Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vietnam: From the motorbike crowd to the green fields

We cross the border into Vietnam with a small delay due to the damage that Chinese immigration officials did to my passport in a long attempt to try to discover fake passports. As we normally do, we hold a frustrating bargaining over the price for transportation all the way to Hanoi, the capital of the country. After agreeing in paying 100,000 Dong (120,000 less than what they initially wanted and knowing that locals pay around 50,000 less) we hop in a minivan for a 3 hour ride.

Hanoi is messy, Hanoi is dirty, Hanoi is overcrowded, and chaotic, but remarkably interesting. The architecture of the place delights our eyes after seeing so many neon light buildings in China, the housing structures are narrow 3 or 4 floor rectangles with pieces of decaying paint stained with dark spots over pastel colors. Clothes hang over most constructions and balconies are decorated with many plant pots, animals, cleaning utensils and old bikes.

Motorbikes come from all directions, I didn’t even notice that the roads have stop lights until we got stuck about 5 min in a corner unable to cross the street.

We remained in the city for about 3 days, not having any urge anymore to visit sights, we occupied our time with walking around taking pictures and sitting by the lake to people watch. We both are relatively tired, it delights us to be able to sit around, take naps, read, and pretend that we have a normal life for a few days at a time.

The people in the capital are great picture subjects, families gather to eat on sidewalk restaurants, taxi bikes follow us around trying to get us to make their day’s pay, the colors of shops and markets are outstanding with their shiny objects, colorful fruits, and spices.

More than any other place, Vietnam is the hub for ripping off tourists, every time we intended to purchase something we would be given prices as much as 10 times higher than they should be, often provoking us to leave without even trying to bargain.

Finally, we decided to take an overnight train to the North into Sapa. The train was ok, not as big and stable as the Chinese ones, but it allowed us a goodnight sleep. We got into Lo Cai at 6 am and took a bus 1 hour into the mountainous town of Sapa. Rivers, mountains, and green rice fields reigned over the beautiful landscape; unattended children and women dressed in their traditional outfits walked along the road making it a perfect place for photography lovers.

Annoyed by the behavior of two old tourist women being rude to locals and complaining about everything they could regarding the $2 USD ride in a third world country, we were happy to get off. Sapa appears to be more touristy than we expected, yet gorgeous. We walked around town looking for a hotel, after being harassed by a young woman with a big smile for around 20 min she convinced us to follow her way to a hotel, for only $15USD we get a big room with a fireplace and an incredible view clean of any obstruction towards the mountains. 4 days later I am sitting in the same room comforted by the electric blanket on the bed, the town is entirely covered by a thick fog that causes the humid cold to get into our bones and ruins our view.

We were lucky to have one nice day, which we occupied by renting scooters and driving them to the neighboring villages. We were amazed by the amount of unattended children that play by the roads giving us the perfect opportunity to take portraits without someone trying to sell us something. When we rode into one of the villages in a valley, 2 local women dressed with their traditional clothes talked us into giving them a ride back up to the main road, I had rode a scooter only 3 times before, and this was the first time I rode manual, but just to think that she would have to walk hours uphill in a shitty road was enough to be brave and try. It wasn’t as difficult, she was tiny and the road didn’t allow us to go fast anyway. Her name was Mai Ta, she is only 16 years old and plays a crucial role to help sustain her family, she has no money to buy a motorbike, that’s why she hopes that every time she needs to leave her village to make some money someone like us comes along and gives her a ride. We dropped our passengers off at their destiny and drove off for a couple more hours.

Tomorrow we will take another overnight train back to Hanoi, where we will transfer to another one that goes to Danang, and a bus to a port city called Hoi Ann.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Overnight journey

I woke up to the hissing sound of a bus door opening; my face was covered with a light scarf, some Asian words were yelled to the outside as I uncovered my face to discover a foul smell that perhaps was the reason for which I had covered myself. I am laying down under a thick blanket, I look outside the window as I usually do, not to recognize where we are because I am barely ever in a place I know, but to see if I can find something that will stick to my memories.

Many times I’ve woken up like this, not knowing where I am for a few seconds, trying to find something familiar in my surroundings, I look around to make sure David is with me, he is still sleeping in the sleeper on the left side below me with his hood on and covered with a blanket just like the one I had. As the cold humid weather hits my sticky face I can recall that we are somewhere in China on our way to hit the border with Vietnam.

