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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The end is the beginning is the end… 

And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end.  I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while.  Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house.  Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back.  He smiles from down the road,  a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine.  He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian.  After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is.  Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed.  Rintu takes me around,  we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings,  remainings of the British era.  I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while.  So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali.  My last one… 

I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house.  The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat,  have breakfast,  we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out.  We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook.  Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn.  I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me.  I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.  

Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad.  These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe,  a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore.  In India,  in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know.  But people seem more carefree,  happier,  they dress in color and talk to each other.  Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me.  I learnt so much of myself,  of the world,  of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge.  I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey,  where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls,  grey and black.  A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL). 

It’s good to travel abroad,  I know.  And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself.  Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears.  I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides,  the colors,  the food, the smile on people faces,  the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things).  I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant,  to visit a new city.  It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback.  In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.

Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

Palolem.  I could have stayed there forever.  The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel.  SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors.  It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards.  The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions. 

But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent.  It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters.  It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy.  And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful.  There are a few very nice restaurants.  I tried Magic Italy,  an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good.  Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive.  Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.  

During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur.  Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing,  soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil.  And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls.  Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job.  But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that. 

So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India.  On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day.  I left Goa to Kerala,  god’s won country as they call it here.  The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.  

Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad.  They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located.  Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India.  There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting.  After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time.  I had to decide what to do.  Alleppy?  Munnar?  Madurai  or Pondicherry?  I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day. 

Summing it up : Nepal 

I’m on the plane to Delhi.  Kathmandu and Nepal are still a fresh memory.  All in all I can’t really say that Nepal has been a pleasant experience.  Since the moment I’ve touched land I’ve had problems and worries.  Until the last moment. 

 The Annapurna base camp trekking has been nice,  although cold. Being in nature,  away from cars and traffic and people and chaos has been a refreshing break.  The last few days I had a roommate – Paul – that literally saved me from going mad.  I met a few nice people,  even locals,  I had good food but I don’t really think I’ll be back to visit Nepal,  at least not in this life.  I also cancelled my volunteering because goimg to the Dang would have meant to travel “12” hours on a bus. And honestly I wasn’t ready to do that.  It would have been too much.  It would have been fatal for my nerves.  The “6” hours bus back from Pokhara had already been very tiring.  I was not ready and willing to face again another “ride in hell”.

 So I decided to buy my visa to India (which surprisingly enough was extremely easy) and leave the country before planned but at the moment of buying the ticket I was stuck as the website didn’t accept my cards and according to Nepal laws you cannot fly on a ticket bought by someone else….and once again I was stuck.  Chance though sent me a guardian angel called Paul from France.  Without even knowing me Paul offered to buy the ticket for me and soon said and done he booked the ticket to Delhi and paid it with his own CC (of course I have to pay him back). And finally, at peace knowing that I was finally able to leave the country I managed to enjoy my last moments with Paul and some other cool people met thanks to couchsurfing. But I really think that Nepal has been a big disappointment because I was expecting so much.  I was so looking forward to visiting that I had imagined a land of fairy tales.  But that doesn’t exist and Nepal is just another country in Asia.  With its pros and cons.  Anyways… 

Once again I met a few cool people that by themselves made the trip to Nepal worthwhile.  I trek up to 4000m without any training.  I escaped two or three life threatening situations (in traffic)  so I guess I can still consider this stop as a positive one.  

Maybe next time – if ever – I come back,  I will just skip Kathmandu and move to nicer places. 

The good thing about Kathmandu are the restaurants.  I tried a few,  here is the list in no particular order :

 

Can’t find the words

I’ve been in Bangladesh for more than a week now and somehow I can’t find the words to tell my story so far.  To begin with Bangladesh make me think of several different countries : Laos for the poor state of the roads, Vietnam for the constant annoying use of horns to communicate in the traffic,  Myanmar for the men in “skirt” and finally India (although I haven’t been there yet) for the amount of people and the chaos everywhere. But at the same time Bangladesh is just Bangladesh.  Full of colors,  trash,  contradictions and most of all its fantastic people so welcoming and generous I have not words to describe. 

During my trip I have been blessed with the friendship of many beautiful people but Bengals are another story. Without them I could have not survived Bangladesh.  This place is a mess (I hope this will not offend anyone).  There are no rules and the few that have been enforced are constantly broken. In the words of one of my local friends “we like to break rules”. And it’s clear everywhere you look.  But then the generosity of people is something I have never seen in my entire life.  Bangladesh is a very poor country.  It’s story is a sad one and this relatively newborn country has been catapulted in the 21st century without any parachute.  People are noble but have no money.  Everyone dreams of travelling away from here.  Everyone dreams of going abroad.  Foreigners here are a miracle and I felt like a start here with the pros and cons that this carries with it.  People stare at me and I  mean STARE.  Sometimes I feel like an alien,  been scrutinized to check if I behave somehow differently. I also kinda learn how to eat with my hands (the custom here)  to feel less alien.  But still people stop me in the street to ask where I’m from and why I’m here as if they couldn’t even consider the idea of someone wanting to visit their country just for the sake of it.  They ask you very personal questions (how much do you earn?),  they’re extremely curious towards all that is “out there”. 

But the didn’t let me pay for anything.  They turn their place upside down to make me feel at home.  I cannot even buy a bottle of water because “I’m their guest” so they take care of everything. I’d been hosted mainly by students and unemployed and still wasn’t able to pay for anything.  

