Tag Archives: Blogging

Days 14, 15, 16, 17: Nepal: Lumbini and Chitwan

Crossing borders on foot often makes you thankful of how easy we all have it with airport borders. Crossing from India to Nepal was no exception but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in Varanasi, we had a train to catch. We were hoping to meet up with a French couple we had met earlier at the train station. We were dropped off an hour before our train was supposed to leave because the driver could not wait around any longer. Good riddance to him.

It was 11:30 pm and the train was going to leave at 12:30 am. We found a spot for ourselves and ran into our French friends who had been unable to book an air-conditioned coach and were travelling in sleeper class (like 3rd class but with no AC). We got wifi by borrowing someone’s Indian phone to get the activation SMS message and settled down to wait for the train.

The train was initially delayed by 35 mins, then 50, then an hour and 5 minutes. We suspected the cows walking down the rail track were partly to blame.

The train finally arrived at 2 am and we settled in for the night, this time in 2nd class AC which had only 2 levels of bunks and curtains! Quite the luxurious ride. The train was only 8 hours so we arrived at Gorakpur at 10 am and were only 3 hours from the border by bus.

As we hadn’t slept much and we were 4 people we decided to just take a taxi for a thousand rupees to the border. It was a bit shady as we had to pay for his petrol as well and we were still on the defensive due to our Indian experiences. In the end all was well and we were dropped off at the Indian immigration office.

The heat that day was pretty bad, (about 38 degrees centigrade) and with a lot of humidity so it was a long, sweaty wait for our passports to be checked and signed. Once we had checked out of India, we started the long trek across the heavily guarded border.

It was all one long line of trucks, stuck at the border for what looked like days. The line was over 3 km long and didn’t seem to be moving any time soon. We crawled through the traffic and found the Nepali office just past the border on the right hand side. If we’d walked on the left hand side, we’d be illegal immigrants right now.

The office was hot and the paperwork was way too thin for our amounts of sweat. Esther had also developed a splitting headache so everyone was in a great mood! We handed over our somewhat ripped forms, two photos and 50 pristine dollars (2 bills were rejected because they had minuscule tears on the edge, luckily I had brought spares) and we now had Nepali visas!

As Esther was not feeling great we headed straight to Lumbini in a local bus. It was hot, packed and as much fun as I remember. Esther, I think, wasn’t quite so enthusiastic but she stuck in there like a trooper and we arrived safe and sound.

At the hostel, we decided to splurge on an air-conditioned room. I felt that the bus and border crossing were enough discomfort for a day and Esther needed to rest. We had a relaxing evening and rested up.

In the morning we wanted some space so we rented an electric scooter and headed off to see temples. Lumbini is the birth place of Buddha and the international Buddhist communities have built big temples around the birth place. It was rather hot so we only saw the Nepali, Chinese and Austrian temples but there seemed to be no expense spared. The stupa which was built by the Japanese government is also nothing to sneeze at.

Lumbini only has sights for a day so the next morning we boarded another local bus to Chitwan. This bus was no fun. It had blaring music over the speakers but only had 50 minutes of music so after 4 hours we had more than enough. I put my headphones on and blasted Hamilton while Esther used earplugs to try to block it out. We thought we had it beaten and then the bus broke down.

We headed to the “garage” which was a dirt-covered lot with some bricks to lift up the bus a bit. After a while we realised we would be here for a long time so we headed to a nearby hut to drink some beer and eat momos. No point in stressing out about it.

After a change of parts, delivered by speedy motorbike, we continued on to our final destination. After one more bus and a tuk-tuk we got to a nice lodge and we booked our jungle walk and elephant safari.

Chitwan is a chilled, laid back community. We walked around the streets, ate some local fish and went to sleep early as we had a sunrise to catch.

Floating down the river in Chitwan at dawn, on an unstable log canoe is one of the scariest things I’ve done in a while. Every time I moved, the canoe would tilt and the water would lap up to the edge. We had crocodiles all around us and once they popped underwater, they disappeared. Jaws was a fucking rom-com compared to this!

Safely back on dry land, we headed off into the jungle and ran into a rhino. It stared at us from 5 meters away and I remember the advice of our guide. “If it charges, run up a tree”. I looked around and made the decision that I had more chance of launching the guide at the rhino to distract it than I had of ever getting up any of those trees.

Luckily the rhino decided it had better things to do and so did we. We walked in the jungle for around 2 to 3 hours and saw a few monkeys, a lot of insects and some scary tiger tracks. Overall really cool. We had also booked an elephant ride in the afternoon so it was time to go to the hotel and rest up for the afternoon.

Many things can be said about elephant rides, but I don’t think anyone has ever said they were comfortable. We spent an hour and a half on a lumbering beast with a kid that got very sick and another one that started playing video games on his phone. My legs felt like they were going to fall off and even though we saw some rhinos really close, I don’t think I’ll do that again.

