Holy crap! It’s the first day of March. How the hell did that happen?
In today’s news, I’m still unemployed, which, you know, kinda blows. But hey, there’s still lots to be grateful for and excited about, such as:
+ My sister and her husband are arriving tomorrow. Someone please pass the paper bag! I’m hyperventilating over here.
+ This trailer is giving me joy. Over and over and over again.
+ Hey look! I made a happy March Mix for y’all. You’re welcome.
+ This recently discovered blog, I love. The photos are so evocative.
+ These photos by Hula are the perfect colourful cure for the winter blues.
+ Meditation. It’s the shit. I avoided it for so many years but I’ve been practicing diligently every single day since the beginning of the year and it is doing something to my molecular structure, people. I feel…. content, awake, aware.
+ This quote via miss Leonie makes me feel alive: “Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world. Hold out your hands to it. When morning and evenings roll along, watch how they open and close, how they invite you to the long party that your life is.“ (William Stafford, from “A Valley Like This”)
What is bringing you joy these days?
The cherry trees are blossoming in London. Pink buds bursting everywhere. And though it should be cause for celebration, it’s confusing because the temperature on the thermometer most certainly says winter – the kind of cold that leaves eyes red-rimmed and shoulders huntched up to ears. I feel so betrayed but I suppose expecting spring in February is a bit greedy. You’d think my thick Canadian skin would thrive in this weather but the truth is, 37 years of Canadian winters have taught me that winter comes with snow and lots of it. So this strange, grey, spitting sky is neither winter nor spring and I don’t know what it is. All I know is there’s a chill in my bones and a blue on my lips that is funereal. So I’m bringing out the big guns, people: bouquets of bright yellow daffodils for my home, a hot bath (the kind that steams up the entire bathroom) and tropical photos of Indonesia to help us all escape winter’s icy grip for a few minutes. Don’t you feel warmer just looking at them?
It is 7pm on the eve of 2013. We are sat at the bar, sipping rum & coke on a small secluded island 1.5 hours away from Jakarta. A bunch of people have gathered on the nearby couches, with guitars and tambourines, singing everything from Oasis to Radiohead to Coldplay. It’s a bit weird but hey, it’s jolly as hell and jolly is exactly what one wants on new year’s eve.
An Indo-American buffet of turkey and noodles, tempeh and sweet potatoes with marshmallows, beef floss and rice, cranberry sauce and salad is served at the long table looking over the ocean. We chat with George, a retiree from Minnesota and a cool couple from Holland and two sisters from Australia and many Jarkartians and when the plates are licked clean and mojitos drained, the tables are moved to the side to make room for a dance floor and the DJ plays that funky music for hours and at midnight champagne is served and fireworks are fired from the floating dock in the sea and everyone, all these strangers from various parts of the world gathered on this tiny island in the middle of nowhere shout happy new year and we all say good bye to a crazy 2012 and welcome 2013 with hope in our hearts. And it’s the best new year’s eve I’ve had in years.
On the 1st day of 2013, we wake at 9am and join the other post-revelry zombies for breakfast. The good mornings are a little more quiet than the previous evening’s good nights as everyone reaches for the post binge cure – bacon.
We then watch the staff build a coral nursery. It looks just like an forest but this one is going to be planted beneath the sea – purple, green and yellow coral of all shapes and sizes housing crabs and little fish are planted in a substrate of concrete and salt and crushed coral then lowered in the sea where they will, hopefully, grow for the next 6 months before being transplanted to a barren area. And so we start 2013 – with a good deed.
In the afternoon, the boat leaves and takes 14 guests with it and the island suddenly becomes very quiet. We snorkel to the deserted island – a cemetery of flip flops and light bulbs and various bits of plastic mixed with sea shells and coconuts looking for prime real estate – and I feel for the first time, the sting of the jelly fish. Not one jelly fish but hundreds. It’s like falling into a massive patch of nettles WITH MY FACE! Repeatedly! What is meant to be a leisurely, pleasurable experience soon turns into a frantic swim and snorkel echoed grunts. There is some respite when the sun comes out and suddenly all the fish turn from matte and muted to iridescent green and electric blue and the reef comes to life in the light and it’s all so beautiful and then the sun goes behind the clouds and BAM! Jellyfish attack. Again.
The sun is setting on the horizon and phosphorescent green plankton dots the sea like fluorescent rain drops falling from the sky and the breeze picks up and it feels like when you have a mint in your mouth except that it is all over my skin.
The sky is alit with flashing orange lightning. We hear the rain and smell its ionic scent way before we see it. And then it falls in sheets. We watch this magnificent spectacle from the comfort of our bed, tucked under the sheets. And I don’t think it gets better than this moment. This one right here.
It is early, 6am early and I am lying down on a deck in a polka dot bikini and yellow Thai fisherman’s pants, waves gently lapping against the shore. The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds. The sea is so still this morning that I needn’t a mask and snorkel to see the vibrant fish swimming in schools. Between the cracks of the deck, I spot a blue sting ray flapping its wings and occasionally burying itself in a puff of sand dust. Dozens of jellyfish swim around, ghostly dancers in gossamer dresses floating amongst strings of eggs.
