Our Last Week, Wahhhhhh!!!!

•February 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hey kids, it’s my turn. Sarah and I left the Marari Beach Resort just outside of Alleppey on Tuesday. On our last day we went on a 40 k bike ride which was hilarious. The hotel gives you a bike and sends you on your way. The bikes are pretty rough but good fun. Sarah had a bell on hers which came in handy quite often. Both of them also had carriages and there were no gears on them. All the while that we were riding down one of the quiet roads people would wave to us and yell out “hello”, sometimes also asking for a pen or some money. It was amusing. When we arrived in the city it was full contact mode. We were weaving in and out of traffic….buses, motocycles, scooters, animals, people, you name it. It was nuts but exciting. We felt like locals. Well, sort of.

The next day we were picked up and transported to Kovalam Beach which is very close to the southern tip of India. The 150 km drive took us about 4.5 hours. It is not worth it to try and explain the utter mayhem on the roads and the extremely lax safety standards but once again it was exciting although we both felt like crap when we got there. We spent our night at the Taj Green Cove which was stunning. It sits on a bluff a couple of hundred feet above the beach and about 500 metres back. There is an infinity pool surrounded by palm trees and the view was amazing.

The next day we were picked up and taken to the airport at 7:15 am for our 9:30 flight. The flight took off at 11:30 and we got to inhale noxious fumes for the 4 hours we spent at the airport. This airport was really crappy and very dirty. Once we got up in the air it was a short 45 minutes to get to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

We arrived in Colombo (the capital) on Independence Day so there were hardly any cars on the road which made for a smooth ride to our hotel. There are military checkpoints all over the city (on any given day) where you can be pulled over by guards with rifles who speak virtually no English, are about 18 years old and probably weigh about a buck twenty. In the lounge of the Hilton we met an extremely interesting guy who runs an NGO in Sri Lanka and also Uganda. We ended up going for dinner with him and talked to him for about 5 hours learning a great deal about the country, politics and his organization. From what began as a desire to help a few orphans has blossomed over the years into schools and medical facilities for thousands of children who would otherwise have absolutely no way out of their dire circumstances. We are going to try and go to 2 schools that he operates near the airport on our last day. Fire up the tears.

After one night in Colombo we were driven to the hill country which is another 4.5 hour drive. This drive is littered with hairpin turns and switchbacks but the scenery is amazing. We are now in tea country. The temperature is very comfortable (24 C during the day and about 15 at night). The place we are staying in is one of the best we have ever been to. It is a stately 80 year old bungalow that was once used by the tea executives. There are 5 rooms (of which 3 are occupied) and we have a butler, chef, houseboys, security guard and a few gardeners. Not bad. The food is very good and you can pretty much ask for whatever you want (there is actually a bell beside our bed that we can ring if we want anything). Today we went for a 27 k walk through the tea fields. The views are stunning and the people are very friendly. If one kid in a schoolyard sees us, within about 2 minutes the entire school is waving and yelling “Hello” or “Hi”. We have 2 more nights in this paradise and then we move on to Kandy for our last three nights. We wil be home in less than a week. Yes, we know, you fell sorry for us.

Hope all is well with everyone.

By the way…this is The Peacock, as shown by Gopal our 64 year old yogi!


