Due regression

My writer’s flow has surely gone a tad squeaky from disuse. Nothing a little daily grease can’t remedy.

It wasn’t much more than 10 years ago that i opened my first online journal to an audience of one, i.e. my friend who’d revealed the phenomenon’s appeal. It was so much richer to read her entire accounts of living than to loiter in a chat room all night. My life of relative solitude then was more conducive of typing to myself. I love a muse or an audience, but writing is an oddly solipsistic conversation.

After years now of over-self-underexposure to mostly non-strangers on Facebook, i’m missing writing more than three sentences at a time and in the liberty of anonymity. Sweet anonymity, who asks no accounting in the rest of my world. Who creates no squeal of amplification feedback between between what i live and what i write.

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The speed of days

It is noon on the first day of February at Om Beach, an only mercifully inconvenient distance from the holy town of Gokarna. The hammock on my porch sways limply before me, my laundry overhead. Beyond, the giant leaves of banana trees and palm trunks scaffold the sky. To my left, i hear a recording of a lilting Indian song and the funny dismayed chatter of the corvids. To my right, a rooster crows, and the sound at the edge of the ocean laps around the concrete walls of this row of simple rooms. One of the young Indian men who tend this place is sweeping debris from the dirt paths with a hand broom of fine sticks tied together with twine.

What i’m noticing keenly, though, is the empty space where a neighbouring hammock had hung. My East German friend left this morning, packing it with him for 150 rupees extra. I’m having a wistful hour. Sometimes meeting another person feels like discovering some incredible country that you would have wanted to visit, had you even known such a place existed. Don’t pity my sadness. I only feel it because i did enjoy such an awesome glimpse into the beauty of a person. May i be blessed with many variations on that theme.

Such are my thoughts when up walks an Englishwoman who asks if i like spliffs. As a matter of fact, i do. The woman tells me that her party is leaving the country. She donates me her bag of grass and hash (or “charas” as the latter is known around here). The grass is typically cruddy and full of seeds, but the charas, she says, is wonderful. I rock with glee in my hammock, giggling over how quickly nature swoops in with new gifts and surprises–a little chin-up medicine. I’m less excited about spliffs, which i’ve smoked in excess already, than about the fact that the kit literally just landed in my lap.

My co-American Jules finally gets out of bed and joins me in a seaview section of the restaurant hut for brunch. We roll a fat one, with a lesson for me in crumbling hash, and proceed with our discussions of past, present, and future. A small Indian boy walks up to the restaurant and thrusts his strings of flowers between the wooden slats. I buy a garland for 10 rupees. When was the last time i wore a necklace of fresh flowers? They smell wonderful and feel good, too.

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omg omg omg

I am going to India!! I am really going to India!!

I will be in India. India will come to life. It will no longer be just a land of my imagination and beyond it, but a real place beneath my feet, chattering and chanting around me, unrolling before trains and boats, filling my nose and my eyes and all my senses and probably my spirit, too.

Three weeks from today i will leave my country, not really knowing where i am going, not knowing when i will return. I don’t know whether anything has ever felt so fated before in my life.

I will be in this completely new world for months–almost like being born again, learning how to navigate and how to live.

I will be so excited to meet the elephants–those intelligent, sensitive beings. There will be elephants, not behind bars but painted up pretty and encountered up close.

This evening i signed up for Netflix again just to get 4000 United Airlines miles. (Just to give you an idea of what that $8 is now worth: ten times $8 is $80; ten times 4000 miles is what i used to book a fare clear from my hometown to Bombay). Started streaming Darshan: The Embrace, a documentary about Ammachi, the hugging saint of India. Noticed the classically Keralan backwaters, looked up Amma’s ashram, and learned that she’ll be there for a long time while i’m in that region. A lovely possibility! It was almost six years ago, on Mount Shasta, that i first heard of Amma…

Seeing the movie, i am reminded that i want to pack as few Western garments as i can get away with until i find some proper Indian sandals and a tailor to outfit me with a modestly cut salwar kameez. I am reminded of the beauty of so much devotional music. I am reminded that i will be in a land unimaginable to me now, having moments of utter awe that i should find myself here, and now here, among these, seeing that, and participating.

