Tuesday, November 2, 2010


“Kindness to strangers creates a benevolent world. Be especially considerate of those less fortunate.” -Marvel Harrison

October 22, 2010
Pulling into Chennai was a completely different experience than any other port so far. You could smell India a mile before we even entered the harbor, it was overpowering and we were definitely in India. Another first was the massive trouble getting everyone through customs. Everyone was required for “face to face” inspection with the customs officers and every student was required to carry their passports around the entire stay in India. This hadn’t happened before and I was worried about having to carry my passport around India for a week. 5 hours after we went through customs we were actually allowed to disembark. Damien, Shannon, and I put our game faces on and prepared to haggle our way to the city center. 1.5 hours later we were successfully in the center and eating at one fabulous Indian Restaurant. SPICY SPICY SPICY food later we were heading to the Pondy Bazaar, which was really amazing. The streets were filled with little stands that had everything from puma tracksuits to shower curtains; it was a riot and provided us with entertainment for hours. After a few hours at the Pondy Bazaar we went to another market but didn’t spend much time there before we were all bartered out. The group of us, which now turned to six decided to wander around a bit, and we found ourselves in the middle of 200 schoolboys. We made the mistake of pulling out our cameras, which resulted in riot number 1 of the day. The boys were literally throwing each other in front of buses and rickshaws to take pictures with us. 20 minutes later after 100 pictures and a lot of new friends later it was time to head out. Not even 20 meters down the road…we encounter riot number 2 which was another school but this time with smaller kids, after a few close calls with children being thrown into buses we figured it was time to go on an adventure. After we found a rickshaw driver that agreed to take 6 of us in one ( a little 3 wheeled car meant for 3) we were off to a temple on the beach. When we arrived, it did not look at all like the picture in the guidebook but that didn’t discourage us from going in an exploring. We went through the entire temple with the locals, which was an experience. One of the boys I was with for the day really wanted prayer flags so we took a rickshaw to a temple that was near to the beach. But 5 short minutes later there were no prayer flags and the mosquitoes were beginning to attack as seeing as the sun had just set. We found a rickshaw that would take 6 of us and we began on a 30 minute adventure to the port. The traffic was insane and there were many times that we almost ran into a bus. The driver dropped us off at the wrong port gate so we had to walk for about 10 minutes to enter our gate and we walked through what was basically an outdoors best buy. There were thousands of DVDs, electronics, and flat screen TVs . Ten minutes later we were back in familiar territory and boarding the ship for the night. The heat had taken so much out of us for the day it was only 730 and everyone was ready to fall asleep.

October 23, 2010
The next morning we got a bit of a late start but we were heading out of Chennai and to a smaller town south of the big city. After haggling for a taxi to the town called Mamallaprum we were on our way for two hectic hours in Indian traffic. When we arrived we figured out where the Butter Ball is and made our way there. Along the way we saw dozens of cows. Our first little pit stop before reaching the Butter Ball was a little pond that had a Buddhist shrine in the center with thousands of lily pads and was filled with holy water. There we met a young man who showed us around this little town. The first stop on our little tour was a group of carvings in a rock that had elephants, women, children, and snakes. This spot used to be a place where the people would pray for the Ganges or the rain to come. Directly to the right of these carvings was the Butter Ball which, is a huge boulder that is titled slightly without any human intervention it stays put. It is amazing and is another location that is used for prayer. Inside the gates of the park where the Butter Ball is located are temples and in most of these temples is karma sutra, it is a riot and apparently after a couple is newly married they go to these temples for inspiration on their first night as a married couple. After walking around the park for an hour or so we figured it was time to find our taxi driver. Along the way we encountered dozens of people who wanted to shake our hands. We picked up a few souvenirs prayer beads, post cards, new friends. Soon enough we were in the taxi heading back to Chennai. Once we got back into Chennai we passed the non-touristy part of the beach and it was filled with shacks. This time the shacks were way worse than anything I saw in Ghana or Cape Town these shacks were just a tarp or sometimes only a sheet held up by sticks, it was terrible and there were hundreds of them. Only minutes later we were pulling into our gate and away from all the poverty that was right next to our perfect little home on the water.

