Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: November 2015

Misunderstanding…..

The first and only time I almost beat an Asian man’s ass was just across the border of Thailand in Cambodia, in the back of a taxi on route to Siem Reap. It was late at night, pissing down rain and visibility was maybe half a car length ahead of the taxi’s front bumper as the driver sped down the road dodging carts and motorcycles. Naturally, he was on his mobile phone  speaking Cambodian and telling someone the name of our hotel. Golden Mango Inn. He then slowly started to pull the car over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch darkness. We had read horrible reports of the safety issues with crossing via land from Thailand into Cambodia via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing. Scams, robbings, and warnings NOT to cross after dark. And here we were crossing after dark. And in a car with a dodgy driver.

In my overly dramatic and active imagination this was the moment. The moment when all my awesome travel tales would come to an abrupt end. The moment where we would get robbed at gun point or murdered. Our bodies left in the dark night along a desolate road in the Cambodian countryside. The driver pulled the car to a stop and got out of the car without saying a word and went around to the trunk. He’s getting a gun I thought to myself, although I’m pretty sure I said this out loud to my travel partner who was also a little unsettled by the situation, but not nearly as crazy as me. All I knew was that if he were going to get a gun from the trunk there was no way I was staying in the back of the car like a sitting duck. It’s unclear to me why I thought that if he did have a gun the most logical place for him to keep it was in the trunk. But really, that’s besides the point. Everything from this point happened very fast. He got out of the drivers side, came past my door and headed for the trunk. Shit he’s getting a gun. I threw the door open and went around at him. He opened the trunk and because it was dark he didn’t see me at first. I lunged towards him as he reached into the trunk. He startled and said something in Cambodian. He then pulled out a…….towel. He pulled out a towel. He then mimed wiping the dirt and mud off the headlights. Shit got real. Real fast. He then shook his head, walked around me and proceeded to clean the headlights. I got back into the car and told my travel mate how I had bravely saved both our lives.

So several lessons were learned that night on the side of an unlit Cambodian road. I learned that even though I think it’s a good idea to head safety warnings and listen to advice from other travelers, you should also keep a clear mind. I learned that even though my instincts (and imagination) were clearly off I’m likely not going down without a fight. I also learned that I may have watched the Jason Bourne series more than maybe any one person should, but that my reflexes are none the less cat like fast. Our Cambodian driver I think learned the lesson to not pull over in the middle of the night on a back road without first indicating to your female passengers what it is you’re doing. He also might have learned that I was a bit crazy. But that’s a lesson I’ve taught more than just him over the years. Travel safely my dear readers!!

Have you ever WAY over reacted to a situation while traveling like I did? I’d love to hear about it so I feel a little less cray cray.

Saudi Winter

Finally!! Winter is upon us. This is the time of year that most expats count down to. From the end of October till the end of February/beginning of March the temperatures are tolerable, if not even a little chilly at night. Not Canada winter chilly, but bring a sweater kinda cold. It is lovely. You can walk around in the day with out immediately breaking into a sweat the minute you leave your apartment. About this time of year you will see locals adorning toques (beanies for my American readers) and vests. It’s not really winter hat weather yet, but who am I to judge. The other great thing about the winter is that Saudi men decide to change up their wardrobe and instead of wearing the traditional white thobe that they wear all year round, they might opt to wear navy blue, brown or grey. I never really thought a man wearing an outfit quite similar to a dress could be sexy but, some men seriously pull it off. Yep. I admitted that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyways, in addition to the minor wardrobe change, Saudis also love to have a good old fashioned picnic. However; their idea of a picnic is very different than what we think of back home. Back home you pack a lunch or snacks and head to the beach, hiking, or a beautiful park. Not here in Saudi though. While being driven around the streets of Riyadh it is very common to see cars pulled over along the side of the highway, under an overpass, or even just in the parking lot of a mall. Bam. Impromptu picnic spot. Pull out the old rug, lay it down, and dive into the food. The first time I was in Saudi I found this scenario super strange, and if I’m being honest I still find it bizarre. A parking lot is about the last place I would suggest to have a picnic if I weren’t taking part in some ridiculous Black Friday or Boxing Day shopping deals. And yet, you will see Saudis having picnics everywhere. To be fair I’m sure they do also have them in the desert, or in parks around the city, but, they love a good roadside picnic.

Winter is also a great time to get out and go for a stroll un-abayaed in the DQ (Diplomatic Quarter), or venture out into the desert for ATVing or hiking. Camel races also tend to take places in the winter months. I haven’t yet been but am dying to go. I would also like to check out a camel beauty pageant before my contract here is up also. And yes, there really is such a thing as a camel beauty pageant.

