Monday, December 31, 2007
However, we were treated to dinner by a kindred soul, a local columnist and TV personality Mr. Fasi Zaka. He fascinated us with insight into Pakistan, a funny story about Chelsea Clinton during his time at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and impressed us with his optimism about the role a strong and free press has had in Pakistan.
The roads are less chaotic here, with few 4 legged obstacles and everyone going the same way on the highway. Police and the army are everywhere. Pakistan is kind of like India without color or cows! However, they do an amazing job of painting the buses and especially trucks with multicolor designs of eagles, tigers, Love signs and other things. No square inch is untouched.
Tomorrow probably the NWFP where we will look for Osama and get that 25 million dollar reward!
PS: We send hearty Happy New Year's wishes to Mamita, Joanne, Humberto, Mariano, Meighan, Luis, Brendan and all our family and friends.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
In two hours of walking around we saw only 2 other women, accompanied of course. People stare at us, and especially at Clara. And not just because of her moviestar beauty.
After we moved hotels we rode around the basically empty town and saw the sights. We found a couple cautiously open gas stations, and a couple overtly open ones. Many people were enjoying the large park by the old fort, where many were playing cricket.
Clara felt a bit uncomfortable by the attention so she rested in the afternoon while I went to the zoo. Clara found the Patriots game on espn and got to see her first NFL game of the year, and she was in agreement with the announcers who called him a stud.
The zoo had many animals but was depressing as people fed and harassed the animals. However their elephant, Suzi, was quite impressive. She collected tips from the crowd, played the harmonica and let those who were interested to touch her amazing trunk.
I wish we could train humans as well as animals can be trained. Maybe humans could be trained to not leave trash everywhere, and to poison our environment.
Our power has gone off 4 times tonight so far, and the city doesn't provide water from 10 pm to 6 am.
The USA sure looked good on the tube!
We ended the evening watching the press conference announcing the new 19 year old head of the People's Political Party. Then there was the analysts sitting around discussing. The governor of Punjab saying that Musharraf was legally in charge, and to just wait for elections. A columnist and supposed friend of Musharraf said that the country hadn't been legitimate since 1973 because of an illegal constitution, and a young lawyer tried to explain how nothing Musharraf had done was legal and he should resign. It devolved into people getting disrespected and talking in circles about nothing.
And Nero fiddled away....
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Saturday, December 29, 2007
We made it to Lahore about 20 miles away without problems. Pakistan is clearly observing the 3 days of mourning, as no gas stations or cash machines or shops or restaurants are open. There wasn't much traffic and we found our way to the Lonely Planet overwhelmingly recommended Regal Internet Hostel. The place is a dump, but friendly with all the backpackers staying here. There are 7 of us. Usually there are about 35. Two french, one Japanese, one Finnish, a Serbian woman and us. The streets are full of riot police on every corner and the streets are free of the normal hustle and bustle. The Japanese and Finnish guy said they saw the typical rock throwing, etc. riots a few blocks away earlier today. We went for a walk with the incredibly nice Serbian woman who works as an interpreter back in Kosovo. She was clearly on edge as she arrived by plane the day of the bombing to Karachi where she got on a train which was delayed 8 hours because the trains ahead had been burned by rioters. We took her for a walk with us with a large park and zoo being just up the street. We treated her to dinner and she told us about the wonderful time she had last year in Pakistan, how the people are very nice and few if any tourists around.
Most Westerners have left the country, but the consensus is one more day of lockdown, and when they open the gas pumps on Monday things should return to normal. We will keep you posted!
Friday, December 28, 2007
Jodhpur to Bikaner, December 27, 2007
150 miles of clear traffic with semi desert conditions especially the last 50 miles or so. At least 3 major accidents, two trucks seemed to have hit each other outside a tiny town with the trucks and a pile of garbage still smoking from a burn. A boxy SUV against a tree, and another tractor trailer flipped on its side. We passed piles of cow and camel bones drying fetidly in the sun. The bizarre and nasty Karni Mata Temple is filled with rats, which are believed to by the living embodiment of the souls of dead storytellers. I was lucky enough to see a good luck white rat after fighting my way into a closet filled with broken feed bags. Did I mention you have to walk into these temples barefoot while the rats run all around. Lovely. For some reason, Clara decided to stay outside.
