Looking Back and Moving Forward

I meant to do a one-year anniversary post awhile back, but as with most things in India, it’s a little late. So here I am, celebrating 400 days since I left home. It’s odd to be on this side of one year of travel. I can recall my first night in Thailand when I shared a dorm room with a woman who had been on the road for 14 months. I was in awe. I couldn’t even imagine 14 weeks, let alone 14 months. But here I am, approaching that benchmark and my imagination still swirls with possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many times when I’ve wondered “What am I doing out here, anyways? I miss cold milk and hot showers. Take me home!” Those doubts have been met by words of encouragement from family and friends, ranging from kind advice (“We love you, Larry, take your time and decide what’s best for you”) to borderline abuse(“Stop your whining, you big baby. You haven’t worked for a whole year. Jesus.”). Ahhh the loving support of family can’t be beat!

So, 400 days of travel. 400 days filled with elephants, hiking, scuba diving, safaris, lava lakes, ancient churches, helicopters, amazing kids, motorbike rides, pristine beaches, new friends, falling in love, volunteering, yoga, late night adventures, trains, festivals, reading, temples and mouth watering food. 400 days of getting lost, struggling with languages and customs, feeling lonely, cramped bus rides, food sickness, distrust, boredom, heartache, misplaced items and being robbed. 400 days with new loved ones but without so many of those I hold dear.

I’ve learned a lot about myself, or in some cases, re-learned, as a wise new friend recently told me. I’ve learned I have strengths I never knew I possessed, but also have weaknesses in areas I once thought I never would. I’ve learned to wait. I’ve learned to forgive and let go of hatred that had soiled me for years. I’ve learned that food tastes better when you eat with your hands. I’ve re-learned that it’s ok to make mistakes and to stop worrying about making the perfect choices. I’ve learned that things change, so embrace it.  I’ve learned that I don’t want to be alone, but I like being left alone. I’ve learned that there is an endless amount of ways to live life and not to be boxed in by expectations. I’ve learned that it’s normal to be afraid. I’ve learned that everything will be okay.

What I don’t know is where I will end up after this journey (Ugh, I hate that word. Journey. It feels a bit pretentious and self-important. I’m traveling around Asia, not around Mars). When this is all done and good, will I be back in California with a work desk close enough to yell over my cubicle walls at Shilpa and Duy; spending Saturdays watching my nephews play soccer? In London, taking the train into work with my cousins Emma and Mary and sharing dinners with Jayme and Danny? In the Netherlands, butchering the Dutch language with Loes, Yvonne and Karin? In Colombia? Mongolia?

I don’t know, and frankly, I’m not too worried about it. Check back with me in another 400 days or so.

Een-y Meen-y Mine-y Mo…

It was hour 20 of a 22 hour travel day, and I was standing in the train, elbow to elbow in a thick sea of Indians as we rolled down the tracks towards, at least I hoped, my destination (I already had one incorrect train experience that day, so you never know.) Flashbacks of beach volleyball, morning yoga and eggplant/feta wraps saturated my thoughts. Why did I leave Goa, again? Please remind me. That reminder would come a day later. It would come at me full speed, a blur of muscled black and orange fur, determined eyes and stained teeth. Big, sharp, stained teeth.

I had decided to make my way to Bandhavgarh National Park in the state of Madhya Pradesh to take yet another safari, this time in search of an elusive tiger. I rolled up into Tala Village, and with great luck found two other budget travelers (the only other two non resort using tourists I saw there) who had just arrived and booked a safari for that afternoon. A quick trip back down to the ticket office and I was officially signed up and ready to go. Jumping into the aged, open jeep, I was joined by Peter, a 47 year old German who spends his time leading bike tours throughout Europe and Russell, a Santa Cruz Mountain local (near where I went to high school) who has more stories than the Bible.