October 24, 2010
The next day a small group of us went out to explore a different part of Chennai we started out at Spencer plaza which was interesting, sort of a mall but with markets inside of it. It was interesting and we spent a few hours weaving in and out of the stores and stalls. Everyone kept asking if we were from the MV Explorer and some shops even had signs that’s said special discount for the MV. After a few hours at the plaza we jumped into a rickshaw to go see a real Indian Department store. When we arrived at Pothys, it was intimidating. 7 floors, thousands of people, it was nearly impossible to even move. BUT it was beautiful thousands of saris lined the walls in every color imaginable. We pushed our way down to the shawl section to do some shopping. 2 hours later…we make our way up to other floors just to be part of the madness. The stairs were so full that you had to just shuffle with the crowd: there was no other way. Somewhere around the sixth floor a group of children started shaking our hands and taking our pictures and asking our names. It was amazing and they were so friendly. To actual pay at Pothys was an adventure. You would take your things to one guy who would put a sticker with the price tag on your items then to another who would write you up a receipt, THEN to another who would take your money and give you change THENNNN to another who would package your items ( into 3 different bags ) and give you your purchases. It was defiantly a process and MOST defiantly a way they employ people Eventually we had, had enough of the madness and figured it was almost time to head back to the ship. We stopped along the way to get henna done. I had both of my hands done completely so that they were fully designed with flowers. It was a task to get back in a crowded city with wet hands that took an hour to dry. But I managed and one hour later my hands had safely dried into a beautiful pattern. Since the heat in India is so hot, we figured we would take a few hours rest before returning out of a night out on the town. Around 9 pm a big group of people decided to go out for the opening night of The Robot (PLEASE WATCH THE TRAILER ON YOUTUBE) which was tollywood not bollywood. It cost us roughly 2 dollars for the expensive seats in the theatre; the cheap seats were about 15 cents a ticket. (The movie which lasted well over 3 hours was hilarious we spent 90 percent of the time cracking up because the actors would randomly break out in song but it was pretty amazing and defiantly an experience worth living. After what seemed like an amazing night at the theatre we left for a little journey to the pier half way back I got angry and it wasn’t at anyone at in particular it was that there was THOUSANDS of people sleeping on the concrete some had little rugs others just their bare bodies. It was horrible and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing that with my own eyes. The worst part about semester at sea ( I cant believe I am saying that ) is that you see poverty on so many levels and you feel so helpless. Yeah, I saw those people, I knew that it was a problem, but what can I do about it? Nothing, at least not right now but I hope in the future.

October 25, 2010
The next morning was an extremely early start after getting back in the early morning for the movie. We were heading to Pondicherry, which in the times of colonization was the only place the French had occupied in India. It was quite the adventure to get there. We started out walking in hopes of getting a taxi but after 30 minutes we figured we would try our luck at the public transportation of India. We got to the bus station that would take us to the main bus station the CMBT (Chennai mass bus transport?) Once we got to CMBT it was easy. I asked the police officer which bus would take us to Pondicherry and he asked if we wanted air condition. A stop at the snack stand and 2 whole dollars later we were on a very spacious air-conditioned bus to Pondicherry. It took us about 4 hours to do what would have taken us 2 hours in a taxi but it was cheap and comfortable. When we arrived to Pondicherry it appeared to be just as hectic and crazy and Chennai but after a short rickshaw drive to our hotel we realized it was much different. It was such a peaceful little town on the sea and immediately it was very relaxing. After getting acquainted with our new home for a few days we figured we would go to Hotel Sagura, which actually isn’t a Hotel but a restaurant for dinner. We sat down, ordered whatever we recognized and waited. A girl behind us asked us a question that we couldn’t answer but before we knew it we were sharing a table and we had met our new Indian friend. Her name is Nupur and she is from a state near Goa, she was in Pondicherry on vacation for a week and knew the town very well. One thing I learned is Indians are very hospitable and before we knew it we had plans to meet up with her for coffee later tonight and again tomorrow so she would show us around the ashram area. Nupur also showed us what to order on the menu, because she though we were crazy for just eating garlic naan. After dinner we dropped Shannon off at the hotel and Loryn and I went to Le Café to meet up with Nupur. Over coffee and Ice cream we learned some fabulous things about her, she is fashion photographer and only 23!! But our time at Le Café was cut short, and abruptly because a tsunami and hit Indonesia so they cleared out the waterfront of Pondicherry. We parted ways from Nupur but would be meeting up with her tomorrow for breakfast and for her to show us around Pondicherry.

October 26, 2010
It was our last full day in India and we were up really early to begin. We met up with Nuper for breakfast at Hotel Sagura. After some very interesting and spicy traditional things, I did not love Indian food as much as I wanted to. We quickly began to explore this little town. The entire area is part of the Ashram and most of the shops are sponsored by it to employ the people of Pondicherry. We began navigating our way around the little streets, which resembled some of the quieter neighborhoods in Paris. It was so relaxing and amazing to be with someone who knew where they were going. We did a bit of shopping and lots of photographing before we had to say goodbye to Nupur who was leaving to go back home later that day. We made our way to the Ashram paper factory but stopped many times along the way. First at this little store that sold postcards, which were a must, and then at this little roadside market where I got a little traveling Buddha which will hopefully give me luck for the rest of my life as a traveler. But when we finally arrived at the paper factory it was closed for a lunch break. We decided to walk back towards the center along the water and grab a quick lunch and le café. After lunch we stopped at a bookstore, which was the most random collection of books, we moved on to the paper factory that had finally opened. When we finally arrived it was amazing dozens of rooms filled with hand made paper. After many purchases later we continued on with our walk around the ashram area and finally the heat just claimed us and we went back to our hotel. We were completely exhausted and called it an early night in our quite little town of Pondicherry.

What an amazingly beautiful crazy country. The heat, the people, the traffic all of it was INTENSE but there wasn’t one minute that I didn’t soak up the amazing country. The poverty though, that was something I have never experienced to that level before and it just made me sad, and mad that I couldn’t do anything to help. I cant wait to return though, I only saw the south of this complex country and can’t wait to see the north which I heard is just as crazy and just as beautiful.

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