Archive for the year 2011

Day 268 (Kolkata, India)

CThings have been up and down since my last post from Udaipur. I stayed there an extra night and then made my way with my travel partner to Pushkar for the camel fair. We made it there with a few days to spare before it was over so we got to check the place out for a few days. The last day was the only really interesting day as we got seats and got to see a few events. Besides that the city was interesting if only because it had so many people visiting and was so tiny for the amount of people there. The person I was traveling with got to do a tug-o-war with the locals along with 11 other foreigners and I got to see a camel race, that was the main high points of the last day of the fair.

PAfter that my travel partner decided he wanted to take a different path and go solo for a bit so we went separate ways after Pushkar, me going to Jaipur, him going to Ahmadabad. My time in Jaipur was mostly just planning what I wanted to do in India as I had no real idea at the time. I stayed in a really cheap place and made occasional outings to buy a new pair of jeans and try some food, which has made me sick, something I am only just getting over. I did see an elephant walking down the street once and checked out a few old buildings including the old city with it’s big pink gates. A week in Jaipur and I had figured out my plan mostly which I am following currently.

MFrom there I went to Agra so I could check out the Taj Mahal as it was always high on my India to do list. As soon as I got to Agra I was very sick and ended up spending the first 2 nights in my hotel room without ever even going outside. After that I felt slightly better and decided to visit the Taj Mahal which to my luck was free starting that day because of some cultural thing going on for a week. Because of the free entry to things around the city I also checked out a bit of Agra Fort which was not very interesting. The Taj Mahal was pretty cool from a distance although up close I found it to be a lot smaller than expected and inside was just plain disappointing. Still it was a nice visit and I am glad it was free for what it ended up being.

It took me very little time to see both things and I was on a train to Varanasi. Sadly I had a general ticket which means I had no place to sit so ended up sleeping on the floor for 6 hours before I was able to upgrade to a bed around 3-4 AM. I was worried I wasn’t going to get much sleep as I was supposed to arrive in Varanasi around 9 AM but “luckily” the train was almost 10 hours late arriving so I got more than enough sleep to last me for my very short visit. I decided while on the train to book my next train ticket to Kolkata, this time making sure I got a sleeper instead of the annoying general ticket. Sadly I booked it assuming I would have most of my arriving day to look around which did not happen so I only had the morning of the next day to check out Varanasi. I woke up in the morning and went to the area where they burn the bodies and was instantly “forced” into donating, although I had barely anything on me so got off cheap. I was again unimpressed with what I was seeing and the smoke was killing my eyes so I left for the train station, having little interest in exploring anymore of that city.

KNow I should again remind everyone that I was sick which I think made me a little more impatient and less interested in the places and things I was seeing, but in general I don’t feel the need to spend hours upon hours at a site to get a feel for if I enjoy it. With that in mind my time in Kolkata has been pretty good so far as I have been recovering from being sick. I really haven’t done too much here and have spent most of my time catching up on internet related things that I have not been able to do with the poor internet I have had all last month. I am planning to spend tomorrow walking around Kolkata and doing the touristy stuff that I have been putting off in this city. Then the next day is my birthday which I may spend relaxing or might once again do some touristy stuff if I am in the mood. The little walking around Kolkata I have done have been enjoyable and I find it similar but better to Mumbai in most ways. The area of the city I am in is very similar to the area in Mumbai called Colaba but in Kolkata it just feels better somehow in a hard to explain way.

In the next few days I will be attempting to book a Tatkal ticket from Kolkata to Goa because the train is majorly booked up otherwise. If I can’t get such a ticket then I guess I will once again get a general ticket and ride on the floor for a mind blowing 43 hours, but I want to get to Goa before December 1st, so that’s what I will do to make it happen. My plan in Goa is basically to relax and recharge in one sense. Not by doing nothing but by starting a 6 week workout routine that will hopefully see me get in the best shape of my life, with noticeable results I hope. I intend to find a place to stay for my 6 weeks then maybe rent a motorcycle and just start a routine of working out and eating right. I also want to work on my tan and maybe do some guitar lessons also. And Goa is a great place for Christmas and New Year if your going to be in India anyway so I am looking forward to that.