Bikaner has another beautiful if not quite perfectly kept fort of another Raj clan. It also has the nasty water pool a couple blocks away filled with trash, green water, and nasty, nasty smelling stuff. We were “befriended” by two young guides who showed us into the old city where we saw some beautiful but boarded up havellis, before buying some basala tea spice in the market and seeing another old Jain temple.
I have been pretty immune to the abject poverty but I was taken today by a man with no legs and just shorts rolling through the filth filled streets, while a woman who was with him called out for donations. She also only had her pelvis covered, and it seemed as if her breasts had been hacked off, with just bad scars left. The dirt, grime, cow feces, piles of garbage, horrid smells and poverty here are found in every city. The air is filled with dust, dirt, diesel and gas fumes and is noxious. I feel quite healthy but my throat and nose are constantly running and coughing up stuff. We have just not experienced anything like this in the world, if we aren’t painting a pretty picture, we’re doing our job.
Benazir Bhutto was killed this evening, and within a couple hours our rickshaw driver knew it and reported it to us.
One of the nicest and wisest people we have met was the maitre’d at The Whistling Teal in Udaipur. He started by talking about how the rains used to come on time every year, but now nature seems to be unsettled. I said the pollution was terrible in India and he said there is nothing that can be done about it. I disagreed and said that the problem is that people can do something but they don’t. He said the problem is that “rich people get too much favors” and that they get richer while the poor get poorer. He then pointed to a book on the counter and said “we have good laws on the books here, we just don’t use them” clearly indicating both the corruption that everyone says is so prevalent, and also that Indians don’t use the brains and knowledge that they have. He told me that the beggars at the temples are really businessmen, and that the real poor are out in the countryside, but that even though they are poor they are happier inside. He is from the country and comes into the city to work for 4 or 6 months a year. He left me with “you can live a short life, or a long life, that is what is important”. Hopefully, man will decide that we want to live a long life on this planet.
We were within a few miles of the Pakistan border most of the day and saw big troop movements, and tanks and cannons on the roads and in the desert. We haven't been able to access the internet in a few days so we wondered if there has been any news to stir the military.
We saw the Golden Temple tonight and it was inspiring. The Sikhs are truly welcoming and friendly people.
We probably head to Pakistan tomorrow, wish us luck!
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
At the end of our visit we had our fortunes told by the official fort astrologer and palmist. We sat in his office while he read our right hands as curious onlookers stood by the open door and listened to Mr. Sharma tell me that I am a perfectionist, independent, hot-tempered, extremely organized, ambitious, and less idealistic than I used to be. Incredibly, he told Kevin much the same except that instead of organized he is very perceptive and prone to "checking and rechecking things". He told me that I will prosper financially in my late thirties (one can only hope!) and that I am in the right profession; but he suggested to Kevin that he should look into working outside the US. He told us both that we were in a good relationship and that kids are in our future. He also said we both needed to watch our blood pressure: Kevin right now and me after age 50; and we both need more calcium in our diet. Kevin will live to be 80 and I will live to age 84.
Having never had my palm read before, I was quite happy with the reading while Kevin was more underwhelmed and skeptical, but we both agreed that it was fun and interesting and we discussed it while we rode all the way accross town to our next destination.
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Monday, December 24, 2007
First day on the road. We saw virtually every hazard we had been warned about: cow carts going the wrong way on the highway, motorcycles going the wrong way on the highway, cars going the wrong way on the highway, trucks going the wrong way on the highway, and Tractor Trailers going the wrong way on the highway! We had sacred cows wandering on the road, traffic lights being completely ignored, traffic to weave around on the highway, horrible roads in Mumbai, broken down vehicles all over the road to the point that a three lane highway becomes two lanes with slow trucks in the middle so that they don’t have to switch lanes to avoid the breakdowns. One overturned truck, a tunnel with enough carbon monoxide to commit suicide only about 50 feet long, and to top it off our first camel drawn cart! But no elephants! I want to see Elephants!
