Icarus Didn’t Ride Camels

I would like to formally apologize for the lack of personality in my previous post. It’s hard to infuse an educational field trip that was 50% overwhelming, 10% exhausting, and 35% holy-shit-this-is-cool with my usual levels of goofiness and flair for the dramatic. Yes, that is only 95% but remaining 5% was the flu which I’m trying to forget ever happened. I can still math even though I’m not studying science at the moment. I actually really miss science, don’t tell anyone here though. I’m pretty sure they’ve all repressed that I’m not actually a full-blooded social-science student. One of us…

With that in mind, welcome back into my brain. Life has been chaos as of late. With registration, midterms, and getting sick during Travel Week, I’ve been fairly exhausted. But more so than that, I’ve been emotionally exhausted. After spending time in Kerala where life was more modern and welcoming, coming back to Varanasi was tiring. Somewhere along the way, I lost the energy to keep pushing against this city to make room for myself to exist. I lost the willpower to fight against the people who try to make me uncomfortable. I lost the desire to maintain relationships when the happiness of others became too much. Every part of my soul was tired. Following Travel week, all I wanted to do was rest and regroup, but that wasn’t an option. Independent Travel- aka Camel Week- was right around the corner. In truth, I wasn’t sure how I could make it all the way across the country on my own without breaking down.  In the end, I did and I did not.

I would love to sit here and say that going to the desert of Rajasthan on my own was the best week of my life. It wasn’t. It was hot. It was smelly. It was incredibly lonely. But it was good for me. That needs to be recognized. And is there any better way to recognize it than with another long winding extended metaphor that you’ve come to expect from me? Prepare yourself. Emotionally, I feel like I jumped out of plane when I came to India. Some days I feel like I’m skydiving and I’m caught up in the rush and excitement of free-falling; my vision black with adrenaline. And some days I feel that I realized mid-fall that like Icarus, I’ve overestimated my abilities and now I’m plummeting without a parachute; my sight is filled with the horizon as the ground grows closer. My independent travel experience was equal parts free-fall and plummet. Either way, I was going down; that forced me to get my shit together, in more ways than one.

It started out rough. There’s no other way to put it. The first stall in my plans occurred in my least favorite city on earth, New Delhi, where I spent three hours at the train station wondering if I had bought a ticket for a train that didn’t exist. To clarify, I don’t hate Delhi- or really anything- lightly. It has taken many interactions to build this deep seeded dislike for the central hub of India. It may have something to do with the fact that the city was my first introduction to the chaos of India. Or maybe it was that while waiting for my train to Jaisalmer- my eventual destination-, not one, not two, but eight different men came up to me while I was trying the read the train board (in Hindi) to tell me that my train was canceled/delayed/not real and that I should come home with them to wait/figure things out. Excuse you. I feel like I need a color stronger than red to express the flags that were going off in my head at that station. I’m sorry, has that line ever worked? “Yes, I’ll tell the giant blonde girl that her train isn’t real and she’ll be so grateful that of course she’ll go home with me.” Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me.  It was a long three hours… Not only was that not helpful, it was cruel. For all I knew, the loudspeakers had announced that very fact. How was I to know? None of my Hindi classes had covered train terminology yet. I had a naïve hope that there would have been a clearer sign if it had been cancelled, so I stuck to my guns and waited with my adrenaline pumping for what felt like hours. Yeah, that might be enough to make a girl a tiny bit bitter towards the city. Delhi, I would like to formally say that you suck. As you can see because this is a post about my (mis)adventures in Rajasthan, I did eventually find my train- even though it wasn’t listed on any of the boards because that would be too easy- with the assistance of a girl I met at the station. I think she took pity on me or was afraid I was going start a riot by taking a swing at the next guy to try to touch me. Either way, she stayed with me until my train arrived; what a champ.

One night, several delays, and no sleep later, I finally disembarked the rolling metal death box. Trains in India… I don’t want to talk about it. As my camel safari didn’t officially start until 6am the next morning, I spent my evening in pursuit of fine dining, photography, and fiscal irresponsibility in no particular order. Although I traveled to Jaisalmer with the intent of going the Sam Sand Dunes for a camel safari, I was actually super pumped to have a day to explore the city. Jaisalmer is known for its fort. When you say fort in India, it’s normally a palace that no one has lived in for a good hundred years; that isn’t the case here. The fort was overflowing with life; I could have spent hours wandering through all of the hidden alleyways and secret entrances to the wall. Every corner had a different view of the city, the dunes, and the incredible chaos within. I will admit, I got lost. A lot. Thankfully, inside the fort you’ll always end up in the main market eventually.  I did drag myself out of the fort and into the shopping district, thereby satisfying two of my three goals for the evening. I would like to say my final quest for food was as successful.  Don’t eat Italian food in India. Just don’t do it. It doesn’t matter if the rooftop bar provides an excellent view for watching the Diwali – look it up- fireworks over the fort or that the Italian wine is served in a glass comparable to your head. You will leave sad and dreaming about the bruschetta from Rome. Baby come back … In the morning, I came to regret not eating a better meal because at 6am, camel week officially began. I was in for five whole days of potatoes, cabbage, rice, and roti.

Although it eventually became a solo trip, it didn’t begin that way. Six westerners entered the desert but only one came out…  I’m almost kidding. There were six of us in the beginning though. Myself, a British couple, a French-Canadian professional traveler, and a French-Canadian family of two. In total, we spoke Hindi, French, English, Spanish, and later Danish while together. It was pretty wild. I think I honestly learned more about international- predominately European- politics while hanging out in the desert in India than I have anywhere else. But that’s not saying much; I admit I’m not particularly politically savvy. That being said, the point of this expedition was not political knowhow but to learn camelmanship. Is that a thing? Horsemanship but with camels?  Either way, it happened. Oh boy, did it happen. First and foremost, riding a camel is nothing like riding a horse, donkey, sheep, cow, elephant, or any other creature that has had the misfortune of hauling my sorry ass around. They have no rhythm, much like me when I dance. I feel like I can’t accurately describe the awkwardness of these creatures. When you ride a horse there’s normally a rhythm to the movement that you can align your body with to make the ride smoother. Yeah, camels don’t have that. By the time we stopped for lunch our bodies were so sore we could barely walk. That was for entirely different reasons though. Has anyone ever seen a camel saddle? We have an antique one at home and I went with that image in mind; after all, how much can a saddle really change design? A lot. The answer is a lot. I would rather the antique. The modern saddles are beyond uncomfortable. They aren’t wide enough to be a proper seat like a horse saddle, nor are they narrow enough that your legs hang down anywhere near comfortably/naturally. You would think that in order to compensate for the uncomfortableness of having your legs hang at such a weird angle and the jarring walk of the camel, that the saddle would have stirrups? Think again.  The majority of the ride is spent using your thigh power to keep yourself rooted in the weird, oddly slanted, assless saddle. I said it. Assless saddle. They have sides. They have a saddle horn. But your butt is floating in the space between the two sides. We did have cushions to pad the void but that only worked so well. The cushions deflated the more you sat on them leaving the edges to dig into your butt with each step. By day two, we were hobbling around camp. I did eventually get my “camel legs” so to speak but I’ll never forget how painful those first few days were.

