Riad 

I wake up at 7am to say bye to Cesc. He’s getting on an early train to Tangier and making his way back to Madrid before work on Monday. I’ve still got a couple more days but Madré Mia what will I do without him? Will I ever make another friend? If I do, will they also be Spanish? The answer is most likely yes.
I wander around the medina which is absurdly large. Lots of fun things to see though!! Mostly just shops filled with things I can’t buy, but still a fun adventure. I get some quick street food breakfast (Moroccan crepe with fromage is my new go-to) and head back to my hostel. Here, the front desk guys invite me to eat breakfast with them in the kitchen and even though I explain I’ve just eaten, no one cares. So I eat again. So good, but so full. Declining food here isn’t really a thing.

I met a local last night who manages a Riad (hotel) in the medina. He calls to invite me out for a coffee which is great because I have absolutely no plans for the day. After grabbing a drink on a patio in the main square he has to go back to work, but invites me to come check out the Riad. Cools. The place is suuuuuper nice. Very small, clean and calm. This is where real adults stay when they travel, I suppose. No Arabic beats blaring like at my hostel.

His “job” is hilarious because he basically just hangs out in the lobby until a guest checks in, which is gruelling as you can imagine, especially at a Riad with 6 rooms. I also meet the other staff members and we just chill, drinking mint tea in the cool shade. Riads are super interesting. They’re defined by their central courtyard which usually has a little garden or sometimes a swimming pool. It’s all very open air and fresh feeling. Birds singing, still shaded but not enclosed. They’re cool.

This is “inside”

I meet the rest of the staff and get to practice some French because not everyone speaks English. More importantly, I learn more fun things about Morocco! These guys are all Berber, which I first learned a little bit about when I visited the desert and the gorge. They were always referred to as the “berber Nomad tribe”, and I assumed that was that. But no! Not really. The Berber people are the indigenous group of Morocco; pre Arabs, pre Europeans. Some of them still live the nomadic lifestyle and move around in small tribes but, what I learned, is that tons of them don’t. I could be way off base on this, but I think the whole Nomad tribe thing is played up specifically for tourists. Obviously the tribes exist but I find it curious that no one else bothered to mention lots of Berber people roll in the mainstream society as well. The tourism industry probably does the same for the indigenous people in Canada…something I’d never considered until today. Anyway, now I’m woke and I know stuff.

My day gets even BETTER, when they invite me to have dinner with them. They’re having a typical Marrakechi dish, which is just meat, garlic, saffron and a few other spices, thrown into a clay pot, topped with some water, and slow roasted over fire embers for 6 hours. Don’t have your own fire pit? No problem. Bring your clay pot to the nearest hammam (traditional public steam bath-more on this to come. I’ll visit one soon) and they’ll toss your dinner on the embers they use to heat the baths. I literally don’t think it could get cooler.


There is a small rush for check-ins, so I end up sitting and chatting with guests in the lobby. I basically work here now. The Riad is called Riad Menzeh, and I genuinely recommend that you stay here. Look at me, putting my marketing education to use.

We have wine with dinner on the upstairs patio, where I learn that not only does Morocco brew it’s on beer, it also has wine regions. I’ve come a long way from when I thought alcohol was entirely outlawed.

So I had straight meat and bread for dinner tonight

After dinner we head over to meet some of their friends at a bar. Again, I get to go to a cool local bar, not a tourist bar. We drive out of the medina and into the new town, where there are lots of neon lights, malls, a Louis Vuitton, a Starbucks, and other things that wouldn’t pop into your head when I say “Morocco”.

We get to the bar and it’s super chic. Everyone is dressed up. Women are in heels and full make up. I’m wearing the same pants I’ve worn for the last 3 days. I’m genuinely surprised that I’m even allowed inside. This spot is way way cooler than where I went last night. More like a cool lounge, much less like a hectic club, though people are still smoking inside which I don’t think I could ever get used to. I enjoy all the people watching and Moroccan rosé.

Cascade Akchour 

We all meet up at 9am to visit a waterfall outside of Chaouen. I hadn’t heard or read anything about a waterfall before coming here, but I was fortunate to meet Najoua and Amin, who told me about its existence. I have to buy some running shoes because I only came with a pair of flats. I find a pair of knock off Nikes for 130mdh (12€, $17cad), sold to me by an old man on the street. We stop for a typical Moroccan breakfast, which is a fried egg doused in oil, with sides of cream cheese, home made fresh cheese, and a ton of bread to use for dipping. I am adjusting to the whole eating with my hands thing, I can’t lie. I’ve gotten better about always using my right, though.


We have no trouble finding a grand taxi, which drives us about an hour or so outside of Chefchaouen for 25dmh (2.50€, $3cad). I have been extremely confused about this whole situation. I thought the waterfall was a one hour walk from the city centre, but it’s actually a one hour drive, then another hour and a half of walking. It’s more of an excursion than I expected! Good thing I got my fancy new shoes.

Somewhere along the winding mountain road we run into a traffic jam. It has literally come to a stop for so long that people are now outside of their vehicles, partyin’. We end up getting out and walking the rest of the way, because it doesn’t look like this taxi is going anywhere any time soon. We meet tons of groups doing the same, but they’ve brought drums and dance moves. So well prepared!!
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At the end of the paved road we begin our hike along the trail. We may have picked a bad day to come, as it’s a Sunday and the trail is absolutely flooded with people. It seems like it’s all Moroccan tourists though! Which is awesome. I don’t hear anyone speaking English, French or Spanish.

Okay so it’s not always like this, but crowded is an understatement

 

We walk and walk and walk.

Then walk some more.

Keep walking.

