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_    Today we got up early because it was a travel day.  During travel days we also have a fast day because the public toilets are either non-existent or disgusting dirty holes in the ground that might have feces in unwanted places (use your imaginations!!!).  Off we go on empty stomachs.  We leave our guest house by 8:00am and take the public transit bus to the city bus station.  We get on the bus with our huge packs and stand in the back.  We bump along for about an hour heading towards the Trivandrum city bus station and everything seems quite normal, the usual cars honking and the bus weaving through erratic traffic.  At one point a small section of the road is flooded, nothing major just ankle deep for a small stretch of road.  The bus keeps on going and as we enter the city of Trivandrum we hit some major traffic and come to a standstill.  The bus slowly crawls along and then . . .

 
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     I had a very good day today. We woke up early, in order to have a traditional breakfast our host had made for us. I didn't say anything, but I did not like it very much. Spicy food for breakfast? Yuck! Anyway, after breakfast we walked along the shore. I got a good pair of sunglasses with the money Allegra had given me for Christmas. Allegra got three scarves and a bird took a poo on my foot. We hung out on the beach the whole day, but I didn't go in the ocean because the water was polluted and I didn't want to get it in any of my orifices. We had dinner at a rooftop restaurant.  The restaurant had a Russian name and served Indian food.  They moved two tables together right next to the terrace allowing us all to have an excellent view of the beach below.  Off in the distance we could see the lighthouse and the full moon above.  After the delicious meal, Allegra and I played tag on the beach as we headed back to our Guest House.
Birch


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Dad and I taking a closer look at the Gandhi Statue
__     We finally made the difficult decision to leave Auroville and travel to a city further south called Madurai.  Auroville served a valuable purpose in that it allowed us to recharge from our experience with "Teacher Ali" in Mamallapuram (see previous blog entry) and enjoy Christmas while away from home.  We hopped on a state bus and arrived in Madurai eight bumpy hours later.    
     The first thing we did was head to the massive Sri Meenakshi Temple in the centre of city.  The Temple has four huge towers at four main entrances.  We entered through the east entrance.  We had to take off our shoes and go through a security check.  It was a strange protocol.  It was cool knowing that we were walking in one of the biggest temples in India.  I liked the painted murals of lotus flowers on the ceiling.  Each lotus painting was completely different and there were at least a hundred painted along the ceilings of the corridors.  A bunch of young guys kept saying "Hi!" to me and wanted to shake my hand (just because I am white, I think).  After that we . . .


 
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  We had a very special Christmas in Auroville.  Birch and Allegra decided to decorate our room to give it a Christmas feel.  They found a large palm leaf that fanned out in all directions and Birch made a base by duct-taping three pieces of bamboo together to form a tripod, then inserted the palm leaf in the centre, Ta Da, we had a Christmas Tree! Then they decorated it by making snowflakes out of paper, stringing a banana leaf chain around the tree and hanging our headlamps (four in all) covered in multi-coloured plastic bags.  When the headlamps were turned on, our tree was lit up in shades of pink, blue and green.  We wrapped our presents in banana leaves and placed them under the tree.  It was wonderful! Birch and Allegra were very proud of their Indian Christmas tree and we all excitedly went to bed.
     Early the next morning . . .

More pictures to come -- we presently have a slow connection

 
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A view of the Matrimandir from a distance and the surrounding green belt
 Arriving in Auroville was exactly what everyone needed.  Auroville is not crowded at all and it is very clean.  We decided to stay for 6 days and spend Christmas here.  Each day here was different and we managed to have a few low key days where we just relaxed, read or just went for a bike ride to explore.  Having access to bicycles gave us a lot of independence and we were able to explore the community.  Some of the highlights include spending time at the visitor centre where we learned a lot about the history and goals of the community.  We also had a tour of the Matrimandir which is the meditative geodesic dome structure in the shape of a sphere that the community is built around.  It is. . .

 
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A solar field where the Sandhana Forest community gets all of its energy needs.
_Today we went to Sadhana Forest.  We woke up, had breakfast at our guest house and I was really eager to do my Christmas shopping so I left right away.  Unfortunately, the shops open at 9:30am so I had to wait for a half hour.  While I was waiting I realized that I didn't have a pack to carry the presents home so I raced back to our room and got my day pack.  At the guest house I intercepted my Dad and we went to the Visitors Centre together and we were still five minutes early.   We waited until the shops opened and I got what I needed and we got on our bikes and rode to Sadhana Forest.  Allegra and Mom took the bus.   We rode for . . .

 
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Allegra at our guest house grounds in Auroville, notice all the trees!!
We have arrived in Auroville.  Auroville is an intentional "spiritual" community started by a woman whom they call the Mother.  She had a vision of creating Auroville a community which belongs to no one yet is accessible to everyone.  The present population is roughly 2000 people and they come from all over the world, with the majority of residents from India, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the United States along with many more nationalities including 5 Canadians.  At the geographic centre of Auroville sits a huge banyan tree and beside it, they built this golden globe structure which is supposed to be in the shape of a lotus flower and houses their spiritual centre, where people enter in complete silence to meditate. 
     Before Auroville was created, the area was . . .


 
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_In the eerie darkness, we heard more than saw the straw basket hit the dank floor with a loud whump!  A menacing hissing sound came from within  - a low rumbling hhhaaaarrghhh.  Allegra screamed and clutched my arm.  The drunken man squatting on the floor laughed and slid off the top.  A second large man entered, blocking the doorway, the only exit from this creepy back-alley house.  In the beam from the henchman's headlamp,  we watched as an enormous cobra uncoiled itself and stood ramrod straight, then darted at the drunkard, striking and missing.  The only sounds were the hissing and Allegra's sobs.  Somehow it felt more like a hostage-taking than the "children's magic show" we had been promised.  We owed them money, I didn't know how much, and we weren't leaving until we had paid, that much was clear.
It had started off as a really. . .


 
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WOW, WE have arrived in India and it is unbelievable.  You can see as many photos and movies as you like but to actually see, smell and hear all the life that is going on around you is sensory overload and an extreme culture shock. 
     Our first real experience of India was during the taxi drive from the Chennai airport to our hotel in central Chennai.  I could not believe it.  Indians do not have any concept of following a single or double lane.  Basically they drive their cars or mopeds into any available space and are constantly using their horns.  Drivers use their horns to communicate to each other which can mean any number of things.  They will honk their horn when attempting to pass with very little room, when they are entering a T-intersection, when they are going around a blind corner, or when they want someone to move out of the way.  They have no concept of using their brakes.  Drivers will rarely come to a full stop, this is the last option.  Instead of braking drivers will . . .


 
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_Today we went to the Dante Elephant Reserve.  We woke up at an unGodly hour (7:00 in the morning) and got picked up by Mr. Big (yes, like the chocolate bar) and he drove us to the reserve.  In the car with us was a guy named Richard, from Holland.  Richard sat in the front with Mr. Big, Mom and Dad were in the middle and Allegra and I sat in a makeshift back seat that was the trunk. There was zero leg room and the seat was six inches off the floor of the SUV.  When we got there the first thing I did was climb out of the back and stretch my legs because they had fallen asleep for so long in the car that they were probably in a coma.  I massaged my calves for a second and then looked up and that is when I saw the elephants.  They were actually bigger than I was expecting and they were doing what elephants do best: eating.  I could see about six in total but Mr. Big told us that they had a total of eleven elephants and one was a baby.  First we . . .