Monthly Archives: March 2012

Gathering Momentum – Arambol, India

I was having such a hard time booking flights and thinking about onward travel. I mean, I know I have to do it, but talk about a mental block. I finally made a decision and booked my flight from Kathmandu to Istanbul. I know I want to go to Nepal and have promised to return to Turkey so it was obvious. What I couldn’t work out were the dates. I still don’t have it figured out how I will get to Nepal or home from Turkey, but it’s going to magically turn out. I know it.

Today I was going to head to Mapusa, the closest big town, to buy a smartphone. But it’s not looking like it’s going to happen. I have just sprouted my last mung beans and have run out of coconut milk so that will be the extent of my shopping trip today. I have searched high and low for coconut incense that Jen has but have come back empty handed. It appears that not all incense is created equal.

Tonight is the Saturday night market but a large part of me doesn’t want to go. The crowd and noise of it all still repels me and it feels more attractive to stay on my safe little stretch of beach. I am loving the quietude I have found here, inside and out.

A couple things I wanted to address about India: It’s dirty. I mean really dirty. There is aged garbage everywhere and nothing seems to be in place. It makes my hoarding (I mean that affectionately) Dad’s garage and backyard full of twenty year old half-finished projects look like the Palace of Versailles. I think to look at it is not the worst. It’s definitely the smell. Some areas are pretty unbearable but I have learned how to hold my breath for a. very. long. time. You would think with the number of cows roaming around there would be more turd piles but surprisingly there isn’t. I still don’t feel good about running around barefoot all around town like my housemates do.

Another thing: the value of life is here is much different than what I am used to. The other day there was a bus accident just a few miles away from here. Seven (mostly children) drown after the bus plummeted into a river. It was sad and the whole area mourned, even canceling the Carnivale events which were supposed to last for three days. But it was most shocking to me that families of the deceased were offered the equivilant of only two thousand dollars. Life is cheap here. Real cheap. But then so is death.

Grateful for perspective.

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Video blogging test

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Arambol to Hampi to Bangalore – Video Blog India

Carmella in India Video Blog One Arambol to Hampi to Bangalore


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Tearing myself away from Arambol – India

I had heard that Arambol can be something of a vortex for lazy travelers. I happened to get sucked in good with my free spirited lack of direction. There were just too many factors at play keeping me happy. So when people asked me when I was leaving, I got a somewhat far away look in my eyes…I told them life was too good here. If I am happy, why leave? If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.image

But alas, one cannot live in Arambol forever, especially when their Indian visa runs out in a month. So slowly slowly, I tore myself away. I will miss the Ayurvedic treatments and daily massages from Minta and Shine. It was just the healing I needed at just the right time. My skin misses the daily slathering of oil and now seems crocodile like in comparison to those glory days.

I will miss the amazing food I was treated to from the spinach soup and my special rice pudding from Om Star to the fruit salad from Happy Banana to my very favorite Daal Fry from anywhere except Lamuella, where it sucked badly. I will miss the apple crumble from the German Bakery, but only when the crumble to apple ratio was right. I don’t think I will miss the chocolate balls, since they tasted nothing like chocolate and everything like marshmallow. I will miss the homemade snacks sold at sunset point and the fresh young coconuts with my thali. I will miss the 10 rupee water guy who kept a bottle in the freezer specially for me.image

I will miss picking up my egg order from Nelson, my corner store guy. I will miss the expectant but shy eyes his toddler daughter would give me until I produced her daily cartoon sticker. I will miss hunting around all the shops for my favorite yogurt and the endless search for Tulsi ginger tea. By the way, I did end up finding the tea, on the last day. Just AFTER I had sent my giant parcel home. I still bought four bags of it and they are now coming with me for the remainder of my trip.

I will miss the frolicking in the lively ocean waves and the serene bathing in the mirror like sweet lake. I will miss my high ceiling room and how I could stretch out in every direction on the bed and still not touch the sides. I will miss my little tea station I had set up and how I had made the space mine, decorating the walls even. I will miss going to get my hair worked on, first braids, then dreads, then finally dreadknots. I will miss visiting with the shop owners, even when I didn’t have anything to buy.

I will miss making friends at every turn and running into old friends over and over. I will miss my tight little group who made me laugh, watched me shed a tear or two, nursed me through sickness, and partied with me in health. I don’t generally get attached but something in our time together made it very hard to leave them. I loved that we all lived in such close proximity and we could just yell through the open doors. There was never a shortage of friends to be with but we all seemed to respect each others alone time as well. I will miss our dinners with Lila the Lovely Light Lamp. Oh and the nightly fireworks! The fireworks for no reason. Oh how I will miss them.

