Incredible, Exotic India 🕉

We sat on the ancient stone steps in the early morning and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters of the Ganges.

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We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning.  We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏)  We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters.  Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies.  They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads.  To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness.  I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.pilgrim

From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay.  We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable.  Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water.  This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal.  Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.varanasi

I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal.  Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams.  On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth.  I’m sure Dean had too.  Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically.  We werenalgene nearly emaciated.  I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round.  Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps.  There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.

Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights.  We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.

Scan10164 (2)We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink).  Indians do yogurt incredibly well.

 

 

Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal.  So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra.  It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists.  They told us many wonderful tips and tricks.  One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.

THALI

I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray.  Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali.  We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj.  Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating.  Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.

taj from distance

But this is what it looked like up close:

Taj Mahal Sunrise

This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi.  We took the train and it was also other-worldly.  There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay.  The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering.  There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations.  At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares.  Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.

“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups.  We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks.  A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.

Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”.  He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down.  It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath.  If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again.  Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains.  Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you.  I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.

In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. leper One day, we walked into a luxury hotel.  I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets.  They were also known as The Untouchables.  The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars.  The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.

It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.

When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment.  And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling.  After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.  We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️)  We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).

INUVIKUpon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them.  We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.

The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had.  As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room.  What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind.  So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it.  There was really nothing I could do.  I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway.  Right?

After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.

INUVIK 2

Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day.  Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already.  We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.

(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)

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We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)

Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover…..
~Men at Work

We arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1994 and kicked around the city for a few days, staying with friends we had met on the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska (Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦. But, wanting to experience the true outback, we decided to take the historical Gahn train to the centre.

gahn with red sand

So, onto the train we got, bound for Alice Springs.  On the train, I had some sort of sudden mucous problem and water poured from my nose and eyes.  Dean cracked open a smuggled-in bottle of red and after a few sips the mucous stopped flowing. We don’t usually go too far without a nice bottle of red.

gahnThe next day, we stepped off the train into a brick wall of heat.  Just imagine walking into an oven.  Now add about 30 degrees and you have the heat that is Alice Springs.  We found a hostel where we rented a small trailer, and spent some time slowly walking around and seeing the sights.  There were many aborigines about and we saw a few homes with living room furniture out in the yard where people would sit.  One evening we decided to go to a movie and serendipitous, the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert was opening.  It had been filmed in Alice and starred Guy Pierce.

Next we decided to hitch-hike to the coast.  Some 2776 km away and most of it through arid Australia.  We had no idea that arid Australia is deadly.  We simply could not fathom it, coming from Canada.  Arid Australia is brutally hot, sometimes 50 degrees Celsius and has very few water sources and very little traffic.  There are biting ants and other insects, kangaroos, venomous snakes and spiders and the odd dingo about.  In Oz, when you see a spider or a snake, you have to assume it is venomous because most are.

We were very lucky, once again.  One of the first drivers to see us hitching pulled over. It was an 77 year old man named Lockey.  He helped us put our huge packs in his small toyota van.  Dean took a seat in the front and I climbed into the single rear seat in the back and immediately became a river of sweat.  No air conditioning except the two front windows which were perpetually down and circulating very warm air.  It took us five days to travel through the Outback to the east coast.  We camped each night in the free campsites that Australia nicely provides so that folks don’t parish in the outback. Lockey drove slowly, necessarily.  The scenery was mostly desert-type scrub and four foot high phalic shaped ant hills formed from red sand.  Now and then we would see a troop of kangaroos. And the odd bloated dead cow carcass.  We were told that the cattle ranches are so vast that there is no way the farmers could fence them, so sometimes cows would get killed by road trains.  Oookay.

We would stop in the mid-afternoon for a bite to eat, usually after getting gas.  These little gas stations were remote but had everything you could possibly want AND a huge cage of cockatiels and parrots.  We would order a sandwich or a burger and a beer. Invariably, the sandwich would arrive with not only sliced beet (yes beet) on it but sometimes grated carrot and a sunny-side up egg sitting on top too. Huh? Where are we??!

