Adios Mexico!

Santa’s coming! Santa! I know him! And that means my time in Mexico is up – time to go home. The timing is appropriate, because it will take a Christmas miracle to squeeze all of my things into my backpack…but I’m channeling my inner elf and using my Tetris skills in the present-packing process. So far so good, as I did manage to curl a giant sombrero I bought as a gift into my backpack, which I consider a major win…otherwise I would have had to wear it throughout the airport. Now, fingers crossed that all of the tequila, dried chilis, and borderline-ridiculous amounts of pottery make it with me through customs. Brushing up on my charming skills in Spanish 🙂

In other news – I hit a major milestone in my Mexican stay (and in life) last week – in my group salsa class on Thursday, not only was I invited to cross the invisible line dividing the room to join the advanced side…but the teacher asked me to teach my partner the move that we were doing – TWICE. I almost squealed. Me – the square-hipped gringa – dancing salsa. Teaching salsa. HA.

The next day in my private class, the teacher decided it was time for me to experience new types of dance. We’ve been working on regular Salsa (Salsa en Linea), Cuban Salsa, Cumbia, and Bachata. But now we’ve started the Cha Cha Cha and Zouk – which basically seems to be the smoother, Brazilian version of Bachata. It has lots of gliding cross-bodies and hair-swinging twirls. And it is really pretty, but involves a level of grace and suave which I don’t really possess – meaning each move generally involves me miserably failing and laughing with the teacher about how not to do it. But it’s fun all the same.

**Note: anyone in San Miguel and interested in Salsa (or any type of Latin dance) should check out Fernando’s classes at Sabor y Ritmo – he is amazing!**

I’m sad to finish my classes – tomorrow is my last day! But I’m very excited to go home. Get ready guys – only two more sleeps!!! And to everyone else – Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! The next post will be coming to you from snowy Pennsylvania.

Here are some photos from the past week. Enjoy!

***

_mg_7664

I loved watching these ladies and their babies – they were simply adorable.

Downtown San Miguel

Practicing my nighttime photography 🙂

Advertisements

Pondicherry Escape

For my final road trip in India, I spent a long weekend in Pondicherry – a small, coastal city one state over from Bangalore which is the perfect distance for an overnight bus and a weekend getaway. I had been planning this trip with friends for some time now, and was really looking forward to spending some time at the beach and at the gorgeous hotel pool.

IMG_1667

Pondicherry is a small Union Territory (about 2 square km) surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu. It was ruled by the French long ago their presence is still heavily felt today. Street signs posted on walls feature road names in both French and Tamil, restaurants offer cheeses and fresh breads, and locals passing each other on the street wave and say “bonjour” to friends. Schools within the city limits of Pondicherry are still under the control of the French government, so most children grow up being at least tri-lingual between English, French and Tamil. The architecture is a beautiful fusion of French and Tamil and historic buildings bear names like biblioteque or tribunal superior. Even the small, blue and white ceramic tiles displaying the house numbers were the same as what was on my house when I lived in France. It is like a little French bubble had traveled across the vast continents and popped right over top of Pondicherry.

Needless to say given my obsession and love for all things French – I was in heaven. My favorite aspect (other than the Camembert…obviously) was finally being able to understand what was going on around me. My Kannada never really advanced as much as I would have liked, so while I have become a master of interpreting hand gestures and picking up on one of the 20 words I know to make my own version of what is actually happening (which has actually proven to be fairly accurate), I could finally understand conversations with ease and join in if I chose.

Most of our time was spent reading, lounging by the pool, or exploring the nearby beaches. One morning we woke up early to walk out on a rocky pier to watch the sunrise which was absolutely beautiful. Fishermen slowly patrolling the waters, aunties and uncles getting in their morning exercise and children playing in the surf before school.

Good food, peaceful beaches and pretty architecture. Nicely done, Pondicherry.

