My way

Oops! I did it again!

I did things my way (like Frank Sinatra!) in the end the Camino turned out to be more of an exploration of the North of Spain than anything else.

From Leon I took a bus to stop I’m Astorga. Another beautiful place that I would have never visited was it not for the decision I took to be a pilgrim. From Astorga I moved to Ponferrada where I visited it’s amazing old town with the impressive castle and from there I finally arrived in Lugo. And again I got a fantastic surprise visiting the old town (the new town sucks) with the Roman walls and amazing cathedral.

I spent the night in Lugo where I met Miguel, a couchsurfer, and his friends. I was surprised about the fact that in the north in general when you order a drink you receive a “pincho” and a “tapa” at the same time so basically you can actually eat just by ordering drinks that are extremely cheap. Comparing to the life in Barcelona, Lugo and the north of Spain are heaven. The salaries are the same as in Barcelona but everything is extremely cheaper. Miguel rents a two bedroom flat in the very center of the city just beside the cathedral and pays for the whole apartment less than I paid for ONE ROOM in Barcelona. Again, was it not for the dreadful weather I’d move to the North immediately.

In Lugo I had lunch at the only vegetarian place in the city called “Cafeteria Reina” where I was attended by a girl from Barcelona!!!

The following day I had luch at the “Legends Cafe” where they serve a delicious and impossible to eat without making a mess vegan burger.

After Lugo it was finally time to get to Santiago. So after 2 days I took a bus and arrived in Santiago de Compostela. I wasn’t even exited or anything. I was just happy I was there but when I arrived in the city center and saw the amount of tourists invading the town my enthusiasm was instantly killed.

I checked in at “Roots and boots hostel” very close to the center but far enough not to be in the middle of the swarming. The place is absolutely amazing with a fantastic garden at the back where you can chill drinking a beer in company of others guests but the management has a serious problem of bad temper. I made an innocent joke with the manager and his snapped saying the if I wasn’t happy I could just go and when I apologized he insisted to tell me that I was free to go and that he didn’t like my jokes. Same thing happened to Eszter I girl met there. She used the “wrong” toilet and the manager’s partner snapped at her saying that she didn’t have the right to use that toilet. Eszter apologize a few times and the lady kept on barking at her. I guess they are fed up with tourists but if that’s the case maybe they should consider changing their job.

A part from that I had an amazing time in Santiago but only because I spent my time with some beautiful people met at the hostel. The send day of my staying my and some other hosts after the visit to the cathedral (and the failed attempt to follow the soporific mass) decided to by some groceries and cook in the kitchen at the hostel. We had a blast and spent the afternoon sitting at the table in the garden eating and drinking and laughing and for a few hours we were each other best friends. And that’s what I like about traveling. We were from Spain, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia and the UK. We had nothing in common but at the same time we knew each other very well. That’s the magic of spending time traveling and sleeping in hostels. I already miss those guys!

Advertisements

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.

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…. 

Long distance (night) trains and the impossible slumber 

I arrived in Varanasi the ancient city, the sacred city after a bumpy, cold and sleepless night ride.  It seems I’m not getting much sleep anywhere these days. As usual the bus stopped in the most unlikely place and from there we had to find our way into the city.  Of course there were plenty of tuktuks waiting for us but I tried to book a Ola cab (the Indian version of Uber).  When it works Ola works pretty well but when it doesn’t…. Well you can imagine.  I booked three times a cab and one of them cancelled on me,  the other two didn’t show up.  In India money is apparently not an issue.  If you feel like working you do,  otherwise you don’t.  So in the end I had to resign myself to share a tuk tuk with a guy from Belgium that was in my same bus.  We agreed on a price but arrived in the city the tuk tuk driver told us to get off as he “couldn’t go any further “. There is apparently a restricted area in Varanasi,  but from where we were many tuk tuk went further… Anyways… So me and Belgian guy had to take a rickshaw,  that dropped us 5 minutes away… 

We got off pretty angry and parted our ways.  I had booked at Chatter box hostel and he was going some place else.  I started to walk and found out that there is a “pedestrian area” in Varanasi where cars and the likes cannot enter as the alleys are very narrow.  But motorbikes are of course more than welcome honking their way through the maze.  And cows of course are welcome (gigantic cows),  and stray dogs and their puppies are welcome so you have to walk your way skipping motorbikes,  cows and their enormous  dumps, dogs and vendors.  

