Arriving in Belgium, hardly any customs. Sleep on the bus to Antwerp. It’s very early morning and raining. To my annoyance my gorgeous new jeans get wet, thongs don’t work so well here. I follow my nose to a bakery, use the loo, buy water. Wait for Axel. He has been working all night; it’s time for breakfast. His house is nice; classy and comfortable. He makes a breakfast spread that blows my mind. All kinds of food from the bakery (some of which I am sure have dairy- Didn’t I whinge enough in Vinarska for him to remember?). There are strawberries, some Belgian specialties like curry spread and sweet children’s sugar to coat the toast in.
Coffee, juice, ketchup, honey… Everything I can think of. Then Axel scrambles me some eggs as well. Some people truly understand the way to my heart is through my stomach! He argues with his mum in French and I understand nothing. His dad though, I can follow some of it. I have a shower in the huge bathtub, dress and feel reborn. Axel gives me a room the repack my bag, so fricken polite. The dog licks its crutch in the foyer and his dad says its name to try and make it stop (I am sorry Axel but this is one of my favourite memories). He is going away for the weekend, we get the same train then say goodbye. I probably won’t see him again- the time for me to leave Europe is rapidly approaching. On the metro to central station to meet Ellen, I buy a postcard and a magnet. Belgichanka appears and nothing has changed. She has a bike, everyone here has a bike. Dump my stuff at her place, ride into town. We are hungry. We buy bread, sun dried tomatoes, avocado, and curry spread. Sit on a fountain, talk and eat til we want to explode. Really, nothing has changed! We go to the Quick, (more like slow); we order a chocolate fudge each. Our heads are on the table and I don’t know if I can even move, let alone ride a bike right now. We manage to ride back to hers. The boyfriend comes round, he is a good kid. Ellen has my suitcases from the Czech republic waiting. I sort through them. I want to get rid of stuff. I begin by giving Ellen the red dress that Arik gave me. It suits her more then me, and I don’t love it. (She loves it and wears it everyday I am there). Any clothes that even remotely irritate me, if I don’t fully love them, they must go. Ellen says, you know most people if they lost all their stuff would want to keep what clothes they had. And it’s funny but ever since losing my bag, I have learned to travel light, to give things away. I want attachment only to things that only cause me pleasure.
Ellen asks what I want to do, and the truth is sleep and write. It is that time again, I haven’t written since Spain and I need to get it all out. I play Beyonce ‘Halo’ on repeat. Ellen’s dad had suggestedl things for her to suggest I do but she was like, Don’t worry dad, its Angela. She doesn’t need entertaining. I don’t know whether to be offended or flattered she knows me so well. Ellen was the last person I saw in the Czech republic before she sent me on my way. And now I spend a lot of time talking to her about what has happened. Especially about the boys. Arik isn’t answering the phone and I whinge to Ellen. Ben has been talking about coming to meet me in London. I call, then email him that I met someone in Israel. Even if nothing is happening with Arik, he should know. I feel pretty bad for him. He has already booked a ticket to London and is going there now. He wants to see me even if it is only for 5 minutes.
When I am going?? I had originally planned to get the Eurostar to London from Paris. I had told Ben I might have time to come back to Paris, but now I don’t see the point. Ellen looks at tickets (god bless my personal travel agent) while I lay on the floor, try to breathe and get clear on what I wanna do. Standard. The tickets a couple of hundred Euro, No Bueno. I don’t really want to go until the blog is off my chest. It is taking a long time, writing about my baggage. We make amazing Cous Cous for dinner each night and eat too much. Then Halva as well. I stay up late writing and sleep past midday. July 19th, Ellen is going home to her parents and invites me along. The blog isn’t done but time waits for no one. Check the tickets again- from Brussels for 77 Euro. Not so bad. We get the train to the town where her parents live. It is late arvo, cold and I’m sleepy. We share a raspberry and a strawberry beer. Her brother picks us up, we stop for Belgian French fries. There are a billion different types of sauce but we just have two types of ketchup, on account of dairy intolerance. It is a tiny town, very quiet. We walk to her house on a cobblestone road with trees arching over and around. Could be a scene from a scary movie. They have horses, we pat them. Green lawns, gardens and trees with a small lake in front surround the house. She says it’s more like a pond or a puddle, but I know a small lake when I see one. She packs for scouts while I lay on her floor. I start reading a big green book called ‘Rumo’ and don’t want to put it down. She gifts it to me and tells me not to read it all at once.
Next morning its time to say goodbye. I am surprisingly sad. Ellen mentioned that she doesn’t usually miss people when they aren’t around; I know exactly what she means. When it comes to family and friends, I don’t make a habit of craving for what it is not in front of me. I have really enjoyed her company and don’t know when I will see her again. I tell her dad to send her to visit me. I take my Moroccan blanket and book and sleep on the lawn.
I wake to rain and her dad asking if I am hungry. We eat vegetable soup he has cooked. I leave the halva in the cupboard for Ellen so I don’t eat it all. Her dad is driving me into Brussels and giving me a tour as well. (The Belgians truly are lovely people!) I am sleepy and lazy. He says we will see the atomium. I didn’t realise there is a giant structure of an iron atom in Belgium, it’s huge and surprising. There is a 45minutes wait. I tell the woman I have to get a train to fly home, and the magic words, I am from Australia. She takes us to the front of the line, as I thought she would. Ellen’s dad seems surprised and guilty we aren’t waiting like everyone else; he comments that they are probably annoyed at us cutting in. I wonder where the right and wrong is in this situation. In the elevator, a father and a young girl are going to abseil off the top of the atom. I wait to watch them come down on a suspended piece of wire, their legs dangling in the air. I wonder what they would do if the rope broke, I wonder how the father feels about sharing this experience with his daughter. My father would have done something like that with me, which probably explains why I like snowboarding on big glaciers, rollercoasters, and hitch hiking. Ellen’s dad buys me the beautiful black and white postcard I was eyeing off earlier. The Brussels tour happens from the top of the atom, it’s time for me to check in to the Eurostar.
There are grumpy ladies in the line who snap we‘ve pushed in. The line is wide, I’m not sure if we did or not. On the train, I wanted to lie down to sleep- I think the poor guy next to me can tell he is unwelcome. Across from me is an olive skinned guy with a labret piercing. At the cafeteria I would like a pesto salad but they’re expensive as hell. Instead I get a plastic knife to eat the food Ellen’s dad has given me. The labret guy walks to the cafeteria soon after me and now offers me a fruit salad. I’m stoked. We start talking, when my seat buddy returns I move to the aisle. Mounir- he speaks in French and a little English. He and his brother are from Morocco and France, as far as I can tell. The guy next to me has been on holidays at a festival in Belgium, he’s sunburnt and chronically hung-over. When we get off the train he seems lost, lingering like the smell of a salad sandwich.
While partying in San Sebastian, I had told a guy about my travel. I told him, I want to go to Morocco! He added me on Facebook and became a fan when he read about my trip to the Sahara. He is flying home from London the day after me. Staying at the Hilton, invites me to as well. I sit on my suitcase and wonder where he is. I’m in no rush to go anywhere. Finally he calls. When he sees me, I get the feeling he’s surprised, disappointed, something. Like he was expecting more. I guess I looked prettier when he met me in Spain. And now I am just ordinary me. I tell him the joke about Israelis in disguise, it smooths things over a little. I was worried I wouldn’t recognise him but as soon as he speaks, he seems familiar. I must have spent a lot of time talking to him that night! At the hotel, they ask if I want them to take my suitcases, I love it but say no. Seems over the top when there is an elevator. The room is nice, but not that nice, although the bathroom is pretty cool. I am uneasy when I see only one double bed. We have Thai food. Convo over dinner is interesting. He works in American politics. I use the toilet- a taste of Thailand to come, with hoses to wash one’s private parts.
