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The Maiden Voyage

I spent Christmas Eve at the Pakistan Embassy and Christmas day alone but happy in my guesthouse back in Delhi.  I had something for dinner that didn’t have curry in it…that was as close to home as I was going to feel.  I had just gotten back from a great adventure.  Here is a peek of what I have been up to in the last 5 weeks:

Click on mp to be open it in Google Maps.

Click on mp to be open it in Google Maps.

I found Bala, my motorcycle

We completed our maiden voyage, 1250 miles (2000 kilometers) in about three and a half weeks through the Himalayan foothills

For hundreds of miles I drove on roads like this:

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And this:

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It was amazing

I spent Diwali, one of the biggest Hindu holidays, with my friends at their family’s home in Delhi.  I almost blew my finger off with a firecracker

In my journal I came across a message written in handwriting other than my own that said “Check out Bedřich Smetana” So I did.  Turns out he was an 18th century Czech composer.  I instantly fell in love with his music.  That journal has been with me in 3 continents and 10 countries.  I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote that.

With the help of my mechanic(al engineer) Rahul, I put a new head cylinder and piston in Bala.  It was the beginning of my lessons in motorcycle mechanics

Looking across a valley from the foothills of the mountains I watched this sunset:

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Three hours later this was the new view from the same place:

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I learned to ride a motorcycle with the brake on the opposite side from what I’m used to AND with the gears in reverse order AND on the opposite side they normally are, I did this at the same time as I had to get used to driving on the left side of the road…And I did ALL of this while driving in crazy New Delhi traffic.  I survived

I learned the proper way to make Indian chai tea

Carmen, getting a lesson in making chapati

Carmen, getting a lesson in making chapati

I acquired a travel partner, Carmen, who joined me and Bala for 500 miles, I will be lucky to find more like her along the way.  Never complained, lots of smiles, top-notch navigator, and with a healthy appetite for life, rice and dahl

I was invited to a traditional wedding in a tiny mountain village of a few hundred people.  The bride and groom sat decked-out in colorful traditional clothes in two throne-like chairs without cracking a smile while everyone in the village took their picture standing behind them.  Carmen and I were treated as the guests of honor and took almost as many pictures with the locals as the bride and groom

Bala got two flat tires within an hour

Flat tire #2 in less than an hour

Flat tire #2 in less than an hour

I created a fundraising campaign for charities, people who contribute get a postcard from me from somewhere in my travels.  PLEASE consider donating or at least share the link on your Facebook page.  It only takes one minute.  Here is the link: http://www.crowdrise.com/thescenicroutetospain

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I met a couple Pradeep and Rubina, who started a Christian school in a small village on top of a mountain overlooking snowcapped Himalayan peaks and a beautiful lake.  They became dear friends and spent several days showering me and Carmen with hospitality

Two days and 200 kilometers after leaving Pradeep I met his cousin who happens to be a mechanic and helped me fix a problem with Bala

One week and 500 kilometers after meeting Pradeep’s cousin, I stayed with his mother at her home near the Pakistan border.  I discovered where Pradeep learned to be so kind and hospitable

One day and 1oo kilometers after meeting Pradeep’s mom, I had breakfast with his sister Jyoti, a nurse at a Christian hospital

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I saw a bunch of Indian military guys with ridiculous mustaches and outfits parade around in an absurd spectacle cheered on by thousands of flag waving people at the Pakistan border…the same thing was going on the other side of the border.  This happens EVERY SINGLE DAY

I drove across the sacred Ganges river in Rishikesh

I spent a few days climbing in the Himalayas…only made it up to about 4,300 meters (14,100 feet)…just a taste of what I’ll see in Nepal

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I watched for days women as young as 16 and as old as 70, walking into the forest at 9am every morning.  8 hours later they would return with HUGE bundles of foliage that they would carry for 2 miles (3.5 k) to their village.  The foliage was to feed the cows.  One day we brought them some water and cookies.  I picked up one of their bundles to see how much it weighed…at least 75 pounds (35 kilos)!  On the other hand, the men of the villages seem to spend a lot of time chewing tobacco and basking in the sun

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In the last weeks on the road I dodged cows, chickens, dogs, goats, pigs, horses, monkeys (LOTS of monkeys), squirrels, sheep, donkeys, cats, and thousands of potholes the size of craters.

I met a couple at the Pakistan border who are driving a Ford Escort from Australia to London

I met a couple who showed up at the Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan and spent 3 weeks conducting music workshops for the refugees

I spent 4 days helping to build furniture for a school at Nirvan Commun in a tiny village of about 50 families on top of a mountain.  This was the view we woke up to:

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I found myself in a mechanics workshop 5 times in 3.5 weeks on the road

I met a guy named Dinesh on the side of the road.  He invited me to his village of 400 people in the mountains to have breakfast with his family

I discovered that Indian mechanics can amaze you with their knowledge and efficiency…then, several minutes later, the same mechanic can amazing you again…with baffling displays of negligence smothered in a heavy dose of confidence and assurance.

