Sand Dunes and Camel Fumes

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Jun 20, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Days 159 to 163

Tuesday started with a rude awakening…a 4:45AM alarm jarring us out of our sleep. It was time to leave Jodhpur and head over to the train station for our trip to Jaisalmer. Our train is scheduled for 6AM, so after finishing our packing and showering, we walked the short distance down the block to the station. We hadn't yet been out on the streets this early in the morning in India, while it’s still dark, and it was a real eye-opener. So many people just lying on the side of the road, some with blankets and some without….trying somehow to sleep, with vehicles sputtering by, dogs barking, and breathing in the horribly polluted air. (These people actually made cement look quite comfortable, as they all looked to be sound asleep. Some men even enjoyed a good cuddle while spooning each other in the middle of train station platform.) All homeless and nowhere else to go. Unbelievable.

Our train was surprisingly on time and we tried to lie back in our bunks to get a bit of shut-eye despite the stopping and starting. Arriving at 11:15, we were met by a driver from our guest house and coincidentally, shared the car with the couple from Repentigny, Quebec who we had met earlier on our trip. We got to the guest house and were shown 3 different rooms again, though this time, I shed my prima donna tiara and we chose the cheapest of the 3. (Don't get the wrong idea...this cheap room still had an attached bathroom, beautiful double bed and air conditioning.) We unpacked our gear and headed up to the rooftop for some lunch and to make a plan for the camel safari that we wanna do.

As we’re getting ready to walk over to the camel safari booking office, I happen to take a look inside my wallet and notice a problem. Where did my credit card go? I start doing the old mental rewind thing that we’ve all done before after losing something important. Where was I when I last used it? Did I ever get it back? Did I put it somewhere other than my wallet? A deflating realization then occurred to me….the last place I used it was at the restaurant last night….in Jodhpur. DOH!!! I manage to find their phone number and call them. Yes, they do have my credit card…but how am I supposed to get it back? (How many Indians does it take to return a credit card?!) I dunno…will have to think about this as we walk into town to book our camel safari. (This was a VERY quiet walk into town.)

Walking into town, we notice a couple of things. One….it’s VERY hot here, but I guess we should’ve expected that, being in the middle of the desert and all. Two…the fort just dominates this town, a central and imposing figure, rising high out of the desert in an otherwise non-descript town. It’s definitely much quieter here than most other places we’ve been to in India. (Well, quiet other than the woman that has been following us for the past 15 min shoving silver braclets in my face: "Very good price, very good price, how much would you like to pay?") We eventually find the booking office and agree on a 2-day, 1-night camel safari starting tomorrow morning. Sweet! We’re pretty psyched about it and were almost convinced to do 3 days but I managed to talk Jill out of that idea. We take the long way back home, walking around the perimeter of the fort, and then back to our guest house.
Now, back to my credit card fiasco. As you may recall, the owner of the hotel we stayed at in Jodhpur and his son were extremely helpful to us while we stayed there. I decide to call on one more favor from them. Jill still had their business card, so I call them and Jaggi, the owner, answers the phone. I explain the situation to him and he tells me that if I can get someone from the restaurant to deliver my card to him (just down the block), he will send it with someone wJoe ho is on the overnight bus to Jaisalmer tonight. Awesome! I call the restaurant, ask them to deliver the card to Jaggi, and then cross my fingers that everything will take place as planned. Who knows? This is India, folks. But then again…if it wasn’t India, I probably couldn’t have worked it out as easily as it seems to be working out. We’ll see… (It seems as though Joe has forgotten that while he beat himself up over losing his credit card, indeed, I was the one calling the restaurant trying to explain the situation to the broken English speaking waiter on the other end! "No, no, it's not my card, it's my husband's... Yes, his name is Joseph Miceli, no Miceli. No, no we are not in Jodhpur, we're in Jaisalmer. Yes, that's right Jaisalmer... Yes, I realize that this is a problem...") 