The bus door closes and the vehicle continues its way, it is a bumpy road, the same kind that has rocked me to sleep many times before. Dawn gives the landscape a very gray and cold look, my blanket and scarf are damp and the window is covered with moisture.

I tried to look at the time, but my 3 dollar watch that I had purchased in a street market in Hong Kong got stuck at 4:45 am. I have no idea of how long I’ve been sleeping or at what time we got in this ride. I can recall that the night before we had got in a different bus overloaded with families and a very strong smell of urine, we had made sure that the travel agency where we booked the trip guaranteed that we would have regular seats, lesson that we had learned by experience. People were sitting on hard tiny stools in the bus isle, we were told that the bus would stop in Nanning 4 hours later to shift buses and continue our way to Pinxang. We got in the bus at 11 pm, and last time I could see the time we had been driving for 5 hours already.

We stopped in a sketchy bus station where we got off; half asleep we followed by instinct the other 80 passengers that were leaving. For half an hour we waited in a dusty corner that had a few seats while covering our faces to avoid the urine smell that had coated our backpacks and the other unidentifiable smells that poisoned our surroundings. A middle aged looking woman stayed nearby to stare at us, smiling at her we realized how used we were to that type of behavior.

As a big surprise to our tired bodies, a bus with sleepers picked us up. An old bold man with a big smile that smoked around 4 cigarettes in less than 20 min spoke to us in Mandarin in an attempt to explain what will happen after getting off our next bus, while lifting my backpack I turned around to face our observant whose baby was waving us goodbye as she grabbed his hand, I could see in her wondering smile that she wanted to talk to us, but the language barrier as usual stopped that conversation.

We haven’t been somewhere long enough to learn the language, always on the move we have only learned to follow our instincts and got quite inventive in using signs. It has been 10 continuous months of travel now, preceded by a couple of years of often moves.

We met for the first time in Mexico City while David was traveling, went to Cuba and back to Mexico, then we parted ways, he went to Europe for 6 months and I moved to VancouverCanada. Many months later we found ourselves traveling together again through the States and all the way to Costa Rica and Panama, finally we moved to Portland, Oregon. 10 months later bored by the routine and eager for new complications we moved to NYC where I got a normal job and we both had a normal life interrupted by a couple of weeks in Brazil. 1 year and 2 months later we hit the road again, from Belize to Guatemala, Mexico, California and on to our most exhausting and long trip.

All that we own is packed in two big and heavy backpacks and each other’s company, not knowing what we are looking for, we travel to see and experience, amused by our capacity to stand extremes in situations completely foreign to the lives we used to have before we met each other.

After I recollect in my mind where and when am I, and how did I get there, I sit up and put on my headphones to listen to the same play list I’ve played every time we take a bus or train since we arrived into China; this is the best way for me to remember in the future how I felt in what I consider stages of my life, a band called Mercurio and Molotown reminds me of when I was in junior high; aerosmith and metallica when I was in highschool; Satoshi Tomiie and old disco remixes remind me of the early years in College; Phsycodelic trance and Cold Play of my early 20s; Feist takes me back to Canada and North Cali; Mika to NYC along with Fergie; “The Bula song” of Fiji, and so forth…Now David Gray, Phill Collins, and Cat Power the ones who will take me back here to make me feel exactly like I do in this bus, to smell the same smells, have the same emotions in my heart and feel the same uncertainty of this wondering around.

Monday, November 24, 2008


So many places got lost on my undedicated will to write a blog. Nevertheless I still have quite vivid impressions of every country we have been.


A country which I didn’t even know existed until a couple years ago, but quite famous amongst Australian tourists and tasty for its French colonial past. The capital, Port Vila, is often referred to as the most beautiful city of the South Pacific and we found no reasons to contradict the statement.

The main reason for which we visited Vanuatu was to go to the island of Espiritu Santo to dive the wreck of the SS President Coolidge which was a luxury liner which was converted to a war carrier during WWII. Being 675ft and only a few hundred feet offshore, the Coolidge is one of the most attractive dive sites within the underwater community.