Another day is about to begin at Pulau Macan Eco Resort. Soon a lovely Indonesian man will walk from hut to hut to announce that breakfast is served and slowly, people will emerge for a communal breakfast. Everyone will say good morning. Everyone will be barefoot and sun kissed and salty hair tussled in a way that only a night’s sleep can style. As one of the guests said to Joe upon seeing his dishevelled head “It must have taken you all night to make hair like that.”
After breakfast, people will split up and lounge on hammocks and couches and long chairs and decks to read or snooze or surf the net before going for a swim or paddle. This is our own private paradise. Sandy paths and solar panels and aloe vera gardens and outdoor showers and organic food and coffee and ginger tea on hand all day. Bliss lives and breathes and breeds here, exponentially with each passing day as you let go, slowly, of the city’s pace.
Someone plays Debussy’s Claire de Lune and it is the perfect soundtrack to this moment. I feel like I’ve finally reached that level of relaxation and peace I came searching for. I haven’t worn shoes in days and my walk has slowed to the island swagger and all that matters, all I need to do right now is sit on the dock and watch this village of thousands of colourful fish going about their morning business.
Now. I could tell you about our return to Jakarta and how we got caught in a storm so violent that the crew frantically distributed life jackets and the waves were like giants and I vomited off the side of the boat (twice), waves crashing into my head and there was a moment when I thought, is this how it’s going to end?
But I won’t dwell on that because the whole purpose of this post was to bring out the sun. And I do hope you feel warmer and I do hope you enjoyed our honeymoon adventures. We sure as hell did (if the past dozen posts are any indication). Now I can go back to our regularly scheduled programming. What the hell am I going to talk about, I wonder, now that Joe and I are just a regular married couple? Will the Stewarts buy a house? Or start a family? Or will I step away from the us and into the me? And what will my voice sound like now that it’s not all wrapped up in trans-atlantic love affairs and weddings and honeymoons?
Time will tell.
Before I tell you the tale of Borneo, I must preface by sharing with you the invaluable lesson I learned about slide film on this trip. And that is this – slide film is extremely unforgiving and unless you get the exposure just right, you end up with photos that look like the ones above. Shooting slide film is very humbling and a reminder that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to photography. So please excuse the underexposed shots and imagine, if you will, how vivid and amazing these events were in reality. For this, I give you words.
Last night, we celebrated our one-year anniversary. We did so by sleeping in a cheap hotel in Jakarta and eating the most unusual dinner in a restaurant that looked like a community center where they served 25 different bowls of food to your table and you only paid for what you ate. We sat there, with locals smoking at every table and a young boy who looked like he’d time travelled strait from the 70’s and what appeared to be the Muslim version of Desperate Housewives playing on an old tele in the corner. We sipped warm beer out of a straw and sampled strange Indonesian concoctions under fluorescent lighting and then paid for what we ate. Compounded by the long day’s travels, it felt like we’d entered the Twilight Zone and in a strange way, it was the perfect anniversary dinner to mark the end of a crazy year because, let’s face it, marriage is a bit like a Twilight Zone sometimes.
5 hours later, 5 am, comes the wake up call, shortly after the rooster crows. Cock-a-doodle-do and we’re off to Borneo. I think part of me was hoping for a small Indiana Jones de Havilland plane but I suppose it is 2013 and there are very few remote areas left in the world that require such small aircrafts.
Joe is sat in a chair at the front of a turquoise klotok, keeping a vigilant eye out for wildlife and orangutans in particular. I am sprawled on my stomach on the carpet, reading a book that never seems to end. I’ve already sweated about 2 pounds of water and it’s not even midday yet.
The klotok cruises down the brown river at a slow pace, snaking and chugging its way up the estuary into the Borneo rain forest. There is hardly a breeze. The air is thick with humidity like coming out of a hot shower in a small unventilated room – it’s hard to breathe. We pass the occasional fisherman on the river’s bed and a few other boats but for the most part, it’s just us and the jungle.
At the first feeding camp, just a little ways after the village cemetery with wooden pegs for headstones, the guides whoop out feeding calls and pour a mixture of milk, flour, bananas and sugar in a container on a platform and very slowly, one at a time, orangutans come to drink, dipping their hands in the sweet mixture or dunking their entire heads in the container. One eye on the prize. One eye on the spectators.
The first is a mother with her 1-yr old baby, a mess of auburn fur fluff, like an orange ozone layer orbiting around its skull, and eyes the size of marbles. They drink for awhile, then climb up the vine, leaning from one tree to the next with such grace until all that is left of them are trees trembling after their passing.
I feel a mixture of awe and sadness. Awe because I’ve always wanted to see this creature in the wild and sadness because this is the only way I can see them – with “bait” made of sugar and milk and bananas and I can’t help but wonder if it is right? And if we didn’t feed them, what would happen to them? And then I went down the rabbit hole of asking why? Why, as humans, do we feel we have the right to encroach on their habitat, burn it down and plant palm plantations so that we can make cosmetics and cheap processed food? Why? The line, when it comes to endangered species, is always blurred. We destroy their habitat and then we spend years making up ways to protect them from us. I know ecotourism is a good thing and I am so incredibly grateful for the experience and for all the conservation efforts, but I can’t help feeling a bit guilty.
