Author Archives: Chris Gammill

BRAZINDIA

combo flagYou are what you experience. Those experiences shape the way you think about everything from food and places to people and culture. It also creates bias, which I am when discussing Brazil and India, two beautiful countries with beautiful people.

handshake flagMy first visit to Brazil (1996 – wow, 19 years ago) left an indelible mark on my life. I had a productive professional time meeting with various companies and an even better time as a tourist of Rio de Janeiro and the Carioca culture. I have always joked that the one deal I did close was meeting my wife, Leticia! Ever since, I’ve loved getting to know more of the people, the music, food, and culture. We’ve traveled far and wide in Brazil and I’ve had a long-standing desire to live there someday for full immersion. Yes, the country has its problems with crime, drugs, and corruption but the beauty of Brazil is that the people are truly happy.

I then had the opportunity to travel to India (2000 – 15 years ago) on business. It was a short 2-week jaunt to a developing city, Ahmedbad (now major industrial city) between Mumbai and Delhi. I had a wonderful time working with a group of enthusiastic and positive Indians that are friends to this day. I remember flying home thinking how similar the Indians were to my Brazilian friends in terms of culture and demeanor. Ever since I have preached the commonality of these two cultures and here’s why:

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Demographics:

  • Population: India #2 (1.3 billion) + Brazil #5 (200 million)
  • Size: Brazil #5 (8.5 million km2) + India #7 (3.3 million km2)
  • Traffic + city crowds – controlled chaos!
  • Wildlife: Amazon jungle and tiger reserve parks
  • Long coastlines – Brazil’s beaches get the crowds while India’s don’t; one has tiny bikinis and the other has full pants!

Religion:

  • Largest Hindu + Catholic countries in the world. India is also the largest country for Sikh, Jains, Bahai, #3 for Muslims, and top 10 for Buddhists!
  • Weddings: Big, colorful, and expensive events!
  • Carnival in Brazil and Holi festival in India

People:

  • Super friendly and live life in the present.
  • Social butterflies: Watch the social interaction of each and hands wave, arms move, bodies gyrate to complement the words spoken.
  • Cool cats: The men act cool everywhere!
  • Spontaneous and loud: Don’t be surprised to see kids jump into a museum fountain or ladies screaming to be heard.
  • Gorgeous self-confident women! My personal bias speaketh.
  • Indian slums + Brazilian favelas: Slumdog Millionaire / City of God
Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

History:

  • Colonial to independence.
  • Portuguese – Brazil + Goa/Kerala states in India.
  • Government democratic chaos known for corruption.
  • Both have had female leaders. Go Girls!!

Economics:

  • BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
  • The great divide: Billionaires along side masses of poverty.
  • Agriculture: #1+#2 in world sugar production – sweet!
  • Both countries are always on the cusp of breaking through but…

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Entertainment:

  • Wonders of the World: Taj Mahal & Corcovado.
  • In the arts, both are growing at a fast pace to world acclaim.
  • Brazil has its bossa nova music and India has Bollywood.
  • Cricket is to India as futebol (soccer) is to Brazil.

 This certainly does not do justice and you simply have to open your eyes to see the amazing people of both cultures. Once you do, you will find that we are all quite similar despite our different backgrounds and that it is better to compare positively to the masses than react negatively on the actions of a few. Thank you to all my Brazilian and Indian friends and family!

Namaste & Beijos

Winding through Hill Stations in Sri Lanka

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A tale of two towns is how to look at Kandy & Ella. Kandy, the central highlands capital, hosts chaotic traffic and crowds that loop a peaceful lake. It is also a sacred city for Buddhists thanks to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. We trained up the mountains from Colombo to arrive in Kandy with no plan, no hotel, and a big appetite! Relying on the tips of our Tuk Tuk driver (a big no-no for travelers!), we were promptly taken to Kevin’s Inn, which did sit on the lake (sounds pretty but isn’t) and provided us with a big room at a reasonable price. What we didn’t know until late in the evening was the paper thin walls; every scream from our loving neighbors stirred us into giggles of laughter!

We went for an all day tour north to Sigiriya, the 8th wonder of the world. It’s amazing and known widely as Lion’s Rock because of its shape. We hiked, sweated, and hiked to the top; the views are amazing and the climb can definitely be scary as you are on a tiny stairwell on the side of the rock.

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Standing at 200 meters high, the rock became the home for King Kasyapa 1500 years ago as protection from nearly everyone after he overthrew his father (and murdered him). He also usurped his brother to steal the throne. This evil guy eventually died in battle after his brother returned with a larger army to take back the throne.

As you climb the rock, you see paintings on the walls depicting daily life of the time; amazing that these are preserved. You can see stairs carved into parts of the rock that were once used to get to the top. On top, there is the former palace along with large areas for water and storage of supplies. This is one of 8 World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka and quite impressive indeed.

