Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Ambassador’s Ball was last night. It’s December now. It’s real that we’re going home. I’ve been denying it, but I can’t anymore. There is a bulletin board on the ship that has some of the questions we’ll be asked when we get home on it. I don’t have answers, not the answers that people will want. What port was my favorite? I have one, but just barely. It doesn’t make sense that it is my favorite, yet still it is. How was it? Someone wrote on the bulletin board “How were your last three and a half months?” Can we tell someone who is actually interested from the casual question just to be polite? There are programs on re-entry basically every night until we get back to Miami. Tonight there’s one on how to talk to people about your experiences. I’m not ready to talk about my experiences. I don’t even know where I would start with someone who was actually interested in hearing about them. I’m not sure if I should talk about the funniest things or the most life changing things or start with the earliest things. There are habits that I have picked up in port that I haven’t quite been able to shake. The Indian head bobble. The lisp in my Spanish, when I pronounce an ‘s’ at all. The bow I picked up in Japan, that I still use, though now it’s in combination with “Gracia.” (no ‘s’ at the end)

There are so many things that made the last 3 months what they were. The kofte, udon and unagi, naan, pho, apple tea, sangria, haggling, 4-5 hour bus rides, the little tricycle that hasn’t faded from my thoughts, lifeboat drill on Thanksgiving, being a ‘princess,’ cheesy pick up lines, bats, Varanasi, “mystery cream” in Japanese pastries, Shinkansen, sake, yen, euro, yuan, rupees, kuna, lira, camel rides and elephant rides, being stopped to take pictures with the locals, conversations with random people I sat next to on planes, trains, and bus rides, Hero, Stardust, Mulan, Spirited Away, eating jellyfish, ox tongue, and bird’s nest soup, acting out the process of making butter in order to bridge the communication barrier, confessional videos, seeing nearly every middle aged American man in Bangkok with at least one Thai hooker, the Great Wall, Peking Duck, getting lost, figuring out how to get back, the presence of KFC everywhere, perfume bottles in exchange for conversation, sunrises and sunsets, seeing the difference between a war memorial and a peace memorial, being comforted by a Japanese man at Hiroshima, the stairs at the Great Wall and Angkor Wat, the 34 ramps at the Giralda, looking at Singapore all day but not actually being able to experience it, work outs with Donna and Nicole, Donica, the 67th, Stardust, Croatian pizza, grocery stores always being closed when I try to go to them, the depressing Split Zoo, batiks, calligraphy lesson, Ganesh, Shiva, Buddha, deep fried bread, Taco Day, taking a terrifying rickshaw ride, offending an entire group of Indian men because I hugged one of my female friends, 36 Sticks, Ben and Jerry’s right across from the Cadiz Cathedral, the landmine victim selling books outside of the National Museum in Cambodia, the bumpy runway at Xian, Henrys, Leroys, railpasses, trams, SkyTrain, taking Pepto with nearly every meal in port from China to Turkey, sunset at the Imperial Palace, the only guy will to stand up for me in India being the videographer, Dean’s Memos, awkward turtle, rock gardens, tea gardens, orange trees, opera themed hotels, having an ATM card that didn’t work all the way from China until Egypt, no where in Spain converting kuna, bird watching, people watching, carriage rides, buying bracelets from every child at Phrah Khan, not having any clothes in my size anywhere in Thailand, having my dead batteries taken from me the only time I was pick pocketed, crispy mint M&Ms, nearly everything at the Dubrovnik Aquarium being labeled incorrectly, Ben Thanh Market, Kapali Carsi, Silk Market, seeing a statue of Victor Hugo in a house of worship, setting off the metal detectors everywhere in Thailand but just being waved through because I’m an American, not having to have any form of ID on any flight in Egypt, chicken baskets, Planter Spunch, Gulliver’s Travelers Tavern, bamboo rafting, retarding clocks, security checks in India at the airport, giant rifles being present everywhere in India, Egypt, and Turkey, paparazzi, cable knit sweaters, castles, Scattegories, the Union, anything but studying study sessions, unfair Global exams, leery waiter, always getting 2 desserts, the Voice, head bobbling, bowing, being from everywhere except for the U.S. in Egypt and Turkey, can-bottles, Pillow Talk, standing for a montage of photos of the king before a movie in Thailand, baksheesh, scarves, all 6 Mohammads helping lead my trip in Egypt, seeing Japanese people everywhere, being cut in line by French people anywhere they were, the quest for a Turkish bath, Black Cat Bistro, Vigor, getting saved by the hair, my new Spanish lisp, the lack of pronunciation of the letter ‘s’ in Andalucía, being the navigator, silk, Grand Theft Blanket, mashed potatoes for breakfast, mummies, crypts, cisterns, mosques, cathedrals, temples, waterfalls, learning to sleep whenever I was in transit, Sukhumvit Night Market, the Paragon, Mao watches, rumors, Boss, Can You Beat Ken?, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, being the only girl out of a group of 11 that could handle getting rid of a spider, writing the Honor Code on my exams, cramming 5 days of clothes and toiletries in a bookbag and saving room to buy other things, the line for add/drop, what did happen to September 7?, fugu, the Beijing ‘funk’, the hours spent laughing about that one time in “insert country here,” the gang that hangs out in 4048, my work out and B day lunch buddies.

This morning someone asked me what my area code was. I had to have a few seconds to think about it. Then I needed to figure out my entire phone number and my address and my AIM screen name. At home I’ll be switching from cabin numbers to addresses, from A and B days to days of the week. I haven’t known what day of the week it was since the beginning of September. I won’t be using countries as a point of reference anymore- no more saying, “Was that before or after India? That’s not to say that I’m not excited about home. I am; it’s just that home won’t be the same as when I left. No, that’s not true. Cardington will be the same. But I won’t. I’m excited to see my family and catch up with my friends, but right now the whole process of going home is a little overwhelming. Home is just going to be the next adventure.

I've tried uploading a few pictures, but the internet is too slow right now. I have around 7,500 when I get home though.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I apologize for how horribly written this is, but I did it last night after I got back on the ship. I have a lot to get down with finals and things now, so that's the only way this entry was getting written.

Nov. 23, 2007
“Is this where they breed those bulls that kick?”
Cadiz y Sevilla, España

I woke up at 7 to watch us pull into port. No one else was out there, so I just went to breakfast. I met up with Kristy and Beth and everyone else followed. The ship was cleared very quickly, and Caitlin, Meghan, and I were ready to leave the ship as soon as it was. We got off the ship as quickly as possible, and darted to the train station to get on the quickest train to Sevilla. We found the train station fairly easily. I think it helped that Meghan and I could ask directions and understand them in Spanish. We got to the station before most of the other SASers did. We got on the first train and there were probably only 15 SASers on the train.

When we got to Sevilla we took a taxi to the Alcazar. We weren’t actually going there yet; we just wanted to get ourselves to that general area. Once we got there we looked around for a hotel. We walked up a street near the Catedral and stopped in the first hotel that we found. The receptionist told us that they were booked because there was a horse show in the city, and we were going to have a very hard time finding a hotel. We kept walking and then found one just down the street. We wanted to get it for 2 nights, but they only had space for one. We changed our plans a bit, and decided to head to Cordoba the next day rather than in two days. After we got ourselves checked into the hotel, we decided to get some lunch. We found a little café near the Catedral and got some lunch. Afterwards we went to the Catedral. The Sevilla Catedral is the 3rd largest in the world and holds the supposed remains of Christopher Columbus. They’re actually likely his sons, but it hasn’t been proven, so they can still claim that they belong to Columbus. The three of us decided to climb up the Giralda, which is the bell tower that is attached to the Catedral from when the Moors were in Andalucía. There were ramps up to the top rather than stairs because they used to take horses up to the top. There were 34. It was quite a hike up to the top, but it was completely worth it. The views of the city were unbelievable.

When we left the Catedral we went to the Alcazar. We got in for free because we’re students. The Alcazar was beautiful. I loved the tilework. I could have wondered around for several more hours than I did. Caitlin was tired of the whole thing, and Meghan had been there before, so they were both ready to leave long before I was. When they finally did drag me out they decided they wanted to take a quick power nap. I believed them when they said it was going to be quick, so I went back with them. After an hour and a half I tried to wake them up, but they refused to move. I tried several more times, but with no success. I wanted to leave and explore a little on my own, but I couldn’t even get them alert enough to tell them that I was leaving, so I ended up staying. After 4 hours I just figured they weren’t getting up and it was getting late anyway, so I gave up and crawled into bed. Just about as soon as I got into bed, they decided it was finally time to wake up, so we got out for dinner around 10. Meghan wanted to find a tapas bar, and was convinced that she remembered where they were from when she was there over the summer, so I followed her on what turned out to be a wild goose chase across the city. We did end up at the hotel that she stayed at over the summer. She wanted us to see it. After that, she was even more convinced she could get us to tapas bars, but she failed. We did end up near the Torre de Oro. I finally got to see it, even though I couldn’t go in because it was closed (as it should be at 10:30 at night). We couldn’t find tapas bars so we ended up going to a little café and then getting ice cream. We went back to the hotel for the night so we could get up for the early train to Cordoba.

Nov. 24, 2007
“If I’m going to be poor and alone with all of my birds, I’d rather not know.”
Sevilla, Cordoba, y Granada, España

We checked out of the hotel and had the receptionist call us a taxi. The taxi driver didn’t reset the meter when we got in, but we didn’t end up noticing until it was much too late. The ride was a lot more expensive than it should have been. We got there and figured out the ticket situation and found our train. When we got to Cordoba, we tried to figure out how we were going to get to Granada that evening. The bus station was across from the train station, so we went over and bought tickets for the 4:30 bus.

We got a taxi to the Mezquita, but it was closed for mass. We decided to get breakfast at a little pastry shop across from the Mezquita and then decided to walk to the Alcazar. It was open yet, either, so we walked off in search of the tourist information center just because I wanted to get a map. We actually walked right past it and didn’t even realize it. We continued walking because we had a lot of time to kill. Eventually we ran into a couple of scary dogs and a potentially crazy man, so we turned around and went back. When we got back we saw the tourist information center was right across from the Alcazar. We got into the Alcazar with a student rate. I enjoyed the building immensely and the gardens were striking as well. I have become a big fan of gardens on this trip. There’s just something relaxing about them. Anyway, we walked through all of the grounds. When we left we decided to take a carriage ride around the city. The tour was entirely in Spanish, but I was able to understand most of it when the driver spoke slow enough.

After the carriage ride, we walked to the Mezquita, but decided to get lunch before we went in. There was a Burger King right across the street, so we went there. The cashier there spoke really good English, and we talked to him for a while, then finally went into the Mezquita. It was a mosque that was later used as a Catedral. It was spectacular. I spent a long time exploring, but Caitlin was getting bored and Meghan had already been there, so I got through it kind of fast. When we left we had several hours before we had to catch our bus to Granada, but we decided to try and switch our tickets to the 3:30 bus and just leave early. It took a combination of mine and Meghan’s Spanish skills to be able to convey that we were trying to switch our ticket time and the man at the ticket booth left once to laugh at us, but we got our tickets changed. There was a candy store in the station, and we all got a little something for our 3 hour drive to Granada. I slept most of the way there.

We decided we were going to try and stay in a cave hotel in Granada because it was the cheapest thing there. We got a taxi and told him where to go. He understood what we wanted, and seemed to know where it was, but didn’t actually. We got dropped off at some random spot on the mountain and couldn’t find the hotel, so we walked down. We stopped in the first hotel on the main street to look for a room. We got ourselves a room for about as cheap as we were going to find in the main city. It was just as cheap for a hostel for 3 people, so we took it. We dropped our bags off and then went to find dinner. We went into a little sports bar and watched the Barcelona soccer game while we ate. I had some sangria and then we went back to the hotel.