I’m heading back to North America tomorrow for 3 weeks, and I’m sure I’ll have a tough time adjusting to the cold winter weather back in Canada, but I’m so excited and homesick that I can hardly stand it. I’ve packed a ridiculous parka which I’m sure all my friends will make fun of, but it will keep me from freezing my booty off! I’m also looking forward to having American Thanksgiving with my adoptive family and then celebrating early Christmas with my legit family. On my way back to Saudi I’ll be stopping off in Frankfurt for 3 nights to visit the Christmas market there and do some solo exploring. I’ve never seen a European Christmas market so I’m pretty jazzed about it.

Wishing you all the warmest winter greetings!!

Mixed Emotions

I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging the last couple weeks. I’ve been angry. Things have been churning inside me for the last couple months as I attempted to make sense of the many numerous negative comments and shared images that have been flooding my Facebook news feed. Last month and the month before they mostly had to do with Canadian and American politics, and the European issue with what to do about the refugee crisis. Many status updates and shared links I read were straight-up racist, bigoted, and spoke to the narrow mindedness of people. I read them and let the comments stew inside me. You see I have mixed emotions. I see the world in a global view where every human being is equal. Maybe that sounds naive, but it’s how I interact with others. I am not better, nor am I less than you. I felt conflicted as one of the things that I deeply love about being Canadian is how multicultural Canada is. That to be “Canadian” does not mean you have white skin. We are a broad mix of colours and religions and backgrounds. In my opinion it’s what makes Canada so great. But, at the same time I also believe that if people want to come to Canada they have to follow our laws, learn to speak English and/or French, and that they have to be accepting of our beliefs and freedoms.

Many of the comments and shared links I read had to do with the shared idea that “We shouldn’t help refugees until we help our own people.” Our own people. Yet, this left me wondering if the people who share comments like that are in fact helping our own people. Are they going out of their way to help their neighbour, or the elderly, or that homeless war vet down the street as their message preaches. Are they? Sadly, I’m doubtful of this. Because I don’t even really think the issue is about helping. I think it’s about fear, and changing the imaginary “face” of how they see Canada.

This week Paris was the scene of a horrific terror attack. As was Beirut. And I’ve seen a huge increase in the awful comments about Muslims, and about closing borders, and about the unfairness of the attention the Paris attacks received as compared to Beirut or Baghdad. And again my emotions stewed. And I became more angry. Angry at the people who commit these attacks, but also at the people who lump all Muslims into one category. To paraphrase some of what I’ve read “A Muslim = A Terrorist.” What surprises me the most about these comments is that I’m pretty sure many of the people who post shit like this probably don’t actually know anyone who’s Muslim. Well I’ve met Muslims. Hundreds. Maybe even a thousand. Maybe more. Not only here in Saudi but back when I worked in the states. I’ve met Muslims from the Middle East and from Africa. Men and women. I’ve shared meals with them, and many, many laughs. Some of them have become very dear to me. None of them have tried to kill me. I’m fairly certain none of them are terrorists.

During my time living in Saudi Arabia and traveling in the Middle East I have met lovely Muslims. Don’t get me wrong, I have also met some awful people who also happen to be Muslim during my time here as well. But….. newsflash….. over the years I’ve met a ton of assholes from Canada and America. Some from the UK. Some from Europe. Arrogant selfish people who I would cringe when I found out that we shared the same type of passport. To lump all people into one category is absurd. It only makes sense to do so when your whole world view is so small it only accounts for your safe little western bubble. I guess that’s the end of my rant. There’s so much more I want to say but I’ll just end with a prayer. A prayer for lives lost, for homes and countries lost. A prayer to those who no longer feel safe. A prayer of tolerance and kindness for each other. A prayer for peace.

 

Kindness of Strangers

We spent the day driving down the NH8 from Halol to Valsad in the Indian state of Gujarat. In a three-wheeled rickshaw. Myself and my 2 dearest friends a Kiwi and a Yank. On a six-laned highway going our top speed of 50km/hr. We arrived late afternoon and after getting our rickshaw a quick oil change and check up, we got back on the road looking for the nearest hotel. Of which there were few. The first one turned us away because they were fully booked. The second place we tried was some sort of Indian country club that refused to rent us a room on account of us not having any relatives in Valsad. No shit Sherlock. Sadly, the check in guy was a stickler for rules and my blond hair wasn’t getting us anywhere. This was how we found ourselves back on the highway heading towards the town of Pardi as the last bits of sun started to dip below the horizon. We had made one pact before we started our India adventure and that was to never, ever be on the roads after dark.

