Trip to the Beach

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Day to Day . . . .

Now that everyone has seen our marble house, we have a chance to share with you some the activities that fill our days here in India. Most of the week days are spent working with Maranatha. Nick works with another couple from the U.S. in the Media and Development Department. He gets to play with video cameras and learn how to edit and log film. I, on the other hand, work in the Volunteer Services Department. We organize the different projects and the volunteer groups that will be coming to participate on these projects.

But that’s work! In the evenings, we hang out in our marble house, cook, read, and sleep. Nothing exciting really! There are some evenings that we really get crazy and walk to the “Mega Mall” that is across the street from our little community. Usually we go there to eat. We really haven’t gone there to shop, except at the little grocery store that is in the basement. Sometimes we get tired of cooking at home, or we just don’t have anything in the house. So, we head for the food court at the Mega Mall. There we can find several different fast food Indian restaurants, some ice cream places, a couple Chinese places, and would you believe, Subway and McDonalds! And believe it or not, we actually eat at McDonalds occasionally. No beef is sold at McDonalds here in India! That’s right, no beef! Instead, they have a veggie burger, a chicken burger, and of course, the McFish sandwich.

Besides a decent food court, they have a movie theatre there as well. There are not very many English speaking movies, but when there is, we are quick to see it. There are even some Hindi movies that look really good, but unfortunately, there are not English sub-titles until it comes out on DVD.

When we aren’t posing as mall rats, there are about 5 to 10 malls within a 5 mile radius of our house, we enjoy a few other activities. Sometimes we hang out with other people from work, mostly people from the US or South America. And that is only because we all live in the same little community. None of the Indian employees live in our neighborhood. We enjoy hanging out together, laughing together, etc.

But the highlight of our week definitely falls on Tuesdays and Fridays. These are the days of the local vegetable market. Just to put it into prospective, it is basically the local farmers’ market. The only difference is that the men who are selling the produce probably did not grow it, but are more like middle men. We can find many vegetables that we are familiar with. Things like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, green beans, eggplant, beets, spinach, okra, mangoes, apples, limes, lemons, pears, bananas, cabbage, garlic, and ginger. Most of the vendors have the same items, so we get to go from stall to stall and find the best price per kilogram, half kilogram (ada), and quarter kilogram (pou). That is the Hindi word in parentheses. In addition to produce, you can buy eggs, spices in bulk, and many other items like clothes and other trinkets. When we go, we usually buy four or five different things, and only spend about $5.00. In the States, we would have spent close to four times that amount at the grocery store or farmers’ market.

The Spice Man....

One of many vegetable vendors....

Cabbages and cucumbers....

Garlic by the clove or by the bunch....

Even the cows enjoy the Vegetable Market....

And this is why.... This is some of the best food they get!

This is just a sampling of stuff that we can get here in India at the grocery store and the vegetable market. All of this probably cost us about $10 or $20!!!

There is one other activity that we have taken a liking to. Well, when I say we, I really mean Nick. He has taken it upon himself to feed and water a few stray dogs in the neighborhood. Please keep in mind, that there are countless stray dogs in India. They are everywhere. Of course, you have to watch for dogs with rabies, but so far, the ones we have semi adopted as our own seem healthy enough. We call them all “Bodark”, but that is a long story. As we observe the dogs in the neighborhood, we have learned that like gangs in cities, there are lines and territories that are not be crossed by strange dogs. The dogs that hang out in front of our house followed us to the office one morning, and the dogs that live by the office chased them away. Nick only feeds and waters a few dogs, but I swear they told all their friends about Nick’s Doggie Soup Kitchen! There is one young female who looks to be in heat these days, and we would love to steal one of her puppies and make it our own. Both of us want a dog so bad, but the problem is that pets are almost out of the question because we will be traveling so much.

Let me introduce you to our friends!

Brindle Bodark....

Gimpy Bodark....He has a bad back leg, so he hops on three legs!

