17 Feb 2014

We all woke up and sat out on the balcony with a coffee. Gems only started drinking coffee again since myself and Taryn arrived. It's some sort of coffee powder form the Om Ganesh supermarket in town which we heat up in a pan of boiling water then strain as we pour it out into the cups, cowboy style.
After the adrenaline inducing effects of the coffee had taken effect we decided to go and do some yoga upstairs. The room upstairs was open on three sides but was covered so was still quite cool at this time of day. Gems took us through a cut down Ashtanga primary series which was really hard work but satisfying. I managed a backbend which I'd only done once before and a headstand (against a wall) which I had never attempted before.
When we retired back downstairs for more coffee and yesterdays cake for breakfast we were greeted by the house dogs including the new tiny puppy who was ever so friendly and excitable.
Taryn and I then left Gems and took a walk in to town to have a look around and do some shopping. You need to take off your shoes in all the shops which is a really nice thing to do. If nothing else it's just an excuse to walk around without shoes on for a bit which is really nice. It is also expected that you barter for everything you buy, except supermarkets and places like that. Certainly all the market style stalls expect it. This takes quite a bit of getting used to a the prices are really very good anyway and it feels a bit like you are cheating people out of money they deserve when trying to barter someone down to a cheaper price. Taryn was doing most of the shopping, looking for new clothes but there was nothing very inspiring and a lot of what we saw in the market stalls was very similar. I was looking for a new set of pockets which took longer than you would think in such a hippy town. We walked past a man with a cow on a string that was adorned with all manner of bells and decorations, I have no idea what this was about but it looked pretty bored.
Walking back through town we met back up with Gems and went for beer and Momos at the best place for Momos in Arambol. Momos are basically tiny little pasties made of very thin pastry and steamed, they come originally from Nepal but seem to be a bit thing in India. We had spinach, cheese and potato momos sat outside under the shade of a tree with a sauce Gems made up from the dips they supplied.
Fully refuelled we walked back to Gems, taking care to say hi to Tripod, grabbed out beach things and got Alex the taxi driver to take us down the coast to Keri. It was a long stretch of beautiful white sand with just a couple of small shacks and a row or two of sun loungers. It was almost deserted and just what we all wanted. The waves were pretty big so we all dived in and had a play around, the current was super strong so after a while we all headed back to sun ourselves on the beach again. We spent the afternoon lounging, hooping and eating. I treated myself to nutella pancakes and beer.
A friend of Gems' was also down at the beach, a Welsh chap called Barry who was down there with his wife and young son. He fixes up bikes and rents them out to tourists and people there for the season. Barry's son managed to get hold of one of my hoops and broke it by squashing it too much. That was a real shame as I'd only brought two hoops with me, an interesting lesson in attachment though.
Someone had found a couple of crabs in the sea and put them in a hole in the sand with some water in the bottom. Somehow the crabs were sucking up the water and jetting it out over each other, I've never seen crabs doing that and have no idea what they were doing.
Taryn and I hooped the sun down to a "touch down", this is what it's called when the sun dips below the ocean on the horizon line so you see the sun set with no haze at all. It's a really awesome thing to behold, it seems to make the sun look even bigger than usual.
We got the taxi back to the apartment shortly after sunset where I crashed out pretty early leaving the girls watching Lost.

