Thoughts in a hotel room in Cebu

1/23/15 Cebu City Philippines

I sit here in my hotel. A couple of days into a work-binge. Days spent resting, nights spent working. Room service and smokes. I will spend another few days doing this, or maybe another week on top of that. We shall see. I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been too busy doing the travelling and meeting people. I thought at one point, before I left the US, that I would write about everything that happened. I realize now that was a fools fancy. There are only a couple of stories that stand out now as deserving their own pieces of writing. I will write them, but for now I just relax and think about the Philippines.

I’ve been here for about six weeks now. I have a couple of weeks left on my visa before I need to renew. I’ve spent all of this time on Cebu island, and a large portion in Cebu City. I’ve made friends here, both locals and travellers. Most of the travellers are gone now, and I’m cordoned off and the locals probably assume I’ve left as well.

I’ve isolated myself right now so I can do a substantial amount of work and not be distracted by friends and fun. I think of my friends that I’ve met here. Jelmer, the dutch engineer, who I went through Southern Cebu with and who’s back in China now. Felix, the young Swede, who is back to finish his school. Teal, the Swedish manager, who is back after holiday. Hao, the Vietnamese software engineer who lives in LA, who is down in Australia diving. Maikel, the Dutch tour guide, who is on a Buddhist retreat in either Thailand or Vietnam right now. Shantae, the American diver, who is probably off looking for the next great shark dive. Nana, and Bella/Jaekun who are both back home now. Junior and Phillip, the Philippino couch surfing hosts that I met at a beach party and who let me and my friends stay with them and cooked us food. Keith and Emmett, the Irish backpackers that are now in Thailand before heading to Cambodia and Vietnam. Rafa, the Spanish expat who lives in Malapascua with Joon-Joon who owns the hostel Villa Sandra, one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. Shaira and Farieza the former of whom I think is in Indonesia, and the latter who is back home after her brief but tumultuous holiday. I think of my friends and how when you travel you make fast friends, but they leave just as fast. Technology helps, but is no substitute for long slow talks over fast beers and laughter. I could keep naming people for paragraphs, but it would just touch the people I’ve met.

It’s funny how people say travelling changes you. I’m not sure I believe that. I think I’m still basically the same guy I was before, but I have a better grasp of who that is. I find myself not worrying as much about who I am, or what I’m doing. I still worry some, about money, and my health. The money thing is actually one of the primary reasons I’m putting in so much time on working right now.

I know that I’m lucky to be able to work while I travel, as people so often tell me. It’s most traveller’s dreams, but it has it’s downsides as well. Staying up for midnight conference calls while everyone else is at a bar, or a party. Taking a week off to put in 40 hours on a project, and not being able to really let go of things back home. Letting problems percolate in your subconscious so that you can deal with them at a later date. I suppose that these are the realities that we deal with so that we can travel right? I don’t begrudge them, because my work, and the company that generously lets me work this way, make my travels possible.

As my friends enjoy pointing out to me, I’m not good at saving money, but I am good at my work. My skills allow me to continue my travels without having to leave the US with as much money as most people travelling for an extended period of time generally do. I’m grateful for that, and I need to get back to it now. Until later.

Cebu Island Part II

Bohol

The next day, on Christmas day, we went out to Bohol on the ferry, but Dora went off to meet up with a friend. It was pretty empty in Cebu on the way, especially compared to the madness of Cebu coming up to Christmas Eve. We stayed at the Tr3ats in Tagilarund (capital of Bohol), which was the same hostel we stayed at in Cebu. Till, Hao, Maikel and I arrived and woke up the other person in the dorm. A traveller named Vandana. We went out for food. Some of the only places to find food in Tagilarund are at the malls. Later we found out that there is some decent street food near the port, but not really in the rest of the city. That night, Christmas night, on the TV there was Frozen. I love that movie and own the soundtrack, so I started singing along. Louder and more effusively as there were more drinks had. The rest of the night was spent talking, drinking, and watching the stars.

I did very little the next day. I slept in and almost went to the beach, but didn’t. The next day or so I ended up at Alona Beach with Thomas and Felix, the Swedish guy that I might have mentioned earlier. We swam, and had some drinks and it was good times.

So it was right before New Years and everyone had plans except for Maikel and I. Felix had invited us out to meet up with him in El Nido, and Farieza and Shaira were there as well. It sounded fun, but there was no available accommodation and the tickets were a little pricey. After much waffling we said fuck it and booked the tickets. We high fived, and then ten minutes later someone asked us if we had heard all boats off the island were cancelled because of the typhoon. I believe our reactions were to swear and laugh. Yo get our refunds we had to go out in the storms and go to the pier, then wait in line for hours at the airport. It took almost the whole day. So after the next day the boats were cancelled again. The typhoon was coming and everyone at the hostel was stuck on the island just like we were. Some people were bummed, but as I always say when life gives you typhoons make TYPHOON PARTY!!!

We grabbed a huge amount of alcohol from the corner store, and waded through all of the rain that was already piling up. The hostel had BBQ in the evenings out back so food was taken care of, pay no attention to the plastic they use to start the fire. A few Aussies apparently had the same idea and brought a few more bags of booze and by the time everyone was out back it was maybe twenty of us. The party was a ton of fun, but it was cast in perspective the next day. We had been on the edge of the typhoon that hit Bohol and only had some light flooding and strong winds and lost power and water for a couple of days. There were about 140 dead on the island, bridges were down, houses were destroyed, and there was flooding in all of the rivers. To put it mildly we all kind of felt like assholes.

The boats were cancelled the next day and we were pretty sure that we were going to be spending New Years on Bohol. Maikel and I were OK with it, because when the boats were going again there was maybe a half kilometer line for tickets in the sweltering heat. We weren’t going to wait in that. Fortunately for us our friends Nana and Bella were already in line and got us tickets. We were set to go back to Cebu City for New Years. It wasn’t El Nido, but a sight better than Bohol.

We got business class tickets because that was all they had, and we got back to Cebu in the afternoon. Everybody ended up bailing except for me and Maikel. We met back up with Dora, and her friend. We hustled together more people from the hostel and were going out maybe 12 deep when we hit the bar district in Cebu. The bars in Cebu are not very big, and were all pretty full when we got there maybe an hour before New Years Eve. Corralling that many people is also inherently difficult. We ended up, at the recommendation of our Russian friend we met in Bohol, just grabbing some brandy, some mango juice and some cups and just going to the main square in Cebu uptown and hanging out and watching the fireworks. The fireworks in Cebu on New Years are impressive. We were in the center of Uptown, so some large buildings blocked some of our view, but you could still see a ton. Sitting on the grass around the giant Christmas tree was a great way of ringing in the New Year.

Malapascua

Maikel, Dora, and I had decided to go up to Malapascua, and one of the Americans that we went out with for New Years was heading that way too. Shantae was a backpacker/diver from Utah, and was going to dive with the Thresher Sharks. Malapascua is one of the only places to dive with them in the world. Maikel was a diver too and was psyched. Dora and I were not divers, and I was just looking forwards to some drinks and some beach. So we took the bus at like 5 in the morning. I think Maikel enjoyed waking me up much too much. Shantae, me and some other people from the hostel had been up drinking until like 2 or 3. I was not bright eyed and bushy tailed to put it mildly.

We took the bus to Maya, then the boat to Malapascua. The day was dark, and the water was rough, so we made it on the last ferry going out and it was pretty wet and very up and down on the way there. It is worth noting that this was the time that I decided to get a dry bag. A dry bag, for our friends that aren’t aware, is basically a bag made out of rubber that is waterproof and airtight. They are popular with divers because you can drop them in the water and they generally float because of the air trapped inside. My bag was soaked. This was mostly my own fault because the captain had told me that putting the bag below decks was going to be drier. Long story short, get a dry bag. They’re awesome. So we got to the “Pier” in Malapascua, but it was just a beach. They laid down some boards for us to walk to, and then we were on the beach. There are no cars on Malapascua, so you get around by walking, or by hiring a motorbike, which comes with a driver (20p/person). If you have two bags being on the back of a motorbike is a pretty tight fit. We stayed one night at Thresher Cove. It was a beautiful resort, and one that had dorms. The dorms were thin mattresses in a concrete room, but it had a private beach, a pool, and was meticulously maintained. It was a bit outside of the village though. We took it pretty easy that night and the next night, on recommendation of the resort, we went to Villa Sandra.