After our WWII history detour in the wreck, we flew into the island Tanna, where a volcano with the same name is still active and attracting visitors from all over. Tanna was a whole cultural shocking experience on itself, we booked a reservation with a local run hotel which consists of huts. Our hut was ok, but its quality wasn’t up to its price (60 USD) considering that it didn’t have a bathroom.

Our first night in Tanna was a nightmare, as I was getting ready to go to bed, David said “uh uh” looking at the ceiling, when I raised my head to look up I found a 10 inch hairy grey spider. Unfortunately our ugly friend wasn’t alone and trying not to scream I left the hut in a hurry and went to ask the receptionist to help us deal with it.

The lady in charge was laughing at us saying “spiders no problem, they good with you”, I asked her if she had them at her place and she answered yes, still we couldn’t deal with it and as we explained that we were not used to that kind of company she grabbed a broom and a can of insecticide. She successfully murdered one of them, the other one ran away out of sight, she left with us the insecticide which I grabbed on to strongly. After that we were continuously looking up and more spiders started coming out of their hide high under the effect of the spray, I freaked out and started spraying the poison all over the ceiling, more spiders came out along with many cockroaches.

We couldn’t handle it, we went to the reception and explained that even if we accepted company, we couldn’t be in the hut anymore due to the strong smell of the insecticide. The lady talked to somebody who talked to somebody else and finally gave us a key for a bigger hut with a bathroom and mosquito net over the bed, smiling she told us how some other tourists have preferred to sleep on the floor of the dining room under similar situations. We did not find it funny, we were been lodge on a stick hut for as much money that it would cost us to sleep on a motel in the US.

Carefully, we searched the new room to make sure we wouldn’t be attacked during the night. Finally asleep, the sound of a plastic bag being moved woke me up, the place was in complete darkness, the energy generator was shut every night at 11 pm, David used his flash light to discover a big rat trying to get to a bag of cookies next to our backpacks. After thinking about it carefully, we guessed that the rats eat insects and as long as we were covered by the net and hide the cookies we would be safe. Safe we were, but our guest was loud enough throughout the night going back and forth to her nest located in one of the palm tree walls where could hear her little cubs.

At least the volcano was amazing, we were so close to it that we could see the whole from where the lava was being constantly expulsed. A few kilometers around it, the landscape consisted of several mounts of ash.

Solomon Islands

As in the rest of the countries of the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands is populated by jobless starers. Literally, people sit around all day doing nothing just staring at everything and eating beetle nut.

The capital, Honiara was quite a shocking place, dirty, smelly, ugly, and hot weren’t the problem. As we were walking trying to find any charm to it, we observed several red blood colored stains on the streets, suddenly a bright red spit crosses from above us and we see a man sitting on a high up chair chewing something that looked bright red. More disgusted by it than anything we returned to our overpriced shit hotel where we hid for the whole day.

The next day we flew into Ghizo, the most famous diving destination in the Solomons. Eventhough Ghizo isn’t remarkably nice, it looked like a paradise after being in Honiara. There we were lodged in a not so bad hotel and booked a couple of days of diving. Sadly, we discovered that a year ago a tsunami had hit the area killing 90% of the coral, leaving a horrifying marine landscape of death coral structures everywhere we looked. Fortunately, we were told that most of the coral species were growing back. We were taken to a wreck called “Toa Maru” a Japanese destroyer from WWII, this ship still had all the coral growth making it look like a normal coral reef that happened to have an amazing wreck underneath.

Papua New Guinea

More people sitting around not doing anything. The problem here is that even if they get a job, everyone has the duty to give money to their relatives ending up with nothing anyway, plus their food grows everywhere and the land is plenty, why would they work?

Beetle nut is widely chewed here. This weird nut in combination with mustard sticks and lime (pulverized burnt sea shells) is chewed to obtain a red color substance that you must spit right away to avoid getting the runs. The outcome of this is a 10 min head rush that makes you sweaty, gives you red stained teeth, your mouths gets watery and in a long run it causes mouth cancer.

PNG is a beautiful country in terms of nature, still the prices for tourism are terribly high given the fact that the infrastructure for the same purpose is not even well developed like in other way cheaper and nicer destinations like in South East Asia.