The entrance to Chatter box is pretty dodgy and there’s no sign to indicate that the hostel is there but then the place is pretty neat and very quiet and I was,  at least for a few hours,  alone in the dorm. As I was tired from the previous sleepless night I took a nap and then decided to go out for lunch.  Following the directions and suggestions of “Happy cow” and went to Nyiati cafe.  The place is very small therefore usually full but the food is very good,  fresh and inexpensive. 

Satisfied with my lunch I went back to the hostel to find out that I had a roommate, Angel from Madrid.  We started chatting and had a good connection straight away so we decided to stick together for a few days. In the evening we had dinner next door , in this pretty famous place called Brown Bread Bakery (not to be mistaken with the one of the same name located close to Golden Temple,  pretty horrible place).  I had enough of thali,  rice and fried food by then so I tried my luck and ordered a pasta with walnut sauce and a salad to share with Angel.  The salad was OK,  the pasta not so much but hey,  this is India,  you’re not supposed to eat pasta!!! After dinner we went to the banks of Gange river to assist to a very strange ceremony of dances,  songs and fire.  Very complicated and really interesting.  They perform a lot of acts of devotion to whatever god they have and then in the end they wash their heads with the river waters…. when in the meantime a few blocks down they wash and burn dead bodies or else in some case they drown them with a stone tied to their feet. 

The following morning we went again back down the river banks to assist at the washing ceremony when people take a plunge in the Gange before going to work and so use the same plunge to wash themselves.

  

The following day Angel and I boarded a train,  my first train!!! headed to Khajuraho to visit the “Kama Sutra temple“.

While walking around the city I realize how good it was to have Angel on my side as he was showing off his muscles – he’s a PE teacher – and so people,  men to be precise,  were intent to check out his body and I was the invisible side kick.  

The night ride on the train was far better than the one on the bus but I still couldn’t really rest.  Indians can be very noisy, many snore (I’m not being racist,  it’s a fact confirmed by locals) and the berth are not extremely comfortable.  Moreover as it happened in the bus,  I got frozen by the gusts of cold night air coming in from everywhere.  On the train,  thanks to his “good body,  good muscles” Angel made friends with this local guy who at some point got stuck something in his teeth.  As he was trying to get it out with a piece of paper I offered him my dental floss only to discover that he had no idea what that was. So I told Angel to teach him how to use it… and Angel told me he had no idea either!!! 

Arrived in Khajuraho we took a tuk tuk to our hostel called Prem’s home stay that a girl from our Varanasi hostel had talked about with much enthusiasm.  Prem’s place is a bit far out of the city but it is a very pleasant place,  quiet and peaceful.  The room we got was nice and clean and Prem is extremely helpful and friendly.

  

The morning after our arrival we rented  bicycles and went visiting the famous Kama Sutra temple.  The complex is pretty impressive,  in the very center of the city,  clean and well maintained.  In the area is possible to visit some 6 or 7 beautifully decorated temples and some of them have on their walls some pretty explicit sex scenes which is very curious considering the fact that Indians are not open about sex affairs and naked bodies. 

That night we had dinner at Raja’s cafe. The food took a long time to arrive.  I was in the mood for salad and I ordered one with sprouted lentils.  Such a disappointment.  The sauce they used was something weird with a particular unpleasant taste so I had to eat a cookie afterwards to clean my mouth from that horrible taste.  At night Angel had belly issues due to the fact that he had milk for breakfast that morning (having milk is not good for your health, I tell this to everyone!!!).  But he decided that he was willing to travel the following day as planned and at 9.30 am we boarded a train to Udaipur.  Although Khajuraho and Udaipur are only 800km apart,  it took us 21 hours to reach our destination.  The train network in India is pretty complex and not necessarily user friendly. 

