Sarah is now on her way to Bangkok, hopefully on her way to a flight to New Zealand. She's planning to stay in NZ for a while, and do some study. I miss her already. :( It's been good times.
So now I'm all alone in the Indian subcontinent. Someone more optimistmic might say that the other billion people are just friends I haven't met yet. ;)
Actually, we split up in Hyderabad on Friday, and since then I have met about thirty people. More than the entire week before. Travelling alone forces me to be friendly (ish - still not with young Indian men).
I'm back in Auroville, the international community (no, it's not a cult). Back on the farm, back in a lovely little hut, back to cold bucket showers. It was great to be travelling to a known destination, for a change. It meant that I could actually do some serious bargaining with the rickshaw drivers.
Hmm, although it didn't go well in Chennai. My Lonely Planet is a bit out of date, and I had to find the right bus station to catch a bus to Pondicherry. The rickshaw driver and I had an argument about which was the right bus station(they will generally lie through their teeth at any time, if it will make more money). So we went to the station I wanted to go to, and of course it turned out to be wrong. He had a hearty laugh. Oh well.
It's great to be back on the farm. I love the way that the stars are so clear at night - there's little or no light pollution. I spent much of this morning lying in a hammock, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Thank God.
Hyderabad was much much too noisy. I didn't like it at all. It has a big Muslim population, so there are a *lot* of women wearing chadors (If that's what they're called? Black from head to foot, with just a slit for the eyes). I hate that. It feels oppressive to me, although yes I do realise it's a different culture and I couldn't possibly comment. We met some guys who'd been working in Pakistan, apparently the women aren't allowed outdoors at all there. In comparison, they though Hyderabad looked quite liberated.
So I'm glad to be back here with the tourists. Don't think I don't recognise the irony.
Wahey, and I hired a moped today. I'm going very very slowly at the moment, in the interests of other road users. It's a whole lot of fun, although I want a bicycle as well. So I can bicycle through the trees enjoying the quiet.
And now, it's the moment we've all been waiting for . . . I'm going to go and order a hoooge salad. Yum.
Yes indeedy, the trip from Chengannur to Hyderabad took thirty-two hours. That's from 7.15am Sunday to 3pm Monday on a train. Lying on a fairly uncomfortable vinyl bunk, the third level up from the floor. Reading Marian Keyes until my brains fell out my ears, writing in my diary until my pen ran out, and eating a lot of train food . . .
The train food was excellent. British Railways could learn a lot here (no curling plastic-wrapped sandwiches, lots of tasty dhal and rice). Although a British Railways employee probably wouldn't have served my food with bare hands, or wiped my plastic spoon on their shirt front. Undoubtedly my own fault for refusing to eat with my hands.
When I asked what to do with the empty foil trays, they mimed throwing them out the window. Horrified, but not wanting to hold on to them for another 12 hours, I left my trays at the end of the carriage. Probably for someone else to throw out the window. ;)
Now that I have severely lowered my hygiene standards, train trips are generally very enjoyable. Indian people appear to have a great fear of starving to death on train journeys. Every well-organised family group will be carrying a lot of delicious-smelling food in tupperware containers, pots, banana leaves or newspaper. As well as that, every five minutes (literally) someone will be wandering past with chai, coffee, icecreams, cold drinks, nuts, icecreams, or any number of tasty fried things like samosas. And yelling it loudly and incomprehensibly - "copycopycopycopy" etc.
I always worry about starving to death on public transport, so India is my kinda country.
We're now in Hyderabad, famous for its forts and museums. It was Republic Day when we arrived, which may have something to do with the fact that we had to go through ten hotels to find a vaguely decent room. And we don't have high standards. Honestly.
The roads are scccaarrryyy. We've witnessed two accidents in the 24 hours we've been here. One when our rickshaw hit a small boy on a bike (he walked away, a little sore), and one when an old man was hit by a rickshaw (he walked away too). Are we noticing a theme here? We've decided to take rickshaws from now on, because it's slightly less scary than trying to cross the road in front of one. Or forty as the case may be. We spent a good ten minutes trying to pluck up the courage to cross a six-lane road earlier. Much to the amusement of the locals, who saunter casually in front of speeding trucks.
After we book some more tickets etc, we're going to a big fancy museum. I secretly think Sarah is taking this last chance to try to pretend to be a proper tourist.
Oohh, actually my big excitement of today was that a train ticket person smiled at me. They NEVER smile, and mostly they make me go and line up at another window. Generally the one with the largest scrum. I think today's accomplishment was acknowledgement of the fact that I managed to correctly fill out a ticket reservation form (this is more difficult than it sounds), AND come up with the correct change. Yay me.
