28 December 2012

Jaisalmer - The Golden City of Rajasthan

Getting caught up on some older posts....lets see, what did I miss? Oh yeah, India August 2010.

Will and I traveled by train to the heart of the Thar desert in the far West of India to Jaisalmer, the Golden City of Rajasthan.

Jaisalmer ( Jeye-sall-meer) is a 16 hour overnight train ride from Delhi. Our first experience with the trains was exactly as you would expect....complete chaos. You're not really sure where your train will come in and when it did, hundreds of people started climbing on it, in it, over it...before it even stopped. It was already full to capacity by Western standards...plenty of room by Indian standards. The class of cars is marked on the outside, but they are in no particular order...and there were 40 of them. After the train stopped, Will and I started walking down the "platform" looking for our car, as hundreds of people ran by us in every which direction. We eventually started walking faster as we realized we couldn't find our car....then running.

Then the train started moving.

I yelled to Will that we had to get on and he said he didn't see our car....I said "its leaving!"

Like stunt men, we actually had to run along side and jump onto a moving train...with our backpacks on.

We pushed our way through the crowd of people by the door and into the hallway, and luckily ran right into a train man who offered to help us find our "seats"....which, turns out, we were literally standing right next to.

We had jumped onto our car as it passed by! Hows that for luck?

As we had traveled from Nepal earlier that day, we were tired and able to sleep for most of the night. In the morning we reached Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer, dominated by its amazing fort (built in 1156), is an incredible, incredible place. One of the last states to sign a treaty with the British, the people here are fiercely independent.

It feels very different than Delhi, thats for sure.

Having left Guillaume in Nepal, Will and I were on our own for a few days. We settled into our hotel and immediately set out exploring. We found a great, air conditioned restaurant (above) right across from the fort and had our first taste of Rajasthani food...delish.

Then, back to exploring!

The architecture is....well...amazing. Some of the most famous medieval Havelis are in Jaisalmer.

The city has pretty much all the same sand color buildings, which give the city its reputation of being the Golden City. At sunrise/sunset its a beautiful sight.

The fort is very impressive with its 99 bastions and its imposing position on a hill looking over the city.

We stayed at a small off the beaten path family run hotel which was very pleasant and had a great view of the fort. It had all the little desert building architectural delights like pass throughs in the ceilings and floors for air movement.

We were there in Late August...it was very hot...brutal in the sun, but manageable in the shade.

The old bazaars were full of the standard Indian trinkets, plus regional stuff you don't see other places. Less wool shawls, more silver jewelry. Lots of camel leather bags, hats etc.

No cow leather of course....but lots of cows roaming the streets.

We spent an entire day walking around the old city with intermittent stops for cold beverages. The heat really takes it out of you.

Although tourists do come to Jaisalmer, it wasn't nearly as crowded as Delhi, especially in August. Many tourists come here to avoid the Monsoon this time of year and this year the floods had driven many people south from Ladakh.

We hooked up with a bunch of people to catch a ride about 30 miles into the desert.

We visited a few temples, palaces and the like.

Some pretty surreal sites....did I mention it was hot like an oven?

The group we were with all went on an overnight camel safari, so Will and I rented a couple of camels of our own and headed out to the West to catch the sunset in the desert.

After two hours on the camels we had left civilization behind and were IN the desert.

Pretty freakin cool.

Our guides walked as we rode. Felt kinda bad, but I gave them each a Pepsi....so it was cool.

Camels are interesting, dirty, beautiful, disgusting animals. Very impressive that they don't need water and can carry a lot of weight. Ships of the desert indeed.

We got back at nightfall and crashed hard....exhausted.

The next day we did some more exploring and met up with two Italians who had been in the truck with us out to the camel place.

We spent the afternoon, relaxing out of the sun with new friends Fabiana and Alain.

After we said arrivederci to our new pals, we walked around some more and stopped at one more place for one last rest and a cold drink.

The locals drink a yogurt drink called a Lassi. You can get it in all flavors...mango, lime, vanilla.

mmmmm sour yogurt drink with fruit...no thanks

After 3 1/2 days in Jaisalmer, Will and I were ready to hit the rails again to meet up with Guillaume in Jodhpur.

Guess who we ran into on the train? Our new Italian friends!

The train through the desert has no filters on the air system, so the train fills up with sand and dust. Luckily Will had brought some hospital type masks from China...and luckily I had brought the cards!

6 hours of American and Italian card games!

A great stop on the big trip...next up, the Blue City of Jodhpur!

25 December 2012

Trapped in a Box....in Holland

Ok so....I have been very lucky. I have coached all over Europe and have had the extreme privilege and honor of coaching not one, but two National Lacrosse teams. Since moving back to the States, I have bored my friends to tears with my tales of galavanting around Europe coaching at tournaments and festivals yadda yadda yadda. So when it came time for the European Championships again this past summer, my buddy Andrew was excited to have the opportunity to go with me and coach the Irish Development Team in the European Festival.

