Monday, July 18, 2011

Great People Doing Great Things

Woezor !! (meaning You are Welcome !! in the local Ewe language). I hope everyone is doing well around the world wherever you may be reading this.

Recently our second group has returned back from another great weekend excursion. Highlights included visiting New Seed International, Wli Falls, Monkey Sanctuary, and a traditional Kenti Weaving Village. All and all everything worked out pretty well except for my slight injury at Wli Falls. At the falls I was climbing some slippery rocks and ended up slipping and catching my fall using my left hand. Except on my left hand I had my steel watch of 1.5 years on which was developing a sharp edge to it. I ended up slicing the bottom of my palm about ½ inch deep and about 1.5 inches wide. So with the gaping wound on my left palm I needed to battle through the chaos/wind storm that is Wli Falls (the tallest waterfalls in West Africa) to get back to where my med kit was to stop the bleeding. As of right now as I am typing this my hand is well on its way to recovery after visiting the local doctor at Keta Hospital.

This morning’s trip to Keta Hospital was pretty memorable. I arrived at around 7:30 AM to try and avoid the rush, but despite arriving early I was only seen by a doctor by 9 AM. At the hospital I needed to visit several stations to organize my paperwork, take my vital signs, and then finally wait for the doctor. My boss told me the one Doctor who works at the hospital was Cuban, so I immediately broke out my Spanish as I greeted her in the morning. After falling into her good graces she immediately told me she would see me, but I just needed to wait one moment for her to tend to an emergency. As I was waiting for her I saw a gurney with a patient on it who seemed to be sleeping enter her examination room. After she was done with the woman, she told me that she was a 24 years old woman who arrived to the Hospital dead on arrival and was already deceased for more than one day. Somehow her family neglected to bring her medical attention or pay attention to her at all until this morning where they transported her already dead body to the hospital to see if there was anything she could do. Unfortunately she passed away and I , of course, do not know the entire full story but it is particularly difficult for me to hear and see someone pass away so close to my age of 27 years old. After I received my shot and prescription for antibiotics I was able to leave the hospital. My whole consultation with my doctor occurred in Spanish, which was pretty cool. By the time I left her office every single seat was filled and the hallways where stacked full of people. A conservative estimate for the amount of people waiting to see the one doctor the hospital had would probably be around 175 patients. As well I tip my hat to the government of Cuba who is providing this Doctor at the clinic. For if she wasn’t there who knows what the public health implications of the region would be. I have met so many people (foreigners and domestics) here in Ghana who are working EXTREMELY hard to better the lives of other people, and putting their lives on hold/straining their lives to serve others.

I met two more of those people who are literally SACRIFICING their lives for the well being and future of others today. They are the two Americans who are currently running Father’s House International (an organization and orphanage who is currently taking care of/raising 8 ex-child slaves from Ghana) The children at the orphanage were sold by their parents into slavery in the Volta Region to fisherman. These fisherman would use the children to dive deep underwater to untangle nets. This is extremely dangerous work as many children drown from diving deep and getting entangled in the nets and drowning. As well they are not taken care of properly and given no education. These two American from South Carolina who are working to slowly rehabilitate the lives of these children are doing absolutely amazing work. As a group I was able to bring students to the orphanage and we were able to meet the saved kids and see where they lived and play soccer with them. They also played drums for us, and showed us their homemade drum set which consisted of tin cans, bamboo, and a card board box drum bass. The children were super friendly and outgoing, something I am sure they weren’t when they were held as slaves. Seeing the whole compound and playing with the kids was an awesome experience and motivates me to continue doing great things for others once I get back to the states.

In Ghana it has been great to see the community mentality in full effect which many developing countries have. Neighbors know each other really well, communities rely on each other for survival, everyone looks out for one another and are extremely kind and friendly in their demeanor. Ghanaians are extremely welcoming people and gracious people. The best parts about traveling are truly getting to know the people, and so far I feel I have definitely been able to meet and become friends with the Ghanaians I work with, have met while traveling, have met while working at the schools, and have just met when walking down the street. Overall it has been an amazing experience to be here and work in this country.

