Pondicherry *time to catch up on blogging*

Pondicherry is an ideal escape for the weekend if residing in Madras. When you think of a major city in Canada (like Toronto), you think traffic jams, people, some pollution, but you never question that the streets run straight and intersect at right angles. Well it's not like that in the majority of India! If roads are available, they criss-cross, flow, and cut into each other whenever they please- and the driver has to pay dearly in the confusion. Mainly with frustration and sometimes with accidents. Then again, many cities in the world follow a similar organic lay-out, like London for example.

Having lived in Canada for the majority of my life, I'm not used to the winding streets and get confused when in an Indian rick-shaw. Like, seriously confused. I'd be 3 km from the Flat and could very well be in Delhi for all the direction I remember!

It always makes for an interesting ride, as new discoveries are made daily; "ooh- is that a Fabindia? Look at that Indian sweets store- it's huge! We have to come back down this way!" A futile questioning of the driver takes place in which you learn that you are, indeed, in Chennai and, more specifically, in Egmore...and that's usually as far as it goes. Nonetheless, it of course adds to the experience of traveling outside of your own country.

I fell in love with Pondicherry straight away. The streets, for the most part, ran straight so I once again began to feel confident in my sense of direction. I managed to find a few places on my own after visiting them only once or twice. Does this mean that your mind just gets used to the layout of your home country/ city and has trouble configuring to a new one? It seems so.

The food in is a mixture of Indian staples and French cuisine because it used to be a French colony. Indian food is savory, but the spices can irritate any traveller's stomach if consumed daily in vast amounts. So it was interesting to have the option of a break ordering whole fish (in hollandaise sauce), mashed potato, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza. Bland food in comparison to South Indian favorites, but food that my body can process without complaint. So far, though, not too many health crises.

There is a private beach accessed only by ferry (which, by the way, runs on a tiny engine meant for a much smaller fishing boat) where I was able to swim in the ocean for the first time since Cuba, which lifted my spirits and managed to curl my hair. There was a mix of families, travelers, and the ubiquitous groups of men.

One suggestion for female travelers in India- stay fully clothed the entire time at the beach. My friends tried to suntan in their bikini tops and full-length pants or skirts and men here gravitated towards them like moths to the light. Groups or single men will revolve around foreign women lounging on the sand, taking photos, crowding uncomfortably around them, and rudely staring. All women staying in India and attempting to act in some manner or form as they would back home in the West always leave with a disturbing story or two.

Here's my horror story:
I went into the water with a full length skirt and a tank-top; safe and pretty covered for 40 degrees plus humidity, right? I was followed in by a man. I thought it was annoying, but safe because I was going out towards two of my friends. The suck and pull of the tide managed to yank my improvised sarong skirt straight off. I was butt- naked in the water with no other choice of wardrobe. I hastily attempted to re-wrap the now clingy and twisted up piece of fabric around my waist, but it was all in vain. In between trying to swim, stay in the water deep enough to not let the entire shore see my wardrobe malfunction, and gasping for air, it was impossible to do anything. I needed shorts, pronto. One of my Flat mates saw my turmoil and adapted a lifeguard maneuver, grabbing me from the back and swimming for both of us. Another friend ran ashore to grab shorts as I bobbed like a cork in the ocean. "You mooned me when you had your back to me," my knight in shining armor laughs. "You're lying," I rebuke. "Nope," he laughs, "full mooning". I can't even turn around to smack him because he's the reason I'm safe in this water. Oh, my pride.

Sliding the shorts on presented yet another challenge- how is this done when sea-water is distorting my vision and I'm focusing all energy on staying afloat and not drowning Paddy the Lifeguard? This three-person effort led to an entire crowd of Indian men following their friend's brilliant idea and jumping into the ocean to frolic and shout around my vicinity. After a few moments' struggle, however, the shorts were on and my moment of embarrassment was over, save for the first male follower who decided to saddle up to us and shout random words in jumbled English to get our attention. You got my attention a while ago when you shadowed me for 10 minutes, bainchod.

The sun began its descent and it was time to head back on the ferry; five Brits, one Canadian, and a soccer ball. Landing ashore, we unchained our bicycles and peddled the 4 kms back to our beach-side guest house, passing brightly painted trucks, lethargic dogs, coconut vendors, pottery shacks, blue slivers of ocean views, and slum houses on the way.

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