It’s definitely been well over an hour. We keep asking people coming the opposite direction how far we are from the falls. They all tell us an hour. It doesn’t matter how close we get, we’ve still got another hour. I don’t see how this is possible! However, the hike is beautiful, and takes us up up up into the Riff Mountains. I can’t imagine how I would have fared in my black flats. Probably would have fallen down a cliff and died, honestly.

Squad

More walking.
So much walking.

We stop for a tea.

Then we keep walking.

When finally, we’ve made it!

This epic waterfall, even more beautiful than I could have expected. Getting up close is a bit of a challenge, as we have to do some low key rock climbing through a muddy pathway, but it’s well worth it. It’s even possible to walk down behind the falls which I’m always a fan of.


I am wearing running shoes, some loose fitting pants, and a standard t-shirt, and I slip a few times along the way. I cannot IMAGINE how hard it must be for the women around me, wearing long dresses and some people in slippers. Literally so impressed. Mind blown.

After spending some time to take in our surroundings and enjoy the incredible falls, we realize we should start to head back if we plan to catch a taxi. By this point in the day, we’re all absolutely starving, so after a bit of walking we sit down by the river and share a tagine. Morocco is amazing. I’ve always said that once you can start to like, take for granted how beautiful everything is, you know you’ve really seen a place. You can allow yourself to stop being so amazed all the time. I’ve been here 3 days, and I am nothing short of amazed 100% of the time, obviously, but somehow enjoying a fire cooked meal down by the shore of a river already feels like a normal thing to do.


The walk back feels much less long, maybe because we know what we can expect this time. The sun has also dropped behind the mountains so I’m not roasting in the sun like before.

Back in Chaouen we take an hour to go home, shower, and relax for a bit, before meeting up again for dinner. Amin has a better idea, and instead of going straight to dinner asks a man on the street where we can find a beer. Of course, in Muslim countries it’s impossible to find beer at regular restaurants because it goes against their religion. It’s not like Canada or Spain where alcohol is basically part of the religion. Honestly, I was under the impression alcohol was illegal here. Wrong. Naive me. I knew you could still get it of course, but I thought it was like underground sketchy clubs. Wrong. So so wrong. The man that Amin approaches leads us to a fancy hotel where we can order either Heineken or Flag Speciale, the beer of Morocco. Of course, I must order the latter! In some ways it’s still a bit of an underground vibe, with men in suits smoking big cigars indoors and drinking whiskey on the rocks. Najoua and I are the only women around so we’re getting a lot of strange looks, but after a long hike like today, a nice cold beer is all I want. The Flag Speciale is light and easy to drink; nicer than a Heineken in my opinion.

We leave the hotel to find a restaurant that offers a “menu” (app, main, and dessert) for 50dhm (5€, $7cad). I try a Moroccan soup as my app, and again have tagine for my main. Though instead of chicken and vegetables like earlier today, I try kefta, which is similar, but better, to meatballs in tomato sauce with an egg.

Excuse the strange lighting. I did say everything here was blue and I wasn’t kidding

 

By this point in the evening we are all exhausted and stuffed to the brim with food, so we go home and crash. Tomorrow, Cesc and I are heading to Fes, and decide to try and hitch hike our way there instead of paying for a bus or taxi.

Sorry Ma.

Najoua and Amin were only going to spend on night in Chaouen, which turned into two, and now they’ve decided to call in sick to work and stay a third. THAT’S how beautiful this city is.

Barcelona’s Cheapest Drinks

 

Because the further your money can go, the further you can go 


1. Tasca El Corral
Unusual décor that is reminiscent of your eccentric uncle’s log cabin, with a hint of dry storage dungeon… in a good way. Garlands of peppers, corn stalks, garlic, and traditional Spanish jamon legs hang from the ceiling, with a random array of plates, bells, pots, and even a pitch fork adorning the walls. The bathroom stalls are collaged head to toe with photos of boys for the boys, and girls for the girls. El Corral is a quirky little spot to say the least, but the atmosphere isn’t all they have to offer. A half litre of beer goes for 2.75€, but if you want to be really penny-wise (and trendy), you can drink a glass of red vermouth for just 1€.

Closest Metro Station: Barceloneta (L4)
Address: Carrer de la Mercè, 17, 08002 Barcelona

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Decor at Tasca El Corral
2. 100 Montaditos
Okay, so it’s not exactly one of Barcelona’s coolest or most underground spots, but it’s certainly one of the cheapest. 100 (as the title suggests) sandwiches, salads, and snacks for absurdly low prices, but more importantly, drinks for absurdly low prices! A small caña of beer or sangria is just 1€, or get a half litre for 1.50€! This is my cheapest find so far

Go on a Wednesday or Sunday and take advantage of their promotion: everything on the food menu for 1€. Yes, everything.  If that’s not thrifty af, I don’t know what is. 

This is a chain restaurant (thus why I don’t really consider it overly cool) but as a result they have like 10 locations and that’s pretty convenient!

You can find 100 Montaditos near these metro stations: 
Urquinaona(L1/L2), Catalunya(L1/L3), Liceu(L3), Parallel(L2), Diagonal(L3/L5) & more.

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Cerveza and montaditos on a sunny patio
3. The Lime House
Sexy red lighting and cozy seating spaces make this a good spot for a casual first date. If you’re a gin fan, you can choose from an entire wall of infusions, including cinnamon (yum!) and garlic (what?) for 7€. For the budget conscious, the 4€ mojitos are the real steal, but they’re made strong so watch out! There’s always beer if hard liquor isn’t your thing, and a bottle of Estrella goes for 2.50€.   

Closest Metro Station: Jaume 1 (L4)
Address: Carrer dels Carders, 31, 08003 Barcelona

*Try their sister bars, The Mint in Barceloneta, and Rubi in El Born. Same atmosphere, same drinks, same prices, and sometimes even the same bartenders; just different titles. 