We got up early to avoid traffic. Surprisingly, considering the heat India does not start its day early. We were able to get out of Bombay in a reasonable amount of time and through what would be the worst road conditions of the day. We headed north to Surat where we had been invited to a Zoroastrian wedding on Thursday. The pollution was pretty much constant, and the traffic crazy. But, as we got out of the city it quickly became dull green farmland since the rains are 5 months past. We climbed into some hills and a cool breeze actually registered on my face despite the morning 90 degree temperature. There are interesting low mountains here, which look to be sandstone or some other fragile rock, very old, as the peaks have been worn away by the wind in their upper quarter, just leaving a rounded, stubby, stalagmite in the middle of a mound plateau.
We were making such great time, we had time to stop at a place I had always held in high regard: the beach of Dandi. This is where Gandhi went to make salt in an act of civil disobedience against the unjust British laws. We went about 10 miles off the main highway, through pleasant farming towns arriving at the gate where we paid 12 cents to park in the shade, and walked to the bluff overlooking the expansive beach. It was very wide and seemed to stretch for miles in either direction. It was hard to tell how far because of the pollution, north, south and out to sea limited the view. The trash on the beach and the polluted ocean didn’t add to the atmosphere either. But, still I felt the power of the place. The genius of a man to bring down the British Empire by simply walking here to the sea and taking water to make salt, still reverberated for me in the sand, the steps, the signs. He is still honored and quoted here, with the Mayor of Mumbai (a female doctor!) using in an editorial in support of a one day moratorium on cars in January to combat the pollution Ganhi’s famous comment about his Salt March that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. The tiny museum about his March was chained up at the gate, and some of the wood slats in the arched bridge leading to it were broken and rotted.
Going back on the road to Surat, we were accosted by two youths on a 250 cc Honda. They started talking to us and making phone calls and pictures as we rode along. They insisted that we come to their house for tea. We zoomed around and made it to the nice middle class home, where one of their mothers made us tea and drinks. Of course they invited everyone they knew and soon about 10 boys between 19 and 22 were peppering us with questions. We talked about school, girls, religion and motorcycles. They asked if we had any problems on the trip and we said only a couple in South America and he retorted “oh, because of the black people?”.
Unfortunately, it seems no matter where you go, the darker people are always at the bottom rung of the ladder. There have been two recurring themes on our trip when asking people about directions, travel and geography. Those themes are that the two most dangerous places in the world are always the one in the adjacent area be it city, state or country, and the other is someplace halfway around the world. The other theme is that the darker people are the more they are not to be trusted. Racism, it has been sad to experience, is hardly isolated to the United States. We see it in the adds, the movies, on TV: everyone tries to be as light as possible.
Overall, however, the kids were great and gave us their phone numbers and addresses and insisted we call if we have any problems. After picture taking, they escorted back to the main road to Surat where we continued our traffic battle to find the ‘Parsi Fire Temple’ where we would meet the parents of an old Wabash friend Jimmy Durawala.
We made our way to the center of the crowded, confused, chaotic city where we stopped to ask for directions. Surprisingly, very few people speak English in India. In fact there are over 30 main languages which can vary from state to state or less. It was at this traffic circle where we stopped to ask the police or anyone else for help that Clara coined our new favorite saying. It was inspired by the horde of about 50 people who immediately gathered around us and stared at us with blank expressions and no reply to our question of where the fire temple was. This started to block up traffic as they were in the middle of the road already packed with bicycles, cars, and rickshaws. The police would smack at them with 4 foot long cane batons and tell them to move along, but they would return or new ones would replace the passers-on. Clara turned to me and said “Do you know what’s fun?” After I replied in the negative she retorted “Staring!”
We have decided that we would bet one million U.S. dollars (currently worth about 5,000 Euros I think) on an Indian team against all comers in the World Series of Staring. They are amazing at being able to stand 2 or 3 feet away from you and just stare, unblinking, unspeaking for long periods of time while you sit there, or talk to your wife, or work on your bike or ask for directions. It’s Fun! Some of them will inappropriately touch the motorcycle, and a very few will ask where we are from and how much the bike costs, which is what we are used to from South America. Nowhere else do people fully take advantage of the rapture obtained from staring.
