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.

 

Advertisements

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. 

Smile, you’re in Mandalay! 

I really liked Yangon but it was time for me to move on.  I booked a bus to Mandalay and I arrived at the Four rivers hostel where I had booked a bed.  The place is nice and clean,  rooms are spacious, breakfast is good.  The bathrooms could do with some make up but it was a very good choice.  On the afternoon of the first day there I just walked around a bit to have the feeling of the city. Mandalay is not Yangon. 

 Motorbikes are allowed there and the conversations among horns made me think of Hanoi.  So after the relative peace and quiet of Yangon I felt a little attacked but the feeling soon melted away.  People are very nice in Mandalay.  The smile.  All the time.  They don’t see the white face as a walking wallet. Most of the time they just smile at you and then carry on with their own devices.  The second day after a good and abundant breakfast on the roof terrace of the hostel I rented a bicycle to visit the city.  Before the heat started (and it was already too late)  I decided to visit Mandalay hill and the temple on top of it.  I got at the foot of the hill easily as the city is plain (a part from the hill) and once I got there I wanted to get to the top by the stairway for pedestrians to reach the top.  But there was a little “lost in translation ” situation and by the time I realized I was going up hill with the bike it was already too late to go back.  So I made the best of the situation and just “hiked” dragging the bicycle.  Once at the top I was ready for a heart attack…. But I just bought a bottle of ice cold water and I sat for 10 minutes just to get back my breath.  I walked up some steps and I was in the temple. Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is an immense space all covered in gold and mirrors as Myanmar tradition wants.  There are Buddha statues of different colors and forms,  so many of them so that at some point I got dizzy. 

I thought than in Italy we have far too many churches,  Christs and Virgin Marys but here there are faaaar more pagodas and Buddhas!!! 

They way back down was easy as I just let the brakes lose and in 5 minutes I was down.  I went to the “biggest book in the world” the Kuthodaw Pagoda, and it was just breathtaking.  Thinking of the fact that it was all handmade it’s just mind-blowing! 

After that I toured around the walls and went for lunch at Nepali, a restaurant not far from the wall.  The food was amazing and cheap and the service five star.

The following day I booked a tour to visit Inwa, Amapura and Sagaing. Three small towns a stone throw from Mandalay.  Of course we saw Buddhas and pagodas galore. After Sagaing we stopped for lunch at this vegetarian place near the river.  There was just us from the tour and the place is very cosy and quiet. It’s called Himalaya and the food was amazing! 

After lunch we crossed the river to visit Amarapura and we got caught in the middle of a rainstorm and we travelled in a chariot dragged by a poor horse and got completely soaked!!!  It was fun. 

The day after I just packed my bag and waited in the hostel for my night bus back to Yangon to begin my week of volunteering at Tha Bar Wa meditation center.   

The bubble 

So… Where to start… 

I’ve been in KL for more than one month now and I think it’s time for me to move on. The time spent here it’s been good,  a needed a little nest to make home for a little while.  Travelling is cool but it’s also tiring and every now and then is good to go back to the comfort zone. 

But yeah my time here is up.  I realized it yesterday. It took me time to buy the ticket to Cambodia.  And not only because of the problems I had with my credit card (yes.  It’s been cloned… but this is another story…).  It’s been difficult to make up my mind and buy the ticket because I was good here in KL,  I had a home again and it was nice to settle down in the everyday routine.  But luckily for me KL is not the place I wanna settle down again.  It’s a big city but still very human in a way.  The prices are honest (apart from the rent,  like in Barcelona basically) and the food is good.  But the dark side of it all is that people here are very busy, for real or not. 

It’s really hard to meet anybody,  let alone get to know them.  Via couchsurfing and other apps I got in touch with hundreds of people (not kidding) but I managed to meet only a few.  They’re all super interested in meeting with you but you can never get a date from them.  And when you finally get a date they cancel at the last moment.  Or you meet,  all goes well,  “let’s meet again ” but again never comes.  You have to organize with at least a couple of weeks in advance.  It’s true that distance here can be discouraging and that public transportation is awful but still… There is always something else in the middle. Commitment is a word that is not really taken into consideration in KL.  The enthusiasm is killed easily.  I feel like they are collecting chats or friends in CS or FB.  The virtual word is waaaaaay more important that the real one.  Even when people go out together they are checking their phones all the time.  There is always someone or something else capturing their attention.  They’re there but not really. I’ve wasted so much time and energy try to connect with locals and in the end I was so frustrated that I decided not to open any app anymore. 

