India, Part 1

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
— Mark Twain

My trip to India started a day early.

I was in Lafayette, Louisiana, visiting friends and family before I left for India. I had an entire day of plans and I was getting ready to head to the gym for a few hours of sweating when I received an email reminder that I still needed to check=in for my flight. I thought it was odd because it was 48 hours before my flight and these notifications typically are sent 24 hours before the flight. However, this was my first international flight, so I was oblivious to the process. 

About 30 minutes after receiving the reminder email, I decided to check-in and check that everything was in good order. That's when I realized my flight was in 5.5 hours and I was still 3.5 hours away from the airport. So, I left immediately for the Houston airport.

I started my adventure with a few movies and a long nap. I sucked when I realized I was the only person wide awake and we still had 8+ hours left. So, I did some reading and some journaling, but flying for 15+ hours was and is extremely exhausting regardless of what you do to occupy yourself. 

The person next to me was from Afghanistan and he was headed back for his wedding. He described the beauty and humility that they experience living in the mountains. My friend was convinced that I would love Afghanistan and its people, and we agreed that it was a shame that humans can't seamlessly experience the full beauty of the world due to cultural bigotry. We even discussed the US's involvement in his home; he supported us because "the terrorists bother us, too. We just want to live our lives and be left alone." 

Dubai airport

We arrived in Dubai in the later evening, I think around 6pm or so. The temperature was still over 100 degrees. You should also know that DXB is the top hub for international travelers and second for freight. I was one of 83.6 million passengers in 2016 to travel through DXB. It is easily the largest and most beautiful airport that I've had the pleasure to experience. DXB has better shopping than most malls in the US. Their shopping has everything from luggage, magazines, and fast food--everything you'd expect at an airport--to world reknown chocolates, high quality gold and diamonds, a luxury swimming pool, a five star hotel, and "snoozecubes". DXB has anything you could ever want. So, I found the showers and took a long, needed scrubbing. 

A few hours after my departure from Dubai to Hyderabad, another Emirate flight into Dubai crashed upon landing. It was about like the photo below. 

Friends and family didn't know which flight I was on, so they called and texted multiple times. I guess they thought I'd have international phone signal. I was obviously not on that flight.

Showering over the toilet in Hyderabad

By the time I arrived in Hyderabad, the jet lag was already starting to settle and I was eager to start moving around. I remember wishing I could hit a few sets of heavy squats and deadlifts. It felt like my nervous system needed to be woken up. Unfortunately, there was no gym on site and the locals didn't care much for this pale face that didn't speak the language. So, I just found a quiet corner and tried to nap again until my next flight.

In the airports on this side of the world, there is no TSA--there is only the military that walks around with loaded AK-47s and loads of swagger. The military personnel walked around with such pride, but it may have been gloating and a show of status.

After lying around for a while and being ogled more than a voluptuous woman in Williston, North Dakota, I decided I needed to freshen up again and try to move around because my ankles were extremely swollen and I had plenty of travel left. I managed to find the men's restroom, which was extremely clean, but I didn't find the showers. I did notice, however, that the toilets were actually holes in the floor and there was limited toilet paper and an abundance of warm water. The warm water was provided by this nice hose, which resembled a sink sprayer and are intended for people to clean themselves--to wipe their ass. I figured I could shower with the same water. I mean, it was clean water and I had soap.

Imagine standing in an average-sized bathroom stall without a toilet but a hole in the ground for your business. Now, imagine trying to get undressed without falling in; keep in mind that you haven't moved much in the past 15+ hours. Needless to say: many of the bathroom attendants checked on me multiple times, because surely there was a violent struggle happening. The best part was that I forgot to put the soap in my travel bag after the previous shower. Luckily I had baby powder and cologne.

IMG_7167.JPG

You'll have to excuse the potato quality photo. This photo was taken at 4am in the Hyderabad airport as I was looking for the showers and the location to get my boarding passes.

 

This airport was deceptively large and beautiful. Ironically, this same spot that I'm standing is the location of a very memorable event for my return trip. A mentally challenged Saudi boy relieved himself in the middle of the airport and his family decided to get him naked and leave his clothes and old groceries on the floor. I could leave the spot because I was waiting in line to get my tickets. To make things worse, I ended up waiting here for far longer than I should have because of the difficult family ahead of me. The good news is that the person at the desk recognized my patience and upgraded my seat, which worked out better because it gave me a better spot with the flight attendants.

Visakhapatnam

I made it to Vizag in the middle of the morning, probably around 10am. The early morning sun gave me a nice view of the industrial city, as it resides on the eastern coast of the India. I was able to wander to the coast after a needed nap. The closer view showed me some unfortunate truths about the natural beauty.

