'Round the World Baby! Part 2
(Part 2) Quit our jobs, sold everything, began travelling east and keep travelling east!
Italy, Egypt, Dubai, India
So I still can't eat dairy. I don't know why I try and then learn the hard way every time. Jerry and I spent a couple of nights at a hostel right next to the Vatican. The views were amazing and it wasn't a long walk to the ruins and Colosseum, Spanish steps etc. Jerry and I had a beer in front of St. Peter's cathedral and cheers-ed all of our Catholic friends! One night we had dinner near the Spanish Steps and the antipasto plate had
tons of cheese on it...so I had a little (I'm lactose intolerant). Had a bowl of cheese-less pasta and some bread...and a bite of Jerry's cheesy pizza. Then I gave in! Walked around and back towards our hostel to an all night pastry shop and had the BIGGEST piece of Tiramisu. BIG MISTAKE! The next day we decided to walk to the Colosseum and every 20 minutes I had to find a bathroom. On bathroom number three, I followed a guy towards the WC, down some stairs and the whole time I was thinking, "there better be two toiletts mister or I'm going to tackle you or shit outside the door!". It was brutal. I admired the Colosseum with sweat on my brow and a crampy tummy. I think I lost about 5lbs that day.
We decided to move hostels to a camp site outside of Rome. It reminded me of the caravan parks in Australia - same set up. It was great, there was a little market and a restaurant. We had our own cabin with the best, hottest shower. We walked to a local market and bought some produce and then to a grocery store where we had the idea of buying those huge aluminum lasagna dishes, some coals, and tinfoil. Each night we cooked a little hot meal on our homemade bbq! It was totally genius! And terrible for the environment....ooops. Needless to say, we saved so much money on the new accomdations and buying our groceries that we were able to eat and drink like kings! We even had carpacio one night! It was the best ever.
On Thanksgiving Day we left Rome for India. I was super homesick and just feeling funny about something. I had a bad vibe and couldn't figure out what it was. Anyway, check in was fine - we got on the plane and headed for Mumbaii with a quick stop over in Egypt. We got to Egypt and our plane was very late taking off so we discovered that we missed our flight to Mumbaii. However, they told us that they would put us up in a hotel for the night and we could catch a flight to Mumbaii via Dubai the next day. The Officals at the transit desk seemed organized at first but after waiting for 3 hours and seeing other people confused and upset - things started to go downhill. First of all we had to give them our passports so that they could issue a transit visa to allow us to leave the airport for the hotel. We saw our passports being walked from one desk to another and back again. About 5 men were all working on this and they seemed to be joking and laughing amonst themselves but whenever anyone went up to ask them questions they were very short and treated us like idiots - like we should already know the answer. Finally, they took us to another desk and called our names out - gave us a voucher and sent us out of the airport. At this point I was FREAKING out because no one got their passports back or their luggage. No one could tell me where our bags were or why they kept our passports. Next thing I knew we were being herded out the door into Egypt and on to a bus sans passports!
They took us directly to a hotel close to an airport so that was a good sign. The people at the hotel were a 1000 times more helpful and explained to us what we were to do the next day regarding our shuttle back to the airport and where to get our boarding passes etc. We even got a wake up call the next day and were able to enjoy the buffet breakfast. It was HUGE and everything you could possibly imagine eating for breakfast was all beautifully presented infront of us. It was our Thanksgiving dinner and the service was incredible. The whole hotel experience totally made up for the airport experience. The next day was just better all around. My bad vibe had gone away and things just felt more positive. We caught the shuttle back to the airport and got our passports back including our boarding passes and off we went onto the plane to Dubai. I had my face PRESSED against the window to see the pyramids but couldn't see them. Next time I guess.
Dubai airport was incredible! The bathrooms were super posh and clean and there was this little spray disinfectant dispenser thingy to wipe your toilette seat clean before each use...and some sort of shower head thing??? I have no idea what that was for! The people at the check in counter spoke perfect english and were more than helpful and clear. There was free internet and lots of places to eat. It was a strange little metropolis airport world surrounded by desert and nothingness and a huge, dusty, rich city on the horizon.
