Adventures in Pondicherry, Day Two

Today started out great by being able to talk to Cori and the kids. Its been very hard only talking to them in the morning and at night. Those little chats are priceless. Before breakfast I went down to the front lobby/patio area and sat outside and read a book for a few minutes while I waited for the others to show up. It was a nice morning and it was neat to sit and read while watching the people walk by. The hotel was righ off the beach, so there was lots of busyness going on. Anywhere you look, you're likely to see a rooster, a dog, a goat, a cow, a water buffalo, a bicycle, a rickshaw, a scooter, a motorcycle, a car, a bus or a person. And many times you can see all of that in one camera frame. Its almost too much to take in sometimes, like sensory overload. If you like to people-watch, this is a great place for that.

After breakfast, we walked about a mile down the seawall road and walked out on a rock pier and watched the waves crash in from the Bay of Bengal. I could have sat there for hours watching the power of the sea. As we walked back to the hotel, we managed to find a couple of places to buy some souvenirs. Traversing these markets is crazy. So many people come up to you and want you to buy what they're selling. And they're so relentless its maddening. You try to be polite, but they are unphased. There are two guys in particular that have found us on both days and continued to push their products on us. Its funny, the guy selling laminated maps of India for some reason always spots Dave and won't leave him alone. For me, its the guy selling the hand-carved bongo drums. He has about 10 of the tied around his neck and walks around playing one. So it turned into a joke about Dave and his map guy and me and the little drummer boy.

Dave's a great guy and this trip wouldn't be nearly the good experience if he weren't here. Dave and I started at Rosetta Stone at the same time back in 2006 when we moved to Virginia. He, too, moved there from out of state (Rochester, NY) and so we both were living in Harrisonburg without our families for a period of time and and friendship grew out of that commonality. He's a bit older than me, but he's about the nicest guy you could meet.

We packed up our stuff and checked out of the hotel and met our driver to take us back to Chennai around noon. Just outside Pondicherry, we stopped at another temple, that was located on a huge estate of thousands of acres. We spent a couple hours there I think and finally started the long journey back to Chennai. This trip was probably the most stressful road trip I've ever been on. For some reason, our driver seemed to be overly agressive today; not sure why. Again, if wasn't passing someone, he was honking, if he wasn't honking, he was flashing his brights. It exhausts me to just sit as a passenger in the back watching it all, I can't imagine how exhausting it is to be the driver. Maybe that's why he was in a hurry just to get the trip over with.

The familiar combo of rooster, dog, cow, person, bike, motorcycle, rickshaw, car, bus are very prominent on the highway as well. They are all competing for their piece of the road and it is just crazy. There was one point today that were were going a cross a large marshy area on a long two-lane bridge. For some reason, our driver was not deterred in his affinity for passing slower cars, etc. in front of us. As we're going across this bridge, the car in front of us starts to pass the bus in front of them. I guess they were both going too slow for our driver's liking, cuz he started to try passing both of them at the same time. So here we are three abreast going across a two lane bridge at about 50mph and nothing but oncoming traffic coming straight at us. In addition to the bus and two cars making a moving wall across the road, there were bicycles trying to squeeze past in the very small "shoulders" and refuse to stop, they just keep moving. Today for about 5 hours, I sat in the back seat and witnessed this maniacal driving - wincing and gasping and covering my face at just about every turn. Crazy!

We actually made it back to the hotel at 7:00 tonight. I may actually get to bed before midnight for the first time on this trip.

Adventures in Pondicherry, Day One

This morning I woke up and took in the view from my room. I could see the beach less than 100 yards away. After talking to Cori and the kids, I got dressed and ready to go meet the others for breakfast. I started having a minor panic attack because I couldn't find my passport. I was so freaked out! I even went down the front desk to see if they found it. I took everything out of my suite case and my backpack. I tore apart that room looking for it. Finally, I remembered it was under a stack of books right there on the desk. I've been keeping it in my back pocket with my wallet. Last night I noticed that it was starting to bend and conform to my pocket so I decided to try to flatten it out by putting it under a couple of books. I wish I would have remembered doing that before I ransacked everything trying to find it. :) What a scary 20 minutes that was! After breakfast we went out to the beach and checked out the water. The waves were very high and there were signs posted recommending against swimming. I wasn't planning on getting in the water anyway, but those waves would have been fun to ride - at least the first time. It looked pretty dangerous and it seemed like the undertow could have easily pulled you right out to see. The beach was not very shallow at all.

I spend most of the time walking along looking for sea shells. There were tons of really unique ones. It seems the remains of the tsunami can still be seen. There are piles of trash everywhere. The best part of the day was when we were looking for shells we were approached by a man and his kids. He was selling some beads as well. He was also selling a hand-carved slingshot. It was really well-made and actually shot a rock pretty far. He demonstrated it a few times for me. He was asking 300 rupies for it. That's the equivalent of about $6. I think buying that from him made his week. He let us take pictures of him and his kids. They were very cute and were not afraid to ham it up for the camera. As soon as I snapped the photo, they would run over and want to see their face in the camera display. The man's name was - no clue how to spell this - Daos (???) He pronounced it like "dowse". Anyway he was very nice and it was cool to be able to interact with him and his family. I also snapped a shot of his hut that was maybe 50 yards from the water.

I continue to be amazed at how people live. We are millionaires compared to these people and we don't even know it. We never have to wonder where our next meal will come from or if our hut might blow over one night. Running water, electricity, food - all things we never have to worry about and often blatantly waste.