Before I made it to my nap, I was shown around town which included the fullest experience of chaotic traffic, pollution, and poverty. It was quite impressive to witness and experience how fluid the traffic progressed with such lawlessness. Those on bikes had the ability to weave through the slower sections of traffic while those in the big vehicles dictated the flow of traffic. There was an obvious traffic economy that had two rules, watch your own ass and honk when you decide to move in any direction. Still, there seemed to be unspoken rules that governed the driving and none of them were the laws that you might be required to know if you went for a driver's license. For example, back state side, drivers in Texas move to the shoulder (without slowing) to allow faster vehicles to pass. In India, one unspoken law I discovered was that multiple bikes could unionize to act as some pseudo big rig and momentarily take over the flow. I saw this many times with a group of bikers wanting to turn across traffic. Inevitably, someone in a much larger vehicle would inch forward until they stopped all turning traffic and the flow continued as before. 

I was also fortunate enough to get close and personal with the construction efforts in the area. It seemed like things could be constructed however as long as things looked like the current state of affairs. I mean this in every way. I commonly saw people welding without masks, shirts, or shoes, without a care for safety. Even more worrying was the lack of concern for the passing locals just meters away. One construction site had a food hut setup out front with live chickens that were slaughtered upon purchase. I still haven't quite figured out the electrical system, but I think they only care that no new poles be included. I even saw people tapping into a broken and partially fallen (it was still somewhat upright because of all the wires that were able to support its weight) electrical pole.

I finally got my nap, so I wandered to the beach with Raj and we took a "maxie" to the beach. Our ride ended up being a very intimate experience with the exhaust systems of that traffic I spoke of earlier. From that ride forward, I wore a bandanna everywhere I went so i could cover my face.

Our first stop on the beach was a the start of these beach shops. The buildings were technically illegal and unregulated, obviously, but left as if they were permanent structures. People walked up and down the beach searching for handmade jewelry, trinkets, and fried food. Most people didn't dare get in the water, as they faced signs of undertows. How, after noticing the draining from the industrial section of the beach and the popular public urination around the beach, I suspect there are other reasons to avoid the water. Look at the photos above, and you'll see a group of men urinating next to the piles of scattered trash decomposing, trashed food on the beach without even trying to hide themselves. 

We had to stop at this children's park It seemed to be the only place around that the locals respected. This place had limited trash and some of the only nonreligious statues. I was also thrown off a bit with how pale the statues are considering the complexion of the locals. The wall also had Disney characters.

I suppose it was my gallivanting that made me famous, but it could have been my pale skin. Either way, walking around became taxing--everyone wanted a photo with me. Raj told me that foreigners rarely travel to the area and I only saw 4 other European faces before I flew to Kerala. However, I also sported a tattoo that I was told was worth more than the average lifetime salary and I had on shorts and no sandals. The local style was jeans, polo, 15 year old sandals, and a mustache. Oh, and I didn't have a mustache. Needless to say, I was quite the anomaly. I can't deny that I appreciated the attention for the first hour or so, but it was a bit obnoxious soon after.  I later determined that there were many other things that contributed to my short-lived fame. For example, I am much taller than the average local of the area and none of they have ever seen the gym. I didn't realize so much of this until a few days later when a befriend a businessman and he explained how everyone assumed I was actually an actor from America.

After wandering aimlessly for hours back South, where we started, we were caught in the middle of a vigil. We never learned the motive for the demonstration but I did learn of a certain respect for this situation. The seemingly intolerant and impatient traffic from earlier showed absolute respect for the marching crowd. That isn't to say that people were happy about the added obstacle, but I assume it is similar to a funeral procession in the US. Raj and I partially marched with the crowd until we could find a rickshaw to bring us back to my hotel. 

Before getting in the "Maxie", we argued over a rate. I liked this because it obviously depends on supply and demand, and I demanded to be treated fairly. Either way, I learned to always bargain for a better rate because, as a foreigner, they will charge 10-1000x's the local rate. So, check with locals on the average rate. This applies for any purchase without a predetermined, listed price. Also bring exact change. Every seller claims to be short of change so they can get more money. My strategy dissolved to befriending a local and having them purchase anything I needed. 

We returned around 8pm local time, so we were hungry. Raj spoke with the front desk to get us some food. The young man returned with chili chicken and some beer. Below are pics of four beers, each ~ 20oz @ 7.5%, and some chili chicken. The cost for this was about $15 with delivery. The chicken is also killed and cooked fresh.

 

I reflected on the day and realized I learned ANOTHER lesson: don't give anything to the beggars. The women around here rent babies from parents and use them to go around begging for "food". The women will stand in front of you and harass you for ungodly lengths of time. I used quotes because the gesture they used is them bringing their hand to their mouth as if they're feeding themselves. The truth is they won't actually eat the food, in most circumstances, they just want money. At the end of the day, the women return the children to their parents and pay a rental fee. The remaining funds are then brought to the local pawn shops, which act as their pimps. Some of the local pawn shops double as mafia. So, don't contribute to the beggars.