Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

29 June 2008

Indian Finger Food

Here it is: another ugly food experience overseas. You’d think we’d learn. If we ever do, what will we write about then? Where to get the best foie gras? You can get that information in any reputable travel magazine—you know, the kind that won’t publish our stories. —MB & JS

Let’s get something straight right away: India is not a clean country. The pollution raises serious health issues, and the notorious overcrowding leads to all sorts of—shall we say—unclean habits.

Like bathing in the Ganges River. We realize the act has religious and cultural overtones, and we wouldn’t want to offend any religion or culture. But haven’t the locals any sense of self-preservation? The river carries the flotsam from millions of people upriver. You can see it float by. Yet the people who bathe in (and even ceremoniously drink from) the river don’t seem to care. Maybe they’re just used to it.

We weren’t, and the sight sent us backpedaling as fast as a conservative Supreme Court from Roe v. Wade. But this is a story about food, not hygiene—although the two sometimes collide with enough force to make a devout atheist tremble with the Fear of God (or Shiva, as the case may be).

We turned away from the ghat—steps leading into the holy river—and went in search of inexpensive accommodations. As it turned out, they were as easy to find as a street beggar. We unpacked in our small room but didn’t linger; we had a budget and a schedule to keep.

The ancient city of Varanasi boasts almost as many temples as Seattle has coffee shops, and despite the heavy influence of tourism, every one still oozed with authentic charm. Have you ever noticed how some religious places can withstand the degrading effects of prying tourists to maintain a kind of solemn dignity? It’s not just having the money for maintenance. Consider the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, which probably has more money than Paris Hilton and about as much dignity. Where else can you find a Hall of Fame for “Christian Capitalists?”

After a full day of sightseeing, we returned to the hotel, looking for an early dinner and a late wake-up call. From the doorway, the hotel’s restaurant seemed safe enough. Relatively clean. Crowded with locals and tourists alike.

We were seated at a table by the wall, where we began to relax. We ordered beers to wash down the day’s dust. Famished from our afternoon excursion, we needed an appetizer, and the enthusiastic waiter recommended something we could barely pronounce. He impressed us as a sincere fellow, so we took his advice.

When the dish arrived, it resembled a cross between pig knuckles and raccoon ribs. Dipping the finger food in the accompanying spicy sauce, we could hardly taste the meat, just the spices. It was delicious, and we dug in.

Suddenly, an argument erupted in the kitchen. Something large and heavy, not unlike one of the sacred cows, thudded against the other side of our wall. A glass of water spilled. While we dealt with the mess, unused to the constant cacophony that is India, a sudden murderous screech split the air. Two men—one with a bloody towel wrapped around a hand, the other wielding a very large knife—burst out through the kitchen door, zigzagged around the tables, and dashed out into the street, screaming the whole time.

After a moment’s pause, the other restaurant patrons returned to their conversations, as if the scene were just street theater repeated every half hour. We wanted to emulate them, to fit into this foreign culture even if just for a moment, but we couldn’t ignore how closely our food resembled the digits of a man’s hand.

There comes a point at which not knowing what you’re eating makes a foreign delicacy easier to digest. We had crossed the threshold. Now we knew (or imagined) more than we wanted to. Our appetites dashed out of the room after the two men and didn’t return for two full days.

Lessons Learned: Food definitely reflects an area’s culture. If you find yourself in a place where people bathe in polluted waters, you know you might be in trouble when it comes to food. Our advice? When you travel to Mother India, order the soup. Even if it has an unpronounceable name, there’s very little chance that you will ever discover—or recognize—what’s really in it.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 4
Communication Breakdown: 5
Customer Dis-service: 2
Discomfort Level: 4
Grunge Factor: 5
Inactivity Guide: 1
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 5
Fun Fraction: 1/5
Vibe-Rating: 3

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Varanasi (Babatpur) Airport
Native Population: 1,400,000
Normal Attractions: Besides the temples and ghats, Varanasi is a Mecca for Indian wares like fabrics, jewelry, carpets, and woodcraft.
Final Point of Interest: Varanasi is a major stop for foreign tourists, with posh hotels and fancy restaurants. Most of the food there is actually quite good, but as this story illustrates, there are always exceptions.


Anonymous said...

