And then it was that time again. After eight months back in the motherland the day arrived and it was time to say Goodbye again. After working my butt off in a job, that I will definitely not pursue as a career, but which has definitely taught me some lessons regarding real working life, walking a minimum of ten kilometres every day, having to deal with all kinds of people (and let me put it this way – I lost a bit of my faith in humanity), being under constant stress while working every damn single weekend without fail – it also made me a whole lot of money in a short amount of time, thanks to the German tipping culture. So all the hard work was really more than worth it. Especially when I finished my last day at work, had a beer with one of my best friend overlooking the Hamburg Harbour, realising that I would be off again in just a few days.
And then the day arrived. Even though I have said “Goodbye” in my life more than I could count, I do still hate it. I think it might actually get worse every time. So these days, I try to get it over with as fast as possible. Check in, a quick hug and through security with turning around only once – and then it dawns on me every time: “I am going travelling again.” And the next second: “What am I doing with my life? Am I totally crazy?” Oh yes, I had definitely spent some time back in Germany. Time to get out. And so I boarded my flight – and I was off.
What was the plan this time, you might be asking now? As we had met a lot of Indians in our time in New Zealand, I more and more wanted to go and see India. The country that is supposedly the maddest of all of them (and oh hell, it is – but more about that at a later time). As the weather isn´t yet the best in September with the monsoon season still going on, we decided to pay a visit to Indian´s neighbouring country first – Sri Lanka.
As it seems to be a tradition now, Mike and I never end up flying together, but instead meet up in the first country of our travels. Also, he always seems to get there a few hours earlier than me. So when I landed in Colombo, I took a bus to the main bus station in town and after almost two months of not seeing each other, he was waiting for me at the bus stop. Needless to say, that the chances of him actually seeing me in one of the billion busses arriving there were more than slim. But it somehow had worked out and there we were – ready to go and travel again. We spent the night in Colombo, did a bit of Sightseeing the next day, obviously forgot to put sunscreen on, which meant we both got a sunburn that lasted the next week. Like we had never been travelling before. We then spent the night on a bus, going across the whole country to Arugam Bay, a little surfer village at the east coast of Sri Lanka.
And then we didn´t move anymore. After all the months spent working at home we felt like we deserved some chill time. Oh and how we chilled. We slept, ate, lay at the beach, read one, two, three books (more myself than Mike really), drank some banana lassies, ate some more, had a few beers and slept. Repeat. For days on end. Oh, how quickly you can forget what working is.
So what else did we do? Actually, there isn´t that much to tell about Sri Lanka. While there is nothing bad I can say about this country as people are lovely, food is good, beaches are nice, it just seems to be missing this little extra, which makes a good country great. In the three weeks we spent there, we saw some lovely beaches, a few temples, climbed the “Ayers Rock of Asia”, saw a fair few elephants and monkeys, witnessed a crazy pilgrammage ceremony and drank our way through Banana Lassies and the local Lion Beer.
And then we decided that we were chilled out enough to move on. We were ready. Ready for the big I. The country, that probably has the craziest reputation of them all. The country everyone has an opinion about. Exactly, you know what I am talking about: India. Well, what we didn´t realise at that point was, that you most likely can never be ready for it. Even when you think, you have seen so many countries, so many cultures, so much wealth and poverty and different lifestyles – it doesn´t change anything. Because India really is as mental as they tell you. Which we should learn soon enough.
(…just a few pictures before continuing…)
The craziness of India already started in the airport in Colombo. 5 am in the morning, tired and groggy we were walking down the steps towards the security check as it suddenly happened in front of us. A middle aged Indian man grabbed a young western foreigner by his arm and wouldn´t let go while shouting something at him in Hindi (I just presumed it was Hindi. To be honest, it might as well have been any other of the 23 constitutionally recognized official languages, let alone the several hundred, that are not officially recognized, but spoken in different parts of the country.) The young guy tried to get rid of the Indian´s hand, but the guy was holding on to him. Best thing about it: Nobody of the people around the two would help the foreigner. Not even the security guys. And there were a lot of those. After what seemed minutes, but probably was only about 10 seconds, the foreigner shook the Indian of and walked/ran away in, let´s say, quite a hurry. Mike and I were just looking at each other, thinking “What the hell has just happened?” We then continued our way down the stairs – and guess what happened next? Come on, have a guess. Oh yes, exactly, when we got down to the bottom we walked past the crazy Indian fellow, who suddenly grabbed Mike by his arm and started shouting at him. Luckily for Mike, he turned his arm away fast enough, so the guy didn´t really get a hold on him and we quickly walked to the security checkpoint. As fast as we could. What this was about you want to know? Well, I like to know as well. Now, having been in India for a while, my answer would be: “Ah, that´s just India.” But that morning in the queue for our flight when we were laughing about what just happened, I bet I wasn´t the only one who was now just a little worried about what kind of country we were going to fly to in a few minutes.