We hear thunder and our guide says “When the dog bark, it bite” so we run to the boat and make it back just in time for Joe to have a quick go at their traditional hunting tool – a long blowpipe and tiny wooden darts with tips dipped in poison. On his second try, he shoots the plastic bottle clear off the railing 10 feet away. And then the rain starts falling and it falls hard. We sit on the boat and eat fried bananas covered in chocolate sauce and grated cheese and sip coffee – hot and earthy with a thick sludge stuck to the bottom of the cup. They don’t call coffee java for nothing. The Indonesians know their beans.
As the sun sets, we catch our first glimpse of Proboscis Monkeys in the trees by the river. The females with their upturned noses look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, while the male with his massive proboscis and round belly is much more Muppet like. They all sit, huddled on branches readying for a good night’s sleep after a group of rowdy grey Macaques chased them from their original roosting spot. We cruise into the night, fireflies twinkling in the forest and then dock at Camp 2 for a dinner of fish, corn, curry, rice and fried egg. And then the captain and his first mate make our nest for the night. Since we are orang (man) and we are in utan (the forest), it seems only apt that we should have our very own (mosquito net covered) nest for the night.
And so it is that we fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle. The electric saw of the cicada starts the show soon followed by the cricket and frog orchestra, which plays for us the whole night through until the birds and monkeys take over at dawn. We wake naturally at 6:30 and watch the Proboscis Monkeys play in the canopy while sipping coffee and eating banana pancakes. An hour later, we hear a rustling in the trees and dash to the walkway. Soon, an orangutan appears. Slowly, she comes over and sits beside me and holds my hand. Hers is soft and cool and tender and leathery. She then wraps her fingers around my arm (for what reason, I still don’t know) and eventually saunters away, leaving me in complete awe. I cannot explain to you how it feels to be so close to an orangutan. To look into their eyes and see such kindness. I watched a documentary once that said it’s no wonder humans feel at peace in the forest. It’s because it’s where we come from. It’s a return to innocence. It’s a remembering.
We have just veered down a fork in the river, where the coffee coloured water changes to red tea. Exotic butterflies flutter in and out of the boat. This morning’s mission is to remove a very stubborn splinter from the cook’s son’s little toe. We succeed (he is very brave) and he has since warmed to us – playing marbles at our feet, occasionally losing one to the river as it rolls through the cracks.
I’ve taken the habit of having a snooze after lunch. The humidity is heavy and one can’t help but fall under its sleepy charm – particularly after a good old southern lunch of fried chicken and corn fritters. This is my second nap of the day. There is no bigger luxury. The captain and his first mate have stripped down to their knickers and are washing the boat in what is meant to be crocodile infested waters. The locals call out to each other from one boat to another in a native speech of soft rolling r’s. Turu turu. Come come, they call to infants. And turu dat (come down) to the orangutans in the trees above.
On arrival at Camp Leaky, Tuk, one of the elder mothers, is lounging on the deck with her baby. The baby is stretching and somersaulting and crawling all over the mother, trying its best to get her attention but she is too hot to be bothered. Still, she keeps an eye on her baby at all times. Orangutans raise their young for 6-7 years, therefore the bond between mom and baby is very strong and they rarely ever leave each other’s side.
At the info centre, we learn all sorts of fascinating orangutan facts and devastating deforestation stats that have made them an endangered species. Experts estimate orangutans could be extinct in the wild in less than 25 years. A frame on the wall asks “What is the biggest danger to orangutans?” The answer behind the frame is a single mirror with our reflection in it.
The sky goes from elephant grey to deep slate as we walk toward the last feeding spot. By the time we turn the corner where the wild boar with the long snout feeds on forest floor debris, it starts to rain. Gently at first and then, without warming, torrentially. The sky is a river. We are soaked within minutes. The drops are fat and heavy and incessant. The ground can’t drink fast enough and within 20 minutes there is a river in the forest where once a path stood. Jafar warns us that leaches will soon come out of the soil. I have visions of Stand by Me. We walk, wetter than the rain itself, every single leaf in every single tree in the forest quivering. My hands are pruned. There is a lake in my shoes and… I am blissed out.
Back at the boat, we wring our clothes out and are treated to more fried bananas and hot coffee and then we set off, heading back the way we came. Dinner is by candle and fire fly light. Rain tap dances against tarpaulin. Sleep is as intermittent as the sound of a pack of dogs howling in the nearby village and a cat meowing in the rain. I find said cat at 5am, curled up in a chair on the boat and then licking leftover rice from the pots down below.
This morning, last day of 2012, is overcast with a lovely breeze. Joe has expertly hung our clothes to billow in the wind. They slowly dry out, though nothing ever really feels dry in the rainforest. I am drawing with the little boy, Kiki, who has hazelnut skin and brown piranha like teeth, which he flashes when he smiles. The effect is both terrifying and endearing.
