28 Dec

India: If She’s Been Calling You, You Should Go

Elephant Painting at Udaipur City Palace

Has India been calling you? Her seductive voice reaching out and invading your imagination? The sounds of sitars and manjira filling your mind? The aromas of cardamom, ginger, cloves and turmeric tickling your nose?

Then you should go.

Have you been wondering if you can do it? You can.

Everyone’s experience is different and many factors led to our leaving early. Now that I’ve been, I have some advice that might help you.

Here are a few things that I think would have made a difference:

Head South First

Many people have suggested that perhaps if we had started in the south, our experience would have been different. Travel legend says that the south is easier, more laid back and prosperous than the north resulting in a better entry for beginners such as yourselves.

I have heard this from enough people to suggest that if you are building an India itinerary you should start in the south. The beaches of Goa are lovely, the backwaters of Kerala are quiet and tranquil…why start in the hustle and bustle of Delhi? Leave that for later when you are hardier…start slow and start south!

Consider A Tour

Someone emailed me to ask if I thought that being on a tour would have changed our experience and I have to say undoubtedly that yes, I think it would have made huge difference.

We managed to see many of the sights on our own, or with a car and driver, but lacked the cultural context for much of it. A tour guide would provide that cultural context along with historical references, local flavor, and general support.

Having other travelers, and a guide, to help us decipher what we were experiencing would have helped us put it all in perspective, helped us understand our reactions, and helped us manage our emotions around it all. I think we felt isolated; from other people and from each other; company would have helped fill the void.

Tour operators and tour guides know the area they work in. They have connections; know where to go, how to get there, and where to stay. They can help you have experiences that you wouldn’t normally have access to and can usually translate so that those experiences are more meaningful.

We considered a tour but didn’t sign on for one because we felt the cost was too much and because we thought we could just as easily do it on our own. I would now argue that the cost might be worth it! GAP Adventures and Intrepid Travel are two companies that I would consider were I to go again.

Make A Connection

Without doubt, all the people that have reported to me that they had a tremendous time in India found a way to make a connection to the country, her people and her culture.

Some people make a spiritual connection through Buddhism and meditation; finding a way to share their beliefs and reaching into themselves to draw out the strength they need. I saw, at the temples, Westerners circling stupas and prostrating themselves and heard of people heading off to retreats and ashrams to meet their guru and engage in silent introspection. It seemed like a good idea…but too far out of my comfort zone at the time.

Yoga is another great way to make that connection. Heading to a studio to practice whatever-form-of-twisty-pretzelly-yoga you practice is sure to find you some friends and a great introduction to one of the oldest forms of exercise known to man.

I’ve seen people make a connection over something as simple as sharing a cigarette lighter at a bus stop…it doesn’t take much, you just have to find an ‘in’ and then be brave enough to take it as it comes.

You can do it.

She is a seductive mistress; the draw is strong; the desire overwhelming; the lure indescribable. It’s not something to pass up for the sake of fear.

India. If she’s been calling you, you should go.

14 Dec

Leaving India: One Year Ago

G In The Autorickshaw, Delhi

We left India a year ago today.

We left in a state of deep despair; saddened that it wasn’t working out, wondering what it was going to mean for us, and fearful that it would mean the worst… that we were going to have to go home.

For a long time I couldn’t talk about our time in India or our decision to leave. I was, and still am, very emotional about our time there and our leaving – it all still seems very raw even a year later.

There was never any doubt that we had made the right decision. In fact, within one day of being in Thailand, we were feeling back to ourselves and the two weeks we spent on Koh Phangan over Christmas were heaven, punctuated often by the phrase Best. Decision. Ever.”

But what had gotten us to that point? I still don’t know what caused the perfect storm that culminated in us leaving, but I have come to a few realizations:

I had unrealistic expectations of Jason. I think I wanted him to make it all better for me…and he couldn’t. He was struggling as much as, or more, than I was and so didn’t have the strength to hold me up as well.

Coming to India was not his dream, it was mine and I was upset that he couldn’t stand up to it. I was upset that he didn’t like it and thought that if he just tried harder it would be better for both of us.

I was more than unfair.

We were sick and I refused to believe it should matter. Jason came down with a terrible respiratory infection. I caught it too.

I thought that it would pass and then, once we felt better, things would get better for us. We had hired a car and driver and had an itinerary to keep so we soldiered on thinking it would go away, but it just held on strong.

There were times we could barely get out of bed from exhaustion, we were barely eating and were wracked by coughing but we still forged ahead with the plan until it became clear that we could no longer. We ended up in an Indian emergency room buying medication from who knows who and holing up in our room pretending India didn’t exist.

I wonder how things would have been different if we had taken the time to heal.

I wasn’t behaving how I wanted to behave. I knew at the time that I wasn’t behaving how I wanted and, despite giving myself numerous talking-to’s I continued to behave badly.

I was short with Jason, didn’t try to understand how he was feeling or what his experience was. I was sullen when things weren’t going well and cynical when they were.

I had allowed a rift to form between us and I was too proud to reach across and help fill the gap. I was unable to support him and give him the help that he needed or to ask for the help and support I needed.

It makes me weep now just thinking of how I behaved. I am not proud and am deeply sorry. It fills me with shame but I have to admit that it is perhaps my behavior that was the true downfall of our time in India.

I think that’s why it has been so hard to talk about; because it means looking at myself with unabashed honesty and taking responsibility for my actions. I am finally ready to do that publicly, one year later.