I felt safe and relaxed and I know it wasn’t just one or two things. It was a combination of all of it. The people, the time, the space, and my willingness to give and receive. There are few times in my life that I am cognizant of a special gift of a certain moment. I am lucky that this time, I was quite aware that I will highly treasure this unique moment I had in India. Sentimental as I am, I reminded the others that in the future, we would all think back on this time with a strong fondness. I encouraged them to take a snapshot in their hearts. Whatever guys, I know you rolled your eyes at my cheesiness but you also felt the closeness. That was a group hug hard to forget.

In the end, it was really hard to leave but I finally booked my train. Yay my first train ride in India! That made leaving an easier pill to swallow. I packed up what I needed and sent the rest home. I had accumulated a bit of stuff so it was a relief to ship it away even though there is a slight chance it may never get to Edmonton. I said my goodbyes and didn’t really sleep at all the night I was to leave. I had a feeling things may go wrong and boy was I right.

At 4:45am I was scrambling a bit nervous because my ride hadn’t come. I was frantically sending texts and calling to no avail. Finally I received a message that he had gotten in an accident far away and would not be able to take me. I tried my backup plan but that fell through due to lack of petrol in the bike. I was pretty desperate at this point. Luckily, Roz was sleeping next door and woke up to help me find a taxi. Mike also joined in the search party but we came up dry. The streets were empty except for one very creepy drunk man who reminded me of Golum. We turned down Golum’s offer to drive me on his motorbike and he got quite hostile. At this point, I was getting scared.

We three strode up the ghost townish street with not a lot of hope in us. Not five minutes later, we spotted three young men carrying bags. They looked like they were going somewhere. I asked eagerly if they were getting a taxi and they said they were. I begged them to take me with them, if only to the main road where there may be some traffic. They didn’t look very positive admitting the car was full but said we could talk to the driver.

When we reached the driver, I told him my plight. After chatting in Hindi with his passengers, he said he would take me for 1500 rupees. That’s about thirty dollars and honestly, it would have been a bargain at this time of night. It wasn’t hard to get him to agree to a lesser price and I was glad I had when during the ride, I found out they were going to exactly the same train! There was definitely room in the car and it all worked out fine.

Grateful for narrow escapes.

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Stumbling into Hampi – India

The young men bought me a chai at the station and helped me get on the train. I was so relieved but also exhausted. I was so glad I had an upper berth so I could sleep. image

The benches were over packed and had I been down there elbowing for space for the next 8 hours, I surely wouldn’t have made it. I dozed in and out but could completely relax since random hands would sometimes grab at me.

It was very upsetting but then I realized that it may not have been on purpose but more of a people steadying themselves as they made their way down the narrow corridors. In any case, I felt exposed and promised myself I would not choose the highly trafficked upper side berth again.

I got through the train ride which I moderately enjoyed and disembarked in Hospet. I shared an autorickshaw with a couple of Frenchies and then walked the short jaunt to the river. There I hopped on a rickety motorboat with about 20 other foreigners. It was a treacherously situation boarding the boat and I slipped badly bruising my shin. I was a little saddened that no one even flinched much less offered to help.image

They all just watched me with a bored look on their faces as I stumbled and almost tumbled into to water. The loud obnoxious boat stopped in the middle of the river while the money collector made sure we had all paid the 15 rupees. I was glad to get off on the other side promising myself I wouldn’t go through that again until it was time to leave.

I wandered up the dirt road looking for a place to stay. I talked to several guesthouses and toured a bunch of rooms but
nothing felt right. I just wasn’t feeling this place. I walked and walked and at this point, was getting quite tired. I finally doubled back and just checked into one of the less shabby ones.

There were small babies onsite which promised an early morning but I didn’t care. I just needed to rest. I wandered a bit more after dropping my stuff to find something to eat. I ended up with an absurdly delicious falafel from Dudu’s. The Indian guy making them (not called Dudu) was super friendly and I was relieved to finally have some light shone on me. Afterwards, I padded back to my room and collapsed into bed.

Grateful for do it yourself sauce.

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Monkey Madness – Hampi, India

I woke up far too soon due to the crying babies just outside my door. I was sorely aware that the rock hard mattress had split in half sometime in the night. I was falling between two singles that had been pushed together to make a double. I laid there for a few minutes gathering up some motivation before making the first order of the day finding somewhere else to stay. I trundled arounimaged talking to guesthouse managers but still, no love.Some were downright nasty and I started having thoughts of leaving Hampi early.

