The sights and sounds of Indian Mayhem

The moment we walked through the airport exit into the sun soaking humidity, the pace of our surroundings jumped to a Fast Forward. Men, shades of every brown, approached us wearing thin button downs spotted with sweat patches. The men swarmed towards us, like a school of hungry fish to bread dropped into the sea.

Every one of the men wanted to “help” us. They were insistent, to the point of being imposing, as they asked for our business. We politely rejected and an uncomfortable silence followed with a dumb loiter.

Soon enough, we chose a taxi + driver. We were riding with Raj.

We rode in the back of a compact car, our nostrils ambushed by an acrid combination of what I best assume to be animal BO, sun-rotting bacterias and pinch of our own fear. Annie and I watched for the first time a 3rd world country pass by. While driving, Raj showed us phone-photos of his white friends. This was supposed to be comforting, and it was.

These first sites of the city were bleak. Visiting India, we expected poverty, yet it was still utterly shocking.

The Indian people flash flooded Delhi’s dirt streets, bopping and bumbling in every direction like thousands of worker bees all on the same honeycomb. The day was muggy and the air had a thickness you might expect to swelter a tropical jungle. As the afternoon faded New Delhi proved to be its own jungle, over grown with a chao, people and pollution. Vibrant colors tangled with the shuffling mess of the un-educated masses. It was a jungle there is no Disney or Pixar movie about. A Jungle with strong stenches and frail futures. A jungle…..

When it rained, it down-poured a furious drenching. However, the sun would quickly break open the clouds, dry up all the rain and rats ran about again.

Seemingly, there were no rules to govern the people. Animals lived everywhere and their piles of shit were more common then children wearing a pair of shoes. There were men with large guns by the subway. I wondered if they knew how to use it properly or if it even mattered.

We, in our white skin and our meaty bodies, were obvious outsiders. The Indian people all wanted to bargain with us foreigners, even when they had nothing to offer. They begged, deceived and stole from the tourists because it was what they knew, so I assume. Young children, maybe of 2 years in age, asked for money, often provoking guilt with their pleas. They had nothing to lose, only to gain as they approached us white and relatively wealthy again and again.

Imagine the 70-man frat house bathroom after a long weekend of Grand Prix parties, no pledges to clean. That is what every city we visited looked and smelled like in our 1,021 mile excursion across Rajasthan, Northwestern India. (Further than Chicago – New York.)

We saw monkeys, goats, cows, and children layed asleep along the highway. Preteens were picked through trash piles in alleys for food. We were in disbeief when we saw a family of 4, including a toddler, riding on a mo-ped through the congested roads. This was common, and they were the fortunate families for their father was providing a ride. There were piles of cow crap the girth of a keg on every street. You can bet your bottom rupee on it. (worth 2 US cents)

We were dumbfounded by what we were finding. The locals however were accustomed to the destitution. Flies buzzed everywhere. Repulsive is rude, but accurate in describing the hygiene. It stunk a combination of corrosion and death, poverty and viol pity which reeked around every filth covered corner.

Shopkeepers were extremely kind and interested in getting to know us. For the first time, we felt genuinely welcomed, like we were unique individuals that inspired them. It was nice, but we knew the act was to make a sale, and that was perfectly fine; every man has to eat. However, their last ditch effort to sell was usually anger. I don’t know if it was feigned or for real, but I didn’t like it either way.

The street traffic was more bedlam than anywhere else I’ve been before. They didn’t use blinkers, painted lines or road signs. The cars had mirrors, but were flipped-in for leaner maneuvering. Horns constantly sounded as an indication of lateral movement, frustration or salutation. I never did decipher the difference. It as a never-ending symphony of rhythmless clamor. Throughout the day, the shotty vehicles funneled through the streets spewing grey coughs of exhaust into the air and continually blared sharp, high pitched horns that made your blood cringe.

We were vulnerable everywhere we went. There was no real safety net to fall back on in disaster or confusion. The comfort of knowing you can go to a hospital or a police station, maybe phone a friend for advice or just to have a chat simply wasn’t going to happen. If something bad happened, there was no way to even know, nothing could be done and no one near would have even cared. They already had too many of their own half dead with hunger and disease- why would we e of concern?

The haggling was intense. Each day we got better at being less and less ripped off.

Our driver’s name was Raj. It was a common name. He looked like a big dirty gummy bear. He was always appearing out of nowhere anytime we needed him or even more strangely, merely thought of him. Often Raj, and others similar to him, were overzealous when trying to be helpful. This caused them to hover, severly violating our western social norms. It made for many awkward moments.

