A Travellerspoint blog

into indo

My friend Matt had already been in Indonesia a few days and thru emails told me to join him on Lembongan, an island off the coast of Bali. Indonesia is a country made up of hundreds of islands with some of the more famous ones being Bali, Java and Sumatra. My plans were just to stay around Bali. With Indonesia being my last country as a backpacker (before being a TEACHER!) I did not want much more than beaches, scuba diving and fun. I flew into the Bali airport, negotiated a taxi ride to a fast boat ferry dock out to Lembongan and within 2 hours of landing, I was on the island. Matt told me the name of the cheap hotel he was staying at, I found it on the tiny island, talked to the staff, mostly through body language what room was the white boy staying in. I passed out in the chair outside Matt's room and the next thing I know, Matt is waking me up. Lembongan is a very small island with surfing tourism and day trips from Bali being the main industry. Strangely enough, collecting seaweed is the 2nd biggest, so in low tide the shallows are covered with locals harvesting seaweed. One of the reasons I came to Bali was to learn to surf because it is world famous for its breaks. However, the 2 main surf spots were named Shipwreck and Laceration, not what I needed. These two waves broke over a coral reef, so one slipup and get ready for a mouthful of coral and a missing tooth, not what I wanted. Instead, I had 2 great scuba dives and a snorkel trip. There are strong currents along Lembongan so on the snorkel trip, I floated for about an hour, not having to kick at all. Another day, I rented a motorbike and drove around the island and on everyroad possible in about 3 hours, small island. It was great to meet up with Matt and be with someone else again. We left Lembongan after about 5 days and headed to another dive spot on the main island of Bali. I took the fast boat ferry onto Lembongan but for my trip out, we talked to locals about the cheapest way off and what we found was definitely local. Everyday a boat comes to Lembongan delivering fresh vegetables and everyday it leaves empty, with room for passengers. I took the vegetable boat back to Bali, with a blue tarp for a sail and a 5hp engine, very slow but it is hard for me to complain when I am sailing on crystal clear blue waters in Indonesia.

Posted by pmyerson 22:09 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

i love thai beaches

Thailand is famous, world renowned for its beaches and scuba diving. If you know the geography of Thailand, it sort of looks like a tree. The trunk of the tree is a peninsula with AWESOME diving, outrageous parties and because of this a backpackers haven. I visited Phuket 2 years ago when I was Thailand but only for a few days. I was only spending about a week more in Thailand because of visa time constraints and chose not to go to the 'trunk' of Thailand and rather the bottom right of the 'leaves' to save time and money, the diving is not world renowned but it is still great. In addition, I had a friend, the one I partied with in Bangkok, Sarah Barr, living and teaching about an hour east of Bangkok. I first stopped in Pattaya to go diving. Pattaya is a beautiful beach town that is a major destination for Thai locals to escape from Bangkok, it is also a major destination for sleazy men who want a 18 year old Thai girl or ladyboy. If you do not know what a ladyboy is, (you have obviously never been to Thailand) but it is a man who wants to be a woman, some in appearance and character and others go further and have some 'adjustments'. The concept of ladyboys is interesting to me because it is so accepted by Thais, it is just part of the culture. Pattaya nightlife is a sad place because I was in the minority for not having a Thai prostitute by my side. However, there is crystal clear warm water full of marine life. I went diving twice in Pattaya, one time throughout a sunk car ferry. This was my 2nd wreck dive and I love them. I am not 100% sure biologically but I think wrecks are such great diving because the coral have perfect surfaces to attach to, which in turn attracts fish. Diving a wreck is weird mix of human and nature and it is an adventure going through small spaces in dark waters.

