Random Clips & Quotes from Sandwiches Should NEVER Taste Like Cow Crap
Then FECG stood up and gave my suitcase a sharp kick. And another. And another. Spit was flying out of his mouth and a wisp of hair stood straight up to the ceiling from what I guessed to be from all the static electricity he had built up.
Did he expect drugs to fall out, like a piñata from the Midnight Express cast party?
With a sharp flick, he unzipped my suitcase and poked around, lifting up clothes and books and socks like they were contaminated with asbestos. Then he dumped all my things onto the floor, and I shouted at him to put them back.
‘Shut up!’ he yelled, and I was ordered to sit down and wait with a tremulous point of his stubby finger, the color of old ivory chopsticks.
Ten minutes later, with the contents of my suitcase artistically splattered all over the ground, nothing unusual had been found. Well, they did find some clothes that I had neglected to wash.
I was as guilty as charged for that. Absolutely guilty. No contest. I was beginning to think he was going to charge me for this traveler’s crime and send me to prison for this inexcusable mistake.
Unhappy at the lack of drugs falling out of my bag, FECG gave my suitcase a final kick and then ordered me to stand up. And so I did, knees shaking.
And then, before I could even protest, he ordered the unthinkable.
I was getting strip-searched.
'Tatami Dragon Lady II'
The next morning, the words to ‘Country Roads’ still spinning in my brain, I woke up, showered, and tiptoed to the front door, hoping I could slip out and avoid breakfast. But the front door was locked tight. And Mrs. Yuka was nowhere to be found.
I hunted around for an alternate exit. Were there any windows I could slip out of? Sliding wooden panels I could manipulate? Any paper screens I could dash through?
As I pushed against one windowpane just to be sure, there was Mrs. Yuka, carrying a tray, her mouth twisted into a sneer.
‘Day-vit?’ she said.
‘Lowe,’ I replied sheepishly, removing my hand slowly from the window. But I was too late.
‘What are you doo-ing?’
‘I need to catch the train to Tokyo, and the front door is locked.’
I nodded my head, and she put down her tray. ‘Tokyo is very dangerous place,’ she told me gravely. ‘Many gangster, Yakuza clan.’ She made a bang-bang motion with her hand, like she was holding a gun.
I nodded, eager to face any tattooed Yakuza clan if it meant freedom from this mad woman and the wholesome ballads of John Denver. Like a hardened jailor at a maximum-security prison, she reluctantly unlocked the front door and I was free: the bright neon lights of Tokyo were just a short train ride away.
The Swede, the Frenchman and I walked up the small hill towards the battered building which from a distance resembled a tacky 1970’s resort hotel in Hawaii.
When we reached the bottom of the steps, we gasped: there were no windows at all. They appeared to have been blown out by machine guns, and as we gingerly stepped closer, we noticed there were deep bullet pockmarks in the cement walls. There was no glass in the front door either so we simply stepped through the frame, crunching on shards of glass littering the hardwood floors. What on earth had happened to this hotel?
‘Sacre bleu, this cannot be,’ the Frenchman said, running his hands through his wild hair.
We looked around for someone, and then went back to the car.
‘Take us to another hotel,’ demanded the Swede.
‘This only hotel,’ the driver said. ‘Cannot stay in town. Only brothels.’
‘Then take us back to Phnom Penh,’ insisted the Frenchman.
‘Cannot,’ the driver wailed. ‘Dangerous, shooting! Reds!’ He looked at me for backup.
‘I think he means Khmer Rouge,’ I said as the blood ran out of the Swedish man’s face.
‘No, cannot.’ The driver walked back to his car and put the key in the engine.
‘If he leaves, we’re fucked,’ I told the Frenchman.
'E.T. Phone Home'
Once onboard I found my row occupied by a family of six. I didn't even say a word and walked to the back of the plane and found a vacant row at the back where I stretched out gratefully and closed my eyes.
Two seconds later a flight attendant tapped me harshly on the shoulder and evicted me. I found my way back to my original row where I found my seat still occupied by a massive woman, nonchalantly feeding her baby from a fat breast that hung down to her waist.
'Every passenger must sit in their assigned seat,' barked another crewmember manning the exit rows. She walked over and told the woman to move in Amharic and it was a ten minute struggle to get the mother to first stow her enormous breast inside her blouse, pass her baby to a stranger (me), find her children's boarding passes and then move her four bewildered kids to their correct seats, while I stood there holding the screaming baby, ready to collapse.
When she had finished, and she had repossessed her baby, I gratefully squeezed past the woman inside the narrow seat and propped my head up against the window. The woman's enormous tit made an appearance again, and her baby suckled greedily as I gratefully fell asleep.
When I woke up the 737 was whooshing down the runway, the nose wheel was lifting off and we launched right into the wide, bright blue African sky as the woman kept on feeding her baby, her breasts bouncing up and down in tune with the Boeing jet.
