Thankful: Random Acts of Kindness on the Road

Rick having fun on a bicycle!

I’ve been reflecting on some of the best parts of the trip so far, and one of the coolest things has been moments where a random stranger went out of their way to be kind to us. It’s happened in every country we’ve been to, and often in a moment when we most needed it because we were feeling beat down or taken advantage of or just tired and hungry (probably hangry).

It restores your love for fellow humans, your ability to trust others in a foreign place where you often can’t even communicate, but that daily requires at least some leve of blind trust in someone you don’t know. It’s just reminds me of how important those “little things” I can do for others – and how it may not be such a little thing to the recipient – I know they haven’t felt like little things to us when we are the recipients. I’m more determined than even to be vigilant to see when there is a kindness I can provide for someone else, and to stop of make people more of a priority than my plans or productivity. I am so grateful to these people for the help and kindness they have given us – it has made our trip!

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and so I have it written down and never forget, here are just a few of the kindnesses we are so grateful for:

Christophe & Sakura: invited us into their home to stay for a week (and a longer invitation if we could have). They welcomed us as part of the family. Not just a place to stay but genuine friends. We ate with them, they in fact treated us to many dinners, showing us the best places in Danang that we never would have found!! And even arranged for their Vietnamese tutor to take us all out for a true locals experience. They opened up their home and their lives to us and it was one of our favorite experiences on the trip!

P1070579Beer Guy Between Halong Bay and Danang: We had a couple hour stop over to change busses and decided to grab some street food and beer at one of the sidewalk “pop ups” (a food cart that they set up mini plastic stools and tables around). We had a couple Bahn Mi, then decided to get a couple of beers. We sat for a while and when it came time to pay we asked how much, knowing beers should be 5,000-10,000 dong (that’s $0.25-0.50). The vendors friends (seated near us, but that he had been chatting with) started telling him to charge us 55,000 per beer and telling us in broken English 55,000 per beer. The vendor shook his head at them and showed us with money from his wallet that it was 10,000 per beer. We had been overcharged a few times earlier that day, and were feeling pretty skeptical and taken advantage of… so this was just what we needed to restore our faith in people and bring us back to a positive mindset. Thanks beer guy for choosing the right thing to do, over your friends bad influence and making a few extra bucks!

P1070346 Wolfpack Hostel Owner: If you’re ever in Dalat you absolutely have to stay at Wolfpack Hostel. Cheesy name? yes. Incredibly kind owner? YES! Can’t say enough great things about this guy, the hostel itself is great, comes with free breakfast, a clean great place, he arranges tours from you that are the BEST and no commission for him. But he goes way beyond that. A couple things that stood out, he booked a bus ticket for us and had them pick us up at the hostel (a challenge to get that)… and if they hadn’t been willing to, he was planning to take us to the bus stop on his moped, for free, because a taxi would have cost us – he insisted. Then that night we asked him where we might buy a bottle of Dalat wine and were planning to walk there… he said, oh no, you shouldn’t do that, I will go get one for you… and I’ll buy a couple more in case the other hostel guests want some too. We gave him $1 for our bottle (which is the cost for it, no extra for him) and he shared the other bottles with us and the guests. And then the next day Rick wanted to get a little money just before our bus got there, he started walking to where he though an ATM was, and our hostel guy sees him going down the rode, picks him up on his moped and takes him to the ATM to make sure he’s not late for the bus and doesn’t have to walk that far. Just awesome!

Friendly Street Informant: ”I’m not selling anything” man in India: Well India was challenging to say the least, the super aggressive culture wore on me… a lot… people in my face yelling at me, grabbing me, pulling me to their tuk-tuk or shop or wherever, touching me, more yelling, literally every step you took in some places. I may have had some times where I turned a bit cynical and put on my “Don’t mess with Texas” voice and mean girl face, I’m ashamed to say, but I’ll own up to it. I felt it was necessary because, in India, “no thanks” usually translates to “yes please tell me more about what you want to sell me, pull me into your tuk-tuk/shop, and follow me for the next 5 minutes yelling at me”. Saying “NO” as I would to Ruger when he’s bad (firm, authoritative, a little angry) and a hand up was much more effective – sometimes they yelled at me, but they were yelling anyway, so what’s the difference? Anyway, after a very long day of being yelled at, we were approached my a man saying “oh, you should look at this temple up the street, it was made by such-and-such king, and has a beautiful viewpoint and mugal architecture…” (this was a typical scam to get you into a shop), so I immediately launch into “no thanks, no, no, no, NO!” and the poor guy looks at me confused. Then he kind of laughs and says, in very good English, “oh, you must have had a LOT of people hassling you to sell stuff today. I’m not selling anything. I don’t have a shop. I just thought I would tell you about my town. Really, no shop, no tuk tuk” I felt quite bad, and apologized. He proceeded to give us some history of the temple and area, we talked about how long he had lived there, where we were from, then parted ways.