Another almost sleepless night and we arrived in Udaipur,  a very nice city on the lake Pichola,  kind of quiet (as quiet as India can get that is) with a very nice Royal Palace to visit.

  

We booked a room in Hotel Lake Star that looked very good in the pictures.  Arrived there we discovered that the place is under a major restructuring so not at all what presented in the pictures.  Still our room was nice and clean and I couldn’t wait to have a good night sleep in my bed!!! The next morning we had breakfast in a cafe nearby called Little Prince restaurant by the lake.  Awesome food and good prices!  

In Udaipur Angel and I decided that out ways were to part.  I wanted to move south to reach asap Goa and some quiet beach.  Angel was going back to Delhi to catch the flight to his next destination. I planned to spend just one night in Udaipur and the second night take the train to Mumbai but I discovered that the direct train to Mumbai doesn’t run on Monday.  Of course… So the option was to spend two days travelling and sleeping on trains or stay one day more in Udaipur and take the train on Tuesday night.  You guessed right.  I stayed one night more and not to pay for a double room all by myself I checked in at Banjara hostel. Not the best place I’ve been,  management is pretty unfriendly and uninterested but the room was OK.  The first day after Angel was gone I took back my role of “stupid tourist with a lot of money ” and I wasn’t invisible anymore. Darn!!! I tried to book my train ticket over internet only to discover that international cards are not accepted so I resolved myself to go to the train station.  Where once again I was the “STWALOM” and I had to pay 100 rupees extra just for being a foreigner.  …

That night for dinner I met with Sanjay a very smart local guy met through Couchsurfing and we had dinner at Dream Heaven where I had a veggie burger with a ton of fries. Yummy! That same night I was back on a train with Valentina and Javier a couple met thanks to Angel.  Some 14 hours later (and another almost sleepless night) we were in Mumbai. 

A camel (or two) on the highway 

I really don’t know how I managed to “escape” from Nepal  but I did.  I actually almost missed my flight because the taxi I ordered for the airport “surprisingly” arrived late… And for this reason I didn’t manage to change my Nepali money into India money (the importance of this will be clear later) 

When my India visa was granted I was almost disappointed.  I applied just for the sake of it but at that time I had lost all my will to travel.  I just wanted to go home but since I was just around the corner I thought… “eh,  what the heck! ”

So when I finally landed in Delhi I was tired and had no interest in visiting anymore but the idea of finally seeing the Taj Mahal was too enticing. I had managed to get myself a host that promised me to come and pick me up at the airport.  Yeah,  the airport.  A pretty big area… And of course no Wi-Fi… I thought Deepak would wait for me at the arrival but I exited the airport and he wasn’t there. OK then I’ll change my money,  I will by a SIM and I’ll text him….  Naive me.  Nepali money has barely no value outside Nepal.  Only 1000 rupees banknotes are accepted and of course I didn’t have any.  OK then I’ll use the ATM…. as if… Same issue I had in Nepal.  I had money but I couldn’t get it.  I almost cried…. I was stuck once again and blamed Nepal once again.  And I thought of all I read about India where everything is a scam and everyone is a bad person.  And then I saw this guy and asked him if he could call my host… And he did and Deepak came out of the airport and together we took the metro.  I was so relieved that I almost cried some tears of joy.  But I was still very on the lookout if my host was really there to get my money (that was worth nothing!!!) 

So I explained the situation to him and he offered not only to pay my metro ticket,  he also invited me for dinner and beers. 