Villa Sandra was probably my favourite hostel I’ve stayed at. Simple, inexpensive, right in the village, and the people were amazing. It rained for two days, but then the sun came out. The beaches in Malapascua were some of the nicest I saw in the Philippines, and they were pretty empty. The island is still primarily a place for divers, so during the day most tourists are out diving. The nights were filled with drinking, talking, and the occasional bout of karaoke in the village. We all spent several afternoons at Maldito’s, a bar with the IQ special. 60p for a single rum and coke, 50p for a double, and 40p for a triple. It led to fun times, and harsh mornings. Malapascua was my favourite place in the Philippines and I’m not quite sure how to get across the charm of the place, and of Villa Sandra. I awoke each day to people drinking coffee on the patio, smoking cigarettes, and listening to reggae. You could ask about snorkelling places and someone would volunteer to take you. Maybe it was the people I was with, and the people I met, but it was a very chill place. It was also just what I needed right then. It was one of the only places I could see living/working for a month or more in the Philippines.

I stayed in Malapascua for 5 or 6 days, but I wish I could have stayed longer. However my visa was running out and I needed to renew it. I also wanted to get my diving (PADI) certification, but the money/time/scheduling didn’t work out.

Sinulog

I came back to Cebu City after Malapascua and just hung out in the city while I waited for my visa to be renewed. I met some more people. I was planning on going back to Malapascua sooner rather than later because Sinulog was coming. Sinulog is the biggest party/festival in the Philippines. For scope I’ll tell you this. The Metro Cebu area has a population of about 800,000. During Sinulog the city swelled in 2014 to about 3-4 million people. Every street in the city is a party. I wasn’t going to do it, but after a night with Keith and Emmett, who were in town for the party, they convinced me to do it. Red, Will, and Marina were all in town for the festival too, so we all made plans to do it, but there was a problem with accommodation. We didn’t have any, well, Keith and Emmett and I didn’t.

Keith, Emmett, and I all went out for drinks with some friends of theirs that they met on the flight into the Philippines. We had dinner, then went out for drinks. We were telling people that we were looking for accommodation, and they just laughed and said that we were screwed, which was funny, but ultimately unhelpful. It was two days before the festival and people generally book months in advance. However after the dinner one of the guys said that they thought they had a friend that owned a guest house that might have a free room. We said that we would take whatever they had as long as it had a floor, and that was negotiable. The room ended up actually being pretty nice. Will and Marina ended up grabbing a hotel. It was kind of pricey, but it was available..

It was Sinulog, so it was pretty hard to get back to the guesthouse, but I made it. I was burnt out. I did not go out on Sinulog, and my friends gave me no end of crap about it, but I was feeling kind of sick. By all accounts it was crazy. Marina made a Youtube video of it, and if I can track it down I’ll link it.

After Sinulog I checked into a nice hotel to get some work done. I sat in a room just working and sleeping for a week, then I was going to go back to Malapascua, but some friends invited me down to Boracay. I ended up going to Boracay, but that story is for another time.

Cebu Island Part I

Cebu City

When I started this post, I’d been in the Philippines for about two weeks. I spent the first few days recovering from either food poisoning, or just adjusting to the food. It was hard to tell. I had some KFC in the Mumbai international airport at midnight that didn’t agree with me, and yeah I know it was stupid, but it was late and I was hungry and not a lot was open (stupid chicken sandwich). I went up to the roof at my hostel and met a bunch of people including a friend named Jelmer from Holland. It was on the roof of that hostel that I met a lot of friends and people that I would later end up travelling with. It was a tiny little rooftop commons area. This was both it’s problem and it’s saving grace. It was so small that when people went up there to smoke, or to drink everyone had to be in one tight circle. This, of course meant that that everyone had to interact, and there were no small groups as happens sometimes. Jelmer invited me to Moalboal in a few days after he got some work done, so I stayed at the hostel and killed time.

I mostly recovered my health in the next days, but I did have a fun night with a Swedish guy named Felix. I asked Felix if he was going out that night. He said that he had just flew in from Sweden and was pretty jetlagged. I said I was recovering from food poisoning, but we both agreed that a couple of beers on the roof sounded good. Of course one beer turned into three, which turned into several bottles of rum as more and more people from the hostel came to the roof. People came and people left, but Felix and I remained. We couldn’t figure out why people were going to bed so early until the sun rose. Now the funny thing about Felix is that he couldn’t really drink, but he was keeping up with me all night. When the sun rose I was surprised he hadn’t passed out. I found out later that Felix was 18 years old, and then I understood. I could do things like that when I was 18 too.

Oslob

So Jelmer hit me up a day or two later, and we went down to Oslob, because the only hostel in Moalboal was booked up. We met back up with Matt, who we had met in Cebu. We all three went to swim with the whale sharks the next day and decided to stay in Oslob for another day because it was so chill and everyone was so nice. We stayed in Luzmin BH, which is ran by Lucy, and she’s helped by her son Mark. Almost every evening people come by and play pool on the pool table in the back. The cost for a game is 5p (about $0.10USD) and the standard bet is 20p (about $0.40USD). It was fun even if I almost never won. The people in that area play a ludicrous amount of pool, as did the people in Moalboal. Some of my fondest memories of Lagunda, and Oslob in general, are just hanging out in that back courtyard area and losing pool consistently to the local guys. While we trash talked each other and feigned pain when we missed, all without any grasp of each others language. It was good fun. Matt was actually the first person I met travelling who played serious pool. I used to, many years ago, but my skills have atrophied to the point where I can only beat my friends. Although they like to think I’m really good, I’m not, but it makes them feel better about losing.

We went to swim with the whale sharks pretty early in the morning, or at least for me it was. We got up and around 7 and got out there maybe 7:30. It was one of the more expensive touristy things I’ve done since travelling, 1000p (about $23USD), but it was so worth it. That included the snorkelling as well, so it would be a few hundred pesos cheaper if you didn’t want to go in the water, or a few hundred more if you wanted to dive. You go out on a little bangkha about 50-60 feet from the shore and just jump in. The snorkels they rented us were terrible and I kept inhaling water and ended up ditching the snorkel and keeping on the mask. The whale sharks were 8-10 meters long. That is around 30 feet. That doesn’t quite due them justice, because they are also very big around. Google some images, because I forgot my camera, but suffice to say they are HUGE! The people in the boat feed the Whale Sharks, so they are constantly moving around trying to get the food. You go through an orientation before you go, and it mostly consists of, “DON’T TOUCH THE WHALE SHARKS!!!” also maintain a 10-15 foot distance at all times. That is easier said then done and I had to frequently dodge the sharks when they almost ran into me. They are so big that you don’t even register to them. At one point I was hanging off of the side of the boat with a whale shark coming by beneath me with the man driving the boat yelling at me, “UP! UP! HIGHER!!!” I was completely out of the water at this point and hanging on trying not to fall on the whale shark inches below me, and then the man yelled at me, “BUT RELAX! RELAX!!!!” I wanted to yell back at him, “QUIT YELLING AT ME TO RELAX! IT’S NOT HELPFUL!!!” However I was out of breath and trying not to fall. Over all it was one of my favorite memories in the Philippines and I would highly recommend it.

