Drink The Water

I suppose it's fitting to talk about drinking water now that we are in India (due to the stigma attached with its cleanliness). In actuality clean drinking water from the tap is a concern in every country we have visited besides Australia, Singapore and debatably Malaysia and Hong Kong. That leaves 7 country so far and more to come where we've had to deal with the issue. The first solution everyone has is bottled water, but that posed at least 2 issues for us. First the cost, buying bottled water over 7 months quite frankly seemed like a waste of money. Second, and more importantly was the waste produced by the bottles. While the plastic is most certainly an issue in developed countries like the US, it's magnified by the lack of infrastructure to properly dispose of it (hopefully by recycling) in less developed nations. And while we are guilty of purchasing a bottle here and there as well as generating plenty of other trash, we tried to keep it as limited as possible where plastic was concerned.

Cleaning Water

Our answer to the problem was a small gadget (of course who would I be without my gadgets) introduced to me by our friend Brian. It's called a SteriPen, it uses UV light to kill both bacteria and viruses and everyone we've met was rather amazed by its seemingly magical capabilities, which is added to by the blue glow it emits in the water when it's on. The process is simple, fill a bottle with a liter of water (we are each carrying a Nalgene bottle) stir the SteriPen in the water for 90 seconds and drink. The process is fast and tasteless, unlike chlorine and iodine. While it does take batteries (which unfortunately pose another disposal issue) you can sterilize 50+ liters of water on a set.

It is definitely high on our list of recommended travel accessories.

Unrest In Egypt [update x3]

As many are probably aware there is currently some social and political unrest in Egypt, specifically in areas near Cairo. This poses an possible risk to us as we have a flight into Cairo on Feb 3rd. We are closely monitoring the news and the U.S. Dept of State website and will divert if necessary. We just wanted to let everyone know we are being watchful of the situation. Also thank you to everyone that has made sure we were aware of what was going on.

It looks like the situation hasn't gotten any better. The U.S. Dept of State as well as Australia and the U.K. are advising against non-essential travel. Even our carrier Air Egypt and others have suspended some flights, due to a curfew put in place. We are also unable to access Air Egypt's website, presumably because the Egyptian government has "turned off" the internet. We've reached out to our travel insurer to see what our options are. We haven't changed or canceled anything yet, but aren't sure if we'll make it to Egypt. However our hopes are up, both that we can see Egypt and that the issues there are resolved.

update x2:
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a “Do Not Travel” alert to its citizens. The U.S. hasn't made that announcement yet, but we will not be traveling to Egypt and are actively looking for an alternative place to visit before we start our African overland trip. We will be avoiding northern Africa and thinking of possibly Greece or further south in Africa. We will keep the blog up to date.

update x3:
In what I suppose is a strange twist of fate we are now booked to fly to Istanbul, Turkey. It was on our original itinerary, but we had to skip it due to cost and scheduling. Now it's back in and should be much calmer than Egypt. From Istanbul we'll fly directly to Nairobi, Kenya to begin our African overland trip. Jesse you can rest in peace now, I'll be able to capture the wonders of Constantinople with my camera.


Yoga, Cardamon & Tea

After seeing the sights in Mumbai Ross and I headed south to the state of Kerala to spend a relaxing week at a yoga retreat just outside the small town of Munnar. Feeling like we needed to recharge and longing to stay put for a whole week we signed up for a 7-day yoga course. We are really glad we did, it was absolutely beautify there, and so quiet! There are acres and acres of tea plantation surrounding Munnar so the whole place looks like it is covered in a bright green carpet. On our long drive in from the airport we were both amazed at how beautiful and green the countryside was.

Munnar Landscape

Mattupatti Reservoir

Mattupatti Landscape

Our home for the week was at a small oasis placed on a hillside in a cardamon plantation. We woke everyday before sunrise for our morning round of sun salutations and then would practice again every afternoon with Harish, our yogi for the week. He and his wife run the Kaivalyam Retreat and did an amazing job of making us feel at home there. In between all the yoga we helped out on the farm picking cardamon and black pepper, learned the theory behind ashtanga yoga, went hiking in the surrounding area and toured the plantation grounds. We were also treated to 3 delicious organic vegetarian meals a day, I don't think we have eaten so well the entire trip.

