Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trying To Break Bread

According to the map Munnar was just over 160 kms from Ft Cochin; what it failed to show was the twisty curvy road that we had to share with dozens of other motorists, pedestrians, and the occasional sacred cow.  We thought that our early morning departure would put us high in the mountains by mid-morning, but as the kilometers slowly ticked by we realized that we would be lucky to arrive by lunch time. Just after 1:30 our driver dropped us off outside a small roadside stand, and before we could say a word he disappeared. We timidly entered the open door of the dusty, but popular feeding hole and held up two fingers. We were motioned to wait while space was cleared at a shared table. The four men, who sat in a row, briefly looked at us before two jumped up and moved to the other side of the table.
As we took our seat we smiled and nodded. Our dining companions returned the gesture, but for the next hour they acted as though we didn’t exist. A quick glance around the room confirmed that the majority of the other customers were having the set lunch. Since we had a limited time in India, and we wanted to make sure to try as many different foods as possible, we decided to stray from the flock and order from the menu. With “How To Eat In India” in hand we slowly made our way through the menu picking several plates  we were anxious to taste. By the time we were prepared to order, our server, who had already been by our table several times, had disappeared.  We were beginning to wonder if we had made a mistake by not going with the set lunch. Eventually he re-entered the room and we were finally able to flag him down. To assure that there were no miscommunications, Mark held up the menu and pointed at the menu as he ordered. We were quickly and brusquely told we could not order those plates until after 2. I tried to keep a straight face as I checked my watch and saw that it was 1:45.  Unsure of how to proceed, Mark began to randomly point at the menu, and with each request we got a “Not until 2.” Eventually the waiter informed us that we had 2 options--either the set meal or a Briyanna. We decided to go with one of each.
When our food arrived, I had to question whether the server had been replaced by a twin as he had gone from being surly to extremely friendly. He made sure that we understood all  the components of the set meal and how they were supposed to be eaten. Every few minutes he returned to check if we were enjoying the food and he filled  Mark’s plate with more. When he saw me tasting some of Mark’s condiments he brought me a plate of my own. If he had just been this helpful from the beginning, ordering would not have been such a drama. Perhaps it had been some type of test but, whatever the case, we had a full belly and were ready to tackle whatever the afternoon had to offer. As we  left the table we said good bye to our neighbors--who had not once looked at us during the ordering ordeal. Once we were far enough from the table we couldn’t help but comment on the variety of plates  they had been eating, none of which was offered to us, and all ordered before 2.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Only In Western Australia

This week's PhotoHunter theme is fluffy.

While visiting Tasmania we stayed at a B&B where the owner took us out for a nocturnal walk. We didn't come across any Tasmanian devils, but we did meet this fluffy guy--a Brushtail possum. The Australian possum is very distinct than those found in other countries. Supposedly the aboreal marsupials were named because their similarity to the opossum of  South America.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Live In A Barbie World

It is Australia Day here Down Under. The temperatures in Perth will be climbing into the triple digits. However, we won't let the heat stop us from firing up the barbie, and cooking up some tasty chops.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When planning our trip to India we chose Bangalore strictly as an entry point to the country--a modernized city to spend a few days and acclimatize to our new surroundings. But it was the historic spice trade that drew us south (well that and the fact that the climate would be mild at the end of December).  As we planned our trip, we figured that since food is such an important part of our travels we needed to learn more about some of the key ingredients that bring the the taste buds to life. 

 After researching our options we decided that Fort Cochin, which according to the guide books is an idyllic little town on the shores of the Arabian Sea as well as a historically important port for spices, was the perfect place to begin our southern travels.
With Fort in its name I imagined an old forted city, something along the lines of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instead we found a town whose distinctive flavor comes not only from the spices that have passed through its harbour, on their way to distant lands, but also from the colonial influence that has been left over centuries by the foreign traders.

As we meandered though town we passed the oldest church in India, houses decorated with hand painted tiles, a synagogue and Chinese fishing nets--all remnants of the Portuguese, Dutch, Arabs, Chinese and British. We strolled through a park and along the coast with hundreds of Indian holiday makers enjoying their Christmas Day. We were tempted by the freshly made cane juice, and nuts roasted in black pepper, but fears of Dehli Belly made us cautious. We imagined the smells that were locked behind the doors of the closed spice market. We sat on a terrace and enjoyed a fresh fish curry, one of my more memorable Christmas meals. 

