I don't know how I'm going to come home.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Theres a quote by Mark Twain that goes something like this, There was Mauritius, and then Heaven was built after Mauritius. Sorry if I butchered that but you get the idea-my point is, Mark Twain was right.
With only two days to spend in Mauritius we had to do all that we could to soak up this paradise in the little time that we had. So we went to the beach. Tough life-I know. But seriously, these were the most GORGEOUS beaches I have ever seen. I cant wait to get my photos up because Mauritius is just the perfect backdrop to anything. The sky is bright and knows just the right time to change colors, the sand is light and fluffy, and the water is the most perfect water I have ever been in in my life. I am an ocean girl so I hopped into the water with Bailey, Maria, and Mary and we all agreed that we would not want it any other way. I think even my mom would have liked the temperature of this water. I cant get over it. Moving on
After a few hours of blissful beach time and vanilla rum, Bailey, James, and I decided to head to our friends hotel room and see if we could crash there for the night since we were all leaving together in the morning for a catamaran ride. Unfortunately it was not that easy. We got caught up helping a friend, we lost another friend, James had become belligerently British, and we were hungry and ready to go. Finally with some help from these guys from Denmark that James had found by wandering into their front lawn, we got dinner, which led to taxi driver, which led to madness.
Apparently Mauritian hotels are strict with their policies and dont want dumb college students like us to come wander in and mess up their lives. Understandable. But also inconvenient. When we showed up to the hotel where our friends were staying we were told they left. We went to another hotel. We got on a phone. We were told to pay three hundred and fifty euros for a stay at this hotel. We didnt. We went back to the first hotel. Next door-public beach. Found our friends. Since the hotel is so strict they would only let four people stay in the room like they had signed up for and would not even let anyone else past the security guard in the hotel parking lot.
It is about midnight now and we have been wandering around this public beach for an hour. I am stone cold sober and fed up with the security guard and the uncertainty of sleeping arrangements. I get cranky without anywhere to sleep and Bailey was dehydrated. Thus began the hunt for water.
Nothing is open. There is nothing nearby. But there is a police station across the street from the beach so Bailey goes to ask if they know a place where she can get some water. The police officer doesnt know. Fail. BUT, five minutes later he walks up to us and says, I can wake my driver if youd like. Well take you to get some water. Hmm the police are supposed to be the good guys. So we take off, giving our friends very little explanation to what is going on, and get into the Mauritian police pick up truck with grates on the windows.
We start speeding away. This guy was a very good driver, we felt safe, but it was fast. We go to one store, closed. Another, closed. The cop and his driver are speaking a language we dont understand. We drive a little further and we are at a casino. Oookayyy. So we go inside where there are a few straggling Mauritians at slot machines and card tables and a man from the bar hands me an empty water bottle and directs us to a water jug. Score-free water. So we get our water and we are relieved. The police officer looks at me and says, Are you worried? No, no, just tired-I was a little worried but I tried to keep it under control. He said, I will tell you one thing, you are in good hands, then, do you mind if I have a drink? Ill meet you guys in the car with the driver. Ha. Okay.
So were sitting with the driver and we explain that we dont have anywhere to stay tonight. He calls a buddy of his who works as a security guard for a hotel, which he calls bungalows, but I call dirty hotel (well at least later I did). So we drive to this bungalow which is about one hundred meters away from the beach where our friends are homeless-we laugh about that. We get a room for fifteen dollars. Suckers. But before we leave the cop says, I need to tell you girls, you are in good hands, (for some reason this is creepy), You are in good hands. Now if you need anything you call us, (he gives us the number to the police station and the drivers cell phone number), And the police station is right over there. Ill tell you one thing, you are in good hands, (AGAIN), We wanted to show you Mauritius and represent our country, but everything that happened tonight must be kept secret, (so Im blogging about it now haha). This was a creepy speech. We just wanted to get out of the car, say thanks, and go. And eventually we did after our secret lecture and after we were escorted by the driver to our room and made sure our key worked. Weird and nice. The bungalow was grungy-there was hair in the sink drain and an opened bar of soap already waiting for uswe didnt use it. But we ignored the dirt and hit the hay; and we were the best rested of all of our friends the next morning for our catamaran ride.
The catamaran was amazing and like I said before the beaches were phenomenal. But my favorite part of those two days was our adventure with the Mauritian police. Sorry I told.
I hope from the rickshaw story that you could understand the craziness of Chennai. So obviously I was very pleased to book it out of there and head over to the state of Kerala. Kristina, Aleeza, Nick, and I took an overnight train to Alleppey, a small town where we planned a home stay in the backwaters. The train was an experience! Think Shuffle Off to Buffalo (that ones for my mom, Baker, and anyone who loved 42nd Street as much as I did) but take out the singing, substitute unfamiliar Tamil tones, and add in a few cockroaches and dirty sheets. It was a dream. But hey-at least we had our own beds. In the morning we were in beautiful Kerala, just as hot as the rest of India but here there were shady trees and an air of relaxation.
We took a rickshaw and a shaky canoe across the river to get to our home stay where Matthew showed us his house and his brother and sisters houses right next door where they let people stay. We were welcomed in, shown our room, and fed our first meal.
