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aWay Around



One persons way around and about the world.



Last Build Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 15:45:53 PDT

 



Mekong Boat Tour - Chau Doc

Wed, 09 May 2007 07:33:50 PDT

The Mekong boat tour was about the same as all the other boat tours I've been on so far: 20 people crammed on to a slow, puttering vessel observing the scenery, reading, etc. The first half (the Cambodian side) was pretty standard, then we stopped for lunch and immigration and a quick meal before getting on another boat on the Vietnam side. This boat had a really nice and friendly guide named San. Clint started chatting with her and by the end of the boat trip and arrival in Chau Doc San had invited us out for Karaoke later that night.

We checked into a great, clean, comfortable room that was included in our 'tour package' but otherwise $6/night...probably the best room I'd stayed in during my time in SE Asia up to that point, certainly for $6. We caught a rickshaw driver to take us to a local Pho noodle soup place, where for $1 each we got a big bowl of beef noodle soup(it would turn out to be one of the best I had in Vietnam) plus a Coke. Not too shabby.

After dinner we hooked up with San and a Danish couple also from the boat and we went to the house of two kids that San is tutoring in English and we all practiced English together. From there we headed to Karaoke. We got a private room with our own Karaoke system and San and her brother lead off with Vietnamese song. It took me a while to get up the nerve but I finally decided to give 'Benny and the Jets' a shot...what a mistake. I quickly realized that I knew little more than the chorus and totally butchered the rest, trying to rapidly speak them as they flashed on the screen. At least Clint got some good video of it and I still managed to score an 83! We spent a couple of hours at the karaoke and all really got into it by the end of the night. The Danish girl turned out to have a great voice and I was really surprised at how San and her brother knew the words to many American songs that I had never even heard of. I also noticed that the Vietnamese love the echo effect on the microphone.

The following day we concluded our 'tour' with a visit to a local 'cham minority village' where they weave and sell things, a swing by the local mosque, and a stop at a floating fish farm, and then it was back on the bus to head up to Saigon.

Photos: Chau Doc



Camera

Wed, 09 May 2007 07:01:47 PDT

After dinner and the New Years celebration we were walking back to our guest house along the main riverside street and chatting when all of a sudden I felt my camera being pulled from my shoulder. I turned around immediately and started running and yelling after the thief. First I followed him through traffic and to the other side of the street and almost as soon as we'd crossed he dashed back into the traffic and to the first side, again Clint and I followed with little to no look in either direction. Clint and I must have been gaining because suddenly I saw my camera case fly up and hit the ground in front of me and send my camera bouncing along the sidewalk. Luckily, everything was still there and aside from a few new dents and scratches the camera wasn't damaged. The experience certainly got the adrenaline pumping.

We spent the rest of the night cooling down and playing cards and the following morning caught the Mekong boat that we'd meant to take the day before.



Penom Penh Redux

Wed, 09 May 2007 07:03:03 PDT

Clint and I got back to Penom Penh and got a room at the 'Okay' guest house, spent the day seeing the inner-city sites, the palace and national museum, both of which were what you might expect. I ended up spending most of the museum time sitting on a bench in the garden observing museum goers and the lotus ponds. The palace was somewhat interesting, with lots of buddha statues that had been taken and buried in the forest during the Khmer Rouge, as well as a 'silver pagoda' whose floor consisted of 3000+ tiles made entirely of silver, each weighing ~1-2kgs.

We had planned to catch a boat down the Mekong River the following day but I woke with a start that morning, just 30mins before departure, with the realization that my Vietnam visa wasn't valid for another day. So instead we stayed another day in Penom Penh mostly lazing about, and had planned to spend all day that way but were convinced by an enterprising young rickshaw driver to go down to the Wat Penom to celebrate the Cambodian New Year. We had been aware that it was 'new year' weekend but had been surprised at how quiet things were, and had decided it was more of a family time.

From the driver's description it sounded like the only people that would be down at the wat were the small group of loners that didn't have any family in town that they could visit, so we were a bit surprised when we arrived and the park was packed with people, young, old and everyone in between. Similar to other Asian and Indian celebrations, for New Years the Cambodians throw baby powder and water on each other as part of the celebrations; needless to say it only took about 5 minutes for Clint and Ito get our first dousing of powder. Our rickshaw driver had come into the park with us to show us around and he quickly had us buy two bottles of powder to join in on the dispensing.