Anyways that is the latest that is happening out here in West Africa. I definitely miss everyone back at home and only have a little bit more than one month left in this country and I plan to take full advantage of the time I have here.

Thanks for reading.

Love to all,


Thursday, July 07, 2011

You are Welcome !

You are Welcome ! That is the phrase many Ghanaians say to welcome you to their homes, schools, or just about anywhere you meet a Ghanaian.

All is well here with me in Ghana. Today is the second to last day of the first group of students which will be working with this summer. This past weekend we went on an excursion to the city of Ho in the Volta Region. There we were able to visit a Monkey Sanctuary, swim under the highest waterfalls of West Africa (Wli Falls), visit a Kenti Cloth Weaving village, and relax in a hotel with a POOL ! Overall it was great to leave our home base a little bit and see the surrounding country side. After this past weekend’s excursion we continued work making bricks at the schools, teaching at the school, and participating in afternoon/evening cultural events.

The most impressive place I have been to so far in Ghana was also visited during this past weekend. We visited an organization called New Seed International ( it is an amazing organization located in Ho and its mission is to assist children and all people who have been somehow affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization has an orphanage component which helps take care of children who have HIV, children who have been shunned from their communities and own parents as a result of having HIV, and children without parents who have died as a result of AIDS. There are approximately 75 children at New Seed International and we were able to spend an amazing afternoon playing with the children and also having an in depth conversation with its founder Livinus. The organization also works on HIV/AIDS awareness and also has a medical clinic component attached to its facilities. This is an amazing organization which is helping many children’s lives through no fault of their own have been affected by HIV/AIDS. All of these children were simply born and, of course, never chose to be born into having HIV or having had their parents passed away as a result of this virus. Playing and interacting with all of the children ages newborn to 14 was definitely the most memorable/heartwarming/difficult interaction with children I have ever had. If anyone is ever thinking about donating any money to anything, this is an effective organization who is working very hard for the children they are taking care of. Please email me ( if you are interested in donating anything, they are currently working on a large 60 bed boy and girl dorm room facility to house the children in a clean and safe environment.
Today is Thursday and before I know it on Saturday afternoon I will be greeting 36 new students in Accra Airport to Ghana. This group will be a 3 week program, and I am very excited to get to know them. In this group it looks like there will be 3 boys and 33 girls. I look forward to working with them all and embarking on adventures throughout Ghana with them. This past group has been really amazing with some great characters and cool students.

Anyways that is the latest for now! I miss everyone and look forward to seeing you all soon back home!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LISA !!! Wish you were here !!

Love to all,


Here is a link to my latest pictures from Ghana :

Thursday, June 30, 2011

There Is Time For Everything

Greetings everyone from the Volta Region of Ghana ! So far so good with our first group of 29 students arriving from different parts of the world including the US, Canada, Turkey, Germany, and Spain. In our group we have 25 females and 4 males, with ages ranging from 15 to 18 years of age. All of the students have already been here for 5 days so far, and it has been great getting to know each and every one of them. We have already begun our work in the school which includes brick making and teaching of classes. As well we have had the opportunity to engage in a variety of cultural activities including, participating in African Drum lessons, visiting a slave fort, playing with children at an orphanage, visiting local host families, playing with the local village children, visiting a local seamstress to have clothing made from African designed cloth bought at the local market and having guest speakers at night which include college professors speaking about Ghana today to a local chief talking about the different tribes of Ghana. Every day has been super action packed with each of our mornings being filled with community service and the afternoon/night being filled with the cultural events and excursions. All this has just occurred in the first five days of the program! We have our weekend trip coming up as well as a whole other week still with this initial group. My main responsibilities with the students include consulting with them at the community service site, working alongside Ghanaian staff with all the activities, running discussions/dialogues/workshops with the students, and being there for the students for anything else they may need. Overall this has been a great experience and I am super excited for the next 7 weeks where I will be working still with this group and other groups of students to come.

