Incredible, Exotic India 🕉 (1996)

We sat on the ancient stone steps in the early morning and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters of the Ganges.

We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning.  We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏)  We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters.  Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies.  They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads.  To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness.  I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.pilgrim

From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay.  We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable.  Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water.  This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal.  Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.varanasi

I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal.  Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams.  On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth.  I’m sure Dean had too.  Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically.  We werenalgene nearly emaciated.  I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round.  Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps.  There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.

Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights.  We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.

Scan10164 (2)We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink).  Indians do yogurt incredibly well.

 

 

Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal.  So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra.  It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists.  They told us many wonderful tips and tricks.  One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.

THALI

I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray.  Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali.  We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj.  Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating.  Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.

taj from distance

But this is what it looked like up close:

Taj Mahal Sunrise

This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi.  We took the train and it was also other-worldly.  There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay.  The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering.  There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations.  At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares.  Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.

“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups.  We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks.  A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.

Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”.  He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down.  It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath.  If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again.  Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains.  Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you.  I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.

In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. leper One day, we walked into a luxury hotel.  I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets.  They were also known as The Untouchables.  The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars.  The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.

It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.

When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment.  And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling.  After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.  We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️)  We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).

INUVIKUpon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them.  We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.

The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had.  As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room.  What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind.  So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it.  There was really nothing I could do.  I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway.  Right?

After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.

INUVIK 2

Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day.  Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already.  We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.

(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)

~Remember to leave a comment below…~

La Cucaracha Report from Nicaragua 🇳🇮

We regretfully leave our sweet cabana on Roatan for a day of overland travel on ferry, chicken bus and taxi to find a sweet hostel with a peaceful and friendly courtyard in Granada, Nicaragua…

Leaving our sweet little cabana on the pristine sugar sand beach of West Bay, Roatan was difficult. We had spent three weeks there.  Granted, Leo had been quite sick with tonsillitis, but where better for him to be sick? We had the perfect little set-up for him to let his little body work the wonders of healing.  Now it would be on the road again and hoping to find another sweet situation in Granada, Nicaragua.  Here is a picture of a friend we made and us snacking on tiny bananas just in front of our cabana.

Banana Roatana

We were again on the ferry from Coxen Hole (yes, HOLE!) over to La Ceiba and then over land for several legs to Granada.  When we finally pulled up to our hostel, we were exhausted, dusty, tired, hungry and we had to pee.  Don’t get me wrong, we did love travel.  What I am attempting to purvey here is the difficulty of overland and backpacker travel.  It is not all roses.  No, we didn’t have to go to work everyday but, there were hardships and mishaps which made up the journey.  I digress.  We walked into our hostel and smiles quickly found their way onto our faces.  Our hostel was ideal.  There was a large inner courtyard with hammocks.  There was a smallish pool in the courtyard, a telephone with free international calling, free internet and a little café with decent food and coffee.  Above all, there was a very nice atmosphere to this place and many people were already approaching us in order to meet our little four-year old son and magnet of joy: Leo.  Many touches of the blond hair and cheeks.  Leo’s eyes were wide open, taking in all the new faces. He was such a social guy.

We were given a private room with a private bath and we quickly changed out of our dirty clothes.  There was a hand-washing laundry area on the roof and that was one of my first tasks.  While Dean and Leo unpacked and got cleaned up, up I went and enjoyed the effort of getting our travelling clothes washed.  The scene from the roof was of variously shaped roof-lines of all manner of dwelling.  There were calls of roosters and hens and backfiring car engines.  There were smells of burning garbage, which is never pleasant, but which is prevalent.  A note here on our attitudes regarding Leo and his welfare.  One of us was ALWAYS with Leo.  Not once was he, even in a friendly hostel, left with a stranger.  We just had no idea what could happen to him while our backs were turned.  Kidnapped?  Sold? It was a constant worry for me.  I clearly remember the low-level stress of that reality.  Our precious son needed to be watched by us because there are crazies everywhere.  And sometimes it is impossible to detect.  Although, I’m pretty good at detecting it.  Takes one to know one.

We met some interesting folks at this hostel.  Karin from Germany. Peter from Holland and a big guy named Erild from Norway.  We ended up hanging out with them for several days while in Grenada.  We had met Erild of Norway in the Tegucigalpa, (the capital of Honduras) bus station where we started the second day of our journey enroute to Granada from The Bay Islands of Roatan. We shared a taxi ride from the bus station in Managua and after a couple of tries were lucky to find the great hostel here in Granada.