Momma Bodark....This is the one that we are hoping has puppies!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Home Sweet Home . . . .

Finally, the pictures of our house, that you've all been waiting for. When we arrived the first night, we were amazed with what awaited us! I’m not sure what we were expecting, but again we were pleasantly surprised! It is about twice the size of where I was living in Silver Spring. There are two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. All of the floors are marble, that’s right, I said marble!

The Living Room....We had just done laundry at the neighbor's house and hung it to dry.

The kitchen....

The stove. Unfortunately, no oven! The orange tube going into the wall connects to a propane gas canister that is sitting on the back patio!

Our bedroom....

There is one interesting thing to me. In the bathrooms, there is no clear division between the shower area and the rest of the bathroom, so when someone takes a shower, the water goes anywhere and everywhere. We have a western style toilet and toilet paper, for those of you who were concerned or curious! But we do have an added feature. Next to the toilet there is a knob that when turned, a stream of water will squirt your bottom! Not quite as forceful as the French version, but it has the same effect. It does not seem to be very effective when you tinkle since you stay wet, but it could have some impact on the other end since it washes you to some degree. However, we stick with toilet paper, even though it is a bit pricier than we are used to!

We have an enormous patio out the back door. It is basically the size of the room on the floor below. It would be the perfect spot for bbq's, but cows are holy in India. Besides that, it is too hot in the daytime and there is no roof or shade. And at night, the mosquitoes would eat you alive. So for now, we dream of filling it with plants and trees for shade.

Nick has hung Tibetan Prayer Flags on the balcony for decoration....

Since the water is unsafe to drink right from the tap, we had a high tech water filter installed shortly after we arrived. And just this past week, we got a washing machine. I was so happy.

Right now, our house is pretty simple, not a lot of decoration, but we are hoping to change that over time.

Our land lord and his family....

The Front Balcony....

The view from our front balcony....

A sunset out the front balcony....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Some fun signs we found along the way . . .

Before we say cherrio to the UK, we wanted to share a few funny signs, etc. that we found on our journey. Hope you enjoy!

A Pub in Edinborough!

Warning for all the stupid Americans who visit!!

WalMart has made it to Great Britain

Another pub in Edinborough

A sign on a resturant in Edinborough

If you look close, this car has a Dixie Flag (Stars and Bars) Bumper Sticker

We found these packs of cigarettes hilarious, but it is a law in the UK. These warnings are on every pack of cigarettes!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Driving Indian Style . . . .

We learned that the horn is basically your blinker here in India. It lets the vehicle in front of you know that you are passing on the right or the left, or that you are coming up behind them, and you need them to move. All of the big trucks here have the words “Horn Please” painted on their back doors! Another rule of thumb is whoever has their nose in front gets the right of way. Lines on the road are to be used for guidance down the road, so people will drive straddling them, rather than between them like we are used to. Blinkers have more than one meaning, they can be used to indicate that you want to turn right or left or that you are changing lanes, but they can also be used to tell the car behind you that they can go around you on the right or the left! So when you put your blinker on, you have to double check that someone isn’t going to try to go around you just when you are moving over. In the US and most other places, you only have worry about vehicles on the road. Here, you have to be aware of vehicles of all sizes from bikes, to motorcycles, to cars, to SUV’s, to buses, to big trucks. But also, there are people walking, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, and of course cows and dogs! To hit a cow is a jailable offence! That’s right, if you hit a cow on the road and kill it, you could go to jail for two years! So there you have it, a short introduction to driving in India. After we had been in Gurgaon for a couple of days, we decided to brave the bicycle rickshaws. These are basically rudimentary taxis that will take you from place to place for a fee. We got to where we were going without any harm, and we were headed back, and I noticed that we were headed the wrong direction. Both Nick and I were on the same rickshaw and the guy was smaller than me that was pedaling. When we told him that we needed to go the other direction, he proceeded to turn to go across four lanes of speeding traffic in order to get to the other side of the road. Nick got off and helped him push the bike across traffic. Then he started going the right way and all was fine until he got to a round about and rather than go around and continue on the right side of the road, he cut across oncoming traffic again, and continued up the road against traffic!!! Thank goodness there is a God in heaven looking down on us! Needless to say, we haven’t ridden a rickshaw since.