 Monkey Protector: Little boy with a slingshot that watched over us and kept the monkeys away while we were at the river temple. Each time one would come near us, he would hold up his little slingshot and scare them away, then give us this huge smile.

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Security Guard at Phi Yen Hotel: One night we shared a few of the Longan fruits we had bought with him. We got to our room and started eating them and they did not taste as good as we had remembered, but thought oh well. The next morning, he kindly asked us how much we paid and told us that we overpaid for them… and that they were bad fruit. He told us we should always insist on tasting before we buy and don’t pay more than 20,000 dong/kilo.

 Drugs to the Rescue: After two nights of no sleep due to the altitude I was feeling a really loopy, and needed sleep. We ran into a couple of American guys in Manang and quickly got to chatting about our experience so far. I mentioned not feeling great because of the lack of sleep. They kindly offered to share their sleep aid with us, and it saved me! As I type I realize it sounds kinda sketchy, but really it wasn’t and it made all of the difference. Thank you friends!!

 Meals and Directions on Trains in India: Trains in India are an experience, the biggest challenge is there is no notification of what stop it is or when your stop is, you just have to intrinsically know. Also there is no notification of how long the train will be at a stop or when it’s about to leave – which is important to know if you have a 20 hour train ride and want to hop off at a station to grab food. We had two different train rides where incredibly kind passengers in our berth even though they didn’t speak English at all helped us know when to get off. And when we couldn’t get food on the ride, they insisted that we share their homemade dinner and breakfast. And it was delicious!! They broke their bread into smaller pieces, found plates from fellow passengers, scooped out the curry for us and smiled proudly as we enjoyed. They would watched out the window for our stop and make sure we know when it was coming up. Without them I think we would have ended up in Sri Lanka, and starving!

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 Blog and Facebook Comments: It may not seem like much, but the comments people leave on our blog or facebook mean so much! This trip is amazing, but occasionally we feel rather isolated and disconnected and just a little comment from someone on the blog or facebook can make us feel so special and like people still know we’re alive and remember us. So THANK YOU so much for doing that. It means the world to us.

Finally, I’m so thankful for our families and friends who have been so supportive in helping us live out this dream. The encouragement and support, patience and understanding has allowed us to chase a dream and calling God had for us. We get to tell that story to other people as we travel – how great we had it with amazing jobs, co-workers we loved, irreplaceable amazing friends, dear families, and how hard it was to leave – and that’s not the story for most folks traveling long term. Many folks were running away from a life they didn’t love. I feel so incredibly blessed to have loved where I was, and to have that as a solid foundation to begin our travels from – not running away from something, but running to something. Thank you all.

We are a little sad today that we are missing Thanksgiving (doesn’t really feel like it in tropical Cambodia). We are missing you all, missing sharing love and laughter and gratitude over turkey and all the fixin’s. But excited to see our awesome friends Alvin and Jennifer Paulson TODAY in Bangkok!!!!!! What will Thanksgiving look like Thai-style?!? No idea, but I’m sure it will be a blast with the Paulsons and we will be thinking of everyone back home.

Childhood Bucket List Item: Ride Black Beauty — Check!

Riding Black Beauty - Marwari Horses of India

If you don’t know, as a kid I was a obsessed with horses. I rode competitively for a while in hunter jumper and dressage, and when I wasn’t at the barn, I was reading the entire [amazon text=The Saddle Club series&asin=B00J2J20P8] (shout out for Stevie! She was so cool. Did anyone else kinda want to be her?!) and Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague… or playing with my horse figurines… or studying different kinds of horses. You get the idea.

So on every trip Rick and I take I scheme to find some way to horseback ride while we’re there. Rick is a really good sport about it, in fact, he might not admit it, but I think he has a little horse fever now too! And he would tell you that my scheming is never really all that sneaky because A) I’m predictable. If we’re going a trip, I’m going to be looking for what kind of riding options there are in that area. (“Rick, Antarctica has horses, right??” j/k… kind of), and B) I get way too excited when I find some where we can ride and can’t contain myself.

