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Our Last Night in Varkala

29 Jan

Last night was our last night in Varkala before heading off on the 6:55 a.m train to Fort Cochin (Kochi) 165 km north early this morning.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Arabian Sea, the best one since we have been here (see photo at left)– with deep reds and purples over a HUGE fleet of fishing boats that came out like the stars every night. and a great dinner with Chris, a really good friend that we met in Auroville and then met up with again in Varkala. We realized last night that we had hung out almost everyday for the last one and a half months! Chris owns a backpacker’s camp in Kabak Valley, Turkey called Reflections Camp that purportedly has the finest toilet in the Kabak Valley, let alone the entire country. We may take a little time next year to go check out Turkey.

Here is a picture of Me, Astrid and Chris in Varkala:

Here’s to good friends! It’s nice traveling with good people.

Cheers!

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Leaving Auroville

15 Jan

Well, it had to come eventually…we leave Auroville this evening after over a month here in Tamil Nadu and one month in Auroville to head off to Trivandrum in Kerala. It has been a good month though, some great bodywork including Thai Massage and Reflexology, great dining-aka salads and healthy food, great exercise- like an Olympic sized pool and many walks, good people- including some new friends, and lots of freedom.

What I think I’ll miss especially is our little cottage that we rented for the last three and a half weeks. It was so nice having our “own” space, free from the rules and regulations of the guest houses. We had a small kitchen where we cooked our own food (exciting when you haven’t done it in months!), a seating area, and an upstairs bedroom. Our bathroom facilities were in an outbuilding, but it was doable. The place was set deeply in the forest in the Revelation community of Auroville with the croaking of frogs, the mournful help, help, help of peacocks, the barking of geckos, and many more woodland friends like a family of mongeese, and a little calico cat that adopted us and brought us “surprises” in the mornings- like half a shrew and some other unidentifiable bloody thing. The cottage was built almost 40 years ago when the land that encompasses Auroville was just a dry, parched plain with very little vegetation. The man who built the house was one of the many that reforested the area and he told us that at one point he could see the Bay of Bengal from the second story of the cottage.

Now all you can see are trees- it is beautiful. Hard to believe that an entire forest can grow in 40 years, but it did. When people complain (as I have heard many do here) that nothing has been achieved here in the last four decades- that the city has not been built as promised-I tell people to look around them and see this lush jungle that just didn’t exist before. I call that an achievement.  The intention of Auroville may take a little more time to realize, but I think that they are heading in the right direction.  I would love to see the vision come to fruition.  If you want to learn more about Auroville check out their website, plan a visit, and come see for yourself.

There are also things that I won’t miss:

  1. People who are more spiritual than God and ask you to bask in their golden glow.
  2. The thin layer of red dust that accumulates on EVERYTHING and works its way deep into your toenails and molars.
  3. Forest friends (e.g frogs and bugs) that find their way into our bathroom.
  4. Cold showers.
  5. Dampness and mildew smell on all our clothes, backpacks, books, pencils, etc.

We had a great time while we were here and we may come back at some point, but for now, we have one month left to go on our adventure and many things to see and do, so onward and outward!

See you in Kerala!

Leavin’ on a diesel train….

1 Dec

Hey all, we left Goa on the 29th of November from Vasco da Gama and took the 7312 Vasco to Chennai Express leaving at 2:30 p.m. and arriving in Chennai at 12:50 p.m. on the 30th. Once we left the little bubble of our beach shack and got on the bus, we were back in the “real” India and somehow, things seemed much easier this time, the bus transfers, smog, pollution and masses of humanity were just normal now like the trip to Goa just helped settle all of our experiences thus far. The train ride was a whopping 21 hours, our longest train ride yet! Now it may sound tedious, but being a sleeper train, it was actually quite nice, it’s only the last few hours that got a little boring.

Astrid and I were in the same berth as two men around our age from Chennai, Dhanan a tax assessor and fellow traveller who gets out to see India every November and Ramesh, an engineer working with Kone Elevators and managing escalator projects all over India. We all got to talking right away and it was fun to hang out with these guys. We found out Ramesh is getting married this coming March and plans to have at least 1000 people at his wedding! Congratulations on your marriage Ramesh! Too bad we’ll be back in the States, because we would have gone in a second! We ended up teaching them how to play the card game Uno and we played and talked for about five hours before going to bed.

Not wanting to stay in Chennai, Astrid and I decided to head straight away to Mamallapuram, about 50 km south of Chennai and Dhanan and Ramesh were so helpful with steering us in the right direction. Dhanan even made sure we got into a pre-paid rickshaw and saw us off to the bus stand! Talk about hospitality! Anyway, he is originally from the southern-most tip of India, a place called Kanyakumari, where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea all come together. Since we were planning to go anyway and since he will be there at that time, he asked us to give him a call and he will show us around his hometown. Should be fun seeing a town from a locals perspective.