I'll be travelling solo as of Thursday. No more Sarah to save me from being run over by motorbikes (she's saved my life at least twice so far today). :( It's all a bit scary, and a bit exciting. I'm going back to the farm at Auroville for a bit of a rest and some yoga. Then we'll see what comes next. . .
Why? I suspect some cultural divides just run too deep.
We moved to the Dream Palace yesterday. Needless to say, it is not a dream palace. Instead, it's a fairly skanky white building on top of a cliff. I took a photo of the sign, just because the dripping paint and dirt was so evocative.
The reason we took the room was the hammocks under the coconut palms, with fairy lights at night. If vodka was easier to find, this would be the perfect way to spend an evening.
Another hard day on the beach today. . . I got up for an early morning swim. It was almost worth getting out of bed to be first on the beach. There were no umbrellas, and the water was still a bit cold (not to mention so clear, you could see the shells on the sea floor). Somehow I still managed to get sunburnt, at 9.30am, wearing Factor 16. I blame the sunscreen. I suspect it's rip-off Nivea. Surely there's no such thing as Factor 16?
We saw a girl cutting her friend's hair with Swiss Army knife scissors on the beach. I'm considering doing the same to mine. It's desperately in need of a cut, and still has the remnants of a little henna accident I had in Bangalore.
There's an Elephant Festival on today. I suspect that we aren't 'proper' tourists. We considered a hot and frustrating bus-ride to go and check it out, and decided to stay in the hammocks instead.
It's our last day on the beach today. We'll catch a train back to Chenganuur to pick up our bags tomorrow, and then on to Hyderabad. Then I'll say goodbye to Sarah, and I'm going to have to do something with my life. I'm considering a yoga/meditation course, volunteering, or else maybe spending another month on the beach . . .
Is it? Can it be? Well, it's certainly not bad.
We're two minutes walk away from the beach, which definitely has the sparkling white sand and warm blue waters of my dreams. It's much nicer than Goa. There are a lot less beggars and sellers, and hardly any men trawling up and down the beach eyeing up the bikini-clad women.
I'm still not sure if there is actually less hassle here. It may be that we've become accustomed to passing strangers interrogating us regarding our marital status and future plans.
After some enthusiastic beaching, I am now a little sunburnt. I thought a massage would be a good idea, while I'm living this life of hedonistic luxury. It was, except for the sunburn and sand combining to make it a little, hmm, exfoliating. Oh dear.
Still, I'm now very warm and relaxed. My skin will probably recover some day.
They have fantastic fat rice here. A typical Kerala meal appears to be: fat rice, sambar or dhal, poppadums, pickles and curds, with pineapple for dessert. Yum. Luckily. this is exactly what I feel like for dinner.
Bugger, I'm going to have to make an effort to make sure this blog isn't all about food. And lack of books. I'm now on to the Hardy Boys. Actually surprisingly good, if a bit lacking in plot. ;)
I just tried to add a new stylesheet, unfortunately the connection is sloow. Will work on content for now, and beauty later.
Yes, it's true. I'm a virgin blogger. Embarrassing to admit that I am somewhat self-conscious. All names will be changed to protect the innocent.
I'm currently in Kerala, looking for the perfect beach.
We've just arrived in Varkala, after a day spent going on a boat from Allepey to Kollam, through the backwaters of Kerala. It was terribly relaxing, drifting through the coconut palms and banana trees, stopping only to eat more food. It was only near the end of the eight hours that I started to get a bit restless, and consider that we still had a bus to catch.
Sure enough, when we arrived at the bus station it turned out that the last bus had already left. We had no idea where we were going (or even how to pronounce the name of the town), and what should have been a 35-minute trip took an hour and half. The second bus was incredibly packed. One person was literally hanging out the door. I was impressed with his resilience. I was having trouble staying upright inside the bus, what with the rally-style driving.
Anyway, we arrived mostly in one piece and found a lovely hotel (ie. expensive. We'll have to look for a cheaper one tomorrow, when we can locate the beach). Unfortunately we went to look for dinner during the power cut. There's a half hour power-cut every evening to conserve electricity. We were wandering along the road in the dark looking for somewhere to eat, and realised ten minutes later why there were only candle-lit establishments. Sarah and I read Cosmopolitan by candle-light to keep ourselves amused. I've run out of books again. . .
We've just left Chenganuur, where we were staying with Lexy's friends. It was great to stay with an Indian family for a bit, and feel less like gawping tourists. They fed us huge meals constantly, and unfortunately I now find that I am used to it. I only had three meals today, and now I'm feeling the need of a snack. Will continue tomorrow when blood-sugar levels are higher.