Nov. 25, 2007
“How’s the inflamed esophagus?”
Granada, España

We left the hotel kind of early in the morning so we could have a full day to explore the Alhambra. We had a little difficulty finding the bus we needed to get to take us up the mountain. We asked an older man where the bus stop was and he walked us there. There was another man talking to the bus driver in Spanish, and Caitlin wanted to know what they were talking about, so Meghan tried to translate for her. They weren’t talking quietly because there was a language barrier (or so that had assumed). He started talking to Meghan in English though, and they knew that they had assumed wrongly. When we got up to the top of the mountain, we got our tickets with our assigned time to visit the Palacio and had morning tickets to go to the Alcazaba and the Generalife. The Alhambra was amazing. The gardens were lovely and I was very captivated by the tile work and the carvings. Like always, I could have explored all day, but everyone else was ready to leave. We left a little after 1 and caught the bus down the mountain. We got lunch at a little pizza place near Plaza Nueva.

Meghan and Caitlin decided they wanted to go to the train station and get our tickets back to Cadiz and then go back to the hotel to take a nap. I knew what napping meant for them, so I decided that while they did that I was going to explore the city some on my own. There was art museum and a monastery that I wanted to go to, and they were relatively nearby. I navigated myself to both of them, but as it was a Sunday afternoon, they were closed. I wandered onto the Universidad de Granada campus and had a conversation with a few guys for a little while before trying to go to Granada’s Islamic Quarter. One of the guys told me which bus to get on, but I think I misheard him or he was wrong. I got on the bus I thought I heard him say, and then somehow ended up at the top of mountain on the edge of Granada when the bus driver made me get off the bus. I was familiar with this mountain, as we had walked down it the first night. It was a different path than before, but I got down just fine and got myself back to the hotel.

I got my train ticket from Meghan and Caitlin and saw the time we were going to have to leave the next day. There wasn’t going to be any time to go to the crypt of Ferdinand and Isabella and the Granada Catedral. I asked Meghan and Caitlin if they wanted to go, but they didn’t, so I went by myself while they slept. They were still asleep when they got back to the hotel, and I tried to take a little bit of a nap. When we got up we met Kristy, Ashley, and Jason for dinner at the same place we went to for lunch.

Nov. 26, 2007
“I’m not a good fisherman, but I haven’t tried being a lumberjack yet.”
Granada, Dos Hermanas, y Cadiz, España

We decided to just get breakfast at the train station, so Meghan got us on the right bus and to the station. We stopped in a grocery store to get snacks because the trip back to Cadiz was going to take 6-7 hours. While we were waiting for our train, Ashley, Kristy, and Jason showed up. They missed the earliest train out, so they were taking ours. I slept for most of the train ride to Dos Hermanas where we had a layover until the train to Cadiz. There wasn’t a lot to do in Dos Hermanas. It wasn’t even in my Lonely Planet for Andalucía. We found a place that was open for lunch and then went back to the train station. On the train back to Cadiz, Caitlin started talking to a Spanish guy sitting next to us. His English wasn’t very good, but Meghan and I were able to talk to him in Spanish. The conversation was a combined effort on our part, but between the two of us we were able to get our point across. Once we got back to the Cadiz, we went straight back to the ship. I grabbed dinner with Nichole, Beth, and Kristy on the ship because España was so expensive.

Nov. 27, 2007
“We’re naturals at being naturalists.”
Doñana Parque Nacional y Cadiz, España

Nichole spent the night in my room last night because Kelsey and Bo were going to try and force her to go out, even though she wanted to be able to go on the National Park trip in the morning. I got up at 5:30 and got breakfast in the dining room because it opened early for the people on the National Park trip. I slept on the way to the park. I have become very good at using transportation for sleep, because that seems like it is the only place I get sleep sometimes. We took a boat across the river and then got into our vehicle for our trip across the park. We got to see 4 different ecosystems and I saw a bunch of cool birds and some wild boars. The trip was really cool, and I’m glad that I decided to go on it. After we toured the park, we went to the visitor’s center back across the river. After that it was time to head back to Cadiz. I slept the whole way. When we got back to the ship, Nicole and I set out with one goal in mind: to find a grocery store. We wandered around the city. We stopped at Ben and Jerry’s, where we met up with Sarah and Stacey. Nicole split off and the three of us wandered around still looking for a grocery store. I asked for directions and got myself to several different grocery stores, but they were all closed for siesta. There was a little shop open and I got a few things so I could have some snacks while I’m finishing up the last days of classes, and then we got dinner. Sarah and I came back to the ship afterwards. It was really depressing boarding the ship for the last time. I’m still a little in denial that this is coming to an end. I’m not ready to admit to myself that Miami is next and not Panama or Cuba or France. I can’t believe that there are only nine days left.

I promised my Grandma I would put up more pictures before Spain, but when I tried the internet was down, so I'll probably put some more up tomorrow (provided we have functional internet).

Monday, November 19, 2007


I am not going to post an actual Croatia update. I traveled with 10 other people. It was not an idea that I was fond of, but I didn’t find out that the group was that large until it was too late. We ended up splitting in Split (which is kind of fitting). I went hiking and to the Split Zoo. I also ended up going on a hunt for the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, which was not nearly as cool as I thought it was going to be. Meghan Thomsen and Caitlin Thomas are pretty much my heroes. It was very much the offseason in Croatia, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I got a lot of time to process things that I just haven’t had time to yet, and I came to some interesting conclusions.

One last thing: Happy Birthday Wam!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The short version on Turkey: I hung out in Istanbul, went to Ephesus and Pamukkale, and got majorly ripped off for lunch one day. I had a Turkish bath (which was amazing). The group that I traveled to Ephesus and Pamukkale with was one of the best groups I’ve traveled with, and it completely made the trip.

November 7, 2007
“Can I hassle you?”
Istanbul, Turkey

As has become the tradition, I got up early to watch us pull into port with Ashley. I went up to 7 forward, but it was closed, probably because of the wind. I saw other people out there, so I went out too. I think that I went out just in time, because I walked out right as we were pulling around the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. It was something spectacular to see. Ashley wasn’t out there, so I assumed she went back to bed because our usual spot was closed.

I went up to breakfast after I got done hanging out in the wind. I saw Laura and Tim and joined them, where Laura let me know that Ashley and Meghan would be up soon. We all ate and then decided to nap until the ship was cleared. I ended up sleeping until 10, but then I figured that Ashley and Meghan would be awake, so I went over to their room. I ended up waking them up, but then slept on their floor because we were all still tired. We finally got the call to get passports about the time that lunch was opening, so we all picked them up and then ate on the ship. During immigration form passout, I had the unfortunate experience to be in Akirah’s line. I couldn’t find the spot on my landing form that I needed to fill in my name, so I asked her. She rolled her eyes at me and sarcastically said, “Where it says name.” Akirah is really the only RD that I don’t like. All of the other RDs are really cool, and Akirah can be just flat out mean.

When we finally left the ship, we were offered so many taxis that it was just insane, but the girls decided they wanted to walk to Kapali Carsi (the Grand Bazaar). It was cold and raining, and we didn’t really have any sense of orientation as to where we were, so I would have just assumed take a taxi, but no one else wanted to. We walked down 2 tram stations and we ran into Dr. Wattenmaker (who lived in Turkey for a long time) and asked her if she could direct us from where we were. She wasn’t oriented herself, so she translated directions from someone else. We got the tram to a stop that let us off right next to the bazaar.

The bazaar was extremely overpriced. I couldn’t afford anything there. We all got hit on a lot. Some of the lines are just classics: “It’s pretty, but not as pretty as you,” “Can I hassle you?” “Do you need a Turkish boyfriend? I’m rich!” While we did get ogled and hit on, we were never groped, which is a huge improvement over India, so we all just went with it. Meghan and I went into a carpet store because the salesman had said his carpets were cheaper than Kmart. Now Meghan and I were not naïve enough to believe that his carpets were cheap. I took the line exactly as he said it: buying a carpet would be less than buying the Kmart corporation. His cheapest carpet was $650, which was completely out of our price range, so we left fairly quickly.

When we left the market we decided to amble around for a while. We actually ended up walking to the Istanbul University area. Everyone had to show id and go through security. We wanted to check out the campus so we asked security if we could, and they let us just walk right on. We found a very picturesque spot and got to hear some Korean students singing. We walked over to the student building and went into the Kantin (canteen). I got to try apple tea (which was amazing) and have a chocolate muffin before we left the campus and walked back to the metro station. We got back to the ship, and Meghan and I figured out what time we were meeting the next morning for our flight. Laura and I went over to the pizza place across the street and took advantage of their free wifi. I came back and got packed for the early day I had coming.

November 8, 2007
“I wonder why they’re all international flights…” “Maybe because we’re in the international terminal.”
Istanbul, Izmir, Selcuk, Ephesus, and Denizli, Turkey

I woke up and got out of bed at 4 to finish my packing. At 4:30 I went to Tymitz Square to meet the rest of the group, but I was the only one there. Jason showed up soon thereafter, but it was just the two of us for a little while. We left the ship at 5, and Kristen said that she had arranged for a taxi to be waiting to take us to the airport. When we got outside there were no taxis waiting, but there was a van that we could hire to drive us. Someone from port security translated for us, and the price was 50 YTL, which was around $10 each. We knew we wouldn’t get a better taxi fare than this because all the drivers were using the double fare that early in the morning. When we got to the airport, we were dropped off at the international terminal, and the driver told us we needed to pay 50 euros rather than 50 YTL. We argued for a long time, and I was to the point that I was willing to pay the extra charge. Eventually the driver got so fed up with arguing with us that he just left with the 50 YTL. When we got through security, Meghan and I told everyone that we were in the international terminal, but we were ignored. Eventually the other 3 came back and told us that they were all international flights. I wasn’t surprised, as we were in the international terminal after all. We found our way to the domestic terminal. Most of the group wanted to get breakfast, but Kristen and I didn’t, so we went ahead through security and then to the gate.

The group showed up right as a line was forming to board. Mind you, we weren’t actually boarding, we were just standing in line like little lemmings. A random Turkish man started talking to me (it’s the blonde hair, I think). We didn’t have any set plans for our second day, so I asked him what was around Ephesus. He suggested Pamukkale, which I didn’t realize was anywhere near Ephesus, but I always wanted to go to. He told the rest of the group what it was, and they misunderstood a little bit as to what it was, but wanted to go. I tried to explain to them what it was, but I was brushed off again, so I just kept my mouth shut about the place. We boarded the plane and I was next to Kristen for the flight.

When we got to Izmir we went straight ahead to look for transportation. We were joined by 2 more SASers, who were going to Ephesus. We found the train station in the airport, but there was no one there selling tickets. We went back into the airport to see about renting a car and driver for the day. They were all way too expensive, so someone went to the information desk and found out that a train would be there within 45 minutes and it would be super cheap. We grabbed a little bit of breakfast from one of the little food stands in the airport and then went back to the train station. There were other people waiting on the train, so we knew we were on the right track. We boarded and headed for Selcuk. Once we got there, a lady at the train station walked us to where we could get a cab to Ephesus. She owned a hotel, so she was really hoping that we would stay at her hotel that night. We arranged a cab to drive us to Mary’s House and the ruins of Ephesus for 50 YTL.