Back at the hotel, I am edgy. Being in a room with a double bed, about flying tomorrow to Thailand, about going home… I am not sure why, actually, but it could be any one of these things. I lay on the ground and talk, talk about what I have seen, what I think of the world. I read my Osho cards for him. My phone rings and it is Arik, I am happy to hear from him. He tells me his brother is sick in hospital. Tells me he will talk to me when I am back in Aus. I am so stoked to hear from him I fall on the bed grinning. As the sun rises, I struggle with the curtains I have a hysterical giggling fit at Ryan saying ‘C’est Bon’ in a retard voice. Sleep restlessly. When Ryan’s up, I wake and tell him what I am dreaming, and sleep again. And then wake and then sleep. I wanted to see the changing of the guards today, but I have stayed in bed too long. We check out by 12 and say goodbyes.
I make my way to meet Ben at Buckingham Palace, reading Rumo as I walk. I am late, he has been waiting. He sits beside me. I hate to be ripped from the book, I am so into it. It starts raining on us and once again I love the purple jumper. We spend a while browsing the gift store, I buy a huge lead pencil and a fold out map. I am happy floating around playing with things, there is a documentary of a day in the life of the queen, I stand and watch it for a while. He seems impatient, we have lunch. The food is good. He pays. He gives me a red photo album of the pictures we took together in Paris. Some are blurry, it was a film camera. I look happy in them.
In the metro, (Mind the gap!) I write him a letter with my giant red pencil in the air. Big swirly letters and he can’t read any of it, he wants to, but I don’t mind. I remember writing Scott a letter on his back once similarly. I don’t care if he reads it or not, I am honest more easily if I think he won’t. Just want to get it out. To the Hilton to pick up my suitcases, he thinks I am joking and his eyebrows go through the roof when he realises I am not. I’m not in a hurry to explain. I want to get to the airport as soon as possible. I don’t want him to come with me. I say goodbye to him, tell him to get off the metro and go where he needs to go. I kiss him goodbye and then realise he has my Rumo book in his bag. Not the Rumo! I call him, he answers with ‘I have your book.’ Get it off him and back on the metro. A large group of people are spread throughout the train; one of them is nursing a little boy who falls asleep. I sit on my suitcase in the aisle and watch them. After a debate they decide I am in terminal 5. I don’t remember terminal 5. I get off and straight back on; there’s a sign saying BA terminal 4. At the airport, pay the fee for the reissue of my ticket. The BA dude is rude when he tells me there isn’t a window seat.
On the plane, gap between me and the window. Even better. I settle in with Rumo, next to a woman with a row of children. I didn’t request vegan food, don’t eat half of my meal, jealously watch the kids eat theirs. Read Rumo. Sleep a little in the chair. Lay on the floor and sleep. Breakfast is sausages, and scrambled egg. The flight attendant brings me leftover fruit. 3pm we land in Thailand. I am edgy still, concerned to collect my suitcases. Lay down for a minute while I figure out what to do. The exchange place doesn’t take MasterCard debit. Walk around, all the same banks, same thing. Nothing they can do to help, except repeatedly direct me to ATMs, of no use with this emergency replacement card. I’d like to know what kind of emergency this card would help me in. The tourist police can do a total of nothing, except tell me to call my bank. At the tourist office, I use the phone to call the Thailand MasterCard, request an emergency cash advance, and wait on hold for a long time. Finally, they have sent a request to the bank, the bank will call me. Western Union upstairs has closed, there’s one in town that shuts at 8. Outside there are cabs. I had planned on the bus, but don’t want to try without money. I ask a guy standing outside if people in Thailand hitchhike. He has no idea what I am talking about. I ask a farang (European/non Thai) couple where they’re headed, the guys says they aren’t going where I am going- even though I haven‘t said where I am going. At the cab desk, I get a slip and get in. The tourist guy has written an explanation in Thai. I give it to the taxi driver, as well as the address. I point at the note and hold up 8 fingers, point to the clock. He squints his eyes at the note and nods. I don’t think he can see it. Drives slowly, talks on the phone. His friend talks English; I tell him- if we’re not there by eight, I have no money. Traffic jams. Eight comes and goes. I hand gesture- mai money, Yuk! Yuk! Stop, put me out. He keeps driving. I ask where we’re going, he tells me the street name. I think, what if he takes me to the police station?! The only thing I am afraid of. I think, okay, let’s see what he does. Pulls up outside a police station. By which point, I’ve come to terms with it, walk in with him. Young Asian guy talks to him. A smile twitches at the corner of his mouth. I show him the note. I’ll sleep at the airport if the cab driver takes me back, but he wants another 500. In the police station are airport seats; I laughingly ask if I can sleep here. They shrug and say ok, ask if I am hungry, take me for Pad Thai. I settle into the chairs with Rumo and a blanket- but they are taking me to a hotel. Room 28, double bed aircon and shower, they give me 200 Baht.
When they drop me off, I take their pictures. They pose very seriously and are proud. They ask me to email it to them. I get naked and put all my clothes in the shower. My beautiful jeans are dirty; I scrub them, washing powder all over the place. It’s raining. I feel uneasy here, this country is very different to where I have been, I don’t know the people and I don’t feel safe yet. As I use the water I wonder if someone will come and get upset at me. There is no hot water but the air is warm. Read Rumo and sleep.
Next day, my clothes are still hanging and damp. The air here is so humid, that despite the heat, nothing dries. The girl I met at the train station yesterday, Deva, comes to take me to the bank. She studied in Melbourne and speaks English well. I am half asleep when she arrives, slept without the aircon, still getting used to the heat. Fold my wet clothes up in a bag. At the bank we wait. The Commonwealth need to approve the money transfer. They were supposed to do this yesterday but I am still waiting. Deva has things to do- she is a weather reporter on Thai TV. (She tells me that there are three seasons here: hot and wet, hot and not so wet, and kinda hot. Right now it is hot and wet; apparently it rains every afternoon). She parks the car near Khaosan road, where she isn’t supposed to, and when a policeman tells her to move she yells at him in Thai. Its amusing, she is tiny and all dressed up in heels. We leave my suitcases at the police station, she points me in the direction of the bank and goes off to work. To the bank, receive the money. I see a seasoned traveller respond well to someone hustling her, I go up to her and ask if she eats the food from the stalls in the street. When she says she does, I buy some. Look briefly for a laundry, find myself behind the police station where there is a sign saying ‘investigation and suppression room’ (?). I ask at the police station where to store my luggage and he tells me to go to a TAT, the Tourist Association of Thailand, circles it on my map. I get a tuk tuk with my suitcases and enjoy the wind blowing in my hair. I make a movie. Arrive at the TAT and realise, it is just a travel agent who is REGISTERED with the TAT, who want to sell me a package tour. I don’t want no package tour. They tell me I can store my luggage at the train station. I get a taxi there; the aircon is a little bit delicious.
I walk into a large hall with a large stained glass window. I notice as I walk in, the bustle of the city disappears and a calm silence falls. There are noises, but not like outside. There’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on. It feels good in here, I like it. I am hungry, buy some spring rolls. Find the left baggage, they want me to pay per suitcase per day. 120 Bahts, which adds up to 1440 for the 2 weeks I am here. How painful! I show her my money and say ‘this is all I have!’- Not much English. I want her to charge me for two medium bags rather then for large ones, given how long I am staying here. She reduces the price slightly. I repack my clothes and cosmetics into the purple bag, take a picture of my suitcases, and leave them in their care. I hope they will be here when I get back.
