Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Travel Productivity Log

You are bound to change as a person when you travel, for good or for bad. You constantly learn, meet new people, learn about the kind of lives they lead, so different from yours, exchange perspectives, cultures, philosophy, experience things you never had.... and even if you are not making an effort to learn you are still constantly learning! You return feeling different, rich with all these experiences which shape you as a person. Reminds me of this quote from the movie Motorcycle Diaries which is about two friends biking through South America.

"Yo ya no soy yo. Por lo menos, no soy el mismo yo interior."
 "I am no longer who I was. At least, I’m no longer who I was inside." 
So apt huh? For me the 4 months in Colombia and a month in Ecuador were the most productive in a while.

Things I learnt in my four months in Colombia:

1. Spanish!
Yes! I learnt more than just basic Spanish in four month and no it was not as easy as I make it sound. When I first arrived to Colombia I did not know a word beyond Hola! I had only heard before about how living a language is the best way of learning a language; now I couldn't agree more. My first one month went by signing frantically to my host mother in the kitchen while towards the end I managed to write her a good bye note in Spanish which made her weep. I spent a big chunk of my time reading all three PDF volumes of Spanish for dummies on my phone initially, which did not help me at all! The key to learning a language is practicing it not studying it. And unknowingly my Frisbee team was the biggest help, since I spent 3 hours a day every day training with them for a month and none of them speak any English! I think I did not too bad compared to BENNY THE IRISH POLYGLOT  , doing just a month more. :)

Mi primera cancion en espanol:

2. Cooking Indian Food:
Yes I learnt how to cook Indian food outside India. I never really bothered to learn how to cook, while I was at home because cooking was never really my thing. So you can imagine the shock associated with an Indian girl at a marriageable age- not knowing how to cook! :O But when it came to representing my culture out side of India I had to step up. I was eating all this amazing food that my host family made for me all the time, so it came naturally to me to want them to have a taste of my cuisine. The biggest problem being the spices, was solved by my grandmother and aunt who sent all the basic Indian spices (and some goodies) all the way from Estados Unidos (the US) to Colombia! And thus began the saga of endless Skype calls to my mom in India at odd hours, with her directing me to cook, step by step, at times for 3 hours straight; coz Indian food can be quite a drag just like Hindi movies and Hindu weddings. My first time was fine, with my Parathas a little fatter and little harder than they were suppose to be, but soon I got really good and eventually I could just read a recipe of the net and make it perfectly. I don't know how I got so good at cooking Indian food but I was like a natural at it. And then I figured it was because my mom is an excellent cook! It came from the memory of watching her cook a zillion times and the way the house smelt of all the spices every time she cooked.
Anyway, by the end of the trip I learnt how to make Bngan ka Bharta, Chole Batura, Gajar ka halwa, Chicken Tikka Masala, Palo, Chaat, Kher, Rajma Chaaval, Saahi tukada, Gulaab Jaamun and my first attempt of Chicken Biryani and Butter chicken was as good at Pradise(This very famous iconic food chain in my city). If you have had enough of my boasting and don't believe me, maybe the pictures will help! :)

3. Salsa:
Man do Latinos know how to fiesta! I was never awesome at dancing. Especially pair dancing. After attending a couple of initial family gatherings and friends parties I understood what a big deal SALSA was down here. First of all, men don't dance in India. If you are out dancing in India, it is probably a girls night out and it usually involves men lecherously staring at you from the bar while you dance. Here in Colombia it is the men who lead in pair dance and its like everyone is born with the dancing gene! My initial embarrassment of having two left feet was soon overcome by personal dance lessons by a friend of my mine who is a pro dancer. By the end of a month's session's I gotta say I move like a natural when ever I hear the music!

4. Skateboarding: 
I always always always wanted a skateboard growing up but its not really a popular Indian kid sport. The first time I ever tried a skate board was in my first trip to the western world. I am a fast learner and have a knack of picking up things fast especially things involving physical activity. I believe if you are good at one sport you can pick up any other other sport much faster than an average person since you already have better developed hand eye coordination, fine motor skills and have a better understanding of the physics that goes into it. In my time in Colombia, I realized how big Skateboarding was since so many of my students were all over the place with the skate board and I thought it was the perfect time for me to pick it up again. After like a week's practice with a 15 year old sweetest kid teaching me how to do an Ollie; I FINALLY learn it!! (after don't ask how many falls!) So at 23 I finally satisfied my inner child. :) Your never too old to learn anything!

Skating boarding on a London sidewalk. 