'The Bullet Train'
Yassin, an Afari college student studying business administration in Addis Ababa befriended me at once. His eyes widened when he told him I was off to travel round Ethiopia.
'I love my country but it is full of bandits and hyenas,' he said in a whisper, pointing to the gaping bullet holes above our heads.
'You left your dog behind?' he added, motioning in the direction of the Djibouti railway station behind us.
Just then, four women pushed their way through the crowded train carriage and sat across from me. When they looked at me closer, they laughed and said, 'Le chien! Vous voyager avec le chien!'
Their heavy make up and thick jangling jewelry confirmed them as ladies of the night and they wasted no time in reaching out to daintily shake my hand as they introduced themselves in fluent French, no doubt perfected by serving the numerous French Legionnaires in Djibouti.
I learned that the taller two were Somali, and the shorter pair was from Djibouti. As the train trundled through the pre-dawn darkness and once the women learned my nationality, an argument ensued, and despite my lousy French, I was able to understand that they were bargaining amongst themselves, not how much they were going to charge me, should I want their ‘services’ but actually how much they were going to pay to sleep with me for a passport. Insults and curses flew back and forth, and soon fists were flying too. I looked over at Yassin, and he shrugged. It was going to be a long day.
There, no more than five feet away was a wild hyena, slinking through the dark in search of an easy meal, it's eyes reflected in the light. I sprang back as if from a cobra, and he laughed.
When we reached a clearing in the bushes, Haile threw out a few cow bones and his friend began making strange cawing noises that brought creatures to the edge of the opening, warily looking at the humans there. Before long, there were ten hyenas, including three babies, cautiously walking closer to the pile of bones. Suddenly, one lunged out, grabbed one, and tore off into the bushes pursued by a few rivals. Haile himself then stepped over to the pile, and picked up a long bone, and offered it the nearest animal. Gingerly, it approached as the nearby rivals howled in fear, and when it grabbed the bone, he motioned me to come forward to feed one.
I took the longest bone I could find, remembering that hyenas have the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom, and weakly imitated the sounds Haile had made. There, in the moonlight, softly cawing, holding out an animal bone, I thought to myself, what am I doing here, in the middle of the cold Ethiopian Highlands, acting like some Steve Irwin?
A moment later, a hyena locked eyes with me, and I kept singing that strange sounding song as the hyena drew closer; I was shaking so hard I nearly dropped the bone: I could see it's teeth clearly in the moonlight, exposed, and a second later lunged at me and clamped down on the bone. I could not only feel the power of its vice-like jaws as it quickly snatched the bone away; I also could smell its foul breath that could have easily peeled paint off a wall. Haile clapped his hands, and for the next half an hour, we fed the remaining hyenas until the bones were gone.
'Angels And Demons'
And that was Demon Number One.
Later that morning, after dealing with pack of other demons otherwise known as 'guesthouse owners' whose rudeness and arrogance was unbelievable as they demanded five times the rate for a hotel room compared with other towns in Ethiopia.
'Angels built these Lalibela churches!' they wailed as I walked out the door. 'Angels!'
I finally found a hotel that was only three times the price but way out of town. I knew I would have to fend of hyenas at night, but I was growing used to this. When I dropped off my bag, I walked the long dusty road towards the churches. Suddenly there was Demon Number One again driving down towards me with a German guy in the back seat of his van. Gesticulating wildly, his face tomato red, spit was flying in all directions as he screamed at me like Babu Bhatt from Seinfeld.
'Bad man! You bad man!!!! Baaaad maaan!'
Instead of walking away, I stopped and laughed. Demon Number One slammed on the brakes, and rolled down his window, screaming, 'Bad man! Baaaaaaaad maaaaaaaaaaan!'
'White Sands, Dark Nights'
Once in Dar Es Salaam, I stepped off my last African bus trip, and gratefully boarded the first ferry I could for Zanzibar. In Stonetown, the principal town of the island, I stayed for two days, wandering the narrow passageways and admiring the bustling port, which was full of cats.
When I bent down to pet one, remembering the line from Thoreau, ‘It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar,’ the slinky feline took one look at me, hissed like a cobra and scratched me on the hand and arm.
‘He got scratched by cats in Zanzibar.’ It could go on my tombstone.
'How Well Do You Know Mother Ganges?'
At the burning Ghats you saw taxis pulled up with bodies tied to the roof, and random men carried deceased people to be burned. I wandered for hours there, talking to people, watching them work, taking in a scene people in many countries would pay dearly to never, never see.
Even Indians visiting the city for the first time were in shock at the scenes on display everywhere. 'This is shocking, truly shocking, man,' mumbled an IT professional as he videotaped the morning Puja where garbage and trash floated around people as they went about their sacred bathing ritual.
