Friday, September 24, 2010

Chiclayo to Mancora, oh what a drive

Arriving in Chiclayo, on 3 hours sleep is a difficult task. We A) didn't know much about this small city and B) didn't really know the best option to get to our main destination, Mancora.

All we knew is that it was around 5-6 hours away.

So waiting for our luggage I spotted 2 backpacker looking guys (from Netherlands). I quickly asked them where they were going. Their response, "Mancora". PERFECT I thought. Now second question, How are you getting to Mancora? Their response, "no idea, you?" BAHHH!
So we quickly came to the consensus of double teaming and sharing a cab, which we overpaid for but of course talked him down and price and thought we were getting a good deal. (400 soles for 4 people in a small car, he started at 600 soles. we then get to mancora and are told it should have been 250, 300 MAX) OH well, another lesson learned folks.

It was an adventurous drive, going 160km steady with no seat belts (YIKES), stopping for "brunch" at a sketchy little place they didn't quite know how to cook huevos (eggs).... but all in all, we reached our final destination: MANCORA! We all went to the AMAZING hostel, KoKoPelli (, hopped in the pool, ordered a beer and relaxed the rest of the day.

Did I mention the 2 Dutch guys are some of the funniest guys I've ever met, that was also a highlight of course :)

Lima Hustlers


Don't ever get into a cab without making sure the price agreed for the trip is clear as can be!

We ran into a slight dilemma when arriving at our sketchy airport hostel in Lima. We arrive late and were starrrrrrving, and since I refused to eat the KFC down the street we asked the man at the front desk where the closest supermarket was... little did we know that it was SO far (he left that part out).. So he quickly got us a cab (clearly a friend, but assured us it was a "seguro" which means "safe" cab company) and we were on our way to the supermarket. Once on the ride the driver was saying he would drive us to the airport in the morning (perfect right?) for the same fair we received it coming from the airport to the hotel. BUT THEN started talking amounts in DOLLARS, not soles.... (not so cool).
Luckily for me I am a good arguer (even in espanol), so I talked down the price a lot, knowing it was still way too high...
So after our muy caro (expensive) supermarket trip (bananas that would originally cost 15 cents each, were now 2 dollars each), we agreed to pay 1/3 of the whole price (he wanted it all up front... NO WAY BUDDY)...

The follow morning, bright and early to catch our flight to Chiclayo, we were greeted by our lovely taxi driver. The only thing he didn't know is that I was planning on stiffing him as soon as we arrived. And that is just what we did. We paid him 1/2 of what was left to owe. Hahaha and ran away...

SO Lesson learned, be more aggressive BEFORE you get in the taxi, as apposed to while inside it...

But it did feel good to return the favour to him, someone tries to rip me off, I'm going to rip them off right BACK!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

The Santa Catalina Monastery is the most religious monument in all of Peru.

The beautifully coloured edificio (building) was built in 1580 and increased in size during the 17th century. It is over 20,000 square meters large, and each section has its own unique characteristics. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.

It took us around 2 hours to see the whole thing, and each minute was filled with adventure and exploring.

Some history for you;

Each nun at Santa Catalina had between one and four servants or slaves, and the nuns invited musicians to perform in the convent, gave parties and generally lived a lavish lifestyle. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's entrance to the convent, and the dowry owed to gain the highest status, indicated by wearing a black veil, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to US$50,000 today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.

One of the many alleys at the Santa Catalina Monastery.In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of remaining as nuns or leaving. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant, and amazingly of the skeleton of a baby being discovered encased in a wall. This, in fact, did not happen in Santa Catalina, and there are rumours of the same story in the nearby Santa Rosa convent, as well.

The convent once housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door. It was then restored and opened to the public. This also helped pay for the installation of electricity and running water, as required by law.

This was their laundry area.

Music Room, me gusta!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Colca Canyon Adventure

Wake Up: 2am
Bus Scheduled Departure: 230am
Bus Actual Departure: 315am
Chivay Arrival: 6am

Did I mention that it was -10 degrees celcius in Chivay? Oye!

So our Colca Canyon Day tour was definitely jam packed and early but what a great day it was!

We stopped along the 2 hour drive from Chivay to the lookout point of the 2nd deepest canyon in the world. The sighest were amazing and the sun started to shine which brought us much needed warmth!

The final destination was an absolute treat. The canyon is home to the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), a species that has seen worldwide effort to preserve it. The condors can be seen at fairly close range as they fly through the canyon walls and are an increasingly popular attraction. 'Cruz del Condor' is a popular tourist stop to view the condors, the pass where condors soar gracefully on the rising thermals occurring as the air warms. The condors are best seen in the early morning and late afternoon when they are hunting. At this point the canyon floor is 3,960 ft (1,200 m) below the rim of the canyon.

