A Travellerspoint blog

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

...Indian style.

semi-overcast 21 °C

My first Christmas away from home; my first Christmas spent on the beach in the sun; my first Christmas surrounded by Indian kids dressed as Santa with bright pink faces...
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Seeing your own culture interpreted through the eyes of another is a fascinating experience and Christmas in India didn't disappoint. Our hotel even comissioned a Christmas cake and all us guests were invited to join in the cutting of the cake; it was the cutting, rather than the eating that seemed to be the celebration here.

We spent the day surfing and generally being lazy in the sun and skyped our families back home later in the day. My folks had posted out a magic grow tree and some paper chains to decorate our room with and some xmas presents which we opened over the webcam. Molly dressed as santa's little helper for the occassion at the other end. We'd treated ourselves to a bottle of wine weeks ago which we'd been lugging round with us, but it was worth it sitting on the beach watching sunset, pulling our crackers.
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After Christmas, we decided to head North for New Years, to Kolkata (Calcutta) - just about the furthest point from Varkala, in Kerala where we spent Christmas. Getting to Kolkata in time involved 3 sleeper trains, totalling 47 hours of travel. The longest of these was around 22 hours, but very enjoyable as we shared our bunk space with a large Indian family, who throughout the journey brought more and more family members from around the carriage down to meet us, and an American called Chad, who kept drinking coconut oil to try to relieve his constipation - not sure I would have picked a sleeper train for this? Dan was invited to arm wrestle a cousin (I won by the way. DAN), had his dreads plaited by the son and amazed the carriage with his magic tricks. I was given several bracelets and kept being kissed by the baby. We had our photos taken, but my favouritte was the movie made of us just sitting there, thinking we were posing for a photo.

Our final sleeper train was delayed for 2 hours until 1am. When we got on there were 2 women asleep in our bunks, who we had to wake up. After listening to a lot of farting and coughing from the bunk above and deciding the safest place for my face was inside my sleeping bag, we finally settled down to sleep. This was short-lived, as for some unknown reason everyone decided to get up at 4am, even though the train wasn't due in until 9? You might think that getting up this early, people might have whispered and kept the lights out... But, this is India. People were shouting at each other, not because they were cross, but just to be heard over everyone else shouting at each other. The only relief was that the guy above me was up and so somewhere else on the train, farting!! And so we arrived in Kolkata on the morning of New Years eve.

Kolkata is a hectic, busy city. Everywhere in India you're hit by the poverty and riches side by side, but especially so in Kolkata. Coming off the train you'd see the bag carriers being loaded up with bags. 3 large suitcases balanced on the head wasn't enough for some paying for their bags to be carried and they loaded up both arms of their carrier with yet more, well, you wouldn't want to spend out on two carriers would you? It is the only place in India where they still have hand pulled rickshaws and you see thin, older men pulling the more affluent at a trot along the busy roads. It's a difficult sight to see people making their living this way, but then that's how they survive in this busy city, where so many people are struggling to find a niche to fill, to make their way.

Kolkata is full of character and it's fascinating walking around the city, dodging the traffic, rubbish, cows and guilt that the poverty inevitably brings you, seeing the creative ways people have found of making their way in amongst the chaos.

After spending 47 hours getting here, we were a bit concerned to find out that people generally go by a different calender and celebrate New Years in April... Luckily there were January celebrants too.

We spent the night on the streets with everyone else. It was really busy and made more so by hundreds of people wanting to wish us happy new year and shake our hands. Every so often we got caught in a mini scrum and had to escape the crushing crowds and wandering hands and duck under the barriers onto the road. We got interviewed live for 4 different tv channels. Dan borrowed a line he'd heard in another interview about Calcutta being known as the City of Joy and managed to get it into all 4 interviews, while I had to think of a quick response as to whether I felt fearless in Calcutta! Oh, and Dan got electrocuted from a pylon (luckily not badly). All in all a hectic, but unique New Year!
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New Years day, a bit hungover, we decided to go to a cemetary. It had crows sitting watching you everywhere and was really spooky. We'd brought some paan to try, which is a mixture of betel nut, some brighty coloured sweet tasting stuff and... I have no idea what else (sometimes best not to think too much about these things), all wrapped up in a big leaf which you chew and spit. It was...ok, didn't do much for the hangover and united Dan with the toilet the next day - if you ever read this Chad - might be worth a try?
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We're now on our way to Darjeeling to dig out our warm weather gear again and drink some tea. We get a famous steam train up to Darjeeling tomorrow. It's called the Toy train - hope it's not like the miniture ones back home that always have the guys who work on them riding round the tracks, as it's 71/2 hours and goes up though some quite mountainous terrain.

