Tag Archives: food

Autumn in NYC

22 Sep

This weekend was one of those ones that make you glad you live in the Northeast…  I love the fall!  Instead of blabbering on about my weekend, I am going to tell the story with a photo-essay

Sunset over NYC skyline

Sunset over NYC skyline

Celebrating a friend's 30th birthday with a full moon birthday ride

Celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday with a full moon birthday ride

salsa and chips on pier 66 with a full moon rising

salsa and chips on pier 66 with a full moon rising

new work at 5ptz

new work at 5ptz

love warrior

love warrior

more love

more love

IMG_0385

pipe dreams

pipe dreams

take a bite out of the apple

take a bite out of the apple

IMG_0373

Sunday morning bike ride up through Brooklyn to Roosevelt Island

Sunday morning bike ride up through Brooklyn to Roosevelt Island

UN

UN

Not pictured….

  • An amazing photo exhibit on the water front, all in shipping containers featuring photographers from all over.  Some of the images brought tears to my eyes.
  • A block party with the neighbors.
  • Farmer’s market with apples, swiss chard, delicata squash and cider donuts.
  • Some good walks in the sun, through the park, smiling at strangers – all of us rejoicing in the blue skies and beautiful weather.
  • Papusas from the Red Hook El Salvadorian food truck.

It was a good weekend.  

Have I mentioned how much fun this life is?

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What I miss….

7 Jun

I have been back in the states for a little over a month now.  In some ways, my life has slowed down a lot.  I go to the same place for work every day, I see my old friends.  I just got my car back.  I do ‘normal’ life things — like get my car inspected.  But at the same time, I am still in flux.  Still very much in transition – sleeping on an air mattress with my sleeping bag as a blanket.  Still unsure of where I will go beyond July 27th.  Still unsure of what I want.

But one thing is clear to me…  I know what I miss.  So, I thought I would put together a little list of what I miss….

sunset in southern india

I miss:

  • the taxis everywhere honking at me (except when i need them) – all I can think is – don’t you think that I would wave you down if I needed you?
  • freshly squeezed juice
  • buses with someone yelling out of them telling you where they are going
  • busy markets
  • street food – pork, tucanos and salteñas with hot sauce, empanadas

street food!

  • the ability to buy any movie on the street
  • markets that you can buy just about anything at (fresh veggies, fresh fruit, meat)
  • strangers wishing me ‘provecho‘ in restaurants
  • south american couples – young and old – holding hands, kissing in plazas
  • meeting strangers and within hours or days, feeling that they were old friends
  • being called mamie or mamacita in the markets where i bought my daily avocados and mangos
  • women walking down the street breastfeeding (ok, that was just SA)
  • the vivid colors of saris

girls on a field trip in southern india

  • everyone around me having dark hair and dark eyes
  • staying out until 4 in the morning, dancing at a club
  • meeting strangers
  • the mix of spices unfolding in my mouth
  • the smell of India
  • riding the trains, buses, rickshaws, motos
  • being on a train and hearing ‘chai, chai, chai’
  • mountains, sunsets, beaches, high altitude landscapes
  • the constant awareness of history and religion and spirituality

the eyes of buddha

  • fresh air and being outside every day
  • hearing a foreign language and trying to guess at context
  • learning to speak another language and get my needs met
  • walking everywhere
  • trekking
  • the Andes, Patagonia, Himalayas

mountains near Huaraz

and then there is the other stuff..   the stuff that is harder to find, harder to name.

I miss writing and reading every day.  I miss having the time to think and reflect and write.  I miss having the freedom to come and go as it suits me.  I miss people watching.  I miss what it feels like to wake up and think… huh, I wonder what I will do today? I miss not having a schedule.  I miss adventure.  I miss being by myself – but the prospect of not being by myself every day.  I miss the possibilities of saying ‘yes’.  I miss trusting that everything will work  out.  I miss freedom.  And choice.  And travel.

I miss feeling like I am exactly where I am suppose to be.

8 months in review….

13 May

8 months in review…..