In Madang, we dove some pretty amazing sites and visited villages where people still leave isolated from the advantages that our times have to offer. We found these places amazing, locals are expert gardeners and their villages are like huge beautiful gardens with cute houses here and there, they eat off the ground and are very good hearted.

PNG in a country characterized by mountains and valleys, it wasn’t until the 70’s when people discovered villages in the highlands that had never seen foreigners and didn’t know of the existence of other countries. In the highlands there are still village wars and in 1997 a rare disease caused by cannibalism killed a woman and her child.

The people here are quite proud of their cultural heritage and in attempt to draw tourism they organize festivals and “sing sings” where they dressed up in elaborated outfits and make up to sing and dance with the sound of their drums.


Food and shopping. If you are into one or both of these things, you’ll love this place.
Just imagine a gigantic mall with outdoor areas and housing in it and you have Singapore. The perfection of the place gives you a feeling of being in the future, everything works, everything is clean, and everything is new.

The souvenir shops are occupied by shirts making fun of their strict system, you are not allowed to chew gum, dance on the street and J cross, drugdealers or drugholders could be sentenced to death if the government considers it a pertinent punishment.

Singapore is the most affluent country in South East Asia, being the most important port in the world, it has available for sale any sort of merchandise you could ever dream of. Singaporeans also love food, and they know very well how to cater it, there are food courts and restaurants everywhere you look with all sorts of flavors and cuisines from all over the world.


Bali has been our Indonesian experience. Of course we visited areas more to the west, but found ourselves yearning the laid back character of Bali.

After being in Jogyakarta for a few days, exploring the amazing temples of Borobudur and Pranganan, we headed back to Bali.

Tulamben was my personal favorite, with one of the best sites to do muck diving, we spent about 7 days total.

We also spent 8 days in a liveaboard in Komodo National Marine Park, one of the most popular diving areas in the world. Here we would dive 4 times a day in strong currents and eating delicious food that our chef would prepare 3 times a day to keep us strong to face the challenges of diving here.

Kuta is a tourists’ mekka, almost every girl, thin or fat hangs out on the streets on tiney bikinis. Shirtless surfers carry their boards everywhere, scooters get in your way, locals harass you to buy stuff. Still, it is cheap, pretty, fun, and good. It was in Kuta where we both began to learn how to surf.


Beautiful and tasty, Thailand has very well earned its reputation as one of the nicest tourist destinations. Most of the south East Asian countries made us wander why the hell did we stayed in the overpriced Pacific Islands.

Our stay here was too short to truly enjoy its charm, but we are planning on going back in a couple of months.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

South Pacific I: Fiji

I have been trying for the last 2 months to come up with the right words to write about our trip through the South Pacific without any success, but I’ll do my best to accurately describe our impressions.

Even though the simplicity of the place can be synthesized to slow and backwards, our experience was way more complicated.

Long before the trip, we gathered every vital item required for our survival such as mosquito repellent, medicines for all sorts of stomach ailments, water purifier, etc. What we didn't have was a guide to help us deal with the huge and sometimes frustrating cultural differences, which could be better called “the culture shock”. So far the implications haven’t gone any further than developing our innermost dark sense of humor.

After 2 days in Tonga we were more than happy to board a plane to Fiji, where everything seemed possible, people were smiley and tourism is important. Once at the airport, we noticed the most remarkable characteristic of Fijians, they are incredibly friendly and they will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed.

The Queen of the Yasawas

For the first two weeks in Fiji, we purchased a ferry pass to island hop in the Yasawas, a chain of islands located on the northwest of Fiji. Mosquitoes, bulas, vinakas, and so reigned, as well as tourists and overpriced accommodation.

There is where we met Queen, a Fijian male who honors his name with pride, character, and looks. Queen was the host at Sunrise Resort, one of the village run hotels in the Yasawas.

The self proclaimed Queen Latifah’s lost brother, is always eager to show his “skills” such as singing, dancing, story telling (which include only stories about himself) and dog style swimming.

With the purpose of entertaining his guests, Queen has accumulated a vast repertoire of acts. One of the most popular ones is “The Turtle Island Escape”. Turtle Island is one of the world’s most famous resorts for celebrities.

