Category Archives: travellerproblems

The non-neon kind of full moon

In order to pay my kitty for Africa I needed to dig into some investments…ones I thought I’d have to touch months ago, but the terrible rates made me move my budget around to avoid it. Now that it was time I spent every hour looking at what day/time of month to withdraw… I read in one post either the day before or 3 days after a full moon, so I checked when July’s full moon was. Or should I say is…today.

When I read that I forgot about investments and started re-researching the safety standards for Ethiopian Airlines. All checked out, I spent yesterday at the Phoenix Marketplace in Andeheri, Mumbai waiting to go to the airport. The airports in India only let you in 4 hours before flights…5 if you bat your foreign eyelashes.

I called Thomas Cook a few days before enquiring about Foreign Exchange…here’s a few facts for you. Non Indian nationals can only legally exchange money at the airport. And most places at the airport will only exchange 10000Rs in Value (about 200 CAD). The airport is 7 percent higher than the city rate even if they say its the same. They also say its no charge for credit cards but its actually 15.5 percent plus an additional 10 percent service charge on the transaction itself.

So because they told me that I could use my credit card free of fees and without extra commission at the city rate I passed up my awesome hotelier who may have eluded to “having a guy, because it’s Mumbai…so of course he has a guy, but its not legal, obviously because its Mumbai, and he’s a guy’. Who would have done 1 percent on city rate no commission and not giving a shit that I’m foreign…because he’s a ‘guy’.

So in the end my stubborn ass refused to use the forex and pay a third in commmission never mind the exchange lost in the CAD conversion. Oh, additionally the ONE Atm within the International departures terminal which you cant leave wouldn’t accept foreign cards (CITI BANK WTF) and for locals would only dispense 2000rs increments anyway.

So we go to check in. That’s a treat. When the guy tells me to go to lane 32 and so I go to lane 32 to have a man yell, “Missy who do you think you are, this is for business class, move”…needless to say at 3am I as not pleased with the likely correct tone of voice you have applied to his statement. He hovered as I checked in at the next counter then asked for my proof of onward travel from Johannesburg. I showed him my itinerary flying out of Cape Town with Emirates and my Itinerary and receipt with date of departure for my tour. He told me that wasn’t enough proof of onward travel with a slimy grin. After I said, yes it is, and showed him a statement saying what was required as ‘proof’ he began to tell me that ‘this’ was why women shouldn’t haver rights and travel, and why the belong in the kitchen. He sent some boy to check if my flight was ‘real’ for 20 minutes while asking me questions about my plans that were irrelevant to him which he claimed he had right to know. I questioned why he had to check on the Emirates flight seeing as how I brought it up live with my name on it from email with the free wifi (which requires a mobile, and they say you can go to the info booth if you dont have one…but nobody works the info booth). He started to yell and ask why I was being uncooperative in a tone more chauvinistic and condescending than I actually knew existed.

I then asked what was going to happen with my connection because the flight was running an hour late and I only had 50 minutes to make the connection anyway. He said ” I assure you, there are sciences higher than your understanding that explain how you will get there” I said, “really, like what the other plane is still on schedule on the Adis Ababa and Johannesburg airport websites” his response “tail winds, higher knowledge”.

That was it.

I may have pulled a “Ok, I get that you were really great at weighing bags so now somebody let you put your name on a business card. But let me tell you something, in the land where goats don’t shit where you eat your breakfast women are equal beings. Not only are women in general just as smart, capable, and ambitious as men, but in this particular situation I’m going to tell you that I probably know more about airports than you. I also have taken more physics and math classes than you, and I’m telling you that that connection isn’t going to happen. You are going to treat me and this ticket like you would if I were an Indian MAN. You are going to give me my laptop and passport back because you know I have proof of continuing my journey andyou no longer have a need for my passport, your lovely employee has already checked me in and tagged my luggage. And now, because you are so confident about me making my plane, you are going to draft up a list of all the things I will get if I don’t make it. Got it?”

His manager came, made me a lovely list of hotel, food, transfers, and visa that I gladly took with me on my way.

