Friday, 8 November 2013

Nearing the end

Its been a crazy week. Let me describe my last couple of days for you. 2 days ago, I arrived in Cartagena by plane. Cartagena is a port town about 24 hours north of bogota, Colombia. I was really impressed with bogota. Many of the capital cities I have visited in south america were pretty western and frankly, a bit boring. Bogota has a really great feel to it. The city seems east to navigate, the people are friendly and it seems to have held on to a lot character and charm in its growth. I caught a taxi from bogota airport to a hostel I had heard about from a friend. When my taxi turned the last corner into the street the hostel was on, I saw tom, cat and Maddie walking on the sidewalk. I jumped out to an exciting reception of hugs and smiles. A couple of nights of salsa, cocktails and delicious pastries and we hopped on the plane to Cartagena.

From Cartagena we caught a 2 hour bus to a spot where we jumped on the back of a few motorcycles with no leathers or helmets and sped off to a ferry that took us to playa Blanca, a nicer beach. All I could think of was 'if I fall off right now, I will die'. A couple of times tom and I stopped while the guys riding checked there bikes. The 2 girls riding in front sped off, far from our view. I worried something suspect was going on but tom didn't seem to be worried, so I tried to relax. We finally arrived at santa Blanca and grabbed some lunch. A man came out carrying a tray of three massive fish and asked us to choose which cut we wanted from which fish. Pretty cool. We all chose a fillet of the biggest fish. It came out served with lime, rice, salad and fried banana patties. It was delightful and wasn't expensive at all.

For accommodation, we went with the cheapest option of hammocks. In hind sight, I would have paid a bit more and got something away from the ridiculous amount of mosquito's and sandfly. I got exactly 0 hours of sleep and am covered in bites. Turns out you don't need much sleep when you live on a beach though. Today I sat down, had a drink, ate some food, went for a swim and I think I smiled at some people too. Tonight I'm getting on a speedboat back to Cartagena and then a bus to Medellin. Not long at all until I'm back in Australia.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Jungles and concrete jungles

I finally arrived in Lima after one hell of a bus ride. 23 hours on a small seat that reclined just enough to give off the illusion that it was possible to get some sleep. As we left Cusco through the mountainous terrain and winding roads, I felt a bit ill. I popped a few pills and hoped it would pass. I didn't get to see much of the country side because it was an overnight bus but there was one section of the trip where it seemed as though I was traveling directly through a cloud. I wondered how much visibility the driver must have had. Bus rides are interesting in Peru. Although the bus's themselves are more comfortable then Indian bus's, there are other concerns. Often there are reports of drunk drivers as well as even one story reporting a company wanted to save money by hiring a young boy without a license to drive. I question whether these are simply just travelers stories. This particular bus ride I would just begin to shut my eyes when we would come to a halt and 3 or 4 customs officers or police would board and shine a flashlight in the passengers faces. I sound like a whinging gringo. The bus ride was definitely not bad considering it went for over 20 hours.

Lima is definitely a lot better then I expected. All I had heard of this place is that its gloomy, boring and expensive. I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend and his girlfriend at a second story apartment in the popular Miraflores suburb of Lima. It was nice to have a kitchen to cook my own meals again. That night, my friends Peruvian girlfriend took us all out to her favourite restaurant in Lima. I tried octopus with squid ink mayonnaise, a Frito misto type dish, fish cooked in citrus with some kind of sweet potato and arroz de mariscos, a beautiful paella type rice dish. All the dishes were great albeit quite expensive. The next couple of days, I spent catching up with my friend and relaxing after being in hostels for the last few months. We decided to take the bus to mancora, a beach location in northern Peru. Mancora is absolutely beautiful. I write this by day sitting on a balcony sipping a beer and soaking up the sunlight that was so lacking in Lima. Watching birds dive headfirst into the ocean to catch fish and whalkes breaching and leaping out of the water, not even 50 metres from shore. Beautiful.The plan is to explore the neighboring cities to mancora that are less touristy, head back to Lima for Halloween and then fly to Colombia to bypass the ridiculous border crossing and extending bus rides.

Also, I have to explain the title to my last blog entry. I had been on a rather intense shamanic diet in the lead up to my ayahuasca ceremony and missed salty and well.... Unhealthy food. Anyway I bought a jar of peanut butter and for breakfast completely devoured the stuff. That jar was gone in less then a week!

Tip of the day - when you swear or say rude things in Spanish, try to remember everyone in Peru speaks Spanish...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Peanut butter binge

Cusco, the storied capital of the incan empire and gateway to the imperial city of machu Picchu, has been one of the undisputed highlights of south america and even my trip. Stone streets and building foundations laid by Incas more than 5 centuries ago. Cusco is one of those rare places that seems to preserve its unique character and enduring appeal despite its prominent over abundance of tourists and tour companies. The Spanish conquistadors understood that it was essential to topple the capital city to take control of the region, a feat they ultimately accomplished after an epic battle at sacsayhuaman. The Spanish razed most incan buildings but in many cases, they found the structures so well engineered that they built upon the very foundations of incan Cusco.

Apparently, the Incas designed their city in the shape of a puma, (although I cannot see this for the life of me), with the north side being the head. I've tried looking at a map but I guess with huge amount of growth it more closely resembles a city rather than a puma. The center of the city is plaza de armas. Jam packed with travel agencies, shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. I was often offered some obscure art by a local who would then offer some cocaine, marijuana or other illegal substance. After saying no to everything, I would often get the reaction, 'well what DO you want?!'

I have spent a huge chunk of my trip in Cusco and that's no coincidence. Its a developed city where anything you might want is readily available as well as not being a dirty, dangerous city which some people may consider Lima to be. (My next destination funnily enough). Throughout my trip in Cusco, I've been staying at dragonfly hostels. Just 4 months old and managed by a ridiculously nice and quirky Frenchman. You can often find me at the bar spitting out broken French while he fixes up pisco sours on their 2 for 1 nights.