After only a half an hour flight we arrived in Thiruvananthapuram. Yep, that´s exactly what I thought as well when I read that name for the first. I am still not able to pronounce it let alone know how to spell it. All you really need to know about this city, that it is right in the South of India. As it was so close to Sri Lanka (and therefore the cheapest of any of the flights to India), we had decided to start our journey in the south and then slowly make our way up to the north. (That plan lasted exactly seven days, until it got thrown overboard. But I will come to that later.) We were now at the airport in T-you-know-which-town-I-mean and our plan was to get a local bus to Varkala, a small town 50 kms north up the coast. We went out of the airport looking for any sign for a bus stop while 20 Taxi Drivers were shouting at us to get a taxi. Not finding what we were looking for we asked one of them where the bus station was. His answer:” No busses today. Busses on strike.” Yeah sure mate. Previous travel experience had taught us long ago, that it doesn´t matter which country you are in, be it India, Peru or Spain, when a taxi driver tells you that your cheap choice of vehicle isn´t available, you should to 99,9 % not believe it. As he wants to make some money on you. So smart heads as we thought we were we started walking off towards the exit of the airport as sometimes the local busses are not allowed inside the airport but have their bus stop outside. Getting to the exit of the airport, we then got told again by the bunch of taxi drivers waiting around there that the busses are on strike. Getting a little frustrated we asked a stewardess who was walking past. Before she could say anything the flood of words coming from the taxi drivers shouting something to her made her answer, that there is a strike today, a little unbelievable as well. So we were standing there at the street with our backpacks, not seeing any busses driving past and we actually started to doubt if there maybe just maybe was actually a strike on today. But strike or not, we needed to get to our town somehow. We weren´t going to just take a taxi there as the price given was way too high – well, actually, I probably have to rephrase this. You have to know I really, really, really don´t like paying for taxis. I don´t mind paying for the ride from the bus/train station to my hostel, as I wouldn´t be able to get there otherwise. But I really begrudge paying for longer journeys when I know that there is a cheaper way to get there. Which I think is quite a positive feature in general as it can save you a lot of money. But other times it means as well that I say no, when the alternative then is a journey that actually only works out a tiny bit cheaper but takes triple the amount of time. Yep, I am working on that. But that morning on our first day in India I just wasn´t going to take the easy route, so instead I brought up the idea of taking a taxi to the train station in town to then take a train up to Varkala. Surely, that would be a lot cheaper than the taxi ride. The taxi driver gave us a reasonable price for the journey to the train station so we hopped into the car and finally left the airport. I should have probably asked, if that cheap price meant the way to the main train station. Which I didn´t. Because, let´s be honest, I just got to this massive country and I had no idea about their crazy train system. So we only realised when we got dropped off that this train station surely wasn´t the main one we thought we were going to. So, long story short: We waited one hour for the train to come that took us to the MAIN train station of the city. Which took around one hour as the train literally stopped at every small station that was on the way. We then had to wait another two hours for the train that would bring us into Varkala. Which meant in the end it took us around five hours to get to a place that was around 50 kms away from our original departure point. Welcome to India! At least we could say that we had now officially had our first experience with Indian trains. As well as being stared it. All the time. (The experiences with those two things should get a lot more intense in the future, e.g. when we would come to the North of India, but that is a story for the next blog entry.) And yes, even the train conductor told us that there was a bus strike happening that day. Please, what were the odds for that?!
The next days we had some good Indian food in Varkala, explored the backwaters of Alleppey in a small canoe and walked through the tea plantations in Munnar. Only to realise – there are hardly any other travellers around. All the hostels were pretty empty and the people we did meet told us that the rest of the South of India didn´t look much better at this time of the year – Goa, the beautiful main beach area of India, was literally empty as it was still off season. As this was one of the main places we wanted to see in India we realised that our plan to slowly make our way up north probably wasn´t the best idea after all. So what to do? We decided to go up to one more place, Mysore, and then go to Bangalore to either fly from there to Delhi or make the millions-of-hours-train journey. Either or, we were going to Mysore and then Bangalore. That´s what we thought when we got on the local bus at 6 am in the morning. What really happened that day was a lot different. Just let me give you one hint. It starts with S and ends on TRIKE…