Mary’s house was up a mountain. The house is actually now a chapel and most of the information provided on the boards around the site was provided by the American Society of Ephesus, which is located in Lima, Ohio. Pretty cool, right? There was a spring that you could drink from or wash your hands in, and someone said it was supposed to be good luck. I washed my hands in it. The site where Mary’s House was at was so beautiful. It’s no wonder she lived there. It was just amazing. The next stop was the actual ruins of the city. When we stopped, we realized that we had no way to get back to Selcuk, so we asked our driver what the new price would be if we hired him for a couple more hours. It only raised the price by 20 YTL, so we went ahead and hired him to wait for us. The ruins themselves were just amazing. After all the ruins I have seen on this trip, I still love them. There was a section of the ruins that cost extra to go in. I was straggling behind the group because I was taking it all in, and when I got there to pay the fee, the group (besides Meghan) was way ahead of me. The man selling us tickets was leering at me to the point that it made me uncomfortable. When we got into the building, I saw Nick and yelled, “There’s my favorite husband!” and then he just yelled back, “Damn straight! I’ll kill anyone who touches you.” It was really funny and also nice to know that I was traveling with guys who had my back. We were late to get back to our cab, but our driver didn’t seem to be too upset. He dropped us off in Selcuk right in front of the hotel of the lady that helped us that morning. She ran out of her hotel, thinking we were there to stay for the night. Of course, none of us actually wanted to. We got lunch in town and then went to the train station where we got on the train to Denizli. After getting to Denizli, a few guys stopped to talk to us in the station and help us figure out where to stay. They walked us to a hotel and helped us get rooms and told us how to get to the bus station the following morning.

November 9, 2007
“I got ripped off at Burger King.”
Denizli, Pamukkale, Izmir, and Istanbul, Turkey

We got breakfast at the hotel, which consisted of just bread. We walked to the bus station and found a bus with relative ease. It was a bus used primarily by locals. Someone helped us tell the driver where we wanted to get off. When we got to our stop, everyone turned around and looked at us sitting in the back of the bus, because it was obviously the stop for the five tourists in the back. It was very foggy when we got there. Pamukkale/Hieropolis was a ruins site with carbon hot spring located on the side of a cliff.

The beginning of the ruins was the cemetery of the old city. It was so foggy at the beginning that it was really difficult to see. Jason and I decided that we wanted to walk back through the ruins after we had seen the hot springs. We walked through the ruins trying to find the white cliffs we saw in the picture the day before. We ended up finding the aqueduct the old city used and then the hot springs (which if I had been listened to, we would have found in the beginning, but I was just ignored, as usual). We got to the hot springs soon after. All of the guidebooks said we had to stay off of the white cliffs, but people were walking all over them, so we did too. At about this point, Kristen decided she was so hungry she just couldn’t take it anymore. We went to the little cafeteria and she got a cheeseburger, but the rest of us wanted to wait until we walked into the city. She didn’t even eat it. I ended up feeding it to the stray cats crawling all over the café. Since she was still hungry there was no way that she was going to tolerate walking back through the ruins, so we climbed down into the city. Jason and I actually climbed down the white cliffs, while the rest of the group went down an actual path into the city.

We walked through the city and found a place to have Turkish pizza. It was basically amazing. After lunch we caught the bus to Denizli and then a bus from Denizli to Izmir. The bus to Izmir was around 4.5 hours long. The bus actually had a drink service, which was pretty nice. They showed Kangaroo Jack dubbed in Turkish. Upon arrival in Izmir, Kristen was hungry. She looked around at the bus station to get something to eat, but decided that there was nothing there that she wanted. We negotiated a taxi to the airport after the driver said he wouldn’t stop at McDonalds for Kristen. She was very happy to discover that the airport had a Burger King. It was insanely expensive, but we all got something to eat. The man that took my money said he was out of small bills and so I didn’t get change. I took a bunch of Burger King crowns as my repayment. The five of us all wore our crowns through the airport, which made us look really stupid, but we had a really good time doing it. I got some ice cream before getting on the plane. I was sandwiched between Meghan and Jason on the flight. They were talking about plane crashes and how a lot of people don’t die from impact, but from having their legs broken and being burned alive. It wasn’t really a comforting conversation, so they started doing these weird airplane exercises they found in the inflight magazine to make me laugh. It worked very well. We mostly laughed the whole flight back to Istanbul. Upon our arrival, we got a taxi back to the ship.

November 10, 2007
“If you would be my sweetie, I would care for you like I care for my eyes.”
Istanbul, Turkey

I met Meghan for breakfast at 8 before leaving the ship to walk to the tram station. We were walking through the port area when we heard someone yell for Meghan, and it was Kristen on the ship yelling for us to wait for her since we were using the tram. We were running late, but we waited for her. We took the tram to Sultanhamet and then went to Topkapi Palace. The Palace entrance said about half of the palace rooms were closed, but it said the Holy Relics room was open, which was good, because it was the only reason that I was going. Meghan, who is not a big fan of museums, was a good sport and followed me around through the kitchenware, weapons, and treasury sections. We stopped at a little café inside the palace that had an advertisement for ice cream, but they didn’t have any, despite the poster saying they did. The cashier gave us some of the pretzels he was eating and we continued on our way. I went into the Harem by myself because it cost extra, and Meghan didn’t really want to see it. It was beautiful. It surpassed the rest of the palace by far. It made the palace worth the visit. After I went through the Harem, we had gone through the whole palace but we didn’t find the Holy Relics room, so we walked back through. We finally found it and it was closed! It was very upsetting. Meghan and I begged a security guard to let us in, and he said that he would have but there were security cameras. We offered him a bribe, which he was very tempted to take, but still didn’t because of the cameras. I was really bummed, but there wasn’t really a lot I could do about it.

When we left Topkapi Palace, we walked to the Basilica Cistern. On the way we passed a few shops. We stopped in them to see if we could pick up some cheap souvenirs. It turns out that they didn’t sell anything even close to cheap so we continued on our way. We passed someone who was probably the only vendor selling ice cream in all of Istanbul and got some. As we were buying our ice cream, someone walked past a nearby candy stand and knocked it over. I helped the man pick up the candy, and he gave me some gum. We continued our walk, and got to the cistern, which really wasn’t far away. There was really eerie music playing in the cistern, which really set the atmosphere for the whole thing. After we walked through it we decided that we were going to try and find a place to get a Turkish bath. There was a place in my guidebook that was recommended and it was on the same street as the cistern. We decided on that one. As we were walking, we wanted to make sure that we were actually going in the right direction. We asked a rug salesman and ended up getting into conversation with him. The entire conversation was a lie. Meghan and I pretended we were sisters and used fake names. We told him we were from Canada (which is what we were telling everyone).

We found the bathhouse after we left the rug store, and decided that since we knew where it was, we would find lunch nearby. We found a little café right around the corner. The café played the Macarena and one other song on a loop. I ordered penne with chicken and Meghan got a pizza. Meghan’s pizza was delivered from Domino’s and my penne with chicken was just a single chicken strip without any penne. We got the check and we were outrageously overcharged, but our only choice was to pay it. I did argue with the café owner, and he insisted that the way the Turkish make penne is actually by breading and deep frying chicken. In the end we unhappily paid and went to the bathhouse. The bathhouse was reserved for a special tour group, so we weren’t allowed in. We decided to walk to the another bathhouse that was recommended to us by a couple of friends. They said that it was located near one of the more famous bathhouses, so we asked for directions from a Turkish policeman (who had a giant rifle) and started on our way. We couldn’t find the one we were looking for, so a rug salesman offered to help us out. He started taking us to the bathhouse that was closed, and we told him we were looking for one in Sultanhamet. He insisted that it didn’t exist and told us that if we were going to get a Turkish bath that we should wait for the closed bathhouse because it was the best. It was pouring down rain so he offered to let us sit in his shop in Kapali Carsi for a little while until the bathhouse opened back up to the public again. This seemed kind of sketchy, but we figured that he would just show us a bunch of rugs and be disappointed when we didn’t buy them. What we got was so much more than that.

We got apple tea and lounged on the couch in the store for a while. One of sketchy rug salesman’s creepy friends came in and sat on the couch next to me, telling me what a nice girl he thought I was and that he wanted me to be his sweetie. I told him that I had a boyfriend, and he said that it was ok; he didn’t mind sharing. He started rubbing my forehead, and sketchy rug salesman made him leave. At this point you probably don’t understand why I am calling him sketchy rug salesman, but you will soon. He started hitting on Meghan because she told him she didn’t have a boyfriend because she couldn’t come up with a fake name for him. He kept inviting us out for the night, but we told him we were going to see the Whirling Dervishes. He said we should skip them because it’s boring or that I could go and Meghan should hang out with him. He escorted us to his other store on the same street as the bathhouse where we hung out for a little while and drank Turkish tea. At this point, we realized that we probably should find somewhere else to go, but wanted to be out of the rain and not be hassled by anyone else. At least in this shop we were being hit on, but not touched. It was a lesser of two evils choice. He told Meghan that he had a bed in the back and that if we wanted he would serve us wine after the our baths were over. He also told us that he would get us ice cream and take us out for hookah. When the time finally came, we went to the bathhouse only to find out that they only took cash. Neither of us had enough cash on us for a bath, so we decided to postpone it until the next day. We went back to the tram, which was extraordinarily crowded. The best way to describe it is that we were packed in like sardines. I’m not sure even that covers just how jam packed the tram actually was. You can imagine that a situation like this made it easy for sketchy Turkish men to grope any foreigner that they felt like, which they did. I was pretty thoroughly groped by up to 3 men when Meghan managed to snag a seat. I sat on her lap all the way back to the ship. Meghan and I were indescribably happy to see the ship when we got there. We decided to go across to the pizza place and use the wifi there.

This was one of those days that if it had been experienced with anyone else, anyone who was incapable of rolling with the punches, it would have been miserable. Meghan and I managed to find ways to laugh at how the day had gone horribly wrong. It was being able to laugh at how badly things had turned out that got us through the day.

November 11, 2007
“Cupcakes?” “They should just pick a side.”
Istanbul, Turkey

I met everyone for breakfast at 8, where we figured out the plans for the day. Meghan and I hadn’t given up on the Turkish bath idea, so we decided that we would leave before everyone else then meet them at the Blue Mosque at 11. We took the tram to Sultanhamet and walked to the bathhouse that we had tried so desperately to use the day before. When we got there, we were extraordinarily disappointed to see the sign on the door saying that the bathhouse was closed from 9-11 for a special tour group. We didn’t have time to wait for the bathhouse to reopen to the public, so we decided to walk to the other bathhouse listed in the guidebook.

On the way, we stumbled down an alleyway with a bathhouse that wasn’t listed in the guidebook. We decided to give it a shot. It was cheaper than the other 2 anyway. Meghan and I got a changing room to share, and then we were escorted into the female’s side of the bathhouse. My glasses fogged up immediately upon entrance, so the attendant took them away from me and I was basically completely blind the whole time. We were escorted into this little room with marble sinks and little bowls and told to hang out there for 20 minutes. The attendant never really explained what we were supposed to be doing; she just dumped a bowl of water on Meghan and left. I was really confused by the whole situation, but Meghan and I just figured that we were supposed to dump water on ourselves. We did that, and eventually we were joined by a Russian girl. Meghan got taken to her bath first, and I was second. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we both got private rooms. First, my whole body got exfoliated and then I got a bubble scrub and massage. When the whole thing was over, I was escorted back to the marble sink room to dump more water on myself. When Meghan was finished too, we got dry towels and went out into the lobby area. We got apple tea, and then went back to the changing rooms where we realized that it was a big mistake not to bring a hairbrush with us. When we walked out again we actually got our hair dried and brushed for us. We were running a little late, so we booked it to the Blue Mosque.