So now we went to Moalboal. Unfortunately the rain started coming down. I was reminded that the Philippines doesn’t have Summer or Winter. They just have the rainy season and the not rainy season. Typhoon season is generally at the beginning of the rainy season. We had been making jokes about the rain for a bit while we were lounging in the sun, but then it started coming down. Jelmer sat on a little chair in the rain with an umbrella while we were trying to wave down a bus. It was one of the saddest most pitiful things I had ever seen. I wanted to take a picture, but it seemed inappropriate. Also my camera was all the way in my bag. I offered to take a shift with him, but he said that there was no sense in getting two of us wet, and I didn’t argue very hard.

Finally we got a bus. Unfortunately it was the wrong bus, but we didn’t realize that until we arrived at the end of the line. It was not the town we thought we were going to catch the next bus at. We asked the driver if we could just flag down another bus on the way. He assured us that it would not be a problem. It was a problem, and illustrates something that happens a lot in the Philippines. People will tell you where something is, because they are helpful, but they might not have any idea what you’re talking about. If you get directions I would recommend asking a few different people and getting a consensus. It will save you many of the days I spent looking for restaurants and landmarks. None of the buses stopped and we ended up taking a trike to the next bus station. We still had to wait an hour or so in the rain huddled with everyone else under some thatched roofs trying to edge out the vendors and the chickens.

Moalboal

We got our bus and went to Moalboal. When we got to Moalboal I thought immediately that I would hate it. It was packed, noisy, and everyone was yelling at you trying to get you to take a trike etc. I was pretty wet and beat so we grabbed a trike for like 150p (we found out later the going rate is 30p/person). So the way that Moalboal is laid out is that there are two major areas around the water, and the city. The city sucks. The other parts are called the little sun and the big sun. The little sun is where all the backpackers and cheap diving people hang out. The big sun is resorts and private beaches. I did not go to the big sun. The little sun was cool though. Good food, nice bars, not too expensive. We grabbed some beers, met up with the girls and just hung out. The next day was a bit of an adventure. I accidentally went canyoning. That day warrants another post, so I’ll link it here when I’m done. Although Seven Sins bar was pretty cool and is worth noting because it’s a little bar in Moalboal that takes bitcoin. It was pretty awesome and Jelmer and I had a great talk with Abraham, the owner of the bar, about cryptocurrencies.

I ended back up in Cebu after Moalboal. It’s a 4 hour bus ride North from Moalboal to Cebu City, but in rush hour its more like 5-6 hours. I relaxed in Cebu for a couple of days and met up with some guys. Till from Switzerland, Hao from Vietnam (but who lived in LA), and Maikel from the Netherlands. We were all thinking about heading to Bohol. We decided that after Christmas Eve we’d roll out.

We went out on Christmas Eve. We started the night at an Irish Pub, and there was a hilarious exchange when an American guy we we were hanging out with tried to order Irish car bombs. Keep in mind this was an Irish pub, that I’m pretty sure was owned by an Irish guy. After half an hour of trying to explain to the bartender and the bouncer how to make them he just asked for the ingredients. So if you’ve never tried to make 10 Irish car bombs from shots and cans of Guiness and pint glasses on a rickety table in a crowded bar I will tell you it’s challenging. We finally succeeded. Serge felt triumphant, and I was happy to get free Jameson and Guiness, and then went to the club. We danced our asses off, but the club didn’t seem very Christmassy to me. I headed back to the Hostel with Maikel and Dora, from Australia. We got back to the hostel and heard merrymaking across the street. The two shops were having street parties. One had house music playing loudly, and people dancing. The other shop had an amp, and two guitarists, or maybe a guitarist and a bass player. We grabbed beers and started listening to the music. However in the Philippines if you know the words to the song then they’ll just pass you the mic. I sang some Janes Addiction with Dora, but had issues because I blew out my voice at the club. I could only sing bass very low. We partied, then went to bed. I have a video of it somewhere that I might upload.

Rajasthan

With about a month left to go In Goa, I had a choice to make. Do I head south for more beautiful beaches or do I head north for the land of snake charmers, camels and turbans? The idea of spending more time on the beach was definitely something that interested me, but it was time to move on and explore what I like to call the “real India.” It is often said that Rajasthan has more history than the rest of India combined. From the vast deserts to the camels and elephants clogging up the roadway, Rajasthan is a place that encompasses what India is truly about. I knew that I would regret not exploring this magical place before it was time to move onto Nepal. So I booked a 24 hour train journey that would take me to the small southern town of Bundi. For the next month, the state of Rajasthan known as the ‘Land of the Kings’, would be my home.

India is full of overwhelming and chaotic towns and cities. Bundi is not one of them. Bundi can be described as laid back, blue, captivating and has a magnetism all of its own. Surrounded by rolling hills, Bundi is a small town full of narrow streets, shops, step wells, temples and palaces. Looking down from the hillside Bundi Palace, nearly the whole city is painted in a light shade of blue. Bundi is full of people from many different religions, yet they go about there day in perfect peace. Whether walking the narrow streets or shopping in the market, almost everyone you pass will greet you with a smiling face and a warm greeting. Bundi is also a town full of parties and festivals. On any given night there will be music blaring from speakers and fireworks going off while crowds of people parade down the street celebrating who knows what. Bundi is a place to get lost in your thoughts, a place to escape the madness that is India. You may plan on spending just a couple nights in this enchanting town, but don’t be surprised if those couple nights turn into 7 or 10.

A 5 hour bus ride north from Bundi will take you to the hustle and bustle capital city of Jaipur, also known as the ‘Pink City’. Not one for big cities, I was not sure how my 4 nights in Jaipur would go. By the end of it, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty that this crazy city holds. On my first full day I decided to venture down the famous shopping district known as M.I. Road on my way to the old city. Now more of an orange color than pink, the old city is full of shops selling everything from copper wire to barrels of spices and childrens clothes. There is also the beautiful City Palace which was built by Sawai Jai Singh in the 1700s. It is quite a fabulous place with museums devoted to armories and royal clothes. On my second and third day, I hired a rickshaw driver to take me around to all the major sites in Jaipur. Our first stop was the mesmerizing Amber Fort. There are many courtyards, a beautiful garden and other sub-structures within the complex but I found the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) the most impressive. This is a room covered in tiny mirrors and the total effect is mesmerizing. One could easily spend several hours within Amber Fort. On the way to Galwar Bagh (the monkey temple) which overlooks the whole of Jaipur ,we stopped at Jal Mahal which stands in the middle of Man Sagar Lake. You cannot actually visit the palace premises inside the lake but even from the shores it is a beautiful site. From the age old temples to the Louis Vuitton and Nike shops lining M.I. Road, the capital city is worth a visit while in Rajasthan.

In the month before I had planned to visit Jaisalmer during the famous Desert Festival. The festival is full of competitions such as camel racing and polo, turbin tying, Mr. Desert and of course the popular mustache competition. Outside of the hectic festival sits a desert town full of ancient ruins being overlooked by the amazing Jaisalmer Fort. The city of Jaisalmer continues on into the fort which is full of Jain temples and Havelis. A very popular activity while in Jaisalmer is taking a desert camel safari overnight. Jaisalmer is a great place to get lost. Just when you think there is nothing else to see, you stumble across another beautiful temple or lake. At the end of each day I would make a trip to the famous ‘Lassi Shop.’ These arent just any kind of lassi, which are a yogurt drink by the way, these are special bhang lassis. Go ahead and look up bhang lassi to get a better idea. Rajasthan is one of the few places in India where Bhang is legal, so I was sure to take advantage of this opportunity while I could.

From Jaisalmer I headed by bus to the busy city of Jodhpur. Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan, and it is also known as the blue city. Though the small town of Bundi was much more blue, Jodhpur definitely has its share of the color. After finding that there was a hostel named after Bob Marley, I knew I had to come to this city. The center of town is based around a century old clock tower, which happens to be right in the middle of the enormous Sardar Market. If you want to do some cheap shopping then this is the place to do it. Looking up from the market you will notice the massive Mehrangarh. This military fort stands almost 400 feet about Jodhpurs skyline. From the fort you can walk to Jaswant Thada, which is a beautiful white memorial to Jaswant Singh II, which is made almost completely out of marble. After just a few days of wandering the city and market, I was ready to escape the craziness and head to the small peaceful and holy town of Pushkar.

