Tag Archives: buses and trains

Trying to get it right

28 Aug

This time I will get it right, I thought to myself.  I left early, I studied maps, and I got on all the right buses and trains.  Everything seemed like it was going to work out just fine.  This was my second visit to the school in Staten Island that I would be supporting and I did not want things to end up like last time.

My journeys in NYC have gone steadily uphill.  I still walk out of the subway station and usually go back and forth a few times (why do they have to say — ‘head southwest on 2nd place’?  Do they think I carry a compass around with me?!) before I am headed in the right direction.  And I still leave early just in case I get on the wrong train headed in the wrong direction (which happened to me yesterday).  And I still send myself the directions, just in case I need them (which is still every time).  There is nothing intuitive about it.  And I have a pretty good sense of direction.

But I figure if I can handle these streets, then I should be able to figure NYC out….

streets of HCMC

But yesterday, disaster struck again.  It is kind of like lightening, surely since I have been hit once, I won’t get hit again?  But somehow I seem to be a magnet.

While on the bus, I noticed that it was getting darker and darker out.  I checked my smarter-than-a-flip-phone phone and it said that there was only a 30% chance of rain.  Which is good, because I don’t have an umbrella (remember last trip to Staten Island?  When I left the umbrella in the cab?  yeah, it’s still there.  and I’m still without an umbrella – which seemed to be an inconsequential fact.  Until it wasn’t….)

At this point, I know my stop is coming up and I start bargaining with the gods — ‘come on.  come on!  just let it hold on a little bit.  Let me get to the door!!!!”  But, as soon as I stepped off the bus, the rain started coming down.  At first, it was a normal rain.  I dashed across the road, ran up the drive way, trying to get cover by the trees.  Then, the skied opened up a little bit more and I ran under an alcove and took stock of my situation.

Yep — I was pretty much soaked.  I had 5 minutes to get there — and about 3 minutes of a run to get to the door.  ‘shit.  shit.  now what?!’ I thought to myself.  I couldn’t be late a second time.  This principal is going to think I am a flake.  Or a drowned rat – albeit a cute one, but still….

And then, hard to believe, but it started to rain harder.  Like sideways rain.  with a wind.  At that moment, I had no option — I was getting wet anyway.  I had to make a run for it.  So – run I did.  But it didn’t make any bit of a difference.

When I entered the lobby of the school, the school secretary handed me a towel and directed me to the bathroom.  Yep — I was the model of professionalism at that moment.

I spent the next two hours sitting in a meeting, trying to regain composure and decorum.  Hard to do when you are dripping on the floor….

the last time i was stuck in such rain. but better prepared.

Planes, trains and automobiles…

24 Jan

… and motorcycles, buses, rickshaws.

Over the past 4.5 months, i have taken a wide variety of public transportation options.  From auto-ricksaws to cycle-rickshaws to motorcycles.  Trains are hands-down my favorite.  There is nothing like watching the India countryside speed by while sipping a hot cup of chai.  But, the buses have been the most varied.

From the first buses that Katherine and I took in Nepal — the microbuses that were hot and crowded.  Then we found the public buses that were also hot and crowded, but these had a whole of people on the roofs.  My first bus in India tooked like it was on its last wheel and people had to get out each time the bus stalled to push it to pop the clutch.  And I could see the ground through the 4-speed gear shaft.  And did I mention how comfortable the seats were?  Ha.  And that was the ‘express’ bus that I got scammed for.

But buses in argentina are a whole new world.  I unfortunately do not have any pictures, but let me describe them to you.  First off, they are double deckers.  Secondly, there are a gazillion companies and various options for travel.  Since Beth and I were traveling  overnight, we took the ‘cama’ – which is not the most delux, but not the worst, either.

In cama, there are just 3 seats across (two, then aisle, then one).  So, the seats are bigger, wider, plush.  comfortable.  they play movies (mostly american films with spanish subtitles).  there is free coffee that you can drink all day.  there is a bathroom.  they serve you food.  I got wine the other night.  yeah, this ain’t no greyhound.

