The legend and the truth

To travel is amazing. Is cool. Is exciting. But to travel is also tiring and exhausting. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I realize how tiring traveling can be. The fact of moving constantly, the fact that you have to readapt every other day and face new realities and new people can be tiresome. I don’t how many times I had to repeat my story. Where I’m from, where I’m going, why I’m traveling and so on. Over and over again. Everybody goes “Wow! I wish I could do the same!” and maybe they really mean it, but then they don’t do it. Maybe because they know deep down inside that to travel is actually a “job”, it takes a toll on you, like every other job. Maybe they know that it can be lonely, and that sometimes you feel lost and abandoned. That traveling is not just about money and meeting people and see cool stuff. Traveling is also getting to know yourself, testing your limits. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll make it, you don’t know what you’re going to eat that day, or if you’re even eating at all, you don’t know where you will sleep and who you’ll meet. Of course it’s all part of the adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, but sometimes we all need to stop and make home even if for a couple of days. We all need a little consistency, for some peace of mind. And then your feet start to itch again and you’re ready for your next adventure, for your next connection, your next flight. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I feel the urge to move, to pack my bag and go. I’m nervously checking the flights and I’m already thinking about my next trip. I have this need to meet new people, see new places, eat different things. I need to feel free, to be out in this world, the travel bug had infested my body and there’s no cure. I just need to travel. I can’t explain the adrenaline that rushes through your veins when you arrive in a new place, when to talk to someone new, when you have to face a new problem in a strange land and you manage to solve it. I really miss all that, and even though I love my family and I like to spend time with them, the call of the wild is stronger. I left this instinct sleep for a few years but now that it’s awaken again there’s no way to put it back to sleep. I watch the pictures from my trip and I’m back there, with the sounds, the smells, the breeze and my heart starts to long. I have to be patient and wait just a little longer and I know it’s for a reason. But it’s really hard, I’d take the first plane out if I could, but I’ll try to calm myself and use this time to organize better my next trip. I’m like the scorpion from the tale, it’s beyond my control.

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To the East 

If I was completely adamant about my feelings towards the east I would say that Pondicherry is not worth the trip and Chennai is a shithole (in my opinion of course) but I’ll try to be more polite and provide a more constructive point of view. 

The bus ride to Pondicherry has been everything but pleasant.  It was not a sleeping bus so I had to sleep basically seated and had in from of me a big guy who put his seat all the way down and considering his weight he was practically sleeping in my lap.  Thus my night was all but comfortable but eventually I arrived at destination.  From the bus station I easily walked to my hostel… that I couldn’t find because there is no sign outside or anything that gives it away.  Thankgod there was this old lady sweeping the street that saw the stupid tourist half lost and by way of signs and unintelligible sounds she indicated the door to the hostel..  and it was locked.  The manager arrived not long afterwards and he showed me to my “room”. Basically a closed corridor with a curtain as door… So I had a private instead of the dorm!  I should consider myself lucky.  Valentine hostel is more a private house than a hostel.  There are 3 real small rooms and 2 “rooms” with curtains as doors.  The beds are mattresses on the floor and there is one common bathroom.  Considering the fact that I paid 8€ per night it was a rip off.  But for some incomprehensible reason the whole city is very expensive.  I really don’t understand the fame of Pondicherry.  The city itself has nothing particularly interesting or curious to show.  Apart from the “promenade” and the old French area there is nothing to see.  The beach is no beach at all and there is no grand monument or palace to visit. 

Under the advice of my host I went to Indian Delights for breakfast.  And then again back for lunch or dinner the following day.  The place is famous with locals,  the food very basic Indian food but it’s good and extremely cheap.  On my second day I had also beer and French fries with one Israeli guy from the hostel  at this place called De Bussy rooftop bar.  Nice place but not particularly “ethnic”.

The following day I found this grocery store where I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!  I was on cloud nine!  The place is called Grinde. I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!!! A bit expensive but worth the money!!!  I also indulged myself in buying some soaps and teas. 

I then boarded the train to Chennai.  I couldn’t stand the idea of another bus,  of 4 hours of honking non stop in the middle of crazy traffic.  I grew allergic to honking and the sole idea of having to digest that anymore than necessary makes me sick.  I’d rather be on a train with the usual vendors calling for “chai,  chai….cha-chai… chai” or “coffee…coffee coffee coffee ” or “briyani,  veg briyani” “samosa” and all the likes.  You’ve got the idea… 

It was my first “short” day morning train ride (Not counting the trip to Goa) and it was OK at the beginning.  Then,  the last couple of hours I  just couldn’t wait to get there.  If I had known… 

Arrived at Chennai station I was looking for the metro.  Supposedly I could go with the metro to my hostel.  I asked everyone and apparently there is no metro from there so I resigned myself to book a Uber.  The nice guy arrived in a few minutes and half an hour later I was at the hostel… or so I thought.  It took me a while to find the actual place that in the end proved itself not to be the actual place at all.  I read a review in booking.com that there were two places with the same name.  The Royal Palace Guest House is actually  a house for local workers. The guy at the “reception” there called the actual place that I booked and they promised to be there to pick me up in 5 minutes…. Indian time.  Half an hour later I was still waiting.  I called them myself two more times fuming furious!  Eventually I arrived at Royal Meriton (the real name of the hostel) at 10pm.  I arrived in town 2 1/2 hours earlier… Reviews for this place in booking.com and Agoda are amazing.  It looks like this is really a king’s palace… Of course not.  Of all the facilities numbered in the website the only one that reflects reality is free Wi-Fi.  Even the breakfast picture is fake.  The breakfast is in reality very poor.  This morning I had this kind of cous-cous with whole cloves in it and a vegetarian soup so spicy that it gave me heartburn.  