You must understand, seeing a tiger is relatively rare. Advice is to book six safaris in order to “guarantee” a tiger sighting, so I kept my expectations muted. Bandhavgarh provided a beautiful setting, with dense forests broken up by peacock spotted meadows. We came across jeep after jeep, each filled with frustrated tourists sitting in a haze of disappointment. No tiger sightings in the entire park on the morning safaris, and none as of yet on the afternoon, so we headed towards a fenced in area for a quick stretch. No sooner than our guide jumped out did our driver yell out “ Tiger, Tiger, Tiger”, his voice getting louder with each word. Our guide hurled himself back in and warned “ Hold on tight” as our tires began to spin and we darted off. With all of us clinging for dear life, we met each turn in the road at full speed. Branches shattered against the car frame as our momentum nearly lifted us airborne as we went over the rolling hills. We came to a sudden halt and there in the distance he stood. Right on the edge of the forest, as if patiently waiting for us, a 4 year old tiger peered off into the horizon at a herd of spotted deer. He then looked over at us as we pulled out an arsenal of cameras and the air filled with muffled excited proclamations. (This is amazing! I can’t believe we saw one! Oh shit I left my lens cap on!) He gave us a good five minutes, but soon the show was over and the tiger faded into the thick foliage behind him. It was a sweet but brief victory.

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Our determined driver and guide were not done though. We found a rarely used ranger trail and looped around the backside, hoping to see our striped friend once again. Sadly we had no luck with him, but we came across some fresh tiger tracks and stopped to take a picture. Each of us huddled over the dirt track, listening to our guide explain the behaviors of a tiger. It wasn’t until we started the jeep back up did we notice the 12 foot tiger laying blissfully in the sun a mere 20 meters away. Cue the cameras. But almost immediately, our driver broke the silence with a loud, sharp whistle in order to get the attention of another jeep we had seen early. However, the only attention we received was from the tiger, who went from blissful to berserk. Quickly to his feet, he let out a guttural roar as he sprang towards us. 20 meters turned to 15 to 10 to 5. His lips curled back in rage, his eyes set on this unknown intruder.


(Above: Photo by Russell. Tiger mid-charge. Sorry it’s a little blurry. We were too busy crapping ourselves.)

I had the misfortune of being the first target in his path, and as he approached me, things began to slow. Images and sounds sharpened. Honestly, I’ve only had a few experiences in my life where I thought I might die (Morphine allergies, near car accident, and now a tiger charge.). I felt strangely calm as he was charging towards us, and I made no movement to hide or run (I’d like to say I was stoic, but I think frozen in fear is more accurate.) Once he hit about 3 meters, he turned abruptly to the side, eyes still upon us, let out another growl and circled back to where he was before. Adrenaline replaced fear and we each looked at each other with wide grins. Our guide just kept softly muttering “very dangerous…this one is very dangerous” and our driver, with trembling arms and a blank stare, had to be relieved of his duties. The rest of the safari was filled with reenactments, laughter, and disbelief. We had come for a tiger experience, and that is definitely what we got.

Looking At Old Things, Part 37.

I look at a lot of old, run down things during my trip, and that’s not just a reference to pictures of my father (HEYYOOO!). From forts to religions to ruins to traditions, it seems that most things I take in these days have a “made on” stamp of hundreds to thousands of years ago. These past few days have been no exception as I spent the last 48 hours hiking up and down the many stairs and peeking into the dozens of caves of Ellora and Ajanta.

By far the most impressive was Ellora, with its gigantic Kailasa Temple silently demanding your attention and admiration. Intricate carvings abound, and it’s easy to see the care that was put into the 150-year construction period of these cherished structures. I poked around these ruins, inspecting each dark corner, running my hands along the cold, smooth stone. I made a friend or two, and was gifted with a headscarf (For which I might have been a little too excited to receive. Pretty sure my “wow, for me?” echoed through all of Maharashtra. It’s a scarf, bro, settle down.) I decided to take a shared jeep home, which turned into an unexpected tour of the local villages and the tasting of still unknown foods. (What is this? I’m sorry, what? I can’t understand you, one more time? Ok I’ll just eat it. Mmm gross. Thanks.)

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(Above: Look at me, being so cultural)

The next day found me in Ajanta, and forgive me if I was a bit underwhelmed. I think it’s only fair to say that I went in offseason, though. Evidently monsoon season is the time to come, as the hills are alive and green, and the river and seven waterfalls are flowing at full strength. Still, it was a peaceful experience to sit on the view point, the horseshoe shaped cave line laid out before me. I sat there for a few hours in silence, reading my book and occasionally chatting with touts that came by to push their wares (No, I don’t want to buy a rock, but thanks for asking. Not from you or the thirteen guys that asked me first.) I ventured into the caves for an hour or so, witnessing one Buddha statue after another (How many Buddha caves does one really need, anyways? Evidently the answer is 26.)  Ajanta is known for the well-preserved frescoes that can be found in many of the caves, and in truth, they were beautiful. I think I just expected a bit more.

