below are a couple of photos i took in palitana. the peasant men here often wear all white. they’ll wear these pants that are baggy around the waist and thighs, and then almost skin tight around the calves. with those, they wear an all white button up shirt and a white turban.

also, here are the photos i took in mumbai.


on the move again


the bus had only been driving for less than half an hour, when the engine sputtered and died….errrr, wait, that was the bus journey from a few days ago. the bus journey we took today was a bit different. here’s how it went:

the bus had only been driving for less than half an hour when one of the tires blew out. damn. the bus full of at least 100 people pulled over to the side of the road. in a way, this may have actually been a blessing in disguise, cause the bus journey was to be about 5 hours long, and caryn and i both had ended up standing in the aisle… and wearing our super heavy backpacks. it would have been one hell of a 5 hours. the bus we were in, like the other buses we would be riding for the rest of the day, was a huge government bus. the guidebook describes them as “huge spine-jarring rustbuckets” and i can’t say that i disagree. the buses are old, and look like the kind of buses you would see in an old prison movie… the whole thing is made of metal w/ no panneling, and the driver is separated from the passengers by wire mesh.

when the flat happened, everyone started piling off the bus, and as i stepped downward from the steps, my shirt sleeve caught on a piece of metal and i heard a loud ripping sound. great. my sleeve was now in tatters and i would have to throw away one of only 5 shirts that i currently own.

so, all 100 or so of us stood around on the road in the middle of nowhere. apparently, we would just have to wait until the next bus came by in about 2 hours. i wondered how this would all work, if the next bus also came loaded down w/ 100 passengers. how would we all fit? luckily for us, we had been talking to these two guys, Ramesh and Nisha, who lived in amhedabad and proceeded to save the day for us at least a dozen times. minutes later, when some small little taxi van drove by, one of the guys flagged it down and soon we were zipping along the road. this van wasn’t going to our final destination, but was heading in the right direction, so we may as well have gotten a move on instead of just sitting there. we drove on and on for what seemed to be (and really was) hours, and then we reached some random little town. all of a sudden, there were a lot of words exchanged between our friends and the driver, tones started raising, and soon, i got the feeling that we would not be welcome in this van.

i was right. a minute later, the 4 of us piled out. it turned out that the driver had lied and said that he would take us to one place, but in the end refused to go all the way, since we were only 4 people and he just couldnt be bothered. the guys then led us to another huge government bus. after going for a while, we got off the bus and switched to yet another bus. this had all become quite a journey. the buses as i said before, were quite uncomfortable, especially since we were driving on roads that i would never recommend a bus to travel on. hell, i wouldnt even recommend a car to drive down most of them. we were constantly bumping up and down due to potholes, rocks, and debris. what a mess.

luckily, through all these transitions and bus switches, Ramesh and Nisha guided us and showed us the way. without them, we would have been utterly screwed. we were *deep* into rural gujarat, and no one here spoke english. in fact, not everyone even spoke hindi, india’s main language. these guys were *so* nice to help us out…. especially when we realized, that they could have taken a different bus in the direction they needed to go, but specifically went w/ us on a bus that would add *2 hours* to their journey. i couldnt believe it!! if i was lost in america, i could *never* imagine some stranger going *2 hours* out of their way to help me out. we were sooo thankful. over the course of the last few days, we’ve just been shocked time and time again at how nice people have been to us here. everyone is so incredibly willing to help us out, give directions, and even go out of their way for us. it’s so nice.

eventually, many many hours later, we got to a town near where we wanted to go, and Ramesh and Nisha went their own way. all we had left to do was to catch a cab to palitana, our final destination, a measily 35 km away. it should have been easy… but no. it was getting dark, and there were no cabs in sight. the few we found, either refused to go all the way to palitana, or didnt speak any english at all and we couldnt get our message across. eventually, some man was nice enough to lead us all the way across town, to where the main road was. we found some random guy there who offered to walk w/ us 1km to the main intersection to try to find a cab. but we were nervous. do we walk off into the pitchblack w/ a complete stranger? was he *really* trying to be helpful? Ramesh and Nisha had assure us that gujarat is ridiculously safe and that all the people were very nice… but who knows! i probably would have chanced it and gone for it, but caryn wasn’t having it, so we walked off back to town.

later we finally made the 1km treck by ourselves, and eventually found a minivan going to palitana who would charge us only 10 rupees each. (25 cents). during the 30 minute drive… we kind of started freaking out. who were these people w/ the van? were they really just trying to help us out? or would we be robbed? hrm. but everything turned out ok. they dropped us off in palitana, and in the end even declined to take *any* money off us. did i mention that the people are nice here??

so once again, quite a day. 3 buses, one van taxi, one minivan, and a shared rickshaw is what we ended up having to take to make the journey today. unbelievable! of course, i gotta admit, i’m loving every second of it. to me it’s like one big adventure, and honestly, the more crazy messed up stuff that happens, the better! i didnt come to india to have everything run smoothly… i came for some excitement, and something to remember… and a lot of these journeys, i’m sure to never forget!!