Pushkar with its laid back and spiritual feel was by far my favorite place in all of Rajasthan. It is said that Lord Brahma, the creator of the world, was looking for a place to perform a ‘mahayagna’. In order to search for an appropriate venue, a swan carrying a lotus in its beak was released. It was decided that the yagna would be performed where the lotus fell. The lotus fell in Pushkar, forming the Pushkar lake. Pushkar is now home to one of the few temples in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma. Pushkar is not a place in India where you come to see the sights, for there are not many to see. This is a place to relax and go with the flow in order to soak up the culture and allow India to show you its true beauty. My days were full of walking down Sadar Bazaar, eating amazing food and reading on the many ghats that surround Pushkar Lake. Being a holy city, Pushkar shut down quite early in the evening. Though there was never a shortage of loud music and parties due to the insane amount of weddings that take place here. The feeling I got being in Pushkar is like no other I got while in India. I could easily spend weeks, if not months in this small and enchanting town. Pushkar will forever have a special place in my heart, and I hope to one day return.

In the end, Rajasthan lived up to everything that I had hoped it would be. It was crazy, beautiful, hectic and captivating. Rajasthan was able to show me what India was all about. The people were so welcoming and the culture simply amazing. If you want to really see India, than Rajasthan is a must see for anyone planning a trip. With about 10 days left in India, lets see what Agra and Varanasi have to say for themselves. Rajasthan, its been real!

Leaving Benaulim: Part 2

The idea of leaving Benaulim seemed so far away just a few months ago. But these past three months have gone by in a blur. When Noah and I were first trying to figure out where we wanted to stay in Goa for three months, we initially were looking at the bigger tourist towns such as Anjuna and Palolem. Never would I have thought that we would end up in the small village of Benaulim, but I am sure glad we did. The last three months have been filled with relaxation, partying, good food, rum, angry lesbians (although one was very satisfied at times, self high-five) and countless Russians. There has been both good and bad, but I would not change any of it.

The sand, beach, palm trees and rum have always had a special place in my heart. I have always felt that the tropics were where I belonged. So when I first stepped off the plane in Mumbai, I knew that our first five days were just a waiting period till I could get to Goa. On our long train ride down I could not wait to spend the next three months in a tropical paradise with nothing to do but relax. As the hours passed, the amount of palm trees grew more and more. I felt as if I was coming home, as if I belonged here. I mean come on, a tropical paradise that only costs me $10 per day! If you know me at all then this is right up my alley.  My excitement grew as the train finally pulled into the station after about 13 hours. We grabbed a taxi from the pre-paid booth and made the 20 minute ride into town and our guest house. Our guidebook had told us that Benaulim was without a party scene and most tourists were of the domestic or ageing European varieties. While this is pretty much true, what got me was that the guidebook also said that Benaulim had only a small strip of shops and had a village vibe. I knew the village would be quiet most of our stay, that was until December came along.

When we first arrived in Benaulim it was still a quiet beach side village. The tourist season did not really kick off until December. So Noah and I knew that we had several weeks to get to truly know the town and its inhabitants. We quickly became known throughout the town as we were one of the few tourists at the time. This would help once December arrived since we had made good connections and werent treated as new arrivals. There were no beach shacks and the only places to eat were the permanent restaurants that stayed open year around. On many occasions Noah and I would be the only customers at lunch or dinner time. This gave us time to get to know the staff and get a true feeling for what life was like here in Benaulim, both for its residents and the many workers who flocked from Nepal and greater India for the season. In my earlier post “A Day In The Life Of The Bromads: Goan Edition,” this was our typical day. There was not much to do, especially once the sun went down. We would every so often meet other tourists such as Scott, Morris, Chris and the group of Russian girls as Noah wrote about in a previous post. Though the nightlife was still quiet, on many nights we would be able to make our own party with the group we had at the time. Looking back, these were probably the best nights that I had in Benaulim.

On one of our many nights out we met a native Goan who was now working in Kuwait. Chris was on his first vacation back home in several years. We had noticed him at Domnicks beach shack while we were singing karaoke. After Karaoke we decided to head to Malibu beach shack where there was always loud music later on in the evening. We sat down and realized Chris was already there so we invited him over to join us, always looking for new people to talk to. This turned out to be the first of many crazy nights out with Chris as more and more people we knew stumbled into Malibu. Over the next couple weeks Chris and I became pretty good friends. He would introduce me to new people as well as local cheap restaurants. The best thing though was when he decided to show me a small spring and waterfall in the small jungle village of Verna, pictures are posted online. Every couple of days we would hop on his scooter and make the 10 kilometer ride to the spring and relax with a bottle of Old Monk rum and a bag of samosas. You never truly get to see a city/town until you have a local to show you around. This has been true for me in several cities such as Negril, Jamaica and Mumbai, India. The days at the spring were probably my favorite while in Benaulim.

And then there was December…..

If I could sum up my December in Benaulim, Goa, India in one word it would be ‘Legen-wait for it-dary, legendary!’

December was really the start of the big tourist season in Benaulim. Traditionally it has been November but this year was especially slow due to bad economies throughout Russia and Europe. Side note: America, Fuck Yeah! Anyways, before Noahs deaprture on the 8th we were able to have a few big parties with our most recent Russian group at the Hungry Duck beach shack. The owner of the shack, Sunny, has been awesome and Noah and I quickly became friends with him. He would go out of his way to help us out as well as keeping the rum flowing. All we had to do was pay for our Pepsi, I instantly liked this man, no homo! Noah in his Benaulim post goes over who was in this group, all awesome people who we had a lot of fun with. That was until Noah left and the Russian lesbian incident occured. I have received many questions and messages about this incident. But to make a long story short and to break it down easy it went like this:  2 Russian lesbians, 1 awesome me, 2 weeks of flirting, 1 break-up, 3 nights of awesomeness, 1 reconciliation, 1 awesome but loud mouthed me, 2 angry Russian lesbians, 1 even more awesome me. The end. To say the least, the group wasn’t quite the same after this and within a week four of them had decided to go back to Russia early. Zach Julian, creating relationship issues one couple at a time!

With Christmas approaching I wasnt’t quite sure how to feel. I had never been in a warm let alone tropical climate nor been away from my family before. While the majority of India consists of Hindus, Goa is a rare exception with a large population of Christians/Catholics. The Christmas lights, trees, nativity scenes and decorations were all a welcomed sight. I was looking forward to Christmas Eve night, which was when the big celebration on the beach was. Especially come midnight when it officially became Christmas. After the fireworks at midnight and several hours of drinking I find myself sitting in Domnicks beach shack at four in the morning. I am at table with a local, 2 Russians and 2 Canadians. Including myself, there were 5 total white people in the shack. And of the 5 women in the shack, 3 of them were sitting at my table. So this leaves about 50 men and 2 women, all Indian, sitting around us or dancing. You may be asking yourself, ‘Zach, how is this at all legendary?’ Well children, let me explain. Look at it like this, I am sitting on a beach in India at 4am on Christmas morning. I can barely see straight due to all the rum. There are numerous grown Indian men dancing like they are actively having a seisure, and between dancing they are literally fighting each other because someone insulted another. But once another song came on it was like nothing had happened and they all went back to dancing like it was a Bollywood movie. This was legendary because I would of never imagined this is where I would be and this is what I would be witnessing on Christmas morning. Where did my life go so right?

As I write this, it is two days until New Years, the biggest party night in Goa. I have no idea what this night will bring but I do know that it will be a good way to end my time here in Benaulim. This small beach side village has served me well over the last three months. I have met many amazing people and gained countless new friends, and maybe a couple enemies. I will forever remember this place and the stories that I have gained. From Scott, Morris, Chris, Vitaly, Cool, Vickie, Vladimir, Lena, the Katarinas, Sunny, Navine, Samantha and the many more people who have been a part of this adventure, I want to thank you for an awesome and very interesting time. But most off all I want to thank Benaulim and its people. I hope to one day come back to this amazing place, you will always have a special place in my heart!

