A local guide to Barcelona

27 Aug

I spent the past 2.5 months living and working in Barcelona and wrote a short guide for future people moving there. Barcelona is an easy place to get around. Here it is, touristy things first and housekeeping items last.

Places to Eat (combined from various friends)

Nice bars for tapas:

  • La Pepita: original, creative tapas
  • Bar El Pla: El Born, good and affordable tapas, some with a creative touch
  • Tossa: very good value for Spanish tapas.
  • Bar Tomàs: Sarrià, best Patatas Bravas, gets crowded but it’s a must; if you go at night you can afterwards head to OKSarria, with really good Chilicheeseburgers 😉
  • Bar Turó: San Gervasi, also good patatas bravas and nicer spot
  • Antigua fabrica Moritz: Paralel, old beer factory converted into restaurant
  • Balthasar’s: apparently an ESADE favourite, where the patatas bravas are excellent.
  • Cal Pinotxo: Raval, on the expensive side, in the Boqueria market

Fresh Seafood tapas:

  • Morryson’s: my favourite place in Gracia for tapas, great price/quality of food ratio.
  • Nou Candanchu: delicious, original seafood tapas.
  • Canmaño: seafood so fresh, always day of, and terribly well-priced
  • La Paradeta: You select your own seafood and they cook it for you, the location in Sagrada Familia is less crowded than the Born location, which usually has a 2 hour wait in the evenings.

Good Paella:

  • Can Majó (Barceloneta)
  • El Chiringuito de la Mari (Barceloneta)
  • Sal Café (Barceloneta)

Old/traditional restaurants/bars:

  • Can Culleretes (Raval, oldest restaurant in Barcelona, typical Catalan food)
  • Granja Viadé (raval, good Suis: hot chocolate+cream)
  • Granja Sirvent (Paralel, good Horchata and Leche merengada)

Places to have a drink with views:

  • Mirablau (San Gervasi, overlooks the city from the closest mountain)
  • Hotel Condes de Barcelona rooftop bar (Eixample, nice rooftop bar with views to the Pedrera and Sagrada Familia)

Nice places in Gracia:

  • Origens: tasty, features a lot of Catalan dishes; also in El Born
  • Pappa E Citti: Italian/Catalan restaurant, with foodies as the waitresses. So much food!
  • Kibuka (good Japanese)
  • Sureny (creative tapas, not fancy decoration, but the food is really good)
  • Gelatteria Cafeteria Italiana in Plaça de la Revolució (one of the best ice cream places in Barcelona)
  • Creperie Bretonne (good crepes, and a classic of the area)

Fancier restaurants:

  • Comerç 24 (Ciutadella, modern tapas by a follower of Ferran Adria – El Bulli)
  • Passadis del Pep (Barri Gotic, really good seafood place, no menu, they just start bringing stuff, expensive!)
  • Da Greco: the surprise package of 3 vegetarian pastas is tasty, great tiramisu, and every entree comes with a side dish for the rest of the table to share.

Things to Do

  • Tourist sites:

    • Fat Tire Bike tours
    • All the Gaudi stuff (Park Guell, Pedrera, Batllo, etc)
    • The Plaza Espana route: Plaza España, Magic Fountain (which plays on Fri/Sat night), MNAC (free on Saturday afternoons and first Sundays), Olympic Stadium, Poble Espanyol (tiny replicas of architectural styles across Spain, not that impressive), Montjuic Castle, Cemetery at Montjuic (free tours on Sundays).
    • Sagrada Familia. I got a 3-hr tour from a fantastic guide, Tomas, who is a volunteer with the Church and gives special access to the crypt, basilica. Free, but donations accepted (people usually give 20 euros, because it’s so good). Only in Spanish.  tlurbis@hotmail.com
    • Montserrat is amazing for rock climbing/hiking. A local runner-up could be Tibidao.
    • The Barceloneta closer to the W has less pickpockets, supposedly.