I think Indian food is second to Japanese food now. The food in India was incredible and very good for you. Lots of veggies (most people in India are vegetarians) and lots of spices-plus you have the fun of eating with your hands. That first lunch I ate with a fork since my fingers were still dirty from traveling but the next couple of meals I got right in there, mixed everything together on my plate (thats big for me) and scooped it all between my fingers. P.S. eating with your fingers is a lot more difficult than you would ever imagine it to beat least when youre eating rice and curry dishes. Basically, the food might have been one of my favorite parts about the home stay. Everything was fresh and delicious-the best food I ate in India-and we even got a cooking lesson from Matthews mother.
After lunch we were on our own. We came out to the porch by our room and relaxed. We soon realized we would be relaxing a lotand that was when I realized India was giving me just what I needed. I had been stressed out and homesick entering India. I wanted to escape and I needed to breathe again. Here, in the backwaters of Southern India I could breathe. Easily. Later that evening we went for a walk through the rice patties and down the river, and watching the sunset reflect on the water I was relieved. It was one of those everything is going to be alright moments. And it was alright. We watched the sun go down, we walked the paths that the locals walk, and we canoed down the river singing until it got dark. Indians knows how to live.
I was sad to leave India after the stay. We spent two days just living, laughing, and meeting new people. We met fellow travelers-two girls from Germany, Joanna and Sara, and two guys from Chicago, Mark and John. They helped me sink back into the traveling spirit. Here they were taking off from school and work, traveling and volunteering around India and learning just to be. I was no longer stressed; I was loved-by people, by India, by the world. I was present in India. That was what I needed.
I am about to write another blog post about travels but I just got back on the ship and I wanted to say THANK YOU again and again and again to everyone who reads my blog or emails me. It is the biggest comfort in the world to hear from people back in the states and it makes me realize how lucky and how blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I was in a funk when we got to India. A lot was happening back home so I was hoping to step out into India and be greeted with friendly faces, good food, and a culture that I would just want to dive right into. Instead I stepped out to a hoard of yellow rickshaws with obnoxious drivers. Not a good distraction.
I am not a tour guide! I am a rickshaw driver! I am a rickshaw driver!
We didnt want a driver. We were looking to just walk around and explore. Unfortunately the city center was not close enough to walk to. So our fate had to be put in the hands of Luke, the rickshaw driver we finally found a price with. Luke, like most rickshaw drivers was trying to get us to hire him for the day. We didnt want that. So he took us to a temple that I (as an obnoxious American) refer to as the crazy temple (I dont mean in a crazy loco way, I mean that it has so much going on on it-just wait til I have the fb again and you will see the picture). Anyway, so we went to the temple and paid Luke but he still took us in and showed us where to put our shoes and told us a little bit about each part of the temple. We didnt sign up for that but we appreciated the extra information on Hinduism and Buddhism. When we were leaving Luke said he would take us to a good, cheap market-for free. But on the way we saw a restaurant we wanted to go to so we said thank you, gave him a very large tip and left his rickshaw.
At lunch we tried to figure out a new plan. Again, this is our first day in India and we were just trying to get our feet wet and learn a little more about Chennai. About ten minutes into our meal, Luke came in, waved to us, and left. We didnt know what that meant so we continued to eat and when we came out of the restaurant we just tried to book it. We didnt want him to follow us but he did anyway. We walked around a local market with Luke right over our shoulders telling us that everything we were looking at was not good quality and that he knew a better market where we could get all of these things for a cheaper price. Eventually we gave in, we said, Fine! But we dont have any money. Again, for free, for free. So we piled back into the rickshaw, four people in a small backseat that normally barely seats three (thankfully Colette is a tiny girl who can sit on our laps), and we were off to the better markets.
He takes us to a shop. Its okay. It has a lot of antiques-very overpriced. We walk through and quickly walk out. We tell Luke we are ready to go, thanks for taking us, but can you take us to Pundi Market. Suddenly Luke gets heated. He starts yelling at us on the sidewalk-well mostly yelling at Nick because he is a man and thus myself, Kristina, and Colette, the women, do not exist enough to make decisions. Luke keeps telling us we didnt pay him. We knew we shouldnt have paid him in advance. Oops. Its looking bad now. We dont know what to do and Luke has called his friend from the shop outside. I am afraid he is going to fight with Nick. Suddenly an Indian man walking down the street walks over to us, in between Nick and Luke and says Its okay, its okay, its okay. The four of us booked it and headed down the first side street. We were lost.
This was not how we wanted to start our trip to India. We have learned on this voyage to have faith in people and to trust. Apparently Chennai was a little trickier. We spent the rest of the day with a chip on our shoulders. We were hurt. We thought we liked him and that he wanted to be with us to practice his English. We were wrong. Granted, later in the day I had a very pleasant rickshaw driver that took my friends and I out to a hookah bar (p.s. hookah is not actually a big thing in Southern India but wow-it was the best hookah I have ever smoked), and while we were driving he pulled over, flipped on a switch that turned on a flashing light in the back, turned up the music, and said, my cab turn into disco! He boosted a little bit of my faith in people. But basically, I think I learned Chennai was not for me.