Monday, December 29, 2008

Palolem Beach, Goa

I decided to take a plane to Goa after the long bus ride from Nepal.
When we landed the pilot announced that it was 40ºC and the wall of
heat sure hit me when I got off the plane. My destination was Palolem
Beach, about 40km south of the airport. The cheapest way was by taxi,
and there was a tourist info stand in the baggage claim where you
could get a taxi. The tourist agent called someone outside and they
wrote my name on a sign. Lots easier to deal with than the hundreds,
literally, of people waiting outside to grab you for their cab, hotel,
or whatever. The taxi was about 1000 Indian Rupees($20US), so I
decided to wait and see if someone else was going that direction to
split the cab. As I chatted with the tourist agent, he had his doubts,
but within 2 minutes someone came by, Janet, a nice women from Holland.

The ride was about an hour and fifteen minutes through winding roads
in the hills and you don't even see the sea. Until, at the very end
you hit a beautiful beach lined with beach huts, restaurants, and
bars. The first place I stayed at was Dylan's, compliments to Janet
who had been to Palolem before. The huts vary throughout the beach,
from very simple with no bathroom to luxurious. Dylan's was charging
200 Rps/day for the simple huts and 400Rps/day for attached bathrooms.
After the first day, I found a great place down the beach and
negotiated a nice deal for 300 Rps/day for a nice hut with a bathroom
and discounted internet.:) Usually from the 20th of December to the
1st of January the prices double or triple. However, due to the recent
terrorist activities tourism has dropped dramatically and I was able
to side step the price hike.

So far I've been filling my days with reading books, swimming,
tanning, and updating my blog while watching the sunset from the
beachfront restaurant of my place. It's a rough life, but I figure
someone has to do it, why not me?:P

Oh yeah, there's lots of dogs and cows roaming the beach, mostly
sleeping. It's really cool, in a weird sort of way.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Delhi, India

Delhi has changed little since I was here three years ago. It's still
the busy, crowded, traffic ridden, polluted city with deliciously
wonderful food as it's always been. Oh yeah, the cows still roam free
as ever throughout the city while people and cars go around them like
they are invisible. The only significant change has been the new
airport and construction of a subway/inter-city train system.

I heard about the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai as well as the
huge protest in Bangkok shutting down the airports there when I was in
Nepal. In Delhi, I also heard that a couple of bombs have been found
in financial buildings and there was a random shooting at the airport.
None of these events really bothered me or affected my travel
decisions and plans. For one thing the terrorists attacks were usually
focused on high profiled buildings and areas, where I never could
afford to go anyway. One of the lucky things about traveling on the
cheap.:P But seriously, I have never felt more safe and I do pay
attention to global news on traveling in different countries. So I do
appreciate you all for your concern and thank you for thinking of me.

For Christmas and the New Year, I decided to celebrate the time down
in Palolem Beach, Goa.

Arriving to India

From Pohkara to Delhi I decided to take the bus. It was a 40 hour bus
ride so I thought it would be smart and take the back seats to sleep.
Unfortunately, this particular bus (most likely all of them) had no
shocks. So as we drove along Nepals broken down pot filled roads we
were soon bouncing so high that my head almost bumped against the
ceiling. I was just in shock of disbelieve and eventually moved to the
middle of the bus where it was less hairy.

The lady across the isle from me prayed with her beads (just before
she had to open the window to be sick), as I slid down my seat and
dozed off to the wildly crazy non-rhythmic jerkings of the bus.

On one of our eating stops I met a nice man from our bus, who worked
as a military consultant in Kabul, and told me of a nice cheap place
he was staying at in Delhi. When we finally arrived at 5am in the
middle of nowhere, he grabbed an auto-rickshaw and took us to the
hotel. He even worked out a discount for me, how luck was that.

Living costs - My room came to 300 Rupees ($6US)/night for a room,
TV, and balcony. Food and drink around a 100 Rps ($2US)/ meal
was readily available at most places.

Annapurna Trek Slideshow!

Pohkara II

After the wedding, I headed back to Pohkara for some extended trekking
near the Annapurna Mountain range. I debated about having a guide, and
if nothing else he would be my translator. He only charged 500 Nepali
Rupees ($6.25US)/ day plus meals, 250 Nepali Rps ($3US). He was very
good at asking what I wanted, which was to have a relaxing time, and
told me about the different areas. So we ended up walking 2-4 hours/
day meeting people here and there. For women traveling alone you can
also hire women guides to feel more comfortable.

The trek was great in that I only had to bring a small day pack. There
were tiny villages everywhere with food and shelter so you never have
to worry about anything. My attire was of course, tank tops and
shorts.:P The weather was nice and sunny everyday, although Kripa told
me that it use to be much colder in Nepal this time of year (Global
Warming). My timing was also good, because November is a lull in the
tourist season and I wouldn't have to worry about the guest houses/
hotels being filled up along the way.

