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. 

Advertisements

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. 

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.   

Melaka and Penang 

After KL it was time to move to a smaller place and this was Melaka (aka Malacca). 

Melaka is a city two hours drive south of KL.  I checked in at “Victor’s guest house ” (30, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka).

 The place is very nice,  clean and very quiet and the staff very helpful. At first you have the impression that it is located far from the center but don’t be fooled by appearance.  Behind the hostel there is the river.  The entire area is under massive restructure and there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee or beer.  Walking along the river and crossing the bridge you’re in the cultural center of the city in 10 minutes. Melaka has a long story of invasion from different people (Portuguese,  Dutch, English)  and it is all reflected in the architecture and the language.  People are very nice and friendly and you never feel uneasy anywhere in the city.  Apparently the night market is very nice but it’s only on weekends so I didn’t get the chance to see it.  

At the hostel I met some people and together we went to have food in a Himalayan restaurant not far.  The food was good and cheap but the communication with the staff was not easy. Melaka is a place that I really enjoyed. Life is easy and quiet there although the tourist and you can take a rest from the fast pace of KL. On my second day I had lunch at “Mori vegetarian tea house ” (3, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka), a bit pricey but the food was delicious!!! 

After two days in Melaka it was time to move on and since Singapore was not an option (that’s where people usually go after Melaka)  I decided to move north to Penang an island on the west coast. The bus trip was long (around 9 hours)  but not too bad.  I arrived at Butterworth harbor and from there I took the ferry to George Town.  The trip is about 10 minutes and once in George Town you land at the bus station. 

My host David told me to fetch the 302 to get to his place as he was not at home yet but after almost half an hour I was not even half way as the traffic is pretty bad so David – that in the meantime had freed himself – told me to get off at the first stop and wait for him there. And I did. And I waited another half hour.  

David lives in Gelugor 15 mins drive from the city.  We arrived at his place and after a shower we drive back to the city for dinner in an Indian place called “Thali-NR sweets cafe ” (Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang) in Little India. The food is very good and very cheap like in most places in George town well known for this.  I was supposed to spend only a couple of days in Padang but in the end I stayed 4. The city is very nice,  good choices for food and I felt at home there. In the morning David worked so I had a lot of time to visit and in the evening we met for dinner.  

  

On my second day there I met Tom and Jep,  from CS and with them I went to the temple on the hill and the evening we had dinner with David. After dinner David explained the he does charity work three nights a week and asked me if I wanted to tag along.  With his volunteer friends he goes around the city and distribute food and water to the homeless.  It was nice and sad at the same time.  People know them and wait for them.  They’re very nice and humble and when they take the food they say thanks 20 times. It’s been a very nice and enriching experience. 

The following day David was working only half day so in the afternoon we went hiking on a beach half an hour out of the city. The hike is fine but not for everyone.  Along the way we met with people from a CS group that David attend to and they invited us to a BBQ at the beach later on. After an hour we arrived at the beach but couldn’t swim as the water was very shallow and muddy.  To go back we took a boat as it was getting dark and it’s not advisable to do the hike at night.  We then drove to the beach for the BBQ. The others were already there and setting up the fire. It was very nice to spend time with them and talk.  They’re all members of CS from different origins and religions.  Indians,  Chinese,  Malay,  Buddhist,  Muslim and they all get along very well.  That’s why I really like Malaysia!!!

After the BBQ someone suggested to get into the water and since no one had a bathing suit we skinny dip although it’s forbidden in Malaysia.  It was funny,  we laughed a lot and a Muslim girl that until 2 minutes before was wearing a veil bathed with 5 naked men (she was wearing T-shirt and underwear) and wasn’t worried or offended by that.  Well on the contrary actually!!!  We saw the fluorescent plankton (amazing!!!)  and the water was so good that we couldn’t get out. 

On my third day I met Leo,  a local guy in CS also and with him we went to the protestant cemetery and the haunted school.  I have a thing for cemeteries and abandoned building although I don’t believe in ghosts or burial as for that.  Afterwards we had lunch at a place called “Yin’s sourdough bakery and cafe” (11, Pesara Claimant, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang) because I was craving for pizza and I heard that in this place was very good.  And indeed it was,  pesto and mushrooms pizza.  Delicious!!! 

Leo is a local artist that lived in Armenian street very close to the bicycle painting and his place is full of cool stuff as he works as interior designer.  For dinner I bought some Indian food and got home where David had already arrived. 

The following day I decided to stay at home and organize my next move. So after fetching information from blogs and websites I prepared my bags and went buy the bus ticket to Perenthian island for that same night. 

Dinner with Sandokan 

So after leaving Indonesia one day before my visa expires I land in Kuala Lumpur. The idea of being in Malaysia brings back memories of my childhood.  Sandokan the pirate says hello from the depths of my memories and it feels funny to be here. 