According to Queen, slavery was the employment style of choice at the expensive resort, and after a few songs with his badly intonated voice, the story of his escape was the starring performance during dinner. From Oprah drinking Kava, to Jonh McCain following him to his new home, Queen proudly told a story of injustice, glamour, and greed.

Queen is not only a singer, dancer, storyteller, and dog swimmer, he is also a Hero. Besides being the example for many Turtle Island escapes, he also saves lives. One day, he went with a group of backpackers to explore a cave that consist of 3 relatively easy accessible chambers. The first chamber connects with the second one through an underwater tunnel that requires good swimming skills to cross. -Normally, I stay greeting all the local people around the cave- he said – but this time I felt something was wrong, something told me I had to go in the cave – Trusting his gut, Queen penetrated the cave and everything seemed fine, when he tried to dive through the tunnel that leads to the second part, he saw two Asian girls fighting for their lives, desperate, helpless, they were drowning, they didn’t know how to swim.

Without giving it any thought, Queen swam towards them and pushed them through to the surface saving their lives, and now he has two Asian friends that will always be thankful for his heroic action.

Soon after he told us the cave story, Queen was very excited about swimming and decided to provide swimming lessons to one of the guests. As he appeared in the water, it took us a while to define what our eyes were seeing, he had a sarong wrapped around his torso covering his chest accompanied with a well matched purple wrap to hold his hair and gave a demonstration of his perfect “dog swimming” technique.

Our last day at Sunrise Resort arrived, and of course, Queen cannot let his longer-term guests leave without a deserving going away show. The day of our departure he presented himself as the dancer and vocal of an improvised band formed by his staff. With flowers in our ears and plenty of pictures, we left Sunrise with the promise of sharing his story with the world.

Fijian ADD

In Fiji, Language didn’t represent a problem to us since English is their national language. Nevertheless, ADD appeared as a big personal inconvenience amongst Fijian people. Most Fijians have perfect short term memory, they are capable of repeating exactly what you said right after you said it, but it will take about 10 different explanations before they grasp the meaning of your sentences.

One day we were trying to cancel a hotel reservation in one of the not so nice Yasawa Islands, we walked into the reception and 3 nice ladies were there to assist us. After we explained that we had a reservation with them for 3 nights next week, they repeated our words and then said "but you still have to pay for tonight"; very patiently we repeated that the reservation wasn't for that night, it was for the next week and we needed to cancel it -it is for the 31st, today is the 26th- we said, once again they said we needed to pay for that night. As our words and patience to explain our situation started to wear down, I thought that perhaps their English wasn't that great after all, but no! They would repeat exactly what we just had said and still didn't make sense to them. Eventually we started enunciating everything slowly as if we were explaining 4 year olds how to add...10 explanations and 20 min later they understood it and replied in perfect English "ok, no problem, if you want your deposit back you need to contact your travel agent"....

Bula! Bula!

We always do our best to learn some local words, and this time wasn't the exception, the regular greeting is "Bula" for which you reply "bula", to say thank you'll say "Vinaka" for which you have to reply "Vinaka". But that's not as simple as it sounds, they have a few Bula songs, they have the tourists' Bula Dance, they have the locals' Bula dance, and most of their songs say something like Bula Vinaka, Vinaka, or Bula...we spent 5 weeks in Fiji, and every single day I woke up with the Bula song playing in my mind, every time we went to a new hotel they made us perform the bula dance, everywhere we went they'd say "Bula, Bula; every time I went to bed I had the Bula song in my head...Now we are in Indonesia and I still get glimpsing memories of the Bula song every once in a while.

Fiji Time

Fijians have a very cunning phrase to justify delays and mistakes alike; this is “Fiji time”. Fiji time is very simple, just say “Fiji time if you are 1 hour late, Fiji time if after stating 3 times that you are vegetarian they served you meat, Fiji time if they don’t understand you, Fiji time if they forgot your name after being asked for it 6 times (no exaggeration), and why not? Fiji time if you punched one of them in the face after saying “Fiji time”.

Diving Fiji

After the Yasawas, our journey through Fiji was far from over. We took a plane to Vanua Levu, the second biggest Island in Fiji. There, we stayed in a town called Savu Savu, which David says is one of the most beautiful places he’s ever been to and I agree. Green hills emerge from the calm ocean with colorful little houses and beautiful gardens.

