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    • Day 6

      A local adventure.

      December 9, 2019 in India ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

      The first thing I have to mention, because I have been remiss in saying it thus far, are the bug bites. Now as much as I hate mosquitoes normally, I feel especially adverse to them here; although I suppose they could also be bites from ants, or something else I haven't considered. Along with the normal sized, itchy, and swollen patches of skin, I have also been getting huge welts nearly the size of a quarter. I have never gotten a reaction, that I can remember, of that nature before. Fortunately Erin, my very gracious host, shared some of her arnica gel with me, and it took the itch and a lot of the swelling away. What I found odd is that the bites are only waist down, with nothing on my face, arms, or body.

      Anyway, on to the adventure. After taking a short stroll around the grounds, I went back to the small store on the street and loaded up on my newfound favorites, making sure there was enough to satisfy my craving and to share. Then the plan for the day was to go eat at the 'Canteen' at the clinic, where the food is supposed to be spicier and more flavorful, and just figure it out from there until my nighttime walk though the shops. What ended up happening is so much more exciting. I will now be getting an ayurvedic massage. As it has been explained to me, it is not like what I am familiar with in regard to the term, but instead an hour long of being rubbed with special oils, and then showered off. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I'll definitely be keeping an open mind, and I'd like to think I'm less likely to be shocked after the Turkish bath; that was an eye opening event indeed. Not much else to report so far today, but you know there will be more to come.

      I added some photos because I know you all want them. Make sure you check out the captions.
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    • Day 7

      Too hot to handle

      December 10, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

      Today was peaceful. I decided to spend the whole day reading, and frankly, I know I made the right call because of how hot it was. I even took a nap! I did finally get a photo of the food at the canteen, and I also got some of the coffee and snack when I went back later. They actually give you another dish for the coffee which you pour back and forth to cool down; I had no idea of course until I saw other at the canteen doing so.

      One very unexpected occurrence, especially on my 'down day,' was some sort of celebration with candles everywhere. They're were candles at the end of the staircases, in windows in homes, on balconies, sidewalks, and of course practically engulfing the temple. I took my shoes off and proceeded to go inside. People lined up to pray to the gods, and there were even ceremonies where the door would be closed, so no one could view the God and would have to wait until a bell was rung and a drum beaten, and then they would open the door so people could pray to them again. It was quite the experience to be there during it all and I found it wonderfully fascinating. Srimathy came along a bit after and guided me a bit, which I greatly appreciated, though sadly I still have no idea what it was for, or what I was doing. When the celebration at the temple seemed to wind down there were suddenly fireworks going off all over the place; one large boom in particular gave me quite the fright, making me jump upright in surprise. I decided to take a peak outside the clinic grounds, and the same thing was going on. There were even children lighting fireworks, and some who looked to be no more than one holding sparklers. Though I have no clue what was being celebrated, it was amazing to be here for it. I guess even my non-adventurous days can have amazing surprises around the corner.
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    • Day 8

      Getting things done.

      December 11, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

      My last full day here, can you believe it? I still feel shocked that I'm in India to begin with, and now I'll be headed home tomorrow. I spent the morning packing up, and then helping Erin pack up her things. Coordination is definitely necessary when you're traveling with a toddler, even when it isn't your own. The other factor that is quite the setback is that the bags we bring on board with us can only weigh 7kg, or a little over 15lbs. Normally this would be no issue at all, but factor in feeding a fussy kid, changing diapers, and making sure he's entertained for 17 hours, well that changes things. Miraculously I got the first bag to weigh exactly the amount needed. Deciding that was a fine start, because it was just the beginning, I headed off for lunch.

      I must have passed some test, because that is the only reason I can think of for today's food being so much spicier than any other time I've eaten here. There is finally something that surpassed the fiery chicken burger. This food seriously pushed my spice limits, and even though I didn't finish it all, I ate my fill and made it though to the other side.