As we watched the sun set, my only regret was that we had not given ourselves more time in Fort Cochin. A few hours had only allowed us to taste a small portion of the myriad flavors that the town has to offer. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This week's PhotoHunter theme is bliss.

Mark and I found an isolated beach in Southern New Zealand for our picnic dinner--perfect!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are We In The Right Place?

After a delayed flight, we arrived at the Cochin airport an hour behind schedule. We called into the very small tourist office, where after dragging the sole worker away from the television, we were provided a map. Without dragging his eyes from the soap opera on the TV screen the worker asked where we were staying. When we showed him the name of our hotel, he said we would be centrally located and able to walk to all of the sights that he quickly pointed out on the map.
Armed with a prepaid taxi voucher we stopped off at the ATM machine. For the 3rd time in a day I was unable to access any money. We weren't sure if it was because all of the machines were out of money, or if there was a problem with my card--I could only hope that it was the former.
The 30 kilometer ride to the city was another hair rising experience. The driver kept his hand on the horn as he maneuvered around trucks, rickshaws, cows and pedestrians. Before long we found ourselves creeping up and down a deserted street in search of our hotel. In Spanish Mark told me that this had to be the wrong place since there was no way that this industrial area could be the historic Fort Cochin that we had been shown on the map. I scanned the surrounding buildings in search of the India Air logo--the landmark the hotel had provided. Finally, with the help of the lone person on the street--we found our hotel. Perhaps, the hotel needs to update the directions provided to say behind the Shell Gas Station. 
We entered the foyer and were greeted by a decoratively lit Christmas tree and two smiling young men. After giving our name, it didn't take long for us to realized that there was something amiss with our reservation, even though we had our prepaid voucher in hand. I asked, hopefully, if we were at the wrong place.  After all, the foyer of the hotel in which were standing in looked nothing like the pictures featured on their web page, nor did it seem to live up to live up to the stellar recommendations that we had read on internet and we all know that the internet never lies. We were assured that we were at the right location, and were asked to take a seat. Eventually, and, after several phone calls, we were promised a room--but it would take a few minutes to clean up. 
Between the airport delay and this minor inconvenience our time in Fort Cochin kept getting shorter. Normally, we would have just left our bags and hit the road. However, because the 5 day private tour that we would be starting the next morning required payment in cash we were loaded with a two inch stack of rupees that we want to leave in the safe in our room.  So rather than sitting idly we decided to plan out our walk on the map. The Air India building (which I had yet to see) was not labeled on the map, so we approached the men at the desk to help us identify our starting point. To our dismay, we learned that we were not  in Ft. Cochin but 30 km away. Once again, I  asked if we were in the right hotel--a question that was repeated when we saw our safe-less room and also by the couple that arrived shortly after us. 
With money stuffed in every nook and cranny on our bodies we headed back to the desk to try and figure out how to get to the historic center of Fort Cochin. Eventually the driver who had brought the English couple from the airport agreed to take us, along with the English couple, to our destination and wait for a couple of hours. Mark and I were a bit disappointed since we had planned to dine in town; and honestly, the restaurant at the roadhouse--mean business class hotel where we were shad been dropped off at--didn't look too appealing. We asked about returning by public transportation and were told the ferry would be our best bet. I silently questioned why this wasn't an option for the trip there--was the driver in cahoots with the hotel staff?
After 13--not 30--kilometers we arrived in Ft. Cochin. After a quick stroll along the lively water front studded with hundreds of people we knew that we would not be returning to the hotel with our shared car. With a decision made, we agreed to tend to first things first and we went in search of the Ferry Terminal. We wanted to confirm the hours of operation and make sure it ran on Christmas Day.
A kilometer walk brought us to an alleyway that lead to the dock. We followed the dark and dirty passage way and at the end we found dozens of men queuing up to buy tickets. On the plus side, this was a sign that the ferry was running but it also looked like I would be having an interesting first experience with Indian public transportation. We found the schedule and confirmed that the ferry would be transporting people back and forth across the river long after my bed time.
Several hours later, we returned to the dimly lit passageway. The line was not as long as earlier and, to my relief, there were several other women around. We joined the queue and I began to mentally prepare for the journey that lay ahead--I wasn't too fond of the idea of an over crowded boat. I soon realized that the women were standing in another line and began to fear that the boat had separate areas for men and women, and that I would have to face crossing the river without my trusted travel companion. Once the initial panic passed, we realized that it was just a separate line to buy tickets--so I proudly flaunted my femininity (enhanced by the thousands of rupees stashed in my bra) and joined the shorter queue. Actually it was Mark's energetic pushing that got me into the much shorter line.
With tickets in hand we were soon on a crowded platform waiting for the boat. Anticipating the frantic shoving that would come with the arrival of the boat, I tried to situate myself at the edge of the mass of people. My strategic planning was of little use. as we were caught up in the swarm of humanity fighting its way through the small passage way onto the boat. Once onboard, we weaseled our way to the front of the boat away from the exit. We decided that in case of an emergency, we would head for the paneless window just at the bow of the boat.  
The packed ferry slowly made its way across the river. On the other side we did our best to keep back from the exiting surge of people. Unfortunately, since we were two of the last passengers to disembark there were no more taxis and we were faced with a kilometer walk to our hotel. We pulled out the map, hoping that we would be able to find our way to our hotel.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