Best Meal:

This is such a hard one…. I have had so much amazing food….  but here are a few of my favorites:

  1. grilled chicken from a street vendor in peru – plate with beet salad, maize and amazing chicken – though this was quickly overtaking by the roasted pig fresh out of the huge oven bought on the street a few days later.  Oh man, I could have had 3 plates worth!
  2. masala dosas in Southern Indian, eaten with my hands
  3. vietnamese soup from a street stall
  4. fresh fruit from the street vendors in bangkok
  5. not quite a meal but…. chai on the trains in india first thing in the morning

drying fish

Strangest food:

Oh man, SE Asia is the place for … different… food.  I wasn’t always terribly explorative but….

There is this sandwich that is really common in Vietnam.  It is combination of the French influence (a baguette) but truly Vietnamese – on one side is a pate-like substance, on the other there is butter.  Then you can choose between pork or a fried egg (or both). Then the condiments and extras include cucumber, tomato, chilies, fish sauce and other unknown stuff.  It is actually quite good – as long as you don’t think about the ‘pate’.

I had some meals in Thailand from the street carts that I have no idea what they were.  Some were strange, for sure.

And if I HAD tried it, baby bird still in the shell would make the top of the list!

Best Book

I have probably read close to 40 books this year.  I am a bit of a voracious reader, which was great because I read a lot, but not good because it meant that I finished books super fast.  So – I cannot remember them all – but one of my favorites was White Tiger by an Indian author.  It is super funny and reflective of life and people in India – I read it while there and I could not stop laughing.

things lost

2 pairs of underwear (but one was not my fault – the laundry service lost them!)

1 pair of socks (damn laundry service)

umbrella  – uh, no idea where I left that…..

my SA cell phone – also no clue….

Best Guesthouse

I have stayed in many many crappy places.  But I have also stayed in some really nice places – whether it was a guesthouse in Vietnam that over looked the beach, or a simple room in a family’s home in Nepal, or a clean room with my own bathroom in Huaraz – the  things that started to matter to me was quietness, cleanliness and bathrooms.  Funny how your needs start to get boiled down to simplicity….

sunrise on the ganges

Coolest Wildlife Sighting

Seeing mama and ‘baby’ rhino from the back of an elephant!  I mean, it was a rhino!  And they look just like the pictures….  (which I know sounds ridiculous but that was totally my reaction….)

going for an elephant ride (not comfortable!)

Most beautiful scenery

How could I possibly pick just one?  I have spent time in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the world – Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia.  I have visited Machu Picchu and temples of Bangkok.  I cannot possibly pick one place that was more beautiful than another. But the diversity of Bolivia, the mountains of Huaraz, the raw beauty of Patagonia and the grandeur of the Himalayas definitely stole my heart.

crossing the glacier

Toughest moment

There were definitely times in the fall when I had a crisis of faith what am I doing here?  What am I doing with my life?!  I remember one day in particular.  It was a rainy day in India, I was in Kochi, a city in Southern India.  At that point, I had been traveling for close to 3 weeks or so in India, by myself.  I was enjoying India, at times.  But was also finding it difficult – the constant staring, the constant feeling of being a spectacle, of being uncomfortable.  I was at a coffee shop and just spent the afternoon staring out in space, trying to figure out my purpose….  it was a rough period.

Biggest scam

When I arrived in Mumbai, I had to take a taxi from one train station to another.  It was quite early in the morning, still dark, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do.  Taxis are always tough because they are really metered, you don’t know how much they should be charging you and how much you should bargain.  I found a driver and thought we had a deal.  When we got there, I paid him with a large bill (I can’t remember what it was, but I was almost positive it was enough to cover the fare).  For the sake of the story, let’s say it was a 100.  But, he told me, no, that is 20.  You need to give me more.  Confused, I handed over another 100.  Again, he told me that it was a 20.

Now, you have to remember that it was still dark out.  There is a chance that he was telling the truth.

But, I am pretty sure that I handed over a whole lot more than I should have.  My theory is that he dropped the money on the front seat and had a 20 there to show me.  Or, maybe I really was just overtired…..  Want to give him the benefit of the doubt but….. I think that I lost out on at least a few 100 rupees that day!

demon

meeting the locals….