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Wall of Gin at The Lime House
4. Taber Cafe (Two Locations!)
A perfect place to sit and chat without having to compete with too many voices in the room. As the name suggests, it’s a cafe, not a bar, so don’t go with your rowdy squad. This is great for a couple casual drinks, and most importantly, it’s an easy place to make good, fiscally responsible decisions! Taber Cafe is super budget friendly, with a small “caña” beer and side of olives priced at just 1€! Just got paid? Upgrade your beer to a mediana and pay an extra 0.80€. Trying to impress your date? Order cocktails without breaking the bank; Mojitos and Gin & Tonics are 4€ each.
*They also offer an array of cakes and coffees if you’re nursing last night’s hangover.
No hamsters allowed. 

Closest Metro Station: Universitat (L1/L2)
Address: Carrer de Joaquin Costa, 47, 08001 Barcelona

Closest Metro Station: Urquinaona (L1/L4)
Address: Carrer de General Alvarez de Castro, 5, 08003 Barcelona

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This is what 3.60€ looks like at Taber Cafe
5. Blai Tonight
This isn’t just a spot for cheap drinks, but cheap pintxos too! Sit on the patio* to enjoy the sunshine and do some people watching; Blai is one of Barcelona’s most charming pedestrian-only streets. At 1€ for a half pint, and 1-1.50€ for each pinxto, you can comfortably rack up your glasses and toothpicks for under 10€. If you’re feeling fancy, treat yo’self (and hopefully some friends) to a 1.5L pitcher of sangria for 12€.

*0.20 patio fee

Closest Metro Station: Parellel (L2/L3) or Poble Sec (L3)
Address: Carrer de Blai, 23, 08004 Barcelona

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Photo stolen from @muntagood on Instagram
6. Bar Jardin
Quiet, calm, and nearly impossible to find if it weren’t for the large plastic camel at the door, Bar Jardín is a hidden rooftop gem above what seems like just another “mercat” in the Gothic Quarter. The quirky patio decor and inconspicuous location make this a great spot to bring friends and enjoy a drink on a sunny Barcelona day (so, every day) or warm summer night. Order a bottle of beer for 2.50€, or a refreshing mojito for 5€

Closest Metro Station: Liceu (L3) or Jaume 1 (L4)
Address: Carrer de la Portaferrissa, 17, 08002 Barcelona

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Photo stolen from @lienyte on Instagram
7. L’Ovella Negra (Two Locations!)
Poble Nou Location: Set up in an old warehouse that’s kept its industrial decor, this bar has a pretty hipster vibe. Great for large groups and cheap drinks before dancing the night away at club Razzmatazz. Drink a small San Miguel for 1.20€, push yourself a little harder and crush a litre for 5.60€, or share 5 litres with friends for 25€

Closest Metro Station: Bogatell (L4) or Marina (L1)
Address: Carrer de Zamora, 78, 08018 Barcelona 

La Rambla Location: A deceivingly large bar that reaches back into what feels like a little cave. With dim lighting, sticky floors, and tables big enough for you and 15 of your closest friends, this is a great spot for a casual night out or some cheap drinks before getting down at Jamboree. Prices are almost the same as Poble Nou, but as most things near La Rambla, they are a little more expensive. Here it’s 27.50€ for 5L. They make up for it with free popcorn! Just ask at the bar. 

Closest Metro Station: Catalunya (L1/L3)
Address: Calle de les Sitges, 5, 08001 Barcelona

#Bonus – The L’Ovella Negra in Poble Nou hosts a second-hand market on the first Sunday of every month! Some furniture, books, and collectibles can be found, but the majority of stalls offer clothing and small hand-made goods. Check out Two Market for details and dates. 

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Two Market in January

More to come friends, I just gotta keep drinkin’.

2 months later…

Oh hey! I know it’s been two months. My day to day life doesn’t seem worth blogging about. Though I should do it anyway, for myself if no one else. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it! …But you know you do.
Anyway, here, I’ll try to catch you up.

My seemingly friendly and helpful roommate Gary has become insane, so I’ve moved out. He’s doing everything in his power to keep my 400€ deposit, which I really can’t afford to lose. He’s also kicking Max out, even though they’re supposed to be besties. According to Max, Gary hasn’t been paying the rent to the owner, and just pocketing the money we’ve paid him. Poor little Max is on the lease too, but thank the heavens I’m not. I have escaped mostly unscathed. Though, Gary is now claiming I was the messy roommate, never cleaned the apartment, and now needs to “pay” someone to clean it, so instead I’m going over to clean it myself. Pathetic, I know, especially considering I was certainly NOT the messy one, but I’m determined not to lose that 400€.

On the bright side, I’ve found an absolutely beautiful apartment right in the heart of Barcelona. I’m on a classic vintage European fourth floor walk up, that has a view of a historic church from my living room, and am a mere 2 minute walk from Las Ramblas.

My brother, checking out my sick view
I also live much closer to Lindzee, John and Adam, who are still basically my only friends, so I guess not THAT much has changed. The new roommates in my flat are great though so that’s positive. I’m still settling in because I moved just before the holidays when my family came to visit and we did a little road trip to Madrid and Valencia.

Oh yah! My fam came to visit. I lived a temporary luxury lifestyle, staying in hotels and dining at real restaurants. I finally went to see Montserrat, and the inside of the Sagrada Familia. I saw some famous art work at the Prado in Madrid, and visited an epic “Oceanographic Museum” (glorified aquarium) in Valencia.

Here are some pics.

Sagrada Familia – Under construction since the 1800s

View from Montserrat

Walking up to the basilica

My brother and I, entertaining ourselves at the Prado
I didn’t say anything about being overly mature or culture-absorbing at the Prado.