I ended up choosing the best of the worst and in the end was pretty glad. It was a “resort” but it seemed no one else was staying there except for all the squirrels bounding around my terrace. I don’t know if it was because the place was empty or the owner felt sorry for me but I got it for 200 rupees which included my own bathroom sans hot water. Hot water is overrated anyway since I am cooking from the plus 34 temps.

I settled in and made the effort to try to like this place. I read for a while and talked to the nature that seemed very curious about me indeed. I wished I had some nuts to feed them. I wandered around imageHampi aware I wasn’t seeing the sights or even remotely motivated to. Maybe big rocks just don’t do it for me. Maybe I missed the sea.

It was noticeably hotter and without the breeze, I was getting sticky fast. I took shade in an internet café and puttered around online. I felt a little bad for not giving this place a proper chance but something inside me said “leave”. My train was still waitlisted for Friday and the thought of being stuck here even longer made me stress hard. Just for fun, I checked the Thursday train knowing full well there would be no seats this late in the game but guess what? There were! Something called Taktal which are last minute quota tickets were just released. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to go for it. This also allowed me to change my bed preference to a normal upper bunk rather than a side uppimageer where the wandering grabby hands had molested me before.  I checked with my friend in Bangalore to see if I could come a day early and was assured it was no problem. It seemed like a no brainer. Done deal. Ticket booked.

Feeling relieved I had a sure way out, I wandered out back into the day now that the hottest hours had past. I decided to hike to the top of a nearby mountain and watch the sunset in a few hours. I only got a few steps before running into an Isreali couple I had talked to at Dudu’s the night before. They invited me to come to the Monkey Temple with them and I shrugged, Why Not? It would be smart to see at least one of Hampi’s main features before shoving off tomorrow.

We tossed around the idea of renting bikes but no one would give us a decent price for the two hours we wanted to use them. So we ended up with an autorickshaw that really soured the whole experience. They have some kind of bizarre system here for ripping off the foreigners. We were shuffled around between three different vehicles and verbally abused. Both of my new friends engaged in arguments with gang of drivers who all seemed to be in cahoots and we were all pretty pissed off by the time we ended up with a ride. As imagewe motored off to our destination, I was silently grateful I had booked that ticket for the next day. The energy of the locals here just sucks.

When we got to the mountain, Yonathan got in yet another shouting match with our driver who now informed us we were to be back within one hour or he would leave. We were annoyed because the whole deal revolved around watching the sunset from the mountain! I gave up and walked on ahead, resolving in my mind not to participate in any more of this silly game. It was rude and ridiculous at this point. If I had to walk home afterwards, so be it. It wasn’t worth the energy to fight with these scam artists. There was just no way to win or even find a fragment of fairness.

I was a good 50 steps into the 600 we were meant to climb when I heard some commotion behind me. Apparently Yonathan was being attacked by a pack of greedy monkeys who were trying to steal the bag of bananas we had just bought. He was yelling fearfully and hucking banana after banana at little monsters to placate them. The cheeky monkeys just threw the whole untouched fruits on the ground and kept on tomenting poor Yonathan. They wanted the whole bag!

At this point, I’d had it. Not only were we going to miss the sunset, but he was wasting all of our bananas on monkeys who didn’t deserve them! I marched back there angrily and snatched the plastic bag out of his hands ordering Yonathan to move along. He began to utter warnings when I felt a brazen monkey started climbing up my leg. I growled fiercely and the creature backed off. Just as I turned, another got right up in my face aggressively hissing at me and clawing at the air menacingly. I stomped my feet and hissed even louder, puffing myself up and mimiking a gorilla. I dared the monkey bully as we locked eyes. Just try it, I sneered at him baring my teeth. My opponents face turned from shock to surprise to cimageonfusion to defeat within about a millisecond. When I knew I had won, I grunted to make my point then turned and joined the others who were waiting up the trail. They seemed impressed that this seemingly docile and peaceful traveler had put those monkeys in their place. In all honesty, I didn’t know I knew monkey talk either but I told them I wasn’t about to let anyone terrorize me let alone some rude pests. Come on!

We trod up the mountain encountering a few more monkeys along the way. Thankfully they were a lot more polite and I didn’t have to go apeshit again. There was an adorable trio complete with new born baby which shyly watched us from the ledge. They were not scared enough to bolt as we passed only a foot away from their perch but they were timid. I found it so endearing to see how they both grabbed at and gently bit the baby to protect it.

At the top of the mountain, we were a little out of breath while we removed our shoes. I wasn’t chuffed about the idea of walking around barefoot in monkey doo but respecting the temple comes first. We wandered about admiring the stunning view of the mountains of enormous boulders and lush green rice paddies below. It was quite a sight and well worth the climb. We doled out our remaining bananas to the well mannered monkeys who would calmly take it from our hand. I even sensed a note of gratitude when one of them paused to look me in the eyes softly smiling just before I released the fruit into his possession. It was such a contrast to what we had experienced down below.

