I lost my budget on the back of a yamaha

I’d planned to write another workaway budgeting post. I’d taken so much oddly satisfying pleasure in crunching the numbers and realizing that I’d spent so little the last time. I thought I was possibly encouraging others to do the same if they wanted. Maybe a little part of me wanted to shove a sock in the mouth of those that thought I was “lucky”. “Luck didn’t get me here, but hours of planning and loads of material sacrifice did,” (and singing the ABCs, oddly enough that also got me here) I’d grumble to myself.

So much of this ’round the world trip was planned, thought out and considered carefully. My mouth dropped when one of my co-volunteers said she had volunteered at this vegan, Nepali restaurant in Goa, India and hated the management. I’d seen that volunteer opportunity a whole YEAR prior on the workaway website when I was only beginning to conspire about my long term travel plan. I had fantasized about rubbing elbows with the kitchen staff and sampling their cruelty free cuisine.

I still think budgeting is important. And one cannot budget without a plan. I still want to make it known that anyone can do it if they want.

But so swiftly my way of traveling has changed. The first 5 or 6 months of this trip I was watching every penny go out of my coin purse not wanting to break my budget and spoil my future plans. But more and more I started to hear an internal voice, my diva conscious telling me, “Treat yo self self, girl!” I’d answer back, “K thanks.” Then I’d order a pineapple juice with ginger AND mint (both to be charged, added extras).

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A confidant and I recently got to talking about my trip. Most times I answered that I was pursuing more meaningful travel all while finding my place in the world. Which maybe I still am in a way, but this time I surprised even myself by telling him that I was trying to live in the present. He gave an understanding nod which at the time I thought maybe I’d fed him a simple enough answer, so he gave me a simple enough response. “Mmmhm.”

I’ll have to ask him, but only recently I discovered that this answer could have struck a more meaningful chord. Simply put, my friend meditates. He once did a 10 day intensive Vipassana practice that he claims to have changed his life. Vipassana, the extreme sports version of transcendence where meditators sit for 10 hours a day in stretches of silence that last two to three hours at a time. Not your typical “spirituality purchased”!

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Being in India, the birthplace of yoga and meditation, I’m of course intrigued by the more intense practice of it as well. I thought to do it in Sri Lanka after my kidney stone removal surgery as a sort of mind and body cleanse. But I ultimately decided against it worrying about the effects my fragile, 26 yrold body would take on my mind. The little knowledge I had of meditation was that it was an emptying of the mind, a refuge from life’s stresses. I wasn’t so, so far off, but now that I’ve begun to seriously consider trying my hand in an Ashram, I’ve learned that meditation also has a lot to do with where you *are*. Or as the author of Eat Pray Love puts it (sorry for the white girl in India cliche), “[…] the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal *presence* from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise.” She goes on to explain that, “[…] to stay in the present moment requires some dedicated one-pointed focus. Different meditation techniques teach one-pointedness in different ways – for instance, by focusing your eyes on a single point of light, or by observing the rise and fall of your breath.” Note to self: find a guru

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I’ve been volunteering at this art gallery/cafe/ecostay for the past three weeks in Goa, India. Sunny, hippy sometimes trippy Goa. I haven’t seen much of India, so I’m thinking about extending my stay, popping over to Nepal for a visa run. But things are good in Goa, man. I’m waitressing the cafe and earning money while volunteering with all the 100 rupee tips my flirty, fake American smile can get me. And this is all while eating three delicious veg meals a day and sleeping there in my own bed in the dorm for free. Good gig, huh? Also, I’ve fallen in with another volunteer, a green eyed, part Portuguese blooded, local Goan boy. We’ve hit it off and have decided to spend my last weekend in India before Nepal in the magical village of Hampi, a wonderland of ruins and unearthly landscapes. I finish my last shift as a waitress (the first time I’ve ever been one before!) and pack my bags to head off into the sun with my fella on his ’86 yamaha. We’re broom brooming our way through fields and later through chaotic Mapusa traffic. I’m wearing my 60L backpack on my back and carrying my rolling duffel bag carry-on in my lap while clawing into his backpack straps. Hanging on for dear life just took a very literal meaning. My small burgundy purse with my wallet, cards, driver’s license, the equivalent of 70 bucks in rupees, my iPhone and my keychain with my cute little rooster for Portugal, bikini bottom for Brazil and Chinese good luck symbol (ha ha!) is hanging on my one (this is important) shoulder and tucked between my legs under the duffel.

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Truthfully I can’t tell you all this with 100% assurance. The last time I vividly remember seeing that bag was 10 minutes before that moment when I was hugging a co-volunteer goodbye and I opened that little burgundy purse to show her the part of my charger she’d given me and double check it was mine to keep (ha ha!).