So far we’ve ridden in

  • Costa Rica, tied for my favorite, Esteban and his family are amazing!
  • Colombia, my other favorite
  • Mexico, Manuel at Tierra Chamahua, love him and the vaqueros
  • In the U.S. lots of places, but most recently Colorado
  • …and now add India to the list!

So the childhood bucket list item – the dream of riding Black Beauty! And I got to do it yesterday!! He was seriously, movie-worthy gorgeous horse. My Black Beauty was a Marwari horse, a rare breed only found here in Rajasthan India. One of the characteristic features are the curved in, crescent shaped ears – so cute!

They are warm-blooded horses, known for their stamina in the desert and for being very brave. They were bred as warhorses, and learned very fancy moves because they would have to carry their riders into battle against enemies who were riding elephants. So these horses were trained to stand on their hind legs in battle so their rider could reach his opponent on an elephant’s back and attack him. Now they are generally trained in dressage. They have a beautiful gate.

My wonderful horse was incredibly affectionate, smooth gaited and a bit high spirited. It was a dream riding him.

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So childhood dream to ride Black Beauty – CHECK!

 

The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

Well, I promised to write about the Good, the Bad and Ugly of the trip and we had out first ugly experience. I’m writing this as I look at the most beautiful building in the world, the Taj Mahal… but it took going through one nasty place to get here!

We traveled to Agra from Nepal overland – jeep to bus to mininus to bus to train- looking back, we should have just flown. The bus rides were bumpy, crowded (I never knew my body could fit into that small of a space, its like when a mouse has to squeeze its body into a hole a third of it’s size… that was us on the minibus), but overall not bad. We had heard horror stories of the boarder crossing at Sunauli so we got out of there quickly. It wasn’t until we arrived in Gorkahpur that it got bad.

I’m hesitant to try to describe it – it’s hard to put that magnitude of disgustingness into words. And I don’t want to sound overly negative… but there was nothing positive about our experience there. Before you read further, I am happy to say that we have made it past Gorka-hell and found Agra to be much better!! The people are friendly and helpful and endearing, the Taj is beautiful and we’ve found a little rooftop café where I’m sitting now writing that has the sweetest staff, great food and serves clandestine beers! J So know that’s it’s gotten better! But before it got better… it was really bad…

As soon as we got to Gorkahpur, the smells were overwhelming – garbage, poop, dead things. Our bus was passing the train station… we shoved our way to the front and opened the door, since the driver wasn’t listening to us that we wanted him to stop. We were moving pretty slowly since the streets were so crowded, so Rick and I decided to just jump off while it was moving. We got into the train station, and we had heard this was a major transportation hub so we expected there to be some signs in English, or someone who spoke Engilish… but no. Not a word.

Then we noticed the staring. Everyone was staring at us.
Everybody's looking at me!
We finally found a random man that spoke a little English and as we tried to talk with him, a crowd gathered around us of about 25 people just watching us. The man was essentially no help – but did show us the women’s only line for tickets which I got in. At which point I became a celebrity and the women all wanted to take pictures with me. Not horrible yet.

Ok – so we finally figure out, we can’t buy a ticket from the station for the reserved seats. We find a travel agency a travel agent finds us and facilitates the procuring of a train ticket. We end up getting paying an arm and a leg for a ticket, but there’s only one train to Agra and it’s not until 1:00pm the next day (and it’s about 6pm)…. So looks like we’re staying the night in Gorkahpur.

We have our guide book and the name of one shabby hotel. Note, the guidebook says of Gorkahpur “Gorkahpur, known for it’s flies, is a stop for trains. Don’t spend any time here if you can avoid it.” Excellent. Known for its flies truly is the nicest thing I could think of to say about the place. Unfortunately, there’s no other overland route from where we were in Nepal to India.