We eventually made it to our hotel and went to do some shopping. On the way back we encountered another rhino near the road to the hotel. We pretended it didn’t bother us and bravely scurried along to our hotel. Having had enough for the day we went to sleep in preparation for our travels onto the calm shores of Pokhara!

.

Days 4 and 5: Jaipur!

We knew that it was going to be a long drive to Jaipur from Delhi. Nobody enjoys the prospect of 5 hours in the car but we steeled up for the task and left early in the morning so as to get there by lunch time. The road to Jaipur has 2 clearly defined sections: before you reach Rajastan and after. The roads in Rajastan are a lot better than in the state of Delhi. However, apart from the heat, it was a rather uneventful drive.

To start our Jaipur visit we went to the Amber Fort. This is a beautiful fort, perched high up in the Hills above Jaipur. It has great views of the wall that runs along the top of Jaipur’s hills but is a bit of a climb to get to. You can take an elephant up to the top but we preferred to walk. As it as a festival day, there were hordes of people there to visit the local temple but the fort itself was not extremely crowded.

After visiting the fort we took a drive along the lake to see the water temple and then we went to our hotel. We unpacked and decided we wanted to eat kebabs so we struck out into town in search of a place called “The Kabab Shop”.

Our hotel was a bit outside town so we had to brave the roads and highways at night to get to the food place. Esther is either getting better at walking among traffic or she’s becoming a better actress as I only heard her screaming once, maybe twice, in the whole journey.

The kebabs were delicious and well worth the walk there and back again. Back at our hotel I fought wiith the wifi for a while and then gave up and went to bed.

The next day we also got an early start and went to see Albert’s house. This building was constructed to honour the visit of Prince Albert to India in the late 19th century and is now a museum. As it was World tourism day, all entries were free to museums and attractions so we just walked in.

This building is now a museum where they display anything they can get their hands on. It had weapons, pottery, textiles, paintings, reproductions of Greek statues and even a mummy in the basement! Not sure if it’s worth a visit or not.

After that we went to see the city palace and the jantar mantar.The city Palace is rather impressive and boasts the world’s biggest silver object. 2 jars weighing 345kg each! Apart from that it has some beautiful courtyards with stunning doors and curious guards that are happy for you to take their photo and then whisper “Tip” while standing under the “No Tipping” sign. No tips were given though advice was freely dispensed.

After a brief walk through the blazing heat of the jantar mantar, we joined kuldeep for some traditional Indian thali. Though all vegetarian, it was really nice and having a beer with it also helped a lot.

As the heat was rising we retreated to a coffeeshop for espresso and air conditioning. In there we had another of our inevitable photo sessions with the locals and then ventured into the beauty of the Hawa Mahal.

This place is definitely worth a visit as the architecture is stunning and it is also full of small corners were you can retreat for a bit of peace and quiet. This is a quality not to be underestimated in a city as crazy as Jaipur. After the Hawa Majal we ventured into the local markets in search of trousers for Esther.

This took a long time and a lot of meandering through fun streets filled with the usual assortment of vehicles, people and this time also pigs! We asked Kuldeep later if people ate those pigs and he answered “No, those are street pigs”. Apparently the local fauna includes stray pigs.

Once the shopping was done, we got nicely lost in the side streets heading to the city palace and were accosted by hordes of children screaming “Photo!!!” and “Chewing Gum!!”. We took their photo, gave them a print and some gum and they were gone in a second. Leaving behind a crying 1 year old toddler that we were not very sure what to do with. Luckily an adult was on hand to take the baby and we scampered away down a side street that seemed to lead to where we wanted to go.

Back in the safety of our car, we headed to the Tiger fort to see the sunset. This fort is really high up in the hills and you would need some sort of vehicle to get here. It is most definitely worth it. Not only is the fort beautiful but also the views are spectacular. I’d also recommend paying the 200 rupee fee to get into the opa restaurant to see the sunset. You get a free drink with the entrance and the views are hard to beat.

As the day came to a close we headed back to Jaipur and asked Kuldeep to drop us close to the kebab place for dinner. “Close” was 2 kms away and we had quite a walk to the kebab shop and then to the hotel. In the end we got there safely after a bit more screaming from Esther. She now uses the screaming therapeutically to give her strength. It is mutating into half scream, half roar.

We fought with the Internet a bit, and then slept peacefully until the next day.

First day: flights and Delhi!

So, here we go again. Flying off into the unknown with apparently not a care in the world. It’s all a carefully orchestrated illusion of course as you cannot avoid some level of trepidation when embarking upon a month-long trip into India and Nepal.

The flight over was relatively uneventful with the exception of encountering my first burger king that served no beef burgers. I have a feeling I’ll be sprouting feathers by the end of this trip! Eating nothing but chicken every day!