Happy 2009 to you all!!!

Posted by DanSue 02:11 Archived in India Comments (1)

India

It may look a little different but..

sunny 28 °C

Welcome back to India. After 6 years and a lot of speculation on what it still had to offer us, the sub-continent still held a promise of mystery and adventure. The love affair was rekindled.
One of the reasons that we fell for this place was that something would always astound you every day. We thought the Philippines and Indonesia would give India a run for it's money for the sheer amount of weird stuff that would happen to you but India was in good form from the off.
You know that there are cows roaming around and sleeping in the middle of busy traffic, you know that it can take a few hours just to buy a train ticket, you even know that there are nearing one billion people living in and around and on top of each other but as you take your first auto rickshaw ride through the city it still can take your breath away. I'm told India for a tourist is a bit like taking heroin, the sensation is incredible but after a while it can turn you mad. But what a rush!
rock_fort.jpgWe return to familiar territory taking the same first steps though the south of India as we did all those years back. Chennai had indeed changed. It seemed quieter, less busy and cleaner. India is, after all, the worlds 4th largest economy now so progress has to happen but the madness of it all is still apparent. Our first night threw up some classic India surprises. We had book a room in a hostel because we knew we were arriving after midnight but when we arrived our reservation had been forgotten about so we had to bed down in a grotty dorm with a snoring Indian guy in his pants. We later found out that the room we reserved was occupied because a wedding that was taking place had run a day over schedule (!) so we were left with dorm with no shower or toilet. We asked for a room with a toilet and the manager said he could sort one out for us. He did this by trying to kick out 12 guys in an other dorm so that the two of us could have the room. We thought this unfair and also a very odd business decision so we moved on leaving the 12 guys wondering why we were so important that they nearly all had to leave.sue_carving.jpgtiger_cave.jpg
Mammalaporom was the next stop. A small fishing village that gets it's fare share of tourists. Apart from the sea it's surrounded by paddyfiels and ancient carvings etched into rock. Temples dot the surrounding area and long tailed Macaches lord over them as there own. Stealing bottled water from the tourist is the way of these monkeys. They know how to unscrew the lids and down the contents with ease. if you can avoid getting mugged by them it's possible just to litarly hang out with them. Sue and I spent s few good hours just sitting around with them in the evenings.temple_monkey.jpg
Temples are everywhere so you can spend almost all of your time exploring them. They are almost always full of devout Hindus doing, to western eyes, bizzar and colorful things to appease some of the 36,000,000 Gods. Smashing bagfuls of coconuts, feeding the temple elephant who blesses you back by placing it's trunk on your head, shaving your head and even covering your self in yellow powder.
I won't forget the first time I saw a bright yellow woman walking about the streets and it seemed that only Sue and I thought this to be strange. Nothing in India is strange to the Indians, except a tall guy with dreadlocks and a western woman. We still draw more looks than all of the other bizzar stuff that you can find roaming the streets. It's nice to be noticed but can we really compete with a bright yellow woman? Only in India.

Posted by DanSue 05:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

Indonesia - Long Hair, Long Life...

Long hair, long banana, happy wife...

sunny 38 °C

After the relative calm and organisation of Malaysia, it was nice to get back to some more hectic randomness, which Indonesia provided well. We spent most of our time around the coast, snorkelling and surfing, both of which are very good in Indonesia.

The roads and driving conditions horrify most tourists, as people seem to apparently overtake on blind bends, there are hundreds of scooters wizzing past you everywhere, dogs sleeping in the side of the road, and huge trucks suddenly appear on the wrong side of the road hurtling towards you. However, there appear to be surprisingly few accidents and there are rules to the apparent hecticness. We tested this by hiring a car and trying for ourselves. It was really nice to have the freedom to travel where we wanted and when, rather than having to sit on full busses waiting for them to 'fill up' i.e. until someone's sat on your knee, it's not full enough.