Transportation

  • Bicing is amazing–45 euros for a year and you can take a bike out for 30 minutes at a time. There’re stops everywhere + a killer app with locations. Sometimes, bicing stations are out of bikes, but I’ve never walked very far without finding another one. You’ll need a Spain driver’s license/national ID–my roommate signed me up.
  • Metro is v.easy and if you get the 10 rides card for 9.80 euros, it’s much cheaper than the the single ride price tag of 2 euros. There’s also monthly passes.
  • RENFE Spain Pass is 4 legs for 160 euros. Super-cheap, includes AVE, and only for tourists.
  • Taxi: 933.07.07.07, a premier service that uses Mercedes, yet still charges the same rate as other taxis. Also, they don’t do sneaky fees such as charging you for waiting or for the route to the apt (if you call a taxi).

Routine Things

  • Finding a phone: any cell phone carrier will do, they are all the same. Orange, Vodafone, or Telefonica have similar plans and network strength. Approx 5 euros for the SIM card and 8 centavos a minute/15 centavos per text.
  • You can find anything in Spain–would recommend packing less so you can bring home more. But pack sunscreen–it’s hella expensive in Spain.
  • I used a CapitalOne credit card and ATM card, which eliminated the fx fees and actually gave the exchange rate at market.

Finding a Place

  • Websites/Resources:

    • Loquo.com: the most listings, by far.
    • Idealista
    • AirBnb
    • Fotocasa.es: more for buying a place, but has some listings
    • Facebook group for IESE, ESADE. Also ask your facebook friends/connections to post ads for you.
  • Ask about how much light the room gets and if it’s interior (from inside the house)/exterior light. A room in an apartment in Gracia will run about 300-450 euros, and you can get discounts if you’re planning to stay longer.

Brushing up on Spanish

  • Duolingo.com, for good grammar practice
  • They sell tons of grammar books at Casa de libros, I liked Schaum’s Outline of Spanish Grammar the best.
  • Shurweb.es for streaming movies and tv shows.
  • Conversationexchange.com, for intercambios. Apparently the ratio of Spanish to English speakers is 10:1, so you’ll never be short of a practice partner. Also a great way to meet people.
  • You can also take lessons, which run 20 euros per hour (private lessons). Laura Castilla is a great teacher from Ole Barcelona and can give discounts.
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Indian Souvenirs in Delhi…with as little hassle as possible.

2 Oct

A legacy post, which I found in my draftbox, and duly finished up:

Delhi can be an intimidating city for a newcomer.  Its rickety apartments offer little shelter from the elements (suffocating heat or jacket-penetrating cold…there are only 3 weeks of good weather per year). The stench of humans, waste, or burning leaves mixes with the noise pollution of millions of cars gridlocked on the road and honking.  The expat becomes used to these things, but there is one thing which never goes away and is always annoying:  the haggling.

Oh, the brazenness of rickshaw drivers and merchants!   I was once told candidly that my English constituted a 10 rupee surcharge, despite having a meter inside the rickshaw.  During a shopping trip for mosquito nets, armed with the knowledge of mosquito net prices, I told vendors, in Hindi, that I lived in Delhi and had friends who had bought from them at the fair price.  I was still quoted the normal 200% markup.  My Indian friends had to argue with the shopkeepers, yelling, for 30 minutes for me to obtain the fair price.

Unless you’re a superhuman, superawesome bargainer, it is almost impossible to obtain a local price.  It is often impossible for locals to obtain a local price.  Sometimes bargaining takes knowing key words, such as “junk jewelry”–which signifies that you’re not looking for real silver/expensive stuff, but normal jewelry.  My advice would be to avoid bargaining, save your efforts, and shop at fixed price places (because it is difficult to bargain for much less than what you’ll get at a fixed price shop.  You may have knocked 70% off the original offer, but that is still 30% above fair price.)

Here’re my favourite places to shop + things to buy:

Places

  • Tribes India:   Best shopping experience in India, bar none.  There are quite a few scattered across India. Government-owned, this shop offers fixed, fair prices (much better than FabIndia, another great, though pricey store).  Best of all, your purchase is supporting the various craftsman and tribes of India.  Great selection including scarves, sculptures, stationary, jewelry, organic products, bags and even more products out of the normal touristy fare.  For example, I bought some lovely wild silk ties (made from wild silk worms) for $4 each, an awesome metal-cast pig for 50 cents, neem soap, handmade recycled paper, and a tapestry.  Wonderful staff. At the end of purchase, you’re given a 10% discount card for the next purchase and all of my items were gift-wrapped, complementary service.
  • Tatsat (Hauz Khas market): One of the few fair-trade places I can find in Delhi.  Boasts jewelry, elephant and camel poo paper, bags, paper-mache Kashmiri boxes (the cheapest I’ve seen anywhere), clothes, etc.  Cutely, your purchase is bundled in shopping bag made of recycled newspaper.
  • Lajpat Nagar market:  One of the best markets to shop at for kurthas, clothes, those sparkly shoes, scarves, and everything which a normal Indian would buy.
  • Surreal (Vasant Kunj DLF Promenade mall, bottom floor, right of Zara on first floor):  You’ll notice that foreign brands in India are super-expensive, even more so than in the U.S.  This is because of recently raised import duties.  A local brand, Surreal offers stylish Western clothes, with a touch of Indian craftsmanship and instinct for patterns.  It’s mostly geared for men, with a diverse button-down collection featuring divine textures, but the small women’s section is nothing short of amazing.
  • Van Heusen:  It can be hard to find stylish clothes without plunging necklines in the States.  A conservative country, India solves this problem for you and even makes the Chinese collar look sexy, placing it on flirty blouses.  Although its business clothes are nothing to write home about, Van Heusen’s party line is absolutely fantastic.
  • Da Milano: Don’t let the name fool you.  Though it sounds like an Italian knockoff, this locally made Indian brand of bagwear (they claim that they learned the trade in Italy) is the real deal.
Things
  • Kurthas/Saris/Cotton pants/Custom tailored dresses: You’ll need the sari for the inevitable Indian wedding.  The cotton pants are the most comfortable item in the heat (and Rs.80!).  If you can find a good tailor, they can make a satin cocktail dress for pennies.
  • Scarves/Stoles: Look for exotic weaves, such as angora (super-warm and light).
  • Kashmiri trick boxes and paper mache boxes: Believe it or not, there is a season for souvenirs, esp. those from Kashmir.  These lovable wooden boxes with a trap latch are available from Jan-May.  The paper-mache boxes are available all year long.
  • Art: I deeply regret not purchasing any art from India.  What can I hang on my walls?  There’s some nice watercolors and blue ink drawings at Dilli Haat, tourist trap.

A guide to living in Mérida

23 Aug

As a travel-weary soul after living in Bolivia, Peru, Samoa, and India for the past 2 years, I coasted in Mérida.  Mérida,  the capital of Yucátan, México and self-proclaimed, and accurately so, city of peace–key in a narced-up Mexico, is the most comfortable city outside of the United States that I´ve ever lived in.  In fact, it could be more comfortable than some American cities.  Mérida has the culinary chops of New Orleans, cultural happenings of Chicago, the tranquilness of a small suburban city, and the malls typical of Texas.  Not to mention the superb central location for taking weekend trips around the state.  Though these attractions have brought a small community of expats and students, Mérida never feels gringified.  Below is small guide to living in Mérida.

What to Bring

There is nothing in the United States that you can´t find in Mérida.  Missing your favourite cereals?  The Costco, Walmart, Mega, Chedraui, or other large supermarket chains got them.  That said, you will be using a lot of sunscreen and bugspray, which is considerably more expensive in Mérida than in the U.S.  Typical price for a bottle of SPF 70 runs $16.  I also recommend bringing snorkel gear, if you have room.  I think you can buy them for $14 at Walmart and it´ll cost you around $10 each time you rent them.  Otherwise, most items (except for clothes) run the same price, if not cheaper in Mérida.

Where to live

One of Mérida´s few weaknesses is its city sprawl and slightly inconvenient transportation system (bus/combis).  Mérida is divided into many neighborhoods, which are hard to get to between them, but all have bus routes, oftentimes lengthy, to the center.  They are almost all equally safe (living in downtown can be a bit sketchy).  I suggest finding a place next to your work, because you will be transporting yourself there 5 days a week.  I lived in García Gíneres, which was quite comfortable and a short 10 min bus ride or 30 peso taxi to the center.

