Saturday, April 28, 2012

Famous, Frantic, and Furious, part two

Before I finish the story, let me just tell you all, without any regrets, I gave up on India and left a week early. It is simply not meant to be traveled alone by a female. I'm not saying no girl could do it, I'm not even saying I won't go back, I'm just saying its hard as hell and I met one other girl who gave up early and another who's about to, because it's that's how hard it is! Now back to the story...
So by the time Andrew and I had made it to our fourth city in a week, I had completely shut down and barely spoken a word in two and a half days. But our fourth town, Udaipur, was much more welcoming than any other we'd been to (or any other I'd go to, for that matter). The men rarely leered and the four month old guesthouse we'd found was beautiful, clean, and ever so friendly. The first day there, I ran some errands and let Andrew go sight seeing alone. When we met up, he asked if I wanted to go to dinner. I
said sure, and he said, "Ok, but first we're going to talk." Not asking or even suggesting, just telling. Whatever. He asked what my problem was and I told him. I was tired of being so rushed, I was tired of him complaining about the parts of India we couldn't change, I was tired of him, and I was just plain tired. He said he refused to keep traveling with someone who wasn't talking to him, and I said, "That's fine but there's not much we can do since you've already booked the next four trains." He said he'd give me my money back and I said, "Sounds good." So he left the next morning and after 7 frantic and tearful calls to Grandma (I use wi-fi for calls and the Internet kept dropping), I decided to spend the next 5 days in Udaipur and then fly down to Pune to visit my friend Mickey (a young gay Indian I'd met in Bangkok). From there I'd go to the beaches of Goa and then on to Kochi, where my flight back to Bangkok was scheduled.
The first 4 days with Mickey were great fun, even if he was a little anal retentive..."Wipe off the bathroom sink when your done, I don't like to see water on the counter," is just one of many examples. But Mickey hung out in a group of wealthy young partiers. He took me to grand parties at fancy hotels, he had a servant, and his friends took us out to eat at restaurants nicer than I'd ever stepped foot in. On the fifth night, Mickey made it clear that partying was much more important than my happiness or my safety, and when he said, "These are my friends forever, you're just a visitor," we'll, that pretty much summed it up, and I hit the road the next morning at the crack of dawn. I decided to skip Goa and Kochi and just hightail it out of india. Four rickshaws, two cabs, one hired car, one flight to Bangkok, two subway rides, one 12 hour bus, and one tuk-tuk ride later, I have safely made it back to Chiang Mai, Thailand, my favorite town on my trip so far and back to A Little Bird hostel, my home away from home, where I might just sit out my entire 30 day Thai visa. I just arrived a couple hours ago and have already met up with old friends, Charlotte and Jason and had one of Tip's famous smoothies. I am in my happy place and it feels so good. Here are a few more pretty pics of my own private hell (India).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Famous, Frantic, and Furious...Part 1

I am currently lying in "bed" on my first ever sleeper bus in India on my way from Udaiper back to Jaipur for a flight to visit my friend Mickey in Pune. Well, if you could call this "lying." Basically, I'm crammed into a bed that's less than 2 feet wide and 5 and a half feet long, made even smaller by the fact that I also had to fit my giant backpack as well as my daypack and my purse in here with me. I am literally bouncing four to five inches into the air every few minutes, and I am closed in by a sliding tinted window that's meant to be for privacy but really, I think it's the only thing keeping me from bouncing off my bed and into the aisle below. To top it all off, I decided to try and type out this very blog on my iPod between bounces, because I knew I had been neglecting you, my sweet devoted fans.
A lot has happened since we last talked, so let me catch you up. I spent a glorious week soaking up sun on Koh Chang, an island in Thailand. I did manage to try half a happy shake. I would have had a whole one, but the guy who picked them up forgot mine, so while another friend shared his with me, the guy went back on his scooter to get mine...AFTER chugging his. BIG mistake. My happy shake ended up splattered on the road, the scooter ended up smashed, and my poor friend ended up breaking his jaw in two places! Moral of the story: don't shroom and scooter. Half a happy shake didn't do much, but I did walk back to my guesthouse alone and caught the end of Sherlock Holmes with the Thai guys that live there, and let me tell you, in spite of everything I'd just seen (my poor friend was not a pretty picture), I was pretty damn happy to be watching what seemed to be one of the best movies ever, even though I'd missed the first hour and a half and the voices kept switching from English to dubbed in Thai, because of the lightening storm rolling in. Pretty damn happy to be watching Sherlock freaking Holmes, for Pete's sake!