Dan will probably delete this, but it's the first vehicle he's driven while travelling that he's not crashed. Although, he made up for this by going surfing with the car keys, and the hostel keys in his pocket. His pocket somehow came open in the surf and the keys lost. We spent a good couple of hours topping up our sunburn by walking up and down the beach hoping that they'd been washed up. We eventually had to cut our losses and begin the long walk back to our hostel in our swimmers, when the taxi men offered to take us a locksmith. The locksmith followed us back to our car on his scooter, with a utility belt full of devices for breaking into a car. He accomplished this by taking the lock off the boot and poking things into it until half an hour, and only 4 pounds, later he had produced a new key for us. The part of me that isn't considering joining the police thought that we maybe should have pointed out a slightly better model of car and claimed that it was ours!

The food in Indinesia was good and spicy. The locals even started calling Dan after one traditional dish, Gado-Gado (vegetables with spicy peanut sauce), as it means mixed, or half and half. This may sound like they were being a bit offensive, but really they weren't. After asking Dan if he's Indonesian, then if his Dad was a Chinaman, they're always really interested to hear that he's mixed race, and comparing him to a National dish, a way of celebrating this!

The locals are very friendly and after trying hard to sell you something for a few minutes, relax and want to chat with you. Since the Bali bombings tourism has dropped dramatically, mainly through Australians staying away, especially as they've recently executed the bombers and were fearing further attacks as a result.

Kuta, in Bali is the very, very touristy area, where you could be in any beach resort in the world. Not really our scene, but it's where all the surf is, so we had to go. We stayed outside of the very touristy bit, but ventured in out of curiosity. I wish we hadn't as the rest of Kuta is quite nice, and seeing monkeys dressed up on bicycles and more dimdims than locals was not really what we came to Indonesia for.

Alcohol is very hard to get hold of in Indonesia, being Muslim. The beer is very expensive and the government introduced licencing on shops selling liqueur, so none do anymore. This meant that we got our booze from chatting to the locals and them offering to find us the local tipple. We enjoyed lots of arak, a rice wine and brum, or farmers wine, which is made from palm. It came in an unlabelled bottle with a chunk of coconut husk for a cork. Luckily we didn't go blind drinking it!

We both really enjoyed Indoneisia. Where else can you ride on busses where the driver is wearing a full crash helmet, visor down; see signs on schools informing us that carrots are food, not weapons; sit in a cramped bus for 40 minutes unable to move while the driver insists that it's not yet full enough to leave and then drive round the streets for another 40 minutes as the movement when setting off has released enough space that someone who just happens to be standing by the side of the road might like to fill, before arriving at your destiation that was only actually 20 minutes away in the first place... Well we are flying to India tonight...

Photos of Indonesia are to follow, but we had a delete all, rather than delete 1 incident with the camera and are still working on retrieving some of our pictures.

Posted by DanSue 23:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Indonesia

Planes, Trains and a few transgenders lads later.....

