FAQ’s

27 Sep

Most websites have a Frequently Asked Questions, (FAQs) not enough people talk to me to have a truly FAQ’s page so I am just going to answer questions I think people would ask If I ran into them.

Often the question I get asked by people I haven’t talked to in a while.  So after an extended boring period of 8 years where my answer was Fort Wayne, I am off on my newest adventure in the land of Muay Thai, Spicy food, massage parlors of every corner, brothels in the tourist areas,picture perfect beaches, ping pong shows and ladybois.  I’m living in Bangkok.  The last 8 years I did break up the plain-ness of living in Fort Wayne by living in El Salvador for 3 months and five months.

Why Thailand?  Well, I got contacted by a recruiter from Thailand when I put my resume on an English Teacher Board looking for a job in Japan.  The reason I went for it is: Thailand has great weather and nature, Muay Thai is the most practical striking martial art and my striking is in serious need of improvement, the food, learn massage-massage is super popular and cheap here, new culture language etc.

Wait is Melinda going with you?  No, she is married to someone else.  Broke up in January of 2017, and though it might seem like her getting married in late July and me leaving for Thailand in early August are related, it was not.

What has been the biggest shock so far?  I saw a python/boa on the street, not even a block from my apartment.  Bangkok is a gigantic modern city, so seeing a snake was disturbing.  It slid down into a sewer drain, I’ve got sketchy video of it, I’ll try to post it.

What about your hobbies?  Are you able to do them?  Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are on the back burner for now, as I go to Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing that allows elbows, knees and grabbing of the opponent) 5 times a week.  I am not sparring currently just striking the bags and mitts.  Honestly there isn’t much difference in the Muay Thai drills and workout here than back home, except I am doing just Muay Thai not grappling at all.  Oh yeah, and the heat index is over 100 most days.  That wouldn’t be that big of a game changer except, the gym is an outdoor gym that is like a park pavillion, just a roof over top. I sweat like never before, between being fatter than usual and the weather being so humid here you can’t tell if you are sweating or if water from the atmosphere is clinging to you.

muaythai

Dance wise here in BKK the Latin dancing is off the charts, comparable to Miami.  If you Kizomba and Zouk, along with Salsa and Bachata you could dance 6 nights a week here.  I am taking a basic Zouk class, 2 hours a Saturday for four weeks.  I go every Monday to Bachata on Mondays, and the class is advanced enough that I struggle.  However they do a good job of keeping it short enough to be able to work the entire series.  There are quite a few dance snobs here, people who will only dance with other high level dancers.  The upside of this is the ladies I dance with who are newer to Salsa or Bachata really appreciate someone who is good with beginners.  The downside is I have had women stare away from me the entire dance, or turn me down to dance outright.

Clip of two couples dancing Zouk.

 

Clip of a typical Bachata lesson.

How much Thai do you speak?  Like usual when I move to a country exceedingly little.  When I arrived I could say thank you, no thank you, chicken, egg, and noodle.  Now I can add a very few other words: little, 1-99 if given enough time, right, no, pork, hello/goodbye…so i need to work on that.

How much English do Thai’s speak:  well if a native speaker country is a 100 (US, UK, South Africa) and 0 would be no one speaks any English i’d say it would go like this: European countries would be about a 85, this is mostly a guess I haven’t traveled much in Europe but for the most part you run into lots of very high level English speakers, Latin America would be a 60 so you are likely to run into someone with very high level English even if most people can’t speak fluently, South Korea 45- more high level speakers but fewer people willing to use what little English they know than in Thailand, and Thailand-35.  Almost everyone knows some basic English words like toilet, almost no one has fluent English.

How long do you plan on you staying?  The word plan in that sentence tells you the answer.  I am more akin to driftwood than a ship.  Probably in the one year range, although I might wind up drifting off to Vietnam or Malaysia or Japan.

What do you like so far?  Massage is super cheap, about $10-15 for an hour massage.  I have not found a way to learn massage yet, but I hope to learn massage while here.  Muay Thai-between my lack of flexibility and my preference for grappling my striking game is weak, I want to improve that.  The food- small portions, extremely cheap (about 1-2 dollars per meal from street vendors and 7-11 microwaveable.  Unlike developing Latin countries where electronics are twice as much due to import tax, when my smartphones I brought wouldn’t work with a local chip I bought a used Samsung that has been the best phone I ever had for about $130.  Also developing countries usually phone service and electricity is more expensive, here it is ridiculously cheap.  My couchsurfing friend got me a year’s worth of unlimited 3g internet on my phone for less than 50 bucks.  My electric bill for the month last month was 3 dollars.  The Thai teachers so far have let me do what I want in class, with no complaints.

