spoilt tourist


Have you ever wondered if your world might be improved if you were to be imprisoned?  That maybe 80 square feet and a locked door might help you do the things you can’t seem to make time for.  That maybe it’s liberating to know that your focus isn’t competing with the tornado of deadlines, bills, homework, shows, dinners, classes, insurance, laundry, mail,  …

That’s what New York is to me – a big fat tornado of distraction.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m willingly addicted to New York Shitty, as I affectionately call it, but it’s a hard place to get anything done that you don’t really have to do- like flossing and blogging.

I really enjoyed writing this blog when I was in China, but when I got back that enjoyment seemed to feel like an irresponsible luxury.  There, if felt like time could  expand enough to absorb writing and reading for pleasure. Here, it feels like we are drowning in a sea of illuminated words and that any attempt to add more words to the screens of already existing words will just turn you into homework.

Nobody wants to be homework.

But I have a few more stories – old stories from past trips – and if I don’t get them out, they may dissolve in my distraction tornado.  So… here’s one from our trip to India.

As always: hit ‘escape’ without guilt.

Don and I were two days into a safari.  Three days before, we were on a 19-hour train ride to get to one of the westernmost cities of India – Jaisalmer.  It’s a sand stone city in the desert 50 miles from Pakistan that feels futuristically backward.

My camel had some kind of mouth thing going on that caused him to foam up with spit bubbles.   He gargled like Chubaka and when he sneezed, he flung the putrid foam into my hair as if he knew what he was doing.

We rode on camels for hours.  The ride was monotonously mesmerizing and infinitely interesting.  Even something as simple as just sand and the sky can take on so many fascinating combinations.   I figured out how to get my seat sweetly set up so it was nice and chill.  We bounced along until we stopped for some delicious Indian taco-type-thing with some kind of green vegetable that was like a cross between asparagus and green beans.  It was all mixed up with some kind of meat and spices.   I could tell that the two guides that led us had been raised in the desert.  I wasn’t surprised that they maneuvered the camels and the sand like they were an extra appendage, but  I was amazed that they had culinary skills to boot.

We rode a bit more and then we stopped for the night.  The meal this time was surprisingly shitty compared to lunch, but we were all hungry, so we didn’t say anything as we huddled around the campfire getting to know one another.  There was an Italian couple and two Israeli guys – older guys that were best friends since they were kids and went on an annual trip together.

The guides unpacked the camels and laid out our pallets on the sand.   They placed a thick rug on the bottom and then a couple of blankets were piled on top.   After dinner, we rotisseried our bodies around the fire to keep warm until the embers died out.  We brushed our teeth and did some sand squatting before crawling into our palettes.   The sun had completely disappeared by this point and it had gotten as cold as Dick Cheney’s colon in a cryogenic barrel.   (yeah, I said it!)

We grabbed our blankets to our bodies as tight as possible.  The stars were unbelievable.  They seemed so close.  I felt like if I coughed, it would send a sound wave separating the stars with a ripple.  The camels were making their own sound track to accompany it.  They each have four stomachs and are in a constant state of equalizing their system by burping.  It was like being around an aging team of football players – but this volume went to 13.   I could NOT fall asleep.    Now, I don’t like to think I’m the type person who would actually say what I’m about to say, but it seems to be the truth:

If I don’t sleep, nobody sleeps.

Poor Don.

Because he sleeps so good, otherwise.

If he doesn’t have some red-faced woman shaking him awake and hissing  “this is ridiculous!  It’s cold enough to freeze my pee.  I am going home TOMORROW!!”  So poor Don, if he doesn’t have something like that, he can sleep wherever he wants for as long as he wants.

My friend once said he had seen Don take a snoring, blanket-less nap on a cold, dirty cement floor in a warehouse.  He said Don slept like a baby.  The man can go without.  But when he has it, he enjoys it.

And that’s just what he was doing – enjoying that sleep, until I shook him awake hiss-whispering about how ridiculous everything was in a way that sort-of insinuated that it was somehow all his fault.   I laid there not only cursing us going on a safari but cursing the very concept of anyone EVER going on a safari.  Don dozed right back into snoring in a way that let me know how worried he was about my not getting enough sleep.

