We are currently on an hour and a half train to Gokarna which is just south of Goa for even more relaxation on the beach (hopefully less interrupted by people speaking Russian to us). Because it’s a short journey and we have yet to figure out the passenger train system we just booked two tickets in sleeper class. There are several different classes but sleeper class is the cheapest amongst the ‘sleeping classes’ and the train condition understandably is reflective of the price.
We arrived at the station far too early but we had nothing else to do and you hardly feel like wandering around with a massive backpack strapped to your back. Dustin and I found two seats and settled in. I quickly realized I had forgot we were leaving Goa and I should have my shoulders completely covered but the heat had distracted me and here I was, sitting with bare shoulders, in the middle of an Indian train station. Staring is not considered rude in India so people do it very openly. I thought I was getting used to it but that was wishful thinking because I immediately felt the burning sensation of 60000 Indian eyeballs on me and my bare shoulders. I have yet to figure out the delicate balance of my gut, which tells me to stare defiantly back as if to say, “I see you and I’m not intimidated,” and my brain which tells me to ignore it, for staring back could be misconstrued as flirting. As I was carefully milling over all the possible options and their outcomes I realized I had been completely zoned-out and when my line of sight came back into focus I had been gazing directly at the face of my most adamant onlooker. To my horror he began making kiss faces and raising his eyebrows, which he continued to do throughout our time waiting for the train. That quickly answered that question of whether to stare back or hide.
Dustin went to the bathroom when we got onto the train while I remained in the seat and accepted the impending bladder infection of holding it in forever. Dustin came back completely stone faced. I suppressed the urge to laugh when I realized he now would feel empathy when I complained about a certain bathroom. The only words that came out of his mouth were: “can I have the hand sanitizer?”
We also went through out first train tunnel on this ride and have been through 600 since the beginning which I find absolutely terrifying. The windows of this class are open and the wind of the tunnel blows violently back and forth as the train barrels through the narrow tunnel. The train shakes and if it werent for the sweat that keeps me stuck to this bench, I would be worried about falling off. And the noise. It is a deafening roar when we are plummeted into the bleak darkness which may actually may be good because it helps drown out the sound of my inner panic.
Anyways. I should maybe write about what’s been going on. I left off my last post before our arrival in Mumbai, probably because we just discovered we had been robbed of $200 (CAD) and I wasn’t ready to face that emotionally yet. But let’s do it. We arrived in Mumbai/Bombay after our long overnight train and we were both ready to get off. We were staying a nice hotel which was far north Mumbai and we had decided to get off at a station before the center of Mumbai in order to lessen the distance for a rickshaw. The station approached on Dustin’s GPS and there we sat, with our bags strapped to our backs, ready to get off the train. Unfortunately we didn’t even come close to stopping and we whizzed on by.
Dustin and I exchanged a look and decided it was fine and we easily would get off at the next station. We didn’t stop there either. Probably 7 more stations go by and we ended up at the final station anyway. Nice attempt, guys. As we got off the train, I thought the heat and humidity was a joke; perhaps the train station was just really hot or something. Rajasthan was quite arid and although warm, it certainly was not what I would describe as uncomfortably hot. Mumbai is uncomfortably hot. We had been bundled up after getting off a A/C train and hot/tired/hungry is not a great combination for dealing with hustling cab drivers. They haggle for everything here and you have to haggle hard with the cabs/rickshaws. Dustin has a handy little feature on his maps which tells him (when he maps a location) how much an Uber India ride would cost. This has saved our butts because it gives us a ballpark of what we should be paying. So we knew we should be aiming for Rs. 250 ($5 CAD). We get the first wave of cab drivers swarming us as we leave the train station, wanting to know where we are going, offering us their cabs and shouting out prices. They quote us Rs. 1600. Dustin laughs and brushes them off, telling them that the price is outrageous. This happens several more times and then I notice a man who had been walking closely behind us. I assumed he was another passenger on the train and was just curious about what was going on. We continue to walk and the man quickens his pace, passes me (who is dripping sweat, wearing a large backpack and trying desperately to keep up with her boyfriend) and begins to talk to Dustin. He asks us where we are going and says the prices we have been offered are, “very good, very good.” And Dustin explains how we could get to our destination easily for a fraction of those prices by calling Uber. All of a sudden the man reveals he is a cab driver! Classic. Dustin brushes him off and we continue to inquire with other drivers what they would charge us. The man lingers through all of these other interactions; just off to the side and as soon as we continue to walk, he would rejoin Dustin’s side to continue negotiations. Finally we get him down to Rs. 300 and because we are so hot and flustered, we agree. This is where it gets weird. Dustin goes to take off my backpack and load it into the back of the van-cab this man was driving. The man stops him, grabs my bag and puts it in the front passenger seat so it is beside him. I think this is really odd but many things are really odd in India so we let it go. He piles Dustin’s big bag in between us in the back seat which leaves the back of the van COMPLETELY EMPTY. I glanced back at one point in the ride and made a note in my head how I thought it was weird there was absolutely nothing in the back and he had refused to put our bags back there. Before we start driving the man immediately starts telling us to roll down our windows because, “it’s so hot.” It was hot so obviously Dustin and I had no problem with this suggestion. We begin to drive and traffic is heavy in Mumbai. I had my day pack and my purse on my lap. Very abruptly, the man slams on his breaks and stops the car in the middle of the road. He suddenly forgets all his bloody English, turns around and begins to frantically motion to Dustin’s door and window. Dustin is asking the man, “what? You want me to roll them up?” Trying to figure out what the hell this guy wants us to do. He’s waving his hand in Dustin’s face making grunting noises as if he doesn’t speak any English, WHICH WE KNOW HE DOES. He manually open and closes the door on Dustin’s side from his position and then turns his sights on me. He begins the same charade with me. Neither of us have any clue what is going on and his frantic manner is making both of us all flustered. He very aggressively grabs my backpack away from me and seemingly chucks it in the front passenger side. He continues to wave his hands and motion and grunt and then equally aggressively grabs my purse and does the same, chucks it in the front. Finally he gets me to roll up the window and then passes Dustin a sheet with a chart on it and starts talking about A/C. Dustin passes the sheet back and begins rolling his window back down telling him we don’t need A/C and just to take us to the hotel. I start to feel really weird in my gut and quietly say to Dustin, “can I have my purse back?” He asks the driver who waves his hand and says, “not yet, not yet”.
