The one where I hear the monkeys singing

So leaving Thailand I was eager to see a new country, its a nice feeling like getting excited for the weekend. The anticipation of what is going to happen, who will you meet, what mischief will you get up to. It reminds me of the feeling of your first Saturday night or first disco. That kind of excitement. I had a great time with my Canadian and dutch friends in Pai and then continued onto Chiang Mai for a few days. They were nearing the end of their trip and wanted to go out with a bang whereas i was still in my baby stages, second country like! It was great to get all the tips for the following countries. The Dutch lad who was travelling with him was going the same direction as me to Laos however I wasn’t overly chatty with him during the days we spent together. I thought he was quite quiet and very serious when he did talk. From what I had learned about him, he liked riding motorbikes and when he did talk English or got a word in, he was very literal which I found hilarious. He would go onto to say that when he first me a) he didn’t understand anything I said for a good two days and b) I laughed him out which he meant to say, “take the piss of him”. Guilty. Which I did, he was quite entertaining and so sure of everything he said, “did you know the sky is blue” like he was the first person to tell me. That type of literal-ness, maybe sincerity is the better word. This would be a trait that would go from endearing to annoying when he was convinced he was right back to endearing again as we ended up travelling longer than we thought we would. D-dog (Dutchie) was checking out his plans on the shared computers in our hostel when I was asking him what were his plans. He told me he was doing the Gibbon experience in Laos. This was something I had been told in London I HAD to do when I went to Laos and it was the pretty only stand out thing in the Lonely planet and Asia to do however it was a bit pricey. For three days, €300/$350. Quite pricey when my normal budget was £30 a day. The Gibbon experience is based on the border between Thailand and Laos and is based in the Jungle. In order to protect the jungle from being destroyed from poachers and people cutting down the trees, they cleverly setup an expensive tourist setup to protect the jungle and employ the poachers in non-poaching jobs. The concept was simple, get the tourists up in the air zip-lining above the jungle and have them stay in a treehouse! Minimal damage to the jungle and get the old poachers into new income. I only realised the night before Dutchie was also joining the trip, so the next day we set off in a open top jeep into the jungle. We jumped into the back of the air con section of the van myself and Dutchie and quickly realised we might be putting a target on our back. For the first time since landing in South East Asia I was one of the younger part of the group and after about an hour in the van I expected the comment from an older London bloke asking us were we enjoying the air con in the back. There was 7 of us in total, me and D, a older couple from London, a frenchie, a nurse from London and an older German who was cycling around the world. It was a tough oul hike into the jungle when we eventually arrived at our drop off point. We were handed a can of beer and told to use the bathroom before we setted out on our adventure. We set off from a tiny little village where our guides lived and began our trek into the mountain. Oh I nearly forgot, the reason its called the Gibbon experience is because the little Gibbon monkeys live there. At this stage, I had had my fill of fecking monkeys. When I was in India I had a very close encounter with one coming into my room and my life flashed before my eyes so I didn’t think they were as cute as I previously did. So I wasn’t bothered about seeing the feckers but they do sing quite sweetly however. We were told there was no guarantee of seeing them but generally they came out singing in the early morning. Neesha and a guy called Guitan who we would see several times in Laos were absolutely dying to see them and I remember being glad I wasn’t dying to see them in case we didn’t I’d be miffed. I was more so doing it for the rush of the zip-lining and the working out aspect of the trek. We arrived quite early at our first tree house and were told we could do a few zip lines surrounding our house but they were quite short. We didn’t realise that we would be left to our own devices from 4pm until the next morning. We had our own outdoor shower which was entertaining and a tick off the bucket list. Shower in the jungle with a view. It was one for the books alright! We had just a mattress, mossie net and a sheet for the night. We tried to order laos loas which is very strong Laotian whiskey but I think the guides were too nervous to let us get very loose at these heights. There was an interesting mix of people on the trip. The couple who had six kids between them had packed in their jobs and took off for 6 months traveling when their youngest child turned 18. The woman had read an article which I also read about a palletative care nurse who retold stories of paitents last regrets and advice which they wanted to pass on to the living. The gist is that no one said ‘Jeez I wish I’d worked harder’, it was always wish they spent time with their family more and travelled more. I was getting chills listening to her recounting a big turning point for me when deciding to give it all up and go travelling. If only this nurse knew we were bonding over her article up in the jungle. This couple had a very interesting past, both met each other through their children. They would all bring their kids to the same park. She was divorced from her Polish ex husband and recounted the tale that