Everyday we choked on air pollution that made me resent industrialization as it festered each of the cities. I wish I had packed a gas mask. I don’t care how ridiculous I’d have looked, I would have wore it everywhere and it’d definitely not more ridiculous than homelessness as a majority .

The stellar beauty of what was once a gorgeous nation of temples and royalty has been degraded to a trash dump of packaged plastics that mar and stain the landscape the way businesses have social media.

The place was very cheap but you get what you pay for. The best reason to go to India is to gain appreciation for all the simple amenities in life that you don’t realize you have. Clean water? Nope. Drainage? Nah. Toilet seat? Toilet paper? Don’t count on it. I’m suddenly not so upset by taxes being removed from my pay. I truly respect their value now.

There is a lot of love among the people to be able to live with such little personal space. The temples and monuments were beautiful and stirred my imagination as we spent the better part of the days touring their magnificence and history.

We rode elephants, hung out with snake charmers, and took tens of pictures with random Indians astonished by Annie’s arian features. We crashed a Hindu wedding with some German boys, their western world experience and Euro-traveller attitude was refreshing. For the first two days we ate but were too repulsed to have an appetite the following as we satiated our stomachs with bottled water and the occasional packet of biscuits. I lost 11 pounds. I was still nauseous 7 days after my return to the US.

We should have made it to Goa, I think we missed out on some places we would have really enjoyed. Or maybe these places too were like the succulent Burger King burgers in their TV ads, but when you get there you’re handed a wax-paper-wrapped pile of bullshit.

India was life changing. I was ready to see poor people and homeless desperation, but I was not prepared for the amount of filth that literally casted over every city seen. Knowing about such a place is completely different from spending time in the poverty. Talk about not being able to save the world, we could hardly save ourselves from that vacuum of humanitarian justice.

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Running With Los Toros Part 1: From Under The Roman Sun

The Adventures of Curious Joey: Day 1

It was yet another clear summer evening, and tonight I did not go to work. Rather, met friends for drinks in Campo De Fiori, the piazza below my apartment. This piazza, which served as a concrete park, was the pulsating heart of tourist night life. My current job demanded a fine hustle of any and every tourist whom dare step Rome’s cobblestones. This was in part reason to make the bustling square home.

Roads, sidewalks and parking spots all converged to be one sprawled beneath and between the shortly stacked buildings. This was the downtown of historic Rome. Most windows were draped with potted flowers or lines of linens. House keep for these galleries of living space was seemingly simpler. They possessed less of the non-essentials.

By the moment the sun first laid light upon the thousands of sculptures of Rome’s bygones, the piazza began to buzz. It was the very same sun that beat down upon the likes of Julius Caesar, Mussolini, and all of the Roman Papacy. Campo D’fiori was centered by a steel statue of the heretical Giordano Bruno. Bruno stood darkly stern, hooded and elevated from the market that appeared each early morning. Fresh fruit and vegetables for half a euro, seldom much more.

Biting into a nectarine, I can’t figure if the bursting flavors on my tongue and the juices dancing in a tingle was caused by dehydration. Quenching, refreshing, exuberayting everything from lips to tummy. Chills flashed up my spine.

Prosciuttos and cheeses, the best in all of the Old Country, were hooked and hanged on display for the public to purchase.

As we sat, chatting over drinks- it was not the early morning yet and there was no market at this hour. None of the market I mention will exist for a few more hours. The clock had just reset and sunlight was as far away as possible. The night was only a bambino.

Accordions romanticized the piazza’s patrons who’s stomachs were soaked with wines and hearts filled by fantasy. Love on their minds and delight in their voices, the piazza played theater and song dazzled the square.

After about an hour with our pub-crawl posse, skulling away the patruice that used to burden our cups, I was called out, and mocked, again. I did not go to Spain for the festival of San Fermin, to run with the bulls, as I swore I would. I thought I would, but I didn’t and my friends would not let me forget it.

Elaina, a gal I drank with occasionally, too was shamed to not follow through on the same San Fermin assertions. Our friends taunted us, and they were rankling. The ability to easily irk is in the blood of a good pub crawl worker. It wasn’t just an instinct but a product of perpetual practice.

One can argue the most compelling facts, but pubcrawl-workers used words as weapons. At will, venal homicide, a man unprepared will be left stoned, stunned, stuffed. But, no matter who utters what words, actions speak more.

Elaina and I gave up on giving excuses.
We’d soon smother the gut-wrenching regret. My pride spoke out for us both.