At first I was a bit skittish about getting powdered and doing any powdering but that soon wore off and before long we were both fairly well covered in powder and doing our fair bit of dispensing. Apparently this powdering has been a tradition for a long time but this year the government was trying to discourage it, we never found out why exactly. At one point a police officer came up with a sour look and snatched the bottle of powder out of my hand and threw it in the garbage; it was at this point that our driver decided to tell us that the powdering was 'not allowed' this year.

During our walking around Clint braved to try a friend cricket and I decided to give cockroach a shot, I have to say that it was better than the cricket, more crunchy but not as salty.

Photos: Penom Penh



Angkor Wat

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 06:18:44 PDT

The day after Clint's arrival we caught the 6hr bus up to Siem Reap to see the renowned Angkor Wat temples, spending most of the day in transit. The next day we were up at 4:30am to make it to main temple in time for sunrise, which was anticlimactic thanks to a few rain clouds but worth it none-the-less. As the sky lightened and the rain began to fall we ducked into the and spent a couple of hours wandering the corridors, exploring the various rooms, climbing stairs, and staying dry. Despite the large number of tourists the temple was so large that it was fairly easy to find secluded spots away from the masses.

At such an early hour we hadn't really thought about the possibility of rain and so were without rain jackets when the downpour started. It was a bit prohibitive to our site seeing at first but we were thankful for it later as it kept the heat of the day at bay. Of the 20 or so temples (a number I vaguely remember and could be making up) in the area we managed to squeeze in a good 5 or so. The temples were absolutely amazing with the standouts being the Bayon temple (my favorite), with over 100 giant heads carved into the temple and the 'Tomb Raider' temple (where the movie was filmed apparently)which has been largely been overrun with large trees growing from the walls. We had planned to spend sunrise to sunset temple viewing but by 2pm were fairly well exhausted and headed back into town.

Feeling tired and achy Clint suggested we get a massage, so we found a small place and each threw down $6 for an hour long massage. I have to say that after my massage in India I was a bit disappointed; the massage felt as if hundreds of crabs were clawing at me and all I could think was 'how can people think this is enjoyable? surely no one does'... of course afterward Clint's first words were of how amazingly good that massage felt.

Photos: Angkor Wat



Penom Penh

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 19:03:33 PDT

After heading back from the island to Penom Penh I rendezvoused with my buddy Clint. We hit the ground running and on the first day spent the afternoon sightseeing . First we drove to the 'killing fields', a morbid site but one that I admit I felt fairly desensitized to. At one point our guide showed us a tree where soldiers of the Khmer Rouge would smash babies head's to kill them; it's a strange experience going as a 'tourist' to a place where people were killed en masse, one gets caught between wondering if being there and being aware of what happened is of importance and that I 'should know' by seeing it or if it's commercializing and in so doing trivializing the tragedy.

From the killing fields we stopped at the Stung Treng aka S-21, an old school turned prison that was notorious during the genocide for torture and killings and from which a lot of people were transferred to the killing fields. Another depressing site, mostly of rooms containing old rusted beds where prisoners were held or photographs of what went on there. We tried watching a documentary about the site but heat and fatigue caught up with us, so we called it a day.

Photos: Penom Penh



Cambodian Coast - Bamboo Island

Sat, 14 Apr 2007 01:46:42 PDT

Before Clint showed up I decided I needed to rest up a bit for the flurry of tourist activity that he was going to want to do. To that end I decided to head straight out of Penom Penh the day after my arrival and down to the southern coast and ended up at the small coastal town of Sihounakville. I stayed in my $8 oceanside bungalow for two days but decided that even this wasn't relaxed enough for me and so I caught a boat to Bamboo Island, an hours ride away. Bamboo island turned out to be just what I needed; there are only two sets of 10 bungalows each, one on each side of the island...nice and remote/rustic but still with a great restaurant serving good food.

I was planning on doing nothing but resting in a hammock for a few days but my second day there I was surprised by Vered and Chris who I'd traveled through Laos with but had separated from a few days before when they headed up to Angkor Wat. Our time was pretty simple, for the next few days all we did was lay on the beach, snorkel (I finally got to test out my underwater camera case), chat, and eat. By the time I headed back to Penom Penh to pick up Clint from the airport I was energized and ready for tourism.