she fell pregnant while on a gap year in New Zealand and didn’t realise she was pregnant until she was 5 months late. She was still with the fella so they headed back to England and she said and I quote, “I’m kinda the person who’s in the penny, in for the pound” so she went on to have two more children with him even though she didn’t really love him. Needless to say the marraige ended and he f’ed off not too interested in the kids so she became a single parent. She would go to the park and socialise with two other dads and they would spend many a Saturday sharing a bottle of wine between the three of them while the kids played in the park. The image greatly amused me. After a few years of having a good friendship, the dad,  Ian was in an unhappy marraige and said his wife would just happily go out at the weekends and spend his money while he was falling in love with Maggie at the park. They were a very happy couple and good craic as well. We had some nice conversations with them but at one stage, Maggie beckoned Ian to come closer and they whispered to each other. I rememeber feeling a bit awkward but really Maggie was asking if they should share their joint with us or just smoke it themselves in the bathroom. Obviously the prior happened and we felt very naughty in the jungle after our two large beers passing round a doobee. I’m not a big fan of the stuff, it doesn’t really have an effect on me, but up in the jungle air after two puffs I suddenly felt very woozy. You had to put up big mosquito nets and I had to leave it to Dutchie to do as I was convinced I’d fall out of the treehouse if I attempted! Our german compatriot who was cycling round the world was a funny character, especially german if I might add. Travellling asia, you really have to get quickly that they don’t run on normal clocks so 6am maybe 6.20am and so on and so forth. Now we all have country stereotypes we each have to hear about, for example, the irish and the divils with drink, the Americans talking loudly and saying ignorant things, the Canadians saying funny words or the french being snobs etc etc. Well zee Germans really do live up to their stereotypes, especially the ones who happen to travel but not always. I always say to them when I meet them “You’re just so great at life”. I do admire their efficiency and get it done attitude and they always have a plan for their travels so good to tag onto if you’re at a loss for next location. Our friend Tommy was very excited for the Gibbon experience and just come from cycling across India and China which I was quite jealous of. He had started up his own type of magazine company as a young fella in Germany and had done well, sold it and has been on the bike since. He had a lovely waterproof camera, literally a plastic bag around his camera and was using Dutchie as his glided across the ziplines, I will tag his video which he did of it. Like myself he is also a blogger but much quicker at it than I am. Plus he gets a lot more visitors than I do. So as you might see where I’m going with the stereotypes, zee german provided a lot of giggles throughout our trip, starting with complaining the morning coffee was 30 minutes late. The poor guide was a bit shaken as he took it a bit far. Losing face is a huge cultural difference between Asia and Europe and many times if you ask someone for directions, they’ll say they don’t know rather than admit they didn’t know what you said. The food was quite average and came in little metal tins from the nearest kitchen. I discovered I wasn’t quite a fan of water spinach which is a bit tastless but served quite regularly in Laos but we also had soggy chips which were delightful. We had a good few vegetarians on our trip so I was digging into the meat when it was sparingly shared around. We had two heavy going days and I was glad I had just done the thai boxing because it was physically tough scaling the jungle to get to the ziplines and great stretches of 45 degree angle walks in between. I’d say it was a good workout as well as zipping around the jungle. We moved treehouses for the second night and I was hoping we would be spending it in this magnificient one we saw in the safety welcome video on our first day. The most scary zipline for me was actually zipping out of a treehouse where we stopped to take panoramic pictures. The height was about 60ft and the key was not to look down unless you didn’t want to get sick with fear. I would highly recommend it to anyone passing through Laos. On our last morning we were getting to ready to leave when the tour guides whispered loudly, “Gibbons”. We had heard them earlier singing that morning as they had a very distinctive singing method but we couldn’t spot them. I ran down to tell Dutchie to zip back to the treehouse to come and see them. It was very exciting altogether. We all had our cameras and phones out to try and catch the miniature black animals. The guides had a keen eye to spot them and we had a binoculars just in case but they did look like teddy bears swinging about the trees from our viewing point. It was a great excitement to see them and record them singing. Unfortunately the married couple struggled to keep up with us when we hiked so they had made a head start on us to keep on track so had missed out on seeing the Gibbons which i felt awful bad about. I had admitted the night before that I found monkeys very annoying and scary and didn’t give a s***te if I saw them at all. I was more interested in the ziplinging across the jungle to be honest but it was nice to see them. I do think they’re probably my favourite monkeys if I had to choose as they have some talented voices and are rare. All in all, recommend the Gibbon experience highly if you’re in Laos! Next stop Tubing and Slow boat to Luang Prabang.

