Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A whistlestop tour

In case anything in the last two posts suggested otherwise, I want to be really clear. I am LOVING India. I'm covered in flea and mosquito bites, I'm sunburnt, I've been sick, last night I narrowly avoided snuggling up to sleep with a leech and a mouse just ran over my foot. And I am as happy as a pig in shit (and I've seen heaps of them here too).

So in no particular order below are some of the highlights that have made this trip incredible so far.

1. Arriving in New Delhi and instantly loving it. I'm not going to lie, I was worried that I'd find India a bridge too far and overwhelming. Not the case. Hurray for that.
2. Getting to spend lots of quality time with old, old, old buildings. I miss old buildings. A Lot. I've had enough of a top up to keep me going for a few years now. The Taj was an expected highlight but the Amber Fort in Jaipur was also incredible and the temple complex at Khajuraho was gob smacking (and not just the dirty bits).
3. The friendly, charming, funny people we've met. I'd definitely say we've met more in the South than we did in the North but generally, people outside the tourist industry everywhere have been smiley, chatty and fascinated by our lives. Special shout out to Salim who made our 6 hour trip to Munnar hoon by by asking a million questions and telling me all about his life.
4. Two days on a backwater boat in Kerala. Possibly the most relaxing thing I've ever done in my life; and after the madness of Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Varanassi it was perfectly timed.
5. I'm not going to bang on about the food again. It's incredible. Especially if you're vegetarian. The end.
6. How cheap it is to travel here. You can see amazing things, eat well, sleep comfortably and travel in style on a very small amount of money compared to most other countries.
7. Driving around tea plantations and waterfalls today with a chatty, helpful driver who pulled out all stops to help us get the next bit of the journey sorted.
8. Getting to travel with me auld mate Kez. Can't believe it's taken us decades to do this!


So every silver lining has a cloud right? And the stinky, noisy, piss soaked, shit filled, brass-freaking-band playing, unfriendly cloud of India for me was Varanasi.

BIG DISCLAIMER: This is absolutely only my opinion (and Kerry's to be fair). I have met heaps of other travelers who loved Varanasi. Some considered it their absolute highlight. Clearly none of them have a sense of smell but I'm not one to judge.

We really, really wanted to go to Varanasi. So much so that when Diwali passenger loads meant we couldn't get a train from Agra we rearranged our entire travel plan and spent some extra dollars on a flight to make it work. So it's not like we didn't plan to like Varanasi, it just didn't work out for us.

Varanasi and Damascus are currently having words over which is the oldest city in the World. But every single person in India will tell you categorically that it's Varanasi. So it's to be expected that it's not going to be shiny and new. But in our walk from the tuk tuk to our hostel, I counted five types of feaces on the footpath. Now this might not sound like the funnest version on 'eye-spy' I could be playing but when the footpath is the about half a foot wider than your ruck sack and literally smeared with shite, you keep an eye out.

But this is the stuff you're absolutely expecting when you plan a trip to India. What you're not expecting is, for example, a brass band to start up under your window/flyscreen at 2 am and play for four hours. And not even a GOOD brass band. The dude on trumpet was clearly a brass virgin and/or had some kind of rodent living in his mouthpiece.

You're expecting the Ganges to be polluted (apparently 1.5 million particles of shit per litre when it should only be 500 according to the WHO and I'd like to have some words with them about that much even!)and have lots of floating material. You're not expecting for one of the floating bits to be a toothbrush you've just seen someone throw in. After they finished BRUSHING THEIR TEETH in the water.

You're expecting touts to try to get you to their silk shop, take their sight seeing tour, get in their boat. You're not expecting them to follow you for miles relentlessly asking you, telling you blatant lies in the attempt to divert you or materialise for the first time at your table while you have breakfast and reveal they've been monitoring your every move and can tell you what you've been doing for the last three hours.

You're expecting all kinds of spirituality and religious exhibitions - this is why you came to Varanasi. What I wasn't expecting - and I suspect this is at the heart of it and why I include the MASSIVE DISCLAIMER - was to be completely unmoved by it. I am fundamentally NOT a spiritual person. I'm an atheist, I don't believe in life after death or reincarnation, I'm really quite cynical about westerners in particular who've 'found their spiritual path' in India. Lighting candles and setting them afloat- more freaking pollution in an already overwhelmed river. Puja to a variety of Gods at dawn - fine, knock yourself out but if I don't want to stand on the sidelines and gurn at you while you do it, that's my choice. Washing away your bad karma by dunking yourself three times in the Ganges - nice knowing you. You mentlar.

