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Hi everyone,

Rog and I are soon to be heading to Nepal; we’re psyched to be getting some
good hiking in, and get back to NATURE! We’ll be on a 17-day trip called the
Anapurna Circuit, so you won’t hear from us in a while, but when we get
back, we’ll be sure to send a message.

I wanted to forward on a fellow traveller’s description of travelling in
India — it’s so very apt!! We know we haven’t done justice to the
craziness of travelling in this country, so here ya go. (Thanks, Kelly!)

It’s been an interesting and challenging 6 weeks in
India – a combination of really good, quite annoying
and pretty damn ugly – an assault on the senses,
sensibilities and sanity. Truly a test of character as
I thought it would be…I’m
still processing the meaning of it all.

It’s a place where immensely beautiful scenery, sights
and a whole lot of ‘space’ are juxtaposed against huge
crowded (I’m talking a whole lot of people), filthy,
smelly cities with grey smoggy skies crammed with
diesel belching trucks, massive buses falling apart at
the seams (literally), child beggars grabbing your
elbows on the street and approaching you in
restaurants, ox/cow drawn carts amongst auto-rickshaws
amongst free roaming cows amongst people amongst more
scooters and motorcycles than is humanly imaginable
amongst the odd 4WD with black tinted windows,
congregating in absolutely no semblance of
order…faster than they all should be, on massive
tarmac stretches. Travelling on the roads is a true
adrenalin sport, causing severe heart palpitations,
sweaty palms and nervous twitches! This is a place
where bureaucracy is paramount, where everything
happens on “India-stretch-time” and it takes at least
10 people to do it. It’s a culture of people who will
tell you anything, send you on a wild goose chase,
grin with an ambiguous wobble of the head, to avoid
saying they don’t actually know the answer or the
way…and the head wobble is a whole language unto
itself, performed by men, women and children
alike…meaning anything from yes, no, maybe to
embarrassment to consternation to amusement. It’s a
hard one to interpret. The cities are hard work, the
smaller villages and places are a welcome respite and
the travelling in between – a combination of long-haul
train, local buses, rickshaws and taxis are an
adventure in themselves. And after all the vast array
of truly dodgy experiences, you just have to kick
back, have a good laugh and reminisce about the great
things about this place.

We have been mainly taking 2nd class sleeper train to
get us through the long haul distances, which has been
surprisingly reliable. On a 10 hour trip, even though
it’s pretty filthy and rough around the edges, you can
get up, walk around, sleep, read and generally time
passes quite pleasantly. Buses on the other hand are a
nightmare – hours of manic, bullish driving with many
a close call with oncoming vehicles, consistent horn
beeping, sweaty people jostling for space and constant
max volume, dubious ‘speaker distorting’ Hindi music.
Indian drivers have only one speed – very bloody fast
-and spend the large part of a journey passing on the
wrong side of the road, which can be quite
disconcerting at times. It doesn’t matter if you’re on
a blind corner travelling at 90km/hr, buses are big
and they have right of way. Well, you hope they do.
Nothing is a certainty in this country. And don’t
expect anything to operate as it logically should.
Lots of hugs,
Jen & Rog

Helllloooo out there!

We’re still alive and somewhat well (more on that later) in India! We’re
currently chilling on one of the lovely stretches of beach in India. Ahh.
Nice respite from the chaos of this vibrant country. Thanks to some friends
in Bangkok, we have a constant refrain that allows us to smile a little more
often at the absurdities we come across: “Now, THAT’S funny!” (Thx Kate
and David!)

Here’s the synopsis of the last several weeks:

1) Jaipur and Pushkar
2) Short-term students at the Barefoot College
3) Udaipur and James Bond
4) Bombay, Mumbai, you name it!
5) Goa gut and bein’ lazeee

Remember: If you’d like to reply to both of us, please respond to the email
and also cc: otherwise Rog won’t get your email.

1) Jaipur and Pushkar
We headed down to the state of Rajasthan, known for its numerous Mughal
fortress cities and its desert climes. Jaipur, a bustling city of millions,
is known as the pink city for its orangish pink walled fort. We enjoyed
checking out the fort, which has oodles of bazaars (big open air markets) ,
several beautiful palaces and a monolithic observatory with huge sundials
and other mega-astronomical/astrological devices.

We also caught our first (and last?!) Bollywood flick at a renowned art deco
cinema. Bollywood is the tongue in cheek name for the Hindi film industry
based in Mumbai. The film itself was a fairly predictable chick flick, but
it was great to see a movie in half Hindi, half English with about half tear
jerking scenes and half oddball musical song and dance. The cinema itself
was quite beautiful, and we gaped at the lavish waiting hall, with its nifty
deco light fixtures and furniture. Probably most interesting to us was
seeing the upperclass/caste folks in the movie. So far, we’ve only seen the
posher side of India while at the Sustainability Summit, and it was quite
fun to see the houses and clothing of the upperclass – Bollywood style, of
course! Probably no one from the upperclass would deign to even step foot
in some of the guesthouses we’ve been staying in, so it was cool to try to
imagine how the well-heeled live.

Pushkar was our next stop – what a relief! Pushkar is a small town of
17,000 people, and probably hosts another several hundred western
travellers. It was so nice to be somewhere where we weren’t the only
westerners and where we didn’t seem to attract much attention at all.
The town itself is incredibly beautiful, surrounding a lake smack dab in the
middle of the desert. The lakeside is surrounded by turrets, arches and
ghats (broad staircases) which lead down into the lake so that people can
bathe and do laundry in the holy waters. People have been doing just that
for hundreds of years and the poor little lake was a bit ripe – we decided
not to bathe or do our laundry there. However, it’s quite an amazingly
beautiful sight at sundown.

