Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles! DLC

I have a lot of adventures to share, lessons to teach, and blah, blah, blah. A lot of the times, I just don't or didn't have the time to write them while traveling. So, I've decided to repackage them and sell them after the final product is done (this is, in the gaming world, called DLC [downloadable content] and it usually sucks more than the actual game. Oh well though, it's more content, right? And that's always a good thing).

So, here are some good stories involving lessons learned from traveling to travel, because a lot of traveling involves just that.

Friendly Shots in Sri Lanka

I get to airport to the Survarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok in order to catch a plane to Sri Lanka. It's an early flight, leaving about 6:30 in the morning. That means I get to the airport even earlier, about 3:00. I'm exhausted from hanging out at Mac and Noi's bar until a few hours prior. When I arrive, I end up helping a short Sri Lankan man with his boatload of luggage. He thanks me and we part ways. When I get to the airline counter, I'm informed that I booked my seat in business class. Wait, what? How did that happen? I've never had the luxury to afford business class, so I go along with it.

Question: have you ever been in business class before? Because, oh man, holy shit, it's crazy what they give to rich people when they fly! They have a whole separate lobby with comfy chairs! WiFi! Newspapers from all around the world! Fancy exotic foods (mostly croissants)! Booze and liquor! All for free!

I run into the Sri Lankan who is overjoyed to see me again. He doesn't speak a lot of English, but he does manage a rough, "Let's drink." Quick reminder, it's 3:30 in the morning when this man brings me my first shot of...something. Three hours later, we stumble into the plane and I continue lavishing in the whole first class treatment (more legroom! More free booze! More, more, more!). Looking back at it now, I think there are several reasons why I got a lot of stares during that flight:

1) I look like a homeless traveler, because I am.
2) I'm extremely loud and say/yell things like "oh man, this is sooooooo COOOL!" Repeatedly. And loud (did I mention this already?).
3) I keep waving to my friend a few seats away. He waves back and we yell-talk things to each other. Neither of us knows what the other is screaming.

If you're thinking to yourself: those are the worst kind of passengers to have sitting next to you on a plane, then you are most certainly correct, we were horrible. Let me tell you this though, the first hour or two of this plane ride was an absolute blast! After that though, it's miserable. When you start coming down into hangover territory, you realize that you're still on a plane. You're still cramped, even with more legroom, and the air is still just as stifling. Being hungover on a plane has all the negatives already associated with plane rides, plus headaches, queasiness, and a bladder that just won't quit.

When I get off, I feel miserable, I have no idea where I am, where I'm going, or how I'm getting there.


Serious Lesson: I've mentioned how it's basically the best high ever to arrive in a new country, but going to one in a state between hangover and still intoxicated is a mess. Not a smart idea. Also, traveling while grouchy and hungover means your bargaining skills go right out the window because you just have to get to that hostel bed, ASAP. Expect to pay a lot more. So...uh, don't drink with strange people before your flight at 3:30 in the morning?

Actually, scratch that. Totally do so if you get the chance.

Chickens and a Runaway in Zimbabwe

I mentioned this story before, but for inclusion sake, it's on this list. This picture shows the sign that you see while walking down the streets in order to know what van goes where. It's all very basic and strangely efficient.

Serious Lesson: Learn to let go. Many countries don't have the luxury of a "better" transportation system. I say better in quotes because it's very subjective. I for one loved the journeys I did in Zimbabwe and South Africa via small vans and hitchhiked rides. They had a great sense of community and I met a lot of amazing people this way. Was it oftentimes uncomfortable? Yes indeed.
Is it for everyone? No. But should everyone experience it? Yes, yes, and yes.

Shithead in India

I love the card-game Shithead. I think I played it well over a few thousand times since learning it from my good friend Ollie. I made sure to keep the tradition alive and taught it to new people I met well after India. Ollie taught me that the greatest version of the game always involved the loser having to actually lose something, usually being that they had to buy and take a shot of something horrible. It makes the game tense and, granted, a little unfair if you lose first, because it's all downhill from there.

So, it's the middle of the afternoon in beachy Varkala, India and in a few hours I need to grab some connecting buses and trains (a total of about 60 hours of transit time) to get to Kolkata to fly out to Burma (what a crazy sentence to write). The group that I had traveled with for the past month and half are staying or going their own ways. We all decide to play Shithead in the middle of the afternoon, hours before I need to catch my first bus.