Valencia has some insane architecture

We had paella at an underwater restaurant

Photo next to a garbage can because we are trash
Oh, and I’ve also started some Spanish lessons and am doing a 4 day mini-intensive course to really get a jump start. I’ve been here almost 4 months now and I still have a very limited vocabulary. Time to up my I’m-a-local game.
Alright, I think that about sums it up. Which brings us to the present day, as I try to get comfortable in my new flat.

All I’ve got in my kitchen is a bag of pasta, tomato sauce, rice, a block of cheese, and kraft dinner. Yes, kraft dinner. I had asked my parents to bring me a few boxes so I could show my students. They’d never heard of or seen it before, which surprised me. But guess what? I’m going to keep a box and make it for myself today.

Both of my roommates end up in the kitchen around the same time as me and we all cook our individual lunches. I am full of absolute horror and shame as my Egyptian roommate makes a wonderful and healthy looking octopus salad, and my Spanish roommate heats up her mothers home made soup… my neon noodles look offensive next to their real food.

I get ready and head over to my Spanish lessons, giving myself a little extra time because walking up Las Ramblas is a nightmare. Tourists. Everywhere. All of Barcelona is like this, but Las Ramblas is undoubtedly the most concentrated area. The only downside to such an otherwise fabulous location.
I think it goes without saying that Lindzee, John, and Adam are all taking these lessons with me. Our teacher for the mini-intensive is different from our normal once a week classes, and she seems a little nervous. She seems like she’s winging it a little, but I remind myself thats exactly what I do in my classes almost daily.

I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I resolve to do a little more to organize and plan my lessons for each of my students.

Narita

We arrive at Tokyo Narita airport feeling tired and stiff after 14 hours of minimal movement. We breeze through customs and pick up our baggage in what might be the cleanest airport I’ve ever been to. There are individual baby changing tables in every women’s washroom stall, equipped with it’s own washing station and everything. Fancy!

It’s about 4am Toronto time, and 5pm Tokyo time, so we decide it’s best to get down to our hotel ASAP, settle in, and sleep so we can prepare for an early morning bus to Kyoto tomorrow. I’m eager to jump in and get on the famously crowded subway system, but Dad suggests taking a cab because of our baggage. Just to double check our options, we stop at information to find out the approximate cost of a taxi to downtown Tokyo. Does THREE HUNDRED AMERICAN DOLLARS sound like a lot to you? I’m pretty sure I would spend less cabbing from Downtown Toronto all the way to Elora for that kinda cash. Fortunately, there’s also a modestly priced airport bus that only costs ¥3,100 ($31). Call us peasants, but we opt for the bus. Everything is very organized. We choose our destination and are directed to a platform where we wait only about 10 minutes before a shuttle bus arrives. We are politely directed to stand right next to our suitcases in a single file line as we wait. There’s wifi on board, which requires a password and username, but it’s all in Japanese so I give up and decide to wait until we get to the hotel.

Midway through our bus ride Dad is checking his “passport app” (which holds electronic versions of everything from hotel bookings to your Starbucks card balance) and realizes that he had been looking at the wrong hotel booking. We are only in Tokyo for one night, but are returning after our trek to do some more exploring. He had pre-booked all our hotels, and we have accidentally purchased a bus ticket to the hotel we are staying at in two weeks. We check a conveniently located map in the back pocket of the seat in front of us, and see that the hotels are significant distances from each other. Whoops.
We get off at the first stop on the bus route which is a hotel AND connection to the subway line. A very helpful and bilingual concierge greets us at the bus and helps us maneuver our stuff through the busy rush-hour crowd-filled hallways of the subway entrance. He writes our hotel name in Japanese on a small piece of paper, and writes our subway entrance/exit stops in English so that we can figure out where to go. I buy us two subway tickets which is a mini-nightmare because I can’t find the translation button for quite some time, but mostly due to the fact that the Tokyo system charges based on the distance you go, not just a quick $3 drop-n-go-wherever-you-want like I’m used to in most cities (never change, Toronto!).
I buy two tickets that I THINK are the ones we need to get to where we’re going. Obviously, it’s not that simple. We follow our written directions and lug our bags into a relatively empty subway car in hopes that we’re headed in the right direction. I catch two people about my age speaking English to one another so I ask them if they can confirm that this subway will take us to Ginza Station. They’re vague and talk about other routes I COULD have taken but ultimately agree that this one will do the job. On a whim at one of the stops, Dad and I hop off the subway after he sees a sign saying “Ginza Exit” outside on the platform. We push through a crowd of people, saying excuse me and trying to maneuver all our baggage off before the doors shut. We follow signs to “Ginza Exit” and put our subway tickets into a machine that allows us to leave the subway station. Now we’re somewhere in downtown Tokyo…probably close to our hotel, but without the slightest clue as to what direction it might be. I see a western guy handing out pamphlets on the street and ask him for help. I learn that he’s been living in Japan for 3 years teaching English, but is originally from Toronto. It’s a small world, people. He writes down some phonetically spelt Japanese phrases like how to say “where is” and “excuse me” so that we could have an easier time conversing with locals on the search for our hotel. I’ll also mention that he is a total hottie. He google maps the hotel and points us in the right direction. We start walking but still don’t have a real concept of how long of trek this is going to be. After about 4 blocks I see what I think is a traffic cop (who actually turns out not to be a traffic cop, but still helpful) and ask him for directions. I show him the Japanese name of out hotel after saying “wa doko des ka” like the hot English teacher had taught us. This man motions for us to keep going another 3 blocks and turn left. We are almost there! When we get to the third block I can see the hotel name in lights just across the road. It’s been 3 hours since we landed and I’m more than ready to check in and get some sleep. We arrive in the lobby, wait in line, get to the desk and what does the concierge tell us? That we’re at the WRONG Mitsui Garden Hotel. We are booked into the Mitsui Garden Hotel premium, which is at another location. Shoot me in the face now, I just want to sleep. We give up and I hail a cab. The cab door opens automatically, our driver bows, and loads our bags into the trunk. The cab fare starts at ¥730 ($7.30) and I watch it to see how fast it climbs because I’m still dumfounded by the $300 airport taxi price we were quoted. We drive for like 3 minutes before we get to our destination and the meter is still at ¥730. I don’t understand, but I also don’t care. We are finally at the right hotel. Hallelujah.

