Thursday, February 14, 2008

Oh, The Drama

Written and posted from Kerala, India

By far the most stressful point in our travels occurs in the few minutes after we first arrive in a new city. We step out of the train station/bus station/airport, with our packs strapped to our backs and our assorted other bags over our shoulders or in our hands, and stand, bewildered and hot (Cochin) or cold (Vietnam), wondering what we do now that we're where we intend to be. We usually stand in that spot, turning ourselves first towards the exit, then towards each other, before one of us pipes up with A Plan. A Plan is always a good idea to have BEFORE you set out on a journey, we have noticed this, and yet, time and time again, city after city, we arrive without one. And until one of us happens upon the ever-elusive Plan, we are lost, strangers in a strange land. And as you might guess, when you are traveling as a duo and you arrive in a new place, hot (or cold), tired, hungry, and bewildered, you are inclined to like each other just a little less, to find the other's Plan just a little less brilliant than you were hoping for.

Which brings me to yesterday. We arrived in Cochin after a 14.5 hour night train from Goa. The train ride itself was unremarkable except for the fact that it was long and that after 14.5 hours anything with human beings in it eventually starts to smell more like human beings and less like something that is clean. We were especially dirty when we arrived because we spent the better part of the day on a bus "tour" of old Goa. That's "tour" and not simply tour because it was less of a tour and more of guided tutorial, in Hindi mind you, of all that Goa has to offer, should you have the time and inclination to look around. Which is what we thought we were doing, but whatever. The air conditioning on the bus was less air conditioning and more "this bus has no windows so when we drive there's a nice breeze." It wasn't a bad "tour" so much as it was a waste of time, but mainly it was annoying because the open-air bus ride made us seriously dirty, covered in a fine film of red dust. And if you've never spent 14.5 hours on a night train when you're dirty, then boy, you have no idea how dirty you'll feel 14.5 hours later. But bus "tours" aside, we arrived in Cochin 14.5 hours after we set out.

Cochin is a much bigger city than our last home in Colva Beach, Goa. For starters, it's a city as opposed to a beach town. We'd made a reservation at a guesthouse while we were still in Goa, but because Lonely Planet India leaves a lot to be desired in the way of little things like, oh, information, we had no idea how to get to said guesthouse. Taxi? Tuk-tuk? Ferry? See, our guesthouse is on the island of Fort Cochin and the map in the book conveniently fails to connect island to mainland. So we stood in the Cochin train station, packs strapped to our backs, hungry, hot, and bewildered. We decided to take a tuk-tuk and just deal with however much it cost us.

Of course, the other thing that accompanies than unique mood of hunger/heat/bewilderment is a classic case of mistrust. And here, too, I fault the Lonely Planet. At every turn, the book warns backpackers against people who are trying to hustle you. And of course, there are people at every turn who ARE trying to hustle you, so the warning isn't entirely unfounded. Except that if you're not an idiot, and you're not stoned, and you have a general sense of when things are shady, you can TELL when someone is trying to hustle you. The guy putting our bags on top of the tuk-tuk WE hired? Not trying to hustle us. But did that stop us from shouting "no, we're married!" at him when he took our bags off of his tuk-tuk and wanted to put them on another, different tuk-tuk? We thought he was trying to hustle us into taking two separate tuk-tuks. He thought we were total weirdos who, totally unprompted, wanted strangers to know that we are married. Instead, he just wanted us to ride in his brother's tuk-tuk rather than his. Ten minutes later, feeling like an idiot, we were speeding through the streets of Cochin, and our driver was pointing things out to us. Things like the river, and the current, and other islands surrounding the city. There were children waving at us from the backseats of their own tuk-tuks, there were beautiful women in sarees, and there were those ever-present fruit stands. Feeling once again like traveling is, in fact, a fun thing to do, I silently resolved that when we get to the next city, the next new place, we'll find A Plan before we go, knowing that despite my best intentions, we will not, and that in a few days time, we'll be staring at each other again, waiting for the other to come up with something brilliant. At least I can comfort myself that after 8 weeks of travel, I know that brilliance really is just around the next corner.

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