I found the people in India to be incredibly funny and want to talk to me.  Of course, at first they stared, but if I smiled at them, chances were they would smile back.  I remember being in the train station in Varanasi and I had accidentally arrived early.  So, I joined everyone else in sitting on the floor.  There was a large group of women who were staring intensely at me.  I tried to smile, but it was hard to crack their stares.  Eventually, I got one of the little girls to smile at me – which in turn got the whole family to smile and giggle at me.  They waved me over and we spent 30 minutes of them staring at me, holding my hand, speaking to me in Hindu and me just smiling.  As they left, they all wanted to shake my hand.

Getting sick

I am not sure how I pulled this off, but I had it 8 months without getting sick – except for a few times that were pretty minor.  My body had a day or two adjustment from being a vegetarian for 4 months to jumping back on the meat-train (with no easing in).  Then in Bolivia, I got sick a few times, but mostly just for 24 hours or so. And one cold in Peru that lasted 48 hours or so.  Moral of the story? Traveling is really healthy for me.  Oh – and I lost my hand sani early on and never replaced it……  🙂

Craziest public transportation

This one is tough, as I took a lot of sketchy transportation this year.  I have been on auto-rickshaws and bike-rickshaws, motorcycles, buses, trans, cars, elephants.  And, as my brother can attest, I can be a nervous passenger.  But, for some reason, the sketchiness never really bothered me this year.  Maybe it is because people do not drive super fast, maybe it is because the lack of rules in so many places means that everyone understands that and works within those parameters (a lack of rules almost means that you are always expecting the unexpected).  And then there is the simple consolation for myself – well, I am sure the driver doesn’t want to die, so…. he’ll be careful., right?

But the craziest?  It was probably a rickety bus that had to be push started and had 4 out of 5 gears working and I could see the ground through the gear shaft.  And I was on it for 13 hours.  And the driver had to avoid dogs and monkeys and people and motorcycles.

worst food

This is hands down Argentina.  I mean, could the food get any more bland?  Yes, yes, I know – this is the land of steaks and good wine.  And I bet that if you have a lot of money to spend, you can have a really good steak. But, I never had a lot of money to blow.  So, I had some good steaks. And I had some good wine.  But on a whole, the food there is boring and bland.

worst guesthouse moment

This one is easy….  I was in Potosi, Bolivia and had gone to bed early, as I am prone to doing.  The other people in my room got back late – around 2 in the morning.  I was already annoyed with them, as it was a group of 3 and the couple of the group was staying in one bed above me (get your own room, please).  In any case, they were clearly a bit drunk, stumbling around, knocking things over. Eventually, they got into bed, when I heard the guy say to the girl above me ‘uh-oh, I think I am going to puke”.  And though I heard him clearly, his girlfriend seemed confused by what he was saying. In my head, I am screaming at her – get him out of the f’ing bed. But she is slow to respond.  Too slow, in fact.  And he pukes down the wall.  You know, down the hall onto the bed I am in.

Yeah, definitely a low point….

friendliest stranger encounter

There have been so many positive and helpful. Encounters with strangers – people have been kind of helpful to me all along the way.  But one memory, in particular was when I was in India trying to figure out how to get to this festival and I had to take a bus.  I could not find the street that I needed to take the bus on, so I got directions there.  When I approached the street, I saw that there were many buses to choose from – all written in a different language.  How would I ever know?  I asked a woman who was walking towards me – and she brought me over to the street, helped me find the bus and told the driver where I was headed.  When I thanked her, she said, “no problem.  You would do the same for me if I needed help in your country”.  Good reminder of what goes around, comes around….

3-faced buddha

Number of high passes (over 4500m) crossed (by foot)

  • 3 in Nepal (2 in the Everest region, 1 in the Annapurna region)
  • 3 in Argentina (2 in Patagonia, 1 on Aconcagua)
  • 4 in Peru (3 on the Ausungate circuit, 1 on the Lares trek)
  • and of course, 1 high summit in Bolivia!

how much rice eaten

let’s see….  I have been traveling for about 240 days.  Most of the countries I was in eat rice with their meals.  Let’s low-ball that I had about a ½ cup of rice with each meal.  And then let’s low-ball that 175 dinners were rice dishes, which means that I had approximately 87.5 cups of rice this year.  Which I would say is definitely a low-ball estimate…. which means that is a lot of rice.