We discussed the trip for months prior...and finally it was here. Like giddy school kids we joked around in the airport and got on the plane for the 5000 mile trip from Houston to Amsterdam. It was Andrew's first trip to Europe and I assured him it was gonna be a blast. Here we go! Saddle up partner!

 The shit hit the fan almost from the minute we got there. We met up with my old pal Mike and off we went to explore Amsterdam!

We got about 100 feet outside the airport before a swarm of police surrounded and detained us.

Apparently, the taxi driver who approached us was not licensed. No big deal, he got arrested and they just took a complaint from us. No troubles...then, after a very minor delay, we were off!....again!

Andrew and I had carted over a lot of the teams equipment...which became a huge pain in the ass once we were out of the airport. I should mention we had stayed in a hotel the first night before moving to our final "accommodations"...so we had been lugging this crap around a lot.

Eventually on Day 2, we got to our "accommodations"....a freakin' campground.

You can almost sense Andrew's excitement in the picture above, can't you?

While lugging the bags for a 1/2 mile from the road, our conversation went something like this:

Andrew: Let me get this straight....we are staying in a fucking campground?
Chris: Ummm...Yeah...it'll be great!
Andrew: You told me you guys stayed in hotels...and everyone had their own room.
Chris: Yeah, that was last time....this is fun, it'll be great!
(Andrew stops walking, puts bags down)
Andrew: My back hurts...a fucking campground?
Chris: Well....its not tents, Mike said they are like Chalets.
Andrew: Whats a fucking Chalet? I'm gonna punch you. I have a bad feeling.
Chris: Oh stop...it'll be fine.
(We pick up the bags and start walking again....100 yards later, we put the bags down)
Andrew: This sucks. I hate you. I'm gonna punch you.

Then we got to our.....little house.

An 8 man shed.

8 bunks...a table...4 chairs...and a light bulb. I laugh everytime I look at these pictures of Andrew because I know how shocked he was.

If I were an artist, I would title the above picture "Stunned in Holland". The players were all showing up, and Andrew was just sitting there...realizing he would be staying in a shed, with 7 other guys....for 11 days.

It really is a miracle he didn't kill anyone.

After we settled into the shed, we decided to go check out the venue and fields. Ok so where are they? The venue was just on the other side of the Amsterdam Bos, like Amsterdam's Central Park.

Off we go!

....and we're going!

.....and we're walking

...and walking....

After 20 minutes of forced marching through the woods, someone asks how much further it is and Mike says "I think we're almost halfway"

There was silence...then a maniacal laughter from Andrew behind me.

Then it started to rain.

It was like being in the 'Nam. Halfway into a 60 minute walk...in the woods, and the rain is coming down in buckets. The temperature has dropped...we're all wearing shorts...its pouring.

6 months later, sitting in my house, I am laughing my ass off. I am used to stuff going pear-shaped and sideways, but Andrew had totally been sold on a different picture. I had told him of the World Championships, and staying in University dorms, with a buffet style cafeteria, practice fields, classroom sessions.

We were living in a box....in Holland....and it was raining.

So eventually we get to the "venue" and as it is a few days before the first games, everything was closed.

Everything was closed.

Andrew killed a Dutch lady walking her dog...then killed the dog. He knocked a guy of his bike and beat him to death with it...then he just sat on the ground and mumbled something about being hungry.

After the long walk BACK to the Shed of Despair....the whole team adopted a "Don't mess with Andrew" policy that lasted pretty much the entire trip.

Things did get better, of course, but we joked about it...alot.

Chris: Hey bud, you want a sandwich?
Andrew: Hell yeah, I am starving...freakin Holland has no food
Chris: Here ya go (hands Andrew a small sandwich)
Andrew: What the...there is only cheese on here.
Chris: Yeah...cheese sandwich...on a little dutch roll.....want a warm Heineken?
Andrew: (Becoming increasingly irate) This isnt a fucking sandwich! Goddamn Dutch.
Chris: I have some Curry Ketchup?
Andrew: CURRY KETCHUP?!!!!
Chris: I think we have some pickles...
Andrew: I'm starving to death! Goddamn Dutch Bullshit...freakin Holland...(rolls up into a ball on his bunk...mumbles to himself for the next hour)

Before the trip, I had joked with Andrew that I had "issues" with the Dutch. I couldn't really explain it. I said they are a bit cheap, you have to pay for every little thing, and everything is expensive...and they have a weird way of doing everything that has a way of getting under your skin. He didn't understand and gave me crap about it saying I was being silly.

After only 2 or 3 days in Holland...he was more like this:

After the team arrived and we settled into our routine, things got better all around. We had a real blast shooting the shit with the boys and got ready for our games.

We found some public transportation options to get us to and from the fields, and found some good little places to eat, and drink, along the way.

We even found a spot in the campground...a very small spot...where you could get wifi...occasionally.

I didnt take any pictures of the games during the tournament, but the team did great (we came in 4th place) and we all had a blast. To top it off, the National team made it to the finals against England!

The normally insane Irish fans went out of their minds...they went bananas. In the end, the English won...but who cares, they always win. 

I got to catch up with many of my European lacrosse friends, which is always great.

All in all a great trip.