bucket water


our guidebook had mentioned that at a lot of the cheapo budget hotels, if you want hot water, you’ll often be out of luck. but, some of the places may have “bucket water”. well, the place that we’re staying at here definitely falls in the budget category (it’s only $3.50 per night), and when i got up in the morning to shower, it was a very tough call as to whether i should just opt for a cold shower, or try out “bucket water”. basically, they have a tiny little baby hot water heater, maybe smaller than the size of my backpack, and you use it to fill up a big bucket w/ hot water. this bucket, unfortunately, isn’t exactly the cleanest most pristine one i’ve ever seen. the bucket has a small cup floating around in it, and you use the cup to pour water over yourself and wash.

so i took my bucket of hot water into the shower room, a tiny square cement room with eerie cobwebs on the ceiling and dim to the point wehre you could barely see. the water you poured on yourself just drained through a hole in the floor and i think just poured out the side of the building. so, all in all, the “shower” was quite an experience. as i stood there, pouring tiny litle cupfuls of water over myself, hoping that i was actually geting cleaner instead of more dirty, i couldnt help laughing at the situation.

the other interesting thing about this hotel is that it has a “hybrid toilet”. caryn and i had gotten really lucky so far. in morocco and some places in turkey, the toilets are squat toilets (aka, a hole in the ground), but other than that, most of the places we’ve been have actualy had proper sit down toilets. the toilet at the hotel, was a curious hybrid of the two. it was a raised toilet that was just a tad lower than western toilets, but it had footpads on the sides of the bowl. so you could jump up on the toilet, and do your squat there. alternatively, there was a toilet seat, and if you were brave enough to touch it, you could lower this seat down over the footpads and actually have a sit down toilet. plus, the toilet actually flushed! what luxury! 😉

so anyways, after the wonderful “shower” (caryn was too afriad of the bucket and opted for a cold shower instead), we set off to explore diu. diu is a tiny town on the east side of a small island and is one of a small handful of cities established by the portugese in india. because of that, lots of the buildings here have portugese architecture and the town has a very different look compared to the rest of the places we’ve seen. the town is full of small mazelike alleyways lined w/ crumbling quaint buildings and is filled w/ the usual host of intriguing characters. you see just as many cows/pigs/goats here as you do people. it’s quite a site to be walking through town and see 5 or 6 *huge* cows wander slowly past you.

we started of our day w/ a gujarati thali. one of the things that the state we are in (gujarat) is know for is its thalis. a thali is an indian meal that comes in a bunch of small metal bowls w/ rice. this meal is often all you can eat, and is often vegetarian. actually, a lot of the restaurants here are strictly vegetarian. it’s such an interesting change after the middle east, where *everybody* eats meat, and being a vegetarian is practically unheard of. oddly enough, we even saw a 100% vegetarian Pizza Hut when we were in mumbai. the thalis of gujarat are supposed to be unique in that they are often both sweet and salty, but unfortunately, we have yet to try an authentic thali like that. also unfortunately, due to our lack of knowledge, we still havent figured out what else makes the people of gujarat different than other indians other than their thalis.

ever since my return from thailand, i had been dying to get back on a scooter. i read in the guidebook that this would be the perfect place to do so, and so we went to go rent one. ahhh, scooters. soo fun! within minutes caryn (who was very not down w/ scooters) and i were off trying to navigate the crazy streets of diu. we ended up leaving diu town, and took the main road that does a loop around the island. speeding around the island was a blast (if you could call it speeding when you’re only going 25 miles an hour).

pretty soon we made it down to nagoa beach, the island’s main beach. we parked our scooter and walked around watching people splash about in the water. the men here wear swim trunks when they swim, but the women go in wearing all of their clothes. we sat down for a bit and then decided to get a young coconut juice from this lady who was selling them. it was pretty crazy. she had this huge sharp sickle that she would use to chop the tops of the coconuts off and then she’d use the point of the sickle to puncture a hole. we drank the juice, and although it was refreshing, i didnt think it was all that good. after finishing the juice, you can take the coconut back to the lady, who chops the whole thing in half so you can eat the meat. the meat of a young coconut is a lot more slimy and mushy than what we were used to, but i thought it was prety damn good regardless.

as we ate our coconut, a couple of the local children came up to us and were playing and trying to get our atention. i asked to take their photo, and they got ridiculously excited about that. they were soooo excited to see themselves on the screen! they kept begging me to take more and more photos of them and posed in different poses. then, they ran and got a bunch of their friends, and soon there was a small mob of children all begging to have their picture taken. caryn had read, that if you take someone’s photo, it’s often nice to give them a photo of yourself in return. she had a few of her passport photos in her pocket so she gave one to a kid. at this point, everyone went crazy. all of the kids were running about asking for photos! everyone wanted one.. they were like money, or gold, or candy! a random old woman came up and took a photo, and then proceeded to try to snatch another one from one of the kids. i couldnt believe the excitement that these photos caused!