I think we both half expected that the group wouldn’t have waited for us because we were so late, but we were happy to see that they waited. The mosque was closed for prayer when we got there, so we went across the street to the Aya Sofia. The Aya Sofia was a church until it was converted into a mosque, and it is now a museum. The building was undergoing some renovations, so we got a nice view of scaffolding inside in the main area. I walked around in the upper gallery and took a few pictures without flash, but still got yelled at by a security officer for using flash. When we were done at the Aya Sofia, we went back to the Blue Mosque. The inside was gorgeous. We left and walked to lunch. We went over to a little street near the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. All of the little cafes were really expensive, but we kept walking until we found a place cheaper. The café had 3 little kittens wondering around inside of it, and they were just so adorable! They really made me miss Monet. I had kofte one last time and then had a waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert, which I split with everyone because it was so huge. I asked for directions to a grocery store, and the waiter told me that there was one on the main street on the way to Cemberlitas. I found it with relative ease, and picked up some apple tea, a couple other types of teas, and a couple of snacks. Afterwards, the group decided to split. We got on the tram and those of us who felt we had spent enough money (that was me and 2 other people) went back to the ship and the other group took the ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul. I was getting ogled on the tram to the point that it was making me really uncomfortable, so I kept moving closer and closer to the wall of the tram, remembering the groping I got the day before. One of the men who had a seat noticed what was going on and gave me his seat, which was most appreciated. While Meghan and Beth went back to the ship, I used the payphone in the ship terminal to call home. I had a hard time getting my phone card to work, but I finally did. Afterwards, I went back on the ship to get Meghan and Beth and we went over to the pizza place again to take advantage of the free wifi and get dinner. When we got back on the ship, we ran into Caitlin and Sarah, and then went to dinner with them primarily just to hang out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Some Turkey pictures

I think you should leave me comments. I really like them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


The short version: I loved Egypt. It was amazing. My blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin went over really well with the men there, and I ended up getting a lot of free stuff. I got to ride a camel, see the Pyramids, go to Luxor, take a felucca ride, and get closer than I realized to a crocodile.

A lot got cut from this one. I'll tell you about it when I get home.

Oct. 31, 2007
“Are we joining the camel caravan? No, we’re just riding the camel bully.”
Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt

I woke up kind of early to meet Ashley and watch us pull into port like I always do. I headed up to the 7th deck, but it was so foggy that there was no one up there. I spent a little while trying to find her. I found her in the dining room. We went ahead and had breakfast with Meghan and Laura. After breakfast, I packed for my trip and went to the Union. There was a bit of ambiguity in the time we were supposed to report, so I just relaxed up there until the trip leaders started taking attendance. There were 3 different leaders for the trip. I ended up on Dr. Mabbutt’s bus.

The bus ride to Cairo was around 3 hours, but I can’t be exactly sure because I slept most of the way. When I woke up we were at the Pyramids. Most of our group took a camel ride up to the Pyramids. It was an interesting experience. I had a very difficult time actually getting onto the camel, but in the end one of the workers gave me a boost. I shared a camel with Lindsey. Our camel took a pretty slow pace, which was good because there really wasn’t any place to hold onto. The little boy leading our camera took some pictures on my camera for us, but he wouldn’t give me my camera back until one of the other workers made him. We had been warned at preport that there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to get off our camel unless we had baksheesh for the camel “leader” but our tour guide had promised us that we definitely would not have to pay baksheesh here. The little boy in charge of our camel let us off, but then hounded us for baksheesh. We both gave him a little something, but not a whole lot.
When we actually got up to the Pyramids there was an SAS group for Cairo/Sharm El Sheikh already there, and I saw Donna for a few minutes. Meghan and I had decided to go into one of the Pyramids. Our tour guide (Mohammed) had told us that we would have to walk bent over, but that was a problem for me. When we actually got to the entrance, it was pretty apparent that bent over was not really an accurate description. If he had said, “You are going to have to walk curled up into a little ball,” that would have been an accurate description. My hip was really hurting from the camel ride, but I tried it anyway. After about 45 seconds of walking in “curled up ball” position, it was pretty apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to make it up the path on the way out without horrible amounts of pain, so I turned around and went back. I got my first marriage proposal while I was on my way back to the bus. I was offered 150 camels. Lots of Egyptian men said hi to me, and I was always called sweetie or beautiful or something like that. I actually got followed around by a group of little boys that wanted to get their pictures taken with me. After I took a picture with them, a group of teenage girls got their picture taken with me. After I was done posing for pictures with everyone who wanted them, I got back on the bus to head to the Sphinx.

The Sphinx was really, really crowded, and the vendors were just everywhere. One of the vendors took quite a liking to me, and followed me around trying to get me to buy scarves. I lost him and got to get a bit closer to the Sphinx and get my picture taken there. On the way out the scarf vendor found me again. I wasn’t really interested in buying any scarves because I have so many from India, but he just kept following me and his prices kept falling and the number of scarves included kept going up, so I bought some. As soon as he left me alone, a new vendor took his place. He started calling me Shakira. I tried my best to just ignore him and get to the bus, but you can imagine how much I laughed when he asked me if I was Shakira. I told him that I wasn’t, and he asked me, “Why not?” I laughed pretty hard at that too. I got to the bus and the ‘Shakira’ vendor had followed me to the bus, watched me board, and then gave me the thumbs up.

We finally got lunch at a hotel across the street from the Pyramids. It was one of the most amazing meals ever. I have never seen so many desserts in one place. Pretty much as soon as we were done eating we went back to the Pyramids for the Sound and Light show. It was pretty cheesy, but it was so much fun. There were excerpts from ancient Egyptian love letter that still crack me up (Seeing you is better than eating and drinking/I want to walk hand in hand with you through the fields). These might not seem so funny to you right now, but imagine a booming male voice saying that as lights danced across the Sphinx. Hilarious.
We checked in at the hotel. Lindsey was my roommate for the duration of the trip. The hotel we stayed at was super nice. We went to lunch, and Donna’s trip group was there, so I ate with Donna and Jenn in addition to some girls from my trip.

November 1, 2007
“We baksheeshed our whole way through this place. We’re out of baksheesh.”
Cairo and Luxor, Egypt

The morning started at 2:15 with a wake up call. Lindsey and I got ready and headed to the lobby where we got ready and checked out before finally figuring out where to meet the group. We got our breakfast boxes (mine had an amazing green apple juice in it) and got on the buses.
At the airport we learned that in Egypt your name on the ticket doesn’t actually have to match your name, so we all just got random tickets. I ended up being Beth Forman for the flight. The flight to Luxor was relatively uneventful. I would even go so far as to say that I don’t hate flying anymore. I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t sit on the plane terrified anymore either. When we got to Luxor our first stop was the Valley of the Kings. We got to get on these little glorified golf carts connected together to travel an easily walkable distance. While we were waiting on the group members that we straggling to the golf cart shuttle the vendors were already out and trying to rip us off. One of the LLLs bought some books for the vendors original offer. He thought that he was going to sell to me for that price as well, but there was just no way. He kept putting the books in my hand and saying, “Free,” and then he would whisper, “85 pounds,” like that wasn’t a rip off. I got him down to my price right as the little golf cart shuttle was leaving. We got to go into King Tut’s tomb plus three others of our choice. Mohammed suggested the three he thought that we should go to, and then let us loose. I went to Tut’s first, but I wasn’t really super impressed with it. It was cool to see, and when that was the only one that I had seen, it was pretty cool, but it just paled in comparison to the other 3 that I saw. I know it’s because his tomb wasn’t finished when he died; the finished tombs were incredible. I went into the tombs for Ramses III, IV, and IX. They were just unbelievable. We weren’t supposed to take any pictures in any of the tombs, but people were doing it anyway. A lot of people got their cameras taken away from them until they left. On the way out there were lots of vendors, and at this point you know how much I love buying from street vendors and haggling. I got the price on something lowered from $50 to $5, and then Lindsey took advantage of the price that I had negotiated, and got the same thing.

The next stop was the Temple for Queen Hatshepsut. This was one of the only places in Egypt that I was really uncomfortable with being so obviously not Egyptian. I got a few inappropriate comments from the vendors here that made me pretty mad [Oh, God check it out], but I just continued on my way to the little golf cartesque shuttles that we got to take again. I got teased a little by some of my friends who weren’t picking up that kind of attention, and looking back on it now, it was kind of funny. The temple was fabulous. There were Egyptian men all over the place trying to get baksheesh just for pointing out what they thought was a great spot for pictures, but I wasn’t too generous with my baksheeshing here. Afterwards we [Kara, Meghan, Kristy, Caitlin, Lindsey] got ice cream and I braved the vendors on the way to the bus. One started following me, so I sped up about as fast I could and still be walking, but he managed to catch up to me. He put a necklace around my neck and gave me a scarf for my hair, and just said, “Free gift for a beautiful lady,” and walked away. It was nice and all, but the other vendors here were still bothering me so I just got to the bus as quickly as possible.

We stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon; it was mostly just for us all to take some quick pictures and then get immediately back on the bus. We proceeded to Karnak Temple, which was the coolest place we went in Egypt by far in my opinion. Mohammed was giving a long talk about the temple, but I wasn’t information in listening to him talk; I wanted to see the temple. Meghan and I split off from the group and explored by ourselves. We weren’t able to get through the whole thing before we had to go back to the bus, but we got through more than the group that stayed with Mohammed did, plus we got to go to a section that was being restored/excavated that was closed to the public. We had to baksheesh to go, but it was so worth it. Meghan and I were the only 2 tourists in the section at the time, so it was so quiet, the complete opposite of the rest of the temple. We got asked by a lot of Egyptians what race we were, and they almost all took a guess at it. We got to be Russian, Australian, English, Norse, Canadian, and New Zealanders. On the way out of the temple, Meghan stopped at the bathroom. I didn’t go in with her, which is a decision I kind of regretted. There was a really creepy man lurking around outside of the bathroom. He started to make conversation with me and asked me where I was from. I told him Canada, and I feel like I said it very believably, but I guess he didn’t believe me, so he started asking me all sorts of questions about Canada that I couldn’t come up with the answers to under pressure (the capital of Saskatchewan, etc.) I was very glad to see Meghan come out of the bathroom and we got out of there quickly. She apparently hadn’t baksheeshed very much for the bathroom attendants, so we were both glad to leave that section. We headed back to the bus, but on the way we got stopped by a vendor who told us he wanted to give us free gifts… He pointed at one of his items and said, “I’ll give this to you for free if you give me something in return.” Neither Meghan nor I were interested in finding out what the something was, so we just booked it out of there and back to the bus. We were the last ones to make it back to the bus, but we got there right on time.

We went to the hotel for lunch and check in. The lunch here was amazing. Lindsey and I got our room key, got some rest, and then explored the hotel shops a little bit. I actually needed the smallest size one of the clothing stores carried, which was a nice change from SE Asia where I was told that I “exceeded maximum size.” The shirt probably fit a little tighter than the loose fit that it was designed for, but I wasn’t a fan of the loose fit. I didn’t end up buying it though. They only had bright pink. When it was time to meet for the trip to Luxor Temple we got on the bus and Meghan and I decided we were breaking off from the group again. The trip back to the bus was the only other time that I really was uncomfortable with how much I stood out. A ‘papyrus’ vendor was lurking around the bus area and he was trying desperately to rip Meghan and me off when another joined, and they both tried to rip us off. I had already bought some actual quality papyrus for much cheaper than they were selling theirs for, so I wasn’t interested in buying any. One of them grabbed me by the arm and pulled me around a little bit trying to get me to buy from him. Meghan bought from the other vendor after she got his price down, but I still didn’t want any. The vendor that was trying to sell to me followed us while we were trying to find our bus, and finally his price fell to what I thought was ridiculously low, even for fake papyrus. I bought a couple and then got on the bus.