Photos: Bamboo Island



Latest books

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 05:26:24 PDT

I have managed to make my way through a few more books, but will confess I'm unmotivated to write any half-hearted reviews, but I will say that they were all entertaining and worth the read. Click the links for more details:



Pakse, the Four Thousand Islands, and in to Cambodia

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 05:11:41 PDT

After five days in Vang Vieng we decided to head south, skipping Vientienne (the capital) and heading straight down to Pakse, a 14+hr bus ride that included a 4hr breakdown in the middle of the night. Pakse wasn't much to speak of, besides hot. When we finally arrived it was boiling and we stopped at the first guest house we came to. Half of the group quickly decided to head out the next morning for the 'Four Thousand Islands' further south. Chris, Vered, and I decided to stick out one full day in Paske and spent the day exploring two nearby waterfalls that were amazing. No one else was there and we hiked and swam the day away.

The day after our waterfall adventure we followed the others down to the 'Four Thousand Islands' which are literally thousands of big and small islands near the Cambodian border in the widest part of the Mekong river. I had been planning to stay in the islands for for several days but the heat was stifling. The first day was spent swimming in the river, which felt like a warm bath, getting fried by the sun and laying in a hammock. Again, the others decided to quickly move on. Not to to be undone Chris and I decided to stay another full day and spent it cruising heavy, vintage bikes around the island and taking a boat ride out to a rock in the middle of the scorching heat in an attempt to catch a sight of the rare fresh water irrawady dolphins that inhabit that part of the Mekong. I can say that we caught glimpses of far off sprays of water but might have been looking at the Loch Ness monster. Despite the oppressive heat we made a full day of it, but early the next day hopped another 14hr bus into Cambodia. After three fun filled weeks of traveling together we split in Penom Penh; Chris heading up to see the magnificent Angkor Wat and I heading down to the coast to spend a few days at the beach before my buddy Clint arrives and he and I hit the Cambodia tourist circuit.

Photos: Pakse, Four Thousand Islands



Vang Vieng

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 04:54:50 PDT

Vang Vieng is a fairly small town that resembles a slice of Bangkok's Khoa San Road that was just dropped in the middle of nowhere...things here seem to largely (entirely?) be driven by tourism (mostly drunken tubing down the river) and the eating and drinking that comes with it. The town/vilalge consists of about 2 main roads full of restaurants that play movies or reruns of friends constantly, a couple of internet cafes and tour operators, and of course guest houses...that's about the extent of it.

On our first day there we got a late start (a disadvantage of such a large group; at this point our group had grown to 8 people), but did get our tubes and hit the water close to 2pm, after a stop at a nearby organic farm for a tasty noon-time breakfast. It didn't take us long (about 200 meters) to find a spot along the bank with a huge rope swing, bar/restaurant, volley ball courts, and places to lounge. We stopped here and spent close to 2 hours enjoying all that was on offer.

The day had been a warm if slightly overcast one but soon after we started rolling again the sky quickly (within 10 mins) turned sinister (before and after). The wind picked up, blowing leaves and dust everywhere, and the next thing we knew we were caught in a freezing, heavy downpour. Thunder and lightening quickly made an appearance at which point we decided it might be worth getting out of the water. We scrambled up a small bank and began a long, cold walk along a small road towards what we hoped would be the main road. Out of nowhere came a tuk-tuk who offered to drive us all back for about $1 each, which we hurriedly agreed to. It was only once we had been driving for a few mins that we realized how far from the main road we really were (about 2km) and how fortuitous the tuk-tuk was. We also noticed that the tuk-tuk was leaking something and so had to pile out and push more than once along the way. We were glad to get back to warm showers.

We ended up spending five days in total in Vang Vieng mostly doing nothing. Our second to last day we had a spontaneous fish bbq, which generally being an organized person I admit I was skeptical of its success, but turned out great. We bought fresh fish and other food (including fake oreos) at a local market, found a small spot on the banks of the river, wrapped the fish in banana leaves, grilled and ate them with some homemade salsa and baguettes. We must have been quite an oddity as lots of locals and kids (one, two, three) came by to watch and offer help (a knife and mats to sit on) and we shared our food with them. What a great day.

Photos: Vang Vieng



Luang Prabong

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 04:06:32 PDT

The city of Luang Prabong had a great atmosphere and pace, with wide streets with lots of restaurants, cafes and shops and most things within walking distance, surprisingly even a bowling alley(!); it was not at all what I expected to find in the middle of Laos.