Finally, the sun came up, and I watched as the guides assembled breakfast.  As I gnawed my way through it, I noticed their paper thin clothing that had shielded them from the night.  I felt spoiled in my fleece jacket and hat.  They moved through everythings like a sand ninja.    Their efficiency around the camels was beautiful, but their culinary skills had seemed to evaporate since those taco-type things first set the stage for what could be possible.   I imagined their wives preparing these taco-type things for them to give to their guest.  After those tacos ran out, the guides had to start preparing dinner on their own and then it just went downhill from there.

This breakfast that morning made dinner last night taste gourmet.   Grul.  That’s what I call it – Grul.  It tasted like something that would be slapped on a silver lunch tray in a Turkish prison.  The looks on some of the other people’s faces at the morning fire made me realize my taste buds were not alone in their disappointment.   Another woman, spitting her food out into the sand, sarcastically asked if there was any way to get some ‘variety’ in the food and a guide jokingly said “sometimes.”.

I walked away to find an unoccupied sand dune.  As I walked, I passed by the other guide as he was cleaning the dishes.  I noticed he was cleaning out the pots, plates and pans with sand.  That’s what they use instead of water.   They roll the plate in the sand until the grease and everything comes off and it is nice and smooth.  Then, they put it back in the camel’s pouch and move on.

By the time we got to lunch, the food tasted like a styrofoam smoothie.  The woman that had asked about getting some ‘variety’, now asked the guide what he meant by “sometimes”.  The guide explained that it was sometimes possible to have meat with the meal but it cost “a bit of money”.

How much?

About  200 Rupees (a few dollars) per person.

There was a communal “pffffftttt” while everyone agreed verbally that we could all pitch in for that, so we did.   After pitching in the money, we all packed and saddled up for more hours of mesmerizing monotony in the saddle.  The thought of eating something palatable made me less adamant about going home.   So I decided to stay – it was easy to come to that decision since there was no other way to get home but by camel.

Along the way, we stopped for a water break and a man with candy magically appeared from a sand dune.  He was wearing a turban, a ratty old military jacket, cut off pants and sandals. He was selling the candy for about 5 cents a piece, so I bought the whole bag and gave multiples to everyone.   He also had orange sodas so I bought a few of those and gave them to the guides and anybody else that would have one.   I felt so rich!   I may buy all my clothes at the half-price day at Salvation Army…. but the next round is on ME!

Later, after more hours of mesmerizing monotony, we stopped for the night.  This time Don and I are ready.  We have been boy-scouting all the many ways to stay warm while sleeping outside.  We were going to put all of our blankets on both of us together to let our bodies heat  things up.  We would  heat rocks and then put them in our blankets to have them warm when we are ready to get inside.    We would brush our teeth and then go to hang out by the fire to get warm…..   But these were just plans and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet.I thought about our dinner and wondered who they would send to the market (although my first thought was ‘supermarket’)  to get the meat.

In the distance, I saw the candy man walking towards us.  He had a kid walking with him, holding a baby goat in his arms.   Our guides greeted the candy man and then got some string from their pouch.  They drove a stick in the ground and then tied one end of the rope around the stick and the other around the goat’s neck.

We were spreading out our own palettes when we glanced over into the goat’s eyes and realized there would be no supermarket.

As we assembled around the fire, one of the guides came to Don and asked him if he could borrow his Swiss Army knife.  I pretended not to hear this as I put rocks in the fire.    My mind goes back to the supermarket and now it’s accompanied by elevator music.

I watch as the baby goat runs around, frolicking with the rope.  He looks like he is a little worried.  I decide to go for a walk to pet the goat; to get him to “calm down a bit”, as I am sure that I can do.   I feel the awareness of the others as they think about the goat and watch me get near it.  My encroaching presence startles the goat and he goes into a spastic wiggle that eventually frees his neck from the rope.  I gasp when I see this and it causes the other campers to snap their focus to me.  Unconsciously, I run to catch the goat.   It’s a zigzagging, sand-stirring rush of flurry as I wrestle it into my arms.

