Thursday, January 31, 2013

Does the weight of one's dog determine their happiness?

Ok probably not, but the owners of my hostel in Goa had the fattest dogs I've seen in India and the people were some of the most laid back that I met there. All the pups in the big cities were treated like nuisances, and I wanted to take each one home to feed and love them! Now in Thailand, there are 'normal' size and some really fat pups. And people here are proportionally friendly and laid back.

Side note: I have a new appreciation for earplugs...making sleeping on concrete airport floors possible and quite comfortable! Still questioning how many airport personnel and luggage tags it takes to load one plane. Person #1 makes sure my boarding pass matches my passport. #2 takes and rips off portion of boarding pass. #3 checks the obscene number of luggage tags to see that they match my boarding pass. #4 checks my boarding pass before I enter the bus that will take me to the plane. #5 checks from the bus to the plane. Lets not forgets all the people in security line who don't care that I have a full container of water, as long as its not in a plastic water bottle. So backwards, then again, maybe it's me. Anyway...

First impression upon arrival: great. And an actual free bus to my transferring airport in Bangkok? Ok! The woman at information was chatting with friends and crocheting something. My bus driver did a little '5 minutes til we leave' dance. And the DMK airport had two Starbucks about 100 feet from each other. How can this not be a happy place?!

I flew to Chiang Mai, in the northern Thailand. The seats were obviously made for small Thai folk, but it was a short flight. I hadn't been able to book a hostel yet, so gave my cab driver an address an hoped for the best! A $3 cab ride later, I got to the hostel, which was booked. But she directed me next door. Another $3 and I had myself a night stay! My stomach was still mad at me for the delicious indian street food i had with Rajesh, so my meals consisted of $1 refreshing local fruit smoothies. Maybe I shouldn't have taken so much money out of the ATM!

I walked around chiang mai for a day and when my backpack got heavy, I took my first tuk-tuk to the bus station. From there I took a four hour bus ride north to the popular backpacker mountain town of Pai. Again, lots of white tourists here, but that means it must be good.

I had booked a hostel but forgot to download the info to my iPhone when I had Internet. Oops! Luckily I found a cafe with wifi. There was still just enough sunlight to make out the roads, and once the road ended and I had to go further, there were friendly Thai folks on each corner, asking if I needed help, then pointing me in the right direction. I made it to these quaint bungalows atop the side of the hill...overlooking the mountains and city. How did I get so lucky?! The bungalows have huge covered decks, and I sat out with my new roommates and neighbors, swapping travel stories and jamming on their ukelele. Rain started pouring...doesn't get much better than that!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where do I begin?!

First stop was Delhi. What madness. The roads were a chaos of cars and bicyclists and buses, all honking and in between lanes. Seemed like the ones who honked the longest and loudest have the right of way. On two lane roads, it's a constant game of chicken...who will move over first? I have to look in the side windows to not get sick. New York City's rush hour is peaceful compared to this.

No matter how much the people sweep the streets and their market areas with their broom made if a few twigs, it still feels dirty. Perhaps it's the smell of incense and chewing tobacco. Or my driver who constantly throws his plastic tea cups out the window, despite my efforts to take it from him.

I knew it would be a poor area, but just didnt expect the packed conditions. The ride to Agra where the Taj Mahal is located should have taken 2.5 hours. It took my driver and I 6 hours. Granted, he took me the back roads to save himself the money. It was eye opening to see. There was some country, but it was mostly shack after shack, people hanging outside, packed like sardines in trucks on their way to build something at work, and cows tied up to ropes. Delhi constantly had a fizzy haze...more it was a deceiving warm red hue with freezing temps, afternoon gray/brown fog and a warm upper 60degrees.

My driver was a sucker for the kids who came up to our car when we stopped at lights. He'd give them what would be equivalent to a US penny or nickel...and say that these were his brothers and sisters. If he helps them out then God will help him out. He was a 21 year old Muslim, saying he didn't have a girlfriend because he didnt have money. Lol. His rent per month was US $60, and made $75/month. He would take me to good restaurants...I asked for middle of the road, not dirt cheap but not expensive. The food was delicious, especially the chai teas! So it was great having him know the places, and he'd eat in a separate room, for half the price. I was getting annoyed with the American rate like this, but realize he gets a discount from bringing people to the restaurants. I suppose it'd be the same in America.