I got my typhoid vaccine today and an hour on the phone with another Indian-American friend–a Mumbaikar, actually, who offered her parents as hosts for me for a day or two upon my arrival on the subcontinent. How much would i love to begin my acquaintance with India in the company of an elderly couple? (Answer: oh how!) After i leave the Hare Krishna temple guesthouse, it would also be wonderful to be picked up by the parents of a friend who would also assist me with matters such as cell phones. I can get along fine without such help, but how much easier and more comfortable it can be to embrace allies in key moments.

Other ideas for Mumbai:
– an early-morning bicycle tour of the city with Reality Tours
– a no-photos tour of the million-person Dharavi slum (where part of Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, incidentally), also with Reality Tours
– seeing a Bollywood film in this Bollywood city, probably in Hindi with no subtitles, drinking chai from an in-house chai stand, at some neat old Art Deco cinema such as the Liberty or the Bharat Mata
– maybe couchsurf and go dancing at a club (Blue Frog sounds like a cool warehouse venue)
– walk on Juhu Beach, near the Hare Krishna temple & guesthouse where i will begin, and gawk at the Arabian Sea
– the Zoroastrian “Tower of Silence” where vultures feed on human remains
– sunset qawwali and pomegranate juice at Haji Ali Dargah
– have shoes or clothes made for me
– laughter yoga, apparently the tai chi of Mumbai parks
– the view from the rooftop bar at the Four Seasons hotel

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Poem for explorers + Podcasted trip to India

The Return

Some day, if you are lucky,
you’ll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.

Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows traces

of fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.

Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you’ve returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,
hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they—like you—must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings.

– Geneen Marie Haugen

*

Just listened to a wonderful Lonely Planet Travelcast that brought the traveler’s experience of India to life in a way that words and pictures had not. This gentleman toured southern India on a Royal Enfield motorcycle, and his half-hour tale is inspiring!

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My history with writing + Costs preparing for India

Today i picked up Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and remembered that my major college application essay was about my love of writing. Funny how far back the seeds are seen to be sprouting.

One of the most significant moments in my movement towards liberation, self-transformation, and happiness was when we acquired some software affording me password-protection on my diary (7th grade, perhaps? 9th?). The one password i remember was the initials of a boy i fancied.

Earlier than that? I notice now that i was always writing letters. In seventh grade i published in the local paper, imploring my fellow citizens to “save the Earth and our future.” I’d had penpals from a very young age–partly because i was a lonely kid; partly because i was curious about the wider world. It is amazing to really feel into my memories of who i was and what my life was like–all virtually different species from what is now.

*

Items acquired through shopping particularly for this trip India:
– Velour tracksuit: $24 from Oldnavy.com (may only pack the hoodie for over-air-conditioned train rides)
– V-neck t-shirt: $10 from Oldnavy.com
– Magellan Flat Front Tech superlight pants with sneaky pocket in black: $20 at Academy
– Merrell sneakers: $120 from Zappos.com
– pStyle pee “funnel” for hovering over filthy peeholes: $12
– Pacsafe Retractasafe 250 Cable Lock for securing pack/doors: $15
– SteriPEN Freedom, the first rechargeable version, released just in time: $120 at REI.com
– Large REI travel towel: $19.5
– Typhoid vaccine: $140 at local travel medicine clinic
– Some random Hepatitis A and B vaccines to throw atop my unkept records: FREE at Daddy’s office
– Pharmax HLC probiotics to prepare for trip: $30 for 120 capsules from Naturalpartners.com (+$7 shipping)
– Jarro-dophilus probiotics to carry on trip: $27.3 for 120 capsules
– GSE (liquid grapefruit seed extract), antimicrobial for internal & external use: $8 for 2 oz.
– Botanifuge anti-parasite pills, 90-ct: $11
– 27-oz Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle: $18.2
– Built neoprene carrier sleeve also to insulate & catch condensation: $12
– 3M Ultrathon insect repellant in 6 oz spray & 2 oz lotion (this time-release stuff gives longer coverage with lower DEET concentration/absorption): $12.62
– NaturOli soap nuts for sink laundry: $5.9
– Do It universal rubber sink stopper: $5 seemed worth it from the rave reviews
– 100 inches of duct tape: $6.5
– Handfuls of Herkimer diamonds to give to hosts & new friends, literally a gift from American soil: $90
– 60 blue BIC pens for Indian kids: $4.6
– Two wee bottles of “natural” hand sanitizer:
– Two wee hand/face wipe packets: $3
– Kind fruit & nut bar: $2