eventually, a group of men walked up and they too wanted to have photos taken w/ us. it was all such a strange feeling. the men were cement workers who were attending a convention here in diu. they had come from all sorts of states and would get all excited and proud when we would tell them that we would eventually go see their home state. unfortunately, one of the guys was a real weirdo, and started geting all angry and weird when we told him we wouldnt be able to go visit kerala, the state where he was from. in the end, this guy wouldn’t stop arguing with us, and his friends had to practically drag him away!


today i went on another scooter ride before i had to return the scooter at 4pm. unfortunately i had left a bit late, and had only about an hour for my ride during which i wanted to find this tiny fishing village on the opposite side of the island. it was a nice day, w/ a light breeze and it ended up being a really fun little ride. as i rode down the road, little kids (and some not so little kids) would run out to the road and wave and yell “hello”. at one point, i drove by a school that had just gotten out and there were tons and tons of tiny little uniformed kids running about all shouting to me and waving. too funny!

before i got to the fishing village, i saw this random side road, and decided to go explore down it. the road got narrower and narrower and pretty soon i started being unsure if i should be there as i was constantly dodging chickens, pigs, and goats on this narrow road. i finally go to a point, where the road ended and there was just dirt path ahead. oops! there were a few people sitting around, eyeing me in my confusion and laughing. when i started trying to turn my bike around, they motioned for me to keep going and signed that the road would loop around… so i went for it. next thing i know, i’m off-roading it down this dirt/gravel rocky path.

this path just kept going and going and going. i started wondering just where it was taking me, and also started worrying that i may not be able to get back to the scooter place by 4pm. eventually i got to a part where there was a man blocking the road. uh-oh. he started gesturing towards me, then towards himself, and then would clap his hands over his ears. try as i might, i couldnt understand this man. did he want earmuffs? at this point he started glancing in a covetous fashion at my backpack and motioning for me to hand it over. as i had no earmuffs in the pack, i just drove around the man and sped onward.

eventually i got to a curve in the road and looked around. i had no clue where i was. the area i was in was surrounded on all sides by marshlands, and i couldnt even tell which edge of the island i was on. i had lost my bearings completely. it was 3:45pm. i decided to press onward, and eventually, finally, i found a tiny paved road. followinig this road, i dodged more goats, chickens, and kids and finally found my way back to the main road. i then put the pedal to the metal and drove back as fast as i could. i was blazing along, and it was so fun to be going super fast down the road. i blazed by auto rickshaws, and slow moving trucks and felt pretty badass, until i looked down at the spedometer and, making the kilometer to mile conversion, realized that i was going only about 40 miles an hour. so much for being a speed demon, eh?

after returning the scooter, caryn and i wandered around the old portugese fort on the east side of the island. the fort was pretty cool, and there were old canons and canonballs laying around all over. apparently, part of the fort is still being used as a prison. prety convenient, eh? tourist hotspot and prison all in one!

so that’s pretty much it for diu. tonight we’ll try to find a restaurant that serves the tasty fish that we hear this town has, and tomorrow, we pack up and head out for the next town. i’m crossing my fingers, hoping that the next place will have hot water and not bucket water… but that seems kinda doubtful.


26 hour journey


we had only been on the bus for about half an hour, when it’s engine sputtered and died. as the bus, propelled by its own weight, kept rolling slower and slower, the driver kept hitting the ignition trying to get it started again. a minute later, we were pulled off on the side of the road. ah, india.. land of surprises… although really, in a lot of ways i wasn’t all that surprised. mostly i just hoped that we would finally make it to our final destination that we had been traveling almost 24 hours to reach.

the journey had sarted the day before at mumbai central station. we got to the station in the evening to find that there were people sprawled out all over the place on the floor. groups of people were sleeping, covered in sheets, others were squatting around and chatting. i’m still not sure whether all of the people there were soon to be passengers or if they were just homeless people looking for a spot to crash. probably a mixture of both. since the train ride we were taking was all night long, we had paid to get sleeper class. now, in most countries, if you get a sleeper, that’s the most comfy ride on the train, but here there is a huge array of different classes to choose from, with sleeper being near the bottom. the only thing below sleeper class, is second class whch is basically a huge free-for-all w/ unreserved seats. it had been quite a task getting tickets as right now it’s high season here. i wont go into details about it here, but let’s just say that when we first got to the ticket office, we pulled a number which was about 200 people back from the number being served.