Seems like people here value the afterlife much more than the here and now. The taj mahal was just a huge tomb for the kings favorite wife...other temples are just as magnificent. The people seem to know they are poor, but have the attitude that it is what it to impossible to get out of their rut. They must not have had the 4th grade lesson about writing letters of complaints to get what you want? They are go go go, worrying only of themselves. Typical big city attitude? The schoolchildren were the friendliest towards me...smiling, looking, and some daring enough to say hi then shy away when I said hello back. The drivers to/from the airport could care less...didn't really help me with bags. Though I found my driver to Agra via my hotel to be legit, he kept hounding me for a tip, and would take me to his friends stores where they offered all sorts of silk goods and rugs. 'Madam. Just look. No pressure. You like, I get you good deal.' Rrrrrright. Granted I did talk them down to good deals, but I did not appreciate the constant hassling. Either way I left feeling like I was the American girl who got screwed over or who screwed them over. It's been easier on the beach to just walk past and ignore them.

So yes, I made it out of Delhi and to the beaches of Goa. Though the drive from the airport up to Anjura was a pricey $20 and chaos of honking once again...and it still has a faint smell of incense, this is much more my style. Apparently other white folks feel the same as there seems to be an even mix of folks. The wealthier Indians are here on holiday too...instead of hassling for money, they hassle for photos with a white chic. It was flattering for the first couple times, now I say no. One young indian dude asked to hold my hand on the beach. When I told him I saved that for boyfriends, he asked to be my boyfriend for just 15 minutes. No thanks.

Side note: I think I have inherited my great aggressive habits from people here. After all, most Chicago cab drivers are foreigners and are quite aggressive but composed drivers...I'd like to think I'm that way most often! Also...I thought it was funny how Indians tilt/bob their heads side to side. Apparently this is like nodding your head 'yes' only this bob move means 'ok'.

I was warned that I'd have little personal space and that is so true! People cutting in line, people wanting to chat, etc. As I came alone for this portion of the trip, I am grateful for the friendly folks. Everyone but the backpackers question why on earth I'd travel alone! There are few Americans, but lots of Brits and various Europeans. The area was actually settled by Russians and most people guess I'm from Germany or Norway. Lol. Still the basic language is English.

Here is my present view. 90 degrees and cloudless. America is right beyond the horizon and Africa and to the right....or rather, directly beneath me. I'd be lying to say that I'm not missing denver and snowboarding...but I'll be back to that in no time! Off to get some fresh fruit...

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I have to admit, I'd never thought I'd see the day. Maybe because I never thought about this side of the world until my company branched out here and coworkers started telling me about life here.

But here I am in Mumbai! I arrived about midnight, a half hour late from all the snow and de-icing in Munich. Again, a first time experience flying in snow...I thought for sure the flight would be cancelled but I was happy it wasn't!

Another pleasant 8 hour flight...I almost wish it was longer so I could sleep more! Half kidding :) I was surprised how many people from India spoke English so well...and always wonder how they know to start speaking English to me. I guess as someone pointed out to me, English is the default for any language, especially flights. God bless America. We seriously are spoiled.

Not sure what's with me and scents, but I expected India to smell like Indian restaurants or something. The airport smelled like a hotel lobby, with a pool nearby. Must be because it's humid and was just cleaned with chlorine. Again, I like hotels with pools, so it's pleasant.

Other differences: the time is about 13.5 hours from home I think? Don't quite understand the .5 thing. Friends and I were just discussing if the moon would look different here. We went back and forth and eventually concluded that it would not look different. But it does!! It's a half moon, but the bottom half is lit up...don't we usually only see it from one side or the other lit up?!

As I waited in line for customs baggage check, the security officer pulled me aside and let me pass through without a scan. This happened before in Ecuador...what's with the gringos getting special treatment? Not sure why they'd trust a foreigner but I'll take it.

A bus ride to another terminal later, I finally meet up with Rajesh, 2 hours late! By this time he's been waiting for two hours, to generously lend me his phone so I can contact him while in the country. We've only worked virtually together, but meeting him in person did feel like we were old friends. I have to ask myself, if someone I barely knew was coming to the states, could I be as generous? From now on I will certainly attempt...would love to pay it forward.

From here I fly to Delhi for a couple days, then will meet back up with Rajesh in either the beaches of Goa or Mumbai. So not to worry, Mom and Dad! I may have forgotten to use a straw with my last drink and got a mosquito bite, but I have pills for those.