The monotony of the fight to Delhi was broken by a group of screaming old Italian ladies that spent a big part fo the trip complaining loudly in Italian to fellow passengers that did not speak a word of Italian. They also routenly ignored the fasten seat belt sign and one even got up to chat with her friend just before the plane started accelerating for take-off. Esther and I found it very funny, a feeling clearly not shared by the flight crew. Once we landed and spent the mandatory hour in the queue to get our visas, we stepped outside where our patient cab driver was still waiting for us, in spite of the fact that we were almost 3 hours late.

The drive over was either a lot of fun or nerve-wracking, depending on which one of us you asked. I have a feeling that by the end of this trip, Esther will either never want to get in a car again or will be one more of the crazy drivers that you find in these latitudes.

After getting some food and refreshment at the hotel, we sat down with the hotel’s travel agent to book the trains over to Varanasi. We knew that finding spaces on those trains could be challenging so we had to book the in advance. Somehow after a few minutes talking to the agent we found ourselves breaking my cardinal rule of my trips, No planning!

We now have a driver for the first week or so, as well as hotels, trains and everything booked until we are due to leave India on the sixth. I’m not sure how I feel about this yet.

On the one-hand it’s nice to have a driver to take us around, avoid the hassles of looking for transport and ending up stuck in a local bus. On the other hand, I kind of like those hassles and buses. In any case, I saw Esther’s look of relief when everything was booked and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. We are travelling together and if she’s happy, That’s all I need.

Now all that was over, we could begin our exploration of Delhi! Our driver, Kundeep, turns out to be a great guy. He’s been doing this for 24 years, has a solid FB following and books full of raving comments from past clients. He took us around to the best known sites of New Delhi and it was a mixed bag.

Some sites are amazing and we feel like we should have stayed a little longer. Places like the Lodi gardens and the Qutab Minar deserve time to see properly.

Other places were not so great. The Laxmi temple, Indira Ghandi memorial and the government building are ok if you have time to spare but I could have done without them.

Overall it was a good day, by the time we got back to the hotel we were wrecked and ended passing out on the beds and waking up at 6 am the next day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Technology update. Smaller and better.

The last time I did some travel blogging was 2 years ago when I went to Japan for the first time. Back then I was using my Android tablet with an attached keyboard to write my posts and also to transfer my photos from my SD cards to my hard drive.

I ended up quitting blogging half-way through that trip as the entire process was a nightmare. The tablet was very slow, uploading and editing images was really hard and overall it took way too much time to complete a blog post. I still really appreciated having a way to backup my images but it was not feasible for blogging. Since then I’ve gone even more minimalist. I now travel with just my smartphone which I use for editing my photos and I also carry a card reader and a HDD but depend on the kindness of strangers to transfer my photos to my HDD. This has gone well so far but I never felt quite comfortable with the setup. For this trip I am taking a leap to try to do more blogging on the go and I’ve got a couple of gadgets that will hopefully help me achieve everything I want while not taking up too much space. My first addition to my setup is a Bluetooth keyboard. I bought a folding keyboard which I’ve paired up with my smartphone and I’ll be using that to blog on the go. I’m actually writing this whole article with this setup and it works a treat. This will let me write up my posts whenever I have a spare moment and is also so much more responsive than my old setup. The second issue I want to tackle is mobile backup. I’ve ordered a little gadget called the Ravpower Filehub. Ravpower is a company that is better known for its power banks but this nifty gadget does so much more. The main thing I want to use it for is to transfer files from my SD card to my portable hard drive.

This gadget has both an SD card reader and a USB port so I can use it to move files from one to the other without going through my phone. It also is a WiFi hub so I can read files and watch movies stored on the hard drive, it acts as a WiFi extender for bad connections, can turn hard point connections into wireless connections and so much more. Did I mention it also has a 6000 mA battery to charge my phone? I’m really excited to get this little piece of tech and start trying it out.

Looking back and planning ahead

When I started this blog back in September last year, I had planned to keep it updated quite regularly. As we know, I have not been very successful. Though I have posted quite a bit initially, I have struggled to find inspiration on topics and keep engaged.

Last week I stumbled upon the Zero to Hero series of blog posts. They propose a series of 30 steps to take over 30 days to refresh your blog. The step for the first day is to write a new introduction post so  here I go.

I am a 35 year old Spanish expat that emigrated to Ireland at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. I have worked as a freelance translator and interpreter, as a translator and then community manager in a videogame company and I now work as a Product Manager in an online company. As you may have guessed I love photography and travelling and would someday love to make a living out of those hobbies. I am also studying acting and will hopefully be taking part in a few plays in the coming years.