Kaivalyam Accomodations

Kerala Morning Trees

On one hike through the area we even spotted a wild elephant! We could hear him rustling in the jungle below us and we waited quietly for about 15 minutes and finally got a peak at his ears and trunk, it was really exciting! If you look closely you can see the trunk in the picture below.

Only the Trunk

Green Hills

Blissful Relaxation

Abby & Ross Above Munnar

Munnar Hilltop

Kerala Tree House

Fields of Green

Tea Rays

Tea Leaves

Tea Carpet

Kerala Pastels

Thick with Cardimon

Small Falls

Swimming in Tea

All in all it was a great way to spend a week an we both feel more rested, relaxed and ready to tackle the road again.


The Mouse Train to Mumbai

We left Rajasthan and boarded a train for a long, 20 hour, ride to Mumbai. Once again we were greeted by the kind smiles of our Indian travel companions. One of our cabin-mates was also kind enough to help Abby out when she was trying to buy food and chai from the locals whenever the train made a stop at a station. As Abby has said, you can't really find more friendly people.

Train travel isn't always the cleanest endeavor, but for the price and the experience it can't be beat. We've grown used to the occasional pest (insect, rodent, smoking Chinese man, etc.) on our travels. Even the odd mouse that had run through the cabin on previous trips didn't even seem to faze Abby. However our trip to Mumbai was a little more lively. We have been carrying a "food bag" with us, with a few snacks to munch on for various train and bus trips. I had this food bag in my bunk and as people started heading off to bed and turning the lights out in their berths I thought I heard a rustling coming from the direction of our bag. On initial inspection nothing was to be found. However, upon closer examination I discovered that we had been pillaged. A corner of the food bag had been chewed through and into a plastic bag of green beans. A box of biscuits had been sacked and some fresh chapati we had purchased for the train ride had been attacked. At this point my mindset changed, no longer were these just simple pests, now it was personal. It seemed like mice were everywhere, running all over the floors of the train. I'm sure much of this was exaggerated in my head, but even so I slept with one eye open that night.

When we woke in the morning I told Abby of the "horror" of the night before. She was possibly slightly disgusted, but took the food bag down from where I had secured it in the night to prevent any further infiltration. She inspected the damage until one of the rodent assailants flew from the bag and as Abby describes "touched me!". Needless to say we were both glad we would be flying to our next destination.

As the train rolled into Mumbai we got our first sight of one of elements of the Mumbai dichotomy, the slums. Mumbai as we have come to see is a very modern city, full of nice apartments, fancy restaurants and hotels. Some of it has a very posh and western feel. The other side of Mumbai is the poverty and the slums. The slums are large, once open areas that are filled with small shacks pieced together and supporting each other. Like a hut version of a townhouse. Though, as we have found, as bad as the slums look it seems much better than the alternative of being homeless. During the day the homelessness isn't nearly as apparent, but on one of our morning runs, heading out before the sun came up, we saw many people curled up under blankets on the street and cooking their morning's breakfast with a small wooden fire. However as Abby mentioned in her recent post this seeming destitution has a different, less negative feel in India.

We caught a taxi to our hotel, which was in a nice area of town and very close to many of the sights. We both had started reading the book Shantaram, Abby for the second time, before heading to Mumbai. So we figured we do the touristy thing and visit Leopold Cafe, a hot spot mentioned in the book and close to our hotel.


During our stay in Jodhpur we had picked up a few souvenirs for our family so to keep weight down we had to send them back home. Just like in Vietnam, and quite frankly even the US, visiting a post office is always an experience. In India you don't just show up with your box to mail, you have your stuff beautifully packaged. There was small awning covered stand outside of the post office where men would first find a box, cut it to the dimensions of the contents and then would sew fabric around it and finish it off with some wax.

Mumbai Packagers I

Mumbai Packagers II

The whole experience felt very regal, like we were sending some special item to the Queen of England, but apparently it's very common and helps prevent tampering of packages. Hopefully it works and our items will arrive safely in the estimated 2 weeks.

