Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The final post

I was in Pamplona for the San Fermin festival last weekend, after being hounded by D to show up. Considering my jobless and broke situation, he offered to pay for everything and made it an easy decision. Took the overnight train to Irun, and then switched trains to reach Pamplona around noon. The San Fermin festival is a big affair, with the running of the bulls as the main event, followed by bull fighting and all night partying on the streets.

I carried my tent and sleeping bag with me, and though I was there for barely a day and a half, it was an intense experience. We started drinking immediately after I reached, passed out in a park to take a siesta, headed out to watch a bullfight with a raucous crowd, and then partied on the streets till late. D had spent the previous night on the grass, so in a drunk state he guided me to a place where we camped, and woke up next to homeless people, who didn't seem like they were there for the fiesta. The music continued all night, but I slept soundly.

It was weird to wake up in a tent in a public park, pack up and then head through the city centre to find a good spot to go running with the bulls. The streets were full of people wearing the same outfit (white clothes and a red scarf), and most of them had been partying all night and looked ready to pass out. The ones who retained some sobriety got ready to go running at 8am. I chickened out but D had been waiting for this moment for years, so he went for a warmup run, scoped out the best spot and then finally lived out his childhood fantasy of running with the bulls.

The festival is surprisingly not very touristy. We heard Spanish almost everywhere, and it was more common to see families celebrating, rather than just backpackers. Most of the locals were very warm and friendly, and even though we could barely communicate, they shared their food and drink with us very easily. The most touching moment was when two old women on a balcony, thrilled that D took their pictures with his fancy camera, lowered us two bottles of beer from their balcony with a piece of rope and a plastic bag.

Somewhere in the middle of all this madness, I went off to check my email, and saw an offer from here. Suddenly, a lot of my problems were solved, and partying on the streets of Pamplona knowing that I won't have to live like a bum much longer made it an amazing trip.

Another month from now, I was supposed to leave Paris, and after getting turned down by every academic job I'd applied for, I'd started to prepare for non-academic jobs. The plan was to head to London around mid-August, sleep on a friend's couch and look for work. But after living out of a backpack for so long, I'd begun to feel very tired and disoriented, and sleeping in a friend's living room with no money and no work permit, looking for a job didn't sound too enticing, especially with an ultra long distance relationship. I was also tired of travelling, and was hoping something would materialise out of nowhere. It did.

So now I'm going to leave Paris a bit earlier, sometime in early August, fly back to Delhi for 2 weeks, apply for a new visa, celebrate my twin's birthday, and then fly out to New York and start my position in Ithaca almost immediately afterwards. A few months later, The Girl from Lapa will visit, and I'll go back to Rio for the winter break.

In about 6-7 weeks, I'll reach the end of a journey which will have spanned 16 months, 4 continents and about 120,000 km. It started sometime in May last year, when I submitted my thesis from a hotel in Las Vegas on the last possible day after a nerve-racking end to my Phd, and then bought a oneway ticket to India with no concrete plans. The rough idea was to spend 2 months in India, find a short term visiting position in Europe and save some money, and then spend 4-6 months watching the world cup in the Caribbean and travelling in South America, and hopefully find a long term job by August 2007. Somehow, it all worked out though almost each time things worked out at the last minute when there didn't seem to be too many options.

The backpack will be retired along with some of the things which have sustained me for all this time. I'll keep uploading pictures and videos (for Pamplona click here.), but I'm done with blogging now. I'll revert to less public ways of keeping in touch now that I'm going to lead a more settled life. Hopefully, I'll see a lot of you soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A break from blogging

It's been more than a year of blogging, which also means more than a year of living out of my backpack, travelling and moving around. Blogging was easy as a result and the idea was to maintain some kind of a travel diary, and keep some friends updated about which part of the world I'm in and what I'm up to.

I'm back in Paris for 2 months, and don't have any major travel plans for the future (except a short trip to Spain in 2 weeks, and possibly a few days in London next month). I'm not sure what's next after Paris, but hopefully something will work out before I have to leave.

So, I'm taking a break from this blog for a while. I'll update it once I figure out some slightly more long term plans. I'm in Paris till the middle of August, so if anyone's interested in visiting let me know.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer in Paris

So I finally moved into my new studio, and after more than a year, I have a bank account (this time with money in it), address and office in the same city. I also have internet at home, a landline, a cellphone and clothes in a closet and not a backpack, so I feel like I've returned to civilisation. It's only for 2 months though, and sometime in mid-August I'll be back on the road again.

It's officially summer now, and on June 21st each year there's a huge celebration all over Paris. Musicians and bands are allowed to perform on the streets and in parks. I went out yesterday with some friends, and I've never seen Paris so crowded. Getting around on the subway was impossible and more than half the time, we had to keep tabs on who to meet, where to go and what to listen to. After a few hours of all this, we'd probably listened to about 5 minutes of a performance. The solution was easy - head to a bar and drink a beer.