      The afternoon on the other hand is the real killer. The midday heat and humidity is no joke, and I totally understand why everyone here disappears for a few hours during the peak heat. But one nap later and I was raring to go. Before I went off on the next mini adventure, Srimathy had come back with a string of flowers that women would pin in their hair, like she did, for Erin and me. I enthusiastically put it in my hair and now everything around me smelled wonderful. Feeling invigorated and smelling delightful, I made my way out in Coimbatore once more.

      I decided to try the mall again to see if I could find anything else that fit my souvenir criteria, and soak up the AC, but other than the first shop I came up empty handed. I may not have found anything quite to my liking, but it was a short trip, and on the drive over I had noticed somewhere that looked very interesting right near the clinic. Upon returning I immediately decided I would head out and get some real deal 'pani puri' (I may have also butchered the name of that dish.) I went right for the stall that I got my chicken and rice from last time, and he actually bagged up the food, separately so to avoid sogginess, and I continued on my path. Making my way along the busy street, making sure to avoid motorcycles and cars alike, I came across the store I'd be seeking out since my car trip earlier; a sweets store. The people there were very nice, giving samples and suggesting different things, but ultimately I went with my favorite of the things I had tried from the first small market. I also had them write down what it was, because until that point I had no idea what it was called.

      When I got back to the room I couldn't wait to try my street food. I unpacked each item, especially carefully in the case of the liquid, and dove right in. I cracked a hole in one of these fried and crispy receptacles, and dipped it in to the sauce. The consistancy was thick, almost like gravy, the crunch of the chip adding a nice contrast of texture, and there was quite a hit of heat; so much so I could only eat four before I hit my max. Definitely worth it to try, and would absolutely have it in the future. It feels like I didn't do a whole heck of a lot, but I was tuckered out and ready to hit the sack. Tomorrow would be an even crazier day.
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    • Day 5

      I didn't go far, but I walked a lot

      December 8, 2019 in India ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

      I was wrong. Today was a big day, because watching over an 18 month old can't be considered anything less. After waking up, a little earlier than I prefer, I started with a nice meal; I'd need my energy to keep up with a kid. We started by walking, or more accurately, chasing, this rambunctious kid around the grounds of this clinic. After the very real struggle of getting him to eat something (he complied with string cheese), we followed him around walking past all the people who were at the clinic themselves, or who came to pray at the temple. Walking down the path there was a young girl, around his age, and they had the cutest encounter. Seemingly struck by the odd nature of seeing someone their own age and height, they paused, and seconds later they were holding hands. She then took off her bracelet and handed it to him, and he reciprocated with passing her is half chewed cheese. After a swap back for their own belongings, and a wave goodbye, we resumed our walk.

      Across from the pharmacy there is another temple, I think that's what it is anyway since I can't read the sign, and we took off our shoes and entered. Shrinity had clearly been here before with him, and walked around while I watched. As I was taking in what was happening, a man came up and encouraged me to come inside, showing me what to do. I cleansed my face with smoke three times, and then he had me use my ring finger to apply a white powdery sort of paste to my forehead, after that you go part of the way around and bow to a gods feet and pray for, as he said, whatever you want; I went with safe travel heading home.

      It's funny how tired children take on an almost drunken quality and we headed back for an nap with mom. It did not last long. I can't imagine it would though when the honking of cars on the street is clearly audible. Fortunately, Erin was able to join us on this round about going for a nice stroll.

      This isn't going to be all I do today though. I'm taking a car (I'm used to the lifestyle now, it might be a problem when I'm home) and heading to the local mall. I looked it up online and this place is huge! Its four massive floors, and bigger than the one near where I am at home. The air conditioning will be a great perk, but I'm also looking to see what sort of (non western) souvenirs I can get, and most importantly right now a meat based protein as everything here is a vegetable or grain. Maybe not the craziest thing on the books, but it is still an outing in India, and I can't wait to see what I find.
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    • Day 5

      Just a mall?

      December 8, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

      Before I even get in to my outing at the mall, I need to describe the trip there. What you see during the day is nothing compared to its transformation at night. Driving past you see tons of people out, gathered around different shops, lit up and showing their wears. Some were in an open front store, others had their products arranged along a blanket at the edge of the street, there were even a few carts being pushed along the edge of the road selling all sorts of things, but mostly fruit. I guess this city comes alive at night, and I'd just been too tired to stay up that late and see it.