Savu Savu is located in a small peninsula surrounded by a few small-inhabited islands and other peninsulas that protect it from strong currents; unlike the Yasawas, Savu Savu has regulations for fishing and protection of the reef life, which makes diving the area completely astounding. The marine landscape there is so beautiful that during our first dive at a site called “Dread Locks” I felt like crying. SCUBA is my favorite sport and in 13 years of being certified I had never seen such beauty. Soft coral galore as well as hard coral, nudibranches, crystal clear water, big fish, small fish, colors, etc.

We spent a week in Savu Savu and got our Advance Diver certifications and then moved to Taveuni. The town is not as beautiful as Savu Savu, but diving is just as amazing. Our time in Taveuni wasn’t that enjoyable due to a nightmare experience with the diveshop of our hotel, Aquatrek Divers. I won’t get into details because I don’t want to feel angry. It is enough to say that they pretty much abandoned me in the middle of the ocean with one of the strongest currents we’ve been in and the dive guide didn’t notify anyone that I was missing. Luckily I was lost for only 35 min and the situation didn’t go further than being terrified and David yelling at the staff.

A few days in Taveuni were enough and then we took a ferry ride to Levuka, which is a very pretty little colonial town. Our hotel room made us feel like we were at the end of the 1800’s and our time there was quite enjoyable as well as diving, but nothing remarkable.

To finish our trip, we went to Bega Lagoon, a very famous spot for shark diving. Shark diving here is something to see, they don’t use cages, and the sharks are from 8 to 18ft long bulls, tigers, nurses, lemons, greys, and white tips. Brandon, the founder of Bega divers, the shop that began this shark feeding operation, explained that in order to achieve the right environment to dive with such a big group of sharks they have to begin with a few months preparation period previous to diving so that the sharks get used to the divers’ presence. For many years now, they have been successful with 0 rate of attacks and thousands of happy customers.

Once into the dive, every fear for sharks that even experienced divers could have somewhere deep inside disappears at the sight of such a professional operation. A staff of at least 6 guides surrounds the divers and makes sure that everyone stays in a safe place. Since I had the camera, I had a personal diveguard, who took me around to locate me at the most convenient spots to get good shots. Before the dive, Brandon told us that the chances of seeing the Tiger shark were low so I wasn’t expecting to see one, but there she was at the touch of my hand. She swam right above my head thanks to a good piece of tuna that the guides were holding out. I touched it, and I still can’t believe it, it was like a dream, but my pictures show it was not.

David was just as amused, he stayed at a higher spot where he could move back and forth more freely and got the opportunity to touch one of them as well. The view down there is overwhelming, a conglomeration of thousands of fish surrounds the feeding spot and the sharks break through the crowd showing who is the boss and get close, they do not mind us, they look at you straight in the eye and when they do that, you realize that they know you are there, and that they can snack on you if they please.

Bega was the perfect closure to our 5 week stay in Fiji and became one of the places in the South Pacific where we will have to go back at some point. Sadly, one day after the shark adventure willing to have more encounters, we had to pack our stuff and go back to Nadi, where we to take a flight to our next country, Vanuatu.

ODD Facts

- All through the SP David was a star, groups of kids usually gathered behind him staring at his tattoos. During a hell-like ferry ride, teenagers took turns harassing him, one by one they’d go and sit near him and stare, not talk, just stare.

- You do not need to go to the circus to see a bearded woman; many Fijian women seem to be proud of their facial hair.

- Carbolicious. The Fijian diet is nothing fancy or balanced, it was common to eat ramen noodles with potatoes on top of white rice for every meal, sometimes we were lucky and got curried corn beef. This was the menu for the all-inclusive plan at the $100 per night accommodation in the Yasawas.

We were in Tonga, how was that possible?

After a few days of getting entertained by David's family, the real trip began at LAX. It was quite a sad goodbye, and we still didn't realize where were we going.

Tonga is a far far away Kingdom, the only surviving monarchy in the Pacific and one of the last ones in the world, a island in the middle of the open ocean between Fiji and Samoa, tiny and unknown (which made it very attractive to our exploring nature). I don't know why or how, but we requested it to be placed in our flight itinerary. We were probably hoping that we were going to find a hidden pacific paradise awaiting four our budget travelling expectations. 2 weeks and a half was our choice, our plans included diving, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, drinking, eating, taking pictures, etc...

