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.
Some LOVE it, some HATE it and someone like me loved some aspects of it and hate some other. But when I left (and I was looking forward to leave) I was sad and felt I wanted to stay longer. India is a strange and magic place. When I got my request for visa approved I was almost disappointed. I had read so many bad things about it that I was almost terrified to go there. And since I had no expectations whatsoever I was able to actually enjoy it after I realized that it was not so scary after all. My experience in India has been some kind of an adventure. There were moments that I asked myself what I was doing there and others that I couldn’t get enough and I wanted more.
Indians with their barefeet, their obsession with hair, with their constant talking, their clumsiness, their naivety, with their contrast of poor covered in gold, their attitude of Jack of all trades , their constant trying to get more money from you, with their despise of stray dogs, their togetherness, their faulty legs (mainly men), their loud music in the buses, their habit of spitting, their food served in newspaper pages and most of all their inquisitive bobbing heads are the most annoying but at the same time charming people I’ve ever met.
With the hindsight I realize that India should have been a trip by itself. By the time I got there I was already tired and extremely annoyed by anything that was not working in a western way. I could not really make the best of my time in India for this reason but at the same time, especially towards the last days when my homecoming was approaching I realized that I wanted more, that I wished I had stayed longer. Now that I’m back home I miss the mess that is India. I miss the colors (not the smells…), the smiles, the friendliness, the carelessness that characterizes life in India. I miss the easy going attitude, the chats in the streets or wherever as a matter of fact, their way of seeing life, the it’s OK attitude. I’m already thinking of going back some day. Don’t know yet when. But I feel I have left something behind and wanna find out what it is.
And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end. I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while. Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house. Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back. He smiles from down the road, a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine. He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian. After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is. Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed. Rintu takes me around, we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings, remainings of the British era. I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while. So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali. My last one…
I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house. The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat, have breakfast, we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out. We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook. Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn. I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me. I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.
Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad. These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe, a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore. In India, in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know. But people seem more carefree, happier, they dress in color and talk to each other. Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me. I learnt so much of myself, of the world, of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge. I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey, where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls, grey and black. A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL).
It’s good to travel abroad, I know. And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself. Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears. I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides, the colors, the food, the smile on people faces, the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things). I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant, to visit a new city. It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback. In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.
This morning I was looking for a title for this entry and I couldn’t find it. I was about to call it “Untitled” until I arrived at my hostel in Goa.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
My train to Bangalore was pretty much on time so when I arrived there it was really early in the morning. After checking my backpack at the train station I met a CSer (not my host) for breakfast. He then had to leave and there was another CSer waiting for me. Nirmal is a very nice and polite guy. We walked a bit around the city and then we went for lunch at a mall. Food was OK but nothing worth writing home. At three he had a meeting so we parted our ways and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the mall trying to recharge my phone (that always takes centuries) and waiting for Dan, my host, to let me know where we could meet. He finally got off work earlier than expected so we met at the Metro Station and went together to his place. By the time I was exhausted so went to bed straight after shower.
The next morning with Dan we roam around the town and had lunch at this beautiful and quiet place called Yogisthaan, an oasis in the chaos of the city. The rest of the afternoon we chilled at home and went out for a walk and early diner before catching my train to Hampi. So far Bangalore is one of my favorite cities as it looks very european in a way and has plenty of nice places to eat and chill.
I arrived in Hampi after the usual night train ride and I almost immediately fell in love with the place. Hampi is a village known for its amount of temples. And they are very nice indeed but to be honest I fell in love with the place itself and it’s surroundings. Hampi was founded by the river Tungabhadra, in the Karnakata region. Although a very touristy spot it still preserve its village essence and life is quiet and easy there. The area on the river bank it’s absolutely astonishing. There is a lot of greenery and at the same time it looks a bit like the desert. Enormous rocks and banks of sand intermingled with spots of forest where people have built their temples and shrines dedicated to their gods. And it’s so peaceful and relaxing… I could have stayed there forever!
And the good thing about this place is that it came at a moment in my trip that I really needed it. Even Alfredo, a guy met on the train that was staying in the hostel in front of mine realized that it’s time for me to go home. My patience is really exhausted and every single twitch in my every day life is cause for big discomfort and stress for me.
The hostel I booked was OK. 1985 hostel and restaurant is where every other hostel is. In the center of Hampi, very close to Virupaksha Temple. I wouldn’t say it’s OK for western standards but it was OK for me. Single room with private bathroom for 8€ was a bargain.
So with Alfredo from Madrid (but that actually lives in Lanzarote) I roam around the area for the two short days I spent there. Close by there is also a waterfall (if you wanna call it like that…) hidden in a banana plantation that we found thanks to a local guy who guided us there.
My time is running out so the night of my second day I took a bus to go back to Goa where I planned to spend a couple of days before heading to Mumbai to spend my last 2 days before heading back home.