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The one where I make friends and don’t have time to be anti-social and blog

so I’ve been in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam since my last post and pretty damn lazy about blogging. Mostly because I’ve been partying and in a little family bubble of a community which was so much fun! I arrived in Bangkok with major culture shock. Near naked white people, nightlife, little haggling, dorm sharing and a lot more shite talking. I also realised it’s quite a badge of honour doing India first as most backpackers skip it for Thai delights! Within the first 6 hours I was offered several “ping pong” shows where women do weird things with ping pong balls. I had just met a young group of English girls and they were contemplating going. After spending time in a women’s empowerment centre in India I had to think quick of why I just couldn’t go there but luckily it was very expensive so I got out of it without looking like the Virgin Mary. No one really likes a goody two shoes really, and I needed drinking friends so I kept Schtum. I was delighted to reem terms of ed sheeran after a few months of Bollywood music. I quickly made my way out of Bangkok to Chaing Mai and travelled with a young Christian Canadian couple who were travelling the “loop” as they called it. Or in any other language, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The buses were luxurious compared to India and I started to get this odd feeling that this was much to easy. India ruined me basically. I expected everyday to hustle and had gotten into the swing of things but the Thais are far too cool for school. Nobody wanted a picture with me or wanted to know why I wasn’t married. Not going to lie, I did miss the limelight. Another observation was their English was surprisingly bad in most tourist style venues. Like restaurants or train stations. I stayed a few days in Chiang Mai which was an alright city. The heat was unbearable so I was relived to have air con and a pool at our hostel! And cockroaches. The poor Canadian guy had never seen anything like them before and had a minor anxiety attack when we got to our sodden room. I also had a new type of backpacker to assimilate myself with, mouthy, loud drunkards which were never to be seen in India. I began to feel all my years of 27 as I met countless young WANs on their gap year and gap life year, deciding what job they would do in the future and which bar had the cheapest beer in town. I began saying “I’ve just turned 27” to make myself feel better. In short my first few days in Thailand weren’t all that and a bag of crisps which totally surprised me!

I knew I needed a place to meet people as I wasn’t clicking with anyone in my hostel and didn’t want to tag along to a couple so I did a Muay Thai course for two weeks outside Chiang Mai. I had never done any form of boxing or the like before but my mate Rebecca survived and thrived so I figured I’d give it a go. It was the first time I met Irish outside of India and Lo and behold there was a whopping 6 Irish lads there training! The gym was about 40mins in the countryside and ran by a Swedish/Thai couple. It was quite and odd atmosphere there to be honest. The town was quite sleepy and had one Main Street. At the time I was one of three girls there, which is bad for me because deep down I’m a girls girl. In this case I generally attract the more sensitive types or gay guys when outnumbered. They must know I searching for chin wag. The schedule was 6am – 8am get up, run then train. I got up nice and early and came downstairs expecting to meet loads of people but I was the only one. A young Thai teenager grabbed and bike and told me to follow him. I hadn’t ran 5k in a while so I was pacing myself nicely. It was getting hot around the time we finished 30mins later and it was time to learn the shkills like. It’s a lot of prancing about in front of mirrors and hopping about but I was sweating buckets by the time I finished the session. Next one was 4pm and generally the “crew” ate chicken and rice for breakfast after but I wasn’t invited so wandered about looking for eggs instead. There’s a time and a place for rice and chicken but breakfast is not one of them. (Sorry Paleo readers!) the two weeks crawled on and I had so much free time I binged on all the shows I had missed since February and even got so bored I started watching “Survivor”. My friend did warn me about the alone time aspect and I can say that I’m a people person for sure. An hour or three is fine. But after two days I need human contact. The Irish were keeping to themselves as they lived at other digs but that main issue was I was only here for such a short period of time, people weren’t bothered getting to know you which I understand. A proper English boy arrived a week in and we got on quite well, he had pink flip flops to avoid burgulalry and Joey Essex shorts on the regular. I was glad to meet him as it helped to have a buddy in the middle of nowhere. Battered and bruised I left the sleepy gym happy I learned Muay Thai and am def going to check out a gym in Perth when I land.