Traveling through flatlands and dunes of the desert was pretty intense. It wasn’t quite like the desert of Morocco or the Sahara if that’s what you’re imagining.  It was hot. It was dry. There were wild watermelons. The boy from Canada told me the flatlands were what he always imagined Texas to look like and honestly, he wasn’t wrong. We lost our shit when a couple of tumbleweeds came rolling past. Who would have thought that Texas and India would be similar? Yeehaw. That night we joined with another group to set up camp on the dunes. One of the travelers from the new group was from a city near where I lived in Denmark which was really cool. I remember pretty much no Danish but we ended up having a pretty great conversation after he finished laughing at me. I slowly became acquainted with the rest of the new group and we all stayed up late to watch the meteor shower. Did I not mention that? Yeah, I might have had ulterior motive for coming to such a secluded place. I missed the stars. I can’t see the stars in Varanasi; there’s too much light and pollution. When I found out that there was going to be a meteor shower during the week of Diwali, I let it influence my plans. You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl. The sky feels empty without them. I feel a little bit empty without them. There’s just something about stars that makes me feel a little less alone in the universe; they always have. It was actually the first time seeing a meteor shower for a lot the folks at camp. That night, we slept on cots and fell asleep watching the stars fall.

The next day I said goodbye to my new friends. They were rational humans who had only signed on for two days of camel saddle hell. As I waved goodbye with aching limbs, I was already rethinking three more days of this… But it wasn’t all bad. This day, the second day, was actually my favorite of the trip; this was because of my guide. He was around my age and riding with him felt more like exploring with a friend than a chaperoned excursion. Throughout the day he taught me how to steer my camel, how to gallop, how to saddle/unsaddle her, how to cook lunch- gotta get those potatoes and roti-, and make chai. It was a blast. We didn’t really talk much but we scraped by with a little Hindlish (Hindi-English as neither of our vocabularies were very large). It was good though. We didn’t need to talk to have fun; the smiles and laughter were universal.

We eventually made our way back to the main camp where a fresh set of weary camel riders awaited us. Fun fact, it turns out our dune camp was about 50kms from border of Pakistan. Keep that in mind. Anyways, this group was an assorted lot of westerners- and one South Indian man-, much like my last one, but with a twist. Three of the Europeans and the South Indian man had met on an online English learning website and now travel the world together. Pretty cool, right? There was also a pair of sisters around my age from New Zealand here on a sightseeing tour before beginning work at a nonprofit. The eldest was a lawyer who had once accidentally befriended the head of New Zealand’s most dangerous gang. Did anyone know New Zealand had gangs? Well they do and she camped in his back yard because that’s also a thing there; just asking random people by the beach if you can camp in their paddocks. New Zealand is a magical place…. The Kiwi girls are actually set to come visit me in Varanasi. That wasn’t the best story of the night though; there were three Britishers who had a card up their sleeve. These old men were an eclectic bunch; each loud, boisterous, and just downright goofy aka my kind of people. Well, it turns out that one of them is a butler for the Queen of England. No shit. We were all flabbergasted. He was on holiday and wanted to pop over to India for a spell; I genuinely wish I was making this up. It was crazy. He showed us pictures of us with her majesty and everything. Apparently, butlering is a very high-profile business; he had worked for all sorts of famous individuals: Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Camilla, but his favorite was the Queen. He was even invited to the White House after Obama came to visit Her Majesty! We all sat in rapt attention as he regaled us with stories of the royal family, what it’s like to be a butler, and all of the famous individuals he had met. There are honestly too many to retell; I’m not gonna lie, I know some dirt now and I love it. Eventually we moved on to spent watching the aftermath of the meteor shower and talking about the world, the hardships of traveling in India, the international political climate, and, of course, the Queen. I honestly hadn’t laughed that hard since I got here. They were such a wonderful group of goofballs.

Unfortunately, all good things must end. Like my friends from the night before, this group was headed somewhere I wasn’t ready to go yet, back to civilization. I waved goodbye, saddled up my camel, and was set to go out with my friendly guide again. Or so I thought. I was then informed that my guide would be leaving and his father would be taking over showing me the dunes and surrounding countryside. Peachy. This was the point where everything changed. Right away, the dynamic of the excursion changed from an adventure among friends to a job. I felt myself missing my new friend as I was stripped of my steering privileges and with it, my comfort levels. The further we rode away from camp, the more I became aware how little I was in control; I was in an unfamiliar desert, in a country I don’t speak the language of, on a giant camel, tethered to a man I didn’t know. Shit. With that knowledge, my adventurous free-fall has become an uncontrollable plummet.

I would love to say it got better but that would be a lie. I grew less and less comfortable with the situation as the day progressed. Based on my less than stellar interactions with the local children at the watering hole the day before, I wasn’t too thrilled when we left the dunes and headed out into the farmlands. For a while it was okay until my guide told me in English that the people in the fields we had passed weren’t yelling at us in Hindi to be friendly, they were seriously pissed off. I honestly didn’t know why and when I asked, I wished I hadn’t. “They’re angry because you’re here. They don’t want you here.” All I could respond was, “oh,” and hang my head in shame. I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t need to know that. He was the guide here, not me. I tried to ask to go back to the dunes but was denied. I hoped that maybe it was just a one-time thing… Maybe we were just in the wrong place on accident. But it only got worse from there. It became abundantly clear that my presence was an unwelcome one across the entirety of the flatlands. I sat on my camel and wondered why we had left the dunes as I tried not to meet the eyes of those who were angry I was in a place I didn’t choose to be in the first place.  It’s very hard to make someone as tall as myself feel little, but I’ve never felt smaller than I did sitting on that camel. My only comfort was the knowledge that its only one night by myself; but that only went so far. Later on, we reached a different kind of uncomfortable. At lunch, I woke up from my nap to find a strange man sitting next to me, watching me sleep. Nope. The way I have been treated by men here has made me uneasy at times but I have never felt genuinely afraid until then. I stopped sleeping during the breaks after that. I knew that in all actuality my guide wouldn’t let anything happen to me while I was in his care but that wasn’t a comfort. There’s a difference between knowing you’re safe and feeling safe. At sunset, we stopped often to ask for directions to the dune we would be camping at for the night. After the earlier incident, that was another hit to my comfort levels. My stomach sank as the quantity of men knew where I would be sleeping for the night grew. Or wouldn’t be sleeping, as by then I was wound tighter than a spring. I wished for the thousandth time that day that I wasn’t alone as we rode off towards the dunes.