Luckily customs was delightful, then I went to have one last briyani and everywhere was sold out, then my computer died, then it took an hour to board the plane…then I got on the plane, where my knees jammed into the back of the seat in front of me…and I’m five foot three. I dozed, woke for a ‘non veg’ breakfast…which was an omelet… I need clarification of what ‘veg’ is…they eat cheese but no egg? Anyway, we arrive in Adis Ababa and surely, maam, come here please, Johannesburg flight left 10 minutes ago.

So then they tried to just give me a hotel…ha! Out came my letter, so now I lay in Ethiopia, where I’ve seen nobody running, and people actually aren’t that skinny…but the view from my 4 star hotel with English cable and hot water is still huts made of rust and garbage bags, and children trying to sell stickers for bread.

I am panicked as hell about my foreign exchange, but in some odd way fine with it, because I feel like it has to work out, and if I pay a boat load of fees, I’d rather pay 30% to Africa than India.

So far the people here are amazing, so helpful, kind, and always smiling. They see you as a foreigner but just as different, not an opportunity. I met a girl from Somalia doing Med school in Khartoum while I was waiting for my reservations. She asked me about what I do for work and if I had a boyfriend, where I was travelling to, what was home…but not in a traveller sense just as in an airport small talk sense. I haven’t felt so normal in a place yet, and I’m in AFRICA.

I really want to come back here actually! And I have 10 years…at least until my yellow fever is up. Poor Indians, half had to stay overnight at the airport because they didn’t have yellow fever vaccination cards. Word to the wise…if you are flying to/over anywhere in Africa, just get the vaccination, you never know…oh and book the flights arriving early, couldn’t be more glad I gave myself an extra day.

Also, foreign cards do not work in Ethiopia, not debit, not visa, not Mastercard…so bring cash in. Their rates are actually super reasonable for exchange.

500 tomorrow morning it all begins again…Joburg attempt 2.0…but for now I’m still sitting on my balcony going WOW I’m in Africa…SHIT my Malaria pills are in my checked luggage at the airport, ouch I just got bit on my face, wow it is really effing cold here, I think I need lotion…is this what happens when you aren’t sweating 24/7, whoa I have fast enough internet to stream tae bo, I dnt have a change of clothes, then again if the flight smelled like it did today i’d still be fresh, by the way duty free shouldn’t allow samples, everyone is about to sit in a confined space of air, I hope i didn’t get any DVT during that flight, I wonder what ethiopian food is, shit another mossie bite, I hope I don’t get malaria, I still need a sleeping bag, it is seriously freezing, maybe two…emirates lets you bring 2 bags, I could just get two, how much money will I have left to blow at Jcrew when I get home if I get ripped off at currency exchange badly…really badly…not so badly…. Naptime.

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India travel tips…so far

Get a mobile phone. You need it to book anything online…and anything online is easier than dealing with Indian travel agents.

Book trains at the post office, either 2AC is a good benchmark to aim for.

Often, flying is worth it…less than 100 bucks and way quicker/safer….plus the airports are a great reprieve from the otherswise dirty streets of India

1.25L of water is probably 18ish rupees. Don’t pay more than 7 for chai, even that is high…and know that you are literally getting 2 ounces of beverage.

If somebody shows you 5 fingers for a price, it is 50 not 5.

Samosas aren’t that great here…parathas, chapatti, and curry however are a whole new world to the west. Ohhhh and the Thalis-yum!

Tourist bus means round trip…and it is also often all Indian tourists

Ashrams are not as glamorous as even eat pray love makes them out to be.

Thums up is like spicy coke with 10 times more sugar.

They like to salt fresh fruit juices, and put sugar on fruit you buy in the street.

Look carefully where you are stepping…there are many animals in the streets dumping the garbage they consumed for lunch, and nobody cleans it up….and it doesn’t really smell much worse than the rest of the street.

Eat with your right hand, something about wiping your arse with your left.

Wash your hands often, and especially before eating…there’s always a surprise that requires you to eat with your hands

Taxes are not included and they are high. Tipping is also expected…for pretty much everything it seems, or maybe I’m just a foreigner so they try…haven’t sorted that yet, but I did have to justify not tipping the guide who yelled at me in Hindi for 20 minutes about not being late returning from the Taj then waited 2 hours for the Indians to come back.