The markets in Cusco are great, regardless of what you're after. I bought a dozen eggs for a dollar and then turned the corner and picked up a llama fetus to aid me in my future endeavors. I'm just kidding but the fact is, I could have if I wanted to. Almost everyday I would head down to the markets with a friend for a freshly squeezed fruit juice. We made friends with a woman who despite having a seemingly endless supply of customers, never had any change for us. It was all quite a laugh. Change is half the battle. The other half is figuring out what the Spanish word is for basil, coriander or soy sauce.

I will try to keep on top of my blog from now on. Finding wi fi in the valley on my day trips can prove difficult. Next stop, grande mala sucio Lima.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

La paz and sucre

I haven't been in the mood to write, maybe because I've been living in altitude and feeling tired all the time. I have spent a week in Sucre going to school everyday to learn Spanish. It has been great fun and really helpful. I've decided once I reach Peru and settle down again I will begin lessons again. After my week in Sucre I caught a bus to la paz, where I spent 3 days eating and drinking and being generally unproductive.

I see La paz and Sucre having a rivalry similar to that of Sydney and Melbourne's. The difference is, Sucre is the capital of Bolivia but La Paz often takes that title being bigger, more well known and more government buildings. I fell in love with Sucre, I couldn't say the same for la Paz. Although impressive and boasting an incredible backdrop, the city just failed to grab me as anything more than a grimy big city with dynamic people and buildings. Upon arriving in Sucre we were greeted with a festival filled the city with vibrant color and life. Marching bands, dancers and hundreds of bolivians filled the street all enjoying the festivities. I was staying in a huge red house called Quechua inn, owned by a man called Ricardo who was ever so helpful while suggesting the best things to do in Sucre. A week flew past and I found myself wishing I was there much longer.

In La Paz I stayed In a much more party orientated hostel called loki hostel. I must be getting old cos I scoffed at the idiots at the bar every night chanting Loki Loki Loki, Oi oi Oi, before they emptied shots of jagermeister and red bull into their mouths. Tom and I decided to enter Peru and meet up with a mutual friend in Cusco. The border crossing was confusing. We left from a town called copacobana where we caught a boat on lake Titicaca. The highest lake in the world. We trekked an Inca trail on isla Del Sol that took us about four hours. Arriving back at our hostel that night we pretty much passed out.

I'm back in Cusco now so I will skip that part for now and move on to detail pisac. A small town about 45 minutes from Cusco. The main reason for visiting this beautiful little town was to be a part of an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a vine found in the amazon. Peruvian shamans have been cooking this vine with another plant for thousands of years and using the muddy broth as a medicine to cure all kinds of ailments. The ayahuasca vine contains DMT, known also as the spirit molecule. Every living thing contains DMT, including us. Our brains release this chemical into our bodies when we are born and also at death. I was naturally very curious, especially with the great amount of faith that Peruvians have in the medicine. The town of pisac has a temple at the base of a mountain which practice ayahuasca ceremonies weekly. Pisac is also home to some incredible vegetarian food, great markets and spiritual activities like tai chi and yoga. Friday arrived and I was very nervous for the night to roll around and to join the ceremony. I've written a very very vague run down on the ceremony.

Ayohuasca is highly recommended. A powerful journey of self discovery, understanding and compassion. I went so deep in to my consciousness and was shown some pretty dark things. Although absolutely terrifying, it was also nurturing and compassionate. I had conversations with different parts of my body and was shown that every aspect of myself and others were just important as any each other. I'm still trying to grasp what most of my visions mean, but the feeling that remains is strong and present. I remember being in a swamp in the jungle, with all life bubbling and glowing around me with beautiful rainbow lucidity until I fell in to the swamp and dived into the underworld. I saw some nightmarish things, all of which frightened me immensely but also seemed important in some way, the visions were showing me darkness inside me but they were trying to help me purge. I was really scared and was pleading with ayahuasca to be kind and help me leave this place.

She told me I could handle it and I would be fine. I disagreed. I remember in this collage of organs and blood and flesh of rainbows and reptilian beings, some sort of being with a jesters hat reaching out to me. His hand unravelled and his fingers extended and became tiny spiders which crawled up my feet and legs into my stomach. I heard a voice saying surrender and the spiders enveloped me as the bubbling and popping got louder. I heard a high pitched ringing which escalated until unbearable. The spiders crawled through my veins until the made their way through my mouth and I purged into my bucket. As soon as I threw up, the shaman began to play an icaro which is a song they say comes from the plant itself. The timing was surreal and perfect. I remember feeling so much love from within me and the visions became explosions of color and light. I felt hands reaching out for me which I couldn't tell if they were real. All I knew was they were trying to help. My body temperature began to rise but I was still seeing visions and lessons about myself that may be too personal to share. I felt so hot but it seemed irrelevant until I just felt the feeling of ayahuasca telling me I needed to cool down.

I don't know how to explain it  but I felt as though there was 5 or more beings with huge jungle leaves waving wind and mint infused smoke in my direction. I felt fingers tug on my hoodie zip for a split second. I unzipped my hoodie and placed it to my side. As soon as I did this I felt something like a nod or a yes. I couldn't tell but I knew ayahuasca wanted to move on. I was in the jungle now except not really. I felt somewhere completely different and was no longer scared. Ayahuasca shared some deeply personal, emotional things with me. Some lessons after hearing or feeling them I would grin or laugh and feel that it was so clear and obvious. Like I said, I'm still trying to piece things together, but it was a highly confronting, personal and insightful experience and I have learnt and felt things that are completely different to anything I have felt before. I also felt like I barely scratched the surface but that I was only shown what I was ready to see. I have a new appreciation and sense of understanding for all living and individual things. Very crazy and eye opening and at times scary with some visions of death that are terrifying but beautiful. But ah yes, so confusing to rationalize but the feelings I'm left with are crystal clear.