Maybe if I believed in something 'other', the obvious faith of the pilgrims, the boisterous ceremonies and reveling-in-all-things-holy would have helped me to see past all the other stuff. But I don't. So it didn't and Varanasi will always be Verynasty to me.

Formal feedback process

Well hello there folks and sorry for the delay. But when we've wifi or access to internet we're generally trying to figure out the next bit of the trip. Now that we're almost all the way figured out, I can actually update on some of it.

And in true corporate wanker style I thought I'd do a wee Stop Start Continue on India to give you an overview of what's good, what's bad and what's needed. Here goes.

So hey, India, thanks for making the time to meet and run through your performance to date. There were big expectations set at the start of this process so half way through I thought a little debrief on how we're both doing is in order. You're doing an incredible job and overall I'm delighted with how it's going but I wanted to document a few small things so we both know what we need to work on, and keep doing from here.

India, here are some things that need to stop.

Please stop beeping horns when you are literally three inches from my face. I will jump every time, I will feel like a dick every time, I will say something unladylike. Every time.
Please stop surreptitiously filming and photographing us. We're happy to be in your photos and videos when you ask. Very happy. But it's creepy when we catch you doing it sneakily.
Please stop the hocking. It makes me gag like you would not believe. Which I realise is sort of ironic. If you really, really need to clear your entire respiratory system in one hit, and it seems that you constantly do, please find a soundproof chamber to do it in. And please note, the next table in the restaurant I'm eating Palak Paneer in does not qualify.

India, here are some things that need to start.

Please begin some kind of waste management system. Human, animal, hazardous, recyclable... You name it; You need it.
Please begin a road improvement initiative. I saw someone washing an elephant in a pot hole puddle today. That is absolutely not a joke.
Please consider constructing internet cafes that are bigger than a fridge. Trust me, us foreigners will stick around longer when our noses don't touch the screen and the exhaust fan from the computer isn't melting our toe-nail varnish.

India, this is the nice bit. Which is why we pop it on the end. Here are the things you need to continue.

Please continue creating the most incredible food I have ever had at the most outrageously cheap prices. Two drinks and massive, delicious thallis for $4 today - love your work. I thought I'd get sick of curry every day, up to three times a day. I was deluded beyond all measure. I thought about putting 'add another time in the day for curry' in the Start section.
Please continue to have the best train system for practically nothing in the world. 13 hours in air con for $7.50? That's outstanding - go you!
Please continue to be exactly as diverse, fascinating, beautiful, shocking, funny, friendly, haggley, musical, spiritual, generous and amused by foreigners as you currently are- you've got it just right.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

RWC - Day1

We had agreed that there were two major things we wanted to do in New Delhi. See the Red Fort an find somewhere to watch the Rugby World Cup Final. There's something ironic about two Irish girls, who until recently didn't give a shite about rugby, watching the final in India, where they still really, really don't. Ker and I were pretty confident that the All Blacks going to romp pretty conclusively to victory and we'd probably got used to being in the vast majority. So when it started to get a bit borderline and we were surrounded by French supporters it was pretty freaking tense and that final offside call was the most relieved I've felt in ages.

The staff, in what is generally a blues bar and restaurant, seemed completely bewildered by our level of excitement. When we asked that they consider switching off Billie Holliday and turn on the commentary it created some consternation. But the Manager was incredibly accommodating even though it meant pulling the PA out of it's housing to muck around with cables. Still, that didn't stop them from accidentally switching to the cricket at one point. Pretty much the whole bar made their feelings clear at that point and it switched back pretty quickly.

And the French cleared out pretty quickly once the final whistle was blown - nice!

Diwali - Day 4

Would you look at that - we've finally made it to freaking India. After years of talking about it, planning it, speculating about daily budgets, culture shock and Delhi Belly we're here. And yet again I'm reminded that when I travel, I'm like the dog in the dog's diary thing. Everything I see, do, taste and experience is my new favourite thing. Obviously I love being on holiday, having an agenda set pretty much entirely by me and not having to do the dishes for a month. But I also love the constant newness, encountering something utterly foreign, figuring out different money, researching for months and yet still being surprised by how little I know about certain places and cultures and negotiating different mores and methods of communication. And India give you all of that stuff in SPADES. And it's all my new favourite thing.