I enquire about train prices. (I really want to blog and wonder if there’s Internet.) In the window of the information desk is a sign ‘trips to Cambodia’. Holy shit, I could go to Cambodia. The package tour is like 7000 Bahts though. I could do it myself, but it seems you have to get a visa. I take the brochure and a train timetable. Consult my map. Before I left the Czech republic, one of the Aussie guys there said to me- are you stopping over in Thailand? Stop over in Thailand! He had stayed on Koh Phangan and gone to the full moon party there. Now, time hanging out on the verandah of a bungalow on the beach is exactly what I want. The overnight train goes to Surat Thani. It is affordable, between 350 and 700 bath ($13-26 dollars). There are many trains, express rapid and special… sitting, sleeping, first class, second class, fan, aircon. I ask lots of questions, can’t decide what to do. I tie my ring to a piece of string and ask it. Settle on a train, but by now it is full. Decide to stay in town, back outside, on a tuk tuk again. I could get the bus, but they seemed filled with people wearing facemasks, swine flu I guess. I don’t have a mask, so I travel with the wind whipping my hair again. I told the police I would come back today with money for the taxi driver. On the way, I make a movie. The air is nice, it is dark and the city is lit up.
There is lots of traffic as always, and I feel a bad for my tuk tuk driver as I drove a hard bargain for him to take me. The police remember me, and tell me not to worry about the money. The young guy isn’t here, but another guys table is covered in lychees and he offers me one. I eat it and smile. He gives me a handful to take with me.
Yesterday, the tourist guy at the airport gave me a brochure of the hotels and hostels in Bangkok. He had circled a few that were cheap. Last night at the police station, when they asked where I was planning on staying, I had randomly picked one of them. They had laughed at me cos it was only 200 baht a night (about 8 bucks). Now I get a taxi back there- I have spent the day slowly moving back and forth across this city. I walk down a wide long road filled with stalls, music, food, and people. I haven’t realised it yet but I have arrived in backpacker heaven. I also haven’t figured out yet that behind the stalls, nestled in the buildings all the way down this street, is seemingly hundreds of different B&B’s, restaurants, hotels and hostels. I see a sign for lockers. I buy a padlock and leave my things there. It smells like dead rat. In the street, there is fake ID’s for sale, student cards, press passes, diplomas. There are signs that say ‘Beer- fucking good’. Everything is really cheap; it’s time for me to start shopping for souvenirs. Lots of people are strolling down the street, loud music plays. In the middle is a big sign that says D&D Inn. There are no ordinary single rooms left, only deluxe with a bathroom for 750 baht (30 bucks). The hotel is nice, big foyer, elevators with mirrors. I ask to see the room, and the second I walk in I am putting down my bag and changing my dress while the dude waits for me. The clothes I washed last night are all stinky in my bag and I hang them on the posh clothes hangers. Downstairs I pay for the room and the key deposit. Some other guys are thinking of going somewhere else, I offer them my brochure. Back out in the street, spring rolls cost 25 baht. Pad Thai is cooked in big woks on trolleys that are wheeled down the street. I eat some. Sew my handbag, which is tearing again, read Rumo again and sleep.
Next morning I am up early and head down to breakfast. There is a door list, and food spread outdoors with a pond with fish and a bridge. I’m a little bit in heaven. There’s toast and cereal and noodles and veges and fruit and juice. Pretty much everything I’d want. The Inn has the cheapest Internet in the whole street- there’s an Internet room on the rooftop (which makes up for the fact the pool is being renovated). Check out at lunchtime. In the alleyway are women wearing jangly hats and selling wooden frogs that croak. One compliments my bag. I take it off, repack my things into a blue one I bought yesterday, and give it to her. Tell her to wash it.
Have a fruit juice. There are green strange shaped fruit for sale, which on second thought I have seen in Woolworths. A Brit guy tells me they are coconuts, and that the brown coconut I am used to seeing comes out of the middle. I don’t believe him, I tell him it must be a different type of coconut, he swears it isn’t, and we buy one to try. He’s right, I think, and we drink the juice. The flesh in these fruit is nothing like the coconut you buy in a supermarket, it is all wet and mushy and slimy. I try it and it doesn’t taste so good either. The juice is amazing though.
I have fun shopping, buy a new phone charger, camera batteries, a dress, a shirt, postcards and gifts. Things are cheap and I enjoy bargaining.
At breakfast, I noticed a place called hide-away massage in a house on stilts behind the hotel. There are massage places everywhere. Thai style massage is slightly cheaper, but I had a Chinese massage in Australia once and I found massage of that type leaves me feeling unbalanced and in pain, like I have been pounded through a meat mincer or something. It’s 200 baht for an hour of oil massage, plus an extra 50 baht for a half hour foot massage. Sounds good to me! This one is dreadfully relaxing. I even fall asleep towards the end. The lady who is doing it is a big woman and gets very hot as she does it; she is dripping in sweat, especially on her face. She gives me a cup of tea. I sit in my bra for a while, feeling dreadfully blessed out. A dude comes in and she hurriedly closes the curtain. I tip her well and finally leave. In the restaurant I eat satay tofu and rice, which comes in a star.
On the opposite side of the street near a pharmacy is a place crappy place for approx. 400 baht a night. The room is slightly bigger then the double bed, and the walls are dirty. I have a bathroom with a shower, which is just a nozzle on the wall in the middle. The window has shutters, which are broken, and there is a club immediately behind singing karaoke, sleep is impossible. I head back to D&D, pay for Internet and spend a lot of hours writing. I spend four and a half minutes of my time in Thailand watching Hanson play MMMBop on YouTube. In the street in the middle of the night, there is a stand selling deep fried grasshopper and witchetty grubs. I stand and stare at them, appalled.
A drunken traveller comes and eats them in my face, saying delicious delicious, and crunching into them. I respect her courage, but I wonder what her hangover will be like with a belly full of bugs. I have a sugar and chocolate craving something crazy; it’s that time (hence all the sleeping). To be safe, since Arik in Israel I took emergency contraception; now I need comfort food. There are crepe stands in the streets but they can’t make it without milk. I go to the 7-11 and read every single label looking for dark chocolate. There’s none. I buy a peanut butter bar coated in chocolate, cookies and cream Hershey’s, and a dairy free banana cake. The pharmacy is closed now, but I will buy antihistamine tomorrow. The peanut bar is amazing, maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. Sleep.
July 25th. If I stay past checkout time, I have to pay for another day. Problematic, I am a little nocturnal here. On the other side of the road, I find the Top Inn, 300 baht, quiet, big bed, private bathroom. Huge bed, actually. On the street a man asks me where I want to go. He is hustling, but I feel like I should be seeing some of Thailand beyond this road. I go with him. He says he will charge 20 baht/hour (about a dollar). He points at random places on the map, he will wait while I tour them. We go first to a temple. In a quiet small section, I light some incense, watch a man chanting. I have no idea what is going on here, but try to respect it anyway, take my shoes off. I like the barefoot thing Thailand has going on. At the entrance to the section under the huge standing Buddha, a man has birds in cages that you can pay to release in the square. Dreadfully romantic, but the little birds are packed in and the weather is hot.
It’s a ruse to get money out of tourists. I bargain for the cage with the most birds in it, they fly up to a tree, I think they should’ve gone somewhere with water. Hopefully they get some out of the leaves, or something. There is a plaque, which says ‘…Luang Pho to who could bless everyone all success, has miraculous powers, especially if they would present a head of a fish of the mackerel kind, a boiled egg and a lei of flowers’. Ha! Dom would love that, I used to feed him and Murphy tinned mackerel all the time. There is a garden and it is my favourite part of all the temples. Back to the tuk tuk, the man is waiting for me. As I get in, he starts to tell me that we will make a stop at his friend who is a tailor… I have heard of this happening, of tuk tuks taking people and then forcing them to visit tailors. Working for a commission. Ugh. Of course I could have seen that one coming. I take my things from his tuk tuk, give him 20 baht, and walk away. Only thing is, all the tuk tuks here are waiting for people. There is a dessert stand- I spent a while trying to say ‘Chan Pae Nom’, I am allergic to milk. The ‘Pae’ is a strange word, it comes out like pleeh- at least, it’s supposed to. A guy comes over who speaks Thai and good English- he is friendly, and it all has milk. He asks me what I’m doing later and gives me his number and Facebook.
