Scary Toilets and The Luxury Hampi Express

Pretty much as soon as we arrived in Goa – or at least in Agonda – we’d unexpectedly ended up planning to leave. The tiny section we have seen of Goa has been breath-takingly beautiful: green, lush, misty, rice paddy fields and hills that climb into the clouds. Farmers and dirt roads, palm trees and oceans…

We packed and left Agona early in the morning, bleary eyed and still utterly exhausted; still trying to catch up on the lost nights sleep from the sleeper train. We took another overpriced tuk tuk to the bus station near by, then an hour long bus to Maragoado. From there, we sunk a couple of chai (oh, the withdrawals we were already suffering!) before taking another one hour long bus journey to Panji – Goa’s main city.

We dumped our backpacks with another sweaty man at the cloak room, which happened to be situated between the ladies and the men’s toilets: instead of praying that our bags would still be there when we returned, I prayed they wouldn’t absorb the smell of stale piss within the next 8 or so hours.

We’d been keen to go to an Organic Farm – Savoi Spice Plantation – to take a tour and see what organic farming is like in India; particularly in beautiful Goa. However, it was a 35km trip out there, and we didn’t want to spend 1000+ rupees on a taxi or tuk tuk, so we tried to find a bus. It was foolish; we’d just come off two hours on two separate buses that were packed so tightly it was difficult to move, and further more, we were both exhausted and hungry. But we persevered; asking one bus conductor after another for assistance in finding the right bus. We were sent to one side of the massive station, then back again, then back again, then back to a smaller section of buses, then told there was no bus, then told there was several buses, then told we had to pre-purchase a ticket, then told after we’d lined up for the ticket we didn’t need a ticket and to go “over there”, then we were “over there” we were told that bus didn’t go to the plantation, and it was around about then that I said “Fuck it I don’t even care!”, and we decided we’d just go and stuff our faces with North Indian thali and drink lassi instead.

We were so exhausted, we struggled to get up after eating, which had consequently made us even more fatigued. We had the good intention of visiting Old Goa – 9km away – which was filled with old Portuguese churches… The thought of visiting Churches today however, felt like the biggest chore, and we were much more inclined to find a chilled out café and waste away the hours until our sleeper bus departed. As we wandered about like a couple of sloths, we found a ‘Nescafe’ café – which would do for a few minutes at best – and then suddenly, I had a fantastic idea.

Let’s go and see a movie at the cinema. Not just any movie. A Bollywood movie.

Arriving at INOX Cinema, we booked tickets for Bollywood Blockbuster “Chennai Express.”
The next three hours were amazing; we don’t understand any Hindi, but we followed along easily enough, thanks to Bollywood’s ridiculously dramatic over-acting, spontaneous singing and dancing numbers and a good dose of imagination. We loved it – definitely going to see more Bollywood. We came to beautiful, beachy Goa expecting to spend our time mostly outdoors, but instead we spent our best hours there inside the cinema complex, and came out singing the catchy tune “Chen-ai-ai-ai-ai, ai-ai-ai, Chen- aiii expresssssssssssssss” – a tune that has stayed with us ever since.

We didn’t have to wait long between our movie finishing and our bus departure; enough time to get a drink, walk to the bus station, collect our bags, buy some food, and for me to use the bus station bathroom. It was the scariest Indian toilet I was yet to see; you know it’s going to be a horrifying experience when you – the white forigener – walk in, only to meet an Indian woman warning you “dirty! So very dirty! Do not go!” with a horrified expression on her face as she rushes out. Still, I had a 10 hour bus ride ahead, and no choice. I picked the least scary squat toilet, rolled up my pant legs, held my breath… I thought the worst was over… and then I went to wash my hands in the sink which was filled with ricey vomit. Uuuuuugh.

Jake downed five samosas in the time frame it took me to mentally recover from the scary toilet experience, and then along with several other foreigners, we boarded our first ever sleeper bus – a mighty steed – bound for Hampi. We were not sure what to expect; I feared the worst as I’d read about bad experiences, but when we walked through the isle to find our beds 7 and 8, we were surprised to find a double bed – with sheets, a pillow and even a blanket! What luxury. I called this bus, the Luxury Hampi Express.

