Hello! I'm Renee Garland. I've been traveling to Asia for the last 13 years in order to escape snowy Maine winters, hoping to live sunny adventures. My company began 11 years ago with $250 worth of chopsticks. I started selling them at craft fairs and festivals all over coastal Maine. Unfortunately, many people didn't know much about chopsticks! (or Asia for that matter.) Nonetheless, I trudged through the festival scene for several years expanding my inventory to clothing, accessories, gifts, and art. The mission has always been the same; to work with individuals, women's coops, and small home-based businesses to help support and encourage small enterprises. I opened my first store in Portland, in 2006 called "Waterlily." It's filled with Waterlily brand handmade gifts produced both from my travels abroad, and by local artists. I still go on buying adventures, 'cause that's what it's all about. . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Accomodations- India style

The accommodations in India... let me tell you- we have heard everything
"yes, sure madam you will get hot water",
"yes, clean room, no problem",
and my favorite "yes oh, that rat oh, don't worry madam- he lives here",

Our stay in India so far has been quite colorful, to say the least. Guest Houses/Hotels ranging from complete dump/shithole, to sleeping on some body's floor, to staying in a 500 year-old fort. Prices ranging from USD $2.32/night to about $24.00. (Four months of travels, and you need to conserve the $$, no 5 stars for us)

So, we thought that we'd be smart about a room on our way to Jaisalmer, India(especially after the last Mumbai experience) and prebook based on the Lonely Planet recommendations. Called ahead, and "no problem madam, saving room for you" Ok, great-

On the train to Jaisalmer, one of our travel companions met a very sweet guy who had just opened a guesthouse in Jaisalmer and was renting incredibly cheap rooms, and even was willing to take us for free to his hotel from the train station, and if we didn't like it we could go on our way. He stated that he had been coming from a wedding out in Jaipur, and was just now coming home. Lucky us to meet this guy! It seemed so easy, and sure. Supposed to be the "best views of the fort", and "very near to the fort"
So, we decided ourselves to forfeit the prebooked hotel res. we had made for sleeping inside the fort complex. Hopped in his jeep, strange that he didn't carry a piece of luggage from his travels. . . Stranger still that we were not the only fellow travelers that he cheerily met on the train. We were then followed by 4 other foreign travelers he had met and brought on.
We all get to the hotel, nice rooms, and ask "what is the price?" He says, "As you wish", What? we think- how can we choose? So I say 200 rupees- $4.65 "ok, no problem"
The place doesn't look actually all so new, as I look closer.
How old is this place" I ask another guy there at the hotel?. "Ahhh, it is a few years old." Hardly new at all then. Now I am starting to suspect something is up.
We are all in such a good mood, we didn't realize really what was going on.
We sat down for the complementary chai that morning, and then a handsome salesman boy comes up who speaks excellent English, and starts in on their Camel Safari. Ahh, now I understand, we have just been completely suckered. Jake had read about these places, they reel you in with cheap hotel rooms, and if you don't want to take their very very expensive camel safari, they literally kick you out onto the streets!
So, the man on the train actually got on a few stops before, and hustled the tourists to stay at his hotel, which after we walked out of the hotel, realized how far away from the fort it was. The fort itself is a dream- when we saw it we immediately realized just how stupid we'd been to not stay inside the complex. We secretly checked out the hotel to which our earlier reservation was made, and I felt a bit sick to my stomach! What a mistake! But, everything happens for a reason, India teaches you.
The good news is that we kept wandering, that first day, (which was yesterday) and found an even better place, that was a bit more expensive, and reserved the best room for the following day. So we just this morning checked out of the scam room, and checked into the fort, at the best hotel with honest people, and the best views. And all is well! To top it off we have actually decided to take that safari for tomorrow. We are asking for it.
That should be the next journal entry!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

the streets of Mumbai

I am excited to be here in Mumbai, my boyfriend's first trip to India, and my 4th. I must say but I do have to share our story from last night. . .

It actually started with yesterday (7th Feb,2007) sitting in a Bangkok Guesthouse buying our ticket for travel on the same day. Of course being budget backpacker travelers, we opted for the cheapest flight, Indian Airlines. Same day flight, no problem!

Got to the airport, and discovered that of course, the flight was delayed by 3 hours. That would bring us into Mumbai now after midnight. We hadn't prebooked our hotel-(only a tiny voice in the back of my head called out) So, we take our flight, arrive, customs, baggage claim, yaada, yaada, and it's the wee hours by the time we get to the Colaba area of Mumbai.

Taxi takes us to our first try, the hotel name we got from the internet Hotel Bentley. . .
"full", followed by several other "sorry full"'s after that. Then a few hours later of walking with our luggage and hundreds of other "sorry, full"'s , and asking every damn hotel in Colaba, it's about 3am I have just spotted my fifth rat crossing by us. . .trying to now find an all night coffee shop to hang out and stay awake all night, we get stopped by this nice gentleman who asks us what the hell we are doing at this time of night, offers his services to speak Hindi to the taxi driver to try other hotels in other parts of town. A sympathizer. Anything, at this point.
I am immediately skeptical, been to India three times before, know not to trust strangers coming up to you at 3am. But we were desperate, and he was quite nice, a tad drunk, but professional looking, and we stood talking for a while, we soon discovered that he works for TATA as a sales rep, and lives in Australia, from Bhopal originally, and is here on business, awake with jet lag, and partially buzzed from drinks at the Taj Mahal Hotel from earlier that night. We must have been quite entertaining for him.
So, off we went first to try a Chicken Tikka Roll with him at any random place open at this ungodly hour. I of course, wanted to find a bed, but we'd only just met, we couldn't be rude . . .
1 Chicken Tikka Roll, 3 cokes, and 3 Waters later, we were headed out the door, and toward new hotel options. Now we were gonna be fine! Our new friend barking Hindi at the driver and flying all over the city- this was better than we could do on our own.

Found many places, many, many places, . . .all full. After another hour, he graciously offered his room to share at the TATA apartment building somewhere up in the hills. "Where are we headed" I remember whispering to Jake, my boyfriend, as I was in and out of sleep in the back of the taxi. Seemed very far, and quiet. I didn't care as long as it was safe, and there was a bed at this point. Well, maybe safe didn't even matter. . .just a bed, any bed.
On the lift, up to floor 7, and we sneak into the apartment, and in the room, two beds, and a floor pad. Guess who gets the floor? I offered. It seemed like Indian culture would approve of Jake having the bed over me. I crash. We crash. and finally, good night!

Wake in the morning, and I was convinced that this "stranger in the night" was absolutely who he'd claimed to be after sleepily staring up at him in this fantastic business suit!
Put my glasses on, and he informed us that breakfast was to be served when we got up, at any time, and he is off to work- we can relax, sleep in, eat, whatever.

Our guardian angel left for work, we got up, looked outside and saw the most beautiful courtyard gardens, and and realized that this place was sweet! We were set up! We had no idea where we were last night-
Breakfast was a fairytale, we were being served by the best of Indian hospitality!
I felt like royalty. The place was gorgeous, and we were able to order anything we wanted for breakfast. I didn't want to leave. (knowing what the accommodations were to be like when we got back to Colaba, on our budget.
We found a shitty place in Colaba for tonight about the size of a closet, and are praying that we find another hidden gem like last night's!