Off again I set and under a 30day visa schedule I set off for a hippy village called Pai way up in the mountains of Thailand. I got in late to just went to a hostel I knew the Canadians had stayed at weeks earlier. It was all open style huts here as it got quite cold at night. I arrived quite late and everyone was drinking in the hostel and already glued so I can grabbed some food and pottered off to bed. This blogger I follow for hostel recommendations spouted profusely how much she loved the hostel and made good mates there so my expectations were high.

I was just about to nod off when I heard a very loud Geordie chatting absolutely bananas about Jurassic park. Usually I don’t mind listening in on chirps but this was incredibly bad chat. Even when I put my ear plugs in he was gabbing on and high pitched Essex laughs accompanied it. FML I thought. They’re all 10 at a push 11 and I’m an old fart, tossing and turning, trying to talk myself into climbing down the bamboo ladder of the “Eco-uber-cool-treehouse”. I had decided quickly that I wouldn’t be making life long friends here as the travel blogger did so the next morning I made tracks. In the morning, all the chavs in my room were also leaving for full moon party in beaches and I considered giving it another chance but after a whiz on the internet I found a hostel with a pool and was sold!

Since arriving in ThaiLand, my criteria for hostels was as follows, wifi, good open area for banter and chats but most of all, it has a POOL! One good find from the chavs was they were trying to lighten their bags and the tan fiends left behind a factor 50 suncream on their bed so maybe there was a reason I was meant to be in a bamboo treehouse that night!

So off I trekked with my bag (which I can carry now) and within 5mins, I got a backie on a bike up to Circus hostel in Pai. It too was a bamboo effort but just a normal dorm rather than treehouse lark. There was an English fella behind the reception so was so laxidasical he was almost leaning backwards. I wasn’t sure if it was arrogance or stil drunkness? He had a certain nonchalance towards the guests, I couldn’t put my finger on it but it grinded my guests. I had seen the same in Chaing Mai with an older man running a bar in a hostel. It was as if finally  they were Lord of the Manor and could Lord it over backpackers! It was an odd thing altogether, finding power in using Asian customs against westerners and being pure cocky about it as well. Anyways I digress, he had room in the inn for myself and I hung out in the hangout area which was full of cool hippies in elephant pants talking a different type of shit, but shit still stinks like!

The place was advertised as a Circus type place where they did “Poi”, swinging balls In socks and lighting them with fire if you were have decent. In my head I thought they might have a trapeze like what Carrie did in sex and the city but they didn’t. I should suggest is on hostelworld perhaps! I was feeling a bit meh as I hadn’t met any coolish people in a while and as a solo traveller go through swings and roundabouts. Like a rollercoaster. One minute you’re having a great chat and clicking and then your day comes when you’ve to jet off. Then it all starts again, the nervousness of first day of school or a new job. Will they like me? Will I make friends? Will they laugh at my jokes? Or my newest struggle, will they understand me when I speak? Luckily I was about to meet a new clique in the circus!

To be continued. . . .

the one where I meet Irish people

Those who know me, know that I can be quite an Irish snob while abroad. I wholeheartedly did this while in NYC to an extent and became a professional at it in London. I feared I would be surrounded by gaa lovers, better drinkers than me and a slight anti-English sentiment which I found quite boring. I was wrong to think this. But it took me three years to get there and I really regretted not making a better effort to have Irish friends while abroad. So my new resolution is to embrace my home blood and drop the snobbery.