Being in Africa, and especially Ghana, has been an amazing experience so far. They call Ghana the “Island of Peace” in West Africa, and I definitely believe it. Everyone has been extremely friendly to our group and just getting to know the people of Ghana you can tell they are really proud of their country and its people. When the college professor came I asked him “What is so unique about Ghana that it has been able to maintain Peace in its country while many others in Africa are having their own difficulties?” Long story short he attributed it to its strong democratic government and its encouragement and acceptance of members of different Ghanaian tribes to intermarry. This intermarriage and cultural acceptance amongst tribes has caused lots of rivalry amongst neighboring Africa countries but in Ghana everyone is very accepting of their tribal differences, which I found really interesting. I am sure there are more factors as well, but when Obama came to visit Ghana in 2008 I am sure he picked this country strategically as it definitely is a strong leader and model country of governance in Africa. Of course Ghana still has its social problems with 30 percent of its people living below the poverty line and certain forms of child slavery (especially in the Volta region where children are recruited to work in Lake fisheries and dive deep to untangle nets do to their “small fingers” which can only untangle these nets) and sex trafficking still occurring within its borders, but they are working hard to make the countries government work better for its people.

I am very excited to take all of my experience working in the rural Ghanaian schools and bring this practical experience with me to my masters studies in International Education beginning in the fall at GW University in Washington DC. But until then I will enjoy my time here in Ghana and take advantage of this incredible opportunity I have here to learn more about the country of Ghana and its people, and work with some amazing students from around the world.
Earlier today I was able to stop and think to myself for a moment, and I realized that “Wow, I am literally in the middle of rural Ghana playing soccer with students from a local orphanage on the beach, this is wild” Each and every day has been an amazing adventure so far. Also on the beach I saw some fishing boats and on one of the boats read: “THERE IS TIME FOR EVERYTHING”. I thought that was a particularly though provoking quote, which definitely tapped into the laid back attitude one can find in rural Ghana. I have been thinking a lot about that quote recently.

Anyways that is the latest from me right now. I have incurred 5 mosquito bites while writing this blog so I better stop writing right now. Us staff here in Ghana recently heard that another staff member working in Tanzania for our company contracted Malaria, so that is another reason I should probably sign off now. In a book I was reading the author described Malaria as the feel of “having molten lava course through your bones” so I will try my hardest to not have that happen to me by continuing to take my 80% effective malaria medication pills !!

Till next time, I miss all of my friend and family back in the states and abroad!

Peace and Love to all, Thanks for reading,


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wrap up of China and Hello GHANA!

Greetings Everyone! Due to the internet blockage of Google in China, I was unable to blog about our amazing experience in China. Currently I am in rural Ghana writing this blog but will report on my previous experience in China with Lisa as well as my current position as a leader for a high school summer enrichment program here in Ghana.

Our travels in China included four main destinations: Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Beijing (in that order). Our experiences traveling in China vs. India were very different. Most noticeably was the fact that we did not speak Chinese and as well the more noticeable presence of government in China versus India. Luckily we were able to meet up with our good friends Bill (served Peace Corps with me in Costa Rica) and Robin (served Peace Corps in Guatemala), who are currently teaching English in the city of Nanjing at a University. With their foundation knowledge of the Chinese language we were able to successfully navigate our way through the cities of Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou. In Shanghai we had an amazing time! We were able to visit the Bund (the scenic area/view of the business high rises of Shanghai), see the view from the 101st floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center (the world’s tallest observation deck), ride the psychedelic underground cable car from the Bund to business district, visit the unique French Concession district, tour the Chinese Propaganda Museum, and eat AMAZING Chinese street food (dumplings, grilled skewers, etc. which we pretty much did throughout the whole trip).

