Don’t Let Strangers Clean Your Ears

So of course after writing the post about things that you should consider before going to India, I remembered a whole bunch more stuff that you might like to take into consideration. Of course the only one of those things I can remember right now is this: Don’t let strangers clean your ears!

Ok perhaps I should broaden that rule a bit. Because that one seems a little oddly specific. I assure you though, when walking the streets of Mumbai it is a relevant rule!

Something I learned very quickly in India is that you need to take care of your space. I tend to lean towards a bit of a less-than-safe politeness when it comes to other people. I am a little naive, sure, but I am also perhaps a little too open to interaction with strangers. As is my husband sometimes.

And this is how it happened that a man walked up to my husband and just started cleaning his ears. Without a doubt this is probably the most WTF moment either of us has ever had. Like a rude schoolchild I couldn’t stop giggling and he of course might as well have had “what the hell is happening right now” tattooed on his forehead.

Now in India, this happened to us quite a bit before we wised up. You see, someone will walk up to you and just pin something on your shirt, or give you a dot on your forehead, or clean your ears. At first you’ll get a fright because you’ve been accosted by a stranger. Then you will relax because it is clear that they have no intention of hurting you. Then you will wonder if it is some sort of cultural experience that you are having. And then your accostant will demand money. And THAT is where it gets awkward. Especially if you look like you come form a place where you earn Euros or Pounds or Dollars. Because they will tell you how much money you owe them for this service that you did not request but have already received and if you’re a not-that-wealthy South African like me it is most likely that they will be demanding more than your budget for the entire day.

It’s awkward. Arguing about it when there is a language barrier is even more awkward. The best is just to avoid the situation altogether and if someone tries to christen you or clean your ear or pin a flag to your chest just politely but firmly say no.

Unless you actually want your ears cleaned. Which is also a valid choice.

10 Things You Need to Know Before You Go To India

I may have gotten a little carried away with the nostalgic, wishy washy, and ultimately unhelpful India posts in the last while,  so I figured probably I should write one of those one-in-every-hundred-or-so posts that might be the tiniest big helpful. Obviously I only spent three weeks in India, and I only visited a handful of places, so I know next to nothing. ButI wanted to share the little that I do know.

Would I recommend India as a place to visit? Yes! But…I also admit I would recommend pretty much anywhere as a place to visit because go places, dude.

Anyway, India is incredible. Like crazy incredible. I would happily spend six months or even a year there exploring as much of what the country has to offer as possible. Everything about it is an adventure for the senses. But man, if you’re a little fussy about stuff, or if you’re a stickler for realistic expectations, there are a few things that you need to consider.

1.) Customs at the airport will make you rethink your life

When Ty and I landed at Mumbai airport at 4am we were convinced that it would be a sort of quiet version of the place because hey, it’s 4am. Holy cow (see what I did there?) we were so wrong! I have never seen so many people shoved into such a large-but-feeling-small space. That said, customs in Mumbai is efficient as hell and even though you’re standing in a queue of about five thousand people (ok I admit I don’t know how to estimate crowd size) the line goes really quickly and I think we spent only about an hour in a queue that we expected to spend three days in.

2.) The food really is the best you will ever eat

Sometimes I’m not even sure I like Indian food. My attempts to cook it always fail, for one. I get away with Indian-ish, but only ish. And the small town dorpie version of curry always used to make me super unhappy. After having a baby though, I started liking things like Indian food and coriander (birthing babies makes you go all weird, apparently) but I was still worried about having “only” Indian food to eat for three whole weeks. But guys, that food is so incredible I actually can’t deal. So good. So so so so so good. And the vegetarian options are even better than the meat options so wow. I wish I could cook like that.

3.) Delhi belly is not what you think

Ok so I know that food poisoning is not exactly an uncommon occurrence amongst those who travel, and it is certainly something that is feared within the community. But Delhi belly is not food poisoning. Food poisoning is cramping, vomiting, gastro, sweating, fever etc, accompanied by the need to be near a bathroom at all times. Deli belly seems to basically be the ability to shit through a straw without all the other unpleasant symptoms. In other words, even though your morning ablutions will be a little more lyrical than usual, you can still enjoy the rest of your day without feeling like you need to tie yourself to the toilet.

4.) Everything about India is Extra, with a capital EXTRA

Yup, all of it. The colours. The smells. The tastes. The sounds.

5.) It’s really dirty

Like really dirty. Like you will be surprised at how dirty a place can be. But you can either let that offend your uptight sensibilities or you can kind of go with it. It is what it is. And you might go mad wondering how on earth there could possibly be so much garbage everywhere, but you might also remind yourself that it’s none of your business, you’re just a visitor.

