Bangalore and Our Farewell to Asia
Our last stop in India, Bangalore, is faster paced than Kochi. Cows still graze the sidewalks, but in Bangalore they do so in front of Starbucks and McDonalds. Women wearing jeans and shorts (very rare in Kerala), craft breweries and fancy malls contribute to the more Western feel.
Our apartment, a fifth floor “penthouse”, looked out over the neighborhood of Cox Town. Unfortunately the air is so polluted that if the windows are left open a fine layer of dust covers every surface within a day. The background noise never ends: cars honking 24 hours a day, early morning and evening calls to prayer from mosques, and daily fireworks after dark. One night a wedding celebration with a full band went down the street at 10pm. I wish I could say we liked Bangalore as much as Kochi, but both Sarah and I preferred the more laid-back feel of Kerala state. However, we did love the energy and chaos of big-city India, and it was really neat to be able to experience these two different cities and the different energies and experiences they had to offer.
By the time we arrived in Bangalore we felt like India experts. We were already used to the daily power outages and by now had figured out Swiggy, an app to order food via scooter, which makes life so sweet because we can stay inside and pretend we aren’t traveling.
Well, this marks the end of our trip! To our wonderful readers and commenters, thank you so much for staying connected to our adventures and helping us feel connected to the larger world as well! We really hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures as much as we enjoyed taking photos and writing posts knowing we could share them with our loved ones back home.
Sarah and I are now in the process of settling down in Victoria, BC. Please drop by if you’re ever in town.
We will see how long the reverse culture shock lasts, but it feels good to be back ‘home’ and settling down……..there were so many amazing experiences abroad, but there are so many pros to being in one community that we are very excited to explore…….
And lastly, Sarah has started an eating disorder recovery coaching business, which was one of the key reasons we decided to come back when we did. The website can be found at: radiancerecovered.com.
Until our next un-mooring!
Thank you so much for staying connected with us.
~ John and Sarah
Two Days in Munnar
Traveling in India for us generally involved showing up at a bus station and asking locals which bus to get on as there was rarely English signage, and that is how we arrived in Munnar, a town on the eastern border of Kerala near Tamil Nadu.
We started our five-hour bus ride in Kochi, which was already jammed up with cars by 9am. After one minor fender bender (the drivers checked it out, determined no foul) we exited Kochi city. Now on the open road we travelled through countless small towns, spending about half the ride in the oncoming lane as we passed other busses, semi trucks, rickshaws and everything in between. Driving faster than I would in a sports car we began the climb to Munnar, which lies at 5,000 feet. Shortly thereafter we pulled into a bus station for a quick pit stop: a mechanic ran out with a wrench, screwed something back on in the vicinity of the front driver’s side wheel, and gave us a thumbs up. Confident as ever, we continued on our journey. Through the jungle canopy and up the mountainous terrain, Sarah and I maintained a death grip on the bus hand rails. Every turn on impossibly narrow mountain roads seeming like it may be our last, we passed a gasoline truck around a corner in the oncoming lane at about 60 km/hr. The lack of guardrails encouraged us to enjoy the pristine views of jungle waiting below. Later on we hit a traffic jam on the mountain road. After a few minutes we discovered the cause: policemen were winching a wrecked car from the forest below, from over the side of the narrow road. All windows were smashed and scorched, it must not have fared well for the passengers. Our spirits lifted, we continued on our merry way, Sarah begging me to get off the bus with her and somehow summon an Uber from halfway through the mountains. At a hairpin turn overlooking the beautiful Munnar tea plantations, we stopped to navigate around another bus traveling in the opposite direction. A few minutes and a few scratch marks later our driver solved the geometry problem and the bus continued. I enjoyed the ride, it was pure adrenaline, like staring into the face of death and wondering if it will look back…Sarah did not.
It was all worth it. Munnar, famous for its tea plantations, offered a refreshing mountain escape. One night and a scenic tour later we headed back to Kochi, this time in an air conditioned and boring bus.