After the lookout, we stopped off at the Hot Springs near Chivay. Our bus was full of Spanish friends, so funny and we were called the party bus. I think the hot springs got the best of us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lake Titicaca, Floating Islas

A boat ride from the islands to Puno, mainland.

Traditional Wear for the hair, pom pom like.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Homestay like no other... LLACHON

Our next stop after Cuzco was Puno. Puno is the largest city on Lake Titicaca, which is the highest lake in the world (3,811m). Our time spent here was to get accustomed to a home stay set up and to see the lake...

We did however venture to a few fun places in Puno. One being the Coca museum. The coca leaf was, and still is, chewed almost universally by some indigenous communities. The remains of coca leaves have been found with ancient Peruvian mummies, and pottery from the time period depicts humans with bulged cheeks, indicating the presence of something on which they are chewing. Very interesting indeed.

The following day we set off by boat to Llachon. It is a small town on the mainland, but across the lake. Dropped off on the beach Erik and I looked at each other and were both thinking the same thing, where do we go now?? Luckily for us we ran into the nicest lady who was also roaming the beaches, she invited us for lunch and we ended up staying there for lunch, dinner, accommodation and breakfast. All for 40 soles each, which is about $16.
Such a lovely adventure, we walked to the highest peak and could see Bolivia, other islands on the lake and Puno. Our meals were so so good, Trout for lunch (a local specialty), quinoa soup and eggs for dinner, and pancakes for breakfast. We also had the best tea always, our home stay family would pick natural herbs and you just put them in hot water and Mmm Mmm good!

Loved Llachon, and I would recommend this small cute place for anyone looking for a great home stay.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


The time has come, 5am wake up in Aguas Caliente for Machu Picchu!

Located 120 km northwest of Cusco, the Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911. This 'Lost City' is one of the world's archaeological jewels and is one of South America's major travel destinations.

What an amazing drive up to the top, the valleys are filled with birds, diverse trees and plants, and an awe inspiring feeling of peace.

MAPI is definitely the most expensive portion of our trip thus far... 120 soles, which is about $45 CAD. (the bus up there an additional $7 and the train another additional $75)


Coming up to that picture perfect spot was so unreal! Especially thinking that people once lived here... so far away from everything else, and we got to witness their ruins and picture their lives.
This being said, it was almost like a maze also, and me, loving to explore, it was a real heaven.
We started by walking around the ruins and taking loads of photos, then decided to do the trek UP the highest peak. It was a 3 hour adventure that was tougher than I thought. The elevation alone made every step hard to breath, and the fog-smog building up didn´t exactly help either. But once we reached the top, ahhhh what an amazing view! We were literally IN the clouds.. amazing. We then decided to go a different way down, not knowing that this different way was 10x more difficult (I´m talking steeper than steep parts... with the smallest ledge and looking down was not the best idea)... then we ended up in an almost rain forest like part, and wow did it ever feel like we were in the thick of a rain forest. It poured and poured, and we hiked and hiked.

Upon our return, freezing, sore, dehydrated, starving... but oh so rewarding.


oh and ps, llamas everywhere just roaming! haha so cool!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cuzco & The Sacred Valley

Our time in Cuzco was filled with delicious restaurants, positive vibes cafes, coca tea everywhere, and people people people. This is one of the most bumping 3rd world coutries I have ever been to. Although it is a little too touristy for me, it´s still full of so much culture and life.

Our first day here was spent resting and relaxing in the Plaza de Armas, acclimatizing to the elevation. Which by the way really does feel different. I was having trouble breathing just walking up the stairs (and I´d like to think of myself as an athletic person), and both of our heads felt as though they would explode at any minute! The solution for this: COCA LEAVES. Now, many of you think of something ¨bad¨ when you hear the word coca... when in fact it is completely natural and very spìritual for the people here. It alleviated the headache and gave a new form of energy. Needless to say, I became fond of this plant for when I needed a boost.
Unfortunately for me, I decided to go off the beaten path and eat at a local restauran (away from all the touristy stuff) aaand got quite sick. I was in bed literally for 34 hours, ew.

The day after I was feeling a bit better so we decided to head to the Sacred Valley and then Aguas Calientes (base of Machu Picchu).

We first stopped in Pisac. A cute little town... AMAZING Market.. and that works well with me, loving to shop shop shop. We also went to the PIsac Ruins, very cool. The next stop before our train ride was Ollantaytambo, a town dominated by 2 massive Inca Ruins. It was cool to see how they planned their city those hundreds of years ago...

Adventuring aruond was really fun, and I was slowly starting to feel better... crossing my fingers I would be up to MAPI (Machu Picchu) the following morning...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

LIMA PERU, just the beginning...

Arriving in Lima a las siez y media en la manana we were welcomed with fog, a chill breeze and friendly Latin American smiles. Getting our luggage, taxi and to our already booked hostal was smooth sailing.
The real treat began when my friend Pepe´s (who I met in Kenya Africa 2 years ago) friend Juan met us and took us on a real local eye tour of Lima and area. Juan loves to surf and Lima has some of the best waves in the world. He drove us just outside the city and showed us a populat spot. Huge waves and crazy surf skills. ME GUSTA!