India . . . At Last . . .

Early the next morning, we boarded the plane for the next phase of our adventure. Before we got on the plane though, we sat in an area waiting for our plane to arrive from NY and then once we were told which gate to go to, we went there right away. We didn't want to miss the plane. But the plane was still unloading, so we sat and waited. Finally, they began boarding, and like all flights, they started with First Class and people that needed extra help getting aboard. They also asked that people not crowd the door way and only come to board when their section was called. Well, wouldn't you know, as soon as they started boarding, everyone in the room stood up and crowded the doors! So, Nick and I were the first ones at the gate, and the last ones on the plane, because there was absolutely no reason to rush! It was a very funny thing to watch.
It was another great flight with good food. We flew over Europe and would have seen the Alps, but we were told to shut our window blinds. Later we flew over Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan! So, technically, Nick can say he's seen to Iran and Pakistan! Although, I don't know if 35,000 feet counts! We would have seen the Himalayas too but it was dark by the time we got there.

A mountain somewhere in Turkey

A snack they gave us on the flight. Yes, it says "Mo'pleez!

After leaving about an hour late and circling Delhi for an hour or so waiting for our turn to land, we finally arrived in India around 1 am! We were supposed to arrive around 10:30 pm! Customs was no problem, but retrieving our bags was an adventure in itself!!! Our flight was full so that meant 200+ people were all trying to get their bags as fast as possible. Another thing to note at this point is that Indian people have a different idea of personal space than we do. Since we were some of the first people to check in, our bags were some of the last to come out of the plane. I waited patiently behind Nick with two luggage carts, while he staked a claim on the baggage carousel. Well, his claimed area kept shrinking and I kept getting pushed further and further away from him. Finally, our bags appeared and Nick rescued them from the perilous ride on the carousel. We loaded our luggage carts and headed off to find people that didn’t know what we looked like and vice versa! Luckily, the Maranatha India sign was very big and easy to find. We were with people who would take care of us.

As we walked through the airport door, we were hit with our first taste of India, a brick wall of heat and humidity!!! We walked straight into a jungle, but there was no lush rainforest! But there used to be. And, the begging started. A man rushed up to help us with our luggage carts, and even though we told him we didn’t need help, he persisted and since he touched our bags at some point, he expected us to pay him. So Nick gave him 20 pence, British money! Even though he couldn’t use it here, he seemed satisfied and left!

Our bags were loaded into the car and with Tanvere at the wheel, we began our journey from the airport to Gurgaon, the city where we would live and work for the next year. It did not take long to realize that driving in the UK was a breeze compared to India and after driving here you could probably drive in the States with your eyes closed! But Tanvere, being a seasoned professional, easily weaved his way through traffic, hitting his horn only when needed. As we from the airport to Gurgaon, we intently stared out our windows at the world on the other side of the glass. It was dark, but we could still see that there were people everywhere! But I guess a country with a billion people has to put them somewhere. We could see the poor sleeping wherever they could find a suitable patch of ground, there were pilgrims on a journey from the Ganges, a holy river, carrying water back to their homes, and there were cows and dogs!!

The Land of Bagpipes, Kilts, and Ol' Nessie . . . .

Our first night in Scotland was spent in Stirling. The national memorial to William Wallace is here and we had heard rumor of a statue of Wallace that looked strangely like Mel Gibson (Braveheart). So before we left for the Highlands the next morning we set to prove the rumor. And the rumor was correct! Just outside the visitor's center at the Memorial was a statue of William Wallace that looked exactly like Mel Gibson! And as we would come to discover throughout our travels in Scotland, it is like William Wallace does not have his own identity! Everywhere we saw a depiction of Wallace, it looked like Mel Gibson! It became a crusade of sorts to see if we could find something that didn't look like Mel Gibson. I don't think we were successful.