Best luck (and worst luck)

I combined these too – because it was really hard to think of a time when I had bad luck.  Because even when things did not work out the way I had planned them, something always good happened to me. There was the time I had a day layover in Bengalore, but I ended up getting to sit poolside drinking gin and tonics.  And then there was that other time that I was delayed in getting to Huaraz, but my timing meant that I met my mountain guide.

poolside! always good to say yes!

how many miles/km walked

Ha.  Try and figure that one out – not only did I trek in Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.  But I also walked pretty much everywhere.  Like the day in Bolivia where I tried to walk to a school in La Paz – and it ended up taking me 3 hours.  Or all the times I was a cheap-ass and refused to take the bus or the taxi.  I mean, it has got to be 1000s and 1000s of kms….

biggest fear

Rickety buses?  no.

Muggings?  Nope.

Being abducted by a rogue taxi driver?  Hardly.

But being attached by animals?  Yep!  Top of the list.  And not just dogs (though they are definitely scary in South America), but my biggest fears are being attacked – no, that is not the right word – being charged by farm animals – you know, the cows, horses and yaks that are frequently in the areas where I trek.  I know that a cow is not likely to charge me, but surely it has happened before, no?  And the yaks are so damn big.  And donkeys are total spazzes, hard to predict what they will do!

And, just for the record, I was trekking through a meadow last week and a horse did try to charge me (swear to god!) and the dogs that were following me (I might have fed them…) charged the horse and barked at it and scared it off.

So, I think that my fear is justified.  Ok?!

fishing on the China Sea

Best ‘just say yes’ moment….

there have been a few….

  1. Getting invited to a fancy hotel and getting treated to lunch, G&Ts and dinner while sitting poolside in Bangalore
  2. Getting to visit a Peruvian school with a local teacher and meet and talk with her students
  3. Going to review maps with a mountain guide and then spending the next two weeks together!

rule of life — just say yes!

  1. Getting to try delicious food from all over the world when I let the ‘salesperson’ talk me into it!

Merry merry happy happy

25 Dec

If I thought saigon was crazy last night….  tonight there is wall to wall traffic and people everywhere.  Lots and lots of folks taking pictures of their kid, who are all decked out in christmas wear, in front of the store displays.

interesting combo….

christmas eve, saigon style

Here are some of the highlights (or moments) of my day….

  • exercising early in the morning at a nearby park — which was SO crowded.  Saigon likes their exercise!  there are even permanent machines in the park!  people playing badminton, an aerobics class with fun music and old ladies, runners, walkers, people of all ages.  it was great!
  • visited the Renification Palace – which is where the tanks came through in 1975 and took over S.Vietnam and hoisted the current flag.  It is pretty well preserved and pretty interesting to learn more about the conflict
  • visited the war museum – which has a big exhibit on Agent Orange.  It is terrible what was done to this country.  There were a lot of pictures of people impacted by Agent Orange — and it is still a problem here.  On display was a beautiful  letter that a young girl, who is disabled by Agent Orange,  wrote to President Obama asking him to think of young children everywhere who need help.  The most depressing part of it, for me, was that the companies who knowingly sold and manufactured Agent Orange have barely shouldered the blame and impact.  While visiting the museum, I could not help but think of Iraq and Afghanistan…..

paintings by children at the war museum

  • when I came back to my guesthouse tonight, I got talking to a guy that was in the lobby.  Turns out he is from long island, but lives abroad (currently in Hong kong) and is here traveling.  While we had a beer and toasted christmas eve, the women who work in the hotel invited us to join them for some food — some watermelon, some fish and beef meatballs and eggs.  And not just ordinary eggs — but BABY BIRD eggs….  no joke.  when I said that I did not want to try it, the girl said “well, you eat big bird chickens, why not baby bird chicken?”  Good question.

baby bird

This is not the first Christmas I have been away from my family, but it is the first Christmas that I am alone.  I move between feeling kind of lonely and a little melancholy to not even noticing that it is Christmas, as it is hot, busy, crowded and not my culture/language/community.  But, I also have been having a tough time trying to figure out what to do with my time.  An old friend is joining me on the 29th, so we have been emailing back and forth to figure out where to meet and where we want to go — but I have finally decided to stay in HCMC and head to the mekong delta on the 26th.  Not that there is so much to do here, but at least I can get myself all figured out and leave with a plan.