The lobby is on the 16th floor of the building. I have yet to discover what occupies the space between ground level and lobby. We check in with a very dainty concierge woman who places our credit card on a small silver plate, formally confirms every detail of our booking, provides us with a map, and directs us to the elevators. Oh lawdy I am ready for a nap!
Our room is small and simply decorated, but with a gigantic floor to ceiling window looking out over Tokyo. All the lights are incredibly beautiful. Oh, and we get a toilet with a heated seat which is also pretty sweet. I dive onto the bed and pass out before I can even change into my pyjamas.

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Baga Beach

We wake up and leave that godforsaken place with the scary noises as soon as we can. We walk down the road to the new, more quaint and affordable hotel. We make plans to go for breakfast and then to hit up the beach but during our meal it seems that Ilona’s health has taken another turn for the worse and she won’t be able to make it to the beach. I go out into Baga on my own, where there is no sight seeing to do like there was in Jaipur, only a beach. Along with the beach come the classic beach shops including tattoo parlours, and rickety huts selling very cheap swimwear, floaties, and bongs with pictures of Bob Marley on them (yes even in India).

I walk through the beachy-market area to the main beach along the coast of the Arabian Sea where there are just a TON of people. I don’t go in the water because frankly the crowds are too big and I don’t want to leave my things on the beach unattended. I walk along the beach and around the bars and restaurants in the area and at least get a feel for where our hotel is in relation to the water. It’s very close, only about a 2 minute walk, which is nice. I come back to see how Ilona is doing (and for lack of anything else to do but laze around on the shore) but she still isn’t feeling well, so instead of walking all the way back to the beach I decide to hop in the cute little pool outside our room and then read up on things to do during the next portion of our trip when we go to Thailand. All the while i am laying in the sun, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, coconuts and dragonflies. It’s not a bad day considering the circumstances. Ilona hopes to feel well enough by the evening so that we can walk over to the beach and watch the sunset.

Unfortunately she’s too sick and needs more rest so I decide to go alone. It’s a very busy beach filled with lots of screaming children, wild dogs, and even cows but with the pink and orange sunset sky ahead of me, I don’t care about anything else on this beach.
I walk up and down along the shore with my feet in the water thinking about nothing but how happy I am to be there in that moment. Until some man comes right up to me and takes a picture of my face. That sort of ruins it.

When I am done walking along the shore I find a place to sit where I can admire the sunset head on. While I am sitting there two Indian guys sit directly behind me. At first I don’t notice or care until they start talking to me, and I think I am in for another close up picture of my face when I turn around to answer them, but it turns out that they are just genuinely friendly people. They ask me why I am alone (in a non-creepy way, though I assumed it was creepy at first) and I explain about Ilona being sick but that I really wanted to come see the sunset anyway. We chat for a while and I find out that one of the guys is a Bollywood soap star in Mumbai. How cool! I ask him to write down the name of his show so I can watch it on YouTube. I didn’t have time to go to Mumbai this time, so this can count towards me seeing a Bollywood show.

They invite me to a party in Panaji (the capital of Goa, about 1 hour away) and say I can bring my friend with me if she is feeling better. I know that even if she were to feel better she won’t be well enough to be up to going out to a party, and my mama taught me better than to go to something like that alone, so I stay home and write instead.
I’m so fun.

I am skeptical about this guy’s status as “Bollywood actor”, but as soon as I creep his Facebook page, I find out it’s legit and regret not going to the party. Still the wise choice though, I know.

Goa

Goa is a south-western area of India. It’s known for it’s tropical temperature and white sandy beaches, where lots of tourists go to party, lay in the sand, and ride motorbikes around the winding streets.

We wake up at 7:30 in order to pack our bags and get to the airport in time for our flight to Goa, which leaves at 11:30. Karam, our driver, has told us that the Jaipur airport is 2 hours away from our hotel so we decide it’s best to leave by 8:30 at the latest. We order two very exciting free breakfasts to our room, just because they’re free. The only reason I say they are exciting is because the butter for the toast comes very yellow, lumpy and half melted in it’s metal container. Delish.

