Here is a daily account of where I stayed each night.
May 15, 1999
I'm on my way to see the world, or at least a good bit of it. I leave home on May 16, my birthday and I should arrive in Mongolia on May 18. After a month or so there I will try to go to China or perhaps someplace else depending on the atmosphere there. I will try to update this page with my current whereabouts whenever I can. So stay tuned for updates. See you later.
Another 5 days driving in the country side near Khara Khorin to see a large monastery there. Really nice scenery nearby. Visited several families, nice people. I apply for my Chinese Visa tomorrow, I go there next week. I will try to do some hiking this week.
OK, here's the latest. My wallet ($175 and credit card) was stolen by a pick pocket in Shanghai a few days ago. And it has been raining for 6 days non-stop. But otherwise I'm still having fun. Now I'm in Yangshou China, near Guilin. It's the first time I've seen the sky in a week because of rain but the sunrise was fantastic. The mountains here are really cool.
Yesterday, the chef showed me the chicken he was about to kill and cook for me. I was thrilled to get such fresh meat. But unfortunately the chef did not seem to understand what I wanted. I asked for spicy chicken meat and rice but what he did with the meat is anybody's guess. My best guess is that he killed the chicken, feathered it, cut off all the meat (disposed of it) and then chopped up everything else and cooked it. All I got was a pile of chicken bones, feet, and legs. No meat. Oh well, other than this one meal the food here has been fantastic. The rain has stopped now so I'm off to see some sites.
In my last installment I believe I told you all about being pick pocketed in Shanghai, and being served a pile of bones that used to be a chicken. Well, since then I've spent almost a month in the town of Yangshuo. I beautiful little town just south of Guilin. I taught English in the school for a little while just for something to do but mostly I've been quite lazy, recharging my batteries after my first six weeks in Mongolia and China. I've made some good friends here and I certainly recommend Yangshuo as a wonderful place to relax. On Sunday though, I plan to resume my travels, heading to Kunming, Dali, and Lijang.
In October I plan to go to
Nepal again. If anybody is interested in joining me for some trekking
there please let me know. It will be fun to see some people from
home. November is good to if you can't make it in October.
My Kingdom for a toilet
After two and a half months in China there is one conversation that keeps coming up among travelers such as myself. Imagine six or eight travelers sitting around the table in a cafe somewhere in Beijing. The conversation might go something like this:
You won't believe what happened to me this morning. I just arrived at the airport and I really had to take a dump. I sit down on the toilet, I do my thing, and then I notice. NO TOILET PAPER! Thank god the guy in the stall next to mine had some tissues. I don't know what I would have done.
Right, well you learned your first lesson about China the easy way. Never leave home without toilet paper. The same thing happened to me but there was no guy in the stall next to me. I took of my sock and used that.
You guys had it easy, I was wearing sandals. I had to use my hand.
What are you guys talking about? You actually had toilets? My hotel just has a porcelain hole in the floor. I have to SQUAT over that.
Porcelain? You're complaining about porcelain? Just wait until you get into the small towns. There you'll just have a small shack in the back yard. And the floor will have one board missing. You squat over that while the fumes from every shit since time began float up and burn your nose out.
Oh, and the bus stations are even worse. There are 8 or 10 holes all in a row with no doors or stalls. You squat with all the other passengers while they stare at you because you are a foreigner.
Once I was squatting and a woman brought her children in to watch me shit. She pointed at me while the kids surrounded me and laughed at my technique.
Yeah, I know the toilets your talking about. But there are worse ones. Some just have a three inch hole in the floor. You would think that the Chinese, who have been using these toilets all their lives, would know where their god damned assholes are. But no, they miss the hole and the floor gets covered with shit. There is no worse site than walking into the toilet and seeing piles of shit surrounding the hole in the floor while the fumes of, as you said, every shit since time began float up and hit you like a Mac truck. The fist time I saw that I had nightmares for a week.
Just wait until you have diarrhea and you have to use such a toilet three times an hour all night long.
I had it worse. I had diarrhea while I puked my guts out all night long. I bent down to throw up and I could see a pool of shit two feet below. There were worms in it. I mean the whole thing was filled with these creepy little worms. They were in worm heaven, eating a never ending supply of shit. Imagine a world where your favorite food falls from the sky.
