Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Almost back home

Its my last day in South East Asia, and I'm sitting off of Khao San road in Bangkok, been doing the last bit of shopping and even had to buy a new suitcase because all the stuff I've accumulated over the month cannot fit into my backpack anymore. My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 9:45am, and once I am back, I will most likely be running around doing all sorts of organising: closing off at my old work place, paperwork at the spanish embassy, sending off boxes to Barcelona, international drivng licence, medical test, etc etc etc. Back to reality!

In my mind right now there are various images floating around: buddhist monuments, rivers, boats, buses, faces of the people I met, conversations I had with them, cities I walked through, animals I caressed, fish I saw underwater......I will go back a richer person, richer because being alone the past few weeks has taught me to believe in myself, because I have taken risks that I didnt think I would or could take. I have also come out being in love with Indo-China, a beautiful region with its simple, yet beautiful people. I hope to sit down in a few days and be able to write down in detail my most memorable experiences from the past month.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I thought Cambodia was the land of smiles - till I came to Laos!

I cannot believe it, but I am in Laos. After spending a great week in Koh Tao where yours truly became an "Advanced PADI Open Water Diver," :) I was back on the road when I was told that I didn't need to personally be in Muscat at the spanish embassy for the visa stuff, that my parents could manage it, and that my plane ticket home couldn't be changed anyway - that meant I had another week in South East Asia. It was tempting to just say, oh well, Laos can wait for another time, let me just kick back and chill on the island (what with great diving, a nice dive friends circle already and the beautiful scenery.... ) but then I decided against that and in favour of taking off and coming over here (will write more about Koh Tao when I am back home, complete with pictures and maybe the video that I got done of me diving). From Koh Tao, came down to Laos with a Basque friend (make no mistake - Basque, not Spanish) who decided she wanted to see the country and that this would be a good, quick opportunity to do it.

We paid for very expensive Bangkok Airways tickets (13,200 Thai Baht / almost 300 Euro, about the same my Muscat-KL ticket cost me!) from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, and I was on my way. Took the ferry from KohTao to Chumphon at 2:45pm on the 21st, and arrived by bus to Bangkok at 1am. Flight to Luang Prabang was at 9:50am, decided to spend the night at the airport. By the way, the blue seats on Bangkok airport make for a comfortable crash spot. Arrived in Luang Prabang (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) at 12:45 noonish , managed to find a guesthouse that wasn't full, and we rented bikes for $1 after a refreshing cold shower off I went around town (didn't want to lose one of my only two days there!)

Sawadee... this is what everyone says with that dazzling Lao smile (actually this is what they say in Thailand as well). Think it means welcome. Notice how I said "Lao" smile - all things from Laos are Lao whereas the country itself is Laos (the 's' is pronounced). Persons from Laos are called Lao - so Lao people... things from Laos are also called Lao things.... the most famous example would be Beer Lao.

Back to Luang Prabang, honestly, I was a bit disappointed. There are old French style neighbourhoods, but nothing that would make you say wow. I didn't understand what the fuss was all about. The most impressive to me are the Buddhist temples in the typical Indo-China architectural style. It was blazing hot, so having rented a bike was a good idea, went around the city, the national museum, then to the market after getting a bite to eat, bought some stuff... later on after it became dark and a bit chilly, went to the night market which was huge and filled with amazing stuff, where I shopped some more for souviners and gifts. Since I've constantly been meeting people, I havent felt alone at any point in the last few weeks. There is always someone to accompany you anywhere you go, or you decide to accompany someone where they are going.

Woke up early this morning and took a minibus to Vang Vieng which is where I am now. After 6 hours of rickety bus and rickety road we finally made it here in one piece, and to my pleasant surprise, I have a guesthouse that, for the first time in weeks, has a hot shower!!! It almost feels like luxury now. My bungalow in Koh Tao was lovely, but it had a cold shower. I am now off to look around town and later to a river party, and tomorrow to the Nam Song river for tubing and rafting!!!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Koh Tao or Turtle Island

Im on Koh Tao island in southern Thailand. This place gets its name from the green turtles that used to abound its shores ( I think there arent as many now). All I know is that if there is a physical paradise on earth, this should be counted as one. It is so unbelievably green, the sand is so unbelievably white, and the waters are so unbelievably clear.

I'm starting my advanced padi in half an hour so this is a small update. Met a sweet Dutch girl on the bus/ferry, we decided to share a room. Got here and moved into our home for the week, which my dive company (Easy Divers) which is where Zigor works (the brother of a friend of a friend) arranged.