What happened next to that little burgundy purse? You’ll have to ask the guy or gal who has it now. That’s right. That purse is gone baby gone. As of a week ago, that purse along with all its contents have ceased to exist to me. Did it fall off the motorcycle in all my squirming to keep my own rump on? Yeah, I think so. Did it go flying because of my carelessness to forget to put it around my neck? Erm probably. I really don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t have it anymore and likely never will again.

Of course I mourned its loss. I lectured myself on negligence. Although I didn’t cry until we were reporting it missing in the police station and a group of officers carried in a wailing man and started beating him before my eyes. He fell to the floor, his ear bleeding and the officers continued to kick him all but 5 feet away from where I was seated. I looked into my very own accomplice’s brilliant eyes baffled hoping to see my same shock mirrored back in his own. But this boy is Indian and it wasn’t his first time witnessing firsthand police brutality. His face was a cool mask compared to my wide eyed horror. I broke eye contact and began to feel myself slip into the twilight zone. A tear came and then many and once my man friend saw my face he gave me a little squeeze, but all I could mutter was a teary eyed, “Can we go?”

We made our way back to the art gallery/cafe/ecostay to the bewilderment of all our friends. “What are you two still doing here?!” the head chef asked. Everyone knew about our little “office romance” and weekend escapade. It was unpleasant (to say the least) to retell the story the amount of times I did.

But something about my reaction surprised even me. A person I’ve known for a long time! (hehe) A calmness came over me. I started saying things like “Money comes into your hands and later it comes out,” among other cultivated quotes along the lines of “Some people are so poor all they have is money.” Which is FAR different from the profanities and grievances I’d sobbed that one time in Brazil someone had lifted my iPhone. Just my iPhone!!! No wallet with cards (potentially irreplaceable cards being that they’re Chinese and my contact with the Chinese banks has been anything but hopeful). I was a bawling mess those two years ago. I was shaken to my core by the loss of this possession. I thought of nothing more than how difficult my life without my phone would be. How would I contact my students?! How would I rent city bikes without the app on my phone?!

But no, this time ‘round I fell silent. I absorbed and gathered all the negativity, crushed it down to a tight ball and flushed it straight down the squatty potty. The boy and I hit the nearest beach for the weekend instead. A little vitamin sea was just what the doctor, if I were my doctor, would order.

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We returned from our seaside romp to pick up my bags from the art gallery/cafe/ecostay happy and well fed. One of my covolunteers spotted me and asked, “Have you digested it?” I had to ask her “What?” just to buy time to realize what I needed to digest. “Oh, *that*” I thought in my head. I’d forgotten I still needed to be grieving rather than smiling, windswept and minisculey tanner.

I paused for another moment and told her, “I’m at peace.”

There are times when I curse travel. It was only when my mom wrote me, “No more motorcycles,” did I realize the ludicrousness of me being on the back of a yamaha strapped with a 60L and a rolling duffel in my arms. I’ve been out of “normal life” so long it didn’t even occur to me that I would have never done this when I was living in the U.S. This motorcycle fiasco is truly something that would only happen to me while traveling.

But it’s these goofs that are beginning to reveal to me an inner peace I didn’t quite know I had. While all my plans go up in smoke and the English speaking representative from Bank of China repeats the same useless phrase over and over much like a robot and very little like a human, I remember I’ll be okay. I’ve got clothes on my back and a nearly clean bill of health (just two tiny bastard stones in my left kidney).

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I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try to organize and control every detail of a trip, every dollar allocated to some expense, some little disaster will come my way, knock me on my ass and sabotage my plans. I’ve learned that planning for a trip is exciting, but being in that moment and living it is the most profound experience.

And yes, these blunders come with the territory. I’m a solo female backpacker that travels on a shoestring.

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The latest fiasco taught me to stop trying to control the adventure and instead to live it and roll with its punches. 

Furthermore, could I really relish in the joy of traveling if I hadn’t suffered its hardships? Would I fully appreciate the comfort of a warm bed if I hadn’t slept on the cold airport floor? Would I acknowledge the luxury that is having body wash if I hadn’t had to use the residual bubbles from my shampooed head to wash the “important stuff”? If I hadn’t endured hours of mindless small talk with strangers endlessly repeating my own elevator pitch would I know and recognize the sweet pleasure of making a connection with someone far from home… meeting their eyes with my own and sharing a laugh that’s so genuine and true it starts in the belly and works its way up to our gaze?

Me, I think not.

RTW Trip: Month One, June  

I hate to feel like I have to write on here. I hate doing something and thinking, “Oh that’s one for the ol’ blog.”

I haven’t written much from my ‘round the world trip I started in June because I try to make it a point to write only when inspiration strikes.

That being said, I think it will be a disservice to my future self to not remember the good, the bad and the weird of this backpacking trip (cuz there’s a lot of the three!)

So here it is, the start of my #tbt of all the months I’ve completed of this RTW adventure.