You will see people living in conditions way poorer than in South East Asia. You can’t save them all, but be grateful for what we have at home.

They are conservative…but Sarees show skin, look at one and judge what you think is relative.

Markets are outdoor malls….bazaars are what Western folk would call a market.

Traffic is bad. There are actually cars vs. just motos in SE Asia, it’s a whole new world of traffic jam

If taking a bus to one place, expect to stop at 10 other temples, marble shoppes, and often for food, it took 7 hours to get to Agra from Dehli…a 200km journey.

Use big bills wisely, and be careful not to rip any.

Book in advance…my new found spontaneity is not serving me well thus far.

If you are a girl alone and you have even the most distant of connections, this is the time to use them.

More Indians than you think speak English, be nice and they will at least try, be harsh and good luck.

Ode to SE Asia

I spent a few days jotting down everything I could remember about yoga training. Every body, mind, and spiritual ‘a-hah’ moment…then I pressed save and called it a day. If you really must know, ask me…but ultimately yoga training is such a personal experience, I almost didn’t feel like sharing it would do it justice, and as well…a bit selfish perhaps, I don’t really want to give away all the answers to the work I did…and they are relevant to me, and me only. I’m sure things will come up again as themes, as I hope that I continue to live in a lifestyle influenced by yogic philosophy, but I’m not going to post my 9000 word document on ‘what I learned’.

That being said, sorry for the terribly sporadic posting …or lack there of more specifically. To be honest nothing much has really happened. I’m in India now, Kolkata to be exact (well now I’m in Jaipur…lack of wifi!), however I’ve been sick since the day I left Yoga Training. I started getting achy on the ferry back to Surat Thani and was basically unmovable by the time our 12 person minibus started karting 14 of us to Bangkok when the ‘VIP’ bus broke down. As I got to Khao San Rd I booked it straight to Mama’s Guesthouse on Rambuttri, my fave hidden 100 baht per night joint and laid down. I slept for about 4 days, with all details of a flu before catching my flight to Kolkata.

A word on Mama’s…my favourite! 150 for a single room (5 bucks), 100 for a dorm, or 300 for a double. If you’re walking on Rambuttri away from Soi Rambuttri go past the Green House (which you will for sure see) take your first right and you will see it  . One night when I was sick they brought me congee and water and also checked up on my regularly during my stay. My wifi didn’t work and they fixed it instantly as opposed to most shitty hostels that say ‘oh well’ . I bought my bus ticket to the airport there, and even though it was 5b more I did my laundry there too.

Ah! Also I found the AEON near Khao San…that is the FEE FREE ATM. Walking perpendicular to KSR go past Rambuttri, past the next street then on your right there’s a department store (right after the corner with tons of fruit juice). Go in there, there are 2 atms by the door. The grey slightly unmarked one is AEON. Google where they are through Thailand to save your 150 baht each withdrawal. They are often in Big C or Tesco Lotus locations.

On that note, here is my ‘Ode’ –if you will—to SE Asia

For starters, SEA was the subcontinent I first left home excited to see. My thirst for its culture was what had me high tail out of Aus/NZ after only 4.5 months (when I meant to spend a year)… And it has been an adventure for sure…

Cheers to Nyepi, the Balinese New Year…the day of silence police, Bali Belly, and higher alert than usual for the lizards scurrying in my roof.

Love to Radiantly Alive, Soma, and Alyssa & Banchitta for making Ubud spectacular…magical if you would…so much so that I was inspired to do my Yoga Teacher Training only months later after the yogi life of bliss we created.

To my Singapore roommates who made me remember a 3 day pit stop, and the amazing food courts…bless that city, I had no idea it would be my last taste of 1st world cleanliness until I head home in a couple months from now…6 months later.

Kua & the ‘JB Train station crew’, my favourite Malaysians to date…tough call between them and the brilliant men running the Fast Lane Indian ‘restaurant’. But KL, control your men…they’re making a bad name for you. Also, go take some foot massage lessons in Thailand, my feet should not hurt too much to walk after a massage.