While in Mumbai we tried to get in as many of the sights as we could. We headed to Marine Drive, a very nice strip of road along the coast lined with upscale apartments and also a great spot for a run. We also visited the other side of the city where the famous Taj Hotel and Gateway of India overlook the harbour.

Taj Hotel

Bombay Harbour

Starting from the harbour we took a boat to Elephanta Island, home of the Elephanta Caves. They are a network of caves with sculptures and temples.

Shiva Linga

Shiva Pillars

Elephanta East Wing

Cave 5 Entrance

We weren't quite sure what to expect visiting the caves, but we were pleasantly surprised. The caverns have a very quiet and secluded feel being only a few kilometers by boat from Mumbai. The island is also crawling with mischievous monkeys, who on numerous occasions we saw grabbing food directly from people's hands. In one case a monkey stole a shopping bag from a woman, ran into a tree and proceeded to pull each item out of the bag, inspecting it (presumingly for food) and then throwing it to the ground. When the bag was emptied the monkey tossed it to the side and it went about its way. Abby was almost a victim when a monkey grabbed at her water bottle and then growled when she didn't let it go.

We both enjoyed Mumbai, so much so Abby even mentioned she could live there. It really had the feel of India, but with all the aspects of a major western city. However we both were excited by our next destination, a quiet week of relaxation in the mountains of Kerala.


The Sights, Smells, Tastes and People of India

India truly puts you into sensory overload. There is so much to see, to smell, to eat and not to mention feel that it is a dizzyingly addictive place. I told Ross that it seems if you were from India living anywhere else in the world it would be really difficult because it would seem so boring! Let me try to explain:

Eyes: The people here are beautiful, especially the women. They offset their dark eyes, long black braids and dark skin with boldly bright colored saris. They often wear gold nose rings, the bindi or hindu "red dot" between their eyes and loads of bangles on their wrists. They look so elegant in their bright and embroidered robes and matching scarves that no matter if they are selling fruit on a dirt road, riding in a crowded train, or strolling through hot streets they look ready for a formal ball. From hot pink to turquoise, these women don't adhere to the black makes you look slimmer motto. It is like having a people formed rainbow around you at all times. Then there is the hustle and bustle of the densely crowded cities, from the food stall vendors, to the young men who often walk hand in hand with their friends, to cows wandering the road, it is quite a mix! Sitting back and people watching in India is a tourist activity in itself.

Nose: Your nose really gets the best and the worst in India. From wafts of cinnamon incense to rotting garbage to spicy and mouth watering curry cooking; the streets of India are a party for your nose. One minute you catch the seasoned and sweet smell of masala chai, a drink the people love, and the next you are smelling cow manure and pigs on the road. "The worst good smell in the world," a quote from the Bombay masterpiece novel Shantaram sums it up nicely.

Mouth: OMG the food! Indian food is far and away the best food we have had on this trip, it is incredible. There are so many options and things to try I will just give a highlight of some of our favorites so far. Channa Bhatura: a perfectly spiced coriander chick pea curry served with puffed up wheat fried bread that is chewy, soft and delicious. Masala Dosa: a huge crepe like pancake filled with curried potatoes and peas served with several dipping sauces. Parantha: a potato, veggie and or cheese stuffed pan fried bread often served at breakfast with curd and pickles. Masala Chai: small cups of spicy sweet chai are served everywhere and the little shot of sweet is perfect after a spicy meal. Tandoori Roti: a soft and chewy unleavened wheat bread cooked in a tandoor oven that accompanies most of our meals here. Every curry we have had, we are partial to the spicier ones and have gone strictly veg since we have been here, have us both saying repeatedly, "man this is so good." Indians know how to do food, we haven't had a single bad meal yet and we can't wait to try some of the southern specialties now that we are down south in Kerala.