Chris and I made several friends on the second day's slow boat (who we would end up traveling with for about 10 days) and on our first day in Luang Prabong we all caught a tuk-tuk out to town to explore a series of nearby waterfalls; the color of the water reminded me a lot of the waters at the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. We did some hiking around and rewarded our efforts with a dip in the brisk water and some fun on a rope-swing.

On the way back to town our tuk-tuk blew its front and back driver-side tires and our driver narrowly avoided rolling us over. Luckily because there were so many of us we were traveling in two tuk-tuks each with a spare...unluckily one of the spares was flat, so we ended up waiting an hour or so for a similar make tuk-tuk to come past with a spare they were willing to part with.

We spent half of day two walking the wide streets, enjoying the atmosphere and seeing some of the city's temples, at this point I was getting pretty templed out and so only went to the few that were free. And then it was time to press on to Vang Vieng.

Photos: Luang Prabong



Slow Boat

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 03:51:50 PDT

We made the cross into Laos without event; made the short boat ride across the river, got my visa and stamps, and walked 20mins down to the dock. By 9am I had navigated the circuitous ticket buying process and had a ticket for Chris and I on the boat leaving at 11am. We boarded by 10am just in time to grab a two of the last bench seats at the back, an hour later people were still loading on with each bench holding two people and the aisle packed. Just when we would think 'surely we are full' they would squeeze on more people. Finally close to noon, in the presence of much grumbling, the powers that be decided to use a second boat as well, docked next to ours. The scramble for the new seats became a free for all with lots of people jumping from one boat over to the next...of course I made the jump, and Chris and I snagged two plastic chairs, a significant upgrade from the wooden bench, however our luggage remained on boat 1.

The ride down the Mekong was nice, but would have been gorgeous had the inversion not been so bad. It was a crazy experience being on a long wooden boat as it was navigated through rapids and around sandbars, with a few narrow misses. Overall it was mostly a good time to catch up on some reading and swap travel stories with other travelers.

We pulled into the small town of Pakbeng around 6pm towards the end of daylight, but waited another 30mins for our bags to show up on the other boat. When the other boat did finally show, grabbing out bags was total chaos; we stood on a small ledge of jagged, crumbly rock waiting for a chance to hop over the small plank and onto the boat for a chance to look for our bags while at the same time people from the boat tried to diembark...all in the dark. Chris finally made it on to the boat for a look around and after 30mins or so of looking I discovered that two locals standing near by were wearing our bags and demanding to carry them up the short hill for money. I'm sorry to admit that after the long, hot day cultural insensitivity overwhelmed me and I lost it and started yelling at this guy who at first remained obstinate but finally dropped the bag. On the 5 min hike up the hill I had to say no to illicit drug offers about every 50ft, a record so far.

Day two on the slow boat saw everyone on one large boat. Unfortunately the inversion continued to be bad, at times to the extent that it was hard to see beyond the banks of the river. Evening found us in Luang Prabong.

Photos: Slow Boat



The Chiangs

Mon, 26 Mar 2007 05:07:11 PDT

After a few days of apathy in Bangkok it was time to move on. I decided to catch the overnight train up north to Chiang Mai. The train was considerably smaller than those in India and hot as blazes but still comfortable. About an hour before we reach Chiang Mai I started talking with my neighbor passenger, Chris, who turned out to be from San Diego and had been traveling for the past six months in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, mostly surfing. We ended up at a cheap guest house, $4/night, but were kicked out 2 days later when we didn't sign up with them for an over priced trek.

(image) Chris and I spent about four days in Chiang Mai getting late, lazy starts, walking around and viewing lots of the Temples throughout the city, and having a few 'Monk Chats' with local monks. We looked at a few multi-day trekking options but couldn't make up our minds and decided to try and find one further north of in Laos.

One day we rented scooters and drove out of town to Doi Sutep, a large temple on a hill. Sunday night we took in the large night market and some local cuisine including crickets, bamboo worms, and ant and bee omelettes, and I finally had my first thai massage...for the $5 it cost for an hour I can't really complain, but it was lacking any real method. When we arrived in Chiang Mai we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of pollution in the air, it turned out to be inversion ('An atmospheric condition in which the air temperature rises with increasing altitude, holding surface air down and preventing dispersion of pollutants') caused by slashing and burning that was going on in Laos. On day four the inversion became bad enough that we decided to head further north in an attempt to get away from it.