IMG_1471

 

 

A Weekend in Hampi

Hampi is a small village in rural Karnataka which is surrounded by rice fields, coconut trees and lots and lots of goats. Hundreds of years ago around 1500, however, Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire and was one of the richest and largest cities in the world. The city was home to kings, queens, thousands of army men and over 2,600 temples beautifully carved out of stone, with intricate scenes depicted across every available surface. The city also had a Grand Bazaar where Portuguese horses (the very best horses) were traded for one diamond a piece and bowls overflowing with rubies, gold, and other colorful jewels could be bought and traded amongst the shoppers.

IMG_1093

In the mid-sixteenth century, a religious war broke out when the Hindu Empire was attacked by a large Muslim sect which feared the Hindu Empire was growing too big and too powerful. Battles broke out involving up to one million soldiers and the Muslims were eventually victorious and fled the city, taking the 1,500 elephants of Hampi with them. When they left, they set fire to the empire, destroying whatever remains were left.

In 1986, UNESCO declared Hampi a World Heritage Site and began conservation of the exiting ruins and multiple excavations to find what time had buried under layers of dust and dirt. Today, Hampi has become home to backpackers from around the world who have made it their home to study yoga and existential questions. Tourists from around the world also list Hampi as a must-see stop on their trip through India and the town has a very unique and multicultural vibe.

As my time in India is drawing to a close, I decided that I should spend my remaining weekends visiting nearby sites in Southern India, and Hampi was first on my list. I convinced my friend Arjun to join me, booked some bus tickets and off we went. We were taking an overnight bus, which is probably the easiest way to travel in India. We finally found our bus in the madness of the bus station around 11pm and we were officially on our way.

We were scheduled to arrive at 6am. I woke up around 6:30 to our bus stopped along the side of the road and it seemed everyone was getting off. Luckily, Arjun speaks Kannada and Hindi, so communication was finally a non-issue. Apparently the drivers had decided we’d reached our destination…even though we were still about 65km from the Hampi bus station. The passengers argued, and the driver changed his story to say that his bus wasn’t working properly, so we should find another bus. Again, lots of arguing, and the driver took us to a local bus and paid our remaining bus fare. In my early morning, lack of sleep-induced stupor, it was nice to let the crowd do the bargaining for me and happily follow along afterwards.

After another two-hour bus ride (including a government worker who hopped on midway and audited the bus, threatening to kick all Bangalore folk off for not having tickets), then a 30 minute rickshaw ride, 20 minute walk and a five minute boat ride, we finally arrived at the hotel where we quickly dropped our stuff, freshened up and set out to get some much needed food and do some exploration. We wandered up mountains of boulders, checking out the ruins of temples which had once been and soaked in the amazing views. The scattered ruins provided some much-needed shade from the scorching sun overhead. We heard of a specific temple to the Monkey God which sat on top of a mountain a few kilometers away and involved 600 steps to the top, but promised awesome views of the entire valley and a beautiful sunset, so off we went.

Hanuman Temple (Monkey Temple) was definitely the highlight of the trip. A small, white temple sat on top of a huge boulder mountain and provided panoramic views of the entire empire. It was also full, of course, with monkeys. Monkeys always seem to be portrayed as such cute creatures; like loving, mini humans encased in fur. Actually, however, I’ve decided that almost all monkeys are quite mean. Stealing water bottles and snacks from any tourist who steps within their view, these monkeys were very comfortable with people and were quite bold. One came up onto my lap as I sat waiting for the sun to sink…which was pretty cool but slightly terrifying at the same time.

Monkeys are quite skilled at opening the water bottle and then drinking up the water

IMG_1315

On Sunday we did a bike tour which took us through picturesque fields on dirt roads filled with vendors selling fresh juice, water bottles and popsicles. Along the way, we hopped off of our bikes and learned about the history of the Vijayanagara Empire. Looking around at the temple and palace ruins in the blazing midday sun and the barren, dusty land that surrounds them could easily make one think they’ve been transported to Egypt instead of the lush farm roads of India which they were in only a minute before. We laughed at the extravagance of the palace grounds and admired the brilliance of the three kilometer-long aqueducts and the naturally air conditioned buildings.