After taking some photos, I found the edge of a cliff and settled in to watch the sun set. My bottom was hot from the warmth emanating off the rock but it wasn’t unbearable. I was puzzled to hear goats and chickens way up here but then I realized that the sound travels well. I even heard a farmer talking way down below though I have no idea what he was saying. It was kind of surreal. I studied the many temples off in the distance and found it remarkable how similar they looked to Mayan temples.

When the sun finally sank in her rose petal sky, I breathed out a long sigh. I pivoted on my post to watch the glowing full moon make his debut. I decided to write a bit in my journal and realized that this was an old habit I want to pick up again. After a short time, the others called out to me to head back. Zohar and I made a quick trip inside the temple just to see what it was like. It was dimly lit but colorful and there were a couple men chanting from a massive book. I felt a little self conscious and left after just a couple minutes. It seemed there was some ceremony going on and I didn’t want to interrupt.

We found our shoes and slogged down the mountain to our waiting driver. He was there but most certainly wasn’t happy. He started complaining that we had taken too long and then started driving like a mad man. I told him very seriously that if he continued to drive like that I would “throw out” all over him since I wasn’t feeling well. I was sitting directly behind him so my empty threat seemed to calm him down a bit.

When we arrived to town and paid him, he cursed us and carped some more as we were walking away. My friend began talking about how awful he was and how it was so shocking that they could treat people that way. I surprised myself by remarking compassionately how difficult it must be to do that job.

Immediately the energy changed and we all felt differently. I sensed there is a lot of struggle and negativity going on here. I didn’t know it at the time but I learned that the government is kicking people out of their homes in parts of Hampi. The Archaeological Survey of India are displacing residents by demolishing their homes. It reminded me vaguely of Secret of Nymh or more recently, Avatar. In any case, I didn’t love Hampi. It was a bit of a let down as so many of my friends had really built it up.image

I ended up having another falafel then a quiet night. I went to a restaurant across the road to watch Into the Wild with the other lazy backpackers or tired climbers. Every night they show movies at the guesthouse lounge/eateries like Fight Club, Slumdog Millionaire, or some other popular favorite.  I was happy to have seen some of the sites but I was more happy to be leaving. I read for a while before drifting off to sleep.

Grateful for well mannered monkeys.

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Airport Adventures Video – Delhi, India

The Beautiful Delhi Airport

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The View from here – Rishikesh, India

The view from here in Rishikesh

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Traveling more lightly – Hampi to Bangalore, India

I woke after a decent night sleep and read until it was time to leave. I packed up my bag which I was happy is getting smaller and lighter with every stop I make. I made my way back over the river early so I could roam around for a while before making my way to the train station.

I heard that sunsets were something spectacular from a restaurant called the Mango Tree. I was further than I expected but well worth the effort. I couldn’t really decide on food until I saw someone order a fruit salad, curd and museli. It looked almost as good as the stunning view so I ordered it. And some Dal Fry. And some rice pudding. It was all pretty damn good but the homemade museli was out of this world. I overstuffed myself ofcourse as always seems to happen when the food is too good.

I wobbled down the path towards the bus stand to catch the 6:30pm bus to Hospet. The sun was just about to set but I didn’t want to miss this train so I continued on in the opposite direction. I appreciated the warm hues dusk was presenting on the nature around me. I listened to the birds and insects getting excited about another day done.

As I was passing the barrage of autorickshaw drivers, I put on my very best “thanks but no thanks” face. It seemed to keep them all at bay…all except one. He approached me and I began assuring him I wasn’t interested in paying 150 rupees when I could take the bus for a tenth of the price. He asked me where I was going and I told him. He said he was done his day and had to head that way anyway so he would take me for however much I wanted to pay him. Surprised and intrigued by his offer, I dug out all my change. I counted seventy rupees and he smiled kindly motioning for me to jump in. I was feeling pretty lucky as now we were going towards the sunset. My dude turned up his music and we cruised along towards the town. I wanted to give him a present and found a packet of stickers to adorn his vehicle with. They happened to be footprints of every size and color. Without him knowing, I made a little path all along the sides, roof, and back of his chair.

I was having a grand old time when I remembered my broken running shoe. I asked if he knew of a “mochi” and he nodded with a smile. We just so happened to be passing one on the way. Just then I realized I didn’t have any more money other than what I promised to pay him. I tried to tell him not to stop but he shushed me and hopped out to talk to the cobbler. I presented my sad looking silver trainer and the old man eyed it, turned it around in his hands, and then asked me if I wanted it sewed or glued. I thought gluing would be cheapest and fastest so we went with that. Twenty rupees later, my favorite shoes were wearable once again.