Though the buses are expensive, everyone takes them – there is a good mix of Argentines and tourists on the buses.  The buses travel all over the country, though it takes awhile.  For instance, we traveled from Southern Patagonia up to Mendoza and over the course of 3 days (left at 4 in the afternoon and got to Mendoza around 7:30 two days later) we were on a bus or in a bus station for close to 50 hours!  Fairly insane.

Argentina is big, there are a lot of sheep and lots and lots of prickly plants.

A quick note about food….

I cane from the land of amazing food (that land would be india and thailand and vietnam) — so the food here had high expectations to live up to.  I am so so so sorry to say that it failed miserably.  Argentines eat an amazing amount of bread and meat.  With not a whole lot of flavor.  The other day, on the bus, we had a total of 5 different bread products.  with meat.  it definitely leaves a bit to be desired….

next post….  our so very exciting plans for the nest few days!  🙂

Train Travel

10 Dec

So much of my recent time has been spent on trains and traveling – i thought i would share some of what i have been experiencing…

It seems that traveling by train in India is one of those adventures that everyone should have before they die.  For being a massive country with a massive population, train travel here is amazingly easy, efficient and cheap.  I have not had any problems getting tickets – once I discovered the foreign ticket office found at almost every railway station.  The agents have been super helpful, even when I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to head (I had a moment the other day when I _almost_ went south again!).  And here is the most amazing thing — it is all done on computer, but each train has a print out of all it’s passengers.  So – I can walk up to the train I am about to take and taped to the compartment is a list of all the passengers.  And the conductors walk around with their lists of passengers when they check the tickets  I know that does not sound that impressive, but I just think that for every train that is traveling through India at all times has a print out of every passenger – which is thousands of passengers daily.  I mean – that is a whole other level of organization (and I cannot help but think that if they have this figured out why a) we can’t have it in America and b) there is such disfunction in other areas – like why I get ripped off every time i get in a taxi….)

As I have said, I _prefer_ traveling in AC — it is cleaner, you get sheets and a blanket, you have a curtain that you can close around your compartment (though not around your particular berth) and just all around nicer.  But – my last couple of trains have been in sleeper — which is a bit more ‘real’, I guess you could say.  Or another way to say it would be that they are noiser, dirtier and not a whole lot of privacy (not that you are going to sleep nekkid in AC – but at least you don’t have people staring at you while you are sleeping!).  But, the price!  I just took a sleeper from Mumbai to Ajmer – it took 20 hours and cost me just under 400 rupees — which means it costs all of 8$ to travel that distance.  Yes, I agree, pretty unbelievable!

Before I took a train in India, all I could picture was scenes from Darjeeling Express or people crammed into trains – hanging off the sides, but it is not quite like that.  I think what is most incredible, besides the whole train-travel-as-a-way-of-transportation (as America hasn’t done so well with that one is):

  • people coming through selling everything from books to playing cards to locks/chains for your bags to repair materials for shoes
  • getting a piping hot cuppa chai for 5 rupees (and this can be replenished every 15 minutes or so as the guys come through)
  • being able to be well fed – with everything from the meal you can get on board (you order it and costs no more than a buck fifty) or what they sell up and down the aisles – samosas, chips, and a whole plethora of other things that I have no idea what they are — and depend on the region you are in

Almost every train i have been on has been predominantly men and mostly all Indian.  yesterday was the first train that I was on that had another tourist sitting in the same compartment as me.  I get lots of stares, but I am pretty much used to that now, but what I love is watching these guys start up conversations with each other and imaging what they are talking about.  I love seeing them become friends on the journey – laughing together.  One of my favorite scenes was from Hubli to Mumbai.  The compartment I was in had a group of men that were boxers and weightlifters (if their shirts with the name of their gym hadn’t given them away – their barrel chests and tiny waists would have.  Well, that and the fact that they outweighed most Indian men by a gazillion pounds (as Indian men might be the skinniest group, on a whole, of men EVER!)  And it was hard to remember, seeing them, that they were Indian – as they could easily have been American gym-rats.