We borded a very empty Air India plane a few hours later. The plane was decorated in browns, oranges and reds and the flight attendants wore saris and they were absolutely gorgeous women. We got curry for dinner!!!! Soooooo good! Also, the flight attendant informed me that I could have TWO gin and tonics if I wanted! I must have looked stressed or maybe she was preparing me for what lay ahead. We landed in Mumbaii and rode a pre-paid taxis to our hostel. Everything worked out perfectly. The ride to the hostel was NUTS! The taxi drive almost ran over about 30 poeple! Mumbaii is a mixture of any crazy foreign city I've ever been to...amplfied! Throw in a little Mad Max (yeah that movie with Tina Turner - I know!)....lots of colours, lots of horrible smells, and lots and LOTS of people everywhere. We stayed in Colaba which is near the gateway to India. One day we walked to CST (big - amazing gothic train station) and bought our tickets for Aurangabad near Ajanta. Then we watched cricket at the Oval Maiden and when we saw a huge dark sky moving in we decided it would be a good idea to find a place to eat near our hostel. During dinner the sky OPENED up and we experienced the most violent thunder and lightning storm EVER. Jerry is from Thunder Bay and he said he had never seen anything like that before. Finished dinner and got DRENCHED walking two blocks to our hostel, crossing flooded streets wearing our flip flops and walking through god knows what in the water. Got to the hotel and I immediately washed my feet! I was pretty grossed out! I do not know what I was washing off! Then cracked open the gin and had a Bombay Saphire in Bombay India!! Off to Ajanta for a few days then train to Varanasi, then to Pokhara, Nepal!
More India - Oh boy!
Well it really feels like you are travelling when you are in India. The culture shock is immense. The best way I can describe it is that it is like going to the gym. You are hot and sweaty, it doesn't smell really nice, you don't make eye contact with anyone because chances are they want to try to sell you someone or perhaps they think you are available!!!, it's hard to breathe, it's dirty and so on....but then there's the other side of the analogy, once you are done your workout you feel better, you're glad you went, maybe you met someone and they said something new and inspiring, you can't wait to go back again and work out and be sweaty.
India is up and down and up and down. It's the worst smell you'll ever smell followed by the best smell you'll ever smell. It's the dirtiest, grungiest thing you've ever witnessed followed by the cleanest, most decorated, most beautiful thing you'll ever see. There is no in between! NO MIDDLE GROUND!
We spent a few days in Mumbai getting our bearings straight and booked a train for Aurangabad which is a city near Ellora and Ajanta caves. Our train left early in the morning and we left our hotel at 5am. We took a taxi to the train station and Mumbai was like a ghost town! There were no people ANYWHERE! It was the eeriest thing. So quiet too, I couldn't help but whisper. We found our platform just fine and boarded the train. It was pretty empty to start with but every stop it got busier and busier and more squished and more crowded. Our bench with a 3 seat capacity turned into a 5, 6, 7.5 capacity and there were people standing up in the aisles and hanging out the windows and doors! It made for a very, very long train ride with not much moving around or you'd lose your seat!
On the train there seemed to be a family all sitting together. We had packed a bit of food for the journey and enough to tie us over but not complete meals. I guess the family clued in on this and every time they pulled out food, lunch, whatever from their bags they made us eat some of it with them. There really wasn't any choice! I'd say no thank you about 4 times and shake my head and they would just put the food in my hands and watch me until I ate every last bit of it! It was pretty good food though; chapati and some kind of curry to dip it in. One was green and had rice in it and the other was very salty and it looked like it had dried chillies. When it was time to get off the train, the family left so fast that I didn't get a chance to thank them. Then I realized why they left so fast - just as many people were trying to leave the train as were trying to get on the train. It was like a cattle run with two directions. I side swiped so many old ladies with my huge back pack! It was crazy.