After banana pancakes (Yes. More bananas. We really are turning into orangutans!), we walk to the village where women stand in the river to do their wash. Today is evidently laundry day. We stop at the local shop where a young girl holding a baby has a lump the size of a small orange in her neck. And the cows stand in wet fields and chickens run down the side of the path with their chicks in tow and we hear in the distance, the long deep call of a king orangutan, surely saying farewell.
There are only 5 days left on this honeymoon and a new year is about to begin and I feel it is going to be a good one. A very good one.
P.S. I’ll be choosing a winner tomorrow morning for the giveaway so there’s still time to leave a comment if you fancy it
When I look at my journal entries from Thailand, they look like a string of ridiculously luxurious pleasures:
Coffee, snorkeling, cocktails, fresh seafood, fresh mango, fresh pineapple, reggae, sun sun sun, sun burns, sun cream, aloe vera, scuba diving (like flying under water), massages on the beach (every single day), long tail boat rides and speed boat excursions past small tropical islands jutting out of azure waters, sun rising, sun setting, moon rising, island hopping, beach combing, cocktail sipping, reading, spicy-salty-sweet-sour thai food, red wine, jack johnson, 80’s ballads, waves crashing into white sand, adorable hermit crabs, the sound of cicadas, the sound of tree frogs, mai tais in pineapples, other juicy drinks with flowers and umbrellas, soft evening breezes, cooking classes with big mama Mai shouting keeeeel it every time she crushed garlic with her cleaver, pick up truck shuttles with a massive beefy German man taking passenger’s suitcases and plopping them on the roof like they were 2-lb bags of apples and CCR blasting out of the speaker in the corner and the tough German man singing along to Born on the Bayou, and the two tanned French boys smoking fags in the back, crystal clear water, fruit smoothies, iced coffees, walking around in a bikini and fishermen’s pants (all day, every day), sea breeze and hammocks, Christmas lights and people wearing Santa hats on the beach and sending wish lanterns in the sky, bbq prawns, bbq fish, bbq corn, dinner with my feet in the sand, ceiling fans, warm thai hospitality, a visit to an amazing animal welfare sanctuary (where I wanted to adopt every single dog and cat), the way the ocean looks like silver tinsel under the full moon, beach bars, bamboo huts, 1-year anniversary celebrations, late night swims, more massages, more cocktails, more sun, more relaxation.
And the truth is, that’s what it was. You’ve seen it in all the brochures, all the travel magazines, the Blockbuster sensation The Beach. A tropical paradise, quoi? I didn’t write much the entire week I was there. Girl was too busy lying on the beach, sipping cocktails (which I think you’ve gathered) and swimming all day long.
The tan is starting to fade and it’s February in England and I think we all agree that we could use a day on the beach so today, I share with you some sunny, tropical photos. You are welcome.
P.S. Also! I just realized this is my 300th post, people. Holla! I think this totally deserves a giveaway. So leave a comment and let me know what your favourite honeymoon photo has been so far (anything from India or Thailand) and I’ll pick a lucky winner at random at the end of the week and SEND THEM THAT PHOTO. Good times, yes? Can I get a woop! woop!
P.P.S. This P.S. was sponsored by caffeine. Keeping the girl silly since 1993.
Our hotel in Jaipur is grand. Perhaps too grand and westernized for our taste. We’ve come to love the quaintness of Rajasthan havelis and it feels awkward sitting in a massive dining room, all alone, with a full buffet before us. The man with the sitar sits outside on a cushion and plays Frère Jacques on repeat whilst a 10-year-old boy in full costume dances for the few people walking across the courtyard. It makes me sad, for some reason. As if they are trying to sell us the ultimate Indian experience in a Best Western. It’s like eating a Vindaloo at McDonald’s and saying that you experienced authentic Indian food. It feels like we’ve left India and entered a caricature of India.
And outside, the kids keep flying their kites from the rooftops. Hundreds of them. Until the sun burns to the ground.
There’s a women stacking dry dung patties outside her house, presumably to burn later, and young children bathe at the faucet in the center of town, and a sweet old couple reads the newspaper on the sun spot that rests on their front step. And the carver at the block printing museum sits on his haunches, barefoot, and chisels small flowers and elephants and paisley motifs out of wood. He gives me one of his creations and says “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.”
A quick visit to the amber fort confirms what I thought all along: a fort is a fort is a fort. This one, however, stands out because of the long line of enormous elephants with flowers painted on their beautiful grey faces carrying tourists to the top of the fort. I’ve never been a fan of using animals for entertainment. I look into their small eyes with long lashes and I want to cry. I want to say “I’m sorry on behalf of the human race for using you in this way. You must miss your family. You must miss your home. You must hate having a stick poking you behind the ear all day and this heavy cargo on your back. You must be angry. You must feel helpless.” I can’t help but touch one. I want her to know that she is loved in some small way. I know I’ll get reprimanded for it but I can’t help it. I’m sentimental that way.