The Good: 

The trip started off in all its glorious symbolism on my Birthday. I finished my last day of work at my school, bade the necessary farewells to coworkers and then hightailed it to Hong Kong to celebrate my 26 years on this planet.

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The last selfie on my last day of work on my bday. My bday often falls on symbolic dates for better or worse.

My friends that attended will find it hard to believe, but this was one of my best adult birthdays yet despite not being much more than dinner, drinks and dancing. In previous years major events have fallen on my big day and spoiled some of the fun. I’ve had a whole cap and gown graduation ceremony on two different birthdays. In Brazil my Birthday fell on the opening game for the World Cup AND Valentine’s Day. Not that I’m such an attention seeker, but you could say that on that birthday I was feeling pretty neglected. The guy I was dating at the time got a double strike for that one of course.

But Hong Kong was different. I was with my favourite people. I was eating yummy food. I was dancing in my favourite bar. I was in a city I loved.

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my good friend brought my favorite cake from our village all the way to HK 🙂

From Hong Kong I moved on to Japan and South Korea. Tokyo was an exciting and pleasantly clean city despite having a metro system that confused the crap out of me. One day I arranged to meet with a local from couchsurfing. His name, and I kid you not, was Atsushi. We hit up the museum of technology and got to get freaked out by technology’s advances. After the museum we visited a few other nice areas of the city and then finished the night with a cold beer and some delicious hot plate. It was a great day and proof to me that couchsurfing can be used for platonic intercultural relationships.

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I also visited Kyoto while in Japan and loved the Fushimi Inari Shrine

In Seoul I stayed with my friend and former Madrid flatmate, Bobby. Bobby was the most perfect host and showed me the reason why so many ESL teachers flock to Korea. I had a fantastic time touring around the city with him and his friends and he even did a little dance for me in Gangnam. Gracias, Bobby! 

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Now this is where things get random. From Seoul I flew to LAX to catch a flight to Tel Aviv. Yeah. So in my first month of RTW backpacking I went, literally, around the world. And I did have my feet on American soil, the first time in nearly two years, be it for only a day.

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of course I went to In-N-Out!

This was my last eligible year to go on my birthright trip to Israel. I wanted to go with other Californians and the only way I could do this was by taking the FREE (!) flight from LAX to TLV. Granted I did have to pay for my Seoul to LAX tix, but those were reimbursed by my Chinese school and I reasoned with myself that the *experience* was worth it all.

I met some cool JAPs (jk!) on my super active and whirlwind tour of the country. It was fun to be in a big group of Californians after such a long, long time. But what was really most special to me was gaining a new sense of cultural identity. I never thought of myself as a “real jew” with my mishmashed upbringing and off and on celebrating of different commercial holidays. In Israel I felt a strong sense of belonging.

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and I was finally bat mitzvahed on top of the masada just over the dead sea!

Another highlight of the trip was sharing some days of it with a group of Israeli soldiers/former soldiers. I didn’t follow the Middle Eastern conflict closely before my trip to Israel, but after meeting these soldiers and humanizing the IDF with all their laughs and stories, I’ve begun to research the situation at detail and can say that I fully support Israel’s existence and right to defend itself. A lot of people are quick to say “I’m Pro-this or that” but they forget a situation so complex could never have such a one sided answer. You can both support the existence of Israel and be deeply critical of its treatment of the Palestinians at the same time.

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with some of our Israeli pals at the Dead Sea

The Bad:

Tokyo and Kyoto were both my first and second time ever couchsurfing and they did little to encourage me to ever do it again. My first host got creepy and flirty just before bed on my last night. My second host had a house piled high with junk and garbage bags that had been forgotten to be taken out. In the months since these experiences I’ve learned that couchsurfing can be a great way to meet friendly (and tidy) locals, but even now after all these experiences I prefer to attend meet ups or organise a day like I did with Atsushi rather than stay in their homes.

Tokyo’s maze of a transport system had me galloping from the station to baggage drop counter FIVE MINUTES LATE for my flight.  Five minutes they would not forgive which forced me to buy another ticket to Kyoto. The ticket was dirt cheap, but the whole day spent in the subway labyrinth, my track-star dash and fail to reach the counter on time overwhelmed me and brought down some frustrated tears.

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lol

Although I did enjoy my birthright trip with Israel Outdoors and I met some really nice people, I wish I had been a bit more selective about the trip. On my trip there were several boys fresh from college graduation that had been friends before the trip. They occupied the cool kids back of the bus zone and just brought an exclusive frat like feel to the group. They were also disrespectful during guided tours and I think something like 3/4 of our group didn’t show up for a lecture on the Middle East conflict. Hearing this lecture straight from an Israeli scholar while in Jerusalem, a holy land of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I felt was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When spoken to individually, most of these guys were sweethearts, but when I think back on being on the bus and hearing them chant at unseemly times I regret not having looked for a special interest birthright trip.