Once we got back to the hotel some of us decided to look around at the shops outside of the hotel until dinner. I went into a clothing shop because I wasn’t satisfied with what I had found at the hotel shops. One of the salesmen in the shop took quite a liking to me and after my experience with vendors at Luxor Temple I wasn‘t really in the mood to get attention like that, so it made me really uncomfortable at first, so I was on my way out when he took my ‘papyrus’ out of my hands and wrapped it for me. At about this time an older British couple came in and started looking around. It made me feel a lot better to have other people in the shop, even though my group was just next door, so I looked around a little bit. The salesman that wrapped up my papyrus actually introduced himself and actually turned out to be a pretty nice guy (not to mention really, really cute). I’m not sure what it was about me, but he gave me whatever price for anything I asked for without any kind of bargaining and my offers weren’t generous. The British couple thought that I was just too stupid to bargain, and so they advised me that I needed to, but then I told them what I was actually paying and they couldn’t believe me. They couldn’t get any such deal from their salesman. Mine (Abrahem) invited me out for dinner later when he closed the shop, but I didn’t quite trust the offer, so I declined and went back to the hotel for dinner. I told my friends about my experiences in the shop and one of them asked if I got a picture of Abrahem. I hadn’t, and I decided that I really wanted one, so after dinner a couple of us walked back to the shop. I had a pretty good feeling that Abrahem wasn’t going to mind me taking his picture. I was right. He did ask for me to take a picture with him, which I guess I should have seen coming. He was actually kind of sweet about it; he asked before he put his arm around me for the picture. We exchanged email addresses, and he again asked me to have dinner with him, but I still declined. He gave me a beautiful purple perfume bottle as a gift, and told me that it was so I would never forget him because he would never forget me. It was actually kind of sweet.

After this I got repacked and went to bed for the early morning wake up call for our drive to Aswan.

November 2, 2007
“I think our horse might just plop down in the middle of the street and die at any moment.”
Luxor and Aswan, Egypt

I got up at 5 and got breakfast at the hotel. They had mashed potatoes, which I thought was an interesting choice, but they were actually real mashed potatoes compared to the instant that we get on the ship. We boarded the bus for the 4 hour drive to Aswan. I slept the whole way there. When we arrived it we went straight to Philae Temple. We had to take a motor boat out to the temple because it is on an island. There were vendors on the boat trying to sell necklaces, but it was impossible to haggle with them because one of the LLLs bought the necklaces without haggling so the vendors refused to budge on their prices anymore. Meghan and I seperated from the group again, and explored. The tourist police showed us what was supposed to be a very picturesque spot. They obviously expected baksheesh and since they were carrying giant rifles with them, I didn’t refuse. The temple was beautiful, especially because of it’s location of the Nile. After Meghan and I got through the temple we still had some time to kill, so we got ice cream and sat in the shade and soaked in as much Philae Temple as we could. We met the group for the boat ride back, and the got hounded by vendors on the way to the bus. At this point I was actually fed up with vendors. I really didn’t want anything to do with them. I think they must have been able to get that vibe from me, because they didn’t bother me.

We took a quick photo stop at the Aswan High Dam and went to the hotel. The hotel was actually on an island in the Nile, so we had to take a ferry across. When we got there it was lunch time. There was a lunch station that made pasta cooked to order, and a male SASer decided that he didn’t want to wait in line, so he cut in front of us (all female) and made his request. He of course got his first, and this really pissed me off. I guess I expected it from Egyptian men, but not someone who is supposedly trying to help watch out for the 70 women on the trip. After lunch we took a felucca ride down the Nile. It was beautiful, and we got to have a “felucca party.” Basically what happened was that workers on the boat played the drums and started chanting and dancing and most of us on the felucca joined them. When this was over, I browsed the shops at the hotel. I got measured for a skirt at the tailor shop and picked out a fabric and then met my group for a carriage ride around Aswan.

I shared a carriage with Meghan and Doc Linda (well, about half of the trip with Doc Linda). We were told 3 could fit in a carriage comfortably, but this wasn’t really true, so when we stopped and there was space in another carriage she switched out. Our carriages all stopped at this beautiful mosque. We were all allowed to go in and take pictures, and then we continued on our tour. Our horse was really pathetic looking. I think it might have been the most underfed animal I have ever seen. There were a few times where Meghan and I thought that the horse was just going to give out on us, but we made it back. The driver wanted baksheesh, and our tour guide had told us not to give more than $1.00. I gave a little more than that, and Meghan gave the same as I did, but he continued to hassle us for more. We went back to the ferry pretty quickly to try and avoid the hassle. We were late for the start of dinner. I ended up eating with some professors and the librarians. They are quite an interesting crowd. I had a great time. After dinner I went to check out the situation at the tailor shop. They told me to come back in an hour. When I did, my skirt was perfect. It was time for bed at this point, because we had another ridiculously early morning (4:15).

November 3, 2007
“Is this one pastry or three?”
Aswan and Abu Simbel, Egypt

Our wake up call was surprisingly pushed up to 4:00, so when it came we got ready and headed down to the lobby. We picked up our breakfast boxes (which were not good) and got on the ferry. We were running late to the airport, but we caught our plane just fine. The flew right over the Abu Simbel temples on our descent. They were spectacular to see from the air. When we landed, we took a shuttle that was run by Egypt Air straight to the temples. Meghan and I split off from the group yet again, and explored on our own. The temples were just amazing. When the Aswan High Dam was built, the Nile flooded the original site (as well as Philae and 28 other temples). The temples (the ones that could be preserved were moved to different locations. I can’t even begin to comprehend how something like that must have been done. Meghan and I got some ice cream after we finished touring the temples and then met the group on the shuttle to the airport. I got to be someone named Rubin for this flight.

A lot of people in my group decided they wanted to go shopping when we got back to Aswan, so Mohammed arranged for us to be able to go. We were of course taken to over priced shops where we couldn’t afford anything, but I guess it’s the thought that counts. While we were waiting to leave, a bunch of boys selling bookmarks started harassing us. A boy gave me a bookmark and just said, “gift” then grabbed my chest and ran away. Another one of the boys started stroking my arm. I moved quickly to stand next to Mohammed until I could get on the shuttle back to the hotel. We got lunch back at the hotel. Meghan, Kristy, Caitlin, and I decided to go to a different restaurant in the hotel than we had been going to. After lunch we all ended up taking naps.

When Kristy woke up, I went down to the business center for a little while to use the internet. When Meghan woke up she joined me down there, but at that point I was pretty much done on with it, so I went outside and explored the hotel grounds a little bit. There was a “mini zoo” which translated into chickens, goats, and sheep. When I was down walking around, I found a bench and watched the sunset over the Nile. While I was just sitting, some of the birds on the river started freaking out. I assumed this had to mean that there was a crocodile around. It took me a little bit to find it, but I did. It was actually relatively close to where I was, separated from me only by a wall and a little bit of height. Meghan and I walked through the hotel shops again, and then we met Kristy for dinner. When we were done eating, we took our drinks out to the gazebo and just enjoyed the serenity of the whole situation. A British/Israeli couple came out too, and we talked to them for quite a while. They had lived in India for a while, and I talked to the man about Agra (how much I hated it) and Varanasi (how much I loved it), and he told me that he quite agreed that Agra was a wretched place and Varanasi was fabulous. We went into the hotel and got to watch a processional for an Egyptian wedding.

November 4, 2007
“It’s like being in someone’s basement.”
Aswan, Cairo, and Alexandria, Egypt

We had another wonderful early morning wake up call. I was a little slow getting it all together in the morning, but I got to the lobby on time. I skipped the breakfast boxes this time around. Lots of people were very late, but we boarded the ferry to take us across to Aswan mainland and waited for them. We were almost to the point that we were going to leave them behind. They finally showed up and we left. We got to the airport and through security in plenty of time. Like every other time, I got any random ticket. I got a Twix bar for the plane while I was waiting. By the time I got through the line it was time to board the plane. I got in line, like all of the orderly people, but there was a French tour group there that seemed to think they were much better than waiting in line. They cut in front of the whole SAS group. It really irritated me. I’ve found in my travels that French people are generally the most rude, inconsiderate people you’ll meet.

I got to sit next to Meghan on the flight. We had quite a good time and enjoyed a little bit of irony. We were discussing how we think it’s really rude to put your seats back on a plane, and then the people right in front of us reclined their seats. The person in front of Meghan asked her first if it was ok, but no one ever really says it’s not ok when they’re asked, even if it secretly makes them mad.

When we landed in Cairo, we asked Mohammed if on the way back to Alexandria we could reroute to see the Library at Alexandria. He gave us a flat out no. I was a little upset, but I wasn’t really relying on seeing it, so it wasn’t a major disappointment. When we left the airport, we went to the Egyptian Museum. We had major difficulties getting in because our tour guide bought the wrong priced tickets. We had to each take two of the tickets to be able to get inside. Once we got in, it was like walking into the most unorganized, overwhelming basement of Egypt. There wasn’t really any order to things, and it was like everything was piled on top of each other. Like always, Meghan and I split off from the tour group and explored on our own. Because of the unorganized nature of the whole place, Meghan and I had a few difficulties finding the main King Tut exhibit. We got there alright in the end. We decided to go to the Royal Mummies exhibit even though it cost extra. We paid the student rate for the ticket, even though we had been getting a hard time about using our SAS ids. The man taking tickets at the exhibit really obviously didn’t believe our ids were student ids, but didn’t actually care either. This was the coolest exhibit in the whole museum. It was also the only exhibit that was truly organized and had good information. We got to see the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut and King Ramses the II, as well as a few others. Ramses II had at least 13 sons, not to mention daughters and had arthritis in his hips.

We proceeded to lunch after the museum. It was at the same hotel as the first day lunch, and like before, it was fabulous. I had to use the bathroom, but I had no money for baksheesh (ok, I had baksheesh, but I didn’t feel like baksheeshing anymore). I was leaving the bathroom without giving money to the 2 bathroom attendants who didn’t actually do anything for me. They started talking to me in Arabic, and I just looked at them bewildered. They switched to English and were asking for baksheesh (no surprise). I pretended to speak Spanish and left. When we got on the bus back to Alexandria, Mohammed announced that our route through Alexandria had been changed, and we were going to pass by the library. I slept until we arrived in Alexandria and then woke up to make sure I got to see the library. We stopped alongside the road to be able to take pictures of the building from the bus and then back to the port. I did a little bit of final shopping at the port. I was burned out from haggling though, so I didn’t stay long. I said goodbye to Mohammed, which was accompanied by what I consider to be an inappropriate hug, and then went back to the ship. Security was so nice to me getting back on the ship. I had 3 large shopping bags and my backpack stuffed, but the lady working where we swiped our cards to get back on the ship was really nice about it and took my bags for me so I would have hands free to do what I needed to get on the ship.

Some afterthoughts on Egypt: It was an experience. I got to hear the muezzin make the call to prayer, and it became just part of the everyday. Trading my email in exchange for a scarf was actually more accepted than you would think. Baksheesh was the most annoying part of being there. It was like tipping people just because they were there. My blonde hair definitely got me noticed, but it wasn’t horrible. The attention was nice, and if I ever got uncomfortable with it, there was always an SAS guy nearby who was actually willing to help out (unlike India). My tour guide fell into the same category when it came to attention. He was constantly putting his arm around me and told me once that he loved me. Egypt was actually a nice boost in self esteem. Like most everywhere else that I’ve been, I want to go back.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Namaste and Good luck

I think I will mention that this is the first blog where you get my actual journal without anything cut out. My reflections aren’t included here, but they never really are. I hope you enjoy what I saw in and of India.