For Lunch we had civiche (! Soooo good! This is the National Dish and mas populares en Lima.

Juan then dropped us off in Central Lima where we adventured around and saw the city local life on a typical Saturday.
Dinner was a real treat, think Lima (fresh fish-seafood) meets the best of Japan Sushi, that was Edo. Mix that with some delicious Agrentinia Vino Blanco and I´ll be smiling all night.
Despues la cena we met Juan again, this time at his place, where we met his amigo and indulged into our first peruvian cerveza and pisco shot. (Pisco Sour being the National Drink... which I have yet to try=
I was craving to go to a real local salsa bar on a Saturday night, but knowing we had a 7am flight to Cuzco the next morning, I just couldn´t do it... next time

Now, OFF TO CUZCO : elevation 3340m !

Thursday, August 19, 2010


en una semana yo estaré en Perú, el baile de salsa, yo subiré montañas, yo comeré alimento de Perú y yo sonreiré mucho !!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

friends across the world

For all of you that read my blog religiously I thank you very much, traveling alone is hard and having an outlet like this blog is helpful in releasing my thoughts and observations to those that are interested.

In the guest house there are many different nationalities. There are Saudi's, Palestinians, Sudanese, Iranian, German, French, Korean, Nigerian etc.

I have made many friends from different countries and I am expanding my network exponentially everyday. My goal was to find a job in India but what I stumbled upon was much more valuable.

In the guest house I had a nice crew of friends. There was me the Canadian then there was 1 Iranian, 1 Sudanese, 2 Saudi's, 1 German and 1 Palestinian, 1 Moroccan, 1 Swede

I had only met one Iranian before I met 2 in the guest house. My knowledge of the Iranian people was zero all I knew was what I saw on the news and from what I read in the papers and online. It was amazing to be able to hang out with an Iranian guy for 2 weeks here in Mumbai. He changed my perception on Iran and I find myself compelled to travel to his wonderful country.

Amir the guy from Iran has so many crazy stories but I thought I would tell one story that shows how crazy this guy is.

In Iran if you want to leave the country before your 35 you have to go to the Army for 2 years. Amir told me that all you do in the army is stand for 2 years straight. He was compelled to find a loop hole in the system. His girlfriend was taking psychology at the time. She told Amir to act like he was a schizophrenic person. Amir for 2 weeks went to evaluation centers where people evaluated him to see if he was mentally fit. After 2 weeks they deemed him mentally unfit and he was released from the military.

Amir loves basketball and he is a little bull. We played I told him that I would beat him 11-0 and that I would give him 10 000 rupees if he scored a point. I beat him 11-0 but he showed some competency on the court. He was a lefty and would just attack the basket like a wild bull.

My friend from Sudan his name is Mustafa. I liked to call him Moose and it caught on with everyone in the guest house. Moose is a great guy and the friendliest guy I have ever met. He isn’t the smartest, but he makes that up with his kindness and relaxed vibe. He showed me the soccer game and we played almost every night together. The kids at the soccer match really liked him and looked up to him. Moose has been living in the dorm of the guest house for almost a year. He knows everyone around and taught me how to baksheesh. He works for a pharmaceutical company but I don’t know what he does.

The Saudi guys are very interesting characters. They are the most hospitable people I have ever encountered in my life. They are very generous and very respectful; I was totally amazed by everything they did.

The Saudi guys, Khallis and Azziz, would make lunch for me at an Arabic hotel close to the guest house. They would make the rice and prepare the meat as well as the soup and the amazing sauces. It was an amazing experience to have home cooked Arabic food prepared by friends. They are in a weird business and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. Saudi Arabia from what I understand with discussions with Khallid is that there are not that many low class citizens in Saudi because of the wealth. The wealthy want drivers, cleaners and the government wants labor workers. What Khallid and Azziz do is they send Indians and Nepali's to Saudi to work. They are a broker for sending people to Saudi. Aside from that these 2 guys pray 2 times a day everyday which I think is amazing.

The German guy named Flo was super chill. He lived in a village in MP which is 1 state south of Mumbai. He lived for 14 months in a town teaching English. He can speak fluent Hindi and he loves speaking to every person he sees. It’s funny because everyone lights up when he speaks back and they want to talk forever to him. He hasn’t cut his hair in 10 years, and he hardly shaves. He bought a bike in Hampi and came all the way up to Mumbai sleeping in the woods and camping. He would actually drink 50 chais (teas) a day he was addicted!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Mumbai

The reason for my second trip to India was to find a job in Mumbai. I knew that it would be hard and it would take much persistence on my part. I have been here in Mumbai for 18 days and counting, I have had many job interviews and many meetings with little success up to this point.