After finishing our tour, we grabbed lunch with some Dutch girls from our tour group and headed off on foot to see some more temples. Between the 100 degree heat and our action-packed days, we were exhausted by the time we began heading back to catch the Sunday night bus to Bangalore. Luckily, exhaustion works well with overnight buses, and the AC which is normally freezing was quite helpful on my newly-acquired sunburn. I slept like a baby. So long, Hampi, hope to see you again one day.

IMG_1177

 

 

The Auto-Rickshaw Driver Who Honked His Horn

This is the Aesop fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, retold by me, about the lovely city of Bangalore

taxi

There once was an auto-rickshaw driver who was bored as he drove around in his auto, causing traffic jams as he weaved in and out of lanes to pick up passengers. To amuse himself he beeped his horn for no good reason at all, startling the pedestrians crossing the street and the motorcycles whizzing past.

Cars swerved and pedestrians jumped, fearing they were about to be hit. But when the drivers and passers-by looked around, they found no vehicles in their path. The auto driver laughed at the sight of their angry faces.

“Don’t beep your horn for no reason, auto driver,” said the others, “when there’s no one in your way!” They drove away, shaking their heads.

Later, the auto driver beeped his horn again, BEEP! BEEP! To his naughty delight, he watched the other drivers bob and swerve to get out of his path.

When the other drivers saw no speeding cars barreling towards them they sternly said, “Save your horn for when there is really something wrong! Don’t beep your horn when there is no one in your way!”

But the driver just grinned and watched them drive away, shaking their heads once more and disappearing back into the traffic.

Later, the auto driver was approaching a giant intersection with a red light. It was late at night without much traffic, which as we all know means stopping is optional. All of the sudden, a big truck came speeding up from the other direction. Already in the middle of the intersection, the auto driver  beeped his horn as loudly as he could BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEP!

But the truck driver didn’t slow, he had gotten so used to hearing horns everywhere he went, that it had lost all meaning.

At sunset, the auto driver’s family wondered why he hadn’t returned home after work. They went to his normal driving spot and found him standing next to a smashed auto.

“There was a really big truck driver here! He didn’t see my auto and he ran it over! I beeped my horn but he didn’t even notice! I escaped just in time! Why didn’t he stop?”

An old man tried to comfort the driver as they all walked home.

“We’ll help you fix your auto in the morning,” he said, putting his arm around the auto driver, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!”

 

 

Say What?

I love India…a lot…but sometimes I am left shaking my head. It has definitely taken some time to acclimate myself so that my immediate reaction is not are you kidding me?!? and is instead ha…only in India. I have written before about my sometimes frustration for the lack of logic, but I’ve grown slightly fond of it. Slightly. Depending on the day.

Last weekend I went to the grocery store to buy a few things. My total came to 458 rupees, so I handed over a 500 rupee note. The cashier, of course, had no change, so he scurried around to the other tellers to see what he could gather. When he came back he handed me 2-ten rupee notes. When I stood and waited, he apologized and and handed over another ten rupee note and two pieces of hard candy. When I inquired about the other two rupees…he pointed to the hard candies. I asked again, and he replied “No change madam, candy”.  Now, two rupees is about three US cents, so it’s pretty insignificant, even here. But the manner of the cashier, his attitude of why on earth are you still worried about two rupees? Didn’t you see the candy in your hand? left me laughing to myself as I walked away. Oh India.

Later that day I met up with a colleague for dinner. She is from Australia (along with most of my office), so everyone has been quite excited to check out the brand new Australian restaurant that had just opened up nearby. Mostly…we were quite intrigued as to what it would be. The menu looked great online, so off we went. Though it was 7pm on a Saturday night, we were only people on the outdoor, rooftop section. Well…only customers. There were 18 waiters and waitresses (yes, I counted) who hung out, stared at the white girls and hurried to get the EDM speakers and disco lights set up for our entertainment.