We spent several days soaking up the mellow atmosphere and revelling in the
fact that the vendors weren’t aggressive and that there were few beggars.
Even more surprising was lack of sanitation problems, which have been
shocking thus far.

2) Short-term students at Barefoot College
One of the speakers at the Sustainable Development Summit in Delhi was
Bunker Roy, the founder of a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the
Barefoot College. We were extremely impressed by his speech, and asked him
if we could visit. He told us to stop by, so we did!

It’s an amazing community, and we immediately decided to stay for a couple
days. B.C. is dedicated to empowering and training the rural poor in a
variety of ways. Their most famous program is solar electrification of
rural villages. The program trains local villagers in installing and
maintaining solar panels and lanterns. Most of these “solar engineers” are
either illiterate or have had
very little schooling, but are taught in a hands-on practical lab where
they put together circuit boards and learn all sorts of skills. The
engineers then return to their village and are able to install, maintain and
repair the solar panels – not possible if the NGO had just installed the
panels for them. Over 20,000 rural homes in northern India alone have been
solar electrified, and in the process hundreds of poor people have learned
skills and are empowered to interface with all levels of society in their
capacity. The college itself is also completely solar electrified.

Another program is community education, which is headed by a harijan (an
untouchable in the still very strictly adhered to caste system) named Ramni
Was. Being an untouchable, Ram would have been
relegated to being a broom sweeper (or similar low level task) for all his
life were it not for the Barefoot College. Now he spends his time writing
puppet shows and songs that will be performed in community shows all over
India. Themes that he’s tackled are untouchability, women’s rights,
environmental issues and preventive health. Over the last 13 years, he’s
picked up English, and we were lucky enough to spend half a day discussing
various programs and projects that the Barefoot College has undertaken.
Just hearing his family’s story was impressive enough though! He’s been to
Germany twice now
– something that would be unfathomable for an untouchable, even in
present-day India.

We were also lucky enough to visit one of the night schools that the
college has set up in order to educate working children. In rural India,
many children, particularly girls, don’t have the opportunity to go to
school, because they have to do agricultural work for their families. The
night we visited, there was only one boy among over 20 girls. We talked,
asked questions, but mostly answered their questions about our home. We
also traded “traditional” songs and dances (read: Country Roads, Take Me
Home and swing dancing!). It was a great night.

3) Udaipur and James Bond
After a couple glorious days at the little oasis of Barefoot College,
we headed further south to Udaipur, another beautiful lakeside city with
truly magnificent palaces. Our room had a view of the two palaces in the
middle of the lake. We completely enjoyed this mellow city, where again, we
were among many western travellers hanging out enjoying the vistas. If any
of you has seen James Bond’s Octopussy, you have seen many of the palaces we
were lucky enough to see first-hand. It was a lot of fun to watch Octopussy
at one of the rooftop restaurants after a day of sightseeing. We also
caught a Indian cooking class. Rog is super psyched to now know how to cook
chapatis (similar to naan, a flat bread)!

4) Bombay, Mumbai, you name it!

Our journey from Udaipur to Mumbai was probably one of the worst we’ve
had yet! We took a so-called luxury bus, because Udaipur is on one of the
narrow guage train lines, meaning that it would have taken two days, instead
of sixteen hours, to get to Mumbai. However, we hadn’t accounted for the
fact that the on our seatbacks was broken, so we literally bounced back and
forth the entire overnight ride as our bus careered around corners and
swerved around oncoming traffic. It was painful!

Thank goodness we liked Mumbai! It’s a relatively appealing city, with many
large boulevards and parks. The English built many beautiful buildings, and
we enjoyed walking around and checking out the waterfront – our first
glimpse of the Arabian Sea!

5) Goa gut and bein’ lazee

We both have been yearning to get to a nice sea-side town and just set
up camp for a while, and Palolem in Goa fits that bill quite well. We
arrived here about a week ago, and have been swimming, reading, playing
volleyball, hanging out with new friends, and basically just enjoying
ourselves. The beach is about a kilometer of white sand, super warm waters,
and lots of little thatch huts and restaurants – just what the doctor
ordered, literally (read on)!

Meanwhile, we both were plagued once again with G-I problems, and
after complaining about our continuous problems with the runs to one of
our new Aussie friends, he suggested that we might have giardia. Despite
hours of first aid classes and lots of reading on travellers health
problems, we hadn’t ever thought that the last two months of intestinal
dodginess was due to one lurking parasite. We kept thinking that it was the
food, etc. So after Rog had another high fever a couple nights ago, and we
both had our fiercest night of the runs to date, we both made our way to the
local hospital. We’re now strung out on some high-octane antibiotics that
are sure to kill all parasites and amoebas that might be plagueing us.

In the meantime, we’re also drinking up lots of rehydration formulas and
feeling incredibly better. I’m (Jen) enjoying the prospect of future travel
sans illness! What a concept!

We’re going to continue recuperating here at the beach (life is tough) for
the next couple days, and then decide on what next. We both have been
thinking about all of you lots, and missing you all more than ever. While
we are thrilled with all that we’ve seen and done, travel has made our
hearts ever fonder of home – and of the people that make home what it is.

Lots of hugs to you all,

Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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