Anyway we are safely in Mamallapuram on the way to Puducherry (Pondicherry) in a couple of days. We’ll post more later.

The sad state of restaurants on Palolem Beach

26 Nov

After having some markedly awful meals on Palolem Beach including a nasty Caesar salad with very little lettuce, tomatoes that tasted like fish, and lots of mayonnaise at the San Francisco Beach Cafe and other inedible delicacies at other places on the beach, Astrid and I finally found Moksha Lounge, a place that serves good food at decent prices.

We happened to meet Jane, the English co-owner of this cafe while she was playing with her son Jack and dog Kuti in the water. We got to talking, and she told us that she and a local Goan man, Julio, just opened the cafe eight days ago. She was very cool so we decided to give it a try.

I’m glad we did. The menu was still “multi-cuisine” but the difference here is that everything is good and they take pride in serving quality food. We’ve been back a few times and everything we’ve had from kebabs to pasta dishes to tapas have been spot on. Jane even makes real English sausages from her own recipe and won’t tell anyone else about it- so you won’t see them being replicated anywhere else on the beach. They also have the newest sun beds on the beach with clean towels and everything!

Anyway, Moksha Lounge is right between the San Francisco Beach Cafe (GAG) and Inn Joy Seafood Restaurant halfway between the main entrance and the south end of the beach.

If you go, enjoy and say hello from Anthony!

Cheers!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

9 Nov

…Goa a couple of days ago and I wanted to share it with you.

We flew from the east coast of India to the west coast to avoid a 48-hour train ride before we begin to head south toward Puducherry and Auroville.  We flew SpiceJet, one of India’s new low-cost carriers. The seating was less than generous, but perfect for the average Indian flyer. As Astrid and I squeezed into our seats, I looked at the empty aisle seat next to me and hoped that no one would sit there so I could move over. Things were looking good until about five minutes before the plane was about to leave when a man as tall and as wide as me sat down next to me.

No one in our row was comfortable and the air conditioning system was not operating very well. The sun was coming in through the window with the shade drawn and heating up the interior of the plane. The man next to me fell asleep and kind of slumped toward me. After about a half hour, I became very uncomfortable and began squirming in my seat, trying to get some legroom or part of an armrest, which the man next to me was taking. Astrid asked me if I was okay and I told her that I was just hot and uncomfortable.

At that point the man turned to me and asked me if he had done something to offend me. I said, “No, did I do something to offend you?” He replied, “You know what you did.” But I actually didn’t know what I did. The man then said, ” I can ask the flight attendant to move me to another seat if you want.” I replied, “I don’t think that is necessary, but feel free to move if you want to.” We didn’t exchange another word during the rest of the flight.

45 minutes later, as we prepared for landing, the man turned to me again and apologized for acting the way that he did. He told me that he was tired, uncomfortable, and had been travelling all day.  He told me that he had nothing to say for himself and that he should not have treated me with disrespect. It was a rreally vulnerable thing for him to do and I accepted his apology with tears in my eyes. He said, “Enjoy your time in Goa.” I shook his hand and we disembarked the plane. I saw him once on the bus to the terminal and then we got our luggage and left for our hotel.

Fast forward to the next day, Astrid and I were walking around Panaji, looking at the Portuguese-inspired architecture, and remarking at the cleanliness. We walked across a very busy avenue, dodging cars and motorbikes the entire way to start walking along the riverfront promenade. As we got across the street, we both heard the sound of “It’s a Small World.” You know, the Disney song. Anyway, we walked about fifty meters and I heard a car honk at us. I turned, half expecting to see a taxi trying to get a fare, what I saw instead was a man in a small red car with his son. He was pointing at the building next to us and waving, so I looked at the building, which was nothing spectacular.  “Wierd,” I thought… I decided to ignore the man who was obviously crazy and we continued to walk. We got about 50 more meters when he pulled up next to us again and began to honk and wave at us. I looked closer and saw that he was the man from the airplane!

We walked up to the car and he asked us how our time in Goa was and told us that he still felt upset about treating me so poorly on the plane the day before. He introduced himself as Adolfo and asked us if he could take us out for a cappuccino that evening. We agreed and he said that he would pick us up at our guesthouse at eight p.m. As he drove away, Astrid and I both remarked that we had heard the song “It’s a Small World,” and when Astrid heard it, she thought to herself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw the man from the plane right when this song was playing?”