Heart: The people here have been so great and have made this part of our journey unforgettable. We have had countless offers of tea from strangers, been asked to pose for photos, and have been greeted with big smiles and waggling heads most places we go. From an older women buying me a chocolate bar at the train station just because she was getting one for herself to the "hello ma'am" greetings shouted out across the street. The people have been so friendly to us. We have also seen some heart wrenching scenes here, the slum shacks of Mumbai and the disabled children begging in the train stations really make you wonder how this happens and angry why nothing is being done to change it. But then I think maybe because of the large socioeconomic scale in India it brings a greater level of compassion to the people. I feel like it is somewhat hidden in the US, obviously there are homeless and poor people, but our society pushes that away. In India there is no overlooking the poverty, and I don't think the people try to avoid it. Things that if a stranger did at home, buying me a candy bar for instance, I would find odd and suspicious are just the way people here interact with each other. I feel like you could never put an elevator full of Indians together and have them all stare straight ahead and not speak to one another. I think the people are much happier living together than amongst one another and they remain kind, polite and respectful in this crazy, crowded, and wonderful place.

India is something special.


The Pink and Blue Cities

After leaving Agra we headed into the state of Rajasthan. Our first stop was Jaipur, known as the Pink City due to the pink color of the buildings in the city. We again enjoyed the plush accommodation of a Tident hotel thanks to our generous friend Lisa. Our hotel was directly across from the Jal Mahal, a fort that just seemed to float in the middle of Man Sagar Lake and at night even more so.

Floating Mahal

Surrounded By Dark

I had been told by friend of mine, Ravi, Rajasthan was the land of forts. And until we arrived I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but we saw first hand how stunning these forts are. The first fort we visited was the Amber Fort, about 10 km outside of Jaipur.

The Amber Fort

Fort Passage

Inside the Walls

We spent a few hours wondering through the various passageways and visiting the hundreds of different rooms. You could get lost if you weren't paying attention. After the Amber Fort we took our hired auto rickshaw to another fort.

Weathered Colors

Super Meter

We arrived at Nahargarh Fort, which while not as well preserved as the Amber Fort still provided excellent views of the city of Jaipur below.

Rooftops of Jaipur

Doors and Windows

Above Jaipur

From there we headed back down into the city and spent some time walking through the City Palace, which after seeing the ancient forts wasn't as exciting as we had hoped. We enjoyed our time in Jaipur, it had a much nicer feel to it than Agra, and we continued to enjoy the Trident's treadmill for our daily runs.

Chandra Mahal & The City Palace

The next stop on our Rajasthan tour was Jodhpur, which interestingly enough is the origin of the word jodhpurs, the riding pants. For our 3 days in Jodhpur we were staying right in the heart of the city in a surprisingly quiet former resident of a famous aristocratic.

Haveli Inn Pal

We really enjoyed walking the streets of Jodhpur. There was so much to see and so much going on each time you ventured out there was always something new.

Bicycle Built for Two

Nai Sarak

Modes of Transportation

Walking Through

Minutes from our doorstep was the Sardar Market, which you could find anything from spices to saris and plenty of fruits and jewelry in between.

Colorful Market

North Gate

Street Mechanic

Hot Dishes

Vegetable Isle

Tea Time

Sardar Market

Once out of the market we wandered through the narrow streets lined with colorful buildings. Of course none of the streets are labeled and some were barely wide enough for 2 people, but everyone was always friendly and would help point you in the right direction.


Street Colors

We wandered all the way up to Mehrangarh Fort which sits high above the town with a very commanding presence.

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort Walls

From the fort we had a great view of the aptly named Blue City.

The Blue City

The Blue City Pano

From Mehrangarh Fort we walked to Jaswant Thada, a beautiful marble tomb that also sits on a hill overlooking Jodhpur. The marble structures in India have been breathtaking. They are so intricate and the way light hits marble you just can't take your eyes of them.

Warm Marble

Inner Jaswant Thada

Jaswant Thada

On our way back down we ran into 3 kids just getting off school decked out in their school uniforms. As soon as they saw my camera they were so excited, cheering "photo, photo" so they let me snap a few shots and in return they just wanted to see their photos on the back of the camera.

Schools Out

School Gang

We rounded out our stay in Jodhpur with a relaxing evening on our hotel's rooftop terrace with a great view of the fort.

Mehrangarh Fort and the City