6.) The women will make you feel like an old shoe

Yes. The women of India are so beautiful and they all dress like princesses and have the most exquisite hair so it’s kind of hard to feel any sort of superficial external confidence while surrounded by all of that. On the bright side those babes are way out my husband’s league so it’s all good. (I’m kidding obviously my husband is God’s gift to women and I have special voodoo powers and I feed him magic potion on a daily basis to keep him under my spell)

7.) Take note of what things cost

The street vendors and tuk-tuk drivers will overcharge you. And not just a little. A lot. Like a lot a lot. Like so much that I still have anxiety over how much I overpaid for some stuff while I was there. With tuk-tuk drivers we started a habit of telling them how much we were willing to pay. And with vendors…honestly I just found one dude in Goa who didn’t do the haggling thing he just told you his price (which was decent) and I just bought most of my souvenirs from him because I appreciated the lack of hassle. But like in Mumbai I totally paid like 40 bucks for a pomegranate because man I am so white sometimes.  Let me assure you: I am too stingy to spend 40 bucks on a piece of fruit.

8.) You might not be understood as well as you’re expecting

Even though English is a compulsory subject in Indian schools, I have to admit that I was surprised by how difficult it was to be understood in India. My attempt at procuring water pills for my really bad water retention ended in me consuming anti-inflammatories for days and wondering why the relief was so slow in coming. Then again, English people don’t usually understand me either so this could have been my fault.

9.) Don’t eat the beef

Eventually you’ll need some less spicy food. Don’t bother. Just eat the spicy. It’s far better than whatever Western-inspired meal that you’re considering ordering. And cheaper. Eat home food at home.

10.) Just go with it

If you’re going to go to India with expectations, don’t. Leave the uptightness behind. Leave the pictures in your head behind. Go and enjoy it for the wondrous experience that it is instead of bemoaning it for what it isn’t. You’ll miss so much if you get too caught up in your own self.

Hope that helps! High five to me for trying, right?

The Yellowest House in Goa

I should have taken a picture of our homestay in Goa. It took so long to get there from the airport and our taxi got stuck in the sand on the beach. And then when we arrived at our destination, in the middle of the night, our new home was so brightly yellow it might have glowed in the dark.

In the last instalment of my insufferable reminiscence, I will admit that we were lazy fish in Goa. (as an aside: the fish curry they make there is heaven oh my god) We spent a lot of time just ambling around, took a few boat rides, and mostly  took things super easy. Our adventuring spirits were in recharge mode and we took full advantage of the easy slow life.

I imagine that it was all this relaxing that lead to the mad decision to rent a scooter while we were there. Luckily we didn’t die but I have yet to figure out what stopped that from happening…

My favourite thing about Goa is without a doubt the mystery of why there are so many single shoes on the beach. Like… where did all these shoes come from? Clearly they were washed up on the beach by the tides, but from where? Is there a shoe dumpster somewhere in the area?

If you’re wondering what this post is about, don’t worry… I have no idea either…

It also occurs to me that I should have called this post The Greenest House In Goa because actually it looks more green than yellow and green makes for better alliteration which I have a thing for.

Oh well…

Give Me Back the Greens of Kerala

As I have noted several times this month, my Facebook memories feed is filled with memories of our trip to India two years ago. I must admit: that was the year I kind of caught feelings for Instagram and I do owe anyone unfortunate enough who was following my Facebook and Instagram at the time an apology. Guys – I posted SO MANY PICTURES. I’m sorry. A bit. In my defence posting all those pics made me really happy at the time, even though it’s made me go wtf in the present. I do, however, admit that it is likely I will do it again in the future. I can’t help it. I’ve always been a bit naturally extra…

Those damn pics make the travel bug bite though. God we had such a good time. After spending Valentine’s Week around The Golden Triangle, we moved on to the Kerala district. This district is so green and beautiful. A stark contrast, of course, to the drought that our part of the world is currently struggling with.

This decidedly slower-paced experience was one I would have loved to extend, even though the mountains of Munnar made it so difficult for me to breathe! This sea-level girl can’t deal with altitude at all!! Cochi with it’s fisherman and crazy markets. Munnar with all that tea. Kumarakom… Oh Kumarakom, how I loved you the most. So many birds. So much life everywhere.

I am spoiled and grateful. And at the same time so hopelessly unsatiated in my lust to explore more. How glorious for me to be able to say I have been there and to be able to coddle my own wanderlust with you’ve made it work before you can do it again.