List of apartments and rooms in family homes from the University of Mayab

Cellphones/Internet/Banking

Cellphones start at around $30 for basic and run up around American prices from there.  My office had an extra cellphone and I never put minutes on it–never had to make many calls.  If I needed to contact someone, I sent an email from the office or home or called with Skype (it´s about $0.02 a minute to call the U.S. and probably less to call México.)

The ATM fee from Mérida is about $2 each time + the fees your bank charges.  Even on the free Bank of America partnership, the ATM will charge $2.  It´s cheaper to bring dollars from America.  There are plenty of money change centers in downtown, off calle 59, between 60 and 62 that offer fair rates and real dollars/pesos.  I haven’t had a problem with fake money, as much as I did in Bolivia and China.

I’ve heard, but didn’t bother to investigate, that short-term internet in the form of portable cards or a short-term lease is not available.  Everybody’s house is wired up and one of the advantages of renting a room in a house was that I got access.  Otherwise, there is wifi in coffee shops, free wifi in all parks (if you can withstand the mosquito attack!), and internet cafés run about 8 pesos an hour.

Where to Eat

I have to admit that I haven’t been to very many restaurants in Mérida, mainly because it’s a lot of work to get around! Also, between work and taking weekend trips, I didn’t spend a lot of free time in Mérida.  Food in Mérida is generally meat—the vegetarian side is lettuce–but chaya, a superplant filled with vitamins, is delicious and served as drink or with fish/meat.

  • Cocina Economica (calle 17, entre 16 y 18, García Gíneres, cerca Parque de las Américas, (9999) 253 9888): Solid quality economical kitchen featuring Yucatecan and Méxican dishes, such as cuchinita, mole, pollo empanizado, tortas, and tacos.  I ate here everyday and local customers bring gallon-sized tupperware to carry away the food.  It is pretty busy around 2 p.m., lunch hour.  $27 pesos for a half-plate (more than sufficient) and $40 pesos for a full order (enough to take home for dinner).
  • Los Platos Rotos (calle Colón y Av. Reforma, García Gíneres, cera the Hyatt):  Local favourite lunchspot for chalangan (D.F.) dishes.  $50 pesos for a half-plate.
  • La Chaya Maya (centro):  A tourist and local haunt, La Chaya Maya offers a superb environment (staff is dressed in traditional garb and hand-making the tortillas and panuchos in front of you!) at pretty reasonable prices.
Where to go:
Mérida’s tourism department does a sensational job of publishing updated, free monthly magazines (Yucátan Today, Yucátan Travel–both include excellent street maps of Mérida if the numbers confuse you) as well as a monthly schedule of free cultural events.   These are both available at the tourism office in the Plaza Grande.  There is basically at least one free cultural event every day, including jaranas (local dance showcasing impressive foot speed and ability to balance beers on the head) every Monday, Yucatecan guitar concerts every Tuesday, an art fair every Saturday, and mariachi parades every Sunday, If you live near the Allianza Francesa (French cultural center), there are some cultural events and language courses there, though my French roommates thought the place strange compared to other Allianza Fracesas (snobby, more expensive, and tiny.)

Nightime jarana in downtown Mérida: yes, they're balancing a beer tray on their heads

Possible weekend trips (ranked in order of impressiveness):

Calakmul, a bioreserve and Mayan ruins, Indiana Jones style

Holbox. Never been, but it's the favourite of almost everybody here

Celestun. Never been, but lots of flamingos, swampy lands.

Tulum, a lovely time. Ruins are unimpressive, but lots to do around the beach.

Chichen Itza, classic.

Uxmal, another set of Mayan ruins with a nice light and sound show

Surrounding cenotes. You can throw in a visit to an awesome chocolate musuem/plantation along the way

What to buy
  • Coffee: Coffee grown in México is soft, with warm tones and a lot of caffeine.  Supposedly, Café Organico is the best and wallet-friendly organic coffee shop in Mérida, with a delightful owner, Guadalupe.  If you’re looking for more organic shops, here’s a nice list compiled by Yucatan Today.
  • Honey: Though apiaries in the Yucatan have diminished in recent years, there is still plenty of local honey production here.  Notable products include honey candy (with flavors of chamoy, chile, seasame, and propoleo), propoleo cold spray, chapstick, and pollen (a health food supplement).  LOL Cab, calle 47, no. 519B x 64 x 66, 9999 243586.
  • Henequen: Used to make strong sailing ropes, henequen fibers put Mérida on the map, turning the city into a colonial showcase of wealth.  However, when plastic fibers were invented, the henequen industry went bottoms-up, and historical mansions converted into Starbucks and McDonald’s.  Today, you can find plenty of henequen artesanal products, such as bags, turtles, bowls, etc.  Recommend buying at the annual Dzitya Art Fairat the end of July, Casa Maya, Artesania Contemporanea Maya (Calle 10 #608 x 25B x 25C, Col. Benito Juarez-Oriente, acnmaya@hotmail.com, 999 982 6856)