After Koh Chang, I went back to Bangkok, picked up my visa for India, and a week later, flew to Delhi to meet Andrew, the guy I'd met in Laos.
Before I get into that, let me just take a break to brag that just now, I managed to unpack and repack my giant backpack to get to the warm flannel pj pants and long sleeve t-shirt at the very bottom, then change clothes, while bouncing like a popcorn kernel, all while wearing my trusty headlamp, because even though the air con in my bunk works all too well, the light doesn't work at all.
Now, back to Delhi...and Andrew. Well, it all seemed fine at first. We met up in Delhi where he had booked us into one of the shittiest of shitholes (pardon my French), but I didn't mind--it had a tiny tv and I found a couple cockroaches but no bed bugs. On the 3 and a half hours of sleep I'd had, he took me on about 8 hours of sight seeing, mostly on foot. I didn't want to be the whiny American so I powered through. Over the next week, we took 2 trains, 1 bus, saw 4 cities, at least 3 forts, and numerous other sights that I can't even remember because I was so freaking exhausted! I kept trying to tell him that it was too much, too fast and that I was going way over my daily budget, but he either wasn't listening or didn't care. By the time we got to Udaiper, the 4th stop, I had just shut down on him and had barely spoken a word in 2 and a half days. I mean, what's the point in talking to someone who won't listen?
To make matters worse, being a white girl in India is one of the biggest challenges I've faced on my journey so far. The first couple of days, I could make light of it, parts of it weren't too bad. Every little girl under 16, looks at me in awe and smiles like they'd just seen a famous Hollywood movie star. Men and women come up and ask if they can take a photo with me. Little schoolboys politely introduce themselves and then question both Andrew and I about our homelands. "Cause I'm a celebrity, woohoo," I would joke to Andrew. But it was the leering that got to me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that EVERY single man that we walked by in the first 3 cities would just stare at my chest as they passed us. The ones walking with their wife and children, the ones riding bicycles or driving rickshaws, the one's running food stands...EVERY single one, no matter how flattened and covered I kept them. At the tourist sites, men were constantly sneaking photos on their phones, some wouldn't even try to hide it. Working at at the front door of a strip club for 7 years helped me to ignore it for the first 3 or 4 days, but by about day 5 when we were out at night looking for a place to eat, and some man tried petting my back and shoulder while Andrew was busy gawking at some Bollywood movie theater (which also pissed me off because from the outside, it looked like any other freaking movie theater), I'd had enough. I lost it, bawled my eyes out, and ended up calling my grandma at home for the first time on this whole trip, to calm me down. She did her best of course, because she is awesome, but it was too late-- I was hating India and I was hating Andrew.
Let me pause again to tell you that our bus just stopped for a half hour break to use the restroom, smoke cigarettes, and/or stock up on snacks, I was the one and only westerner among the three buslloads of people and one of only about 15 women all together. Needless to say, I drew quite a crowed as I stood there smoking a cig, surrounded by at least 30 men, ALL staring...and whispering, laughing, and occasionally pointing. You'd think I was standing there naked as a jay bird, instead of covered fully by the long sleeved t-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms I so artfully put on earlier.