As we walked out of the train station, we were bombarded by yelling tuktuk and rickshaw drivers and we had to duck and weave to avoid them. Only then we noticed we were walking of streets literally made of trash and feces. We looked around, surely we were walking in the dump by accident…. But no, there was no avoiding it. It was everywhere. People stood on it, had snack carts on it, were laying on it. It was unavoidable. Plastic and paper were the best hope of what you stepped on. More often it was a mucky squish of rotten bits of food, poop, some dirty water and goo. We walked up and down the street looking at different hotels, thinking surely there would be a decent looking one… we found the one the guidebook recommended as “not entirely horrible.” The room was dirty disgustingly filthy absolutely everywhere… the floor, the bed, the walls! Smears of unkown brown. Piles of dirt. The bathroom… well I’ll let the pictures tell you. I don’t think the toilet had every flushed. (oh and let me add that the next morning our bathroom had the lovely addition of a ton of fresh rat poop). I didn’t brush my teeth or wash my hands because I was too afraid to go in the bathroom for more than to quickly pee and run out!

Horrible Nasty Bathroom

There was literally NO WHERE to go that was remotely clean. No restaurant, no shop, no hotel, NOTHING. I’ve never experienced that before.

I have never so badly wanted to completely crawl inside my own skin. I wanted to untouch everything.

The animals were so sad. Cows wandered freely down the streets (very common in Nepal and India) but the difference was that they were sick because of the filth. We saw cows with hooves they couldn’t walk on that were literally rotting off. Dogs with holes in their sides literally rotting.

We found the Hotel Sunrise to be the lesser of the evils of hotels – I think? I mean at that point there wasn’t much of a difference. You saw the pictures, this was no Four Seasons.

We went back to the train station because at least we weren’t getting yelled at there by people trying to sell us things and we could see the floor of it, so less trash.
Desperately waiting on a train - The Good, The Bad and The Gorkahpur – a terrible, terrible place

We walked around there for a while, and decided we should eat something (we hadn’t eaten all day… and pray for no food illness!). And as we are walking out this lady is walking towards us… with a kinda crazy smile. It was crowded everywhere so someone bumping into you or walking right up next to you isn’t weird… and I figured that’s what she was doing. I smiled back and she walked up next to me and hits me in the right upper arm/boob. Like hits me with her hand… not a bump, very much on purpose. And then keeps walking. I’m shocked. Rick’s shocked. We look at each other and try to explain it away as maybe she was just trying to touch me? That had happened a couple times where people just walked up and touched us. So maybe that was it?

Fast forward to the next day… we’ve been stuck in Gorkahpur for 14 hours or so now. We don’t want to be in our nasty room, or the train station… the only think I can do to keep from feeling like I’m touching something disgusting is keep walking. Perpetual motion. Just keep walking around, trying not to touch anything. So we got up early and started walking around the streets hoping we find the nice part of town. We find a somewhat quieter street a couple blocks away from ours – less horns, less yelling – it has a couple of schools on it. So we walk it’s length (probably 2-3km), back and forth. And finally decide to head back towards the station to check on our train… and as we’re walking down the street through the crowds, of course, I briefly notice a lady looking at us (not really a weird thing at this point, pretty much everyone starred at us) and walking towards us (again not weird)… until she gets right up next to me, and with a balled up fist, punches me in the boob!! WHAT THE!?!? I squeal and stop and she’s already gone, disappeared into the crowd. It was the same crazy-eyes lady!! On a different day, in a different part of town, she found me and attacked me again! What was up with this lady?!

So now I’m kinda freaking out, feeling attacked – there’s no where safe or clean! We go to the train station to check on our train…. And learn it’s 3 hours delayed. NOOOOO not more time in Gorkahpur.

I’m on the look out now for Crazy Eyes and trying to avoid the ever present ick on everything.

We pack up and decide to just wait at the station (at least we can sit on a bench that doesn’t have trash and poo piled up on it, and there are police around to protect me from Crazy Eyes). We wait… and wait… the train is more delayed by hours.

Finally our train arrives and I have never been so happy to get on a train… we RUN to our coach as soon as it pulls up. We have reserved seats in a sleeper car – let’s just say it’s the most relaxed we’d felt in two days, and the best sleep we’d gotten. Oh and we finally had food we felt remotely safe about eating.

So if you go to Gorkahpur…. Scratch that. Do not go to Gorkahpur. Fly from Nepal to India. Whatever it costs, it’s worth it. Trust me.

Gorkahpur, known for it’s Flies, Crazy Eyes, and never-ending disgusting-ness!

Check out the list of things we loved about India!