Yeah, well we all know what you're talking about. But you try to tell your friends back home and they don't believe you.
Right, they think you're making it all up just to add some character to your stories. Well it's true, every god damned word of it.
And they say there are no more
adventures in the world. Ha!
Enlightenment usually comes after many years of meditation and contemplation. But sometimes it comes in a flush...er...flash, as it did to me yesterday, the day I arrived in Nepal. You see I was trying to clarify my thoughts about China. For three days as I rode the bus across Tibet and over the 17,000 foot pass into Nepal, my confusion grew. What was China like? What did I see? What did I learn? What will I take away from the experience? Then I checked into a hotel in Kathmandu and I saw it. The moment I saw it all my thoughts about China came to a head. What was the thing I saw? Well, let me put it to you this way...
I thought that I would never
An object lovely as a tree
But now I find there is more joy at
Sitting on this clean white toilet
There is no smell, no poop,
When sitting down one just can't miss
And so I must now say to you
Thank you, thank you Kathmandu
The adventure continues...
It has been a while since my last update. Since then I have been trekking around the Annapurna Circuit as well as going to the Annapurna Sanctuary (Annapurna Base camp). This is a fantastic trek. 25 days of trekking of which there were 4 rest days. The Sanctuary is truly a fabulous place. There you are surrounded by 6 or 8 peaks all over 7000 meters as well as Annapurna I which is over 8000 meters. I'll spend a few days here in Kathmandu recharging my batteries before I set of to Solo Khumbu, the Everest region. I have never been to the Everest Base Camp so I plan to go there and then spend a few days at Gokyo.
One day while trekking....
"Hey Eric, you look tired."
"How tired are you?"
"I'm so tired I just stepped in a big pile of yak shit and I didn't even care."
Well, I've been in Nepal for
a little over two months now and I spent most of my time trekking.
I've been here before and it feels nice to return. I did two major
treks this time, one the Annapurna Circuit which I combined with a visit
to Annapurna Base Camp. The other trek was in the Everest area though
that trek was preceded by a week walking through the Arun Valley and was
followed by a 5 day walk out through Jiri. All in all it was a fabulous
2 months and I don't think I've ever been fitter, at least as far as hiking
is concerned. I remember that when I was 34 I was doing well to hike
up a steep hill at a rate of 1200 feet per hour. Now, at 41, I can
do 1900 feet per hour or more. And I can do it for much longer too.
Of course I will lose all that fitness now that I have stopped trekking
but still it's nice to know I'm not getting older, I'm getting stronger.
Amazingly it has been just over a year since my neck surgery last fall.
Life is strange sometimes. 7 months ago I was sitting in front of
a computer 8 hours a day, sometimes even working. Next month I expect
to be lazing on a beach in southern India. Well, it's a tough life
but somebody has to do it.
Answers to Many Questions:
Well, I got a few emails from you folks and there were a lot of questions. Some serious some not. But I thought I would copy them into a single email and send them out to everyone.
Are there nice beaches in India? And is there any equivalent of the "beach babe" there?
Yes, great beaches. Of course the Indian beach babes all have red dots on their foreheads. But if you scratch them off you can win a car.
So does yak shit smell or look like bovine shit?
Yes, but when it is dried they use it as fire wood. I was trekking one day and this woman was making yak shit pies and slapping them on the side of her house to dry. She had yak shit up to her elbows. When she saw me she said, "Come inside, I can cook you some nice food." "Right", I said, "Perhaps another time."
Where will you be spending your holidays?
What's a holiday? Oh,,,, right, that's when you don't have to work.
Do they have any holidays over there like Christmas at this time?
Yes, but if they catch you celebrating them they cuts your balls off. Just kidding, India is highly tolerant of other religions.
Hey so you are going to be in India for the Y2K?
Do they use the same calendar as we do over in India?
I don't know.
Are you traveling with any other hikers? Do you just see other travelers as you go around, and occasionally have a meal or something with them?
Mostly I just travel around and have meals, "or something", with them.
Of course, I always looking for the "right" girl too.
What do the locals drink to get buzzed on?
In Nepal, they drink chang (home made beer) and raksi (home made strong wine)
Can you get a pizza in Kathmandu?