The reason I started this blog was to share my work as an amateur photographer and to document my trips. I had also intended to post the occasional random post on subjects that matter to me. Over the last 6 months I have had moderate success in blogging my travels in Nepal but have really not posted much on the other subjects. I intend to ramp up my posts and will probably be splitting up the blog into different sections as I feel it will help me categorise what I write and not feel I am going off topic.

Another goal with the blog was to connect with fellow travel bloggers and photographers. I have read many blogs in my life but never really considered the social aspect of this. Whenever I heard of the blogosphere I considered it similar to a collection of individual contributors, I never stopped to consider the amount of interaction that happens between the different authors. Hopefully by focusing on this effort during 2014 I will build up a solid groups of followers and friends that I can share my work with.

I also love to interact with my readers and provide the content you would be interested in reading so if you have any ideas, please let me know what you want to read about!

Mobile blogging using Android

When I was preparing for my trip to Nepal I decided not to take my laptop and opt instead for my trusty Asus Transformer Infinity tablet. I thought some of you may be interested in my experience in using only Android for blogging, photo editing and uploading pictures.

A year ago, I was looking to buy an Android tablet and wanted to get one that gave me more flexibility than the standard table does. I ended up picking up a second-hand Asus Transformer Infinity which met all my needs at the time. What makes the Transformer line of tablets different is the fact that they can be used either as a tablet or as a sort of ultrabook with the additional Keyboard attachment. The keyboard also contains and additional battery, a USB port and an SD card slot. All of these additions make it the ideal tablet for what I was planning on doing. As well as my tablet I took along an external hard drive which allowed me to back-up my pictures on the go.

TF700

Software

The Asus tablet works really well but the android version it came with was painfully slow. The first thing I did was unlock the tablet and install the excellent Cyanogenmod custom ROM. This removed a lot of unnecessary software from the tablet and made it much snappier. As I was only going to be using the tablet for blogging and didn’t want to have to experiment on the road I downloaded all the apps I would need before leaving. I used all free apps because I’m cheap. 🙂

For writing the blogs I used the free app from WordPress. It works well enough and allows you to store local copies of the posts which is useful for when you decide to write something up and have no wi-fi access. I did have some issues uploading pictures using the app but I will go into those in a bit.

To edit my photos I used the excellent Snapseed app. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It works great with Fuji JPEGs and allows you to work with 16 megapixel images with no downsizing. The only thing I wish they would add is the option to save to a different size as I ended up having to use a different app for that because the internet speeds in Nepal leave a lot to be desired.

To resize pictures I used an app called Photo Resizer. It worked well and allowed me to set a custom size for resizing my photos.

I used Antek Explorer to manage the transfer of files from my SD cards to my hard drive. I love this app as I can use a split screen and easily drag files from one folder to another.

Lastly, to preview and manage my images I used Quickpic. In my opinion this is the best image browser available today for Android, and it’s free! It also allows you to easily select multiple files and send them to another program. I could not have worked on my tablet without it.

Workflow

After a long day of exploring the first thing I would do is backup my images to my hard drive. This was really easy as all I had to do was plug in the hard drive to the USB port, insert my SD card and drag the files over using Antek file explorer. The transfer would take a while as I shoot in RAW – JPEG (around 30mb total per image)so I would normally do this before taking a shower or during dinner and leave it running. If I didn’t have time I could even leave this as the last step before going to bed.

Once this was done, I would get to writing my day’s post in WordPress. I don’t normally pic my images before I write up the post. I prefer to pic my images based on what would work best for the words I’m using. This was generally a pain-free process as the WordPress app is easy to work with.

Once I was done writing, I’d open up the photos I had taken that day in Quickpic and see which ones worked best with the blog post. Any pictures which were selected would be opened in Snapseed. This is really easy to do as in Quickpic, the steps are the same as if you were send them to Facebook or any other program. In Snapseed I would crop, correct white balance and other levels and save to a different folder. I would do the same steps for all the images and then resize them all in one go by using the Photo Resizer App.

Here I come to most painful part of the process which was adding the photos to the blog. Let me just say that for this the WordPress App sucks. I could never trust the app to upload the photos, would get constant errors and ended up with multiple copies of the image uploaded but none inserted into the post.This ended up driving me crazy and almost made me give up on the idea of mobile blogging.

What I ended up doing was to open the WordPress dashboard in Chrome and manually adding each image in one by one. This was painful with the slow speed internet we had and was a source of frustration most days. It was however the only way to be 100% sure that the files were added correctly. I think for my next trip I will create a secondary Flickr account and just add a link from there.

Conclusion

Using Android to blog on the go is perfectly doable with the right hardware. As new hardware comes out it will get easier and easier but right now there is no need to lug around a heavy and expensive laptop.

My good friends Claire and Maxence from WeShoesTheWorld (in French) are also using Android to blog their tour around the world so go check out what they are up to and see what’s possible. I hope this was interesting to you and please let me know below if you have any questions about my setup!