16 Feb 2014

I woke up the following morning after a wonderful nights sleep, walked out onto the veranda to find Gems. We lazed around on the veranda catching up and generally breathing in the wonderful morning. One of the other residents in Yellow House came past, a chap called Burnt, he’d found a puppy by the side of the road and after trying to find it’s mother with no success he’d decided to bring it home. She was looking a little worse for wear, she had a cut on her side and was very thin looking.
Taryn arrived before lunch time, she’d got a lift with some other people that had been at the Vipassana centre with her, there were lots of hugs and catching up. We decided to get moving so took a walk in to town to get some lunch. The walk wasn't too far but mostly involved a series of busy, dusty roads. The ever-present beep-beep of the horns took us all the way into town past the street dogs (including one with only three legs Gems called tripod). Lunch was in a cafe a little way back from the beach still in town. The building was essentially a shack, most of the walls were open so the breeze could keep the temperature down. We sat on the bench seats and let Gems order as she seemed to know what she was doing.
After we'd finished eating we walked down to Shanti space which is an area used by people to practise and teach circus skills and other physical arts. We had to go through an alley between two shops they through a number of other alleys round the back of houses and through some wasteland. The space itself was a large concrete area and another space of packed sand. Posts had been erected to string large, beautifully patterned sheets which cast some shadow. Hoop and poi were hanging from the walls and some rigging for silks or maybe arial hoops could be seen just past the main area. We spent some time just playing around but it was pretty warm and any activity left me feeling pretty overheated.
For dinner we met up with Alan, Lula and a whole group of other people I had not yet met in a restaurant on the beach. We sat upstairs filling a giant table all sitting on the floor. The restaurant was a little way down the beach so we were able to walk back along the beach before cutting back into town and back to Gems' apartment. On the way we stopped in at a little cake shop that was filled with the most delectable looking array of french cakes and pastries I have ever seen and certainly did not expect to see in India. We fell asleep before we could eat them though.

15 Feb 2014

The Journey Continues

After sleeping, waking, reading and sleeping again a few times I was getting a little worried how I would know when to get off the train. I’d been told they often don;t run to any reliable schedule so time isn’t a good indication and not being too familiar with the Indian countryside I had to check with my cabin companions where we were. Somehow I managed to get off the train at the right station and wandered through the station, which smelled much nicer than Mumbai, past the giant array of car batteries seemingly powering the whole station to the outside.
I was greeted by a few small taxis and a cow just outside the station, I jumped in the first taxi and we were on our way to Arambol. The roads were a joy to be on compared with Mumbai, flanked on either side by lush green trees, and grass. The smells through the window were fragrant and subtle, fruity and fresh. I felt like I’d fallen into a tropical smoothy. We passed small temples adorned with flowers and scooters carrying beautiful women in saris sitting side saddle. The constant beep-beep of the horn was still a feature, it seems this is a fundamental feature of driving in India. I’ve even seen some signs on the back of trucks stating “Horn please!”
When we reached Arambol we had to rely on the directions/address I had for where I’d be staying. The place was called Yellow House, there are many, many houses that are yellow in colour in Arambol, it’s quite popular in fact. After a few missed turns and a couple of phone calls we found the right place, I met Gems coming out of her apartment and gave her a massive hug. It was so awesome to see her again after such a long time. She took me inside and I felt instantly at home, there were beautiful throws on the bed, rope lights strung all around the room twinkling a greeting and the unmistakable scent of Nag Champa. Gems made me a beautiful fresh curry with chapatti whilst I had a shower which felt so great. We ate and talked, drank beer and finally crashed out, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

