Many things are said about what it’s like landing in India for the first time. People say it’s an assault on the senses. People warn you about the heart-breaking poverty. And of course there’s the sweltering heat.
Stepping out of Delhi airport as a young backpacker in the 90’s, it was of course all of these things. But first things first: I had to deal with a more unnerving, if revealing, introduction to this incredible, if often unfathomable, country. Collapsing onto the hot sticky seats of the airport bus, an array of alarming signs accosted my tired jet-lagged eyes:
“In the mind’s eye, a fractal is a way of seeing infinity.”
James Gleick, from Chaos, 1987
“We saw shadows of the morning light, the shadows of the evening sun, till the shadows and the light were one.”
Jane’s Addiction, from Three Days, Ritual de lo Habitual, 1990.
By opening time at 7am, the smells of warm dough and coffee are already swirling around Solly’s bakery and the place is a buzz with bagel worshippers, bleary-eyed commuters, and caffeine-fixers. The counters burgeon with bagels high-stacked in assorted pyramids: poppy-seed, sesame-seed, onion, cinnamon and plain. But my senses are invariably drawn to the inviting tray of cinnamon buns and chocolate babkas; cuboid confectionery etched with characteristic spirals; an array which bedazzles the eyes with an optic illusion of rotating bakery. They are alive. They are calling me.
It was the summer of ‘95 and I was a 20 year-old medical student wannabe-beat-traveller journeying down Mexico way searching for soul, spirit, tequila, tortilla, dust, desert, nature, adventure, and the wild ol’ mariachi songs of love, tears, hope and death. But not a full-stop. Jack Kerouac didn’t do full-stops and, at that time of my life, the work of this 50’s Mexico-junkie beat-poet was my numero-uno travelling companion. On The Road and Lonesome Traveller: such stories fizzed with words that flowed off the pages like a roaring torrent of energy and life and the beat-spirit pummelled into my brain with force and power and off I went.
The journey started in Tijuana. In fact, I suspect lots of things start in Tijuana. An old border town that entices flocks of Californians looking for cheap goods, dentists, liqour and love, or some seedy combination thereof, possibly all in the same night. It’s a hot dusty intense place: brash, noisy and much loved and unloved. It’s exactly the sort of place where Breaking Bad cartel henchman would neck back tequila shots in a backroom bar before retiring to their black limos and a journey out of town to a lonely desert air-strip. View Post
Nomads. We are all nomads at heart. The first humans were hunter-gatherers, and that primal seed still lies somewhere deep inside us.
My own inner nomad started on a trip to Alaska, half a lifetime ago. From Vancouver, three nights atop an open ferry deck, stars above and whales in front (…magical, but bloody freezing…), took me to the old frontier towns of Alaska’s Pacific pan-handle. There, hitching the open road, the jaw-dropping wilderness, the quirky characters, and the exhilarating freedom opened up a can of Kerouac and a crate of Grateful Dead and I was never the same again.
I was lucky then to have the opportunity to travel. Each summer brought a different place, and each place brought a different theme. In Eastern Europe, it was my ancestral roots and the Latvian shtetl of great-grandmother Minnie. In Mexico, it was about sense of place, people, food and the spirit of travel. Next-up was India, intriguing but where mortality never appeared far away: not just the perpetual impoverishment around me, but dicing with death every time I took a bus. And once I was almost swept out to sea… In Bolivia, the ethereal landscapes. In Tonga, the sense of a society so far-removed from my own. Oh, and lovely beaches. View Post