Saturday, June 25, 2011

Now I'm going to India, for serious.

I booked a ticket. August 30 at 3pm I leave Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. September 1 at about midnight o'clock I land in Delhi. Slight shiver!

On another note, frequent flyer miles are a pretty weird shadow currency. Usually if you're going within the US (and if you find a "saver" ticket) you can get a round trip for 25000 miles. (I'm using continental for the examples here.) The same flight would cost you maybe $250, so 1 mile = 1 cent. But on this flight, it's an international one-way, which are rather expensive, so it would have cost me $800+. But using miles, it cost me just 40,000 miles. So each mile was worth about 2 cents.

(again, this is not quite accurate either; I'd rather have the $800 than the 40k miles, because rather few flights are bookable with miles. Still, not many currencies fluctuate by 100%!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm American, we buy stuff, right?

Naturally, one can't go on a long trip without buying a bunch of stuff. Here are some problems I've had, and the ways I've attempted to solve them by Buying Stuff.
Warning 1: I'm not endorsing any of this stuff; I haven't tried it yet. I'll let you know how it flies in Kazakhstan.
Warning 2: suuuper whiteness ahead.

I want a pair that will be comfortable anywhere: hot places, cold places, hiking trails, and cities. And ideally I wouldn't look too North-Faced-out. Hiking shoes are out because they're heavy and miserable in hot places; regular sneakers or street shoes get wet and make your feet hurt after a while; fancy shoes don't do well outside cities. (I don't want to look too businessman either.)
Solution: Vivo Barefoot Miles M. I'm in with this whole barefoot fad/truth, so I'll let my feet adapt to thin shoes rather than lock them in heavy hiking boots. Plus, they're water resistant, and they look nice.

I have to bring sandals, right? I mean, South India? Socks are the worst. But I don't want to lug my clunky Chacos. Also, I'll be adapted to barefootness. (seriously, look up barefoot running; I won't argue about it here, but I'm moderately convinced.)
Solution: Luna Sandals. These huarache-style sandals are 6mm thick, weigh about nothing, and are kind of fun to wear.

I don't want to get rained on, but I don't want to bring a big heavy jacket.
Solution: Montane "marathon" jacket. It literally stuffs into the size of an apple. It is literally just a windbreaker, so no warmth, but I'll deal with that otherwise.

Hoo boy, this is a can of worms. You can't just drink the water in India (among others). If you're going for a short time, you can buy bottled water. But if I were to drink(/teethbrush/etc) 2L/day for a year, that's over 700L of water, which would be probably 500-1400 little bottles. And it's about more than carbon footprint (he says, flying across the world); I'm going to some pretty tourist-ravaged places (e.g. Nepal) and I don't want to throw any more bottles into a big Nepali pile than I have to.

But naturally, you can't just walk into REI and buy a filter! First, you have to decide whether you want to be protected from bacteria and big stuff (for which you just need a filter) or bacteria, big stuff, and viruses (for which you need chemicals or a purifier). I think that I need virus protection; the only guideline I've heard on that is that there are viruses in the water in poor countries, and generally not in the US.

So what's in the market? There are camping-style filter/purifiers, which are big and require pumping, which I cannot do at a table. Some of the filters have a nice bottley form factor (I figure I'll be carrying a water bottle anyway, so no extra space there); you just put water in there and drink out of them. Most of the bottley ones are just filters, although there's this Katadyn purifier, but that only lasts for 100L, and I don't bank on finding replacement cartridges.

I was going to get a Steripen. It's a little UV light which you stick in your bottle and stir, and it kills all the viruses and bacteria and everything. The obvious downside is that it requires batteries, and the batteries only last for 100L tops, so I'd need to bring rechargeables (standard alkaline batteries don't work), and a charger, and then deal with finding a plug adapter for the charger... ugh! Plus, if the REI reviews are right, they're not super reliable.

But then I found the Drinksafe Eco: a purifier in a bottle that lasts for 1600L! Guess that UK technology hasn't percolated over here? Well, whatever: I've got one shipping to me as we speak. Excited about this.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A headline for this whole shebang. Three headlines.

I've been treating this trip as if it had two parts: India, and the later stuff. But really, there are three. And thinking about it like this helps me answer the (somewhat common) question of "why?"- either "why this trip?" or "why these specific places?"

Here's what I want out of the trip: India, Fun, and the Unknown.

