Saturday, April 14, 2012

Just a Delhi Slice..

We arrived in Delhi after 11pm - and I highly recommend this tactic.  The airport, which is surprisingly metropolitan and shiny, was reasonably quiet and the process of customs and their equivalent of immigrations went quickly.  From the number of lines that the have available and the amount of space allotted for 'queueing', I think that we definitely got off easy.

We had prearranged a hotel in the market area close to the train station, and they set up a pick up for us.  It was nice to have someone waiting for us with the little name placard - especially once we stepped out of the shiny airport and into the humid night air.  Taxi's seemed to be everywhere, and our driver very expertly herded us through multiple cab stands and haggling drivers.  His cab, however, was pure Delhi.  The thing was 50 years old if it was a day - sported quilted velvet and sparkle interior (he demonstrated the comfort of the seats with a firm hand and a huge smile).  His top speed was about 25mph, even on the expressway - but at least we passed the 3 wheel rickshaws (tuk tuks) and ox carts. 
The only thing missing was the fringe!
At one point, our driver stopped on the (very) narrow shoulder and without adieu got out of the car.  I worried briefly that he was going to abandon us for some sin we didn't even know we'd committed.  Luckily, he was only checking the tires - and even luckier, the were all still on.  I guess there was reason for doubt on that count.  He clasped his hands in prayer and we sped off.  Sort of.  He did offer us some of his wife's own chapti and chai, in a pail and thermos on the rear deck.  I think he was a bit sad that we didn't take him up on it - though he did get to 'accidentally' cop a feel on my knee, so I think he made out alright.

Our hotel was in what seemed at night to be a sketchy area.  But it was clean enough and we chose it more for convenience than for long-term comfort.  Our room was quiet and had the appropriate plumbing fixtures (and if you know India, you know what I mean), though it lacked a real window.  I suppose this helped with the quiet part.  The designers had installed a fishtank in each room, presumably to replace the window on some psychological level.  The fish in our tank resembled small sharks and moved constantly in an almost desperate pattern.  Hardly relaxing.   

Our 'window'
I have to say, though, that after 16 hours on planes and nearly 12 in airports, I barely noticed much other than the pillow.

The darkness in the room helped us to sleep until what seemed to be a decent hour.  India is exactly 12.5 hours off of Tucson time, so we knew that the whole sleep/wake thing might take some adjusting.  Although I woe up about a million times, I managed to stay horizontal until nearly 6am.  We had a nice Indian breakfast in the hotel dining area on the roof.   The roof was also evidently available for some sort of accommodations, and we woke a few of the gentlemen there with our poking about for photos.  Sorry, boys.
Sarah peruses the extensive breakfast menu

A delightful quiet space in the midst of Delhi
After breakfast we decided to brave the bazaar below.  With the sun, many of the shops had also literally come up, and the street was alive with vendors, ox carts, rickshaws and men porting about heavy loads on their heads.  It was a landscape where every square inch of space had something being bought, sold, made or taken apart.  I'd read about the Indian ingenuity and talent for handicraft - and it was everywhere right on the street.  I could write a whole book on the market and the hour or two we spent there...

Notice the scale the vendor is using to weigh the produce

Scenes like this were repeated throughout our trip - and made it VERY hard not to indulge in street food!

Makes me wanna do some cooking!

I don't know who I pitty more - the ox who has to pull this thing, or the man who had to load it.

This street side barber shop was a model of efficient use of space!
An excellent example of 'mixed use zoning' - retail on the street, workshop in the back, living quarters above.   Who needs stairways that just take up unnecessary room?  ;)

Sarah tries to cross at a typical busy intersection.  It's not that folks ignore traffic laws...there are no traffic laws.

Bicycles were the primary goods transporter on these tight streets...and they were very creative in how they loaded them.

One day I'll have to figure out the use of the these shiny metal boxes - they were sold everywhere!
We did encounter 2 gentlemen in succession who politely (in the Indian sense)  asked us where we were from and how long we'd be visiting their beautiful country.  The second man actually hung on for some time, stressing that he only wanted to practice his English and get some good tour-guide karma for when he made his visit to our country.  Although I continue to be suspicious of his motives even now, I must admit he was helpful and that in the end he just vanished on his own.  It's very possible he was just a genuinely happy man wanting these two American ladies to enjoy what he thought was the wrong bazaar for nice tourists like us.