How do you get around: BKK has a great subway system.  I avoid buses because it’s more complicated.  Taxis are cheap, moto-taxi’s are fast (go in between cars since traffic is jammed) but negotiating with Moto-Taxis can be problematic, Grab is an uber-like service here.   If I move to a rural area I will buy a motorbike or scoooter.  PS all you motorcycle riders, the average Thai rider will put you to shame.  Evil Knevel and his son would be average riders here.  I’m going to say I have seen nary a gym-shoe or motorcycle boot on any female driving a moto.  The majority of moto drivers are in some kind of flip flops, 2nd place would be sandals and 3rd would be dress shoes.   I have often seen 4 students on a motorscooter, and sometimes seen 4 adults.  I have seen a guy using his left hand to drag a furniture dolly while he drove the scooter with his right, I have seen people carrying dogs as they sit on the back of a moto taxi.  No one holds the waist of the moto taxi driver. Traffic here is more cooperative than in Latin countries: cars, bikes, motos, street carts, all share the road and weave around each other like in Latin countries but seems to be less about getting there first and more actual sharing.

motorscooterbkk

Are the massage parlors really brothels?  Mostly no, sometimes yes.  Most of the time you’ll be able to tell fairly early on, usually if there is a crowd of women out front they are a brothel.  Not a 100% rule, mistakes can be made.  However, if you go to a brothel thinking it’s legitimate massage place, you aren’t going to get extra unless you pay extra so you are still in the clear, and you might not even know after you left that the place offered both  The same was not true in Korea, while living in South Korea I vacationed in Thailand.  Massage was so cheap and it was my first massage experience I thought I would try it in Korea.  In Korea the massage was a lot more expensive, but i figured I would try it one time.  The lady started rubbing me during the massage, and when I told her no, she couldn’t believe it.  She looked at me like I had ordered an Ice Cream cone no Ice Cream.

How is it different from what you expected?  I expected more crime, here it seems crime is low.  Expected more beggars and addicts.  Prosperity is higher too, for a country where rent in the biggest city for me is only 200 a month and food costs 1-2 dollars, I would have expected more run down cars and cheapo motorbikes.  Most of the cars here in Bkk are newer, and almost all the motorscooters or motorcycles are Honda, or Yamaha.  I’m not losing weight as quickly as I thought, walking more less fast food and pop should be a recipe for weight loss; but turns out most Thai food is fried in some way, and with sweating as much as I do I have craved sweets.

How are your various digestive issues doing with Thai Food?  Surprisingly good.  I have about 8 food sensitivities, but they must not use a lot of the foods I am sensitive to.  Along with this I have acid reflux.  The small portion sizes here actually seem to help, because I wind up eating more regularly.  Since Thai’s are not addicted to cheese, it’s possible to stop in at a 7-11 and get something microwaved that doesn’t upset my stomach.

 

 

Tasty feet

16 Apr

footmouth

So, evidently i like the taste of my own foot in my mouth, because i put it in their more than i care to admit.  Here are three of my personal top foot in mouth stories.  They are not all PC, although one is an example of me trying to be PC and failing……

The Bronze medal: In college, a guy from the floor (Jeremy) had some high school friends move to campus.  A group of 4 of us went to their dorm to be nice and help Jeremy’s friends feel welcome on their first week of school. We hung out and played cards. If you know me well, you know that I like to give people a hard time and create awkward situations. On the walk back I start telling Jeremy about how the one girl was flirting with him.  He is such a polite guy he just keeps saying “no no, she is just a high school friend.”  So, I continue “naw man, I’m not talking about the big girl, I’m talking about the cute one.”  To which he replies “you mean your not talking about my ex girlfriend”

Silver medal:  Refereeing wrestling you are supposed to stop the match for injury any time a wrestler is crying out or indicating pain.  Well, if we followed that 100% there would be no little kid tournaments because they cry from emotion and we’d have to stop the match for injury time all day long.  So, if a kid is crying, but it’s not a cry out of pain I don’t stop the match.  One match I’m refereeing the kid is too old for this, he’s not 5, he’s somewhere between 10-12.  He is crying and grunting throughout the match, but not in a way that indicates injury or pain.  So after the match, I ask the coach “is this kid autistic” as a way of explaining my decision not to run injury time, the coach had not said anything about injury time and we seemed to be on the same page that the kid was just emotional.  The coach says “No, he’s just being an idiot….that’s my son.”