A little after eight o’clock, the man showed up and whisked us off to the café where we talked about our lives and learned that he was a Presbyterian reverend from Brazil and  has lived in Goa for the last ten years with his wife and son. We began talking about his son and his son’s problems in school, his teachers call the family at least once a week and call the boy a dreamer and say that he has mental problems- even though he has been seen by a specialist. Astrid asked if he was artistic. Adolfo said, “Yes, in fact he carries a drawing book with him wherever he goes.” This boy’s school life was so close to my own, his teachers were trying to stifle his creativity and imagination and turn him into a smaller version of themselves. I told Adolfo as much and said that I too was an artist.  I told him that what mattered most was that he let his son know that he could do anything and be anything.

Adolfo must have agreed with what I was saying, because he quickly asked if we would come to the auditorium nearby where his wife and son were so I could meet them. I thought about it for a second and agreed to go with him. We arrived at the auditorium to find that his wife and son were attending a Christian revival meeting, complete with a preacher, prayers to the Baby Jesus, hand waving, miracle healings and everything. Adolfo told us that he didn’t agree with this, but as a respected reverend in Goa, that he was there as support for the churches. It was so surreal to see Indian people praying in the Christian way and waving their arms and yelling “Amen.” It was surreal for me as well, as I haven’t stepped foot inside a church for a service in decades.

After the service ended, Adolfo introduced us to his family, his son David, and his wife (whose name escapes me at the moment.) We exited the auditorium and went to find a seat outside to talk. David would barely shake my hand let alone look at me until Adolfo told him that I was an artist too. When he heard this, David asked if I could draw anything. I said, “Yes” and he asked me if I had any paper with me. I didn’t have any materials with me so he went to play with his friends. I told Adolfo and his wife about how strange it was that we met again and the way that “It’s a Small World” was playing when we saw him earlier that morning. His parents and friends were all going out for pizza and asked us to come along as their guests. We agreed.

We ended up at Domino’s, the only pizza place in town and ate pizza, talked, and David somehow found me some paper and a pen and asked me to draw something for him. I asked what he wanted me to draw. He said, “A cat.” I drew a lion. He asked me to draw Spiderman, I drew a cartoon version of the superhero, he asked me to draw a dragon and I asked him what a dragon looked like. As he told me, I drew what he was imagining. There was something very powerful there for me and the boy, and David responded by completely lighting up. I began to realize that the altercation that happened on the plane had nothing to do with his father and me, but had everything to do with me meeting this boy.  Adolfo could see how much his son lit up when engaged in art and had an idea for me to visit a school for homeless and poor children and draw with them for a couple of hours. I agreed, but we’ll see if anything comes of it.

We left the restaurant at 11:30 ready to be taken home and go to bed. As we backed out of the parking space, we heard the song again… “It’s a Small World” was coming from his car- it was his back up indicator! Astrid and I yelled in unison, “THIS IS THE SONG!” Adolfo had no idea that the backup indicator song was the song we were talking about earlier!

Instead of going straight back to the hotel, we drove around Panaji for another hour looking at all of the Narakasur (demon) statues that were being set up to be burned for Diwali later that evening/ morning. We got to take a short tour of the city and see Hindus out partying it up to fight the darkness. 

We found new friends in Goa- not Goans, but Brazilians!

Cheers!

East Sikkim- Pelling and Yuksom

20 Oct

I can’t really say much about Pelling- there is really nothing there to talk about except jaw-dropping views of the Himalaya. There are about 80 half-built hotels in Pelling, a testament to the hoards of Bengali tourists that infiltrate the town each spring to escape the heat of the plains. The half-built issue is a blight on the town and a direct cause of the incredible amount of money that India is putting into Sikkim. The government is giving low-interest loans to encourage development and tourism and greedy people are taking the loans- putting some of it into the start of a hotel and then skipping out with the remainder.

We spent an exceptional day walking to the Pemayangtse Monastery ( yes, another monastery) which was extremely beautiful and totally open to the public. The idols that were kept there were all incarnations of Guru Padmasambhava, the priest that converted Tibet to Buddhism. On the top floor of the monastery was an incredible seven-tiered carved wooden model of the abode of Padmasambhava complete with Buddhas, bodhisattva, dragons, animals, rainbows and buildings. It was built in five years by one man…an incredible achievement. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures, so you will have to go see it for yourself.

After the monastery, we walked down the road to the posh Elgin Mt. Pandim Hotel to have tea where we met an Australian man in his sixties named Ian who was managing the facilities.  He talked to us during tea and told us about the problems he was running into with people who do not have the same Western work ethic.  Ian introduced us to his wife (whose name I can’t recall) who also worked at the hotel and when we were ready to leave, he refused to let us pay, we were HIS guests!

The next day we took a Jeep to Yuksom and spent the day there before leaving Sikkim and going back to Kalimpong in India proper West Bengal.  We’re going to spend a couple days of rest and relaxation in a nice hotel in Kalimpong.

See you soon!