I didn’t sleep that well as at some point during the night (or early morning) this Indian guy entered the dorm I was sharing with a German guy, switched on the light, and put fan and AC full power… I eventually managed to go back to sleep but I was so cold that I had to steal a blanket from one of the empty beds.  So after the not so special breakfast I got out to go to the train station to buy the ticket to Bangalore for that same night.  In theory that’s something that can be done online but I tried a couple of times and I didn’t make it… Surprise surprise…. 

So.  I arrive at the station with a local bus.  Horrible traffic and honking but it all took 30 minutes.  At the Central Station I look for the ticket counter… No where to be found.  I asked a couple of people working at the station.  They didn’t even understand the question.  Against to what a lot of people think,  not everybody in India speaks English.  Far from it… Anyway.  Let’s go back to the tickets.  So I was asking this police man and a Japanese (Chinese?) guy says,  I know,  I know!!!  So I follow him. He indicates a blue building OUTSIDE the actual station. There!  First floor!  I thank him and go to the first floor of the blue building.  At the first counter I ask to pay with card.  Of course not!  Counter 22 is for card. So I go to counter 22. The lady behind the window asks (without even watching me) for a copy of my passport…. So I start to heat up… Where can I make one?  Next building… What else!  I go out of blue building and search for the next building… That I cannot see.  I ask to a police man who doesn’t understand the question and sends me towards the toilets… Keep calm and breathe… So I ask again to someone behind some counter and he tells me that the Xerox office is down the lane,  after the market.  More or less 10 minutes walk from the main station… The Xerox “office” is on the first floor… again.  There are several actually so I turn around a bit until I find one that is not too busy,  meaning that is attending only one customer. I get two copies just in case and walk all the way back to counter number 22. I fill in the usual form and hand over the xerox copy of my passport.  Can I pay with card? Oh no!  Not this counter… I can genuinely kill someone by now.  Thankgod the “card counter” is the number 21 so the lady that was attending me moves over and re-does all over again.  I finally get my ticket.  It took me about 40 minutes in total and had to pay 100R extra because I’m a tourist… 

I’m ready to visit the few interesting things that this city has to offer.  I walk towards Fort St George that is by the sea and then  I plan to spend the rest of the morning in the area where apparently “all” is. But..  BANG!!!  once again I “stumble” upon a pole that was crossing the pavement WAY too low and my head starts to bleed… Some passers by stop a tuk tuk that will take me to the hospital.  I didn’t really want to but I was bleeding a lot so I thought that maybe was not such a bad idea after all.  At the hospital I skip the line just for being white (sometimes it has its perks!) and the… doctor? nurse?  that “visit” me (in the corridor) wants to give me stitches. I ask if it is really necessary and they say no.  So my nice tuk tuk driver takes me out and drive me away where,  I gather from his broken English,  they will give me a shot and put a band aid on my head. 

I have to make a short digression on my tuk tuk driver here.  As I arrived at the hospital and was waiting to be assisted he nicely cleaned the blood off my face and in that moment I almost cried. I thought of what Lonely Planet said of Chennai.  That the city itself is not much but the people were precious.  Maybe I finally found a place in India where I was not a SWTWALOM… as if… 

Back to trip in tuk tuk we arrive to this dodgy “clinic” where a few patients are waiting in the “waiting room” (1sq m) and being a white face I have the honor to once again skip the cue and enter first.  The “doctor” asks me what happened,  my name,  if I’m allergic to some medicine and then injects me something…and then the “nurse” cleanse my cut and put me some ointment and a band aid.  Off I go,  after paying 120R.  OK… With the prescription I go next door and buy some painkillers and something else and the ointment of course.  103R and off I go.  At this point I don’t feel like doing the tourist stuff anymore.  I just wanna go back to the hostel.  The main road to get the bus is only 15 minutes walk away so I thank and pay my nice tuk tuk driver and start to walk.  Ten steps later the nice guy from the tuk tuk arrives from my back and offers to drive me.  I think “so nice of him!” and arrived at destination where I can take a bus back I ask just out of courtesy how much it was.  I honestly thought he would say it was for free.  It must have been the blow on my head of course that made me even think such thing.  He says 20R so I gave him 100 because I have no 20s and he acts as if he wanted to keep them. I’m like… Wait what?  So I kind of ask him and he says that he has no change and that he’s been nice and drove me around so he deserves it.  OK,  now I see the asshole!  So all this time I thought he was genuinely nice but I was very wrong.  So I kind of told him to f#ck off (a pattern by now) manage to get only 50R back and left him there to get to the bus station.  

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel getting devoured my mosquitoes in the lounge area, checking my photos and writing this blog.  Now I’m on the train,  11.15pm to Bangalore scheduled to arrive at 5.10am at destination.  Hopefully it will be a bit late.  My host in Bangalore won’t be available before 11pm.  I managed to find a couple of CSers that will keep me company until 11.00pm. Can’t wait to leave this city….