So here is what I consider my biggest foot in mouth moment.  Let me start with an explanation.  90% of time, I am shy or have social anxiety about what to say.  Maybe i always just had a premonition that i would say the kind of stupid stuff you’ve read so far.  However, sometimes I feel comfortable in a social situation and try to make conversations with new people to help make them feel welcome.  The jiu jitsu gym I go to is one place where I try to talk to new people.  A kid came to the gym one day who i worked with and he had a good attitude.  When his grandfather came to pick him up I mentioned how the kid had a good attitude, etc.  Some people at the gym start talking about having a barbecue when the weather is better.  The grandpa starts talking about how he grills all winter long because he’s from Michigan and they’ll shovel snow out from around the grill to barbecue all winter long.  I do my best to include him in the conversation and say “oh, you ain’t scared of frostbite huh”  he answers he grills all winter long, to which i respond “and you still got all your fingers and toes too”  to which he responds, “no, as a young man in Chicago frostbite got some of my toes, but I learned my lesson.”

Return to Africa

22 May

My father is an addictions counselor, and was asked again to go give seminars in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.  Senegal is an awesome little country, and Dakar should be on more tourist’s to do list.  I had told my father, if I were to go back I would want to go out to the villages and see more than just the city.  Mom and Dad asked my schedule, coordinated with the people who invited him and we scheduled our trip for the first week in May.  I ask my dad on the Wednesday before we leave if our host had arranged for a trip to the villages.  Of course he hadn’t, my dad never asked about it.

So off we go on our trip.  I call mom the day before we leave and tell her i’ll be staying at their house so we can leave straight to the airport.  She tells me we aren’t flying out till 5 in the afternoon.  I go double check, and we fly out at 8 a.m.  SO my mom and dad stay up till 1 am at least packing for dad and getting everything ready for the trip.  I came over at 1, so that’s how I know.  We start our journey by getting to the airport at 6 a.m.  We flew to Dallas for a 6 hour layover, followed by a 9 hour lay-over in Madrid.  So we arrived in Dakar 10 p.m. on Saturday night.

Learning my lesson from last time, I arranged to be doing other things while my dad spoke.  However this time around, the daughter who had shown me around last time was back in the USA.  So our host had a local who studies French in the morning show me around in the afternoons.  The guy brought a friend from Cabo Verde who studies French with him, and so we had a nice afternoon visiting the statue of new Africa Liberation.  Oddly enough in a country where French and Wolof are the two main languages, I got to speak in Portuguese since that is what they speak in Cabo Verde.

 

(the statue, and the view from the hat of the man)

The next day I went to surf with my new friend, well I surfed and he just hung out at the place i rented the board from.  Well, the tides in November (last time i visited was in November 2014) and May are very different.  There were so many more rocks this time, that even getting out past the wave crash area was rough.    Every step had to get my balance, not step in a spot where my foot will get trapped if a wave knocks me sideways, and not cut my foot.  Since my shoulders have roughly the same range of motion as these action figures, paddling out far enough to be out of the rocks ground me down.  I only really surfed one wave, but nothing ventured nothing gained…..or my version  lot’s of venture, nothing gained…..

 

While I was recovering from my surfing experience, I asked my friend about Senegalese wrestling.  He said he had no idea, doesn’t watch sports or TV.  I said, let’s ask the owner of this place.  The owner tells us we can find a place where the guys train on the beach, and if I wanted i could wrestle with them.  We follow his directions the next day, and can’t find the place, ask probably 10 different people.  We decide to just walk the beach.  Lots of young men are exercising, training hard but just exercising.  Finally on our way back to go wait for our taxi, we see guys training for wrestling.  I guess there are two kinds of wrestling in Senegal, one is like sumo and the other is like sumo with punches.  We go up to watch them train, my buddy asks if I can video and they try to get 10 thousand cfa for it.  (About 15 bucks(600 cfa to the dollar))  my buddy gets it down to 5,000 and we agree.  Towards the end I finally ask if I can jump in, they say sure.  I wrestled with a 17 year old.  I didn’t get any ideas of the rules, and was hesitant about grabbing the head and doing a front head lock, I grabbed it, but would let go of it because he seemed to not resist it.  Afterwards they said, yes it is illegal to grab the head.  Ashamedly the kid got the take down on me, being able to grab shorts and a downward slope of the beach are things I will have to adjust to on the next time.  I thought I would be able to come back the next day, but didn’t get to.  Gave them a Snider wrestling shirt for a souvenir.  (I was an assistant for 5 years there and got a bunch of snider gear that I never wore in public)  On my map at my house I have a world map, I already had a pin for surfing in Senegal, now I get to add a grappled pin.  I’ll upload the video if we ever get it from my friend’s tablet.