After Pattaya was Chonburi, where my friend Sarah Barr teaches and lives. Chonburi is a large Thai town but is in no way a tourist destination, does not make an appearance in the Lonely Planet, does not have cheap hotels for backpackers and trying to figure info out online was very tough. To make everything more difficult, I did not have a cell phone and had sent Barr a few emails but had to somehow borrow cell phones from locals, which is tough not knowing any Thai or use phone booths which I struggled much too much with. When I got on the bus in Pattaya and told them Chonburi they thought I was wrong because no foreigners take the bus, the bus workers kept asking 'Bangkok?' and I had to answer 'Chonburi!' I showed them the address and they literally dropped me off on the side of a highway. After showing Barr's address to about 5 motorbike drivers, someone finally knew where it was. Of course it was only about a 5 minute ride from the side of the highway. Barr was living in an apartment building/hotel right next to her school. Her room was very nice, own bathroom, AC!!! and a swimming pool! I had not slept in a room with AC since America, because hotel rooms with AC are always much more expensive and I had only swam in a swimming pool once in Chiang Mai since leaving home in August. Barr was teaching and living with 3 other American girls. The day I arrived in Chonburi happened to be Thanksgiving and also a payday for these girls so we decided to go out for a Thanksgiving dinner feast of rice, fish, papaya salad and of course noodles. The girls had told me that whenever they go out they are starred at very hard because there are no foreigners in Chonburi (and they are good looking girls) and of course to contradict everything, at the restaurant we went to there were two white guys having dinner. Pretty much as soon as the two groups saw each other jaws dropped because the 6 of us might have been the only 6 foreigners in all of Chonburi. Turns out they were American too and we had a great Thanksgiving dinner together, no turkey, no stuffing, no peas, no cranberries (thats all I eat on Thanksgivng) but one I will never forget.

That weekend, Barr and some of her American teacher friends were visiting a festival in Lopburi, just north of Bangkok. It sounded awesome, the town is overrun by monkeys who steal food from unsuspecting humans but once a year the town puts on a buffet feast for the monkeys to go rummage through. I wish I could have gone but the day before leaving, I started feeling awful. Long story short I stayed in Barr's room because it was better than any hotel room I wanted to pay for and recovered. I only had a few more days until my visa expired and my flight left so I did not get out to Ko Samui, an amazing dive site but did make it to Ko Samet, a great dive spot. Ko means island so I took a ferry to Ko Samet. Ko Samet is a touristy island but not the party backpacker scene, which was fine with me as I still was not feeling 100%. I was also able to leave my large backpack in Chonburi and Barr's place and travel for a few days with just my small pack. I had a great dive in Ko Samet and even found a place to rent sailboats. Of course there was not too much wind on the days I was there but I still rented a Hobie (the laser was in sad shape and I did not even want to let myself down by sailing it...I sail and race lasers and this one was a disgrace) and went around for a few hours. My cheap hotel room even had a TV in it, which was a great relief from the heat and sun when I was not feeling great. I will be honest, I stayed in one day and watched Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 2 and then, you guessed it, Jurassic Park 3. I even watched a college basketball game on ESPN, AMAZING! I rented a motorbike one day and drove around the tiny island and had another right of passage motorbike spill, scratching my leg up pretty bad. Salt water and scabby legs are a painful mix. A few days on Ko Samet, then a ferry ride back to the mainland, one more night with Barr in Chonburi retrieving my bags and then back to the Bangkok and off to Indonesia, my last country!

Posted by pmyerson 00:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

mae hong song loop and the abrupt end

Coming back to Chiang Mai from our Something Different motorbike tour, waiting in my inbox was a message from Matt, 'in Chiang Mai, where are you?',small world. We met up at the Chiang Mai Salon and traded crazy stories for hours. With the original trio back together, we decided we needed an immediate crazy adventure, the solution was the Mae Hong Song loop. Starting in Chiang Mai it was about 100kms to Pai and then another 100kms to Mae Hong Song and then there are other smaller towns to visit before completing the loop back to Chiang Mai. Pai was a good small town that many Thai tourists visit, along with many foreigners so the main 3 streets are packed and then 5 minutes away is not much. There are a few nice waterfalls where you can slide down the rocks into the water. Mae Hong Song is sort of far away from the tourist trail but it has some caves. The main point of the trip was the adventure of motorbiking. We had left our big backpacks at Something Different tours and had all just taken a small day pack for a week trip. Traveling with not much is an awesome experience, getting over dirty clothes is easy and living minimally is just fun for me.

I am not 100% sure how to describe what happened next or even what happened. In a Mae Hong Song restaurant I saw the date on a newspaper, I forget exactly what it was now but late November like the 20th. I sort of freaked out and realized I only had alittle over a month of backpacking left. The plan was to stay in north Thailand longer and maybe into Lao, our plans were not concrete at all but that just was not what I wanted to do. I left Sam and Matt during lunch to head down south for scuba diving, sailing, snorkeling, beaches, beaches and beaches. I felt bad the way I left them but as selfish as it sounds, doing what I wanted to do was more important than the group. I drove back to Pai for the night, then to Chiang Mai the next morning and then took the train back to Bangkok with beaches on my mind.