“I swear I just saw a guy wearing a vest made of Astroturf.“
We duck into a print shop in Jaipur to inquire about the cost of developing film. It is here that we discover the hilarity of “wedding charisma albums”. Bollywood-like wedding albums with bride and groom standing on a Photoshopped lotus flower or, better yet, crouched beside a tiger. The print wala is so proud of his Photoshop skills, which primarily involves saturating the happy couple on a black and white background. “This is my own personal effect”, he is proud to say. My head says “This wasn’t even cool in the 90′s”. My face says “Oh! Isn’t that lovely?”
“There are mothballs in the sink. I feel like I just washed my hands in a urinal.“
We take our bargaining skills to the streets of Jaipur where we haggle for shawls and bedspreads and scarves and things we don’t even need. This shopping business is exhausting – no wonder I don’t do it at home. I’m not cut out for it. We break for coffee at the Indian Coffee House, which is very Buena Vista Social Club and reminiscent of my favourite café in Montreal where all that matters is the coffee. We chat with a stamp collector for a while and it’s not long before he asks us to send him some Olympic coins from London. This is the one thing I find challenging about our time in India – it’s never just a friendly chat and you get the feeling that everyone wants something from you. It makes it difficult to let your guard down.
I ask him why so many people dye their hair bright orange. “Orange hair to mimic Mohammed the prophet. Others do it because they think it makes them look younger but I think it makes them look joker.” And then he said “Watch out, don’t step on evil eye or evil gets all over you.” True story.
We go to the carpet and textile centre, where we spend the better part of 2 hours looking at carpets and textiles with a salesman who keeps calling my husband boss. He sends his helper out to buy us samosas (the best samosas in Jaipur, he promises) and serves us 4 cups of tea and shows us 25,000 scarves and plays a really hard bargain and preys on our shopping fatigue. Joe and I end up getting into a silly fight over who had more samosa sauce and that’s when we know it’s time to walk away from the scarves. Samosa sauce? Really? We’re arguing about samosa sauce? No more shopping for us. We leave the store with heavier bags and lighter money belts than when we walked in. And though our trusty salesman assured us “This is the best quality, boss”, we are probably heading back home with a bag full of viscose.
And then there are moments when your husband is swimming his little heart out like a polar bear with a grin on his face and you take a moment to realize where you are and you smile and jump in the pool with him and forget all about silly things like samosa sauce.
We leave the “perfect” hotel in search of something that is a little more us – the Pearl Palace hotel. Properly cheesy with peacock patterned wall paper and a shower that takes approximately 5 minutes to deliver hot water. But it feels better – like our environment properly reflects the city we are in. On the roof terrace, we bump into a Canadian woman we met in Pushkar several days ago. The coincidence is such that we simply must share a meal together. And stories of India. Such as the way they present a bottle of Kingfisher like it’s a fine Merlot. Or how it’s not unusual to see two guys on a moped: the passenger talking on his phone while holding another mobile to the driver’s ear. Or how they serve cereal with hot milk. And we’re not talking porridge here. We’re talking about corn flakes. Corn. Flakes.
On an early morning train to Agra. I try to sleep but the ticket wala wakes me just as I am drifting off and there is now little hope for slumber. I am in that drunken hazy state of someone who has only slept a few hours. How can eyelids be so heavy and yet so intent on staying open? I jump down from the top bunk and cozy up to Joe on the bottom bunk. Public displays of affection are frowned upon in India so we hide behind the red shabby curtains. Outside, yellow fields go by.
This is our last day in India. I’ve never been so phlegmy in my life. I think it’s the combination of milk and pollution and dust. I swear I’m staring to sound like an old Indian dude and I now understand why they have “No Spitting” signs all over the city.
Haggle, haggle, haggle, we get a taxi to Café Coffee Day, which I thought might be Ganesha’s gift to India but it turns out to be pretty mediocre, with only a few cookies left on the shelf and the scent of disinfectant hardly covering the foul smell lingering beneath it and dance music blasting from the speakers. We write 40 something postcards on the porch and eat Indian take-out then make our way to the Taj Mahal. We are on a rigorous schedule, which, of course, is nearly impossible to keep (especially in India, the country of bureaucratic chaos). One must always remember to set their clocks to Indian time – meaning that everything takes twice, if not 3 times as long in India. Case in point:
- Walk 1 km to Taj Mahal west entrance.
- Wait in long queue.
- Discover they don’t accept credit cards.
- Walk 1 km to nearest ATM.
- Discover ATM is not functioning.
- Take bike rickshaw to next ATM.
- Walk to east entrance.
- Discover than tickets are only sold at ticket booth 1.5 km away.
- Walk 1.5 km to ticket booth.
- Note that we are carrying heavy ass back packs.
- Purchase tickets, drop off bags in lockers.
- Take bike rickshaw back to entrance. Time is ticking. It is 3:30 and Taj closes at 5:00.
- Wait in long ass security queue, women on one side, men on the other.
