Pigs on the Beach

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a “beach”… it was more like a shore, but “pigs on the shore” just didn’t sound as fun.

Today we went to Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai that is about 10 km away, but takes about 45 min to 1 hour to get to because of all the traffic.  We went there to meet up with the brother of a friend of my dad, Jeff.  Jeff is an American professor and counselor who used to live in Bombay from 2009-2012 and returns every year for a month because he loves it.

This is what we did today in Bandra with Jeff…

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Taxi ride to Bandra… check out that smog!

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Pani puri… worst Indian dish ever. It is COLD water with chick peas, green beans, maybe potatoes, and spices inside a crunchy puff. Pop the whole thing in your mouth for maximum grossness.

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Our first tuk tuk ride!

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Inside the tuk tuk with our new buddy, Jeff

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This is the “beach”… aka filthy shoreline where the pigs run wild and free.

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Trash pig!

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Trash piglet! Isn’t he cute?!

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Old fishing village

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Mumbai skyline (well, a small, smoggy part of it anyway)

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Joggers Park

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Unique blue-eyed goose in Joggers Park

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Another resident of Joggers Park

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Beautiful villa built by the Portuguese when they ruled Bombay from 1534-1661.

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More Portuguese architecture

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Flower vendor

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Warli tribal art

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Bollywood street art; images of the first Bollywood film with sound

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The cuties were so excited about talking to us and getting their picture taken. We were riding in a tuk tuk next to them.

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Refreshments: kiwi vodka cocktail

The Coconut Guy

This morning around 8:00am, the doorbell rang at Sushim and Nupur’s apartment.  Maren and I were the only ones home, as our hosts had gone for a run.  We looked at each other and asked, “Should we get it? Is that weird?  Is it safe?”  But I went ahead and opened the door to a small, Indian man holding a plastic bag.  He immediately sat on the ground, pulled out two coconuts, and starting shaving the tops off.  I tried to communicate with him, but with no luck.  After a couple of minutes, he handed me the coconuts and went on his way.

A few minutes later, Sushim and Nupur got home and explained that they have a coconut guy who comes every morning with fresh coconuts!  How cool is that?!  How did we miss this guy on Saturday and Sunday???

Our hosts also happen to have a maid, a personal chef, and weekly grocery delivery service.  Just like the coconut guy, the maid and chef come every day.  In India, these are the perks of cheap labor.  Even middle class families can afford these types of services, which would be a luxury in the States.  Pretty neat!

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A Day in the Life

After 15 hours and 10.5 time zones, Maren and I finally touched down in Mumbai at about 10:00pm local time, collected our backpacks, and took a prepaid taxi to the apartment of our couchsurfing host.  Getting through customs, immigration, baggage claim, exchanging money, and locating our taxi all took about 2 hours, but was fairly straightforward and easy.

We got to Sushim and Nupur’s apartment by 12:30am.  Sushim was waiting downstairs to greet us and led the way to our new “home” for the next 5 days.  Their apartment is small, but very clean and comfortable with valuable amenities like ceiling fans, a water filter, hot water in the shower, and a western toilet.  Our “bedroom” is the living room and our “beds” are foldable pads on the floor, but it’s quite comfortable actually.  After more than 24 hours of travel, we were both pretty beat we so called it a night soon after arriving.

Yesterday was our first day in the city and instead of playing “tourist” for the day (walking around with our guidebooks, maps, and cameras), we were fortunate enough to spend it with our amazing hosts and have more of a “day in the life of a local” experience.

First, Sushim and Nupur drove us to a local restaurant where we all ordered thali, which is like a 1-plate meal of the day, offered during the lunch hour, and comes with 2 hot vegetable dishes, chapati or puri (a flat bread, thinner than naan), 2 lentil dishes, 2 scoops of rice, some sauces, and chutney… and it’s always all-you-can-eat (THAT’S my kind of eatin’)!  Being a small local restaurant, there was no silverware so we ate with our hands like the locals do, using only the right hand, as the left is your potty hand.  The food was delicious and it was a cool experience.  Although, I did find it odd that the restaurant did not have a bathroom.  They did, however, have a sink and soap for washing your hands before and after you eat.

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After lunch, we walked around downtown a bit, bought local SIM cards, and went shopping for local clothes at FabIndia.  FabIndia is like a Gap or Urban Outfitters, but with Indian styles and everything is made in India.  It’s extremely popular and was quite crowded with locals and foreigners alike.  I bought one kurti (like a long blouse that falls below the waist or below the knees), Maren bought two, and our host Nupur bought 3 kurtis and a tunic.  Poor Sushim just stood around and waited on us for about an hour… I’d say it was a successful shopping trip, though!

After getting our new threads, we walked to Colaba, which is Mumbai’s downtown and touristic center.  Along the way, we stopped at a street vender for some freshly made chai (our first Indian chai!).  I’d like to say it was great, but I thought it a bit too sweet and I’m never a big fan of hot milk, which made up at least half the drink.

From there, we walked down to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.  Do not confuse this with the Taj Mahal, which is nowhere near Mumbai.  It IS, however, the most famous and iconic hotel in India which:

  1. was built in 1903
  2. was converted into a hospital during World War I
  3. was the target of a 3-day terrorist attack in 2008 that killed 167 people
  4. is where President Obama and Hillary Clinton have stayed during trips to India
  5. is one of Mumbai’s top luxury hotels

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These photos don’t do it justice. It’s a really beautiful building, inside and out.