The Scottish Highlands are amazing! Big mountains, dotted with sheep and little cottages! Oh, and Highland Cows! Cows that have long hair! It was the most bizarre sight!

We drove first to Inverness, which is situated at the northern end of Loch Ness!

Nick found it amusing that so many people were in line at KFC!

After some site seeing, we decided to drive along the coast further north.

This drive brought us to Dornoch where we camped for the night. This was probably my favorite campsite! Our tent was set up right across a road from a sheep pasture with two or three mommas and three or four babies! It was the coolest thing! Oh, and there were Border Collies, my favorite! We are pretty sure they are the official dog of Scotland! Nick shared this observation with a lady and her Border Collie and the dog proceeded to bark and growl at him!! That evening in Dornoch, there was a demonstration of a bagpipe and drum corp and Highland Dancers! I couldn't have asked for better entertainment!

The Post Office on Dean's Lane

The gate to Dean's Court

My new buddy! I wanted to keep this dog. It actually climbed through the gate behind us.

Our campsite outside Dornoch! This was the best one!!!

What's a trip to Scotland without bagpipes?

The next day we were off to hunt for Ol' Nessie! We drove along the shores of Loch Ness searching diligently, but alas, no sight of Ol' Nessie!

Loch Ness. The huge lake where the alleged Loch Ness Monster has been sighted! We were not successful!

Nick preparing to do battle with The Monster!

But the drive was beautiful and relaxing. Later in the day we arrived in Fort William and found ourselves to be in the outdoor capital of Scotland! Ben Nevis and other lofty mountains surrounded the town and Nick decided that this was the place to put the rock climbing skills he had learned in the preceding months to work. So, with equipment strapped to his back, we set off in search of the perfect spot! After much searching, he was ready to give up, but I wasn't. I didn't want to hear him complain that he didn't get to go climbing, so I kept looking. We finally found a spot and anchored in, but after some climbing it turned out to not be the best spot after all and besides, the sun was about to disappear behind the mountain! We didn't want to get stuck on the mountain in the dark, so we headed down!

Nick returning from doing some recon for rock climbing!

Are you sure this spot is good?

Nick, it's just a figure 8 knot! "Climb on"

We camped in Fort William that night and the next morning, we continued south and east toward Edinborough!

Pics from in and around Fort William

It was another beautiful drive snaking through the mountains with a misty fog clinging to their tops. The city of Edinborough was pretty cool as well. The castle set high above the city on the castle rock was an imposing presence! But so majestic! Our only regret is that we didn't have more time to spend there.

Edinborough Castle

A bustling street in Edinborough

More glorious bagpipe music!

After some lunch and a quick stroll, we were back in the car and headed south. Our next stop, Hadrian's Wall. This is the wall the marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. So, that should tell you how old the wall is! It was a difficult thing to find because it just meanders across sheep and cow pastures in the English countryside. There is no huge Visitor’s Center to show you where it is, but after some aimless wandering down back country roads, we found it. It was a pretty impressive sight. The wall runs 73 miles from east to west across England.

Hadrian's Wall

Our journey then continued south toward London. We arrived in London early in the afternoon the day before we were to fly on to India. My dream was to stay in a hotel for the night, relax, and get a good night's sleep. But that was not to be. We searched for several hours, trying to find a hotel that was affordable and available. That combination could not be found. When we found available rooms, they were like $300+ and the affordable hotels were all booked. So, after spending entirely too much time on this futile search, we ended up staying at the airport for like 15 hours. We were even going to try to take a train into London and do some site seeing to waste time, but by the time we returned the car and got to the airport, we wouldn't have had enough time in London. So we stayed at the airport, read, and watched people. It wasn't long until things quieted down and we got our sleeping bags out and curled up on the floor. Surprisingly enough, we slept pretty well, considering night time is when all the construction projects are worked on at Heathrow Airport!