Through sloooow moving, bustly Thai traffic the cab driver and me go. The air is humid, but the cab has cold aircon. There are people on motorbikes everywhere, sometimes as many as four people crammed into one. Songtaews (blue pick up trucks) ride around with people in the tray. I get out at Bangkok Zoo. Entry isn’t much, even with me paying the artificially inflated tourist price. Lots of leafy greenness. There are rows of motorbikes and for a minute (or ten) I get excited when I think you can rent them to ride around the zoo. I finally understand the hand signals mean no, these are peoples bike that are being minded, bugger. ‘African savannah’ the sign says, and there is a giraffe standing with his hooves in soggy mud. Not sure that’s how it is in Africa.
There is a children train, a few dollars to ride around, hop on and hop off for one lap. Sweeeet. Chocolate craving continues, into the 7-11, none dairy free, banana cake again. There are monkeys; I love how intelligent they are. I don’t know why I come to the zoo- I am curious, and maybe I want something to get indignant about. The cage sizes are never big enough, the toys not enough, the animals neurotic, and the people who are viewing the animals. I see little boys knocking on glass… and right at the end, I see some little boys throwing things at the goats. Arr. A lone hippo is wallowing in slimy water that only just covers her, in the deepest bit. There is a ‘war and loss’ display, with an air shelter. I notice space for the keepers and maintainers behind one of the enclosures that is as big as the enclosure itself… The bears are surrounded by a moat and an electric fence. They pace back and forth and beg for fruit. There is a children playground, brightly coloured and surrounded by leafy green vegetation. I get off the train and find myself standing in front of inflatable plastic balls floating in water. I pay for 3 minutes and after debating whether it’s worth catching swine flu from all the kids who have been in the thing, get in. At the edge, I hesitate to step off the edge and screamingly go over. Needn’t to have worried, its only a foot deep. Wearing my white dress probably wasn’t the best idea. It is impossible to stand up! The kids give up quickly and just stay lying down. I cack myself laughing, and try and stand and fall again and again. It gets very hot from all my running and laughing and I am sweating like nothing else. I finally come out, gasping for air. I buy a ticket and do it again. The video fills up my memory card- fewer photos from now on. I am worn out. See some elephants surrounded by a small, low fence. One still has tusks. Woman are selling fruit in baskets and children are feeding him. He steps back, and steps forward, steps back, and steps forward. I move close to touch him and flinch when he moves. I am afraid of that tusk getting me. But then I realise I needn’t be worried. His movements are incredibly rhythmical, he moves back and forward and back again, stopping only to greedily grab at the fruit and then resume his moments. I touch the end of his trunk, firstly worried he will bite me with it, but it is just a nose that is like a hand. I notice he has a green patch on his knee and neck; he has worn the paint off the bars in front of him, now they’re smooth and shiny. He must do this all day and all night. I have had enough of the zoo. (On the way out a small horse is tied to a tree and it tries to bite me. FML.)
Sleep all through the afternoon. Back to the D&D inn Internet, and each time I wonder if they will crash tackle me with ‘you’re not staying here anymore!’. The Internet here is around the clock and I feel for the guys who have to sit here all night giving me change. I write and upload vids.
It is morning and I have finished writing about Spain. It was long and didn’t quite fit in the online page, but I am glad it is off my chest. One of the less pleasant issues, all about my baggage. The view off the rooftop is awesome in the early morning hush. Downstairs, I walk through the alley coming out of the hotel, I can hear meowing. In a wooden box nailed to the wall is a tiiiiny kitten. There is milk in a container but it isn’t drinking it. It is far too small to be away from the mother. I see this a lot as I travel, baby kittens abandoned by the mothers, presumably because people touch the babies. I stand around helplessly for a while, go into a café, ask for ‘nom’ and make meowing noises. They laugh at me and give me some milk. But the kitten won’t drink it. It will probably die.
Lie down and sleep through the afternoon. Wake and check the Internet in the foyer. A girl is on the phone to MasterCard. She is an Aussie going through what I have been through, lost her credit card. Tell her everything I know. Spend some time trying to get phone numbers to work for her, but she can’t call reverse charge, and she’s drunk. She invites me to come for a drink. Meet her friend who has a beautiful and quiet energy, slightly less drunk. We have falafel, then to the Irish pub. Upstairs, sitting at the bar, I order a Malibu and pineapple juice. The first drink I’ve had in ages. Last night I dreamt that Arik’s brother had passed away. I have the urge to call him, as I don’t really feel like partying. After trading details, I excuse myself. Arik isn’t answering.
A guy I met at a party in Norway is in Bangkok. He doesn’t have a phone. He at Dio guesthouse, 20 metres up from me. Find his receipt at the front desk, go up to his room. He has a new Buddhist tattoo. It is slightly awkward; we only met briefly and have talked mainly online. We quickly clicked in Norway although we didn’t talk much then. I ask him if he wants to come to my room to see my tarot cards. He shuffles them, looks at them one by one and I know I need to give them to him. I can tell him what every card means by memory; quoting the book- I don’t need them anymore.
In London I did a visualisation, and out in the future I had dreadlocks. Every day, as I have walk down Khaosan road, I stop and watch the street stalls doing peoples hair. I ask how much, keep walking. I haven’t washed my hair since I arrived; they will stay better in dirty hair? 3am say bye to Frank. 4am, one guy still has his dread stand out. How much? 550. I sit and he does them. It hurts as he knits my hair with a crochet hook.
Some drunken guys make a movie. The net says if dreads are wet when I go to bed they might rot from the inside out. I webcam a lucky few with the news. Take some pictures but don’t send it home- not ready to deal with what other people think of my decisions yet. Just want to enjoy it. Frank is sitting outside the hostel early in the morning. Get the hair guy to fix some bits he missed- eat brekkie while he does it. Do some washing on the rooftop, there are big tubs of water and I have fun splashing it around.
Have a brochure for a vegan place, Ethos- didn’t manage to find it last night, so I walk there for lunch. Apparently they have a vegan apple crumble, but there’s none left. I eat vegan lasagne and vegan chocolate fudge, with a coconut cream and banana smoothie, amazing. The girls from last night are here as well; funny how similar people roll in similar directions. Phil, the owner is from Melbourne, Australia. He is offering meditation courses; we might come back at 4. Phil speaks with me about a man he works with whom he is having problems with. They were close friends, and the relationship broke down. He tells me this guy completely changed and ruined everything. He is blaming the other guy but can’t see the forest for the trees. I ask him, hypothetically, why would you have created this? He is irritated with me, and maybe stoned. We talk for a long while, at some point the girls leave. I am trying to ask him, why he brought this into his reality. He wants to tell me, the other guy did it. I won’t accept that and when I won’t, he starts to blame me as well. I give him as much as I can, pay and I leave.