Meanwhile, we’re still trying to solve the mystery of why our cell phone suddenly stopped working a week ago. After exhausting all options, I finally break down and use skype to call the Indian cell phone company that we bought our SIM card from. After several attempts, I finally get a help desk attendant on the line and he asks me what phone number I’m calling from. I tell him that I’m calling on skype and his brilliant reply is that I have to call him from my cell phone in order to get service. I’m flabbergasted. Wait a sec…you’re the help desk support for my cell phone….which currently isn’t working. If I was actually able use my cell phone to call you, then I wouldn’t have to call you for help in the first place, now would I? I get a bunch of "sorry sirs, we can’t help you" in response, hang up, and am about to hit the roof. Losing patience, I pass the baton over to Jill to see what kind of lady luck she might have.

Jill’s conversation goes entirely differently than mine does. She doesn’t make great progress with repairing the phone, but she at least is told that we’re calling the wrong help desk and that we need to be speaking to the support guys in the province that we actually bought the SIM card from. OK cool…we at least have a lead. So now Jill calls the number she’s given, and after another lengthy delay and being stuck on hold, she’s told by the male support technician that our cell phone number does not exist. Excuse me? How can it not exist? We just topped it up last week and had been using it for a couple of calls when, all of a sudden, it stopped working. Can you please check your records again? He does…there is no record of that number. I’m looking at Jill at this point and can’t hear the other end of the conversation, but she looks utterly confused and verging on the same level of frustration that I’ve already achieved. This is when it started getting weirder. I heard Jill tell the guy that she had no other phone number except for the cell phone that’s not working…and then I hear her start to give the guy her email address before catching herself and saying…”Why do you need that for anyway?!?”. She starts looking even more exasperated and then exclaims: “Can we just stick to fixing my cell phone please?!?!”. I’ll let her explain the rest! (This guys was unbelievable. As we were trying to diagnose the problem with my phone, he had asked if I had an alternate phone number. When I replied no, he corrected himself, asking if I had a phone number back home in Canada... Whaaa?! Why would he need to have my number back in Canada?! When I reply no to that, he then asks if I have an email address that I can be reached at. I got halfway through spelling it out for him when I asked what this information will be used for. This is when my jaw almost hit the floor as the help desk operator came back in his Indian accent with "Excuse me ma'am. Excuse me. I would just like to say, would you like to be my personal friend?" YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!! After over an hour of trying to sort this phone out, I didn't know wether to laugh or cry! "Noooooooo, I don't want to be your personal friend. I just want my cell phone to work."
"Well, this is too bad. You do not want to be my personal friend and there is nothing I can do about your phone. Good-bye." Seriously, did THAT just happen?! I sure hope that phone call was being recorded to monitored customer service satisfaction. Unbelievable!)

We needed a bit of a chill-out session after more India got stuck under our skin, so after laughing at some amusing youtube clips, we headed up to the rooftop and had a few drinks before washing it down with some dinner. With some cool music playing, we found a cushy corner on the rooftop and enjoyed the views of the fort lit up a night. Ahhhhhhhh…this is better. At the same time, the owners of our previous and current hotels (who are friends), were making arrangements to get my credit card sent with someone on the bus from Jodhpur tonight, and then picked up from the bus station tomorrow morning. Wow….this will be amazing if it works. We called it a night and headed back to our room to prepare for the start of our camel safari tomorrow.

Ouch….the sound of a 5:30AM alarm is never good, is it? The staff told us to leave our bags in our room, with the doors unlocked and the keys inside, and that they would move them into storage for the night later in the morning. Uh….ok. …not my preferred method of handling it, but we’ll have to cross our fingers and trust once again. We walk over to the camel safari office and are there for 6:30, when we were told that things would kick off. Well, along with a British guy named Adrian, we ended up sitting around for over a half-hour waiting for the 4th participant to arrive. Finally, shortly after 7PM, a Canadian girl named Megan bursts through the door, obviously embarrassed and apologetic for her alarm not going off and being late, and with freshly tied turbans on our heads, we hopped into the jeep and set off.