I knocked on the door of 'hyperspace' and whhatever answered the door
was so fantastically astounding that I tucked tail and ran home to mummy!

It was not threatening .... but simply so profoundly REAL and BEYOND ANYTHING EVER IMAGINED that it freaked me out!
I like that .. it takes a lot to freak me out.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Uyuni - portosi - sucre

When traveling in Bolivia, It seems to me that once you hop on a bus and leave the city or town you were previously in, the coming hours will be very interesting. I had just left uyuni after purchasing a bus ticket to Sucre via portosi. It was seemingly easy. Ride the bus 6 hours and change at portosi where I will spend another 3ish hours driving until I arrive in Sucre. This is the plan. Between cities there is epic mountain ranges and rolling plains until a city pops out of nowhere and there is a mad scramble for your bags. This is bus travel in Bolivia and it takes some getting used to. (Although I feel like experiencing travel in India has given me an edge).

The bus to portosi was not so bad. I polished off a bag of mnm's and finished reading Hunter s. Thompsons, kingdom of fear. That guy is quite the outlaw. So we arrive in portosi which is at a ridiculous altitude. Something over 4000m, (I should correct an error I made last post. I actually climbed to 5000m!) It looked like rain clouds as we sat at the bus station, lost and confused. As we were discussing what the hell was going on with this bus change over, it began to hail. Tiny ice cubes littered the streets as stall owners shuffled into shelter. I love how a lot of the women have adopted the English bowler hat as a must have fashion item. Our bus driver beckoned for us to jump on the bus again. We are taken to another terminal and have our tickets exchanged for a transfer ticket to Sucre.

Waiting for about 45 minutes as dogs roam past searching for food or begging stall owners, finally our new bus arrives. We spend another half an hour helping the other passengers stuff the obviously overwhelming luggage into an obviously underwhelming luggage compartment. I hear many, 'es no posible'! Somehow we make it work and board the bus on route to Sucre.

Monday, 9 September 2013

High altitude - hola pinche gringo.

I'm writing this blog entry from a room in a hostel made entirely of salt. I'm wearing a beanie, 3 jumpers, a coat, 2 pairs of socks and have just removed my alpaca gloves in order to properly type out my story. Oh yeah, I'm also under the covers in bed. I am cold now but tonight it will reach -14 degrees Celsius. The last few days have been nothing short of amazing. I'm going to skip the top end of Argentina because I'm heading back there towards the end of my trip.

So! The last 3 days I have been traveling Bolivia by jeep. I arrived in a desert town called uyuni, which is a 10 hour journey from the Bolivian/Argentina border. Uyuni is quite cool. Its a quaint town where the people smile and listen to the music being pumped through amplifiers in the center of town. A guide notices me waltzing around town with a smarmy grin on my face, sussing out whether I will find a hostel for the night. I feel bad for forgetting his name but he was all class. I was shown where the best and only working atm machine was, where I could use WiFi and also a nice cheap Mexican/Italian restaurant. I decided to book the tour of the salt flats through the guide.

I devoured some burritos and fell asleep in a cheap hostel without a shower. In the morning around 10, I loaded my stuff into an old faithful jeep that looked as though it had been rolled several times and dipped in a vat of dust and oil. First stop were the salt flats. Once a prehistoric ocean spanning 12,000km, the years had dried up the water leaving expansive salt flats. I took some photos using the salt flats as a backdrop which allowed me to play with perspective and shoot some wicked film. I wasn't aware that Bolivia had such diverse landscapes. Throughout the last two days I've seen volcano's, train graveyards, green lagoons covered with ice, sandy deserts, huge rock formations and blood red lagoons populated by flamingos searching for food. I also chased a pack of llamas, did some rock climbing and took pictures of snow covered mountain peaks. All of these incredible locations are within about 80km of each other. Tomorrow I'm up at 5am to climb to 4850ft where I will witness the geysers before sunrise. The air is thin and it can be hard to breathe at times but I already feel my body adjusting.

Bolivia is fantastic. The people are friendly and helpful and love to share the experience of their country. I'm looking forward to catching the bus to sucrae where I will stay for a week and eat llama and practice my Spanish. I've taken many photos but am still unable to upload them without a proper desktop computer so the photos are all courtesy of my Australian friend, Vicky.

Vino, carne y chicas

Argentina is my Puerto of entry. See, I'm basically fluent in Spanish already. Heh, so I obviously have a long way to go but I'm very much enjoying learning. I have a very basic understanding of French and it has somewhat transferred into Spanish which has helped me with forming small sentences and asking if it is possible to ride a bus somewhere and how much that bottle of malbec is. Malbec is fucking delicious by the way. I'm surprised I haven't been exposed to it from my vino loving parents.

Before I get too much off track, I'll explain what I've been up to this last week or so. As I said, I flew into Buenos Aires which was a nice relaxing journey with south African airlines. I paid way too much for a taxi to my hostel in San telmo. San telmo is basically backpacker central and seemed 'backpackerish' and rather central. It borders on an area of b.a called La Boca which the lonely planet guide says one should exercise extreme caution and that there is a police officer situated on roads that are known crime spots, directing tourists away. I didn't see any of this, mind you. La Boca is very cool. I walked through the markets, witnessed a political rally and sat down at a cafe and ordered a coffee and some churros.

That night I booked something called the Argentine experience. I'll explain in detail how the night went down because it was worth every penny and I would recommend it to anyone fresh off the plane. We arrive in this storefront restaurant and are greeted with a wine cocktail called a malbeca. It contains crushed lime, sugar syrup, malbec, apple juice and pisco. Very nice. Cocktail in hand, we are ushered to a table with 20 wine glasses, all with a fragrance bottle inside. It is our job to test our noses and pin point the individual fragrances and flavors often associated with wine. I scored a measly 1 out of 20. I was rocking a very heavy cold mind you and clearly would have sported a perfect score if I was healthy and in my prime.

