Generous India – 01.08.2013

We can now mark our second dot on the Indian map – we’re in Puducherry (Pondicherry), but I’m just going to do as the locals do and call it Pondy. It’s easier and it sounds cuter.

We planned to take the bus early this morning from Chennai to Pondy, in order to spend all afternoon exploring, stay just one night here, and then move on to our next destination late tomorrow afternoon… But like I said, that was simply the plan, and travel is no fun if you stick to a plan.

Waking late, we fluffed about, re-packed our backpacks – which we had managed to sprawl over the entire of our tiny room in the three days we were there in Chennai, and filled our canister with chai.
Checking out, the guest house staff told us how we could save a whole hour of travel if we most simply walked 5 minutes to the train station near by, took a train 15 minutes South, and then got down and got a bus to Pondy…So most simple, so quick, cheaper, and so much more convenient sounding…

Firstly, the walk was not 5 minutes and was not most simple either; it was like 30 minutes of walking in the relentless heat and pollution with 20kg on our backs through hectic traffic and hoards of people, past touters galore, and over the bodies of the sleeping homeless.
We finally then arrived at an empty – I repeat – EMPTY – train station… EMPTY! In Chennai! It was scary. We bought a ticket to a train station we didn’t know how to pronounce, with no idea where the platform was, where to go from the station, or how to get to Pondy…Things weren’t feeling that most simple any more…

And then a young man (whose name is Sreeram) walked by us, and was kind enough to show us how to get to the platform, which was ‘hiding’ upstairs. We chatted a bit, and it ended up we were both getting down at the same station, so thankfully he said he’d show us where to go; turns out, knowing which station the train was currently in was really difficult, as the large signs were only in either Hindi or Tamil, with tiny English translations underneath. We spent the duration of the train trip talking, and when we got to the station that we needed to be at, he explained that it was a 20 or so minute walk from the station to the bus stand to catch a bus to Pondy – a walk we soon realised would’ve been very hard for us to navigate on our own. “Get down from train and catch bus to Pondy” wern’t exactly detailed, accurate or most simple directions, Mr. Guest House man!

Sreeram was so generous, he hailed a ‘Rick’ (a rickshaw) – as he called them – and tried to barter with the driver to give us the local price (which should’ve been around 25 rupees). The driver refused anything less than 50 – because of our bags apparently – but it didn’t matter. Sreeram hopped in the seat next to the driver and the drivers friend, so there was three in the front, Jake and I in the back, along with our two bulging backpacks. Sreeram told us “Now you’re getting a real ride in India.” He said the tuk tuk driver would drop us where we needed to go, and that he was going to go a little further to a restaurant he loves here; turns out the food there was the whole reason he was travelling to this area on the outskirts of Chennai. Since it was lunch time, we asked if we could join and he was delighted.

He paid for the tuk tuk, much to our protests and explained we are his guests. At the restaurant, he ordered for us both the local specialty, and we had a wonderful time talking and learning a little more about India, and him and his family.
At the end of the meal, he refused to let us pay, again saying we were his guests – he was really so very generous, we felt really humbled.
Finally, he walked us to the ‘bus stop’ (just a stretch of road much like every other stretch of road) and hailed a bus for us when one quickly drove by.
Our goodbye was quick, but we hope Sreeram knows how appreciative we were of everything he did for us today; without his assistance, we would’ve been very, very lost.

The bus to Pondy was really very civilized! It was full, but not packed, the chairs were comfortable and they reclined, there was no blaring music, the driver drove at a very comfortable speed, and we even had a rest stop break! Very different from what we’d expected!

We arrived in to Pondy late afternoon, around 5pm, and managed to find a decent guest house in the old French Quarter. We booked for two nights here instead of the one we had planned – we got caught up today with other such fun.

The sky blackened quickly and it rained heavily for a little while, so we didn’t venture out until late evening, but it didn’t matter – like Chennai, this place doesn’t sleep early.
The shops and streets were buzzing, and certain areas were blocked off to three and four wheelers (although those vehicles didn’t seem to want to obey the laws and crammed the streets anyway). People were selling, buying, shopping, eating, drinking – it was as hectic as Chennai had been, but it doesn’t really phase us now; already we’ve adjusted to the madness of every day life here in India.