- See Taj Mahal. Oooh! Aaah! Wow! Cool. Rush around for an hour in tourist traffic.
- Rush out. Walk 1.5 km to cloak room.
- Get bags. Hop in tuk tuk. Tuk tuk driver very chatty. Joe and Jeanine very exhausted.
- Dodge traffic on way to Agra Cant station in a very Darjeeling Limited kind of way.
- Fear for life.
- Arrive at train station with 20 minutes to spare.
- Discover train is delayed 4 hours.
- Give drink and biscuits to poor kids with missing limbs.
- Feel sad for poor kids with missing limbs.
- Watch hundreds of rats running up and down tracks.
- Talk to American tourist and decide to hop on next train to Delhi in 1 hour.
- Train arrives. Jump in a carriage FULL of people and squeeze into that area just between the carriage and toilet. Smells like ammonia and shit. For the next 5 hours.
- Hang out with 2 sweet boys from Assam and a bunch of Kashmiri soldiers and a girl from Korea traveling solo.
- Assam boys get fined for not having proper ticket. Big discussion ensues and train ticket wala threatens to send them to jail. We wait for our own reprimand. The ticket man ignores us. Assam boys simply say: “This is the way things work in India”.
- Learn the Korean alphabet and the meaning of the head waggle and share photos and food with everyone.
- Arrive in Delhi. It is madness.
- Haggle, haggle, haggle.
- Take bike rickshaw to hotel.
- Arrive at Cottage Yes Please at 11pm, where our adventures began 3 weeks earlier.
- Order biryani, have shower, pass out.
- Wake at 3:30am. Leave at 4:00am. See elephant walking by the side of the road. Wonder if I am hallucinating.
- Arrive at airport. Have coffee. Suddenly Costa tastes like heaven with gold sprinkles on top.
- Go through security – men on one side, women on the other (in small curtained off area).
- Flight leaves Delhi on time. Woo hoo!
- Flight can’t land in Kolkata due to visibility issues. Boo!
- Flight rerouted to tiny airport in middle of nowhere to refuel. Double Boo!
- Flight departs again. Woo hoo!
- Arrive in Kolkata. Run to domestic terminal. Ignore all shops and restaurants on way for fear of missing plane.
- On other side of security, there is no shop, no food.
- Das is not good!
- Flight leaves Kolkata. Yay!
- Magically find 500 rupees in Joe’s wallet and order a bit of food on plane.
- Good bye India, hello Bangkok.
- Good bye Bangkok, hello Phuket.
- Arrive in Phuket at 9pm after 15 hours of traveling.
- And the rest is absolute paradise.
- To be continued.
As you can tell by this post, India was starting to challenge me by the end of the 3rd week. And now that I am back home, I find that the things I miss most about India are the very things that drove me crazy about the place. That’s the thing about India – it’s its very chaos that gives you stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world. But maybe it’s like chocolate cake – it’s so rich, you can only take it in small doses. And once you’ve digested it all, you pine for more.
Today marks the 1-year anniversary of my arrival in London. This time last year, I was landing at Heathrow airport with a single suitcase and a few trinkets from home, my heart full to the brim with hope. The woman at immigration stamped my spousal visa and said “Welcome to England” and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard. Joe was waiting for me at arrivals and I ran into his arms just like you see in the movies and we took off to the country for a romantic weekend. Finally. FINALLY, we were together. And thus began my new life. I was ready to tackle it all. This new city, this new married life, this new culture, this fairy tale. I was so bloody excited to BEGIN!
The transition, however, didn’t go quite as easily as I’d hoped.
With each passing day, excitement waned and turned to fear. It felt like I was cracking out of a chrysalis prematurely. In the middle of winter. Wings frozen. Full paralysis. But nobody wants to hear you whine when you have everything you’ve ever wanted. And so, I didn’t tell you.
I didn’t tell you about how I felt so dark and alone at times last year that I feared for my own sanity. I didn’t tell you that I started therapy. I didn’t tell you how many tears I shed and how many fights we had and how the stress nearly tore us apart. I didn’t tell you that I lost myself, completely. I didn’t tell you about the time I went to the doctor’s in tears and begged her to prescribe something that would help take the pain away. I used to judge people who took antidepressants. I was that annoying all mighty girl, up on her high horse who thought “You just need to exercise more, eat better, get some fresh air, take vitamin B supplements.” I didn’t know sadness and anxiety could take over and cripple you. But now that I do, my compassion runs deep and I can no longer judge anyone. I have no right. I never did. I can only be the judge of my own self.
I didn’t tell you because I was ashamed. And I felt weak. And it felt ugly. And I live in the land of “musn’t grumble” and “keep calm and carry on”. But at some point, a girl’s gotta let it out and you have to say, fuck it, I’m human and it’s hard being human and I’m not perfect and I’m learning every day and I am a work in progress. And sometimes you have to share your sad stories so that other people feel less alone. Being vulnerable allows other people to share their vulnerability and in a strange way, that makes us all stronger. And I adamantly believe that if we are stronger as a collective, we can create a better world.