Leaving Benaulim

Hmm, a lot has happened since my last post occurred. Zach and I did a perfect week. That means a solid week of going out partying every night. We have been in Benaulim long enough we’ve seen a few crops of tourists go through. Some were pretty cool and we kicked it with them for a few nights like the Ukranian couple Ruslan and his wife. Some are here for longer periods and we have seen a bunch like the group of Russian tour guides Sergei, Viktor, Vladimir, Lena, and both of the Katarinas. A few have become fast good friends like Vitale who might meet up with us in Indonesia, Morris from Italy who went back home after an extended 5 month holiday, Chris who is from Goa and just went back to Kuwait for work, and Scott from Scotland who partied with us even after he dislocated his clavicle and was in a sling.

I thought of writing up every night on the perfect week, but I thought that it would get monotonous. Meeting people every night and drinking and laughing at jokes and at the language barrier while the music is pumping and the bottles keep coming. We’ve become regulars at a couple of places and they don’t mind that much if you bring in some of your own booze. However with a fifth of good rum at the bar only 400 rupees (about $6.50 USD) it’s not that hard just to get them there. Although you have to pay for every coke separately at 30 rupees or so. Some nights would just be me and Zach and Chris chatting and kicking it, but usually we would see people we knew or meet new people and would fill up our table, bring another over, fill that one and then grab another. I remember these nights for the heat, the lack of fans, the bugs swirling like vortexes around the light bulbs of Malibu (the shack not the restaurant that we might have mentioned elsewhere).

I was going to separate out the partying and my general thoughts on Benaulim, but I can’t really. However there is another piece that I wrote up about partying with some of the crazy Russian girls. Completely separating partying and daily life implies that there exists some line between them. The places we’ve eaten in the day aren’t generally the places we go at night, but they are all a part of the town. The fallout of the perfect week was that I ended up with pretty severe food poisoning that put me out for 3-4 days. It was another few days of issues before I had a doctor come out and give me some antibiotics. Jack, the owner of the guest house we’re staying at, was super cool. He heard I was sick and offered to get me a doctor. It was a couple of days before I took him up on it, but he got a good one out, Alejandro I think his name was, and then went and got me my antibiotics. I mostly stayed in while I took them over the next several days. Zach went on partying straight for another two weeks (three weeks total as he keeps reminding me) and now is getting over a bad cold. We both hit the wall and our bodies fighting back.

I guess I’ve been thinking about Benaulim in general a lot. I decided a while ago that I’m going to break off by myself for a bit. I’m flying to the Philippines on December 8th. I’ll be there until the end of March and then I’m meeting back up with Zach in Jakarta before we head to Bali for his birthday. When we first got to Goa we were some of the only people here and I got a bit stir crazy. It was some the lack of interaction with people. Mostly though it was the lack of things to do. When you’re working full time you don’t feel a need to really do anything else. You get off of work and just want to relax. You might go out on the weekends, but the time fills itself. I’m still doing some work, but not that much. It started driving me crazy. You think that when you do something big, like going across the world to travel, that things will suddenly look brighter and all of your problems will go away. You’ll be more gregarious, and be able to leap over buildings. Unfortunately people don’t just change overnight. You can’t flip a switch and be an entirely different person, or even flip a switch to stop doing things that you don’t like. I’ve known that in the past, but I had forgotten it. It took a trip to India to remind me.

Basically I was having some issues adjusting to travel, and the realities of what travel would change, and what it wouldn’t. Zach and I talked about it, and he said that he had noticed it too. After talking with Zach I decided that I wanted to travel by myself a bit. Travelling with Zach is great and I enjoy it, but he is a pretty experienced traveler, and I don’t think I’ll be able to develop some of those skills unless I put myself in a more sink or swim environment. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Goa, and I enjoy how I spend my days. I used to be much more frenetic, but now I can just sit and drink tea and watch the street for an hour or two and it doesn’t seem that long. I’ll hang out on the beach for half a day and be surprised when the sun is going down. I also find myself talking a lot less, because a lot of what I say (witticisms, puns etc) don’t really translate to non-native English speakers, especially who speak minimal English. I’ve been relying on Zach for meeting people because he’s much better at striking up a conversation with people in crowded environments. I met most of my friends at work, or school, or through mutual acquaintances.

There is no progress without sacrifice, and I’m a little sad that I won’t be here in Benaulim for the holidays, but Sunnny who owns the Hungry Duck is throwing me a BBQ tomorrow (December 6) for my going away party. Zach is super psyched about Northern India, especially Rajistan. I’m excited to see the Philippines, where Nate, a good friend, spent several months and has always raved about. He also met his wife Sally, another dear friend, there. I officiated their wedding, my About Us picture is actually from that wedding. For my conduct in the photo I blame the fact that Nate fed me like three 40s of Steel Reserve before it was taken. That wasn’t really relevant, but it still makes me chuckle when I see it. We’ll both still be writing and a few months isn’t very much in the grand scheme of things. We hope everyone will keep reading, because we’re going to keep writing.

In Goa drinking with Russians

Quick setting for Tuesday night. We spent the day kicking on the beach for quite a bit, maybe 4-5 hours. I had several drinks, Zach had a few, then we went back to the guesthouse. The bar we were at with the chairs on the beach said that they were doing karaoke that night, so of course we were down. We only had a Saturday karaoke place. We definitely needed another. So we went back to the bar Dominic’s for karaoke. It was pretty much just Zach and I. There was a French guy doing some singing too. We got him to sing “Could you be loved” with us. It was awesome. I sang some “Gangster’s Paradise” which went over very well with the Russian women at one of the tables. The song selection was awesome. Zach and I sang some Will Smith (“Miami”), and I even sang some Everclear, “I will buy you a new house”. I was super impressed, most places in the states don’t have Everclear. I also got down with soe Sublime. We drank, and sang, and smoked hookah until they closed down. They said karaoke was over. Zach and I asked the waiters where the party was at. They said it was at Malibu next door and to come back next Monday for karaoke. I went over and invited the French guy and his table to join us next door. They said that they might when they were done with their drinks.

We walked next door and the music was blasting, the Russian dance music. That is apparently all they play at the Malibu. We had been to the Malibu restauraunt and go periodically for dinner (free wifi is nice). We hadn’t been to the shack yet. We setup, ordered a couple of Fennys, and surveyed the place. The dance floor was full of Russian women and the mandatory Russian guy with no shirt. They all seemed to be from the same table, and I was trying to think of a good way to introduce ourselves. You see it’s a little challenging to introduce yourself to Russian tourists out here because they speak little to no English and my Russian is limited to saying “Hi”. I was considering this when Zach saw they had a bottle of rum at their table and just turned his chair around and was then sitting at their table. They waved me over too. We started chatting a little, they said some of them were from St. Petersberg, and some others were from places I couldn’t pronounce. We all ordered more drinks and started dancing our hearts out. A little while then the French guy, who’s name was Joaquin I found out, and his girlfriend came in and pulled up chairs to the table. He was in town for a couple of days covering a soccer match for the magazine he wrote for. Also an Indian guy named Chris pulled up a chair too. We had seen him at karaoke and he seemed to enjoy our singing and I saw him at the bar seeming to be trying to find a way to come party with us. He also just pulled up a chair. I think our giant table was the entirety of the people at this bar at this point. We danced and talked and there were huge language barriers all around, but it was tons of fun. Language is overrated for having fun with people when the music is thumping and the drinks are flowing. They kept playing great music all in Russian that I had never heard of and we all kept dancing.

Eventually I told Zach I was heading home if he wanted to come, but he was fairly intoxicated and wanted to dance/drink more. I made it home and got through the gate to the guesthouse then to the room and laid down. I remember wondering how Zach was going to get through the gate when he didn’t have a key. I considered just leaving the gate open, but that seemed like a bad idea in general. That was about all the thought I put into it though. Fortunately Zach came back shortly after I did. He had a plan to get through the gate. He shook it and yelled drunkenly until someone let him in.