when it was time to board, we walked along the platform and then noticed a huge mob of people waiting in a long line. second class. with a wave of his hand, a police officer motioned them to go through and the floodgates were opened. a quick moving, scrambling, pushing, running, frantic river of people had been unleashed. they all ran towards the second class train while shoving each other, hoping to get good seats. luckily, as i said before, our seats were reserved so we didnt have to endure this. actually we didnt realize just how lucky we were until later when we saw another train roll by. the second class section was unbelievably packed. inside there were people standing everywhich way, and there were others literally hanging off the side in the sections between cars. it was quite a spectacle.

when we got to the section that we were in, we were shocked to see how uninviting it was. honestly, it looked like a prision cell with a couple ugly old fans on the ceiling and random odd chains hanging from the bunks. so this is where we would spend the night? the layout of this place was such that each person reserved a bench, and when it as time to sleep, they slept on the bench where they sat earlier. nice and roomy since each person had a whole bench to themselves. i had just been reading for a bit, when a man came into our section and asked if we would be willing to switch seats w/ him. he had a group of 10 w/ him and was hoping that he could find a section to fit his whole family together, so if we switched, he might be able to do that. not knowing what we were getting into, we said ok. as we walked through the other sleeper cars, we realized that we had been insanely lucky to have the one we were first put in. the other cars were packed w/ people. the benches that were made to seat one, would have like 3 adults and 3 kids on them. we sat down in our new seats, and although we had room, we were peered at by all the others who were squished everywhich way on their beds. hrm. not to mention that the man’s family had smothered one of our seats w/ curry oil before we traded. nice.

during the ride, i ended up talking to this guy named sukumar, who was extremely nice and gave me all sorts of advice about india. he told me some stuff about yoga, talked to me about the homeless situation, and even offered for us to stay at his place! unfortunately, we couldnt take him up on his offer since we still had a long journey ahead. eventually, everyone turned their lights off and we tried to get some sleep. hours later, we were still trying. when we arrived in ahmedabad at 5am, i had only gotten a few minutes of sleep here and there due to the rocking of the train and the insane cold. we staggered off the train, sleepy and in a foul mood.

at the ahmedabad station we were shuffled about and had a ridiculously hard time getting tickets to Veraval, the closest train stop to Diu which was our final destination. just as i was at the end of my rope, i finally got tickets. but since the train was arriving soon, we could only get second class unreserved tickets. uh-oh! we had read in the book that if you get unreserved tickets, you can upgrade on the train for an extra fee, so we just went straight to the sleeper car, put our stuff down, and seconds later we passed out. just in the middle of an insane dream, i was awakened by the ticket collector. it turns out that we were supposed to take care of the upgrade *before* the train started moving, and that we had actually violated the law etc etc. luckily, he let it slide and told us to talk to a conductor at the next stop. at the next stop, we just switched to second class, which was surprisingly empty (although we found out later that we had mistakenly gotten on the “ladies only” car… oops!). so everything worked out well, and we got to use the sleeper for about half the journey while only paying for a second class ticket! nice!

on the train, we met a school teacher from mumbai named miss manda. she was super nice and, like sukumar, told us a lot about india. she explained to us the difference between some of the states here in india (what we didnt know before coming here, is that each state here is *very different*, almost like a different country in itself. the people in different states speak different languages, eat different foods,and have different styles of dress). we also talked about this kite festival that was going. from the train we could see dozens of kids running around flying homemade kites and the trees and powerlines everywhere were covered in kites that had met an untimely demise.

eventually, we finally reached the town of veraval. we hired an auto rickshaw (basically, a glorified gokart w/ three wheels, a bench seat, and metal to keep people inside) to take us to the bus station. as we cruised through the streets of town, i realized what a different world we had come to. cows, tons of them, wandered everywhere throughout the streets. and not just ordinary cows like from back home, but odd ones with huge humps on their backs. elsewhere, hairy pigs of varying sizes ran about, and dug through the rubbish searching for food. when we pulled over at the bus stop, i went looking for snacks, and wanted to buy a coke. no one on the street sold coke. nobody. i honestly think this may be the first place on the planet i’ve seen where they didnt have coke for sale.

i was so psyched. *this* was the india i had really wanted to see. a place so different than what i could see back home. animals roaming the streets! no coke for sale! and the people… everyone that i met on this street was so friendly and really excited to meet a foreigner. when i brought out my camera, everyone around kept asking me to take photos of them, and laughed hysterically when they saw themselves on the little screen of my digital camera. everyone kept asking us where we were from, and everyone was super helpful in helping us get on the right bus to Diu town. in some ways, i was a bit bummed to be moving on from here and going to diu.. but we had to get going.

auto rickshaw

this kid was really excited to be in this photo

after eating a parcel or wrapped samosas, we boarded the bus, and waited as more people got on. and then more people got on. and then… even more people got on. soon, every seat was full, the aisle was completely full, and the side door of the bus had to be left open so people could hang out the side. this thing was packed!! so we strated driving, and less than a half hour later, the engine sputtered and died. the driver kept trying to start the engine, but then engine refused to comply. luckily, a litle later, the bus got going again.