14 Feb 2014

The Journey To India

After meeting a friend for a few farewell drinks at the pub I got home at quite a sensible time considering my early start the following day. I opted to spend the night on the sofa so as to avoid the temptation to linger in my soft, warm bed. It also meant there were fresh, clean sheets for my flat sitter the following day.
I awoke in plenty of time the next morning, I even had time for a couple of cinnamon bagels. Alas I had run out of coffee so I had to make do with the excitement of my impending adventure to keep me awake. I left my flat with a feeling of excitement for the coming journey. I love new beginnings and what better a beginning than the first foot on a new road to another land! Brighton was dark and quiet, only a few late night stragglers from the now closed clubs were making their winding way home.
I quickly realised I actually had not thought about where I was to meet my coach. Having lived in Brighton for so many years I must have just assumed I already possessed such knowledge but if it was the excitement, the cold morning or the lack of caffeine, my brain would not provide the necessary directions. Not to fear, I headed in what I believed to be the right direction and soon saw a coach pull into Poole Valley Coach station. Only one fellow coach traveller was waiting when I arrived. As is often the case when I am over excited I instantly started chatting, he was off to Canada to go snowboarding and was getting the same coach as me, as there was only one coach with it’s display showing Norwich as the destination we chatted about various snowy places. Not long before we were due to depart the driver kindly announced he was in fact driving to London Heathrow, my destination, Norwich was simply my final destination. A lucky escape!
The airport all went very smoothly, no problems with my luggage or hoops being taken as hand luggage which is always a concern of mine. Once I was through security I was able to relax. So much so in fact that I got my seat number confused with the gate number. After wondering why the gate was quite so empty before the flight I realised my error and had to run the length of the Terminal to just make the flight in time.
The flight to Abu Dhabi was long, six hours, I didn’t get up at all or even stretch. By the time we had landed I was pretty sore and stiff. I was looking forward to a good leg stretch at the airport. Alas I had to pass through a security check to reach departures for my connecting flight, the queue ran the length of a number of of corridors and took almost my entire changing time to get through. I had just enough time for a brief smoke in the smoking area before dashing to get the next flight.
On my flight to Mumbai I was sitting next to an Indian lady that had emigrated to Canada, the temperatures there are often -20 outside. Requiring a whole different approach to going outside even for day to day trips. It certainly made me feel glad for our comparatively mild winters in the UK. She was on her way to a family reunion/event of some description.
After landing in Mumbai we taxied for what felt like an eternity, by this time I was ready for my journey to end but knew I still had taxis and a train to tackle so was keen to at least get to the terminal and regain the feeling in my limbs. After disembarking we ended up in a very large hall filled with queues of people going through passport control. there were no signs to suggest which queue was appropriate for who so I just joined the nearest and hoped for the best. A lady from Mexico joined the same queue as me and was trying to get me to assist with her questions regarding her VISA. Her English was not too good and she seemed not to have filled out a landing card, I don’t think I was much help but I’m sure she made it through in the end. For my own part I had no trouble save for the long wait.
Before looking for taxis I got some Rupees from a cash point and checked my instructions which informed me that the taxi should be a fixed price of R500. Very soon after leaving the main airport building I was accosted by smartly dressed gentleman who was very keen for me to use his taxi. I little worn from my journey and with my defenses not yet up I relented to at least share a cigarette with him and discussed costs. After some time I was sat in the back of his taxi with my bag in the boot negotiating a cost from R1500 to R700, still unhappy with that I got my bag and left. It was then I saw the pre-paid taxi rank. You queue up, pay your price and are given a ticket, which is then handed to a driver who whisks you away to your destination. This was the R500 place I’d been looking for. During my time waiting in the queue an argument began in what I believe was Hindi between a number of Indian gentleman and a lady. A fellow queue patron informed me it was a indeed an argument over the lady, as I had in fact jested. It soon turned to pushing and some punches were thrown. The airport security were then quick to intervene and break them up.
The taxi itself was a small but very comfortable car. It was still dark as we left the airport, past the street dogs and towards the city. Everything smelt of petrol, exhaust and rubber as we weaved in and out of other road users with no visible lanes or any indication that lanes were a concept yet introduced to Indian roads. Horns could be heard blaring non-stop, seemingly in a friendly beep-beep fashion though, more reminiscent of a childs game of cars than the angry shouts of cars at home. We passed through large areas that seemed to comprise only of make-shift houses made from odd pieces of wood and corrugated iron, cables hanging haphazardly between buildings. Motorised rickshaws were seen here and there but most of the traffic seemed to be small vans filled with people presumably on there way to work. Some people were on mopeds mostly carrying large pails containing some unknown wonder. Markets were already up and running, some with what seemed like entire sections of earth still filled with all sorts of root vegetables.
I made it to the station by 5:30am, plenty of time to sort of my waitlisted ticket, a source of slight concern, as I needed to exchange this somewhere for a real ticket and had little idea how this was supposed to work. There were a lot of homeless people sleeping on the steps of the station, this was my first real view of the poverty in India and I found it very difficult to know how to behave. Having led a life relatively sheltered from this level of suffering I find it intimidating to be confronted by such hardship. Absorbing such as existence into a word view built up in western society is not, for me, an easy thing to do. The desire to pretend it simply does not exist is therefore something I can fully understand, this is not always driven by a class induced invisibility.
Luckily am Indian chap offered to help sort out my ticket for me, it seems he was know in and around the station as he pushed past all the other people queueing for tickets to get my actual ticket for me. I happily paid him R100 for this, he wanted more but I felt that was a fair price. he was very keen to change my UK money for into rupees and explained it was all black market money changing, I decided to play it safe and kept hold of my money. Just as I was about to go and find my platform the time it had come, it seems, for the homeless sleepers to be moved on. This was achieved by one of the station staff taking a large, heavy wooden stick and beating all the sleeping people on the station steps. I could hear the wood cracking against bone and was amazed there were no serious injuries. He did not hold back at all.
After I found my platform I still had plenty of time before my train so I managed to find a waiting room with AC that was reserved for those with certain tickets. The woman at the desk on the way in did not speak English so she just waved me past. It was comfy enough and meant I could use the bathroom to get changed into some cooler clothes as the temperature was getting up and my present clothes were getting a bit travel worn. I seemed to be the centre of attention in the waiting room, maybe it was my hair but I was certainly getting plenty of looks from the other temporary residents. It seems Indians stare a lot and it is not considered rude, one woman even walked around me a few times to get a really good look.
When the time for the train was approaching I went out to the platform to watch some of the other trains arrive to try and see how the carriages were labelled as I had a very specific seat/bed to find. The signs on the platform actually showed where the various types of carriages would be when the train pulled in so this meant I could make sure I was in the right general area before it pulled up. This all made finding my bed very easy. Carriage was actually really nice, it was air conditioned and quite comfortable. My bunk was right up by the ceiling and away from the window so I couldn’t really see much of the view which was a shame.
As we wound our way across the country the train sprang into life. People walking up and down the carriages singing out what they had for sale, “chai gorram, chai gorram!”. There was a family sat below me who had brought their own meal, it smelled amazing, it was really nice to hear them talking away below me but not understanding, quite soothing. I took a walk to the toilets at one stage and passed a door which was left swinging open, the countryside just flying past outside, I must confess to having to run a bit past the door.