Paradise found…

•February 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We arrived in Alleppey, a small town on the south west side of India and were taken to the backwaters where we found our houseboat and crew. The houseboat was amazing, almost entirely made from natural materials, looking nothing like the big boxes we used to rent in Alexandria Bay! It was just us on the boat along with 3 crew: captain, engine mechanic (?) and cook. The scenery was incredible and lush. We travelled through narrow canals and lakes and were able to see how the Keralans live…fishing, washing clothes in the river, kids walking to school. Our crew spoke very little English but liked to point things out…sunset, boat, trees, children. It became pretty comical for us as I think they were just trying to practice their English. Several times one night they pointed to the sunset, repeating ‘sunset, sunset’. Then they took us to shore and walked us to a spot where we could watch the ‘sunset’ and then stood there with us until the sun went down (very romantic, lol!). They served us traditional Keralan food, where pretty much everything is cooked with coconut or at least coconut oil. We had a typical thali dish, which is a selection of dishes set on a banana leaf and served with unpolished rice. It’s supposed to be eaten with your hands but we couldn’t quite master that. They also served fresh pineapple after every meal…perfect! We spent 2 lovely nights on the boat and the experience was well worth the number of mosquito bites I got!
From the houseboats we went to a beautiful beach area and are now staying on a huge resort at Marari Beach. It’s got great sand beaches and the accomodation is fisherman style cottages (thatched roofs and open air bathrooms). It’s very pretty and serene although does feel somewhat like heaven’s waiting room (we are by far the minority here…most of the clientele seem to be septagenarians here with their parents). We took yoga yesterday morning, outdoors facing the ocean, with an extremely flexible yogi, who was incredibly 64! Grant’s got some new moves to show everyone when we get back….ironically, he’s amazing at The Peacock and is working on perfecting The Scorpian! It’s pretty impressive!
We are leaving here tomorrow for the south coast of India where we spend one night en route to Sri Lanka.
Hope all is well with everyone!

The south is good…

•January 27, 2009 • 5 Comments

The pics above show a woman making fresh chapati in her home; a Goan sunset not far from where we stayed on Majorda Beach; and us with our driver Vijay Singh.
We had an amazing 4 nights in South Goa…the weather and the food were perfect. It was the first time we were able to walk around freely without being hustled or trailed. It was amazing! Goa is unique (besides for the reasons noted above) because it is primarily Christian. There is still a strong Portugese influence here and it seems very incongruous to see women in saris at all of the churches and cathedrals. We even saw quite a few vendors named Correia!
From Goa we flew to Cochi in the province of Kerala which is the southern most region on the west coast. The climate here is much different than the arid north. It’s hot and very humid and unfortunately has a ton of mosquitoes (luckily for Grant I am as effective as repellant for him as the mosquitos find me quite tasty!)
Grant was disappointed to learn that Kerala is primarily a ‘dry’ state! We’re not exactly sure why but there are a number of rules surrouding the sale of alcohol (i.e. it cannot be sold within 100 metres of a school or church, which by the way, happen to be everywhere!).
We’ve got 2 more nights in Fort Cochi and then head off to our houseboat adventure!
Hope all is well with everyone! xoxox

Update: Ok so we found some beer. The key is to ask for the ‘special tea’ (wink wink). The waiter will then return with a tea pot (filled with cold beer) and two mugs. We had been wondering why the restaurants were serving so much tea!
We also went to a Kathakali Dance show last night. It is the traditional dance/play in Kerala. It involves a series of exaggerated eye, mouth and neck movements (no words). We will reinact this for our friends back home. It will also involve me painting Grant’s face green…can’t wait to show you 😉
Rachel – we found a restaurant called Salt n Pepper yesterday. We’ve been singing your song ever since!

She sir, is a he

•January 25, 2009 • 2 Comments

We spent one quick night in Mumbai and stayed at a lovely hotel just north of downtown.  The traffic in Mumbai is, again, crazy.  We had contemplated heading to the gateway of India (which is downtown) and were told that it will take a good 2 hours by taxi (it’s only 8 km away!).   There’s still some cows on the roads but lots and lots of cars!  On the way back to the airport we saw women weaving in between cars fanning their saris through car windows.   Grant asked our driver ‘What is she doing’ and the curt response from the driver was ‘She sir, is a he’.   Interesting!

It was a short flight to Goa, where the temperature changed drastically from the north (in the north there were highs of 20s and lows of 5, here there are highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s).  We’re staying at a wonderful 100 year old restored guesthouse.  It’s got about 6 guestrooms and wonderful verandahs and sitting areas.   We spend our mornings lounging on the front verandah, watching the sun rise over the palm trees, eating fresh fruit and enjoyng the scenery (the odd pig, chicken or horn tooting vendor on his bike go by).  The meals here have been fantastic and the service is unbeatable!  Last night we went out for a traditional Goan meal….fish curry, palak paneer (my new favourite), chicken cafreal, roti (unleavened bread cooked in the tandoor oven) and steamed rice, washed down with 2 giant kingfisher beers.  All this for $15 Canadian.