Games aside, it was time to eat... And drink... And also drink. We sat at a bar as a very witty and bubbly gentleman (perhaps from the wine?), taught us how to make 3 separate wine based cocktails each with a delicious tapas to compliment it. One word. Incredible. The first tapas was a skewered red pepper, mushroom and cube of beef. My first experience of beef in Argentina and I have to say it lives up to the hype. After our introduction to some of the flavours we would be experiencing that night we are brought up stairs to a table and taught how to make empanadas. Sort of like a pastie crossed with a meat pie. Using the technique they showed us where you pull and twist the pastry to seal it, I had created my first empanada and in turn, ate my first empanada. Also delicious. I have to add by this time I was already quite full and quite drunk from the apparently never ending wine supply.

The main course was simple and classic. Baked vegetables and a great big juicy steak. The best I've ever tried. Firstly the cows are bred and fed in a different way and secondly the method in which the protein is cooked is complex. The chef starts by leaving the meat overnight in the fridge with a salt and pepper season causing it to form a sort of crust, then the meat is taken out the next day and left to room temperature. After it is at room temperature it is cooked to your liking. Very juicy. By the end of the night I was satisfied with my over indulgent evening. It didn't end there though. One of the waiters took me and my friends out to a house that had been converted to host parties. By the time I was back at the hostel, I was destroyed. Asleep before my head hit the pillow. 2 more days in Buenos Aires and on to the university city of salta. Museums, flowers made from old aeroplane panels, ridiculous amounts of food and too much wine. We had realized that b.a was burning a serious hole in our wallets so the plan is to head north for Bolivia.

Highly notable - The best red meat I have tasted, some delicious wines and utterly and completely ridiculously outrageously gorgeous looking women. I think I'm going to keep working on my Spanish and move to b.a and work as a bike tour guide.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I survived India

A month and a half traveling around India and I'm still alive. To be honest, I believe India is a much more travel friendly country then it is given credit for. Firstly its cheap and travel (although at times can be complex and downright annoying), always offers multiple alternatives for all budgets. Secondly, there are tourist buildings placed on most streets in all cities. English is almost spoken more often then Hindi or other native languages. Its been a pleasure writing bits and bobs from my time in India for who ever wants to read it and I am happy that I will be able to read back and remember being scammed by men with fantastic beards, getting jumped on by Indian kids wanting ice cream and being wowed by the pure epic proportions of the taj mahal. I hope those who have read and traveled along with me have also enjoyed my silly stories and half arsed explanations of the cities and villages I have visited. When i return home i will be compiling the insane amount of footage i've managed to accumulate and turning it into a montage of my india leg. So look out for that. .

A while ago, I mentioned that India was the beginning of my trip and I would be continuing on to south america beginning with Argentina. That's actually happening! I'm in a city called salta right now. My next blog entry will take you to Buenos Aires where I begin my south american adventure. So... Seeya then.

- I survived India and I deserve a medal. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


I've been relaxing in Goa for a few days now, growing out my beard and drinking lassis, all the while intending to write another blog post. I thought, 'hey, monsoonal rains in Goa. The perfect place to kick back and do some writing'. The thing about Goa though, is the food is so amazing and the booze is so cheap that all I seemed to do is eat and drink. But enough of that, I'm motivated and I have a cold, so a break from drinking has begun.

I will start with Bombay. I touched on it briefly last post. The city itself I found to be quite modern and clean comparatively to other major Indian cities. The best thing to do when landing in Mumbai airport is to go straight to the prepaid taxi box because the drivers will try to con you out of those few precious extra rupees you would have spent on food or beer. The trip in to colaba wasn't too long. Maybe 45 minutes. It gave me time to check out the city. Modern vehicles and seaside views make for a refreshing change from delhi. I don't think I saw more than 5 auto rickshaws in Mumbai. After staying a night at the salvos I was convinced I was being eaten alive by bed bugs. I would get up at 6 or 7am and hop in a cold shower and make my way to Starbucks to use their wi fi. My morning ritual consisted of a small snack like a samosa or potato dumpling and a filthy bucks coffee. The black coffee is the money as far as caffeine goes.

Well prepared and shot up with caffeine, I would make my way down one of the main roads stretching through colaba. From memory it was m.Gandhi rd but I can't be sure. Lots of markets and bars, this main road is jam packed with tourists. When I got to Leopold's (the bar featured in shantaram), I was a little disappointed to see it resembled more of a la porchetta, family restaurant vibe then the seedy smokey bar I had imagined. None the less I scoped the bar for gangster types. The best i could come up with was an eastern European looking girl who was burning a hole in the back of toms head with a stare that lasted a whole pitcher of kingfisher. I love how they serve beer at Leopold's. They bring out a small red bowl like dish with kingfisher advertising all over it. 5 minutes later, a huge pitcher of beer arrives and is placed on the bowl. The whole contraption acts as a sort of makeshift beer tap. I dug it very much.

The next day in Bombay we went to a Bollywood film. We saw a film called b.a pass and another one called once upon in Mumbai, again. I urge you to YouTube both films. Halfway through once upon a time, I lent over and asked the man next to me what was happening. Apparently it was a love story where the women couldn't decide who I she really loved. There were gratuitous sex scenes in the back of tuk tuk but no on-screen kissing, of course.