We ended up in Chiang Rai, halfway between Chiang Mai and the Laos border. Unfortunately for us the inversion proved even worse in Chiang Rai, and worse still there was nothing to do or see in the more expensive town...to paraphrase the Lonely Planet, 'Chaing Rai is more suited for living than visiting'.

(image) And so we headed out the next day to Chiang Khong and the Laos border. We got a room at the charmingly rustic 'Bamboo Guest House', with what would have been a great view of Laos sans pollution and where much to my surprise I had the best Mexican food I've had on this trip! A day wandering around Chiang Khong and breathing in the increasingly worse inversion was enough to see everything and push us to cross the border into Laos.

Photos: Chiang Mai, Chiang Khong



Into the Wild

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 03:13:55 PDT

Towards the end of my time in Kerala, having run out of reading material, some fellow travelers were nice enough to pass along 'Into the Wild' by Jon Krakauer. The book had come highly recommended from them but based on the short description on the back I didn't have especially high expectations. I ended up being pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be so good that I ended up reading it all on my ferry ride through the backwaters. It's the true story about a man that graduates from college and decides he wants to live more freely and to that end he donates what money, abandons all his possessions save a small backpack, and he spends two years hitch-hiking around the US before ending up in Alaska to go into the wild and live off the land and ultimately ends up not making it out alive. It's a pretty quick read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in travel, the outdoors, or looking for a good story.



Getting out in Bangkok

Fri, 09 Mar 2007 01:49:14 PST

Five days in Bangkok and I finally motivated myself enough to get out and do a little exploring. The day before I had dropped by the American embassy to get a refill on my passport pages and then dropped my passport off at the Vietnam embassy to get my visa taken care of. I figured I'd walk towards the Vietnam embassy and then stop by the 'Siam Center' (a giant shopping center I saw the day before from the taxi) on the way back. I made the mistake of waiting until mid-day to get started, and then rather than consult any map at the onset I figured I could retrace the route the taxi had taken the previous night when it dropped me back from the embassy. As a result I got fairly lost and spent 2 1/2hrs walking around in 100 degree heat, but I did get to see a bit of the city. I did finally make it to the embassy, just in time to pickup my passport before it closed at 4pm, and then caught the skytrain over to the 'Siam Center'...

The 'Siam Center' was an amazing conglomeration of several giant malls all in one place and all linked by large sky-bridges that let you go from one to the next to the next without ever having to go back down to the ground. I spent about 4-5hrs just wandering and wondering around at this place. As a result of my time there I'm going to have to revise one of my previous observations...the young white guys with thai girls are severely overshadowed by the old and entirely unattractive white guys, most of whom seem to be American, with beautiful Thai women on their arms. While at the Siam Center I did manage to stumble into some runway modeling going on for the 'Mango' store, pick out a few Bently's for sale on the top floor, see the tiny new Sony palm-top computer, have some iced-coffee from Starbucks, grab dinner at the 'Lee Cafe', see some crazy cartoon characters decorating the walls of one mall, and cross about 10 different sky bridges without setting foot on the ground. A tiring day...I still hate shopping I realized.

I also had my first close up encounter with a ladyboy who sat down next to me in an internet cafe, reaking of too much cheap makeup, stale cigarettes, and fruit juice, who later tried to grab my arm outside the cafe as I was leaving...I was nice in my rebuff this time, but I won't rule out a freak out if that continue's to happen.

Another observation: compared to those in India, the auto-rickshaws here are like trading in a push-mower for a suped-up limo-length riding mower built by 'tim the toolman', not only can I lay back and stretch out as we fly down the road at 80km/hr...I watched the guy next to us wheely his!

Photos: Bangkok



Bangkok

Tue, 06 Mar 2007 21:22:27 PST

It's been a few days in Bangkok and I confess I've done pretty much next to nothing. I wake up late in my tiny hotbox of a room, eat some scrambled eggs, wander around the streets, read and write, eat the occassional street food (pad thai, mangoes and sticky rice), surf the web, and sleep. It's been nice. It's so much calmer here and I've enjoyed just relaxing it in a bit. The only excitement to speak of was my first nights battle with bedbugs (surprisingly my first of the entire trip), which resulted in me having to switch hotels in the middle of the night, but was fairly easily resolved thankfully.

I have yet to see a single tourist attraction and so photos have been few. I have been stuck here for a few more days than expected while I got additional passport pages and my Vietnam visa which will be ready today. Then I'm off to the north for a bit.