After our experience in Shanghai we went to Bill and Robin’s “hometown” in China, the city of Nanjing. In Nanjing we were able to stay in their spacious two bedroom apartment furnished by the University which they were working for in China. In Nanjing we were able to party hard at a packed Chinese Nightclub drinking Tsing Taos, spend time visiting Bill and Robyn’s University and speak with the students about life as a student in China, eat horrible French food but eat really good Pizza, and spend a night partying and making home made fresh dumplings with Bill and Robin’s Chinese coworkers and friends at their apartment. Our experience in Nanjing was very relaxing and it was absolutely amazing to spend some quality time with our really good friends. I also fell in love with something new in Nanjing, and that love is called a “Taiwan Sandwich” aka Taiwan Sammie. This sandwich is best made and can only be found prepared on the streets of China (and probably Taiwan). It consists of a fried egg, ham or chicken, lettuce or cucumber, and spicy Hoisan sauce all wrapped together in a flaky similar to a scallion pancake wrap. It is absolutely delicious and the best thing one could possibly eat at 2 am after a serious night of hitting the “disco”.

Our next city we visited was called Hangzhou. This city was around five hours away by Chinese super fast railway (speeds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour, I think). Hangzhou is a beautiful tourist city whose centerpiece is a large lake. One of the most beautiful parts of the city are the perfectly manicured Chinese gardens surrounding the Lake. We went to Hangzhou with our friends Bill and Robin and were able to do many different things, including hitting a jazz club, walking through many beautiful gardens with gorgeous atmospheric lighting at night, eating a gourmet dinner meal at a “penthouse” Italian restaurant in the middle of the city, to exploring all nightlife Hangzhou had to offer (including finding the Reggae Bar!). Overall Hangzhou was a very beautiful and romantic city and we were very fortunate to have had the positive experience we had with our good friends.

After our experience in Hangzhou we needed to part ways with our friends Bill and Robin and continue on North to Beijing. Many say Beijing represents the historic past of China while Shanghai represent the modernization of China, and I can very much agree with that. Beijing is definitely growing at a feverish pace, with new buildings and parts of town popping up all the time. In Beijing Lisa and I stayed at a Hostel located right in the center of the Old City literally 10 minute walk from the heart of Tiananmen Square. We were extremely fortunate to meet up with my friend from High School, Kevin and his girlfriend Meg. Both Kevin and Meg are working as English Teachers in Beijing. Kevin has been in China for the past three years and pretty much speaks fluent Chinese knowing around 3,000 characters and definitely able to hold his own in any type of Chinese conversation. It was great to have the both of them as guides during our 6 day stay in Beijing as we were able to go on a tour of the best spots in Beijing according to them. In Beijing we were able to go to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum, and my personal favorite the Great Wall of China. For me the Great Wall of China was one of the most impressive feats of human achievement I have ever seen in my entire life. The wall is over 2000 miles longs and took over 1000 years to build! It was extremely impressive as well as dangerous to see in person, considering many parts of the wall were very steep and the rocks were loose because we visited “un-restored” portions of the wall. I absolutely was in awe of the sheer magnitude of the wall and how it was literally built on the tallest part of the ridgeline of the mountain range and extended as far as the eye could see. Knowing that countless people dedicated and gave their lives to the creation of the wall was something I was very cognizant of during my whole stay at the wall. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to visit this monument of human achievement and history and highly recommend visiting this site. Back in Beijing city, my friend Kevin took us to the ex-pat district called “Stanleyton” (I know I’m spelling it wrong) but that is where you could find all your expat goods including Apple products, Cold Stone Creamery, Nike and all major American apparel stores. The funny thing was, was that right next to all of these stores selling authentic clothing was this one large building filled with pirated goods including Polo Shirts, Nike Shoes, and Mont Blanc pens. At night Kevin took us to his favorite Peking duck restaurant and as well favorite dumpling restaurant, which I would have to agree were the best dumplings I have ever had in my life. Whenever traveling it is always best to seek out someone who knows the city best, and have them show you the prime spots in the city. On our last night in Beijing we were able to see the Beijing National Acrobatic troop which was extremely impressive. Acts included one woman juggling a giant Umbrella with her feet, one performer juggling nine balls, a young girl contorting her body on a small pedestal while holding three glass chandeliers, acrobats flying around on stage, and the finale of 16 female acrobats riding one bicycle. It was absolutely amazing to watch and extremely impressive to see in person, the whole auditorium was packed. It was sad to say good bye to our friends Kevin and Meg as they had shown us an amazing time in Beijing and we definitely saw and experienced things which we wouldn’t have otherwise had the knowledge to go and experience on our own.