I spent a lot of time walking along the shore of the Ganges where stone steps leading to the river were exposed because of the low waters of the dry season. I watched people bathe, dogs fight, and street vendors sell their wares to people sunning themselves from sun up to sun down. At one Ghat I lingered longer than normal, snapping pictures, and a crazy man came out of nowhere and vigorously shook my hand up and down and said coldly, 'yes, shit. You take picture of shit. Shit river. Shit city. Come,' he said, trying to pull me away by the arm like that Agori, 'I take you to my shit shop.'
A lot of time in Varanasi was spent just dodging the predatory touts, who pecked you like vultures at a dead carcass. Where ever you went, no matter what you said or did, everyone had something to sell you, either reams of silk or a boat ride or a head massage or an internet connection, and despite your real name printed in your passport, forget it, because in India it will change to:
When a ten-year old kid asked me my name, I replied casually, 'Marijuana.'
And when he wrinkled his nose, no more than ten seconds passed than a bleary eyed tout wandered up and wheezed with a head-shake-roll, 'Hello, Marijuana.'
The kid burst out laughing and whenever I pass by him or his friends they shout, 'Hello!! Marijuana!!! Hello!!' which earns me strange looks from the western tourists wandering past.
'Taking The High Road'
About halfway up I suddenly ran into two passengers who had shared the hellish Bangladesh Biman experience, proving that misery really does love company. Stopping to catch our breath, we talked for awhile, joking heartily about the unbelievable coincidence of sharing yet another nightmare.
And then Steven screamed: up ahead was a childhood friend who was now running a Kibbutz in Israel and was traveling in India with her new husband. We all exchanged email addresses and moved on.
The mountain got steeper and more treacherous and indeed the rushing river the man had spoken of did exist. It was pouring straight off the mountain and down the path we were meant to take. Remembering vividly the insurance fine print that reported the company didn't cover the recovery of dead bodies from Himalayan canyons, my mantra became 'Don't look down,' and ploughed on. A few paces later the glacial river plunging down the mountain became the path and we were forced to step through the icy water as we slogged skyward.
‘He slogged skyward.’ It really should go on my tombstone.
When we stopped for a break, gagging in the thin air, throat dry, muddy, and sweaty, I wailed to the Travel Gods high in the heavens, ‘IS LADAKH REALLY WORTH ALL THIS?'
Steven and Yael waited until my scream had stopped echoing around the surrounding peaks, looked at each other and said nothing. Then they bent over, stuck their fingers in the mud and painted three striped across my cheeks.
I was officially initiated into The Tribe.
'Beware The Delhi Dog Shit Man'
Two madmen in two minutes flat.
I was DEFINITELY back in India.
You know, while Japan was clubs and bureaucracy, and Vietnam was chaos and madness, and east Africa was dust and death, INDIA IS EVERYTHING.
A few minutes later I saw two Germans come down a dusty staircase gleefully clutching train tickets and mumbling ‘Gott sei Dank,’ I got directions to a foreigners only booking office upstairs. There I found the English girl still guarding her bag and still shaken up about the man downstairs. 'Evil, evil, evil,' she told me shaking her head as she nervously counted her staple holed bills.
‘Hey, at least the Delhi Dog Shit Man didn’t get you,’ I told her as her face fell.
‘Beware the Delhi Dog Shit Man,’ I said cryptically as I went on to explain the racket I had just avoided. She stood up when her number was called and eventually got the ticket she wanted, waved goodbye and promised me she would keep her eye out for any dwarves armed with dog shit.
'Tea With Tattoo'
In between the diving were visits to the many luxury resorts scattered across the country. Perfectly manicured pathways, gracious staff, luxury water villas and blinding white beaches were strange oases in the deep blue ocean, morgue-like and quiet on the expensive ones, (Soneva Fushi, Banyan Tree) and rowdy and boozy on the cheaper ones (Club Med, Fun Island).
Even the staff was weird.
Most at the expensive ones went about their jobs with the efficiency of those at a villain's lair in a James Bond film dressed in flowing head to toe, space station robes or black silk jumpsuits that swished as they walked, a vacant, yet brochure perfect smile spread across their lips. Nothing was too great, or two small a request for them to do. Towels scented with peppermint were pressed into your palms as soon as you stepped off the toothpaste white speedboat and a frangipani flower wrapped in a silk ribbon was handed over to you like it was the Hope Diamond. Everywhere you went, wide smiles, polite nods and patronizing words followed you like a fragrance; each staff you passed offered you the same, note-perfect 'Good morning, sir,' that you began to wonder if the Stepford Wives had expanded into the hotel industry.
But all was not quiet in the staff quarters, and more than one were quietly questioning their workplace that offered them no escape: they lived, ate with, and drank with their work colleagues, that could be heaven or hell depending on how well you got along with them.
'Can you believe the hotel handbook actually has a chapter about the ban on sexual relations not only between guests and staff, but between staff and other staff?' whispered a Japanese girl with rose red lips at one resort, her eyes wild from months of forced abstinence. She confided in me that she was planning to quit and go back to Osaka, but she couldn't.