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I also spent an afternoon at Daulatabad Fort where I blindly made my way through bat infested passages, crossed wide, water filled moats and summited the highest peaks it had to offer. It was all very Game of Thrones-y. No Direwolf sightings, but I did make some friends who took me on a drive through the city of Aurangabad to see Bibi-qa-Maqbara (Also known as the poor man’s Taj Mahal.) and other local sights. One thing I was really impressed with was the amount of knowledge young people had about their city’s history. It is a sense of pride I’m not used to in San Jose. Hell, I can barely tell you how to get onto Highway 280, let alone the cultural significance of…of…see, I can’t even think of anything cultural in San Jose. The HP Pavillion? Point made, I think.)


(Above: A small sample of the bats of Daulatabad Fort. Creepy. Very Creepy.)

After a wonderful dinner with a Canadian couple that pretty much epitomized the stereotype of Canadians being warm, kind and polite, I’m now on my way to Bandhavgarh to search out some wild tigers. I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes as a kid, so I’ve prepared for this moment. I just need to find a can opener for the tuna fish…


India: A Little Bit Of Kambla In My Life

After the brightly lit palace of Mysore, the peaceful trekking in Ooty (peaceful if you don’t think about the four tiger attacks that took place over the previous week), the beautiful beaches of Goa and the surreal landscapes of Hampi, Loes and I got it in our heads that it was time to take in some traditional south Indian sports. Not just any sport, mind you. We are talking about Kambla. Whoever first decided it was a good idea to rile up two massive, muscular buffalo, tie them together and hold on for dear life as all three of them barrel down a water filled trackway with no way to stop except running into an awaiting crowd of spectators is a mad man. Wait, scratch that. I mean mad genius.

The journey to find Kambla wasn’t an easy one. You see, we didn’t really know where or when to go, we just knew we WANTED to go. So we asked around. And around. And around. After eight different answers from seven different people, we finally found a lead that sounded promising. So off we went, in a cramped bus for 90 minutes to some town we, nor the Lonely Planet we have come to rely on, had any information about. A quick bite to eat and another short 20 minute rickshaw ride later we rolled up to the Kambla track congratulating ourselves on a job well done. Opps. Premature congratulations (It doesn’t happen very often, I swear. I was just really excited!). Turns out the races were over and unless we wanted to watch some illegal cock fighting, it was time to keep moving. Thankfully, some random guy informs us of a different Kambla event, only another 90 minutes away, in another town we’ve never heard of. Hmm, sounds legit. So after some brief convincing of Loes, we were on our way, yet again. This time we had a much happier ending.

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(Above: And they’re off! They raced the buffalo in two different fashions. The first was with a person holding on to them with a rope as they ran down the trackway behind them. The second was on a “T” shaped sled that skimmed over the water)

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(Above: The buffalo sometimes got the better of their handlers. It would take up to a dozen men to control them again.)

The most notable event of the race was when we decided that, in order to take the most Facebook worthy of photos (which is oh so very important these days), we would stand at the finish line, directly straight in front of the charging buffalo. It was a solid idea until the buffalo didn’t stop and broke through the line. I stood there, watching in slow motion as everyone scattered and ran for cover. When the commotion ended, I looked around for Loes, who had scampered up onto the VIP stage with wide eyes and a heaving chest. She was a little excited and just a bit more jumpy than usual, but she was alright. A wise woman, she moved to the side for the next race. Me? I stood in the exact same spot I did for the previous race. Brave or stupid? I’m still not quiet sure.

Photo Gallery: A glimpse of South India

Here are just a few snapshots of southern India. Pictures, as usual (and especially when I take them), don’t do this place justice.

Oh, and I must say this. Of all the countries I’ve visited in this last year, the people in southern India have been the kindest and most helpful. Well done, India!



(Above: Mysore Palace, lit up at night. They light this palace up from 7pm to 8pm every Sunday, as well as on public holidays. I lucked out, as my train arrived at 6:45pm on a Sunday night. Yay, coincidences!)


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(Above: Trekking in Ooty. Located in the high altitudes of the Western Ghats, Ooty was cold, real cold. I’m talking thermals, beanies and see your breath cold. Ok, so it’s not the big freeze, but considering I haven’t had a real winter in about 2 years it was a pretty big deal! Ooty is stunning, especially the steam train ride into the town. It’s a sea of shades of green with a crisp cold air that awakens your lungs.)