We checked out of our room and made our way to the train station for the next leg of our trip...

Sarah sports our Trekker's Special Triple Bag Techique.  It made quite an impression on the Indians, I assure you!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Over the River, Across the Pond to New Delhi We Will Go

This isn't just my first trip to India - it's my first trans-Atlantic journey.  My Indian visa is the first real 'action' on my passport, not counting the stamp I insisted on getting at the 21km checkpoint in Mexico.  All the annoying customs and international red-tape that I so often hear people complain about was all new and exciting to me.  Ask again after my 10th trip, but so far I think it really isn't any worse than a bad day Christmas shopping to me.

Due to American Airlines paring down their schedule, our non-stop flight from Chicago to the Delhi was cancelled.  This change in schedule left us with a 6 hour layover in the windy city.  Long enough to learn intimately the halls and quirks of 'the world's busiest airport', but not nearly long enough to get a bite of what Chicago is all about.  Maybe next time. 

However, the Eastern European men who ran the chair massage booth between Terminals were actually quite skilled (if pricey).  If you're going to pay that kind of dough for a 25min. Shoulder rub, you want these burly though gentle masseurs who sing along to the 80's R&B CD and know exactly which muscles those airline seats cramp.
Chicago also employed more TSA agents than i ever thought possible.  They were like peanuts in a cheap trailmix, often outnumbering the passengers in the more remote passages.  I tell you, it makes ME feel so much safer (dripping sarcasm is so hard to write on a qwerty phone keyboard).

The planes we rode on for both long legs were the 'new' 777s.  At least, they're new to me.  They're so huge that it's hard to just keep walking down the aisles forever.  Someday I want to ride in the class where you get a sort of easy chair come cubicle, with a separate seat just for your feet and a small wall to separate you from your fellow insanely wealthy passengers.  Ironic that those who smell best stay the farthest apart.  I had to be content with my seat in the back in the same row as 10 others and count myself very fortunate to have ab empty next door so I didn't drool on anyone.
London went fast - it really was almost an hour to go from our arrival gate to the new terminal.  It seems that there is some sort of construction going on which has created some colossal inefficiencies.  Being England, however, everyone pretends not to notice.
Somehow its less frustrating to throw away your nearly full $4 bottle of water when the woman telling you to has such a delightful 'Northern' accent.

Alright, so that's about all I can do without major thumb cramping.  Stand by for early reports of Indian hospitality, the joys of the open air markets and important tips for tourists planning on train travel.

A hydroponics garden in the Chicago Airport - food and relaxation all in one.
My new travel companion/good luck charm. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Post 1 of the India Project

Of the fifteen million little things going through my head right now, the one that seems to dominate above all else is 'I have too much/too little stuff packed'.  Second is disappointment that I'm going to miss seeing my prickly pear cactus open its thousand blooms.

Not anxiety over whether or not I'm going to survive three weeks in a place so foreign to me that even the surface of the moon seems familiar...

Not, 'I'm going to desperately miss my husband, my four legged children, my mom, my brother, my home...'

Not, 'Typhoid and Malaria and Cholera, oh my...'

Nope.  My mind is perseverating on 'stuff' (in the strictly George Carlin sense of the word).  That and the bloom of a common, native plant that I will have access to for the next 50 years of its bloom cycle. 

To say the mind works in mysterious ways is a complete understatement.  

Just like saying 'boy, Wendy, that's a big duffel bag' is an understatement (did you know my spell checker does not know the word duffel?  Weird).

I suppose that the OCD level preoccupation with 'stuff' is probably just what some psychoanalyst might label as 'transference' or something.  None the less, I've spent an inordinate amount of time worried about the silliest thing like having the right watch, exactly the correct selection of underwear and sufficient rolls of biodegradable toilet paper and very little on what I'm actually DOING.  

For example:  I know now that there are a very limited number of watchmakers who actually sell a analog (face) watch with an alarm function, and NONE who sell it for less than $180.  I do not know where I want to stay in Gangtok, or even (really) how I'm going to get there from the train station in Siliguri.  Of course, from my computer at home it is easier to spend countless hours pouring over collections of obscenely ugly watches than it is to work out details of transportation in a city that is 13204km away (that's 8206mi for those of us who are not accustomed to metric).  