Arriving in Bundaberg, Lockey offered for us to stay with him for a few days.  We all got along so well and Lockey was a very funny man.  He was always making sounds like errrrrk when he opened the fridge door or zzzzzip when he did up his jacket zipper. Lockey had several geckos that were friendly and lived with him informally in his house trailer.  They were so cute and made little chirping sounds that Lockey would imitate perfectly. Lockey told us he did 100 push ups per day to stay fit.  He had been a Air Navigator in the war. That’s saying something. Lockey’s house trailer was in a trailer park with many other residents.  There was a common washing room and shower house close by in one direction and the short trail to the beach in the other direction.  We were offered the back of his station wagon to sleep on a foam mattress.

One day we decided to do some laundry.  It was dusk as we walked to the wash house. Suddenly there was loud cackling from the tree top above us, almost like an old married couple cackling at a funny tv show.  Looking up we shivered to see two flying fox, yes FOX bats that can fly!!! having a gander back at us and cackling over it.  Holy shit! Where ARE we??

The next day Dean went for a nice long morning run before the sun became too hot.  He was down a dirt road a few miles from Lockey’s place when he realized that he was being watched by an six foot tall kangaroo.  He stopped dead in his tracks and with heart racing, tried to figure out what to do.  He could not read the roo who was now lazily scratching his chest, licking his lips and staring at Dean.  We had been warned to not corner a roo because they will quite easily lean back on their tail and kick you into next week.  Dean lowered his eyes and smoothly backed away from the giant roo.  Next he ran to the toilets as fast as he could.

Lockey was a retired motor mechanic and we were in need of a car.  We decided that trying to get around Australia, which is huge and mostly empty in the centre, we would need a car.  Lockey helped us find a very sensible white Toyota Corona.  The next day we drove it to a large shopping mall and went inside to watch a movie.  Coming out, we were dismayed to find my day pack missing from the rear floor.  My passport was in that day pack so, now this was a problem if I ever wanted to get home to Canada.

We drove to a bank of payphones by the side of the road.  Is was dusk… Dean was on the phone with the Canadian Consulate when suddenly the sky darkened with some very large entity moving over us.  We cowered and looked up to see a sight that will be etched in my brain forever…HUNDREDS of flying foxes moving as in a herd overhead.  Holy shit! Where ARE we???!  We were informed later that the flying foxes were heading to the fruit orchards.  They eat fruit all night.  They are fruitatarians.  I am not sure if that is a technical term.  I am just happy they don’t drink blood or anything.

After we visited the consulate and retrieved my passport, that the kind thief must have sent in we continued with making plans for our next stop.  We liked the idea of heading up to Bowen to work on a farm for a bit.  Off we went after many many thanks to our host Lockey.

We arrived in Bowen and found a trailer to rent in a park by the sea.  Oh my, it was pretty.  We only found out later that there was no swimming in the sea due to the box jellyfish, the most deadly creatures in the world.  It was box jelly season.  Where ARE we??!

We visited a few different farms and had a day here and a day there picking tomatoes, rock melons (cantaloupe), capsicums (green peppers).  It was hard bloody work out in the elements.

IMG_5889There were acres and acres of low growing fruit and not one single real shade tree. The water in my precious water bottle was HOT. I thought I was pretty tough but, nowhere near as tough as those career pickers. To say the sun was brutal is a serious understatement.  One day, I laid under our car for shade during break.  The Oz sun is the very reason why we decided to not live there.  It’s just too oppressive.  We were finally offered a position working in the barn.  It was hard work too, but so much more civilized for we Northern, white-skinned types from cold Canada.  It was in the barn that we met the couple who had just returned from India.  They told us of the exotic country and amazing food and how they speak English and also how inexpensive it was to travel there compared to Western countries like Oz.  We wanted to go there!

We worked in the tomato farm barn for a couple of months and put almost every penny away to save for our tickets to and adventures in India.  The only things we would buy were the Ozzie meat pies (omg the BEST thing ever — and they are square just so you remember where you are while eating them.  We even discussed importing them to Canada.  So good.)  We would also buy beer and, okay, groceries.  The farmer we worked for would often send us all home with a wonderfully fresh watermelon.  We would devour half of it and put the other out for the parrots.  Within moments, several brightly coloured parrots would be perched on the watermelon and eating it.  Near our trailer, there was an abandoned lot with a mango tree just begging to be picked.  We would gather a whole bag of ripe ones and the gorge on them.  More delicious than words!

