Friday, January 20, 2012

Sunday December 25th, 2011 (Christmas Day in India)

Christmas lights and a hibiscus flower for decor.
Christmas morning found us making our way back to the airport. 

Santa had not found his way to our hotel room.  Oh well.

While waiting for our flight, we soothed our pangs of hunger with some Indian style Subway.  I had the masala paneer sub, Karl the tandoori chicken.  They were both delicious.

The flight was a quick two hours to Hyderabad followed by thirty minutes waiting on the plane while some passengers got off and others got on.   Our destination of Vijayawada was only another half hour of flying. 

We landed in Vijayawada and stepped off of the plane into the warmest Christmas I have ever experienced.  A bus took us from the plane to the baggage claim area: a room with a guy tossing in luggage from the flight and people chaotically searching for their belongings.  We successfully retrieved our suitcase and walked outside.

Waiting for us just past the door was a man named Ravi Kumar.

Ravi works for a non-profit human rights group called the Association of Relief Volunteers, or ARV.  ARV coordinates with the organization Go Longitude-a website that organizes volunteers and fundraising events for ARV as well as a for a program called Educate Ghana.  (Please click on this link to find out how you can get involved!)

“Merry Christmas!  Thank you so much for giving your precious time to be here!”

Every Christmas, Ravi likely says these words to the new group of volunteers.  Over the past several years he has worked with more than 400 volunteers.  The vast majority of these volunteers are people on the JET program, teaching English in Japan.  There is good reason for this:

After the catastrophic Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, Ravi was helping with the relief effort.  This is when he met another volunteer who happened to be a teacher on the JET program.  They formed a connection, which has turned into three annual volunteer trips to India.  These three annual trips correspond with three breaks in the Japanese school years, ideal for JET teachers.

In fact, that is how Karl and I first heard about the trips.  Two of our good friends had gone previous years and were strongly encouraging us to participate.  So we did.

As we drove away from the airport, (I was SO happy to be done flying) Ravi explained that we were on our way to one of the homes of an ARV employee.  We would meet the other two volunteers there and have our Christmas dinner before driving another hour to our hotel.

The first of many cups of chai.  So delicious!
Coconut filled sweets
Can't remember what these were called, but they were so delicious!
Karl is excited to be eating.
Christmas dinner!
The family who graciously provided Christmas dinner for us.
Ready to get to our hotel after a couple days of travel.
And finally…we could rest.  The next day would be our first in the village.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Saturday December 24th, 2011 (Chirstmas Eve in China)

knock knock knock

“That must be our breakfast.”

I opened the door.  A petite Chinese woman handed me a bag, nodding her head politely before continuing with her deliveries.

I spread out our Christmas Eve Breakfast, describing the contents to Karl.

“Two juice box drinks…looks like milk.  And….ten slices of white bread.”


No complaining for the low, low price of free.  Fortunately, I had thought to bring along a jar of peanut butter.  

We forgot a butter knife, but fortunately the pen in the room worked.
As we feasted upon our bread, peanut butter and what turned out to be yogurt drinks, we lazily flipped through the TV channels.  Sleazy hotel rooms in Guangzhou have a decidedly un-Christmasy ambience.  So when we came upon a PBS Christmas concert special with Andrea Boccelli (in English!) we sat back and soaked in the Christmas cheer.  There was even a number featuring the Muppets.

After a while we decided to make some of the provided tea to wash down the peanut butter bread.  As I was handing a cup to Karl, I laughed.  We would not be drinking any tea.  There was lipstick on the cup.  Sure, we could have wiped them off and ignored it…but no.  We didn’t want tea that badly.

After the Christmas concert ended, we decided to go explore Guangzhou.  Since we didn’t have a single Chinese yuan on us, we just took a walk.  No delicious Chinese lunch for us.  

By far the most interesting thing we found was an open-air food market.  What a way to shop for groceries.  