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Another sour note to our Taglit trip was how strict our leader was with us about going out and free time. On our 10 day tour we were only allowed to go out once with an early curfew. I understand that she was trying to protect us, but at the end of the day we are all adults and capable of deciding our own bedtimes. Of course mischief found it’s way to me in the form of an armed guard and we had our teen romance moment of giving the leader the slip and hitting the town 😉

Health note: the heat of the dessert and dehydration must’ve brought it out because I started to feel pain again in my kidneys. In December of the year before I had lithotripsy done in China on one of my kidneys to break apart stones that had formed. I’d prayed that this condition had ended, but in Israel I realised that my suffering had not come to an end.

The Weird:

After a lot of thought, I decided that this was the year I would start going by my middle name, Nicole. I’ve tired of the Britney Spears jokes, the misspellings and the mispronunciations that are all too often abroad. I tried sticking to my nickname, Britt, the last few years, but people don’t hear it the first time and often get back to the Spears references once they realize my full name. Nicole is an international name. I say it once and people don’t ask me to repeat myself. I accidentally introduced myself as Brittany a total of two painfully awkward times on my trip. People looked at me oddly and I had to lie and say that I’d been using my middle name for years, but that all the paperwork for the trip got me confused. It was a terrible lie and I probably looked like a huge weirdo. I once even paused and said, “Ummmm…..Nicole” while introducing myself. Months and months later I instinctively introduce myself as Nicole and I think I wouldn’t even flinch if I heard the name Brittany being called. Weird how quickly one can create a new identity, huh?

 I met Hideaki Kobayashi , a famous older man who cross-dresses as a schoolgirl in Harajuku.

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Having some Irobot moments in Tokyo.

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which woman is real?!

Floating in the dead sea wasn’t all fun. The water was hot and oily feeling, like being in a big pot of soup. And worst of all, every single scratch and knick burned with the flames of 1,000 fires. TMI: Even my buttonhole burned.

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June Map of Travels:

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Cost of flights:

All my flights this month were either reimbursed by my Chinese school (return airfare was included in my contract) or they were a gift from the Israeli government 😀

Hong Kong to Tokyo: $110 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)

Tokyo to Osaka: $50 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)

Osaka to Seoul: $60 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)

Seoul to LAX: $445 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)

LAX to Tel Aviv: FREE!!!!

Solo Leaps

Around 4 years ago I bought a one way ticket to Paris with no one to meet me at the airport. I stayed in a hostel, made friends and carved out a life for myself all on my own. I can’t believe all the solo leaps I’ve taken since then. Recently I saw someone posted a meme that said “I remember when I used to dream about all the things I have now.” and all I could think was, “I remember when I used to dream of having things.”

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From Shit Comes Flowers: Love and Hate in India

This post is inspired by the Hippie in Heels and a recent love-hate moment.

There’s this cosmic law of justice that all backpackers to India know about.

At one moment you’ll hate the country. Curse all the touts and scammers to high hell. Find your rather PG rated mouth saying shouting things like “Leave me the FUCK alone!”

But then there will be the moments of adoring affection. You’ll find all of life’s worries so distant to you while flying down a palm tree lined road in Goa seated sideways on a scooter (as long as your purse doesn’t fall off). On a train platform a golden eyed baby will smile up to you from his mother’s dupatta wrapped shoulders.

As the stilettoed hippie would say, “For each terrible, horrible encounter in India, an equally opposite encounter will follow.”

And I have just such a story to tell.

After the disheartening 10 days spent in chilly Nepal waiting for my 6 month 3 month visa (damn!) I arrived in Varanasi, India after a 22 hour bus ride eager to soak in the sun and holiness of the city. Not so eager to soak in the Ganga. Maybe just my toes.

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whoa what a bad hair day I was having!

Varanasi, while loud and chaotic, twisting and dark has not disappointed. The colours of the city come alight with the rising of the sun. And, if you search it, peace can be found along the ghats listening to the soft music of bells, chatting, men calling out for customers on boat rides and voices singing a language you can’t identify.

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A bit jaded after days spent solo traveling I’m not hopped up with backpacker spirit, but longing to return to the safe little world of relaxation, companionship and puppies I knew during my month volunteering at an ecostay in Goa.

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I’m gratified to be back in India and thankful for the opportunity to experience such a spiritual site.

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looking bright eyed and bushy tailed….and pious

Much unlike my time in Nepal the hours here pass quickly but leisurely strolling the banks of the river, observing a ceremonially cremation and dipping into the alleyways to sample the best lassis in all of India.

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Despite all this I’m eager to head South to the comforts described above. Upon arriving at my guesthouse I asked the owner if she’d be able to book me on a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal for Monday evening, my last stop on my mini tour of the North before settling in Goa. It was Saturday.

