Monthly Archives: June 2011

Archive 08/04; 7 Months and all the travel wiser

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I suppose after 7 months and nothing monumentally bad happening I should be thankful.  I can honestly say that in my 32 yrs., 7 in NYC and 7 mos. on the road I have never been conned or pick-pocketed.  That was until yesterday.  I will preface this story by saying that my “sexual predator radar” is in such overdrive right now that I suppose my “robbery radar” was on the back burner and will perhaps explain how a woman in a bhurka was able to con and rob me right under my nose! That’s right, a woman in a bhurka.  Now I know why the Muslims invented the stupid things.  Anyhow, I have to give the pertinent info in order to somehow explain how I could be so stupid…or perhaps that is the explanation.  I had one day to spend in Chittagong and that one day ended up being a washout…but I decided not to let that stop me from seeing the town.  I got caught in the downpour in the morning and my theft-proof bag got soaked in the process along with all the contents.  So I returned to my hotel and removed the contents trying to dry all the important papers out.  Eventually it did stop raining and therewas a lake i read was very nice and relaxing to
go to and had a hill that “afforded grand views of the city and the bay of bengal”.  I wasn’t going to go, but since it was my onely day and i was going stir crazy from the confines of the morning rain i decided to go.  since everything was wet i shifted everything into my waterproof (but not theft proof) backpack and headed out with some money and my camera.  the lake was very nice and at the top of the hill i met a couple, the woman being a young “muslim” woman wearing a bhurka.  she started talking to me, which I have never been approached by a woman in a bhurka before (stupid move #1).  I couldn’t understand what she was saying and went about walking the hill.  then she made a motion to take a photo.  well what an opportunity i thought, they never let you take their photo. (stupid move #2). her male companion took a photo of us. in which she removed the mouth vale which i thought strange. (stupid move #3)  then i said i would take a photo of them and she said no.  then i said thank you and good by and walked away but they kept following me
and i thought they were saying they wanted a copy of the photo.  anyhow, i did politely try to get rid of them but they kept walking with me.  then there was some sort of altercation between another man and her male companion and a guard and i didn’t understand what it had to do with, but she  grabbed me by the hand and led me out and it seemed like some kind of sisterhood.  then her companion caught up with us and we walked out of the park and i kept trying to say goodbye.  then she motioned to a photostudio just out of the park and led me in. It  just seemed to me that she really wanted a picture with me.  so we were led in the back to a photospot and she immediately started removing the bhurka and cloak top and out came the hair and on came the makeup and i have to admit that i was a little shocked, but what do i know? (stupid move #4,5,6) so we had our photos taken and then she says to me that I would pay.  Well, I was a bit upset in that i never wanted to go to the studio in the first place and had been trying to go my own way and now i was going to have to pay for a photo i didn’t want and would never see!  but then my conscious came in
telling me how it’s a poor country and what’s 50 thaka to me if she wants a picture with me, since everyone in india wanted a picture.  so then i had to pay for this picture and i saw her looking in my change purse and tried to turn to the side.  then we left and she kept holding my hand and led my to the main street and it all gets a bit blurry here becuase i was trying to find a rick-shaw to get back and then as i realized that she was gone i also realized that my bag was open.  i don’t know how she did it. all i know is my money was gone, my camera!!!! (that’s number 2 for those keeping track. sorry mom, i’ll make it up) and 180 photos.  As soon as i realized i started screaming and trying to get the crowd to help me locate them, but all they could say was they were gone and professionals. Now they tell me.  Fool!  Looking back it all seems so clear and I so stupid!  What can I say.  The moral of the story is the next time a woman in a bhurka at the lake approaches you for a photo…tell her to jump in it!