17 Things We’ve Loved about India

The Taj Mahal in India
  1. The People.
    Super friendly people everywhere that just want to chat. To ask where you’re from, how long you’re here, tell you about their city, the culture. It was amazing – true genuine hospitality and friendliness. Everywhere!
  2. Diwali Lights.
    It is the festival of lights and, boy, do they decorate accordingly! There are Christmas lights everywhere – it’s really festive and puts you in a fun mood. And while the strings of lights were cool, my favorite part were the little candle flames everywhere giving off this warm glow.
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  3. Rick is a celebrity. Photo ops!
    We had a lot of folks asking to take photos with us. It was quite funny to us. And as soon as we would say okay to one guy, there were 10 more that appeared wanting pictures too! Like they were just waiting for the first brave guy to ask. We humored just about everyone that asked… even when it meant we were standing around for photos for 15 minutes. And we just get a picture with them too – because, why not? It’s fun… but the staring does get a little weird after a while. Crazy eyes!
    Being a celebraty in India
  4. Party Cows.
    We call them Party Cows – they were painted and decorated for Diwali and all over the streets. There were also Party Donkeys, Party Goats… pretty much if you could get it to stand still for long enough, it was painted!
    Party Cows in India - Dawali
    “Party until the cows come home” – uh oh, I think the cows came home. Knock, knock.
  5. Jaipur Shopping Festival.
    In celebration of Diwali, Jaipur has a huge shopping festival. The stores decorate their store fronts with crazy elaborate scenes – it’s like NYC at Christmas.
    Diwali - India
    Popular Indian night club? Nope, just people waiting to get into the temple for Diwali.
  6. Diwali.
    Ok, I know that’s three things for Diwali, but it was so fun! Everyone was super friendly on the “big night” of Diwali Oct 23 when we were in Jairpur. Cheery people shouted down the street at us “Happy Diwali”… came out of houses to tell us “Happy Diwali”.Diwali - IndiaThere are also poo sculptures involved. Not so sure on what these mean or what they are for (or if it’s real poo), but all over the streets on the 24th there were little “gingerbread man” sculptures made of poop.
  7. Street Food.
    The best food we’ve had on the trip so far! Street food in India is delicious. From dahl and chapatis, to lassis, to samosas with curry flavors inside. We basically never really know what it is, but if it’s popular with the locals and there’s a line in front of the cart, we’re in! The flavors have been incredible.
    Street food in India
    We are in Delhi until this evening, so more street food is in our near future!
  8.  Sunsets.
    Absolutely stunning sunsets. Everyday. So the cause may not be so sexy… I think a lot of it has to do with the pollution, but the results are amazing.
    Sunsets in India
  9. Palaces.
    Lots and lots of palaces. I think Udaipur had the best ones! We spent 4-5 days in Udaipur, it’s a beautiful city, said to be the most romantic city in India. I can see why, it’s set on a couple of lakes and has beautiful palaces surrounding the lake, and even in the middle of the lake.
    Palaces of India
  10. Marwari Horses.
    I loved getting to ride them so much, it’s a separate post.
  11. Trains.
    The trains are awesome. You can get everywhere by train… and it’s like a moving hotel if you get an overnight one (awesome for us budget travelers!). And it’s a nice, comfy hotel – I think I got my best sleep on the trains in India. And you wake up and you’re in your next destination.
  12. Henna.
    It really is beautiful how intricate the designs are.
    Henna
  13. Taj Mahal.
    Pretty impressive place.
    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
  14. Elephants and camels everywhere.

    Elephants and Camels in India
  15. Tuk tuk rides.
    Always an adventure – but far better than to be in one, than dodging them on the street, they can be ruthless.
    Tuk Tuk Rides in India
    Pay up, buddy! No free ride here!
  16.  Rooftop cafes.
    Roof Top Views in India
  17. “Everything is possible!” … and “it’s not possible”
    We heard both. A LOT. We made a wonderful friend in Agra who took care of us at his rooftop restaurant every night we were there. The first time we walked in we were greeted warmly and told “what would make you happy? Everything is possible!”
    Everything is Possible at Join Us Cafe in Agra, India
    On the flip side, when someone here wants to say no to your request (like “May I take a picture of your shop?” or “May I have another beer?” near closing time)… the answer is a very proper sounding “Not possible.” It’s very disarming…. We’ve come to find it kind of endearing and funny now. But there’s a little part of me that always wants to argue, “It’s not really that it’s ‘not possible’, sir. I think what you really mean is you don’t want to!”

We have one last day in India to enjoy the wonderful culture, people, sights and flavors.