My scamming senses tingled when she asked if I would still want a ticket for the day *after* that. Strange, but her smile seemed warm enough and the place was well reviewed. I decided to trust her and say, “Well if there aren’t *any* tickets then I guess we can book the next day.”

That evening I ran into another backpacker, Sam, I’d met who’d stayed in our ecostay in Goa. She also was going to Agra on Monday but hadn’t even thought to start looking to book the ticket. I told her my suspicions of my Guesthouse misleading me in order to get me to book another night with them. She shrugged and told me she’d let me know if she got one.

The next day still alight with skepticism (call it a woman’s intuition) I dipped into a travel agency to check their train ticket prices. The tickets were sold out for the same day although I did have a cynical hunch that they weren’t sold out the day before when I had asked my GH to book.

900 rupees (13.24 USD) to Agra on the 3rd tier class. Hmmm that was what I’d been told I’d have to pay, but this was without any commission. There was no way my GH wouldn’t be taking a small commission was there?

“They probably booked you on sleeper,” the agency man laughed to himself at my guilelessness.

My naiveté didn’t stop there as I asked him what to expect in sleeper class. He explained it would be a lot less comfortable without blankets, pillows or windows. That doesn’t sound all too bad when you think of India, but temperatures can dip down to below 10 C at night in the North.

My distrust flamed again when I realised I hadn’t asked the woman at the guesthouse what class she’d be booking for me.

I set out for my guesthouse alive with cynicism stopping only along the way to check the prices with yet another agency and confirm again that it was unlikely the guesthouse would be charging me the exact asking price of the ticket with no commission.

I hastened my pace in the sinuous and serpentine back streets of Varanasi imploring to myself that this sweet faced guesthouse owner wasn’t truly the slippery swindler I imagined her to be.

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Dodging cow dung and mangy mutts I ran smack into Sam. She was on her way to the train station, ticket in hand. I relayed to her all my guesswork at the guesthouse’s deceitful ways.

Her eyes glowed with the schadenfreude that I know only other women will grasp. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully comprehend why this girl-on-girl rivalry is so rampant at all ages and in all places. Our blood isn’t so bad, however, as with feigned sympathy she pointed to a small restaurant and suggested I stay in their guesthouse instead. This was of course after asking how much I was paying and boasting a cheaper price in the least modest of smirks.

Despite her bravado I’m still obliged for the sharing of this information as it was just enough to arm me with the nerve to march up to my guesthouse and call the owner on her shit.

I walked straight into her office (bedroom?) where she was resting lazily on a bed with her husband, a toddler and a young girl. Despite being uneasy around confrontation the teacher in me came out and after learning she’d booked me on sleeper class yet charged me for 3rd tier (over double the price) I began to clearly and cuttingly berate her for her misdeed and hoodwinking ways.

“My friend is on the train tonight and she booked *after* me. 900 rupees is the price for 3rd tier. I will NOT pay the 3rd tier price for sleeper. This is NOT okay. I am very upset.”

I chose my words concisely not wanting anything to be misunderstood. This encounter takes me back to the early days of living in Brazil when my Aussie friend and I walked a half hour to a store to buy concert tickets after repeatedly asking if they were available on the phone and telling the clerk we’d be arriving in thirty minutes. When we arrived the blockhead at the counter told us the ticket seller wasn’t there anymore quickly dismissing us with a flick of her wrist. I shook with rage and began to chide the woman in the most pathetic of reprimands with my baby Portuguese level.

Somos clientes. We are customers. Não pode fazer isto com os clientes. You can’t do this to customers. Isto é mau! This is bad! Você não é uma boa pessoa! You are a not a good person!”

Another customer overheard my protests and promised to put in a formal complaint for us. Bad karma to that donkey of a salesgirl.

My girlfriend stood beside me not understanding a word but taking in my agitated state. We made it to the concert after all, paying the door price and bursting with laughter at my sudden bout of Brasileira boldness.

But this Indian charlatan was practiced and prepared in this sort of confrontation. She took a defensive stance and asked me not to blame her for what the ticketing agency she booked through was asking. She bitterly asked which agency I had confirmed prices with and when I wouldn’t give the name she accused them of scamming me. Her audacity only ended when I told her I had confirmed with not only TWO agencies, but my friend who was riding the train at the moment as well.

That shut her up.

She said she’d try to cancel (I doubt it was even booked yet) and crassly suggested I take care of my own business instead of confirming tickets I didn’t want with her.

It took some vim and civility for me to not to screech at that moment that maybe she should ask a reasonable fee on ticketing services and not try to exploit and manipulate paying guests.

I pounded upstairs, wrote my mom and a friend a ranting and raging message and then with all my exasperated excitement I packed my backpack, looked over the stairwell to see nobody was moving about and then bounded out of there like a bat out of hell.

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lol sorry about the language, but I was hopping mad at that point!