I did get to go to a village on Thursday night.  It wasn’t a trip into the jungle, or but it was a fun trip to a village that took about 4 hours to get to using buses and a horse drawn trailer.

The way to the village, and the village itself.

The statue, Me in the village, on the way to the village, and a statue of Senegalese wrestling. (laam, luta)    Unfortunately I can’t get the video of me wrestling yet.

As you can see, it’s not in the jungle, more like the wilderness.  The buildings were concrete, and they even have irrigation for their gardens.  So, not quite like a safari deep into the bush, but it was a good time.  Even got the experience of what happens when the bus you are riding breaks down. No electricity out there except solar powered lights, and a gas powered generator for the irrigation.

Overall, Dakar and Senegal is a nice place to visit.  The crime is no where near as bad as Latin America, my buddy had his tablet out at night while we waited for the taxi, which you would never do in Central America.  The people pass the money and ticket back and forth on the crowded bus, and when I couldn’t fit with my backpack, someone put my backpack up front.  My buddy was cool with it, so I just went with it.   The country is Muslim, but I didn’t see any women wearing the ninja masks.  Many wore a head covering, most wore traditional style African dresses.  Obviously a white guy is going to pay more for things than an African, but the danger of being robbed or kidnapped just isn’t anywhere near as high as Central or South America.  I definitely recommend Senegal: good waves, a great beach and always the chance to get double married.  (They allow polygamy, and the Wolof people are known for being tall and thin, tons of stunners there)

Quedtival

27 Aug

this is a pic from the Chicago questival, a kind of scavenger hunt.  

    
   

Slipping and a sliding, all along the waterfall with you….

1 Aug

I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question.

Harun Yahya

Every front door finds me hoping I’ll find the back door open.  There just has to be an exit for the running kind.

Merle Haggard

Well I made it through another year, with just a vacation and not  a temporary relocation.   Since I moved back to Indiana in 2009; I have stayed in El Salvador for three months one time;five months another, and Brazil for three months another time. But the last three years I haven’t packed a bag and left except on vacation.  So I’m getting a little antsy.

This year we chose to visit Tikal, in Guatemala near the Belize border.  Of course nothing can be simple, so the weekend before we are scheduled to leave, Melinda gets so bad sick she has to go to the hospital. Since it was Fourth of July weekend, it meant she couldn’t see the specialist for four days. So… they kept her in the hospital for four days.  So she got out of the hospital on Tuesday, and we left for Guatemala on Thursday.  I tried to get her to delay the vacation, but she was determined.

If you’ve read this blog a lot you know that I like to go salsa dancing. The Saturday we arrived in Guatemala City there was a salsa social.  The nice thing about a social is: the people there aren’t there to hook up; or get drunk; it’s usually a lot of very good dancers, that want to dance with lots of people.  We have been to salsa socials in Michigan, South Bend, Toledo, and danced at lots of different places (Chicago, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Rio, San Salvador, Saint Louis, etc).  The dancers in Guatemala City were the best I’ve ever seen.  It was a small group might be 30 to 40 people, but 75%or more  were  great dancers.  Salsa Rueda is kind of like square dancing but with salsa, there’s a guy calling out moves and the entire group does the moves and is rotating partners and the circle rotating. And this group was doing the wildest moves .  There was one called “ask” and the guys get down on one knee and the girl twirls in front of them.  Was awesome to see but the light was too low to video.

Then we headed out to a place called  Semuc Champey.  We get to a place called the retreat and it was the nicest $14 hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.

retiro retiro2 Then the news comes that the national park that we had come to see is closed due to a strike.  However the cave tour was still available, because it’s on private property just outside of the park. This was the best $20 tour I’ve ever taken.