As luck would have it, just when I turned a new leaf on my country people, you couldn’t find the feckers anywhere. I was so disappointed. Germans galore, Israeli’s and french, but very few Irish. I would come across little clues that Irish had been here like a cuddly toy left by an Irish tourist, or a tuk tuk driver’s comment book would have Irish signatures but in terms of finding them in the moment, I was not having the luck of the Irish.

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I had arrived in Rishikesh from Delhi in the middle of last month and was waiting for my friend Petra to join from the volunteer trip. She went to Varansini where Hindu’s like to bury their dead as its meant to get them to heaven quicker. I was interested in seeing this prior to coming to India but I had seen two lakes already and wasn’t bothered about seeing another one. I had heard it was quite hippyish and the ‘smokin haze happened there so I said I’d skip it. I had a great time back in Delhi altogether. I was so much more relaxed and had to keep nearly laughing at myself and how scared I had been. I used to run home before dusk to make sure I wasn’t out at dark, and if I really needed to be outside I would ask the hotel security guards to accompany me to the ATMs or the shops for crisps. The innocence.

I have done most of the touristy stuff before in Delhi so just rolled about shopping and people watching. Our friend Nate was in town for a conference so we went out for drinks and pretended for a few minutes, this was our life, living in “cosmopolitan Delhi”. The next day I made my way to Rishikesh and en route, met a lovely girl called Tom. Obviously she wasn’t the Irish I referred to earlier, but close . . Isreali. We got on quick and quite well. So much so, we got compliments from fellow travelers that we seemed like we knew each other years. We hung out for a few days and it was nice to have company. Travelling on your own is a constant rollercoaster of emotions especially breaking away from the a pack you’ve created and becoming a lone wolf again. You start as a solo and what I’ve learned since February is that you are rarely ever alone. But I was lucky to find a cool travelling mate like Tom for a few days. We busted into the Beatles Ashram together, had to get threatening with Indian bullshitters to get out and I found out a load about the Israel way of life and conscription which was interesting. After all, Jesus was a Jew and came from near her part of town so I knew we’d get on. Tom had just come Nepal and was joining an ashram in a few days time so we only got some time together. She bumped into at least 10 people she knew from the army or home in Rishikesh. It was astounding, how popular India is post army time for them. If you’re ever in India and they serve Falafel and hummous, the Isrealis’ will come.

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During my time in Rishikesh, I decided to rent a scooter as well. There wasn’t many tuk tuks to get around and only jeeps for taxis which cost an arm and a leg. My “mate” from before, Sunni Sunni (not Funny Funny) rented it to me and gave me a lesson on how to use it too. In the town, there was a long footbridge which slightly made me nervous about scooting over but I survived it, the cows, the monkeys and the Indian tourists. It was a great thrill to get around on two wheels. Walking can be so boring and monotonous to me. I know some people like this type of activity but a restless mind or as my dad would put it, “always wanting more”. More SPEED I tell ya!

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I was waiting for my mate Petra to join me as I mentioned so I didn’t want to enter an ashram in case the ashram was strict and didn’t allow you to leave which would be a bummer but Petra ended up extending her trip so I was at a bit of a loose end in Rishikesh. But when you’re at a loose end alone in a foreign country, it doesn’t stay that way for long! (Which I do have to remind myself of regularly when I’m alone for 10mins). I decided as I had some down time I would facetime my friends back home. Really only weekends work for most people with a time distance which is a bit frustrating when you want to talk to them NOW! I was lucky enough that Áine my good friend who still has yet to read the blog, took my call where I talked quickly and in a very Irish accent about the previous night antics I had encountered. (Previous blog entry). I talk with a heavy accent and quite fast if I’m talking about things in a cafe I maybe shouldn’t be! (!) Or not familiar with the laws of the country. This works a charm most times as I’m regularly told I’m incomprehensible when yabbering in my accent.