Aurangabad was quieter than Mumbaii but not by much. Once we found a hotel we walked to some caves that were just outside the city. They weren't as well preserved as the Ajanta and Ellora caves but they were easy to get to so we decided to check them out. We hiked up a little mountain and just around the corner were these huge caves carved right into the mountain. Inside, most of them had huge carved Buddhas! There were other carvings and some of the details were so intricate and delicate. We got to the second string of caves and we were told that we only had about 10 minutes to check them out before sunset. We started to explore them and out of nowhere this man shows up with a flash light and he was so enthusiastic about the details of the caves! He guided us through each cave, pointing out what all the carvings meant in very very broken english. His eyes would grow wider and his voice louder when he was really excited about something. We gave him some money but really not very much (about 2 dollars). When he was finished, he acted like we just made his year with our small contribution. He was the happiest little Indian man! It was a pretty good feeling considering you have to ignore pretty much everyone, everywhere you go because chances are your money/donations isn't going directly to them (but sometimes it's really hard to ignore a dirty little girl with a crying baby in her arms).
The next few days we explored other caves, Ellora and Ajanta. Check them out! Before our trip to India I didn't even know they existed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellora_Caves
I think it took something like 200 years to complete the main cave structure. It was incredible. These are the Ajanta caves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajanta_Caves
These caves have paintings in them that date around the 2nd century BC! At the far side of the caves, we went for a hike and discovered a 6 or 7 tier waterfall (I can't remember exactly how many tiers but there were a lot!). It was so beautiful and old - carved out and eroded over centuries. It makes you realize how "new" our waterfalls are back home.
After the caves we wanted to travel to Varanasi as soon as possible. We decided to get on a sleeper train which took about 22 hours! It was pretty comfortable and a lot less crowded than our first train experience. I almost finished a 700 page novel and managed to get quite a bit of sleep. Finally we arrived in Varanasi. Outside the train station the taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers were quite aggressive and the horns and dust was obnoxious. It was a slap in the face. We were pretty overwhelmed and decided we would walk to the Ghats where all the hotels were. Monsoon season was just over so along the ghats were enormous amounts of caked mud and workers were trying to remove it by washing it away. It was horrifically dirty - garbage, mud, things I couldn't identify. I was impatient and wanted to find a hotel as soon as possible and get away from the horrible mess. Jerry wanted to stay at the place that he stayed at years before because he said the view was amazing. I really didn't care at this point! So I freaked out and as soon as we got to the hotel I immediately washed my feet and legs in the shower - had a nap on the bed, got up and went back out to the rooftop balcony and THEN I realized what I had just missed. The VIEW! The view was crazy! All the ghats are built along the water and up from them are buildings built on a slope so there are many rooftop terraces that are level with the streets of the city and the buildings are built down from that towards the river. The river creates a sort of mist and, along with the pollution, was the most interesting orange colour. At night the colours change from green to blue to purple. It's a weird phenomenon. So my first impression was pretty awful but in time all of that changed and I ended up loving Varanasi.
We ate well! Food seemed to get cheaper the further east we travelled. We bought a few clothes: light cotton pants and a few shirts for trekking in Nepal later on. We went for a boat ride to see the burning ghats and we spent most of our time sitting at the biggest, main ghat people watching. It was the most interesting city I've every been to, ever. It's incredibly entertaining just watching daily life!
After Varanasi we traveled by train to the closest town near the border and then by bus to the border of Nepal and India. We got our exit stamps for India and proceeded across on foot to Nepal. In Nepal we got our Visas without a hitch. We decided to take a night bus to Pohkara which turned out to be pretty comfortable. No semi-cama compared to South America but it was decent. At about 2am I woke up to see sheet lightning across the sky and although it was dark I could see that we were climbing steep slopes and switch backing a lot. The sheet lighting would light up the mountains and I could see the views. It was so exciting to see mountains again, even in the night and these mountains made the Rockies look like baby mountains!
We arrived in Pohkara in the middle of the night and we had previously arranged for someone to pick us up and take us to our hotel. The next day we woke up and walked around and had breakfast. Pohkara is like a resort town so there are lots of white faces and every restaurant has pretty much anything you could ever imagine on their menu. It was a nice treat being there for a few days before trekking and we pampered ourselves with eggs and coffee and Mexican food before heading into the mountains where there was only tea and dhal bat. Near the city there was a small hike up to a pagoda and along the way we saw a huge family of monkeys!
One can easily spend a lot of time in Pohkara because everything is so easy and accommodating and relaxing. However after a few days we were also anxious to go trekking and see the villages in the mountains and discover ancient monuments in hidden in the valleys.
Annapurna Circuit here we come!