Day 249 (Udaipur, India)

BHaven’t had much opportunity over the last 2 weeks to make a post as finding wireless internet in India or at least in the state of Maharashtra is very tough. I left the airport in Saudi Arabia after getting a few hours of sleep on an airport coffee shop seat. I decided to watch a movie during the flight and with few options picked “Hitman” from a few years ago. The reason I bring it up is that on this Saudi Airlines flight the movie had ever part of the women except there faces blurred out which I found rather funny. Even there shoulders were not allowed to be shown.

I landed in Mumbai in the morning and took a pre-paid taxi north to a hotel that I later found out does not take in foreigners. So I had to take a taxi all the way South into an area called Colaba which was a much better area and I am happy I ended up staying there. India does not have much in the way of hostels and most places with dorm rooms are still called hotels or guest houses. The place I stayed was the cheapest place in Colaba and is called Red Shield Guest House and is ran by the Salvation Army which I didn’t even know did hotels. It cost me about $5 CAD per night for a bed, locker and breakfast. The beds did indeed have bed bugs but there was not many and I actually got used to the bugs near the end of my 8 day stay. They say you can’t stay more than a week but it’s not well organized and I met people who had stayed 2 weeks already. There was a varied mix of people staying at the hotel with a lot of them being local Indian’s from other regions, although they stayed in a different room from the foreigners.

BThe area of Colaba is famous for having Bollywood scouts that need extras for films being shot in Mumbai. During my time there I was asked to be in several things and I said yes on 2 seperate occasions. The first time I went with 25-30 people from different hotels around Colaba and we were used as night club patrons during a bachelor party. I met a lot of cool people and it was a really cool expeirence, it felt to me just like how I imagined movies were shot, except a little less profesional as it is India. We were given breakfast and lunch and paid Rs. 500 for the day which ended up being almost 13 hours start to finish. I tried to get into the shot as much as possible but don’t think I will be visible in the final cut. The second movie we didn’t start shooting until noon instead of 8 am like the first movie. This time it was only 4 people total from only my hotel that went. We had to take the train instead of a bus picking us up but it was no problem. We were given our own trailer to sit in which said “models” on the door. For this movie I got to have an actual line and unless the scene is cut I think I will for sure be visible in this movie. They had a guy checking lighting on my face and the director had a mark for me to stand on and even gave me some direction. I had to stand in an elevator and tell the main actress that her phone was ringing which I think I did rather well. The movie is called “I Love New Year” and the actress is named “Kangana Ranaut”. The first movie I did was called “Housefull 2”. It was a great experience both times and I will do another post when the movies come out early to mid 2012.

While in Mumbai I bought a new backpack that is much smaller than my previous one. I have lately gotten a bit obsessed with packing as light as possible and my new bag is only 23 L which is 15 L smaller than my previous one. It still has more than enough room for all my gear which I will do a post of in the coming weeks. Another thing I picked up while in Mumbai is a travel partner for a bit of India. He is a British/French guy and I am happy to have someone to travel with for a bit as I was in the mood for a travel partner after 8 months of solo travel. I have let him do most of the planning since Mumbai as I am in no hurry and don’t care were I go and it’s cheap to get around in India. After Mumbai we went to a city called Aurangabad which is near the Ellora caves that we went and saw. After that we attempted to get to Udaipur which has been a real hassle and took over 25 hours, 2 buses, 1 train and 4-6 rickshaws to get us there. During which I had the train ride from hell that had me spending 5 hours sitting on the floor beside the toilets surrounded by Indian families which was one of those experiences that adds to the trip but at the time you just want it over.

Next stop is Ajmer near Pushkar which we are going in order to watch the Pushkar Camel Fair that goes on for 10 days. We will catch the last 4 days which we think will be the best days. Hopefully we can couch surf in Ajmer and get a cheap place in Pushkar for a few days also. No idea where we are going after that or for how long I will travel with my current travel partner. I hope to go to Leh in the future but it is hard to get to and sounds like it might not be good this time of year. Some people with me took pictures during Bollywood and I will hopefully get those images at some point, but it was not allowed to take pictures so I never even brought my camera.

Day 236 (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

MWell it wouldn’t be a blog post if I didn’t do the usual apology for not posting in a while. Since my last post I have come and gone from 2 countries. Last post I had been in Alexandria for a day and was going to be moving hosts the next day. Sadly that host changed his plans last minute and I was left nowhere to stay. I decided to take the train back to Cairo and then the bus to Israel which ended up being a good idea because it got me to Israel just in time for Yom Kipur which is an interesting holiday. For me the most interesting part of it was the fact that nobody drives cars or works on this holiday so I got to take a bicycle around the city of Tel Aviv that basically felt like a ghost town if not for occasionally running into other people on bikes.