After the beach, we decided to go into Pondicherry proper and do a bit of site seeing and get some lunch. I made it clear that I was very interested in coming back after lunch and sitting in a hammock and reading or napping or something - just to have some down time.

Much to my disappointment, that never happened. The restaurant we ate at in Pondicherry was in a really nice hotel right on the seawall boulevard near a boardwalk. Everyone else decided that we should stay there tonight instead of going back to the yucky hotel. Even though it was yucky, I was prepared to put up with it because of the relaxation it offered - quiet, outside of town ... did I mention the hammocks? :)

In the end, the orange-rust water coming out of the pipes in the shower, the dirty concrete floors and the one-man cot beds heavily outweighed the hammocks in the minds of my traveling companions.

So instead of going back and relaxing, we went back and packed up all of our stuff and brought it back to this hotel. It definitely is a nice hotel and has all the modern amenities (e.g. internet, clear water, sanitation), but I really had to work on having a good attitude about wasting all that time in the car going back and forth (about 20 minutes each way). So now we're back in the town with street vendors everywhere and car horns honking outside every 30 seconds or so.

If the past few days have taught me anything, its that I never have the right to complain or be ungrateful for anything. I keep wondering to myself, "God, why was I born in America? I could have been born here?" We have no control over what nationality we are or what country we're born into. I'm extremely thankful I was born in America. Only 3 more full days until I start the long journey back home - whoo! I can hardly wait. :)

Adventures in Chennai, Day Three

We went into the office today for about a half day and then started our journey to Pondicherry. Before leaving Chennai, we drove around for quite awhile and took in a bunch of different sites. Driving seems to be a great way to see a lot of areas and get a sense of the culture without actually getting in it. When you walk around, you stand out like a sore thumb, but observing everything from the car allows you to almost be like a fly on the wall. One of the places we stopped before leaving Chennai was a mall - the largest shopping center in the city. This proved to be a fruitful stop, because I was able to pick up a couple of nice souvenirs. Then we drove to the beach and drove along the road that lines the beach area. You usually don't associate goats with beaches, but there were droves of goats all along the beach area and in the streets and around the huts and shanties along the road. A really bizarre sight.

The drive to Pondicherry was supposed to take 3 hours. Our driver took us the scenic route I guess, because it took 7 hours. We made a few pit stops along the way that were pretty interesting.

We visited a Crocodile Farm/Zoo, which was really interesting. There was one big holding area where they had over 450 crocodiles. You could have walked across the whole area stepping on the backs of the crocodiles without ever touching he ground, they were so dense in there. I still have not seen a King Cobra, but seeing those crocodiles was pretty neat. I even got to hold one of the baby crocs.

The next place we stopped was called Tiger Cave. I was pretty excited about this because I thought we'd see some real tigers. They were actually just huge rocks that have tigers engraved in them. It was still neat though because this one area has all these gigantic rock outcroppings. They look really out of place, so it makes for a unique site. The Tiger Cave area was really nicely kept - the only place I have seen grass yet - and it was just on the other side of a small grove of palm trees (and a chain link fence) from the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

A few miles down the road we stopped again at a very large tourist trap attraction. There was a village located right off the highway where there were about 10 historical monuments. We didn't realize that each monument was about a mile separated from one another, so we just went to two monuments that were within walking distance and left. The noteworthy point about this particular stop was the massive numbers of people selling things to all those coming to the monuments.

As soon as I opened the door on my side, there was a lady offering us beads and bracelets. They are relentless, too. They don't take no for an answer. The will just follow you and follow you. I think especially us since as westerners they must know we have money. It is really hard to turn down so many people, but you can't buy everything. In addition to selling merchandise there were dozens of people approaching us offering to be our "guide" to explain all the interesting historical facts about the monuments to us. We were finally able to shed most of the people and make our way to the monument. We actually only stayed about 30 minutes and again were on our way.

After doing all this, we had probably only traveled about 30 of the 165 kilometers and it was starting to get dark. We told the driver no more stops and then settled in for a very long trip. The road from Chennai to Pondicherry is mainly a two lane highway (one lane in each direction) and is actually very busy. Driving during the day can be pretty interesting, but driving at night is actually pretty scary. In addition to the relentless honking, when it gets dark they add in the headlight brights for extra fun. I can't imagine actually driving in those conditions. You have to be constantly vigilant. The driver was continually doing one of three things - honking, passing a slower vehicle or flashing this brights. I can't imagine how stressed I would be if I were driving. :) To make matters worse, along this road, they installed speedbumps every half mile or so. So it was a pretty bumpy drive as well.

Well after dark, we finally pull into the "resort". Sadly, this place was hurt pretty bad from the tsunami 4 years ago. You could tell that this hotel and resort area may have actually been pretty nice at one time. Our waiter told us that the whole first floor of the hotel - from floor up to ceiling - was completely underwater after the tsunami hit. The nice part of the hotel is out back between the hotel and the beach, there is a grassy area with palm trees and banana trees. Hammocks connect all the trees - it seems very quiet and peaceful here. It is far enough away from the main road, so you can't hearing car honks. The room itself is in pretty bad shape, but you can hear the surf breaking on the beach from the room patio. Take the good with the bad I guess. :)

This has been a crazy full day. I am tired and dirty and I don't know if I'll be able to sleep on this bed cot, but it has been very interesting and I've taken some nice photos.

Off to shower and then bed! G'night.