Ok — more from me later.  lots of love — aurora

So long bangkok, i hardly knew you….

22 Dec

there i am at the wat arun (temple of dawn) with the grand palace in the background

Today was day 3 wandering around the city.  Around every corner is another breathtaking temple (called a ‘wat’) and everywhere there is cheap, amazing street food.  So, why wasn’t I loving it?

I realized tonight, it is because I don’t know it.  I don’t know its stories, I don’t know its people.  I don’t know its needs and wants.  Now, let me say — traveling in India and Nepal for almost 4 months definitely doesn’t make me an expert – and I would never claim to be.  But, over my time there and through my friends who live there, I feel that I have some understanding of that world.  But here?  Nope, no idea.

While I sat and ate my fresh fruit in coconut milk for the 3rd night in a row, one of the waitresses came over and commented on it (that I eat it every night).  We got to talking, first about her name tag that she hates to wear (we commiserated about that and bosses that make you wear them), then her hours and the fact that she lives about 45 minutes away and then about how she is trying to work a lot so that she can make enough money to bring her daughter back.  See, when the floods happened, her place wasn’t impacted because she lives on the 3rd floor, but the whole first floor was flooded, so she could not go home – so she sent her daughter to her village to live with her mom.

Ah, so now Thailand has a bit more of a face for me.  A bit of a story.  Now, I feel a bit of a connection.

I have spent lots of time comparing Bangkok to Nepal/India and here are some of my thoughts:

  • Nepal and India – it was easy to eat vegetarian.  Not so here (though I am sure you could manage).  But here, seems to be easier to eat meat.  It is everywhere.  From the dried fish to fried chicken to grilled hot dogs.  I had beef and pork for the first time in almost 4 months.  And then there is the unidentifiable meat….  yeah, had some of that too.

fish market

  • like india and nepal, there are temples everywhere.  and i mean, everywhere.  Whereas in Nepal and India, there were small ones hidden around every corner, here they are all huge and golden and ornate.  How many pictures can I take of Buddha?  apparently, i have yet to discover that answer

yeah, another buddha

more buddhas

  • there is no honking in bangkok.  seriously.  it seems SO quiet to me.  and there are lights and lanes and people adhere to them….  whoa….
  • there are women everywhere.  women shopping and cooking food and … well…. just doing the sorts of things you do when you live some place.  they are working alongside men and talking to them.  it is definitely a different feel.
  • people dress very differently — short skirts, lots of skin (it was almost shocking at first).  and the hairstyles?  awesome.  lots of faux-hawks and punk styles.  love it.  i feel so plain.
  • they are use to tourists here.  they don’t stare.  in fact, i am kind of invisible.  once in a while i get a bit of a smile — but for the most part, i am totally non-existant to them.
  • the markets here sell everything.  today i walked around chinatown  — everything from jewelery to clothes to rebuilt engines for cars to sex toys to chinese herbs to kitchen sinks to ….  really, whatever you could ever want.
  • people don’t harass me on the street.  no one is asking me where i am from (ok, a few of them did here and there) but for the most part it is hassle free.  no tuk-tuk drivers asking you if you want to go somewhere.  no sketchy dudes asking you where you are from to lure you into their shops.