So fastforward to the next day, I wake up, Zach is hellaciously hungover and naked. There was an “issue” with his sheets and clothes. I felt a little rough, but Zach was close to catatonic. We went down to eat lunch at Jack’s, and then he went to sleep and I messed around a little bit online. We grabbed food for dinner, but were just going to have a low key night. I wanted a couple of beers, and Zach wanted to just go out for a bit. As Zach said to me later, we approached the night with the best of intentions. We went to this little lounge bar where some people were dancing and had a couple of drinks and just relaxed. Eventually the DJ sang along with the songs a bit too. He did an awesome version of Pink Floyd, and a couple of other songs too.

Then Mahal closed and we decided that we had a couple of more drinks in us before we wanted to go to back to the guesthouse. We walked directly over to the beach shack next door, not at the time realizing that it was Domnick’s. We were walking up to the bar when we heard people yelling at us “Zach, Noah!” We looked over and it was the girls from the night before. Zach and I both looked at each other and just had that telepathic moment where we just went, “Well, shit. I guess this is going to be one of those nights.” They called us over for drinks and said that they were going to the club in Colva, and we should come. One of the local guys arranged the cab and everything. We just kept drinking and had Svetlana’s daughter do some translating for us. There was this crazy blond girl that was all over Zach. I know that some of you guys might be taking umbrage with me saying crazy girl. I know that’s a term that guys throw around with abandon. However she borrowed my water bottle to pour it on Zach because he said he didn’t like Vladimir Putin, and kept biting his fingers. She also spoke about as much English as I do Russian. But did this discourage Zach? Nope. The party consisted of a really cool Russian guy, Svetlana the married mother, the blonde girl, the brunette girl, the guy who worked at Dominics, and our grumpy cab driver, you can see him in the group picture from that night. We ended up going to this club in Colva called Margarita. The guy who setup the cab and club got us in with no cover. The drinks were pretty expensive there. A double rum and Coke was 200RP, expensive is relative though. That’s still only $3 USD or so, but a double rum and coke is usually like 60RP or so, or $1 USD. I’m sure everyone is overcome with pity for us having to pay that much for drinks. The club was great. There was much dancing and little talking due to the volume.

I wake up the next morning. I see Zach walking around the room. I also notice that I’m naked, so as you can the shoe is now on the other foot. I had this witty rejoinder to Zach, “My mouth tastes like death.” He laughed and told me that he was going to take a shower then he would tell me what happened the previous night. So the last thing I remember is having drinks at the club and dancing, but not any event in particular. According to Zach I had a few too many and was about to fall off of a bar stool. He sent me in to the bathroom and sent a bouncer after me to make sure that I was OK. I fell down and the bouncer carried me out to a cab. I gave my bill clip to Zach for safekeeping, very weird by the way, and went home. I miiiight have paid for my cab. I saw the cabbie the next day and he said that he was paid. I just had to kick him a few hundred rupees for cleaning the cab, don’t ask. Zach stayed at the club for a bit and then headed back. The blonde girl wanted him to come up with her to the hotel, but he said that he was too drunk to want to and just came back to the guesthouse, waking up the people working there again. He said he felt bad because he promised Cool that he would make sure to come back home with me so that he wouldn’t wake up everyone.

This was the first, but not the last time that a bunch of Russians got us much too drunk.

Night out in Mumbai

Zach met this guy in Prague named Anirudh. He had been staying in London, but was traveling around a bit before going back home to Mumbai. Zach mentioned that we were going to be in Mumbai and Anirudh said to hit him up and he’d show us around.

Fast forward a couple of months and here we are in Mumbai. I’m sitting in a Starbucks with Zach drinking Frappucinos (don’t judge me, it’s delicious, but very sweet). We’re killing time before we leave for sandy beautiful Goa on a very cramped train. That’s another conversation though.

We went out with Anirudh to this bar he liked. We also found out that all of the “good” bars pretty much require you to wear pants. Zach and I were not amused, but there it was. We went out to some rooftop bar, that overlooked the city. We talked with Anirudh about him coming back to India after a year in England to start his own business after working in investment banking for a few years, and we drank big Strong Kingfishers while Anirudh drank whiskey and coke. The local beer here is called Kingfisher, and the Kingfisher strong is 8% abv, which is pretty freaking strong for a beer, and they sell them in regular bottles, or 650ml bottles, which is what we were drinking.

So we were kicking it and chatting, enjoying the view and decided after our drinks that we would go to another bar. we went to what seemed like the Indian equivalent of a sports bar, the kind that would have bowls of peanuts in the states. Anirudh said that it was more of a go and drink place and less of a lounge. It was more my kind of bar. We had more beers, but they didn’t have kingfisher strong (small tear), so I switched to double old monks and coke. Old monk is a local Indian dark rum that is cheap and delicious. The next day I realized that what was happening was that I was really thirsty and I was drinking alcohol instead of getting a bottle of water because I didn’t realize it. I wouldn’t recommend it. We hung out for a while then headed home. Anirudh said that we should hit him up on Friday (the next day) because he was going to take us out on Saturday, but Zach, smartly, told him that he wanted to have a relaxed evening on Saturday because we checked out of the hostel on Sunday. We said that we would talk to him tomorrow.

Friday came and we hung out, went for a walk and had some good food. Anirudh hit up Zach and invited us over to his families house for dinner. We headed out around 7, but we found out that getting a cab on a Friday took some work. The streets were fuller than I’d seen them since we were leaving the airport. There were the same number of cabs out as usual, and normally we couldn’t walk down the road without a cabby trying to sell us a ride or a sightseeing tour, but they were all full on Friday. We had checked out how much a cab should cost to where we were going. It was around 100rp, maybe a little more since it was rush hour. Everybody quoted us 200rp and they refused to turn on their meters. Zach finally found a guy that would use his meter. Our cabby was awesome and worked with us on our hand-drawn map and directions to get us to our destination. It ended up costing about 85rp.

Anirudh worked in an office building on this street we were on, but we had some trouble locating it, fortunately people on the street were super helpful and when Zach asked if we were going the right way they sent us back towards the building. We met up with Anirudh, he closed up shop and we went to his house. He lives in a condo with his family. He told us that is the traditional way that families live in India. The whole family lives together their whole lives unless specific needs like work changed the situation. We went up the elevator to his home and I was very impressed with his home. It was beautiful and very tastefully decorated, but still looked lived in. Also AC which was nice in the Bombay heat. It was probably the cleanest home I’ve seen besides a couple of friends of mine in Portland that are obsessive about cleaning before dinner parties (you know who you are).

The way that the food was brought out was quite different than what I was used to. The women cooked and brought out all of the food. I’m used to that being a kind of communal thing, but we were also their guests. I suppose that I’m not used to being a “guest” in the formal sense, but everyone in Anirudh’s family and Anirudh himself were all consumant hosts.

We met Anirudh’s father, mother and grandmother. They all seemed very nice, and we had some really good salty lemonade while we waited. They said that since we weren’t going to hit Northern India they made us some dishes that you wouldn’t find anywhere in Mumbai. Their family was originally from the Rajistani region and they made us a bunch of Rajistani dishes. There was a very good wheat flower based spicy curry like thing, rice flour tortillas almost that were steamed in banana leaves, sweet paneer (cottage cheese), crisps that were crisped dough with sweet milk curd, chutney, and other spices. You took those and put them in your mouth whole. Also there was a kind of stew type thing that you mixed with milk curd and you had the savory sweet tastiness. Also there was a puffed rice dish with spices and other things. I think I’m forgettinga  couple of dishes, but it was delicious.