After an hour long ride, we stop at the edge of the desert, where we see 2 guys sitting on blankets in the sand with camels tied up beside them. We’re told to sit down and are served a breakfast of bananas with toast & jam. Not exactly the porridge that we expected and were banking on, but we filled up on the half-toasted bread and then got ready to be introduced to our camels.

Well, there wasn’t much of an introduction. No briefing by the guides on how to ride a camel, how to mount one, do’s and don’t’s, what our itinerary will be. Absolutely nothing at all. One by one, they instruct the camels to get down and then call over each of us to mount it. Have you ever seen a camel get down to be mounted? It’s pretty funny….and awkward. They actually bend forward and then end up resting themselves on their front knees. It’s a very herky-jerky motion, and if you’re not used to it, the camel getting upright can be a bit of a jolt. So anyway, there was 1 camel who was obviously smaller and younger than the rest of them, so you would expect that he would get assigned to one of the girls, right? Um………wrong. I sat there, watching the other 3 camels being matched up with Jill, Megan, and Adrian (who I probably outweigh by 25 pounds), and then I was called over to mount the little guy. Wait a sec….seriously….why do I get the smallest camel? Well, as the guide tried to get my camel to get down, he started grunting and fussing up a storm. He obviously wanted no part in any of this and both of the guides were trying to get him under control and get him down for me. Oh boy…this doesn’t look good…this guy is downright feisty! (The sounds coming from Joe's camel were not happy sounds. It was an all out camel tantrum in the middle of the desert.) They finally get him down and I hop on…and just after I manage to get a grip onto the saddle, he jumps up very fast, grunts, and I almost flipped off the thing backwards. Geez! Luckily, I had a good grip and disaster was averted. He ended up settling down somewhat and off we all went, though my guy wasn’t tied up to the others. Special treatment for the cranky one I guess.

Riding a camel, we quickly learned, is not very friendly to your inner thighs and groin. After about a half-hour trotting along, we were all shifting around and trying to find a more comfortable position. There were no stirrups to rest your feet in, so your legs would just hang there, bearing all your weight astride this huge creature. Of course, we were never given any tips on the proper way to ride them in the first place. Thanks for all the helpful instructions, guys! We continued on for about 2 hours, riding mostly through desert scrubland, and seeing goats, deer, cattle, horses, other camels, and lots of big birds. We took a much-needed break at about 11 and cowboy-walked it over to a blanket set out for us, where our guides served us some chai tea and snacks before making us lunch. Lying around afterwards wondering when we would be heading off again, it was now 3:30 and we still had no idea what was going on. Finally, at 3:45, we got the signal that it was time to head off again. A nice reprieve for me though, as during the long break, our guides were able to find a less grouchy camel for me to ride…sweet! My ex-camel was now the 5th wheel, following along beside us with no one to carry and not even any supplies to lug! I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease…even in India. (Definitely bad camel parenting... can I suggest a timeout next time?)

We sat painfully upon our camels for another 2 hours, though halfway through, Adrian asked if he could walk to relieve some of the groinal pressure. Another thing about camels….they fart…..a LOT! Must be something in their diets I guess, but if you were riding behind someone else’s camel, you were regularly assaulted with a mouthful of camel fumes for your sensory pleasure. (It is at this point that I will mention that I had the lead camel... the entire journey!) But we digress….despite the discomfort, the latter part of this day was probably our favorite experience of the safari. We saw a couple of sand swirls in the distance and also heard the rumbling of thunder somewhere not too far away. When we finally arrived at our camp spot, we were looking out onto waves and waves of awesome, beautifully smooth sand dunes….as high as large hills. We climbed up to the top of the dunes and watched the sun set over the desert…absolutely stunning. This is what we came here for and this is why we did this…a moment that may not ever be repeated.