MMy host in Tel Aviv was a really nice person who helped me out a bunch with my plans in Jerusalem by finding me a host and helping me figure out how to get to Amman, Jordan. My time in Jerusalem was good if not a bit boring as everything was closed for the holiday of Sukkot which is on and off throughout the days I was there. I walked down to the old city which was still open despite the holiday. I went to the Western Wall but did not know that I was supposed to put a wish written on a piece of paper in the wall so I never did that, but I don’t really care. The next day I went to the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi which was actually a lot of fun. The couch surfer I went with was kind of boring but I still had a good time just floating in the water and it’s an amazing experience.

With the help of my previous Tel Aviv host I figured out a way to get to Amman from Jerusalem. I ended up going all the way to Eilat and then crossing into Aqaba then taking a bus to Amman. This worked well as you get a free visa at the Aqaba border crossing and I saved myself 20 JOD ($28 CAD). The hostel I ended up picking in Amman was cheap and I paid for that in the form of bed bugs. I had checked the bed beforehand and noticed some so moved to a different room which sadly also had them. It was not a huge amount and I only got bits on my arms, legs and under my arms. The owner moved me to my own private room which I checked for bed bugs every 20 minutes out of paranoia. I think it was free of bed bugs as I don’t think I have any new bits but the ones I got initially are much itchier now then when I first got them and I can’t wait for them to be gone.

MThe main reason for coming to Jordan and the only real thing I did in Amman (besides searching for a new backpack) was to go and visit Petra. I went with someone from couch surfing who ended up being a cool guy and I think made the experience a bit more enjoyable then doing it solo. The price for Petra is quite ridiculous at 50 JOD ($71 CAD) it is the most expensive attraction I have been to easily. I really only had 2 things I wanted to see in Petra, those were the Treasury and the Monastery. Going through the Siq on the way to the Treasury is also very cool and really adds to the experience of seeing Petra. The walk to the Monastery took about an hour and I thought it was rather easy but the person I came with got tired and we ended up taking like 15 breaks. Also the people offering donkey, horse and camel rides are all thieves in my opinion but that’s how I feel about most people offering transportation throughout the world.

Currently I am in an airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia waiting for my flight to Mumbai, India. I should be in India in about 15 hours or so after hopefully getting some kind of sleep in this airport (not likely). I will post an update once I am settled in India and hopefully I will know a bit more about my future India plans by then.

Day 219 (Alexandria, Egypt)

LFinally got my India visa which is very good news for the future of my trip as it was a big part of my itinerary. It’s good for 6 months but I won’t stay that long, maybe a few months, will see. I will be arriving on the 24th of October, 2 days before Diwali which is the biggest festival of the year. It means cutting my Egypt/Israel/Jordan trip a bit short but not by much as I still have 3 weeks almost and not a huge list of things I really want to see/do. The big things on my list are meeting a friend in Tel Aviv, checking out Jerusalem, visiting Petra and swimming in the Dead Sea.

The money has been dropping a little fast lately but that is because of a lot of big purchases that are important for the trip. The visa/flight to India were costly. The other big cost which I am happy about is I have been approved for my Australian Working Holiday Visa. I now have until September 2012 to arrive in Australia and start looking for a job. I also got some money coming at the end of the year from some web hosting stuff and selling some stuff that I had been holding onto at my parents place that I now realize is not worth keeping. So if South East Asia ends up being as cheap as I think it will be then I don’t see it being a problem.

AEgypt has been fun but I will be taking a bus to Tel Aviv Israel in a few days. My only complaint would be that the people on the street are very insincere and you can’t ever tell you is actually being nice to you and who just wants to get you into there cousins perfume shop. The place itself has been great. My current host has an awesome job that provides him a place and everything and I am very jealous of what he has here. I hope to get something like that in the future and it really peeks my interest in doing some teaching abroad when I am done traveling. I say abroad but Canada doesn’t really feel like my home as much as it used to. I still feel Canadian and everything but don’t feel like “going home” means going back to Canada anymore. Still I look forward to visiting Saskatchewan again in the next few years, after Australia.

I am going to keep this blog post short because I haven’t done much since my last post, next post I will be in Israel likely, possibly Jordan.