HUGE reclining buddha

  • the street food is safe and it is the norm.  today, i had a lot of it (i kind of can’t stop myself…  which might be why i am way over budget….).  I had chicken noodle soup, pork noodle soup, some sort of curried stir fry with rice this morning for breakfast with an egg, a mango smoothy and fresh slices of pineapple.  and there were so many other options…  it is almost overwhelming…  and some of it i don’t have the courage to try….

dried fish for sale

In other news…  I had two big spends today.  One was buying two pieces of fabric for skirts – though that was just about 9$ for each one and it is thai silk (or so I hope!).  And the other big ticket item was sending the fabric home, along with a nepal guide book home (that belongs to katherine — thanks Kat!) and my india guidebook home and the two books and other material i have collected along the way.  So — that _should_ arrive in the states in 2-3 months or so….  expensive, but necessary.

I want to describe my breakfast to you — I had rice with a chicken red curry and then some sort of octopus (I think?  or maybe squid?) that was with green beans and spicy.  SO good.  and then I followed that up with an iced coffee (heavy on the carnation condensed milk) and then fresh slices of mango.  All for about $$2.  So, again, you ask me why i am over budget?  ok….  so all the fresh fruit — how can you indulge just once a day?  and then you can have fruit shakes with said fresh fruit.  again – how can you do that but once?  i guess it has been some time since i had fresh fruit like this….  It’s my christmas present to myself, right?!  (too bad my account didn’t know we were celebrating xmas).

demon

First thing tomorrow morning, i head to the airport and by 9:15 am, I will be in HCMC.  I have a reservation for the first two nights and then…  not sure.  I always get nervous when I travel some place new.  Once I get use to it and figure out how to negotiate my new world, i am ok, but until then, I get really nervous.  I will be by myself from the 23rd until some point on the 29th when I will meet up with my friend Chloe.  Not sure what my plans are…  i tried to make some plans, but have not heard back from any of the guest houses, so it will have to be on the fly planning!  my favorite….

in any case — happy solstice to you all.  much love as we start this new year.  i am so thankful that you are all with me.  i feel your energy, love and courage.  thank you.

So fun!

18 Dec

I have been staying with a family since I arrived in Gurgaon on Wednesday.  Meenu is the mom and she works for Disha, which is the organization that runs that Outward Bound courses for The Heritage School that I visited.  Disha and Heritage partner closely, are next door to one another and staff are very connected.

Meenu and I hit it off immediately – she is fun, funny, adventurous – not the archetypal Indian woman, at all.  She is one of the instructors for the Outward Bound-type courses that Disha runs for the school.  She has two children – Tonya and Tanoush (17 and 15, respectively) – and her husband Sundeep, who is an international pilot.  Her brother, also an international pilot who lives in Qatar, was in town the other day – and he was picked up by their other brother who is a farmer in the village they all grew up in.  So, needless to say, it has been a full house.  I have loved staying in their house and being involved in family life!

We have gone out for great Indian meals – they take great delight in my desire to eat/try anything! I have tagged along on errands to pick up kids (seems to be the same ferrying of teenagers to dance and music and sports as in the US).  I get to ask all sorts of questions about life here that I have been curious about.  Sundeep and I talk about religion and politics. We laugh a lot – he has such a great laugh and they are both so curious about the world (and know a lot themselves – both having traveled quite a bit and both are well-read)!  I told Sundeep that since he can fly huge airplanes, I totally trust his driving (imagine weaving through lanes of traffic at high speeds with no real lanes, only half of the drivers using signals – and that is normal.  in fact, some of you i know would LOVE the driving here!).

A great moment was the other day when I was sitting on my bed working on the computer and Sundeep came in with a snack (couldn’t tell you the name — but sort of like donuts – fried dough and you eat them with pickled mango) – he joked that he was using me as an excuse to heat up a snack – but really he was hungry.  And meenu came in and we all sat around talking about life.  They are wonderful, kind and generous.  They spend lots of time trying to convince me to move here – we are delighted with each other.  I feel so blessed and lucky to spend this time with them.  And all I can hope is that some day I can welcome strangers into my house with as much grace and kindness as they have offered me.

More coming from me later — but I leave this afternoon….  where did the 6 weeks go?  or really, the last 3.5 months in this region of the world….  so intoxicating, so intriguing.  Now, I will spend 3 weeks in a whole different kind of world.  After learning how to be here, I feel that I am going to need to readjust myself, learn a new way of being….

talk soon friends — much love — AK

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