Sunday, March 28, 2010

02. Arrived in India

Delhi, India

I spent my last day in Kuala Lumpur booking a couple of flights and lounging by the sweet pool at my hotel, before boarding the 5 hour flight from KL to Delhi at 7pm.

India? WTF?

Some of you might be wondering what the hell I’m doing in India. The short story is I have an uncle, Bruce, who’s been living in the north of India for around 20 years, doing paragliding with tourists. I’ve never been to India before and what better opportunity to visit a country than when you’ve got a local contact. The plan is to be in India for 4 weeks. Bruce is going to teach me how to paraglide in the foothills of the Himalayas, around the towns of Manali and Bir in the north, where he lives.

So I arrived at 9pm at night and had my first Indian bureaucracy experience, getting my visa on arrival, which is a relatively new visa option and only available to not many countries (NZers, Japanese and a few others). Hrm, I see on that page it’s US$40, I got charged US$60. Was I ripped off before I even set foot in the country?

Bruce picked me up from the airport and we headed back to his hotel in Delhi, the ‘Prince Polonia’. Once there the first thing I was offered wasn’t water, a drink, food or a snack, but a pipe. Welcome to India!

After Bruce and his girlfriend crashed out, I went out to try find a beer and some cigarettes.

You expect the first time you walk the streets of India to be quite a culture shock, and in my dazed jet-lagged state I was doing my best to contain my excitement and amusement, so hence all the swearing in the video.

It’s 12 or 1 in the morning and just about everything’s closed but there’s still heaps of activity on the street.

After that I found a bar and met 2 drunk French backpackers smoking outside and chatted with them. Pretty soon we were drinking out on the street and surrounded by dozens of friendly Indian guys who were all interested in hearing my life story: Where you from? How long you been in India? 2 hours!? You having a good time? When you leave? The guys were lovely but I wasn’t sure if some of them were hitting on me or not. Hoping they weren’t. We had lots of laughs though and everyone thought I was funny.

Amongst everyone but ignored by all, some construction workers were loading up baskets of sand and carrying them on their heads into a building. To the amusement of the locals I put my beer down and tried picking up one of the sand-loaded baskets and it was bloody heavy and unwieldy – it wouldda weighed about 30kg. I hoisted it up onto one of the carrier’s heads and off he went.

The French dudes were trying to organise a session of something, I wasn’t sure what, at some random’s apartment somewhere, and I was semi-keen but also hesitant to tagalong. It was my first night in India after all. The situation was getting dodgier and dodgier as the night wore on and we got further and further from my hotel. Marco, one of the French dudes was getting a bit macho-drunk and cheeky with some of the locals and he asked me if I was carrying a knife on me just in case. Wha?? Then he changed his tune a bit – “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, you know why? Cos you’re white. If you have any problems all you need to do is start yelling and make a scene and it’ll all dissolve. The police will beat the shit out of any of these locals if they’re hassling you.”

OK cheers mate, how about you just behave yourself and not get yourself into those hairy situations, I’m thinking. And what was all that shit about a knife?

I called it a night not long after that; by then the streets had emptied out except for the construction workers, all of whom were getting their hands dirty, yet they were attired in dress pants and dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up!? Go figure…

Both sides of the street were lined with people sleeping, which actually looked quite comfortable – it was so hot outside you could sleep quite nicely and it wouldda been cooler than inside. Not that many of them had a choice.

Back in my hotel but by now I was so overtired I was past sleeping and I couldn’t sleep til like 5am. I must have had only about 9 hours sleep total over the last 3 nights.

Up the next day at 9am and a bit of shopping, Delhi-style. Watch your step:


What blog would be complete without the standard Indian tangled power lines shot:

Delhi - 02

Bruce and me:

Delhi - 03 - Bruce Matt

Saturday, March 27, 2010

01. Getting There

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It seems I can’t do an overseas trip without blogging it, because my friends (hi Mum) and family (hi Mum) are so interested in my travels.

It’s 5am here in Kuala Lumpur and I’m up and writing this because my head is still on NZ time, where I left yesterday.

Still, I’m sitting in a 4 star hotel with internet access, paid for by the airline, which beats the shit out of my last visit to KL in 2002, where I caught a bus from Singapore and landed in beg bug hell. From my 2002 trip log:

October 2002

We finally got going at about a quarter to midnight, arrived in Kuala Lumpur from JB at 5:30am, and I was a snivelling mess.  The problem was the bus was incredibly cold - I'd forgotten to heed Lonely Planet's warning: "Malaysian air-conditioned buses are really meat lockers on wheels with just two settings: cold and suspended animation". I already had a bit of the sniffles which I'd caught in Singapore, no doubt because of the constant hot-cold-hot-cold of walking between air con shops and outside. And on the bus I was wearing no more than shorts and T-shirt and sandals. I was so cold en route I'd even tucked my arms into my T-shirt to try keeping warm. Of course sleep was out of the question in this state.

We eventually found a place to stay - "Travelers Moon Lodge". I spent the rest of the day in bed, to both catch up on sleep and get rid of the cold. Whilst in lying in bed I spent most of the day reading, during which I killed 2 bedbugs which crawled across the bed in front of my gaze. This was bad news. You may recall the troubles I had with bedbugs in Brisbane, and in that situation in a week I only saw one actual bedbug. And already I'd spotted 2 here! I chatted to a Malaysian guy who was staying at the hostel, and he said he'd had trouble with mosquitoes all night - he showed me his forearm which was covered with over 100 bites, and I knew straight away they too were bedbugs.  So before lights-out I covered myself from top to toe in mosquito repellent, but it didn't do squat. So for the last 3 days I've been covered in dozens of itchy bites, on my feet, legs, arms, and back, all from that first night in KL. We decided to find somewhere else to stay after that first night, and whilst packing Simon killed 5 bed bugs he spotted crawling across his sheet. Unbelievably, neither Simon or Robert had any bite marks at all - the bugs must have preferred Kiwi meat to Swede! After we'd packed I was chatting about the bugs to an Englishman in the kitchen, and I was astonished to see a bedbug crawling across the top of his trousers - it's fair to say this place was infested.

A few notes from the 2010 trip so far. Malaysian Airlines are great, one of the world’s six 5 star airlines. I normally arrive as late as possible for flights so I don’t have to queue to checkin, but this time I arrived on time and I was rewarded with a queue so long it took an hour and a half! The checkin staff were pleasant though and I managed to get a window seat, probably because of my gentle complaining about the wait.

Most of the 10 hour flight from Auckland to KL was spent flying over the red earth of Australia which provided occasionally interesting views.

Malaysia - 01 - Route

I arrived at 8pm on a Friday night so I considered hitting the town even though it was 2am NZ time and I’d been up at 6am the day before. So I started at the hotel’s bar, where a small glass of beer cost RM25, which is like NZ$11 (USD$7.50). Fuck. So I had a glass of beer and tried to make conversation with another punter sitting at the bar but he seemed more interested in his Blackberry. The barman told me I looked really tired, and since my hotel is at the airport and a long train ride from town, that was all the excuse I needed to call it a night.

Malaysia - 02 - Room

So today I’ve got a day to kill in KL before I fly out to Delhi at 6pm.