping the price of their merchandise. I didn't think it was the smartest strategy well until Jen bought a drum.

Said drum made us further targets as now we had a piece of evidence on us suggesting we would buy more stuff. We were smart and listened to the scouts asked how much stuff cost then walked back to Raj to see if he could get us a cheaper deal. He could.

That day we saw the Jain temple, the Gandhi Museum, the Train station, Laundry Washing and the Hanging Gardens, we just couldn't stop doing stuff, The Jain temples were amazing, today is actually the last day of the Jain Festival in Mumbai, which we found out when a man came and put bracelets on our arms, gave us white candy and pained a red bindi on our heads. He then asked for a donation, when we returned to the hotel you could tell Raj was not impressed. The temple was lavishly decorated in streamers and incense was burning. We went in bare foot and took an obnoxious amount of photos. It smelled amazing. The Gandhi museum was also really cool. Jen summed it up well when she said he'd spend a lot of time in Prison. He truly is a crusader, non compliance and non violence were his tools and boy did he use them well. He actually wrote a letter to Hitler..Hitler! essentially telling him enough was enough. Stern yet respectful I can see why the Indians put him on the money. When it comes to the laundry washing you have to see it to really understand how immense it was. Miles of people standing in dug out drains beating clothes again stone walls to get them clean. I contemplated making a washing machine joke but asked myself what Gandhi would do and kept quiet.

By the end of the day we were dead to the world, took a nap and ate at Leopold cafe. I had chicken tika it was amazing and not exactly part of the vegetarian lifestyle I had envisioned for myself in India. Had a shower, fell over the step on the way out into the hallway and finally went to bed. Day One had been mental.

Day two:

Today we woke up nice and early and had breakfast outside the hotel. Raj came outside and sat with us we were slowly becoming his favorites. The egg omlettes here are massively delicious and they come with Spicy Ketchup. We ate quickly and headed out to catch a ferry to Elephanta Island. The caves are amazing they're full of these ornately carved images of Shiva (the destroyer of evil) Elephanta is about an hour boat ride from the gateway and me and Jen spent most of the ride discussing what we had named the 'Juice of Indecision' Earlier that morning we had drunk a hand made smoothie and we were concerned it may have contained unfiltered water and come back to haunt us, luckily we made it to Elephanta still feeling good and we were already considering having one the next day.

We had to climb a million stairs to get to the caves, but it was worth it in the end. Elephanta Island is dotted with cows, dogs and monkeys, and after telling Jen a million times not to pet the dogs, i got suckered into feeding one water after it came to rub it's head on my leg. I immediately got told off by a  local who told me I was 'playing with fire' feeding the rabid dog and rather than agree with him and tell him I'd been saying the same thing all day I got defensive and told him I was fine. The monkeys were hilarious you couldn't turn a corner without seeing one eating some corn or picking through Garbage. Jen and I were stopped at a market stall only to see a monkey sitting on the edge of the table. The vendor was reading  the newspaper and just as I was joking about our new monkey vendor, he put some hair clips in his mouth and ran away up a tree. We alerted the vendor but couldn't help giggling as we watched him shouting at the monkey to come back.

On the way back from Elephanta we went to visit the Taj International Hotel. It is still being restored a year later. It is truly beautiful and extraordinarily lavish. We came back to the hotel and had a beer. Raj told us about the experience of being so close to a terrorist attack. It became even more horrific hearing it first hand. We ended the conversation by asking what they though they had achieved. It got a little heavy so we told Raj our monkey story. He managed to one up us by telling us that, that morning he had woken up to an owl in the living room, a story Jen confirmed with Raj's wife on the phone.

We had a nap and woke up pretty full so drank beer instead of going for dinner, a decision me and Jen we very pleased with. We went for a little walk and discussed how immense the poverty was in India. Its more the juxtaposition of it all, with the exuberant Taj vs the people on the streets it felt a little odd, and when we met a girl on the way home who gave us flowers we wondered if we could do something to help. We offered her money but she asked if instead we could buy her food for her and her sister. So we took her to the store and bough her some rice and milk.
In other news Jen managed to turn the whole tourist thing on its head and took a picture of a group of ladies looking at us. They looked incredible all sitting together in different coloured Saris. Everywhere in India is so colourful. We are off to Goa tomorrow, lots of beach time to relax, will miss Mumbai lots and lots especially the horn honking.

So ok, I only managed to fit Mumbai into this post, and I will do Goa in the next one. My note taking got shorter and shorter as the trip progressed, and I like to think rather than laziness it was due to most of my time being spent doing things rather than documenting them. I can't wait to share more, India is spectacular and you should all visit it!

I also have a small amount of chocolate news, which I will share in  my next blog, see readers I haven't forgotten about you xxxx