Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mumbai to Goa, India

Ready to ride out of Mumbia, India.  This school behind Markos and Sampson is not the school they attend, but no worries.  Both boys have successfully taken monitored midterms through their distance learning school at  Vista Virtual, Alberta Distance Learning Centre.

Markos' 15th birthday.  Shrilaka, Rahul, Mukta and Radha invited us into their family and styled us with an exceptional celebration. (Complete with appropriate attire!)

A glimpse of the road before us.  One of the numerous small villages we've ridden through on our journey south through the state of Maharashtra.

We finally reached the beaches of southern India.  Anita, Raj and Arya got us out to the beach (one hour drive transporting by car and moped) the night we arrived at their home.  What a treat it was!

This is a kingfisher.  Don't know how long he survived in the forest...his wing was injured.

Welcome to India – Where are you going?  Goa?
10 days in India
Ist night – arrival at Mumbai airport, arranged shuttle to reserved hotel.  Settled in by 2am.   Our 1 star hotel fortunately has been hugely improved upon by all accommodation since.
Day 1 – 1 ½ hour taxi ride (2 taxis for all our stuff and family) across Mumbai 26 km to Coloba District by the Gateway to India.  Crazy traffic and horns, our drivers, 2 senior Islamic Indians, were awesome.  The air pollution was so thick that I had a constant mild headache the two days we spent in Mumbai – skyscrapers could barely be made out as we looked upwards on our ride.
Day 2 – built the bikes back into riding form (from airplane transport mode) Our hotel A/C helped us cope with the pollution and the street noise.  Found great places to eat.
Day 3 – Rode 5 km to ferry port and took 1-hour ferry to Port Rewas, south and out of Mumbai and 19.2 million people.  Excellent exit strategy.
….Day 10.  Cruising and jolting down the Mumbai-Goa Highway, sweat flowing, heat intense, shade of banyon trees and jungle growth breaks slow, sun-drenched climbs.  The traffic flows like a river, filling empty spaces with overtaking cargo trucks, buses, cars and mopeds, all dodging potholes and asphalt patchwork. Brahma cows emerging out of the side brush or stationed directly in the middle of the road.  Horns signal too many things – overtaking vehicle, blind corner approach, emergence into traffic, a friendly (but piercing) hello.  Fortunately, the extreme rumble strips that added additional dimension to the road before each and every village, have thinned out over the days as the villages now are more spread out the further we get from Mumbai.  The refuse piles strewn about the rivers and road have also thinned with villages well taken care of and small neat fields of harvested rice and greens separated by fences of hung fabric, to ward off the wild pigs.  Monkeys eat up the banana peels we toss into the forest and jungle bird-squawk is constant.  Raj, a college commerce and business professor by day, snake-catcher by night, informed us that 2-300 people die each year from snakebite in the region we are traveling.  Needless to say we are staying on the road and not camping at all!!

More than anything, it is the people of India that have enriched our experience on a daily basis. Shibaz approached our dusty bikes in Roja – he knew several places we could spend the night.  We followed his motorcycle through the milieu of people, animals and vehicles.  Then to meet his family (father, aunts and uncles and brother/cousins) sharing of tea and gifts of custard–apple fruit and explanations to questions we had.  This trend continued with five families since.  In Mahad, Shrilaka approached us « I’m ‘Warm Showers’, would you like to be my guests? » We spent an amazing next day and a half hosted by her family.  (The day also happened to be Markos’ birthday!) The father, Rahul, took us on a hike to 2000 year-old Buddhist caves. We visited numerous family friends and joined the family celebration feast for the last day of Diwali.  We took a crocodile safari in a tippy riverboat and wrapped up the day with a dual birthday celebration for Markos’ 15th and  Rahul’s 44th birthday, complete with loaned Indian dress.  That was a crazy action-packed day.  Shrilaka and her family took us under their wing and have continued to do so.  Now, five days later, we hear from Shrilaka daily with the connection to our home-for-the-evening: friends and connections she has arranged for us to meet and stay with.  Each experience with these hosts has been golden, and broadened our India far beyond the bumpy and often chaotic road we travel by day.  « To serve people is to serve God » is the mantra of Indian hospitality.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Budapest - a great place to meet up with friends

