Monthly Archives: April 2014

In Your Face, India (& Ears & Nose & Mouth)

New Delhi, India

New Delhi, India

Perhaps it’s a sign of conceit that I’m hardly interested in visiting anyplace that, well, just doesn’t sound all that interesting. Sure, I’ll still go, but there’s no doubt that I am a bit jaded, and these days, a little bit harder to impress. You can thank India for that. In fact, I do, & here’s why:

 

India is a fascinating, sometimes overwhelming, never bland or boring, assault on the senses. More than anywhere else I’ve been on earth, travelers run the risk of stimulus overload. Your eyes will be dazzled by the vivid palette that encompasses entire cities—such as Jaipur, the Pink City; Jodhpur, the Blue City; and Udaipur, the White City. The detail in the architecture is an explosion of curves and flourishes, and I’m convinced you’d be hard-pressed to find even one blank surface in the entire country.

 

Pole Position, Amber Fort

Pole Position, Amber Fort

You ears may not find as much pleasure as your eyes, since in all but remote villages, the sound you’re most likely to hear is a cacophony of beeping horns—all day and all night. When in the midst of things, you’ll also hear the sound of hordes of pedestrians, bleating cattle that wander freely through the streets of even major cities, and extroverted shopkeepers haggling in the market.

 

With all the poverty, you would think your nose would end up with the worst lot, but in reality, aside from the diesel fumes while crawling along in the most intensely absurd traffic imaginable, the smell of burning wood (and sometimes plastic) fills the air, making even the most urban setting smell rustic. And when you venture into a dining venue, things will just get better for your nose and then some.

 

A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur

A Feast for the Eyes & Mouth, Jaipur

Yes, your tongue will compete with your eyes when it comes to stimulus overload. Indian cuisine is much like its architecture—bold, saturated with flavor, and on occasion liable to bring tears to your eyes. Even the street vendors with their open-air woks that may not look like the kind of place you’d want to eat without really good health insurance, serve up delicious samosas and local fare that leave you not caring about where you got it. You’ll just want more.

 

No Blank Surfaces to be Found

No Blank Surfaces to be Found

So if I seem a bit blasé about “normal” destinations like Cancun or the Dominican Republic—don’t blame me. Blame India. It isn’t beginner travel, but if you’re open to new experiences, not agoraphobic, and wish to be dazzled, put India your bucket list. Your senses might be up all night with information overload, but along with your photo album, will thank you for it later.

For more travel pictures, be sure to follow Trip Accomplice on Instagram at @tripaccomplice

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Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

To The Octopus I Chanced Upon One Early Winter’s Eve

Nothing quite like hanging out with the locals down under (literally)

Nothing quite like hanging out with the locals down under (literally)

As if I needed another excuse to travel, in 1999 I became a certified scuba diver. All of a sudden there it was—another world to explore. In my enthusiasm I subscribed to a few glossy dive magazines, and soon noticed that nearly all the locales featured within with crystal waters and thriving reefs were places I had yet to visit.

 

Challenge accepted.

 

This spurred a several-year quest to visit the best places to dive, and introduced me to the thrill of underwater animal encounters both great and small. And though I’ve dived with sharks (lots of them), sea snakes, barracuda, and other menacing denizens of the deep, my favorite encounter was not with a fierce creature at all—just a multi-limbed one.

 

I was several days into a liveaboard trip (a.k.a. dive boat where you live onboard and dive remote sites) in the Bahamas, when on a night dive, my beam came across a juvenile octopus propelling itself in that signature way that only octopuses (octopi?) can. Immediately changing my vector, I headed right towards it, watching it transform from a shimmering blue-green color to a mottled orange, as it tried to camouflage itself on the reef. While I’d like to flatter myself and say it was putting on a show just for me, in reality I probably scared it half to death, and it was just trying to get away.

 

I was mesmerized. Sure, I’d seen them on TV documentaries and in National Geographic, but somehow it just doesn’t prepare you for the graceful movement and instantaneous transformation that played out in front of me. I was overjoyed, and spent nearly the rest of my remaining air hovering above it and hoping it would vacate the crevice it had wedged itself into and give me an encore performance.

 

Upon returning to the surface, I raved to all about the striking features of the creature I just witnessed, claiming it was the second-most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen—the first being my wife. Oddly, when I later told her that, she didn’t seem at all flattered. Apparently females have enough competition and do not need any more from cephalopods. When she voiced her displeasure, all I could say was, “You didn’t see that octopus.”

 

Sadly, I have no photographs or video to preserve my memory of that encounter. I cannot help but wonder what this octopus that touched me so deeply is doing now. I wonder if he (or she) is still alive, rambling across reefs and dodging other divers hoping to catch a glimpse of its beauty. And I wonder what might have been if our time together was longer, and not governed by petty nuisances like air and nitrogen absorption. Wherever it ended up, it will forever be in my mind, my heart, and with this post, the Internet. Never forget…

 

Has anyone had a special/amazing/amusing underwater animal encounter? Leave a comment and share it with us all.