Overall the 2+ months experience traveling through India and China was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my entire life. I was extremely fortunate to be able to share this experience with Lisa, as most couples have never had the opportunity to just travel freely for two months and share the experiences which we had together. As well we were very fortunate for our friends, especially during the China part of our visit, taking us under their wing and showing us around. India and China are two massive countries which encompass almost half of the world’s population, so in a way to not know or have experienced this culture is to not know firsthand almost half of humanity. These countries are only poised to grow more and I look forward to monitoring their continued successes on the world’s stage. I am overall extremely grateful for having had this experience as it has always been a dream of mine to visit these two countries. If you are thinking of traveling or backpacking for an extended period of time or even a short period of time I say DO IT! DO IT NOW! For no other time is better than today. Traveling as many of us now is a very grueling and strenuous activity, and the younger you are the more flexible and active you well be and the more you will be able to see. Nothing beats experiencing cultures first hand, eating their food, speaking to the local people, seeing the sites. In this day in age it is so important to be globally minded and the best way to be that way is not only through books but through actually being on the ground and seeing it for oneself. Obviously travel is a luxury for most of us but If you can do it, and if you can find someone who can pay you to do it then that is even better! Overall I am very happy how the trip worked out and could not have been happier with its outcome. If anyone wants any tips or tricks for their future trips to China or India by all means shoot me an email.

Currently, I am writing this very long blog post from the top bunk of my bunk bed located in rural Ghana about 3 hours east of the capital city of Accra near the city of Keta. I will be sleeping in this bed for the next 2 months, because I am working a service learning/leadership based high school summer enrichment program here in Ghana. In two days 30 students will be arriving from round the world and it will be my responsibility to guide and mentor them as they complete community service projects in the neighboring schools. During the weeks as well we will engage in various local cultural activitites and during the weekends we will go on excursions away from our homebase, including visits to waterfalls, NGOs, beaches, monkey sanctuaries, and rural villages.

I arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana, last Sunday (June 19). For me leaving to go to Ghana after being in the US for less than one month after my mega trip throughout Asia, was very difficult. After coming home from Asia I was so happy to be back home in New York and seeing all of my family and friends again, that it was hard for me to imagine heading out of the country for an extended period of time, again. But I am definitely fortunate to have this job opportunity and it will be another amazing personal experience abroad to draw from as I begin my graduate studies this fall at George Washington University.

The past four days have definitely been action packed as we are working hard to organize ourselves for when all of the students arrive. We have been meeting with the local schools, speaking with local Chiefs (who will talk to the students during our afternoon cultural experiences), meeting local seamstresses (who will make the students handmade clothes out of local cloth), organizing our curriculum, reviewing safety plans, and getting to know our Ghanaian staff counterparts.
Our homebase is where we will be spending the majority of our time. It is basically a compound which consists of 8-10 rooms with 2 bunk beds in each room, several bathrooms, eating hall, kitchen, and several lounge areas, all enclosed by a cement wall bordering the perimeter of the compound. We have a computer with internet but it runs off of a USB 3G internet stick, so at times the internet is unreliable and I will not immediately be able to respond to emails or upload large amounts of pictures at a time.