It was 5:30 pm, I hadn’t paid the extra night nor the overpriced train ticket.

My cheeks were flushed and all the adrenaline of my disappearing act pounded through me. Cycle rickshaws approached and I forcibly shouted a “NO!” their way with a scowl sketched across my red hot face.

I arrived to the tiny restaurant still fuming and not so politely asked for a room that instant. The kind eyed, moustached man in a lungi hastily ran off to prepare my room and then led me to where I’d spend the night. Right there in the passageways of the ghats I had a private room on the ganga for 200 rupees ($3 USD) a whole 150 rupees cheaper than my flimflam guesthouse a ten minute walk from the river. Thanks, Sam, you big biotch.

I got settled, sighed with relief and felt satisfied with myself for confronting a con artist and getting out when I could.

As a reward, I bought myself a 5 rupee (7 cent) pack of bindis. These past weeks I’ve admired their beauty on other women and finally I decided to risk cultural appropriation and dawn one between my eyebrows.

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Feeling guilty for my boorish behaviour at the tiny restaurant I decided to pay a visit and have a veg thali for dinner there.

The poor man didn’t even recognize me in my natural shanti state and bindi’d forehead. I had to tell him I had just checked in with him and needed the wifi password for the guesthouse. His smile grew huge and he eagerly shared the password of the guesthouse and the restaurant.

I decided I’d update my mom and friend before dinner and logged into Facebook to give them the play by play and apologise for my written diatribe.

A few moments later the moustached man arrived and sat before me. His eyes were kind and honest, so I took no offence to this invasion of space.

He looked at my computer with a grin and asked if that was for messaging people.

“Errrrm yes. You can message people. Do you need to use it?”

“Yes,” he grinned.

“Where? On Facebook?” my fingers automatically opening a new window and speedily clicking in the web address.

Again he smiled but this time pulled out a notebook with an email address scribbled on the page.

“You want to email this address? Do you have an email account?”

He shook his head no.

Instantly I realized he had never touched a computer before and wanted me to use my technology magic to write a message to his friend.

I opened my own gmail and then proceeded to compose an email writing down word for word his running dictation.

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He told me his name was Babu and he had owned the restaurant for 18 years. Once he met a young customer who asked how old it was and he answered that he’d opened it when the young man was just a toddler. He shook with laughter at his own joke. I shared in his gayety only until I realized he hadn’t made that joke with me.

“I was also a child when you opened this restaurant,” I huffed, my ego slightly bruised.

We carried on chatting about his restaurant and life when I refreshed my inbox and saw that his friend had responded.

“Babu! Christian answered!”

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His eyes sparkled with glee as I read aloud the email to him. I felt a bit odd acting as a futuristic crystal ball gazer, yet I was still able to relish in his exuberance at that moment.

I logged off, finished my meal and bid Babu goodnight. My cheer must have been written across my face because as I bounded for the restaurant’s stairs another group of travellers looked up, smiled at me and asked if I enjoyed my meal.

I grinned back, confirmed that I had and made my way back to my room above the holy waters, wholeheartedly and blissfully enamoured by India.

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Chillin’ on the ghats. If you ask for a photo with me sometimes I’ll ask for one with you 🙂

Let’s all take a ride on the Friendship Bus: Kathmandu to Varanasi

(January 29th 2016)

I made the journey from Kathmandu to Varanasi and here’s how.

After 10 long days of waiting for my visa from the Indian Visa Service Center in Kathmandu I was itching to get out of what to me felt like freezing cold Kathmandu.

With power cuts and a fuel crisis caused by an Indian enforced blockade at the borders, the city was often without some luxuries (like electricity or hot water *grumble*)

Sidenote: I can confirm that in Kathmandu they are mostly only offering 3 month visas to EVERYONE. U.S. citizens must pay the fee for the 10 year multiple entry 6 month visa, a whopping 11,100 npr, but what we receive is a measly 3 month single entry visa *double grumble*

Once I realized I’d only be getting this pitiful visa of course I was filled with rage, but what to do? I’d F off to India even faster. But how?

With the fuel crisis and blockade at the border I heard the journey by land would be a nightmare. Distressed, I asked the receptionists at my hotel if the “friendship bus” I’d read about was still running.

“Ummmm no. No bus. You must take local bus to Suanuli border, cross then take bus to Gorakhpur and then train to Varanasi.”

Friiiiiiiiiiiiick.

That was way too ambitious of travel even for me, especially being a solo female. But I looked up flights and KTM to Delhi was $100 bucks I wasn’t ready to spend.

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I even posted a desperate question on tripadvisor
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“Sir”? Crapola.

So I went to the travel agent in front of my hotel just to check one more time. He lamented there wasn’t a direct bus to Varanasi, but there was one to Delhi.

At this point an American couple poked their heads into the office and said they had just come from Varanasi and were willing to share their knowledge.