Bombay is an interesting city. Completely diverse in its class and caste system even today. One story I was told that stuck with me was about the taj mahal hotel in colaba. Tata is a very famous Muslim Indian company. They produced tea originally but moved on to automobiles amongst a whole range of other products. The Indian people embraced tata and they went on to become probably the most successful and profitable company in India. So, the story goes, the owners of tata were in Bombay on business and wanted to stay at a posh hotel. They chose the most expensive and grande hotel available. The hotel was European owned and was made for rich tourists and business men. When the tata owners entered the lobby they were instantly dismissed on the grounds they were poor locals. The owners were disgusted and out of spite, built a hotel even grander than the one they were denied from. The taj mahal hotel was built and did so well that it put the other hotel out of business.

To get from Bombay to Goa, there are a few options. I decided on a sleeper bus. It seemed to me that it was a good mix of comfort and affordability. The funny thing was, the man I bought my tickets from stressed the importance of being at the bus depot with plenty of time. Time got away from me of course and I was at the bus depot with five minutes to spare. A pack of giggling locals said my bus wouldn't be running today and I should hop on his bus that will take me to the real sleeper bus. Sounds totally legitimate right? I decided to go with the toothless man with the limps advice and hop on 'his' bus. Everything turned out alright. There were a few bombayites who had the same kind of ticket as me and I actually made friends with a chatty young chap by the name of ashok. He told us a few goan dishes that we must try and gave me a brief run down of Goa and where we might like to stay.

Goa is not at all a large area. With enough time you could easily explore the states beaches, nature and culture. I found their bus system to be very effective, hassle free and super cheap. I rode one bus that blasted out hits from chennai express, the latest Bollywood film. Very generally, Goa can be split into three distinct regions : north south and central. I'm writing this now from the south where I am struggling to find WiFi. Things slow down in the south. The beaches seem quieter and appear to cater for an older calmer crowd. A good place to sit back, unwind and read a book. One of the most interesting things for me about Goa is the architecture. The Portuguese arrived in Goa in 1510 seeking control of the regions spice routes by way of Goas wide natural waterways. Soon after, Portuguese rule and religion spread throughout the state, sometimes by force and it was not until 1961 when the Indian army marched into Goa, that almost five centuries of Portuguese occupation finally came to an end.

The Portuguese architecture is immediately apparent in panaji (the capital), with yellow houses with purple doors and cats lying in front of push bikes parked beneath oyster-shell windows. Numerous times tom and I would look at each other and comment that we could be in Portugal or another completely different location. We visited many of the churches littered throughout old Goa but none of them struck a chord with me. I think after being to massive Hindu and Sikh temples, the churches had lost much of their appeal to me.

Today when I was making my way down to the little shop about 2km away from my guesthouse, I saw a girl I was traveling with and tom both with great big grins on their faces. Turns out they had just rented three scooters and needed me to help them drive the bikes to buy fuel. I didn't feel too comfortable but what the heck, when in India right? So I asked the man who rents the bikes how to turn the bike on and he half rolled his eyes and lent over me and flicked the ignition. I felt like he was used to dumb white tourists doing silly things like rent a scooter without a bike license. Not even 30 seconds down the road I see Tom take a corner too wide, ricochet off another stationary scooter and accelerate head first into a nearby hat shop. Hats went flying, dust kicked up and a group of Indian men huddled around giggling and pointing. You couldn't have written better comedy. I was obviously immediately concerned for the safety of young Thomas, but after I could see there was no real injury, I relaxed. Tom saw the humour in it to, wiping the dust from his shorts and shaking his head in a mixture of disbelief and embarrassment. We all agreed it could have been a lot worse and that maybe the scooter idea wasn't the greatest. The incident was tidied up quicker then anticipated with a pat on the back and a bill for a bunch of rupees.

Tip of the day - just because its called a sleeper bus doesn't mean you actually get any sleep.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Dont let the bed bugs bite.

My plane had hit the tarmac just as soon as I had read the last page of Norwegian wood. This isn't relevant though. What IS relevant, is that I was reading shantaram previously. Mumbai... Or Bombay, as a lot of Indians seem to prefer to call it is great at first impressions. Flying over the slums just meters from the airport grounds. A city of its own covered in tarps, street signs and just about anything else that could be used as makeshift fortifications for a family home.

But I mustn't skip too far ahead in my adventures! I had spent just under a week in rishikesh where the Beatles found their inspiration for the white album. I'm a little hazy on the details but I think the story tells of how a Beatle or two stayed at an ashram practicing meditation and yoga with some kind of guru. After a while, John Lennon decided it was all just a money making scam. He wrote a song about his experience. 'You've made a fool of everyone'. John chickened out and decided to call the song sexy Sadie rather then the name of the guru.

Rishikesh is relaxing mostly. A completely dry town. No bars or pubs or beer in restaurants. I could smell hash almost constantly, though. The town is divided by 2 rope bridges populated by cheeky monkeys. One day a couple of girls had bought a bag of mangos only to have them snatched sneakily from behind. Some yoga, felafel, shopping, momos and a head butt from a cow and I was pretty satisfied with my experience of rishikesh and ready to move on.

Delhi has mostly served as a central hub in order to catch trains and buses to other destinations and this time we were catching a plane to Bombay so back to Delhi we went. Not much to report on my third time in Delhi. I got one of the girls to buy me nose rings because only gay people and women wear nose rings and I couldn't be bothered trying to explain that I wasn't gay to a man in a cloth. For dinner we ate at a restaurant with a line out front. Probably the best food so far. Had a thali to sample the different curries and followed it up with a south Indian coffee. One of the best coffees I've ever had. A man came and transfered the coffee from one cup to the other as an elaborate method of mixing in the sugar. The next morning we hired a van to take us to the airport. The driver pulled the old 'OK, you want to go to terminal 3? That's ages away, extra.' We saw right through it though and we continued. Just outside the airport we were pulled over by traffic police for having one too many passengers in the van. A complete joke seeing as some of the cars held over 10 Indians and nothing was said. A quick 'fine' (bribe), and we were on our way.