Overall everything is running well and I am very excited to begin work with the students who will be arriving shortly. I am sure the dynamic will completely change once all of the students arrive. I know that this will be an amazing experience for them, and I will work hard to make sure that they have a great experience. I am very fortunate to have this opportunity to work in Ghana and experience Africa first hand.

Anyways that is the latest for now….. I know that this is a very long blog post and I really appreciate those who have read it in its entirety! I will be sure to write more soon, especially when the students arrive and we start working in the communities and engaging in the cultural activities.

I love and miss my family, friends, and Lisa.

Peace to all.


I did not have internet for awhile so I wrote this on my computer a couple days ago.... Currently the first group of 29 students have arrived and all is well ! It is great to get back in the swing of things working directly with students and I am super excited for tommorrow when we begin our community service in at the local school. We will be mostly working with primary school youth at the school teaching classes, and running activities, as well as making bricks for a new school building as the school has no cement walls, just bamboo reed walls and a tin roof. We will be meeting our high school headmaster under the Mango Tree (his office) to begin the day ! I miss you all !!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Death of the High Season

Namaste from Goa! The state known for white sand, clear water and laid back living. After the horrendous train ride that Rudy last posted about, we've found Patnem Beach (near Palolem) to be the perfect spot to recoup before heading to Mumbai, our last stop in India. We found it so relaxing that we have stayed here 8 nights, our longest stay anywhere in India. Restaurants are right on the beach and also provide lounge chairs and umbrellas for free during the day. Around 5pm the waiters remove the loungers and replace them with tables so you can eat under the stars.

There are many other beaches nearby and it is very popular to rent a scooter for the day to visit them. Rudy and I have taken full advantage for the low season price of $5/day. My compliments to the India government because all these back roads are PAVED! This is not something we're used to seeing in Costa Rica. The countryside is really breathtaking. Palm trees towering over fields of wheat and rice. Amazing vistas from white sand beaches. Traffic hazards being of course cows, monkeys, dogs and the fact that most of these roads are really only the width of one lane in the U.S.

Now you may be wondering about the title to this blog. The normal tourist season in India goes from September - March. Come April it just gets too hot (we're talking over 100 degrees) and then the monsoons start in June. Sweating it out in the heat has had its advantages in that there are less people around and most hotels will give you deals (aka we can get an AC room for the price of a non AC room). We've visited 6 beaches since we've been here and all but ours, and the popular Palolem, were completely empty. Lodging here mostly consists of bamboo huts on the beach. While visiting nearby Agonda Beach, we saw the shells of such huts as just cement squares pretty close to each other with a big cement rectangle on top to lay a mattress on and a square in the back for the shower. The bamboo walls and palm tree roofs had been taken down already and will probably be rebuilt after the rainy season for the next high season.

As we begin May, we've noticed fewer and fewer tourist at our beach. Shopkeepers literally packing up all their merchandise and dismantling the plywood walls and tin roofs of their shops. Our favorite restaurant, serving the best salads, pastas and brownie sundaes that we've had in India informed us today when we arrived for lunch that they were closing for the season.

The normal shopkeeper bargaining tactics are now also including how many more days they will have their shop open (so you better buy today!) One shopkeeper mentioned he is from the Northern state of Kashmir and brings down his Tibetan trinkets during the high season. We've found that some other people in the tourist industry here have migrated from other parts of India to take advantage of the tourism business here.

Rudy and I have really enjoyed our time in the southern states of Kerala and Goa. The more relaxed nature of the South is certainly apparent and we have taken full advantage and even fallen pray to the common "I was only going to be here a few days and stayed a week!" syndrome. But it was totally worth it as you will see on our latest upload of pictures to Facebook:

Our next blog will be from the "Land of Dragons" as we explore China's big cities with our friends Bill and Robin!