So four days in the highlights are many and I've already taken hundreds of photographs and eaten some of the nicest things I ever have (no sign of DB yet) and I'm sure there's plenty more of all of that to come.

Today is Diwali (The Festival of Lights and Hindu equivalent of Xmas Day). As a first timer it's hard to know what Delhi, Jaipur and Agra would be like on a normal week but they're pretty fun, noisy and crazy busy this week. The scrum to get into the general sleepers on the Jaipur-Agra train was pretty incredible (Ker and I were in allocated seats so it was much easier at our part of the train). Last night we sat on a relatively peaceful rooftop (imagine 1,000 voices shouting, a 100 horns honking and massive rockets going off every few seconds - but 50 metres further away than they have been for the last eight hours) and looked down over strings of tinsel and fairy lights and across at intermittent, random fireworks and I for one was pretty stoked with our timing of the trip. It was a shame to miss the RWC final in Auckland and associated party but I think Diwali at the Taj might be about to put that in perspective. Standby for confirmation.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The other week Andrew and I were driving around Aucks when I opened my glove compartment and a strange sight awaited me. Lots of tiny bits of paper and shredded tissue and some strange brown gravelly stuff.

Andrew: Um, I think you have a mouse…living in your car…let me check… yep, that’s defo mouse poo in your glove compartment next to all of the tiny bits of paper. That’s what mice do when they’re making a nest.
Lorraine: Are you freaking kidding me??? Where? How did it get in? Where is it now? Sweet freaking mother of JESUS.
Andrew: Chill out, it’s just a tiny little mouse and it’s probably splattered in your cam belt by now… blah blah blah

At this point he offers to taste the poo to see how old it is. I think this was a joke.

What follows is more “I’m a vet and tough guy and have no concerns about a tiny little mouse, so this is actually quite funny and I am going to make lots of jokes rakking you up about having a mouse infested car, which let’s face it is a little bit skanky until you say….”
Lorraine: Well I think if it is building a nest it’s probably going to be enjoying all of your lovely warm ski gear that’s been in my boot for a week since we picked it up from your Mum’s barn out on your farm… that you commented smelled a little bit mousey….hey…actually….
Andrew: Balls.

So we open the boot of my car and start pulling out his ski gear (well he does, I’m slowly inching away until I’m eventually about ten feet from the car). Jacket –intact. Trousers – intact. Brand new ski boots that he bought last season and only actually wore about ten times…uh oh. He opens the box and there are a million little bits of paper and material, stuff that looks like foamy stuffing… the kind of thing that you might use to stuff the insert bit of a ski boot. He lifts the boot out and it is STUFFED with bits of straw and paper and leaves. Basically a mouse nest. He starts pulling it all out and out scampers a little grey mouse and off it bolts under my car. His ski boot is RUINED. Poos.

Months ago I did a ‘winter warmers’ promo for work where we gave booksellers who took a certain selection of books hot chocolate and toffee pops. I got a bit extra so there were about seven packs in the back of my car. The little fecker took a bite out of every single one. That mouse is going to be in need of a dentist at some stage soon. So it had been living in my car, hooning around Aucks, fine dining on Toffee Pops and doing little tours of the car by night before snuggling up in it’s lovely warm ski boot at the end of the night. Ah bless. Stuart Little move the hell over! Little bleeder.

But that's not the end of the story. Oh no.

Turns out it was MICE not MOUSE and there was car swapping and dismantling and all kinds of shenanigans before we concluded that the second little guy must have bailed at some stage because all of the food was gone gone gone from the car apart from the bait in the traps but that was/is untouched.

At least I'm hoping s/he escaped and isn't dead of tooth decay and cholesterol down the back of the passenger seat or similar.

Although my car does go back to the dealership in November so maybe it's not such a big deal either way....

Yes yes it's been a while blah blah blah

Phew. Glad we got that out of the way.

Well what's happened since April?