“We’re going to the festival” very matter-of-factly

“Yeah right mate, the festival is over in 60 hours. You’re here in Italy.
– no plane ticket
– no hostels reserved
– you probably don’t even know where in Spain the running of el toros is.

He was right… 100%

However, in the midst of our intoxicated excitement, we stampeded up to my flat and booked our flight to Spain. We will go to the festival of San Fermin.

Both with an 80 euro plane ticket now purchased, a final filling of our cups and a clock that cooed 2:30 A.M., the table was now fully set of an adventure de La’spagna.

Not until the blaring screams of my alarm at 6:10 A.M. do we realize what we had l actually committed to.

Our flight is paid for and cannot be canceled. We tossed some essentials together in my draw-string bag and the journey began. The first four hours were rough on the body, but flawless as far as travel is concerned. However, we haven’t the slightest inclination where the city of Pamplona (location of festival) is… still. we were flying into Barcelona. The good news is, they’re both in Spain. We knew this with confidence. And- we hadn’t committed to any accommodations, which is good for cash flow. I had about €300, cash. “It’ll work out.”: the inherent assumption of a backpacker.

Green to Blue : Free to Fall

I stood at the edge of the wooden roof deck impatiently waiting for my turn to jump off into the not-so-clear green water of Ha Long Bay. Two stories of Junk boat was below me. A few of my new friends splashed and laughed beneath, occasionally tossing words of encouragement up into the air like frisbees waiting to be caught. “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “Do a back flip mate,” were the only sentences I could comprehend. Moving my toes to the edge of the brown planks, I reached back for the white peeling railing that looked less than trustworthy.

I had been struggling with sea sickness from the reckless combination of a hangover, rocking salt water waves and cigarette smoke for over an hour now. Despite the height, jumping was the closest cure and there was nothing I wanted to do more.

My big toes nakedly hung off the edge. I released the security of the railing, now my right hand wrapped around my musty, brown, tube-top bathing suit and my left plugged my nose. An incredibly dorky, yet practical position for jumping. I could feel the heat of the sun radiating off my back and shoulders. Taking in one last deep breath I closed my eyes, trusted the words of encouragement, caught that frisbee and jumped, off the boat and into the warm Vietnamese air.

Ha Long Bay was a place my sister and I had been anticipating for about a year. For eleven months we worked as nannies and stayed in on weekends waiting to splurge on a summer of backpacking Southeast Asia. The bay in the city of Ha Long, known as the “descending dragon bay” was the icon of our trip. Images of sharp, sporadic, limestone cliffs became the desktop to our computers, the backgrounds of our phones and the photo representing our count-down until May 27, 2013, the day we took flight from JFK airport. It showed the freedom that crept closer to our reach as the months faded by.

When you jump, life as you understand it changes. Your senses are enhanced, you become more alert. The sun becomes brighter. You can taste the salt evaporated in the air, you can see the bright lime-green moss, the noise of buzzing crickets surrounds you. You are aware of the 2,000 islets in the distance that stand proud after 500 million years of formation. The mucky screen that has been obstructing your point of view is lifted and it’s like you are now looking through a freshly Windexed window.

You’re free, in the moment, the shackles you didn’t realize you wore vanish and you gracefully fly through the sky, weightless, over the sea that looks like a million diamonds strewn across a blue blanket.

Friends encourage you to take that leap, but wait below to ensure your safety. In this moment, I’m happy, I’m myself, loving life without fear of death. I know who I am and I am confident in my abilities. I have fallen in love, with the people, with myself, with the world I am in.

Then before you know it the free-fall is over, and your feet kick through the sheet of clear water, the same water that was a not-so-clear green color seconds before. You are submerged by the cool, blue refreshing wash of the ocean. The marine world, one completely different from your own, a place you cannot stay forever but is a surreal gift while you are there.

You know it is quickly approaching, it is romantically mesmerizing but over too fast.

My cousin asked me if she should go backpacking through South America on her own for 2 months this summer. I told her that when I was in Vietnam, I stood at the edge of a wooden roof deck. Don’t look down, just jump.

The answer to why we travel is different for everyone.

According to Pico Iyer, “We travel, initially to lose ourselves; and we travel next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.”

My sister and I thought we were traveling to see the world but we quickly realized that our trip was about how we interpret the world and how our souls fit in it. In mid jump we came to realize how little possessions matter and how much more there is to life.

For anyone planning on backpacking through Southeast Asia, I would recommend bringing nothing but an empty backpack and possibly a few toilet paper rolls. Anything you need you can buy there and the less you have the more free your fall is.

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