A friend told me yesterday that she is so glad she doesn’t have travel lusts. And I must admit I agree with her: she is lucky. Because I find myself at a point where I miss everywhere. I miss the Kerala district. I miss The Golden Triangle. I miss Mumbai and the crazy traffic there. I miss the hustle and bustle. I miss the quiet.

Travel can be a heartbreaking thing. But what more can be expected when your life’s goal is to leave tiny pieces of your heart all over the world?

Dear Friends, You’re Always Welcome Here

For the last couple of weeks India has been on my timeline, and so of course I’ve been thinking about how while I was in India I met the most fantastic couple: Ella & Jack. Silly, I know. In reality we only spent a couple of hours together, exploring the Taj Mahal on Valentine’s Day, but I love those two so much! One of my absolute favourite things about traveling is that there is always something so special about the people I meet while doing it. As someone who spends a lot of time feeling a bit out of place no matter where she is, it’s a big deal for me to ever be in the sort of space where I feel like I (*gasp*) fit in. I do recognize that this is no more or less true within travel circles than it is outside of those circles, but feelings are feelings and the good ones should not be denied.

Of course I have met people from all over, not just in India. Many of you have a special place in my heart and I appreciate the small amount of time that I shared with you out there in the big wide world. I think of you often and wonder after your wellbeing. I find my mind drifts towards a number of you as I get nostalgic about past travels or start making plans towards the next adventure. I find myself wondering if your next adventure is on the horizon, or if you know just how wonderful my little part of the world is. And if you do know, would you considering visiting it? (more…)

Valentine’s Day at the Taj Mahal

My husband and I have agreed that we won’t be faffing with Valentine’s Day. No, it’s not a trap. The suggestion to give it a skip was a genuine one. It’s Wednesday. We’re broke. We’re busy. We’re broke. Yes, broke times two. Actually make that times three. It’s all good.

We’re not that big on Valentine’s Day usually. Not enough to actually go out of our way to make a big deal of it at least. The celebration kind of either happens by accident or not at all. I’m good with this. Mostly because I’m not a particularly romantic human being, at least not about Valentine’s Day.

We did have one really good Valentine’s Day in India though. We managed to spend Valentine’s 2016 at the Taj Mahal, which I thought was poetically romantic when you consider that the Taj Mahal is a symbol of some dude’s love for his woman. I forget which dude of course. I’m even worse at history than I am at romance.

This is where I truly fail though: I’ve gotten to a point where stuff just doesn’t feel like a special occasion if I’m not away from home. And it’s not that I hate my home – I love my home! I’m very much a homebody, and being home snuggled with my cats and husband is its own special occasion in a way. But tomorrow we’ll just be here doing our here things and living our here life. Nothing extraordinary.

I like that I can say I once spent Valentine’s Day at the Taj Mahal though.

And why even am I telling you all of this? Because my On This Day feature on Facebook keeps reminding me that I was in India two years ago. The reminder is lovely. But boy oh boy the travelbug is biting holes in my feet…

Also I need to go back to the Taj Mahal because my pics of the place are all terrible! Someone needs to give me travel photography lessons… *sigh*

Feed Me in New Delhi

The best food I’ve ever eaten was in New Delhi. I’m thinking of it now with a twinge of nostalgia. There is something impossibly titillating about discovering new foods that you love, with a person that you love. Is it weird that I find making yummy sounds  with my husband to be one of my favourite pastimes? It makes me so happy. Oh my god you have to try this! 

Of course there is also the other feeling that plagues me now. The feeling of oh my gosh all that food was so good but I don’t remember what any of it was called feeling. Such a tragic loss of words.

I’m definitely getting to a point where I am longing for slower, more immersive travel. I know this is a tall order because unless you travel full time it’s kind of difficult to  pull off immersive travel. For now we go somewhere and experience as much as possible in a short space of time. But I long for the kind of uninhibited experiences where you are just in a place as a temporary citizen of that place. New Delhi especially inspires this longing. I would love to amble through her streets. Observing and meeting her people without the limitations of a tour schedule. Eating food from the streets or in little side street cafes. Visiting temple after temple. I could happily visit them all without ever being bored. Their peace would sustain me.

I wonder if my husband would happily amble through the whole of India for a year. Imagine it: Yoga retreats. Temples. Curries and naan bread galore. So many mangoes! A seemingly endless collection of caves all over the place. Intricate carvings. Beautiful fabrics. Everything that glitters…

I am ready, perhaps, for a different way of life to start, though I remain loyal to this one while it needs me. Children grow up though, and once they have their own lives I cannot help but wonder if it would be unreasonable for me to figure out how to live just about everywhere…

Monkeys Outside of Kanheri Caves

I’m busy having a grump with myself because in the name of stabbing nostalgia I am busy looking through my photographs from Mumbai and I see that I took zero pictures while at the Kanheri Caves. At least I didn’t take any with my camera. My google photos backup has a couple of blurry pics with too much HDR on them (oh Lordy I loved that filter for a while…) but beautiful pics taken with my camera?