Posted by pmyerson 01:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

chiang mizzle...something different

A few days after I arrived in Bangkok, Sam did too and Tom, one of my English friends from Goa. We all met up at a bar in Bangkok and then a few days later, with 3 Irish gals we met, took the overnight train up to Chiang Mai. No Thailand horror train stories like in China and India, it was actually great. Chiang Mai is a touristy town but offers many trips into the wild north Thai jungles. Chian Mai itself has Mexican food, BBQ bacon cheeseburgers, sushi and any food a traveling backpacker is missing. Trekking, rafting, elephant riding and more are all trips offered but I was looking for something different. I think I even used that exact phrase when deciding what to do. One day I saw a brochure for Something Different Tours, sounds good and then the explanation of the trip made my day, 'each trip is different as your guides will take you to the best waterfalls, village festival that is going on and whatevers good during that time and did I mention you drive motorbikes on dirt roads through the jungles to get to these places...AWESOME. Two other Americans/Canucks we met at the Chiang Mai Salon (our local watering hole) joined Sam and I on our 4 day motorbike expedition. Nat was our main guide and he spoke English but our other guide, Din did not. His one phrase, 'nice to meet you' was understandable but he used it instead of hello, so he would say it to you multiple times a day, pretty funny. The road we were on were dirt paths, up and down mountains, across streams, over creaky bridges. Using gears was essential, taking a spill was a right of passage and sometimes just giving it full throttle, holding on and praying was the way to go. We went to a small small village of 2 families and a crazy old hermit, saw many massive waterfalls, jumped into a few and visited our guides family farm and house. I will never forget Nat's house and farm. We arrive at about dusk after a full day of driving to an awesome meal of local Thai foods, including rotten meat (NEVER try it or even smell it), mole, fresh veggies and of course rice. Nat's brother then showed us his 'secret' crop that he grows in with his families crops, (you might be able to guess what it is from north Thailand), we tried some with banana leaves and then Nat surprised us by saying we were going frog hunting. We walked up and down a river for about 3 hours hunting frogs, which only consists of catching them with your hands, if you are quick enough. I got my hands on a few but never officially caught one and put it in the jar. Everyone else had about the same luck as me with a few catches except for Ian, our American/Canuck friend who caught about 10. Pitch dark with our head lamps on, just looking for the red eyes of frogs, our just seeing them hop around. Frogs were not the only animals enjoying the river around midnight, we saw a snake that actual snapped its mouth at our legs, no worries, only a baby King Cobra, which are actually more dangerous because they cannot control their venom yet. No problem, we continued frog hunting. Once we finished we fried and ate our frogs, a totally awesome, crazy experience I will never forget.

Posted by pmyerson 00:21 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

bangkok, not by a guidebook

I had been to Bangkok in May/June of 2008 but only for a few days. However, in those few days I put on my tourist hat and saw most of the sights around the city. Similar to my time in Beijing, I did not see too much in my few days in Bangkok this time. I stayed in a different part of the city than most cheap tourists/backpackers (Ko San Road) but still loved it. I was alone for a few days before Sam arrived from India and Nepal. I walked all around the city, figured the Skytrain system out and took some local teenagers advice to go to an area called Siam. I have been to many cities around the world and Siam is probably 2nd in my mind, to Times Square, as the craziest and busiest area. There are 4 malls, Skytrain stops above, overpasses just to cross major roads, hundreds of smaller shops, fountain, Thais going shopping and tourists dropping their jaws. I came across a cinema and watched Brothers Bloom, maybe I had not seen a movie in months or maybe I was happy to hear English for that long but I loved the movie. I loved it so much that the next day I saw This Is It and loved it too. I did not see any temples (wats), palaces, historical sights but instead saw Bangkok's malls and skyscrapers and I do not regret any of it.

I also met up with Sarah Barr, a fellow 09 Camel and an English teacher in Thailand. She came to Thailand through a teaching program, along with 30 other Americans and it just so happened the weekend I was in Bangkok, was a reunion for all of her friends. They all taught in various places around Thailand but reunited in Bangkok to party. I had not been around more than 5 Americans in months and it was happy change from Europeans, Asians and everyone else. Lets just say I had a great time partying with many other Americans, even the few from Mass.

Posted by pmyerson 01:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

port blair to chennai

The Lonely Planet says the ferry between Port Blair and Chennai takes about 70 hours, give or take 10 hours and locals say it takes 75 hours. It cost me about $19 and locals from the Andaman Islands pay $7, this is of course for bunk accommodations that of course I choose. The ferry terminal was a mess with friends dropping each other off and seeing each other away. I think there were about 700 passengers on this ferry. I was treated like a star in the boarding process because I actually had to go thru immigration along with 2 other Israelis (the only tourists) and then the VIP treatment ended when they saw my ticket was bunk class. My bunk room was on the 2nd floor (the lowest passengers) for a 7 story boat and was a room of about 50 bunk beds and it was probably half full. It was filthy and some Indians cannot handle the rocking. My meals for the trip were rice with some curried vegetables that were always bad covered it an Indian sauce that they just covered the food in, luckily I had brought my Tabasco sauce (hot sauce is essential for traveling). I was expected to drink water from a pitcher but distance pour it because everyone at my table drank out of it and all of this was no utensils because who doesnt eat rice with their hands, this is the bunk class cafeteria and a trip worth of 3 meals a day and tea cost $5. After one meal I went up to the 1st class cafeteria and begged for them to lend me a spoon, a lifesaver.

I was a celebrity on this boat along with the 2 other Israelis because all the Indians wanted to talk to us about everything and anything. One man asked me if I could see the moon from America, I said yes. One man was very nice and any time he saw me would have an hour long conversation with me. The first day about 2 hours into the trip I met him and we talked about my trip and he was wondering where I was going after Chennai and I told him Bangkok on the 3rd at midnight. Very surprised he answered this ship doesnt get into Chennai until the 4th at noon. I was on the once every 2 months voyage that stopped at another small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean and this voyage took 100 hours. He quickly used his cell phone to delay my flight and saved me. The Israelis had the same exact problem and solution. 100 hours on a boat with not much to do. Staying in the bunk room was tough because everyone would stare and come over and ask questions. One day I was listening to my cd player and 2 kids ran by so I put a earpiece on both of them and they loved Lynrd Skynrd. Too bad they would come over and want to hear it anytime they saw me, even when I was sleeping. These boys were from Port Blair and were just used to getting up at 4am everymorning, so that was my alarm clock in the morning. MY batteries could only take so much and died half way thru the trip. The batteries I bought from the Ship"s store lasted about 2 songs and killed my limited funds on the trip. I watched about 10 Indian movies, even a few with English subtitles. Bollywood is famous but there is another film 'group' from South India who always use fat males with mustaches as the main characters and heroes, hilarious. Bollywood movies are something to see and marvel it. I learned a few things from my few experiences with Bollywood films, before every movie everyone stands up and sings the national anthem, answering your cellphone and talking at a movie is fine, Pakistan is always in the movie and always the bad guy and all Indians can sing and dance.

I did not mention it in my entry in Pune but I saw a Bollywood blockbuster in theaters. The movie was called Blue and was actually mostly shot on location in the Caribbean. To advertise a movie in India, the movie will leak the song a few months before from the movie when the major song and dance scene happens, which happen in Bollywood movies multiple times. For Blue, the big song even had Kyle Minogue in it. It was on all the Indian radios and was a hit. But the movie wasnt. It was bad, the last scene is the bad guy, who was the good guy until the 2nd to last scene in the movie and the badass of the movie, drive his dirtbike off a boat and then breathe out of the tires to escape!

A few movies a day, reading my books, solitaire and tea time was my entertainment for 4 days. Finally Chennai appeared on the horizon and was welcome sight to see. We arrived around noon, got off the boat around 1 and had 7 hours to kill before my flight, spent an entire afternoon in an internet cafe and still arrived to the airport more than 3 hours before my flight and was not allowed in, bad rule India. It was the end of 45 days in India and had taken me from Kashmir in the north to the south and even out to the Andaman Islands. India is so massive that there was plenty I did not see. Travellers and Indians would always ask 'how long are you in India for' and even saying a month and a half, they would always answer, 'oh not enough', some people travel for a year just in India. I am sort of split on India, yea there is plenty of great stuff to see, do, eat but there are some hassles to deal with that cause problems. There are many other places to travel that do not have these hassles or have less. I am happy I went and spent the time but do not feel the need to go back (only 2 months after, maybe I will change my mind) and cannot understand people who travel for a year in India.

Side note, the Port of Chennai was hosting a 29er and Opti regatta that I watched a little. I thought about staying in Chennai and teaching sailing for about half a second before I remembered I could never make it in Chennai, India.

Posted by pmyerson 17:13 Archived in India Comments (0)

no place like this in india or the world

The Andaman Islands are a tiny group of Indian islands off the coast of India but are actually closer to Thailand. It is isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean and some of the islands in the archipelago are still only inhabited with tribes and no outsiders are allowed in, for good reasons too. On one island, any foreigners, film crews, surfers, diplomats, anyone was met with a friendly barrage of arrows! However, these islands offer untouched nature, on land and in the water and being a beach bum I was attracted, some of the best scuba diving in the world also helped. The only ways to get to the Andaman Islands are on daily flights from mainland India or a ferry that only runs 4 times a month. The airfare is about ten times more expensive but takes 1/40 the time (that is correct 1/40th). I bought a King Fisher ticket to and planned on taking the ferry back to India to experience some ocean crossing. Speaking of King Fisher Air, it is a weird company that I never fully understood it but the airline company also is connected with King Fisher Beer, which was one of the most popular beers all around India and there is also King Fisher cement, somehow all connected, I have no idea either.

Sam left from Pune on his own epic voyage across India and about an hour later I ventured out too. I had 2 bus rides and a plane ride before I was on the beach. Of course when I got to my first bus station and showed them my ticket for 6:30 they told me no but said I could get on the 8:30 no problem, I think they oversold tickets but had no clue. I had booked an airline ticket, read the Lonely Planet for bus times and talked to some bus companies and had given myself about 12 hours extra in about a 20 hour voyage to catch my plane and right off the bat 2 hours were gone. Of course my bus to Bangalore took 7 hours more than it was supposed to, which is pretty bad considering it was only supposed to be like 13 hours. Finally in Bangalore, I had to find a travel agent, call King Fisher and catch the next flight to the Andaman Islands because I did not think I was going to make it and did not trust India's transportation. I finally arrive in Chennai, about 7 hours before my flight and catch some well needed sleep after spending the last 2 days in bus seats. A quick flight later, I am in the Andaman Islands, equipped with pictures on my camera of the Lonely Planet pages (a great trick) I went to the ferry building to figure it all out. I was in sad shape, either spend 3 days or 10. Looking back now, I still think I made the right choice of thinking 10 was just too many on these tiny islands that had nothing but beaches, dive shops and locals. I chose 3 which really did not give me much time. I spent a day in Port Blair which is the closest thing to a city on these islands but has about 2 streets with shops, awesome. Another crazy thing about the Andaman Islands is the time, they operate in the same time zones as India but are SO FAR east that the it starts to get light out around 4am and is pitch dark by 5pm, which threw off my biological clock big time and just confused me. Port Blair is not much, but there is a crazy prison on the island, these islands were like India's Alcatraz or Australia. Before Gandhi in the 50s, there were earlier Indians calling for a unified India and many of them were jailed and shipped to Port Blair. Sometime in the 30s I think there was a major hunger strike where 100s of inmates starved themselves or were killed for not eating. This martyrs are sort of seen as freedom fighters now in Indian history. The next day I took a ferry to Havelock Island which was the beach paradise I was hoping for, of course the ferry from Havelock to Port Blair only runs one or two times a day and I would only have time for 1 full day on Havelock. I made the most of it though, renting a boat to go snorkeling, it was a fun 2 hour boat trip to South Button Island and the snorkeling was AWESOME and I even got to drive the boat back to the harbor. Havelock is a nothing beach island that is pitch dark by 5pm and most places do not sell beer or liquor because when it comes from other islands, the locals know and buy it up. The next day I took the 1pm ferry back to Port Blair, spent one last night doing nothing in Port Blair and the day after that arrived at the pier to take my 72 hour ferry to Chennai and about 90 hours later I had a flight from Chennai to Bangkok.

I loved the Andaman Islands and wish I could have spent more time there. I really felt like I was as far away from America as I have every been, life was so slow and there was nothing on the islands other than perfect beaches. There was already a few too many beach bungalows on Havelock (mine was $1 a night!) and there are hotels under construction. There are many travelers stories of places 'blowing up' and only in a few years becoming too developed, losing its local culture, selling out and changing identity. I have heard stories about places in Thailand, Laos, Indonesia all losing the local culture and becoming a Disney World tourist attraction. The Andaman Islands, Havelock mostly, are a backpackers dream but in a few years will not be the same. I am pretty young and have not seen many of these places before the changes but I think I saw the real Andaman Islands, before most of the world knew anything about them and before some of the world took a trip and stayed in a 5 star hotel there. It is a special feeling for me.

My ferry ride to Chennai is way too much for me to describe and deserves its own entry.

Posted by pmyerson 02:18 Archived in India Comments (0)

home in india

After many days of relaxing on the beach and forgetting I was in India, I finally left Goa to visit Susan in her hometown of Pune. Pune is a major city but much newer than most Indian cities so there was not too much cultural historical sights we visited, just seeing a modern Indian city. I actually got to sleep in a house with a kitchen and people who spoke English FOR FREE. Susan showed us around Pune including showing us some awesome Indian food that we were too afraid to try or could not pronounce so would not try to order it. We also met some of Susan's Indian friends and just interacting with a 'normal' kid my age who was not telling me any lies and had no connection with the tourism industry was a great experience. The 3 05 Camel Alums thought we needed a celebratory dinner and chose the Hard Rock Cafe Pune, it was awesome. I cannot describe the nachos and HUGE burger I had, even though the prices were American prices it was a well needed meal that reminded me why I do not eat rice, noodles everyday back in America. I also finally made an Indian football game work. I had been trying to go to one all around India but dates, transportation and laziness due to the heat had thwarted all efforts. Pune FC vs Mumbai FC, which everyone knows is a big rivalry (because the cities are so close). I paid 200 ($4) for a VIP seat which was pretty much anywhere I wanted to sit, so I chose 1st row. The stadium was tiny, nothing compared to the Beijing Workers Stadium where I saw the last game and nothing like Americans think of a pro sports stadium but the atmosphere was still rocking. The drum section was going crazy, there was a loud Mumbai fan in my section screaming his head off and Susan and Sam enjoyed it almost as much as I did, big relief for me after I brought them. The actual game was not too impressive though, I am pretty sure my GFA Dragons high school team and Conn Coll team could have beaten both teams that day.

After returning to an Indian city and just dealing with the rip off taxi drivers who cannot be trusted, market stalls expecting me to buy, beggars and more I decided I had done my time in India and was not sure if I wanted to go to even more extreme India. Sam had the Taj Mahal and Varanasi in his sights, while I was pretty sure I did not want to go there. I am not sure if I made the right decision because the Taj Mahal is the Taj Mahal but it is not going anywhere and I can visit it anytime in life, maybe not staying in the cheapest hotels I can find too. Varanasi sounds crazy, there are definite travelers horror stories but I did not want to take the chance. So Sam and I split up with plans to meet up in Bangkok in a few weeks. Sorry Mom, I lied to you about this one but I traveled alone for about two weeks.

I went to the Andaman Islands...

(cliffhanger ending)

Posted by pmyerson 19:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

india is easy living!

The next morning when I woke up in Calangute I could hear the waves on the beach and with Sam still asleep I went directly to the ocean. If you know anything about me (which I hope you do if you are reading this) I LOVE THE OCEAN. I had been thinking about it earlier in the trip and I had not seen the ocean since I left America in mid august and it was now only about 2 months since I had seen the ocean but that was the longest time in YEARS (probably 12 years if my math is right) that I had gone without seeing, hearing and being with the ocean. It really made me think about my life and how the ocean plays a major role and that whatever happens in the rest of my life, going 2 months without the ocean is unacceptable! Anyways Calangute was a good town but sort of too touristy and tacky touristy for Sam and my liking. We still enjoyed the beach for a few days and definitely relaxed but had sort of different visions of Goa. We stayed in Calangute for a few days because we had told a friend, fellow Camel 05 Alumni Susan Taylor to meet up with us in Goa.

If you think my backpacking travels are intense, I am a wimp compared to Susan. She studied abroad in India our junior year and fell in love with India. A week after we graduated college (somehow) she moved to India with a job for a non profit company improving slum life in Pune. Pune, which I had never heard of either, is the 8th most populated city in India and has more than 4 million citizens. Sam and I had been emailing her along our trip but had been giving her pretty bad reports on when we would make it to Goa because we had no idea and kept getting held up in places we liked too much. We finally set a date and place and decided to meet up and BOOM there she was knocking on our hotel room door, no cell phones, just a few emails and alot of faith. We were the first people Susan had seen that she had known in like 5 months! She had been to Goa before and agreed that Calangute was not the best place for us. So we decided to go searching for our picture perfect paradise, with help from the Lonely Planet bible of course. This adventure required a new form of transportation, one that Asia specializes in and I had fallen in love with in Vietnam, motorbikes.

Quick side story about my experiences with motorbikes and not many of you know this story.
My Vietnam study abroad group met at Conn Coll about a month before we left, it was a crazy meeting, seeing all the faces I would see in Vietnam and being shown and introduced to some ideas about what our life would be like fro 5 months. In these meeting I signed an agreement saying I would not drive motorbikes (and some other donts that I broke too) Sorry Conn Coll, I lied. After a few months of getting used to traffic in Vietnam all the men on the trip ventured on an adventure, partly dreamed up by me to go to a casino about 120 km away from our home, Hanoi. Along the way we stopped at a snake village and ate snakes for lunch. On the trip I hit a 18 wheeler on my motorbike, yes you read that correctly. I scratched myself up pretty bad but nothing serious and i messed my bike up pretty good too, the last 20kms I could not drive over 40km/hr because my bike was in trouble. We get to the casino, 5 Americans and are 100% out of place. The casino is illegal fro Vietnamese but legal for foreigners so many Chinese cross the border for this casino. Chinese LOVE to gamble and we walked into a very nice casino/hotel setup dirty and bloodied from the road. Somehow, against all odds, all 5 of us make money in the casino and are doing well enough to buy a hotel room, spent the night and go back to Hanoi the next day. I got my bike fixed along the way and it was one of the biggest adventures I have ever been on. We had no cell phones, lost each other along the way, barely could ask Vietnamese locals where Do Son was and before we left all agreed that whatever happened we were meeting in Do Son and if you didnt make it, go back to Hanoi and never talk about the trip. That is the start of my affair with motorbikes, I am (or was) happily married to my 1991 Volvo 240.

Driving motorbikes in India is normal for Indians but one look from me at the Indian traffic in all cities and most towns overall made me not want to touch the handlebars. Did I mention that India drives on the wrong side of the road? Goa was different because of the laid back beach atmosphere and many tourists rent bikes and venture along the coast, this was still my first time driving on the wrong side. We rented 2 motorbikes and started up the coast, I was less cautious than Sam and decided to take Susan on my bike. She had seen too much Indian motorbike traffic in Pune and wanted nothing to do with driving a motorbike. We started driving, not perfect at first but got the hang of it pretty quickly. Except for traffic circles which I hate even in America (stupid Mass has tons of them) and traffic circles the wrong way was sort of a problem for me. We explored a few towns on the coast, stopped for lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean but decided to continue on. Then we found it, literally parking our bikes on the beach and having our jaws hit the sand with what we had found, Arambol. A perfect beach with restaurants all along the beach, stalls with merchants not hassling you and beach huts along the nearby hill overlooking the beach. We stayed there all afternoon, loving it and even confused a beach hut hotel by asking for a reservation for tomorrow, which was a new concept to them. We left before nightfall because driving motorbikes is a whole different story at night. I almost hit a black cow that was crossing the road at night, I pulled over immediately and could not believe what had just happened. Back to Calangute for one night to get the rest of our bags and then the next day a taxi to Arambol. Arambol is sort of a hippie town and some of tourists look like they have been there too long and have not experienced the real world any time recently but we had no problem with the environment. (One of my pictures is the view from our beach hut that I recommend you check out to get the feeling) The 3 of us were beach bums for a few days, not doing much, getting back in touch with our Conn Coll party lifestyle and eating fresh SEAFOOD, a favorite of mine. After a few days Susan had to go back to work in Pune and we said we would go visit her in a few days but Sam and I could not leave this place. One of the reasons was a great group of people we met up with. We had met a couple Tom and Bridie in Udaipur and kept in touch with emails and when they said they were going to Goa, we told them to come to Arambol. They actually had other English friends there and soon Sam and I were in a group of 10 Brits, only understanding about 80% of their words and having some of ours questioned as well. I cannot remember all your names but Tom, Connor, Nill, Kellie, Olivia, Bill and any others I forgot, you are all cheeky bastards.