Things already had:
– yoga pants
– silk sleep sack to protect me from iffy sheets
– camera, which i may not pack
– iPhone(/iPod/alarm clock/diary/calendar/voice recorder/Skype device)
– borrowed money belt
– small Tupperware

Still to acquire:
– visa! (about $200 total if i get a 5- or 10-year one)
– insurance! (anywhere from $250-1000 for six months’ health + theft coverage)
– Imodium! for those days when you’re shitting water and just need to leave
– antibiotics & narcotic painkillas (just in case)
– basic first aid stuff
– blister protectors
– wicking socks
– ultralight stashable daypack (looking at REI’s Stuff for $29)
– inflatable neck pillow ($8-$20)
– tiny Sharpie pen
– floss (use to hang clothes dry also)
Powermonkey eXplorer solar/USB/wall charger for my iPhone and my water sterilizer ($89)
– mesh packing cubes for organisation (Mama may have some i can borrow)

My IMG Patriot travel insurance policy: totally cancelled! because of too many snafus: email addresses that didn’t work; emails to various addresses that never got answered; significantly wrong information on my declaration page (hello, i did pay for the adventure sports rider and i want it acknowledged). I didn’t trust this company to get anything right when it really mattered. I’m considering my other options.

***

EDIT, 6/19/13: Additional purchases:

– Kelty Women’s Pawnee 50 Internal-Frame Backpack: $102 from Amazon
– Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Sac, Large (leakproof? for toiletries): $12.50 from Zappos
– Potable Aqua chlorine dioxide tablets (never used): $12.16 from Amazon
– Satechi SD Mini Portable Pocket Speaker (one of the BEST things i packed!): $30 from Amazon
– two 50″ rolls of duct tape: $6.5
– Sandman inflatable travel pillow (used in bed everywhere, too!): $22 from REI
– REI Stuff travel pack (still use this all the time): $21
– REI sport zip sunglass case: $10
– PowerMonkey Explorer in pink: $95 from Ace Photo Digital
– wide-angle/macro magnetic iPhone lens from Photojojo.com: $22.39

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The Goldilocks pack

It is nearly 2am, i begin another 12-hour work shift in 5 hours, and all i’m up to is modeling my new 50-litre rucksack, dancing in my underwear in the mirror, awed by how suddenly lovely i look to myself in my road gear. Travel suits me.

The pack is a Kelty Pawnee built for a woman’s body. It cost $101 including shipping. It’s a teal blue that complements my skin and my vibe, too. The 50-litre capacity should actually prove excessive, but i’ll take room for error over none!

Every time i looked at my old 30-litre daypack and considered taking only that, a wee piece of me panicked inside. At the other extreme, my massive 65+15 pack didn’t make it past 20 seconds of consideration for my pan-Indian adventure. I learned my lessons about overpacking on earlier trips abroad.

During my first solo venture to a foreign world, i shed luggage all the way from Barcelona to Morocco–leaving a piece at my Spanish residencia, a piece in a locker in an airport, and maybe still another piece yet elsewhere–until i toted just a small backpack. I probably wore the same polo and khakis every day (per my 1999, pre-feminine style), even in hot-as-blazes Fez in June, where i was surely sweating. Seven years later, in Guatemala, with a large borrowed pack, i found once again that i had far too much crap. My load on that road was ridiculously heavy–clearly an unstudied packing.

My new medium-size rucksack should yet prove small enough to be carried onto planes. I like that i won’t have to think too hard if i do opt to buy something on a whim without shipping it home posthaste, or if i do somehow wind up with too much footwear. Fifty litres even leaves room for little luxuries, if i like–a travel speaker to share music? More gifts for hosts? Gifts for family that i don’t just yet want to spend half a day shipping home?

Juuuust right…

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Theme for the year now beginning

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