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paint sigiriya

Back in Kandy after a long day that included an expensive stop at a Spice Market thanks to the ladies, we ate a delicious local food that is basically chopped up noodles with veggies and some of the best juice drinks we’ve had. This weekend was Lord Buddha’s birth celebration; as you can imagine, Temple of the Tooth was packed with locals and tourists. Another World Heritage site, the Temple houses the relic tooth of Buddha after he died in 543 BC. Legend has it that Sri Lanka was chosen to be the home of the tooth relic because Buddha declared that his religion would be safe for 5,000 years there.

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Hopping the train to escape the crowds, we took a beautiful ride along the mountains to the small town of Ella. The train ride itself was worth it as we passed through lush jungle to tea plantations and mountain top views. Fortunately, we planned this stay and are thankful for that. Our accommodation at Mt. Zion gave us glorious mountain and valley views as well as a great starting point for day hikes. One day we hiked through tea plantations to the top of Little Adam’s Peak – a holy site and then ate a delicious lunch at 98 Acres resort before hiking some more. The next day, Leticia and I abandoned the kids to hike the biggest mountain with our guide sporting local flip-flops; a great workout and fun day together.

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We hike to this mountain top!

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View from our place of waterfalls + train

 

 

nap time!

nap time!

We enjoyed 3 of the best days of our trip in Sri Lanka with Ella. The weather pattern was amazing too as we would wake to sunshine and enjoy that until the late afternoon fog rolled in with a little rain; soon enough the sky would clear for the star gazing above. The food at our hotel, Mt. Zion, was so good that we never even ventured out for dinner; every night, they served a veggie spread of local dishes. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our friends at Zion and take a short (5 hour) bus ride down to the beaches of Arugam Bay, one of the top 10 surf spots in the world.

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Goodbye Ella!!!

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Zion’s guard dog

Tracking Tigers in India

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Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds and yes, we disregarded my sister’s advice not to go. Word on the street is that you spend a small fortune and get to see a bunch of antelope and small deer but we had a few extra days to spare in the Rajasthan.

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We camped on the edge of the park in “Swiss” tents; these are perma-tents with running water. You’ve most likely seen them in African safaris and they look swank; for me, umphh ok average but we’ve certainly had worse on these travels.

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While we weren’t modeling by the pool or playing championship badminton, we did get up early for a sunrise safari tour to track the wild tigers of India. We woke in a groggy state of mind having overindulged the night before on yet more Indian food; seems we are gaining weight rather than losing it here!

Traveler Note: Did you know that we haven’t gotten sick but our Indian driver got food poisoning as did a friend of ours that lived in India?!                                                                Perplexing but true! 

 

Ranthambhore sunrise

Ranthambhore sunrise

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Super duper tiger protected jeep!

Back to Tiger tracking…unlike the balloon over Bagan that served a nice coffee and cookie snack before departure (not to mention champagne upon touchdown), we bypassed that and hopped into a MASH jeep.

An hour later with some Canadians on board (always good to have Canadians because they taste much better according to the “Tigers Eat Meat” cookbook), we enter the park via a small dirt backroad.

Note that all the other jeeps/canters went the opposite direction to the main gate entrance – yes, my doubts rose and Sarah was going to be correct all along.

But…low and behold…

No more than 15 minutes later our driver spots a tiger! This is BIG news especially when your driver goes crazy happy over it too. We stop and driver is first to pull out his camera. Are you getting the feeling that we are in for a treat?! Or maybe that our driver needs to document it for evidence after we become a breakfast? I don’t know which but it is exciting, especially when he turns off the engine and I’m now thinking, “Ok, I’m out of shape and the chances of me climbing that tree are not good…but we do have the Canadians on board and if I can outrun granny then I’m in the clear.”

The really cool part is that we spent a good half-hour tracking her track breakfast (small deer). In the end, she spared the deer (probably for Louisa’s benefit) and spared us (the Canadians are thankful too) while we got some super fantastic photos. Here is a sampling; you can find the rest on National Geographic whenever they see the light of my photographic skills to publish them:

Tiger tracking...

Tiger tracking…

...breakfast

…breakfast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out that those in the know (local Indians) knew exactly what entrance we used (it’s called something like 6Q for obvious reasons) and everyone in our Swiss tent complex and beyond exclaimed that we were very lucky to see tiger.

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Instead of answering your questions individually by email, I am providing you with the FAQ for this experience in advance.

  • Did the lion roar for you? First of all, these are tigers but to answer your question, no. Our driver kept saying “Shhh, be quiet” and I think the tiger listened. 
  • How close did you get to the tiger? Great question! Close enough that you could get a first down in football – 30 feet.
  • Why do the baby deer have antlers? They aren’t babies. Chital deer have spots for life or until eaten by Tigers.
  • Have people been attacked by Tigers? Only Canadians (see note above about Tiger cooking).
  • How much does it cost? Please, it’s not about the money honey! We had exhilarating fun paying for a near death life experience. Does that not not make sense?!