I will always have a sweet (and savory) spot for the food of Penang. I might go as far as saying skipping it, you haven’t completed SEA…and that, if you are only going to India for the food, save yourself the hassle and pop in to Penang, go run the 5km hill with the Aussie army brats too if you want.

Thailand. I tried to hate you because everyone loves you, but I only fell harder and faster. You actually had the best people (ok, maybe not better than the Balinese), you were the easiest to travel (guest house, restaurant, tour booking, tattoo and beauty parlour in one), your beaches are instantly home in paradise, Chiang Mai captures your heart (and stomach), while Bangkok…oh Bangkok. The city with dirt cheapies, highest class, fake Louis and passports side by side, the best Thai balm, creepy palm readers, and everything in between…You and Sydney will always instantly feel just a little more special every time I get to see you, like those old friends you lose touch with but nothing ever changes.

Angkor, you taught me in 5 minutes why people rise for the sun; the killing fields, you have broken my heart, but in some odd way only Cambodians can manage, you’ve put it back together all the same. Bodia, whatta month, Stace-thanks for killing it with me!

The National Borey Orphanage, my second volunteer abroad experience but perhaps even a little more gut wrenching than the first. A special needs orphanage, especially one in a 2/3rd world country will make you appreciate your health and your own country, all the while well you have a glimmer of hope that you can make things there better even for one child, even just for a minute. Nothing is so humbling as to know that even with all our time, our money, and our hearts, the children won’t be saved, not really.

Khmer new year gave me the joy of knowing what it feels like to have menthol baby powder smeared in my eyes…and no, this ‘ladeeeeee’ doesn’t want a tuk tuk or ray bans today, tomorrow, or the next day. If I don’t buy the bracelet you won’t starve. And I am not a ‘bitch’ for not wanting your said tuk tuk to walk 5 feet. Also, Phnom Penh: Asians are supposed to be good with numbers, sort those street numbers, cheers.

Thank you: to the lady who wiped me off my bike on the way to work. Now that I am in fact fine, I appreciate that I got to see so many clinics…And more importantly, you showed me how much I’d grown in how I handled the situation comparatively to my knee incident only months before in Australia.

‘Nam. Something different…finally. No, I didn’t like being grabbed or having my phone stolen, but I liked how I was ‘miss’ instead of ‘lady’, and I will never be sick of banh mi. Your coast of repeating tourists reminded me of the glory days in Oz when nothing really mattered but boys and a good tan, but with way better buses. Skol! To the too many Danish I met at Halong bay, and to every person I met that had been to India for pushing me past the tipping point. And Why Not bar, I will be forever indebted to you for the quantity of free beverages you provided for me pre or post fres beer smash sessions.

Laos, you bastard…you rained on my parade. Thank god for you, the waterfalls in Luang Prabang may have been the prettiest natural beauty I’ve seen in Asia….yes, even more so than Phranang beach on the Railay peninsula…and IT had hundreds of willy statues.

Koh Phangan. A month of yoga teacher training, Namaste to all of you…you people who all taught me something, some taught me many things, some taught me useless things, others taught me things they don’t know they taught me…but you have confirmed for me that the best learning requires no tuition, and have restored my faith in small groups of committed people, as Margaret Mead might elude…to change the world, even if it’s only mine.
–And to the full moon, thank you for NOT stealing my money, drugging my bucket, or getting me arrested for refusing to put my pants back on after peeing in the ocean…without walking far enough into the ocean. And a special mention to the long tail boat that let me nap while I waited for my half price fare back to the wrong beach.

My love hate affair with your nuances ends here SEA…as I lay full of street curry in my Ashram in Delhi sipping chai by the 2oz Dixie cup. A month of volunteering, a month of teacher training, puking on buses, concussions, attempted and successful robbery, huge nights out, hilarious days in watching monsoon rains, 2 new years, and food to surprise even my taste buds….and all in all 4 amazing, unforgettable months. Ciao to the never—ending scam that is South East Asia. I like to think I escaped many of your same same tricks, I am at peace with the ones I know couldn’t be avoided, and I challenge you to give me a run for my money next time (figuratively…you did the literal bit this time), because I know I’ll be back.