First, India. (and Nepal and Bhutan.) September to December. I want to soak up the culture, because India is The Most of Everything. The most amazing mountains. Sickly sweet chai, mattar paneer, dosas. Ramayana and Bollywood. I want to meditate and yoga and learn about Buddhism (and Hinduism) from the source.

Second, Fun. Visiting friends in south India and Indonesia. Hanging out with my family in Australia. Straight-up touristing in Iran, hanging out in Turkey (motorbiking?) enjoying underground cities and falafel, and some kind of touristing through Bulgaria and Romania. Maybe I'll pause for a month somewhere here or something.

Third, the Unknown. Ukraine and whichever of the Stans I can manage to get to. This is the exploring, the adventuring, the part where I come back with some knowledge that's four degrees away from regular life. I haven't thought about this as much; it's a ways off. I don't know how someone finds "the unknown", either, but it feels like it'd be easier to find there than almost anywhere else.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thoughts about walking a lot

I recently came across descriptions of Patrick Leigh Fermor like this, and also The Longest Way. And I was reading a short story about a guy crossing India by bike. Something very appealing about these fellows. Their trips were just "I am going to walk from point A to point B." A couple ideas stood out to me about a a trip like that:

- you don't worry about the small stuff. You worry about "can I find something to eat tonight?", "can I sleep somewhere tonight?", and "can I make it to tonight without dying or getting lost in the desert?"
- you meet a million of the places you wouldn't have otherwise seen, and that nobody else you'll ever talk to has seen
- you sort of "earn" your way to each place. People they meet had respect for them, like instant-friends respect, because they're walking/biking! That is crazy! White people travel in airplanes, they don't walk or bike!

I don't think I'll change my trip to a "walk across India" trip. But I will keep their ideas fermenting in the back of my mind and see what happens.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

India plan, and packing continued.

Here's a rough version of what I'm thinking for India:

Sep. 1-15: Ladakh. Start out in Leh, perhaps do a homestay for a couple days, and there's a meditation center around there that I think is having a 3-day or so retreat while I'm there.

Sep. 15-22: Head back South via Jammu and Kashmir. Mostly passing through. Kashmir is a rather dreamy name, but I don't know what to do or where to go there.

Sep. 22-29: Punjab. See Amritsar and the Golden Temple for sure, and spend at least a day in Chandigarh.

Sep. 29-Oct. 26: Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Visit McLeod Ganj. HH will be there Oct 1-4 and 24-26! Visit some Hindu pilgrimage sites; I understand the Char Dham are in Uttarakhand. Sounds interesting? Also, Rishikesh. Finally, Oct. 26 is Diwali.

Oct. 26-Nov. 14: Nepal. I have no idea what I'll do there.

Nov. 14-18: Bhutan. I know exactly what I'll do there.

Nov. 18-25: Sikkim? This is also not very well thought out.

Nov. 25-Dec. 9: Delhi and around, meet up with some friends, relax a bit, and head south. Perhaps stop in Bangalore for a couple days; I'm interested to see what India's tech capital looks like.

Dec. 9-31: South India. Coimbatore, meeting another friend (hint: it is Ram), and then hang around Tamil Nadu or something? Kerala? It'll figure itself out.

Okay, now I will list the current list of things I will be bringing, because that's what I've been thinking about the most. Comments are welcome.
- passport, international drivers license (with motorcycle permit!), US drivers license, ISIC
- 4 shirt layers: red techy t-shirt, long underwear shirt, button down shirt, warm sweater
- 2 pants layers: long underwear pants and REI light hiking pants
- gym shorts for sleeping, or perhaps a lungi. I've heard these are very useful.
- 2 underwears
- windbreaker ("marathon jacket"- it's something stupid like 3oz, size of an apple.)
- 2 pairs of socks - Tekol is the brand I've liked the most
- earplugs
- phone (it's a camera, notepad, etc.), headphones, and usb cord
- kindle (same USB as my phone; woo)
- computer: need to buy this still. Looking at a 10" 3lbs netbook.
- toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, glasses/case, contacts/solution, floss
- medicine: allergy medicine, malaria pills
- shoes- I have some Vivo Barefoot shoes coming in the mail. Hopefully these will be good for walking a lot.
- sandals? my Chacos? they are not light. Anyone tried these?
- backpack: which? I will figure this out after I see how big everything is.
- gifts from Seattle for hosts/friends: what? ideally something small and light, but still nice. Maybe someone sells nice little Space Needle statues.
- and one bottle of Armani Code Black perfume, for my Bhutanese tour guide. His request. 's all good, I guess.