And with that, I must say, to be continued. It's 1:30 in the morning, I'm tired, and my iPod battery is running low. Hopefully, I have wi-fi tomorrow so I can publish this and brain power enough to whip up part two. I'll add some pics now of some of India's finer points, including nome other than than...the Taj Mahal! I love you all, and I promise to pick this up where I left off in the next few days.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Foreign relations

Ok, I'd like to take this blog to discuss a few other topics besides where I'm at and what I've been doing, but since I don't want to let down my adoring fans (32 now, I think!), here's the short version:
Took the slow boat to Laos, where I rode elephants, went tubing, drank a lot, and learned to kayak. On a day when I was deciding between getting the extended 60 day visa to go back in to Thailand or go straight from Laos to Vietnam and Cambodia and wishing I had someone else to do all the planning and decision making, an Australian friend was wishing for a travel partner to go to India with, so BAM! India is back on the itinerary! Took the night train back to Bangkok to secure my Indian visa and now I'm hanging out on the Thai island of Koh Chang until April 7th when I will head back to Bangkok to pick up my visa and wait for my flight to India on the 11th.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah, Facebook. On behalf of myself and all my fellow backpackers, I'd like to thank Mark Zuckerberg for creating Facebook. I've heard some say, "I don't know what backpackers did before the Internet." But more than the Internet alone, Facebook has had a huge impact on backpacking and I don't know how we survived without it. With only email, my grandma would have only heard from me every few weeks, and a few close friends would have heard from me even less. I would have come home to missed birthdays and babies, new jobs, new relationships, new homes. Earlier in this blog, I said that I didn't plan to contact home too often while I was gone, and I take it all back. I have enjoyed bringing all of my friends and family members along for the ride as much as they have loved coming. On the rare bad or lonely day, it's been comforting to know that I can simply log on and complain, and almost instantly, my friends back home are there to cheer me up. Gone are the days when I would have had to send a pathetic tearful email and waited for hours, if not days, for the recipient to see and respond. It has also opened up a whole new line of connection with fellow travelers. I'm sure before Internet, if you made a new friend on the road, you exchanged addresses, vowed to stay pen pals for life, wrote once a month for a while, then slowed to once a year before eventually losing contact all together. Email may have prolonged this a bit, but Facebook has given a more realistic option to being able to stay "friends forever." Not to mention it has helped tremendously while I'm still traveling. I can go to a new town or country, and by updating my status, my fellow travelers can suggest good cheap places to stay, or even meet me at my destination because they are headed there, too. I have not met one single backpacker who didn't have Facebook. There is a term "flashpacker," used to disdainfully refer to the type of traveler who carries a suitcase with wheels instead of a backpack, wears a full face of makeup to go on the organized "trek" they paid hundreds of dollars to join, always stays in private rooms because the idea of sharing a dorm or even a bathroom is beneath them, and carries an armload of electronics to stay connected to the western world they paid so much to leave behind. But even the dirtiest, smelliest, hippiest backpacker can be found hunkered up in a hammock, updating their Facebook status and loading a new profile picture. So thanks Mark Zuckerberg, the backpacker community owes you big.
I'd also like to talk about the lack of American travelers. I have met tons of Germans, hoards of Australians, and plenty of English, Dutch, and Swedes. But with the exception of one magical moment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when there were 7 of us at once, I very rarely run into fellow Americans, and even rarer still, American females. Most Americans use the excuse, "I can't afford it," even though we are considered to be possibly the richest country in the world. "I don't have the time," is another good one since I'm sure we have the highest population of tv watching couch potatoes, myself included of course. And "I can't do it while the children are young," seems just plain silly considering how many giant families of Australians and English I've seen trotting their kids around Thailand, through the streets of Laos, and dining in Bali. It's no more dangerous than a trip to Walt Disney World or Hawaii, and probably cheaper these days than the gas it would take to get a motor home across America for a summer trip to the beach...and a lot more culturally rewarding and educational. Sure, I could easily be considered a hypocrite since I was able to afford this by living rent free for nearly a year, but I guarantee, I'll never get that lucky again, and I have no intention of letting this be my last great trip. A little less shopping, a few more meals cooked at home, and foregoing expensive cable channels is really all it will take. So, what are YOU waiting for?
Finally, I'd like to address the opinions other western countries have of's not good. It's often been suggested (especially in the George W. Bush era) that Americans tell other travelers they are Canadian. Some even go so far as to sew a Canadian flag patch on their backpack! When another westerner (someone from a non-Asian country) hears my accent, the polite thing to ask is, "Are you Canadian?" Not because they can actually tell the difference between a Canadian and American accent, but because they would never want to offend some poor sweet Canadian by accusing them of being an obnoxious American! I even have a friend who whenever asked where she is from, quickly follows up her answer of " America," with the disclaimer, "but I am moving to Australia." Now, I'm not some intensely patriotic American girl who thinks my country is the only one worth living in. I think it's a big beautiful world, and who knows where I'll end up? But no matter what my forwarding address becomes or how many digits are in my phone number, I'll always be American, and denying that seems as pointless as denying that I have brown eyes or giant size 10 feet. I would much rather change people's perspective. My English friend Emma once told me in Chiang Mai, "Sandi, I'm really glad I got to meet you and some of the others, because until now, I had a pretty poor opinion of Americans based on the few that I'd met. You guys have really changed my outlook on Americans." BEST COMPLIMENT EVER. So get out here and help me change the world's opinion..and if I haven't convinced you to go buy a ticket yet, here's a few pictures that may help...