January 29, 2013

A "Shitty" New Year's Eve

Our New Year's Eve revolved around poop. That's right...poop. We had a great time...It wasn't...um....crappy in that sense of the word, but there was a very strange recurring theme of crap.

To begin with - dealing with poop is a daily battle in India. Walking down the sidewalk, you will find yourself dodging piles left by dogs, cows, goats, monkeys, camels and, sometimes, even people. You may remember back in October when I blogged about Tom stepping in cow doody, and that wasn't the last time. So, by New Year's Eve and having been in India for 10 weeks, we thought we had dealt with the full gamut of poop-related obstacles and activities. We were wrong!

We have wanted to go on a camel safari since we first planned to come to India, and we thought we would make that happen on an eventual visit to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. However - somewhere around Amritsar, we realized we didn't have the energy to spend our last month in India bouncing all over, spending 2-3 nights in each place. And really, we don't enjoy our time as much when we do that. Unfortunately, that meant that we had to start crossing places off our list and Jaisalmer got the axe. Fortunately, while we were in Pushkar (read here), we found out that you can do a camel trek from there. So, after meeting Alex and Hollie (Australians) at our guest house (Hotel Everest), we decided to head out into the great big desert on New Year's Eve for an unforgettable evening. (It's illegal to drink in Pushkar anyway, so it's not like we were going to have a wild night on the town.)

On New Year's Eve, around 3pm, Tom, Alex, Hollie, Helge (Germany), and I were picked up and driven to be introduced to our camels. I had a super nice camel named Romeo and Tom had a psycho moody camel named Rama.
Romeo, smiling and being friendly

Rama, being mean and trying to eat us. Also, I think he has gingivitis.

*Disclaimer: Tom wants you all to know that he really loved Rama. It was just the rest of our group that thought Rama was an ass hole. 

With our camels saddled up, we climbed on and began our 2 hour ride to our campsite. Our guides were young, funny guys and they sang songs while we rode through brambles fringed with black-faced monkeys and through sandy plains filled with roaming goats and herders. It was a really nice ride.

Soon, we arrived at our campsite which was, quite honestly, a little disappointing. We had thought we would be in the middle of the desert, far from civilization and to sleep under the stars. Instead, our patch of sand was about 300 yards from a resort (and their NYE disco party) and, instead of sleeping under the stars, we would be in a small concrete hut. In any case, we were determined to have a good time. One of the guides asked if we wanted some beer (which we did) and said he could go get it for us. Knowing that alcohol is illegal in Pushkar, we were hesitant, but he said it really wouldn't be a problem, so we said yes and decided to get a few beers each. We still weren't planning on a crazy night, but we thought a few beers would be nice on a New Year's desert Eve.

So where does the crap theme come in? It starts....right now. When we dismounted from our camels (and adjusted to not having a giant animal beneath us), one of our guides frantically asked Helge if he remembered something falling off the back of his camel on the ride. He didn't remember anything, but we knew it was important because the guides were obviously concerned. Eventually, we figured out that a big bag full of dry cow poop had fallen from Helge's camel. This dung was to be the fuel for our fire for the evening (something very common in India) and, without it, we would have difficulty cooking dinner and staying warm in the cool desert night. As they climbed back aboard camels to retrace our path to find the fuel, another group of trekkers came past our campsite with an extra bag slung over their saddle. Relieved, our guide went to them to collect the dung. Unable to hear what was happening, we watched from a distance and then saw as our guide started arguing with the other group. They had noticed a bag of fuel on the path and had picked it up. It was obviously our bag. When our guide asked for it back, they said no!! They rode past us defiantly and we all erupted into cries of, "They stole our poop!" We were appalled that this other guide would steal from us. Our guides were frantic trying to come up with a new plan and were calling their boss, but this dung-related fiasco occupied much of the next hour. Without proper fuel, they started to prepare our dinner using a small fire of bush branches and we went on a sunset walk.

Alex at sunset

Swains at sunset

When we got back to the campsite, I noticed one of the young guys preparing a bread dough and thought he was making chapati. He mixed the dough by hand and then rolled it into fist-sized balls.

Eventually, the guys showed up with a new bag of crap fuel, and the fire was roaring. Which leads to....the second poop-focused event of the night. We were getting really excited for dinner. Everything looked amazing and the guys were taking such care in preparing the meal. Soon, we were wondering what would happen with the chapati. The chapati we were familiar with was rolled out flat and cooked in a tandoor oven. This night, we watched in shock as they took the round balls of dough and dumped them directly onto the poop coals, nothing separating the bread from the dung. And we gasped when they piled even more crapcakes on top of the bread rolls. 
That's our bread....sitting on poop coals
After an hour or so, they pulled the bread out, put it in an old grain bag and shook the coal dust from the bread, and then dinner was served. It was DELICIOUS. The curries were fantastic. The chili sauce was homemade and spicy. They made dal (lentils) perfectly. And, you know what? That shit bread was fantastic and we each had at least 2. The whole time, I couldn't stop thinking that some people celebrate New Year's Eve with expensive champagne and culinary delicacies...and I was eating shit bread in the middle of the desert, around a fire made of poop and sipping illegal crappy beer. This is the life!