I’ve spent 2 days in Dhaka as I’ve arrived.  The city is simply horrible.  Once again no rules,  in traffic and in construction.  There is no city center and to do 5 km it can take you up to 2 hours. Despair has had the best of me a couple of times but there is really nothing you can do about that.  The streets are shared between cars,  rickshaw,   goats, CNGs cows and some stray dogs.  There is no direction for circulation.  You can go anywhere.  I thought I would die more than once here but apparently I’m still alive.  I’m so surprised I still haven’t seen any street accident but I guess they got very skilled at driving in chaos.  The heat is scorching.  They keep on telling me that I should have come in winter,  in a couple of months.  And I agree with them.  There are no trees on the streets so walking around during daytime is a torture. So I took an offer from one CSer to visit his university campus and stay with him a couple of days.  Jahanginagar university is an hour out of Dhaka and comparing to the city is heaven on earth.  The stretch of the area is equal to a small village.  There’s green everywhere and in some corner you have the feeling you’re in a forest more than in  University campus. 

 For a few days I felt I was back in school and for a moment I longed to be a student again,  when life was without worries and everything was still possible. Shariful and his girlfriend took me also to see the liberation monumentBaliati Palace and on a trip on the river. 

 Than one of my CSer host has invited me to Sylhet and there I  met a lot of his friends that have taken care of me as if I was a king.  We went to visit his campus far smaller than the previous one but still very green and an oasis comparing to the oven that the city is. Then Joy had to go back to work so I stayed a few days more in Sylhet where his friends have invited me to dinner at their place and prepared a specially cooked for me vegan dinner.  It was delicious!  Shammi is an excellent cook and very passionate about food. 

The following day they took me to Sreemongol where there is a protected area of a forest some 3 hours train ride outside Sylhet.  At the train station I was of course the main attraction to a point that it was very uncomfortable.  People were staring at me and kids were flying in flocks like flies to honey.  The train ride was an adventure by itself and once arrived in Sreemongol we needed to rent a local “van” to take us to the forest of Lawachara National Park

 

Once again as a foreigner I had to pay 10 times (literally) what the locals paid but it was worth it.  The park is beautiful and still pretty wild.  In it you can see a train passing through,  monkeys and if you’re lucky enough other wild animals.  Inside the park live some local tribe that are pretty much self sufficient with what the forest provide and from the selling of betel nut (yuk!) 

After the park we visited some beautiful tea plantations, a crop very common in this country, and we took the 8.30pm train back to Sylhet.  We were exhausted.

 

Summing it up – Myanmar 

So I finally moved out of Myanmar too.  I stayed a little less than a month but it felt longer.  And not because I didn’t like it but rather the opposite.  Myanmar felt good,  I made a home for a little while in Yangon and I was really having a good time.  People are nice,  food is good and cheap.  The land of men in skirt (it’s actually called longyi) where men (them again!) chew all day long betel nut and get their teeth burned out by limestone (an utterly disgusting habit), where blood red spit is everywhere, where they drive on the right and the steering wheel is on the right also (second hand cars from Japan) made me feel welcome. Not a single moment of insecurity,  not a moment where I felt I was in danger. But as we know all good things come to an end and it was time for me to move on.  I was on the stage where it’s either you settle down and find a job,  or you leave.  And I left. 

To close my adventure with a bit of a heartbeat I realized when I was half way to the airport that I left my passport back at the hostel where I spent my last night.  Luckily I left well in advance so I had the time to make a U turn,  go back to the hostel and make it to the airport to catch my flight.  But jeez my heart raced!!!! 

So now in Dhaka Bangladesh I think about my days back in Yangon and for the first time I am nostalgic.  Dhaka is very different from Yangon,  it’s a crazy city and people look at me as if I was an alien.  Buy it’s fun,  my CS host is extremely nice and I’m sure that by the time I will get use to this new dimension it will be time to take my next flight. 

The Yangon miracle 

So even my time in Myanmar has come to an end.  Tomorrow I will be on a plane direction Dhaka,  Bangladesh.  I have to admit that I had a very good time here.  Myanmar is a very nice country,  I expected to like it and I haven’t been disappointed.  My time in Yangon has been a revelation.  I spent my days at Adrian’s,  a Filipino guy that have been living here for the last years.  He lives with a Filipino girl accidentally named Adrienne.  During the time I spent at Adrian’s and Adrienne’s I took part in a surprise birthday party (for Adrienne) a house warming party and to the FAB party,  LGBT community party in Yangon that takes place one a month,  last Saturday. 

So Adrian has taken all the pain to take me around,  show me the city, take me to the cool places in town (GekkoRangoon Tea HousePenthouseSharky’s) and then convinced me to go to FAB (never been a big fan of disco parties).  But I’m SO GLAD I gave in and went to FAB party.  The place was packed with LGBT people and friends.  The crowd is very mixed and people are there just to have fun.  In a way it made me think of my early years when I used to go dancing with my friends on Saturday nights. I haven’t done that for ages, until yesterday.  All the people met during my stay were there and it made me feel happy,  people were having a blast and so was I.  And I didn’t even drink!  There were boys and girls (and all that’s in between)  of all shapes and sizes and I was not even the grandpa of the party! 

Yangon and the people met here managed to give me even if for a while the sense of home, comfort zone limited in space and time that I needed. Now I’m ready to move on.  The time has come for me to move to another place,  time to meet other people, time to live another adventure.