Shuttling back down the sand dunes and onto the blanket set up for us, I remarked that the only thing that I needed at this point was a cold drink. And then…out of the distance, like a mirage in the desert…a camel-riding desert man appeared, holding a burlap sack. It’s the beer-man!! Seriously folks. This guy lives in a nearby village and, using the Indian entrepreneurial spirit, he chills these beers in his fridge until they’re almost frozen, and then rides his camel to this spot to sell them to tourists like ourselves who are doing a camel safari. Amazing. Can’t remember the last time a beer tasted that good. We even bought some for our guides, despite the lack of actual “guidance”. They were feeding us after all, and we had another nice meal tonight…cooked up in the middle of the desert.

We hung out on our blankets, just chatting and enjoying the serenity around us, the sparkling stars up above, and the reflection of the moon off the sand dunes. At about 9PM, our guides came around again and set up our “beds” – a comforter, a pillow, and a blanket – all lying directly on the sand…no tents needed. We lied there taking in the surreal feeling of sleeping in the desert…the sounds of camels chewing, birds calling, and cats mewling. Romantic? Yes. But two other things that we learned firsthand that night. One, it gets very cold in the desert at night! By midnight, I had my sweatshirt and wool hat on and was trying to tuck into the blanket for warmth. Also, sand isn’t as soft as it appears to be. When you’re trying to sleep on it, it feels pretty hard! So, if anyone feels sorry for us, please raise your hands……..Anyone?........Hello?......(crickets chirping)….. (By now you may have picked up on the fact that our guides were somewhat lacking in the actual "guiding" department throughout the entire day, and this continued into the night. I had read a write up on the camel safaris, describing the most romantic scene of having your safari group circled around a campfire at night, gazing up into the stars as the camel guide played guitar and sang indian folk songs... ya well, you guessed it... that didn't happen! After dinner was made, the fire was put out and the guides sat well apart from us to ensure that conversation was not an option... oh well, guess you can't believe everything you read.)

Waking up with the sun rising over the desert in the morning is pretty wicked as well, so we sat up in our makeshift beds, rubbed the sleep out of our eyes, and enjoyed the chai tea brought to us by our guides. They served us breakfast shortly afterwards, where we all learned how difficult it is to eat porridge with your fingers. I mean…it was pretty dry porridge….but still, we haven’t yet ascended to that level of finger-eating talent. By about 8AM, the camels were loaded and we were all ready to say goodbye to the sand dunes, so we hopped back on and away we trotted. Initially, we were supposed to have a full day of riding today, but Adrian has to make it back to Jaisalmer early to catch his train, so we’ll be cutting it short…which no one disputed since we’re already anticipating the pain from another day in the saddle.

During our 2-hour ride, we made 2 stops – once to visit a local village set in the desert and another to have a look at a school. Both times, our guides gave us no guidance whatsoever and basically left us to fend for ourselves, awkwardly walking around the village while all of the women and children were persistently asking us for rupees, jewelry, pictures of them (that they want you to pay for), and our sunglasses. (At one point, the little girls were actually just taking the one and only silver ring right off of my finger, grabbing for anything that wasn't firmly attached to my body.) The “culture stop” offered zero culture whatsoever and the only interaction we were able to muster was to turn down requests for handouts. When we stopped in front of the school, there was more begging, but we also met 2 giggling schoolgirls who were having a great laugh high-fiving Jill, so that was fun. Side note about begging in India…it’s not only those who are destitute that do it. Basically, they think of all Westerners as “rich” and feel as though we should be helping out our relatively poorer Indian cousins. Sometimes we would be approached by children who are clean-cut and wearing nicer clothing than we are, but are just conditioned to walk up to Westerners, put out their hands, and ask: “Rupees???”. That’s just the way things are here…ingrained in the culture I guess.