Fast forward to the part where I keep losing and losing and losing. By the end, I am well on my way to being incapacitated. I say my teary goodbyes and stumble my way to a taxi. The taxi takes me to a bus (keyword, a bus). I take said bus and end up, hours later, in the middle of absolutely nowhere in the wrong city. It's about five in the morning and, strangely, it's completely dead around me (this never happens in India). I finally find a tuk-tuk to take me to a coffee shop across town. The man drops me off, charges me a ridiculous fee, and tells me it will open in a few hours. After he leaves, a helpful neighbor tells me the place shutdown months ago.

Uh huh. I sleep on the sidewalk, wake up absolutely miserable and decide that, yep, this sure does suck. I book a flight out of the current city and forgo the journey/adventure to Kolkata.

Serious Lesson: Don't book transportation too far in advance. Yes, you'll get the best deal and it'll help you not to get stranded, but life happens. Especially if you're backpacking. People and experiences will detour you to bigger and better places than you ever imagined so don't curtail your experience by limiting your freedom. It's worth the little bit of extra cost, I promise.

Losing to Cockroaches in India and a Feni or Three

Another day, another round of Shithead. I lose the game and loser has to take the bottom bunk on the train my friends and I are on. This picture is not the same train, but it should give you idea of what it looked like. We were heading up to Dharamsala and it was, surprise! getting extremely cold. I take the bottom bunk and am shivering. Tove across from me (who also lost and got a bottom bunk while Ollie is living the high life on the King's Throne of an upper bunk) is fast asleep. I'm huddled in the fetal position because there are cockroaches crawling on the wall above my head and behind my back. I'm not usually terrified of bugs, except when I need to fall asleep while worrying that cockroaches will crawl/wiggle into my mouth as I dream. I kill as many as a I can for what seems like hours. I have to go to the bathroom, but the train is so packed that people are sleeping on the ground. I maneuver through the crowd like playing a game of Twister. I come back and their are more cockroaches (I'm told later that smashing a cockroach is bad news bears since it attracts even more).

A few days and trains later and I'm hanging out in Goa with Ollie and a few of his Jersey friends. We are again playing Shithead. Loser has to take a Feni shot.

Now, long pause. I need to talk about this drink.

I'm not a hard alcohol fan. I used to love my rum and cokes, but I'm pretty much only a beer connoisseur now. So, shots usually don't sit well with me. So, let me tell you about this Feni. They are the worst thing known to man. If you read the link above to its Wikipedia page, it sounds amazing, doesn't it? It sounds exotic and fruity and life-affirming.




It will make you feel alive, I will give it that much. It will make you feel your insides quiver and your heart flutter to a stop. It will make you feel your breathe stolen from your lungs and make you feel your eyes pop out of your tiny, little head. You will feel, basically, your life sinking into the depths of hell itself.

Of course I lose quite a few and end up taking lots of shots of this elixer and that's enough for an entire lifetime (after each one, I can't talk for a good five minutes). Like usual, there's a train that needs to be caught. Thank God Ollie is traveling with me, and he leads the way. I follow.he Feni is hitting me hard. I'm sweating profusely and I'm, for all intensive purposes, a hot mess.

Ollie finds it hilarious. We get on the train, thankfully less packed then the last one, and I lay in my bottom bunk.

For once, there isn't any vendors cruising through the isles offering Chai or toys or ice cream (another side note: Indian train food is legit). I'm dying of thirst and the only solution for water is the water in the bathroom from the tap. Dirty train water.

I stare at the bunk above me for a good hour deciding if this is a smart life choice or not. It most certainly is not. But I cave and end up in the bathroom gulping down water that may or may not kill me.

Serious Lesson: If you go to India and need to eat/drink something questionable, have a few Fanis first. I'm pretty sure it not only destroys your stomach, but it also destroys anything you put in your body.

Also, it may destroy your soul.

Ants in my Pants in Thailand

Oh yes, nothing screams awkward more than waking up with ants in your pants on a local bus. Well, except from maybe pointing at your crouch and yelling to the man next to you, "ants in my pants!"

Serious Lesson: Try to learn a little about the local language. Saying a language louder or slower doesn't really help someone who isn't fluent in it. Even a few words help. Yelling มด ใน กางเกงของฉัน would have helped the confusion.

Full Bladders and Airplanes in Cambodia

I'm leaving Phonm Penh, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand via airport. I get there about four hours too early and wait around in the nonexistent waiting area (read: the floor). When my flight nears, I get in line to go through the security check. At the time, I still had my 24-oz water bottle. After waiting in line, I'm a few people short of going through the security checkpoint. That's when I realize that they won't let me pass through with all that liquid. There are no trash cans around. I can either go back to the end of the line and miss my flight or drink it all right there.