A young, pretty dark haired girl touched my arm. As I turned around, in a Dublin, modern drawl, she remarked “I was just wanted to say hi!, I’m Irish too and I’ve only met two others in India”. My heart soared as if meeting its maker. I had been quite lonely waiting for Petra to show up and this was lovely surprise to hear another one of me and a chance to regain my new acceptance of Irish people agenda (AoI in abbreviation). “Gotta go Aines” I uttered quickly down the phone. She had overheard my friend Abhi, who grew up only a few miles up the road in Fermanagh from me. Turned out she had grown up in a cult of some kind on an Island where they were devotees to Hare Krishna. This was all news to me about the place and she was into it herself. Putting flowers on the Ganges what have you and offering prayer up to Krishna. It just dropped also at the moment that Hare Krishna’s must have some connection to the Hindu’s as they most worshiped this Krishna god.

Abhi was staying in an ashram beside the cafe we were both in for a measly 150rs which is £1.50. I was paying £3 at the time for a dive so this couldn’t be much worse. She informed me her bf was returning the next day from a meditation course and all I could think was I couldn’t wait to tell my friends, Mark and Áine who thought I was a “hippie” and relish the fact I had made actual cool Irish hippies and prove how I was really not one. My good friend Tom was heading for an ashram the next day so I decided to stalk out my new Irish friend and move into the same digs as her. Okay this is getting long so I’ll make a new post for the next chapter! But more Irish did cross my path!!! . .  to be continued

The one where they are happily unmarried

 

I’ve been quite lucky early on to meet some good contacts who happen to know everyone in India who works in tourism so depending on where I go, my friend happens to know a “brother” there. I’m not sure where it was the mom or dad who spawned a large amount of brothers for him or not. I happened to bump into Prabaker when I was in Jaipur. I spent a whopping 1500rs on a lunch which was expensive looking back but I made two good contacts. One a tea maker who knew what Barry’s teas is and two a driver who happened to know the NGO and founder I was going to be staying with. 
Prabaker is very spiritual and likes to wax lyrically about life and getting happiness but nice and good natured. I was not surprised to know from my NGO founder he was gay although they do try it on anyways oddly?
Prabaker introduced me to Sunni who looked after my accommodation while in Rishikesh. Within three minutes of meeting him he proclaimed he was happily unmarried and had a string of western girlfriends which is a story I have regularly heard from the pervy ones. Note to self, when this starts, run! 
And not too long after he became quite pervy after day 2 like most of my encounters with “nice Indians”. 

In these awkward, broken English advances, I tend to invent a husband who I’ve been married to for 6 years. I put my hands behind my back discreetly and move my only ring from left middle to left ring. Not that they pick up on that because Indians use dress and make up to denote marital status. It’s quite odd inventing a fake husband and oddly you miss this fake husband when you begin to talk about them. I always stick with Irish for some reason as I reckon it’s more believable, sometimes he’s a teacher and that’s why he isn’t with me! Term time eh! Or sometimes he’s in the next town over on “business”. Soon to be reunited, although trying to seek any types of Irish people is few and far in India. I’ve only heard Irish guys so far from Ireland and they are what you would imagine, light haired or ginger, 1000s of freckles and a scattering of tribal tattoos adorned on their calves and arms.

“Oh married ones are the best, I like married women better”. “Honestly your husband won’t mind”. Oh dear god, where do I jump to from now. Think think think, okay religion, he’s been yarning about God all day, I see your ace and I raise you. “Not sure if you’re familiar with the 10 commandments? But I would be breaking one of them, can you please change the conversation because I’m very uncomfortable”. 
This also doesn’t work, I’m quite adept in my old age of dealing with advances which are not appreciated, but feel I need a new story to stop them in their tracks pronto.  

Or alternatively I would be panic button where I could magically transport an Irish husband to give them and old one, two box. That wouldn’t be breaking the commandments would it?

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The one where I need to change the names

So after my pleasant, non-eventful stay in Jaipur, I made my way onwards to where I would be volunteering for the next two months. I had researched NGOs where I didn’t have to pay a fee as my budget didn’t really allow for that . . . however I knew that it was a risky decision. When you don’t have to pay admin fees or programme costs, its always means amateur outfits who are desperate for people and tend to be badly run. Its not unlike most behavioural economics, would you buy a smartphone for £10 on gumtree? Probably not and I wouldn’t blame you!