You can get really good food of all types here, including pizza.
Are you taking pictures?
Lots of pictures.
Are you mailing back the film?
When do we get to see the pictures?
Perhaps next summer.
Hey, are they having Y2K concerns over there?
How are you going to celebrate the New Year's Eve.
I have no idea. I will probably be in Delhi. With luck, I'll get 'lucky'
January 1, 2000
As I said in my last email I'm in India now. So far I have spent all my time in Varanasi, a holy city on the banks of the sacred Ganges river. It's a really nice place, interesting buildings and stuff. The city (2 million people) is built on the west bank of the river and there are concrete steps down to the water for about a mile along the west bank. The people come here to wash away their sins in the holy water. To die here is highly desirable because it guarantees instant delivery to heaven and a release from the never ending cycle of re-births. I'm reading an ancient text called the 'Ramayana' and it describes the water a crystal clear and so pure that even the gods wash in the water. Looking at the water now it is clear that things have changed a great deal, the water is very polluted. Water samples in some places have tested 250,000 times worse than world health standards allow. Still the people come here to bathe in the 'pure' waters, to drink it, and to purify dead bodies before cremation. There are several riverside crematoriums where you can watch 8-10 bodies burning at any time of the day.
The cows here are unreal. They wander everywhere and do whatever they want. I've seen them enter peoples homes. One day I saw one start eating food from one of the street side vendors. They started shouting at the cow and it kept eating. Then they knocked the tray of food onto the shit covered ground and pushed a few pieces away from the bulk of the food. The cow finally moved away and the people picked the food up off the ground and placed it on the shelf for sale again.
I just re-read the above and I noticed that I mentioned the 'shit covered ground.' It seems to me that shit has played a major theme in several of my emails. We folks, it's just a simple fact that there's a lot of shit in Asia. Cow shit, people shit, horse shit, yak shit, goat shit, pig shit, bird shit, the list goes on. I suppose there really isn't any more shit here that there is in the US but it is far more on display.
New Years eve was really low key here, only the foreigners seemed to care that it was the year 2000. There was a small party on the roof of my hotel and we had a sing along. Some Japanese, Australians, and a Londoner sang.
Traveling is really cheap here. When I crossed the border I exchanged my Nepal money for about $15 worth of Indian rupees. I was able to travel for 2 days, pay for one night in a hotel, and eat for three days before I had to change more money. All you can eat curried potatoes, chickpeas, rice, and bread costs about 50 cents. And it's really good too.
I'll move on soon. And
I'll try not to write so much about shit.
January 29, 2000
Well I got my form 23 and my form 16. Then I got forms 29 and 30. Then for good measure I got an NOC, that's a No Objections Certificate for those of
you who don't know. And now I am a proud owner of a 7 year old Royal Enfield Bullet. That's a classic English motorcycle (50 year old design)
which the Indians still manufacture here in India. 100 km after I bought it the exhaust valve froze but that is being fixed as I write this. It's really
a cool bike and it is really going to be fun riding it around India. That assumes I can average more than 100 km per valve job. Driving here is
really crazy. First, they drive on the wrong side of the road, at least most of the time they do. The traffic rules are not really rules, they are
more like suggestions. So driving on the right side is perfectly ok as long as your vehicle is the largest one around. And that brings up the main rule
of the road. Might is Right! Another quirk is that Indians seem to believe that what you don't know can't hurt you. So they often don't look before
they do something like crossing the street of turning right is front of where you are driving. Cows seem to be the only ones with legitimate right
of way. It's really crazy but if I don't kill myself I expect I will be a much better driver in a few months. From what the other tourists tell me I
can only expect to ride about 200 km (135 miles) per day because the roads are very bad and the traffic is so slow
Out of My Mind?
The question has come up, "AM I OUT OF MY MIND?" to ride a motorcycle in India. I believe the action speaks for itself.
January 29, 2000
New Laws of Nature
After I bought my motorcycle I discovered a some laws of nature that are not normally found in physic books.
1) When you buy a new bike and take it home you must NOT simply park it and walk into the house. You must get off it and then stare at it for a long time.
2) When (not if) your neighbor comes over to talk about your new bike you must both stare at it while you make meaningless conversation.