We were excited for the large beer list, something that can usually be a little hard to find here. There was a whole “foreign beer” section, which we both quickly reviewed and then placed our order. “Sorry,” the waiter replied, “we don’t have those”. We each picked a second choice, both of which were out of stock. When we asked what beer they did have, he pointed to Kingfisher, India’s home brew. So…out of the 20+ options, they had one. We settled on gin and tonics instead.

Next came the food. We both immediately saw calamari and said ohhh. But…it wasn’t meant to be. No calamari, either. We munched on our replacement wedges while perusing the remainder of the menu. We both decided on wraps – seemed simple enough. I ordered the mutton. After about fifteen minutes, the waiter brought out two plates, each with four sausages stacked, pyramid-style, next to a little salad and some dipping sauce. Hmm…wasn’t quite what we were expecting. The waiter first tried to tell us that the actual wrap wasn’t included and we would need to pay extra (though it was listed on the menu). Again…logic doesn’t get very far here. We started to argue, but then just said whatever, bring two.

After lots of discussions among the 18 waiters, we got free roomalis (aka tortillas) and complementary pink, sugary pina colada. Oh well…it was an adventure.

As my time in India is winding down I’ve started appreciating these little quirks a little more. Then, a colleague in Alaska sent me a picture of the town where I’ll be living. Oh man…I CANNOT WAIT.

IMG_3395

Compare the top picture to the one below, which was a street festival this weekend on Bangalore. Also beautiful, but the contrast couldn’t be greater 🙂

IMG_3419

A Day in the Life

I just finished reading the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It’s the story of a tribe of ultra marathoners tucked away in a Mexican canyon and it talks a lot about the science behind running and the advantages of barefoot running. I’m a total sucker for statistics and logical arguments, which this book is full of, and I am now convinced that I need to try out this minimalist running for myself. It talks a lot about how injuries develop because of the unnatural stride of running in a cushioned shoe, and by switching to shoes with less padding it actually helps people with bad knees (me) and flat feet (me). It’s an excellent read if you have any type of interest in either running or anthropology. Stay tuned for my findings, though I might wait to test until post-India to avoid Bangalore sidewalk tetanus.

In other news, Serial Season 1 is back! Adnan was granted a hearing to assess whether he should get a new trial because 1) Cristina Gutierrez was totally incompetent and/or 2) there is “new evidence” which isn’t really new, but wasn’t actually examined in his first trials. Asia finally gave her testimony (and nailed it!) and cell phone records are being reanalyzed due to the inaccurate analysis in the previous trials and the cover sheet on the phone records was previously excluded. This is a big deal, because it states that incoming calls are inaccurate for determining location…and this was pretty much the main argument of the State. The trial has been extended until today to hear all of the testimony and then the judge will take his time to decide – experts are speculating approximately two months.

If you’re following this, I highly recommend listening to Sarah Koenig on Serial in tandem with The Undisclosed Podcast by Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller. Rabia, Susan and Colin are all attorneys who created Undisclosed to dig deeper than Serial could and their commentary on the Adnan’s hearing is quite different from Sarah’s.

My final recommendation, if you’re in Bangalore, is to visit the Palace (see Veena’s deets here). The audio tour is pretty good and the architecture is beautiful. Check out some of my pictures below.

The Bangalore Palace

IMG_1052

First, yes, the beginning rooms are really that yellow. No filters there. The bright red on yellow are all battle shields. All of the chandeliers and stained-glass windows were beautiful.

There was a lot of beautiful artwork throughout the Palace, but this painting of a woman was my favorite.

IMG_1011

One of the really cool parts of the Palace was that it was obviously a lived-in house. The walls were covered in old family photos which were a really interesting view into the past. The audio tour talked a lot about the clothing the women had to wear…particularly how long their saris were.