The Momentum Pathfinder Watch - Analog and alarm.
Who knew this would be such a revolution in this day and age?

So I suppose it's safe to say that I'm obsessing over what is easiest to obsess over and just putting the rest away until a later date.  I'm sure when I'm sitting at the hotel in Delhi, looking at my giant pile of crap, the only thing going through my mind will be something like 'what was I thinking leaving everything and everyone I've ever loved thousands of miles behind', rather than 'oh shit, I don't think I'm going to have enough toilet paper'.

But then again...hmmm.  I think I'll throw that extra roll in anyway.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Adventure on the Superstition Ridgeline - or - A funny thing happened on the way to the Peralta Trailhead

Angela and I had been talking about this hike for months.  It has a relatively short weather window when it isn't too cold and windy to enjoy the top or too hot an miserable to stand any of it.  As most hikers in the Sonoran region know, the calendar in February and March is generally insanely full as we try to get every last trail minute in before the heat kills our spirit.  As a result, it was a real battle to find just the right day for the trip, and even then we gained and lost participants faster than the turn around on a New York subway.  

In the end, we settled on March 12, a Monday, thinking that the ends of the trail would be less busy.  Of course, we forgot about Spring break...but still, it was better than high Saturday morning traffic!  It was going to be Angela and her hiking buddy Kat (who is something of a guru of the Superstitions type), Sam from the HAZ group (I'd never met, but reports were good) and myself.  Nice small group on one of the 'toughest hikes in Arizona'.  Oh yeah, baby, it's on!

I was planning to camp somewhere near the Carney Trailhead, though really it was just going to be sleeping in the back of the truck (on such a star-studded night!). Being as how I was solo and didn't want to make a fuss, I timed it so I'd get there right about 10:30 - in time to pull in and go to sleep. As I'm cookin' along the Peralta road, about 3 miles from the housing development, I saw a pair of eyes in the middle of the road. At first, I thought it might be a coyote, but it was immediately apparent that it was actually a domestic dog. There wasn't a car or person in sight, and as soon as I stopped, the dog ran up to my car. I gave a quick whistle to see if he was people friendly, and I guess he was because he jumped through my open passenger side window, into the car and straight into my lap. Between the whining and the licking of my face I figured he was happy to see me. I also realized that the dog was FULL of cactus spines (mouth, chest, paws), and that my lap was quickly also becoming full of said spines. I pushed him aside and he sat very politely, if still whimpering, in my passenger seat. 

At least I could tell that this was a very beloved pet - a pure-bred German Shorthair Pointer, probably about 10 months old, with a nice leather collar and a tag that read 'I'm Lost - please call xxx-xxx-xxxx'.   I immediately called the number on the tag, but only got a machine. I assumed that this was because the owners were probably looking for the dog somewhere in the desert. I sat on the side of the road for about 10 minutes, debating on what to do. Another car drove by and I flagged them down. I stuck my head out the window and explained the situation and asked if they knew where I could take him. The young man in the car was very confident that I should go to the police substation in Apache Junction and gave me very clear directions. So that's what I did. To make a long story short (I know, too late!), the police station was closed and dark, and after a series of phone calls to the City and the County, I was left with no where to go with a dog full of cactus after 11pm on a Sunday. The county folks actually said I should just release him - as if I would release this very sweet dog back into the dark desert! Not a chance! 

Finally, I got directed to a 24 hour Vet who said they'd take him in, take the cactus out and find the owner if they could. Their office was almost 20 minute drive from where I'd parked for the phone conference - so I used my handy-dandy smart phone GPS to get me there. The dog (whose name I later learned was Luke) was so sweet during the ride - he actually curled up in the seat and put his chin on my lap. (Yes the chin full of cactus). It took a little bit to clear everything up with the folks at the vet - they were very nice and reported that he even had a chip, so finding the owner should be easy. I asked them to call if anything went amiss and Luke disappeared behind the solid wood door.  Bye bye, cutie! 
Luke's owner, Ron, sent me this photo of Luke as a puppy.  Ron was very happy to have his pet returned to him - and I was glad that the story had a happy ending.  Gary was happy that I didn't have to bring the poor guy home ;)

By the time I got gas, found a restroom and cleaned the dog slobber off my hands and face, then got back to the Peralta Rd, it was nearly 1am and my cell phone was nearly dead (hell of a time to discover that the 12v charger in the car was broken). Kat would be picking me up in a little over 5 hours, and I still had a lot to do. I found a spot just past where I thought the TH might be. There were a number of other cars parked, so I assumed it would be a good camping spot, pulled just off the road and made up my bed. It took a while to come down off the high from all of that running around, but the sweet smell of creosote and the blanket of stars eventually lulled me to sleep.