From an email message home:

Jaden-Thumbs-Up

The next day Erild, with his camera, came with us to find a playground for our little ball of pent up energy (I wonder of whom I am referring?) As luck would have it, we found a park with play equipment on the wonderfully breezy banks of the huge, fresh water sea: Lago de Nicaragua and the next day we went to a 600-meter-deep volcanic lake and spent the day at the only hotel there, swimming, basking and eating wonderful fare at the lake side restaurant retreat.

 Laguna-de-Apoyo-2

The taxi ride there was hilarious.  Picture a 250-pound Norwegian squeezed into the tight front seat of a compact rust bucket.  He wasn’t as comfy at the other 4.5 of us in the back seat though: Karin of Germany, Peter of Holland, Dean, Leo and I were tighter than a can of worms.  We bottomed out a couple of times and all cursed in various languages (except Leo, he squealed) in unison.  The taxi driver being Nicaraguan and Leo being a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. meant we had six different nationalities squashed into one little car.

We spent the day at a hectic, large, dusty market in a town called Masaya and upon our return literally ran for the pool and sizzled as we hit the cool water.  I’m still wet as I try my best to put a few lines together about out latest adventures.

Tomorrow we are going on a canopy tour of Mombacho Volcano which is a 45 minute chicken bus trip at a cost of 50 cents each.  The owner here, who has a four-year-old girl, says that Leo will love it.  We’re hoping to see some live forest creatures.  Maybe even a sloth!

From my journal, written 1 Feb 2004:

When we got on the bus this morning there was this gorgeous bright young boy of about ten or so selling squares of nutty snacks, two for one dollar.  They were quite delicious.  I winked at him and he didn’t really know how to react but, finally, he smiled.  We gave him a pair of pants that Leo has out grown.

An email home:

Tuesday 3 Feb 2004

Canopy Tour and Haircut — a good day!

Good Morning Family!

We are leaving this hostel today and will likely not have as easy access to internet in the Pacific Coastal town of San Juan del Sur, Nica.

I couldn’t wait to tell all of you about our adventure yesterday.  It was the coolest thing.  We were in the canopy of the Mombachu Jungle for several hours, walking, sliding, swinging and climbing through the treetops and then abseiling down to the ground again at the very end of it.  Truly awesome.  Leo was gob smacked (as the UKers say), as were we. The guides geared us up with climbing gear and helmets and gave us the very serious safety talk. Leo asked a few questions! “Is this the carabineer that my gloves go on?” We could tell that he was concentrating on understanding all that was said.  It was too cute.  He could sense the seriousness of it.

zip line Nica

He started off a wee bit tentative climbing up the initial ancient, massive tree — the ladder was 100 feet long and just made it to the lowest branches. (We were glad when they told us that the trees were not harmed — they strap the trees with canvas and rubber, instead of nailing them, like some of the other companies). We called to Leo, telling him he was just like Spiderman.  Then we started singing the theme song: “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can…”  That seemed to get him into the spirit of the thing.  From there we stood on a platform, safety tied with the expensive climbing gear, while the three guides prepared us for the first rope slide to the far-off tree.  Leo did that one with a guide but had so much fun and was so unafraid that the guides allowed him to do the next several slides unaccompanied and he even did the Tarzan swing and the 150-foot abseil at the end!  We all had a ball.  The guides decided to DROP me down the tree “Rapido” because of all my crazy antics during the tour.  I thought I was going to die, for a split second there as my heart leaped into my mouth.  But it was fantastic.

On the walk out of the jungle, Barcell, the Senior guide, climbed into a cocoa tree and got us a cocoa fruit.  A football shaped, bright yellow fruit that he then let us sample.  Very interesting.  While the guide was cutting it open we were telling Leo that a Snickers Bar was inside.  ha ha

The road into and out of the park was 30 minutes and was so bumpy we all had a great workout bracing ourselves.  Leo was so wiped out after the tour that he actually fell asleep in my bouncing lap.  It was so bumpy we couldn’t even talk but that wee guy was just pooped!   We were very proud of our little guy.  He is a true adventurer. This is his mother writing though, what else would I say?