By the time camp was set up and I found out I would be sleeping in the sand with the sand beetles, I was pretty fucking done with the desert. I didn’t care if I was being prissy. I didn’t care if I was being privileged. I didn’t care that it was the freaking desert. My comfort levels were gone and the beetles were one more brick from an already crumbling tower. Do we remember how freaked out I was by the cockroaches on the house boat? Now imagine bigger ones that bite and I had to sleep on the ground, next to them. At the main camp, we slept on cots above the ground to escape the beetles. No such luxury when you’re on your own though. Oh boy was I on my own. So, I did what any slightly insane Coloradan would do and put on my jacket, rolled myself up in my saddle blanket, and tucked in all the edges like a burrito. Bring it on. I laid there, all wrapped up, and didn’t sleep. At one point in the night I found myself reflecting on the fact that I was in the sand, wrapped up in a blanket, watching the shooting stars, in the desert on the border of Pakistan, feeling the most alone I have in my life, and it dawned on me how fucking absurd this whole situation was. What is my life. I started rolling back and forth in the sand whispering “neato burrito safety taquito” to myself as I giggled. That was the next crack in my broken shell. But it worked. It was ridiculous and completely nuts but I felt a little bit safer wrapped up in those blankets; I even slept for a couple of hours when the sounds of the cars and Diwali fireworks weren’t too loud. I later found out that that particular dune was not 50kms from the Pakistani border like our previous one, but 10 km. Yeah, the loud ass cars and fireworks weren’t actually any of that. It was the military running drills along the border. So that was a whole new level of absurd. The freaking Pakistani military…

In the morning, I sat on my camel, waved goodbye to Pakistan, and rode off into the sunrise. Dramatic, right? I was actually pretty happy for a little bit there. It was a lot more riding, a lot more self-reflection, and a lot more of people hating me. But it didn’t hurt as badly that day because there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I wasn’t in control. Hell, I couldn’t even lead my own camel. Instead, I sat back and counted down the hours until we headed back to the main camp. It was only supposed to be one night on my own after all. We see where this is going right? It was nearing sunset when I finally plucked up the courage to ask how far we were from the others. When he said we weren’t going back to the main camp, I fell apart. I broke. I couldn’t handle the desert anymore. I couldn’t handle India anymore. I couldn’t handle myself anymore. When we finally found a place to call it a night, I told him I was feeling sick and going to sleep. No more. I was done being Icarus on a freaking camel. I went to bed that night, rolled up in my “neato burrito safety taquito,” watched the stars fall, and let myself give up. I stopped fighting against feeling miserable and alone and defeated. I had reached my breaking point in the middle of the desert.

Looking back now, sometimes you just have to embrace the fall; you’re going down either way.

That morning, I woke up and thanked every god I knew that it was my last day. I was going home to my family here in India: Emily, Grace, and my program directors. But more importantly, I was going home to a shower. After five days, I couldn’t tell if the smell was coming from my camel or from me and neither could the flies. I was ready for real food, a cold shower, and a hug. With that in mind, I climbed to the top of the dune to watch the sun rise one last time. It was incredible and almost worth everything I had gone through. But not as incredible as the group of baby camels and their mothers I found at the edge of the dunes. I felt like nature was rewarding me for sticking out my week in the desert. I could have given up. I could have gone home. I could have noped the fuck out of that situation. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent the better part of an hour slowly inching closer to a gangly legged baby camel in a desperate attempt not to scare her away. I could write a novel about how adorable their little cowlicks were. Those gangly little goofballs were so freaking cute. And honestly, that one moment made the whole trip worth it. I know I should say all of the self-reflection and acceptance of the freefall was the real prize all along but I was spitting distance to a wild baby camel. That’s beyond awesome.

The moral of this wild little story is that I got my shit together, picked myself up, and walked out of the desert. I even found wild peacocks for my troubles because I am the animal whisperer of Varanasi™. That trip was hard and so much more challenging than I thought it would be. It was nothing like what I expected or prepared for.  But that’s pretty much been my entire time in India so far. I’m learning to adapt though, slowly. The point is, I made it home safe and sound with nothing but a bruised ego and sore butt from the saddle. I told you that I did and didn’t break down in the desert. And I did. I’ve struggled here, honestly a lot more than I thought I would. But I think I’m going to be okay now. Those were the hardest days I’ve had here so far. I’ve been home sick; I’ve been sick-sick. But that was worse. I was scared and alone and I never want to feel like that again if I can help it. But I’m stronger for it. If I can survive the desert on my own, I can do fucking anything.

I hope this was more entertaining than last week; I like to think my suffering is humorous. It is to me, one month and many rough drafts later. I’ve come to terms with everything that’s happened, the good and the bad. I made a promise to myself not to sugar coat this; life isn’t always sunshine. There are ups and downs and I think in order to truly appreciate this experience I need to acknowledge both. This experience has been both. It may not always sound like it. I often find myself using these words to recount the (mis)adventures of life here so I don’t portray the everyday good as honestly as I could. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, far from it. I want to be clear that I am happy here. But happiness doesn’t make for good stories. Besides, I wouldn’t be me if weird stuff didn’t happen to me. If anything, I enjoy these hardships if only for that they make the good parts of my life shine so much brighter. I was a Labrador puppy when I saw Emily, Grace, Lara, and Rahul at the end of the week because I missed them all so much. I didn’t realize how much I rely on them until I couldn’t anymore; it was a long week without communication. They make my daily life here so much easier with their support and friendship; each day is an adventure in its own right. I wish I could convey it better but I just don’t have the skills to describe it. I don’t have the capacity to bleed joy into these words, to decorate the screen with colors of their laugher, to fill it with the life they bring to me.

I cannot cage happiness, there is just too much of it.

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Only Birds Fly South for the Winter

Greetings from the other side of the world. It’s your favorite friendly neighborhood nerd here to word vomit the contents of her brain onto your screen again. Let me apologize now for the mess; its been a wild couple of weeks and alas my poor blog has fallen by the wayside. Is anyone surprised? But I’m back again as my friends and family have asked for updates on:

a) where am I now

b) did I steal photos from the internet and actually secretly never left my room

and

c) am I still alive

All that and more to come. I’ve decided to do a little review to shake things up.

 

This brings us to: The Episode Recap…

When we last saw our hero she was diving head first into the bacteria infested waters of the Ganges. Cue dramatic sound effects. With the support of her trusty companions, she survived the waters and the following three showers it took to feel clean again afterwards. But alas the murky waters of the Ganges weren’t the only white waters on the horizon. No, that was just one small step on the path towards the greater villain on the horizon, Travel Week. Would our dear heroine survive the journey? Stay tuned to find out.

I really hope you’re all reading this in a dramatic old timey tv show narrator voice or otherwise that’s just going to sound silly. Go back and do it again. But seriously, when I left off my Varanasi crew and I were preparing to head south for the winter- al la the birds- for Travel Week. I know what you’re thinking, “SPRING BREAK 2017 WOOHOO” but it wasn’t that at all. Well… maybe just a bit. It is college. But for the majority, think of it as a very long educational field trip… a school chaperoned educational field trip. In short, grab your buddy because we’re going back to elementary school kiddos. Juice boxes will be provided.

Even though I was dreading being stuck in a car for long periods of time- nothing in India is close to each other- I was really excited to experience a new section of the country. I’ve come to the realization that India is really weird. Varanasi is nothing like South India; South India is nothing like New Delhi; New Delhi is nothing like Varanasi. Each part of the country is its own little world with its own traditions, politics, language, religions, and style. All that Hindi I’ve been working my ass off to learn? It’s useless down south. From the moment we got off the plane we were back to square one, just as lost as confused as when we arrived in this strange, confusing, country. Peachy.