Day 213 (Cairo, Egypt)

MSince Moscow I went to Saint Petersburg for a little over a week. I Couch Surfed with 3 different hosts for different amounts of days. They were all cool and I learned a lot about Russians and Saint Petersburg. I didn’t go to the big museum there as I still wasn’t in the mood for museums and just didn’t see a reason to go. I did however meet in front of the museum for a dance video that Matt from “Where The Hell Is Matt?” is doing around the world. There was over 500 people there and it was fun although too crowded for me to show up much in the video, maybe you will see my arm possibly when it comes out in early 2012. Also finally got a cell phone again, it is the Samsung Galaxy Mini and I really like it. At my CS hosts I had several local foods and played a fun local board game that is popular in Russia although it’s German, I think it’s similar to The Settlers of Catan but a bit more simple. Flight to Egypt was uneventful if not boring, Turkish Air has good meals during the flight.

MBeen in Cairo for 5 days now and it’s been mostly good. I just recently got a bit ripped of price wise on a camel ride + entry + photos while at the pyramid. It’s my own fault for a few reasons. I should not have got on without getting the price and everything but of course I was tricked into getting on and even asked to deal price before getting on but was told we were just going to the office to discuss it. Also I never thought to look up the average price for a camel ride at the pyramids so I had nothing to compare it to. And finally I didn’t even bargain on the price which I actually just keep forgetting to do, it might be a common thing for an Egyptian but I never even think about it. So I paid 2-5 times the normal cost I think, maybe less depending on the person, my only saving grace is I got there via metro and bus which cost 4.25 LE total and it would have cost 60-100 LE had I used a tour bus or taxi, so I saved money there and I think most tourists pay for the taxi which makes me feel slightly better. Either way it’s a learning lesson, I should first of all not do anything until we talk price, look up average prices online for the thing I want and finally bargain with the people. Bargaining on price has been a lesson I have been taught several times and I hope it sticks one of these times.

EI stayed at a Couch Surfers place for the first 3 nights but it was not the person I sent a request to, it was his friend who was also just recently on CS. It’s to bad and I am not clear why exactly he could not host me even though he said he could. His friend was nice and helpful and I learned a few Egyptian things from him, also he helped me get a SIM card which I will be using for the rest of my time in Egypt, hopefully without renewing credit. Since then I have been staying at a hostel on Tahrir Street which is near Tahrir Square. The location works perfect as it’s near an ATM that I know works with my card, it’s near several really good food places, it’s near a cinema if I get bored and it’s near the India Consulate which I will be going to Monday to drop off my passport to get the India visa put inside it.

Speaking of good food, one of my favorite new Egyptian dishes is something called Koshary which is a bunch of things mixed in a bowl with some tomato sauce on top. It only costs 3-5 LE and is very filling. Also I have had falafel a few times for around 2 LE each which is tasty and a very good deal. I did go to one movie at the cinema near my hostel a few days ago. The movie was Conan and I can tell you that Egyptian cinemas clearly edit there movies heavily, to the point of it not being worth going to anything unless it’s a Disney movie. I bought some underwear from the street for 10 LE and they are actually quite good, I really don’t need more pairs but I might get 1 or 2 more as they are fake brands but look and feel fine. Also went to the Egyptian Museum and looked at the King Tut stuff, they don’t let you take pictures sadly.

RThe plan for the next part of my trip is to leave Cairo on Tuesday by train and make my way to Alexandria for 5 days or so. Then take a bus from Alexandria into Israel, likely starting in Tel Aviv. I will spend some time there, I know a girl I met in Russia who will be in Tel Aviv and I hope to hang out with her while I am there. Then I will go from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for a few days before taking another bus to Amman in Jordan. My main goals in Jordan are to see Petra and swim in the Dead Sea. Once I have done those things I will be happy, I will likely hang around for a few more days before flying out to Mumbai India to start my India trip which could last over a month easily. I will know dates very soon as when I get my visa to India I will come back to my hostel and book my plane ticket before going to the train station to leave Cairo. I intend to do some Couch Surfing over the next little while but I am not in a great mood to entertain at the moment and when Couch Surfing you can’t just hang around the hosts house all day being useless, which I am kind of in the mood for this week.

A few final things to touch on, tomorrow will mark 7 months of travel, it’s going by fast but there is still much more to come as I have just been approved for my Working Holiday Visa to Australia, now I just need to get there and find a job, likely around April-May 2012. Stay tuned for updates on my India visa status and Israel/Jordan.