I check out of my room with my big bed and into the hostel Frank is staying at. Super cheap, only 180 baht a night (7 dollars). Sleep on the rock hard bed with the fan on. At 6pm, back to Ethos. Get the apple crumble with coconut cream custard. It’s Amazing, and huge. Phil tells me that Eleanor is upstairs and will be down soon. I don’t feel like waiting around. Before I left Australia, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do. Snowboard, tick. Dogsled, tick. Hitchhike, tick. See the ballet, tick. Get the Eurostar, tick. Stay in a monastery? – Not yet. I realise: Thailand is a Buddhist nation. Today, Google found one that sounded perfect. A retreat for ten day stays, starting at the beginning of the month. Call Australian travel agent and change my flight. Upstairs in the crappy hostel, I sit at a table across from a weathered Thai man with big long dreadlocks and eat the leftovers of my apple crumble. I tell him I am going to Wat Suan Mokkh in Chaiya. He knows the place, looks at me and says, you have a broken heart? This reaction surprises me. I start to cry. I am not sure why. If I had to say, it would be because when Ariel left, everything got turned upside down and I don’t understand the world anymore. He tells me, your mama and your papa, they luurrrve you. Don’t you know that? If you call them and tell them to pick you up at the airport, they’ll be there. Everything he says hits home with me. He is distressed at my tears, he intends to make me happy, but I just cry more with everything he says. He tells me, come with me. I hesitate, throw my things in the bin, and follow him.
In the street, a circle of Thai people and a white girl who’s lived here for ten years. Most of them have dreadlocks, I feel like mine fit in. They put a beer in my hand. I flick bottle caps. Works well to both cheer me up and break the ice. They head to the Irish pub from last night. I start a convo with a girl, sit and talk for 20 mins. Find them upstairs. They put another beer in my hand. I am dancing and laughing and the dreads guy catches my eye and smiles. There are Germans nearby. I switch clothes with one of them, an attractive guy standing in the pub in my purple dress. The bar staff tell him to get dressed. Skip ahead 3 hours and I am standing in their hotel room. They are all naked, penises everywhere, so casually. My jaw is dropped. I may or may not have ridden some kind of trolley here? My room is nearby and I leave. Adios, amigos. Hello hard hot bed and hangover.
Wake up, find Frank, go for vegan.
He will be going south as well, not now though, he has an upset stomach. I tell him to lie down and rub his pressure points. I am out of money, a friend offered me some, and when I said yes, she told me she didn’t have any. WTF mate. I buy a train ticket. It rains. I look at T-shirts and fisherman’s pants; get purple thread put in my dreads. When I go to pay for it, I don’t have my wallet. FML. I think I know where I left it, but the stuffs been rearranged and it’s not there. With my passport, I have pretty much the exact amount to get to the retreat and pay for the ten days, then see what happens. Back to the train station, repack suitcase, pay for extra days. Buy a flu mask. I am in the first carriage of the train, on the bottom bunk. 2nd class sleeper with fan. My bed is currently two chairs and a table. A young Thai guy is sitting in the chair. Bugger, I want it to be made into a bunk now. This girl is hung-over, dehydrated, tired, a little dizzy, and this guy wants to talk. I don’t want to talk. Usually I am open to people, but right now I’m not. I wonder if I will miss something cos of it. It’s nice to say no for once. I’ve ordered dinner, I’m starving, when it finally comes, it is amazing. There is soup, and greens, and a plate of food with rice, and pineapple, and juice and tea, and its all vegan. I eat until I am starting to be full, wrap everything back up and put it beside my bed. Lay down to digest, look up and my food is gone. Squeal. The lady has taken it, I gesture, point; I want it back. I didn’t even eat any of the pineapple! I was being good and not over eating. FML. When she comes with the bill, I only want to pay half cos I only got to eat half. End up paying full price, lay down grumbling and wondering what the moral to the story is.
In the morning, he wants me to make the bed back into chairs. I don’t really want him back in my space, cooperate anyway. Wollongong University back home. Interesting. At Surat Thani, it is early morning. I wander around; find some Internet, Skype to MasterCard. I walk into a parking lot, with deep fried sweet potato and banana. Greasy. Share it with some locals. The train station is 15k bus ride from the main town, for a dollar or so. I use the toilet at the bus station, make a movie. There are two large tubs of water, a plastic hole with two foot stands. No hope of toilet paper in this country, wash it away and then air dry. Takes some getting used to. I stand on a corner; a man asks if I need to go somewhere. He has a motorbike taxi! The wind is blowing in my hair; the sun is on my arms, reflections of dreadlocks in the side mirrors. My bliss evaporates in the cold plastic of the mall. A bank has western union. A man loans me his phone, I call Australia for the money transfer number, and it isn’t ready. This man, Tom, owns a hotel on Koh Phangan, tourists are his livelihood. He gives me a ride back with him into town, drops me at the Internet café. For an hour in a big cushy pink chair for only 15 baht /hr. He comes back and gets me, takes me to the yellow bank in his big FWD ute. I collect the last of the money out of my bank account. Buy a combined bus and ferry ticket to Koh Phangan, the island near Koh Samui where full moon parties attract crowds of 60 000+ each month. I have takeaway Thai and grass jelly drink in a can, its delicious. Buy second hand white shirts that cover my shoulders. The woman serving has her baby on the counter on a mat. While I wait for the bus, I read a new Asian backpacker mag. They want submissions; I wonder what will happen here that I could write about. (I should send them something.)
Sleep on the bus, sleep on the ferry. It takes a fair few hours, as we arrive the sun is setting. I pile into the back of a truck with other tourists. They are all chatty. I want to go to Lifestyle bungalows. Talk with some Brit guy; they‘re chatty and witty. The truck stops in the middle of a dark road… this is my stop? I’m not ready to get out here alone- I want to keep socialising. I say I will go where the others are going. In the main town everyone splits up, the guys find a room, there is room for three and they offer for me to stay with them. I suss out the room, swing in their hammock for a while. Tell them I will think about it; I want a quiet bungalow on the beach. They have beers; I have pad seew with some sticky rice for dessert. I am quiet over the meals- they are bantering back and forth with the conversation; it’s amusing, I watch. One of them tells me, he has recently come from Australia, some messed up things happened there and he’s not ready to talk about it. I tell him, I’m sorry. (I wonder if someone died.) He says, that sounded genuine, thank you. He wants to drink. Doesn’t care where or who with, he leads the way in search of alcohol. We meet up with some girls from the truck; one of them has purple dreadlocks. As we walk down the hill towards the full moon party beach, a guy on a motorbike stops. I ask him, are you going to Baan Thai beach? He says yes. I ask him, can I come with you? He is slightly taken aback, but off we go. Leave the guys without a goodbye. He stops for fuel, asks me, why didn’t you get a truck? I tell him, I don’t have much money. The roads are crazy steep, he brakes a lot going down the hill and trucks and bikes overtake. He tells me the bike is old and he is scared. I try not to roll my eyes too much; maybe I’d be scared if I was the one driving. At the bungalows, he says no to my money. I walk down a deserted dark driveway and a dog barks and runs at me. He drives me down the driveway.
Five bungalows on the beach. Painted with tattoo designs. One has people in it- I knock and ask where I can check in. Wooden balconies with cushions and hammocks. A skinny young Thai guy with a huge mane of frizzy hair turns on the TV, gives me water. It is low season, the bungalows are empty. I finished reading Rumo on the plane- now I write a note in the front and donate it to the bookshelf. The bed is huge with a mosquito net, rock hard. With no blanket- lucky I have one from British Airways. I wash my clothes, sleep. For breakfast, I have baked beans, with 4 mushrooms and 2 pieces of toast. Its what I asked for but the plate feels bare. I spend the day reading a romance novel. Lying in the hammock, occasionally looking up and reminding myself where I am. A sea breeze and blue water. The guy with lion’s hair floats around. He has a Siamese Fighting Fish in a jar- he puts a mirror in front to see what it does.