After leaving Bowen, Queensland, we hightailed it to Caines then said, why the hell did we do that?  It was horrible with brutal humidity levels up there.  From there we went south and climbed Mount Kosciusko and camped for a night at the top.  It is only about 2200 m high, (Everest is 8800 m by comparison).  We also went to the spectacular Great Barrier Reef for a day and then spent a couple of days in Sydney.

IMG_5885We managed to sell our car for the same amount we bought it for.  Score.  The sale was touch and go for a bit though because on our way to motor vehicles with our buyer, much to my horror, steam began to come out of the front dash vents.  What the???  I was sitting in the back and began to surreptitiously pound Dean’s left arm.  He didn’t see what I was seeing. Nor did our buyer.  And then the steam stopped and it was all fine. Heart attack!

When we finally went to purchase our flight tickets to India, because of Chinese New Year, we could not fly into India.  We could only fly into Nepal.  We shrugged: when a couple of billion people celebrate Chinese New Year, it can cause jam ups in the airlines. So, we flew into Nepal and it was one of the best things we ever did. As the Dalai Lama says: remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

We arrived in Kathmandu on Chinese New Year of 1995…but…

that’s another story…

Before you leave, here is the link to a blog with an incredible Ozzy bird performing for his mate.  Too cool! Link

La Cucaracha Report ~ Ometepe 🌴 & Costa Rica

I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brother….Little River Band

6 Feb 2004

Apparently the waters surrounding Ometepe Island have fish with thorn-like fang teeth. Well, I didn’t want to swim in Lago de Nica anyway.  The ferry getting across was rough but, I knew the secret now…little white pills.  Seasickness be damned.  Much to Leo’s delight, we have been riding in the back of a pick-up truck belonging to new friends of ours: Lori and Don from San Diego.  Lori and Don routinely rent out their tiny San Diego house, making much more income (some crazy, jaw dropping amount) than they can at the office.  With the rental income money, they travel with their three children for months on end.  There are so many ways to live.  We met them in San Juan Del Sur, Nica. They are true vagabonds.  Of course, due to Leo pulling on our pantlegs and asking us to ask them, we indeed did ask them about Lego Land.  Yes, we can certainly visit with them if we ever make it to Lego Land in San Diego. We are so tame. Another friend was with us in the pick-up truck: Kennedy.  He is a commercial painter in California.  He paints for six months and travels for six months a year.

Last night we picked up a Nica man who had been seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident. The driver, Don, agreed to take him to the hospital so Kennedy and Dean lifted him into the bed of the pickup.  As we rolled along the bumpy road, the man hollered with pain but he was very brave and trying to converse with us.

Prior to that we had found Ajo de Aqua a natural spring in the woods.  It took a few hours to find this place but we had loads of fun seeing all the sights and hiking through the jungle of Ometepe Island.  

In our cabana last night we had two massive spiders.  I didn’t need to sleep anyway.

On the ferry from Punta Renas, Costa Rica to Paquera.  It is a beautiful ferry ride (no little white pills required) over the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicaragua.  Leo is throwing peanuts to the flock of gulls following us off the side of the boat.  He is giggling with glee.

gullsWhen we arrived in Costa Rica, we were at the edge of Mal Pais, a dusty little seaside village with molasses paved roads.  They put molasses on the roads to keep down the dust.  The place smells amazingly sweet because of it.  Mal Pais is known for it’s astoundingly, expansive beaches and surfing.  We walked for about ten minutes, sweating profusely due to the heat and humidity and found a youth hostel stuffed with surfers who were about half our age and twice as cool.  They immediately took to Leo and started entertaining him.  The hostel was tiny and our room was right outside of their common area: a patio with old plastic patio furniture.  We prepared for bed while Leo squealed in delight with the young surfer dudes outside our door.

I awoke in the morning to a nice surprise:  a massively fat june bug standing on my chest and staring at my face.  Holy shit.  Big bugs scare the be-jesus out of me.  I flung my sheet off of me and the june bug hit and literally made a clattering sound on the floor. Clackety-clack. I jumped up and kicked it out the door.  Then I involuntarily shivered. Ew. That was gross.