Archive 07/04; After the Fall

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Isn’t it crazy that I only had one day in Chittagong and look how that one day turned out!  I am still reeling in self guilt over my foolishness.  Anyhow, the next day I was on another bus down to Cox Bazar, the world’s longest beach.  Let me inform you that the world’s longest beach does not qualify it as the nicest beach.  The sand is black, with millions of tiny sand crabs weaving over it creating constellation style designs in the sand.  In addition to the crabs, the cows also enjoy the seaside.  yep, there’s cows at the beach too.  The southern peninsula of Bangladesh is a mixture of muslim, hindu and burmese refugees, since it is right on the border.  And that is the third ingredient on the beach, refugee camps.  And with the refugees come their hundreds of children, who run naked down the beach and delight at throwing rocks and sand at strange looking blonde women.  Perhaps they meant it in fun, but under the circumstances I was not in the joking mood.  Down a little ways from Cox Bazar is the tiny village of Teknaf which is on the tip of the peninsula and affords the best views of Burma you can get.  So I made a day trip down there.  I was looking forward to relaxing on the beach and doing a little reading.  Let me inform you that there was none of that!  Let me draw a clear picture for you…Pandas mating, Princess Diana raising from the dead and Martians landing in Time’s Square could not rival the crowd I received.  It was absolutely one of the strangest things i’ve ever encountered.  Hundreds of men, some fishermen, and boys gathered all around to stare at the strange creature that had descended upon their shore.  I am NOT exaggerating!  I was doing nothing more than sitting on a piece of wood and drinking from a water bottle.  I kept thinking that surely they would all eventually get bored and walk away.  15 minutes later they will still in the same spot, and if anything the size had grown.  Finally one boy came up and spoke to me.  “which country?” “why have you come here?”  what i wanted to know was why they were all just standing there staring at me.  I had educated myself thru reading that the people of this country stared a lot, but NOTHING could compare me for this.  His reply was that they just were not used to seeing an attractive woman come to the beach. (to which I wanted to say “Where is she?”) anyhow, i decided to get up and walk as I could no longer stand the pressure.  Sure enough they followed behind and he joked that I was a mother duck.  It really was the strangest thing!
So here I am the day after my horrible incident and trying to process everything that happened.  I’m absolutely guttered about having my camera and money stolen…and even more guttered about losing so many precious photos that will most likely never be recovered.  I’m walking down the beach in Cox Bazar, and it is a lovely sunny day and I can’t help thinking how your life can change so suddenly just like the weather.  Gone are any traces of the heavy monsoon from the day before, just as my camera & money is gone.  But as I’m walking along I realize that the most important thing I lost is my faith and confidence in myself.  When you’re a solo traveler…especially an independent female traveler you are the only person you can really count on. You have to be aware of your surroundings and stay alert and if you can’t trust yourself you’ve really got a problem.  As I go over the night’s events I can see that I did everything wrong, didn’t have my wits about me and let little signals and opportunities go by.  But as I write the days events in my journal (the most painful one to record to date) I can also see that I did alot that day and was very tired.  Too tired to go out alone in a strange town.  SO the lesson learned is know your limits…which is why I decided I didn’t need to prove anything more, couldn’t deal with anymore staring, was too depressed and had seen enough of Bangladesh this time and did a 4 bus, 30 hour marathon ride back to India.  Sometimes ya just got to know when to fold and this chicky is definitely feeling a little travel weary.  so the only cure is a little R&R in Thailand! 

Archive 07/04; The Latest…

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So where is Suzanne now???? In Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh. Just arrived here yesterday. 

The last 4 days have been a bit of a whirlwind. That is after getting stuck in Darjeeling for reasons I won’t get into. Darjeeling was nice, but not the best time of year to visit as the Monsoons have arrived and there was so much mist that you couldn’t see the surrounding mountains, including the highest peak in all of India. While there I did visit the zoo, which featured animals indigenous to the Himalayas. Included were; a Himalayan Black Bear, a pack of Tibetan Wolves, a (mammoth) Siberian Tiger, a clouded leopard, and the jewel of them all….a Snow Leopard, which was even more spectacular than I could imagine. Other highlights included a ride on the Toy Train, the only steam powered train in the region. The Lonely Planet describes it as “tortuously slow”…which is an understatement since I clocked it at 1km/5min. I think I can walk faster than that. STill, it was a fun experience. The other highlight was visiting a Tea Plantation. (But of course!) I now know more about the production of Tea than I ever need to know. But it was fun to watch and learn. After taking a 3 hour Jeep ride, followed by the most interesting cycle rick-shaw ride through a village that has obviously never seen white/blonde people before, to get to the train station where i saw a skeleton carrying a dead baby and hid under the awning to escape the rain with the cows, then took a 13 hour train ride to get back to Calcutta to get up at 4 am to catch the bus to get to Bangladesh where we went through the customs and the immigration guard asked WHY would someone from the US want to come to Bangladesh, to get on another bus that drove at hair splitting speeds to blindly pass slower vehicles into oncoming faster vehicles to get to a ferry crossing that took @ an hour where we were swarmed by curious locals who had never seen white people, much less a digital camera, where we got to the other side and proceeded into Dhaka which is where I am writing you from now! WHEW!!!! (did the longest runon sentence exhaust you?) Now you know how I feel and I have just one thing to say….I HAVE BEEN IN INDIA TOOOOOO LONG! (my mate says if you stay here too long you’ll go crazy…i thought he was just kidding but now i’m quite sure he is right!) 