Our year away was one of the hardest years in our 12 year relationship and, for a time, I thought that the three weeks in India might have done us in. Our decision to leave was based entirely on our one guiding principle; that traveling would not be the undoing of us. We left to preserve what little was left of us and to start rebuilding so we could carry on. We were lucky – I have read of many couples that did not withstand stress such as this and ended up parting ways.

I am grateful that Jason had the strength to eventually say that he thought it was time for us to leave and I am thankful that I had the wherewithal, finally, to realize it was true.

I knew traveling in India would be difficult, and yet I am loathe to blame her for any trouble that we experienced. I guess it’s akin to not blaming a petulant child for her actions…she is only as good, or as bad, as her history. I think she does her best, but expects a lot; is unconventional, but wants to please; is wanting, and wanted.

I left saying I would never return, but I don’t say that anymore. The country has an un-describable hold over me that I can’t deny. I will be lucky if there ever is a next time, but I will approach it with caution and respect taking the lessons learned from this time and apply them wholly and thoughtfully.

06 Dec

Remember That Time…Creepy White Guys And Surprise Soup

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

I should have known the day was going to go downhill as we passed the creepy, white guys in the ‘lobby’.

It had been a long day on the bus and we had arrived in Kon Kaen (in central Thailand) late in the afternoon. Planning to stay only one night we sought out a cheap place to sleep.

Looking around at the old, wooden walls and floors I could see what Lonely Planet described as ‘past glory’. And it did indeed look past but, when you’re looking for cheap; beggars can’t be choosers. And it was cheap…150 baht…about 5 bucks.

Ten minutes later and we were hauling our bags back downstairs. The room was as creepy as the white guys in the lobby and all I could imagine was the sounds of illicit sex seeping through the walls at all hours of the night. Some times cheap is just not worth it…so we hightailed it a few blocks away and spent more than double that at a business-type hotel! (My records show we spent 400 baht instead…about $13…price becomes distorted when travelling and we thought this to be an expensive hotel…I know, crazy!)

Hungry, tired, and cranky we set out to find a bite to eat. We didn’t want much…maybe just some BBQ chicken and rice (the popular local Isan dish)…but couldn’t find anything that fit the bill.

Finally, we happened on a corner with a few soup vendors. We pulled up a couple of low stools and headed to the cart to see what was on offer.

Thai food carts are amazing. In a small, hand pushed, cart the lady had a full kitchen going on where she could make salads and noodles and, her speciality, soup.

There were three huge vats of soup. One looked like a thick, pasty chicken noodley like soup, one looked like a rich beefy broth and I can’t remember the third. We ordered up a chicken noodle and a beef simply by pointing at the vats and went to sit. A few minutes later the steaming hot soup was delivered to us in huge bowls.

Mine was indeed a thick, starchy chicken noodle soup – a little bland but it would fill the hole until morning.

J dug his spoon into his soup and came up with a spoonful of chickens feet and blood cubes!

Chiang Mai Market, Thai Farm Cookery School-1

Yep, full on chickens feet, and more than one…it was a generous portion of skin, nails, tendons, and ligaments…yummy. Served up with a good dose of congealed blood cubes. That’s right; blood that has been drained into a flat pan, allowed to congeal, and then cut into cubes.

I looked over at the soup lady to see if she was stifling a giggle as we realized what we had gotten ourselves into, but she looked as nonchalant as ever as she served her next customer. This was not unusual to her and so why would she think we would be upset about it?

Jason was a real trooper here. Although he ate neither chicken feet nor blood cube, he did tuck into the broth and managed to get enough in him to fill his belly for the evening.

We eat soup often now that we’re home and we often chuckle to each other and say Remember That Time…

01 Dec

On The Move Again

On The Move Again

We’re packing up again this week. It won’t take long – we’ve been living in a furnished apartment since we got back so we only have a few boxes of personal belongings to box up. We’re not moving far either. Just a few short blocks…into another furnished apartment.

We’ve been without a home of our own for almost two years now. Two years of living without our own stuff save for a few pots and pans, our clothes, computers and bikes. Of course for a year of that we got by with even less…just what we could carry on our backs!

Some people wonder how we can do it; live in other people’s spaces with pictures of other people’s families on the walls and other people’s furniture in the rooms. Someone once asked how I felt now that we didn’t own a home, as if I should feel less because I didn’t have a place to call my own.

Truth is I feel quite free. No longer burdened by a mortgage I wondered if we would ever pay off, no longer in a debt hole but actually standing on top of (an admittedly small) pile of money instead; I feel like we’re moving forward and are in complete control of our future.

I’m lucky to be able to live in other people’s homes. Lucky that they trust us, as perfect strangers, to take care of their things and lucky that I am able to feel comfortable in different surroundings.

I guess it’s about what makes a home. I don’t think I’ve ever needed much and lately it seems I need less than I ever did. Home for me is where we can feel relaxed, make a meal, enjoy a beer and generally feel comfortable.

I like having a space to call our own, rather than moving every couple of days like we did while travelling. That’s one of the things we learned while away…we did best when we stayed put for longer than a couple of days. We like going to the same restaurants, the same corner store, pancake lady, or pub…you know, get to know the neighbourhood a bit.

Why another furnished apartment? Well, we think it’s time for us to transition out of Victoria. It’s a short term move with a longer term vision that is nestled in a dream.

So, although this move is short, we can see a time when the move will be longer, the adventure greater, and the challenge set.

Are you curious? So are we….