Even though the population in Tonga consists of only 101,000, the airport held a big crowd waiting for their visitors from overseas. We felt immediately welcomed by the tropical ambiance and the warmth humidity of the air. We were happy the flight didn't seem so long but our smiles didn't last long. As we tried to go through immigration, the officer informed us that Mexicans require visa, therefore I might have to be deported to Auckland, NZ. My eyes started to tear, I had never had any problems to get into any country, I felt so guilty for relying on the outdated Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry's website to do my travelling requirements research, I chanted, I worried, I felt anxious.

Almost an hour later everything seemed to serve my chants, they let me in for a 30 dollars fee, the officer appeared more chatty and told me that it wasn't the first time this happened with Mexicans. The only one reason they let me in was because the next flight was to NZ and I needed a visa to get there as well. We made a friend at the customs line, he even invited us to a party, as we walked out of the airport to figure out how to call the guest house where we wanted to stay, the owner was already waiting for us.

His name was Toni. Toni is an old British fella, and he likes to complain, and I must say that complaining is really what he was born for. With a fine British accent and a straight tone in his voice Toni went off, and off, and off...As hours went by, we became very familiar with Tongan. Their activities consist of going to church, eating, yelling at each other, sleeping, and going to church. Since it was Easter our only option was to go Tongan, which appeared to be the only one thing possible for tourists or as they call us "Palangas".

Toni explained to us that Tongans are very traditional and lazy, all of them are very religious and their biggest entertainment is for men to hold Kava sessions almost every night. Kava is a drink made out of Kava root which original process of preparation should be through fermentation triggered by teenagers' saliva.

We committed ourselves to try to find out about activities in Tonga, this commitment eventually became in a consistent effort to get Toni to say that something was possible...but no! it wasn't possible. They had Kayaks, but they were broken in half; there were SCUBA centers, but they wouldn't answer the phone, and even if they did Toni would be surprised if their equipment was in conditions to be used; we could take a Ferry to Ha'apai or Vavua which was terribly expensive, and even if we took it probably we wouldn't be able to be back inTongatapu on time to take our plane to Fiji because you never know when things are really going to happen.

But that wasn't the strangest thing at all, what was amusing was the fact that Toni left England 18 years ago to go to Tonga after he read an article in the Reader's Diggest, and never left. He doesn't like Tongans and Tongans don't like him, the reason, he explains is "of course they don't like me, I have a dollar in my pocket". Supposedly, Tongans live on others' expenses, if they eat they have to offer food to everybody around them, if they have money they have to give it away (but mostly they are forced) reason for which no one is motivated to work. Even if you show them the money, they wouldn't do it, it is not possible because they have to rest and even if they didn't have to rest everything was closed.

After two days of heavy rain and of slowly becoming insane by the heat, mosquitoes, and impossibility to do anything, we changed our ticket to Fiji for 2 weeks earlier, that was the only one possible thing in Tonga.

Funny facts about Tonga.

- There is a big population of "Fakaletes" (fake ladies) which are transvestite. The funny part is that families decide to start dressing their boys as women at a very early age just because they need more women.

- The beautiful people are the big people. As David said "Tongans are huge, if they are not tall they are fat" but mostly they are both.

- Their king doesn't like them, he has an old British taxi because it has blinds to avoid his people from seeing him and himself from seeing his people. (this is actually a very sad fact)

- It is an offense to reject food or Kava, David might have eaten dog.

The Dummies' Guide for a Culture Shock

This is Amy, my sister in law, she has lyme disease. This infection has made herself and the family to start a hard to win fight not only against her condition, but also against the lousy health care American system.

After a few years of going from one diagnosis to another, she finally was expected to be put in the right track to get the "right treatment" that could help her defeat the lyme bacteria. Many doctors, medicines, and lots of pain later, she found out about a place far far away that could give her and the family hope once again. The Stem Cell transplant being a more sensible, yet unusual procedure for the Western World, was to be held in New Delhi, India.