The bus ride was as good as it gets and by 6 o’clock I was back in Goa bus station. I had made a reservation at JUNGLE by thehostelcrowd as I had such a good time at its twin in Palolem (there is was called SUMMER). I arrived by local bus and had to wait a bit to be able to check-in as it is not allowed before 2.30pm. And here, although India they are as precise as a Swiss watch. 2.30pm it is. Not a minute before. And what an unpleasant surprise!!! I paid for a bed in a hostel and I have been guided to the west (shitty) wing of the same hostel. Basically JUNGLE has 2 buildings. One is nice, the other less… and very much so… I was furious. So I complained a bit about the “maintenance manager” (as he called himself) that took me and a couple of other guests to the “west wing” and thought that I would have written about it in TripAdvisor and booking.com and that it’d be it. But then I decided that no, I really wanted to complain with the manager as he also refused to cancel the second night I had booked as there is a policy of 48h advance cancellation (when I made the reservation yesterday…)
So after taking a good shower and having thought of what to say I headed back to the main building and asked to talk to the manager. And then and there I lost it… In the end he admitted that I was right, that nothing about the second building was specified on the website and he agreed to upgrade me to the nice building without any extra charge (this dorm is actually for 4 people against the other that is for 6).
It’s then that I realized its really time for me to stop this trip and head back home. After a beer and some French fries (comfort food! Great invention!!!) at The Mango Tree restaurant nearby I went back to the hostel and apologized to the manager for the foul language and the aggressive attitude. I think he understood my reasons even if not the way to express myself and the fact that after 7 months spent in Asia being “attacked” non stop one can take only so much.
So in the end I will only stay one day in Mumbai and honestly I think it’s better this way. I will try to take advantage as much as I can of my time in Goa and let go all the stress and anger accumulated lately. I wanna be as fresh as a rose for my homecoming.
Palolem. I could have stayed there forever. The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel. SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors. It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards. The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions.
But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent. It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters. It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy. And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful. There are a few very nice restaurants. I tried Magic Italy, an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good. Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive. Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.
During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur. Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing, soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil. And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls. Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job. But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that.
So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India. On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day. I left Goa to Kerala, god’s won country as they call it here. The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.
Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad. They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located. Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India. There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting. After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time. I had to decide what to do. Alleppy? Munnar? Madurai or Pondicherry? I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day.
At Mumbai train station I bought my ticket to Goa for the following day and then I booked a Uber to go to my hostel. The stupid driver took an eternity to get to the meeting point and he dropped me off half way through. I protested of course but there was really nothing else I could do so I got off the car, I told him to f#ck off and booked a second car. And this time the driver took me to the right address in a very polite and friendly way. Arrived at Welcome guest house I was taken aback by the horrible choice I made. Of course I checked first on Trip Advisor and Booking.com before but somehow I got tricked. The reception of the hostel was smaller than my bathroom and the room (just one) is behind a curtain behind the reception. Basically on the street. Thankgod the place is located in an alley so it is still pretty quiet. But I had the “last” bed, in the middle of the room, no electric socket, no head lamp. Of course I asked to get a better one but the guy at reception replied it was all booked. All the guests were local except from me and another western guy.
I resigned myself and said that it was only for one night but when I woke up in the middle of the night because this Indian guy was snoring like a pig with sinusitis (he woke up the entire dorm!!!) I realized that the place was “all booked ” because there were a few friends of the receptionist passing some hours there and now they were gone. I was furious and changed my bed with one close to the wall so I managed to at least charge my phone (my tablet, iPod and power bank were all dead…) and when it was 6 am I got up and left for the train station where I boarded the 7.10 am train to Goa. It was supposed to be a 12 hours train ride but we left 20 minutes late and by the time we arrived at destination we were 1.30 hours late. From the station I had to drive 20 minutes to get to the hostel and I had to bargain some 1/2 hour to finally meet a guy decent enough to not take complete advantage of me. With the wind in my hair (…) we drove on his motorbike and when I arrived at the hostel it was already almost 9.30 pm.
I usually book 2 nights wherever I go but for some reason unfathomable to me this time I just booked one. The managent at Folklore hostel were super nice and professional in a friendly way when I did the check in and when I told them I was planning to stay 2 nights they told me that they were fully booked for the next couple of days. The hostel is recently opened but it works very well. Spotless both the rooms and the bathroom, decent Wi-Fi and good breakfast. I had Poha and black tea and it was nice and quiet in the garden but then for some reason they decided that they needed some music to accompany the breakfast. And they thought that techno music full blast at 9.00 am was the best option…. But then in the following days I discovered that techno music is pretty popular here. It doesn’t matter time or place. It always sounds appropriate… Figures…. Since I couldn’t spend another night at Folklore I booked a couple of nights at Caterpillar hostel some 10 minutes drive from my previous location. And it was one of the owners and managers of Folklore to drive me there!!!
Caterpillar is more expensive and less nice thank Folklore but still a nice stay, as I could use the kitchen and cook food for myself. As soon as I checked in I walked the 10 minutes that separate me from the beach and what a disappointment when I got there!!! There were lost of bar all playing loud music, people screaming on the shore for getting splashed by friends, water scooters and banana boats. Not what I really expected.
On my second day there I had breakfast at this place called Michele’s Garden Cafe (there is also a guest house annexed) . The place is very nice and the food pretty good but a little too pricey for the amount they serve. Then for lunch I followed Happy Cow advice and went to Bean Me Up where I had the best vegan lunch so far. It was massive and a bit expensive but it’s all local organic food and they make their own bread. But this unfortunately was not enough to keep me there longer and although I finally managed to move out of the city and get to the beach I was still not satisfied and after a couple of days in Anjuna I decided to try my luck and move further south to Palolem.
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.