The villages are simple along with the shelter. Expect minimal
accommodations, but it's cheap, clean, and they provide blankets.
Everything is brought up by donkeys up to a certain point and then
everything is brought up by people. So you will see costs double, but
it's still cheap considering you don't have to bring anything up. I
also heard that the higher villiages provide free accommodations,
because of the higher food prices.

If you wanted to cut down on costs I would suggest bringing up those
cheap ramen noodles and then you can order hot water. Also, if you buy
Dahl Baht, it's all you can eat. The garlic soup is really nice too
and said to help with altitude sickness.

Costs - 150-200 Nepali Rps ($2-2.50US)/ night for a room. Food
averaged 150 Nepali Rps.

Pohkara Slideshow!


The ride to Pohkara is about 6-7 hours through the windy narrow
mountain roads. Unfortunately, there was a bus that broke down (very
common as they run them to the ground) causing hours of traffic jams
in both directions. Our morning rafting trip had to be canceled and
our 6-7 hour ride became 12 hours of fun.

The next day we hiked up Sarangkot, a nearby hill, to view the
Himalayas during sunset and sunrise. Our climb was straight up and I
decided to wear my flip flops, of course. They said the hike normally
takes tourists 3-4 hours, but about an hour for locals. On the way up
the views were beautiful and you could see all of Pohkara and the
lake. We all were huffing and puffing, taking breaks, sweating,
drinking water, but finally manage to get to almost the top where a
local man had a shack serving cold drinks. As I spoke with him he
congratulated me for making it half way and pointed to a tiny dot
further up to our hotel. I was a bit crushed by this information, but
pulled myself together just in time to see a group of young teenagers
trotting down the steep rock steps laughing and giggling all dressed
up for a night out. The humiliating thing was that I knew they would
have to climb back up and it would be nothing to them, even in their
nice clothes and fancy shoes.

To top it all off, almost at the very top as I was struggling up the
rock steps a small boy, maybe 3 years old, was walking down with his
little school uniform. He stopped when he saw me, put his hands
together, and said, "Namaste." (The standard greeting). I was all
shocked and worried that he was walking all alone on this difficult
path and then after he past me he bolted down the steep hill. He
literally sprinted down the side of the steps where it was all grassy.
It's pretty interesting to have your ego crushed and be amazed at the
same time.

Needless to say the view at the top was spectacular, both the sunset
and sunrise. We even had a cultural show at the small hotel we stayed
at, where the children of the local school danced, sang, and played

Nepali Wedding Slideshow!

Nepal's Current Communist Government

The Maoists have recently gained power in Nepal and with that
implemented an 11pm curfew for the country. Things have been unstable
here and there, but nothing to stop tourism. The residents definitely
take care to lock up during the night and there is almost no evidence
of life after curfew. The only things I found out about were two
hidden bars and casinos that dared to stay open after curfew. Other
than that, as a tourist, there's no concern for worry. For residents,
however, that's a whole other story.

Katmandu seemed like a mini version of Delhi, with lots of pollution,
traffic, and people. I'm told that even within the past six years
there has been an incredible amount of changes as an influx of people
migrating to Katmandu from the countryside, and the people from
Katmandu leaving to other countries (the ones who can afford it). The
people here are all super nice and even the touts or sales people are
polite and respectful as they try to sell you things. You haggle just
as you would in India, and things are just as cheap.

The cuisine at all the tourist restaurants are multicultural covering
chinese, italian, mexican, indian, thai, and of course nepali. As you
would expect the food of other nations are mediocre and not the same,
with very few exceptions at certain restaurants. I tend to stay with
local or indian cuisine, which is vegetarian heaven.

Living costs - 400 Nepali Rupees ($5US)/ night for a room, balcony,
and hot water. Average meal was about 200 Nepali Rps ($2.50US).

Kathmandu Slideshow!


I was really excited to finally get to Nepal, for many reasons. For
one thing, my friend Kripa was going to be there and her sister,
Prapti, was getting married. It was also my first time in Nepal and I
heard many great things about the treks from other travelers. Of
course I was also eager to try the delicious Nepali food.

From the time I got there I was completely taken care of and didn't
have to worry about anything. I stayed with Kripa's family and had the
best nepali home cooked meals everyday and then Kripa would take us,
Prapti's friends and I, around to be our personal tour guide. It was
way more than I expected considering the massive wedding preparations
Kripa and her family still had to finish. A traditional Nepali wedding
takes about five days with all the ceremonies, but they managed to
consolidate everything into three days.

Everything was so elaborate, from the beautiful different sari's for
each ceremony to the gorgeous places they had the events. The family
was up by 6am or earlier till late at night every single day till
after the wedding to organize everything making sure all was perfect,
and it was amazing. The groom, Gotham, is Indian so the second half of
the wedding was down in Delhi for a grand reception. Unfortunately, I
couldn't make it down there in time. Especially since Indians really
know how to party and enjoy themselves.