Pervez and Nilly found us in the crowd and took us back to the family home where we met the kind relatives who fed us and treated us like honored guests for the next four days. Once again it shows how acts of kindness come back to reward. Years ago some young men from Wabash College came to Boston to look at graduate schools. Fellow Wabash alum Chuck Grosvenor and I took care of them, including a great meal at the No Name. On of them, Jimmy Durawala, was from India and told me that if I ever go that I should get in touch with him as he had family here. We have stayed in touch over the years, and sure enough, while we were here his close uncle Neville was getting married and so we were lucky enough to be invited, learn about their Zoroastrian religion, and enjoy the festivities. We had lunch and dinner with the family, then settled in for a great night of sleep before the wedding the next day.
Here are Clara and I stuck in traffic, Kevin speaking to the Guru KanuDada, and KanuDada addressing a crowd, our tour bus and a rickshaw touching in traffic (the bus driver hit the rickshaw, then the rickshaw came up and scraped into the bus which provoked the bus driver to get out of the bus in traffic go over and rip something out of the rickshaws steering column leaving him immobile!), and Kevin and Jimmy's Aunt at the Gandhi Ashram
Sunday, December 23, 2007
This is the first real tourist hangout since we've been to India and we were accosted by 10 begging children as soon as we stopped in town.
But, the people are nice and it looks to be a beautiful spot to enjoy Christmas!
Peace and Love to everyone!
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Friday, December 21, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Here is Clara at the Gate of India, where some locals wanted to take a picture with us. Of course, Kevin quickly found the ball field in the ghetto and started to play Cricket with the locals. At the airport about 40 people stood around in awe watching us do captivating things like put on our mirrors and windshield and connect the battery. It is clear we are going to attract a LOT of attention here. They just don't have any motorcycles like this in India.
We have our motorcycle!
Tomorrow we hit the road heading North from Mumbai!
Wish us luck!
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Monday, December 17, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Our Last Night in Istanbul we went to see our host Ozan play the double bass with his Jazz Trio at the club Nardis. Very nice, although 16 bucks for a Baileys I think is more expensive than Boston! He introduced me to a friend of his who used to be a professor at Berklee School of Music and was well acquainted with Wally's.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Greece for Motorcyclists:
Since this is a motorcycle adventure, I thought I would write a bit about motorcycles while we maneuver around the continual roadblock of Iran. Since we had our passports back we were able to leave Turkey and visit Greece. It was well worth the time.
The roads are in excellent condition, and you can go about as fast as you want. Within the first hour of crossing the Turkish border (where the speed limit for motorcycles is 45mph) a Green Ninja buzzed us at about 120 mph with his Spydee leathers being about the only thing I could make out of him in his crouched racing position as he zoomed through the curves of the dry mountain pass. Yeah, baby!
The views are wonderful, from the Aegean Sea and the 1400 Greek Islands in them, to the aforementioned mountains including the highest: Mt. Olympus, the myriad historical sites, great museums, the best tourist information and maps in our known world, and tthe women whom Clara and I both thought surprisingly beautiful and fashionable. Plus with No Helmet Law, if you choose, your views can be even less obstructed.
Greece is 90 percent mountains which means never ending twisties. Traffic is Spartan, with the usual rate of speed being about 80 mph, 100 if you drive a German automobile. Although people drive fast, they aren’t treacherous like the Turks, and they respect your space. Since almost half the population of Greece lives in Athens it is no surprise that it is chock full of traffic jams. However, even on the highways the cars and trucks keep to orderly lanes that allow bikers to make their way forward between the traffic, often at high rates of speed. Once again, $7 dollar a gallon gas doesn’t seem to deter much traffic, although the pollution wasn’t as bad as I remembered or had heard about. This may have been tempered by the constant strong winds and occasional rain we had during our stay.
There are multitudes of motorcyclists, many of excellent ability. From weaving in an out of traffic, to high speed cornering, to burnouts and wheelies at stoplights it is clear that the Greeks enjoy two wheeled (and one wheeled!) freedom. We saw everything from the latest bikes, tons of scooters, and an early 60’s BMW in original condition put-putting around the old sections of Athens, complete with hop-a-long handle for the pillion.