As I re-attach it to the rope, I can actually remember bending down to the goat, getting my face on an even plane with him so that he could “better understand me”.  I put the back of my head to the people – who I knew were watching me – so that only the goat could see my face and watch my lips as I said:  “Maybe there’s reincarnation, you know?  And you’ll get to come back as something even better than being a goat.  And you’re just a baby goat.  Maybe it’s better that you don’t live to know what it’s like to be an adult goat.  Who knows?  But I do know that I really appreciate the meal you are about to give us.    Hey!  Maybe this is your purpose in life anyway?  It just came a little sooner.  There you go, yeah, now you’re calming down.   See.  Enjoy every second.  You never know when it’s going to end!”.  Then, I cooed and awed as I cradled the goat in my arms until the guy that had Don’s pocketknife came to get it from me.  He gave me an approving “thumbs up” and a bizarre wave of guilt flashed through my body.  When I turned back to my fellow campers, there seemed to be a quick flick of their heads in the opposite direction – as if they didn’t want me to see them watching me.

I began to walk back over to everyone but one of the Israeli guys called me over.  He was sick and lying on his palette, but he sat up on one elbow as he called me over.   It seemed like I remembered him earlier saying something about being in the Israeli military, so I figured he would have some interesting comments to share.   When I got there, he said:    “When they cut the neck of the baby goat it will cry and you will probably hear it.  Will you be able to eat the meat after hearing those cries?”

My mind went to a loud static as it searched for a channel to host all the excuses I was about to come up with.  Finally my conscience squeezed on my vocal cords and out popped a “Yeah.  I’m.  Sorry”.     I played around with ways to explain it, but I gave up quickly because there’s really no excuse.  I wish I was vegetarian- I really wish I had that spirit.  They are better people.  I truly believe they are more virtuous and I really do wish I could muster that kind of commitment.   But, I’m just ….. I don’t know…… a Texan?    I eat everything but my own kin.

I apologized to the guy for being this way and I thanked him for letting me know his thoughts.

The candy man turned up again when the goat stew was dished out.  He had two friends with him and they reminded me of a elderly opening band for the Beatles- looking so guru-cool in their turbans and tattered military jackets.

The stew tasted good.  Depravity always heightens your taste buds, so the previous days’ grul made this stew legendary.  The disdain for the trip got swallowed down with the stew and slowly,  my enthusiasm for all things rustic surfaced.   We brushed teeth, sand squatted and then warmed up by the fire as we laughed and told travel stories.

When it came time to go to bed, we crawled into our toasty cocoon.   We took out the rocks.  We stacked the blankets on top of each other.  We spooned ourselves into position.  Our body heat kept the heat from the rocks going until it got warm enough to poke our heads out of the blankets.  We watched the stars, as they gently appeared; shyly popping out, one by one,  like kids in a school play.  They seemed to be moving closer and closer, just waiting for me to cough and send out a ripple.  Eventually, they hung so low that they pressed into our eyes, closing them shut into a luxurious darkness that made me feel like there was no place else in the world I would rather be.    


3 Comments on “spoilt tourist”

  1. Ed Toutant says:

    Laura, you always amaze me. Great story! How long ago was this trip? I’m impressed that you can still recall and express those little details that enrich your writing. If I don’t write things down promptly, the memories start eroding.

  2. Gretchen Penny says:

    “My mind went to a loud static as it searched for a channel to host all the excuses I was about to come up with.” I can sooooo relate! I agree about the vegetarians. We tried doing “Vegan Fridays” during Lent and it was a challenge. We tried lots of new foods (no grul, though), but realized we weren’t meant to be Vegans….just Texans.

    Keep sending your poetry and I’ll keep delighting in it. 😀

  3. Brooke says:

    Amazing! I laughed; I cringed; I read every word with complete amazement. I can’t believe some of the trips you and Don have taken together! I can’t believe some of the food you will eat! I can’t believe you bought candy from a stranger–In a desert no less! Poor little goat…I had such a clear image of you chasing it down while everyone shook their heads and tried to pretend they didn’t see you. Loved it! Keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading! Xoxoxo


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