We got here yesterday morning and thanks to Zigor, we were invited to go on the boat and snorkelled for a couple of hours. The water is unbelievable. I am excited about my course, will write about it later.

A few observations:
- there is one main road through the island.
- you gotta take your footwear off before entering any restaurant, internet cafe, shop etc. basically no footwear indoors. its brilliant!
- internet is double of what it is on the mainland (in bangkok its 1 baht/min, here it is 2 baht/min)
- best way to get around, again moto (scooter). I have decided to learn how to ride a scooter here.
- the Thais say Hello/Welcome just like the Indians do with their hands in front, palms joined, Namaste-like. Still have to figure out what it is they say though.
- this is the most laid back place I have been to.

Ok, I am going on the boat now, but will tell u how it went!

Hasta ahora!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thailand - the journey continues

I finally have a few hours to myself. It is 13:50 in Bangkok and I am at my guesthouse's internet lobby waiting on the next bus, and later a ferry which leaves at 6 and which is supposed to get me to Koh Tao island tomorrow morning at 9. The world is definitely a handkerchief (el mundo es un panuelo). What with me, an Indian girl going to Koh Tao at the recommendation of a Basque guy who lives in Oman who has a friend in Bilbao, who's brother has been living in Thailand for the last five years with his Thai girlfriend, working as a dive instructor in an island. The guy's name is difficult to pronounce even for me, but has been really sweet the few tiems I have spoken to him from Cambodia and from Bangkok. He is arranging my "bungalow" on the beach which will be my home for the next five days while on the island. Also plan to do the "Advanced" padi course while I am there as Koh Tao is known for its excellent dive sites.

Got into Bangkok last night at about 8:30pm from Siem Reap, Cambodia (more on that in a bit) after a 14 hour multiple bus journey, and got myself a room at the first available guesthouse in Khao San Rd. The previous day I travelled in bus 6.5 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. There is so much going on that I cant possibly write about it all, so here I will talk about my second bus journey which was how I spent practically the whole day yesterday.

Starting from the time I boarded the mini-bus from the travel agent's, to the time I arrived in Bangkok, we changed 4 buses. The bus was full of backpackers. The Cambodian buses were an experience in itself. Luggage strewn in the middle of the passageway, the tiny not so comfy seats, the Khmer countryside with its smiling faces waving "hello" .... Fellow travellers in the bus were an Israeli bunch made up of two girls and one guy all ex-army ppl taking a year off after fighting in Gaza for the last 3 years, two girls from Germany, a Swede, a Swiss, a Frenchie, an Irish guy, two Norweigian girls and three Spaniards (who to me are my paisanos or countrypeople, specially due to the complete absence of Indian travellers), and more people that I didnt get around to speaking with. Since I havent seen a single Indian backpacker, I've been feeling at home when I see the spaniards. Aren't many around this part of the world. I noticed there were a lot of Indian tourists in Malaysia. They were usually the young married couple who were on their honeymoon type thing. No single people. I get the impression that most Indians prefer travelling to places like Australia, the US, Europe, and more developed countries in general.

Back to the bus, the 45 odd year old Swede dude was alcoholic and throughout the bus journey kept buying atleast 3 beers per stop, until the point we reached the Thai border and changed to the last bus. He did things typical of drunk people; being a bit of a pain, speaking louder than usual, recounting his travels through the years etc. The good part was that he was definitely an intelligent guy who'd had a lot of interesting experiences. The German girls were sweethearts and waited diligently for me at the border checks where I had a longer inspection at one of the check points (possibly bcos of my Indian passport). I would have even gone along with them to their hostel but it was on the other side of town and I had to be on Khao San to take the bus to Koh Tao from here. The French guy was trying to get cozy and was a bit of a pain, the Israeli guy told me about his experience in Laos, Vietnam and I have promised myself to go there someday, given that it is even less developed than Cambodia. Also that he cant go to Malaysia although he would love to. Can you believe Israelis are banned from entry to Malaysia. How absurd. He is heading to Nepal and possibly to India next, and was keen to stay at an Indian family's home. I made him an offer to stay at my grandparents' and who knows, they might end up with an Israeli visitor. After spending the day exchanging travel stories and talking about our experiences, once in Bangkok, and having exchanged emails with half the bus, I was accompanied to the hostel by two guys from Galicia. We met for dinner at an Indian restaurant and this morning when I checked out, I received a note from them with their emails saying they'd gone south and to be in touch if I was ever in Galicia.