I get a fluttered feeling in my stomach and cold anxiety starts to creep up my throat. Dustin felt equally weird about the whole ordeal and finally, out of impatience, tries to reach over the front seat and over my large backpack in the front in order to retrieve my purse and day pack. The man throws his hand out and stops Dustin. He continues to drive but eventually reaches down into foot area of the front seat to produce my bags. I immediately notice the weight of my purse and feel relief, realizing my tablet is still safely in there. The drive continues without any further interruptions and we eventually arrive at our hotel. We spent a blissful 24 hours there and I thought nothing more of the weird cab ride except for a brief conversation when we were finally free of it about how odd it all was. I noticed, at one point in Mumbai, that the $200 I had taken from the bank the day before was no longer in its pocket in my purse but nonchalantly assumed I had given it to Dustin for safe keeping along with our passports. That all came crashing down the next day when Dustin asked for the extra cash to rent a motorbike. S: “What? I gave it to you.” Dustin stares at Sara blankly. At this point we realize the money is missing. I quickly run through the 24 hours from when I had noticed it was missing to when I last saw it and knew, without any doubt, the only time it had been out of my possession was in that flurry in the cab in Mumbai. We are unsure how the whole thing was completed but we can only assume there was a 4th person in the vehicle, obstructed from view by my massive bag, who was able to quickly rifle through my possessions while the driver created a massive diversion over the windows and the A/C. We knew there was something completely off about the whole thing but it had taken until now to realize what it was: that $200 was missing. I’m very slowly getting over it, as I know there is nothing that can be done now, but it just goes to show you have to trust your gut while travelling. Dustin and I, combined, have been to many places and traveled enough to keep a wary eye out for any of the major scams. This one got us. We knew India was going to be tough. Delhi was just the beginning.
We did a tour of the Dharavi slum, of which I have no photos. It was the slum where Slumdog Millionaire was based and the movie had two scenes filmed there. I went back and forth about the tour because I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of tourists (including myself) going to gawk at the extreme poverty for a few photos. Poverty tourism wasn’t one thing I was eager to take part in. We took a while to find a company that put my worries to rest and eventually went with Slumgods. They’re a hip-hop group based out of Dharavi that gets the youth involved with the positive side of hip hop which I really found appealing because hip hop has a really interesting history already. The tour was not what I expected and I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to see one of the largest slums in the world. It has massive industries that are woven throughout the narrow alleys including: recycling, leather work and clothing. It is estimated that 60% of the population of Bombay resides in Dharavi (just over 2 square kms). Our guide, Maze, grew up in the slum and gave us a really intimate understanding of the hard-work and resilience that exists in that place. I have no photos of it, for they were forbidden, which actually put me at ease for my earlier worries of poverty tourism. Slums (government owned land on which people live and work) are an important part to Mumbai and its industries (annual turnover of over 500 million dollars US!) this one has and it was something I will never forget. I also didn’t see any toilets like the one depicted in Slumdog but I would probably not forget that either.
From Mumbai, we flew to Goa which is super relaxed and feels very comfortable because it’s quite westernized. Mostly Russians but some Scandinavians and Brits visit Goa on package tours like North Americans visit Mexico and the Caribbean. Everything is in Russian. At one point, on the beach, a lady stood up from her beach chair and said something in Russian to us. Dustin and I both stared at her blankly and hoped whatever she said didn’t warrant a response. She tried again. Dustin hesitantly replied, “we only speak english.” She replied in VERY broken English and asked where we were from. We told her Canada and she started talking about her cousin in the U.S.S.R. in ‘Atlantica’. Both of us were completely confused about why she was telling us about someone in a regime that no longer existed but I was assuming she meant the US and Atlanta so I just nodded and agreed, hoping she would stop talking to us immediately. Eventually, through more broken conversation, we realized she meant California. Atlantica….California…same thing. Clearly she thought Canada and the U.S. was pretty much the same place so perhaps I should have started chatting to her about the Ukraine. Or Poland. Or the U.S.S.R. Other than those things, Goa was blissful and easy and we were happy to spend 6 days there but I think I almost died of heatstroke 100 times.
I need to stop waiting so long in between posts because then the posts end up equally long. Ahhh, India. I really could blabber on endlessly about all the craziness here but it will have to wait for another day!