Europe for a night

Waiting take-off from Munich now. I'm very happy that I was able to squeeze in an overnight layover in Europe, and now I finally have a German stamp in my passport! I forgot how quaint it is here, especially now that it is snowing with big soft flakes amongst the cozy cottages. Such a storybook, this place...again, it feels like home. Why have I said this about nearly every place now?! Also, I'm convinced that I will only fly Lufthansa from now on...such pleasant flights!

Despite 20 degree temps and sporting only my fleece and thin scarf (thankful i packed more than sandals!), I explored the city by foot yesterday. I fought off the melatonin in my head, telling me that I should be asleep. The temps helped in the fight.

The city felt like one big Christkindle market. Lots of little shops and people and of course, my favorite, gluhwein (hot spiced red wine). And what is Munich without a beer garden? It seems as though all I do is walk and drink, along with fly, huh? From the few months of German lessons, I tried my best to speak what I could. A lot of times I caught myself speaking Spanish instead though! I understood my waiter enough, but he saw me struggling with the menu and handed over an English version. When I was leaving, a charming old man, about my grandpa's age, came up to me and started to chat my ear off. I shook my head in misunderstanding and his son translated: apparently he said my hair was so long and beautiful that he wanted to braid it. Hha! I guess I was in fräulein territory!

At 7:30pm I gave up the fight against jet lag and slept soundly til 1am...thankfully able to go back to sleep for another 6 hours. Let's see how the next bout of jet lag will be in India!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lessons of a simple traveler

Planes are my new bike. Airports are my new outlet source. I now sit in O'hare, on my 4 hour layover to Munich. Lots of thoughts processing from the last couple weeks, mostly just thoughts of when I can catch up in sleep! I probably should have slept instead of boarding yesterday but oh well. I explored back bowls I had never seen before, and of course, got super sleepy at the furthest point away from the base of the mountain! It was worth the few hours...even saw a little bit of South American flare.

I think back to when I was so nervous to travel...packing huge roller bags packed months in advance, dreading the flight, and overall making a huge deal of trips. Now that its become second nature, I wonder how these trips will look in my overall life picture. Just some trips or will they be life-changing?

I'm definitely learning little things here and there. Jess gave me a ton of pointers in Argentina that I can use while I travel solo this round. Help from others have been huge for this trip. It would not be possible without upper management laying me off, my coworkers and friends who encouraged me about the safety of flying, my friends who shared their travel experiences for the countries which I will see, and of course my lovelies who send me off and welcome me at the airport, with Starbucks and fresh fruit and the best hugs ever! How have I been so blessed? And how can I reciprocate?

The second thing I've taken away from this trip is learning to live more simple. I consider myself pretty good in this area, especially for a chic. But while I prepped for my subleasers, my closets are filled to the brim, just like in the open of the door and it will be messy. As the Four Hour Work Week book references, we only use 20% of our stuff, so why not cut out the excess 80%? Easier said than done. But I did pack lighter this time without my laptop or camera! Lets see how this pans out!

I understand that I have a skewed view, being unemployed...not sure if that puts me more or less in the 'real world' though. I'd like to think that I'm seeing the true meaning of life on this journey. And I realize in poorer countries that I have even less control of situations. Two of our buses and a taxi broke down, everything is dirty, there won't always be waffles when I want them!, I can't pick my hostel roommates, internet is slow, weather, businesses being open certain days of the week, subleasers settling into my apt, etc etc. Good thing I'm going to yoga countries! This will be great practice for the farm when we will have hardly any control! Maybe this trip is going to be life changing after all...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Malbecs and backpackers

We left the bottom of the world and flew to El Calafate, from there took a 4hr bus to El Chalten...a backpacker town of 600, just outside Mt. Fitz Roy, an icon of Argentina. This place felt even more like Colorado, probably because of all the American backpackers in full gear. For our one full day there, we hiked around the mountain...super cold and windy at the top, then toasty warm back in town. That night we headed back to El Calafate. Such great food in both of these towns...think local, some vegetarian, and microbreweries. This hostel had a great view of the mountains, it's a shame we couldn't stay longer. The next morning with a few hours to spare before our flight, we hired a driver and drove to the big glacier park. We saw huge pieces slide off the glacier walls and crash with sounds of thunder into the lake. Best part was that we had the park to ourselves since we arrived much earlier than the tour buses.