We had achieved our goal of visiting one of Bangalore's only touted attraction and were ready to head to the sanctuary of our hotel. We dug deep into our day pack to find a card that included the address and a mini-map. We figured that even if the little alleyway wasn't known, that the cricket stadium would be an icon recognizable by all--after all cricket is one of India's greatest pass-times.
Since we exited a side garden, there were not the hoards of rickshaws, and we were able to avoid any confrontation with our previous driver. There was just one lone guy, lounging in the back of his vehicle, but when we approached him he informed us he was occupied. (I am not sure if he meant he was waiting for someone, or if it was siesta time.)
We headed to the busier thoroughfare in hopes of flagging a ride down. The first guy we hailed took one good look at us, and barely glanced at the map before declining and leaving us in a smokey cloud. Ok, maybe it wouldn't be as easy as we had hoped, or perhaps the word was out on the street about the two westerners who couldn't be conned. With fingers crossed, we hoped we were at least heading in the right direction and we continued to walk down the street. Soon we stumbled upon a hospital, with not one but three rides out front. One of these guys had to be available: maybe, they would even start fighting about who would have the honor of separating us from some of  our stacks of rupee. Driver number one was so engrossed in his newspaper, that we headed towards the tall, lanky gentleman who sported a head of wild grayish hair and a mustache (a vision of a famous spanish literary character came to mind). We told him where we wanted to go and showed him the map. He held it for a brief moment before walking over to the dark, short, pudgy man who stood third in line. For several minutes we watched Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they discussed the map--turning it left, right and upside down. With fingers pointing in several different directions, the drivers seemed about as confused as we were as to where we needed to go. Eventually they headed over to the first driver. He glanced at us over his newspaper, and he didn't seem too happy to be interrupted. He took one look at the map and though we couldn't understand what he was saying we could tell he was giving directions. When the rapid instructions ended number 2 gave a deep sigh and said "let's go." Of course we had one more question--the dreaded...How much? Once again number one was consulted, and at this point I am sure there was even a plea for him to take us.  But it was lucky number 2, with a 2 dollar quote, that would safely deliver us to our hotel.
We slowly began to work our way through the streets of Bangalore. The Christmas Eve traffic was thick but at least it was moving. As we headed towards the center of town we began to recognize familiar landmarks. At one point the driver turned at what I felt was the wrong direction, but who was I to say anything after a day showing my far from stellar map reading skills.
Thirty minutes into the trip the driver brought us to an abrupt halt, and pointed up a narrow street and said M.G. Street. To our dismay there were no familiar landmarks;  simultaneously Mark and I mumbled "oh shit". I reluctantly began to crawl out of the back of the vehicle, my only consolation being that we were in an upscale "hood" and I hoped we could find someone to help point us in the right direction. Suddenly Mark said "Wait, maybe we should not get out since this isn't where we asked him to take us." All I could say was "Come on, how are we going to get the driver with limited English and map reading skills-who is possibly illiterate--to find our un-kown hotel?"  As I stood on the corner waiting for Mark to settle up the payment, I scanned the area for a street sign.  I couldn't believe my luck; the driver may not have delivered us to our hotel but he had dropped us off right in front of one of the restaurants where I had wanted to eat. Of course, since I hadn't been able to locate the restaurant on the map, we were still lost, but at least I knew where we eating dinner.
In the end finding our hotel was easier than expected. Once we headed up to M.G. Road the iconic Cricket Stadium's lights glowed high above the city, and all we had to do was follow them to our hotel.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Button Envy