Grant continues to be greeted first (often as Mr Dobbie) and of course given the bill every time, but we still know who the boss is.  We’ve been able to spend several hours a day walking and exploring the villages here and are enjoying sunsets over the Arabian sea!  Incredible!

We’ve got one more night here and then we fly south to the Kerala region (on the West coast) which is again supposed to have a distinct feel from other areas in India.  We’ll keep you posted.

Grant’s comments:  Just wanted to let Chris White (aka C-unit) know that the day after the lentil night at Stuart’s house is nothing compared to the AE I have experienced here.  Also, we both had a massage yesterday that neither one of us has received  before (details upon return home).  Fokker will appreciate this one!

Thanks everyone for following along – we appreciate the comments!


Sarah and Grant

PS – Anh (aka Monkey), how is the Mexican standoff going?


•January 21, 2009 • 3 Comments

Today we are winding up our tour of Rajasthan and flying to Mumbai. Rajasthan has been an eye opening experience to say the least! We stayed at a beautiful place in Jaipur (Samode Haveli) in the ‘Old City’. The city itself has roughly the same population as Toronto and as such is incredibly overpopulated and well, filthy (i.e we have regularly seen people defecating and urinating in the streets) . I mistakenly went for a walk in flip flops and hopefully have not contracted anything! The food, however, has been fantastic. We’re in the north, and the food here is very high carb…potatoes, peas, lentils, breads, and more breads! This is certainly not a dieter’s dream but we are enjoying it all!
From Jaipur we travelled 7 hours by car to Jodhpur, here we stayed at a tented wilderness camp outside of the city. Traffic in India continues to be insane but we are quickly getting accustomed to it. En route our car came to a screetching halt when a herd of goats decided to cross the road. Neither Grant nor I batted an eye!
Last year, Madonna and family stayed at the same camp (there are only 7 tents here). The tents here are huge and of course have an en suite bathroom! We went for a walk and were given a tour of a new 9 suite hotel next to our camp by the foreman, who, incidentally had enough ear hair that it could have been put into a pony tail (ew!). Personal grooming and hygeine are far from Western standards!
Yesterday we visited a traditional Bushnoi village. The Bushnoi community are a sect of one of the 5 castes of Hindu (literally translated it means 29 rules). We did not hear all of the 29 rules but from what we witnessed, misogyny is one of them. They are strict vegetarians, use no electricity and the men drink opium daily. We were greeted with an opium ceremony and were offered to partake but respectfully declined. It seems the men consume opium twice daily while the women cook, clean, and well do everything else. They told us that the opium is not an intoxicant but that they feel ‘really good’ and that it is highly addictive (they didn’t mention the doritos but I suspect they’re there as well).
Grant’s comments:
So far all I have to say is that the Indian people (boy or girl) have really awesome hair. Also, I have upgraded Indian children to the cutest on the planet. Southeast Asians have been downgraded to number 2 (sorry Anh, aka Monkey). The Southeast Asians are followed by Africans and finally Caucasian (with the exception of the entire Dobbie family, and possibly some of the Philip family as well).
That is all.
Love Sarah and Grant.
We miss all you guys (except Louise).
PS – Happy Birthday Chirpy!

Monkeys, Cows and a Tiger, Oh My!

•January 18, 2009 • 1 Comment

Just a quick update here….Taj Mahal was amazingly beautiful…
But the highlight (for me anyway) was spotting a wild bengal tiger after 2 unsuccessful game drives!
On our final safari in Ranthambore National Park, we heard monkey alarm calls (they warn the other animals that a tiger is near) and followed their sounds which lead us directly to a very large male tiger. He was relaxing about 100 feet from our open air jeep. He then proceeded to walk about 25 feet in front of our vehicle! Amazing. They estimate that there are only 1300 – 1500 wild bengal tigers left in India so I was pretty excited (I think our hotel manager was happy too as he had promised me that he would dress up as a tiger and dance around the fire if we didn’t see a tiger!)
Hope everyone is doing well! We hear it’s cold at home, that’s too bad 😉
More updates later….

Ah, we found the cows!