Our first night in town we were in Kochi, a small beachfront city that looked more at home in Florida than India. Or it would if it weren’t for all the communist flags. Yeah, that’s right. Kerala is a communist state. I will admit I was very very tempted to steal a flag… for science. It wasn’t the most noteworthy part of the trip by a long run but it was a surprise to see so many flags. No, the icing on the cake for this trip was that my motley crew and I were not alone in our communist extravaganza. Oh yes. In Kochi, we met another Alliance (my program) group from Manipal which was the pre-health counterpart to our culture studies program aka my people. I spent two weeks in the mountains of Kerala with a bunch of science nerds and it was heaven.  Our grand total was three Varanasi girls, one Varanasi boy, one of our Program Directors, and on the opposing team five Manipal girls, and their two Program Directors. It was a very full van. But it was also a really fun van. I felt like I really got to know the girls well and we even have plans to meet up in Agra later this month. Look ma, I made friends!

On to the adventure. We had a pretty jam-packed schedule. In Kochi, we visited the beach for a hot second, the Chinese fishing nets, the Paradesi Synagogue, St. Francis Church, and the Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica which was hosting a concert that night when we stopped by which was an adventure in itself. We didn’t spend long in Cochin but we had fun. I admit Kochi didn’t make as lasting an impact on me as Munnar did, which was our next stop.

Hello mountains.             Hello cold.          Hello almost home.

Munnar was my favorite stop on the trip. High up in the “mountains” of India, this rainforest town was a jewel. That opinion has nothing to do with the fact that our hotel there had the first hot shower we’d seen in two months… I boiled myself like a lobster and I’m not ashamed to admit it. A nice, happy, clean lobster. One of the reasons Munnar was so incredible is because of the tea plantations. I know what the word plantations evokes in America but it’s not the same thing here; it was a co-op which was cool because I didn’t really expect that for India. We visited the tea museum and learned that green tea can solve all of our problems.

That afternoon we went to Blossom Park, this crazy beautiful garden on top of a cloud. I pretty much went wild after being nature deprived for three months. NEATURE. We also went to this place called the Pothermedu View point and you know I got lost. We may have (not my fault) misread the sign and went waaaaay past the view point and down a very scary road but nobody died; also, I got some super cool photos so it was a win-win in my book. The view point was breathtaking. There were points where we were actually in the clouds. I know what you’re thinking- “Fog, Laney, the word you are thinking of is fog”- but it wasn’t. I stand by my original statement of clouds. We also went to the National Park in Munnar which was a completely different kind of beautiful. I love nature. I live in a city where people dump their trash outside their doors every morning so it was really nice to see how seriously Munnar took keeping its nature preserved and protected. We weren’t allowed to bring any food into the National Park in fact; they searched our bags and made us throw things out. On the last day in Munnar, the girls and I woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise over the river. Let me just say, I am not a morning person. I will never be a morning person. India is country full of morning people with Grace and Emily being two of them. It was a rough couple of days… I am honestly surprised they didn’t leave me in the forest somewhere. But they didn’t and eventually we abandoned our hot shower (I miss you) and headed to our house boat in Alleppy.

So, I don’t know if any of you have spent a considerable amount of time on a house boat in the back waters of South India- just me?- but there’s not much to do. I drove the boat. I slept. I took silly photos of Grace and Emily to keep as future blackmail in case they do try to leave me somewhere for being a night owl. And I was attacked by cockroaches. Yeah… not cool. I hate cockroaches. Deadly fear of them in fact. And I found not one but two in my room with the girls. There was a lot of screaming, a lot of hiding on the bed, and not a lot of sleep. Also, we had to abandon ship because a bat decided to commandeer our vessel. It was anarchy on the low seas. Out of all of the places we went, the boat was my least favorite. Once we disembarked the death boat, we headed to a church where we got lost, a coir museum (all about the fibers from the husks of coconuts), and the beach. The beach was interesting. While it was our initial intent to swim, it didn’t end up working out that way. Long story short, it ended with our swim suits getting locked in the van and our driver going to lunch… Emily, Nolan, and one of the girls from the other program went for it any way while the rest of us watched from the beach. I don’t regret my decision not to swim as we had an overnight train that afternoon. The train wasn’t too bad looking back but at the time it was horrible. I got really motion sick which made for a pretty miserable ride. But it did its job and we wound up in Bangalore.

Bangalore is where things get a little Spring Break woohoo; I would like to officially state that I am 21 and my actions are completely legal in the United States not that it matters. Moving on. Our officially itinerary for Bangalore was to go to the mall and don’t die. Seriously. Bangalore is the first city we’ve been to that’s actually a city so we may have made some plans. Our directors dropped us off at the mall and we did what any young, single, attractive girls would do and hit up the food court. That night we went got dinner and drinks at our hotel to kick off the night and to celebrate my first official drink as a legal adult since we missed my birthday. As for the rest of the night… use your imagination. I will say that nobody died although somebody did get close when a rude ass rickshaw driver refused to give us our change back and had the nerve to giggle as he did so. Yeah; that didn’t go over well.

In the morning, we rallied the troops for breakfast, gathered up our stuff, and loaded up on a bus much to our dismay. Another bus. Yay. But we ended up at a really cool complex called the Art of Living Ashram.  The facility is centered around wellness and giving back to others.  It was really pretty and we had the chance to view the head of the facility which was apparently akin to seeing Obama. Alas, from there we said goodbye to our new friends and headed to the airport.

Thus, ended this episode of a Goofball goes Global.

Tune in next week for Leni vs. Rajasthan.

I’ll be back soon to update you all on my solo trip to Rajasthan which is affectionately known as “Camel Week.” It was a whole different cup of chai… a lot has happened.

Coincidental Cake

Once is intentional. Two times is a coincidence. Three times is tradition. It has become a tradition from the dawn of my collegiate career to watch the sun rise on my birthday. I never really intended for it to happen; in fact I would prefer it didn’t. I’m not a morning person. And yet it has. Today I watched the sun rise on my twenty-first birthday. I watched it reflect on the Ganga from the prow of a boat as we lazily drifted with the current; I’m spoiled. No, that’s not it.

I am lucky.

I am so very lucky to have wonderful people in my life who tried to make this the best birthday they could even though I was not the most cooperative of patrons. Yesterday my professor asked me if my birthday made me miss my family and it took all my willpower not soak her sari in tears. Yes. Yes it did.

I missed home like a sailor out at sea misses land. Every little wave threatened to capsize my boat; I was tossed about the deck as the waves grew bigger, compounding upon each other until I was caught in the middle of a raging storm. I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore. I thought I was going to drown. I held onto the mast for dear life, arms aching as they strained against the wind as it tugged my body; icy claws tearing into my skin until I was left raw and exposed, until I was just bones. But still my bony fingers did not unclench as I waited through the storm.