Athens, a city as white as La Paz is red, full of 4 to 6 story whitewashed concrete buildings only hemmed in by the mountains within site of the Acropolis, was a pleasant surprise. I had an incident on a motorcycle there 15 years or so ago which resulted in me fleeing without front brakes on a Ninja 900 to Yugoslavia for Freedom rather than pay an extortion like payment; this left me with a bad taste in my mouth, fear of local gendarme and a remembrance of garbage odor. This time was much better.
Speaking of time, I was impressed to find out about Clepsydras: Greek Water Clocks. Back in the day of Rhetoric, politicians were given specific amounts of time to plead their case in the first true democracy. Since Swatches didn’t exist back then, they used clay pots with a hole in the bottom and a hole near the rim at the top. A plug would be put into the bottom of the pot and then it would be filled until it reached the pre-measured hole at the top, this way all speakers would expend the same volume. As the speaker would rise to pontificate, the plug would be pulled and he would have until the water ran out to get his point across. A great speaker was one who could convey and sum up his argument just as the water ran dry. Of course, or maybe unfortunately, more important topics and speakers would get larger jugs. Obviously, politicians have been chasing bigger Clepsydras ever since the Greeks started us down this path of Democracy.
The second great thing about Athens was the musician Orestis. Yet another respondent to our Horizons Unlimited query to meet up with two wheeled brethren along the way. Despite being a recently forlorn romantic, he was a great host who showed us around the City, explained how it was much better and cleaner since I had been there years ago, and confirmed what a wonderful place it is for bikers. He also informed us that, surprise, surprise, it is better in the summers and that it is really easy to take your motorcycle to different Greek Isles for 20 or 30 €. He wouldn’t hear of letting us pay for dinner, although he did allow us to treat him to a delicious ice cream waffle. Any two wheeled adventurer (especially single females!) should look him up if in the area. Don’t be fooled by his long hair, he really does love Heavy Metal! We hope to join him on one of those Islands someday, it sounds quite enchanting and relaxing.
We enjoyed the food in Greece, excellent salads, mixed grills, and fish. The people everywhere were friendly, from offering advice, to a free ice cream with a meal. It was interesting to go “back” to the EU after spending so long in Turkey and getting used to the standards there. Clearly, the Greeks built better buildings (as many in Turkey told us, the quality of building had gone down since the Greeks and Armenians left), had better roads, and let fewer smog belchers on the highway. I calculated that there were about one seventh the amount of police on the roads, and in my unscientific observations it seemed as if they were more interested in controlling traffic than obtaining bribes.
On our way out of the country we met up with a Honda Varadero club who were cruising en masse despite the cold weather for a weekend getaway. They also confirmed that it was a great place to ride, but better in the summer, according to the guy with the wool hat on under his helmet.
We were able to make it from Athens to Istanbul in two days, a distance of about 700 miles thanks to the good roads, cruising at an easy 80 mph, despite some additional rain. The border crossing we think is the quietest we have seen in the whole world. There is only one stop on the Greek side and 3 or 4 on the Turkish side depending on whether you are coming or going. Still, it is straightforward and friendly, and although we did have to get 6 months of Turkish insurance for $10 bucks, something they didn’t make us do when we arrived by boat from Ukraine, they allowed us back into the country on our previous 3 month Visa which saved us $40 dollars.
Do yourself a favor, learn to say “casas” (hello) and “epheristo” (thank you), wait for summer and get yourself and your bike to the cradle of Western Civilization.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
So, once again, here are some of our new friends:
Orestis from Athens who took us out to dinner and showed us the less touristy side of the city he loves.
Jerome and his beautiful (and pregnant) wife Serap sitting at the head(s) of the table at their house where they hosted Adrienne, Alex, Kevin and I for a delicious home-cooked meal.
Guests at our party at our temporary home in Istanbul (Alex and Adrienne's place, where we are back again right now!!!!), Ayse and Gilles, Jerome, and Hakan our very own soon-to-be-famous-director friend.
Ozan, our current host in Istanbul, fellow BMW motorcyclist and jazz musician at "Q", and also a former rock star with the Turkish group Athena.
An amazing City in the mountains of Central Greece. This is where the Byzantine Christians went to avoid persecution from the Muslims. They lived on tops of these otherworldly monolithic rocks overlooking the plains below. They built monasteries which were only accessible from hoists above.