After roaming the hotel, we went for a rooftop drink at a bar close along the coastline.  Mumbai is basically surrounded by water, and has one sand “beach”, but you cannot go in the water because it is toxic.  It’s a shame.  At the bar, we had a great conversation with Sushim and Nupur, drank Kingfisher (an Indian beer that you can typically find in the US, especially at Indian restaurants) and ate potato chips and chicken tandoor (I skipped out on the meat, but Maren said it was super good).

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Finally, we headed home to get ready to go out with some of Nupur and Sushim’s friends.  We took a cab and met the friends at a bar called Social and then went to a club called Hoppipola. Both places were super fun, with very modern and trendy decor, top 40 music hits being spun by DJs, and lots of young Indian friends dancing and hanging out.  All of our hosts’ friends were very kind and friendly, drinks were flowing, and watching Bollywood dance moves live and in person really made my night.

I really wish I had taken video.  This photo is the worst.  Sorry.

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The club shut down around 1:30am, at which point it was time for some post-party street food.  We took a taxi to the only place open at that hour and ate the BEST Indian dish I’ve ever had: pav bhaji. Pav bhaji is a dish that originated here in the state of Maharashtra, and I believe right here in Mumbai.  It is considered “fast food” and is basically a red vegetable curry served with soft, buttery bread rolls.  I seriously hope I can find it outside of Mumbai because I’d be so sad if I never get to taste it again.  The friend crew we were with also ordered vegetable fried rice, chicken fried rice, and and egg bhurji, which was basically scrambled eggs cooked with veggies and magic.  Everything was so good and everyone shared everything, passing around plates and indulging on the sidewalk.  I don’t know the name of the place we went, but it had a street front window where your ordered and then you could choose to sit at one of the few tables inside (which was totally full) or outside on the sidewalk.

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At about 3am, we taxied home.  I stayed up chatting with Nupur and Sushim about a trip they took to Ladakh (one of the northern most states with breathtaking landscapes) until about 4:00am, then finally called it a night.

While we didn’t see many of the sights in Mumbai, or go into any museums, temples, or mosques, we had the BEST first day in India that anyone could ever wish for.  We learned so much and experienced so much local culture and flavor (literally!).  Sushim and Nupur are not just incredible hosts, but really wonderful people.  We are lucky to have found them on couchsurfing.  It is only because of them that we were able to spend a day in the life of a Mumbaikar (a person from Mumbai), and what a day it was.

I’ll wrap this up with a few more random pics of our day.

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View from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

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A street market

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Crowds along the Colaba Causeway, a popular street and shopping area

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Me and Maren with our hosts, Sushim and Nupur

NERVES

I can’t sleep.  You know how sometimes you have a hard time sleeping before a big trip because of excited anticipation of what’s to come?  This isn’t that.  This is another kind of sleeplessness; the kind that stems from nervous anxiety.  And it’s really bumming me out.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by, motivated by, and slightly obsessed with travel.  So you would think that embarking on this huge adventure (my Dream! my Goal!) would bring me nothing but positive feelings.  With all my other adventures abroad, I’ve always felt about 90% excitement, 10% “other” (nervous, curious, anxious, etc).  Why is this trip making me feel the opposite?  Why am I so overwhelmed?
Perhaps it’s because I’m leaving behind a loving boyfriend, my two fur babies, a solid network of friends, a stable job (actually, on second thought, no regrets there), a freaking great house, a city I love, and I’m going even farther away from my family than I already was (What if they need me?  What if I need them???).  I’ve never had to tackle these issues before because the majority of my trips have been a few days to a few weeks long.
Now that I’m looking at a year away, I’m so full of anxiety that it’s smothering my excitement like a fire blanket.
Some of my major concerns include:
1.  What will a long-distance relationship with Ryan look like when I’m literally half a world away?  I anticipate issues with timing, connectivity, phone/email communication vs. in-person interaction, personal change/personal growth for both of us.
2.  What if one or both of my dogs die while I’m away?
3.  What if I’m “too old” to do this? Now, wait… before you judge and say that’s ridiculous, hear me out. I spent lots of time in my teens and 20s traveling in Europe, which everyone in the world will agree is pretty easy travel, even when you’re staying in hostels and doing everything on the cheap.  European travel is pretty darn cushy.
Whereas on this trip, I’ll be spending about half a year in India and Southeast Asia.  I’m sure SE Asia is so well-traveled by now that, even if it’s not as easy or comfortable as Europe, it probably won’t be too difficult to find and get everything I need (physically, mentally, and culturally).  But India is supposed to be one of the most challenging countries in the world for a female traveler.  And since I want to do it cheaply and independently, that means no guided tour groups, no fancy hotels, no first-class transportation.  Will I be able to get over the creature comforts that I’m accustomed to so that I can fully embrace and love my Indian experience? Or will I freak out over a  particularly dirty bathroom?  Will I have many sleepless nights due to uncomfortable beds or loud kids in a hostel?  Will I get sick and poop my pants on a bus? Will I be safe?  Will I be tempted to punch the next street swindler in the nose?  Will I have a melt down because I’m too hot/cold/exhausted to think straight?
I never had any of these concerns when I traveled in my 20s, and I know the worrying doesn’t help anything.  I know I need to stop thinking so much and JUST GO.  I’m sure once I’m on the road, everything will work itself out (and if it doesn’t, I can always come home).  But I’ve never been good a quieting my mind (a wonderful trait I acquired from my mother, who calls it “monkey brain”).
….Maybe I should spend some of my time in Asia learning how to meditate so I can take all these nerves and just crush them with my will power. RAWR