This morning I awoke to find the my inner storm clouds receding; little by little they faded away throughout the day. My little boat was no longer in danger of sinking. I was no longer in danger of drowning in my homesickness. It still lingered, like a jagged wound slow to heal, but it did not bleed. And so I’ll let it be; I won’t pick at it or let it ooze as long as it does not inhibit my ability to sail.  A ship like this belongs out at sea.

Extended metaphor aside, I really was horribly homesick for the last couple of days. Every little bump became a barrier in my way. The world felt impossible. It’s a good thing that the people on my program with me don’t take my moodiness to heart. If they had I don’t think today would have felt so incredible. And it was; it was truly incredible. Aside from watching the sun rise on the Ganga from the water, my program also surprised me with a cake. That was bliss.

I know a cake might sound mundane to most but I haven’t eaten real sweets in month. My diet here has been very restricted; all veg, all the time. Sugar only belongs on my porridge and in my tea. I’ve had some Indian sweets but they aren’t chocolate cake. They do not have the melt in your mouth delicacy of a chocolate layer cake with ganache drizzled over the top. I would like to say that I did not spend five minutes licking my plate clean because dear lord did I miss real, proper chocolate cake. But that would be a lie. That’s the level I’m on right now. I’m that kid in the restaurant that the waitress makes fun of. I’ve become my brother. I cringe writing that… maybe I should just go throw myself in the Ganges and let the holy water have me. Oh wait…

I did.

I celebrated my twenty-first birthday by swimming in the Ganga. It was warm, it was slimy, and I don’t want to do it again. There is a high possibility I will end up celebrating the rest of my 21st like most do- throwing up- but for very different reasons as I actually did swim in the water. Go big or go home. On that note, I still don’t feel clean having exited the river several hours ago. Who else in the West can say that the universe aligned just right for them to have swum in the Ganges for their 21st birthday? Not many people. It’s a pretty incredible thing.

I am twenty-one years old today and I swam in the Ganges.

That sounds pretty freaking amazing to me. Alas, that is not the end of the Leni birthday extravaganza. My host family is taking us girls out to a South Indian restaurant for dinner to celebrate so we’ll see how that goes. I’m both excited and terrified as I have no idea what anything I have been eating is called nor what is in it. I am 95% certain that I am allergic to something though so I get to play a nice mystery roulette of “will I get hives tonight.” We shall see. I live a simple life of ignorance and I like it.

 

All and all, I would say this was a damn good 21st birthday.

Too old to be a Disney Princess

I’ve fallen into a slump in communication. I feel like I exist in a pocket universe, connected to but not aligned with the our own. Time zones have thrusted my world into a twilight zone of lags and logs as I play emotional hopscotch with those who matter most to me. But with all games, sometimes things fall through the cracks; pieces are lost over time; substitutes are made that just don’t fit as well as the original. It’s hard to finish a puzzle when something is missing.

On that note, the first of many celebrations looms on the horizon. Fall has truly begun although the weather here bears no indication of cooling down. I imagine the leaves are changing back home. Green aspens slowly paint over with golds, reds, and oranges like wildfire across the canopies. I celebrate my twenty-first birthday in five days. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. And then what? Nothing. I’ve never liked my birthday. Some say that it’s a selfish point of view but I think its been long since established that selfish is something I am contented to be. Some see it as a spotlight, the limelight casting a warm glow  on their debut once a year as crowds cheer and echo with praise; others see it as a search light, the wind whipping at them as the blinding beam of the police helicopter pins them against the wall. There is no escape. Caught.

I’ve thought about the different ways I might celebrate my birthday here. I’ve thought about doing nothing; letting it float past like a flower on the Ganga, drifting with the current. My host mother has offered to dress us girls- Emily, Grace, and I- up in saris and take us to dinner. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of my long ass legs in her clothes but she assures me she can wrap it to fit me. I’ve considered breaking the rules and doing my best to find a drink. What is a 21st birthday without a toast after all? I figure there’s a 50/50 shot I might die from whatever mixed drink I could get at a bar here. I have an inkling I wouldn’t want a straight shot if I found one… There are worse ways to die.

I’ve also considered swimming in the Ganga for my birthday. I can feel my mother cringe upon reading this but hear me out. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. People dream their whole lives of going to the Ganges, bathing in the waters, of feeling the cool blue washing over them just once. That’s all they ask. They pilgrimage from all over the world to slowly drip cool clear liquid of the Ganga over their heads in the hopes of serenity, purity, freedom, peace. I don’t believe that this water can cure my ailments but I do believe that there are things worth doing in life; things worth taking risks over. This experience is one. To know that I lived here, that I had the chance to grasp this opportunity in my hands, to dive into its depths, to feel the current tug at my body, and that I let it dribble through my fingers like rain from the monsoon would be heartbreaking. If something like this isn’t worth taking a risk over, then what is?

Besides… whats the worst thing that could happen?

Death. Death is the worse thing. But checking the score board, I haven’t died yet. That is over a lifetime though, not just over India.

Death            Laney

0                    5

So that’s in my favor. Scaling down the survey range to include near death incidents just in India on the other hand….

Near Death            Laney

11                       1

I’ve had a pretty wild last couple of weeks. To put it in summary, there was an incident with some monkeys that I do not think would have hurt me but others are convinced that I am lucky to be unscathed. They were very sweet; we looked each other in the eyes and I walked away unharmed so I stand by it. I’ll write an after dark thing about it if I get a free moment and don’t have two papers and an exam due that I shouldn’t be procrastinating (eh).

Then there was an incident with a cow and a horn that resulted in an actual injury to my person but again, I claim no malicious intent from the cow but Em and Grace are not to be convinced. A small piece of advice… watch the horns. I stand by that I am still secretly a Disney Princess and that the animals are simply saying hello. Twenty-one is like the max age for Disney princessdom so I’m not quite out of the job yet. I can still claim my rightful title as whisper of misfits and baby creatures who do love me. It’s the human ones who don’t care all that much for me… But then again, I’m not exactly lady like enough to fit the bill. Fire swallowing might disqualify me for the crown. I feel like pyromania isn’t a desired quality in a ruler.

For those of you who don’t check Instagram, I ate fire the other day on a tour with my host mom. It’s called fire paan. Needless to say, it was an unnecessary risk on my part and I would do it again without hesistation. Fucking fire, man. That may be the pinnacle of sketchiness thus far. Fire, mystery ingredients that may or may not have been illegal, ice that is forbidden, all wrapped in a leaf from a guy on the street who stuck his fingers in my mouth. Sanitation-wise I’m trying not to think about it. I will admit I was very sick following the incident… for the next two days. 15/10 would still do again.

I also had a nice allergic reaction this week to gods only know what this week… That was fun. My skin still feels kind of like a Hershey’s cookies ’n’ creme bar days later. If it happened in the US I would probably be really upset about how it affected my complexion but here it doesn’t matter because I’m red and sweaty no matter what I do. It’s kind of freeing. I’ve taken the “just rolled out of bed look” to whole new heights. If you thought my style was lazy at school, its reached transcendent levels here. I like it.