This is the longest I have ever lived in a city outside Canada. The temperature hovers around 27, 28 degrees everyday. It’s always beautiful and I just think to how the weather is in Montreal.... and I smile!

Most of my meetings/interviews are in Bandra which is 1.5 hours from Coloba (where I’m staying in Mumbai). To get to Bandra I have to go to Churchgate station which is a 25 rupee taxi, and from there I hop on the city train to my destination. I usually get the oddest stares because I am in my suit on the train; I find it extremely funny. All businessmen and women have drivers and that how they get from their house to their work (unlike me who is on the local train). The train is 4 rupees and I never pay, the line to buy the tickets takes way too long. It’s incredible how Indians are so frantic getting on and off the train. You need to cover your face getting off the train because people are trying to get on and off while rushing like a heard of bulls.

Once I arrive in Bandra I have to find an honest rickshaw driver. HAHAHA....There are none to be found ever! I am like a walking gold token for all the drivers waiting. I have a method which I think is very clever. The rickshaw drivers say a price which is 100 times the real price. I tell them yes I will pay that, but when I arrive I pay them what I think they deserve. The drivers are in heaven wondering what they will buy while they’re driving me to the location but when I give them what the fare is actually worth they become very very angry.

The new complexes in Bandra would make Dubai blush. The buildings are magnificent and very elegant with all the newest amenities. It is truly incredible; you forget you’re in India for awhile. As well the security to enter the buildings would make Fort Knox proud.

I have met with RBC, KOTAK, CNBC, UBS and several Consulting Firms. They all tell me the same thing; that they are all walking on egg shells right now. They will be hiring in April and I need to call them then. The positive thing is that I am meeting face to face with the firms which are important in India. I have a follow up meeting with CNBC, they want me to do an internship for a month to see if I fit in well with their team. They want me to go on TV and stuff which is crazy because I have never been very good at public speaking but I guess I can learn.

I realize now that my initial diagnosis of the Indian market may have been false. I thought that within 5 years India would be following China's economy. The more I stay in India and the more that I have meetings I realize that it may take 15 years for India to have the necessary infrastructure in all facets of life to be as powerful as China.

1) The corruption in India is ingrained in the people. It’s incredible how you have to pay people off to do anything. This is a side story that may describe to you the corruption in India. I was playing basketball with two Iranians one of them has a business in exporting. He tells me wild stories how he has to pay around every corner in order for his business to run well. We were getting kicked off the court and the Iranian who has to pay everyone off runs to the security guard and puts a 100 rupee note in his pocket. The security officer then turns around and it was like nothing has happened.

2) You will see the separation between China and India this October at the Commonwealth games in Delhi. Remember the Olympics in 08 in Beijing? I remember amazing structures and a flawless ceremony. I don’t think India can come close to what China did. We will see soon enough!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bombay Beginnings...

When I arrived in Bombay it was very hot. I didn’t realize at the time that it was uncharacteristically hot for Feb. The hot weather actually scared me because I didn’t know if I could handle the summer heat which reaches about 50 degrees Celsius. At 32, I was sweating from head to toe. Wearing a suite in hot weather is also not very comfortable. I noticed that the uniform here in Bombay is just a shirt and pants, no tie or jacket. Since I was having interviews I had to wear the full attire and it was stinking hot.

A few observations from Bombay are as follows:

1) During a job interview I have never been asked about my family background. I was asked without a smile on the man’s face if I could describe my family in detail. Once I had done so he looked satisfied and moved on to more traditional questions.

Family history matters in India. It shows that you’re a credible candidate for the job and that you are a trustworthy individual.

On the same subject of interviews, referrals are very important. It is very difficult to get attention in Bombay without knowing someone else. One of my ideas for getting a job was to hand out my resume everywhere. I was instructed by recruitment agencies and people in business that I would not get a nibble of interest because I was not referred to them. It is very important that they know you are trustworthy and that you come from a good background.

2) Indians hate disappointing. If you are looking for something and you ask an Indian where to go they will instruct you 2 blocks then take a left. The thing is they have no clue and are just trying to be friendly. Getting to Bombay I feel like the same thing happened with my recruitment contacts. They had told me for months that they knew many people and that I should come to Bombay to meet and that I would have many meetings.

This has not really come true. The meetings that I have had did not come from the recruitment agencies but through various other networking avenues. I guess it’s just the Indian way to be over friendly to the point of falsifying the truth.

3) The Indian markets are walking on egg shells. This observation is important because firms are scared to hire at this present moment. In the end the interviews are turning more into face to face meetings where I am being short listed for the hiring process in Late April or early June. The short list comprises of only 3 individuals including me so I am optimistic on that point. As well firms will do their interviews via phone once the hiring starts so I am not at a disadvantage.