3) For the first 24 hours you must occasionally start your new bike, say every 30 minutes, to hear how good it sounds, even though you don't plan to go anywhere.
4) You must wash and wax your new bike within 24 hours even if you never plan to clean it again.
5) The above laws only
seem to apply to men
Laws for Women
I am advised (by a woman) that for women the 'Laws of Nature' apply to shoes. So I have rewritten them for women. By the way, I enjoy these types of 'laws of nature' so if you have some of your own please write them down and send them to me.
1) When you buy new shoes and take them home you must NOT simply put them into closet. You must take them out of the box and stare at them for a long time.
2) When (not if) your girl friend comes over to talk about your new shoes you must both stare at them while you make meaningless conversation.
3) For the first 24 hours you must occasionally put on your new shoes, say every 30 minutes, to see how good they look, even though you don't plan to go anywhere.
4) You must clean and polish your new shoes within 24 hours even if you never plan to polish them again.
5) The above laws only
seem to apply to women
February 7, 2000
New Distance Record
Excerpt from Eric's India believe-it-or-not file.
I, Eric Bolz, hold the new
world record for driving the longest distance in India without blowing
the horn. At least I would if I had been born in India. You
see I drove 55 km without blowing my horn. The official current record
is 0.6 km for native Indians, though that is still quite controversial.
You see the man who holds the record had just bought a new motorcycle and
he had gotten part way home (0.1 km) when the urge to blow his horn overwhelmed
him. He realized only too late that he couldn't blow his horn, having
lost his left thumb in a cricket match some years before, and having forgotten
to refit the bike for right thumb horn blowing. He managed to ride
an additional 0.5 km (an incomprehensible distance) before the seizure
struck him and he died when his motorcycle struck a bus with 147 passengers.
Purists hold that he should be disqualified because technically
the record is defined as the distance between two successive horn blasts. Since he died before he was able to blow the horn at all some people believe that allowing the record to stand will simply encourage others to copy his method. Indeed, at least six others have had their left thumbs amputated in hopeless attempts to break his record. But none of them managed to ride more than 0.25 km before seizures struck them down.
How Loud? February
I pose the following question:
How loud must a sound be before it is impossible for a human being to ignore it?
A. 50 decibels
B. 100 decibels
C. 200 decibels
D. Sounds that loud have not been produced.
The answer is D. Based on precise scientific measurements and based on voluntary and involuntary reactions to car horns in India it is clear that there has yet to be produced a sound that is so loud that it simply can't be ignored. You just can't believe how loud some of the bike/car/bus/truck horns are here in India. And there are so many of them blowing all the time that nobody pays them any attention.
There are basically three classes of horns here. At the low end you have your bicycle horns. These may consist of the little ring ring bells like you see on kids bikes in the US. (Who are they trying to kid?) Or it may be one of those rubber squeeze ball type horns. You know, you squeeze the rubber ball and the horn blows. In India, these horns are serious business, as loud, say, as a typical car horn in the US.
Next you have your electric
horns. These are usually seen on motorcycles and cars but I've seen
bicycles with car batteries installed on them so that they can use an electric
horn. Electric horns in India bear little resemblance to the horns
we have in the US. First, you buy the horns yourself at a horn shop.
The brand to get is Roots and the 'Destructor' series come in 4 inch, 5
inch and 6 inch diameters. Roots horns are chrome plated and they
mount on the front bumper where everybody can see (and hear) them.
No self respecting driver would be without a pair of these chrome babies.
Second, Roots horns are LOUD. I mean REALLY LOUD. To give you
some idea how loud, I was riding my motorcycle a few days ago along a mountain
road doing about 35 mph. I wear a full face helmet and between the
wind noise, the road noise, and the exhaust noise it is difficult to hear
anything. About 200 yards (meters) behind me was a car and every time he came to a curve in the road the driver would blow the horn. Of course I would already be around the curve before he would blow the horn but still, I could hear his horn as if it was right behind me.
At the top end you have air
horns. They are just like the ones trucks in the US have but they
are much louder. And typically there are three or four horns, each
with a different frequency, so that they play music when blown.