Later that day, after a good, hearty lunch, I took Leo for a haircut. The haircut cost Cord 20. about $1.50 (that’s one dollar and fifty cents!!!!) but it was not just a haircut, it was a 45-minute CEREMONY.  The barber, a young, perfectly groomed Nicaraguan man of about 30, was INTO IT.  Seriously INTO IT.  He flicked out that towel. He waved his arms around.  He brushed the blond hair off his face once, twice, three times during the course of the ritualistic haircut.  I was quickly understanding, as I sat and watched the other several clients being beautified: 4 men and 2 small boys, that these people take the male haircut very, very seriously.  The very small boys did not so much as move a muscle for the whole thing.  Conclusion: they have had haircuts of this nature from infancy.  After a brief head massage and then combing, the barber removed the drape, flicked it out and called me over to inspect.  I could see from my seat that it was absolutely perfect and went to hand him the money but no, there was a further step: he unwrapped a shiny new straight razor blade and made a point of me seeing that.  He bent it and examined it, showed it to Leo and then put it into the straight razor.  (at this point I was frantically telling Leo, it’s very, very sharp. You must stay perfectly still.  Freeze, okay?  His big eyes told me that he would obey. With a dab of water all along Leo’s hairline and a flourishing wave of the blade, the finishing touches were made. Then the palm-aid and combing again. This time each hair was placed with the comb.  I had taken three photos by this point.

haircut

Tuesday we will leave for San Juan del Sur on the Pacific Coast and hopefully get Leo going on the boogie board again.  We will stay there for a few days and then cross the border into Costa Rica and meet friends of ours on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Life is great.  Hope this finds you all happy and wintering well.  We miss you and hope to receive messages from you!  We love news from home!    Next up….San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

La Cucaracha Report – Guatemala 🇬🇹

Guatemala was all colour.  We were agog at the tapestries hanging two and three deep on each side of the main street as we arrived in Panajachel.  We spent one day just walking around and looking at all the beautiful crafts.  We bargained for tapestries and later, met a guy heading home to London, Ontario.  He easily agreed to take woven gifts home for us.  That was a relief as it is hard to carry anything extra on a trip such as this.  Every bit of weight counts when it is on your back for hours and miles.

late atitlan

From my journal in 2004:

Dean and I are sitting on the pebble beach of Lake Atitlan while Leo plays with four children – digging by the shore.  The water is clear, cool and extremely deep.  A tiny girl just came by carrying an armful of necklaces and hand woven purses.

Guat Girl with wrapShe is wearing a long wrap embroidered skirt and a colourful top.  Her hair is ink black and braided with colourful ribbons.  Our western clothing is so lifeless next to theirs.  We are constantly asked to purchase their wares.  It gets tiring to have to say no gracious so often.

***

Dean is reading The Princess Bride by William Goldman, aloud to Leo for a goodnight story.  It is superb.  Leo is sitting, utterly enraptured.  It is a great story of love, adventure and survival and it is funny too, as in the movie.

 

Here is an email I wrote home.

 

Happy New Year from Antigua, Guatemala!

 

Dean, Leo and I are well, happy and fat with good food, drink, sun, travel and relaxing.  It simply doesn’t get much better than this!  Here’s hoping that all of you have enjoyed the holiday season to the absolute fullest!

 

Before I give you an update about what the devil we have been up to, I would like to tell you that our four-year old Leo enjoyed a lovely, little Christmas in Palenque Town, Chiapas, Mexico.  He went to bed only after laying out a stocking and a note to Santa at the end of his bed and leaving a huge piece of chocolate loaf for he and his reindeer on the bureau.  He awoke, bright and early to find the stocking full of goodies and a brand new Lego racer toy, exactly the one that he had wished for!  Imagine that. lego racer smile Here is his big smile even though his Christmas loot was quite small. The box was just a little bit squished but that was understandable, since Santa had his sled packed as tightly as our backpacks have been.  We then spent Christmas day at the amazing Mayan, jungle enshrouded ruins of Palenque.  Leo ran in, out, up and down the ancient stairs, passageways, tombs and temples and squealed at how cool it all was.  Just like a great big fort!  We took the earliest bus and therefore arrived quite early in the day and so were able to enjoy the ancient ruins without crowds.  It was a very special Christmas.  Later, we met and tried our best to communicate with an Italian family.  The only Italian we speak, though, sadly: spaghetti, ravioli, fettucine, did not really work itself well into the conversation.  There was a lot of gesturing and Leo found this very funny.