In this city, where poverty is a huge issue and where the air quality has caused many of its inhabitants to suffer from various lung, liver, genetic, and lung abnormalities, Amy is now receiving the treatment that will save her life way faster than in her home country. For more information regarding lyme disease and the procedure, please visit:

So, from moving out of NYC, flying into Florida, and right before starting a long journey around the world with David, I came all the way to the other side of the world to see the miracle. After 2 airplanes, 2 dramamines, and 14 hours, I landed in New Delhi, and I wish I knew...

Lesson # 1 Before any move, always look behind...
And to the front, also left and right, ah! don't forget behind again.
Everything starts at the immigration line. If you see somebody walking so close to you that it seems they might be trying to go ahead of you, I assure you it is because they are not aware of you being there. My advice is to start gagging, coughing, or simply let them go first (you might have to let the whole line go ahead if you go for this option though).

For some reason everybody was waiting for their luggage cramped at the same spot along a 300 ft carrusel, making no sense at all I walked past the crowd and waited at a clear area. Finally I got my bag, but I hadn't learned my lesson and walked without looking right behind me; a very smily looking lady decided it was the best for her cart to be parked 1 inch behind my feet.

Lesson # 2 Run after your Luggage...
If you want to see it again, apparently (according to rumors) it is common that if you let somebody take your luggage you won't see it again. My parents in law seemed to have no problem with the driver they hired to grab my bag, and waited until the driver was out of sight to let me know about this urban myth, it was quite a workout!

Lesson # 3 Welcome to the land of Senseless Actions
Do not expect anybody to have common sense, from my experience this is how I reached to this conclusion:

No lanes in traffic, no side mirrors in cars, cars going in all directions on one way streets, bicycles pulling broken motorcycles with a little cart, 5 persons in one tiny motorcycle, people mopping the floor with black water and sweeping it afterwards, they also empty the garbage can with their bare hands instead of taking the whole bag, a yoga instructor teaching parapelegic patients saying "now stand up and separate your legs", guys wearing women's jeans, and men trying to hit on girls while two of them grab hands...I'll stop there or my hands will be sore after I am done typing.

Lesson # 4 Cover your mouth, nose, and be ready to chill.
When you take a taxi or a rick-shaw don't only bring your camera, also someone to talk with or a book, the reason is the amazingly long lasting red lights combined with dense traffic and I promise that I might be underestimating the time when I say red lights can last as long as 15 min. To complete the experience is the "fog", which is actually hard core polluted air, but still makes it difficult to see far away.

Lesson # 5 Get loose and Cooperate
Going to a temple or anywhere where they charge to access means you'll be thoroughly searched twice and when I say thoroughly, I mean it. This added to the fact that Indian culture has no sense of privacy at all gives your life a new purpose. Just close your eyes and imagine it is not happening, especially if you decide to go for a full body massage and you are totally against parts of your body slamming, they'll try to help you get undress and to even shower you if you let them. Therefore, if you are a bit too shy just get herbal teas for relaxation instead of an appointment at a spa for an ayurvedic treatment.

Lesson # 5 Take pictures of Cows Instead of Beggars
Some people will be thrill if you take their picture, they'll even pose for you, but some others will try to charge you, that's why I kind of started worshiping cows as well. In India, cows crowd the streets just like any other person, they won't charge for their picture being taken because they are just happy eating garbage.

If you still want to people watch you better memorize this: naheen for beggers, and bargain only 1/3 of the price.

Lesson # 6 Use Body Language
If people can't understand you when you speak English, I assure you they won't understand if you yell English. Let's be fair, even though English is the universal language, it doesn't mean everybody should understand you, so you better start practicing your charades skills and have fun with it.

Lesson # 7 Smoker? then you'll save money
Being from Mexico City means that I breathed the equivalent to 2 packs of cigarettes a day up until I moved away. I am afraid of finding out what is the equivalent in Delhi, but if I was a smoker I would definitely save money on the nicotine patch and quit for good, i don't think withdrawal symptoms would be an issue.

Once you have heartened these recommendations, be ready to enjoy one of the most mystical places in the world, from the beauty and magic on most people's smiles to the unexplainable overall improvement you'll feel in you mind and body once you get off the airplane. I am certain good vibes are constant in every part of India and you'll have an opportunity to love who you are, where you come from, and will find beauty in little things we commonly forget about in our regular lives. To see more of Delhi: