A Travellerspoint blog

into the desert

(make sure you read previous india entry and start below)

Travelling around India is not as challenging as other countries because there is a good bus system set up between all the major cities and even more so on the 'tourist' routes in Rajasthan. So Sam and I took the bus from Pushkar to Jaisalmer. One of the biggest shocks of this trip happened on the bus as a man walked on with 2 baby goats. These goats were really schocked and were struggling to stand up thru all the bumps along the road. The buses around India are sometime sleeper buses which are regular bus seats with sleeping compartments above them, with a single on one side and a double on the other. Sam and I had both fallen asleep when the ticket collector on the bus wakes us up and tells us this is our stop and to get off. Still in a sleepy haze we get off along with all the other white tourists on the bus and a few Indians. We had called a hotel ahead of time because we knew our bus was going to arrive at like 4am and did not want to deal with any hassle, so there was supposed to be someone waiting for Sam and I, even holding a sign with our names. Well he was not there but there were dozens of rickshaw drivers and guesthouse workers not shutting up about what they could offer us. Finally we listened to a guy who said he would take us into the city center, where we could walk to our hotel. As we are driving, I see our guesthouse guy holding a sign with our names and wave to him. I didnt know but he followed us, luckily, because we were not being taken to city center but rather to this guys guesthouse. We were pretty pissed at this whole situation and our guesthouse guide came and yelled at this whole scam operation too. He explained to us this guesthouse and others pay off the bus driver and ticket collector to kick tourists off the bus the stop before, giving them buisiness and taking away from reservations likek we made. WELCOME TO JAISALMER, a beautiful old city built in and around a fort. To get to our hotel we walked under 2 huge gates and the roads in the forts were old worn in cobblestones. Our guesthouse was in minutes walking distance of the ornate temples, which are some of the main sights of Jaisalmer but the main reason we went to Jaisalmer was the oppurtunity to go on a camel safari. Camels are the mascot of my college so I feel some attachment but this was a once in a lifetime chance. Going on a 4 day, 3 night trek thru the desert on camels. It was just a guide, Sam and I and 3 camels packed with all our supplies. We rode everyday from about 8-11 and 2-5 because it was too hot midday. Our guide was also our cook and taught us how to made chapati and made some good meals with limited supplies in the middle of a desert. At night it was pretty cool so we slept under the stars on the sand dunes. One day while riding our guide took us to a top of a sand dune and pointed out in the distance and said "Pakistan", we were less than 20 miles from the border, AWESOME! If you ever go calem riding make sure you have stirups and try not to smell the camel's breath. Durring our midday breaks from the sun, our guide taught us a game that can be played anywhere, sort of a connect 3 game, and our last day's lunch stop was near some sheppards hearding their sheep. They saw us playing this game and joined in. It was an awesome experience, no verbal communication, just knowledge of the same game. After 4 days in the desert it was back to Jaisalmer for a shower, COLD DRINK and something different to eat than chapati/rice/veggies. I also must mention the Bhang shop right outisde of the main for entrance, I was a very happy customer and it is worth a visit if you are in the Indian desert.

Posted by pmyerson 21:19 Archived in India Comments (0)

trying not to get scammed in india

(make sure you read previous india entry and start below)

Jaipuir, the pink city, is a mixture of a dirty large Indian city and a small city with many cultural sights to see. It is called the pink city because the old district of the city has many buildings that have been painted pink yearly. Sam and I finally bought a Lonely Planet guidebook (the bible) and were not too surprissed to see all the negative warnings about houseboats in Srinigar and there was even a warning about being scammed buying these sorts of trips from Delhi. That was us. Now we had ideas on average prices, culture differences and information on the things we were seeing. We found a guest house and could not believe our ears when we the hotel room was $4 a night! We were already doing so much better than the houseboat's trip we turned down. Our guesthouse warned us of many scammers in Jaipuir and also rickshaw drivers overcharging for everything. That is one of the problems about traveling, I have no idea the cost of money, the cost of a taxi ride, hotel, water or anything. In America a bottle of water might cost $1 but in India a vendor can sell you one for 40 cents, which seems like a good deal but actually not because they can be bought for 10 cents. We hired Soni, who worked at our guesthouse to drive us around to all the sights and give us some information. He was great, made tons of jokes, pointed out which Indian girls were his favorites, even though he is married (and married a 11 year old girl when he was 31!!!) and would answer any question we had. He took us to some markets too, textile stores, gem stores. One lunch time, after 2 beers in 100 degree heat, he told us about the commision system and that he takes us to these stores because he recieves a commision of what we buy. It was sort of a small slap in the face because I thought this guy really likes us but was sort of just using us but thats his job I guess. Jaipuir is in the Rajasthan state, which is somewhat touristy area of India and has sort of set routes that tourists/backpackers travel on. For this reason, Soni told us about his 'brothers' hotel in the next city we were going to and he would pick us up at the bus stop for free. This was another commision battle and sort of shows the differences between India and other countries, the scams and all the commisions make the tourism industry not 100% brotherly. There are positive parts though, it is very cheap, which is great for backpackers like myself. In addition, there is a bus system to travel from any city to any city essentially, if the bises will arive on time is another issue but an overnight bus trip for 10 hours, which doubles as a hotel room costs about $8 depending on if you get a sleeper bus/seat/AC or not.

Our next city was Puskar, famous for a large lake, which because of a drought was about 1/3 the size and was being turned into a CRICKET STADIUM!!! We left Puskar about 6 hours after we got there and were majoraly let down with no lake.

Posted by pmyerson 23:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

no worry, no hurry and chicken curry

(make sure you read previous india entry and start below)

After a quick one hour flight, I was in Srinagar. MY houseboat father picked us up at the airport and drove us to the beautiful Dal Lake, which we were staying on. One side of the lake is lined with houseboat hotels, some of which, mine included, date back to British occupation. Initially it was fascinating living on this old houseboat with all of the ornate decorations hand carved into the boat. There was a deck overlooking the lake that provided great views with the Himalayas shooting up in the background. However, the more time we spent on the boat, the stranger it became. Our first goal was to get a guidebook so we could figure out the rest of our Indian plans, our houseboat family promised us to get one but never did (remember this). To make matters more difficult, to get off our houseboat, our family had to call a boat to come pick us up and every time we left the boat a family member accompanied us. The other guests on the boat were 2 Belgium friends who were taking an extended vacation in India. They spent a month on the houseboat because they did not want to leave, then they went to Delhi, did not enjoy it, got Delhi belly and were both in a Delhi hospital, not a good place to be, recovered enough to get out of the hospital and came back to the houseboat for 2 more months! I think these poor guys were brainwashed by the houseboat and used to lure in other tourists. 'Look these guys have been here 3 months and love it so much, you should stay here!' The festival in Delhi we were supposedly avoiding was a total joke we found out. The holiday was the end of Ramadan and Ede (or something, I am not 100% sure) but it is a Muslim holiday. Delhi is partially Muslim while Kashmir is ALL Muslim and we were in the place in India where it is celebrated the most. This was my first time being in a Muslim area and 5 times a day I could hear the prayers from the loudspeakers across the lake, I was told my shorts were unacceptable to wear and there was no alcohol to be found anywhere. A very different cultural experience. Our houseboat family had some extreme views that I did not contradict for fear of my safety, including that the Dali Lama is an embarrassment to his religion, some bad things to say about Pakistan and that Bill Clinton ruined their economy. In 2000 President Bill Clinton called the ceasefire line that divides Kashmir "the most dangerous place in the world" and I was about 20 miles away from it. They also told us of a message that Osama Bin Laden put out to the region that if anyone brought him an American, dead or alive, he would pay them $1 million. I thought about turning in Sam for the cash but they would probably just take me too and I have a hunch I could not find him.

The houseboat family was extremely nice and hospitable to us but every conversation would mention sending us on a trip into the Himalayas or other trips around India that we MUST go on. We paid for 6 days on the houseboat but after 2 knew we had to get off it and gave in to buying a trekking trip into the Himalayas for 4 days. We had a cook with us and a guide who would take us into the mountains. The trip was beautiful, seeing very rural North India was an experience but the trip was far from what we bought. Instead of hiking for 4 days into the mountains, we set up a basecamp and would only go on small day trips. We were also told we were going to hike and see the 'biggest lake in the world' I know my geography pretty well and I KNEW it was no the biggest lake in the world but held my tongue when told it, thinking it might be in the top 10 or something, so I was looking forward to seeing it. It was not the biggest in the world, it was not in the top 10 and it is not in the top 100, it was tiny. Our guide was an annoying 20 year old that neither Sam or I could stand but our cook was an interesting man, GREAT cook, cigarette addict and good friend. We bought food supplies for 4 days before the trip and he made some great meals with vegetables, rice, local spices and 2 live chickens we brought along. I even got to kill the 2nd chicken on the 3rd night. I had never killed my own dinner before and it was a twisted satisfying experience. You can probably tell I am not a PETA member.

We returned to the houseboat, ready to leave it and explore other parts of India. Our family said they would have a guidebook waiting for us, which they did not and when we saw one in their bookshelf, they refused us from looking at it and hid it from us. They also charged me $12 to do a few pieces of laundry, probably more than it would have cost in America and about 10 times what I had paid in China. $12 might not sound like much money to some of you and before this trip it was not to me either but $12 can go a very long way in Asia. The day we were supposed to leave the houseboat was Sam's birthday, which he was very secretive and embarrassed about for some reason so I had to check his passport to make sure. I told the houseboat family I would like to have a small party and they were delighted and let us stay an extra day so we could have a small party that night. Sam was totally surprised and I felt great. The part consisted of a cake and small decorations but I am sure it will be a birthday Sam will never forget and he will never have another one like it.

The next day, when we were supposed to leave, the family REALLY tried to sell us a trip around Rajastan, a state in India which we were told to visit. The father in the family explained to us more than 20 times the travel problems with Rajastan is that it is a triangle state and difficult to travel between each city unless one had a personal driver. His proposed tour, which was the budget price with a student discount included a car and driver that would take us around, lodging at all places and about 8 cities in 2 weeks but no food, no entrance fees to sights, no drinks and essentially no freedom if we wanted to stay in a place longer. All for about $900. Sam and I thought about it but decided against it mainly because that is not how we wanted to travel, we wanted to be on our own going on massive adventures. We also thought we could probably do it a little cheaper on our own. So we turned down their trip and our welcomeness was immediately turned down too. We were essentially kicked out the next morning at 6am put on our promised transportation back to Delhi. Our promised flight, which we would have gotten on the trip too, turned into a 8 hour ride in the back of a jeep that would take us to a train station where we could take a 12 hour train back to Delhi. So not what we were promised at all.

Our 8 hour trip to Jammu in a jeep was dramatically slowed by traffic jams, which were caused by shepherds bringing their goats and sheep down from grazing in the markets to be sold to butchers and sometimes the herds (whatever it is for goats and sheep, not flocks, not packs, etc) would take up more than half of the tiny roads. The Jammu train station was our first shocking views of India that people tell you about. The train platforms were just like anyplace but there were families sleeping on it, not many shoes, many children without pants (I do not fully understand, I know they are poor but if I was to pick between a shirt and pants I would go with pants) and there was someone I will NEVER forget that has become a standout moment on my trip. This group of men were dressed in bright orange cloth diapers, nothing else, no shoes, orange and white paint on their faces and all of them carrying spears with about 10 inch medal spikes at the end. AWESOMELY CRAZY and of course they got on the same train as us.

If you read my Tibet train story, you know my luck. If not, do not worry because general admission in Indian trains is more crazy than Chinese trains. We finally find someone at the ticket counter who speaks English well enough to tell us there are no more tickets on our train to Jaipur except for standing room. Looking around Jammu, Sam and I agreed to get out of there and would take our chances with another train adventure. If you have seen the Wes Anderson movie, Darjeeling Limited, it was nothing like that but there are sleeper cars which we were not on.

Chinese trains have seat numbers on the tickets, Indian trains are first come, first serve but move over because your seat, which is more like a bench is going to fit more people than you are comfortable with. Sam and I had heard horror stories about Indian trains, from other travelers and were even warned by our housebaot family, watch your bags, be careful of thieves and do not accept food/drinks from strangers because they will drug you then take your bags. The train arrives and it is like a department store opening with huge sales in the holiday season, CHAOS. Sam and I run to a car where it is not a riot to get on and then were sort of like deer in the headlights, not able to move, just starring at a bad situation and every moment we did not move, the situation got worst. The train setup is benches facing each other (which I thought 3 people would sit on), luggage racks above them then an single seat separated by an aisle. I am prod of myself because I finally made the first move to put my bag on the luggage rack above the single seat and snap it down. Thank Gandhi (ha ha get it, thank god) a nice man came to us in the chaos and said come sit with his family. What he meant was come sit in the luggage racks above my family but whatever we had a place to sit and were out of the head lights. Sam and my luggage racks quickly were not just ours as 2 other Indians joined us both. The train was FULL, the bench below us had 6 or 7 people on it, the luggage racks were 3 or 4, the single seats were sometimes doubles and the floor space quickly disappeared. My luggage rack mates were the most obnoxious people in the car, making tons of noise, listening to music on their phones at full volume, wrestling each other, flicking the lights on and off and overall being 'that guy'.

I could explain the ride more but the strange reality was that it did not faze me too much after my Tibet train and after a few other horror travel stories. I turned down many drinks that were definitely drugged. At most stops the best way to get in or off the train was through the windows because there were so many people on the floor. It took Sam about 10 minutes to walk 30 feet to the bathroom and he said he stepped on many people. Sam also was not as smart as me (ha ha ha) and hugged his bag for the entire voyage because luggage space disappeared quicker than floor space. Chinese trains run on time, have signs posted when it will arrive at each station and even have electronic signs to tell you what the stop is. Not in India. In Jammu the board said Jaipur was 15 hours, turns out it was 19. Finding someone that knew our stop was tough too and when we finally trusted someone and got off, we were ready for the worst and to be in a place other than Jaipur. However, we were given good info, got off in Jaipur and were on our own adventure, away from the houseboat, away from the ripoffs and ready to take on India

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

the start of a month (or so i planned) in india

(FIRST INDIA ENTRY)

You know when you are going to the airport, looking at the signs to see what terminal to go to and there all those weird smaller airlines just annoying you because they arent yours. Well, I flew on one. Beijing to Delhi on Eithiopian Air (the plane was continuing onto Africa). The flight was a global mixture with Chinese, Indians, Africans. Sam and I were on different flights but his was supposed to arrive before mine. We had agreed to, for the first time, turn on our emergency cell fones if he didnt see me. I landed, went to the meeting spot and saw his plane had landed but he wasnt there. My emergency cell fone supposedly works all over the world but costs about $1-$2 a minute so talk isnt cheap. The conversation was short and sweet,
(me) you in india
(sam) ya, getting my bags now
(me) seeya soon
a well spent $1.75

We had printed out some hostel locations to show a taxi driver and finally bargained with one to get a good price. By the way its 2 in the morning. The rickshaw drives us to our hostel but stops because of a road block and tells us the hostel is just a km down that road. That road was a dark alley way at 3am that Sam and I both agreed scared the hell out of us and we were not about to walk down with all our bags in pitch dark.

WARNING IN INDIA BE VERY CAREFUL OF SCAMS...(this is the start of a bad story)

The driver says his friend works in the tourist office and will be happy to help us out and find another way to this hostel or another one. Sounds good to us. His friend at the tourist office tells us the road was blocked because it is a major festival in Delhi. In addition, finding a cheap hotel room will be impossible because many Indians travel to Delhi now, the cheapest room will be about $75 just for that night. Thanks to China not wanting its citizens to find out about other countries, we could not find a guidebook Beijing and planned on getting one in India. The tourist officer recomended a trip up to Northern India on a houseboat hotel on a lake where we would be able to go trekking in the Himalayas. It also included round trip transportation and a hotel for the night. Sam and I were not 100% sure about it but at 4am in the morning and hotels supposedly impossible to find we decided to go for this adventure. With about 5 hours of sleep we left the next morning for Srinagar in Northern India, not really knowing much about where we were going or India in general.

Posted by pmyerson 00:02 Archived in India Comments (0)

back to beijing

First, I am not sue of all of you know but college graduation present from my parents was laser eye surgery. So after a day of suffering in June and about a week of improving (and not going swimming) I had 20/15 vision WITHOUT glasses. A miracle that I recomend to anyone with glasses. Not having to worry about glasses on this journey, or find something to clean them with has been a wonderful change from the previous 9 years of worrying about them, breaking them and being annoyed with them.

Moving on, one of the first travellers I met on this trip, Tom from Belgium, gave me some great advice. 'have some vacations on your vacation' He was on month number 11 of 12 travelling around the world while I was still in my first week. Beijing was one of these vacations for me. I saw no sights, slept late some days and took it easy. Part if the reason was because I had visited Beijing in June of 2008, seen the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace etc etc. The hostel I stayed in was located near the Embassy District, which has turned the surrounding area global and not real Chinese. I will be honest, I had a footlong cold cut trio from Subway, cheeseburger and fries from McDonalds and even NACHOS and a BEEF BURRITO from a Mexican resturant. After a month of travelling, experimenting with food, not knowing what I was eating and eating like a local South Korean and Tibetan I deservd my rewards.

About 10 days after I left was the 60th anniversary (which is an important lucky number in China, like 50 in America) of New China. One night I was there was the rehersal night for the festivities and parade and some of the roads were closed. I cannot explain the connection (or many Chinese policies) but on the closed roads was a tank parade. Literally 100s of Chinese tanks with soldiers in the gun turrets rolling down the streets of Beijing like they were off to war! People lined the streets to watch and because NO ONE was allowed to cross the road.

My first night in Beijing, while Sam was off visiting the Teracotta Warriors, I devoted to the great sport of football (soccer you Americans). I went to a Chinese Super League game in Beijing's Workers Stadium. The Beijing Team, which was in 1st place at the time and financed by the government (connection maybe?) They actaually lost the game 0-2 but it was a great crazy atmosphere with over 30,000 fans with probably one white fan. I had a typical tourist experience of buyin a ticket. I bought a fake one from scalpers for 20 Yuan=about $3 and then a real one, also from scalpers for 90 Yuan=about #13, notbad compared to Yankee Stadium prices. I even bought a team jersey so I would 'fit in. I stayed up that night to watch some more football, UEFA Champions league, teh game started at 2:45 AM and I finally ot back to my hostel around 5 after a long night of football and drinking.

One of the highlights of all my travels so far was meeting up with Willy Smiles Johnson, a fellow camel (almost camel alum) who is taking classes at the Harvard of China! Seeing a familiar face was a crazy change of pace, in Beijing of all places. Will I wish we had been able to meet up more nights but those tanks ruined our plans. I also met up with another TESOL alum from TC, Shinny, who is a high school teacher and guidance counciler in Beijing. Shinny was a awesome host, when we tried to get to the meeting point we got on a bus the wrong way and ended up on the other end of Beijing but he met up with us anyways and showed us an authentic Beijing duck lunch spot that was SO GOOD! Thank you Shinny. I met some other crazies in Beijing too, my fellow Manchester United fan who I watched the game with (and then luckily left because he got into a drunken football hooligan fight and needed 40 stiches) my crazy Welsh hostel roomate, the German who I met who won money on the German Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and was spending it travelling, the baller Ghanian and South African (whose occupation I cannot say), everyone at the hostel dumpling party and Candy, the awesome hostel worker.

Posted by pmyerson 00:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

3 weeks in tibet (part 2)

MAKE SURE YOU READ (part 1) TO GET FULL TIBETAN FEEL

I am struggling to capture the wildness, beauty and exoticness through text so I think I will just tell the stories that I will never forget.

Our first day leaving Xining was to our guide's family in a small small village. We spent one night with the rural family in their house, without electricity, with their horses sleeping in the room next door but the family was generous as anyone to us. The next day we ventured up Orange Mountain, a full day hike, 9 hours and about 1500m to the top of the 4000m summit. Kalsang, a father and his daughter as local guides and their horse and 2 donkeys to carry our gear came with us to the top. After an EXHAUSTING day of hiking, as we were still getting used to the altitude (4000m=13123 feet) we reached the top in the drizzling rain, set up tents and a few hours latter I was dead in my tent after a full days extreme workout. The next morning I woke to the father and daughter chanting what I thought to be stop the rain chants. Being the summer loving beachbum that I am, I hiked up the mountain in shorts. After a few minutes of dreading getting out of my tent and walking down the mountain in the rain in my shorts, Matt yells from his tent, "have you guys seen this, I cant even see 10 feet in front of me" I poked my head out of my tent to see my Tibetan guides were not chanting for the rain to stop but for the SNOW to stop. I am 4000m high in 3 inches of snow, awful visiblity and I am wearing shorts. Packing up the campsite was very rough on my legs but after about an hour of hiking down the mountain, the snow turned to mist and another hour later sun, great for my shorts.

Orange Mountain was not the only time I camped, we stayed in tents 4 other times, all with their own interesting stories. The next time camping we set up the tents by the 2nd largest saltwater lake in China and when we were all ready, Kalsang says, "see you tommorow" We had no idea that he was not going to stay with us and we slept by the lake, hoping no nomads would come and rob us. Another time we set up camp behind a stone wall, only about 20 feet away from a road. As we were leaving, Kalsang told us we had just camped in someones field and there even was a sign saying DO NOT CAMP HERE. A third time we had to pay locals protection money, slept inside their fences for their horses, who were tied to the outside of the fence. The protection money was because in that exact location Kalsang's friend, another guide, had been robbed with some tourists by nomads. The fourth time we were obviously sleeping in someone's field and we tested if they would notice by driving the jeep around their fields. No one yelled at us so naturally it seemed fine. This sums up one of the major differences about Tibet, most of the land is no ones land, some nomads sleep their, some sheep eat the grass but most of the time it is just nature.

I visited many monestaries all over Tibet, including the largest monestary in the world that has over 10,000 monks and nuns. We actually had to lay low in our jeep and sneak into this place because foreigners are not allowed to enter. To show respect to Buddha people would go to the floor and wave their armson the floor 3 times, at most monestaries this had been doen so many times that there were substantial grooves in the floors where people had moved their arms. Religion in a major part in Tibetan life and the monks are sort of leaders of society.

On our multihour drives we would see nomads herding their yaks, sheep and horses from one field to another. These nomads lived in small tents all over the country side. Over 3 weeks in Tibet I DEFINITLY saw more sheep than people, yaks than people and the ratio from horses, sheep, goats, yaks to humans was 10:1, crazy. (In 3 weeks I only saw 9 white people and 5 were in one family. Kalsang had told us that there are packs of wolves that come out a night (which was great knowledge all the nights we were camping in fields). One day towards the end of our trip we saw a pack of 5 wolves take down 2 yaks that they had seperated from the herd of yaks. It was a nature show in front of my eyes! We drove our jeep up to the yaks quickly to scare off the wolves but it was too late fro one yak and the other was struggling to walk. I am not exactly a PETA member, vegetarian or animal rights activist and to see predators take down prey was inspiring.

I cannot describe Tibet without talking about the whole China vs Tibet battle. In the past few years there had been riots in some of the towns I visited. There are so many examples of China cracking down unfairly in Tibet, in the towns with the riots, internet cafes were banned so people could not get information out as easily. facebook, youtube and most blogging sites (not this one) are banned in ALL OF CHINA (that is why I was alittle slow with contact). Some places, like the largest monestary in the world and even some towns entirely are banned to foreigners! Our guide, Kalsang, loves to travel and has been to Russia, India and all over China. However, a year ago when he was coming back from India, Chinese customs took his passport and to get it back will cost him hundreds. FOR NO REASON and now he cannot leave China. Kalsang told us that at his monestary (he was a monk for 7 years before becoming a guide) there was a Chinese spy who came forward after 2 years of pretending to be a monk. The wolf story above is possible because guns are illegal in Tibet, so nomads cannot protect their livestock! The hotels we stayed at had to be "authorized for foreigners", had to register with every hotel we stayed at and about once a week would go through a military checkpoint that would need to see our passsports, visas etc! One time we did not stay in a hotel authorized for foreigners because the plan was to camp but heavy rain changed our plans. We stayed in a hotel that did not have a sign outside saying "authorized for foreigners" at about 9pm when Sam, Matt and I are watching a decent (considering w cannot understand it) chinese spy movie, 3 policemen bust in our room and start asking us questions in Chinese. 3 policemen taht only speak Chinese vs 3 Americans that only speak english=DISASTER but I guess we won because the policemen went to get another cop that spoke basic english. Kalsang and driver were actaully staying at a different hotel that night and it was essentially mayhem when Sam took a picture of me surrounded by 4 cops looking at my passport. With that picture and Sam's camera they thought we were reporters or journalists....after about an hour of making sure the photo was deleted, asking us questions about our visit and even going to find Kalsang the Chinese police left us alone. In conclusion FREE TIBET

Arriving back in an actual city, Xining was a gift from god, 3 weeks in rural Tibet made me go alittle crazier than I already was. The first order of buisness in Xining was a train ticket back to Beijing and i was able to get a sleeper back to Beijing!!!! a 25 hour train ride in the top of 3 bunks was heaven compared to the ride out. I must also add that Matt decided to go his own way to see even more remote parts of China, near the glorious country of Kazakstan. Kalsang and Driver were an amazing team that showedme a complete picture of true Tibetan life. I played at least 100 games of snooker and pool, had no problem drinking warm beer, probably ate 200 dumplings, learned that chinese government censored tv is awful, cctv5 is an awful sports channel and was the highest I have ever been in my life (!) at 6012meters = 19724

Posted by pmyerson 05:10 Archived in China Comments (0)

3 weeks in tibet (part 1)

3 weeks in Tibet with a driver and guide was a different travel experience than my previous countries because of the constant source of help and local knowledge but also because Tibet is not exactly a tourist hotspot. If there is one tourist destination in Tibet, it is Llhasa, which I did not even visit because it is an additional 24 hour train ride. My driver was a Chinese man who owned the 4x4 Jeep. His love for his jeep was only topped by his love for cigarettes and eating. He smoked a pack a day and at every meal finished all the leftover food on the table. Most long distance car rides have breaks to move around and stand, we took breaks from the road so our driver could smoke 2 cigarettes. His name was Mr. Tom (but Tom in Chinese) but we just called him driver and he was fine with it. Even our guide, Kalsang, called him driver. Kalsang was more than just our guide, he was our fountain of Tibetan knowledge, our constant translator, our helper with pickup lines to Tibetan nomads, our reference for prices if we were getting ripped off, our only reliable source of what our food was and a great friend. Kalsang was used to taking around tourists older than us and loved the fact that he had 3 22 year olds to play pool with, hang out with, have some beers with and most of all play the music on his phone to us. Kalsang loved Akon and listening to Akon in Tibetan valleys with no buildings around is culture shock.

The 3 weeks was a myriad of interesting times, noodles, nomads, busy days, pool halls, yaks, dumplings and religion. A typical day (if those are possible in Tibet) consisted of getting up at 8, driving an hour, having noodles and tea for breakfast, driving another 2 hours, stopping to see a monestary, having dumplings, tea and beer for lunch, driving 2 hours, seeing another monestary, driving another 2 hours to our hotel, dropping our bags off, finding the only pool hall in town, drinking and playing pool until driver got hungry, having dinner, not knowing what it was half the time, going back to the pool hall and then finally going to sleep. It might sound boring but that was my schedule about 10 times in 3 weeks. Just driving through Tibetan countryside was worth the 24 hour train ride from hell. Trucks bigger than 18 wheelers in America, motorcycles, other Jeeps, nomads, sheep, YAKS and horses shared the road as rivers, valleys and mountains full of nomads with their livestock was the constant view out the window. The small towns we drove through were essentially trucker stops and were like my imagination of what the Wild West was like in America in the 19th century. The towns were one shop deep on either side of the street with only about 10 shops on each side. People riding horses, nomads bringing their livestock to the butcher, gambling on the street, small food stalls, bars, hotels that had rooms by the hour (up to no good) but the major attraction was........3 white kids.

Posted by pmyerson 04:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

into the wild

Afther South Korea came Tibet. SAm had a friend who spentafew years in Tibet andI had one that spent 7, Brad Pitt but we went with Sam's friend's recomendation for a guide when Brad would not answer my calls. Thru a few emails we told the guide we wanted minimal costs with maximum Tibetan culture. The guide drew up a 3 week trip with a English speaking guide, driver, 4x4 Jeep and told us to meet him in Xining with the money up front. Once again, a trip started out with bad luck as our friends at Backpacker Friends booked our flights from Seoul to Tianjin, not Beijing. OK small language barrier but no big deal when we heard there was a train. If you thought Amtrak was no good, you are right and should have seen this Chinese train. We were going 328 km/hr (203 m/hr for you Americans)! The Tianjin RR station was a change from South Korea because we might have been the first white people the train station had seen. Thousands of eyes fixed on 3 white backpackers. This was not really the case in Seoul because it is a city and many English teachers reside there. Arriving at the Beijing RR station we decided to buy our tickets to Xining. Finally getting to the counter, praying our limited Chinese "3 Xining tommorow" is answered by a head knod we were let down. Luckily someone behind us in line helped us and informed us the answer we recieved was "standing room only". We did not really have a choice so standing room it was. Did I mention it is a 25 hour train ride, STANDING! The next order of buisness was to somehow get the $ to pay for the trip. We couldnt just go to an ATM and pull out the about 2k so we went from bank to bank to bank explaining our situation, hoping to find someone that spoke English. The tellers must ahve thought these 3 white kids were doing something illegal, why else would they each need all this cash. I am pretty sure that Chinese Renminbi (=RMB = Chinese currency) largest bill is 100 (divided by 7 = about $14) and I needed about 2 grand....do the math and the stacks of cash were THICK! Around 17,000 RMB in 100 bills was massive. The next day we got to Beijing West station, one of the 4 in Beijing which was busier than Grand Central any day, mentally prepared for the unkown of a 25 hour train ride, standing, sounded like hell and thats pretty much exactlly what it was. I was actually "lucky" enough to be standing in the openings between cars than just standing in the aisles next to people sitting. At one point I counted I could have touched 11 people just extending my arms, and they were all starring at me. When there are 2.5 hour planes, why would a foreigner take a 25 hour train, especially standing. My position between cars was also the designated smoking area, about a third of the passengers did not care but the rest smoked about 1000 cigs in my area in the next 25 hours. In addition, about twice an hour a man pushing a food cart would squeeze by, forcing everyone up against the walls. Every part of the chicken was for sale, rice with awful looking vegtables and cups of noodles were my only food options. The train made about 10-15 stops, so over time there was actually room to wiggle my shoulders, then strech by arms and after awhile even sit down!, trying not to think about how dirty the floor was. To make the entire situation even worse, I had about 2 grand in my bag between my legs and even the thought of losing that money and losing my time in Tibet was devastating.

About 4 hours in the man across from me pulled out his ticket and motioned for me to do the same. When he saw my destination, he cracked up lauging and told the rest of the car where I was going, laughter errupted in the car and the man next to me said, "good ruck" in awful English. Even though I was the starring stock of my car, along with Matt and Sam I felt they gave us kids some respect. I sort of became friends with this guy, putting my headphones on him and changing his life by letting him hear Daft Punk's Alive 2007!, showing him my surfing magazine, which he thought was awesome and REALLY loved the pictures of white girls in bikinis and he responded by buying me a beer. A true friendship without words, other than gambe (cheers). Finally about 20 hours into the ride, a seat opened up for me. I will never take standing on my 67 minute trip from Grand Central to Westport (my home station) for granted again. FINALLY, and I cannot stress finally enough, we arrived in Xining! I cannot reallly compare the train ride to anything in my life but I guess it was like steerage on the Titanic without a Rose. You long distance sailors will know the feeling, I wanted to kiss the ground after getting off the train if it wasnt dirty rural China. Then we saw a man holding a sign, Mr. Arking and friends. Finally

Posted by pmyerson 19:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

finding my seoul

I left the grand old United States of America on August 18th on the midnight redeye direct from JFK to Incheon (seoul's airport). My luck took an immediete downfall when the checkin computers crashed, forcing all passengers to be checked in manually. This did allow me to see all the other passengers on the plane. I could count all the non asians on my two hands, something I should get used to. Sam and Matt being the great travel partners that they are, still had not sent me their hostel info when I boarded the plane. I started my journey already lost. Luckily by the time I landed and checked my email, they had sent me directions. They later apologized and explained they had been having a little too much fun partying and kept on putting it off. No worrys, I know the feeling. I arrived early in the morning and took a train into Seoul and got on a subway. However, I transfered illegally, only on the part of innocence and not being able to find a ticket machine. I thought I had outsmarted the Seoul subway out of a dollar fare until I arrived at Hapjeong station and found the electronic exit doors needed my ticket to open. Rush hour had started on this weekday in Seoul and the looks at a white backpacker were growing exponentially. I waited untill my subway unloaded and there was no one around, threw my bags over and jumped the turnstyle. WHAT A START TO MY TRIP!

My friend's directions left me in the right neighborhood but the difference between a street, alleyway and driveway in a city of over 11 million is tough for a foreigner to distinguish. So I am walking around with all my bags, lost and in need of help. And then all of a sudden an oasis in a desert, SAM ARKIN walking down the street towards me. Our hostel was in the university district, an awesome area with resturants, bars, clubs and many young South Koreans. Matt and Sam had already spent a few weeks in Japan and few days in South Korea so were accustomed to the travel lifestyle. In Seoul I visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, a huge royal palace that dated back only 250 years but about 700 years in that location. Dam Japs destroyed it when they invaded. Also Suwon, a city just outside Seoul with city walls and fortresses that we walked around. Both places had a crazy old vs new paradox with ancient buildings close and city skyscrapers in the distance. In addition, only by my wanting, we visited the Seoul Stadium that hosted some 2002 World Cup games. We were able to walk down to field level, into the dressing rooms, training rooms. Travelling to all these places, I learned to use Seoul subway ticket machines and was able to get out of the stations too!

Our hostel was great, the name, Backpacker Friends, says enough but the people who worked there were so generous and hospitable. Every night the owners ordered in authentic South Korean food and plenty of Soju a must have a cheap) and let the guests have to at no cost. Their hospitality was only topped by my friend Raina, a fellow TESOL soon to be teacher. Thank you so much Raina, I love you! She took us out to some awesome bars and clubs that we, or any foreigner, would never had found or gone to. We all had a great time, did some Saki bombs before we were told to make less noise, tried culturally exchanging drinking games but struggled with the language barrier and then Raina picked up the tab! The next night she invited me to her AWESOME apartment outside the city where we had dinner, talked and talked and then all of a sudden realized it was 1 am already and time had flown by. Once again Raina thank you so much, I am paying the next bar tab. Other applauses to my mate Tom the Belgium bboy with an English accent, the English teacher Donovan (or was it Landon?), the 2 Chilean football fanatics (long live Matias Fernandez and Backpacker Friends hostel.

I only spent a few days in South Korea but really enjoyed it and wished I had more time to explore Seoul. It was a vibrant city, where English teachers are in high demand.

Posted by pmyerson 01:45 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

packing for 5 months and the rest of my life

With Sam Arkin and Matt Fairman as my travel partners, we started planning a trip around Asia. Matt also studied with Sam and I in Vietnam but did not travel around afterwards. Without even talking about it, the 3 of us knew we were going to be backpacking, roughing it when we could, spending minimal amouns while having the trip of our lives. I packed a 70 liter backpack and a over the shoulder sack full of what I thought I would need in a 5 month trip. About a week of clean clothes (get over it all you moms out there), one set of good looking clothes for a job interview, a rain jacket, sneakers, flip flop and a bathing suit. Other than clothes it was random collection of essentials in my life, tools for the road and emergency backups. Toothpicks, knife, bottle opener, deck of cards, surfing magazine, 5 Cliff bars, random collection of rope, Chinese phrasebook, Vietnamese phrasebook, journal, supertowel, flashdrive with my resume and coverletter, a cell phone that works EVERYWHERE (and only charges for outgoing calls, no contracts) 2 sets of headphones, a collection of about 10 of my favorite CDs and mixes of favorite songs, a walkman (remember those?), many extra batteries, $150 emergency cash, roll of duct tape, needed toiletries and thats about it. I set off on the adventure of a lifetime with the goals of visiting new places, experiencing different cultures, having fun, drinking some beers along the way, finding a job, reflecting on my life so far and thinking deeply about the paths ahead of me in life.

Posted by pmyerson 01:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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