That afternoon we flew off to Mendoza, stopping first at Buenos Aires. The BA airport looked very familiar, and we soon realized that we had landed at the wrong airport! We rushed past baggage claim to talk to someone in the office, who told us there was a bus waiting to drive us to the correct airport in town. Then we realized we'd need to grab our checked bags. Thankfully the security is more lenient here and Jess got through without a proper flight ticket and got our bags. We loaded up the bus and away we went to AEP!

Pow! Thump thump thump...went our bus as I yelped a bit. We got a flat! Needless to say, our flight took off without us but we were able to take the next flight. The wine would be waiting! And this was really just the first hiccup of the trip.

Travel books say that you'll know you're in wine country as soon as you arrive in Mendoza, but I didn't feel it until we were a 45min bus ride away in Maipu, on rented old cruiser bikes. It was a scorching 100degrees and I wasn't sure how wines could grow in such a desert! But they do. Thankfully we sampled some chilled Savignon Blancs and Torrentes white wines besides just the typical Malbec.

We rode to 4 bodegas/wineries over about 5 miles, then our last stop was a beer garden where we met fellow Coloradans and English speaking new amigos. Then again, I'm not sure we heard/saw any Spanish speaking visitors at the wineries anyway.

We ate our first tacos of the trip that night. You'd think tacos would be more popular, but I guess that's a tex-mex thing. I've definitely had my share of pizza and ham and meats here! Enough for the year I think...good thing there's wine to counteract the cholesterol, and some fruit street vendors.

We left Mendoza via a 14 hour bus ride, nervously sitting behind a young couple with a baby. We dreaded the worst, but it was fine. Along the drive, the bus attendant had us play bingo. Hilarious!...thankfully Jess translates numbers well. What was even funnier apparently were the jokes the attendant told and we laughed at our cluelessness.

Back in BA, and now that Jess has extended his trip a few days, we've decided to take a bus trip south a few hours to Pinimar for a couple nights stay. We must have bad luck with buses because this one had a tire problem as well, delaying us 30min or so.

Funny how people here don't seem to mind, or realize that complaining wont get them anywhere like it does in the states. Not sure if either side is better, but I think we can learn from each other. Be patient yet stand firm for your rights.

So two more days on the beach, two more in BA then I'm back in denver for two days. Definitely looking forward to getting my fix of cool temps and snowboarding til I hit up round two of travels! Driving past all these lush fields is getting me excited for farming in denver this summer too!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Passion that drives

Yesterday we arrived in Ushuaia (pronounced oosh-why-ah), the most southern town in the world, and a departing point for Antarctica. I hadn't looked at pictures before arriving and I'm glad I didn't. What a shock to see that we were right along the water, and within a circle of mountains. I thought it'd be flat, so it feels like home in denver. A pleasant retreat from the heat in BA!

The skies are bright blue, and there's no way to see what clouds are coming over the mountains, so it rains on and off out of nowhere. This is their summer, so the sun rises at 4am and sets at 10:30pm. Little different than the short days back in the states, huh?

Jess and I walked around the town and found some great views before we hopped on our boat tour. The little boat took us to see sea lions and sea birds...sadly we didn't see an island full of penguins, but we did see a couple swimming alongside our boat!

It was definitely a touristy tour til the tour guide took us off the boat and showed us the native plants of Ushuaia and the surrounding islands. He had grown up here and was obviously super passionate about the land and history of it. He told us of the natives who lived here without clothes (keep in mind it's a high of 59•F now in their summer). The people had 39•C body temps, had 7mm thick skin, and rubbed themselves in baby seal fat to keep warm. There were no trees on these islands, so the people hovered besides mounds to shield them from wind.

Then immigrants came, saw that natives were naked and clothed them...and they started coming down with pneumonia and diseases that they were once immune to. There is one native woman who is still alive, but she is in her 80s with no descendants.

Being a tour guide might not seem like the most glorious job, but his passion educated us and made this the best part of our trip so far.

Buenos Aires and Uruguay

¡Hola from the season of 15 hours of sunshine! I realize that if I lived here my sentences would be a mess of ¡!'s so I'll work on that :) I'm writing this as we wait for our flight out to Ushuaia...the southern most point of South America. We just got through security in 3 minutes flat. No 3-1-1 rule and no shoe or backpack removal.