of course, our luck didnt last long. within another half an hour, the engine died again. this time refusing to get going, no matter how hard the driver tried. all the people in the aisles had to pile off the bus, and the driver took the cover off the engine to work on it. eventually, he fixed the engine, put the cover on, people boarded again, and we were off. during the brief 3 hour bus ride, we repeated this 2 more times: everyone off, fix engine, everyone back on. finally though, we made it to diu. it was dark, and we were hungry and exhausted. we had been on the go for the last 26 hours. we stopped at the first hotel we saw, and after a quick dinner, passed out.

the moral of the story is that traveling through india is not as easy as it may seem. we had initially though that getting to diu would be easy, quick, and straightforward. it ended up being none of those things. it’s little (or not so little) things like this that make traveling both aggrevating and at the same time, incredibly exciting and adventurous!


the rest of mumbai

after the bollywood day, we spent a couple more days in mumbai…

Elephanta island

this is a small island off the coast of india. it’s only a 30 minute ferry ride away, and is famous for a couple of cave temples cut into the rocks. after you get off the ferry, you walk up what seems to be an endless flight of stone steps surrounded on both sides w/ people selling all sorts of little knick knacks. at the top, we were mobbed by a bunch of old women yelling “picture! picture!!” while posing w/ jugs on their heads. i actually for once didnt particularly want a picture, but i took one anyway and gave her a few rupees. of course, then all her friends kept trying to pester us and woudnt leave us alone. we soon got to the caves, but honestly, i wasn’t really all that impressed. i mean, on one hand, it’s really cool that the temples were carved out of the hillside, but the statues i saw were crumbling away and dark and overall i just wasn’t too excited.

one of the cool things about the island is that there are tons of monkeys around. they run everywhere, jump on each each other, try to figure out how to break into the drinking fountain, steal water jugs, and in general just cause all sorts of chaos. at one point i saw a man walking along w/ a plate full of rice, and when a monkey came running up to him, he screamed like a little girl and threw the plate while backing away looking absolutely terrified. yeah, yeah.. i know i shouldnt laugh at other’s misforunes, but really, it was quite a funny scene.

bhuleshwar market

we needed to buy some sheets and a mosquito net, so we went to bhuleshwar market, a huge outdoor market in the center of town. our guidebook says that there are about 1 billion people in india, and i’m guessing that about half of them were there at the market that day. the street was competely packed to the point where you could barely walk. the mobs of people were constantly being yelled at by guys trying to move heavy supplies through the crowd. the supplies would be put on these long (15 or so feet) boards that sat on wheels like a teeter totter, and you’d have a bunch of guys all trying to push and steer this thing without injuring random pedestrians. every once in a while, a car would come crawling through inch by inch, with only centimeters of room between it and the swarm of people. it was all so hectic!


we checked out a few of the gardens (parks) that mumbai has to offer. they were definitely nice places to take a break from the hectic hustle and bustle of the city. in fact, after being so used to the constant blare of car horns, it was almost odd to walk around and have it be quiet. for some reason, the parks have very strict rules and exercise of any kind is not permitted except for walking. it was kind of funny to see so many people who obviously really wanted some exercise to be just walking briskly around the parks many paths. the parks also had a few fountains that were lit up by colored lights which were cool.

municipal laundry

in mumbai, there is a muncipal laundry that does laundry from all over the city. it’s a huge place where tons and tons of laundry is done by over 5,000 men! they have this crazy system where they separate all the clothes to be with similar clothing. so the red shirt you drop off, will go w/ hundreds of other red shirts dropped off by people from all over the city. then at the end of the day they get all the clothes separated to be returned to it’s rightful owners. it’s a pretty impressive system, and they use tiny tags to keep track of which clothes goes where. we hired a taxi to take us to this bridge looking down over this place (mahalaxmi dhobi ghat). there was laundry hanging *everywhere*. and just as we were told, reds were in one section, jeans in another, and white sheets in yet another. it was pretty interesting. it was also kind of crazy how they washed the clothes.. after soaping it, they would repeatedly beat it (into submission) against the troughs.

post office

while a trip to the post office isn’t usually something interesting or even worth mentioning, when you’re in another country, it’s usually interesting to see how they do things. we had to send a small package, so first, we went to the parcel wallahs across the street from the post office. instead of using a box, they just had some old carboard laying around that they very crudely wrapped around our stuff in a haphazard fashion (i hope it’s ok!). then they take a piece of cloth, and wrap it around the thing and sew it shut. this cloth is ridiculously thin, basically cheesecloth but thinner, and i really wonder about the prudence of using it to hold a package together, but what can ya do! then they use hot tar to seal the place where the cloth was sewn. unfortunately, they leave one end open so customs can inspect the package. so, once inside the post ofice, we had to: have the package inspected, get forms from another counter, fill out the forms in triplicate, have the forms stamped by another man, then have the package sewn shut by another person, have the tar put on by another guy, take it back to the first guy for a signature, and then finally take it to the main counter to be weighed and sent off. post offices abroad really dont like to make your life easy, eh?