We get in the car prepared for a 2 hour drive, but 20 minutes later we pass a sign that reads TO AIRPORT… and soon after that, another sign listing the gate numbers. We check with Karam who mentions he has never been to the Jaipur airport before, and doesn’t speak fluent English so I assume somewhere there was a misunderstanding about how far the airport was. We are 2 hours early for our domestic flight in a very small Indian airport so there isn’t much to do. We visit some shops and get a drink and just sit and wait. Finally it comes time to board the plane and we take a little shuttle bus 30 seconds from the airport to the plane. I have never been on a plane that you get to actually walk up too outside, only ever at big airports where the ramp thing is already connected to the building when you board. I like the quaint style of this airport much more. It’s a very small plane that we are taking, and it’s less than half full. Ilona and I sit down and get comfortable but are later asked to move seats so that there would be someone sitting by the emergency exit, just in case. We happily oblige and discover that there is much more leg room at the emergency exit too. Upgrade! (and not the kind that comes with strings attached like smelly bathrooms and icy air).
It’s listed as a 3 hour flight, but 45 minutes later they announce that we are landing and I am instantly concerned that I somehow managed to get on the wrong plane. No such luck, (that would have made for a VERY interesting blog post) there is just a stop over in another Indian city. Ilona and I are frustrated because we had booked this flight through a travel agency in Delhi, (first mistake) and not demanded to see all the details of our itinerary until the day we were leaving to go (second mistake). When we got the ticket there was next to no information, Ilona’s name was misspelled, and only my name was on the return ticket. It’s all very questionable and we try to call our travel agent but the phone number he provided does not exist. Slightly sketchy…
I am so ready to be done with this tour thing that we booked.
Anyway, we’re frustrated that we don’t know anything about the flight we’re on but the stop over isn’t long at all so we sit patiently inside the plane and wait. The second half of the trip from this stop-over Indian city (I totally forget the name and was never given an itinerary to reference) to Goa, is much more popular than the first half. The plane is probably 80% full. It’s about half way through boarding when a woman approaches us and tells us that we are in her seat. Of course, when they asked us to move they did not take into account the other portion of the trip, and neither did we…because we didn’t know it existed. We go back to our original seats and there is a very young boy casually sitting at the window. We tell him that these were our seats and he just responds with “nope it’s mine”. I am too exhausted and frustrated to care, and he’s like 10, so we let him stay and just sit in the seats next to him, forfeiting our window. What I discover 10 seconds after sitting down, is that the rest of his family is across the aisle from me. They start speaking over top of us and the kid is coughing his face off (without covering his mouth as children so often do) beside poor Ilona who is trying to recover from her previous illness. As the plane starts for take off, babies are wailing, people are coughing and hacking, and I am told I am not allowed to use Airplane mode…. On the airplane. It is such a ridiculously frustrating flight but we laugh it off. I mean literally, we laughed uncontrollably for most of the flight. Finally we do arrive in Goa and it’s gorgeous, not what I expected any part of India to ever look like. There’s palm trees and beaches and it’s a much more humid type of heat than what I have grown used to in Delhi.

We take a taxi to Baga Beach which is what The Lonely Planet describes as the young person’s beach area for tourists like ourselves. We have not chosen or booked a hostel/hotel yet so we get our taxi driver to take us to a near by place to stay. The first one he takes us to is 7000 rupees ($140) a night and has a children’s playground at the front entrance. Not what we’re looking for. We tell him we’d like something much cheaper and he takes us to another spot with private beach huts, a mere 4000 rupees ($80). We tell him we can’t pay more than 1000 or 1500 at the most and he calls his friend who owns a hotel near by. We go see these accommodations and they’re very decent, but still 2000 rupees a night. It’s getting dark and we are running low on time so we agree to stay at this place (after bargaining him down to 1500 rupees) for just one night and then leave the next morning. Once we bring our bags to the room, we decide to run out quickly and grab Ilona a bug net which she is desperately in need of, especially now in the more humid climate. On our way we stumble upon this really cute little hotel called The Indian Kitchen. Their rooms are much cheaper (880 rupees) and have a very unique, colourful charm so we decide that we will definitely be leaving our current location as soon as the sun rises.
We find Ilona a bug net and go back to our room.

As we are sitting watching Twilight on my iPad, this absolutely terrifying, very loud sound of gun shots on metal starts abruptly. I am literally petrified with fear and don’t want to move. Ilona and I are both sitting there motionless looking at each other in horror when it happens again. And again. And again. We manage to find the courage to move to our beds and lock the door behind us. We notice that it’s the same pattern of sound each time, and it isn’t exactly the sound of a gunshot, no one is screaming, so we rule out the fact that someone is running around shooting people.
The noise stop after about 15 minutes of consistent on and off intervals of the mystery sound, so we manage to fall asleep.
I have one of the worst sleeps of my life because I wake up to every little bump in the night, paranoid and no peace of mind due to the fact that we never actually figured out what the noise was. It is the only night on my travels so far where I have felt unsafe, and it is awful to feel that way when you are in a foreign country and don’t even know which way the beach is yet let alone where to find help. But hey! We survived.

Alone in the Pink City

Today Ilona and I have arranged to go to Pushkar (1.5 hours from Jaipur) to ride camels in the dessert. Very unfortunately, Ilona has become very sick and cannot get out of bed let alone ride a camel, so we stay in Jaipur for the day. We call a doctor to our hotel to give her some medicine, because I am concerned it is more than a common cold, and clearly have no idea what to do in medical situations at the best of times, and definitely not in the middle of India. He comes and brings her some medication that should help but he suggests that she rest all day as well. I feel awful that she is ill, BUT I only have 7 more days in India and cannot afford to spend a full day in the hotel so I go out into Jaipur on my own.

I visit the Amber Fort, The Palace of Winds, and the Jantar Mantar Observatory.
I am lucky because my driver, Karam, is awesome and suggests that he call a tour guide to show me all of the sights. At first I feel ambivalent about it, because I don’t want to be such a tourist, like those people that wear floral print shirts, ridiculously large sunglasses and sun-hats with cameras hung from their necks, snapping photos of all the sites while following a tour guide.
I would die before I would do that, but I did ultimately decide that having a tour guide would be beneficial because, well, I have no idea what I’m doing.

The tour guide proves to be very helpful. Primarily because beggars and vendors are much less bothersome today. I look like less of an easy target with a local Indian man next I me. Thank god, because the amount of time I spend in a day attempting to figure out just how hard someone is trying to rip me off, is extreme.
I do a quick view of the Palace of Winds from the outside. It is located right on the main stretch of The Pink City, and is a tall structure (in comparison to the 1-3 story buildings lining the rest of streets) with many very small windows carved out along in rows.