He asks if I want to come for a ride. On the back of his motorbike, wind in my hair again as we zoom around the island. It is ordinary and beautiful in turns, the bays with sand, green water, trees and neighbouring islands. I buy washing powder and a banana cake at the 7/11. A road is unfamiliar to him and we turn back. At the bungalows, I walk along the beach. There are coral reefs nearby and it shows in the huge range of shells. I want to swim but the water is cloudy? Internet across the road for an hour. There is construction everywhere, building more bungalows. He asks if I am hungry. We go a market, many people both Thai and farang, are here for dinner. There is a huge range of dishes, they smell delicious. In big stainless bowls and pots. Mussamen beef without the beef. A huge range of desserts and I can’t choose. It comes with hot coconut milk, and when I drink it out of the bag and make a mess, he pulls faces at me, laughs. He stops at a tattoo parlour and tells me to wait for 2 minutes. I follow him in, he disappears out the back. A man in bright purple pants comes out and the smell of hash wafts out after him. I ask them, how much for a small tattoo on my foot? There is a small Labrador puppy, she sits on my lap. He says, for me, 1000 baht, 40 bucks. I say, ok cool, I don’t have money. My wallet was stolen, my bag was stolen, now my wallet’s in Bangkok. Same tired story. He says, ok we’ll do it anyway. The tattoo guy sterilises the bamboo needle. I am drawing on a piece of paper the word ‘Ariel’ with a frangipani, hypothetically. I wash my feet. I am sitting on the table and he is drawing on my foot in red pen. He doesn’t know what a frangipani is. MY eyes well up as I flick through a flower book. Run to Internet next door, show him a picture. He starts to stab at my foot and I say- fuck! Its forever! Then I realise, nothings forever. As he tattoos I sing ‘Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright…’ I ask, you cleaned that needle, right? It’s ok, he says yes. It doesn’t bleed, only really hurts when he puts the yellow in the flower. I grimace and keep singing. Play with the puppy for a while longer- find ticks on her. The purple pants guy wants me to come out with them. Lion mane guy laughs at him and we leave.
We lay on the deck in the warm night air on Thai cushioned mats. He used to have dreadlocks; he wraps his legs around my back and neatens my hair while I read. He wants to be close but I shy away. The ferry leaves in the morning at 7, need to leave at 630. He has said he will take me and I ask again, will you definitely be up? I excuse myself and go to bed. I hear his motorbike leave as I pack. When I wake at 6, the bike is gone and his bed is empty. No goodbyes again, what is it with this place? On the road, a song thaw for 100 baht. Onto the ferry. It is small, inside air conditioned to freezing, and the water beats noisily against the boat. I try to sleep spread across seats. In the nose of the boat, two people have spread cushioned mats, they look comfy and I’m a little envious. I wake and the guy offers me some fruit. Lychees. He has a nice aura about him, smiles and his eyes dance. His girlfriend has really short hair and huge eyes, she seems reserved. Off the ferry and onto the bus. I sit upstairs at the front with a bit wide window. A guy from Israel sits across from me and we chat. A man in a Chinese hat sits below us and sings in a language we don’t understand. It’s pleasant. And cute.
Bus stops, we wait for connections. The lychee guy, Lahshman, now offers me a banana. I was praying for food. I sit with them. He has been to Suan Mokkh, tells me to say hello to the women there. The girl with the big eyes makes vegan sandwiches, pours salty coconut milk on them. Gives me one, its delightful.
In Surat Thani, a grey haired woman is also going to Suan Mokkh. Find Internet, call my mother and let her know I will be out of reach. I have difficulty understanding the bus system, the Thais laugh at the clueless white girl asking questions. The bus ride is long, for a dollar. A woman gives me a beaded plastic ring. Suan Mokkh is the monastery and from here I must go to the International Dharma heritage. As I wait for the truck there, a girl stands in front me and asks, do you need to go to Chaiya? I don’t. If I had enough money I would go with her. Tally Atkins. She sits to eat a durian- stinky, sweet, custard fruit in a hard spiky shell.
She hacks it with a knife and laughingly tells me it is her first time trying to eat one. Mine too. It is messy and when a monk tells us the truck is here, we are slow to move. The truck goes without us, we walk. She has a large pack and I take her carry pack- my bag is light these days. We walk down a dirt road. She is eighteen and travelling through Asia. I show her my tattoo and talk about hitchhiking. She wants to try it one day. She is soft and open and laughs easily. We chat excitedly until we arrive at the gate.
In the hall there are boards covered with information. We are among the last to arrive and quickly sign our forms. Time to begin…
The customs lady asks me the purpose of my visit and I look her in the eyes and say ‘to visit my friends grave.’ I don’t feel like answering questions. She flinches a little, says she is sorry and waves me through. On the plane, I am wishing for the window seat. A young guy across the aisle wants to talk with me, we shuffle seats and I end up with the window.
We talk, both of us sleep deprived but sleeping proves difficult. Neither of us ordered meals nor have change for snacks. I eat some bread I have in my bag. He has been away for a while, offers for me to come and stay with his family. He wants to show me around. I consider it seriously. At one point I attempt to take a picture of him and he freaks out. He is superstitious, thinks if you take a picture of someone right before they do something like fly, then they might die. Distorted logic, I took a picture of the plane before we got on it anyway. I checked-in my (tiny crappy) bag because of my cosmetics being too large for carry on, and when we get to the airport, I tell him it will be lost. It is. He needs to pee, he is hungry, I tell him to go and I will come find him. He stubbornly refuses and instead floats around, edgily insisting my bag will come any second. I know it will not. At the luggage desk, they go to find it, it has split open during the flight, as I feared it would. The lady finds everything from it. Except for the crystal Eiffel tower I bought for my lil sister, the red box is empty. She goes out the back, and returns with four pieces. Devo. As we walk into arrivals he says, Look, its Ariel. I mutter, Very funny. He says, No, really. I look up and Ron is standing holding a ‘Angela (Ariel)’ sign. I hug him tight and don’t let go for a long while. He looks and feels so familiar. I get the plane dude to write down his number and don’t look back. Ron’s wife, Tal, is pregnant and ready to pop, they are moving house, he is studying to be a vet and doing exams at the moment. Ron only just got my email and here he is. I am touched and warmed. In the car he smokes a joint, offers me some and I say no, then say yes and have a little. Fuckin Ariel.
I stay with Gidon, his wife and their son. Gidon has waited up and gives me some food. I have seen movies of these people from when Ariel came overseas last year. (I remember when he left for the airport, I started sobbing like an idiot, and told him to come home safe. He had came back to hug me one more time, and flipped me upside down.) We talk, I sleep. Next day, I go to find a post office and Western Union, have little luck. I slept too late (and maybe am in the road of the cleaner given I was in the middle of the loungeroom floor. My bad). I buy some ridiculously cheap undies and a bra that is like, 2 Euro, 4 dollars. I find the beach, the sand is fine and beautifully soft. I swim, the water is gorgeous and warm, and calm. Europeans love break walls. I sit with some guys I met in the Mediterranean. We drink liquorice flavoured Mohitos and talk. I find myself sharing all kinds of things with one of them, Sam, gorgeous eyes with big eyelashes. The kinda eyes you can talk to. With a girlfriend too. And the other guy… he is in pain, he needs a massage. He has stuff he needs to deal with. I can feel it. He is drinking and making it worse, I rub his shoulders for a while. I tell him something, like, when you have pain in the back, it is about not feeling supported… It needs to be listened to. He tells me, no, he was hit by a garbage truck. (ha.) And the pain comes spilling out, he is still angry and upset about it. I give him the card for a massage place across the road, he promises to go but I suspect he won’t. Wants to just ignore it and push through and see his girlfriend. His prerogative.
My phone rings as the sun sets, Ron tells me they have to put the kid to bed and to go to Gidons. He gives me the number of Mikey and tells me to call him. I am moving. When I pick my things up from Gidon’s, I show them a movie of Ariel; it makes them laugh but maybe ache too. Perhaps too much when I show them the video of us jumping together. I belatedly realise maybe they haven’t started to deal with this yet. I promise to mail them my DVD of the memorial and say goodbye. Mikey is waiting. He gives me the key to his place, tells me to use the Internet, and leaves for his girlfriends. I want falafel and we walk together for a while. Brief conversation, not much mention of Ariel. Nice guy. Eat falafel and lots of salad; it’s pretty cheap too. Find some dairy free strawberry ice cream and the guy who serves me makes me smile. On the walk home, I need to use the loo. Then I really need to use the loo. Then I really REALLY need to use the loo. Like never before. I clench my bum cheeks together and go go go.