      Once my driver skillfully made his way through the copious amounts of Sunday night traffic, and bad drivers as he stated (I guess that's universal), we arrived at the mall. This four story behemoth was packed, and my first thought was, "Why would I decide to come to a mall when I don't even go to them when I'm at home?" There was one thing that was different right off the bat, and it was someone stationed in every elevator to push the buttons for you; maybe it was because people packed in so tightly that no one would have been able to push a button otherwise. I picked a random floor, and decided to walk around and see what I could find through the throngs of people. They had just about every store I'd heard of, and plenty I hadn't, but they all seemed like things I could get at home, and fairly unappealing. I did come across a store I thought was hilarious called "American Tourist" but it was mostly suitcases and bags, but I got a chuckle out of it. They had also clearly decorated for the season because there were hundreds of string lights hanging from the ceiling, as well as the front of the building as we drove in. It may have been the extent of the decorations around the mall, but I thought they were very nice. Feeling out of luck, I thought I'd check out another floor, and at the very least grab a few leggings from a kiosk I'd actually seen in a youtube video when trying to see what would be available (I didn't even come close to finishing it as it was a half hour, and I'm not spending that time watching something about stores in a mall.)

      Then, it happened. I found a store that had exactly the type of thing I had been searching for. They had shirts, pants, scarves, and so much more, in the styles that are actually worn by people here. I walked in and started browsing, trying to do quick math on how much pieces of clothing cost, when once again I had multiple people coming to assist me. This time though it was very helpful, because I'd ask for a style of something and they'd show me exactly where it was, or things that went well together. Some things were inexpensive, like the scarves coming in at roughly $2, and others were more expensive like $12 pants, but all of them were so much less than I could ever have gotten them in the US. They were also excellent salespeople, as they would take anything I was interested in and set it aside for me and continued showing me different pieces; that way I couldn't feel the weight of what I'd gotten, or recall how many items I had. So it may have ended up as a bit of a splurge. Do I regret it? Not a chance, but thank goodness they took credit cards. When I finally checked out, the price nearly gave me a heart attack, until of course I remembered it was in rupees, and I wasn't actually about to spend over 10,000 dollars... like I even have that much to spend. Clearly they value customers who spend a lot, because I didn't walk out with a bag of clothes, but a small duffle bag packed to the brim. I did feel a little awkward walking though the mall with my new acquisitions, not so conspicuously taking up a fair amount of room beside me. I went down to the car waiting for me (do you here how fancy I am?) and dropped off my goods before heading to the real mission; animal protein.

      Now surely you know by now, I'm fairly adventurous with food, so you must be wondering what sort of place I'd found it a mall to satisfy a my taste for real Indian food. It was Burger King. Yeah, I went and got fast food, but I had a reason. The first reason why I went and got something seemingly commonplace in the US, is because it's not the same, at all. First, as you might have guessed, there's no beef, and second, there are a ton of vegetarian options. Another reason I went was simply because the guy I sat next to on the plane from LAX to SFO, suggested I try it, so why not. I went with a fiery chicken sandwich, veggie sticks, and a mango shake. I did not wait to start in on my dessert, which ended up being quite the mistake on my part. Now, I know that although I'm not the spice wuss I used to be, my capacity for capsaicin wouldn't stand up to true Indian food, I didn't think that would be an issue with fast food. I was a foolish misguided individual. Really I should have known when I thought the veggie sticks had a bit of heat to them. Once I broke out that burger, intent on demolishing it, I got no more than three bites in before it hit me; an all consuming heat. My mouth was on fire, lips tingling, I could feel the heat moving down my throat and settling low in my stomach; the shake had to be rationed. Sniffling and making sure I didn't touch my eyes, I continued trading off a couple of bites, with a sparing sip of my drink, followed by a few breaths that felt like I was breathing fire. Totally worth it, and even though the heat there was fantastic flavor. Finally making it to the other side, finishing my food, I waited while the heat slowly dissipated, having a pleasant conversation with my driver. Suddenly I was left with a light tingle on my lips, and we were pulling up to where this all began. I paid, and tipped, my driver, heading in for a good nights rest. I wasn't out for long, but it sure was fun.
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    • Day 6

      An exciting day, without going away.