The morning camel ride brought more camel farts and more desert scenery. We saw a couple of goat herders, a few stray dogs, and some crops being grown right there in the middle of the desert – although we didn’t bother asking our guides what they were. We stopped at 10:30 for a break and after we were sitting down for over a half-hour, I felt the need to ask the guides exactly what the plan was. Are we getting back on the camels? Is this just a break? Are we finished? They responded and told me that this would be it…we’re just supposed to relax now, eat lunch, and then the jeep would be coming by to pick us up this afternoon. Great…thanks for the regular updates guys. So we found a nice spot under a shady tree, watched the camels fighting with each other, and ate our lunch while trying to figure out how much (if any) we should actually tip these guys when we leave. As usual, guilt reared its ugly head and we decided to tip them a reasonable amount…just not as much as we would have given had they actually done some guiding.

Overall, the camel safari was a great experience – riding camels in the desert, sand dunes straight out of The Arabian Nights, and sleeping in the open air – on the sand and under the stars. It could've been much better, but still a memory that we’ll never forget. (It needed a camp fire!)

That night, after we washed off the camel fumes and scrubbed off the sand, we met Megan for dinner on the rooftop of our guest house and watched India take on the defending champions, Australia, in the quarterfinals of the World Cricket Cup. To the delight of all the men gathered around the TV, India knocked off Australia, setting up a semi-final match-up with their arch-rival….Pakistan. Never thought cricket could be so riveting! Oh and also, my credit card was safely presented to me…delivered as promised on an overnight bus from Jodhpur. Have I mentioned how much I “heart” India???

We had a chill-out day on Friday, though it didn’t feel too relaxing battling the horrible wifi connection while trying to post a blog entry and do some planning for Hong Kong. Even chill-out days in India are stressful! We also became aware yesterday of a potential problem that required some discussion today. Apparently, there’s been a problem with one of the railway lines for about 2 weeks now. Some villagers are protesting for some reason and they’ve been sitting on the tracks, preventing the train from actually going through. We’re supposed to be on a train to Delhi tomorrow night, but if the protest is still going on, we’ll have to get off the train in Jaipur and then find our own way to Delhi, which would likely involve a bone-jarring bus ride at about 5AM. We’re exploring other options, but it’s not looking too good, so we just cross our fingers, pack up our backpacks, and see what we hear when we wake up in the morning.

Seriously now…what kind of hotel asks you to check out by 9AM? Anyway, we drag ourselves out of bed around 8, store our bags in the basement, and then head out after breakfast on the rooftop. Our train is not until late afternoon, so we figured we’d go take a look inside the fort. Jaisalmer is called the “Golden City”, possibly referring to the color of the fort’s walls, which loom over the city. It’s actually a “living fort”, as 25% of the city’s population live within its walls…a mini-city of its own. We enter through the gates and are chatting away with the usual array of tuk-tuk drivers, shop owners, hawkers, and random people. We learn that the fort is crumbling little by little due to overdevelopment and that all the hotels, guest houses, restaurants, and shops are slowly sinking. Deciding that we just wanted a mental break, we skipped the museum and temples and instead, just walked around the interior, taking in the great views of the city and desert below. We discovered a cool, little guest house with nobody else in it, walked up to the dining area, and plopped ourselves down onto the cushions in front of a window, where we enjoyed the views from our nice, little perch.

Arriving back at our guest house, we receive awesome news. We’re told that the railway protest has been resolved and that our train tonight will be continuing on straight to Delhi! WOO-HOO!! I was really dreading the idea of waking up at 5AM on a train and then having to find our way to the bus station for a killer bus ride. I’m always a bit skeptical of things we’re told in India, but we thought it was reason enough for celebration, so we went up to the rooftop for some lunch and
celebratory beers.

Time to pick up our packs and head out to the train station. We pass by reception to say goodbye and thank them again for picking up my credit card. We mention how happy we are that our train will now be going straight to Delhi and they look at us funny. Uh-oh. Put those horses back in the stable. They tell us that the issue is only being “discussed” and has not yet been resolved. That hissing sound you’re hearing is from the air rudely escaping from our respective balloons. I guess it’s too late to return the celebratory beers? Whatever….we just got India’d again. Dishearteningly, I lift our packs onto the roof of the vehicle and we’re shuttled off to the train station and onto our waiting train.