During the whole meal Anirudh’s mother kept serving up more and more food to us. It was very nice, but I haven’t been really eating a ton since we have been in India, and I’m not used to eating that quantity of food anymore. Anirudh was my hero though and said that I didn’t have to keep eating food if I was full. He read the situation perfectly; I was worried that I would offend them if I didn’t finish my plate, but I wasn’t sure and everytime I finised out my food more came right after it.

After dinner we were ready to go out. Zach and I had grabbed a couple of little bottles of old monk a piece earlier to reduce costs of going out (can’t beat 100rp for a little bottle 187ml). We filled up a couple of coke bottles and got to going. Anirudh drove us over to pick up his girlfriend. We kept chatting and then his girlfriend found out that we would be traveling for a couple of years and was blown away. She kept asking about where we were going, and what our itinerary was in India. She also had some suggestions about places to go and stay in Goa. No one we have talked to thus far has known where Benaulim is in Goa, but that makes me even more interested in it.

Anirudh was on the phone while he was driving with some friends of his. This is super impressive in and of itself. The streets in Mumbai are really crazy. The laws and lanes are just suggestions and no one really pays them much heed. Anirudh had told us earlier that he never got a license in England because he would have had to unlearn all of his Indian driving habits. He told his friends that we were going to the food court. I thought this was odd, but I took a drink and figured we’d get to wherever whenever we did, and that Anirudh hadn’t steered us wrong before.

We got to a restaurant called the Food Court, but not before some guy backed into Anirudh’s car while he was stopped. It turns out that the food court was the name of a restauraunt/bar that was cheap and quite good. A rum and coke worked out to be about 70-80rp, because the rum was 60rp and the coke was some small amount. That means that the rum and cokes were about $1.20. Yes that is correct, and I fell in love with this bar. We had some drinks and more of Anirudh and his girlfriend’s friends showed up. There was Anandia who was a lawyer, and their other friend who was a woman that used to be a dentist and was going back to grad school to switch to public health.

We were all chatting and having a great time. It was awesome to see these people that were so put-together let their hair down, and they were a ton of fun. They were friendly, and funny, and also they wouldn’t let Zach or I pay for our drinks. They were super awesome, and the night was just getting started.

We went to this club just a little ways away. We walked up to the car park where Anirudh had parked his car and then took an elevator up, and there was a club up there. I didn’t see a sign, but the girls and Anirudh apparently knew some of the people there and they let us in and hugs went all around. They also introduced us to another couple of people, Winny and another guy whose name I didn’t catch. I feel less bad about that because the music was quite loud.

Anandia got us beers and we started dancing. Zach procured us another Coke, which was harder than you would think just because aparrently the bar was unused to selling whole bottles of coke. We poured the last of our rums into it and then started passing it around. This would mark the way the rest of the night went. Everyone shared everything. From beers, to these awesome chilli’d martini type things that Anirudh kept getting, to more mixed drinks. The DJ was excellent, and while Zach was a little disappointed that it was all American music, the mix was excellent and he got in the groove pretty quick.

We danced and drank for hours, then the music changed. They started putting on Bollywood hits, and the dancing hit a new higher tempo. It started building as a crescendo with spontaneous dance circles in the middle of the dance floor. Anirudh started dancing with such fervor that he was almost hopping up and down with wild call-response hand motions. Zach and I tried to keep up with everyone, and I think we did OK, but this was not really our forte.

After a few songs the lights came on, and that seemed to be the sign for last call. I thought that meant that we were done, it was around 1:30AM. However we were dragged out the door to waiting taxis to go to an after-hours club. It was in the basement of a hotel and I’m not sure how it happened, but one of the guys we were with got us all in. It was dark, and the music was thumping. We hung out there for a bit and then decided to go get some breakfast. We went to one restauraunt very briefly, but left after picking up another friend of theirs.

We ended up in front of a train station next to a small trash fire, and we were brought jam and cheese sandwiches. I had never had this, but it was quite good. After that Zach and I took a cab with some of the guys that were heading our ways. We got back to the hostel and slept the blessed sleep of the exhausted, but awoke to the terrible hangover of people who were out til 4 something in the morning. I have not done that in years, but it was worth it.

Mumbai, India

Stepping off the plane, the overwhelming feeling of being in India hits you. Whether it’s the heat, different smells, the people or even the sudden impact of just how noisy this place is. Mumbai is spread across almost 450 sq kilometers and boasts a population of nearly 19 million. Mumbai is also the capital of the state of Maharashtra which is an island connected by bridges to mainland India. Mumbai became the official capital of Maharashtra after Independence and the split from the state of Gujarat in 1960. Formerly known as Bombay during colonial times, the city’s name was officially changed back to Mumbai in 1996 to help recapture the cities lost history. Mumbai is a city that not all can handle. But for a seasoned traveler or someone who is really seeking out a city far different from home, Mumbai is truly the gateway to India.

Arriving at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is most common for people coming to Mumbai. It is located about a 45 minute cab ride from the center of town, mind you that may double depending on time of day. We decided to stay at Hotel Travelers Inn, about a 10 minute walk from the heart of the tourist center, Colaba. This small Guesthouse has single and double private rooms as well as 3 bed dormitories which Noah and I stayed in. At $10 a night, it is not a bad price for its location and a constant feeling of safety and security. The ride in from the airport will take you through many parts of Mumbai including the slums, high rise buildings, neighborhood block parties, discos and past countless food stalls. Our guesthouse was also a close 5 minute walk to the amazing, hectic, colonial style Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, also known as Victoria Station.
With our Guesthouse being in a busy commercial area of Mumbai known as Fort, since this is once where the British fort once stood, walking was made easy. Just south is Colaba, home to many of the city’s attractions including the Gateway to India, Taj Mahal Palace, National Gallery of Modern Art and Leopold’s Cafe, which in 2008 was the target of a terrorist attack. The Fort & Churchgate area are just as interesting. Home to the Oval Maiden, a vast open park in the middle of this bustling part of the city, this is where you want to be in order to truly appreciate many of Mumbai’s majestic Victorian buildings. This area is also home to the Prince of Wales Museum, Marine Drive & Girgaum Chowpatty beach, the High Court and the University of Mumbai.

One of the things that Noah and I could not wait for once we landed in Mumbai was of course, the food! Walking down any street you will pass numerous hole in the wall cafes, five star restaurants, street vendors and food stalls. This city is shaped by countless different types of food and spices from all over the world. A couple of our favorite places to eat in Bombay included Cafe Universal, although relatively expensive compared to other local places, had a good atmosphere as well as an extensive menu with food ranging from Indian favorites to pizza and burgers. Pancham Periwala is my personal favorite, to leave Mumbai without going to this local favorite to try one of their several thali meals would be a serious miss. To come to India without an open mind regarding the food would be a mistake. Whether it is the thali meals, kebabs, aloo mutter, paneer, naan, samosas or dosas, all deserve a try as you will not regret it. Of course we can’t guarantee you won’t get sick at some point, this is India after all.

Mumbai is big and I could go on and on about this city. It is a city full of business men, day laborers, politicians, poverty, stray dogs and everything in between. It is home to the world’s largest film industry as well as home to some of the worlds largest slums. Mumbai is a city that can quickly become overwhelming, even to the not so faint of heart. The key is to give yourself the right amount of time. Come with an open mind and appreciate everything around you, no matter how maddening and stressful it may get. Who knows, by the time you leave here, Mumbai just might start to make a little sense to you. Maybe!

The Friday before we leave for Sweden

Taking Sweden by storm, or at least leisurely walks.

Ah, Sweden. When I think of the time spent in Sweden I think of a few things. I think of the night that Zach and I ran into some other Americans and went bar hopping, and I think of Zach’s Swedish family reunion in Falun, I think of bars with his aunt and uncle and dinner with all of his family, and finally I think of so much walking.