 

We have completed a lot of little adventures since Christmas but the highlights have been hiking for several hours, on a tiny, cliffside footpath, around the huge and wonderful Lake Atitlan on New Years Eve day and marvelling at the volcanoes.  We did this hike with Bo and Tine from Denmark.  I nearly had five heart-attacks as Dean carried Leo on his shoulders for the steepest part of the trail.  If Dean had slipped, it would have been certain death as the drop was hundreds of meters and the steep angle of the hill, combined with the loose scree, would not have allowed for him to stop.  I seriously could not look.  Dean was so nonchalant about the whole thing.  He is not one bit worried about heights and he is very sure-footed. Me, not so much.  It was a very hot day and the dust was extreme.  By the time we were done, I was a wreck.  We ate a nice lunch – I should say, we FELL on a nice lunch and devoured it.  It was at a lakeside restaurant and quite lovely.

lake-atitlan-swim

Next we swam in the very deep (340 meters!!), crystal clean, cool waters of Lake Atitlan and then made our way back to our hostel in Panajachel.

 

I should mention that on the way to our hostel, I happened to come across a vendor selling friend chicken and another vendor selling family size (this is what they call 1 litre bottles – family size!!!) bottles of Gallo beer.gallo  Guess what we were having for supper: chicken and beer.  Yum.  It was the best darn chicken and beer I have ever had.  We made a picnic of it in our room – the only furniture being our bed, we put a blanket on the floor and after cleaning up in our cold-water only bathroom, we sat down for our feast.  Just then…BANG!…BANG!…BANG!.  It seems that gunshot was the mode of celebration.  It didn’t really matter.  We were exhausted and slept easily through all the noise.

 

Another great but simple memory will be the ride from the lake to this beautiful city of Antigua.  We were on a chicken bus, which became quite crowded at one point — probably 200 bodies were on this converted school bus.  This tiny little Mayan girl found herself sitting next to me (Dean and Leo were somehow in the seat behind me).  She was a sleepy little thing. She looked up at me with the sweetest eyes, checking me out, then she simply curled into my side and fell asleep like a warm, soft, little cat.  Her exhausted mommy, with three other small ones around her, gave me a huge, toothless smile and on we rolled through the countryside. We peered out the windows agog at the patchwork fields of vegetables on terraced hillsides seemingly too steep to climb, some had to be at least a 70-degree incline.

 

The last highlight has to be watching Leo playing with the various children and other traveling families whom we have come to know as we go.  We were lucky enough to be in the room next to a Quebecois family with three children, two boys age 7 and 9, and a girl aged 13, in San Augustino, Mexico.

 

Leo would awaken each morning with the first light and jump up asking if the boys were up yet.  They had boogie boards, which they took the time to teach Leo how to use.  He is such a little fish.  It’s great.  At that beach Dean had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time for a pick up game of bare-footed beach soccer with five Mexico City students.  He held his own pretty good too!

We will leave Antigua tomorrow or the next day for Rio Dulce and then to the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Here’s wishing you all the best of love, and hugs and hoping, once again, to hear all your special news. ~Morgan, Dean and Leo in Guatemala

 

Writing this in 2017, I fondly remember our time in Guatemala.  On Jan 4th we climbed a steaming volcano.  Going up the hill was somewhat tough, especially the last forty minutes on the scree of the cone.  There were high winds and it was cool.  Leo did very well.  I was terrified at the top as people neared the steaming hole to take a look.  I wouldn’t go near it and held fast to Leo.  Coming down was a blast: sliding on the scree and giggling all the way down.

The only part I did not like was the Guatemalan Caribbean.  Back then, anyway, it was not in good shape there.  A lot of garbage everywhere in town and all along the beaches.  A lot of over-drinking by the local people.  Hostels we looked at were unclean and untidy.  When we arrived there, it had been raining and so there was a lot of mud everywhere too.  We were exhausted and ended up splurging and spending $40 US to stay in a proper hotel room in Livingston.  There was a pool and even though it was after dark, we all went for a very relaxing swim in the pool.  We felt like a million bucks having splurged but truly enjoyed the luxury.  So, perhaps our impression of Livingston was just our perception and tainted by rain, mud and exhaustion.  I hope so.

Up Next…Honduras