He also teaches me tons about the history of Jaipur, Indian gods and goddesses, architecture and so many other things. He tells me a lot about the Amber Fort, but to be honest I don’t retain any of the information because I am so blown away by how beautiful the view is. Amber Fort is located on top of a mountain and was built close to 300 years ago. When I climb to the top floor and look out over the water and into the city, it’s impossible to think of anything else. The view is incredible and I take pictures, but I know they will never depict just how beautiful it really is to see with your own eyes.

My mama suggested that I go see the Jantar Mantar Observatory, which is probably the most interesting to me of the three sites that I visit, probably because it was way over my head. Basically, a Maharaja (King) from 300 years ago made these huge stone sculptures which are actually sundials, and can tell time accurately based solely on shadows. He also built structures that can tell you the time based on moonlight, the Astrological Zodiac for that day, and which exact latitude the city is on. It is absolutely unbelievable, and I can’t wrap my head around ever coming up with something that elaborate and so exact before electricity was even available. Again, it is helpful to have the tour guide take me through this, because I have a million questions, and everything is in Hindi.

The tour guide clearly knows what he is doing, and saves the best for last by bringing me to a textile shop before going back to the hotel. I am in heaven as I am toured around by one of the employees of the shop, who teaches me how to print fabrics with vegetable dyes and stamps, while I watch women weaving carpets in the distance. In true Indian style, I am lead into the shop after my tour where I am shown beautiful silks, embroidered cottons, and lovely traditional Rajasthani clothing. They pull out dozens of silk bed sheets for me to touch and unfold onto large tables. They are all stunning, but I find one that is teal blue with silver printed along the edges, I can’t resist. I also find an absolutely gorgeous ultraviolet blue silk with gold prints. I find out that they can tailor make any of the fabrics into clothing and I decide to go for it, I am in India. They take my measurements and sew me a Sari from new, which will take a few hours so they arrange to have it delivered to my hotel. It arrives at 9:30pm to my door and I am elated. I cannot wait to find an occasion appropriate to wear such a beautiful dress.

I return back to the hotel in time to receive Ilona’s medical results from the doctor and it looks like she will be all better in a couple of days with some medication, which is good because we leave for the sandy beaches of Southern India tomorrow morning!

Mother suggested I add something about what foods I am eating and the people I am meeting to my blog. They were not included in this entry for the following reasons:
1. I made no friends while I was following my tour guide around all day snapping photos of Indian tourist attractions.
2. My breakfast was another free breakfast that came with the hotel, and consisted of toast, and “omelette” (a plain fried egg) and masala tea. I ate no lunch because I was busy following my tour guide around all day snapping photos of Indian tourist attractions. And 3. I had dinner inside our room with Ilona because she was still too sick to get out of bed. She had a chicken broth soup which I specifically asked (so kindly) to come without any pieces of chicken in it, and instead it was 90% pieces of chicken. Basically just chicken in a brothy sauce. I ordered chicken korma for myself, and the reason I did not write about this meal, is because I have yet to order a korma in India that isn’t a mysterious green colour. When I find one, I will let you know because it will be the happiest day of my life.
That is all.

Taj Mahal, Monkeys, and Elephants

I wake up at 4:30am for two reasons;
Primarily because I am being eaten alive by mosquitos, and secondly because we are going to see the Taj Mahal at 6am. During the morning the sun is not as hot and we hope to catch the Taj with the sunrise, and with less tourists. Unfortunately there are so many tourists that we have to wait in line until the sunrise is finished. While we are waiting, we meet two girls who are also from Canada but have been travelling much longer than we have. We finally get into the Taj and take turns taking pictures of each other in front of this spectacular monument. It’s challenging to get photos with no other random tourists in the pictures with you, but I hardly care because it’s the Taj! It’s just so beautiful and I’m happy just to be here.

We return to our hotel to catch the free included breakfast, before we head out to Jaipur. This “breakfast” consists of 3 pieces of white toast and a banana. We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us to Jaipur so we eat quickly and go, eager to go Elephant riding as soon as we arrive in The Pink City.

As we approach Jaipur it becomes apparent to me that the neon is trendy here. Many women wear traditional sari’s in greens, blues, and dark pinks, but instead of the usual matching scarf, they wear neon orange with gold jewels draped over their shoulders and around their faces. I see vibrant yellow and neon pink scarves as well, but it’s clear that orange is the popular choice in this area of India.

We drive up and around a mountain filled with wild cows and missing chunks of road for 10 minutes arrive at “Monkey Temple”. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but I know there will be monkeys everywhere, so I am pleased. I walk in and have to pay a fee of 150 rupees ($2.75) to get in, as well as a donation. I leave 50 rupees. They call it a donation, but I’m pretty sure it’s just money in their pockets. I never know, and still haven’t gotten used to tipping everyone for everything all the time.
I walk up a sandy pathway between two beautiful mountains to a large stone gate. There is no line up of tourists which I am thankful for, I couldn’t wait in another line after this morning at the Taj. Once on the other side of the gate I can see a long, very tall staircase to the top of the mountain and, as predicted, monkeys all over the place. I begin to walk through the temple, still unsure of what one does at a monkey temple, but excited to find out. I follow the other visitors and start climbing the steps up towards the top of the mountain. On the way, there are numerous pools of water where I watch monkeys playing together and even some people bathing. Many visitors get tired and stop climbing to the top of the temple to take pictures, but I keep climbing as I am still curious as to what this monkey temple is all about. A small group of indian women climb to the top with me, all the while asking me questions in Hindi that I cannot understand. They see a man who works at the temple (do people work at temples?) who speaks English and he translates all their questions for me. They, like many other people I have encountered in India, are intrigued by my white skin and blonde hair and mostly just wanted to know where I come from. I tell them I am from Canada and I hear the man translate to them that I am from America. Close enough…
When they are done asking me questions they walk into another portion of the temple, and the English speaking man continues chatting with me.
He takes me into a section of the temple where I must remove my shoes to enter. I do so, and walk in to see a large altar filled with photographs and statues all centred around one large painting on a rock which is emerging out of the wall of the mountain. I am the only person in this part of the temple.
He goes on to tell me about the god Hanuman and why the people come to the temple. He tells me that if you stand and pray to Hanuman, (who is painted on the rock) he will help you fix a problem in your life, whatever you ask him for. So I do. Yes, I, anti-religion Naomi, am praying to a rock.