Loads of really big stuff. But if you know me well enough to care you'll know all the important stuff. So if you don't know me well enough to care or you already know the big stuff what you'll actually want is the little funny things.

Here are some little / funny things that I will elaborate about in the coming weeks:

1 My (late model, reasonably flash and all-too-importantly COMPANY) car had mice
2 My house nearly exploded
3 I met my brand new nephew and he's a freaking genius/superstar/the most beautiful child in the world

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


There's a phrase we use in Ireland that I really love but don't get to use enough because no one understands it in NZ. When you're talking about a person who has a similar trait or mannerism to their parents you say 'Well he/she didn't lick that up off the stones'. Like it's a virus or some kind of bacteria.

I'm not sure why I love it but I do.

Anyway this morning my Mum emailed me and my two sisters about my trip home later this year. Below is an extract:

Have been out practically every night since that mad bitch Mary arrived. So far we have had two 5.30am sessions, and one 6,30am. The birds were singing and it was daylight when we were getting to bed. She was supposed to be going home yesterday, but due to the volcano she obviously couldn't. Just made a booking for her to go home and the earliest flight is next Wednesday
the 28th I will be offline for some time after that, because by then I will be booking in for my liver transplant. The only good thing is that we are now both penniless, so maybe my liver detox can start, and maybe my own liver can regenerate itself.

I think that tells you everything you need to know about my genetic make up.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I had the best weekend. Although I did have one of those hangovers that makes you want to kill yourself for not realising that shots of whiskey are never, ever a good idea.

Next weekend I will be at a lake engaging in watersports. I have yet to find a watersport I don't enjoy so this should be fun. Hopefully it will be warm fun and not windy, cold, rainy fun. Although that's the kind of fun that can also involve books. I like books too. It is, of course, my job to like books (and make other people like books) but that's not something I have to work hard at.

So, since a few peeps have asked me recently what books they should read, below are some of my picks form the last twelve months or so:

Cutting for Stone
The Solitude of Prime Numbers
The Selected Works of T S Spivet
The Night Book
The Blasphemer
Small Wars

You should read them next weekend.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

End of Summer

Summer is sort of sputtering to an end in NZ. The nights are chilly, the weather is unpredictable. I came to work today in trousers, a top and a denim jacket. By 9.00 I'd taken off the jacket because it was sweltering and I haven't put it back on since. But it's rained a fair bit.

Why am I talking about the weather? Why am I giving you information you can get more succinctly via the met service? Well I'm making the point that it's that funny interim point of the year where your hair style, clothes, shoes and transport plans for the day need to be constantly amended in line with what is currently happening at that very second. Distracting.

Also that as we approach one of the bestest weekends of the year (Easter - it's an extra long weekend at the very end of the summer when no one feels obliged to be doing family stuff so everyone can do pretty much exactly what they like), I'm constantly looking for weather reassurance that it's going to be a stunner.

Dear Weather Gods,

The pressure is on for Easter Weather Gods. Please make it bee you tea full. Or I'll spew. I'm planning to acquire a new sport and it's a weather dependant one. So co-operate please. In return I promise to whinge less about winter this year (helped significantly by having insulation and heating.... and floors, walls and doors for that matter!). I will also not complain if the Irish Summer does not deliver while I am home.

Warm (ha ha) regards


PS While I'm talking to you, can you please pass on my thanks to your buddies The Leave Gods for finally getting my annual leave approved today. I really appreciate it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Reasons to live in Auckland

I'm feeling pretty blissed out on NZ, and specifically Aucks, today. Just had the most stunning drive to work and lots of friendly interactions along the way.

1. The lights of the city as you drive towards it from The Shore after dark
2. The sun on the water as you drive away from the city towards The Shore
3. The free stuff to do put on by the council; outdoor cinemas, concerts in parks, suburb festivals...
4. Volcanoes make for an interesting view from pretty much anywhere
5. The Waitakeres
6. The West coast beaches
7. People are just nice while they sell you coffee, cat food, petrol... whatever really. And all before 8.00 am!
8. Great bars, cafes, restaurants to catch up with mates in and talk for hours over two glasses of wine
9. Summer
10. This is really a kiwi one but... it's the weekend ahead of everywhere else in the world

Three cheers for Auckland folks, and if you don't live here COME AND VISIT.