I sat down next to them, listened and got TOTALLY FREAKED OUT!

Their eyes told a story of pain and struggle. The woman looked out at nowhere and said, “24 hours on a bus.”

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They told the story of a miserable journey that included trains, local buses and cheating taxis. You could see on their faces the exhaustion and defeat.

There was NO F*CKING WAY I was getting to Varanasi by land.

I rushed out of our hotel to find wifi at a cafe and began looking up flights and figuring out how I’d work my way around this bump in the plan.

I sent one final email to the travel agent pleading with him to find a direct bus Varanasi.

And somehow, he did.

(Although he made no acknowledgement to previously telling me there wasn’t one)

There would be one leaving at 6pm the next day. Just as I had wanted. I’d pick up my visa at 4pm and then be on my merry way to India. JUST AS I HAD WANTED.

The next day I paid for the bus in Indian rupees, 2,000 or $30 USD. As he was booking it he asked me if it was alright if I took the last seat in the back.

Here I paused and asked, “But it’s a bed, right? Sleeper?”

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like this

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He answered yes, so I said sure, why not?

That day I kicked rocks while waiting for my visa. Why it took me 3 visits and 8 days just to put a sticker in my passport I’ll never understand. But when the hour came to pick it up the energy around the center was buzzing with happiness. Those of us that waited at the gate were champions. We’d made it. We’d won.

I spotted the same French couple that I’d seen on the first day in the photocopy place. This had been her FOURTH time applying after various flubs. She was accompanied by her French-Indian husband and son, both of whom had lifetime entry.

We smiled at each other in triumph with our passports back in hand. I felt close to this couple since I’d seen them on every trip to the visa center and had suffered at the same hands. But finally we began to really chat and realized we were both on the same bus to Varanasi that evening! Great, foreign accomplices!

I sped off to my hotel to pick up my backpack in a gleeful whirl. Once I got my bag I set out on foot to find the bus station. In all my elation I decided to even get a bicycle tuktuk to take me half the way with my remaining 45 npr (41 american cents). I rode atop that chariot like a backpacking queen, smiling and waving at children in the streets.

Finally I arrived to the bus park with reasonable time. I began to search for my bus, the issuing company said tiger bus, but I wasn’t seeing that anywhere. Just as I was starting to get nervous I spotted my French friends! We still weren’t sure we were on the exact same bus, so they led me to the ticketing office where a lady gave me a new ticket that’d leave a half hour later and pointed to the bus.

Lo and behold

it was the friendship bus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What?!?!?!

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Ok so it didn’t look like this at all. It was blue and faded, but it said very clearly on the side “India — Nepal Friendship Passenger Bus”

IT STILL EXISTS

and it’s a NON-sleeper.

Whaaaaaat?!? I thought I paid for a bed on this frickin’ bus.

The French couple laughed at my misfortune which helped me get over the fact and who cares?! I was on my way back to Incredible India!

Misery had it’s company again. Every time we had a near head on collision or when we’d bounce so high our heads would nearly hit the ceiling we’d all look at each other, smile and shake our heads.

The bus took exactly 22 hours.

We left around 7pm instead of 6pm like my original ticket or 6:30pm like my new one.

We arrived in Varanasi at 5:10pm.

Can’t be sure, but I believe we stopped for bathroom breaks maybe 7 or 8 times.

We arrived at the dumpy border at around 7AM. There we were hustled around with our bags, but it was relatively fast and painless. I got an exit stamp from Nepal and an entry from India and then I was on my way. We didn’t see any manifestations or anything like that, but there was a long, long line of Nepalese fuel trucks that weren’t passing though 😦

One time we stopped and all ate a small buffet. Another time we stopped and sipped chai from tiny clay pots while a 2 year old played with a giant knife in the back area. I’d made it. This was India.

Today I’ll be meeting the French fam for lunch to celebrate our victory. The wife owes us all a treat because she nearly spot on predicted our arrival time. Winner buys chai 🙂

So, if you’re reading this just for bus information:

YES, the Kathmandu to Varanasi direct bus does exist.

I SERIOUSLY don’t recommend doing the journey on your own. The border was pretty sketchy and I’m sure the taxis taking you to Gorakhpur would be charging a small fortune.

Do yourself a favor (?? lol I’m not sure if non-sleeper is a favor) and buy a direct ticket on the friendship bus. Just keep asking around and you’ll find it.

Moral of the story:

Ask and you shall receive.

The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Or my personal fav:

The baby that doesn’t cry, doesn’t get the tit.

I Kind of Suck at Traveling

I’ll let you guys in on a little lesser known secret about myself. I kind of suck at traveling. No, but really. For instance, I once showed up to the customs counter in Jamaica and openly admitted to the officer that I had no idea where I’d be staying and couldn’t quite remember when I’d be leaving. Needless to say, I had to wait to the side for a bit while they discussed what to do with this incredibly stupid American girl. In my defense, I’d just broken up with a boyfriend, quit my job and quite literally fled the country. Annnnd I was on a family trip, so I left all the planning to mommy.