•January 13, 2009 • 3 Comments

Ok, so some of what people have been telling us about India is in fact true, in Varanasi at least! Cows are roaming freely through the streets, in the shops etc. Forget Sri Lanka, there can’t be any crazier drivers than what we have seen here! Cows rule the road and the word is if you hit and kill a cow you will go to jail. Furthermore, it is told that angry villagers will demolish and then set fire to your car! You do not mess with The Cow here. Fortunately our driver, Bheem, is a pro and has negotiated us through some unimaginable traffic; cars, bikes, people, cows, dogs coming in all directions! He’s a man of few words but man, can he drive!

We are certainly a curiosity here, people openly stare at us and follow us through the streets. School children in particular find us quite amusing and are quick to try practicing their English on us. A few days ago some youngish boys asked to have their picture taken with me, and did so on their camera phone and then ran away and giggled.

The economy is struggling here, as elsewhere, and the incidents in Mumbai have drastically impacted their toursim business. We’ve been told that the hotels, which are in high season right now are at less than 50% occupancy.

We spent some time at the Ganges last night and again for a boat ride this am. It’s part of Hindu religion to pray to the Ganges twice a day, once in the evening (to say goodnight) and again in the morning. We witnessed cremation ceremonies this morning at the river bank, meters from where families were bathing and washing clothes. Only men are allowed at the river to oversee the cremations. Furthermore, pregnant women or children under 10 who die or people who die from snakebite or leprocy (apparently karma is intervening here) cannot be cremated and must be thrown in the river when they die. This all makes for an interesting boat ride!

I have taken it upon myself to respond to ‘Sir’ as I am getting frustrated that no one addresses me directly (except for young boys and children!). Women are definitely second class citizens in this culture. When walking together, or at a restaurant, at a hotel etc it is constantly ‘How are you today Sir?’, ‘Can I get you anything else Sir’, ‘Have a great day Sir’. It’s become quite laughable to me and I find myself responding quickly to all of their questions (although I do find it amusing when they call G Mr. Dobbie or better yet Mr. Sarah. Anh – He really is feeling like Mr Big here! How am I going to de-peacock him???).

We’re off on our overnight train to Agra tonight. I suspect it’s not going to be quite like it appeared in ‘The Darjeeling Express’ but we’ll let you know!

PS – Still no Delhi Belly but G did go with the Rogan Josh today, so we’ll have to see how that works out 😉

We’re here…..

•January 12, 2009 • 1 Comment

We arrived in Delhi safely on Saturday night, 3 hours later than expected due to a ‘mechanical’ difficulty. Don’t you love hearing that before heading out over the ocean for 19 hours 🙂 Contrary to popular belief, there were no noxious fumes (it did not in fact smell like ass), no cow lined streets and there was even tp in all of the bathrooms. I have to say, we were a little disappointed! Our 2 day stay in Delhi was, overall, uneventful and allowed us the opportunity to adjust to the 10.5 hour time difference.

This am we flew from New Delhi to the holy city of Varanasi. We were pleasantly surprised that we had 1st class tickets (how much did we pay for this trip, anyway?). So far, Varanasi is worlds away from civilized Delhi. It’s a city of 2.5 million crammed along a stretch of a polluted, I mean holy, river. The Ganges is where an estimated 45,000 uncremated bodies are laid to rest (thrown in the river) annually. This afternoon, we are headed to the river for ‘arti’, a candle lighting ceremony and maybe for a swim (just kidding). Tomorrow morning we have a sunrise boat ride down the Ganges, some more sightseening and then an overnight train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Grant is anxious to tell everyone that we have not experienced any ‘Delhi Belly’ yet although there was a bit of a scare at breakfast this am (He actually wanted me to say that we have not yet involuntarily released any excrement from any orifice. This joint authorship may get a little tiresome 😉 Grantman claims he’s providing the next journal but we’ll see. I may have tossed him in the river by then…hee hee).

We’re off now to check out the city and maybe get some lunch, I don’t know, maybe some Indian?

Where did Sarah and Grant say they were going?

•December 29, 2008 • 2 Comments

The following link details each of our locations, transportation and hotel info…We love Google Maps!