It was funny to observe Paris yesterday. When I was here last time, it was winter, so there wasn't too much happening on the streets. Yesterday, the streets were packed and a lot of food and alcohol was being sold outdoors. Seeing people lose their inhibitions and celebrate all over the city was nice. The streets and sidewalks were filthy as a result, and there was a big police presence everywhere. It almost felt like Lapa.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back in Paris

Got back after a long flight and had to change 3 trains from the airport to get to B&M's flat. They're away for the weekend, so I have their flat to myself and after a long time being able to watch TV, surf, eat and drink at the same time felt like heaven.

Was very knocked out after the journey and crashed out on their couch around 5 in the evening and woke up expecting it to be pitch dark. Didn't realise that at this time of the year it's daylight till well past 10pm. Felt like an insomniac for the first 24 hours of getting back. It is nice to be in Paris for the summer though. Everything looks nice and cheerful.

Went househunting this weekend, and will move into my place in the 19th arrondissment on Monday, and hopefully get into some kind of routine. Have to start looking seriously for a real job now, so blogging will be a bit slow.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Leaving Buenos Aires

Every traveller I´d met in South America has always raved about Buenos Aires. I´d decided to keep it for the end of my South America trip, and I wasn´t disappointed. The bus journey was pretty short (14 hrs) compared to some of the others I´ve done over the last few months, so I reached BA quite refreshed. I´d found the flyer of a hostel in Mendoza and showed up at the place. Since it´s low season, the hostel was almost empty and I had a whole dorm room to myself for the 5 days I was there. It was basically an old mansion converted into a hostel, and since it was located in San Telmo (the historic part) it had a nice homely feel to it, unlike most hostels.

As cities go, Buenos Aires was the other extreme of Rio. My first impression of BA was that I was back in Paris. The centre of the city feels just like a big European city, and it´s littered with cafes and bookshops. It was a bit gloomy and cold for the last few days out here, so browsing bookshops and sitting in cafes was a nice way to spend time. Outside the centre of the city, BA felt like Paris littered with graffitti. It was quite a shock initially, but after a few days the grunginess of the other neighbourhoods, the graffitti and the gloomy weather seemed to fit quite well.

Culturally, Brazil and Argentina seem to be so far apart. Argentinians are quite notorious in South America for being snooty, and while I didn´t find them snooty, it did feel much closer to Europe than South America. Buenos Aires is full of all kinds of bookshops (unlike most places I´ve been to in this continent), cafes which could have been taken out of Europe, and people who seem very conscious about dressing reasonably formally.

After a couple of days of walking around aimlessly, and just sightseeing, I ran out of steam. It helped that in the hostel I came across an interesting bunch of people. They weren´t the typical backpackers I´ve been meeting regularly. There were 4 of us, and all of us had some non-travelling reason to be in South America and it was interesting hanging out with them. A Turkish psychology professor in Sao Paolo, a Canadian musician who´d spent 2 months in Olinda learning percussion and an Australian film-maker looking for work in Buenos Aires. None of us was interested in any more sightseeing. The Aussie film-maker had spent a year in BA, so he knew a lot about things going on. According to him, Buenos Aires is one of the most avant garde places for film and theatre these days. Ended up going to some very interesting places - a small art gallery opening, a latin jazz concert and an alternative tango club set up in an abandoned garage. There was no real agenda and we were all keen on exploring the cultural side of Buenos Aires. 5 days felt like we´d just scratched the surface.

So finally, after more than 3 months I'm leaving South America. I'm flying straight to Paris, and should be there for 2-3 months. Am at the airport right now, waiting to catch the flight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Mendoza's known as the land of sun and wine. It's also at the base of the Andes, which makes it a great place for a tourist who wants to go hiking, do adventure sports and drink wine. It's low season, so all the hostels are almost empty, and all the trekking agencies littered around the centre of the town have a few bored people sitting around.

I spent about 5 days and it was quite blissful. Spend one day driving up to the Andes, come back, drink wine and sleep. Spend the next day lazing around in the cafes and parks, and plan another trip. Wake up the next day and go rappeling, trekking and find a small village with cheap wine. Spend the next day reading and catching up on email and news. Wake up the next day, rent bikes and join 45- other people biking through the wineries and getting drunk slowly. Come back, get on the night bus to Buenos Aires and sleep easily thanks to all the wine.

Mendoza's a great place to visit. It's beautiful, cheap and has lots of stuff to do. The net connection here is too slow to upload pictures onto blogger. Click here for all of them. And click here for some videos (more to be uploaded once I've got a faster web connection).