My first site upon arriving to Buenos Aires was that if Paris and Quito had a baby, this would be it. The first whiff of the distinct South America grungy exhaust I experienced in Ecuador is now familiar and comforting. Car after car were parked in the green areas along the drive to the city from the airport, families picnicking for the long New Years holiday weekend. That made me smile. In the city are majestic old renaissance buildings. As my friends have said, it's the Europe of South America. In fact, it smells greener without the smell of coffee and cigarettes.

I met up with Jess, a college friend whom I haven't seen since those days. The timing just worked out to explore the area together. I planned the trip solo, but was definitely more excited to share the experience with someone!

Our hostel was located in the Palermo district. Tree lined streets and sidewalk cages and parks galore. Most businesses were closed for New Year's Eve but we were still able to see the neighborhood, get some delicious 'helato' (ice cream) and earn a few blisters. Midnight we went to our hostel's roof deck, popped some champagne and watched fireworks fly for an hour with other hostel roommates.

New Year's Day we departed for Punte del Este in Uruguay via the buquebus ferry to Colonia, then a 4 hour bus ride. I had no idea what to expect of the country, but we drove through what looked like the fields of the Midwest (besides the occassional palm tree and the family cow/horse/goat that was tied to a leash while the dogs roamed free). And everything was so clean. Punta del Este was the most expensive area in this small country, as it is a beach resort town. It was cloudy, rainy, and cold when we arrived...our 12oz beers costing 140 pesos, equivalent to US$7. That's NYC prices! We were both thinking this was going to be a miserable experience if this continued for our next two days, but the sun came out and gave us plenty of vitamin d. I of course am overconfident in my tan base from the ever sunny Colorado, and neglected to pack more than a 'serving size' packet of toxic sunscreen. The sun and cool breeze (like the hot/cool of arid Denver) were just too perfect not to nap in! But a definite kick in the shins for these next few days when we painfully put on our backpacks.

Not many people spoke English in Uraguay, so I enjoyed speaking the words I did know, but mostly turned to Jess to translate. I hate being labeled a snotty American...which is why Jess tells most people that we're from Canada...which is great until we met someone from My theory is to prove to everyone that we're not so bad. Though they were probably pretty annoyed at our excited when we saw the NIU Huskies playing in the orange bowl on tv there!

Along with the prestige of Punta del Este, everyone there was dark and beautiful. Women were curvy and fit in their Brazilian bottomed bikinis. The beaches were covered with men playing soccer and families playing a sort of sand bocce ball with discs. Everyone carried around thermoses and mate (tea)...few were drinking beer...but no one was stuffing their faces with churizo and corn puffs and cotton candy like the beaches of Chicago. I still have yet to attempt surfing but that is on my list...hopefully within these next couple months.

I have also decided that the coffee is in fact delicious if I drink it 'cafe con leche' (with milk). Otherwise it's way too strong. There are Havanna chocolate shops all around but I'm nervous to try, as I have yet to enjoy chocolates in South America. The fruit in the street markets are delicious and grown within the country. Not sure if its organic or not but I figure in season local trumps that.

Water must be legit because one vendor washed my fruit and another restaurant put ice in my coke and I haven't gotten sick yet (knock on wood!). I'll be more cautious in the other cities, promise :) my theory is that I'm also building immunity with my water filter which doesn't kill the bad bacteria, but just makes them non-active.

So from Punta del Este we took a 2hour bus ride west to Montevideo, the capital city of Uraguay. We stayed in Centro, the center of the city, in another great friendly hostel with floor to ceiling doors and windows. It was very humid here, which also meant lots of mosquitos. This city felt a little grungier than BA, but that may be because there's no train system, so the streets are congested. We were just there for a night, then returned to Buenos Aires. This time we stayed in the central district and walked to San Telmo for a delicious steak dinner. For a bottle of Malbec wine, provoleta (grille provolone cheese), bruschetta, and sirloins, the tab was 350 pesos...US$70. Half price from anything top of the line in the states! Best steak I've ever had...again, not sure how it was raised though. And I now know how to say 'la cuenta por favor!' (The check please!)

The sun set last night at 9pm, not long after we arrived to the empty restaurant. Apparently that's still early for dinner there! After we got our steaks it started pouring and the lights went out. The memory of that setting is one for the books.

This morning I think the sun was up at 3am...just when a jam session began in our hostel. We left at 6:30am for our ride with a remis driver to the airport...the streets filled with college aged kids still up from a night out.

Which brings us to present in a plane en route to Ushuaia and I've already been yelled at twice by the flight attendant so I will put my phone away. Hope to post more shortly to avoid these long novels of posts!