Categories: Anecdotes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Like Playing Chutes & Ladders With A Maharaja

Welcome to the Jantar Mantar

Welcome to the Jantar Mantar

If you’re around my age (39) or older you know the game I’m talking about. You spin the dial and move ahead X number of spaces—all the while hoping you land on one with a ladder to take you further up, and at the same time dreading the prospect of landing on a chute that will take you down (like that ridiculously long one from 87 to 24). This is not a board game one would normally associate with travel. But that’s exactly what came to mind when I visited the Pink City of Jaipur, India and toured the World Heritage Site called Jantar Mantar.

 

Built by the warrior-astronomer Jai Singh, the Jantar Mantar (from a term meaning place of calculations) is essentially an outdoor observatory. Construction of this impressive collection of sundials and other uniquely-designed calculators of the heavens and Zodiac was first begun in 1728. Each structure serves a specific purpose, and are quite accurate even in an age of GPS and atomic clocks. The biggest is a sundial called Brihat Samrat Yantra, meaning ‘King of the Instruments’. At 27 meters high it’s easy to see why.

The 'King of Instruments'

The ‘King of Instruments’

 

I must admit my interest here wasn’t so much in calculating azimuths or predicting the next eclipse. As anyone who has visited India can attest, it isn’t hard to go into architectural overload. Between the forts, palaces, temples and bazaars, my brain could barely comprehend so much ornate design. Strolling peacefully among the structures of the Jantar Mantar—that is until I tried to climb one and was reprimanded loudly by a man with a machine gun—was a pleasant break from the ‘norm’. It was also a fun place to play the shutterbug, as the angles, straight lines and slotted bowl-shaped structures were excellent, if stationary, subjects to shoot.

Busted! Taking teh 'climb down of shame' after the heavily armed guard told me to.

Busted! Taking the ‘climb down of shame’ after the heavily armed guard told me to.

 

There’s a lot more to see in Jaipur, particularly the City Palace, iconic Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and the enormous Amber Fort just outside of town. But for me, it was this astronomical playground resembling Chutes & Ladders if it were designed by a Maharaja, that made my visit here so pleasurable, as if I landed on 28 and took the ladder up to 84. If you spin the dial and wind up here, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.

 

Have you been to Jaipur? Share your thoughts here!

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Not That Antigua, The Other One

A Peaceful Courtyard in Antigua, Guatemala

A Peaceful Courtyard in Antigua, Guatemala

Say the name Antigua and most people’s minds conjure images of sugar-white sand beaches with a laid back Caribbean vibe. They think of a popular cruise destination or a place to do some offshore banking. What they don’t think about is the possibility that there could be another one—another Antigua that is. But the fact of the matter is that long before Antigua (along with Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles) earned a spot on the jet-setter checklist, the other Antigua, situated in central Guatemala was the only Antigua in town.

 

If you lived back anywhere between the 1500’s and 1700’s, instead of thinking about the relatively obscure British colony at the mention of Antigua, you’d be thinking of the seat of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, which encompassed most of Central America. For 200 years after its founding in 1543 this was the military center of Spanish Central America until the 1700’s, when a series of major earthquakes devastated much of the city and prompted officials to change venues for the capitol. Today, the historic center retains much of its colonial charm and is a worthy entrant on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

Boutique Hotels Offer Great Accommodations With Great Views

Boutique Hotels Offer Great Accommodations With Great Views

I arrived there late at night after a 45 minute ride from the airport in Guatemala City. In town there are historic boutique inns converted from former mansions that reflect the local flavor—which is about as thick as the morning coffee. From my balcony I could see a wisp of smoke rising from one of the three volcanoes that surround the town, serving as a reminder that as tranquil a setting as it is, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. After a delicious breakfast in the authentic courtyard, we were off to the main square which houses a shady park centering important buildings such as the town hall and cathedral. The latter also showcases some impressive remains from the even-larger edifice it used to be before the earthquakes. All around are archways and pillars garnished with flowers spilling over the sides. Combined with the silhouette of volcanoes in the background, it has the look of a movie set depicting colonial times. When you realize that this is all real and none of it is for show, that’s when it hits you that this is a truly special place.

 

For those looking for some luxury, an upscale lodging option is the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. This five star hotel is a former monastery, and has preserved the original Baroque architecture along with many artifacts that are proudly put on display. Since Antigua is nearby to Guatemala City and a lot more pleasant a place to stay, this is where well-to-do travelers and VIP’s are likely to base themselves out of. As an example, the day I visited the Clintons were in town, though apparently were too busy to join me for lunch.

 

The Main Plaza, Antigua Guatemala

The Main Plaza, Antigua Guatemala

Given the relative safety (compared to the rest of the country) and pleasant climate, it is not unusual to see many North American and European ex-pats strolling the peaceful cobblestone lanes or enjoying a coffee at the square. I imagine that they too were once tourists passing though until they found this little-known gem and decided to stay. Can’t say that I blame them. Between the enchanting setting, low cost of living and mild climate, there certainly was a palpable pull to spend more time to appreciate all that it has to offer.

 

So while I enjoy a white sand beach as much as anyone, in my book the Antigua I think of when I hear the name is nestled in the highlands, surrounded by volcanoes and steeped in history. No offense to the other Antiguans (& Barbudans), I’m sure their island is quite lovely as well. But I’m sure even they would be pleased to see the faded glory of the city that shares their name, and would be willing to admit that the world is big enough for more than one Antigua.

 

Categories: Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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