Now as I said I had just finished reading shantaram. It's a book about an escaped Australian prisoner who arrives in Bombay to live out the rest of his life here. He visits a bar call Leopold's where he starts his new life of crime in India. I am unshowered, dirty, sweaty, wet and itchy after staying a night at the salvation army dorms. I am thinking Leopold's might just be the perfect antidote.

Tip of the day - just because its free doesn't make it good. Also, nothing is free.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Pants and scarfs

Nainital is a popular holiday destination for a lot of Indians coming from the larger cities to escape the heat. The journey here wasn't at all pleasant. I hopped on a bus that left Lucknow and traveled 3 to 4 hours over a very rocky dusty road. Some managed to sleep. I have no idea how. I found myself wondering when the bus was last serviced as it had more resemblance to a garbage bin than a bus.

After a bumpy few hours, I got off the bus in a large busy city and hired a jeep that would take us up the Himalayan mountain side. The journey up the mountain, even at night was absolutely beautiful. The whole way up I was thinking what it would be like to climb it on my bike. Certainly puts Arthur's seat to shame!

The temperature lowered as we climbed in altitude and it was certainly welcomed. By this stage I was completely over sweating through shirts as soon as I left my lodgings. Arriving in town was anti climactic. I fully expected a breathtaking view but what we hadn't taken in to account is how long it takes to climb to the top of the mountain. The day had escaped us and the town was quiet and blanketed in darkness. We somehow managed to find a 5 person room and convinced the owner to allow us to put a mattress on the floor for a sixth person.

In the morning our breath was certainly taken. A deep green lake surrounded by enormous mountains littered with holiday houses and statues of Shiva and ganesh. As we explored the many shops, cafes and the Tibetan markets I found my pockets becoming lighter as realized that I totally needed that picture of a teddy bear riding a camel attached to a rolled up cabbage and I couldn't leave that tee shirt with a slogan that made no sense in English. But in all honesty, there were some great things on offer and plenty of presents were purchased.

I sampled some momos. They are basically glorified Nepalese dumplings that can be served in a soup or as is. Pretty damn scrumptious, so I ordered 12. Completely satisfied with our momo feast we rode boats on the lake and took the cable car higher to get an even more outrageous view. At the top there is an opening which seems sort of like an amusement park. I fired a rifle at the shooting range and hit a few targets. The indian bloke looked pleased but maybe he was just surprised that I hit something with the wonky sight and misshapen barrel. It started raining so we ran all the way back to our place.

Our clothes were soaked through. I bought some beers, they rolled some cigarettes and we sat and played cards as our clothes dried. I was looking forward to kicking back at this little paradise in the sky.

Tip of the day - when eating 12 momos, remember to breathe between mouthfuls.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Zero fucking stars...

This one will be short and sweet. In order to get up close to the Himalayan mountains we first have to go through Lucknow. 8 hours on the train. Not such a bad trip. Caught up on some arrested development, ate some samosas and ipod'd my way through the journey. By the time we were in Lucknow I was pretty hungry. The only thing Lucknow is really famous for is their mutton kebabs, even though its the capital of the state.

Went to a hotel we were interested in but was a little out of our price range. Found another one called moon star hotel or something like that. Bartered the Sikh at reception down to 200 a night. The room I got is probably the biggest piece of shit I have ever been in. Actually, saying it is a piece of shit is being generous. Piss stained mattresses, stale air, bottom floor next to a kitchen, no shower and a mouse to keep us company. Zero fucking stars. I apologize for my language but I am not a happy man.

Moving on...

The kebabs were shit but cheap, the traffic is chaotic and more disorderly than the much more dense Delhi traffic, we don't think the locals like white people and did I mention anything about the hotel?

Summing up, avoid Lucknow. I would rather eat my own esophagus than visit this town again.

Tip of the day - visit lucknow, try the esophagus. :-)

Take no prisoners

Blindingly colorful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet place on earth. Welcome to Varanasi. Also known to some as the city of life.  One of the worlds oldest inhabited cities and is regarded as one of Hinduism's' seven holy cities. Hindus come from all over India to die in Varanasi. They say if you die here and your body goes through the process of burning and then being dumped in the river that you will be liberated from the cycle of birth and death and be transported to heaven or Nirvana. That is, as long as you aren't pregnant, a leper or have a cobra bite.

Throughout my stay in Varanasi I counted the bodies being carried through the streets and eventually lost count and became desensitized. Varanasi dates back to 1200bc although it really rose to prominence in 8th century ad, when a guy called shankaracharya, a reformer of Hinduism, established Shiva worship as the major sect. The city was later destroyed in 1300ac and rebuilt again. Unfortunately a lot of the original temples were looted and destroyed by the afghans.

There is a lot more to offer than just antique buildings, spiritual activities and in your face culture. One of the highlights was a lassi shop called blue lassi. Definitely the undisputed best lassi in town. A tiny hole in the wall where they have been churning out lassi for over 70 years. I had a fruit mix one and a mango one. They top the creamy lassi with a mountain of fruit. Absolutely perfect sipping on one of these under a fan watching the color stroll through the alley ways. If you are not such a fan of fruit there are special lassi which are said to give you Shiva power. (Its actually just a lassi with a very healthy dose of marijuana). I had one of these and it completely floored me. I now realize why the man only drinks them on Sunday!

Winding alley ways, maze like streets and general craziness makes Varanasi one of my favorite destinations so far. The food we ate was the cheapest so far with banquets made for 6 people only paying 150rs each! The shopping was much the same. Cheap, interesting and much more variety.

Time to hop on a train and head towards the mountains.