When dinner was over, we moved to a larger campfire and sat around talking. We were joined by our guides and by a Canadian couple who were on a whirlwind tour of India and who had brought a bottle of rum in their backpack. Because we were low on fuel and because there's not much wood in the desert, our fire was pretty weak. Determined to keep it going, our guides headed out into the night to search for fuel and came back with a bag of camel droppings. Yes...more poop. It kept the fire blazing, and soon, the guides were beating the cook pots like drums and playing songs for us. It was a great evening. But then, around 10pm, our guides went rigid as headlights came out of nowhere towards our campsite. With whispers of "It's the police!" we joined them in their anxiety. Now, what you need to know is that the Indian police force is the most corrupt group of people I've ever known, and I've been to Russia! Most companies pay baksheesh (bribes) the local police in order to keep them from making business difficult. In many places, the police are a huge part of the area's crime problem. They are rarely helpful to foreigners. They seem to never smile and there is a feeling of anxiety that comes any time an officer is nearby. Now, I understand that there are probably some great people in the Indian police force, but I'm just telling you our general experience and take away from that group of people. So when we saw that it was, indeed a jeep full of cops pulling up (and we were holding illegal beers), we felt a bit panicked also. As they parked and turned their headlights out, our guides told us to toss the beer cans away from us, and we hurried to cover them with sand as discreetly as possible. The Canadian people, having only arrived in Pushkar that day, didn't know that alcohol was illegal in Pushkar and were shocked when I told them to put away their rum cocktails immediately. With the bottle of rum safely in their backpack and our beer cans tossed away, we waited for them to approach.

They came upon us slowly and with authority (and with rifles slung over their shoulders) and shined their flashlights around, clearly wanting to find evidence of alcohol so that they would need to be paid off. They hovered around us, not speaking to any of us, but rapidly exchanging words with our guides, who quickly got on the phone with their boss. We sat there nervously, cursing ourselves for being talked into buying the beers. Soon, one of the cops motioned for Tom to join him on the other side of the fire. He (the cop, not Tom) was visibly drunk himself and I was anxious as Tom walked to him. Then, the most ridiculous conversation took place.

Officer: What's your name?
Tom: Tom
Officer: What country coming from?
Tom: America
Officer: You are alone?
Tom: No. I'm with my wife. (points at me)
Officer: What's your camel's name?
Tom: ......(pausing).....You want to know what my camel's name is?!?! (incredulous)
Officer: Yes (insistant)
Tom: It's Rama....like the god!

Overhearing this conversation from across the campfire was too much and I burst into nervous giggles. "You want to know what my camel's name is?!?!" Hilarious. So bizarre. After this, they grabbed the Canadian couple's backpack and started going through it, which put us all on edge, especially Helge, who was very nervous and was acting strange. Thankfully, the couple's rum was in their other backpack, and the cop got distracted after the first one when our guide's asked them to speak to their boss on the phone. We had no idea what was going on and then, suddenly, one of the cops came over and kicked sand onto our poop fire, putting it out. He looked straight at us and said, "You need to go to bed....now."

So that's how, on our New Year's Eve, we got put to bed at 10pm. Rattled, we all quickly got up and walked straight for our concrete cabin, the cops pulled away, and the guides refused to answer any of our "Is everything alright?" questions. The Canadians were actually planning on sleeping outside in a tent but, after our run-in with the corrupt cops, we invited them to join us in our concrete cabin. We were all just sleeping on the floor in there with no door on the building, so it's not like it was luxury accommodations, but I think they felt safer. We spent the next few hours sitting in our bunker, talking and laughing about how insane India can be. 
The Canadians and Alex and Holly
At midnight, we heard some fireworks going off and we raced outside to watch them from the sand and Tom and I realized that we'll spend most of 2013 traveling! 

Despite having a shit-filled New Year's Eve (stolen poop, poop bread, poop fire), we had a great night! We are loving this time on the road (even with the occasional pangs of homesickness) and every unexpected twist it brings. We can't wait for an adventure-filled year!

Here's to living 2013 Loose of Limits!

Remember to check out all our Pushkar pics here. A few more of our favorite New Year's Eve photos are below.

Joe Camel

Swains on a camel

Me and the team with Romeo, the world's sweetest camel
Tom and Rama....Rama was hissing at him the entire time we tried to take this picture. Rama's a jerk.

Swains on a camel!

Remember to check out all our Pushkar pics here.