4) I have had a very hard time finding Ex Patriots here in Bombay. I have looked online to find how I can meet anyone or if Ex Pats meet at any one location to hang out but I have come up with nothing. My strategy is to go to bars where I know Ex Pats frequent and start a convo with anyone that looks foreign. This strategy is a dodgy one at best but I think it’s the only way to really get in contact with an Ex pat.

The reason that I want to meet Ex Pats is because I want to know certain answers to my many questions. Such as:

How hot is it really in Summer?

Do you like living in Bombay?

How much is rent?


5) It is impossible and I mean impossible to watch the Superbowl in India. I had met 2 Americans and we went to every bar in Bombay and not one bar was showing the SuperBowl. That was very discouraging because I love the Saints, the Saints are my team!! Well I missed the SuperBowl and my team won. WHO DAT NATION!

As well on the same topic the Winter Olympics are just as hard to find. I tried to watch the downhill skiing last night and no bar would let me stay that late. I even called the Canadian Consulate pleading them to have a TV on at all times for the Olympics but they told me they wouldn’t do it.

I’m going to keep trying…

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kajuraho & friends

The temples in Kajuraho are absolutely splendid. The sculptures and temples were beautifully displayed. The temples were set upon a path around a loop, in the middle was a vast field of lush green grass. The tantric aspect to the temples was underwhelming. And I say this because there were in reality 3 actual carvings that were of the tantric nature. It reminded me of an "action flick" where the pre views showed many action scenes, then when you watched the movie you already seen every action seen already in the previews for the movie. That's how I felt from the temples I felt duped. In any case it was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the walk. The weather was finally turning hotter. In Delhi and Lucknow the weather was bitterly cold especially at night, but in Khajuaraho the weather was warm and very nice with a slight breeze on occasion. There were two sets of temples the west and the east. The west temples were 250 rupees and the east temples were free. Roaming around the east temples I was swarmed by kids. Usually they would ask for money and be on their way, not these kids. They were aggressive and were very rude. Throughout the days sightseeing I would get numerous calls from Kallu wondering where I was. It was incredible how persistent he was! One man while I was in Delhi called me 77 times in 5 hours! Needless to say Indians are very persistent!

Later that day Kallu told me to get on his bike. I had read in Shantaram that Indians often don’t tell you where their going. I had to trust him, he brought me through some mustard fields for about 2 km I seriously thought to myself that he was going to kill me, but I kept my calm and we rode on through the fields. Women were holding large baskets full of vegetables and fruit on their heads as we passed them and kids were playing in their little huts. We soon arrived to a little place in the fields about 4 km in. Men were playing cards sitting on a bright yellow tarp. To the right of them was a little hut created in the same yellow material. I looked over the shoulder of the group of people and saw that people were gambling. A huge man had a stack of 1000 dollar rupee bills in his hands and pocket. I figured he was the banker. I was told that the game was called in or out. Someone picked a card from the deck and set it aside. Then two piles were formed and the men who were betting against the banker had to pick in our out. The odds are 50/50, Kallu had told me he has lost 100 Euros that day. I was perplexed how can you lose that much money if the game is 50/50? The banker looked up at me with a huge grin and told me to sit down. I hesitated and thought I would just put a large sum on one hand. In the end I decided against it and the game ended right then and there.

Everyone around the huge banker had lost money, no one was a winner. The banker was a generous man and he needed his cliental to come back the next day. The banker would give 500 rupees to everyone that lost money, this money was their gas money or whatever they would use it for.

We drove one of Kallu's friends back with us and we had 3 people on the motorcycle. He was a short dark man and his name was Uncle. He was always smiling and even though he couldn’t speak English very well we became good friends. He owned a shop in town that sells school supplies for little profit. Since it’s the only shop in town he makes good money. I respected him for doing that and he was very good with all the kids that came by. He left the shop and put Kallu and I in charge. We had a hard time finding the books and pencils people needed but we managed. One family didn’t have enough money and I paid for the kids’ pencil and sketch book. It was a good feeling to help someone out, and they were very happy indeed.

That night we partied in Uncles hotel room. Drinking and they were smoking. Its crazy the amount of cigarettes they smoke, they spent close to 500 rupees a day just smoking all day and night. That night I met another fine fellow, I couldn’t pronounce his real name so I called him superman. He really enjoyed that, and I had given it to him because he would always wear his superman shirt. The thing I noticed most is that the men I hung out with that week never changed. It was crazy how they would wear the same thing everyday for the whole week.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Kajuraho Social