On the way to his place – that is pretty far our from main Delhi – I thought he would kick me off the motorbike that we took from the last metro station,  and steal my money and my passport.  Again all the voices in my head,  telling me to be alert,  in India they’re all criminals and thieves. But we finally arrived safe and sound to his place and he introduced me to his family and his dog Stella which I fell in love with.  We then went out and met one of his best friend.  The following day Deepak took me to a money change place and even if I lost money in the change I still managed to get rid of stupid Nepali rupees.  

Unfortunately those days Delhi was covered in a very thick “fog” and the air was pretty bad.  I visited from outside the red fort.  I was not ready to spend easily the cash that was so hard for me to get,  especially when,  once again,  the entry fee for the tourists was 5 fold the price for locals.  The rest of the day I just walked around the city waiting for Deepak to leave the office and when we met it was dinner time and we went home where upon request I cooked dinner for the both of us.

The two nights I booked with Deepak were over and even though he said I could stay longer I preferred to book a hostel closer to the center to make it easier for me to do stuff.  HOG hostel was not what I had really expected but it was cheap, OK clean and easy to move around from.  But that day I didn’t leave the premises.  I was so tired and overwhelmed by the “fog” and the constant honking that I preferred to stay inside and take a rest.  The day after was my last day in Delhi and I said to myself why not visit a bit before leaving.  I was in touch with a couple of couchsurfers and we were supposed to meet to visit some sort of old village in the city but I got there before them,  the place was impossible to find,  no one knew where that was and I had a nervous breakdown and had to go back to the hostel.  I slept it off and later in the afternoon I met with the same two CSers from the morning and visited the stairs well an ancient well that now is empty but the structure is absolutely fantastic and then we visited a Sikh temple, watched them prey and we had a communal free dinner with them. It’s been quite an experience.  




Morning comes and I board a bus to go to Jaipur to start my trip towards the south.  I took a local bus that it’s an adventure for itself but I would have never expected to see at some point boarding the bus some policemen taking into custody a “criminal” kept on a chain (on his wrist)  like a dog.  It was almost surreal but the prisoner looked pretty at ease and even joked with a couple of passengers.  Only in India!!!

In Jaipur I booked a room at Lazy Mozo hostel for just 1€ for two night I wasn’t really sure what to expect but for 50c a night I couldn’t ask for much. The place is new,  just opened one month ago.  And you can tell.  They need to find their marks,  how to behave and how to do things but it was fairly clean and the house is very nice.  In Jaipur I visited some building in the Pink City but the only one I was ready to pay for was the Hawa Mahal especially because for once, locals and tourists pay the same price to enter.  The place is pretty amazing but it’s missing some soul.  After that I met with a CSer for lunch and had dinner and beers with another.

The two days planned in Jaipur were over and I was ready to go to Agra to finally fulfill one lifelong dream: visit the Taj Mahal

I arrived in Agra in the evening and had dinner with some guys from the hostel I  checked in.  Moustache hostel is a pretty cool place, clean and with a nice atmosphere.  It’s also very close to the Taj Mahal so in the morning I got up at 5.30 to avoid the mass of visitors and went to get my ticket.  1000 rupees is kind of a lot of money (around 13€/15$) but I came to India basically just to visit the Taj so I couldn’t not go.  After I got my ticket I stood in line to wait for the doors to open (from sunrise to sunset)  and when I finally enter the site at 7 my heart was beating fast.  Visiting the Taj Mahal has been a dream since I can remember and I don’t even know why.  When I finally faced it tears almost filled my eyes.  The place in the fog of the early morning has a charm that no words can express.  And as the day went by and the sun came up,  it totally changed to become a spectacular garden for the beloved princess to find her resting peace.  To make my visit more interesting I downloaded a free app called Captiva Tour with which you can listen to the story of the origins of the Taj Mahal without having to hire a guide.  It’s been just perfect. 

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel and took a little walk around the city.  But Agra is an ugly town and people are just there to harass tourists trying to sell you everything they can.  Thankgod I took the bus to Varanasi at 7.30pm and left. 

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. 

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.