You see, this backpacker savvy I can turn off and on. Sometimes I research so fervently how to get somewhere, what to do there and how to save a penny that I’m not sure if I take more pleasure in planning the trip than I do actually being on the trip. But then there are the times when I’m burnt out on traveling. Tired to tears of looking up buses and hostels and currency exchanges. I show up in a country and just get on with it. And so yeah I can suck at traveling, but then there’s this power that comes from within me that can attest to my globetrotting gumption. That power is….*drumroll*….apathy. You know? the absence of passion, emotion or excitement. Bet you didn’t think that was a character strength! Ok so maybe a fuzzier word would be calmness.

If there is one thing that verifies my vigor as a traveler, it’d definitely be my body’s ridiculous response to stress. Or lack of response (besides that one time I was drunk and got pick pocketed in Rio. Can we pretend that didn’t happen? K thanks.) When a new travel drama starts to unfold I can almost instantly feel myself becoming lethargic and indifferent. So laid-back that it seems that I actually don’t have any more shits to give. The time I rolled up to Kyoto super late at night after a delayed flight with no money, no phone and no confirmation from my couchsurfing host comes to mind. I pondered sleeping on a bench and then went to 7eleven for a cookie. Whoa! I’ve just realized this may be a genetic thing! Only just now did I remember teachings from the true guru of coolness, my mother. I remember being a teenager and sleeping in til mid afternoon (as you do). My older brother woke me screaming, “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!!!!! THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!!!!!!” I yawned and stretched and then finally ambled out the door to see a bit of dry grass was on fire. He had my mom on the phone screaming over and over that our house was on fire. She didn’t arrive for a long while after this call although she had only just been in town. Her alibi? An easygoing, “I stopped for a snapple on the way.”

Seven whole months into this backpacking trip I’m admittedly drained. Just as last year I said I couldn’t bring myself to sing the Hello, Goodbye song to another group of school boys and girls again for a long, long time, I also find little will left to research the buses and hostels and exchange rates. I confess, I’m shot, spent, weary, wasted.

Naturally, today I arrived in Nepal without a visa prior to arrival. Without the proper currency for the visa on arrival. Without much of a clue as to how I wound up here and what the f*ck led me to these life decisions. All too familiarly I find myself unshowered, run-down and in a strange country on my own. Tomorrow I’ll have to convert that money, make my way back to the airport to get back my passport and get the dang visa all to start my battle with the Indian consulate to get a brand new visa for that country. All this and not even a week ago I lost my purse off the back of a motorcycle along with my iPhone, atm cards and $70 cash. In the words of Homer (not the Odyssey one, but the Simpson one), “Doh!”

And here’s the silly thing. My inner dialogue goes something like this.

Me: This blows! I hate traveling!
Inner Serene Me: Hmm you love to travel…and we’ve seen worse.
Me: Are you frickin serious?! This has got to be the shittiest circumstances we’ve ever been in!
Inner Serene Me: Girl, chill. It’s no skin off your nose.
Me: *sigh* You’re right, o wise me. Mango or pineapple smoothie tonight?

In retrospect, I’m mostly to blame (in some way or another) for every travel disaster that’s come my way. Granting all this, the shanti me is somehow all forgiving of my blunders. Even in my worst wandering moments she can shrug away any panic or unease. She’s capable of staring down all of my anxieties at once with such nonchalance and composure that I have to laugh at her own unrecognizability to me. But this cool and poised girl is a part of me and she’s what makes me a great traveler. I like to imagine that if she were to pose for a photo she’d pose just like this. Namaste, ya’ll.

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Alternative Things to Do: Lisbon

Since I’m staying in these cities for longer than the average tourist I thought I’d make a little series of “off the beaten trail” recommendations.

…..and just some other recommendations too 🙂

  1. Hike to the abandoned (and super creepy) Panoramic Restaurant of Monsanto forest

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3. Go to the Couchsurfing vegan meal meet up at RDA 69

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4. Take a ferry to visit the Christ statue

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5. Take a stroll from Doca de Santo Amaro to Belem

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6. Eat, drink and hang out in Martim Moniz square before taking Tram 28

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7. Catch some Live Jazz on a Sunday at Café Tati

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8. Wine, dine or take a circus class (!) at Chapitô

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9. Catch a sunset at Miradouro de Santa Catarina (or if you fancy a DJ and a cocktail, at Park)

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Favs

Restaurant: Cantinho Lusitano try the baked goat cheese in honey and rosemary!

Café: Pois Café try the chai latte and hummus!

Bar: there are many to try in Bairro Alto! the best nightlife for me was drinking a bottle of wine on one of the park benches on Avenida da Liberdade 🙂