Khajuraho was much hotter than Lucknow and my first impressions were very good. The cold of the north was terrible because I didn’t have the right attire. This new found warmth was very welcoming and I was happy that I made the decision to come Khajuraho. I stayed in a place for 150 Rupees. It was a big room with a double bed and a bathroom. The bathroom was disgusting but that’s why I brought sandals. Right away 2 guys showed up and I guessed that the hotel attendant had called them to show me around and he would make a commission. After much talk about finance and the import export business I had made 2 friends. One of the guys, Kallu, owned a gem shop in town and frequently visited Europe to do business. He rented a loft in the Netherlands which was his base in Europe. The other man made money off tourists. I hadn’t noticed but there were many tourists around, mostly in their 40's or 50's. He had bought a bike with the money and brought tourists to the near by waterfalls or the mountains for a price. His name was Lucky and he was a slim guy 20 years old and at the beginning, didn’t talk much. Kallu was bigger with a belly and spoke excellent English; he had just arrived from a stint in Europe and was excited for the partying ahead. We stood outside his gem shop and had a chai. He was telling me the intricacies of the day to day life in the small town of just of 20,000 people. He was basically my first Indian friend in India and I really appreciated the warmth he displayed to me.

That night we stayed at his shop and drank upstairs. He had a TV and a DVD machine. The only CD's he has were Janet Jackson old school music videos and a movie that was made in the town of the tantrik nature. We bought Old Stag Whisky mixed with water. I didn’t feel threatened and I eased into the conversation that was mostly in Hindi.

The shop was interesting in itself. Kallu the shop owner had servants. He paid them to do what he wanted. The servants would touch our feet and stay in the shadows of the conversation. I made it imperative to include them and show them the same respect that I showed Kallu and Lucky. We ordered food at 11:30pm. It seems that Indians eat very late which was different from what I had been accustomed to all my life. We ordered mutton (sheep) and other delicacies and I paid for the meal.

Lucky, being younger than Kallu had to respect him always. It seemed that the older the more respect you got. Lucky would do anything Kallu said out of respect and admiration for the older person. If someone older than Kallu came into the room he would get up and the older person would take the seat. I found this very interesting and very admirable that in a time of today traditions such as these are still practiced. I also came to learn that family does not drink together. It’s a respect thing as well. For instance Lucky does not drink with his father or any of his brothers; it would be an insult if you showed up at the same party or social event.

R Day & Lucknow

The Polish woman never had time to visit the mosques in Lucknow. We decided that we should go and see them. We took a cycle rickshaw to the mosques which were 5 km away from our hotel. A cycle rickshaw is a bike with a bench on the back for people to sit. It costs significantly less than a motor rickshaw and you get to experience more of your surroundings on a bike.

The mosque was spectacularly large. The entrance fee for the mosque was 300 Rupees. Inside was a vast courtyard with little shrubs leading to the monuments. They were beautiful and sunset was arriving quickly, the sky was shimmering red. We had to take off our shoes and head into one of the mosques. There was a sign and it read labyrinth. I was very excited because I thought it would be refreshing to get lost in a sacred mosque. We climbed up a set of steep inclining stairs until we reached the top. I could see there were many rows and rows of archways which the Polish woman told me were Mogul style. As we snaked through the maze of the mosque we ran into archways that were designed with an Indian style and an Islamic style.

The following day was Republic day or R day (Jan 26). I was told and I read that it was not safe to be in crowded areas with other foreigners. As I left Delhi throngs and throngs of foreigners were pouring into the streets to witness the celebration. I thought it would be best if I stayed away from Delhi. R Day is when India gained Independence from the rule of the Brits. R Day was especially significant in Lucknow because that is where Ghandi and his followers devised a plan to overthrow the British rule.

The parade started early and my hotel and was 500m from the procession of music and laughter. The parade started out very good and well planned. This parade had many gaps of 10 minutes where no parade person was in sight, unusual when thinking of the typical parade.

Then I figured I had enough of Lucknow. Its tourist infrastructure was low and there wasn’t much to do. I hopped on a train to Khajuraho the land of the Tantric Temples. The train ride would take me to the state of MP which is just south of UP. The train would take 10 hours this time and I bought a ticket for 91 Rupees. Once I bought the ticket I was informed that there was a 2 hour delay because of the fog. I decided to go to an internet cafe and just hang out.

Getting on the train at 7pm I didn’t realize that I had bought a boarding pass for the general class. As I walked I could see there was no way in this world that I was going to subject myself to the cruelty of general. No room, super crowded, and dirtier then dirt. I then secretly jumped into 2 AC and awaited my fate. I took out my book Shantaram which I had bought in Delhi and casually read it hoping no one would sit in my seat. 5 minutes into my journey I was approached by the ticket master. He looked at my ticket and then gave it back to me without an expression on his face. I thought I was home free. He then started calculating numbers and asking others how much their tickets were. I was busted, I had to pay the difference and in the end the ticket was 645 Rupees. I figured that he had taken a little icing off the top of the price but I didn’t mind, this is India!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fog, Travel, in India ... don't mix

Since the last time I wrote I have been on many adventures and wonderful journeys through the heart of India. My time in Delhi was great and I left with a better appreciation for the capital than the last time I left.