At Pradeep’s school, we took a group of 60 school children, divided them into 4 groups and taught them how to sing row Row Row Your Boat in “round” style

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I learned to hate driving on the “highways” and vowed to only take small roads whenever feasible

I swallowed so much exhaust that my breath would probably fail an emissions test

I spent a week hanging out in Dharamsala, a peaceful town in the Himalayan foothills and the home of the Dalai Lama.  It is full of Tibetan refugees.  It was like taking a vacation from India

I visited The Golden Temple, basically like Mecca for Sikhs.  A holy site and pilgrimage destination for Sikhs all over India and the world.

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I will ring in the new year while gliding through the Indian night with Bala on a 46 hour train ride to the far South of India where I will be making my way to Sri Lanka and the next sea of adventures.

This is all just half of the stories…CLICK HERE to see more pictures from the last weeks along with the comments I left with them setting the scene.  To read more about the plan to drive Bala all the way from India to Spain, click here: Delhi to Barcelona, the Scenic Route

Happy New Years to everyone!

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Meet Bala, my Bullet.

Meet Bala.

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She is a 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet.  This is an important introduction because if you read my posts you will be hearing a lot about me and Bala over the next 8 months or so.  Finding each other is the beginning of an adventure that will take us both across India and all the way to Spain, through 20 countries.  (For more details about the travel plan CLICK HERE) For roughly ten to twelve thousand miles (16,000-19,000 kilometers) she will be my travel companion, my trusty steed, my Rocinante.  She was born in India in the 70’s (Never ask a lady her exact age) but the engine that powers her is of an engineering design that has basically not changed since the 1950’s.  No fancy technology, no fuel injection, just one big hog of a cylinder surrounded by cast iron.

Is a motorcycle that was engineered over 60 years ago a practical choice to drive from India to Spain…over mountains, through rivers, across deserts?  No.  Not at all.  Will she break down?  Yep.  Do I know heaps about mechanics?  Nope.  Will it be hard? For sure.  Is it even possible?  I’m about to find out.

Her name, Bala, is an old Hindi/Sanskrit name that means “powerful”. Coincidentally it also means “bullet” in Spanish.  So she carries in her name something of her origin as well as of the place she will eventually call home.   She’s going through a punk phase now but before we leave India she will get a complete makeover and paint-job.

When you begin a long and challenging adventure with someone, you learn to love that person, to depend on them for company, for support and for encouragement.  You also sometimes want to kick them in the arse and leave them on the side of the road.  And so it goes with Bala and I.  She’s a firecracker.  She’s a rock.  She’s an incorrigible teenager, a sassy old lady, and an attention seeker. She is loud and demanding, determined and loyal, obstinate and argumentative. She is Marilyn Monroe AND James Dean. But most importantly she is adventurous and she is up for the challenge.

How did we meet?  Luck.  I was at the end of my patience in Delhi searching for a worthy motorcycle and honest mechanic when I finally found both in the form of a bunch of Frenchmen (and women) who had gotten lost on the way to their local Patisserie and found themselves in India operating a motorcycle tour company called Vintage Rides.  They were more excited about my crazy plans than they were about trying to sell me a bike.  True enthusiasts.  They went the extra distance and spent weeks with me helping me plan my route, giving me mechanics lessons, and helping to modify Bala to be ready for such an endeavor.  I don’t know how to thank them for all the help that they gave me but this modest shout-out is a start.

With the crew at Vintage Rides in New Delhi Royal Enfield Bullet tours New Delhi India

The crew at Vintage Rides came out to wish me and Bala good luck on our maiden voyage

And so, the adventure begins…or perhaps I should say continues.

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This morning I woke up in New Delhi. I have been living here for over a month now. India is everywhere around me, its in the smell of sweaty people packed into a congested metro train, in the sound of a deranged and never-ending symphony of car horns, in the street food, the smiles of the kids, the traffic, and the colors of womans sari’s. I work as a volunteer for an NGO that runs some free schools in one of the larger slums of Delhi. But as usual, the weeks since my last report, since my motorcycle trip through Southern Europe, have been full of stories, new places, old and new friends. What have I been up to in the last seven weeks? Take a look…..

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I rode a bike across London Bridge.

I watched a cow languidly eating curried vegetables from a plate while standing in the middle of congested traffic.I was the top of a human pyramid on an abandoned train track/city park in lower Manahattan.

I reunited with old friends and family in New York. We laughed like idiots, we drank too much, stayed up too late, slept too late, and ate like pigs.

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I admired the fact that bellbottom pants seem to have survived the 70’s in India.

In New York I saw the first of the four “Sunflowers” paintings that Van Gogh painted in Paris.

I marveled at the amount of trash people throw onto the train tracks and platforms in the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANew York City subways.

I marveled at the absolutely spotless train tracks and platforms in the New Delhi metro stations.

In London I saw the 3rd of the four “Sunflowers” paintings by Van Gough.