Going into this situation I knew this already however the reality is always harder than what you imagined. I’m one week away from leaving the NGO after an interesting few weeks. Following my mums advice its probably better that I post my musings once I leave India so I don’t get arrested. For those of you who followed my last blog, I seem to get into interesting drama like the time my married boss at the time was sleeping with his bartenders and ended up getting arrested and placed under psychiatric hold) when I travel so I just stopped blogging in New York because I was afraid someone might get hold of this and I’d lose my job. I have similar issues here and for that reason all names and locations will be changed. I was so annoyed I hadn’t thought of it in New York! Surely thats what all fiction writers do? So in the mean time, I will be blogging about the weekends I spent around Rajasthan with my fellow volunteers and once I’m outta here, the real sh*t will be uploaded. Peace out homies.

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The one when I’m becoming a train pro

I arrived in Jaipur after a pleasant train journey from Agra, with all the monkeys on the roof, I had slightly overslept and was in a mad dash to make it to the train station in time. In reality, nothing in India ever leaves on time. This is quite comforting for someone like me who likes to leave it to the last minute and for the Type A’s, its quite irritating. On my last train journey there was chai sellers, (chai wall’ahs), omlette wallah, samosa wallah (wallah = salesperson I think, I used it quite liberally).

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They come up and down the trains many times an hour, however thinking I was a pro after one train journey, I soon found out, there was no wallahs on this train because it was so short, 6 hours! I hadn’t a chance to eat anything earlier and was still a bit nervous to try the street food for sale on the platform. Indians are pro’s at preparing for the train journeys. They have these lovely little tin holders where each compartment has its curries, chapatis and rice.

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I was amazed at first how they didn’t seem to get the curries all over themselves considering they were sitting crosslegged and the train was rocking side to side. But alas, they survived. I was sitting opposite a dad and daughter who were travelling together. The minute they were finished eating, like a military processions, they laid out their sheets, fluffed their pillows and were out for the count. It was a sight to behold. After three hours, my tummy began rumbling and although my opposite passenger had given me a square of her diary milk kindly, I was aching for something more. As we were stopping at stations, I was too nervous to jump out and try and get some food as I had no clue when the train would set off. This didn’t bother the Indians however, they seemed to have some inner knowing of when the certain stops denoted more time on the platform. I got chatting to two elder engineers who were travelling to fix a train between Agra and Jaipur. They saw my face when they broke the news there would be no chai wallahs, omlette wallahs or samosa wallahs. “So, no food?” using my fingers to signal food. They replied with an indian head shake which goes from side to side and doesn’t really mean yes or no. I have know taken on this habit also and quite like being vague and mysterious, much to the chagrin of my western friends.

Thankfully, the two lads who were engineers starting slipping me some of their food which I took my Oliver and his second helpings. I had a nice portion of peanuts and two mandarins. I felt awkward accepting this so offered my water bottle as a mutual exchange but he wasn’t bothered.

Not long after he got off, I scrambled around looking for some rupees to exchange with him for his food, but he ushered it away saying, “No money between friends”.

As I arrived in Jaipur, I was advised to get a tuk-tuk to the hotel, which was nearby. What I didn’t realise is that the drivers take you for a little extended run around the city so they can show you their testimonial book. Its full of English and German speaking tourists lauding the drivers knowledge of the city, his good language skills and his good prices. They are so proud of these books, its like coming home to your parents to say you’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. They look deep into your eyes so see if you’ll submit and say you’ll join them the next day for a guided tour. I said I would think about it and took his number and advised him to get business cards if he wanted to make some serious doh.

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me (can you spot me?) and Anil, my tuk tuk driver

I had decided to splash out and spend some money on a brand hotel rather than a guest house. It was part of the Radisson but the lesser known Park Inns. I had stayed with my aunt many years ago in London so it felt familiar. I got a good price too on Cleartrip.com which my new favourite multi purpose app for hotels, travel etc. I had become accustomed to the hotel staff being over friendly thus far and very interested in you and how your journey was, typically good service. It was quite a different atmosphere in this hotel when I arrived. The level of English wasn’t really that good so difficult to ask for things like hot water and the wifi code.