Walking the French influenced, but very hectic Indian streets, we looked through shops and market stalls before heading back late, preparing for a day of exploring tomorrow. It’s been a great, inspiring day; one we will absolutely remember for the rest of our trip, thanks to one very generous stranger.

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Bad Drivers, Strangers, Couch Surfing and a Little Bit of Trust

You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.

Trust. It’s a beautiful and daunting concept. Hard to gain, easy to lose – isn’t that how it goes?
But, what about when you travel? Does it become a whole new concept? I think so.
Sometimes, you don’t get a choice… And sometimes, that can work out to be better than you ever imagined.

When it comes to travel, I am constantly reminded to think “You’ve just got to have a little bit of trust in them.”

And it’s true, for the most part. I don’t believe you can travel, if you are not open to trusting others.
Travelling, [especially backpacking], and trusting people work together.

I’m not suggesting you walk blindly into any situation and just hope for the best. Sometimes common sense kicks in, or maybe it’s your gut feeling that guides you, and you can tell wether it’s a situation you’re comfortable in, or if you want to get the fuck out. Sometimes you can just ‘know’ when you don’t need/want to trust, but other times… you just have to.

Like when you get into the back of a taxi, and spend the entire time with your heart beating wildly in your mouth. You don’t have a choice – if you want to cover a distance to get somewhere, then – at some point you’ll have to take transport, and trust someone to get you there safely.

Or when you check yourself into a backpacker dorm, pack your belongings into your locker and your important doccuments into your day pack… You need to be able to trust that as you sleep/shower/eat, your basic belongings  will still all be there when you come back to your room.

What about when you order a meal? Your common sense and gut instinct can help you here to an extent, but other than that – you have to trust what you eat is safe enough to not have you spending the next 4 days with your head in a toilet. As travellers – we all know this is really difficult and not always possible.

And what about people? People can be so hard to trust! How do you trust that overly-smiling tuk tuk driver when he says “yes, yes, very good, very cheap, the cheapest, yes, yes, follow me, come come, I give you so cheap.?
How do you trust that weird guy in your dorm when he asks if he can borrow your lap-top for a little while?
How do you trust a stranger in a foreign country when they say “Of course, I can help, I can guide you…”
How do you trust someone who you’ve never met before, and known only for a few short minutes, with your life?
I’ve been in all of those situations, and sometimes, you just have to trust.

Sad but true, I’ve found that occasionally when people offer me something generously in a foreign country – somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder why they would be so generous. It’s terrible to admit, but sometimes that little part of my brain telling me to be cautious starts buzzing, alerting me to the idea that “it’s too good to be true”. Is it the same for you? Sometimes, because of this, I am reminded to trust – becuase not every person is trying to take advantage of me in some way.

What about Couchsurfing? Have you ever tried that?…
Jake and I plan to couch surf in every country we visit during our trip – we’d like to do a lot of it. Not for the “saving money” side of it at all – our reason for couch surfing is to meet locals, and see a country as a traveller, rather than a tourist. Couchsurfing can help us to do that…

But, how do you trust someone you’ve never met, and agree to stay in their home, travel with them, eat with them…? There are no lockers there for your pack, no locks on your bedroom door, and you have no idea who these people are…
Yet, you click a few buttons and type a few lines, swap a few e-mails and there you go – you’ve got somewhere to stay and the possibility of a great new friendship. What a foreign concept to me, what a great one at that! You push aside all those “stranger danger” and “online safety” alarm bells ringing in your head, after years of being taught that in school, from your parents, and through the media.

Couch surfing is built on trust. Trusting your instincts, and trusting others… Thinking of strangers as friends you just haven’t met yet… And I like the concept. A lot.
There are some not so nice people in the world, true, but I think there are a lot more, a LOT more good people out there. And I want to meet some of them.
We’ve already got some couch surfing opportunities lined up, and we hope they work out for the best…

I like how travel pushes people to trust, more so than they might usually. It’s a hard concept to get my head around, but I appreciate it.
We can’t wait to travel; we can’t wait for those dingy hostels and bumpy bus rides. We can’t wait for those people we are going to meet – where ever you are. We can’t wait for our new friends, and those couches we are going to sleep on.
We’re excited to experience travel, and life, and trust is simply part of it all.

So we’re going travelling with open hearts and big smiles, and we look forward to meeting you somewhere Asia!