I am overdue to write, but spend a few hours into the morning Skyping instead. After all this time, a friend and I from the Czech republic go back and honestly spill our guts about what happened when I was there. Someone I got my heart into a tangle over. And now, going back and sorting out the mess we made. When we get into in, I realise, maybe I am angry and disappointed in him for not being a friend to me when I needed him. For reasons of his own. I don’t know how that turned into me thinking I wanted to have sex with him. Crazy. Musta been those crazy beautiful eyes. I have no other explanation for it.
Next day I slept late again. As I travel, there are periods of rest and periods of vigorous activity. I am learning to deal with the guilt that resting brings. I am in Israel and sleeping until lunchtime. What would my father say? I walk into the centre, the banks keep strange hours. No love for my MasterCard. Ah well. MasterCard, where everything is priceless cos you can’t buy anything. I wander through shops. Float into a shop on Dizengoff, number 85. Shandan. There are jeans and I might like some. The sales guy is attentive. Tells me I have a beautiful smile. As I try on jeans, he passes me new ones. They aren’t covering my bum properly. He tells me, it doesn’t matter, they’re not so bad. As I describe what it is I want, he tells me I am high maintenance. I try on more. He says they look good, I tell him, I want a pair of jeans I can fall in love with. He tells me, girl, you needa like the jeans, and fall in love with a guy. I shake my head. I lost my favourite jeans; I wanna love the new ones. I draw him a picture. I think the picture is ridiculous, but he smiles. Goes out the back and hands me a pair of jeans I can fall in love with. Baggy, tight bum, comfy. I put on a purple dress and wear it around the shop with my new jeans. I am ready to go to Jerusalem to see Ariel, but I suspect Ron has my travel planned out. I am waiting for him to call me, at 230. I sit in the chair and talk with Arik, as the girls come and go. He asks what I am doing tonight, tells me his friend is playing in a club. I tell him, I don’t know. Wait and see. But I do like to dance. I eat liquorice and offer him some.
I sit on the bench outside his store and he lights up some hash. People pass by and he seems to know everyone. When I speak to Ron, he says to come to Jerusalem tomorrow. I am free for the evening. Arik will call me when he finishes. I wander through some flea markets, see, touch, hold many things I would like to buy. With absolute bare minimum money, I find myself freed, sitting slightly outside of the commercialism. I don’t have to decide what to buy; the decision is made for me. Doesn’t matter how cheap or how pretty it is. With a loud gasp I come to a standstill in front of a beautiful woman with long grey hair sitting out of the way. She has an unopened set of Osho Zen Buddhist tarot cards. Just like my old ones that were in my bag. I ask how much. 2000 shekel. (Get the shekels off my feet so I can dance… I just wanna praise you…) These cards are more expensive than in Australia. But it seems right. I tell her to hold them for me and I will buy them tomorrow. Funnily enough she is also going to Jerusalem tomorrow. Sam from yesterday calls. We decide to meet up for eats, at the fountain. I wait there for a while and realise we are thinking of different fountains. Eventually we find each other at the fruit stand, but only after I have sampled some amazing gelato that may or may not have had dairy in it. Trust me to come to find amazing ice-cream, seems I only visit ice-cream capitals of the world, I cant even fricken eat most of it. We go for dinner and I still enjoy talking to him as much as before. Words just pour from me, about where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, Standard. But also about life, about philosophy, about religion, about love. He reminds me a little of Ryan. He chats over friendly with the waitress, as we walk away tells me he saw cut marks on her arms and he thought he saw the same thing on me too. Good lord no, I tell him, slightly disturbed that he sees that everywhere he goes but also that I seem like that type! He walks me home with another ice-cream. We say goodbye.
Arik will be here in a minute to pick me up. I wash my armpits and face, apply deodorant and take my jumper. And another dress in a bag in case I wanna change. There is a frangipani tree outside the door and I pick a few. He tells me I look beautiful and I give him a flower. The others go in my hair. The club is underground, I like the music, he buys me a Malibu and pineapple, and I give him back 50 shekels he loaned me today. He knows everyone and introduces me to way more people then I care to keep track of. He wants me to be happy, checks my drink is full and gets me water. I meet his hairdresser friend and ask him about dreadlocks. Arik says, what, chu crazy?? Tells me, no. No no no, your hair is beautiful, shakes his head at me. Ariel used to say that, and used to dance like him as well. He puts the flower I gave him behind his ear and doesn’t know how bittersweet it is to see him do it. Israeli men, in my limited experience, seem to be gentle and light, playful in a slightly feminine and unselfconscious way. He carries it around for people to smell, is delighted with the flower. On the floor while he moves from friend to friend, I want to Melbourne shuffle but am afraid to draw too much attention to myself. So I dance small even though I feel like letting loose. Funny how little dancing my feet have been doing on this trip, luckily my soul and my spirit have been doing enough to compensate. Everyone is smoking underground and after a while it gives me a headache. He nearly kisses me on the dance floor and it feels delightful.
I request outside air; we don’t go back in. We sit on a brick wall about a parking lot with a breeze and view from the sea. We play with the frangipani until it falls with the wind down to the cement below. He asks me if he can be rude and kisses me. Being with him is nice. We snuggle. I yawn and feel sleepy. We drive down to the beach. Of course I want to go near the water, and once I am near it, of course I want to go in. He tells me, girl, what, chu crazy? I tell him, better to regret the things you do then the things you do not do. He holds my clothes as I run into the water. He teases me for holding my boobs after I take my top off. Even though the night ocean scares me, BECAUSE the night ocean scares me, I have to do it. Feels so good. Only needs to be one moment. The clothes shop is his, he has four, and luckily for me, this means he pulls a change of dress out of the boot, asks me if I like it. I am hungry, I want falafel, instead he gets me this potato thingy. We go to his house; he kisses me all over and asks me what I like. I tell him, strawberry sorbet. And everything else I can think of under the sun. Who is this man? He asks me what I am thinking and he tells me I’m crazy. He is exhausted and we sleep. I wake up with a coldsore, makes for an unhappy Angela. He has to work. I don’t want to get out of his bed, don’t wanna face today. Foetal again, and he doesn’t want me to cry either. Only with him, it’s not because he is uncomfortable, but because he wants me to be happy. He listens, he knows. He understands life is to be enjoyed. He tells me to call him when I get to Jerusalem.
Ron picks me up at Mickey’s and we drive. His life is still hectic and I am glad he has made the time for me. He tells me how he and his wife have a house that is made of renovated train carriages. Very cool. We drive up into the hills and are in the graveyard before I realise it. It is surprisingly hot and dry. The bodies go in the ground and a large slab of stone or concrete goes on top of them. Cement everywhere. Not the grass I expected; how can I sit on him here? I sob as we walk in; Ron says it happens to him every time. The grave is beautiful, despite the dry hotness. Someone has planted cacti at the end. Around the edge of the grave are seashells. His middle name is George, I didn’t remember that. In Hebrew it says, he loved all and all loved him. Ron says, ‘I told my father, not all.’ and we laugh. I take off my shoes. I have bought frangipanis for him, as many as I could hold. I spread them across the end and put a bunch on top. I take a picture of Ron sitting nearby. He tells me that Ariel, last time he was here, came and took a picture on this very spot with his arms spread wide and a grin on his face, and of the view across the valley. I say to him, I wish I lived near here so I could come and sit with him. Ron pauses a beat and says- It’s just a grave.
