Sometimes 

Sometimes things are not easy.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  Sometimes you are not prepared. 

I left Bangladesh with a little sadness in my heart.  My 2 weeks spent there had been fantastic and although I really wanted to visit Nepal I was a little sad to leave all the people I met there that have been so kind to me.  As usual I didn’t bring any money across as I prefer not to change currency.  I arrived at Kathmandu airport and after all the paperwork for visa (that luckily I could pay by card) I was ready to start my journey. 

At the airport there is only one ATM.  And it was out of order… Thankgod the taxi driver agreed to take me to my hostel anyway and stop along the way to let me get the money.  I tried a few ATM but none would work. As we were getting closer to the hostel I was starting panicking.  I had only a few rupees that Joy,  my host in Bangladesh had given me.  And that was it. 

We arrived at the hostel and the guy at the reception was nice enough to pay the taxi for me.  Obviously by the time all this happened the driver was already asking for more (1000 instead of the 700 agreed at the airport). 

I paid without saying anything because I was too stressed and didn’t want to make it worst.  After checking in at Pomelo house hotel I went around the city trying desperately to get money from ATM.  Without any luck.  The stress at that point was sky high and I was on the verge of a breakdown.  One of the CSer I was in touch with contacted me and invited me to his place for dinner.  I was so thankful because with the little money I had in my pocket I wasn’t able to buy any decent food. Shalik lives in a two rooms apartment.  And when I say two rooms I really mean two rooms.  Adjacent but not connected.  The bathroom is on the stairs and common to the floor.  In one room there is the “kitchen” and one bed.  In the other room,  the kids’ room,  there are 2 single beds. His wife doesn’t speak a single word of English but she’s been very nice and prepared a lot of good typical Nepalese food.  When I asked Shalik how they met,  he explained to me that his was an arranged marriage.  They actually met 10 minutes before the ceremony but they’ve been together for 8 years now.  In Nepal divorce is legal but not well accepted.

 

After dinner I went back to the hostel and I was so tired by the day’s events that I fell asleep right away. The day after I tried again to withdraw money from ATM but without any success.  So I resolved to call my bank and after a long chat and many explanations the guy on the phone told me that my card was not compatible with Nepali ATM machines. I was desperate.  Shalik was so nice to lend me some money but I couldn’t go very far with that.  I could have a decent meal and then some but nothing more than that.  It was so frustrating.  I had the money in my account but there was no way for me to get it out. I wanted to cry.  In the meantime another CSer contacted me and he also tried to help me.  Gokarna invited me for coffee and drove me around the city in his motorbike.  But my problem was not solved and I couldn’t really relax and enjoy the country.  I thought of “cashback” but in Kathmandu very few places have card machines and those that have it don’t even consider cashback. It was a catch 22 situation.  I managed to pay the hostel by bank transfer and they agreed on giving me cashback. It wasn’t much but it was something. 

 

And then I thought about money transfer something that I have always considered with horror.  But I had no choice.  I downloaded the app and tried to make a transfer to myself but the stupid app only allowed me to make the operation in cash.  I was stuck again.  So I called a friend in Spain and he agreed to do it for me.  Earlier I had moved to Gokarna house so at least I didn’t have to worry about rent and food. 

Joan made the transfer right away but his credentials needed to be checked.  So the money was not available for a couple of days.  I was a little more relaxed now but still I really wanted to get the money.  Chances are that theses days is holiday here, “Thiar Diwali” some sort of feast of lights,  so almost everything is closed.  Western Union included.  So at the moment I’m still waiting to get hold of my money.  Hopefully tomorrow the situation will be back in order and I will be able to start to enjoy Nepal.

 

I’m so grateful to have good friends.  It’s the most important thing in this world. And you know that you can count on them especially in hard times.  And it warms the heart. 

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Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

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.

 

The road to Mandalay 

The arrival in Myanmar was a piece of cake.  I literally spent 5 minutes at the customs.  Nobody asked me for a flight out of the country, thankgod because I didn’t have one. 

After getting my luggage I got on a taxi to my hostel and once I got there I got a surprise!  Horrible surprise. My hostel the “Everest Hotel ” has a so called dorm on the fifth floor.  No elevator.  It was sizzling hot and by the time I was up in my room I was already exhausted.  The room was big enough just to accommodate only three beds.  And I mean only three beds. NOTHING else.  No AC,  only a fan and a window on the corridor.  Practically an oven.  On top of that the other two beds were occupied by two guys eating fried chicken in bed…  I don’t need to explain any further. I knew I couldn’t stay there even if I already paid so I checked for another hostel and I moved out. 