The next morning, I was still bleary and disoriented. I drove by the trailhead, but didn't see Kat's car, so I wondered if I got the place wrong and kept driving around in circles. Later, Kat told pretty much the same story in reverse, that she was circling the trailheads in the area looking for me.  Unfortunately, in all that circling and looping, we never did meet up and Kat gave up, driving out to the start trailhead solo.  I was particularly concerned because my car was supposed to be left at Carney to shuttle us back when we were done with the hike. With my phone slowly winding down and the day quickly winding up, Anglea and I played call and answer for almost 25 minutes before we finally worked out where I would meet them and how the day would go. What chaos to begin a hard day!

Approaching the southern face of the Superstitions...a daunting facade!
By the time I was on the trail, Kat, Angela and Sam were already climbing the Flatiron and I was trying to push myself to hurry. There isn't much hurrying on Flatiron, though, and by the time I made the saddle, I was already feeling the hike.  And I still had 9 more miles to go!  Ak!

On the trail up Siphon Draw

The rest is a bit of a blur as we pressed through this amazing hike.  About a mile past the saddle, Kat got fed up with our pace and turned back.  (She urged us to do the same, but after all our effort and waiting, Angela and I were determined that we were gonna finish this thing!)  From there:

At the saddle, with the Flatiron looming ahead.  With time pressing, there wasn't a chance to hike out to that point - save it for next time!

Angela trying to be a fast shutterbug on one of the flatter portions of the trail.  Weaver's Needle is visible just above her head.

Looking back at where we started...It doesn't look like a very hikeable area! 

Along the rocky spine
The final peak along the Ridge - and though we really hoped otherwise, we had to go VERY close to the top!

Angela and Sam climb the tricky section just below the peak - hey, it's a cakewalk!

We hit the Carney Trail junction just as the light was giving this time, we were tired and hungry, it was getting cool and I had a butt full of prickly pear.  THAT's how you know you've had a good adventure!

We did it!  We don't need no stinkin' tourguides!  
Okay, so taxi drivers, sure, but we're good on the tour ;)
Thanks Jack!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Few Great Wendys Have Come In...

As I prepare for my own incredible adventure in India, I can't help but be inspired by my friends... For those of you who haven't already caught on to the craze - check out the history of 'the Wendy' at my other blog: (my plan is to merge the two blogs into one, amazing, mind blowing blogging experience! moa ha ha)

Tiffani in Hawaii...hey, wait, I thought you weren't supposed to take those rental Jeeps off the pavement???

Elizabeth in Costa Rica - Celebrate the tropical paradise!

Tiffani's dad and nephew hiking out to Grotto Falls...

Tiffani's man and his new best friend

Brian (Vaporman) in Zigzag Canyon

Angela, Sam and I at the end of a very LONG day of hiking on the Superstition Ridgeline.  We may be tired and stinky, but we feel GOOD (thanks to Jack!)

Brian summits Humphreys in winter.  Boo yah!

Sirena and Bill nearly to the top of Elephant Head...  Yup, this is January in Arizona!

Eric up on Buzzards Roost

Jack, Angela and John throw it on top of a slide on the Lost Goldmine 

Angela's turn with the camera (shocking I know) with Ambika and Jack joining in

The birds do it, the bees do it, even the prehistoric rock art animals do it! (from Coanbru)

This is Wendi throwing a Wendy!  Represent!

Jack rides the cave wave and shows he knows how it goes!

I love it when I get 'accidental' Wendys - people who have no idea what they're doing, they just do what comes naturally when they feel great!  This is bikeandhike on the summit of Peak 6496 near Pima Saddle.

And finally, for our growing 'plant Wendy' category...this winner from the saguaro group.  Sometimes, just surviving is reason enough to celebrate!