On a long weekend in Singapore several years ago, we stayed in our first true sky-scraper. At the time our room on the 24th floor seemed magical, but better than the room was the elevator ride up to our floor. It wasn't the normal viewless journey, but a ride in an external elevator--where we able to see the city unfold below us as we climbed into the sky. Each time I rode the elevator my focus was towards the outside. I never noticed who got off where, and never even paid attention to those that got to stay on past our floor--heading dozens of stories above us. 
Ever since moving into a high-rise in Perth, my elevator experience has been much different. Rather than excitement and awe, the tiny cramped space is filled with tension. Perhaps, the negative energy is the result of living in the heart of the CBD-an environment that breeds constant stress. But still, I can't help but feel it is something more, maybe the little green monster of apartment living?
It doesn't seem to matter with whom I am standing with in the foyer (professional, tradesman, housewife, or student) the minute they walk into the elevator their gaze shifts to the control panel, and it stays glued there until each and every person has presented their fob and entered their floor. 
Since I find staring at the same numbers, several times a day, a bit mundane I've taken to watching those around me. I love to see who anxiously rushes towards the panel--usually those that live on higher floors. I've notice that when a higher number button is pushed it usually causes a slight flair of the nose or a snarl from those that live on the lower floors. There are also occasions when a button near the top is pushed, but it does not light up.  A small grin presents itself on most riders lips, only to quickly turn to a frown when the second time around it takes. When the elevator comes to a halt on the single digit levels, those who must exit the vessel in quietly slink out the door. 
Since we live in the sub-sub-penthouse I am never too fussed about keying in, after all there isn't a whole lot above us. On the rare occasion that my ride coincides with the Lady from the top-instead of a sneer, I give her a chat up, after all I am dying to be invited over for tea so I can see the amazing multi-floored home that sits at the top of my world. However, I will admit that in less than a year I have come to understand the power that our position high above the mighty Swan River has given me. Though I am surprised that such prestige can come with the simple push of a button.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Circular Key

This week's PhotoHunter theme is circular.

A visit to Sydney wouldn't be complete without calling into Circular Quay. In Australia Quay is pronounced key (thus today's title).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Purple Lotus

When we planned our trip to India for our Christmas holiday we had no idea that it was a popular travel time within the country and that it would be extremely difficult to find accommodations in the southern part of the country. We waited until the last moment to make our final booking in Bangalore. Since it would be our first stop in India and the place we would be spending Christmas Eve, we wanted to make sure it was a decent place, yet one that didn't break the budget. In our recent travels we have found the larger hotels to be so impersonal, so we wanted a place that was small and charming. After weeks of researching on the internet we decided to go with the Purple Lotus. According to various reviews the small boutique hotel would offer us a contemporary space and old fashioned hospitality.
Tucked, or perhaps I should say hidden, on a nearly impossible to find alley way in the heart of Bangalore's city center is the Purple Lotus. Even though it maybe a bit difficult to find, the hotel is located a stone's throw from one of the city's  poshest neighborhoods--home to fine dining and prime shopping; and for the more active traveler the 300 acre Cubbon Park.
As promised, the property offers it's visitors not only style, comfort, and a place to leave the outside world behind; but also a glimpse into history.

"The site of Purple Lotus was once home to one of India's most charismatic freedom fighters, Mr M. V. Krishnappa. As a young man, whose determination to free the nation, he earned the position of Minister of Food and Agriculture in the first post independence cabinet. The intensely patriotic politician served his country for 6 terms. During this time, he dedicated himself to bettering the lives of rural farmers and reached the hearts of ordinary people through his deep understanding of their most urgent needs. The  Purple Lotus was a space where Mr. Krishnappa's doors always welcomed the poor and needy. As a farmer, he never forgot the hard price paid by families like his own for the simple right to exist among the more privileged. It was his intent to lessen the peoples burden while including them in the pace of the nation's progress."