I needed to change money – dollars into kyat and so I went to the bank.  That was another adventure.  People screaming as if they were at the market,  no discretion,  no order… apparently.  So I got directed to the exchange “window” (no window of course,  just a counter like in a bar)  and have been explained from the teller that every note has a different exchange rate… OK… 

Got my money after a good half hour waiting and paid the new hostel.  This one is near Sule pagoda very near the center.  It’s called Dengba hostel and there is no sign outside.  I still managed to find it and it was just right what I needed.  Clean,  spacious,  with windows and AC. For lunch I went to this Indian place called Vedge but I was disappointed.  The portions are small and it is a bit pricey.  Not even the service was good.  

In the afternoon I went to take a walk and met this couple of siblings Vietnamese American and with there I went for dinner in 19th st where Aung a local guy met us.  It was fun, the food was good and the beer cheap.   The place is called  Kaung Myat restaurant and it’s famous for the BBQ and for the beer of course. 

The following day I went to visit the city.  As usual I walked around even if the heat was unbearable. I went to Shwedagon pagoda the biggest pagoda in Yangon.  The place is simply amazing!  All cover in real gold and pearls.  Locals enter for free,  tourists of course have to pay 8000 kyat (around 5€) but it was worth it. 

After that I visited Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda and the reclining Buddha. It’s funny because in Myanmar there are millions of Buddha but they are all different.  The reclining one is gigantic,  majestic and a bit funny. I then went for lunch to this restaurant called Taj Indian Nepali where the food is excellent and copious and the service very friendly.  I also got a refill of sauce for free!!!  I arrived at the hostel in a bath of sweat so I showered and rest for a little while.  For dinner I went out with Woon Si another local and we went back to 19th st but to KoSan bar this time. Again food delicious and cheap beer. 

The day after I was ready to leave and move north to Mandalay.  My bus was at 9.30am so I left the hostel at 7.30. Traffic can be pretty bad and the bus station is on the north, one / one and half hour away from the city.  The ride was horrible. The bus was full to explode and everybody was pushing me and my backpack around.  Beside the driver wasn’t very gentle on the brakes.  I arrived at the bus station in an hour and I was finally able to get on an AC bus with every comfort including USB plug to charge your mobile or tablet.  I was about to take the famous road to Mandalay.  

One night in Bangkok… or maybe four 

So.  My next move was to go to Myanmar.  I checked the flights from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.  The prices were ridiculous.  So I thought that probably it would be much cheaper to fly from Bangkok.  I wasn’t planning to go to Thailand again but I thought… what the heck!  So as I figured flights from Bangkok were 3 times cheaper.  

I took a bus from Siem Reap.  Travelling time 6 hours.  Wishful thinking.  Another 13 hours on the bus and I was in my host’s place by 8.30pm

The trip was not bad,  just VERY long even considerin the fact that we spent 2 hours at customs. My first host was Art, a theater director / actor and artist of many kinds.  Unfortunately his English is pretty basic so the conversation wasn’t fluid bit he’s been super nice and took good care to make me feel at home. 

My second host was Hall,  a Thai guy who lives for four years in Sweden.  Leo very kind and very careful to details,  dedicated to make the guest feel very welcome.  They both bought me food and took me out to dinner.  I also had one random girl buying me juice at the food stall.  This is why I loved Thailand so much last year.  Thai people are very generous and helpful.  That’s why even though I could have just spent one night in Bangkok I decided to stay four.  That’s why every time I come to Bangkok I like it more. 

Angkor Wat 

So.  My little bucolic adventure was… interesting. It RAINED  like crazy for the whole week I was there so I was not able to do as much as I could.  Roy is a very nice man from Britain who’s lived in Asia for many years and married this young Thai lady that spends here whole day cooking.  I mean literally – the WHOLE day.  And so their freezer are stuffed with food waiting to be served to customers that don’t show. 

The place has a lot of potential but it really need plenty of TLC.  The amount of spiderwebs present in there could cover the entire planet earth.  If you stand still for more than five minutes you end up completely covered in spiderweb. 