Yep India is not a place for an ignorant redneck racist like u.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Anonymous is correct, except for the little matter of the insult (and the unfortunate text-message "u."). Nevertheless, we're disappointed that he (or she) did not see the humor of the situation. Of course, we can't--and never intended to--please everyone.

Anonymous is welcome back anytime to comment on our other ignorant, redneck, racist stories. Maybe he'll find one to match his own prejudices. Maybe that's unfair, but as the blog authors, we always get the last word.

Anonymous said...

Once again how much did oyu pay for the room and the food... you go there stay in the cheapest hotel you can find...and want 100% customer staisfaction.. aint gonna happen... you pay a dollar a day you get dollar a day service !! Piece of advice pay for your services and then talk about it...

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

OK, Anonymous, we understand you're upset at our little tale of woe. It's time, however, to let it go. Relax, meditate, do whatever it is you do to center yourself, and then go get some typing lessons. Or spelling lessons.

Next time you return to our blog, try a different story. There's one called Welcome to Delhi (April 2009) you might like.

Anonymous said...

you guys should have done your research! quick tip: don go by blogs:) if you take the time to study your holiday spot there wouldn be much to complain abt and you could spare the rest of us this!

Anonymous said...

Why do people like you even go to India? Travel in your own clean countries. Who even asked you to go to India? You whites are bloody racists. Anonymous is very right.You spend money like beggars and expect services like kings. Mark and Jason you need not bother about others typing or spelling lessons.You are no better.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Well, Anonymous, you found us out. What we write, at the heart of it all, is a humor blog disguised s a travel blog. We can find humor in anything. Even your comments. In fact, we're still laughing.

Please get out more. Go for a vacation. Preferably somewhere far, far away, where they don't have an Internet connection.

Indiangirl said...

Reducing a whole country to dirt is a very narrow perspective....that can only be expected from culturally bankrupted people like you... I ve seen hidden camera shows from west where waiters spit or pee in soups they are serving, out of frustration. At least culture and religious discipline keeps Indians from doing something like that.... Remember when you raise one finger at someone, three of them point at yourself....

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

First, let us congratulate you on not posting anonymously. Second, let us assure you we are not racist Westerners who poo-poo everything that's not up to McDonald's (dubious) standards. Travel cures people of self-righteousness and narrow thinking. Our short little article on your favorite country was our attempt at humor. We quite literally put our tongues squarely in our cheeks. If you don't believe me try reading some of our non-Indian entries. We take no sides. We'll ridicule Americans, Canadians, British, Australians (in fact, anyone who can understand English) with equally pointed barbs. That's why Rama invented language. So we could make fun of one another. Thanks for stopping by.

dyuti said...

I kept a blog when I visited India too. It was a whole blog, with random observations though, not a single posting summarizing an entire country (I do mention the garbage problem at least once if not more)...Of course, I've been visiting India every 4-10 years since I was a little kid living in South Dakota (that's where the REAL rednecks live, btw), so I think perhaps I am desensitized (but not ignorant of) the many harsh realities of visiting a country attempting to be sovereign after over 500 years of colonial or foreign rule. I think visiting Varanasi is probably the most ridiculous place to highlight, since it's littered with vagrants, and spiritually bankrupt Westerners looking for enlightenment or meaning in their lives (yeah, that's a dig, I admit it). I think better (and cleaner) examples of "exotic and spritual" India include Pune, Rajasthan or even south of Goa (NOT GOA itself as it suffers from Varanasi's fate as well). Even Bombay has wonderful places to visit, and a great vibe. And I remember a trip several years ago to Gwalior that left me in awe.

The fact is that India is a country of severe social and economic extremes that suffers from a basic lack of infrastructure building. It's very interesting, if one chooses to see it that way. But I think one should remember that it's a huge and diverse country with places that ARE worth visiting.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

Thank you for posting your thoughts. We totally agree with everything you said, which is rare enough. Come back anytime, and don't forget to read our post on Delhi.

And we believe every place in every country is worth visiting (even North Dakota). Unfortunately, we haven't been everywhere, and of the assortment of places we HAVE visited, we put our own spin on our experiences. Which is why we have this blog.

If your blog is current, leave us a link to it, and we'll publish it. Until then, keep traveling!
-Mark & Jason