With all that it has to offer (location,style,peace,hospitality,history), I would have to say that Purple Lotus is the perfect place to stay in Bangalore.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Bullish Tale

Thanks to the lack of power, the driver of our motorized tricycle was unable to dodge in and out of traffic, so our trip to the Bull Temple was uneventful. Of course, we had a bit of drama when it came time to pay the driver, who conveniently had no change, and then insisted on waiting for us. I repeatedly told him not to bother and I had every intention of slipping out the back door. 
The stairway to the temple was framed by two huge, phallic looking bull horns--at least we knew we were at the right place. As soon as our foot hit the last stair a woman graciously beckoned us over and had us put our shoes next to her, a service not "offered" to others. We could have resisted and left our shoes anywhere, like the other visitors, but I figured a few cents would be a small price to pay to ensure that our hi-tech footwear was still waiting for us when we exited the shrine.
As devotees entered the holy building they were given a smokey blessing while we were pulled to the side and given a mumbled history of the majestic beast before us. The keeper of the sacred cow demonstrated how oil is used to make the granite statue's skin glisten. After a quick walk about the large monolithic statue (20ft in length and 15ft in height), we were once again pulled to the side and given a private blessing--that left us with a rose in hand, red dot on our forehead and a few dollars lighter. 

Now, Mark may have been in search of the bull, but for me it was the butter I was interested in & I am not talking about the kind that you spread on toast. I had read about how in addition to the bull statue, the grounds that we were visiting also were home to an 18ft high statue of Ganesha that is covered with 220 pounds of butter!
Once again, we found ourselves walking aimlessly trying to find something Mark didn't believe could exist. I have to admit, a larger than life idol covered in butter did seem a bit farfetched, but I was on a quest. After strolling through an amazing garden--an oasis in a chaotic city--we found a map. Miraculously Mark was able to decipher it. Perhaps it was the power of the bull; personally, I would have headed in the opposite direction. 
Soon we were in front of what has to be the world's richest--well, maybe not monetarily but certainly in cholesterol--deity. Here the crowd was much more frenetic than those worshiping the bull. Everyone in the crowd was fighting their way to the front of a cordoned area where the keeper of the Hindu God of Success appeared to be pouring small amounts of melted butter into the devotees' hands, who would then spread this over their hair and skin. As the crowd followed the butter, there was a brief opening and we were able to work our way to the front of the temple. The large figure of Ganesha looked more like wax than butter, and I was still unsure how they kept if from melting. We decided to skip on the blessing (I wasn't sure when I would be washing my hair next) but, before we exited, we left two roses in honor of the elephant-headed God and quietly slipped out the back door.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Throwing In The Towel

Once we decided to throw in the towel and find a ride to the Bull Temple it was time to find a driver. Mark and I aren't much into bartering and more often than not we will pay the price that is quoted--unless it is over the top. However, one thing we were sure of was that we did not want to be sucked into going shopping. As we approached the Rickshaw, I had visions of being taken to a store and trying to be forced inside--the driver and store owner pulling at my feet as I hold on tightly to the vehicle. A scene that up to this point we have managed to avoid, probably because the foot-mobile is our favorite mode of transportation, but that was vivid in my mind as we approached a driver. To our relief we were quoted what appeared to be a fair price, and why complain about dropping a couple of bucks to get to our destination--something we had been unable to achieve in a full day of walking. Right as we were getting comfortable in the back of our ride a guy shows up at our side. For some unknown reason he starts to negotiate the price with us. We were a bit confused since we thought we had agreed on a price with the driver, but now the return trip to our hotel was being discussed. We were unable to give the specific address of our very small place (which is located on a very tiny alley) or even identify its location on a map. However, we do point out the general vicinity and to our surprise the price of our journey drops almost in half. The driver has remained mute during the conversation and continues to remain quiet as we are told to come with the person who has been negotiating with us. As we exit the cab, I realized that we have been stolen away and feel horrible. I can't understand why the driver didn't drive off when his vehicle was approached by this hustler. I hung my head in shame, unable to rectify the situation as Mr smooth talker took us to another vehicle. Once again we were loaded into the back, and some rapid fire words were exchanged between the "negotiator" and the driver and the engine was fired up. Just as we began to move, in limited English, the driver said "first stop looky, looky". Within seconds of me yelling in my sternest voice "No shopping, I will not get out at a store!" was Mr Hustler back at our side. Within seconds the quote was back at the original. At this point I think if it weren't for the fact that Mark is a Taurus, born in the year of the ox, and a bit bull headed I would have told Mr con artist where to stick his bulls@#t but, instead, I just sang out "Let's go!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