      December 9, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

      Listen, I will get to the other details of the day, but first I have to tell you that Srimathy (I have been pronouncing and spelling her name wrong the whole time) brought her 10 day old puppy to visit us, and he was so damn cute. I'll get more in to detail, but I'm still high on puppy cuteness that I couldn't wait.

      Anyway, I went to the canteen for lunch. Because I figured I should just go with the flow, just got the "normal" even though I had no idea, at all, what that entailed. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo because I had left my phone to charge in the room (but I will tomorrow). One of the things that came with the dish is something called pappad, which is a round, puffy, crisped up... something. I don't know, but it was delicious. However delicious it was, it still wasn't as crazy spicy as that burger, and this is where everyone who isn't a patient at the clinic eats.

      Once fed, I watched after Erin's boy for a while with Srimathy, but really, I was counting the minutes until my first ayurvedic massage; and it doesn't get any more authentic than doing it in India. Essentially you sit on a wooden table, and then proceed to massage fire warmed oil in to your scalp and hair, moving to your face, and your back. You then lay on your back, where they proceed to rub oil on to every available inch of skin, making sure not to miss anything. When they do have you turn they wisely assist you because you are now an oil slick; there is a reason that table has edges and it's because I would have slid right off. It is not so much of a massage in the sense that I'm used to, with deep pressure being applied to sore muscles, but relaxing non the less. They then bring you in to the shower, making sure to wipe your feet before you step down, and wash you with some sort of paste with a fine grit to remove the slick oil from your skin. Once you're washed, dried, and dressed they have you sit and rub a powder into your scalp, then they hold it in front of your nose while you inhale deeply three times and it is supposed to keep you from getting a cold. Let's just say that I'm grateful I've done a Turkish bath before, or this could have been difficult, fortunately I was just able to lay back and enjoy it.

      After luxuriating post massage for a bit, I decided to check out the library at the clinic. Not even 60 seconds after stepping through the door I found an Agatha Christie book 'Murder at the Vicarage' and I jumped right in to reading; after all, she is one of my favorite authors.

      Suddenly Srimathy walked though the door, and was pulling out a puppy from her bag. This sweet little thing was so well behaved too, and nestled right in to my neck when I held it. Erin and her son were out walking around, and so she went to get them for the puppy surprise. They were in shock when they walked in to the room, and even though Erin's son loves animals, this was his first time seeing one so small up close. After a bit of warming up, he was petting the puppy lovingly, at least until he had to leave for bed. I gave a few more scritches to the tiny puppy, and he was packed up and out the door.

      Now, for my nighttime adventure. I set off in the direction that I'd seen so many shops the night before, and was somehow still surprised at the hustle and bustle. There were people walking all over the place, cars driving through honking their horns, and motorcycles whizzing by weaving through cars and pedestrian traffic alike. I stayed to the edge of the road for safety, but with them being used to people all over the place I didn't fear getting hit. I continued on until I saw a busy stand selling food and, to really sell the point, pictures on their sign. I was in, although a little apprehensive about the heat that I might encounter. I got myself chicken and rice (very grateful the vendor spoke some English), and although that might sound like a boring meal it was anything but. I also had quite a few people staring at me, my melanin absent skin being a dead giveaway that I was not a local, but they seemed to quickly move along to continue whatever it was they were already doing. Carrying my takeaway bag back with me, gleefully delighted that I'd be having some Indian street food, I passed a tiny stall with about half a dozen people crowded around drinking different colored beverages. The sign wasn't in English, but I thought I'd try my hand at seeing if the owner did. He did not. Though some interpretive hand gestures, I asked him to give me his favorite of whatever it was I was about to try, and he obliged. What ended up being handed to me, well it seemed less than appealing; some yellow/orange mixture with crimson chunks mixed throughout. I paid for my curious drink, and took a sip... and it was great. From what I could deduce, it was a mango yogurt drink with semi fermented chunks of strawberries, and nothing like I'd ever had before. Though I enjoyed it, I'd probably pass on the strawberry bits in the future.