I have only a few days left in KL.  Time to finish my classes (to be discussed in next chapter)  and then I’m off to Phnom Penh.  I’m really looking forward to visit Cambodia.  A change of scenery will do me good. 

Pink clouds in my plate 

In Yogyakarta I checked in at “House of Nasi Bungkus” (Ngestiharjo, Kasihan, Bantul Regency, Special Region of Yogyakarta 55184). It’s a bit far from the center but the view on the rice fields is gorgeous. Besides they give bikes for free so after checking in I got on a bicycle and pedalled my way to town (20 minutes) where I met with Roberto, a Spanish guy met at Malang hostel.

We met at the “food street” where everyone gathered at nightfall after fasting for Ramadan. The street is packed with people, cars, motorbikes and all sorts of amusement and “business”. Food prices are higher than usual but we managed to get our noodles (vegetarian for me of course!!!) for around 1€.
After food we wanted to go for a beer but we discovered that it is not so easy to get one as in Bali for instance. The further west you move in Indonesia, the stronger is Islam influence, therefore getting alcohol in this area can be quite a challenge.
Not able to get our craved for beer we called it a night and headed to our respective hostels.
I was SO looking forward for a good night sleep but to my big disappointment at 4am the choirs started to play outside the windows and it was impossible to sleep. When the prayers were finished (at around 5), I managed to fall asleep only to be woken up not even two hours later by the songs coming from a school (my guess) not very far. There goes my quite night in the rice fields!!!

After breakfast I checked out of the hostel and borrowed a bike to go downtown and meet with Dea, a very fine young lady that contacted me via Couchsurfing. We took a long walk around town (very unusual here in Asia where walking is just for the poor!!!) and talked of everything. She is very curious about the world outside Asia and asked me plenty of questions about Europe and our lifestyle.

I left Dea and headed back to the hostel to get my backpack and move to a couchsurfer who has a home stay but sometimes gives one of the rooms to couchsurfers. 

At dinner time (6pm) I met once again with Roberto. We wanted to go to Merapi volcano but we realized that it would take a lot of stress and money (leave at 11pm. Get at volcano 2 hours later. Hicking steep for 4 hours and back for about 30€) so we decided to skip it and just enjoy the evening in the center.
We were both looking for food that was not Asian for a change and ended up in this place in a small alley just off the main food street where we had burger and French fries and also managed to finally have a beer!!!
Very happy with our food we parted and said our goodbyes as the following day I was going to Semerang for one day and Roberto would leave town also. I didn’t visit the temples that are close to the city as the entrance is pretty expensive (25$ each) and travelling on a budget I have to make choices. I found the price too high especially because people that went there told me that they’re not spectacular and I felt that it was not worth it. Wanting to spend almost a year travelling I really need to be careful with my budget and sometimes I have to give things up.

I arrived in Semerang where I met with Sigit, a young local CSer. His house is big and very nice and has also a wonderful little garden! 

He took me to the “Brown Canyon ” and at night we went in town and walked around with Sigit giving me some information about the town and telling me his projects for the future. He taught himself 6 languages and counting and he dreams of leaving Indonesia.

Following day I’m back on the train on my way to Bundung where I booked a bed in “Buton Backpacker Lodge” (Jl. Buton No.14, Kb. Pisang, Sumur Bandung, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat 40112) a super nice and extremely clean hostel. For dinner I went to “KUNST house” (Jawa Barat, Jl. Buton No.1, Kb. Pisang, Sumur Bandung, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat 40112) where I dined with a delicious – although a little greasy – Rosti. After that I met in Braga st. with Tora (a couchsurfer) and his guests from Poland to have a beer.

After spending a very resting night at the hostel, and after a very generous breakfast I moved to Tora as Polish guys were hitchhiking their way to Bali. These are the final days of Ramadan and all public transportation is fully booked. Everyone is moving back to their hometown as on the last day of Ramadan is tradition to have a big celebration with all your family and so it’s hard to find a spot on trains or buses.