When we all got up, we went to the beach….oh my god…it stretched forever…and went to the waters edge.  We marveled at the temperature of the sea.  It was TEPID!!!  Who knew the ocean could be tepid??  It certainly isn’t tepid in Nova Scotia.  The North Atlantic causes me an instant headache upon putting in a toe.  Here we swam and frolicked for hours…checking out the tide pools and exfoliating with the warm sand.  It was heavenly.Dad and Leo CR

We had heard that one of my step-brothers and his family would be in Mal Pais at the same time as us.  We wondered if and how we would find them…suddenly there was Patrick, walking along the beach and greeting us like it was the most normal thing in the world.  mom and leo CR

We were overjoyed to see him as Patrick is a true vagabonding adventurer.  He really got us. After talking for a while with Patrick, we made plans to meet up later at their hotel: The Blue Jay.  Trust me, the Blue Jay was a little nicer than our june bug – surfer boy place.  When we returned to our hostel, there was the june bug from my chest.  Apparently it had landed on its back when I kicked it out the door.  You know what that means to a june bug. Certain death.  There were a million teeny-tiny ants transporting it bodily to god knows where.  Lovely.

The next day we climbed into Patrick’s rental jeep and headed up and over the mountain, on very bad, nearly washed out roads, to the village of Montezuma.  We occasionally had to exit the jeep so Pat could drive over some particularly bad areas. When we did that, Leo just couldn’t understand it and would remark about it.  At one point he wanted some answers from Uncle Patrick about why we were getting out of the jeep.  Patrick’s response was one that will go down in history: just… get in the truck he said with a fake exasperated lilt and a very sweet smile at our little Leo. We all laughed and laughed, especially Leo.   We walked around the village and then had lunch.  It was impossible to relax outside.  It was so extremely hot and the sun was treacherous.  Any bit of exposed northern skin was burned in seconds.strangler fig

After returning to Mal Pais from Montezuma and stopping for a photo of an incredibly intricate and tangled five meter wide strangler fig, we returned with glee to the beach. Leo drifted in the shallows while I walked along marveling a the crabs and how they so quickly bury themselves when they sense a large presence.  So cute.  I bent down to touch a few of them and they tried their best to deter me by quickly pinching at my fingers and retreating bodily into the wet sand.  As Leo and I made our way up the trail heading to the Blue Jay Hotel  to meet Patrick et al again, we were startled at the loud sound of the local howler monkeys in the trees.  At the howl, I grabbed Leo instinctively to protect him and then we had a laugh about it.  My laugh was more of a nervous titter.

Iguanas, lizards, palmetto bugs, ants, hermit crabs, howler monkeys, grass hoppers, birds and butterflies in beautiful abundance in Mal Pais.

Patrick had us come to the Blue Jay for dinner and it was pure decadence!  He gave us half of his ceviche and it was the best we have tasted yet.  It was so lovely to be with them and to connect in another world despite myriad possible changes, problems and hiccups.  We actually made it happen and it was very sweet.

From my journal, written 13 February 2004

We have been here two nights in a pit of a room, in a hostel.  It’s okay because there are a few interesting travelers to talk to.  One couple spent several months in South America and have been telling us of the benefits of traveling to Argentina (I always remember that guy we met in India in 1994…’Argentina, Argentina, Maradona, Maradona’ — he wasn’t put in prison in Tangiers because coming from Argentina he was associated with the soccer star: Maradona).  Anyway, they describe it as a European environment of the finest food, hotels, excellent service for seriously cheap.  She said ‘imagine traveling to Europe, going to a restaurant with white linen, candlelight, five glasses, having wonderful food…WHATEVER YOU WANT and paying two dollars!!!’  And yes, there will be a post about India.

Leaving Mal Pais, the ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya enroute to Punta Rinas was, once again, beautiful, very hot and sunny.  Following that, we were quite packed tight for the bus ride.  The ticket agent did the old hold-back-some-change-and -see-if-they-notice scam.  I noticed.  The bus ride was very warm and almost panic-level humid and sweaty. I literally had to conduct some personal deep breathing exercises, we were that squished and hot on that bus.  Finally we caught the wind up in the hills and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Next stop…Panama.