Spicy notes from a journey.
Bitácora: or more precisely, cuaderno de bitácora, is the log book in which sailors write down atmospheric and astronomical observations, as well as any notes worth mentioning about the journey.
Curry: a mixture of spices.
Bitácora + Curry = Bitácurry
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Initially it was supposed to be all about India. Along the way, a detour into Nepal to do a little soul searching got into our path. Then it would be back to India to fulfill the initial goal. Or so we thought. The rules that govern international borders don’t always conform to the whims of roaming travelers. Once you leave India, even if you have a 10-year multiple-entry visa, you must wait 2 months to re-enter. To that we must adjust.
A month of cold showers had gotten deep into our bones. The objective became clear: hot weather. And above all: cheap tickets. Pinching pennies is the only way to stay on the road for long. A few hours of scavenging the web for the latest deal and both wishes were fulfilled.
Next stop: THAILAND!
“Would you like a complimentary beer, sir?” The young Indian stewardess in her neatly pressed red outfit discretely proposes shortly after take-off.
“Oh well, of course” and a smile stretches across my face.
After months of overnight rides on “Sleeper Class” and rickety buses zooming through narrow mountain roads, plane travel feels like a lavish luxury. Plus I get a free beer.
Feeling like a rock star, we take the short hop from KTM to DEL for an 8-hour layover in the recently revamped Terminal 3. Soft sleek design and all the creature comforts easily misguide to hide the hard reality that lies outside.
Thick humid air greets us at yet another über-modern terminal on the other side of the Bay of Bengal after a red-eye flight. We clear customs and walk out trying to find a bus. After seconds outside, the all-to-familiar sticky feeling brings a smile.
The contrasts are striking from what we had just experienced in India and Nepal. The streets are wide and clean. Order is apparent. And space, yes space. Space to breathe. Space to walk. Space to think. Space to be.
Bangkok is sprawling modern metropolis, known by Thais as Krung Thep, “The City of Angels”. I’m on familiar turf. And am well aware that the beauty of these large aggregates of humanity lies beneath the generic façade. To find the essence we must explore.
Buddha and Skeletor
Quick check-in and a shower. Without a map, we stroll outside as my belly growls. We are welcomed by a sea of food carts full of brightly colored tropical fruit and the intoxicating scent of barbeque. The first thing to catch our eye is an old man selling “banana pancakes”. In a mixture of rudimentary English and sign language we order one. A hand-tossed thin crepe, made on a lightly oiled pan with a couple of bananas cut into the middle and the ends folded in to form a stuffed pocket. It is cooked crisp on both sides and then cut into small squares before being drenched in condensed milk (Unverified, but very likely true statistic: Thailand is the world’s largest consumer of Carnation®).
As the gentleman prepares the rotee, as these “pancakes” are called, his wife, I assume, appears with a seductive cold beverage. Curiosity strikes, so we must ask.
“Koh-feee” she replies.
She grabs Clari by her arm and drags her away to show her where to get one.
I stare as the husband masterfully tosses the dough until it is paper-thin. Clari comes back, cup in hand, with a “wait-‘til-you-try-this” look on her face and offers me a sip without uttering a single word. As the smooth cool liquid flows up through the straw to meet my lips, I instantly begin to experience bliss. Before this moment, cold coffee just wasn’t my thing, but this iteration of what I previously considered blasphemous swiftly shatters the notion.
Freshly brewed filtered coffee (café colao’) is mixed with copious amounts of sugar and condensed milk (I’m telling you). It is then poured into a plastic cup full to the brim with chopped ice. The coffee packs a punch, nicely balanced out by the sweetness of the milk and made perfect for the weather by the loads of ice.
I am officially addicted.
We chow down the rotee, drink the coffee and then go for a second one. We grab a few pieces of papaya and beautifully carved pineapple and start exploring.
Some days we walk, others we ride. Bikes can be borrowed from kiosks scattered around town as part of a green initiative from the City of Bangkok. Traffic is not that bad so we grab one from time to time. Other days we ride the bus, or on occasion a boat. Long-boats zoom through the web of rivers and canals that crisscross the city taking locals and farangs (foreigners) alike either on a leisurely stroll or making their way to the mall. Not your regular mall, huge malls with levels full of cell phones and gadgets. Digital cameras, PSP’s, iPads and Wii’s, you name it, it’s all here, and in bunches. Shopping is a pastime along with eating on the street. Seems like all Thai people do is shop and grab some pad thai on the way to the next shopping spot.
Scattered amongst all this modern mayhem are beautiful Buddhist temples, shrines and palaces. After all it is a monarchy, and you are reminded all the time. The King’s picture is everywhere. We visit a few of the temples and do some touristy stuff, like getting a massage at Wat Pho, the birthplace of Thai massage, and visiting the Royal Palace.
Guarding The Emerald Buddha
Wat Phra Kaew
Soaking in randomness and embracing uncertainty we meander through streets and sois (alleys) without a definitive route. Stumbling upon the odd and bumping into the mundane, we freely flow through the city for a week, exploring the concrete jungle. Most travelers despise the city. Not me. I enjoy the quest for a heartbeat confined by stone. I try to find the rose that out of concrete grows. To do that you must go where the wind blows.