Tip of the day - train carriage no. 8 obviously means you have to get on carriage no. 1

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


Sorry if some of the pics come up sideways! best i could do.
a little man i gave a bottle of water to

Cows sleeping in the middle of the road

Golden temple

Orchha village home

Quiet night in Main bazaar

Sikh ceremony in the golden temple

A street in Agra

One of the sexy statue temples

ye olde taj

more glolden temple

Reelahk singh

Kharjaraho station. 9pm. Discussing amongst ourselves what is the best plan of action for finding a place to sleep with such late notice. As soon as we stepped off the train we were surrounded by 20 or more teenagers. They swamped us with offers for cheap hotels and because there were so many, it really was very cheap. We took two auto rickshaws (known as India's helicopters), to yogi lodge.

Yogi lodge was clean, cheap and accessible. We ate on the roof top where they had a special tandoor oven in which they cooked lots of different chicken dishes. I tried the butter chicken. Its very different to what we are used to. No where near as creamy and more complex spice mixes. We were approached by a young man named yogi who invited us to his table. He was from south Delhi and a label designer.

Yogi and his friends talked to us about lots of things from cricket to caste systems. These guys were pretty wealthy and were throwing around 1000rs notes like they were nothing. Rum after rum were delivered to our table free of charge as their guests. One of yogis friend who was not a Hindu explained the caste system to me.

The top caste are brahmins. They are the holy men and pilgrims who devote to god. Foreigners sit in this caste because we are usually white and rich comparatively. The next caste I can't remember the names but the one below are a warrior caste of which yogi and another of his friends belonged to. Under that are the business men and women followed by the servants and finally the bottom caste who clean toilets and other lowly jobs. I found it interesting how yogi could be so charming and friendly yet when his friend from a lower caste said something he didn't agree with he would tell him to shut up and the lower caste man would agree and apologize.

I have also heard stories that the bottom caste are sometimes known as untouchables and if you say... Hold a slum kids hand for instance, the brahmins will be offended and disgusted. Another odd story is the one about it being bad luck if an untouchable strolls past your car before a journey. The only way to remedy this bad luck is to buy said untouchable a pair of shoes. It is said that these people have rags for clothes but a great shoe collection.

Waking up with a hangover the following morning we explored the 11th century hindu temples dedicated to Shiva and ganesh which are home to the sexy Kama sutra statues. It began to rain so we went to seek refuge from the downpour in one of the temples. That night we went to an Italian restaurant and ate organic pizza. It was very expensive but very nice food and a clean European standards style restaurant.

The last day we visited the waterfalls about 20km away in a tuk tuk we hired for the day. Camille drove us for a while which she was very excited about. The waterfalls were incredible. So aggressive and powerful but beautiful and elegant at the same time. Monsoon is the best time to see them as the tide is so high. The water is 100m deep in some parts. Our guide was a friendly young chap in a jungle leopard print suit. Fantastic. We compared cotton shirts and joked about clothes. After the tour he gave us beedie cigarettes to try. They are a rolled up dried leaf from the trees that grow there. It was not to my taste. After stopping to teach a young farming boy some French words we got our driver to take us to the train station to board a train to Varanasi. Our driver was very sweet. He told us he had a great day coming with us and seeing temples and waterfalls, drinking chai and listening to us laugh. He finished by saying he wish he could come to Varanasi with us and wished us a safe journey.

Tip of the day - wear a poncho or rain jacket before it rains when you are still dry, not afterwards when you are drenched.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Power outage

Orchha is a huge change of pace. We stayed in a small village on a farm with a family of eight. Mukesh is the man of the house. He lives with his grandfather and mother, his wife, three children and a dog. It was an absolute delight to spend time exploring the temples and ancient architecture. Tom and I walked along a path beside a wall that leads up to what could be a religious kind of shrine which featured a 360 degree view of the city of orchha and surrounding farms and plains.

One day when we had walked in to town to get some lunch and climb to the top of one of the temples, we were caught in a monsoonal downpour. Village people and mountain goats ran for cover but I couldn't be happier. Being drenched in rain is not only refreshing, its also a free shower and laundry visit. Score...

The water buffalo also looked pretty happy when the rain came. One thing I have noticed and loved is how the buffalo and cows seem to think standing and sleeping in the middle of a busy road is a great idea. Drivers don't seem to mind in the slightest so maybe they're on to something. When we got back to the village we played some cricket with mukesh and his boys and then sat down for a thali and chai. At this point my stomach was trying to keep up with all the new experiences so I tried to keep it minimal.

Orchha was a good change of pace but at the same time I was looking forward to moving on to kujaraho and visiting the Kama sutra statues and waterfalls.

Tip of the day - don't let villager girls tie bracelets on your wrists!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Main bazaar

Once back in Delhi, I really felt like I could handle the chaos and the noise. It was a huge difference the way people treat you when you aren't wearing a big back pack. The place I was staying in was called the smyle inn which was clean, affordable and sold water at reception. The staff were a bit grumpy so after our day of exploring the markets we decided to move to the hotel next door. Turned out to be a good decision!

Our second day in Delhi our hotel manager and newly acquired friend, helped us book a private car to Agra to visit the taj mahal and Agra fort. Our drivers name was prem and he was a complete fiend behind the wheel. Ducking and weaving his Toyota van past motor cycles, cows, camels, rickshaws and cars. These guys are pros. It takes 4 to 6 hours to Agra and prem would have had to be on the ball the whole way.

When I got to the taj I took a lot of snaps of the surrounding architecture. There are lots of myths and stories about the taj which are pretty interesting. One of my favorite ones is that there were plans to construct an exact negative of the taj from black marble. There has been black marble excavated from the surround area and many 'official guides' will back up this claim.

Standing in the gardens looking up at the taj was a real hallmark in my life. Seeing a world renowned famous icon such as the taj was surreal. A word I have used often to describe India, yet just fits so well. To see it in the flesh and see that it was real and not just something from a postcard, was significant for me.