It really sounds funny hearing these huge busses and truck with playing
these funny tunes on their air horns. That assumes that you are a
mile or two away where the sound pressures are not so loud. In fact
these horns are quite dangerous, small animals are frequently vaporized
if they get too close. I believe that if four busses were to approach
a 4 way stop and they all blew their horns at the same time the sound pressure
at the center of the intersection would be high enough to cause nuclear
February 29, 2000
Is This the Way to Gangaikondacholapuram
After a month in the saddle I find life as a motorcyclist to be quite exciting but it does pose a few problems that regular tourists (i.e. the bus and train crowd) don't have to deal with. Obviously there is the problem of basic survival in an environment where everybody on the road is trying to kill you. But I'll deal with that another time. Today I want to talk about the simple problem of finding your way around in a country where the maps are poor and road signs are virtually non-existent. Naturally, the first thing I did was to buy the best road maps I could find. Well, the word, best, is a relative term and to put it kindly the best road maps in India suck the big one. I'd estimate that one third of the roads that I drive on are not on the map. And I'm not talking about trivial little side roads, I'm talking about the only roads that might connect two major towns. But I suppose the maps are consistent in their own way, you see most of the towns I drive through are not on the map either.
I experience the following scenario several times a day. Say I come to a fork in the road and I don't know which way to go. I see somebody nearby so I ask, "Can you tell me the way to", deep breath, "Gangaikondacholapuram?", no easy thing I assure you. The response is quite predictable, a blank stare, mouth hanging open, "duh..." So So I take another huge breath and I repeat, "Gangaikondacholapuram?" If I'm lucky I get a sign of recognition and they echo back to me, "Gangaikondacholapuram?" Yes I say. At this point one might expect them to point in the proper direction and that is exactly what they do. Except that Indians don't point the way you and I do. What I get is a broad sweeping motion of the right hand over their head and encompassing both possible roads and quite likely the road I rode in on. So I point directly at one of the roads and I say, "Gangaikondacholapuram?" If I point to the wrong road I get a disgusted look and they repeat the strange pointing motion. If I point to the correct road I get the universal Indian head bobble. To the untrained western eye the Indian head bobble looks like a malformed no shake but it's not. In fact it is a yes response and it is used all over India. But it took me a month to realize that people were saying yes to me when I thought they were saying no.
If I'm really lucky the person
will speak English, perhaps 20 percent of the population does. I
say, "Do you speak English?" and the absurd response is, "Of course." as
if it would be abnormal not to speak English. In any case I may be
wondering if I'm on the right road so I ask, "Which way to Gangaikondacholapuram?"
"Straight ahead", they say. Great I think, until I remember that
straight ahead does not mean what you might thing it means. Translations
are always difficult but my best translation of straight ahead is, "Well,
you're on the wrong road but it you continue for 2 km and turn left where
the old temple used to be you'll be ok." To make things more difficult
the term 2 km and left can best be translated as any distance at all and
then a turn, either left or right. You get the idea. Once,
and this really happened to me, a man told me to go straight ahead, but
being suspicious I countered, "Straight ahead all the way?" Yes,
of course. Then the man offered to draw a map. Why, I wonder,
do I need a map to go straight ahead but nevertheless I produced a pen
and he draws it out. "You see you go straight ahead past three traffic
circles and when you see a traffic cop sleeping at the forth circle you
turn left. Then when you get to the next circle with a traffic cop
you turn right." Amazingly it worked!
Men on Bikes
Of all the obstacles I have to avoid while riding my 2 wheeler (motorcycle) in India the most unpredictable and therefore dangerous are the dreaded 'Men on Bikes.' It really is quite funny to watch them ride. I don't know how they do it, much less why, but some of these men have, through yogic meditations, truly mastered the art of riding slowly. I mean really slow. I mean so slow you are not sure they are moving at all. Actually, the true masters are not so bad, it's the apprentices that are the danger. The problem you see is that because of their slow speed they can hardly keep their balance and so they are constantly weaving back and forth all over the road. Masters don't do this but you can't tell them apa it until it is too late. You won't believe it but I actually saw one of these ‘men on bikes’ literally fall over. He didn't stick his foot out to catch himself, he just fell over, splat on the road, umbrella and all. Apparently sticking your foot out is against the rules. I often see men walking their bikes and at first I thought it was because they all had flat tires. Not true. It turns out that after years of slow riding they forget how to ride fast. They walk their bikes when they are in a hurry.