The tour starts out with a ride in the bed of the truck for about a half hour, there’s rails in the bed though so you can hold on as you’re standing.  This is actually much better than if they would have tried to take a van or a bus, because by standing in the bed of the truck you’re getting fresh air and not getting motion sick from all the bumps and twists and turns.  We read in the guidebook and online to wear Aqua shoes or gym shoes that you don’t care about, and wear a head lamp. They also said to wear a bathing suit under your clothes. If you didn’t have your own light the guide gave you a candle.  I was grateful I had Melinda’s headlamp, she had to hold the flashlight; because Marshall and Babs had given me a waterproof tough camera and I couldn’t hold a flashlight and take pictures.

cave1

Before we went into the cave he asked does everyone know how to swim? That would’ve been a bad time if you couldn’t swim, cause you to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do while everyone else went on the tour. I thought he was exaggerating, that there might be some waiting maybe even hip deep water.  Nope, if you couldn’t swim( and didn’t have some lifeguard you were taking the tour with who would drag you with them)  you would have been out of luck.

caveswim caveswim2

Melinda was very grateful that she had a flashlight, instead of trying to keep the candle out of the water while swimming and away from her hair.  Of course everyone who had a candle, had to get their candle re-lit several times. The guide would take the wet candle bite off the top little bit of wax and relight it.  When we got to the waterfall part and the guide says “you can go up the rope or the latter you don’t have to go up the rope.”   If this were in the USA, they would have called that criminally negligent, for not pointing out the danger of the rope.  As I go to try the rope, he says “if you get pushed back, just don’t let go of the rope”.  I think, I was pretty sure that he said that and not “just let go.”   Had I let go, my skull would’ve been cracked like an egg on the rocks below, so I’m glad I went with don’t let go.  I get to the top and can’t find footholds.  I think its no big deal, pull ups are the one exercise I excel at.  Except, the force of the water pounding on my chest and shoulders, there is no clearance to the side of the water, you have to go through the same opening that the water is going down.  I pull my head up high enough to snag the handrail rope that is rigged up for the people who took the ladder.  As I am doing this is realize how dumb it is, because now if slip I’m going to be hanging myself.  However it gave me enough purchase to find a foothold, and everything was good.  Later on in the tour, you could jump from about 12-18 feet up in the cave into a pool.  That was a lot more fun and less feeling of getting myself into a bad situation.  I told Melinda to film the jump, since chances of catching me mid -jump in a cave with a still photo were terrible, but she actually nailed the photo.

waterclimbcavejump

 

After the caves, we swung from a tire swing into the river by Semuc Champey.  Not my photo, battery was dead by then, but this gives you a good look.  My first swing, i jumped to late and face planted.  Was nearly as painful as when me, Alton, and Arrow did our sand belly-smacker contest. (still trying to figure out how to link the slow mo video of that.)  After that we swam near the waterfalls, floated down the river on a tube and people who wanted to could jump in from the bridge.  Again not my pics, but you can get a good idea from other people’s pics.

swingbridge 2bridge

After this we headed off for Tikal and Belize.   I’ll cover snorkeling with sharks and ruins of Tikal in my next installment.

 

Indian planes trains and automobiles continued

8 Jul

101_2017

So we finally make it to Haridwar.  We take a taxi to Rishikesh.   We find out later we paid about five times too much.  Ok, still only paid $15 for a 1 hour taxi ride.  At Rishikesh, we make arrangements to go to Valley of the flowers.  Online we had seen treks offered for $160 per person, we asked a local tour operator and he said we didn’t need a guide we could do it on our own.  So he sold us spots in a shared suv and we went off to Govindghat.

We were told to be at the SUV pick up at 4:30 in the morning.  And since we had seen more foreigners at our hotel than we had any place but Delhi, we thought other trekkers to Valley of the Flowers would be with us.  Turns out there is a Sikh temple located opposite of valley of the flowers.  One that people make a pilgrimage to; so for the next two hours we listened to a Sikh chant.

The good side to being there an hour before the Suv left,is we laid claim to the front seats.  This was super important because it was a windy twisty mountain road.  The driver had to make 2 puke stops in the first two hours.  The other good side of being up that early is it allows you to somewhat sleep in a no way comfortable position.

Melinda made friends with the females on the trip during our lunch break.  A family of four; the mom, dad daughter, and cousin were traveling together.  Melinda offered dramitol to the mom and daughter at the next puke stop.