Hyderabad to Bangkok

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 05:29:27 PST

The next day when I arrived in Hyderabad Josh's driver Steven (who has an affinity for the 'backstreet boys' or at least playing it while I'm in the car) was there to greet me with his big smile. Josh was kind enough to let me crash at his apartment for one night before my flight to Bangkok, despite being back in the US himself. It was nice to sit in front of the TV watching movies and eating pizza and doing nothing for a night.

Steven took me to the airport at 11am for my 1:30pm flight and I big him farewell and went to check in, only to discover that the flight had been changed a couple of weeks before from 1:30pm to 11:55pm. When I realized that I would be stuck in India for 12 more hours a bit of the frustration I'd managed to hold off finally caught up with me. I wanted to be angry but realized I should have called to double check the time, so I stomped off to kill my day at an Internet cafe instead. On my way I did try to mail two postcards (that were already stamped) and was greeted with additional frustration as such a simple task was turned into 'mission impossible, with me walking from one shop to another and finally being directed to the 'speed post' office, only to have them redirect me to the actual post office. The post office turned out to be at the back of what appeared to be an abandoned building at the end of an obscure, small, non-descript, dirt side road with no signage. Several rickshaws, 2hours, and handfuls of Rupees later I finally got them in the mail.

I did head to the airport again at 9:45pm and it was total chaos, I can't really bring myself to describe it; it leaves me drained just thinking about fighting my way through the orderless entry, security check 1, check in, security check 2, and boarding. The only aspect with a semblance of order was the immigration. Of course once you've gone through immigration you can't go back to where Toilet 1 resides nor can you go through the second security check until called, on the other side of which Toilet 2 resides, so you're stuck in bladder purgatory, waiting and holding. I was almost forced to use my empty coke can which I still held thanks to there being no garbage cans until after security check 2. Fun stuff!

Arriving in Bangkok after an uneventful but tiring flight was a breath of fresh air; I was off the plane, through immigration, had my bag, cash from the ATM, a SIM card for my phone, and had found a place to stay using an Internet kiosk all within 30mins of landing.

My first impressions of Thailand: I haven't seen this many white people in a while; there are a somewhat surprising number of young white guys with Thai girls on their arms; this is going to be a lot easier than India.



Kathakali

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 05:04:09 PST

Around 6pm I made my way to the 'Kerala Kathakali Centre' to see a Kathakali which some fellow travelers had said was a must see while in Cochin and I have to say it was one of the funnest things I've seen in India. Essentially Kathakali is a dance form of story-telling that re-enacts Hindu epics. We started by watching the characters spend upwards of an hour apply their elaborate makeup, follwed by a brief introduction to what Kathakali is and then a demonstrations of some of the standard actions...'mother take care of your baby' being by far the most interesting. Finally a one hour performance of part of a story, about Lord Shiva testing a warrior, was performed. Apparently there are 112 stories in all and each one is 8-9hrs in length; the first 30mins or so of what we saw was very interesting and engaging but I started to drift after that, and I can't imagine watching it for 8-9hrs...very convoluted after a while.

Photos: Kathakali



Fort Cochin

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 04:43:35 PST

As soon as I started wandering around Fort Cochin the next afternoon I was immediately accosted by a rickshaw driver, this one offering to take me on a tour for an hour of all the sites for only 50 Rupees. I decided to take him up on it. I have to admit that he did a great job. First we stopped at the Santa Cruz Basilica, a church 500+yrs old built by the Portuguese, followed by a bit of driving and pointing things out, such as an old water tower. I noticed pretty quickly that he had a penchant for pointing out anything over 100+yrs old, no matter how obscure of run down, and then repeating and emphasizing the age. I finally caught on that I was supposed to be impressed by these old buildings, all the more so for the dilapidated ones (such as the big, rusty, tin shack that looked more like a garbage pile to me), and I started to ooh and ahh, which gave him a smile. Eventually we did end up at a small market down by the water where fishermen were still making use of giant 'Chinese fishing nets', although it looked like they were mainly successful in catching garbage and sewage than anything else. I'm still not sure why they are 'Chinese'.

From the fishing nets we went to a big warehouse/factory for ayurvedic medicines and treatments. In the main room there were big burlap sacks with material that looked like it was probably sold over the counter in scoopfuls. We also had a peek into the large store rooms further down the lane past more giant white sacks filled with who knows what. In these rooms were giant piles of everything from tree barks, to wax, to tar, shrubs, spices, sugar, etc...most of which I was told was for export to China for medicinal purposes.