One Friday we ran into some Americans at this Swedish rocker bar we had been going to for the cheap (relatively) pints. It looked pretty dead so we were in the process of leaving, but then one of the guys at the bar grabbed Zach and started yelling about the Red Sox. Zach was wearing one of his Red Sox hats, so that made a bit of sense. It turns out several of the guys that were there were from Boston, and all of those were Sox fans. We started talking with the guys, they were in Stockholm for a couple of days before they headed to Munich for Oktoberfest. We told them about our upcoming travels and we all hit it off pretty quickly.

They asked if we new some good bars and Zach said that not only did he know some good bars he stays just around here and knew the area pretty well. Then we were off towards Sodermalm. We started walking. We started slowly losing guys, one at Medusa, but were still rolling 6-7 deep. We had to stop for gyros for the guys, but Zach and I had already eaten. I don’t remember that much of what we talked about on the walk, but it was the general back and forth that all men know well. The drunken getting to know people that you will probably never see again. I’m not dismissing it, because it is fun, but calling it like I see it. We traded stories, and talked with them about where they were from. Aparrently a couple of them were from this town outside Tampa Florida. That immediately peaked Zach’s interest because that is one of the places that we were looking at coming back to. They said it was really cool and way better than Miami.

We got to Soder and went to Pet Sounds, which was the bar Zach and I went to briefly the night before with Anna’s friend Elin. They were about to close so we couldn’t get any beers. They even resisted the charms of the Boston guys trying to bribe the bartender to serve us anyways. We then tried to leave, but some of the Bostonians were reluctant. Finally all of us left. Zach, me and the lead Bostonian? The lead Bostonian noticed we were about 5 people short and we went back, and noticed that they had picked up a couple of people. A few girls and their assorted boyfriends. More the merrier as I always say. The new Swedes had an idea for some bar that Zach hadn’t heard of. They said it was open late so we were all down. They tried to GPS us there, but were having issues, but we eventually ended up in front of this club.

So clubs in Sweden are even more expensive than the bars, up to $15/pint, way out of our price range. Most of the Bostonians opted to stay, but Zach, me and two of the guys went back to Medusa for a nightcap. We had a couple of pints at the Medusa, and the Bostonians decided to head out. It was a weird goodbye. I’m not used to picking up new friends at the bar like that and bonding that quickly. We shook hands and they took off. Zach turned to me, “Well that doesn’t mean that we can’t drink for the rest of the night.”
“Agreed,” was my witty rejoinder.
Then some drunk guy came up to us to try to get us to watch him beatbox on the set. He was speaking in an odd mix of Swedish and English I’m told they colloquially refer to as, “Swenglish.” Zach’s Swedish is much better than mine, which is basicallly non-existent, and he tried to talk with the guy. He was very drunk and insistent on something. I don’t speak Swedish, so I’m not sure what it was, but he sure wanted us to know. After maybe a half hour of this we decided to head back to the apartment. We then sat at the kitchen table and drank and talked, just like we had earlier in the night. I don’t remember going to sleep, but I was awoken by the church bells. They seemed to come from everywhere. I later learned from Anna that the apartment was between two different churches whose bells went off at the same time. So it was bells in stereo to wake you up in the morning, fine most mornings, but a little rough on that one.

The Thursday before we left we went into Stockholm to get our visas and have dinner with Zach’s uncle Johan. It turns out that the consulate was closed on that day for Ghandi’s birthday. Ghandi, always messing up our plans. This meant that we had to get our passports/visas the Friday before we left. We were cutting it pretty close, but we like to live on the edge (heh).

We met up with Johan, and his infant son Jonathon and walked around Sture Plan. We took in the sights, and just enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t raining.. He walked us through some of the French style open markets. I assume they were expensive because there weren’t any prices on anything. I asked Johann about it and he said that it was probably a “If you have to ask, it’s too much for you,” kind of thing.

We grabbed some Texas Style ribs and stuff for slaw, and went over to Johann and his wife Karin’s place. It was very nice and we picked up Zach’s other cousin from daycare. Johann had grabbed some ciders, and some beer at the store and we started chatting about a little bit of this, and that. We talked of Johan’s plans for living in the city, our upcoming departure for India, Johan’s travels in the past, and the lessons he learned from them. It was one of the nicer conversations I’ve had in a good long while. Dinner was equally pleasant, and the ribs and slaw were great, true southern style. Also known as the best style (keep your vinegar off my meat New Orleans GLARE).

We left when the children were going to bed. Zach and I were going to stop by Medusa for a pint, but it was completely empty. So instead we stopped by the store, grabbed a couple of what the Swedes call light beer (3.5% abv), but back home we call “near beer”. We then walked to the waterfront and watched the city and drank our beer. We eventually wandered back to the apartment and saw Anna who had just got back from her business trip. It was a pretty early night, so that we could go out the next day for a quick beer with Anna before we took the train back to Saltsjobaden.

On Friday we got up and had some trail mix, then we goofed around online for a few hours. After that we went on a long meandering walk around the city, and grabbed our passports/visas. There were buildings and people, I think I went through some part I hadn’t seen before. I’m not super good at remembering that kind of thing, but it was nice.

So then I set up some networking stuff for Anna and we said bye to Zach’s other uncle Anders and his wife Annika. We got to the bar at maybe 5-10 mins before 8PM. You might ask me, “Noah why does that matter? Isn’t the bar open until like 2AM?” Why yes it is randomly nosy person, but until 8PM the beers are only 24kr. Yes that’s right they are only $3.32 USD. That’s a pretty good price for a pint in the states, but it’s unheard of in Sweden. That’s less than a dollar more than you pay for a cold near beer at the grocery store. Pints in Sweden are about $9 at a cheap place and up to $15 at clubs. Fortunately the bartender was OK with selling us 2 a piece. We sat down and drank our beers, figuring that we would head out after that. I grabbed the next round, then there was another, and another, as these things tend to happen.

At some point during these rounds a very drunk Swede started talking to Anna in Swedish. I had seen this guy sitting next to us for a while eyeing Anna. He looked at us oddly then Anna said something and he laughed. He had been talking to us and wondered why we hadn’t responded. Then he realized that we don’t speak Swedish. He started referring to us as Englishmen, and started chatting. He was in that perfect meet new people level of drunkenness. He was a bit boorish, but still entertaining, and he had avoided pissing anybody off too much. He was drinking slowly, which was probably for the best because he was already clearly drunk.

He asked where we were from and we said Oregon. I have learned since coming to Sweden that almost no one knows where Oregon is. Zach mentioned that he’s originally from California, and I said that I’m originally from Oklahoma. He kept trying to ask me a question that I was having trouble hearing in the very loud bar. He wanted to know what Oklahoma was known for being better at then almost anybody else in the world. I had to think about that. I like Oklahoma, but it’s not really known for being really good at anything. In Oklahoma we generally fight with South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee for being the worst at things, or the best at bad things. Like highest teen pregnancies, muders per capita, childhood obesity, and lowest teacher pay. I really thought about it for a minute then I had it.
“We make the best meth in the world!” He started laughing and asked,
“Really?”
“Yes, three of our biggest exports are marijuana, corn, and meth.” We also have the musical, but I try to never bring that up because, especially with drunk people, they start singing it. He seemed to accept my answer, and said that I was alright. Hey, if a drunken Swede thinks it, it must be true right?

Pretty soon after that he had to go before he passed out. He seemed convinced that Anna and Zach were a couple no matter how many times they said that they were family. As an aside Anna started introducing Zach as her brother because she thought being called his aunt made her seem old. I find no end of amusement in this by the way. Also because having a brother from another country is odd, but I guess it could be possible with step-siblings.

We finished up our last rounds then walked to the train station and went back to Saltsjobaden. On the train we were hoping that the kebab place would be open. It was not, much to our chagrin. We walked back, and had an argument about something inane. Zach kept trying to get me to bet him. I knew that I was a little drunk at this point because the only time Zach tries to bet me money is when I’ve been drinking. Over the years he’s won a lot of money off of me in these bets, but I made a rule never to bet while drinking. I have been pretty good about this as well, so I wouldn’t. It ended up being for the best though because I was wrong (but I won the moral victory, also known as the useless victory).