When we arrived at Govindghat, the driver told us to stay at a hotel near where we parked.  The family asked us to come along with them, but Melinda was worried that where they were going might not have places to buy food for our 8 hour hike.  So we stayed in town.

The next day we got up and on the walking road.  The tour operator was right there was no need for a guide, the pathway was large enough to be a road.  It also had food and drinks for sale along the way.

The trail from Govindghat to Gangria

The trail from Govindghat to Gangria

However the part we weren’t prepared for was that it went from an elevation of 1800 meters to 3600 meters.  To put that in perspective, the last UFC was at Mexico City, and the heavyweight champ who is known as a cardio king faded in the second round, and the write ups considered it to be the affect of altitude.  Mexico City’s altitude is 2400 meters, so we were hiking to a place 50% higher.  We also packed more than necessary because we thought if it was rainy like Mumbai we would need more clothes.

I like to think I’m in pretty good shape. I eat too much fast food and drink too much pop, but I train Jiu Jitsu and go to Crossfit.  So, I could not understand how I couldn’t even make it up little hills without taking a break at the top.  The last 2 kms (1.2 m) before the town of Gangria took two hours to hike.

If you want to know what Valley of the Flowers is like, but don’t want to fly to India; go to Glacier National park, hike to hidden lake.  But to get the full effect, wear a training mask, and strap a belt around your belly so you can’t breathe in deeply.  If you don’t come within seconds of having a panic attack then change the setting on the training mask and cinch in the belt another notch.  Think I’m exaggerating?  A British man died from altitude sickness while climbing to Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu is at 2400 m.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2398798/British-father-68-dies-altitude-sickness-dream-Machu-Picchu-wife.html

Now, I’m not telling you I was about to die, or we were doing something historic, just telling you to cut me some slack on being a wimp who had to take a break every 100 yards.  Ok, really I’m just feeling insecure because I saw men carrying invalid women from Gangria to the Sikh temple in a woven basket backpack.  I’m not talking Hulk Hogan sized guys, these guys were my size or smaller.  Crossfit competition says they are trying to see who is the fittest in the world.  They can stop having the competitions, cause I’m pretty sure these guys weren’t competing.

101_1971

We stayed in going Gangria for Rs.200 (about 3 1/2 dollars). And left for valley of the flowers the next day. There is a sign and Gangria that says valley of the flowers four kilometers.  Maybe half a km we see an outpost, looks like the entrance but everything/ everyone said it was an hour and a half away, so we ignored it.

Turns out the outpost was the real entrance.  Just the actual valley was 4 kms away.  We found this out because 2 park employees came and asked for the entrance fee after the official start at 7 am.  I took a pic of the guy we have the money too, since he didn’t have a ticket to give us.

The valley wasn’t in full bloom, but it was pretty sweet hiking still.  We hiked almost all the trails, crossing creeks, a river, and glaciers.

Us at the glacier

Us at the glacier

The Glacier

The Glacier

The glacier

The glacier

Melinda crossing the river.

Melinda crossing the river.

On the way back, the entrance area the guard was angling hard for a bribe.    He tried to tell us we could be fined 10,000 rupees.  He also tried to say the guy I have money to was a con artist.   In the end he let us go, content in splitting our entrance fee since our entry was never recorded.

Melinda in the valley.

Melinda in the valley.

The next morning as we are leaving, we see the family we rode up with.  We hiked back the whole way with them.  They bought our lunch at the mid-way point.  We shared the SUV back to Rishikesh, and the next day spent the day with them.  We learned a lot about Sikhism. (The guys in turbins and beards). We went to the Ganges river bridge with them and they bought me a shirt and Melinda a shirt.  The Sikh temple feeds everyone for free, so we also had lunch with them.  The daughter was laughing at me because you have to sit Indian style on the floor to eat, and I was struggling.( I’m the opposite of flexible, whatever that word is).  It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot.

Melinda with the family on the bridge over the Ganges.

Melinda with the family on the bridge over the Ganges.

planes, trains and automobiles the Indian version

8 Jul

  
We are going to the valley of the flowers, a valley 3600 meters in elevation. To get there, we have to get to Hardiwar (by train) then over to Rishikesh (cab or tuk tuk) from there to Govingghat (shared SUV or bus) then on to Gangria (hiking or horseback) and from Gangria we can hike to the valley of the flowers.  The only part that isn’t 8+hours is the taxi from Hardiwar to Rishikesh, that’s an hour.