walkeshwar mandir

our last day in mumbai we went to go see this temple called walkeshwar mandir. it’s a small temle in the southwest corner of the city, and at first we were a bit nervous as to whether or not we could go inside… but apparently we were ok. the temple was really cool. outside it was decorated w/ large elephant statues and intricate white carvings, while inside there were bright colored drawings all over. there were several altars set up in various areas and for some reason (so they dont get stolen?) the statues in the altars were kept behind bars. there were pilgrims singing there and also a tiny skinny and frail looking monk walking around wearing all white…


two more months down!

ding ding ding!!

as of today it’s been 4 whole months that i’ve been on the road. when i posted a review of my first two months, i was in turkey and had seen 7 countries so far. now i’m in india, my *13th* country. it’s hard to believe that i’ve been in so many countries in the last 4 months. each place that i’ve been to has just been so interesting in it’s own way.

in the last 2 months: i’ve slept in a cave, i’ve befriended a local and crashed at his house, i’ve seen more ruins than you could shake a stick at, i’ve smoked many hookas, i’ve traveled to what Bush calls the axis of evil (syria), i’ve celebrated thanksgiving, christmas, and new years in unusual circumstances, i’ve made all sorts of traveler friends from all over the world, i’ve explored abandoned castles, i’ve visited the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (damascus), i’ve seen a ton of mosques in all different shapes and sizes, i’ve heard the call to prayer a million times, i’ve battled merchants and post offices to get hookas to send home, i’ve been interrogated by israelis and left stranded at their border, i’ve seen more soldiers with machine guns than you’d see in the most violent action flick, i’ve celebrated hanukkah and lit candles in israel, i’ve seen a rabbi in a crane, i’ve seen one of the most holy places in the world for 3 different religions, i’ve witnessed two different fights, i’ve floated about in the dead sea, i’ve hung out w/ Sage, i’ve seen the place where indiana jones and the last crusade was shot (petra), i’ve gotten a shave by an egyptian barber who used a string to pluck my hair, i’ve gone diving in a sunken navy ship and also have dived down to 100 feet below the ocean’s surface, i’ve seen the nile river, i rode a horse around the pyramids of egypt, and i even got to be in an indian tv show.

that’s quite a lot accomplished for just 2 months eh?

so now, with 4 months down, i wonder what the next 8 will have in store. hopefully they’ll be as crazy and memorable as the last 4.

so anyways, same as last time, i’d like to know who’s still keeping up w/ reading the journal. if you’re out there and you’re reading this, please reply to this post, even if it’s just to say “hi”. it sucks that my journal doesnt really have a way of keeping track of who reads it, so unfortunately, i usually have no clue if anyone at all bothers w/ it anymore…


we’re famous!! (well, sorta)


india has a huge movie industry and actually produces more movies than any other country on the planet, with the center of this industry being mumbai aka bombay aka bollywood. at any given moment, there are a ton of different movies and tv shows being filmed here on the outskirts of town. we had read in our guide that often times companies will want foreigners to be extras in their films, so when the guy at the hotel asked us if we wanted to take part in a bollywood production, we instantly said yes!

we were picked up at the hotel by jackie, a casting agent and we drove for about an hour and a half to this random house in the middle of nowhere. we hadn’t gotten any details whatsoever as to what they’d be shooting, what our parts would be, and how this would all go down, so when we got there we were quite confused. in the beginning, they just told us to hang out and do nothing. we sat around, and after about 2 or 3 hours, were really started to wonder why they had us here as we still hadn’t done *anything*!

it was pretty cool just being there though! we got to watch how they filmed stuff, and it was pretty interesting to see just how long it took to shoot every tiny minute bit of the show. they’d yell out “silence!!! roll tape!!! rolling!!! ACTION!!!” and then record like literally 20 seconds of video… the actress saying hello and looking a bit distraught… and then “cut!!!”. that’s it!!! later, we also got to watch them simulate a storm scene, complete w/ lightning and fake rain… it was really cool! after sitting around for a while, we got the lowdown on the show… it was a show called “moon rising over my country” and was about an indian family living in london. it’s apparently one of the more popular shows here, airs weekly, and stars one of the most popular tv actresses in india (or so we were told, who knows!). the scene we would be in was the wedding of two characters in the show. there would be a large fancy wedding celebration, and seeing as the show takes place in london, they wanted to have a couple of british looking people hanging out in the background at the ceremony.

wardrobe adjustments backstage

after waiting forever,the assistant director came up to us and told us to change into our costumes. huh?! we were as surprised that we needed costumes as he was that we didnt have costumes. we were then rushed to a back room where people frantically tried to find something for us to wear. i still cant figure out why we needed to be wearing indian looking clothes, if we were supposed to be from *london*, but whatever. eventually we got changed, and then were soon ushered to the place where they were shooting.