5. Xbox - FIFA 2014: 
You can't be in south america an not follow football. Even if you are least interested in it, you can't help but be updated on who is playing against whom and whose match is it next, since there is no conversation in a day that goes without a mention of football. Living with a a host family with two boys has its own pluses. Not only do you get to accompany them to the foot ball field for a game occasionally when they are short of players; you also get to up your  Xbox skills because that's they do all day!! You know you are getting better when from 11-0 you finally manage to score a point against your host brother one fine day! That's when you should retire!

My host brother and I with the must-have Colombian football Jersey's 

6. Ultimate:
Colombia is world number #4 in ultimate ranking and I was lucky enough to get to play one tournament while I was there.  Right from training for it till actually playing at the tournament you get to see an exceptional level of the game! You are surrounded by such amazing players and for me it was all the more exciting to see all women teams! (Its hard to find female players playing ultimate in India) You see a phenomenal improvement in your own game level when you play with people better than you. Handling in an all girls team gave me the confidence that I much needed.

My first all girls Frisbee team

Things I learnt in Ecuador: 

7. Metal Smithing and Hand bands:
I've always been good with my hands an a fast learner. And being an eager learner makes me wanna learn everything! (Like literally everything I see!! which is not always a good thing) So I picked up metal smithing from a french man who was an excellent teacher. It basically involved turning thin wire into accessories using a cutting pliers. I believe its a wonderful way to express creativity, make personalized gifts for people and make use  of your time while travelling.

Hand bands are the next best way to make use of your time travelling and better still you get to sell them an make easy money. I think Ecuador has got to be my first connect with the hippie way of life with all the kind of people I met and the kind of things they did. My mom is a skeptic to see me embracing the hippie way of life but I feel its nice how in this digitized and mechanized world people still have the patience, time and energy to make hand made things and there are people who appreciate hand made things enough to buy it.  

Remember how I told you I am a fast learner? Theory proved. I learnt how to stand on a surf board on my very first session, on day one, the very first time I tried how to surf! :) So that's something right?

9. Guitar: 
Its impossible how amazing these guys are with the guitar in south america. Almost all of them know how to play one instrument or another. We would just break into live music sessions in the dining room while others cooked or group singing after dinner session. You do pick up an instrument faster with  friends than at any music classes. I definitely bettered my Guitar skills in just a month's time more than the whole time I've been playing the guitar in my life.

10. Working in Spanish: 
From reading an entire case study in Spanish about sustainable travel to doing door to door marketing of Eco tourism, my voluntary experience in Ecuador made me exercise my newly learnt Spanish skills. Not just that, I believe I learnt a great deal about marketing and understanding the Latin market.

So, I believe every kind of travel is productive whether you are an active learner or not. You always learn something, sometimes its measurable and others immeasurable. It has a profound effect on your life; mostly in a good way.  

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Working and Traveling

One of the very few things I admire about western way of life is the way they bring up their children to be independent and responsible. They are forced to make choices from a very young age, be it for what they want to wear to what they'd like to eat. As Indian kids we are too used to being spoon fed from our classrooms to every other aspect of our life; maybe that's why we stare at the menu for a little too long, to make the decision as to what we want to order, even as grown ups.

Having part time jobs as kids or growing up is one such western concept that I like. Out of all my Indian friends I have only ever known two friends who ever did that during college. Where as out of all my non-Indian-expat friends, almost all of them always have had super interesting stories to tell that started with, "This one summer when I was working as a lumber jack... " or "This one time I was waiting at a coffee shop, when.." Being a camp consular, painting houses, cutting grass for the neighbor, being a life guard at the pool one summer, being the basketball coach assistant or just a guest blog journalist. It doesn't matter if you are from a well off family an even if your parents can afford to buy you a car for your sweet 16, part time jobs are a norm. In India if you are working as a child it is probably out of compulsion or poverty. You see kids working at a Chai shop or cleaning boots on street side to add to their family's income. Child labor is punishable by law because it leads to exploitation children for cheap manual labor. In India its rare to see kids coming from the middle or upper class families doing jobs that have monetary out comes.

Why didn't I work at a Mc'donalds growing up and did unpaid volunteer work instead? As much as I wanted to, working as a teenager or in college is a rather new concept in India and as a society we do not encourage our children to work. Upper and middle class children are only encouraged to study hard and get a cushy job instead of doing trivial work which is considered demeaning. And if you are not able to get a job or pass out of college, you still have the option of living off your parents till you "grow up". Indian kids are just used to having their parents pay for their education and more often than not, even after bagging a job post education; be it for the apartment rent deposit or a few extra bucks for a foreign vacation. 