29 °C

"Are you carrying any liquids or drugs and do you happen to be an Arsenal supporter"
"No", I said. "I support Portsmouth."
I then had a 10 minute conversation about how well my team are doing this season with the very freindly customs officer in Malaysia. He waved me through with a quick stamp of my passport not realizing that I had not answered the first two questions. I was leaving the country so I suppose it didn't matter.
The arrival into Indonesia was a different matter. Gone were the casual football questions, only a surly customs officer who pored over my passport looking for the page where I admitted to being a terrorist or diamond smuggler. He even went to another officer in a more official shinier uniform who gave it just as much attention. May be I should have answered those questions in Malaysia. Just as I was preparing to see latex gloves snapped on and being asked to bend over, he waved me through with another quick stamp of my passport. Sue got no such attention and could have waved a brick at the guy and he would have stamped it. Welcome to Indonesia.
After these last last few months in S.E Asia, Indonesia welcomed us like a Uncle who you'd only ever known as a child and are now meeting him for the first time as an adult. The same recognizable edge but starkly different from what you already knew. Not as frantic as the Philippines and not so straight forward as Malaysia Indonesia at a first glance held a familiarity to us.
Jakarta is a bustling city. The capital of Indonesia on the island of Java. 120million people share and somehow coexist on a plot of land about the size of England. Not all of Indonesia is as heavily populated as Java but it still holds a population of over 200million.
The first order of business was to try and get a Indian visa from the Indian Embassy in Jakarta. Bureaucracy rules in India and the Embassy takes it cues from the homeland so getting a visa would require filling out a few forms, hours of queuing and a five days of processing time. We left our passports in the hands of the Embassy and prayed to the numerous Hindu Gods that we would see them again with Visas attached.
We took a local economy train to Jogjakarta. A town 9 hours away from the capital with an incredible Buddhist temple and a few old palaces thrown in for good measure. The train took 12 hours in the end. It was cramped, stuffed full all of Jakarta and just as many people walking up and down the isles trying to sell you something. You could buy anything. Food, books, toys, statues, hats and kitchen equipment were all being peddled up and down the train. This went on with no respite for the full 12 hours. Sue tried to get some sleep but was woken by one of the many singers who strap a speaker to there person, blasting out some Indonesian pop tune while they sing through a muffled microphone to gain a few notes from the seated punters. If you tried to sleep through it you would get a poke with their free hand to depart you from your money. It was hard work. The ladyboy singers were a highlight adding at bit more peppery spice to this already hot mixing pot.

Posted by DanSue 01:47 Comments (0)

Borneo - wildlife paradise

sunny 36 °C

Turtles, monkeys, apes, fish of all different shapes and sizes and a bush pig that has a beard. All these things can be found crawling and scurrying about Malaysia and we managed to see a great deal of them.

Our first encounter with the very famous Orangutans was at a rehab center (to rehabilitate them back into the wild not off booze and drugs). orang2.jpgYou get to have a good look at the "wild men of the forest" during their twice daily feedings.
orang.jpgUnfortunately you and about 200 other people try to share the same view from a platform a few meters away from the feeding site. Some people got so excited at the prospect they would start shouting and elbowing people. The Orangs didn't seem to mind the noise or the crowds so it was well worth it. The Orangs are semi wild. It's up to them if they want this free feed and sometimes they won't show up at all, normally if the jungle trees are fruiting and all the money these crowds bring in helps these ginger jungle nomads to get back to the jungle. We were also extremely fortunate to see some wild Orangutans while on a river boat trip with some Christian twitchers in Sukau.

We saw amazing aquatic wildlife diving off Sipidan island on the east coast of Sabah. It was the most spectacular diving we've done and definitely worth the reputation as one of the top five diving sites in the world. We swam with white fin sharks, hundreds of hawksbill and green sea turtles, huge shoals of baracuda and jack fish to name but a few. You have to get a permit over 2 months in advance to allow you to dive there. As obviously very few people are that organised, the dive companies give you the name of someone who booked 2 months ago for you to be when signing into the island. So the island rangers don't cotton on, you have to memorise your name and Nationality before arriving. Dan was French and me a Sweed called Joan. In another 2 months, I wonder who'll be us?

We visited another National Park in Sarawak called Bako, where the wildlife literally comes to you. There's a resident crew of bearded pigs around where you stay; pig.jpg a pit viper in a bush next to our sleeping hut that didn't move at all the time we were there; viper.jpg a troupe of silver leaf langurs came sweeping through the park, with the mums clutching their bright orange babies; silver.jpg and best of all, we saw lots of proboscis monkeys, which are extremely rare and only found in Borneo. prob.jpg Some came really close to the boarded walk round the mangroves and the male gave us a good look at his huge bulbous nose prob2.jpg - very sexy to the lady proboscis! You can smell where the proboscis are long before you see them - must be all those digestive juices produced to help digest the inedible leaves they feed on.

We did some walking round the park which has loads of pitcher plants everywhere. pitcher.jpg We hiked to a nearby beach in the midday sun and enjoyed colling down in the green waters. beach.jpg We also decided to get up at 5am and hike quite a steep trail to another beach for sunrise. Well worth it, as a monitor lizard and then a troupe of Macaques came down to the beach to join us.
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By far the most significant thing that happened to us Borneo, was becoming and auntie to Molly Emma. We splashed out on the only beer we've had in Malaysia to toast her entrance into the world!
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Posted by DanSue 20:45 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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