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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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!

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…. 

Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

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. 

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. 

Summing it up : Nepal 

I’m on the plane to Delhi.  Kathmandu and Nepal are still a fresh memory.  All in all I can’t really say that Nepal has been a pleasant experience.  Since the moment I’ve touched land I’ve had problems and worries.  Until the last moment. 

 The Annapurna base camp trekking has been nice,  although cold. Being in nature,  away from cars and traffic and people and chaos has been a refreshing break.  The last few days I had a roommate – Paul – that literally saved me from going mad.  I met a few nice people,  even locals,  I had good food but I don’t really think I’ll be back to visit Nepal,  at least not in this life.  I also cancelled my volunteering because goimg to the Dang would have meant to travel “12” hours on a bus. And honestly I wasn’t ready to do that.  It would have been too much.  It would have been fatal for my nerves.  The “6” hours bus back from Pokhara had already been very tiring.  I was not ready and willing to face again another “ride in hell”.

 So I decided to buy my visa to India (which surprisingly enough was extremely easy) and leave the country before planned but at the moment of buying the ticket I was stuck as the website didn’t accept my cards and according to Nepal laws you cannot fly on a ticket bought by someone else….and once again I was stuck.  Chance though sent me a guardian angel called Paul from France.  Without even knowing me Paul offered to buy the ticket for me and soon said and done he booked the ticket to Delhi and paid it with his own CC (of course I have to pay him back). And finally, at peace knowing that I was finally able to leave the country I managed to enjoy my last moments with Paul and some other cool people met thanks to couchsurfing. But I really think that Nepal has been a big disappointment because I was expecting so much.  I was so looking forward to visiting that I had imagined a land of fairy tales.  But that doesn’t exist and Nepal is just another country in Asia.  With its pros and cons.  Anyways… 

Once again I met a few cool people that by themselves made the trip to Nepal worthwhile.  I trek up to 4000m without any training.  I escaped two or three life threatening situations (in traffic)  so I guess I can still consider this stop as a positive one.  

Maybe next time – if ever – I come back,  I will just skip Kathmandu and move to nicer places. 

The good thing about Kathmandu are the restaurants.  I tried a few,  here is the list in no particular order :

 

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.