Speaking of school. Its time I throw some education up in this shit. I wanted to be a good little nerd and write about school, classes, and our outings because I am the kid who picked the field trip based study abroad program. That’s right, I have school board approved fun on a regular basis. Grab your designated buddy and strap on your juice boxes because its gonna be a wild ride.

But the thing is, I don’t have time to describe my adventures with the detail and skill that would meet my satisfaction. And so, if I can’t do it right I’m not going to do it at all. If only I could treat my exams the same way…

But seriously, the school is actually real here. We go to class and have tests and everything. Unfortunately, my motivation tends to melt with the heat. It’s hard to focus on nature worship when I can feel myself wilting like plants around me in the heat. I would much rather be swimming in the Ganga than reading about it if just to cool down… I won’t (yet). I have been warned that I will burn upon entering as it is holy water. My point is that in the great scoreboard of life:

Motivation                Heat

0                               11

 

As I mentioned above, I have tests, papers, and quite possibly my death looming on the horizon. Until next time,

Lenī

(my name phonetically in Hindi)

Namaste a While

We’ve reached the point of our journey that’s actually interesting for most of you; the end goal; the creme de la creme; the beginning of the end; the one, the only, Mother India. And the crowd goes wild- humor me. The point is, I’m here. I have been for over a week now and counting. You may chastise me for not posting sooner now. Throughout the last six months I’ve been asked quite frequently with different degrees of skepticism why I would voluntarily launch myself half way across the world into a conservative, dangerous, boiling hot developing country where I would most likely die or worse knowing my luck. Seriously I picked this; although I am reminding myself that as I scratch at blistering patches of pain while writing… This is not the point in time where I am going to explain why exactly I chose this place of all places. I’m here, permanently dehydrated, and my feet smell like cow shit. Moving on…

To say I was prepared to live in India would be a blatant bold face lie. Nothing, no amount of experience, no amount of packing lists, no amount of advice could have prepared me for this. A new friend described India as its own little universe inside of a country. You can find anything you are looking for within its borders; a desert, mountains, oceans, metropolitan cities, rural communities. It is a world of its own. I am only beginning to grasp for myself how true this is. I wish I could explain it, that I had the words eloquent enough to truly exemplify the emotions, the presence, the impact this country is continuously impressing upon me. I truly believe that whatever I say it isn’t enough, it won’t mean anything until you actually experience it. So I’m not going to say anything at all. I am not enough. 

I do have enough experience, understanding, and insight to talk about myself though; I will never be accused of not being narcissistic enough. If I am just shoot me because I’m obviously quite ill. Speaking of illness… Who bet less than a week? That’s right. I didn’t even make it that long before becoming sick here. My body is physically rejecting this country. Now before you scoff and imagine all sorts of gastrointestinal horrors that one expects of India I’m going to stop you right there. No. Just no. I don’t even want to think about that happening just yet. The rumors about India are in fact true. We do have what we have nicknamed a “squaty-potty.” All of my years of peeing in the woods have finally paid off. This is my olympic moment. Light the torches, bring out the laurel wreathes, and forget the tp at home because you won’t find it here. On the bright side, we don’t have a bucket shower here so I’m going to call it balanced out. I’ll take my porcelain throne built into the ground than a bucket in my shower any day. Our shower has one setting, cold. I personally love it because it provides some much-needed relief from the unrelenting heat. I’ve reached the point where I shower several times a day just to cool off. And why might I do that you may ask yourself. Why, because I have heat hives. Tada! Magically back on topic. I’ve learned here in India that my skin cannot physically handle the temperature here and I’ve broken out in hives across my entire body. My. Entire. Body. Is. Covered. In. Hives. Got your attention now right? That’s the type of sick we’re focusing on. I look like I have the  migrating chicken pox that only shows up when anything forcefully interacts with my skin like say scratching… or fighting to put on pants when my entire body is sticky with humidity and sweat because it is an actual work out in the morning which leaves me sweatier and stickier than when I started. Yeah… good times. Aside from the fact that my body no longer wants to remain where my mind has decided to plant its flag, I’m having a good time. The power goes out often which is making blogging/distracting myself from the impossible heat quite difficult.  As the ratio of moisture to skin increases throughout the day I can’t help but wonder if this is how a lobster feels before its boiled alive…

The heat here in on a whole different plane of existence. I have transcended beyond my understanding of the word heat. I thought I understood what being hot meant and that I could conceptualize being truly hot and uncomfortable but I was wrong. I don’t think humans are meant to live with the temperature and humidity I have experienced; the Mars Rover is more equipped for this than I am. I honestly believe there are circles of hell that are colder than India; it’s so ridiculously hot here. It was so hot last night I spent the twilight hours laying on top of my sheets in the dark listening to all of the fans spinning full blast. It was the kind of hot where the mere idea of sharing the same hot wet air with someone makes one feel uncomfortable; that I almost wish there was someone here to share in my misery if only so that I could push them off the bed for radiating too much body heat in the mere vicinity. It’s that friggin’ hot.

Somewhat on the topic of lobster, I’ve grown to like Indian food; that of the vegetarian variety of course. You won’t find a lobster (is there any Indian dish with lobster in it?) on my plate! I will admit I was pretty much an Indian food virgin before I left. Well not anymore. Your girl can veg it up with the best of them. I don’t always love what I eat but I do love the way we eat it. Hello finger food! That sounds crass but seriously, we eat with our right hands here in Varanasi and I love it. I’m pretty damn good at it too. I know it sounds kind of easy but have you ever tried to eat rice with your fingers? How about tearing naan with one hand? Tonight I successfully ate a bowl of stew using only bread, no spoon. Can you do that? Yeah, sit back down. I’m just glad our program is completely vegetarian because I have no idea how I could handle eating meat like this. Gnawing directly on the bones at the table doesn’t seem socially acceptable… I have yet to miss meat but my cravings for hard full flavored cheese are coming in full force. I’ve been dreaming about cheese pizza the last few nights. Its going to be a rough couple of months. In addition different table manners, we also eat at very different hours here. Breakfast is served at our program center at 9:00. We then have a midmorning optional tea break at 11:30 during the gaps between classes. Lunch is served at 1 and then a second optional tea around 4. We don’t eat again until dinner at 9:00. Let me repeat, dinner at 9:00! I think there’s some Indian secret to eating late but I’ve yet to figure it out… my stomach is normally pitching a fit by 7:00 so I don’t know how they do it.  The sad thing is that our 9 o’clock dinner isn’t  even with all of my host family… Because we’re weak Americans ,the other girls and I eat early with the kids and our host grandmother while the adults eat later around 10:30/11:00pm… We’re normally in bed by then to be honest.