24 Oct 2012

Greece Day 6

I chose to head for the earlier bus whichI assume incorrectly would be an hour before the 22:15 I had planned to catch. I got to the bus stop just after nine and waited, and then waited some more. To keep my spirits up I had a sing-song including such hits as Fly Me To The Moon, Little Deuce Coup, Under My Skin and 50 Bottles of Beer. Just as it became apparent there would be no 21:15 bus a light rain and electrical storm began. Thankfully it did not come to much and a bus did arrive at 22:11 much to my relief as the next song on the set list of Wheels On The Bus.
The airport was quite deserted when I arrived, a few security staff and straggling travellers so I set myself up on a metal bench to get some sleep. My uncomfortable make-shift bed and a group of flies, who would not leave me alone, did not make for a great nights sleep. After a 2am cigarette I settled back down and created an ingenious fly-net with my dreads to cover my face. With this in place I slept soundly until five when I was awoken either by my alarm or the airport waking up, I am not sure which came first.
Check-in was very quick and after a little confusion over where to leave my bag I went straight through security and waited at my gate.
When it came time for me to board the gate was still decidedly empty and there seemed to be some radio chatter about my flight. Trying hard to dispel negative thoughts and alternate plans I waited patiently to be called.
Minutes later I was shown to the bus which would take me to the plane with a grinning bus driver standing outside. I then realised what was going on, I was the only passenger!
The plane was a twin-prop, which was a first for me and having the whole cabin for me and my personal stewardess made me feel somewhat of a celebrity. Seeing the islands all scattered before me as a warm mediterranean sun rose over Greece.
Passing through arrivals in Ikaria was equally surreal, watching the baggage handler place my bag on his truck, then seeing it pass through the flaps of the baggage claim, all alone. Being so early the airport was empty, no visible staff at all. With no number for a taxi and the water bus being non-existent I jumped at the first sight of human life I saw to try and get a taxi number. More and more people seemed to be appearing from nowhere but no-one speaking a word of English. I was starting to feel a bit of a prat.
Eventually we communicated well enough for me to understand a local would give me a lift to town, refusing any offer of payment. A couple of friends came along for the ride, one of which spoke very good English. They got me to town after the driver had told at least fifteen people to "have a nice day" in English (I was quite fond of him).
I've now found a great little hotel for 25 EUR a night so will at least do for tonight so I can get a show and figure out what to do next.

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