Afterwards the man utters a mantra and wraps a protection bracelet around my right wrist. He tells me it will keep me safe as long as I have it on, and finally he paints a small orange dot on my forehead, and puts a necklace made of carnations (I think they were carnations) around my neck. He tells me to stop at one of the pools of water on my way back down the mountain and wash my hands and face, because it’s holy Ganges water, and I do it.
For the first time in my life, I actually prayed. I didn’t just stand there with my hands together to be polite, I prayed. It was one of the strangest and most spiritual things I have ever done, and I loved every minute of it.
After the temple Ilona and I go to our long awaited Elephant ride! Unfortunately, it’s not what we’ve anticipated. The elephant ride consists of us getting on a very old elephant in a field full of cows and walking around in a small circle for 5 minutes. I feel like a small child on a pony at the fair. It was less than satisfying, but at least I can say I’ve done it. We make plans to go on a REAL elephant ride when we are in Thailand. We also lower our expectations for tomorrow, when we are supposed to be riding camels.

On Route to Agra

Today we leave to start traveling south through India. We wake up early and pack our bags, stuffing them full of newly purchased comfy pants from the day before. I’m already running out of space in my bag. Not a good sign. We eat breakfast on the rooftop patio and try for round two to order a tomato and cheese omelette, and also order a chocolate crêpe. It takes 45 minutes and we are the only people on the roof so I will never understand how that is possible, but at least our omelette comes with tomatoes this time! The crêpe not so much, we get a banana crêpe instead. So close.

We have arranged to meet a family friend of mine, Dolly, at one of her restaurants for lunch. It isn’t too far from our hotel so we decide to take a Rickshaw for the first time ever. I have never been more excited in my life. Rickshaws look SO FUN.

We’ve heard that its best to ask them for a flat rate instead of going by the meter, so we ask the first Rickshaw man we see how much it will cost to go to the Khan Market, and if he knows where Dollys restaurant, The Kitchen, is. He tells us yes, and that it will cost 250 rupees which is less than 5 dollars so we hop in, enthusiastic about our first Rickshaw adventure. It becomes blatantly obvious very quickly that our Rickshaw man is absolutely cray. He keeps saying ” Khan Market, big shopping centre. 10, 15, 20 minutes, no problem! Ok?” and each time we respond with an “Ok”, ” yes”, or “thank you”. This happens about 100 times. This only makes me love my Rickshaw experience even more, I swear I’m smiling so widely my face starts to hurt. He starts adding something about a “lunch box” into his little schpiel. “Big shopping centre. Lunch box. 10, 15, 20 minutes, no problem! Ok?” I disregard it the first few times but then I heard him say “big shopping centre. THEN khan market” somewhere in there, and instantly Ilona and I look at each other in confusion. I ask him if the big shopping centre is in the Khan market…… nope. He has decided that we need to stop at a shopping centre which is “on the way” to the Khan Market, and buy him a lunch box. We tell him no, and that we need to go straight to Khan market for OUR lunch or we will be late. He legitimately sits there for 5 minutes trying to convince us to stop at this mall and buy him lunch. We finally make him agree to take us straight to the Khan market but he tells us that now it will cost another 100 rupees because the price he originally gave us included his lunch. Whatever buddy. I’m just so excited to be there that I don’t care so we agree. We continue to the Khan Market, annoyed with the Rickshaw man. When we finally arrive it turns out he has no idea where The Kitchen is, and suggests that he just let us out in the middle of the market and we walk to find it. I tell him thats cool, but then there is no way we’re paying him 350 rupees. Instead of just lowering the price and letting us out he starts asking people on the street where the The Kitchen is, and finally figures it out and drives us there. We pay him his stupid 350 rupees and asks us for another 50 rupees for his “special service” which consisted of him taking the long way around and into the market to the restaurant. We just do it and we get out. I am over my first Rickshaw experience. Turns out he dropped us a street away from where the restaurant actually is, so we had to ask some people and walk a little bit, (so angry) but we did manage to make it on time to our lunch so whatever.
After we eat our delicious meal with Dolly, we take another Rickshaw back to our hostel. We ask the new Rickshaw man how much it will be to go to the Main Bazar (home), and he tells us it will cost a mere 120 rupees…and drives us there directly, and doesn’t ask us for lunch.
I will forever hate my first Rickshaw man.

We make it back to our hotel, grab our backpacks and get in the car that is taking us to Agra. We drive through farm country where the roads are filled with trucks and vans completely loaded up with people. I mean 20 or sometimes even 30 people crammed into one vehicle. We see more stray cows on the roads, people carrying hay in bundles on their heads, and people who knock on our car windows with cobra snakes in a basket.

When we stop to fill up our tank, at least 5 men who work at the station gather around to help our driver fill up the tank. People in the country are even more intrigued by two white girls than they are in New Delhi.
The country side is beautiful and gives me lots of opportunities to absorb more of the Indian culture. I am in love with the constant stream of surprises this country continues to offer me.

We arrive in Agra at 7:00pm and go straight to our hotel, the Agra Mahal, which is really close to the Taj Mahal (duh), and order beer and butter chicken to our room. We fall asleep soon after. There’s something about the Indian sun, or maybe I am just not used to the time change yet, but I am exhausted. We are eaten alive by mosquitos in our sleep. Thank science for malaria pills.