Next we headed to another similar warehouse explicitly for drying, packing, and storing ginger for export. Here we saw massive piles of ginger being sorted by quality and spread out in long rows to dry in the sun and then put in large bags. I was told that 1KG of the best quality ginger there was 'very expensive' at 200Rupees...about $2.50. That wrapped up the 'official tour' but then of course came the 'shopping' which started with a tea and pickle store at the ginger warehouse (where I escaped buying only a little tea), followed by a giant shop where I was prodded toward buying gaudy jewelery and giant bronze scupltures but somehow managed to resist, and then on to a varitable strip-mall of spice and curio shops by which time I realized that all these stops gave my guide a chance to have tea with his buddies...and then we were done.

Photos: Cochin



The Night Rickshaw

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 04:27:39 PST

After the ferry arrived in Allepey I still needed to get up to Cochin, 65km away, somehow. I hopped a rickshaw to the train station and halfway there the driver offered to drive me all the way to Cochin himself. Realizing I could make it to Cochin before the train even showed to pick me up in Allepey I decided to pay the extra and take the rickshaw all the way...what a ride it was.

We got out of Allepey proper and started to pickup speed. At first we appeared to be behind a drunk driver, at least that's what my driver seemed to think, but I admit that in India I sometimes have a tough time telling the drunk and sober drivers from one another. The 3-wheeled, open-air rickshaw becomes considerably more scary at night, especially when speeds exceed 30km/hr. We cruised on for about 25mins during which we had at least two extremely close, near collisions where I heard profane utterances escape from my mouth, at which my driver caught my eye in the mirror and just laughed.

After 25mins we pulled over at my driver's local tea joint for a couple shots of masala chai and a few laughs, after which I was feeling significantly more optimistic going into round 2. When we did almost find ourselves in the grill of an on-coming bus we both just laughed together. True to his word he got me to Fort Cochin before 9pm and no worse for the wear.



Kerala Backwaters

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 04:18:56 PST

To get back up to Cochin I caught the early morning train to Kollem where i Boarded the ferry for a ride through the backwaters to Allepey, my consolation prize for not finding someone to do the one night houseboat ride with. I ended up spending most of the 8hr ride reading 'Into the Wild' by Jon Krakauer, but finally did manage to glance up for the last 2+hrs. The ride was nice, but I wasn't super comfortable in my red plastic chair with its weakened back, and at one point (why I'm still not sure) the boat was tipped slightly right so that everytime I adjusted my chair I almost tipped out of it. I think I'll have to do the houseboat at some point to really appreciate the backwaters.

Photos: Backwaters



Four More Books

Mon, 26 Feb 2007 02:17:59 PST

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai:
The 2006 Booker Prize winner, another great, but of course depressing, look at India during the 80s through the eyes of characters still clinging to the cultural remnants of the British, those forging ahead and those caught in the middle. If you liked 'The God of Small Things' you'll enjoy this one, they are pretty similar in style.

Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides:
One of the best books I've read on this trip and that I would highly recommend, this is both the story of a Greek family and their migration to Detroit, Michigan as well as a girl in that family who finds out that's not quite what she is.

Next by Michael Crichton:
I'd have to rank this as Michael Crichton's worst book to date, or close to it. Several disjointed story lines about genetics, the bio-technology of it, the laws surrounding it, and the social reprecussions of all of the above. The book is confusing at times and laughable at others, and I would recommend staying away from it.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung:
The harrowing story of a young girl and her family's experience living under the Khmer Rouge during the genocide in Cambodia. While the book was an interesting story, and a decent high-level look at the what happened in Cambodia, I would recommend reading it only if you're interested in a story of survival but not necessarily looking for any real look at what happened in Cambodia.



Varkala

Sat, 03 Mar 2007 04:06:41 PST

I'm currently passing the time doing as little as possible in Varkala, in the south of Kerala. Varkala is a small community of guest houses that reside on a cliff overlooking small beach; another nice spot to do as little as you like, so again, not a whole lot to share. Tomorrow I will head north to Cochin and fly back to Hyderabad on Thursday morning and be ready to fly to Bangkok and on to the last leg of my trip on Friday morning. I'll admit, I'm a bit travel weary and glad to be entering the fourth quarter and the easiest leg of the trip...