In the middle of the night, the bus stopped for a refreshments break. I clambered out, bleary eyed, needing to wee. Jake came along to the toilet block to protect me, but waiting outside the piss smelling building, he couldn’t save me from the horrors of the officially scariest toilet I have now seen since arriving in Asia. Use your imagination.
Stifling my screams, I was forced to wee in the open air onto a sloped piece of concrete whilst Jake stood guard to make sure no one else came along for the show.
I guess, when your partner can openly, willingly and comfortably watch you squatting over a piece of piss sodden concrete, and not be at all bothered by the sight, you know you’re the best possible companions.

Back on the bus and with the horrors of the refreshment stop slowly easing, we lay there in the Luxury Hampi Express saying a silent goodbye to Goa, and letting the feeling of excitement for a new place to explore wash over us.

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Traumatic Visa Applications and Indian Touts

We’d been warned by many, been told horror stories and read about how traumatic it can be to try to organise and apply for an Indian Visa…

Our local travel agent warned us about the perils of applying for the Indian Visa without their help; describing the paper work as confusing, the wait-times as ridiculously long, the ques of people horrendous, and the embassy as so incredibly strict that without a travel agents signature of your approved itinerary, you’re bound to be rejected. We were encouraged to pay a $70.00 “convenience fee” each for them to organise our visas for us, as well  cover the extra cost of money orders necessary to pay for the $97.00 visas.

No thanks.

Those 160-odd dollars could stretch a looooong way in Asia… and if we can’t handle disorganised crowds of people, or expect constant convenience at all times, well.. we’re basically fucked in India, aren’t we?

One friend of ours warned of the crowds of people we would encounter at the Melbourne Indian Embassy, and staff so picky about application forms that they will do anything to make your application process more difficult.
Another told us we’d left it too late and would most likely have to pay a large fee to have it processed in a shorter amount of time.

We brushed off their caution, and decided to do it our way. If we can’t handle the visa application and the confines of the embassy, again, we may as well just give up now.

So we filled out the application online which was pretty straight forward.
We simply saved the application forms to PDF format and printed them, signing our names on the dotted line at the bottom of the forms. We each cut out a crisp, new passport photo depicting our mug-shot faces, and ticked off the nessecary check-list saying we had collected all the required documents.
Now we just needed to march ourselves down to the embassy with our paperwork, passports and a whopping $97.00…

So simple! Too simple…Where was all that hassle? Surely, that can’t be right!? The worst must be yet to come.

Monday morning, 8:30am, we stood silent in the lift as it took us to the 12th floor – to the Indian Visa Application Office. We were anticipating huge crowds of people, long-waits and unfriendly staff…

Ding! The lift opened and before we could even step out... “Yes, Hello Sir, yes, Hello Madame, hello, hello how are you? You want visa for India, you need passport photo? I can take, yes sir, I can take for you, only $10 per person, very cheaper than other place.”

Within the space of a few seconds in the Indian Embassy of Melbourne, yes sir, yes madame, we had been touted. Of all the things we were expecting, this had (foolishly) not crossed our minds. We had to smile.
Fuck! …already being touted and we haven’t even left the state, let a lone the country!… and we found that in itself reasonably shocking… we better get used to that shit quick smart and nip that unsettled feeling in the bud.

Escaping the tout, we walked into the empty, clean and silent visa office. We took a ticket from the self-service machine on the wall, and took a seat. Our number was called almost immediately, and together we walked to the desk… both wondering when the traumatic experience was going to start. Perhaps now?

“Hello. Forms and passports, please… You’re applying for a tourist visa? Okay… Jake you’ve made a small error on the form here, I will just change it now for you… Okay, It will be $97 per person… Can you sign here?… and here?… Cash or card? Paying seperately or together?… Okay, card please…”

Still so strangely, scarily… simple. No hassles. What is going on?… We’re still waiting for the drama to unfold.

With that, we were told our passports would be ready within 5 business days, and we would recieve a text message and an email letting us know when we could collect them. Within the space of a 5 whole, pleasent, pain-free minutes, we were done. We waved goodbye to our passports, $194.00 and to the man at the desk.

As we left the building I think both of us were in shock. Where the fuck was all that supposed garunteed commotion, hassle, bickering, inconvenience and turmoil? We’d mentally prepared ourselves for all of the above, as well as a two hour wait!