India was by far the most intense, physically and mentally demanding experience of my life. It was dusty, beautiful, heartbreaking, filthy, spiritual, intriguing, infuriating, frustrating, terrifying, moving, humbling, inspiring, polluted, and so much more. Someone once told me that whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true. I could never make sense of the statement before the last 5 days, but now it seems the only way to describe it. India both defeated me and built me up at the same time.

Some background information on India:
It has 3 times the population of the U.S. in an area 1/3 the size.
People are born into castes, which is to say they are born into their job, their life circumstance without any way to change it. If your father was a Dalit, you are a Dalit, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chennai, where we made port, is the 4th largest city in India by population.
There are over 50 different languages spoken in India.
Hinduism is the most popular religion, practiced by over 80% of the population, followed by Islam and then Christianity.
Hinduism is one of the world’s most tolerant religions, but still follows the caste system, which discriminates against some of its own practitioners.

I loved experiencing India, but I was unbelievably glad when it was time to be able to get on the ship.

The 6 days between Thailand and India were filled with classes and midterms and papers. It was very uneventful. I spent way too much time studying, and was glad when the global studies exam was finally over, because it marked the end of midterm-palooza.

I also wanted to say hi to Megan’s parents, because she told me that you like to read my blog. So Hi Megan’s parents!

Oct. 15, 2007
“Uhhh, that guy with the gun. I’m gonna do what he says.”
Chennai, Delhi, and Agra, India

The morning started by getting up at 7 to the smell of burning tires in the hallways of the 4th deck. Welcome to India. I went up to the 7th deck to watch the ship pull in with Ashley and Tim. When Megan got there we went to breakfast. We were joined by the usuals. After breakfast I came back to my room to pack for my trip to Agra and Varanasi. I made plans to meet up with Ashley and Megan for lunch, but this actually never happened. When lunch rolled around the ship was cleared and we were allowed to pick up our passports. Ashley and Megan’s sea was called right as we were supposed to meet and then my sea was called next. They didn’t wait for Laura, Lindsey and me, so the lunch rendezvous didn’t actually happen, though Megan ate her dessert with us while we were eating our dinner.

I was going on a student organized trip to Agra and Varanasi that left at 2:45, so there wasn’t really a lot of time in between being cleared and meeting. I didn’t want to risk not being able to make it back to the ship, so I didn’t leave the port. I did want to meet Madu, the rickshaw driver that Megan had told me about, so I went out to the area where the drivers were lined up, but I couldn’t find him. I came back to the ship and waited for time to meet the group. While I was waiting, Lindsey, who was also waiting for her trip to leave, joined me in my room to watch a movie. When the time for me to leave rolled around and I hurried out to meet the group. I was so excited to be able to finally get India started. The instructions on where to meet were a little vague, but in the end the group all found each other.

We were supposed to have a bus waiting for us outside of the ship to take us to the airport, but it wasn’t there. One of the SAS buses shuttled us to the gate of the port where we were given a really hard time by port police. We were all told that we needed to sign some book to be able to leave and show our customs declaration form. About this time our bus showed up and the driver got out and got us all cleared to go through without the hassle, but as soon as the guys faded from view, all of the girls were given the same hard time. I escaped just behind the guys, but all the girls after me took forever to get through. We thought that we were really pushing it to make it to the airport on time, but we got there with no problem. We weren’t really surprised when the airport was full of SASers trying to get to Delhi. Going through security at the airport was an interesting for me. Women and men got split into separate lines. The check point that women went through was hidden behind these curtain type things to keep people from seeing security officers doing patdowns on women who set off the metal detector. The underwire in my bra set it off, and the officer waved the little wand sensor around me and it was just my chest area that was beeping. She acted like she couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I got a pat down that would have qualified as sexual harassment in the U.S. After the security groping incident I found a place that sold the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, and then got on the plane to Delhi.

The plane was the first flight I’ve taken on this trip that wasn’t turbulent. I sat next to a man from Chennai who was going to Delhi on business and a Japanese man who was most likely schizophrenic. There was some interesting music playing before we actually took off and the man from Chennai laughed when he noticed I was tapping my foot to it. I smiled at him, and he pointed to his foot that he was tapping as well. The flight was 2.5 hours. I had started writing a couple of postcards on the flight, and I accidentally flipped my pen at the Indian man next to me. It just made him laugh a lot and he started talking to me. It made the flight go by so fast. We talked about everything from religion to war to movies. We talked a lot about the reasons the divorce rate is so high in the west and so low in India. He had some interesting thoughts and was actually pretty straightforward about what happens to an Indian women after the dissolution of a marriage. I enjoyed the conversation, but I was really happy to get to Delhi. We boarded our bus and found out that we were taking an overnight bus to Agra rather than taking the train. We were still waiting on people to get there from another flight, so Kristen and I went back into the airport to go to the bathroom and get some pizza. The security guy was hesitant to let us back in, but didn’t really put up much of a fight to keep us from going. He just bobbled his head.

The group decided they wanted to stop and get some food on the way to Agra since it was going to be 3 hours until we got there. The tour guide stopped in a very shady area of Delhi. About 6 girls (including myself) didn’t get off the bus, and everyone else followed the tour guide to a rest stop. After a very long time the group hadn’t made it back to the bus so one of the girls very stupidly decided that she would like to go look for them. This was ridiculously retarded because we had no idea where we were and we were in an area that in no way appeared to be anything even close to safe. The other 4 girls decided that they were going too, and I didn’t want to be the only person that stayed behind, so I went as well. One of the other girls and I decided that it was just too ridiculous for us to be out so we turned back and went to the bus. As we got back to the bus the rest of the group was getting back. We started to Agra, and the guide said it should be about 3 hours. It took 5. It was the bumpiest bus ride I have ever been on in my life. We finally got to Agra at 2 am and checked into our hotel. There were 2 beds in the room and then a mat on the floor. I got the mat on the floor and went to sleep so that I could be up for sunrise at the Taj the next day.

Oct. 16, 2007
“It’s your fault…they’re the illiterate masses.”
Agra, India/en route to Varanasi

We got up really early to get to the Taj, but a few people stayed back at the hotel to sleep because they knew we were going back to the Taj for sunset. While I was waiting for everyone in the lobby the tour guide for the day had shown up and was questioning me about where our “trip leader” was. There was no real trip leader, just the guy who organized the plans. He hadn’t shown up yet and I knew he was getting ready, but the tour guide was basically a prick and he was just generally not nice to me after I couldn’t tell him how to find Ray. When everyone who was going showed up, we boarded the bus. On the bus ride there, the tour guide informed us that admission fees were not included in the package that we had, even though we had been told that they were. Most, if not all, of us were going to be short on cash because of this. It cost 750 rupees just to get into the Taj. It was $20 none of us had planned on spending because we were told that it was covered. At this point, none of us were willing to pay the 750 rupees again at sunset, so we just paid up for sunrise. We had to take a bus from our bus to the Taj, and when it let us off there weren’t many street vendors out yet. The ones that were out were just selling postcards.

The Taj itself was beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice. Our tour guide was still being pretty pompous and he was getting really frustrated that we were all taking pictures instead of listening to him, but we basically paid twice to be able to see it since it was supposed to be in the package and somehow wasn’t anymore, so since we paid twice, we did what we wanted. We weren’t on time; we didn’t really care to listen to him tell us things that we either already knew or didn’t care to hear to begin with. I got stopped a lot to take pictures with little kids. The people that stopped me here were really nice and appreciative that we were willing to stop and take pictures. On the way out there were a few things I needed to buy from street vendors, but the pompous tour guide yelled at me when I went to check it out. There really wasn’t a chance for me to get what I needed. It was really upsetting, but I couldn’t really argue with the tour guide successfully. He wasn’t very receptive of me to begin with.

We went back to the hotel for breakfast (which was not good). The part of the group that didn’t go to the Taj with us for sunrise joined us for breakfast. We left for some ‘sightseeing’ that included going to the tour company office to settle some payment issues, an overpriced carpet shop, and an overpriced marble shop. There was literally nothing in any of the shops that I could afford to buy. The prices were so inflated it was insane. For a magnet they wanted 300 rupees ($7.50), and this was after haggling. The street vendors found our bus outside of the shops. I was so excited that there were things that I was able to afford (and that I wanted to buy originally) that I went bargaining crazy. I had such a good time doing it. We went back to the hotel for lunch after what seemed to be a waste of a morning. The hotel lunch was equally as crappy as the breakfast was. The tour company operator showed up and announced that we all had to pay an extra fee of $45. Ray got it down to $40, but I’m still not sure what the extra fee was for. I’m not really sure that any of us do. I didn’t have a lot of cash left, so I asked if I could pay by credit card. The guy told me that I could, but that there would be a 3% charge on the 1700 rupees I needed to pay, and that the total would be 2700 rupees. I guess he thought I must have been a moron, but I’m actually able to figure out that 3% of 1700 doesn’t amount to 1000. I heard from someone on the trip that there was a place nearby where you could use your credit card to get money rather than an ATM, so I thought I’d check it out. I got money there with no problem.

The guys who missed the Taj in the morning went after they ate lunch and then met us at Agra Fort after they were done. The outside of the fort had one of the worst smells I have ever been able to sense. It smelled like a mixture of rotten eggs, feces, wet dog, and something that I can’t quite figure out. I was overjoyed when I found out that we got to wait there for the guys that went to the Taj. While we were waiting, a bunch of Indian people were taking our pictures and posing for pictures in front of us. The girls in my group, myself included, were getting really strange leering looks from most of the men who took our pictures, but we mostly ignored it. Once we finally got to go into the fort, the people taking our pictures persisted to the point that we were starting to sprint away from them. The Indian men had started grabbing the girls and basically groping anyone that they could get their hands on. We told our tour guide about it in an attempt to get him to do something about it, and he told us that it was our fault, just to deal with it. This pissed me off beyond ridiculous amounts. We started to stick really close together, and for this brief period it seemed like the guys in our group were doing a better job at keeping an eye out for us. We got to an area of the fort that was swarming with rabid monkeys. On the side where there were no monkeys, the same men that had been harassing us were waiting. It was a tough decision: rabid monkeys or men who went out of their way to grab whatever part of my/any other girl in my group’s body that they could. I had been immunized against rabies but not against asshole men, so I took the monkey route. I got through unharmed, which I am not sure would have been the case if I had gone the other way. On the way out one of the men who had been harassing me was mad at me for staying away from him, and told me that no one who would ever want to marry me because I was so fat. It was very nice of him to let me know so that I can whip myself into shape. Glad for the info. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not nearly as small as most of the Asian women I have seen are, but in the U.S., I’m not fat. I’m not even chubby. If I don’t get married, I’m sure that the reason won’t have anything to do with my size, but I do appreciate the opinion of Mr. Grabby, who seemed to enjoy grabbing my body despite the fact that I am ‘fat.’

Much to my delight, when we left there were more street vendors to bargain with. I got some more things, and then the whole group headed back to the hotel where we were dropped off until it was time to leave for the train. We were really near a Pizza Hut, so I went with 3 other girls. A significant portion of the group set off into Agra to find liquor for the train ride to Varanasi. I just enjoyed dinner. We got a really nice note from our waiter telling us how much he enjoyed taking care of us. When we boarded the bus to go to the train station, we found out that Ray still hadn’t worked out paying the tour company, and that he was at the official office to pay the tour operators. We went to the office to pick him up and we finally got the payment situation all sorted out. The train station in Agra was the first thing in the entire voyage that made me physically sick. There were so many people sleeping in the ‘lobby.’ The smell was just putrid. There were rats crawling everywhere and nasty dogs just roaming around. The tracks were piled with garbage. I was really worried about what our train was going to be like after seeing the station.