We arrive Budapest by overnight train from Krakow.  All our gear (16 saddlebags and 4 bagged bikes) and the five McFerrins fit into one 6-bed train compartment laid out for sleeping.  The beds were 3 bunks high with a foot-wide aisle between them.  Good thing a sixth ticket holder and the possible inhabitant of one of the beds didn't show!
Our first night in Budapest was spectacular.  The monumental architecture built between 1850 and 1900 was showcased in lights.  Here is the Chain Bridge linking the past towns of Buda and Pest into the modern day city of Budapest.
Jackie, Jonny and Buckshot (others know him as Aspen), friends from Calgary met us in Budapest.  We spent the week loving a 8 month old baby and seeing the sights.  Self-guided walking tours, museums, mineral baths...Buckshot did it all.
Jackie, Buckshot, Tarn, Markos, Rick, Tanya and Ronald Reagan???  Hungary existed behind the Iron Curtain following World War II.  In 1956 a people's revolution was squashed and not until 1990 was the country released to independence from the Soviet rule.  In the 1980's Ronald Reagan spoke strongly for the freedom of Hungary which is why his statue is here in Budapest.  If you are ever in Budapest check out the House of Terror...a grim museum detailing the life of the Hungarian people under Nazi and Communist control.  The last Hungarian sentenced to  imprisonment in Siberia was finally released in the year 2000.
Some Hungarian fare.  Delicious, yet a practice in patience and diplomacy.  The five meals we purchased equaled 24 items on our receipt.  Do you see 5 items on each of these two plates?  Turns out they charged us separate for the paper plate, the dressing on the salad, the sprinkle of parsley on the dressing....and had added five items they could not identify when we went over the receipt with them.  We don't like to make an issue  but when our bill totaled 24,000 Hungarian Forint (about $100 Canadian) at a supposedly "economical" food market, it's time to check the numbers!!!
Maisy, Elsie, Sampson, Tarn, Markos and Jordi.  We got connected to a New Zealand family of five, kids 12, 10 and 8 who were backpacking for a year.  It was great to spend the day with them hiking up to the Citadel, sharing a picnic, and exploring Budapest through younger eyes. 

Square donuts...they completely fulfilled exceptional expectations!

Sampson and Timo.  Timo drove with his dad Andreas and brother Kai from Stuttgart to Budapest to meet us for the week end.  Sampson and Timo became great friends this past Spring when Timo attended Western Canadian High School as an exchange student for three months.

And so, we say goodbye to Europe.  It's been three months of autumn, kind people, and cultures that form the base of our culture in North America.  Our experience has been foundational for the great unknown in the countries new-to-us that lie ahead. Tomorrow morning we travel to Mumbai, India.  A modern mega-city of 18 million and a culture that Sampson, Markos and Tarn are only familiar with through movies and the people from India that they have met.  Rick and I traveled Rajasthan and the area between Delhi and Nepal by bicycle in 1999.  We are now headed to the more tropical regions of India.  The states of Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  We are excited for the adventure that lies ahead!!!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fall comes to a close in Poland

My adoptive family. Jerzyck, Karolina, Franek, Kuba and Gucio.  They took care of me through my saddle sore recovery and here is our good-bye selfie.  After two weeks of laying low and letting my body heal, I am ready for the train.  I loaded my bike and gear on two trains connecting to Krakow and met my boys that afternoon at our reserved Air BNB.  It's so good to be back with my family, and due to the care and graciousness of my Warm Showers hosts, my experience away from my family was a true asset to our journey.
Marta (blue shirt on right) is the grandmother of my Warm Showers family in Poland.  She invited me to a typical Polish dinner with other extended family members. After the meal I joined her at a "Hula" workshop.  She takes Flamenco lessons weekly and this was a special event for members of her dance cohort.  On the plates are cooked barley, pickle compote, a meat dish (pork I think) shredded and fried, pale coloured meat balls and cooked buckwheat.  To start was a delicious leek soup - one of three to choose from.  Marta is a soup guru and had made three different soups earlier in the week.  She stored them in jars, ready for this meal.
Sandomierz, Poland.  Sampson, Markos, Tarn and Rick stayed in this town on their journey through eastern Poland following the Green Velo cycle route.
 Sampson navigating a muddy road.  Despite the inconsistent road conditions, the boys followed the Green Velo route for the  majority of their two week cycle to Krakow from Bialystok, Poland.

Brightly coloured bee boxes.  It seems most people in Poland have their own sources of honey, eggs, milk and garden vegetables.  The small stores found in the countryside sometimes don't have these items for sale - maybe because people grow/harvest their own!
Rick and Tarn work on a wheel.  The side wall went out on a tire of the tandem.  Aside from our tents and our dry bags, the majority of gear we are using on this trip has had previous experience.  We knew these tires would need replacement before long.  Rick hitchhiked back to a town and purchased two quality tires, knowing the other on his tandem would likely go too.
The fall is coming to an end.  It's been an incredible one.  Following the colours and the leaves since Finland, we've had our share of warm sunshine as well as our dose of cold and rain.  We now have our 60 day visas for India and flights booked to leave Europe from Budapest on November 13th, heading for Mumbai, India.   Prior to our departure we get to explore Budapest with two sets of friends coming to visit us there:  Timo, Sampson's exchange student friend from Stuttgart, Germany and Jonny, Jackie and Aspen, from our home in Calgary.

Just for fun I thought I'd list a few of our "staples" that we carried with us through Europe.  I'm guessing the list will be quite different for India and Southeast Asia!

water/wind resistant gloves
complete rain suits
soy sauce
hot sauce
salt, pepper and hot pepper grinders
fruits and vegies (apples, pears, bananas, mandarins, tomatoes, and a cucumber, a head of lettuce)
peanut and raisin mix
chocolate bars
hot chocolate
cheese, salami
canned fish
jam and honey