Heathrow, London... In Transit.

On my way to Nepal, the cheapest way was to fly through London, with a
24 hour layover. So to save money I decided to hang out in the airport
cafes and make a little bed in a small corner for the night at the new
terminal. It took a while before my brain kicked in and realized I had
friends living in London that I could have stayed with, or at the very
least, meet up for lunch. So to all my friends in London, I'm sorry
for not thinking ahead. I'm such a fool!

Camel Trek Slideshow!

Camel Trek....NOT!

When I returned to Marrakech I had planned to go on a three day camel
trek and booked it the night I got back, at the last minute.
Unfortunately, I had no itinerary or any information about the tour
except that there were camels and I had to wake up at 6am the first day.

So, the next morning started with about 15 of us tourists plopped in a
van and driven off. Most of it was driving for an hour or two with
stops here and there. The driver only spoke Arabic and French, so when
we stopped it was never clear how long we had. I mean I even asked in
French and the driver told me one time and then another person who
asked would get another time. We had no tour guide and it was only
after the 3rd or 4th stop when we all realized there were things to
see at the seemingly random stops we thought were bathroom breaks.
Some people started to complain, while I just sat back laughing to the
ridiculousness of the whole thing. I mean how great a business is
that, to take people on a tour and just hire a driver not speaking any
of the languages of the tourists and just drive and stop at places
giving no information.

On the second night and hundreds of kilometers away we finally reached
the camel trek part of the tour. From the other tourists I found out
that the camel rides were suppose to take about two hours each way, to
and from the Berber camp in the desert. Everyone was excited and
sunset was quickly approaching. Once we got on the camels everyone was
talking and joking around. After a half an hour the group were not so
talkative or joyous anymore due to the uncomfortable seating on the
camels. For some reason they only placed a single blanket for padding
on the hump of the camel and felt that was enough for tourists.

When we finally reached the Berber camp site it was pitch black and
everyone was aching, tired, and starving. As we all crawled into a
huge communal tent we were served some nice tea to fend of the dessert
cold. After a while we all started to wonder if we were going to have
dinner, but only could get a less than definitive answer from the
camel guides. Half of the group was fading fast, falling asleep. Only
after three hours did food finally appear and we all devoured our
meals. Then we all decided to sleep, while the Berber guides were all
perplexed on why we didn't want to hear live music or dance.

Everyone was dreading the camel ride back the next morning and by the
time we reached our destination all but one little boy was on the
camel. Everyone else slowly decided to get off and walk through the
desert. The tour turned out to be more of a driving tour than anything
else, where it felt like 10% of it was activity. It was an interesting
tour, one that I would never do again, but I did meet some nice people
and we all met up for drinks after the whole ordeal to have a laugh.

Moroccan Law

Apparently under Moroccan Law, if there's a dispute between a tourist
and a local, the tourist will always win. This decree by the King was
implemented to encourage tourism and discourage the touts and shady
practices played on tourists, which are numerous. You hear stories
such as locals promising the best Moroccan cuisine ever at their home,
charging an exorbitant amount of money for less than mediocre food. Or
someone offering to lead you through the Medina only to get you lost
and asks for money if you would like to find your way out. Or telling
you that your hotel has been burned down/full/being renovated, but
they have a nice cheap hotel available. This is not to discourage you
from coming, and it's only in the main tourist cities, Fez and
Marrakech, where you have many dishonest locals preying on tourist.
I've met some great locals, and believe that there are lots of honest
and good Moroccans outside of the tourist industry. Just be prepared
for the aggressive nature of the tourist industry.

Agadir Slideshow!

Essaouria Slideshow!

Essaouria and Agadir

Essaouria was one of the best places to relax and chill. One of the
main things you hear about Essaouria is that it's very laid back and
the people don't hassle you as much to buy things. It's also a great
place for surfers, kite surfing, and windsurfing. The Medina was very
small, so even if you get lost you can easily find your way out.

After a couple of days I decided to go further down to Agadir. I heard
from some other travelers that it was suppose to be even better down
there along the coast. Just before Agadir, about 15 km, there were a
few small surf towns beginning with Tagazout. Unfortunately, mass
construction of resorts have taken place that will change the
structure of the whole coast and ruin the coziness of the small surf

When I arrived in Agadir it was a nice change of pace where it was
more metropolitan with no touts or anyone trying to get your attention
to sell something. I soon made a new local friend, Hammid, who spoke
four languages and was living in Austria for a number of years. He
ended up showing me around the fishing wharf and we at at his
restaurant, where I had one of the best fish meals on the trip so far.
Later we met up at a Karaoke restaurant with his English girlfriend,
along with a bunch of other international and local friends for a fun
night out.