Nada.

WHY WOULD I DO THAT?!

Oh yes… Because there was a “No Photographs” sign at the ticketing office and uhm…probably I shouldn’t have those pics on my cellphone either… How did we pull that off anyway? Did we go into stealth ninja mode? Is calling it “Stealth Ninja Mode” superfluous?

Luckily there were all these gorgeous monkeys hanging out outside of the entrance to the caves so I totally got to photograph them with all their little old man babies. How cute are they? So cute…

Oh my God so cute.

You can find more pics on my Instagram.

Meet Me in Mumbai

Facebook’s On This Day feature tells me that today two years ago I was waiting patiently (ha!) for a plane to take us to Mumbai.  Our trip to India was truly one of the craziest things I have ever pulled off. In fact, the reason we were able to go was because we were able to cash in all the medical aid savings that we hadn’t used for a couple of years. We got lucky. And that trip was the reward for our luck.

Man I wish I could go back… But I suppose that is the curse of travel. We live forever doomed to miss places that we may or may not ever return to. It’s an ache that is bitter as it is sweet.

We didn’t spend enough time in Mumbai though. In fact: I could easily see myself spending as much as a year touring the whole of India and never getting bored. I’d love to lose myself there for a while. Taking in the sights and smells and sounds. India is truly a kaleidoscopic carnival for the senses. We never did get to see the Elephante caves, on account of us getting there a little late. And we opted to miss out on a Bollywood tour for financial reasons, which I definitely regret.

We did get to go to the Kanheri Caves though, and those were so freaking cool I’d love to go again. The architectural tricks used to make sound and light carry throughout those giant rooms is just remarkable. And the echoing chambers are eerily beautiful.

And then there are the temples. So many temples! I wish I could do a temple tour of the whole of India but I imagine that would probably take six years.

I think for love and joy I might start sharing some of my pics on Instagram because sometimes nostalgia can act like soul food, right? And if I can’t have Indian food well then soul food will just have to do…

(hopefully my worse-than-now photography skills won’t depress me too hard!)

Selfies in India

12670061_10153728745466117_2390198794477463461_nWe’re halfway through April already and I barely remember March happening at all. What a strange year this is turning out to be. New things falling into place. Old things falling away. Sanity a thing of the past. You know how it goes.

Anyway:

I promised my friend Tammy that I’d give her the details of our itinerary when we were in India and, once again, figured I might as well blog it instead of just emailing it. Here I can add pictures and things and go all memory laney on myself if I want. Right?

Honestly though, I can’t stop thinking that what we did doesn’t really matter. It’s what you choose to do on your travels that matters. (more…)

A South African in India

 

I’ve been back home for well over a month now after our somewhat impromptu trip to India in Feb, and I have been so overwhelmed by the happenings of life that I actually haven’t gotten around to blogging a single thing about any of it. Of course now it seems kind of pointless and a bit back-tracky which I hate, but I did promise a friend that I would put together some tips for her so I thought maybe I could do that in the form of a blog post and then I can pretend to myself that I do actually write about nice things as well as things that are…well…less nice.

Of course one of the biggest factors in us choosing to go to India was the fact that our Rand stretches a little further there than it does in other parts of the world. I will, however, admit that this particular trip cost well over twice as much as the next trip I have planned. So, I’m learning. I’m learning how to work things out in a more cost-effective way, and all the while feeling exceptionally grateful to have somehow managed to wangle one of my favourite yet seemingly unattainable things into this life of mine.

Travel. Is there anything better? (more…)

Post Indian Blues

Folkies I am bluesing so badly since getting back from India almost two weeks ago! I have my next trip brewing in my head already which is probably not good. How do I even fix this? How do I find balance between my love for exploring the world and the rest of my life? Do other travellers experience this angst? I was looking forward to being home but I gotta admit it’s been one overwhelming trial followed by another ever since I got home. If it wasn’t for shared glasses of wine with a good friend (and a happy-I-met-her new friend!) I would probably be a lot battier at this point.

Will it help to actually start planning the next trip? Despite the financial limitations? This real life crap is a bummer. Thank God Tim Burton is bringing out Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and that Alice Through the Looking Glass is about to hit the big screen soon. Colour to look forward to.

I might need to hide under my duvet with a pile of books this weekend. I need to get this damn reset button to work.

Maybe that’s the problem though… Maybe I need to stop expecting that it will…