    Henequen baskets (20 pesos)

  • Buying at Touristy Areas: A word of warning.  The souvenirs at Chichen Itza tables, are, obviously, not really stone, as advertised.  They are cement or plaster of paris, painted over with some good quality gray acrylic.  The value of the cement mask is less than 25 pesos and of the plaster of paris snake, less than 70 pesos.
  • Tequila/Xtabentun/Liquor of Nance: An old Mayan recipe, Xtabentun is a tourist liquor, meaning that locals don’t drink it, claiming that it’s too sweet.  As for tequila, Don Julio is widely regarded as the best, Don Eduardo is pretty smooth, and Cazadores is a good budget tequila.

A guide to Tulum

3 Aug

A smattering of simple, but well-preserved Mayan ruins in a manicured, palm tree-adorned lawn and off a turquoise ocean, Tulum can be called Cancún: the Mayan theme park extension.  Its proximity to Cancún and Playa del Carmen make it the 3rd most visited archaeological site in Mexico (the other two are also closely located to Cancún and Mexico City).  Though the ruins are underwhelming and dare I say boring when compared to the grandeur of Calakmul or Uxmal, Tulum boasts the beast beaches in the Mayan Riviera and an excellent grand cenote.  In fact, if you’re looking for an uncrowded beach with clear waters and powdery sand, skip Playa del Carmen and Cancún and head straight to Tulum.

Trip Details

What to Do

  • Get a map: Wonderful little tourist information desk on Avenida Tulum, about 4 blocks from the bus station.  They have great maps and great advice.
  • Tulum Ruins: Seeing the ruins will take 30 minutes.  The beach is the best part, as the best beaches in Tulum are located closer to the ruins & further away from the fancier hotels (yes, there is a reason why the Mayans built their ruins there).  The waves are the biggest, the sand is powdery white, and it’s just majestic to relax in the ocean while looking at centuries of history.  Entry cost = 50 pesos.

One of the bigger buildings at Tulum

The beach at Tulum

Ruins + beach = popular

  • Gran Cenote: The entry fee may be pricey at 100 pesos, but totally worth it.  Hands down the most exciting cenote I’ve seen.  It looks like nothing from the outside, but if you rent snorkeling gear (70 pesos), the water below reveals a whole new underworld, making you feel like an explorer on the Discovery Channel.  The cenote slopes down fairly fast, and you can peek at crevices, see the dark shadowy extensions of passageways which are sure to continue for miles (myth has it that all cenotes in the Yucatan are connected), and chase fish.
  • Akumal:  Nice beach (slightly more crowded than Tulum), but the real star of the show are the sea turtles, stingrays, fishes, and coral reefs.  They say that  these endangered sea turtles may have to be found, but I easily saw at least 4 sea turtles and even got charged at by one giant 1.5m sea turtle.  I may have reacted like a shark was after me.  We brought some drinks to the beach (wonderful liter of refreshing chaya blended with pineapple sold at Don Cafetos), rented snorkel gear (100 pesos), skipped the tour, and swam out to where the boats were and sightings were.  Akumal is located 20 km from Tulum and a combi, running frequently, will take you there and back for 60 pesos roundtrip.
  • Za Zil Kin beach:  Rumored to be the prettiest beach in Tulum.