Now onto Bangladesh. I have to say that everyone in India kept going on about how dirty Bangladesh is. Well, I am here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. The minute we crossed the country line I could tell a difference. True, it is a very poor country. But I have to say that that slightly works in it’s favor. There are not nearly as many cars here as in india and since it is muslim country they kill cows instead of letting them roam the streets freely. Yes, I believe in animal rights, but some of those cows would benefit from a visit to the butchers! The country is absolutely lush. Filled with water ways, fishing villages and loads of farm land. The people are SO friendly and curious. Everyone just stares at us and like to ask LOTS of questions. For those that don’t know, Bangladesh is only 1 yr. older than I am, so it is a VERY young country. hahaha. Originally part of India after 1947, it became East Pakistan, but then the Muslims decided that they wanted their own country, so in 19…Bangladesh was formed and India is a Hindu cream Oreo’d between 2 Muslim Nations Pakistan (which also used to be part of India) and EAst Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Which leads me to the role of women here…as in NONE. WOmen must be completley covered up. There are separate dining areas for women and even Men only Hotels. Right now is not such a problem since I am in the capitol, which in the top 15 largest cities, (it is also the cycle rick-shaw capitol of the world…+1 million) but going to the smaller villages maybe a different story. All in all, I am thrilled with what I’ve seen so far and even more thrilled to be out of India. 

WEll, that’s probably enough for you now. Based on how difficult it was to find e-mail here i’m not sure when the next opportunity will arrive… 

Archive 07/04; Greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan

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Yes, it’s true. I’ve made it yet another country…ever heard of it…though this one will be the shortest stay yet. You see the laws are quite complicated when it comes to Bhutan in order to keep down the tourists numbers. Eliminate them altogether more like it. Foreigners are only allowed to enter into the border town of Phuentsoling without a visa ($20 USD) which in itsself is not so bad. However, the visa is essentially useless and doesn’t get you very far considering that is costs $200 a day to enter beyond that point! A little out of my budget. Anyhow, the little part of the country we have seen is quite lovely. The minute you pass thru the country gate from India into Bhutan the difference is literally like night and day. It is so much cleaner and more quiet here…and NO beggars, which are really beginning to get on my nerves. I mean, No means No and shoo means shoo. Anyhow, even though we are in the North Eastern region it is monsoon season which means it is incredibly humid. I do have to say though that considering I haven’t had a haircut in 10 months and I am resembling last years barbie doll…in the hair dept that is, the humidity has resurrected my blonde curls from the dead! The topography here is quite lush, very green and loads of waterfalls. The people are also interesting to observe in their traditional Bhutanese dress which appears to be a chinese/tibetan version of the kilt. As for doing something wild and crazy…eating tradtl. Bhutanese food, which involves alot of chiles (the little,green hot ones), cheese (health risks eliminate that) and……….Yak. That’s right…I am SO wild and crazy! 

catch you in the next zone.

Archive 06/04; Where in the world will Suzanne be next???

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Well Bangladesh of course sillies!!!!!!! 

Yep, that’s right. Your’s truly is currently in Calcutta, the filthiest city on the planet. Arrived here Monday evening after a lovely 24 hour train ride from Delhi. Been here for 4 days…which is exactly 3 days too long. The only plus I can give Calcutta is that I haven’t seen a single cow since I’ve been here. However, I’ve seen thousands of grungy, rabid dogs and even more beggars. just how many 1 yr. olds can one woman have??? I guess it evens itsself out. Am heading out this evening for Darjeeliing, which is said to be the loveliest of the hillstations, and should be considerably cooler than here. while up there we plan on hopping over the border into Bhutan…ever heard of it??? it’s a tiny little country just northeast of india on the border of Burma and China. then back down and into Bangladesh…the cheapest country in the world. That is of course, unless you are an american and your country has bombed them repeatedly. Doesn’t it seem that there is something wrong when my visa costs more than the entire amount of money i will spend while I’m there?!?! Answer me that.  Oh well, it’s there and I’m here and why not? It should prove interesting. 