It was time to head out and begin exploring India in the daylight. I have to be honest and say that my travels in over 40 countries had not prepared me for what we would experiences as we walked the streets for the next 6 hours. 
We didn't really have a plan or a map and, other than the market and Bull temple, according to the guide books we had read, the city of Bangalore really didn't have much to offer. So we set out hoping that as we wandered aimlessly we would find the sights we hoped to see, as well as some undiscovered treasures. After roaming the congested and crowded streets, we came to an area where hundreds of men and women--many dressed in orange and red saris--were boarding buses. It was as though they were heading out for a festival and we stood to the side to watch as some groups of people boarded the buses, while others adorned the buses with flowers. 

After the brief break we continued our journey and soon found ourselves in a maze of narrow streets lined with stalls that were filled with images images of Christ and crucifixes. We wound our way through the claustrophobic alleyway and soon found ourselves at the back door of St Mary's Basilica. The number of people sitting on the steps asking for alms was overwhelming so we quickly entered the gates. From the doorway of the main Chapel we caught a glimpse of dozens of sari-clad parishioners listening to mass (it was Christmas Eve Day). In a smaller chapel, devotees crossed the marble floor on their knees below a glistening white figure of Jesus.
As we exited the sanctuary of the holy grounds we were once again accosted by beggars. This time women with their babies followed us for several blocks, a scene that brought back memories of my childhood days in Cuernavaca when my tall, gringo father had his share of faithful followers. 
To our surprise, we soon stumbled across the market. We began our explorations in the open air meat section, an experience that soon made all previous market visits seem like a walk in the grocery store. Stacks of chicken cages, that formed tall walls, were filled with chickens that were shitting on each other, as well as sending projectile shots into the crowds of customers. Goats were tethered outside of the men's room. Cows were wandering freely, grazing on anything they could find and drinking from the river bed (which held more trash than water). Freshly butchered meat was being cut on blocks that stood in the midst of the feces and blood. As we wandered through the chaotic lanes of the market area I knew that I would be sticking to a vegetarian diet for the next week. In fact, for the first time in many years, I was surrounded by raw food and had absolutely no desire to shop and head for the kitchen, and any idyllic visions of colorful Indian spice stalls surrounded by vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables had been replaced by a harsh reality.
As our morning explorations continued we didn't happen across the Bull Temple; however, our endeavors were not fruitless and we saw some small gems; mosques, other temples, parks, mural painted walls and palaces. Of course we also were faced with some real shockers--endless piles of rubbish, rats, women with blackened teeth from their betel chewing and grown men defecating in the street. 

After a quick lunch we called into our hotel to ask for a map. After carefully planning our route, we once again set out. The first half hour was fine, but soon roads not on the map or roads with different names appeared. At about an hour it became obvious that we were lost, but I was confident that I could get us to our destination. Soon I had us trudging through what had to be the world's largest car stock yard--a car mechanics paradise. Everywhere men feverishly worked on motos, cars, motorized rickshaws and buses. They pounded parts and created sparks with their welding. Of course, Mark didn't need to point out that I was the only woman in the area. However, instead of jeers we received several polite hellos (unlike the time I got us lost at the docks of Mar de Plata while searching for a colony of stinky sea lions, where all were received were cat calls--but perhaps the hot pink mini skirt had something to do with that!) After about 15 minutes we finally traversed the land of male testosterone and were greeted by the gates of the botanical gardens. It was here that I decided it was time to throw in the towel and jump in an auto rickshaw. 
Even though the pedestrian part of our journey was over (at least for that day) a series of visual images were seared into my brain and I will carry them for the rest of my life. India is not a country that hides behind a tourist façade; it is a country that puts itself out there and is in your face. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sounding Out India