Due to the nearness of the river and the amount of rain that falls everything is covered in mould.  My backpack that rested on a bamboo shelf for the week was all spotted in white and had to was it straight away lest I would have to throw it away.  Your laundry never gets dry and all is wet.  But the atmosphere there is nice,  very quiet and relaxed and I could enjoy the countryside for a while and have fun with the animals around. 

After I left Ream yacht club I spent a couple of days in Kampot on my way to Siem Reap.  Kampot is a nice little town three hours south of Phnom Penh.  Nothing much to do here but relax and chill.  I had the time to go to a couple of places for food.  Once again I was craving for pizza so I tried my luck at “Ecstatic pizza ” (after reading the reviews in TripAdvisor) and the truth is that the pizza was not bad (for an Asian pizza that is).  Then the following day I tried “Simple things ” a vegetarian place high ranked in Happy Cow and although a little bit more expensive that the usual place or was worth it.  I had a veggie burger with fries and I had a hard time to finish it.  Delicious and the service was really friendly.  

The following day I had lunch at this Indian place run by an American guy.  It is called “Adwa I-tal kitchen “. The food is 90% vegan and it is delicious. 

It was time to hit the road again to finally get to Siem Reap and finally visit the famous temples. The trip from Kampot was supposed to last 10 hours.  But in a good Asian traditional way that was just a dream.  I arrived in SR almost thirteen hours after my departure all sweaty and exhausted.  At a certain point the driver decided that we didn’t need the AC anymore and he just cut it. The bus was full and the day was finally (!!!!) sunny and hot. 

We arrived in SR around 10pm and instead of dropping us by the night market as he was supposed to do,  the driver dropped us in the middle of nowhere where by chance there was a number of guys waiting for us to take us to town by tuk tuk.  (another tradition here…) 

I was furious and really tired so I refused to get left there and told the driver to take me to the night market. Thankgod I had my phone with me so I could check the way. Obviously he didn’t take me to the market but close enough to the place where I was supposed to meet my host. 

Chantha was working until 11pm and afterwards we went to his place and took a shower.  I was tired but needed some relax time so we went out and met some friends of his and had a beer.  For the following day I had contracted a tuk tuk to drive me around the temples.  The weather was really hot and sunny and I drank more than 2 litres of water. I actually sweat my heart out.  By the end of the day I was exhausted. 

But the temples are magnificent.  For the most part they have crumbled down and all the stones are laying around.  Men are working to rebuild them but it’s a long and meticulous job and it won’t be quick.  There was obviously a lot of people around but I still enjoyed the visit.  It was just amazing how theses temples were built thousand of centuries ago and they’re still there.  For the most part at least. Nature has made her way through the ruins and now gigantic trees are growing into the midst of the stones. I was speechless in front of such beauty. 

The visit ended at 3 and the rest of the day I was pretty much useless.  The driver came back at 5 to take me to see the sunset at the top of one hill where yet another temple is. After that I had some time to kill before dinner so I invited him to a beer. And he invited his friend.  And we went to a local place where his girlfriend works.  I they ordered a tower of beer (3 litres).  And I paid…of course.  And they asked me if I wanted a girl also…. The Cambodia way. 

The following day I moved to a hostel (the Pension lodge) as my host had another guest coming.  Two dollars a night can give you a pretty clean and decent place to sleep for the night.  During the day o organized my transfer to Bangkok to catch my flight to Yangon and then I booked the flight.  Now I’m waiting for the bus to Bangkok.  It should (should)  get me there in nine hours.  Fingers crossed. 

The red shadow 

So I finally arrived in Cambodia.  I had been advised to get the visa online to save time but it takes 3 days to get it processed and by the time I was ready to leave it was too late.  So I got at the airport of Phnom Penh without a visa and was already prepared to have to go through long lines and boring procedures when in the end it all took me about 15 minutes (and I also saved some 10$ comparing to online visa). 

The hostel I had reserved promised to send someone at the airport to pick me up but when I got there you guess it, nobody was waiting for me.  I bought a SIM card and started to talk with Whitney,  a girl from the US that was on the same plane as me.  We were going in the same direction so we decided to split the cost of a tuk tuk.  