I start to chug. Now, I hate chugging anything (there's a joke in that sentence, but I'm not touching it [that's what she said?]), and I am horrible at it. But I do it, I take down 24 ounces in an insane amount of time.

I'm proud of myself.

What I am not proud of is that I have the weakest bladder in the world. The next few hours of flight are the worst ever.

I go to the bathroom seven times in a matter of about an hour and a half. Yep, seven. The passenger next to him eyes me like I'm the worst human being ever to walk this Earth.

Serious Lesson: Never be afraid to ask questions. I found out after getting through the checkpoint that they were perfectly cool with liquid in an open container. I just assumed that it was that way because that's how the States do it. Well, nope, always better to ask than assume. Save your bladder.

A Deathdrive to the Dalai Lama in India

This drive was the scariest bus I think I've ever been on. There are five of us going to see the Dali Llama and some other friends up in Dharamsala, India. We finally find a bus that goes up to the town after a ridiculously tough time. We throw our bags on the top (the locals keep their bags with them, smart) and strap them down. We get on. The bus is overloaded with people, as in, people are sitting on other people's laps and its hard to breathe. And then we take off.

Now, it's hard to describe this journey in words, but I'll try.

Dale, next to me, a man who is by definition cool and calm, is screaming, "shit!" with every turn. I look into his eyes and see terror. You ever seen a grown, confident man with absolute terror in his eyes? It's frighting.

Next to me Tove is trying to learn Japanese from our new friend, Tomoe.

The brakes squeal and grind and there are several times the bus leaves the ground. Here, watch this. Our bus basically does this the entire way up the windiest hill you've ever seen in your life. I wish I was exaggerating.

Serious Lesson: Make sure you've prayed properly before boarding sketchy looking buses. Also make sure you've completed your bucket list and said your "I love yous" to the people you care about in your life. You may die. Be okay with that.

Simply Greyhound.

Oh God. Where do I begin? I guess I'll begin by being as gentle as I can with my description: Greyhound is the absolute worst bus service in the world. As in, if Heaven has a white tunnel leading you to it, I'm pretty sure that Hell has you board a Greyhound bus.

There, I said it. I'll bet my entire $30 dollars worth of life savings on that claim. It's the absolute truth (okay, fair point: I didn't use them in South Africa, so it could be better there. Could being the key word). First, the people that run it are crazy mean (is it normal to almost witness a fistfight between the driver and a rider?) and second, the people that ride it are even crazier. Case in point, I'm on a bus from San Francisco to Tacoma, a thirty hour journey after forty hours of plane rides. I'm sitting next to a very large man and the distinguishing characteristic about this man is that he loves to laugh. Every ten seconds. It's a cackle really, like a super villain does in movies. Here, it's EXACTLY like this:

The catch is that no one around him is saying anything remotely funny. The man just likes to laugh. Cool, I have no problem with laughing. In fact, the more people laugh the better. And I'll admit that it's absolutely hilarious for the first few minutes. Come 15, 20, 30 hours later though? Yeah, not so much.

We make small talk in between the laughter. Here is a snippet of conversation that I so very much wish I had the imagination to make up.

Man: "You know cats?"
Me: [pause] "Uh, yeah...yeah I know about cats."
Man: You know how they can get worms and stuff." His tone is that of a question, but comes off like a statement.
Oh God.
Me: Uh...
Man: Well, I think...[he reaches his hand down the back of his shirt and starts itching his back]...I think I caught some and they burrowed through my skin.
[I inch closer to the window, as close as close can be]
Me: [silence]
Man: [He takes out his hand. The tips of his fingers are bloody and he has a brown thing squeezed between his index finger and thumb, and yes, in case you were wondering, it does indeed look like a worm] See! I have no idea how to get rid of them! They're everywhere! [Villain laugh ensues, louder than ever]

Of course he would sit next to me. I am no longer shocked by anything.

Serious Lesson: Don't take greyhound.

Bonus Lessons

-Tuk-tuks are the way to go (this is a picture of my favorite Cambodian tuk-tuk driver, complete with his Sparkle sticker).
-Beware of the rain during rainy seasons in Asia.
-Check the time of arrival of the bus/train/etc. Otherwise, yes, you will be walking down unknown roads in Burma at two in the morning knocking on random doors in order to find a place to crash.
-Don't learn how to drive a scooter in India and end up crashing within a minute of getting on the bike. Well, maybe that's just a lesson for me.

End Note 
If this all sounds bad, it's really not. It's a journey and however you choose to travel, the traveling of travel brings brings just as much excitement to the table. It's wonderful and horrible and long and tiring all at once. Experience it all.

Except that Greyhound.

That will only bring sadness to your life. Just say no, kids, just say no.