We were taking what was supposed to be an 11 hour overnight train ride to Varanasi. The train actually wasn’t bad, at least the first class cars that we were in. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in any of the other cars. We were in the same section of the car as this amazing family from Spain. We got to talk to them about where to go while we’re there. They sold me on the idea of going to Barcelona, but I’m not sure that I can afford it this time around. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to make it back. They did give me a list of things to do in Sevilla, Grenada, and Cordoba and recommended a few places to eat for tapas. They were so nice that they shared their food with all of the girls who were in the car with us and the next morning they let us each have a bindi to wear.

Oct. 17, 2007
“Camel bone. It’s the new elephant tusk.”
Varanasi, India

We were supposed to arrive in Varanasi around 8:30. I woke up early enough to ensure that I didn’t miss it. I ate the pop tarts that I had brought with me while I waited to get there, but we just kept stopping at stations that weren’t Varanasi. Finally, the tour guide that was with the Spanish family asked when we were actually going to get to Varanasi and he was told that it was going to be 11:00. This didn’t actually prove to be true. We arrived at noon. I had brought pop tarts with me, and when our train took as long as it did, I was very glad to have them. The tour guide on the bus told us that there were two very important things to see while we were in Varanasi. The first was Sarnath, which is the site where Buddha preached his first sermon. The second was an early morning boat ride on the Ganga. We thought that this meant these were included in our trip, but we were wrong to assume such. When Ray asked about it, we had to argue for the boat ride that was promised originally, but ended up getting that. We could have gone to Sarnath at an extra cost, but not a lot of people really wanted to. I was little disappointed, but by this point my expectations for India were really low, so it wasn’t a big deal.

We got to the hotel by bus, but caused a lot of traffic problems by doing so. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and as such wasn’t designed for motor vehicles. Our giant tourist bus took up a lot of space on the roads. There is a point in the city where you aren’t allowed to have motor vehicles, but that was much closer to the Ganga than our hotel was. We got lunch at the hotel and then split up to do whatever we felt like for the afternoon. I joined Jenn, Kate, and Kat to go to a market near the cremation ghat. Jenn and I shared a rickshaw, and I was in for what was the most terrifying experience of my life. One of the cows that was laying the road decided to move and this disrupted traffic in a major way. Our rickshaw hit a banana cart and then immediately after we were hit by a motorbike and another rickshaw behind us. I have no idea how, but the girl that I was with and myself got out of the incident without a scratch. At this point Jenn and I really wanted to hold on to each other, but in India women aren’t really allowed to be seen showing any public signs of affection to other people, and this would have included holding onto Jenn.

I was so glad to finally get out of the rickshaw. We were let out at the beginning of the street, not quite at the market, but not very far away either. We had vendors following us the whole way to the market. They weren’t really the aggressive type we had seen in Agra; they were much more personable. I think it was just part of their sham to get people to buy from them. It’s not really a style that I like, and I think that it’s kind of the point. They’re so nice to you that it can make you feel bad to not buy or try to bargain really hard with them. The followed us down the street, and most of them weren’t actually trying to sell us anything; they just wanted us to go into their shops. They found as at the beginning of the street and walked with us until we passed their shop. We did find a really cool bead shop and I got bracelet made out of camel bone. There was a big festival going on in Varanasi, and the shopkeeper had a shrine set up in the shop, so you had to take your shoes off to go in. We found a little alleyway to wonder down that I think was the market we were trying to get to begin with. There were police with giant rifles sitting outside of the entrance to the market, but at this point we were used to the people walking around with giant rifles everywhere. The market was full of great shops and bargaining there was easy. Most of the shopkeepers said that it was close to the end of the festival and they hadn’t made nearly as much money as they usually did, so we got things pretty cheaply just because they wanted to sell to us. It might have been a lie just to get us to buy, but things were much cheaper here than anywhere else I had been in India, so I just kind of went with it. I got a really cool, huge batik of Ganesh for a little less than a dollar. The people in the shops were much nicer than most of the people that we had been dealing with for all of our time in India, so the four us were really enjoying just being able to shop without anyone harassing us in anyway. We were each actually blessed by a brahmin while we were shopping.

We decided to split up after the market because Kate and Kat wanted to go see an Indian movie and Jenn and I really didn’t want to. One of the vendors from the market told us that we were really close to the cremation ghat and that cremation ceremonies were going on if we wanted to watch them, that it was only a five minute walk away. Jenn and I wanted to go because, but we weren’t really sure if we wanted to let this guy lead us on a wild goose chase and end up getting ourselves in a bad situation. We decided to let him take us, but if it got sketchy to turn around and go back. I think there were a few moments when we were really regretting going, but we got to the ghat just fine. We went up to the rooftop of a building and there was someone up there who gave us information about what was going on and who was allowed to be cremated and why women weren’t allowed to be present at the cremation of a person and everything we wanted to know. At this point, we knew that while this was ‘free’ we were going to be asked for money. The guide told us that only men our allowed at the ceremonies because women cry and crying taints the soul of the person who died, and they can’t get into Heaven. There are 5 types of people who aren’t allowed to be cremated. The first are brahmins. They aren’t cremated because they are considered to be already pure, and they are allowed to be buried rather than burned. The second is children because they are innocent. Pregnant women can’t be cremated because they are carrying the innocent. Lepers aren’t cremated, but I’m not sure of the reason. Children, pregnant women, and lepers are allowed to be weighted down and have their body thrown into the river. The last type of person that can’t be cremated is a snake bite victim. If a person dies from a snake bite, they are poisoned and can’t be put into the river because they don’t want the poison to corrupt the holy river. The ceremony for a person to be cremated requires the body to be wrapped in gold or yellow fabric (if it‘s a man, I don‘t know what color a female‘s covering is), then the body is taken into the river for purification. The head of the person to be cremated must be shaved by a family member. If the father dies, the eldest son shaves the head. If it is a woman, her husband or youngest son shave her head. The body is put on the fire and burned for anywhere from an hour to three hours. Some parts of the body’s bones don’t burn. The ashes are put into the river. Dead cows are weighted down and put in the river, but Jenn and I actually saw one floating down the Ganga during one of the cremation ceremonies. It was a very interesting thing to see take place, and our the man giving the information was excellent, so I had planned to give him money anyway, but on our way out of the building there were two women trying to get money so that people who came to Varanasi to die but had no money for the cremation ceremony could afford to be cremated. The man who had given us all the information told us to be blessed by the women and then give them money. He was very adamant about it, so I had assumed that some of this money went to him also. Jenn and I each donated enough money for wood for one person’s cremation, but the man was very insistent about having more than that. Both of us really didn’t have much more we could afford to give, especially because I was without an ATM card and had to make what little I had left last for the rest of the time in India. Wood for two people was a pretty generous donation, at least I thought so, considering we were promised it was going to be free. When we left the man wanted money for himself, but again, we just didn’t have it to give him. He told us that it was going to give us bad karma if we didn’t give anything, and I asked him what type of karma it would give him to tell someone that they could have free information and then demand money from them. He left us alone and the vendor that brought us there in the first place took us back to the market, and we got a rickshaw back to the hotel. He too tried to guilt us into buying more from him, but I had actually planned to buy something he was selling anyway. We got him to reduce his price by a lot, and then got back to the hotel.

The rickshaw driver kept turning around to talk to us, but I really didn’t want to encourage this, so I didn’t say much back to him. I just nodded, which I’m not sure he really understood. I still don’t understand the whole head bobbling thing. He asked me if I was English, and I just said “yeah” so he would turn back around and he started saying, “Oh, I love Englanders!” He was so happy just because he thought we were from England. When we got back to the hotel, Jenn had already gotten out of the rickshaw, and I was in the process, but before I could get out, the driver lifted up his pants/skirt thing that I don’t know what it’s called to show me his warts. He did it to get more money out of us, but it was really disgusting. He was telling me that he didn’t know what they were or how he got them, and he had to get them cut off, so please pay him extra. I thought about telling him where he got them from, but I didn’t really want to explain STDs to him, so we just paid him the original, agreed upon price and went back to the hotel.

One of my roommates had the key to my hotel room, and Jenn’s roommates had her key, so we went to the front desk to try to get them to let us in our rooms. Jenn was told someone would let her into her room with no problem, but I was told there was no possible way that I could get into my room. The guy at the front desk told us to go wait in front of Jenn’s room, and someone would be there to let us in shortly. While we were waiting up there the power got cut to the hotel. It was freaky because we didn’t know at this point that the power in Varanasi got cut for at least 5 hours everyday. The power to the hotel flipped back on after a few minutes, and then the guy arrived to let us into Jenn’s room. He had a master key, so I asked him to let me into my room, and he did with no problem. I got my first (and only) shower the entire time I was in India. You can imagine that I really needed one at this point. I got a quick one, because I knew that the water for the shower was most likely coming from the Ganga, and I had just been there and seen the dead bodies being washed in it and the dead cow floating in it, and I knew that was where the sewage goes. I couldn’t really enjoy my shower thinking about that. I met Jenn and we went to have a really late dinner with the rest of the group at the hotel. Dinner wasn’t all that great, but there was some good naan and masala. I went to bed after dinner because the power was out in parts of the city and we were leaving the hotel at 5:30 am the next morning for our boat ride on the Ganga.

October 18, 2007
“The most important thing is that we should all do as much good for our fellow humans as we can while we’re here. The rest isn’t really in our hands.”
Varanasi, Delhi, and Chennai, India

I got up at 5 to get ready for our boat ride on the river, and since I was awake, the girls in my room were also. We went down to the lobby and no one else was there. After a few minutes four more people showed up, but that was it. We asked the front desk if they had given people their wake up calls and they said they weren’t making calls until 5:30, which was when we were actually supposed to leave. We went around to all of the rooms and started waking everyone up, and got out of the hotel as quickly as we could. We walked to our bus, which was a little ways away and headed as close to the ghat as we were allowed to. We walked to the ghat and we were hounded by street vendors as we went. When we got to where we were able to board our boat, we saw the vendor that took us to the cremation ceremony the day before. He tried to sell Jenn and I more, but we really didn’t need or want anything else that he was selling.

Several children selling flowers and candles got onto the boat with us, trying to get us all to buy one to make a wish and put them on the river. They were only 5 rupees, so I got one. We were told the only that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of were the two cremation ghats. People were snapping a lot of pictures of the people bathing in the river, and you could see on their faces that it was making them very uncomfortable. I heard a guide on another boat tell the people in that boat not to take pictures of the people bathing because they thought it was rude. Some other people heard this and stopped taking pictures, but just as many continued snapping pictures whenever we felt like it. We got to the cremation ghats and we were told that we were absolutely not allowed to take pictures there, but people did it anyway, just to prove that they could. I thought it was really disrespectful. A guy on the boat was trying to get people to give him money to just jump into the Ganga. We weren’t next to the shore; we were out in the middle where they put the bodies they don’t cremate. I think jumping in the river just for the heck of it would have been stupid (the river is filled with garbage and untreated sewage, and people who died of leprosy and people that couldn’t afford to be cremated) and really disrespectful. I was really glad that he didn’t do it. The tour guide on the boat talked about the types of people who aren’t cremated, and he gave some different reasons than I had heard the night before. The reasons for the night before were much more believable. He said snake bite victims and pregnant women aren’t cremated because they believe there is a chance they will return to life and be able to come home. They are often weighted down with their addresses. A pregnant woman is hoped to give birth after death, and the infant return to its home. A sort of “market boat” floated up to us selling souvenirs, but no one was buying anything from him. He stayed for around 5 minutes and no one had bought a single thing. It’s a fact when you’re bargaining that if you wait a while and no one is buying, you can get some excellent prices, so I jumped at the opportunity. I spent a total of 200 rupees and got presents for 3 people, plus 3 things that I wanted. When I got things so cheap, other people were really interested in buying things, but since there was a lot of interest now, people couldn’t get things as cheap anymore. After the boat ride, we were continuously hassled all the way back to the bus by vendors. They were much more aggressive than any I had seen in Varanasi, and it made me really uncomfortable. One of the vendors started grabbing me like the men in Agra did, so I grabbed the guy in front of me, and he pretended to be my husband and got the man to leave me alone. There was a little girl begging that followed us all the way to the bus, but no one gave her any money because we had all been warned that parents maim their children on purpose to get money from tourists. None of us wanted to encourage that. After we had all gotten onto the bus, I saw the little girl get yelled at by her mother because she hadn’t gotten any money from us. The tour guide came onto the bus with all kinds of items from the vendors trying to help sell them. I wasn’t really surprised, but it was the first time that I had experienced a tour guide trying to help them sell to us.