TTFN…Until I have anything more interesting to say.

archive 06/04; One Night in Delhi

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so this is an “exclusive” (i.e. my mother will never hear about this) e-mail, detailing my last (and hopefully final) day in Delhi. it started innocently enough with lunch in our usual spot. when i noticed a guy on the table sitting across from us that looked distinctly familiar. finally i could stand it no longer and said to him that he looked as such, but i didn’t believe i had met him in India and thought perhaps it was in Thailand. Sure enough after about 5 minutes i recalled that a group of us had hung out in Pai (N Thld) mid Jan. and had a lenghty and strategic game of Jenga, as well as motorbiking. So he and his friend joined us and we talked until they kicked us out due to needing the tables. So since it was sat. afternoon in Delhi, hot as hell and nothing better to do we decided to get pissed. also, it’s been a long time since i’ve had a drink, so i felt the need. down to the end of the main bazaar we went to 1 of 2 bars on the block. Please do not get visions of Whiskey Blues in your mind. Think more along the lines of Ho Jo’s 40 years ago, but still open today. And consistent with the ambience was the quality of the alcohol. Has anyone even heard of B. R. Gin??? Well, I’ll give you a clue…it tastes something like lighter fluid. Although after 8 shots it starts to grow on you. Well, by 9:00 it seemed like the only sensible thing to do was to go out clubbing…which we found out is easier said than done in Delhi. After being shuffled around and stopping for directions 3 times, we finally found the club that was referred to us by a hotel receptionist. Guess What??? we got there just in time for closing…and it was raining. so after a 30 min. rick-shaw drive we weren’t exactly thrilled. then this hip Indian guy walked up to us and told us of another club that was open not far away. so over there we went. it wasn’t bad and i had the strongest Sex on the Beach ever made…make that 3 of the strongest S.O.B. anyhow, met some other Indian guys there that chatted us up and just as I was making my way to the dance floor…it shut down. A mere 1:00 am! Well then there was some debate between the first Indian guy we met and the Indian guy I met inside as to where to go next. originally the plan was for Toby (the guy I recognized from the beginning) to go with the first guy since he liked him and my friend and I to go with the second guy and his friends. so into stranger #1’s car we went to go to a place called “Float”. Some where along the way we got the impression that he may’ve been to drunk to drive…we got this impression because he almost crashed 3 times. When we finally did get to the place the cover charge was way beyond what we wanted to pay. so the first indian guy convinced us to ride with him, since the second guy was drunk, and told us of a place out by the airport that stayed open until 6 am. None of us knew where the airport was, but we went…into Stranger #2’s car. well, I’m still not sure where the airport is, but he drove us half way across India, into the next state in fact and after an hour and a half we finally arrived…at a Shopping Mall!! With a Ruby Tuesdays inside! (Jim) A ruby Tuesday’s in India?!?!?!?!?! Well, inside was a club and when we got there would you believe that the cover was even more than the place we had just left? Well what could we say. After driving all that way, not knowing where we were, we couldn’t very well say no…though I did want to strangle the guy and probably would have said something if my verbal skills were working at the moment. anyhow, so in we went and i have to say that i saw a part of indian culture that i’ve never seen before. now you can return to your images of new york clubs on a saturday night…think Cheetah or Plaid, or Tunnel back in the day. Coz that’s exactly what it was. Crowded, young hip indians, dancing to strong techno beats. and the bar was just as crazy. crowd up and shout out or you will be ignored. I’m not quite sure what I drank, but i think it was vodka. the dance floor was equally packed with strong strobe lights. i met this really cool, hip indian girl that sounded more like a valley girl and we became best friends immediately and she was kind enough to share her ‘happiness’ with me…which made the evening even more interesting, if not blurry to say the least. i think we danced there until around 5 and then my friends decided it was time to leave, but unfortunately our indian friend did not think so. well guess what, now he was to drunk to drive as well and was not keen on us leaving without him. oh well, outside to mall security (haha i know) we went to look for a taxi, but seeing as how we didn’t even know where we were and were informed that taxis don’t run out there. then i recall us talking to random people in the parking lot and then running into my indian girlfriend from inside who arranged a ride for us. Are you keeping track…STranger #3’s car, which was a turbo engine that he was gleefully racing with his equally turbo armed friend down the freeway, until we almost crashed into another car. I guess it’s a good thing that I was too tipsy to care at this point. 

To wrap things up, we had a great time, spent too many rupees, made it back safe and sound and I woke up with a wicked hangover. 

this is the things travel tales are made of my friends…(who wants to read about your boring uneventful, temple laden trip to India). By the way, my mate and I have concluded that 3 months in india borders on the verge of insanity. 

Until next time…