To make this beach vacation complete, I rented a motorbike again and took a trip to Paragon, which is home to many casinos (the only ones in India). Some of the casinos I had read about were on boats, which was a dream come true for me but the $40 entrance was alittle steep for a small time gambler like me. I found one, free entrance fee (except for the fact that I was not allowed in with shorts and had to go buy pants). I did very well at the roulette table, bad at blackjack but came out on top and was able to pay for my new pants, renting a bike, gas and a reward dinner at Pizza Hut in India.

One more thing about Goa, it is interesting to see the nationalities that travel and visit certain places. Goa is a mini Israel, it was fascinating how many of them there were, probably more Israelis than all other nationalities combined. It was also interesting to see how many of them had dropped out of their mandatory 3 year military service and were escaping to Arambol. A few days longer than we planned, Sam and I finally left Goa to visit Susan in Pune, in disbelief that we just spent a week in India, not worrying about anything, not getting hassled to buy crap, not being covered in Indian filth and even eating some french fries

Posted by pmyerson 23:17 Archived in India Comments (0)

india is getting easier

After Jaisalmer we took another overnight bus to Udaipur. No hassles with the bus system and our hotel even picked us up from the bus stop on the middle of the night, no problem! Udaipur is an awesome city built around a lake, in the past Indian royalty would vacation to Udaipur to enjoy the lake and they built some massive palaces overlooking the lake. We saw the Grand Palace, huge markets and even the Maharajas classic old car collection and a few temples around the city. Udaipur is famous for being the location of a James Bond 007 movie, Octopussy. All the guesthouses show the movie everynight and it is a must for a tourist visiting Udaipur to see the movie. I watched it of course and it is entertaining to see the same streets 30 years ago looking very similar to the way they look today. It is also funny the way the movie is cut because it appears that the Taj Mahal, Ganges river and other Indian sights are in Udaipur as James Bond flies into the city his plane goes right over the Taj Mahal of course. Udaipur was the end of our Rajasthan section of India. We DEFINITLY spend less money than the houseboat trip and including all our food, Kingfisher beers, entrance fees to sights and we felt GREAT about our decisions. We also felt great that we hadnt been robbed, scammed heavily or gotten sick in India (Delhi belly).

I am not a fan of Indian food, I like spicy foods but something about the combination of spices makes Indian food gross to me and something about curry I hate. This made eating in Rajasthan sort of difficult but I found some standards that I loved, like Chapati, Paneer and others. I would frequently look through the guidebook for explantions of what the menu in front of me was offering and one day I came across talia. The Lonely Planet definition was an all you can eat festival for your mouth, I had to try it and it did not disappoint. Talias are pretty much a large cafeteria tray and the different sections of the tray are filled with different meals, all with rice in the middle to mix with of course. If you go to India ORDER TALIAS!

After Rajasthan we headed to a place we had read about, heard other tourists stories but did not believe 100% until we saw it with our own eyes and experienced it. An easy India, where people did not hassle you about buying their goods, where the food was all fresh and getting sick did not happen, a place with SEAFOOD (a personal favorite), a place with cheaper beer and a place with the ocean! This all sounded like Atlantis or El Dorado to us but it existed and it is called Goa. After some serious Indian travels, a 14 hour bus from Udaipur to Mumbai and then a 17 hour train from Mumbai to Goa, which included some quality luggage rack time, we finally made it to Calangute, Goa, in the middle of the night. We found the cheapest hotel in the guidebook and crashed that night, having no idea the paradise we had traveled to.

Posted by pmyerson 21:52 Archived in India Comments (0)

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