Driving Test May
I now have about 6000 miles (10,000 km) of riding under my belt and I thought I'd talk a little about safe driving here in India. By the way, that's an oxymoron. The first few day were absolutely terrifying (but exciting) because there were so many new situations to deal with. Things that just don't occur in the US. In addition to vehicles there are an incredible number of animals, people, and farm products to avoid. I assumed, correctly, that after a few days I would learn not to be tense all the time. And that I would learn when it was safe to let my guard down. Also true, the rule is quite simple. Never ever, ever let your guard down. The moment you start to relax is the moment the ‘man on bike’ turns right in front of you. I thought I would give you a little driving test, just so you can see if you are ready for Indian roads.
1) You're riding your 2 wheeler down the road and there is absolutely no traffic anywhere in sight, in front or behind you:
A) You can finally relax because you
are perfectly safe for a change.
B) You are in danger of crashing because of the dog sleeping in the road.
C) You are in danger of spending the next three months in jail if you hit that cow.
D) You are in danger of dying because this is India you fool, you're driving on the wrong side of the road.
Answer: B, C, and D
2) You are riding behind a bus and there is finally a break in the oncoming traffic. You decide to pass and you are half way around the bus when the driver swerves towards the middle of the road, forcing you into a ditch. This most likely happened because:
A) Given the chance everyone drives in
the middle of the road and you forgot to blow your horn, asking the driver
to let you pass.
B) You blew your horn but potholes forced the driver to the center of the road.
C) You blew your horn but the bus driver is now taking his chance to pass the ox cart you couldn't see. You notice the ox cart is passing a pedestrian and the pedestrian is passing a ‘man on bike.’
D) You blew your horn but the driver is thinking, "Fuck him, he's just a 2 wheeler."
3) You come to an intersection with a four way stop sign. A bus, to your right, got there exactly at the same time. You should:
A) Honk your horn and take the right
B) Honk your horn but let the bus go first.
Answer: This is a trick question,
there are no stop signs in India.
Population Control May
India has many towns with extremely long names like Thiruvananthapuram or Jayamkondacholapuram. I have a theory why this is so. Population control! You want evidence? I'll give you evidence. Let's say you are driving down the road and you see a road sign indicating distances to various towns.
The time that it takes to read this sign may distract you just long enough to cause an accident. Still don't believe me? Ok, once on a very windy mountain road I saw a sign that said, "The scenery here is very beautiful so be sure to keep your eyes on the road or you could crash." Talk about a self fulfilling prophecy. On the same road I saw a series of signs that said:
SOUND HORN AT CURVES
(like they need to be told)
DON'T PASS ON CURVES (where else then?)
USE LOW GEAR ON HILLS (finally, good advice)
DRIVE SAFELY (who are they kidding?)
WEAR CONDOMS (What are these drivers doing?)
The last sign nearly killed me.
I nearly crashed trying to put one on.
What is there to hate? May 5
Summary June 17
Ok, it's six months now that I have traveled India and I've been to 3 of the 4 corners of this incredibly diverse country. So its time I sum up the regional differences between the North, South, East, and West.
Most tourists simply remember the many temples and great food in the south because they don't have time to soak up the more subtle distinctions. Those who do soon come to realize that the most important difference is that the car horns are far louder in the south.
The east offers Calcutta and Varanassi, two great tourist destination. The super Holy Ganga River with dozens of bathing ghats makes Varanassi the busiest pilgrim destination in India. And the narrow streets combined with a large cow population make walking in the city similar to negotiating a minefield of cow shit bombs. What can be said about Calcutta, the cultural center of India? Nowhere was I offered so many opportunities to meet a
‘nice’ girl, and it only costs Rs 100 per hour.
Rajasthan is the place to find incredibly colorful clothing and camel safaris in the desert. But another equally important thing is that the roads here have far fewer potholes. At times I was able to drive at the unprecedented speed of 50 mph (80 kph). Daily temperatures soaring up to 115 F (45 C) make this dreamland unforgettable.
If I had not spent two months trekking the Himalayas in Nepal before I got to India I would have headed straight to the north, home of Ladakh, Jammu, and Kashmir. Nowhere else in India offers such opportunities to be kidnapped or murdered by terrorists.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world.