So far, a hot shower was very difficult to come by, either the water was hot but dripping so you needed to use a bucket which is always in every bathroom in India or the power was perfect but baltic cold. Assuming I was now in a franchise hotel I couldn’t wait for a proper hot shower. Surely nothing would come in the way between me and that? I let out a scream, like an agonising, I’m in danger scream, very high pitched and long. I had to let my aggression, I had bigged it up in my head too much! Hot water during the day, what are you like. I made a very curt call asking the hot water to come on puhlease. Turn left, they always say which I find cute. Yes I know which one is the hot tap, now you do your part and put the boiler on. Just so you know electricity is a very cheap commodity in India if you ever visit so never fear about the eco-warrior within you. Often however you need to keep the water running for a few mins to get it to heat up. as it travels through the long pipes of the floors, eventually gets to a heating tank which is unlikely to be switched on. Most hotels only put the heat on in the mornings so save on the heating bill – but generally you’re talking 20minutes of water. Bear in mind, the water is likely to be manually filled also into a huge vat. A great lesson in plumbing and the luxuries of showers back home. But you can’t beat a hot shower. “okay turn the left tap” I repeated like they said. “yes”, then I heard a click! The fecker had hung up on me. Hummmmffffffff thought, the cheeky bleeder, I was only getting into the chat and he was having none of me. I later realised that the staff had little english at all compared to the guest previous two places I had stayed with so liked to just cut me off before pretending to understand me.

While in Jaipur, I was quite over the temples and forts after a busy day in Agra the day before so lookup tripadvisor to see what was the best things to do there and lo and behold, the #1 attraction was an elephant farm where you could paint, feed, ride and wash them. It was a welcome relief from sightseeing. I had a bit of a scare when my elephant reared up and started trumpeting and rocking back and forth, the elephants were just free to roam so I got a bit nervous, the elephant keeper digged a stick into him but he still continued so he turned to me and his eyes widened, “move over” he said. I backed away slightly and then in the corner of my eye I could see a elephant running. The fear in my heart was sickening and I ran as fast as my feet would carry me. I ran behind a water fountain thinking it would protect me and two other tourists had aimed for the same direction. After only about 30 seconds, they calmed down and got them in under control. I sheepishly walked back to my elephant and could hear what only could be described as a hyena laughing its head off. The owner of the farm, Rahul saw me leggin for it and thought it was the funniest thing he had seen the “Charlie bit my finger video”. This went on for an uncomfortable amount of time however I didn’t let it ruin my time there. There are really gentle animals and social as well, so they always like moving their ears, legs, trunks, thats how you know they’re happy. I did a lot of go-proing that day of the painting, washing and feeding so will make a flashy video at some stage and post it with the software.

I stayed two nights in the okay park in and then moved to a cute little guest house nearby called “Anurag Villas” where I was referred to as Ms Claire-eeee which I loved. The had a sprawling back yard, and I was invited by a cute, 8 year old to come and watch his fathers puppet show! By the luck of the gods, I managed to find a video with the best part of the whole show, entitled “Romeo and Juliet”.  If you have 5 seconds, please watch it, its a treat! By the end of my 10 days travelling along I was quite ready to start meeting people and starting gearing up for my volunteer trip which would last 8 weeks.

Randomly I bumped into my friend from my masters in France, Mado and her boyfriend as they were on holidays. She saw my comments about Taj Mahal and we realised we would both be in Jaipur at the same time! I was in the City Palace, planning to meet them later that night when I heard someone cry “Claire”. I froze . . I was in the middle of getting a palm reading from my friend below. I was quite bored with my audio guide tour and decided to give this guy a punt figuring no one would find out about this! I slowly turned and saw Mado coming towards me. She quickly reaalised my hand was entwined with

 

Things I’ve learned thus far

  1. You’ll never go hungry on a train in India
  2. Tuk Tuks are great fun, chose them always and agree the fare before you get in
  3. Keep the water running – it will eventually get hot
  4. Wedding season runs from October to March so bring ear plugs between those times because weddings last ALL NIGHT LONG (ALL NIGHT)
  5. You’ll get everywhere dirty so bring a nail brush for toes and nails!

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