After we got on the bus we were promised a city tour. I don’t think you can really call it that. What we really did was go to Banares Hindu University and see a Hindu Temple there. We went back to the hotel for breakfast, which was among the worst meals I’ve ever had. I would rank it lower than the ox tongue I ate in Cambodia. The only thing I even touched was toast that was so hard if you dropped it too roughly on your plate, it shattered. After breakfast, I went out into the city with Jenn and Kat, but there wasn’t a lot to do because the power was still out in most places. I ended up coming back to the hotel. My roommates weren’t there, and they had the key to the room, so I had to try the front desk again. This time I was easily given the spare key to the room. I got myself packed and took a short nap before our early lunch. Lunch, was again, not good. I just stuck to the naan.

After lunch we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi. We ran into the Spanish family again. They were really happy to see us one last time, and want us to visit in Spain. They live in Barcelona, which isn’t really near port, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to go, but I wish that I could. The airport was very crowded. I couldn’t believe how many people were jammed into the tiny little room that the airport consisted of. Going through security here was the worst of anywhere. The Indian people and foreign men were in one line and foreign women were in the other. Whenever there was someone in the Indian/Men line, the women had to wait. When I was finally able to even enter to get to the x-ray machine, I had to wait while all the men passed me to have their bags x-rayed first. Security check for women was behind a curtain again, and I set off the metal detector again. When the woman was waving the little wand around me, my bra set it off again. I got what can only be described as felt up as she was searching me, and she noticed that there was something extra in my bra. I pulled out my passport and the money I was carrying there, and I guess this made her really suspicious of me, so anywhere the wand beeped got a thorough check. Because my pants had metal snaps and the zipper, I got the most thorough searching imaginable. It was a very miserable experience.

Our plane was delayed a lot, and we waited for a long time. I actually sat next to a different Spanish couple while we were waiting. They were from Madrid, and recommended Sevilla and Granada over Barcelona, so it made me feel better that I won’t be able to make it there. When we finally got to the airport in Delhi it was so late that nothing was going to be open, and there would have been nothing to do. 5 other girls and I decided to try and switch our flights from the next day to that night. We went to every flight counter and they all told us that it was not possible to get back to Chennai that night, that we had to wait until the next morning. We were very close to giving up when a man that worked for baggage clearing came up to us and asked us if we needed help. He pulled all kinds of strings and got us the last 6 seats on the 8:00 flight to Chennai. He walked us through security, and got us to the gate. We were all very happy to be going back to the ship. On the plane I sat next to this really nice man who told me that he was a classical Indian singer. Before our flight took off, he said a quick prayer, and so I asked him if he didn’t like flying. He told me that he didn’t, and I let him know that I really didn’t either. He was from Chennai and told me that with only one day there, the best thing I could do with my day was to go to Mahabalipuram. I had no plans, so I decided that if I could figure out a way to get there, I would definitely go. We talked a lot about everything. It seemed like there wasn’t anything off limits. It made the 2.5 hours go by very quickly. When we got off the plane, people started hounding him for his autograph. It was bizarre that I was sitting next to someone who was so famous, and I had no idea. After he had given out his signature to everyone that wanted it, he told me that he enjoyed meeting me. I thought about asking for his autograph too, but he seemed so exhausted from being hounded by people that I didn’t.

There was another SAS group on our plane, so after we got our bags we went over to the shuttle service and asked them to get us back to the port as fast as they could. The driver got us there so quickly I was just amazed. He dropped us off at the port gates, and then we had some trouble from the officers to let us in. We hadn’t signed out on the little book, so they didn’t want to let us in, but after one of us pulled out the magical landing card, they let us through. The port area is really sketchy, so we went through it as quick as possible. There was a group of men heckling us, and that just pushed us through even faster. We got onto the ship without any wait. I looked in the free ticket box to see if there were any tickets for the next day, but there weren’t. I did look at the trips for the next day and saw there was one going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram leaving at 7, so I decided to just try and get on that one.

October, 19, 2007
“No, you’re bothering her because she’s a girl and you’re going to stop right now.”
Chennai, Kancheepuram, and Mahabalipuram, India

I got up at 5:30 to get ready, check my email, and get breakfast before trying to get onto the trip going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram. I was one of only 2 people at breakfast. It opened early for everyone leaving on the 7:00 trip because we had to meet at the bus by 6:40. After breakfast I saw that I had some freak service on my cell phone, so I tried to call home. It didn’t work. I did get to send some texts to my family. I went to the bus, and there was a lot of space left on the trip plus all kinds of people that didn’t show up. I got on the trip with no problem. We started off with a bus ride to Kancheepuram that took a while. Well, I think it took a while. I slept almost the whole way there. I was awake long enough to see us pass by St. Thomas mound, but not much longer than that. We stopped once for us all to be able to use the restroom, but I just assumed continue sleeping.

Kancheepuram is one of the 7 holy cities in India, and is the only one of the cities that is located in southern India, When we got to Kancheepuram, we went to 3 different Hindu temples. Two were dedicated to Shiva and one was for Vishnu. The temples were all built during the reigns of the Pallava kings when Kancheepuram was the capital of the area. The first temple was still in use today. The doors to the temple were huge. They were designed so that elephants couldn’t bust through them to aid people in breaking in. The door was very tall and had spikes where the elephants’ heads would have been and rounded off bumps nearer to the ground where people would have used the doors. The temple was being visited by a bunch of Indian girls on what appeared to be a school field trip. Most of them were really smiley and waved to the group of us. I asked to take a picture of a couple groups of them, and all but one didn’t have a problem with it. There was one girl in a group who sneered at me and told me I could if I gave her 2,000 rupees. I didn’t. There were seven platforms in the temple and we were allowed up to the 3rd one. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed in the main sanctum sanctorum. The colors inside the temple were just beautiful. The vibrance of the colors was such a contrast to the dustiness and dirtiness of the area just outside of the temple. Most of us were blessed by a brahmin at this temple. We were give red dots on our forehead. Red is supposed to be the color of life and our tour guide told me that the red dot symbolized female power. It was very nice to hear that something actually stood for the power of the female after spending so much time in northern India being treated like a piece of meat and a second class citizen. When we left the temple, the videographer (who I should have mentioned was on our trip) asked to interview me about the temple. It was difficult because there was a woman begging me for money the whole time. The next temple in Kancheepuram had some extraordinarily ornate carvings. It was painted at one time, but the British were trying to preserve it and covered it in something that hid the color. I can’t even imagine what it would have looked like with colors. There were several carvings of the goddess of sleep at this temple. I didn’t see any carvings of her anywhere else, and I think she was only shown as an example of how not to live your life. Most of the Hindu sculptures feature very healthy bodies in some form of motion, and the goddess of sleep is always depicted as very overweight and just sitting idly. The last temple had been added onto since it was originally built. One of the carvings on the wall depicted the two temples we had been to right before it, which was pretty interesting.

When we were done with the temple viewing we were ahead of schedule, so we stopped for a silk weaving demonstration and at a silk shop. Kancheepuram is known for its silks. The shop we went to was a little pricey, but not overly so. It was a government shop which is supposed to guarantee that no child labor is used in the making of the products. I had a lot of rupees left to spend before I left India, so I got a few things that I liked. While I was waiting for everyone else to finish shopping I was talking to the trip leader about some of my experiences in northern India, and how nothing is ever what it seems to be in India. The trip leader told me that the stop at the silk shop wasn’t even what it seemed to be. The tour guide was hungry, so she dropped us off at a shop so that she could get food. After the shop we drove to Mahabalipuram, which I heard took a while, but again, I used the bus ride for sleep. We stopped at a hotel in Mahabalipuram for lunch. It was wonderful. It was the first time we were given food in India that I thought was excellent. The masala was wonderful. Everything was on the spicy (hot) side, but it was just amazing. After lunch one of the waiters asked me to take a picture of him on my camera. I don’t think he had ever seen a picture of himself because he liked looking at it so much. He got his picture taken with me, and I promised to email both pictures to the hotel so that he could have them. There was a payment fiasco with drinks. They overcharged us, and we were trying to sort it out. The whole ordeal caused us to be late, and our tour guide got fed up with it and told us all to just leave, that it was the hotel’s fault for mishandling the bill.

We stopped at the largest bas relief in the world. There was actually more than just that to see here. The vendors here took a liking to me, and followed me around a lot. I think it had a lot to do with my paleness and the blonde hair, but I can’t prove it. Some other men were jeering at the whole group of us while we were touring the monuments and the tour guide told them off. When we were trying to look at the bas relief she even slapped one of them. The vendors were still hassling me throughout this whole site, and finally the videographer stepped up and told them to leave me alone. They ignored him at first, but he got in their face and just let them have it. I was unbelievably happy to have a man finally stand up for me and give me the help I needed. When we got onto the bus there was a man selling elephant carvings and no one was buying from him, so I told him I would pay 100 rupees for one. He put it in my hand and said “200,” but I didn’t want to pay more than 100 for it, which was actually pretty unreasonable of me, but I just wasn’t feeling too generous with the street vendors at this site. I gave it back to him, and then he put it back in my hand and said, “170.” I gave it back to him and told him that I didn’t want it. I was actually stepping onto the bus and he put it back in my hand and told me “100.” The tour guide told me that she had never seen anyone get that particular item for less than 250 rupees, and she didn’t have any idea how I did it. I think mostly it was because no one was interested but me and I was so angry with the vendors for how they had been treating me that I just wasn’t willing to pay anything reasonable. We also toured the Five Rathas in Mahabalipuram. They were monolithic temples each created in a different style. The vendors here hassled me too, but not like before. I am not sure why, but one of the vendors actually got the others to leave me alone when I wasn’t buying anything. Maybe it was because he wanted me to buy from him when we left. I had 100 rupees left, so I did end up buying from him because I appreciated him getting the other vendors to leave me alone. I got 2 really cool fabric paintings. The last place we visited was the Shore Temple. We didn’t spend very long here because we had to make it back to the ship for onship time and we knew that traffic was going to be pretty bad. My mom was actually able to call me on the drive back to the ship, and I was able to talk to her for a little while. My dad called me after my mom. It made me happy to be able to talk to them for just a few minutes, because I hadn’t talked to them since Japan. When I got back to the ship, the first thing I did was get a shower. I think that I still smell like India a little bit, and that there’s a good chance that the smell will never quite come out of the clothes I wore while I was there.

~*I think wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow*~
-Anita Desai

They say that when you go to India, you either love it or you hate; you’re willing to take it all in or you fight it and wish for home. It may not be evident from my entry, but I fall in the loving India category. Hopefully I get to go back someday (though never again to Agra). India would probably defeat me again, but that is just part of its charm.

<3 India <3