Za Zil Kin at sunset and on the brink of a storm

Transportation

  • From Mérida, we took a 4.75 hr ADO bus that left at 6:30 Saturday morning coming back at 12:15 a.m. Sunday night/Monday morning.  Cost = 410 pesos roundtrip.
  • Along Avenida Tulum, you can walk easily to the center from the bus station.  You will need to take a taxi, combi, or bike to the ruins, the beach, or the cenotes.  Taxis have fixed pricing and will never rip you off.  Combis are substantially cheaper.  For example, a 10 peso per person combi ride to the ruins will cost 40 pesos total in a taxi. A bike can be fun and cheap, as rentals are 50-60 pesos per day.

Lodging:  

  • I stayed at Mama’s home (three blocks off the main Avenida Tulum, Calle Orion entre Venus y Sol Oriente, (52) 984 87 122 72), which was an excellent, no-fuss, new business (6 months old) with a great in-town location. Dorms run 150 pesos per person for a 4-bedroom and private bedroom for 2 runs 400 pesos total with a kitchen included.  Prices include free internet access and large breakfast, with eggs, beans, toast, fruit, whee!  Bike rental is 50 pesos.  I’m glad to report that I did not get bed bugs.  
  • Posada los Mapaches is another excellent option, with all positive reviews on Trip Advisor.  We almost stayed here, but the owner, an incredibly nice and honest gentleman named Daniel, reported that he had bedbugs earlier and was working on containing them.  He does take lot of precautions such as spraying all incoming backpacks down and hiring a terminator every few months.  The place is immaculately clean but “rustic” so you will get bitten by mosquitoes during the night.  

Food

I ate at three restaurants and all were wonderful.

  • Cameo: Local favourite seafood watering hole.  Up a little ways on Avenida Tulum, but worth the trip.  Seafood is fresh. Plates are large.  Prices are reasonable.  I ordered the flakiest, scrumptiest shrimp po-boy sandwhich.
  • La Villa d Bella: Off Za Zil Kin beach, this expansive restaurant under a high-arched Mayan roof offers beautiful front-porch views of the beach and exceptional service.  We ordered a seafood platter for two, which included lobster, snapper, squid, octopus, shrimp, 2 alcoholic drinks, and dessert (well, the waiter threw in dessert) for 720 pesos.  Be careful at night—strangely, the hotel doesn’t have a telephone and may not be able to call a cab for you.  Cabs pass by rarely at night, since it’s an isolated area.
  • Don Cafeto: Situated on the main drag and boasting an Italian restaurant mafia-style collection of celebrity/governor sightings at the restaurant, this tourist favourite has the joys of large quantities of food, good drinks, and good times.  Get the chaya drink.
A Word about Bedbugs
  • There is a strong possibility of catching bedbugs here, as many backpackers bring them in from other parts of Mexico.  Many other pernicious bugs are present in the beach sands.  My friend returned back with clusters of bites on her feet.  Both hotels I talked to fumigated regularly to combat the problem and one hostel spends $3,000 annually in fighting the bedbug war.
  • To keep the bugs at bay, I suggest leaving your beach towel and all other things from the beach outside your hotel room, taking a warm bath immediately after returning to the hotel, and possibly boiling your clothes (just to be extra safe.)

What to do if you have ticks or bedbugs

16 Jul

Travelling in South America and in Mexico, I’ve gotten my fair share of bedbugs and ticks.  They lurk anywhere and your reaction to these parasites depends on your tolerance level, much like alcohol.  Needless to say, I have a low tolerance for both and both make me turn red.  And similar to the side effects of alcohol, the parasites are harmless but annoying.  In fact, it is not entirely necessary to go to a doctor.  But I have gone to a doctor and below are her recommendations + wisdom gathered from painful experience.

How to identify bites:

  • There’s lots of advice on the internet.  Use that.  It’s more accurate.
  • Anecdotally, bedbugs are a red splotch with a red dot in the middle.  They show up a few in a row and in all the parts of your body with a crease, because they like heat.  (armpit, bikini line, knees, parts of your torso, muffin top…jk.)