I spent many days in the slums of New Delhi admiring how happy and friendly people seem to be, despite the human waste that surrounds their homes, the 12 people they share their single floor with, the millions of flies that never leave you alone, and the fact that the government seems to ignore them.

I ate a dessert called “Arctic Fox Poo” with one of my dear and close friend.

I watched a four year old barefoot girl with knotted hair and hands and face black with dirt do cartwheels and backflips between cars at a red light in Delhi. She then came to the rickshaw I was in, stared right into my eyes, and made the motion of hand to mouth, asking for food or money. I know it’s the worst thing I could do…to give her money, but that girl, who looks into your clear western eyes, at your backpack that she knows contains a camera worth more than her home or more than what she was purchased for…she doesn’t know all the reasons why you don’t reach into your pocket. How can she accept that I can’t pull out and give her a 10 Rupee note, worth about 8 cents? What is going through her mind as she looks at me and I smile and shake my head silently mouthing the hindi words for “Im sorry”. I have never made peace with this situation. (If you don’t know the reasons why you never give money to street children click here)

I deftly snuck into The Museum of Natural History in London. I was quite proud of my

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

stealthy abilities and the money that I had saved.

I became an Indian….almost. I am an official Indian resident complete with documents.

I watched a sunset from an airplane that lasted 6 hours.

Thirty minutes after sneaking into The Museum of Natural History, I discovered that admission to all museums in London, including that one, is free.

At a busy pedestrian area in Union Square, I wrote out a short inspirational message and left it in a wooden box for someone to find. Someone did find it and then they found me. They wrote me a long message that gave me goosebumbs to read, this is one sentence from it: “You do not know me, but you’ve brought magic into my life…I hope you find yourself blessed with a journey and that you are the hero of that journey.”

With my old friend Guri in Delhi

I met an old friend in Delhi who I haven’t seen in 3 years. We met 6 years ago in  Hollywood, coincidentally he was in Delhi visiting family and saw from Facebook that I was there too.

I saw someone slip, quite theatrically, on a banana peel.

I have spent countless hours in Delhi searching for my Rocinante…the trusty motorcycle I will buy that will take me through India and 20 other countries on my drive back to Spain. Still no bike…

In other news…I received word from my friend in Marseilles…with is help, my old motorcycle Billie Jean was sold at a fair price…the end of an era and the beginning of a new one….Thanks Szymon!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I ate Pizza in New York, Fish and Chips in London, and Dahl in India.

I smelled things walking through the streets of Delhi more powerful and intense than I have ever smelled before. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes not.

I went fishing in Long Island Sound on a boat  with one of my oldest friends. The only thing we caught was a buzz from the beer we were drinking.

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I saw the bones of a 180 year old 20 meter long dinosaur.INDIA-51

I researched and created an “Old Delhi Foodie Walk”. A walking tour that shows tourists the best of Delhi food culture in the “Old Delhi” neighborhood. The proceeds from the people who take the tour benefit the slum schools run by the NGO I work with. I have given the tour to 4 groups, so far no complaints.

I had a picnic in Central Park for the first time in my life when there were leaves on the trees and I was in short sleeves…despite the fact that I lived in New York for 8 months.

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My second day in Delhi I came down with a serious case of Delhi Belly. I didn’t eat anything for 4 days and didn’t fully recover for almost 10. Those first days in Delhi, laying sick in a cockroach infested hotel room that was costing me $4.50 a night, I wondered with fear, knowing I was to be in India another 6 months, if I would ever be able to look at Indian food and curry again.

I rode a bike around South Manhatten a Polish artist and filmmaker who now resides in Barcelona.

After having made a full recovery, sans antibiotics, from my Delhi Belly, I began drinking ¼ of a cup of tap water every day to build up immunity. Now I eat anything, even some things my local Indian friends think I’m crazy to eat…and I am officially in love with Indian food.

I stayed with a guy who grew up in a conservative Muslim family in Northern India, moved to the US at 18, discovered alcohol and parties, became an atheist and a successful banker earning a very good living. At 36 he felt the call to return to his Indian roots. He quit his job moved back to India and started a co-op to help farmers in rural Kashmir.

I got my international motorcycle license.INDIA-29

I learned about “The double lives of India”. How an ultra-conservative culture brimming with cultural and religious rules and expectations leads people to lie to family and loved ones.

I drank beers with some Muslim guys. They said their wives have no idea they drink. Telling them is simply not an option…their marriage and entire family would be lost forever. They said don’t feel that the rules of a religion that they are only passive believers in, should dictate their lives….they also said they lie to their wives because they love them, and they don’t want to lose them, and I believe them.

I stayed with a guy who, pressured by his Hindu family, pursued a coveted degree in engineering and afterward scored a dream job as an engineer in Delhi. After a death in his family he re-evaluated his life, quite his job, and decided to go back to school to be what HE always wanted to be…a Biologist. he is in his second year. He’s happy now. But his family still thinks he goes to his engineering job every day.

Tomorrow I go look at another motorcycle…could be the one…

I feel I am standing on the edge of a great new adventure, about to dive in.

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