First Weeks in India: Kerala
We flew to Kochi, the largest urban centre in the state of Kerala with a population of 2.1 million, from South Korea. India is unlike anywhere we have travelled so far on this trip, completely chaotic and full of life. Here we have sensory overload but in a very different way from South Korea. Stunning jungle plant life, endless honking, the smell of Indian spices and burning trash – here you get it all. Getting around is easy because most signs are in English and Uber is cheap as long as you have a local SIM card, which we do – 3GB per day for $7/month. And the food, absolutely perfect, is our favourite so far. A feast for two can be enjoyed for about $4 and Kerala’s quasi-alcohol prohibition reduces the health impact of my no-exercise regime.
After a couple weeks we started to adjust to the traffic, which makes Vietnam look orderly. Here, busses compete with cars, compete with rickshaws, compete with pushcarts, compete with cows for precious street real estate – not leaving much room for pedestrians.
The locals seem laid back and extremely warm and friendly. The four women operating our local grocery market greet us with warm smiles, curiosity and giggles every time we go shopping. A fellow driving by on his moped invited us to dinner at his home, our Airbnb host treated us to dinner, and most people seem genuinely interested in who we are and where we come from. We met many people, from Uber drivers to fellow bus passengers, that spent time working in the Middle East to send their families money.
Our neighbourhood was actually much poorer than we expected given what we had read about Kerala having the highest literacy rate, Human Development Index, and life expectancy in India. Our high rise apartment (take a left at the coffin store off Golden Street) along the beautiful backwaters stuck out like a sore thumb among the huts and bungalows. Watching the nightly trash burning and neighbours collecting water from the communal tap drove home the conveniences we take for granted in the West. Our ninth floor balconies were perfectly situated for watching the daily lightning storms and beautiful sunsets and, after the sun sets completely, fireworks in the distance. Local children take full advantage of the afternoon downpours, playing soccer in the streets and swimming in the backwaters, screaming and shouting at every thunderclap. It was a wonderful, colourful, friendly and delicious introduction to seven weeks in India.
We spent a week in the heart of Korea, Seoul, and saw only a fraction of what the city has to offer. So much energy, so much excitement and so much Kakao Friends! From the fluffy animals that take after mobile app characters to the endless phone cases, Seoul felt like the cell phone center of the world.
We arrived by bus and were greeted with endless apartment complexes in the Seoul periphery. I believe many are owned by the Chaebol, family-owned Korean conglomerates such as LG and Samsung. Our weeklong trip took us to the famous Gangnam neighborhood, the well-off and Hagwon-crammed neighborhood with endless shopping. We enjoyed tasty beverages in architecturally-impressive cafes that used to be warehouses, paid to play legos for three hours and lounged in swank bars after dinner. No lack of entertainment in this 24 hour city, which, may I add, has a mall with an integrated library-probably the hippest library I’ve ever seen, photos are below.
Daegu: A Few More Things
Korea is a mixture of all the countries we’ve been to in some ways, especially feeling like a blend of Japan and China, but maybe that’s just because we’ve been to both so recently. But it felt like it had a lot of the modernity and trendiness of Japan, mixed with more of the less-developed feel of China and more of the up-front authenticity of the Chinese people. We really enjoyed the vibe and energy here.
Apparently privacy is a big deal in South Korea. All cars have tinted windows. Most buildings, too. We even noticed on television all passersby faces are blurred out. And neatest of all, the monorail train windows turn opaque when passing close to apartment buildings! Not sure what led to this.
Our Airbnb host
Our host was the nicest Korean lady and we will miss her very much. She brought us clean towels almost daily, homemade meals at least once a week, and even invited us for dinner to her apartment above ours. Twice she drove us around the city in her smart electric Hyundai. Perfect way to experience Daegu.
Kakao is the number one messaging app in South Korea and boy is it popular here. There are little characters from the app and they are fully monetized just like Disney characters in the West. We saw a Kakao Friends shop with everything from Kakao stationary to teddy bears and toiletries all based on the emoticons from the app.
I often went to a Dunkin’ Donuts near a hospital (one of the few places with coffee that opens before 10AM) and all the other customers had IV’s attached. A favorite cafe of ours is also near a hospital, and many of the customers had IV’s attached. We saw an IV hanging from the mirror of a pickup truck. Not sure exactly what’s going on, but apparently some Koreans use glucose IV’s when they need a pick-me-up.