      Getting back to the room, I was ready to dig in my still steaming meal. Uncovering it let out a waft of delicious scents, and I went in for my first tentative bite with water at the ready, in case I couldn't handle the heat. Tasting nothing but an explosion of flavor, with some under notes of spice, I continued chomping away. Even after having my fill there were enough for leftovers the next day.

      Having had a ton of excitement and new experiences, I decided to call it quits, and settled down with just one more chapter of my book. Tomorrow would be a new day, though without a doubt a hot one.
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    • Day 4

      The great beyond

      December 7, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

      After eating a delicious breakfast provided by the clinic of something called "onion uthappam" I decided I would be a little adventurous. Nothing too crazy, as I have no idea really about where I am, but a little walk around the area. I'd just stepped out of the door when walking from the temple was a man with a cow; unexpected, but pretty interesting.

      Now, one thing I just didn't think to expect was, and I do feel a little badly saying it, how dirty everything is. Not in the clinic itself, but the surrounding area, and just as everyone told me it became quite the eye opening culture shock. The cars spreading down the road made dust fly in the air, and there were literal piles of trash on the road, but there was still plenty to take it. While walking I came across a market where I was very lucky to encounter someone who spoke English, and I had her reccomend some sweets for me to try later. They bundled some up for me, paid my 32 rupees, and I was off walking again. I was going to see if I could find some street food, but I found out first hand that there's about a three hour lull in the day were everyone takes a break or a nap. What I did find in that time was a place that sold ice cream, and I just decided to go with the vendors favorite choice. Now, after having paid such a small amount for the other sweets, when they said 50 rupees, I thought that seemed a little expensive, but I went for it anyway; having done the math when I got back with my melting dessert I realized it was only 71 cents. I dug in to my layers of ice cream with pure abandon. It may not be terribly hot here, but it is humid like crazy and it was perfect for beating the heat. Having blown through my midday treat I then went for my bundle of snacks. Wrapped up in newspaper and tied together with a bit of string, it felt like opening a Christmas present early. I tried a bite of each one savoring the different flavors, many of which tasting like nothing I've tasted before. One was savory and crunchy, another melted on my tongue, one was coconut flavored but was so sweet I couldn't take another bite.

      Having decided that I still wanted to explore, I headed in the opposite direction to see what I'd find. Once I had exited the clinic, I found myself right up against a busy roadway with shops lining the narrow footpath with motorbikes that I needed to weave through to get around. I found a small store that had some jewelry and figured since it was the first place I'd seen of this nature I had better go in; who knew when I'd see another like it. As soon as I stepped through the door the women working there were on me. They would tell me all the features of different pieces, and pull full racks off the wall to display, all while standing maybe six inches away from me. I skipped the stuff that looked super western, or had name brands on them, and went for the pieces that (in my mind) stood out most. Clearly I bought a lot by their standard, because there was a lot of giggling, but they were all very nice and definitely seemed happy with my purchase; I was too.

      Walking back I realized I may have not totally beat jetlag, and although I was sleeping and waking up at the appropriate times, I was feeling extremely lethargic. Knowing my limits I headed back to the cottage and let myself relax reading my book. I made it through the rest of the day, having dinner, and a very nice conversation with Erin, and then quickly fell asleep. Tomorrow would be a new day, but also a much less interesting one, as I would be taking care of Erin's son with Shrinity (his temporary nanny while in India). I do want to make sure the trip back goes smoothly, and a day spent with him should make things more comfortable in the long run.

      P.S. Thank you all for the comments, but if you don't have an account (which you don't need) I have no idea who left them. Maybe you could sign your name at the end. Love from India.

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    • Day 3

      Wait, what happened?

      December 6, 2019 in India ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

      So here I am, in India. Quite the jump from my last blog entry. Let me give you the update.