The stifling fog that wreaks havoc upon India in Winter does just that. The fog throughout my 4 nights there canceled as many as 100 flights and led to many train delays. I was taking a train at 10 pm at night in the sleeper class for 232 rupees. 1 Canadian dollar equals approximately 43 Rupees. Sleeper class is the 3rd class out of 4 on the railway system. Sleeper is very cheap and noisy but I love it all the same. The last class is general which I would not do. Its very crowded and very cold.

Foreigners are allotted 10 percent of all seats on the train. Therefore, its easy for us to make last second plans. My train to Lucknow which is the capital of the state of UP, was suppose to take 9 hours and i reiterate suppose to take. Lucknow is South West of Delhi and 4 hours West of Varanasi.

For the train it is very important to get snacks and lots of water because its not recommended that you leave your bags alone in Sleeper Class. I brought 2 servings of momo's, a Tibetan delicacy which is very good. It is basically a dumpling like noodle with anything you want inside accompanied by a delicious sweet or spicy sauce. I also brought 2 bottles of mineral water for the trip.

Once on the train I opened my momo's and ate silently on the top bunk. There are 3 bunks one on top of each other like a bunk bed. Its important to get the top bunk because the bottom and the middle bunk can be accessed by anyone. My first time around I never slept on the train, this was a new experience for me and one that I was looking forward to. I had spent way too much money on the hotels in Delhi and a free nights sleep made the trip that much better.

On the top bunk adjacent to me was another foreigner from Poland. She looked like she was in her mid 30's. I sparked up a conversation with her and she told me that she was a teacher in Poland at University. She taught students Indian Art History. I didn't realize at the time but she was basically a free encyclopedia on the many mosques archways and carvings that we visited in Lucknow.

As I mentioned earlier the Lucknow train was suppose to take 9 hours and we were suppose to arrive at approximately 7 in the morning which is not a very good time to arrive anywhere. I made a little fort on the top bunk with my three bags and I felt that the bags were safe. It was very hard to get comfortable and it was very cold that night. I quickly fell asleep in my silk sleeping bag with my head on the bags. I woke many times during the night and the train was usually stopped. The snoring around me was terrible. It was a symphony of agony to my ears. As well I would wake up and the side I had been sleeping on would be very sore and I would have to change positions often.

I woke up at dawn looking at my cell phone and it was 7 am. I was distraught and thought I missed my stop. I looked across to the polish women and she was still there as well as everyone on the bottom bunks that were heading to Lucknow. I got up and went to the bathroom. The bathrooms on the train are nice enough if you hold your nose. The hole which you use goes straight onto the track outside. It smells terrible if you are stopped. I looked outside the train and the visibility was 50 feet maximum due to the pea soup fog. I asked one of the guys on the tracks outside the train how much longer we had. I figured 1-2 hours max. He told me 5 more hours. I knew I was in for the long haul because when an Indian says 5 it usually means double that.

In the end a 600 km journey took 15 hours. I figured Lance Armstrong could have got to Lucknow faster. I arrived at 2 pm the 25Th and set off with the nice Polish women. She had visited Lucknow before because she has to do her situations for school. She visits a museum in the middle of the zoo.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Leaps and Bounds

4 months later a whole new Delhi. As the commonwealth games are fast approaching Delhi is doing its best to look presentable for the rest of the world. The games are in October and the Indian government probably wants to do a job just like China did for the summer Olympics. Although I doubt India will come close to what china achieved in those Olympic games I have seen progress. The city streets are much cleaner than before which is helpful because Delhi is the dirtiest city in the world. As well I was very surprised by the amazing metro system that Delhi has created. This metro also goes a long way in teaching the Indians things that we westerners take for granted. Such as waiting in lines patiently paying at the toles and being civic on the metro. To make all this happen there are security guards every 10 feet blowing their whistles at people who are not waiting in line or who cross the magical yellow line saying your too close to the railroad tracks. Slowly but surely Indians will learn the rules that we take for granted which will make India a much more tame place.

I have come to find that Delhi is just a huge marketplace. I was walking through a market today called ??(ill find it out) and I realized that Delhi is just a real world Ebay. When your surfing through Ebay you come up on everything shirts, shoes, car parts, plastic tubing and the list goes on. Its exactly like that when your walking the streets of Delhi you walk through a maze of crap that replicates finding stuff on Ebay. And just like Ebay everything is fake!!

Until next time peace

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Delhi Arrival !

So i am in crazy Delhi!! I took 2 sleeping pills last night which knocked me out completely at 12 am in the morning Delhi time. I woke up this morning refreshed but still very tired. I have cut my hair and gotten a shave this morning now I am going to write many emails and then do some glasses hunting.

Funny story for you, actually its not funny it almost turned horrible. So, there is a new rule with Indian visas!! if you leave the country you are not allowed returning for 60 days. So I'm at the check point at the Delhi airport and they tell me they have to send me home. I didn't really panic maybe because i knew that this could just be something he made up. Anyways, they ended up keeping me there for 20 minutes, just trying to make me sweat, but I didn't. In the end I have to go to the Consolata here and tell them i am in India. Basically I am not suppose to be here so I am not really here I'm a ghost!!