Part of the reason we underestimate our self worth is all the jobs we did as kids were unpaid and we did it as favors to the society, friends, family or a relative. Maybe that's why our system works on favors.The work will be done faster when you know someone who know's someone, and they'll do it for you as "a favor".

Part time jobs as kids teaches one a lot, such as the value of hard earned money, self reliance, gives them a sense of Independence and most of all teaches them dignity of labor. With Dignity of labor one learns that no work is big or small and that work itself is dignity. India does not understand much of this concept. This is seen by the way people doing menial jobs are treated at restaurants, public service laborers or even the way people treat their own maids.
One of the best parts about travel is the amazing people you meet who are doing really cool things in life. This was also my first introduction to the hippie way of working and travelling. I met tons of talented people earning bucks in innovative ways while travelling and practically eating their meals for free.

Cristi: She is just an amazing singer and her golden voice clubbed with her peppy guitar numbers make her a big hit! This one time I saw her make 40$ in an hour of singing, restaurant hopping.

Like Christi there are so many others! Almost everyone travels with an instrument. I'm doing my Euro trip with my Guitar for sure!

Ben: This French man not only has an entrepreneurial streak but is also an excellent teacher. He is an amazing metal smiths who initiated me into buying my own player and wire and I did not quite bad for my first time. The best part was to hear a french man and an Indian girl communicate in their newly learnt Spanish. 

My first earring :) 

This cute couple sold trinkets they made outta metal and thread and did a pretty neat job of it too! They were like the power couple of the hippie world!

The treasure chest:

A little something I learnt how to make:

Las Malabaristas(The Jugglers): If I had a penny for every juggler I met I'd have been the one eating my meals for free. For these guys their day starts at the semaphores and on a good day they can earn about 30$ in a 4 hour work period.

The little Bakers: Seriously? An 86% profit margin with the initial investment of  4$ for the raw material to make 30$ in one afternoon's work. The have some amazing marketing and aesthetic sense and always make their products look good. 

If money is the biggest criteria keeping you from travelling, here is the quick fix solution. So, go ahead and head out with your backpack and your guitar! 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Spell bound

If you can't decide between the beautiful blue water costs and trekking high mountains, Qilotova, Ecuador is the place for you. A giant blue-green water filled volcanic Crater 4500 masl, it has a 3 km wide caldera you can hike down to.

Once you are down there you can kayak, camp and even take a dip in the mineral rich freezing cold lake. Don't forget to take your bathing suit in case you want to do the craziest thing of your life!

It takes about 25 mins to hike down and about an hour exhausting hike up. There is an option of hiking back up on a mule back for 8$. But if you are an animal lover like me, then take it as a personal challenge and hike up. Trust me the feeling of achievement hiking back on foot is worth it! There are breathtaking views every step to keep you motivated to continue.

There are also a lot of hostels in the vicinity you can stay the night in case you want to wake up to a spectacular view every morning.      

You can't help but feel over powered by nature's beauty, at peace with yourself and humbled by everything around.

The fruit of a cactus.Tasted kind of sweet and mushy. If I had to compare it with another known fruit it would be combination of a passion fruit and custard apple as it has edible seeds like a passion fruit and the consistency of a custard apple

A traditional  Quechua mountain house, And the flag which resembles a gay pride flag is the state flag of the region and can be seen on almost all houses.

We were invited inside and it was really interesting to see how architecturally sound to fight the cold. There is a mud bundh all around made with a mixture of a lot of things including urine as an adhesive. The thatched roof  is water proof and the floor has hay all around with Guinea pigs every where. The whole family sleeps together in a row thus exchanging body heat to keep warm, along with the guinea pigs . The guinea pigs serve two purposes, help keep the house warmer and when the family is hungry they just take one, roast it and eat it. 

The kid trying his hand at photography and doing a good job of it too. :) Notice how pink the cheeks are. its the same for all mountain kids due to the cold and excessive sun burn.

The gang! :) A diverse mix thus making interestingly intense conversations about existence, religion, world politics, Life! 

The mini Andean Grand Canon. 

Can't really go wrong with any of these pictures with such a perfect background. 

You don't need a reason to post cute things. :) 

You meet the strangest people on your journeys. My favorite American, Ecuadorian Sai Baba Devotee whom I met on the other side of the world, with immense knowledge about the Indian culture made me want to re read through Indian mythology.