Photos: Varkala



Palolem Beach, Goa

Mon, 26 Feb 2007 01:56:00 PST

Goa couldn't come quick enough for Josh and I could see the relief and stress release as soon as we arrived. I have to admit that it was a big relief for me too, to finally be in a place where things were a bit easier. We flew to airport in central Goa and headed straight down to the southern most area, a beach town called Palolem, supposedly the most laid back area in Goa. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we did little else besides sit in the sun, eat good food, explore the beach, listen to the surf, read, adn have long meandering conversations about life in general. On Saturday evening Julia, having tired of Mumbai, decided to come hang out in Goa for a couple of days and so joined Josh and I at palolem beach. With Josh having worked for an Indian organization for close to a year now and Julia considering it, we had some interesting chats about business and work in India.

Josh took off Sunday afternoon to head back to Hyderabad and jump back into the fray before packing for a trip to the US Wednesday morning, and left me to flouder on the beach a bit longer. Having spent most of my time doing nothing but reading, Julia cajoled me into a short boat ride on Monday morning up a nearby river, which turned out to be the most active thing I did during my week in Goa. She too took off and headed back up to North Goa to explore some of the remaining Portugese church's and architecture and I was left on my own for a few more days of beach vacation in Goa. I'm happy to say that I didn't do anything worth reporting really during my time in Goa other than read a couple of books and do some journaling and enjoy some tastey fish, but after a week there it was time to press on and head further south to another beach in Kerala known as Varkala.

Photos: Goa



Hyderabad

Sun, 25 Feb 2007 05:37:39 PST

I flew to Hyderabad from Mumbai to meet up with my good friend Josh (who I had also met up with in Varanasi) who moved to Hyderabad in May of last year to work for the Indian IT organization Satyam, working for them at their School of Leadership. My two days in Hyderabad were pretty low key: hanging out with Josh, catching up with photos, blog, etc, and eating some good, western food. Josh, being the thoughtful person that he is was also incredibly generous in setting up a massage for me at a local spa...it was absolutely heaven and long overdue! After the massage Josh's driver Steven spent the afternoon driving me around and giving me the rough tour of Hyderabad, cruising around in Josh's black 'Ambassador'!

Photos: Hyderabad



Mumbai

Sun, 25 Feb 2007 04:31:18 PST

I had flipped back and forth about whether to stop in Mumbai or not and then about three weeks in to my time in India I got an email from my friend Julia, a woman I'd met in Croatia, telling me that she would be in Mumbai for a week for a job interview. Coincidentally it happened to be while I was passing through the area so I thought I'd stop and say hello. Deciding to avoid a repeat 'Sleeper bus' experience I opted for the 'super luxury, just like flight' Volvo bus ride and after a comparatively easy 17hrs on the bus I arrived in an overcast, rainy Mumbai. The first order of business, and really my only other reason for coming to Mumbai, was to go and see the 'Leopolds Cafe' that is such a fixture in the book 'Shantaram' that I read while I was in Europe. I have to admit that I'd had high hopes and was pretty disappointed by what I found. I had been expecting a dark, dingy, smoky interior where shady business took place, but instead found a light, cheap feeling interior with unfriendly staff and overpriced food. I admit I was a bit perturbed when my waiter told me there was no way I could get scrambled eggs, only fried eggs, and even worse I couldn't get Masala Chai (a staple of any Indian meal) only Mint Tea! But it was worth it, and I met an Australian couple who were there for similar reasons having just stepped off an 18hr late train ride which had lasted a total of 40+hrs! I spent the rest of the day playing phone and email tag with Julia , due to some cell phone issues with my Indian SIM card, but finally managed to sort out a place to meet up the next day.

I spent the day time walking around and getting lost in the Colaba area of Mumbai, along Marine Drive, and over to Chowpatty beach, another key location in 'Shantaram', before making my way to meet up with Julia at the grand 'Old Taj' hotel near the India Gateway Monument. We finally caught up after some more confusion and did a walking tour of the India Gateway, and some of the surrounding Colaba area where a lot of the old British architecture still remains and had a great meal, with my first chicken in 4 weeks.

I didn't have a chance to see a whole lot of Mumbai and unfortunately due to my short time I didn't get to see the massive outdoor laundry mat (apparently a must see), or make it to Bollywood or be an extra in a film like a lot of other travelers had done. The Colaba area was a nice easy area but it seemed like an oasis, outside of Colaba Mumbai is an incredibly populated, polluted, and very poor city.

Photos: Mumbai