Monday, April 18

First annual Nepali MS150 (just kidding, Mom)

We made it! Holy Toledo, The Nepali MS 150 blew our minds! It absolutely kicked our butts, but we loved every minute of it (well, maybe not quite every minute).

We began at 0700 on Saturday morning with the walk of shame: wearing skin-tight fluorescent yellow spandex through the streets of Kathmandu in a culture that frowns upon the display of flesh. Rickshaw drivers and banana vendors ridiculed us as we walked by, and for once we were glad that we didn't speak the language.

We met our faithful guide, Tilak, a diminuitive Nepali man with massive calves and bulging veins, and we were off! He led us through the dusty backalleys out of Kathmandu, and after an hour of gentle rolling hills, the pain began. Looking back, we're happy that we didn't know what was in store for us, because if we had, we never coulda done it. We ended up climbing (and walking when even the easiest of gears wasn't easy enough for us) from 4000 to 7000 feet up sandy, rocky trails and got white-knuckle thrills on the single-track descent through Nepali villages. We learned that a heaping plate of lentils and rice doesn't digest as easily as Powerbars (duh!). Fifteen minutes before sunset, we dragged ourselves across the Day 1 finish line where we were greeted by Rahul's loving family who fed us beer and noodles 'til we passed out.

On the second day we found our first stretch of pavement (thank god!) and climbed higher. We went down, then up, then down again, and then finally, 150 kilometers (or so) later, we pulled into Kathmandu. Unlike the real MS150, we were not welcomed by throngs of cheering fans, inspirational music, or a teary-eyed Cathy Pearson, but instead by rush hour traffic, a convergence of cows and aggressive bus drivers (but thankfully, no Maoists). At 1645 Nepali time (0600 Texas time, right as the Pearson clan got back on their bikes for Day 2), we finished the ride, exhausted and elated, and missing our loved ones at home more than ever.

Tomorrow morning we take off on a 2-week trek to Everest Base Camp (woooo-hoooo!), so we'll post the full story and all the photos when we get back on May 3rd. 'Til then, we're completely cut off from email so feel free to fill our boxes with love while we're gone. To ease the pain of our absence, here's a few photos from the ride:

Friday, April 15

The Nepali MS 150 is here!!

That's right! In 11 hours (7am Nepal time), we hop on our bikes in Kathmandu and begin our two-day, 150 km ride. We've changed the original plan and we're going off-road to avoid Maoists (we hope) and military checkpoints. The first day will take us about 80 km and 3000 feet up through Himalayan forests to the town of Nagarkhot. We'll be meeting Rahul's dad and stepmon and sister and her boyfriend there, desperately hoping that they'll feed us enough wine to soothe our aching muscles.

Then on day 2, we head south through the villages of Panauti and Lubhu and 70 km later wind our way back into Kathmandu. We'll also be begging for wine when we arrive there. We're petrified and ecstatic at the same time, because after 3 months on the road, our bodies aren't as fit as we'd like. But we always hear that your most vivid memories come from the times that you're in total agony, so we're fixin' to test the theory.

Thanks again to everyone who's donated to the MS society so far. We're now about halfway to our $2000 goal. If you're up for donating, click on this and follow the links! Off we go!

Thursday, April 14

Eight short (and not so short) stories on India

Rahul on the first few hours:

On the last night of a blissful week in Bali, I decided to go local and eat some tasty looking chicken satay that a mean old woman was cooking in a dingy corner of a local market. 36 hours later, when we landed in India, my stomach was doing backflips and I felt like I was going to fall over. So when we arrived in the madness of Bombay, as we drove past the slums in the middle of the night and I desperately tried to stay conscious and continent enough to talk with my uncle and aunt, I remember thinking to myself "God, we're about to spend 3 months in this inferno. I hope Meg doesn't hate it here. She's tough enough. I mean, it's so fascinating and exotic and wild. I'm sure she's totally digging it right now."

Meg on the first few days

Ahhhh, my first days of India. That's an amusing trip down memory lane. We flew into Mumbai late at night, but the city was anything but sleepy. The drive from the airport makes for quite an introduction to India, as it includes some of the biggest slums I've seen to date and more than its fair share of traffic terrors. My initial reaction to India was equal parts fascination and revulsion. India pummels you with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations, and not a single nerve ending is left unassaulted. My internal monologue during those first few days went something like this:

Aaaggghhhh&***&*^%#!$@%*!!!!! My god, this place is madness! Dirty, smelly, noisy, ugly concrete madness. **Shut up, shut up, shut up, little miss priss! Stop being so negative. This is Rahul's mother's homeland. Try harder to find something nice to think about it, damn it.**

And I did try, quite hard in fact, but I'm afraid I hadn't made much progress by day 2 when a distant relative of Rahul's asked me point-blank at the lunch table, "So, Meg, what do you think of India?" **Oh shit. Quick, think of something nice to say! ** Mayhem, chaos, pandemonium . . . **Oh for crying out loud. I can't say that!** A very pregnant pause while I struggled to come up with something at least neutral, if not positive to say, and finally: "Mmmmm . .. it's, uh . . . very . . . busy." Fortunately, Rahul's uncle graciously rescued me from further questioning and said, "It's only her second day, give her a break." Phew.

Meg on Indian style (aka Bad Idea Jeans):

My visions of Indian fashion prior to coming to India, informed chiefly by Monsoon Wedding and Diwali shows I had attended in med school, were of women wrapped in brilliantly colored saris with dots on their foreheads and men in kurtas (loose-fitting shirts) over baggy pyjama pants. Turns out I wasn't too far off base with the women, although increasingly women are shunning the sari in favor of the more practical salwar kameez (a flowy, colorful and more elegant cousin of the pantsuit)--a trend I can understand after having a go at the sari and fearing that I might step on/snag/trip over or in some other way destroy it at any moment.

When it comes to male fashion, however, I was way off the mark. The sad truth is that the very worst of Western fashion has made its way into the Indian market and, tragically, onto the lanky bodies of India's young men. Walk down any street in any city, big or small, and you will see hipster boys in slim-fitting, high-waisted, acid-washed jeans (Rahul: what's wrong with acid-washed? Jersey rules!) adorned with fringe, glitter, or colorful stitching. They are also fond of clingy synthetic shirts, unimaginably loud sweaters, hair gel by the kilo, gold chains and, of course, the all-important moustache.

Curiously, the rest of Western pop culture has scarcely gained even a toehold in India. Bollywood (Bombay's Hollywood) films and shrill Hindi music still reign supreme throughout India and show no sign of being upstaged by the American entertainment industry any time soon. A group of teenaged boys we talked to were hard-pressed to name a single American rockstar they admired, and after several minutes deliberation could only come up with Michael Jackson and "whoever sings Hotel California." Why India has embraced stretch denim and not, say, acoustic rock is beyond me, but at least it made for some entertaining people watching.

Rahul on Pop Culture

It took till April to realize why India still feels so exotic to me. I thought at first it was the language, still foreign to my ears and illegible to my eyes despite my many childhood journeys here to visit my family. But that wasn't it. After hundreds of years of British colonialism, there's someone on every city block who speaks more proper English than me (heh heh). And yeah, nothing runs on time, and there's dirt all around, and massive crowds of people everywhere you go. But that's true of developing countries all over the world. And, yes, people wobble their heads side to side when they mean yes, good-naturedly tell you blatantly wrong information for no particular reason, and it's nearly impossible to go a month here without catching some horrible intestinal parasite that makes you swear to God that you'll never eat a raw vegetable again. But still, that's no weirder than the eccentricities and travails of East Africa and South America.

And then it hit me: there's no Britney here! Not only that, no Paris, no Bennifer, no Backstreet Boys, no Christina, no Jessica, no Lindsay vs. Hillary, none of them. No one here listens to American music. And no one watches American movies. Yeah they're around. Unlike the French, the Indian government doesn't actively ban American pop in order to preserve the national culture. You can find "Pirates of the Carribean" playing on HBO, and Will Smith pops up on Indian MTV. But when a taxi driver sticks a cassette into his stereo, it's always a nasaly woman shrieking Hindi lyrics out at you. And when you look at the box office tallies, the top American flicks like The Aviator and Alexander come 30 places below the big Bollywood hits: "Kyaa Kool Hai Hum" and "Jism" (last year's runaway hit; settle down, it translates to "body" in Hindi).

After spending most of 2000-2001 travelling around the world curmudgeonly decrying the rampant globalization that had led to N'Sync blaring from shops and cafes from La Paz to Lilongwe, it's actually been disconcerting to not have Justin and the boys crooning around me regularly. I don't really crave American cultural hegemony, but I do kinda like knowing that given the choice, kids everywhere want the same music that a teenager in Sacramento does. Indians have access to all the same artists and actors that Americans do, and they choose something else.

This does lead to feeling like you're on an alien planet when you spend three months here. In this Indian world that is constantly cinematic in a Scorsese-cum-Gilliam way, I crave a soundtrack to touch the familiar that I left in America. Instead, I get bhangra and Hindi, tablas and sitars. Still, there's something beautiful about the aesthetically unpleasing songs coming out of every doorway on the street here. Until I arrived in India this year, I was worried that when my kids traveled, the places they visited would be stripped of all their variations and dysfunctions and missed translations, cultural casualties of a brave new WTO world. But now I know that when little Thor Rocky Young quits his job and teleports to India to launch his soul-searching year-long journey, he'll still get to recoil in aural horror the first time his Indian taxi driver flips on the radio.

Meg on Urban India

At first (and second, and third . . .) blush, there's very little beauty to be found in Indian cities. At their worst they are sprawling, filthy, frenetic concrete jungles. Even the most progressive and planned cities can't quite shake the beaten-down-by-the-elements, dingy, congested and polluted legacy of their ugly stepsisters. Nor can the smaller villages, even the quaintest among them, offer pure tranquility and beauty. Peer down the slopes of the most splendid Himalayan valley you could imagine and you may find them blanketed with plastic bags and rubbish, or take a sunset stroll along the shores of the mighty Ganges and you might just see a bloated dead baby floating by.

It can be quite difficult at first, as it was for me, to see past the surface layer of grime covering much of India. I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but gradually I started to see India in a new light. I began to unconsciously filter out the dirt and the din and to focus instead on the bustling life going on all around me--the stooped old women who halt oncoming traffic with a defiant thrust of their palms, the raucous cricket games that sprout up in even the narrowest of side-streets, the wiry old men squatting effortlessly atop their multicolored fruit and vegetable carts, the women walking gracefully along the side of the road balancing enormous loads on their heads and babies on their hips. I began to realize that there is beauty to be found in India, once you're able to see beyond the muck.

Nowhere is this more true than in the most sobering of Indian sights: the slums. No matter how prepared you may be for the poverty in India, confronting it face to face is heartbreaking. Usually thrown up around train tracks or other undesirable spaces, the slums are massive conglomerations of blue plastic tarps, scraps of metal and wood, and sun-faded swaths of fabric for windows and doors. A single water tap serves hundreds (when it works), and the nearby train tracks or sidestreets are the only sanitation system. Children run around bare-bottomed and squat to relieve themselves whenever and wherever the need arises. They are ratty-haired, caked with dirt and have nowhere but the filthy streets with to play. And yet they do play, and with fervor. Just steps away from the trucks and bicycles whizzing by, they romp around, chasing each other to and for, laughing and squealing, transforming every stick and discarded object into a toy. Their mothers squat on the ground nearby in impossibly bright and resplendent saris, rolling dough into chapattis, chatting amongst themselves, and ferociously scrubbing and beating their washings against the pavement. I'll never forget the sight of a small boy napping in a makeshift hammock he'd fashioned out of piece of fabric slung from the underbelly of a parked 18-wheeler. People hack a life out of the cruelest of conditions. It's humbling, it's agonizing, it's moving, it's reality.

Rahul on the Beard

The beard. The beard. It began in February, when Meg was about to start her first overseas medical roation and I figured the growth on my face would be a decent way to keep track of the time we were staying in one place. But then, within three weeks, I fell in love with it. It became a furry accomplice for me, a friend of facial hair that I carried with me throughout India. (Meg: And that's not all he carried with him. Every time I kissed him, I had to retaste last night's egg curry and this morning's curd! Gross.) My weekly glance in the mirror would reveal an older, scruffier, more sophisticated, more cuddly me. I thought, for a moment, that perhaps I might make like the Sikhs I saw around me, and never, ever, shave again. But in April, as we approached Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama-in-exile, I was once again reminded of the impermanence of the universe, and hence, the necessary transience of my beard.

Thus the shaving began. First, I brought back the chops-to-stash Metallica beard that I had adopted on the first day of my senior year at Stanford. At the time, this facial coif won enthusiastic huzzahs from my boys but killed all my chances with the ladies. The reactions in India were similar. Women in India don't have any problem with staring at you if they think you're interesting, or bizarre looking. But even they seemed to turn away, to recoil at the sight of my exploration into chinless hirsuteness. Meanwhile, the men loved it. There was one bus driver who in the midst of racing his rickety machine at 100 km/h through a pelting rainstorm late at night on winding mountain roads took a couple seconds to look in his rearview mirror, catch my eye, rub his chin and enthusiastically flash me the thumbs up sign over and over again.

The next day, I cut off the chops, and went to handlebars. Picture an upside down U of fur pasted over my lips and you'll have it right. You know what they say: you can take the India out of the redneck, but you can't take the redneck out of India. Or something like that.

And, for one sweet day, I shaved down to pure moustache, the king of Indian facial hair. I dream of the day that the American standard of beauty returns to the halcyon days of the 70s, and the hairless 25-yet-still-pre-adolescent Abercrombie models that currently pepper our billboards will be traded in for real men with a hairy face, chest, and, ahem, back. But we're not there yet, and, slave to fashion that I am, I was only willing to brave the moustache when I was surround by 500 million men with the same. Hot or not? Hot, I say! (Meg: The beard was cute, but if you bring back the stash, I'll be forced to leave you forever.)

So finally, last Sunday, I went to the barber to remove it all, a 30-minute experience that included a head rub, three layers of shaving cream and a musky aftershave that still burns to this day. So long, farewell, Mr. Beard. Until Eritrea. Because when Meg goes back to the hospital, my beard comes back in style.

Meg - Only in India

If anything has become clear during my time in India it's that India is impossible to characterize. A hundred words spring to mind at once, most of them contradictory. When I replay in my mind the rollercoaster ride that was my three months in India, one particularly intense day stands out as classically Indian. It began with a healthy early morning dose of haggling, as our visiting friend Courtney and I set out to find a affordable driver to transport us the 300 bumpy kilometers to Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile. We had tried our hand at the far-cheaper bus system the day before and had ended up sitting by the side of the road for three hours waiting for the supposedly every 30-minutes bus to materialize, and then sitting inside the stationary bus for another three hours while workmen made repairs to a bridge along our route (repairs actually scheduled, we learned, during peak traffic hours for several days to come). After extensive negotiation, followed by reneging and subsequent renegotiation, we finally settled on a driver and a price and were off.

As we raced along the narrow, windy roads shared by buses, pedestrians, auto-rickshaws and cows alike, our progress was soon halted by a number of parked vehicle and a growing crowd of people gesturing and peering down the side of the cliff. We scrambled out of the jeep and looked with horror at a mangled truck-bed hundreds of feet down the cliffside. We wondered aloud how recently the accident had occurred, whether any survivors or bodies had been recovered, and whether any rescue efforts were in progress--questions to which no answers were available without speaking Hindi. It wasn't for several minutes that we noticed another cluster of people further up the road, hovering over two prostrate, bloodied men who were both breathing but clearly needing to be transported to the nearest hospital immediately. India has no 911 or EMS equivalent, and it was unclear to Courtney, Rahul and me if anything was actually being done to help the victims. Just as I was rehearsing in my head the terrifying scenario of initiating the evacuation myself as an English-speaking, female 4th year medical student in a male-dominated country where I don't speak the language, the victims were suddenly lifted into the back of a jeep and sped away. Having experienced the insane recklessness of Indian roads daily for several months and having read that Delhi has the highest vehicular death rate in the world, Rahul and I had known that it was only a matter of time before we would witness an accident ourselves. Judging from the relative nonchalance of our fellow witnesses, this was neither the first nor the last accident that they would encounter on India's wild roads.

Shaken and filled with questions that will never be answered, we spent the next few hours alternately talking about what we'd just witnessed and not talking at all. We felt lucky to be safely inside a functioning car and moving closer to our destination. Then, with about 200 kilometers still remaining in our journey, the car started making an ominous hissing sound, and after one look under the hood our driver announced that it was kaput. Although he didn't speak much English, he managed to convey that a bus would one day come along to take us to Dharamsala and that he wasn't planning to give us back the money we'd paid him that morning, as it had mysteriously vaporized. As we were cursing ourselves for being foolish enough to pay him at the beginning rather than the end of the drive, cursing fate for dealing us back-to-back transportation meltdowns, and cursing India for being so backwards and full of conniving scoundrels forever out to scam you . . . fate delivered us the very epitome of all that is right with India: matchless generosity in the form of middle-aged gentleman named Vikram. Seeing three white people wearing sour expressions on the side of the road, he pulled over to offer assistance, attempted in vain to obtain the busted part from the nearby autoshop, offered us a free ride to his destination, once there arranged a new driver to complete our journey, and even offered to put us up for the night in his house (which we would have happily agreed to if we weren't on such a tight schedule). Not for the first time that day did we find ourselves shaking our heads and saying, "Only in India."

Our substitute taxi driver made up for lost time by driving like an absolute madman, laying on the horn as we hurtled through villages, and whipping around blind-turns. As we narrowly avoided striking pedestrians time and time again, I became convinced that the morning's accident scene was meant as a wake-up call to me, the hesitant medical student soon to turn doctor, and that my courage and medical skill were about to put to the test for real. It was with great relief that we arrived in Dharmsala without incident, physically and emotionally drained, and ready to put this day to rest. All we had to do was locate the B-Mehra guesthouse we had chosen from the Lonely Planet. But of course, it was nowhere to be found, and with our backpacks and puzzled faces, we were easy prey for the local touts. A group of men pointed down a pitch-black alleyway saying, "This way please. Very nice room, very cheap price. Come come," and a rowdy pair of twenty-somethings screamed out the window of their pimped-out, base-pumping ride, "Helllloo, ladies. You want room? We have. Get in, we take you!" Bemused and eyeing them skeptically, we asked to see their business card. We were surprised when they actually produced one and floored when it read "B-Mehra Guesthouse." But by then we should have known that India being India, and this being the India-est of all our days, nothing would go according to plan, and yet everything would find a way of working itself out in the end. So we followed our party-boy cum hotel managers back to our new home, which turned out to be an American fraternity house in disguise, complete with velvet paintings on the walls and a group of Indian college students who invited us to help them celebrate their friend's birthday by drinking with them. The hotel bar was closed, but in India anything is possible, and soon enough one of them returned with cold beers for us from who knows where. When at long last we collapsed into bed, we looked back and concluded that we had just experienced the quintessential Indian travel day: we were cheated, and then lavished with kindness at the hands of a perfect stranger; things fell apart and then somehow came together again at the end; we saw firsthand the gruesome consequences of India's rampant reckless driving, only to find ourselves passengers in the fastest-moving vehicle on the road; and to top it all of, Rahul even managed to wrap the day up with some explosive diarrhea.

Rahul - Let's Get it On

If you read any of the popular Indian travel writing out there, your vision of India will go something like this: it's dirty, it's frenetic, nothing ever runs on time, the smell of urine will slap in you face when you least expect it, you'll be lied to by greedy locals multiple times per day and you're destined to be rocked by intestinal illness before you escape and go home.

It's all true.

Then go a little deeper, find a writer who's been here long enough (but not too long) to have gotten past her initial cynicism and you'll hear something like this: for every ten times you get cheated, you'll experience twenty doses of unbelievable gratitude, and if you pick the right places in the country you'll see mountains of such overwhelming beauty that for a moment you'll forget that if you turn around you'll see rivers of trash cascading beneath you. She might tell you that India's craziness gets in your blood, grabs hold of your brain, and shakes you back and forth till one day you wake up and step outside into a street gridlocked with rickshaw and jeeps, smoothly dodge the cow that's about to inadvertently gore you, blow off the three shopkeepers who want to know what country you're from, negotiate a fair price for 20 bananas and a couple bottles of water, and jump on a train that's about to pull away to transport you for 24 hours and 500 kilometers to a place that you've been told is just another "part of India" but that you know will end up feeling like another country entirely.

And that's all true too.

Here's the thing: this place doesn't really make much sense. If you walk around any inevitably crowded Indian city and see people spilling out of cars, shops, shacks, and trains, you can't help but be scared at the thought that India's population could hit two billion people in the next fifty years. At the same time, spend an hour with a humorless bureaucrat who was forced into an arranged marriage when he was 16 or watch a group of 20 sixty year-old men stare at your girlfriend's ass when she walks by in jeans, and you find yourself thinking: "Damn, what this country really needs is to just get laid more often."

India isn't easy. It's a pain in the ass, a constant contradiction that makes you simultaneously believe deeply in the goodness of humanity and hope fervently that there's a special circle of hell reserved for corrupt paper-pushers and deceitful taxi drivers. Just when you think that you'll never get a straight answer from anyone, you'll walk through a market and watch a shopkeeper gently, but firmly, tell a teenaged customer that "she has a paunch" and should leave the skimpy underwear for those who don't need elastic to hold in their belly.

It's taken me this trip, my eighth maybe, to India to finally love the country that created half of my family. The last time I was here, I left exhausted and firmly committed to never travel again. And this time, somehow, I'll leave rejuvenated, with more energy than when I arrived, and a lust to make my way back soon. What amazes me most is that somehow Meg's been able to figure out all this stuff on her first try. She started in the morass of Bombay, trekked through the deserts and alleyways of Rajasthan, survived unconsciouness at the hands of Indian bacteria on her first day in the clinic, and now she bargains like she was born in Bhavnagar and loves this country as much as I do. I wonder sometimes if seeing her adapt to this bizarre Indian world has finally forced me to make my own peace with the part of me drawn from this side of the world, to accept the inconsistencies and revel in the beauty.

I guess I'll find out how comfortable I really am next time I return to my mother's land. For now, I'm grateful that I'm leaving this country having vomited only twice. And I hope that in the eight months we have left on this trip, Meg and I find somewhere half as overpowering as India.

Saturday, April 9

Namaste, India!

We're off to Nepal! In 8 hours we'll be eating tofu with Rahul's sister Leela and gazing at the Nepali Himalayas. We've spent the last 24 hours in Calcutta, recipients once again of amazing Indian hospitality courtesy of Rahul's family friends. We even got to go for our first dip in a swimming pool since leaving the States! Last night we savored our last lassi, chana masala and bad Indian beer. We're psyched to head north to escape the oppressive heat that has started to take over the country. We decided to cough up the extra dough to fly to Kathmandu in order to save ourselves a 40-hour bus ride through Maoist strongholds, and we're certainly glad we did, as India has given Meg's stomach one last parting gift (and even the luxury buses don't have bathrooms).

It's true what they say about India worming its way into your heart. We're really gonna miss this place.

Thursday, April 7

The Guest Blogger surfaces

Editor's note: Courtney has delivered (with impressive alacrity) on her promise to submit a guest blog now that she's recovered from India and is no longer, in her words, "peeing out of my butt." Following a guest-blogging tradition begun in January by the famous haiku-poet Kimmy Nicholas Cahill, we hope Courtney's virtuosity here will inspire our future travel companions (listen up, Young family, Pearson family, Amy, Ali-Mac, Zanja, Jon, Erin, Kimmy (haiku sequel) and all the rest of y'all we're secretly hoping will join us) to keep the flame burning. Here goes:

Thank you, India

Only the words of Alanis Morrisette can capture my feelings about my intro to the developing world. India defies summarizing, but was fascinating, sobering, fun, stimulating, and peaceful all in one! There are truly too many stories to share here, so as humble guest blogger I'll stick to some of the many things India taught me:

1. India is not Los Angeles: Los Angeles is also not India. The two are very different places. Forgetting this distinction could lead to confusion or even dismay. For example, India will not provide toilet paper in the restroom, passable wine, public trash cans, brownies that contain chocolate, or lines on the road. On the other hand, don't look too hard in Los Angeles for a scrumptious 75-cent chana masala, strangers who invite you into their homes 15 minutes after meeting you, $5 hotel rooms where you simply sit up in bed for a spectacular view of snow-capped Himalayas, invigorating cold bucket showers, or negotiable prices at every turn ("What?! $2.85 for a latte? That's your best price? But I can go to Coffee Bean and get it for $2.65! Look,
I'll give you $2.50 right now and you've got a deal.")

2. The Fundamentals of a Flush: The toilet flush is by no means the mystifying mechanical innovation that all those levers and chains underneath the lid imply. If you find yourself in a pinch (or, in India) and desperately in need of a flush, but sorely lacking a functional toilet, never fear. Remind yourself that it's just a whole bunch of forcefully rushing water. That's it! A simple bucket of water poured in the bowl will do the trick (which is often on hand when you find yourself in the typical Indian no-flush situation).

3. Don't Try *Everything*: Yes, an adventurous spirit is a must. However, certain adventures are best avoided. For example: any uncooked food that has been chopped, washed, handled, or in any way shared the same space as local hands or water. . . the 50-yard radius around Rahul after a particularly chana-full day. . . negotiations that end in a vague "OK, OK" rather than a firm "yes" or "no". . . or the back row of the night bus, particularly when the malfunctioning seat in front of Meg reclines to full horizontal position.

4. Everything Works Out: When the best-laid plans seem about to fall apart, it all works out. It's uncanny. Your hired jeep breaks down, a generous man and his mother offer you a free lift 60 miles up the road. You sprint to the night train only to have it sit on the tracks for 2 hours, surely missing your connection, then lo and behold your next train patiently awaits at the other end. You curse the Lonely Planet for poor directions to a guesthouse at the moment its proprietors drive up and ask if you need a room. Maoists stir things up in Nepal, thus re-routing you to India and one of the most incredible cultural experiences you could find.

5. Meg and Rahul Are Rockstars: Yes, India makes for difficult travel (no signs in the train stations, no bus schedules to speak of, an ongoing battle with India-gestion, a somewhat alarming standard of hygiene) but Meg and Rahul are well-suited to life here. Their resilience, upbeat attitudes, silliness, boundless curiosity, and sense of adventure propelled us forward, reducing all that's hard about India travel to mere details and showing me a country that is culturally rich, eye-opening, and beautiful in so many ways. Yes folks, they are lovebirds in love, but they are also two of the best travel companions a girl could find. To anyone considering joining them this year: book your ticket now! (Editor's Note: We'll drink to that!) The crazy airport headgear is only the beginning... Thank you India, and thank you my friends!!

-- The Courtney

Wednesday, April 6

And then, just like that, she is gone


We dropped Courtney off at the Delhi airport on Sunday and took the night train to Varanasi. Alas. She arrived with wine, chocolate, tampons, and literature for us, and she's leaving with our discarded clothing, a fabulous monkey carved from a coconut, and hopefully no serious intestinal illness. She's promised us that she'll do a "guest blog" post back in America as soon as she kicks the jet-lag, so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, Meg and I are cranking on a longer email where we'll try to sum up our 3 months in India before we get on a plane from Calcutta to Kathmandu on Sunday.

But to tide you over till then, we've put up two new sets of pictures - "On the road again..." and "Courtney Does India". They've even got captions and stories to check out when you view them in slideshow format. So, feast on photos for now, and we'll have a long email for you before the weekend comes. And, if you're not on our email list (i.e. you haven't gotten any emails with a [quixote] heading), email me at and we'll hook you up.

Finally, the countdown begins: 10 days till the Nepali MS 150! We're getting our grundels ready! Wooohooo!!