(Above: Loes right after she wakes up in the morning. ZING!)


No pictures taken. Too busy swimming, sunning, and funning. I’m disappointed in myself that I wrote “sunning and funning”, but I won’t delete it. I have to teach myself a lesson.


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(Above: This picture is completely natural, I swear.)



(Above: Me being blessed by an elephant. I’m not a religious man, but when an elephant blesses you, you better just go with it.)

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(Above: Just me and my new friend.)

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(Above: The view across from our hotel (left), and the sweetest ride you’ll ever find (right). Sadly, no helmet was provided so I didn’t rent it. Safety first, kids!)

Hampi is a wonderous city, full of ruins and a landscape like I’ve never seen. Oh, and it’s full of Israelis. Never have I been to a place so full of one nationality. Want some falafal? Go to Hampi.

Udupi, Karnataka, India

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(Above: Some pretty lights and an even prettier elephant. Actually, this was a Hari Krishna nighty ritual. The day before they had a midnight festival. We arrived at 5:30am and the parade was still going on. Say what you will, but Indians know how to party.)

Last but not least, there is this.

No explanation required.

Getting an Indian Visa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

This post is more for people looking for information on how to get an Indian Visa in Ethiopia than anything else. Loes and I had so many headaches from this process, I thought it would be wise to write it down so others could avoid our frustration. Also, it might be a bit therapeutic for me. Serenity now!


Arada District, Kebele-13/14, House 224
Addis Abeba (Addis Ababa)

It will cost roughly 100 Birr for a taxi from the Piazza area to the Indian Embassy (Dec, 2013). That’s one way.

Phone number: (011) 123.5538

If you get through to them, you are a better person than I am. Not once did they pick up the phone.

Hours of service:

Visa Applications – Monday-Friday 9:00-11:30. Go early. We got there at 9:30 and were 30th in line. It took 2.5 hours to have our number called.

Visa pickup – Monday-Friday 4:30-5:00

Some general tips:

Do NOT rely on their website or phone calls. The website was down and they don’t pick up the phone. Also, information on the online visa application form is outdated or incorrect.

Ensure that you attach a photo to the online visa application, even though the website states it is not necessary. We learned that the hard way. That said, you still need a hard copy attached to the form as well. Yeah, makes complete sense, I know.

Ensure that you have printouts of your itinerary, even though the website states it is not necessary. We learned that the hard way. That being said, they tell you not to buy your tickets, only to book them. There are no promises that you will be approved a visa.

Ensure you bring photocopies of your vaccination books and passports. They will not photocopy them for you, however, there are 3 places within running distance that can help you out. (1 birr each copy). Also, note that in addition to a yellow fever vaccination, from Jan 30th, 2014, you are also required to have an oral polio vaccination.

They state you don’t need proof of accommodation while in India, but if you have it, bring it. It can’t hurt.

Also, bring a book to read, and don’t forget your patience.

The Danakil Depression: Christmas at the hottest place on earth

Loes and I spent Christmas morning, midnight to 2am Christmas morning to be exact, taking in the sights and sounds of one of the only permanent lava lakes in the world, Erta Ala, in the Danakil Depression. The lava churned below us as smoke and foul smells filled our noses. It was a long journey to get there. For four days we were with a tour group exploring sulfur lakes, narrow caves and expansive saltpans. We battled wind, food poisoning, back-breaking bumpy roads and a three and half hour hike in the dark to get there. The biggest hurdle was getting military permission due to its proximity to the Eritrean border. Some how our beloved tour company managed to mess up the paperwork and 8 of our fellow travelers were not allowed to make the trip to see Erta Ale. To be turned away after three days of travel and a considerable amount of money spent, it’s an understatement to say people were angry. I’m not sure what caused the biggest explosions, the lava, the tour company’s incompetence, or the bad food.


(Above: Waking up for day two of our trip. Slept under the stars, next to a donkey. And no, I’m not talking about Loes, you jerks)


(Above: Our Christmas lights show, courtesy of Erta Ale)

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(Above: The “wind blown” hair style is all the rage here in Ethiopia)


(Above: Loes exploring the sulfur pits in the Danakil)

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(Above: The stacked bricks on the left are salt. Large camel caravans can take up to a week to transport their goods to town)


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(Above : Sending my love to every one of my friends and family at home and around the world. I miss you all very much. )