The PG-version of my bedbug bites

Upon immediately discovery of ticks (garrapatas, en español) or bedbugs (chinches, en español),

  1. Pre-empt them. Before you even discover bugs, immediately after returning from a jungle, take a shower and throw all of your clothes outside your room.  It doesn’t even matter if locals insisted five times that there are no bedbugs in the area.  There are no bedbugs for their immune skin.  There are bedbugs for your untouched baby skin.
  2. Take a bath, preferrably in hot water.   Take two baths. 
  3. Wash everything that your body touched, preferrably in hot water.  This includes bed sheets, underwear, shirts.  Better yet, just wash everything in your suitcase.  If you put your shirt next to another clean shirt, wash the clean one too. These suckers spread like no other.  Also, they like to hide out in the hemming of your clothes.  Iron those parts.  If the bugs still aren’t going away, leave your mattress out in the sun for at least 8 hours and spray the bedposts down with tick killer.  I’ve never had to put my mattress out, though.
  4. Apply VapoRub to bites.  This is anecdotal advice.  I heard that the “freshness” kills the bugs.
  5. Try not to scratch.  The swelling and itchiness will go away, but after a week.  Allow two weeks – one month for ticks.  Claritin or an antihistamine will reduce swelling, and Eurax will relieve the itch.  I advise getting the Eurax, because unless you lack nerves, you will not be able to resist the scratching.  A little “oh, I’ll just lightly brush” turns into violent fingernail scratching.  If you get scars from scratching, Cicalfate will make it pretty.  My doctor also advised to stay out of the sun and to not sweat (Even if I didn’t have ticks, I would want to stop sweating if I could control it), because the sunlight casts scars into more permanent fixtures.  See the medication section for dosage details.
  6. If you need treatment, a dermatologist is qualified.  They’re not solely for cosmetic purposes and actually know a lot about local diseases.
Medication Details
  • Eurax cream.  For itch relief.  Use 3x each day for 6 days.  Cost $5 in Mérida, MX.
  • Cicalfate cream.  For scar prevention.  Use 3x each day for 10 days.  Cost $20 or $38 (100 ml), depending on size of tube, in Mérida, MX.
  • Claratin tablets.  Use 1x each day for 10 days.  Cost $20 in Mérida MX for 10 tablets.
Where I have gotten bites
  • My friends’ couch in her posh La Paz high-rise.  I am the only person on record to get bedbugs there, but yes, I have gotten them there TWICE.
  • Buena Vista, Bolivia.  These were ticks.  Took 1 month for the itching to die down and the scars are still there after 6 months.  However, I scar easily because I am Asian.
  • Calakmul, Yucatán, MX.  Stayed at the cabins of La Selva.  It was really a jungle.  But I was the only person of a group of 3 Frenchies and one Méxicana to get bedbugs.
A good dermatologist in Mérida
  • Dra. Maria Rosa Rivero Vallado, Clinica Mérida.  Phone: 925 8406.  Av. Itzáes 242 x 35 x 37, García Ginerés.
  • Cost: $600 pesos ($US 55)

How to Survive Food Poisoning

9 May

The best tactic would be to avoid food-poisoning, but this is not possible in India.  You can get food-poisoned in expensive restaurants and be perfectly safe on the streets.  After eating street chaat for months, I finally succumbed to a bowl of Tom Yum at the Tasty Tangles restaurant in DLF Mall and a bowl of miso ramen soup at the restaurant in the Metropolitan hotel.  (Don’t eat east asian soup in India!  It’s never fresh.)  Those experiences were worse than the time that I ate 3-wk old chicken soup.

The effects of diarrhea will not be immediate.   The next day will be deceivingly good.  But if in the off-chance that you know you have gotten food-poisoned, take activated charcoal tablets.  These things absorb anything you’ve eaten recently out of your system.  If you can’t find activated charcoal tablets at the store, then you can make some by burning toast and scraping off that black gold.

The first sign of things gone wrong will be fever and pain that will have you in a fetal position.  Sleep through this.  In fact, treat this condition like the flu: sleep and drink liquids as much as you can.  Then you can start yourself on the BRAT diet.  Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast.  Also eat yogurt.  I scoffed in everybody’s face when they suggested the yogurt, because you’re not supposed to consume dairy products, but somehow this is the lone exception.  Yogurt is okay.  And even good, because it contains the probiotics.  Drink Gatorade for the electrolytes.  But do not make the mistake I did and fast.  For a couple of days, I drank only Gatorade and ate glucose biscuits because I felt too sick to eat.  This created worse-looking bile (green liquid!) and introduced acid reflux to my ear, resulting in a weird ear sore.  Not quite an infection, but it felt like one.  After putting everything under the sun into my ear to make it go away, I finally realized that it was part of a stuffed up sinus and would go away naturally when the sinuses did.