By the time we exited the Bangalore airport the sun was setting. As we stood in the very long metered taxi stand line I tuned into the sounds around me: the touts of "illegal" taxi drivers trying to lure you into their cars, the excited murmmer of families just reunited after months, if not years, of separation; the pounding of hammers at the construction sit on our right;  and the gentle tinkle of dabbas (Indian lunch pails) being carried by airport workers going home. When we finally arrived at the front of the line we did not find ourselves in a quiet air-conditioned sanctuary that would provide a peaceful journey to our hotel. Instead we continued to be bombarded with aural stimulation. Perhaps it was due to the darkness and the fact that as we traveled the narrow road our vision was blocked by the thick traffic, hundreds of people walking along the road, and the towering raised road that was under construction on our right. Or maybe because I needed a distraction from the aggressive approach our taxi driver was taking to get us to the city--but I couldn't block out the noises that surrounded us. 
Bollywood music, intermingled with Christmas jingles, blared from the radio. The constant ring of the driver's phone was answered with a sharp hello, and followed by a rapid sequence of words I was unable to understand. My attention was drawn to  workers on the concrete pillars high above us, as the clanging noise of hammers beating steel rebar penetrated the chaos below.
I was acutely aware of the lull of the tires on the asphalt, occasionally replaced by the crunch of driving over gravel as the driver zig-zagged on to the dirt shoulder to negotiate the traffic. Of course, there was the non-stop tooting of the car horns--ours and those around us--and with each blast I grasped the car door handle a bit tighter. The animated claxon of the local buses caused me to hold my breath as we cut off the lumbering giants.
As we approached the city and the traffic became thicker, rather than cursing and swearing the driver just began to pound his hand against his leg, in rhythm with the lively music that emanated from the radio. It wasn't long before Mark joined in. It was precisely at this moment that I knew that over the course of the next week or so India would become a country that I would come to either love or hate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Fought The Loo, And The Loo Won

The long black and grey band started right below my shoulder and stretched to my elbow. There was no way I'd be able to hide it, not when temperatures were soaring into the 90's and short sleeves were a must. Fortunately, my face had fared better and there was just a slight discoloration and puffiness around my right temple. It wasn't my upper body battle wounds that had me worried; instead it was the multicolored--black, yellow, purple, grey and red--bruise that covered my hip that would need some explaining. Sure, I could hide it beneath my gym clothes, but my inability to do the mandatory ITBS roll out in my Pilates class would not go unnoticed. I dreaded the fact that I would have to divulge that at my husband's Christmas office party at the Perth Zoo I decided to take on the porta-loo and, unfortunately the porta-loo won.
Mark claims the last glass of champers was the cause of my accident, not the fact that he was trying to guide me into the "correct" loo. If he had just let me go to the chem toilet on the left, I would have been fine. But, instead, he insisted that I was heading into men's room. (Years of experience have taught me that such amenities should be unisex, but there was no arguing with the boss). I'll admit he was trying to be helpful by opening the door for me and guiding me in. However, when the gentle nudge was combined with a urine covered floor it became an accident waiting to happen. In a matter of seconds I began to head towards the floor, but I managed to block my fall by jamming my right side against the urinal (so much for the "women's only" powder room).
The celebratory night's save, which kept me off the gruesome floor, had left my body covered with incriminating evidence, and I was soon going to have to share the story with my Pilates community. I knew the yarn would spread like a bushfire and that unless I wanted a bruised ego I would have to share my physical injuries with pride. Over the the course of the next week, as I listened to my story repeated 6 times, I sat on the sidelines smiling while my mates laughed at my misfortunes.
The following week, the smiles continued. However, this time it wasn't at the expense of my bruises. Instead, it was because on each of the three days that I attended Pilates, I walked away from class with the bottle of wine that was being offered as a door prized for the holiday season.
Mark swears that no one could be so lucky and that my winnings were fixed because my instructors think my story is false and that I--the battered wife--was in need of some holiday cheer. All I can say is--at least those with the luck of the Irish--in the end, Pilates really does pay off.