Lisa and Rudy

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Beachside Living

Greetings everyone from sunny Patnum Beach in the Indian State of Goa! We just arrived early this morning after a 16 hour "Sleeper" class train aka lowest class train cart from Kochi. Our trip yesterday into this morning was quite an experience, but I can get into that a little later.

Anyways after living the "tea life" in Darjeeling we came down the mountain via jeep. Upon our travels we have met some very interesting fellow travelers. On our way down from Darjeeling we traveled with a couple in their 60s who have been living on a boat sailing around the world for the past 10 years. It was very interesting to hear there stories of their travels all around the world, they were coming from the Maldives were they NEEDED to stay for 6 months in order to repair their ship.... what misery ha. Anyways we ended up getting to the airport in good time for our flight to Chennai.

This time around we took the airline named Spice Jet. It was a very uneventful trip getting to Chennai with a layover in Kolkata. Our place name was Pepper. Each plane in the Spice Jet fleet is named after a different spice. Here on Indian domestic flights you need to pay for snacks and drinks so along with our complimentary bottle of water Lisa and I feasted on Cup of Noodles Masala Spice. It was the best Cup O noodle I have ever had in my life. Upon arrival in Chennai we just stayed at a random hotel near the airport for the night and the next morning took another flight to Trivandrum in the state of Kerala.

Upon arrival to Trivandrum we were picked up by our pre arranged taxi and taken to Kovalam Beach. We stayed at the "Beach Hotel" in Kovalam. Kovalam is a very touristy beach area, but it was particularly nice staying there because the hotel was extremely close to the water. Upon arrival Lisa and I immediately went to the restaurant hotel which claimed itself to be a "German Bakery" with also some German Dishes. I immediately ordered the Kartoffelsalat with Frankfurters, upon arrival of the dish I was of course disappointed. The potato were hot, overcooked, and drenched in some sort of broth with onions, and the frankfurters tasted like salt water. Last time I am ordering German food in India! ha All in all Kovalam was uneventful with lots of swimming and tanning time. After two nights we decided to move on to the beach town of Varkala.

Varkala is a very unique Beach town in the fact that it is the only beach in India which is backed with dramatic cliffs. So all of the hotels and restaurants are perched close to the cliff to maximize beach views and the beach below is unspoilt with just pure beach. The first night we decided to stay at a hotel recommended by a random guy we ended up speaking to at an internet cafe. The hotel was called New Heaven and cost 300 rupees ($6.60) per night. We arrived at New Heaven and the hotel actually wasn't that bad it just happened to be very far away from the beach we wanted to be at and as well the Mattress was just basically a sheet spread over a wooden board oh and the bathroom was classically teaming with Cockroaches. After one night we decided we had enough of that and moved into an awesome hotel with Beach views, porch, wifi, and comfortable thick mattresses with cockroach free bathrooms. The price was about 4 times as much but it was totally worth it. At the beach there were many tourists from all over the world. In our travels we typically have not come across many Americans more British and European travelers. At Varkala Beach we stayed for five nights in total with our days busily spent with deciding on what restaurant to eat at , reading, tanning, napping, drinking ice coffees, playing LOTS of Chess on Lisa's iPad, swimming, body boarding, and just general chilling out.