caryn, with the agent jackie and his friend (who ended up wearing caryn’s backpack and jacket for most of the night)

there was a huge bonfire set up for the wedding ceremony, a couple of drummers, dancers, and everyone was wearing fancy costumes. it was all quiet elaborate. 10 seconds later, the director yells “action” and everyone starts doing their thing…. but no one had told us what we needed to do!!! we stood there in horror, feeling completely ridiculous and confused. then someone motioned to us that we should be running around the fire!! doh!! so we did that, but then were told that they actually didnt want us running around the fire.. we need to just stand still and look like we’re enjoying ourselves. so confusing. well, this went on for a long time as they recorded a ton of short takes of different parts of the wedding ceremony. our parts were so minor… heh, actually we often wondered if the cameras would even get us at all.. who knows.

all in all, it was pretty crazy, and really really cool. everyone gets 15 minutes of fame i guess, and even though ours was more like a few seconds, it was still really exciting to take part in it all! i guess this episode airs two mondays from now, and will be shown all over india, and to people who have the indian channel starplus worldwide!


india first impressions continued..

1/10/05 continued..

as we walked around, we noticed a lot of people selling this stuff called paan. i guess it’s this weird mix of beetelnut seeds with some other sweet stuff. it’s wrapped in a leaf and according to the paan-wallah, you are supposed to put the whole thing in your mouth in one bite and then chew it and swallow it. i really couldnt figure out how it could be possible to eat the whole thing at once… and swallowing it worried me a bit cause the book said that you are actualy just supposed to chew it and spit it out. so who to believe? the book or the paan-wallah? i decided to believe the book, but didnt want to upset the paan wallah by spitting out the remains, so i had to try and pretend that i didnt have a mouth completely full of seeds as i walked away. the stuff actually tasted pretty good…



after wandering a bout town for a while, we decided to go down to chowpatti beach, a huge stretch of sand where lots of locals like to spend their evenings. there’s this little area on the beach that has a bunch of food stalls selling ridiculously cheap indian snacks. unfortunately, we really couldnt identify anything on our menus, and the people who worked there couldnt really speak any english. we ended up just ordering a couple things at random, both of which turnede out to be really good. there was an indian family sitting next to us kind of watching us eat, and they ended up asking us what we thought of india etc.

i thought to myself that maybe these people could help us order some stuff and decipher the menu, and when i started asking them questions, they invited us to come sit with them while we ate. they were really really nice, and it was really cool talking w/ them. it turned out that they weren’t really from mumbai, but from another part of india and were just visiting mumbai for a few days to shop.

when we told them that we had been to europe in the beginning of our trip, the mom told us that her son was really really interested in travel and hoped to someday see europe. but unfortunately… “there is very little chance of us seeing europe. it is too expensive. it is like a dream land to us indians…”. so sad! yet another reason to really appreciate how well off we are and where we are from. i can’t even count how many times on this trip i’ve had conversations w/ locals who said that they would really love to travel but can’t because either they are too poor or they just cant get visas. as we chatted, the family finished up their drinks (cokes) and then asked us if i’ve tried them and if we had these things in america. so funny. they actually also asked us if we had pizza in america as well. but i guess, how would they know if we did? before they left, they asked if they could have a photo with us to show their grandparents, heh.

on the way back from chowpatti, we took a taxi as usual. taking a taxi around town here is really something. first off, the taxis do actually have meters, but the meters are completely incorrect. they’re set to some random setting from years and years ago, so each taxi has to have a conversions chart thta you look at to see what the actual price should be (the actual price is roughly 13 times the meter reading). to make things a bit more confusing, the taxi drivers will often try to not turn on the meter and instead just ask you to pay a price that usually is almost twice as much as it should be. of course, even if they use the meter, you cant really be sure you got a fair price cause the taxis take insane routes through the city that may or not be the fastest/most direct way.

plus, the taxi drivers ere are insane. absolutely nuts. their one goal is to get to their destination while driving as fast as they possibly can. whether they get there in one piece or not apparantly doesnt matter. lanes dont exist here. the roads are a constant barrage of cars, trucks, buses, scooters, cows, and people who are trying to dodge all of the above. in the last few days, we’ve had soooo many near miss accidents. at least once per taxi ride, they’ll have to skid to a halt to avoid a crash. also, this is the one place where instead of avoiding pedestrians, i’ve actually seen a taxi aim *at* the pedestrians so they woud run across the street faster. there’s a constant blaring of horns, and the right of way here is only dependant on which vehicle is larger. on top of this, i’m really not sure why they bother to have traffic lights, cause every cab driver here runs about 80% of the red lights. it’s sheer madness.