This was how we met Ambalal. Had the sun not been setting I can guarantee our paths would never have crossed. As we dodged motorcycles and large overloaded trucks we spotted what appeared to be a truck stop/motel. As we pulled in we were startled to see that there were very few people staying there, and that the lack of people were made up for with life sized statues of animals splayed out on the lawn adjacent to the restaurant. It was super bizarre. The kind of place that loosely resembles a dormitory for truckers and I can pretty much guarantee that we are the only western women who have ever stayed there in the history of it being open. But what were we to do?! It seemed less likely that we would be murdered in this strange zoo like setting than we would be killed driving on the road after dark so we booked 2 rooms. Naturally, the staff were super excited to see us.

After dragging our bags upstairs to our uber basic rooms we made our way to the restaurant. The hotel owner made his way over which is how we came to meet Ambalal. Ambalal was the manager and spoke near perfect English. He spoke the kind of English that makes me love India where you are asked “what is you good name?” and they say things like “most certainly” and “very excellent” and other very formal sentences. I liked him immediately. He previously had worked at a fancy hotel in another part of India, which was why his English was most excellent, but had moved closer to where his family was. Over dinner he and the owner sat with us and were very curious about our adventure and how it was that 3 western girls had come to drive an auto rickshaw 3000km across India. Ambalal acted as the interpreter between us and the hotel owner. After dinner the hotel owner pulled out a photo album and regaled us with stories of times past, he kept pointing at the same man in the photos over and over saying “best friend.” In this photo album was the missing piece of the puzzle as to what the heck was up with the zoo animals. As it turns out these fake animals were a real hit for Indian weddings, and we were shown photos of large Indian wedding celebrations with the animals in the background.

The following morning we were awoken by Ambalal leaving us buckets of boiled water for our morning bucket bath. By the end of the trip we would become professional bucket bathers. We packed up and went down to load the rickshaw up. The mornings were often misty and the rickshaw would have a layer of watery film covering her. But not this morning. The night security guard who had been in charge of keeping an eye of the rickshaw had taken it upon himself to give her a wash and swept her out. So unexpected. And so sweet and kind. Our kiwi teammate was a little under the weather so we needed to stop off at a pharmacy as we headed for Nashik. Ambalal was very insistent on taking us to the pharmacy in the town of Pardi.

This was how I found myself sharing the front bench of our rickshaw as a tiny Indian man directed me along the side of the highway. Going the opposite way to traffic. One of the girls in the back took a video as we were instructed by Ambalal to drive on the shoulder as large trucks and other rickshaws speed past us. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Eventually we crossed to the other side of the highway and made it to the pharmacy. To our surprise Ambalal then asked us to take him to his village because “it is most certainly on the way.” He had already been so kind to us we just went with it as he directed us the 30 min to his village thru the bumpy graveled roads.

The closer we got to Ambalal’s house the clearer it was that this was quite the adventure for him. It wasn’t likely every day that he was driver home in an auto rickshaw by 3 western girls. It’s also worth noting that the rickshaw we were driving was hot pink. To say we stood out is an understatement. He took to it like he has leading a parade float. He was waving and the smile on his face was enormous. On the downward section of a single lane gravel road he directed us to take a right turn. We passed a small house on the left that belonged to his son and then at the end of the road  were 2 other houses. One where Ambalal lived with his wife, and the other one belonged to his mother. We quickly realized that Ambalal hadn’t informed his wife or mother that he was bringing guests. After they got over the initial shock we were ushered inside and given 7-ups and instructed to use the western toilet in Ambalal’s mother’s house. We then got a full tour of the house he had built for his mother. It was a pretty cool experience and very unexpected to be welcomed into a family home.

Ambalal would  become one of many kind men that helped us along our way across India. We had a difficult time connecting with Indian women during our 2 week adventure driving from northern India to the south. They often seemed confused by what it was that we were up to. We would wave as we passed in the rickshaw, but it was hard to get a response. Numerous times we found ourselves in situations where we had to rely on the kindness of strangers, and India would reward  us time and time again. From young boys who changed our front wheel when the bolt had loosened up after the gravel roads to and from Ambalal’s house, to the kind rickshaw driver who taught us how to drive one and believed in us, to the mechanic who opened his shop on a Sunday to get us back on the road and refused to allow us to pay.

I have always believed that people the world round are generally kind. For me, travel often proves this. If you are kind you often get kindness in return. I sure hope that Ambalal’s days are filled with kindness as he definitely showed his share of kindness to us!

What are your stories of experiencing kindness on the road?

If you’re wondering why the heck I was driving a rickshaw across India in the first place you can check out our team website here, or entertain yourself with the numerous videos of our epic adventure on our Facebook page. You’re welcome ahead of time, because trust me, they’re entertaining as hell.

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