After the taj, the next tourist attraction was Agra fort. It was used for military purposes and then later was lived in. Its really big and has windows that overlook the entire city. You can see the taj mahal on the horizon. The contrast between the old temples and buildings and the traffic below is quite cool to see.

The train ride from Delhi was an adventure. We went with the cheapest option and rode cattle class with the general public. No a/c or free refreshments. I was offered chips, water, soft drink, samosas, chai and hash and cocaine. I declined all of these offers. Tom, however opted for some sort of fried sandwich he described as 'not very good'. After a sweaty 6 hour train ride hanging out with a group of 30 something men who acted like teenagers bubbling with excitement and a cute little 6 fingered girl, we arrive in orchha.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Dont eat the ice.

Before leaving Amritsar we made our way to the wagah border closing ceremony between Pakistan and India which has been happening since 1959. We caught a bus to the border and walked through an enormous crowd of Indians who were proudly representing their country. It was interesting to see how proud and patriotic Indians are. There were several checkpoints on the way to the seated area where the ceremony takes place. Each check point was cleared by a group of armed soldiers on horse back looking very stern and intimidating. Perhaps it was the ak47s or the perfect moustaches.

Standing in the hot sun really takes it out of you so it is important to keep hydrated. I must have hydrated a little too well because I was really busting to use the toilet. Guess what... No toilets. I watched men run across the road to relieve themselves and decided this was my only option. Now, I don't make a habit of writing about taking a whiz but this particular time was different because I was shocked to realize I was urinating on a crop of marijuana plants on the Pakistan/India border!

We were seated after some more security checkpoints. The ceremony takes place every evening before sunset at the Wagah border, which as part of the Grand Trunk Road was the only road link between these two countries before the opening of the Aman Setu in Kashmir in 1999. The ceremony starts with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both the sides, and ends up in the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags. We all felt that the beginning of the ceremony was fresh and excitement but after the 10th angry Indian handshake it was a tad samey.

Rushing back to Amritsar we hopped on the train to Delhi. The food and chai were excellent and watching the sights out the window on our way was a treat that I hope I don't get used to. I noticed tom turning green and shivering next to me. Looks like he will be the first one to fall victim to the infamous Delhi belly. Here's hoping I don't get a podium finish.


Friday, 19 July 2013

Best and worst

I understand now why people say India is the best place you will ever visit as well as the worst. I landed in Delhi a few days ago and immediately ripped the flight barcode off my pack to avoid looking fresh off the plane. Walking out of the airport I was ready for a wave of heat, humidity and smells. I think I prepared my self pretty well because it was not as intense as I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting was the ridiculous amount of scams. Traffic is well pass chaotic here but it seems to work. A horn is a necessity and is almost rude and dangerous If you don't use it.

Tom and I made our way straight to the train station to buy our tickets to Amritsar. We finally get to where we believe the tourist office is and a man approaches us and informs us that it has moved and will give us directions. One thing leads to another and we are in his brothers (apparently) auto rickshaw heading to an office. 10rs, why not...

When we arrive a man tells us everything is sold out. Tom received a message just as this happened from our friend in Amritsar saying "trust no one". We left the office immediately. This little scam was attempted on us maybe 5 or 6 times. We finally got a later train on a sleeper class which worked out better in the end because we didn't have to pay for accommodation.

Amritsar and Delhi, to me, are so different. Although its still chaotic and people mob you to buy things, it doesn't seem as sinister and mean as the streets of Delhi. Our accommodation for the night was to be in the actual golden temple as a pilgrim. You can sleep and eat entirely for free. Of course there is a donation box as well. The golden temple is very important to the sikh people and they keep it immaculate. Seeing the blinding white marble and bright golden structure surrounded by holy water in the middle was completely surreal.

After walking around for a while we made our way to the kitchen where you are lead through a crowd, given a plate and bowl and shown in to a hall with hundreds of other people. You sit cross legged as men walk around dropping food on to your plate with amazing efficiency. After finishing you leave the hall from the opposite side where you hand your dirty plate to a chain of people working as an organic washing machine. Amazing to see. The golden temple feeds 60 to 80,000 people every DAY!

A lot of Indian teenagers have a weird idea of foreigners. I have posed in photos with about 20 different people for no reason whatsoever. Very weird. I have also shaken the hands of many boys and girls. After the hand shake they give me the biggest grin i've ever seen.

Before leaving Amritsar, we learn about the massacre of 1918 by there British. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls of a few of the structures.

Next stop, back to Delhi.


-i have to buy a cord for my camera so I can share some amazing images with you but for now text will have to do. :-(

Monday, 1 July 2013

Welcome back.

So, I stopped posting on this blog after i got dreadfully sick in Montreal, Canada. The good news is, I'm not sick any more. I'm heading on another trip. This time, I'm off to India, Nepal, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia!

I'm going to start writing leading up to my trip and post photos and stories throughout the whole time I am there. (unless I get sick again!). 

On another note, I have just been informed there is going to be another film in the 'Before sunrise, Before sunset' series, and this makes me super excited. If you haven't seen these two films, I would highly recommend them. 

The new film is entitled, 'Before Midnight'. Go see it. I'm sure it will kick ass...

"OK, well this was my thought: 50,000 years ago, there are not even a million people on the planet. 10,000 years ago, there's, like, two million people on the planet. Now there's between five and six billion people on the planet, right? Now, if we all have our own, like, individual, unique soul, right, where do they all come from? You know, are modern souls only a fraction of the original souls? 'Cause if they are, that represents a 5,000 to 1 split of each soul in the last 50,000 years, which is, like, a blip in the Earth's time. You know, so at best we're like these tiny fractions of people, you know, walking... I mean, is that why we're so scattered? You know, is that why we're all so specialized?"
                                                                        - Jesse (Ethan Hawke, Before Sunrise)