Some thoughts

I was actually happy to leave behind the not so friendly people of Santiago. I guess they are fed up with tourists but again, if that’s so, change your job. Tourists are what make Santiago alive so they should not complain so much.

I took a train to Vigo on my way to Porto. I planned to stay in Vigo for some hours, visit the city and then take off. But arrived at the information office I am informed that the luggage deposit is ONLY at the bus stop. Which is of course on the other side of the city. No comment… So I take my backpack and walk a bit around the city but it’s hot and don’t feel like walking that much so I stop often, in the shade as the weather is very hot and see what I can, what’s not too far on walking distance. For lunch I found the only open vegetarian place called Veggie Burger El Sojita. When I arrived the had actually just closed but the girls working there I guess they felt sorry for me and prepare a hot dog and a salad to go. Delicious!

I arrive in Porto without a place to stay. I was waiting for an answer from a CSer that happily forgot about me so I think “what the heck, I will find a hostel”. As if… I check with one, fully booked. Second one, same story, and the third and forth. I actually thought it was a joke. But no, the city was under siege with tourists, for whatever reason. Luckily for me at the last hostel I checked the guy at the reception let me use the computer to check availability. My phone was almost dead and I was at my wit’s end.

I finally found a bed available at Oporto Music hostel that is a very fantastic place although a bit far from the center. So since I didn’t want to spend my time on the metro to go and come back from the center the following morning after a very good breakfast I booked a bed at Oporto Invictus hostel.

As I did the check in I asked the girl working there if it was possible stay 2 nights instead of one. Of course not. It was sold out for the following day… I started laughing!!!

So I left my stuff at the hostel and started to walk the city to visit again and little by little memories from my first visit came back to me. I guess what I really love about Portugal are the old beautiful buildings that are crumbling down all over the country.

Although it gives me a great pain to see all these beautiful buildings forgotten and almost destroyed it also fascinate me to see the pass of time on something that it was beautiful and it still is in a way. It’s like watching the face of a beautiful old lady and you can see she was beautiful but the time nonetheless has walked its way through the face (of the lady and of the building). I dunno I can’t really express what it causes in me, but I just know that I love (and feel great pain) watching these buildings falling to pieces…

I spent my third night at Porto Downtown hostel so far the less nice of the three but on a very good position and with breakfast included.

I left Porto for Coimbra where I booked at Olive Street house, a beautiful place very close to the train station. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to spend the night there as I had to go back to Spain to fix some admin issue and there was just one night train to Salamanca that same night.

I arrived in Salamanca at 5 am and the people at Room In were so nice to let me in and take my bed even though I booked only for one night (so the upcoming night not the one who was fading away). After fixing my admin issue I was able to visit the city and I was in awe of how beautiful Salamanca is. Super clean, all the buildings are in perfect condition, people are very nice and the city historical center is perfectly preserved. In Salamanca I met Alvaro a young medicine student who explained to me a bit of the history of the city and in the evening we had a couple of beers together.

The following day I was back on a bus to get to Lisbon. It’s been a long trip but not as horrible as I thought. In Lisbon I was supposed to have a CS host that once again disappeared on me so I booked at Brothers hostel of which are two. From the bus stop I took a Cabify as it was late and didn’t feel like walking at night with my backpack on.

After the check in I asked if I could extend my stay (old habits die hard) and the answer was no, of course. But the guy at the reception was so nice to find a place for me at the other place they have further up the hill. Fifteen minutes walks he said. More 25 I would say. But the place was so much better with more spacious rooms and a very nice garden. But, since it was very far from the center for the following day I booked one night at the Suave Lisboa hostel, very close to the center and although not as nice as the second “Brothers ” it was still a happy choice.

My last day in Lisbon I had lunch at a apparently very famous vegan buffet restaurant close to the center called Jardim das Cerejas. Delicious food and a lot of choice. The following morning I went to Sintra for a quick tour and returned to Lisbon in order to to catch a train to Faro for that same afternoon. Sintra was a big disappointment to me. It was just a tourist trap. Everything was an expense. You had to take the bus to get to the castle. You have to pay to visit the castle. Then again you have to catch a bus to go to Pena Palace and the entrance to the palace was 14€. I calculated that if you wanna visit everything there is to see and have lunch you can easily spend 100€ in one day. So I left as quickly as I could but bot after a nice walk up the hill in the middle of the forest just to make up a little bit for the Camino I didn’t walk.

At the train station in Faro I got an Uber. Once again it was late and didn’t feel like walking at night. I guess I’m getting old but what the heck!? As long as I can afford little treats like this I will take full advantage of the situation. The place I booked in Faro is called HI Hostel Faro – Pousada de Jouventude. I felt a bit silly to stay at a youth hostel but then I saw that there were hosts older than me so I relaxed.

In the morning I visited the city and it really doesn’t take you more than one morning to see what’s to see and had lunch at this vegetarian place right in city center called Gengibre e Canela. I was so happy with my choice. For 7.5€ you have a eat-all-you-can buffet and a pretry good choice.

At 2.30pm I met with my Bla Bla Car company and headed back to Spain.

I really enjoyed Portugal but I don’t think I’ll go back unless I have a special reason to. I’m glad to see that they have begum to take care of the buildings that were falling to pieces but other than that the situation form my previous visit around 6 years ago has not improved a lot. In Lisbon I had again that feeling that I wasn’t safe, every where there are boards inviting you to keep safe and don’t walk alone especially at night. In full daylight people harass you on the street to try and selling drugs. Cannot take more than 10 steps without having someone to try and sell you weed, coke, hashish. Your choice. When I was in the main square I actually got followed by a couple of guys that insisted to get me buy drugs. It’s very annoying and I never felt that uncomfortable before. So I guess Portugal is done for me. But still I’m happy I went back and visit again even though CSers there are not serious and don’t really have a sharing attitude.

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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.