the taxis are constantly on the go, and there’s a thrill and surprise around every corner… but the worst parts of the ride are the times when you stop due to traffic. it’s when you’re stuck in a non-moving vehicle, that you become a target for the beggars. honestly, i’d have to say that out of absoultely anything i’ve witnessed while traveling… any hardship, any inconvenience, *anyhting*… nothing is as absolutely painful as this. you’ll have achild walk up to the cab window. he’s only like 5 years old. absolutely tiny, and dirty and wearing the grubbiest clothing you can imagine. but that’s not the end of it… he’s carrying a baby that can’t be more than one year old. the child stands there begging for money, waving the empty baby bottle in front of your window with a sad look on his face. what can you do when you see something like that?

if this was the one sad sight you saw that day, maybe that would be one thing… but it’s not. you see tons of people like this all day long. who needs more help? the 5 year old child? or the handless amputee who puts his stump into the cab window? you cant help everyone in this town. it’s just not possible. so then what? all you can do is say no. but the cab is stuck in traffic and it isn’t moving, and you sit for possibly 30 or more excruciating seconds, wondering about this person’s life. trying not to look at them. trying not to feel horrible for them… and trying not to feel horrible for yourself having to experience a mere 30 seconds of their sad lives.

in the end, like i said earlier, you cant help everyone.. and honestly, giving a few rupees here and there to a few people really isn’t going to change much. the only way to actually make a difference, would be to either donate money to an organization who can allocated the funds well, or to donate time. i know that i definitely need to do one or the other… although i still need to figure out which..


india… first impressions


unlike the middle east, which just kind of fell into our itinerary, india is a destination that we’ve both really really been eager to see. over the years we’ve just heard so many things about it. from everyone’s reviews, it’s a real “either you love it or you hate it” kind of place, and i was eager to find out which side i’d be on. also, i absolutely *love* indian food, so being able to eat it every day here sounded so exciting!

we arrived in Mumbai around 6am and braced ourselves for a hellish battle. we’d heard that india is notorious for unscrupulous taxi drivers and crazy touts of all different kinds…. but surprisingly, when we walked outside, no one really bothered us at all. we calmly walked to an atm. got cash. paid for a taxi voucher, and got a cab. no hassles! were we in the right place?? of course, as we were climbing in the cab, two guys ran up and helped us put our backpacks into the cab (even though we really needed no help) and then started demanding money for a tip. of course, we had just gotten to india so we had no money other than the large bills from the atm. they wouldnt take no for an answer, so i handed them the left over egyptian money that i had in my pocket. but that wasn’t good enough… “give me that!! give me that!! gimme rupeeeees!! gimme american moneys!!”. ok… *now* we were really in india.

mumbai is a *huge* city, and it took us almost an hour to drive through it to get to our hotel. i groggily peered out of the cab window trying to get my first impression of the place. some of the areas were just like any normal non-western city… old buildings, lots or neon signs, garbage in the streets, etc… the typical scenes or a large city that we had seen all over the middle east. but then, compared to the poor parts of town… there were the *really* poor parts of town. we drove through some areas where everyone lived in makeshift pitiful structures set up along the road. the structures were made up of a mishmash or random stuff.. pretty much anything these people could find… corrugated tin, old newspapers, chunks of wood, scraps of cloth on the roof to keep it from leaking. the scene was unbelievable. add to this the fact that there were random people sleeping in the streets. people slumped against buildings. people huddled together in corners. and random children lighting fires in the middle of the sidewalk… to cook? to keep warm? who knows. it was all such a depressing sight, but one that would sort of prepare us for what we would see later.

we finally arrived at the hotel to see random listless people wandering the dark streets in front of it. i dont know if it was just cause i was so tired, but the whole thing took on a bit of a menacing air. but we checked in, and passed out right away.


a few hours later we woke up and decided to go explore. the dark and mostly empty street from the night before had now errupted into a flurry of activity. merchants were selling watches, sunglasses, souvenirs, knick-knacks, etc all over. resturants and shops were open. the sidewalks were packed w/ passerbys. such a different feel! we went to get our first meal in india. yum!!! really really good… and really really cheap! this is gonna be nice!! after breakfast, we walked over to the bay, and walked around the square near the gateway to india. there were tons of people miling about. some of them tourists, others vagrants, and still others were people selling either ice cream or peanuts. one thing that i noticed right away was the wide array of color everywhere. back in the middle east, pretty much everyone wears subtle tones like grey, black, or brown. here, most of the women wear saris and everywhere you look, it’s a dazzling selection of bright colors. very cool. the other thing i noticed were just how many poor people there were hanging out here. little kids would run by w/ no pants on at all.. just a shirt. families would be sitting on the pavement asking for money or food. walking around this square, i could really tell that india is such a land of contrasts… you look one direction and see only beautiful things, and then you look the other direction and you see only sorrow. it’ll definitely be interesting to see how we adapt to all of this. although, i think that once we travel outside of the big cities, things will be different…

damn… the internet place is closing.. will have to finish this later…