For those who don’t know who Sandokan is,  you can check this link. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokan

The first thing that attracts my attention is the multi cultural environment in KL. People are Asian,  Indian,  Chinese, Malay and everything in between. It’s fascinating to see these people from so different paths of life coming together as one same nation. 

I meet my host in KL sentral (it’s not a typo.  It’s sentral with S) and by train we reach his house.  We go for dinner in an Indian place open 24/7 like the majority of Indian restaurants and after he takes me for a night ride around town. Obviously the main attraction are the Petrona towers (or twin towers as the called them here) and like many other tourists we stop to take a picture – well more than one. 

The following day I’m on my own around the city as Joko – my host  – has to work.  I really like KL that although is a big city is still very “doable”. They have a free bus that takes you around town like an hop on – hop off thing and once in the center I get off and walk around.  It’s really hot but there is a good amount of shadow so it’s OK.  I visit the main attractions and have lunch in Little India. In the afternoon I meet my host and after dinner we’re off to bed. 

The following day I switch host.  Jr is a very nice man.  With a funny Indian face (although his family is 100% Malay) he greets me in his very cozy apartment on the outskirts of KL,  very close to Batu caves. We chill in his place for the afternoon and we go to yet another Indian place for dinner. The following day we meet with his friend Raizan and his couchsurfer and head to the caves. 

Batu caves are two caves a little hour outside KL.  They are at the top of his hill and you have to climb I don’t know how many steps to get to the top.  It was hard but slowly but surely I made it.  The main cave is pretty big.  I was told that there were bats inside but thankgod I didn’t see any.  My host and his friend stayed down as they had been up there plenty of times and they didn’t feel like climbing in that heat.  So it was just me and the other guest, a young man from Algeria that took at least 40 (thousand) selfies,  ten for each position… I couldn’t believe it!!! 

There is also the Dark Cave that apparently is populated by snakes and rare animals but we didn’t have time to visit as we wanted to go also a waterfall a little further down.

So after the caves and the “cover girl” photo shooting  we headed to the waterfall. Can’t really tell where that is but when we got there it was pretty busy as it was a holiday. We had to walk quite a walk to get to the less populated area of the waterfall but once we got there it was nice to jump into the fresh water and wash away all the sweat and dust of the climb. 

 

The following morning I was to take the bus to Malacca so my host suggested that I spent the night at Raizan’s as he lives closer to the bus (bas) station. 

Raizan’s is the most messy place I’ve ever seen in my life but I felt at home from the moment I put my feet inside.  

In the meantime a friend of Raizan’s arrived and the four of us (Raizan, his friend, Mustapha and I) went for dinner and then to the hot spring nearby.  The hot spring is a shallow pool of hot water that springs naturally near Raizan’s house.  The water is pretty hot and it was very nice to spend some time there.  

The following day I took a bus to Malacca. 

Summing it up – Indonesia 

And Indonesia also is done.  Strange country, three big islands (main ones) and three different realities. 

Bali is the “easiest” one.  Being the one more known and exploited buy tourism is the one more westernized.  Locals are very used to foreigners,  English is spoken almost everywhere and it’s easy to go around. But being so it’s not necessarily a good thing.  Prices are higher and once again the white person is a “walking wallet”. Every step you’re asked if you wanna a taxi (taksi sorry!) or a sarong or a selfie stick or if you want a drink or some food.  Well basically like any other Asia country where tourism it too well developed.
 

 

Comes Java and things tone down a little bit.  You’re still a walking wallet but it’s more discreet.  You are not attacked.  Just invited.  Over and over but it’s not too annoying. People in general are nice and help you.  Smile on their face but you can notice the difference from Bali. 

Last (in order of appearance)  is Sumatra by far my favorite. Unfortunately I only had a fee days to spend in this beautifully green land.  Here tourism and infrastructures for it are at a very basic level.  Tourists are but a few and locals are as nice as it can be. My hosts and his family have been fantastic.  People are very curious of the foreigner and are not annoying.  Don’t try to sell you anything and you are still you.  Just a foreign person in a beautiful foreign country. 

In my deep ignorance I always thought that Muslim countries are close and unfriendly but I haven’t seen anything of the kind during my wanderings  in Indonesia.  People are warm and friendly, curious about you’re country,  you’re habits, you’re life and the cold climate. 

Food is good and cheap and you are in trouble only if you desperately look for a beer.  Other than that life is humble but beautiful. 

I haven’t necessarily done all the typical things that visitors are supposed to do when they visit Indonesia.  Actually I’ve done very little but I don’t regret my trip at all.  I was looking for a true experience,  to meet locals,  mingle with them and live their lives and in a way I’ve succeeded.  I’ve learnt that this are far from what the TV and news papers tell you. I’ve learnt that we are more similar than we think and at the same time worlds apart.  And life is not really better in our uber developed society.  Here people have nothing or close to nothing but they’re more than happy to share it with you.  We should learn to do the same.