As we walked towards the lift feeling victorious, the tout came out of no where again, I guess hopeful we’d forgotten our passport photos afterall and required his very cheaper service. Thankfully, before he had time to pounce on us, the lift dinged again and some fresh prey began to exit into the corridor.
Mr. Touty no longer had time for us.

Just over 24 hours after we applied for our Indian visa, we’ve been notified our application is currently being processed. We’re still trying to figure out when the worst will come, but, somehow, it seems the worst of it was the smiling Mr. Touty.

Oh, India; we like you already.

 

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. there are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.

Amazing how a children’s poem can move an adult to tears. This poem has always touched my heart and soul, I adore these words.

What were you doing 12 months ago today?

The moment we set foot in Asia for the first time, we fell inlove with the place, and it’s never left us. The assaults on every sensory level, the amazing, the astounding, the surprising, and then the other bits too!..

We think about it all the time; Asia comes up in so much of our conversation and our ‘daily life’, and the memories we made whilst travelling there often offer us laughter and smiles, perspecive and insight. Fantastic, really…

So many stories, so many memories; life experiences well beyond our imagination, and some experiences we are still trying to get our head around, almost a year later…

It’s February 20th today… “What were we doing one year ago today?” For the past few weeks, and for the next 11 days or so, I’ve been trying to think back to what we were doing this time 12 months ago to the day. We spent 6 weeks travelling in S.E. Asia, and in that short time we did so much, we look back on that time as one of the best in our lives to date.
I like to remind myself, and us, of those moments in which we loved, laughed, smiled, sympathised, cried, learned, shared, gave to others, showed bravery, forgave, understood, made friends, and travelled… (and then also, some of those moments we didn’t love so much…)

So, where were we 12 months ago? Let’s go for a little walk down memory lane…

We were in Cambodia. We’d been to Thailand and Laos, and already spent around 10 -12 days in Cambodia before this date (We’d been in Asia for over a month by now). And then, at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, just before we were about to leave and take a 4 hour bus journey to Kampot, I got suddenly sick. Not just with some little travel bug, but a big, violent one. I was severely ill, suddenly and violently. Within a few hours I’d gone from being fine to vomiting non-stop, unable to move at all without being sick. I was unable to move, unable to stomach any sort of water or fluid, and was unbelievably weak. Had I been home in Australia, I would’ve gone to hospital immediately, but in Cambodia… well, going to hospital was my last resort… and I was seriously considering it…

It was 48 hours before we could make the journey to Kampot; I needed to get away from that potent smell of polluted air, fermenting food and stale urine that was overbearing.
Weak and sick, I made it with Jake to little Kampot and then we fell inlove. With the town, the people, the green peppercorns, and a trashy Cambodian karaoke pop song (which we STILL sing all the time!)
We made the most of Kampot and spent a while there pottering around, reminiscing and hanging about, sweaty and barefooted in the scorching heat. Still so sick, my favourite thing was Oishi Iced Tea, and we spent our next few days wondering about and drinking bottle after bottle that $0.70c liquid gold.

Slowly, I got a bit better, and we continued on with the last 11 days of our Cambodian adventure together. Even sick, we managed to have so much fun and experience all that we possibly could. We ate Kep crab and carried (tried to) 50+kg baskets of salt. We met new people, shared stories and laugher, shared tears and trashy karaoke songs. Ate amazing food, swam in crystal clear ocean, drank from young coconuts, and danced around like travel-high fools.

And though I was so sick, I got through it. Largely becuase of Jake… He looked after me and made sure I was okay. He saw me at my absolute worst and loved me for it. He gave me strength, protected me, and forgave me for being such high-maintenance for those last 11 days… We had the best time together, and I realised how important he was to me, and I to him.
Without my travel, and life partner, I wonder how I actually would’ve been able to manage and survive those first 48 hours.
Travel made us strong when I was so weak. It brought us closer together in the oddest of ways, and we are so much better because of it.

Oh. And becuase of Oishi Iced Tea. Let’s not forget that hero drink…

So, over the next 11 days, I’ll be more aware of ‘where were we 12 months ago?’, and where we are today… We are planning our 7 month journey back to Asia, and I know we’ll be just as strong, and the best of friends throughout. (For the most part)

…And I seriously, absolutely, can not wait for everything it throws our way… except travel bugs. They can stay far far away.