Before you scoff that the great Laney Brink, the one and only night owl of the West, is in bed by 11pm let me defend myself; 6am yoga classes… A girl’s gotta do something to stay functional. The rest of my classes are at more manageable times. I’m taking Hindi, Gender, Religions, and a history course about my city in addition to my yoga class that is nothing like Western yoga (which was to be expected). I like Hindi the best so far. Its hard; ridiculously, unwaveringly hard. I feel like I’m holding egg shells in my mouth every time I try to speak; there are so many minute differences. It’s so hard to hear because of that but it’s not too difficult to read. Its beautiful in its design; the letters are mathematical in their arraignment, slowly building upon each other like blocks. I love the puzzle that comes from deciphering the words and letter combinations to create sounds and vice versa. Just don’t make me write what you’re saying…

There is so much I could say about life, about the city, about the animals- don’t get me started on the sacred cows-, about my host family, about my school, or even about myself. However these points are best left for another day, another blog post, and another moment in this incredible journey.

Life is life here in Varanasi.

Its new, its different, its strange and now its mine.

Namaste

 

Romans Do

My last day in Rome was the most chaotic, convoluted and unconventional. Its been a long time since I have experience that level of exhaustion. With foolhardy determination I decided I would walk the approximate mile from my hotel to the Trevi Fountain once again; easy for a mountain girl, right? You should know the answer by now, nothing is ever easy for me… Let see how this goes.

Phone in hand, camera strapped on like a feed bag, and a multitude of euros stuffed in my purse, I stormed out of my hotel ready to take on the streets of Rome. Unfortunately the streets of Rome were more than ready for me. What seemed like a simple cab ride away the day before turned into a massive undertaking as I trudged through ancient winding streets past accidental monuments and landmarks, eager to see as much as I could on the way to my goal. A goal that left me lost, exhausted and in sore need of caffeination.

A small detour towards the mighty arches that break up the city led me to stumble through the doors of a tiny Roman cafe begging for an Italian coffee and a pastry. I don’t know how many of you have had Italian coffee but American espresso drinks Italian coffee when its hungover from too much wine and GoT the night before. It’s what I imagine angsty youths in back ally coffee houses stand in circles and sip cup for cup while onlookers chant their names until one passes out from a caffeine overdose. These black coffee brawlers read Hemingway and Faulkner over the bodies of the fallen while the victors lounge on velvet couches that vomit stuffing as long legs subtly shift to hide that their owners are wired to the moon. It was heaven and hell in a fairy cup. I loved it.

Upon leaving the magical coffee, I caught a glimpse of a cute fountain further down the street and decided to abandon my path. This resulted in surprise, surprise, me losing the path and getting lost. I ended up wandering down a ways and found myself in front of the Castle Sant’Angelo accidentally; t’was a happy accident though. As it was early in the morning still there were few tourists to interrupt my exploration of the exterior of the unusual circular castle and the nearby architecture. There is a lot I can say about Rome but the sculptures might have been my favorite. The intensity of the faces were memorizing. The pain, the anguish, the joy carved so delicately from the blocks of marble as if the emotion was hidden inside the stone waiting to be found by the right hand.

Next to the river and past the Castle nestled under a grove of trees resides a large street market filled with artists and families hidden from the heat. In the early hours of the morning I meandered through the stalls as small Italian men and women began to prepare their wears for the day. It was soothing that little world under the trees; a key chain glistening in the sunlight here; the soft rustling of canvas as paintings were arranged; the scent of cigarettes, coffee, and the mornings baked goods drifting through the air; the spell broken by a postcard caught by the strong breeze of the Tiber as it blew through a gap in the branches out into the warm Italian sun.

 

Although I had spent the day before at the fountain today I felt different. They say that visiting a monument such as this isn’t as impressive the second time; that it doesn’t take your breath away; it’s not as impressive; but I disagree. This time I got to sit on the steps at the bottom of the fountain and appreciate its majesty. No one pushed me to toss my coin and run, I could look at every detail at my leisure and I did. There is a story carved into the face of the fountain detailing its existence. I was able to read that story word for word until I had my full and then I started to read the people; the ones who dreamed their whole lives of throwing a coin in the Trevi fountain and finding love, or happiness, or a wish come true. There were those like me who sat and reveled in its blinding brilliance under the bright sun and then there were those who were there for the picture and the picture alone. I may have photobombed a few overly posed images but who could blame me…. I promise no family photos were intentional ruined by this blogger though!

Eventually the heat and desire to see more, so much more drove me from my beloved spot at the foot of the fountain and I went in search of the Spanish steps and the Piazza Barberini but not before snagging an Italian gelato for my troubles. And boy were there troubles… Let me say this loud for all the kiddos in the back: DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE MAPS.

Let me set the stage: one lonely tourist on the streets of Rome trying to avoid any man who talks to me because stranger danger. Unfortunately, some men see solitude as an invitation (it’s not). In my haste to get away I closed my handy-dandy map and turned down the first highly populated street I found. I walked several blocks until I could no longer see said man and then reopened my map and continued to follow my new route. Or what I thought was my new route…

One mile later and closer to the Trevi Fountain I realized my error. Upon the closure of my map it reverted back to the first map I had loaded that day: the Trevi Fountain. So guess who got to go traipsing through the streets of Rome, back to the creepy man and down a block so he wouldn’t see me, back up the street the next one over, and one block down the road to find the Spanish Steps directly in front of me. I was that close. That. Fucking. Close.

Having walked an extra two miles a la the Hobbit (there and back again) I camped out on the steps to figure out my next move. They were a lot more impressive looking in the Lizzie McGuire Movie to be perfectly honest. I scoured the internet for nearby attractions as I had lost all faith in my hand dandy map apps before settling on a nearby park, the Villa Borghese, with incredible sculptures. (I like me some carved stones). I wanted to break into the Villa Medici to tour their gardens but unfortunately the Italian military and their large guns seem to frown on fence hoppers like myself…

Thus I hung my head in shame and wandered down the hill to the Piazza del Popolo which houses the Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo and the Santa Maria in Montesanto Church. I spent a fair amount of time wandering this large square taking photographs of the iconic lion fountains and hiding in the growing shadows. I tried to record the echo of the triad of church bells resounding across the square but was interrupted by a persistent flower salesman who slid a rose in front of my camera lens. I am a sucker. He sweet talked me into buying three roses (which I pressed and now sit on my dresser here in Varanasi) and a wish bracelet before releasing me to the hot Italian sun once again. When in Rome, right?

I spent the remainder of my strolling down the Via del Corso.  I aimlessly wandered with no direction in mind, stopping wherever my camera desired playing the typical American tourist as I squatted and leaned for the perfect shot, the optimum angle, the goofiest pose to decorate the background of tourist photos. I explored the Chiesa di San Giacomo, Basilica of SS. Ambrose and Charles, Mussolini’s office in Rome with its single dark door (it’s now a history archive), and the Altare della Patria where I roamed the museum halls for several hours pretending not to speak english as I basked in the art, the history, and the air conditioning. You get the idea.

As dusk dawned I slowly headed towards the Palatine Hill to look over the ruins of the Roman Forum as the sun set. However, I never made it tho my destination.  I ended my day at the Colosseum where my adventure began what felt like a lifetime before, basking in rays of sun that filtered through the gaps in the architecture as dusk set and lights of my map slowly winked out into oblivion. Fuck.