[Side note:  I have told you how affectionate men are here, right?  They hold hands, they put their arms around each other’s waists, they sit against each other with arms resting on each other’s thighs – ok, now that you remember that, read on…]

But these muscle-heads — their affectionate touch reminded me of their Indian-ness.  I want you to just imagine this scene — a bunch of gym rats sitting around with their arms around each other, on each other, their hands resting on another one’s knees – and then wanting to make sure I had dinner and ready to share their dinner with me!  I unfortunately had already eaten, as I would have loved to eat with them as they were so intriguing to me.  Do you think that they are vegetarians (like so much of India?)  Did they carbo-load?  watch their protein intake?  drink shakes?  so many questions….

In Mumbai, I had to take a commuter line in order to get to another train station where my next train was leaving from.  I read that 2.5 million people travel through the main Mumbai station every day, and I believe it!  It was a pretty crazy scene at rushhour – and me there with my backpack — not so helpful to the locals.  But I got myself figured out and got on my commuter train – it was leaving shortly so I hopped onto the nearest car and found myself surrounded by… women!  I had to look twice, all around me, women.  Wait a second… this cannot be India – the land of men!  Sure enough, I had accidentally, but correctly, landed in the women’s car of the train.  It was an amazing sight – all the different vibrant colors of the saris and clothes, the western dressed women, the women texting and talking on phones and resting their eyes after a long day at work.  I got some smiles as I tried to deal with all my stuff — and best of all — no staring!  I mean, I was staring at all of them, and some of them were watching me — but how different it felt!  No cold stares, no one watching my every move, not the feeling of being so utterly watched.  It was great.  I smiled to myself and sat back – relaxed.  Which is how so many of them must feel as they ride to and from work (otherwise, why would they ride in that compartment?).

I only have one more train to take – from Jaidpur to Delhi.  It is sad to not have any more big train adventures in front of me…

Status update:

Some of you have asked how I am doing on my $30/day budget and I am happy to report that I am doing really well with this!  In fact, the first three months have been under budget – which allowed me to buy a plane ticket from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (instead of taking a 30 hour bus ride) to meet up with my friend Beth to do some trekking before to big climb (or – in other words – an attempt to get in shape before the climb).  And the best part of my budget is that I have not had to really work at it!  I have had a few days that have been WAY over budget – but usually that is because I have been ripped off in some way – but for the most part, it has been easy to stay below.  In India, my biggest cost is accomodations – but I try to keep that close to $8-10/night which is pretty easy (there is cheaper but after the bedbug fiasco cleanliness is high on my priority list).

Then for food — it would be easy to spend a lot there, but as I have mentioned, my favorite place to get food is the hole in the wall places — though that is not always feasible (it was super easy down south — not sure what it will be like up here).  but, even if I go really big, which would be about $4/meal — that still leaves me with 8$ a day to do stuff.  And most of the stuff that I like to eat does not cost much – so it is pretty easy to stay in budget (basically, i stay away from the western food – which is fine by me!).  I definitely could be doing things cheaper – but so far my lifestyle feels pretty good.

As for the rest of things… well, some of my stuff has taken a beating — my pack is ripped in several spots, two (of my four) t-shirts have holes in them but it is my silk sleeping bag liner that is suffering the most!  I have had it for 3+ years (got it for my first trip to India) so, i have definitely slept in it countless times — but it is ripping on pretty much every seam – right now there are 3 very large holes .  And I have sewn it together in a bunch of spots, only to have it rip again, right next to where I repaired it (thanks to Jess for the sewing kit — i love the hot pink thread!).  It will be interesting to see what kind of shape it is in by June!  And yes, for those of you wondering, I am already sick of my limited wardrobe.  All I can think is – thank god I packed those extra pants…

be well friends.  i am sitting here in the restaurant of my guesthouse, having rice pudding and chai (after having a good masala dosa from a street cart) watching the lunar eclipse through the window.

love — aurora