      I found the plane to Singapore, and if I'm being totally honest, I don't even remember how. Most of my travel is now a blur. I do however remember the couple next to me being very nice, and the guy behind me making sure to kick my chair every few minutes. Fortunately I was able to get some sleep in, although it was sporadic. Being that it was a 17+ hour flight, they gave us two meals, and a snack in between; I don't remember the food either, but I do recall enjoying it. In the times where I was awake, and unable to fall asleep again, I watched some of the "new releases," all of which I enjoyed.

      Having finally arrived in Singapore (very grateful for the lack of turbulence on solid ground), I went on the search for my next flight. After asking around I found out that I had to exit the airport, passing through customs/immigration, get my next boarding ticket, go through security, and then proceed to my gate... in less than two hours. It may have spiked a little anxiety in me. Weirdly, it was all incredibly easy, and next thing I know I was walking past the gate I had just come from and waiting for the next flight. As a side note, security at Singapore is wildly easy, and I think America could adapt their system.

      Next thing I know, I'm falling asleep on the plane, for one of the best naps I've had in a while, especially on a flight. Then, almost suddenly, we were landing in India. Their immigration is much slower, but well worth it to get to the final destination. Now one of the perks of going to help someone out, is that she sent a car to pick me up. Damn it felt fancy.

      Pretty much everyone I spoke to said it would be culture shock, and it's one thing to know that, and another to actually be in it. On the short trip to my final stop, I stared silently out the window soaking it all in. Now I've seen movies, and I've heard stories, but no American experience prepares you for watching a motorcycle speed down the road, the opposite direction of travel, with three people stacked on the back with not a care in the world. I seriously thought I'd see a head on collision every 30 seconds, but they would just scooch out of the way driving a hairs distance away from another car. There is also, a cacophony of honking, which is perhaps a language of its own as not one person turned their head to acknowledge the sound. I can confidently say that I will never, ever drive in India. At one point we crossed three lanes, of what I would compare to a freeway, with zero regard for backing up other traffic. It was definitely safe, no one was even tapped by another vehicle, but I wouldn't have even made it out of the parking lot.

      As we raced by the multicolored buildings, you would see vendors selling street food, operating store fronts, fixing motorcycles, all with completely open views like they had forgotten to add a fourth wall. Next them there would be people sitting around, or you'd have a heaping pile of broken down cardboard boxes. There were people who were walking along with carts selling one type of fruit, and what I would classify as an off amount of people just sitting along a stretch of road next to their scooter, with nothing around them. There are also a fair amount of stray dogs, and with all the trees, a countless number of birds. The closest thing I think I could compare it to would be Mexico, but it still doesn't quite capture what it feels like.

      My driver (don't I sound fancy), having pulled up to my final stop of this trip, showed me to where I was staying. I was quite relieved that this part of the journey was finished. Now I just had to stay awake for another 8 or so ours so I could fall asleep at a normal time, and hopefully skip the jetlag. I met the nanny, who speaks Tamil, and not a word of English, who somehow communicates very clearly though hand gestures and she helped get me settled in.

      Then I met Erin, the woman I'm here to help, and her son. She gave me such a lovely warm welcome, checking that I was comfortable, offering me food and drinks, and really winning me over with a cup of coffee; after traveling that long, it seemed like a dire necessity. I was also very lucky that her son took to me quickly. She gave me the 411 on everything in the cottage, and the temple that is part of the clinic, as well as where to exchange money and hire a driver to take me around.

      Somehow, I made it through the day, having a lovely meal provided by the clinic, and when it came to going to bed, I promptly fell asleep. Don't worry, I also made sure to use bottled water to brush my teeth and rinse my mouth when going through my bedtime routine; there's no way I'm letting myself get sick after all it took to get here.

      Ten glorious hours of sleep later, miraculously managing to skip jetlag with a 13.5 hour time difference, and a slow morning have me ready and raring to go. So, let's see what's out there.

      A final note, I was so tired and overwhelmed with what I was seeing that I completely forgot to take any photos. Hopefully I'll be more on my game today.
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Rāmanāthapuram, Ramanathapuram

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