The autorickshaw driver, Ramesh, was ever so kind and genuine. I believed him when he assured me that the fifty rupees I had left was more than sufficient. He gave me a wide toothy grin and informed me it was his pleasure to help me. I was touched by his generosity and floated on that for the next two hours while I waited for my train.

I was pretty tired so I didn’t have much trouble falling asleep on my top bunk sleeper. The ride was uneventful and I woke just at the crack of dawn. I lolled around in my bed until about an hour out of Bangalore. I was pasted to the window watching the city develop from countryside villages and the pace pick up.

When I got off the train, my patient friend Phil was waiting for me with a big welcome hug. Last year at Burning Man, I took on another role besides my normal Emergency Services Dispatch job. I have the honor of being Ranger Caramel and Phil was my mentor. It was really cool to hang out with a fellow Burner, not to mention a fellow Ranger. We caught up over bagels and cream cheese washed down with some good old strong coffee. I was feeling more and more like myself.

I grounded myself a bit and enjoyed the luxury I was blessed with in their guest bedroom. Their house was grand, spotless and tastefully decorated. I felt like I was a princess in a palace. You can’t imagine my envy when I learned they have a mango and a (wait for it)….CHERIMOYA aka. Custard apple tree in their yard. In the center of Bangalore, they are within spitting distance from most of the main attractions. To top it all off, they live right around the corner from the best coconut ice cream that has ever crossed my lips. Needless to say, I spent the next week in heaven.

It was just what I needed to recharge and regroup before heading up north into the “real” India. I had feared that I was spoiled in Arambol for so long and that I had lost my traveling edge. We made a few excursions into the dregs of the city to find things like cell phone protectors and lemon squeezers. It was a lovely city but not what I expected. Much more cosmopolitan perhaps due to the major influx of IT businesses. There is a boom going on here which makes it an exciting dynamic time to experience.

Grateful for recharging.

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Holi Paint Party – Bangalore, India

I was pretty sure I had missed Holi, the famous Indian festival of colors. But it turned out, I was just in time. A large group of mostly American ex-pats gathered for breakfast before the main event. While everyone else was saran wrapping their cellphones and cameras, I was wrapping my head. I knew that if I got paint or colored dye powder on my dreads, I would never be rid of it. When all was said and done, I looked like Marge from the Simpsons but it worked like a charm.

We entered the party and immediately were in the thick of it. We all took turns grabbing handfuls of colored powder and throwing it at each other. We were a conglomeration of fuscia, electric blue, emerald green, lemon yellow and tangerine orange. I felt like a rainbow threw up on me. There was paint powder everywhere! And I mean e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. As the day wore on, we all got sweaty so the powder turned into paste which you can imagine got pretty messy. Luckily, the organizers thought up a shower situation on the dancefloor. It was like dancing in the rain and we all laughed as the colors ran together creating a deep purple mess.

I was pretty wiped by two so I went home with Phil and Rachael. I proceeded to shower as best I could before collapsing into bed. Needless to say, I spent the next week and a half scrubbing paint off me. My belly still shows traces of purple and there is green powder deep in my right ear that not even a q-tip can reach. One good thing is that they clothes I wore are trash. My backpack just got lighter.

Overall, I found Bangalore a bit impersonal and lacking character so I was glad to have Phil and Rachael to hang out with. I went to the mall, bowling, and ate out a bunch before leaving the city to the airport. Perhaps my favorite meal was an extravagant thali at UB city. The night before I left, Phil and I indulged in this godsend for indecisive people like me. There were about fifteen different bowls with savory, tangy, spicy and sweet flavors. They just kept bringing more and more loading up our tray. We both agreed thali is the Indian version of all you can eat buffet.

The next morning, I was so lucky to have my gracious hosts lend me their driver who whisked me off the airport. I arrived in plenty of time only to find out my flight had been canceled. I groaned and kicked myself for booking Kingfisher. Everyone knows that this airline is in trouble and about to go under. I didn’t think it would happen THIS quickly. I stood around waiting for a solution and fortunately, most of the displaced travelers were put on another airline also going to Delhi. From there I could connect with my next flight to Dehredun.

The whole trip went smoothly and I was amazed how modern and efficient the Delhi international airport was. They had some fantastic displays and art. It was more cutting edge than many of the airports I have seen in America. Who knew? I will be back to Delhi in a month when I will fly out to Nepal so I will get another dose of this place then.

Grateful for paint parties.

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