We jumped in and the first thing we were told was to watch our bags.  Snatching bags and mobiles phones is pretty common here in Cambodia and so we were on the know. The traffic was pretty bad,  Thailand style and it took us about an hour to get to our destination.  

At the moment to check in at Billabong hotel and hostel I was preceded by a group of French Chinese and so I had to wait and be patient.  About ten minutes later I finally managed to do my check-in and I was then showed to my room. 

EditDorms here are pretty big and spacious.  I got a lower bunk bed as requested and the locker is so big that my entire backpack fits in.  Fantastic! That night I went for dinner with a couple of very nice Japanese guys that were staying in my dorm.  Walking around the city we managed to find this place where only locals go.  The food was good,  big and cheap.  The day after together with Hiro and So we decided to go to the killing fields

I remember when I was a kid that in the news they talked about the Khmer Rouge but I didn’t know much about the history of Cambodia and what really happened here. So when I decided to go to the killing fields I was not really aware of what I would have found.  We got there in about 30 minutes with rented motorbikes and paid the 5 dollars entry fee.  The audio guide was explaining what every stop was and what happened there.  Shivers were running down my spine and the memory went automatically to my visit to Auschwitz.  The atrocities that human kind can commit are really inexplicable.  I cannot understand or accept that someone in their right mind can do something so terrible to some other human being (or animal for that matter). Violence has no justification or motive in my mind and I really struggle to understand what happened in Cambodia or in Germany/Poland under the Nazis. 

To finish with the horror tour the following day I went to visit the genocide museum aka S21 a former school turned into torture zone during the Khmer Rouge occupation.

Phnom Penh is not a nice city.  It’s chaotic and there are areas where you don’t want to go at night (I almost got my phone stolen one night).  The only positive thing in my opinion is that there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants around the city.  I only had time to visit a few but the food there was very good.  

I went to EVERGREEN for breakfast.  I had a plate of noodles pretty big and then shared a yummy soup with my friend.  For dinner I went to VEGETARIAN 1000 a buffet like place where you can choose from different trays of food and they cost 1000 or 2000 riels (25/50c). The last day I went for breakfast to Surn Yi vegetarian restaurant and had noodles and mock pork.  Although the “pork” was pretty good,  the noodles were very poor, they didn’t taste of anything but maybe it was just my plate.  The choice in this place is pretty big and it is very popular according to Trip Advisor. 

I made it out of Phnom Penh direction Kep because I needed a rest from the chaos and noise of the big city. 

Kep is a small village four hour drive from Phnom Penh,  towards the coast.  I checked in at Kepmandou Lounge a nice and small hostel by the beach built from wood in a cabin style.  Clean and nice,  very quiet at night.  It rained almost all the time during the 2 days I was there but I just needed to rest so I didn’t mind.  I caught up on some movies that I wanted to see and just chilled. 

After Kep it was time to move to Sihanoukville where I was to start my next volunteering period on Sunday.  Sihanoukville is a city known for its tourism.  It’s not interesting in an artistic or historical way but my hostel was a little outside town,  once again by the beach and I was looking forward to enjoy my peaceful time…. Never have I been so wrong. At Footprints the dorm is just upstairs from the bar area.  The place is made of wood and there are no walls.  I went to bed around 11 pm and the music was still full blast (in any other hostel I have been the music stops at 10/10.30pm the latest). I actually had to go downstairs and ask to tone the music down a little.  At 3 am I woke up and there were still people at the bar chatting and laughing as of it was during the day.  The music came from the outside.  Somewhere not far away somebody was playing full blast techno  music.  And they didn’t stop until 8 am. The manager of the hostel apologized to me a thousand time but the damage was done.  I also thought to move to another hostel but I was too lazy and I only had one night left.  The second night was better,  no music from the outside but the bar closed at midnight.  Bu.t that night I was in kinda good mood as I had a very good pizza at Jin’s with Carlos a guy from Barcelona met on the bus from Kep. 

So,  comes Sunday and Roy,  my host comes and pick me up.  We drive for about 30 minutes and we arrive in Ream. He’s a Brit that lived for many years in Thailand and them moved to Cambodia with his Thai wife.  They are getting ready a resort by the river with bungalows and animals, the Ream Yacht club.  They need help with fixing and painting and here I am.  The place is in the middle of nowhere but that’s the charm of it.  The silence here is deafening and nature rules.  I just love it here.