This past year was one giant growth spurt and many leaps of faith. My bones still ache from it. But if I hadn’t gone through the crap and scraped rock bottom, I wouldn’t be here, on the other side. All that crap? That was me shedding old skin and making room for the new. And it was terrifying, the transformation. And there are still days when I feel like I’m shedding but I’m slowly starting to fit into this new skin. With a whole lot of meditation and a whole lot of communication and a whole lot of help from my friends and family (for whom I am so grateful)… as well as exercise and vitamin B supplements.
And I’m here to tell anyone who’s going through hell that you will make your way back. You’ll want to sleep through it all but you can’t. The only way to the other side is through. It will hurt like hell and it will be really scary and you’ll fall many times. Sometimes you’ll pick yourself up, sometimes other people will have to do it for you. Some people will do it gently. Others will give you a swift kick in the ass. But it all comes from a place of love and you are never alone. And I promise you this, if you have the courage to push on through, you will get off the roller coaster in the end. And you’ll say “Bloody hell, that was shitty. I don’t ever want to go on that ride again” But you’ll be stronger for it. You will have a better understanding of who you are. You will know compassion. You will feel gratitude. And you will have gathered the tools you need to make it through the next storm.
Because there will always be storms. Little ones and big ones. And I hope that none are as long as the storm of 2012 but I don’t know what life has in store for me. All I know is that right now, I am here, sitting at a desk, in my house in London, with a wool blanket wrapped around my shoulders. A light snow continues to fall over the city. All the rooftops are white, like gingerbread houses with a dusting of powdered sugar. Little swirls of steam hover over my ginger tea. I’m doing what I love most – writing. And this is the fairy tale, people. All of it. The fairy god mother and the wicked witch. One does not exist without the other. There is no white without black. No sun without clouds. Nobody wants to hear the sad story. But the truth is, it’s the sad stories that make the happy times happier.
What I didn’t tell you is that he held me a LOT this past year and told me “What does it feel like to have someone who loves you no matter what?” I didn’t know that kind of unconditional love existed. And in my state of mind, I didn’t think I deserved it. But now I know I do.
I’ve been feeling really good for the past few months. Lighter. Sunnier. I’ve left the dark side. My roots have begun to sink into this British soil, my branches are reaching out towards the light. I’ve even finally committed to changing my name to Stewart to officially seal the transition. But know this, you can take the Caron out of a girl’s name, however you can never take the Caron out of her heart. The force is strong in that name. It is fierce. It was born to survive and thrive and it is what got me through this past year.
And what a difference a year makes. Today is a milestone and I’m going to celebrate it. With champagne & chocolate.
Transition: The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. Passage – change – crossing.
It’s good to be on the other side, peeps! It’s real good! Year number two? Bring it!
When one travels, one is bound to be faced with days that hold less promise than others. How one reacts to such circumstances depends, I suppose, on a variety of factors – general life attitude, blood sugar levels, the weather, sleep deprivation – any number of things that can either make you bat shit insane or totally accepting of a less than perfect situation. I’d like to think that I’m the type of person who is always delighted with life exactly as it presents itself but, truth be told, I often feel the impulse to rearrange life so that it fits perfectly within the plans I have for it. Just a little tweak here and there.
Spontaneity is a really shiny word, which implies anything can happen. “You don’t know until you go”, a friend of Joe’s used to say. Exciting right? Who wouldn’t like spontaneity? It’s the cool kid in school, the thrill of adventure, the rush of a drug. And yet, as I get older, I find myself starting to like things “just the way they are” and if they’re not scheduled in my Google calendar, then they’re terribly inconvenient. Google calendar is where spontaneity goes to die and Lord knows, I don’t want spontaneity’s blood on my hands but damn if age isn’t making me rigid.
The beauty of travel is that you have to learn to let go because there are so many things that are out of your control. And once you let go, all you’re left with is spontaneity. So you’re forced to re-acquaint yourself and put a bit of oil in your rigid tin-man joints and skip your way to bloody Oz because what else are you going to do? Spontaneity doesn’t always guarantee you’ll have an incredible story to tell but the ride is certainly more enjoyable when you stop resisting the flow.
After stepping in the blue coloured dung-like substance on my morning walk (sticky unknown matter squishing through my toes is not my favourite thing), a nice gentleman escorts me to a nearby hose where I am able to rinse my 10-yr old flip-flops, which, when dry, have soles with as much grip as a wet piece of algae so you can imagine how slippery they are when damp.
This is a prelude to the next sequence of events.
It is written in Murphy’s Law that after running up and down the stairs a dozen times, the very last time you take said stairs, is, in fact, the very moment you are bound to fall flat on your ass. Being a law-abiding citizen and a natural clutz, I fall hard down the last flight of Kankawar’s marble steps on my way to checking out. So hard that had it not been for my heavy-duty backpack, I hate to guess what might have happened to my skull and spine. Luckily, I escape with but a severely bruised ego, a scraped arm and a blood blister on my ankle.
This tumble sets the tone for the day.