After our rest and relaxation in Varkala we decided to move on to the town of Allepey to rent a House Boat. At Allepey train station we took a tuk tuk aka rickshaw to the Boat Jetty. I walked down the boat Jetty and inspected 6 different giant houseboats, some with AC, some with two three bedrooms, one floor two floors etc. These houseboats use to be rice barges but the tourism industry in the area has exploded with the appeal to rent a houseboat outfitted with all home amenities and just explore the backwaters of Kerala. Upon weighing all the options I bargained a good deal on a house boat with One bedroom, AC, living room, flat screen TV (dont know why you would need a Flat screen outdoors) comfortable seating and all food and drink included. We left the jetty at 1130 AM and began our 24 hour cruise through the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboat was awesome. All you need to do is just chill sit back relax get served food and snack intermittently throughout the day and just enjoy the surroundings. Our chef was amazing and made some of the best food we had in all of India. Our dinner was an awesome coconut Dal dish (lentils), spicy kerala chicken (heavily seasoned with local spices similar to jerk chicken), curry potatoes, rice and chipatis ( like pitas) it was the very very good. At night we could just chill in our AC room on the boat, close the door and even though we were in the backwaters in the middle of nowhere Kerala we were in pure luxury. The next morning we had breakfast in the front eating area outdoors on the boat and took a tuk tuk to the train to head to Kochi.

After arriving in Kochi we headed to this awesome home stay called Noah's Ark which was very centrally located to all the main sites. We have stayed at many different homestays through our trip. Homestays are basically exactly how they sound staying in a local familys home similar to a bed and breakfast. Basically you get the hospitality of staying in a home with the services of a hotel. So it has been great to get the inside hints tips and tricks from the locals running the homestays wherever we go. In Kochi there were many different Churches to see, and small cute little roads with restaurants and cafes. It has a large Portuguese influence from back in the day. We also saw a Katakala performance which is a typical Kerala dance/performance using many costumes and face paints. Overall Kochi was a pleasant city to stay in for two night before we continued our beach hopping.

Considering that this is one of the busiest travel time of the year we booked our train tickets 3 days in advance of our trip and barely got tickets. We could only buy tickets to Goa in the "Sleeper" class of the train. This is by far the lowest and cheapest class in the train possible. Many people have visions of overflowing dirty prison like train carts from India, that is exactly the train we took. It was our only option, without severely throwing off our itinerary of our last 2 weeks in India. We had two seats on a bench with one person hovering over us on his own platform. There are basically open air cabins with three platforms jutting out which people can sit and sleep on, and they are "murphy'd" so you can pull them up or down to create more space. Our train was supposed to leave at 1255 PM and arrive at 130 AM. In reality, our train left at 1 and arrived at 7 30 AM. Our extremely uncomfortable ride was elongated another 6 hours. We though we were going to be on the train for 12 hours but it ended up being a grand total of 18 hours. 18 hours of sweating, with 8 people hanging from different places through out the cabin, 18 hours of smelling other people sweat, 18 hours of smelling backed up toilet systems, 18 hours of extremely uncomfortable bench seats. The whole experience was "safe" in terms of nobody really bothering us but I stayed up throughout the whole night to make sure our bags were safe. At night the floors and walls sparked with cockroaches, and the moonlight beamed in from the steels bars over the window area. When the train is moving it isn't that hot as the breeze comes in but the most annoying part, which led to our massive delays, was that the train just seemed to stop at random train stations for 1 hour here or a half our there for no rhyme or reason. We though it was to clear the track for other trains but no other trains came we just stopped and sweated it out in the train cart. At night my legs were getting bit like crazy with mosquitos and probably all the cockroaches roaming the floor. Anyways when 730 AM finally came around Lisa and I literally ran out of the train, vowing to never take the "Sleeper" class level train again in India.

This morning after no sleep at all last night we checked into our hotel room at 8 Am slept for 4 hours then hit the beach for the rest of the day. The beach here in Patnem/Palolem is amazing with tons of restaurants right on the beach displaying fresh seafood nightly, which we will partake in after we leave this internet cafe.

Overall life is very good here and we are looking forward to the next 7 days of beach life, then heading to Mumbai for 3 nights then off to China!

We miss everyone back at home and wish everyone the best overseas!

Goodbye and NAMASTE for now !

Rudy and Lisa

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Pics

We've made it to the beach! After 6 flights and 6 hours up and down a mountain in one week, we're on India's southwest coast along the Arabian Sea.

Check out our newest pictures:

Much love,

Rudy and Lisa