Getting food-poisoned in India is worse, because there are no bland foods to eat.  Everything, include the salad, is drenched in masala spice.  The rice is even oiled up.  I think this is why it took me so long to recover and why I lost so much weight.  There will not be a day when your stool is suddenly normal.  For me, I didn’t have to poo for a couple of days and was quite worried about what was going on inside my stomach and if I would suddenly explode when the time came.  You will have to make the decision that you are well and then start living life.  Stay strong!  And don’t take Immodium!  Cipro is a nuclear bomb for your stomach and should be avoided unless you have chronic diarrhea.

Guide of Foods Okay to Eat (Not Scientific at all!)

  • chicken (preferably without skin, but don’t sweat a broiled chicken.  Lightly fried is okay too, but try to avoid it.)
  • any kind of soup
  • pasta, without sauce
  • rice cooked in water
  • boiled eggs
  • I’ve heard that you’re supposed to avoid raw fruit.  (But bananas are apparently okay.  There’s exceptions to everything!)

My near-rape experience in Delhi

21 Apr

The statistics caught up to me.  I suppose, after writing and talking offhandly about the higher chances of being raped in Delhi—warning others, but not taking the warning seriously myself–it was karma.  But the irony of my near-rape experience was how ordinary it was.  The setting was normal, the man involved quite amateur and non-malicious.  Perhaps he didn’t even intend rape.  I was both lucky and unlucky.

Here is the incident:  At sunset, I took an auto-rickshaw with an Indian male friend, who got out early to his destination. I then broke the driver-rider silence to direct the rickshaw driver to a shortcut.  This is where trouble started.  He was confused about the shortcut.  He started speaking Hindi to me, more and more, though it was obvious that I didn’t understand, and I laughingly spoke back to him in English.  It got completely dark (7:45 p.m., well ahead of 8:30 curfew) and we came upon a lampless backroad illuminated only by passing cars that I described in an earlier blog entry.  Still speaking Hindi animatedly and laughing, he hesitated on the road and then got out to pee.  I called a friend at that point, potentially saving myself.  For the rest of the 1-km path, he went slowly, hesitating more and more, speaking Hindi loudly and then stopped completely in the road, a lonely road with dark office buildings on the side and bushes on the other.   He then tried undoing the rope that held the curtains up on the autorickshaw, ignoring my pleas to go straight, and asking me for help, which I confusingly tried to acquiesce with.  The rope wouldn’t come undone.  He wouldn’t drive the auto. I moved to leave the rickshaw.  He started the motor again but stopped two seconds later.  It was a strange game we were playing.  He was still grinning.  Then he reached his hand toward mine, grabbing my arm and my thighs.  At that point I jumped out (thank goodness for cheap, no-door rickshaws) and started running.  I ran the rest of way home.

This story happened to a friend of mine, though in daylight and under more polite circumstances.  The rickshaw driver asked for her hand.  I am sure both of our drivers were trying to push their luck, probably gropists but not serial-killer rapists.  He could’ve chased after me.  The incident wasn’t scarring and I still want to obliterate the hostel’s 8:30 curfew (that did nothing to prevent this incident!), though I now give some credence to not trusting rickshaw drivers at night.  The truth is that in Delhi, as in anywhere, you can be raped in daylight.

Update:  In an earlier post, Living in 3 Slums, I mentioned that I live in one of the most dangerous areas of Delhi, formerly known as Murder Kunj.  I suppose that nickname still holds true, as a few days ago, a 20-year old student was stabbed to death a few blocks from my dormitory.  It was probably a targeted killing, as the victim’s belongings were left untouched, but most troubling was the incompetency of the guard on duty and the lack of police patrol on the street, which contributes to Vasant Kunj being so dangerous.  In fact, the day before the murder, there was a shootout in Vasant Kunj between a criminal hailing from another district and police who were tailing him.  Vasant Kunj, being so isolated, is now the place for people to commit crimes and get away with it.

I wish that TERI University would follow Yale’s cue and offer dogs for rent.  Except I need one not to prevent depression, but to prevent rapes.