I have always loved solo travel. There is something liberating about going to a foreign land with only yourself as a companion. Setting your own schedule, being completely free to choose the direction of your journey and your day. The first time I really traveled I was with an eager friend from school. Together we planned a world trip consisting of five countries in one year. India, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, and Fiji. I was a quarter way through my 19th year on Earth when we left on January 29th, 2000. As a result of my sheltered life in the UK, I was completely naive. Our plan was loose. Arrive and then make it up as we went along.
My friend and I worked several different jobs in the 6 months proceeding our grand trip. We figured the strong British pound would stretch a long way in third world countries, if we traveled on a shoestring. When the time came to leave, we had made enough cash to last us until we got to Australia four months later. Our plan to find work there and top up our coffers. Quickly, it became clear to both of us that we were suited as social friends and not as hardcore travel buddies.
Our first stop was India and it was really challenging for me. Almost immediately on arrival, I was experiencing depression partly helped by coming down from the party drugs. Not only had I left England with the remains of ecstasy in my system, but I was also completely clueless about what I was about to experience. Furthermore, my depression was helped on by my addiction to cannabis, a hugely debilitating drug for someone like me. I lacked motivation and direction every day, I wasn’t interested in sightseeing or opening my mind other than through drugs.
My poor friend organized every move we made weeks in advance, and I found this frustrating because I wanted to be more spontaneous. Looking back, I must have been a very difficult travel partner. We stayed in disgusting budget accommodation in our effort to stretch our cash. Think ‘absolute shit holes’ and then times that by 100. This added to my feelings of depression. In one city, the view from our bedroom door, a cow atop a rubbish heap, chewing a plastic bag. Poor cow, poor me. An old man, whose home was a bench on the street, outside our naked little stained stone room. He hobbled painfully on big swollen legs, as he swept the floor outside and climbed the stairs slowly to whatever was on the floor above. My breaking heart projecting all sadness and loneliness onto him.
I learned about the inequality of the world, in India. The poverty is heartbreaking. I witnessed young children who desperately needed to be rescued from their abusers. Animals and people alike, rotting alive with undealt with diseases. However, the most noteworthy is the juxtaposition between light and dark. I witnessed happiness that in all my years in England, I have never seen. Connection, a sense of belonging, a true ability to ‘hand it over to a power greater.’ Faith is an absolute-must in India, you cannot survive without it. The sheer unpredictability and wildness of life in India insist, only, that karma is in charge. I hated India for the first 4 weeks I was there, but in the last 2 weeks of being there, I was sad to leave. I fell in love with India.
Years later I went back to India, as an adult in recovery from addiction, and it’s still the most sensory-assaulting place I have ever been too. Coming first place, only just, over Morocco. I fell in love with the people because they are welcoming, humble and kind, but I struggled with myself. The country is dirty but the locals manage to stay clean and well turned out. In contrast, I was sweaty and dusty and unable to really keep up with life under these conditions.
I volunteered in a Children’s Home/School for a month during monsoon season, the mosquitoes nearly killed me alone. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My accommodation, a windowless concrete room painted in ugly lime green, damp moldy water stains cascading down the walls in rivulets and a hard bed and side table as my only furniture and a low swinging lightbulb from the ceiling.
I have many stories about my time in India and I’d love to sit here all day and write but I can’t. India is the country that has had the biggest impact on me.
Remind me one day to tell you about the time I agreed to have a ‘healing’ from a man with his willie wrapped around a stick. That was a story!!
Love you all with my massive heart,