So whatever you have heard about the Indian rail system is wrong.  I can say that with accuracy, because whatever you say the opposite is also true.  The cars can be perfectly clean and comfortable, but the lower class ones can smell like pee.  The trains run on time, unless they don’t.  The train tickets we booked online were great, awesome way to travel the country.  Booking train tickets in person at the station though can get a little hairy.  

First off don’t just show up and think you’ll get a ticket on the train for that day.   Secondly, for a country that has as many call centers as it does, and has most of it’s signs in English; the level of English is very low.   So, getting a ticket you might not know it’s a waitlist ticket until you show up to ride the train.  

We got from Ranthambore to Jaipur, saw all we wanted to of Jaipur and went to the station at 10 pm to catch our 11 pm train.  We try to find out what our seat will be, and we find out we are on the waitlist, no confirmed seat.  Well, we are told lots of conflicting information.  From cancel your ticket buy a ticket on the 6 am to Delhi and from Delhi go to our destination; to just wait and get on the train.  We try the first strategy, getting in wrong lines and waiting outside windows that no one is staffing.   The people in line tell us we can get on the train, so we go ask the station information booth again.  He says,  yes you can get on the train.  So now we have a plan, get on the train with no confirmed seat and ride the train for 12 hours hopefully being able to sit someplace and get our backpacks off our back.

The train pulls up and we make our way to the car where our waitlisted tickets are for, second class AC.  Finally we get to it, and the worker says we can get on the train but we have to get off the train and go to the sleeper car we can’t walk through the train.  The sleeper train smells like urine and BO. It’s going to be a rough 12 hours even if we find a seat and place for our bags.  But hey, we’ll get on the train and be where we want in the morning.  

So, as we are walking to the sleeper car, the train starts pulling away.  We make it to the car but the door is closed.  I tell Melinda to open it and get on, but it’s going too fast for her.  I get ahead and open the door and get on expecting her to be right behind.  But wearing flip flops, carrying her big backpack, and chasing a moving train was too much.  So, I’m on the train and have to turn around with my big backpack so I have to go deeper than the doorway to turn around.  When I see she isn’t going to make the next car either I have to jump out.   

  
So we go back to the info booth, where they finally explain how to reach the only ticket counter to return tickets at.  Then we cancel our tickets but can’t buy a ticket until tomorrow at  8 am.  The ticket booth the next morning was another hassle.  The short version, two hours and another set of canceled tickets to get where we wanted.  An extra day in Jaipur, and a stay in Delhi were needed.  But we have our train tickets with confirmed seats to Hardiwar.(I call it har de har har because it’s laughing at us.)  

Delhi is good, we finally get a SIM card so we can make calls.  that another story of bureaucracy and red tape.  The hotel is good, we get to see the Red Fort.  Even got to see places that are usually under lock and key.  

So we’re leaving Delhi, checking in for our confirmed seats on the train.  and the guy wants to see our ticket before we go through the metal detector, he says the train is canceled but we see the train number on the screen.  We chalk it up to another scam attempt and keep going, another guy assesses our tickets and says the train is canceled.  He takes us over to the tuk tuk, tells the tuk tuk driver where to go, negotiated a better fair for us.  So it’s obvious he’s not trying to scam us. He sends us to the India department of tourism, which he tells us is open 24 hours.  There at the tourist board they call and the train is canceled.  Instead of putting the passengers on to the next train they just cancel your ticket so we couldn’t go until Sunday.  They call and check about buses but all the buses are full, so they tell us.  They say the only way is a taxi will cost about $260.  We are super frustrated after the last shenanigans and the ticket buying shenanigans, and Melinda gives another worker her ticket to get it refunded while we discuss what we’re going to do.  

  
As the guy is on the phone trying to get the ticket refunded they un-cancel the train and it still leaving at the same departure time, which is in 10 minutes.   The tuk tuk that brought us here has already left, but we find a taxi and get back to the train station.  We get through the security and straight onto the train, just getting on the train and going through the cars till we find our car.  Not getting left again.  Before we even make it to our car, the train pulls away from the station.   We make it to the car, and become worried because an old man is sitting in our seats.  We find other open seats and sit down, figuring once the train has left the station if they want to make us get off they’ll have to stop the train.  Turns out we were in the right spot, no worries.  

I’ll fill you in on the rest of the journey in another installment.