Tora is a very funny guy, full of joy with a very contagious laughter. He took me to the governor house (apparently a Bantung landmark) and to the monument dedicated to the war heroes. The afternoon we chilled at his place and at night we had dinner at a food stall near his house where I have nasi goreng (fried rice) that was served with pink clouds!

The morning after I moved to Jakarta but just because I wanted to go to Sumatra and Jakarta was the only option.  The trains and buses fully booked it’s hard to move around! 

I arrived in Jakarta without any expectations as everybody told me it was a very crowded and dirty city but with my surprise I found the city not so bad and the people very friendly. The only problem I had was finding the hostel as my phone finally decided to abandon me and so I was lost without Google Maps. I asked everyone around the area where the hostel was supposed to be but no one knew anything. I got on the wrong train, it took me more than 1 1/2 hour (opposed to 50min) to get to the right station as the train I was on arrived at one stop before I was supposed to change and backed up… and once again lost in translation… When I managed to get to the right station my phone died and have been walking around for an hour (not kidding) to find the hostel that was just 5 minutes away from the station. I arrived I was pissed off and sweaty. I checked in and was given an upper bed on the bunk. The only problem is that the upper bed is at more than 2 meters from the floor… and obviously getting off of it the first time I fell… Nothing serious just hurt a bit my back.  

The hostel is called Teduh Hostel (Jl. Pintu Besar Selatan No.82M, RT.1/RW.5, Pinangsia, Tamansari, Kota Jakarta Barat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota) and a part from the “sky high” beds, it’s OK. Clean, quiet and with a nice kitchen. Tomorrow at 10am I leave on a bus to Sumatra the one before the last stop in Indonesia.

Island hopping (this time is for real)

So after my days in Ubud I went back to Kuta for a couple of days just to make clear what I was going to to next. 

I checked in at Mirah hostel not far from Legian. The place is nice and clean. Far from the crowds if you’re looking for some rest is the perfect spot. There is also a nice pool and staff are extremely helpful and nice. The only little black spot is the breakfast, that although is included in the price, is VERY short in jam…

During this time I went to the beach and to be quite honest it was not much. It’s ok for being a beach in the city but you can’t really swim there as the currents are too strong and the waves too​ high, so perfect for surfers but not for swimmers.

My food was gently provided by this little restaurant not far from the hostel called VLAB Kitchen. Good food, good prices.

After this short relaxing break I took yet another flight to Flores. Everybody was telling wonders of this island so I decided to go there and move my way back towards Bali by boat.

The plane was more a bus with wings than an airplane but the flight was short so no big deal. Arrived at the airport I had to wait for my pickup. I booked one night at “Ciao hostel” as it was the best according to the reviews, for a decent price. My pickup was not there as promised from the hostel and I had to call to make them coming.

Ciao hostel is a charming place a bit off the center, out of the main street, on top of a hill with a breathtaking view over the harbor. But other than that, not much. For 11€ a night you don’t even get free breakfast and the beds have no curtains (unlike ANY other place I have been previously). The common area would be nice to socialize but everyone is in deep conversations with their phones, so no chance to make friends there.

For dinner I went with some other guys met on the spot to this burger place not far from the hostel called “Burger Time” that surprisingly has veggie burger. French fries are real potatoes made at the moment but the bill summed up to 10€ in the end, that is what I would pay in Barcelona. So this place is a no go…

Morning comes and I’m on my way to look for another, cheaper hostel. I found my luck at “Bajo nature” a small place right in the center of the city. The place is still a work in progress, not really sure if it is a renovation or it has never been finished, but the one big room is very nice and cozy, with keypad security lockers and breakfast included (bread, spreads, omelette, coffee and tea). And this for only 7€ a night. 

After booking for my night I went for breakfast at this place called “Bajo bakery” where I had tea, chocolate muffin and this delicious “Italian sandwich”, with pesto sauce, tomato and mozzarella. 

In the afternoon I went looking for a good deal for island hopping, to make my way back to Bali. I found my happiness at “Kencana adventure” where for 1550000 RP (100€more or less) I have a 4 days 3 nights trip around the island, finishing in Lombok. 

For lunch I met with 2 girls from the hostel and went to Mediterraneo. Very nice and cozy place, good food although a bit expensive, but the focaccia was great!

So now, here I am, waiting for the bus that will take me to the boat where I will spend the next 4 days, finally island hopping in South East Asia.