We’d been excited to go for a swim at the city palace pool ever since discovering it the day before. The plan was: get up early, go for a swim then catch a train to Pushkar. Easy peasy, right? We arrive at the palace with bathing suits and sun cream and towels and massive grins that say “We are ready to SWIM! Woop! Woop!” Our Woop! falls flat with the news that an event has suddenly been scheduled and the pool is closed to visitors for the morning. If sighs were gusts of wind, ours would have been herculean.
We simply aren’t in the mood to be harassed by a thousand merchants or the klaxon of yet another horn, be it car, tuk tuk or moped so we head to a nearby rooftop and have a lemon & soda while waiting for our train to depart. The drink, albeit refreshing, is very little consolation for our ruined plans but were it not for this little diversion, I might not have had the time to be paranoid enough to recheck our train tickets and realize, much to my dismay, that the tickets were dated December 16, not December 15. Sack of balls and filet o fuck! What up life? Why you gotta be that way?
The good news is our error can easily be rectified by purchasing a tatkal (urgent) ticket at the train station for 84 rupees a piece. The not so good news is we’d better get our asses to the train station STAT if we are to get our tickets on time.
We get our tickets on time. And then we wait. And while we are waiting, a man sits beside me. His eyes are streaked with red veins and he’s clearly been drinking all night. He points at my water bottle and asks to have some. I hand over the bottle and tell him to keep it. He tries to communicate something to me and keeps calling me sister and then he bursts into tears. I offer him an apple. I don’t know what else to do. The language barrier between us is too high for me to jump over. After 15 minutes of him alternating between crying and trying to tell me something I can’t understand, Joe fetches an English-speaking man to translate for us. A crowd gathers. This is always the case when something “exciting” happens in India and it doesn’t take much for something to gain that status. The Indian people are some of the most curious (some might say nosy) people I’ve ever met.
It turns out the man wants me to take him with us. The men around me say “He is drinking the alcohol. He not know what he say. You leave him here, yes.” Poor guy is in a bad way and I feel for him but sadly there is nothing I can do. What can I do? Such is India, it breaks your heart time and time again and then hardens you to the suffering because it’s impossible to save everyone and there is always a certain level of mistrust that puts a barrier between you and them. It’s a mixed bag of emotions that leaves you feeling guilty 90% of the time.
On the train, we pay an extra 30 rupees for the privilege of a seat, which is jolly great considering we have a 4-hour journey ahead of us. We are the only tourists in the carriage. There are a couple dozen fans on the ceiling, keeping us cool. Retro air-con. The woman beside me lies down, her head so close to my lap, she might as well be lying on it. I am crushed up against the wall and I dare not move for fear of waking her. 30 minutes pass and suddenly, she lets out a massive pop – a flatulence of such volcanic proportions you’d think it had come out of a 300 pound sumo wrestler. My somewhat hard of hearing husband does not react in the slightest and continues to read his paper. So there I am, with eyes the size of 50p coins, trying not to giggle, when Joe says in the most controlled voice “Surely, that was a shart” to which I replied “Guess we went from second class to no class.” All the tension of the day is diffused in those 10 minutes of uncontrollable laughter.
We unload our bags in the honeymoon suite of Inn Seventh Heaven where crickets sing and geckos stick to the ceiling with suckered toes. This haveli is a little slice of paradise, indeed. We wake at 5:30am and walk the 3 miles up Savitri Hill, in the dark, with packs of dogs guarding the streets and barking as we pass by. The aim of the trek is to view the sunrise from the highest peak in Pushkar. I am expecting to see dawn light the sky on fire. This does not happen. The sunrise is… beige. A French film maker, who is far too into himself for his own good, spends an hour regaling us with tales of his accomplishments and telling inappropriate jokes. Two american girls are getting stoned with their Indian guide. The monkeys are begging for food. There is a wind at the top of the mountain that we think might be perfect for flying the paper kites we bought from a small stall in town. But it turns out there is such a thing as too much wind when kite flying and our kites soon come crashing in the bushes below, quite ceremoniously, with much twirling and rope twisting and before we know it, what once was a kite is now a sad wooden cross with shreds of paper hanging off it.
This is not what we had expected.
It is now noon on day 2 and we haven’t left the turquoise couches of Inn Seventh Heaven since 8:30am. I am halfway through Persuasion and on my second cup of coffee. Soon, we will brave the market place, but for now, I am quite content following Anne and Captain Wentworth’s fickle love affair and watching children fly kites from rooftops all around the city. Hundreds of colourful kites soaring and swaying high above, the way kites are meant to be flown.
We’ve met so many people on our travels who fell in love with Pushkar (one of the oldest existing cities in India) and I think perhaps it’s because it has that hippy India traveler’s vibe to it and it’s the first stop on the Rajasthan loop for most visitors.
I wish I could say that Pushkar held the same charm for us but by the time we arrived there, what we really needed was some peace & quiet. As I said… when one travels, one is bound to be faced with days that hold less promise than others. But don’t let that discourage you from going. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t always let people’s opinions of things detour you from doing them yourself. Just because I like my tea with milk and no sugar doesn’t mean you will.