Entering our car, we learn that the seats/beds we’ve been assigned are actually in different berths…across the aisle from each other. Nobody was actually in either of the two berths, so we just grabbed one of them and were happy to have it all to ourselves, despite the fact that it was right at the end of the car and next to the door. Indians think nothing of peering inside your berth, whether curtained off or not, to see what you’re up to as they’re walking by. They might actually move the curtain if they feel that they’re not getting a good enough look. (I think that the other passengers have actually started to spread the word that there are "white people" in the last compartment. 'Cause seriously, we shoud've started charging a viewing fee for sticking your head through the curtain.) We find out that there’s no food service on this train, which could have been tragic news, except that we came prepared with a stash of fruit and some deep-fried goodies from the sweet shop. Good advance planning.

Passing the time by watching episode 1, season 1 of Mad Men, Jill notices some movement on the floor below us. Oh boy. Seems like we have some company. We turn the lights on and see a tiny, little brown mouse scurrying around amongst our bags on the floor below. I guess he wanted to keep company with the cockroach we saw earlier. Jill thought it was cute, but I’m not the biggest fan of rodents. My biggest concern was that he’d find a nice, cozy nook inside one of my shoes and then when I went to put them on in the morning….crunch! (Hey, that's how my pet gerbil died... RIP Tiny Tim!) Secondary concern…that he’d be crawling all over our faces while we sleep later tonight. We did the only noble thing you can do in this instance…we put our leftover food boxes in the berth across the aisle, hoping that the l’il guy would be attracted by the smell of leftovers and crumbs. We’ll see…and hopefully I’ll remember to check my shoes well in the morning.

We eventually drift off to sleep, until we wake up with a commotion outside our berth in the middle of the night. Someone opens our curtain and I get up to see what’s happening. Rubbing sleep from my eyes, I see 2 guys in full military uniform and carrying rifles. What the hell??? I ask what the problem is and find out that I’m sleeping in one of their bunks….oh…right….forgot about that. During a brief discussion, I explain that my “wife” and I were assigned different berths by mistake. I offer him the bed across the aisle, which was supposed to be mine. He decides not to shoot me, kindly accepts my offer, and we all try to get back to sleep.

At 5AM, there’s another disturbance and we quickly find out that we’ve arrived in Jaipur…the end of the protest-shortened line. We jump out of our bunks, try to wake up quickly, pack up and start heading off the train. As we’re walking out, we notice that there are still a considerable amount of people staying on the train. Wait a sec….where are they going? This train is supposed to terminate in Jaipur due to the protest. Half-awake and in a daze, we ask one of the army guys across the aisle: “Is this train continuing onto Delhi?”. He seems to think so but isn’t too convincing. (Insert Indian head wobble of yes/no/maybe.) We sit back down on the lower bunk….confused. After a few more minutes, the train starts moving again. Are we going to Delhi after all? Are we going somewhere else? Should we have gotten off at that stop? You would think that there would be an announcement for these things, right? Without any other option at this point and no solid source of information, we crawl back into our bunks and try to get to sleep once again.

Have we been lucky enough to benefit from the protest being resolved today or are we on a train to nowhere? You’ll find out in our next entry. Bye for now…
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Bk on

Although I have heard and told the "cellphone" story several times, I still laughed when I read it. Good entry guys. Have several friends reading and they think you should make it into a book as you, Joe, are such a good writer.

joe-and-jill on

Thank you, thank you. Looking for a new career after all :)

Phyllis & Valette on

Joe this entry had us laughing till tears filled our eyes I forget that we are open plan and u know when u laugh u get looked at but what the heck, we are really enjoying your blogs so much you guys are funnnie.Jill you are breave sleeping out I think about all the little things that come out at night, those creepy crawlers. You guys seem like you are haveing a great time keep the blogs coming. Take care and be safe

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