Mapless, I tried to find the Hill to gaze out over Rome but it wasn’t meant to be. My lack of Italian and sense of direction led me to the Basilica de Santa Frascesca Romana instead. I spent the setting of the sun talking to two Sisters who spoke little english and gazing out at the forum down the hill from their doorstep before braving the courage to walk down the hill and back to my hotel, hopefully, without a map. Again.

Have no fear, underdog is here. Despite my complete lack of direction, navigational skills, willingness to ask for directions, and all around city knowledge I did have one thing going for me, I did a tour the day before. Having hiked from the Colosseum to the Trevi fountain the day before and my hotel to the Trevi fountain today I was able to cobble a map in my head of cross landmarks. Its amazing what details one can remember in moments of terror and desperation. Now before you begin to awe and gush at my remarkable skills under pressure, I should mention that I already made note of an escape route previously that morning when I happened to cross routes not once but thrice that day at the Piazza Colonna which happens to be the plaza in front of the Italian Prime Minister’s home; its kind of hard to miss even for me.

Thus it was only a process of retracing my steps from the morning to the Vatican and then following my nose (and my stomach) to the incredible bruschetta I had the day before. Call me cautious but I needed to have it one more time before I left. Just once more did that heavenly mixture of toast, cheese, and tomato need to pass between my lips. Just once. That’s all I asked. You can see where this is going right?

No. The universe was against me. The Italian food gods deemed me unworthy of such delight. I had too much good luck finding my way back to the path. I did not deserve such pleasure. I sat in the bustling Italian restaurant. I ordered my bruschetta and a pizza for I hadn’t eaten since the coffee that electrified my nerves that morning. And I waited. But what was presented to me was not crispy bread topped with savory buffalo mozzarella and fresh red tomato bursting with flavor. No. It. Was. A. Salad. Rabbit food I say! There was a mix up with the order and the Italian couple next to me who had been watching the poor lone American girl order burst out laughing at the disappointment on my face. They knew it wasn’t what I ordered and yet I did not have the words to say so.

So I sat. And I ate my rabbit food that had my savory buffalo mozzarella and my bright red tomatoes bursting with flavor but it wasn’t the same… it would never be the same. There was no bread. Fucking. Salad. It didn’t matter that the pizza was heavenly and that the waiters all stopped to stare at the blonde American girl putting away a whole dinner pizza on her own following an accidental entrée salad. It doesn’t even matter that the walk home around the Vatican at night was calm and magical as the street lights glistened against the marble walls, all that mattered was my fucking bread that never came. Oh Rome, you cruel mistress, how you tease me.

On that note I left Rome exhausted and covered in blisters from my miles of trekking as I scoured every inch of the city, nervous as I prepared for the new adventures that lay ahead, hungry as I leaned against the car window on my way to the airport dreaming of mozzarella and tomatoes and crispy Italian bread in a cafe I’ll never see again, and alone…

Ciao 

 

P.S. I’m sorry there are no pictures with it this time. WordPress and I are at war over the ability to publish posts with pictures; the posting button goes away as soon as an image hits the screen. Its maddening. This has been a four-day posting struggle and I’m very near homicide… I will get images eventually. Until then my favorites are on my Instagram: nolaneyleftbehind

The Good, the Bad, & the Solo

Now you may be thinking to yourself, this sounds way to tame to be a Laney trip. She hasn’t died yet? Where’s the chaos? The story? The unforgettable moment? This is the girl who pepper sprayed herself for pity sake. Well here you have it. I present unto you:

 Adventures After Dark

Setting the scene: That night, following the fantastic tour where I killed every technological device I own. However, I finally made it back to the hotel because I memorized street addresses on the map before my phone died. Yeah, pathetic I know. But I’m not still wandering the streets of Rome so….

Anyways, when all of my technology had charged I was encouraged to go “experience the Rome night life.” Yeah… not my scene. Not that I tried very hard. My mission in Rome was of a sight-seeing nature, not a social visit. As such, I departed at 10pm with phone in hand in search of a fountain I looked up that was supposedly contained incredible carvings.

Two hours later, soaking wet, and none the more cultured, I returned to my hotel room with pictures of my fountain and a less than enthusiastic disposition about the Roman night life while traveling solo.

First of all, my hotel was located quite close to the Vatican City by only a few blocks. Can anyone imagine the Pope and his Cardinals going shot for shot at any clubs near by? No, no one? That’s because they’re aren’t any.

Instead there are poorly lit streets with dim little lamp posts smattered around the block. The glow of these archaic lights barely drift through the thick canopy to illuminate scared little tourists huddling against the old crumbling buildings, the fear in their faces lit by dim phone lights as they struggle to find their destination. Each honk, each rustle of leaves, each pounding footstep, and loud Italian voice from inside a household makes the poor tourist jump and skitter further down their path. In short, the perfect setting for a new Taken movie.

As for my fellow tourists and Italian youth? Forget about it. There was no bright Italian laughter as young women sweep from cafe to cafe with wine and a whisper of a smile on their lips. No handsome Italian men offered to whisk me away on their Vespa into a more lit area. To be honest, I would have screamed if someone did offer. There was no music; no clinking of glasses; no sounds of occupation beyond the occasional heavy footstep, car horns in the distance, and the loud compensatory beating of my own heart. The streets were occupied by me, trying to exist as little as possible, and the occasional older Italian man.

After wandering around the streets imagining my own demise in a multitude of ways I saw a soft glow in the distance; a gentle caress of light that slowly wrapped the cold Italian night in warmth as it beckoned me closer. The gentle babbling of water whispered against my ear as I crept forward in the night, eyes wide, heart hopeful. There, in the middle of a traffic circle was a park. And in this park nested among the trees was my fountain. My sweet, delicately carved fountain. The arms of the statues calling me closer in the night, offering me their light, their safety, their gentle reassurance in the uncertainly of night for a poor solo traveler.

I sat at the bench and watched the water bubble over the edges so calm and consistent. There was moss covering the edges of both basins and each drop of water slowly dangled from the edges of the plants before falling into the pool below. Dogs would come and splash in the water that overflowed from the rain earlier that evening. My photos are a poor representation of its delicate beauty. I watched the fountain for a while, resigning myself to maybe like the soft light and empty streets of Rome at night before walking back to my hotel.

Sounds like a happy ending right?

 

Then came the rain.

And with it, the sudden cessation of my map.

I was alone, in the dark, soaked, and without a map forced to retrace my steps back to my hotel. Suddenly the gentle calm that the soothing waters of the Fontana delle Cariatidi had slowly eased into my body was gone. Everything was scary again. All of the earlier fantasies of being murdered, kidnapped, or worse came rushing back in full color and it took most of my nearly exhausted willpower not to run back. Instead I shuffled/jogged to my hotel by memory (have you caught the theme of my phone dying and leaving me without a map) and prayed I would make it before I died. Nothing happened to me of course.

So am a fan of the Roman night life? No, not really. I’ll leave it to the Pope to enjoy. The poor guy could use a stress reliever.

But this is what the fountain I staked my life for looked like in the light. It was truly beautiful.

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