Fresh produce, as far as the eye can see.
Who wants a snake in a bag!?
How about a turtle or an eel?
So many varieties of mushrooms.
Shopping for fish.
The aftermath of a chicken.
Geese, waiting to be sold.
Surrounded by a mountain range of cookware.
Digging through the mandarins.
Many varieties of rice.

After wandering around for a while, we made our way back to our hotel.  We were being driven back to the airport that afternoon. 

Once we arrived at the airport, we made it through security with enough time to spare to buy something to eat that was not bread and peanut butter.  Thank goodness.

Unfortunately our plane this time was significantly smaller and less comfortable than the previous flight.  Sigh.  We were surrounded by cranky, rude people and crying babies.

It was a long flight.

When we touched down in New Delhi, it was 9 pm, the same day.  We successfully made our way through security, retrieved our luggage and exchanged our money.  Now we just had to make it to our hotel.

If you are like me, then you are the type of person who does extensive reading about your destination before traveling.  For India in particular, I feel this was very wise.  I learned many things about traveling in India, including how to take a taxi.

India is full of people who try to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners.   

As we cleared security and walked out to the airport exit, we were practically mobbed by taxi drivers wanting to secure our business. 

“Hello! Hello!  Where you want to go?  I take you there!  Come! My car! Hello! Hello! You come with me!”

We ignored their attempts to grab our luggage and made our way to the pre-paid taxi booth.  It’s the only way to get a taxi in India without haggling for a decent price.

Unfortunately, we did not see the official Police run booth (by far the most reasonable fare you will get) but instead went to the private company pre-paid booth. 

Pre-paid taxis are important for a few reasons:  1) You will get a fair price. 2) The driver will take you where you want to go.  There have been countless instances of travels being taken to the wrong hotel because, “Your hotel is sold-out. No rooms.  No worry-my brother runs a hotel.  Very nice.”  I was thankful that I had taken the time to study maps and locations of our hotels.

We made it safe and sound to our hotel (which was clean in terms of Indian hotels) set the alarm, showered and collapsed into bed after our very long and tiring Christmas Eve.

One more day of travel lay between us and our destination.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Friday December 23rd, 2011

“…oh no…”

I opened my eyes and blearily looked for the glow of our digital bedside clock.  As my eyes focused, Karl continued.

“It’s 5:26.  Should we run?”

“Let’s go!”

We leapt up and started throwing on our already laid out clothes.  Our train to make our ride to the airport was leaving in 23 minutes. 

It takes 20 minutes to walk to the station. 

Fortunately, we had packed and showered the night before.  We were out the door at 5:37 with 14 minutes to catch our train. 

We hurtled towards the train station through the dark, cold morning.  As we approached the station, I breathed a sigh of relief: our train was on the nearest platform.  I eased to a walk as Karl-rolling the luggage-caught up to me. 

We made it.  With a full minute to spare!

On our bus ride to the airport, we slowly relaxed.  The sun was just rising, glistening on the snowcap of Mt. Fuji.  A thin crescent moon and a few bright stars adorned the sky.  The perfect scenery to calm the mind and heart rate.

After this turbulent start of our journey to India, things calmed down.  We made it to the airport with enough time for breakfast and last minute purchases. 

The flight to India was broken up into two separate flights.  Flight number one stopped in Guangzhou, China for a twenty-one hour layover.  (EW!)

The flight was very comfortable.  Karl and I watched the newest Harry Potter movie on our tiny personal-sized airplane TVs.  Sooner than we knew it, we touched down in Guangzhou. 

As we waited to go through immigration, we discovered that our airline (China Southern) was paying for a hotel for us that night and we were granted special 24 hour passes to stay in China.  A wonderful and unexpected surprise.

After waiting for what seemed an eternity, the driver from the hotel came to pick us up.  We reached the hotel, learned that breakfast would be brought to our room the following morning, and went to our room.  

Not bad at all for being free.

We rinsed away the fatigue of flying with a shower before falling into bed.  Sleep came fast...a day into our journey.
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