I'm off to catch some lunch a maybe a bit of shopping before I leave in three hours. A final thought: The last few days have been extremely interesting and travelling alone is turning out to be less scary than I had initially imagined!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cambodia - the land of smiles

I'm in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. This place is so much like India, the streets, the ambiance, the whole atmosphere. The streets are named "rue so and so" so there is an unmistakable french air to the place. The older people still speak the language, since Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were colonised by them. Also, what a great change from Malaysia which was clean and developed, this is very different. Nice different. The word Khmer is synonymous with Cambodian.

I have been doing heaps of things, met some interesting (French!!) people, visited an island in the Mekong river, visited pagodas, eaten khmer food, (going for a Khmer massage now) and generally strolled around the river front and the city. The most convienent way to get around is moto, right now my butt is a bit sore from all the moto ride! Tomorrow off to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat. Don't want to leave Phnom Penh just yet!!!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Selamat petang from Malaysia

The above means good evening in Malay. I have been having a nice time here with my Malaysian host family. I'm staying with a friend who lived in Oman doing whale and dolphin research for three years. She is currently working on a phd, and when she is done with it (late this year) she will be the youngest doctor I know (she is currently just 24 years young). Malaysia itself is a country of incredible greenery, mainly inhabited by three races or types of people - the Malays, the Chinese (but ofcourse!) and the Indians (mainly Tamilians). It has 14 states and a very well looked after infrastructure. It was ruled by the brits until 1967, and this year happens to be the 50th independance anniversary and the Visit Malaysia year as well. I must admit, I am very impressed with the little I have seen in the past two days.

I will recount my adventures later, but the big news is that my work papers for Spain are finally through! After all these months of hanging from the beurocracy thread, it comes through when I finally take off and go on holiday! Turns out I may have to return to Oman before the planned date, but in any case plan to make the most of the trip. Got my Laos visa today, did a lot of sight seeing, including KL tower, twin towers, little India, Chinatown...etc but I've shopped too much for my own good and now I'm going to be lugging an extra half dozen kilos around!!

Look out for detailed Malaysia post in the next few days!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Jobless and lovin' it

I left my job on January 31st. Was sad to say bye to the people I've been working with for the last year. I detested the bit where you send out that goodbye email and then actually go around saying bye.

Secondly, been bummed out the last few days as I was careless enough to leave my beautiful camera under my seat last Monday when I left the flamenco concert at the Al Felaij Castle Theater in Barka (talk about despistada). I tried recovering it and allowed myself to become a little hopeful when the organisers called to tell me on Thursday that a camera was found at the concert location. Did three trips out to Barka since then and finally got to see that camera today, and as it turns out, it was someone else's video camera. Anyway, my dad couldn't see me as miserable as I looked and got me the same one :-) You can bet I will be guarding this one with my life!!!

Apart from the above pathetic incident, three days into my jobless state, here I am, excited about my trip. Leave tomorrow night for South East Asia to travel for a bit and clean out my head. Between work, Paraddax being here, and my paperwork for Spain, not to mention other undisclosable yet mentally strainful events, I really really need a break!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Walking Dogs

Have you ever tried walking two dogs at a time? How about a 35kg labrador in one hand and a 5kg yorkshire in the other? Its incredible the kind of alertness your brain can need for a seemingly simple activity such as dog walking.

The 35kg labrador can give you one tug and you go flying with him. Therefore you cannot not pay attention to him at any given point of time during the walk. The left side of your brain, and consecuently the right side of your body (right hand in my case) have to deal with the incredible stress of controlling this huge creature, adding to it that that I live in a country where the average human being is scared shitless when they see a dog like him. Ont he other hand the right side of my brain and therefore the left side of my body has little Grani to worry about, a tiny little yorkie who if I pull his leash hard enough, will go flying. So this imbalance between the two sides of the brain and body, needless to say, can give anyone quite a challenge.

As if that was not enough, it gets even more fun when these two creatures decide they find interesting things to smell on opposite sides of me, and start criss-crossing, as a result your arms are criss-crossed around yourself... the urgent need to pull the leash between your legs so as not to go flying in one direction behind the big one.... and not to lose the little one either, not to step on him or pull his neck too hard....uuufff!! As I was the only one at home yesterday, and well past the dogs walking time, and lazy to go one by one, I was left with no other solution but to walk them togehter. Once the little devils are done with their pissing and shitting business, we get back home and boy do I enjoy sinking into the sofa. What stress!!!