SO now I am heading to this bazaar called Sadar bazaar which is 3 km from where I am staying.

All in all its ok here in Delhi. The harassment is so shit I totally forgot the annoyances but i tend to be pretty good at ignoring. Prices are high here because of the Commonwealth games fast approaching!!

I got so lucky my flight wasn't delayed check this link out

- Jeffery

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second time around Packing List

Now our first trip, we were well UNinformed of how much India has to offer... product wise. We over packed in virtually every field. So this time, Jeffery has a new approach. (one I would recommend for all)

- camera (obviously)
- toothbrush & toothpaste (although you could find these anywhere, its just nice to always have it on you)
- 1 pair of comfy shoes and 1 pair of flip flops (and if you're like me, I also brought 1 pair of hiking sandals that were useful)
- sunglasses and a hat (don't forget you're super close to the equator for the most part)
- rain jacket or poncho (know the weather & season to the area you're traveling)
- any medications you may need (along with perscriptions just in case)
- money pouch/belt (always a good move)
- towel (if beats using clothes to dry off. Most budget places don't offer towels.. and if they do they're usually quite dodgey)
- MINIMAL CLOTHING (you can buy almost anything and everything there... cheap cheap! example: MY (marsha's) ali baba, baggy comfy travel pants, Rs 100, $2.25 Canadian)
- a few granola bars/snacks (food is def not scarce in India, but there are those days when your stomach needs a touch of home)
- 1-2 rolls of Toilet Paper (just in case your first few days are far from a toursity area)
- mosquito repellent (a net if you're going to be in the buggy areas during the buggy season)
- sunscreen (its there, but good to have your own)
- 2 locks: 1 pad lock (near impossible to find, and its good to have your own for hotels/guest houses) and 1 bike lock (for tying your pack up on long train rides_
- UV sterilization Pen (for killing ALL bacteria in the water. Instead of buying bottle after bottle of packaged water) SAVE THE EARTH!
- and last but not least.... The LONLEY PLANET BOOK (although we tried to minimize our dependence on it, it IS a great reference to have on hand)

Well, there you have it! Any questions or other suggestions?

Destination: INDIA.. again (for Jeffery)

Yes! Its true, one of the 2 explorers are heading back to that magical country called India. Jeffery (my better half) is traveling there, TODAY! He is in search of business opportunities and learn learn learn more on how that country works. I think its amazing and am super super jealous. He will be updating me (and all of you) of his continuing travels. Stay Tuned! Who knows what adventures this boy is bound to wind up in.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Holy City; Varanasi

Babas (religious figures) are everywhere in Varanasi

These are just a few of the flower/candles being sent down the Ganges

A Snake Charmer Boy on the steps of the Ghats

Goats with Coats

Our final destination, Varanasi. As we step off the plane we know we are back in the North. As we read our Lonely Planet, we are well aware that this city is another tourist scam hotspot, and with knowing that, we take all precautions. The drive from the airport to the main city centre takes much longer than it should, the traffic is terrible!
As soon as we get out of the cab (with the cab driver's "assistant" trying to follow us and take us to a "good guesthouse", one of the many scams that we read about), we shoo him away and haul our backpacks down to the ghats to try and find a descent place to stay.
After about 30minutes of tough walking, up stairs, down stairs, we finally find a nice backpacker friendly place, Vishnu Rest House. With our new German friend (we met on the place and shared a taxi with), we are all excited to walk along the ghats and see what Varansi is all about.
AND what a sight we see. Anything and everything is possible here.
Along with its positional advantage of being on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, this has given Varanasi a place at the forefront of the Hindu religion. Varanasi is considered the most sacred place for all Hindus, irrespective of denomination.
Hindus have long believed that bathing in the Ganges or dying in the holy city of Varanasi circumvents reincarnation and hence provides a permanent place in the Swarg (Heaven). This belief that has encouraged the establishment of innumerable nearby geriatric homes and also the disposal of half-burnt corpses into the river.
A big selling thing for young cute kids is the flower candle cup thing, which you light and then pray, and then send down the Ganges. Only 10 rupees (25 cents). Its tough to say no to these persistent cute kids, but after you do it once, there really is no need to pollute again and again (in my eyes).
An amazing experience you have to see while in Varanasi (and its hard to avoid) is the ceremony that happens every night on the main ghats. Its basically 7 men all in sequence doing light and smoke prayers in front of a huge crowd of people.

The city itself (apart from all the action happening on the ghats) is full of life and excitement in the back alleys, with restaurants, shops, temples and mosques.

Oh, and in Varanasi, make sure you get a photo of some goats with coats. Its quite a sight to see.
We had an amazing time here, and can't wait to go back!