From anyone else, I would think they missed the point. And suddenly I am so glad to be here with him, to hear him say that. Because he would know something about this. I can open myself the truth in his words. We pick up his wife, she is so damn pregnant. She is vocal, we walk through the markets. She tells me that sometimes she just wants to bang Ron’s head on the steering wheel. Because she wants to fight, and nothing she says or does will upset him. I laugh and remember myself getting upset with Ariel about not putting out the rubbish, he was impossible to pick a fight with too. So chilled out and accepting. As I spend time with them it has never been more obvious, life is a force unto itself that just rolls on, dragging us with it, heedless to how we think things should be. Ron’s sister Rachel is in London and getting married this year as well. Birth, Marriage, Death; this is life. We eat, they pay and I let them, even though I know they will be doing it tight with a baby on the way. Girls gotta eat. We meet Ariel and Ron’s mum and dad, they are all going fridge shopping and I am getting the bus back to Tel Aviv. The whole time they are standing there, I remember Ariel telling me living with me was like being 14 again and having a midget control his life. I don’t share this with them (maybe I could have). Ariel used to say I reminded him of her but now her arms are folded and I don’t know how to reach in there. I need a backpack. We walk past a shop, and the man says there are no bags there that are what I am looking for. I’m sure there are. We return to the shop, and right on top is a purple one with padded straps. Buy it. God I love when that feeling is right. Ron’s wife is the same size shoe as me, and when I repack my bag, I want to throw out things- I give her my beloved sketchers. Tell her to wash them. I have my six-dollar pair of white Barcelona thongs to get me through, and it’s so damn hot they’re all I need. I wish Ron and Tal the best, tell them I hope the baby isn’t ugly, and we say goodbye.
I walk through the city, go to a money exchange. Declined, declined, declined. Not even 40 bucks? Some dudes let me use their internet- Netbank says that after buying the backpack, my account is empty. Ha. I buy some amazing toffee caramel coated walnuts thingys. I have just enough for the bus. First I walk to the Wailing Wall. Not so sure of the history, but as I understand it, people believe this is the last section of some kind of house of god. Maybe a temple Jesus was in or something. Hmm. (Don’t quote me). The point is, it is a very holy place. There is heavy security. It is divided into a male and a female section. There are ushers who check you are attired appropriately. The front of the wall is crowded with people. They hold prayer books to their face and chant in low murmurs, rocking back and forth, sometimes touching the wall. There is a hush over the place that defiant cell phones break into. I write a letter and find a crevice to cram it into.
I pray for acceptance. I wish and hope for acceptance. I ask for help in accepting the things outside my control. I wish Ariels soul a safe, light and joyous passage. I give thanks for my time with him. I pray to wash away the pain and heal the wound with each tear I cry from this day on. I pray for divine assistance. I give thanks for all I receive. I pray to spread the light in everything I do. I wish for love in life for everyone. I pray to better love everyone I meet. I pray for assistance in better loving the people close to me, especially when I disagree with their behaviour. I pray for everyone I meet in pain, for the ability to bring hope and spread joy. I pray for divine assistance for lost souls, when they are alone and cry out. I pray for acceptance of pain. I pray for light, love and laughter in everything I do. I pray for forgiveness when we are human.
I walk to the local bus to connect to the bus to Tel Aviv. I fall asleep propped up on the window and when I wake, I notice there is a soldier sitting opposite me. The entire time I was asleep, his big, semi-automatic (?) gun has been resting on my knee. I can see the bullets. At the bus station, security is tight, metal detectors; I am in the country of bus bombs about to get on a bus. I don’t feel scared, but I do feel mildly irritated when the girl shoves her hand in my bag.
I call Arik and he doesn’t answer; I sleep on the bus and he wakes me back up. He doesn’t answer calls that are on private. It’s getting late; He is in bed but will come and get me if I want. I don’t know. Really I want to sleep alone, but tomorrow night I leave. So I will go to him. He is tired, in his jamas and surprised I am carrying my backpack. Does he think I intend to move in? Settle petal. He wants to sleep, is getting sick, he’s overheated and sweaty. I wonder, perhaps I ought not have come. I wake up and roll to him and he pushes me away. Next morning he has to work again. Even his mum won’t cover for him. Ack. Choice between seeing Israel and spending time with him in his shop. You can guess what the girl chooses. Hopeless. I am grumpy about him pushing me away, he says, stop thinking like that, everything’s good, (like he seems to be saying all the time) and I say to him, a half naked Australian girl rolls over to you in the middle of the night and you push her away? What, chu crazy?? He asks for meaty casserole with rice from the markets for lunch. I come back with sushi for me.
Then fetch saucy eggplant and mince on cous cous, with mashed potato and cooked sweet potato for him. He eats it, and then says to me, “That was good, thanks. You know what I do like though? Meaty casserole from the markets”. My jaw drops, a little. You didn’t like the food I say, cos it wasn’t meaty casserole! I liked the food, he says. No you didn’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have said that after eating. He tells me to stop thinking like that, but I won’t budge. I go for a walk, pick up my Moroccan blanket from Gidon’s and find some strawberry sorbet. Standard. I call dad, ask how that loan is coming along. He has sent wages into my account and they should land soon. I spend the day checking Netbank in Arik’s friends shop, checking to see if there is money there yet. I can feel myself being a slave to money, afraid of having none, although truly there is nothing of which I am lacking that I need it for.
When I get back two hours later, Arik is sharing a joint. His mate offers it to me, I say no and Arik says, she wants her head clear. He understands some things easily, and others, maybe not at all. He asks me if I will go now, he knows how I am feeling. Lovers tiffs this early in the game? It’s been a while since someone drove me crazy like that. I will stay until it is time for me to fly. He closes this shop, and then three others, while I wait impatiently. We drive to exchange for me to get money, I buy the tarot cards. He wants to share a beer on the beach but by the time we get there, it is time to leave. I ask him to lay on me in the sand, and he does, (what, chu crazy??) he gets unhappy covered in sand. He has a pretty car and doesn’t want sand on it. He refuses to drive me to the airport. He doesn’t do them, apparently. The train has now left so he puts me in a cab. He tells the driver to wait. He sits me on a bench and says, Promise me something. Don’t ever let someone break your spirit.
I promise, although I am not sure what is going on here. What does that even mean? Does he think there is a danger of that happening; perhaps I have been at my most vulnerable with him… but really? Am I that girl? What does he see when he looks at me? I am crying cos I don’t want to say goodbye to him. I don’t want to leave Israel, I like it here. I don’t like goodbyes, still after all this time. Today, we talked. He said, you could stay (and have my baby). When I was upset we didn’t have more time together he said, you are the one who is leaving. And for a moment, I thought, I could change my flight. I almost called British Airways. But life in Australia is waiting for me to sort it out, and I don’t like lover’s tiffs. I cry in the cab, then get distracted by the whole ‘might miss the plane’ thing when we get stuck in traffic.
At the airport, I am the last to arrive, they ask me many questions. Lab test all my things, empty my suitcase. Seem to take unnecessarily long. Test my jumper twice. I run to pee but I needn’t have rushed- they are slower then a wet week. A girl asks me to follow her. She takes me behind a curtain in a corner, tells me to empty my pockets and then spends a while patting me down. Once again, I am not sure what the point is, but I don’t actually mind it, its pleasant. (If she pulls out rubber gloves we’re in trouble). Thongs back on and she walks me through security. Why the special treatment? Through passport control and onto the departure gates. The airport has a fountain where water rains in a circle from the roof.
I am not making the mistake of going without food this time- falafel hummus and tomato it is. There is an airhostess in line; she says to me- are you paying? Yes, so I order. She meant, am I only paying. My bad. The flight still isn’t boarding- the airline is new and it shows- so I go to buy some Halva. Sweet hard sesame desert, two packets. A young girl argues with an elderly lady, I see her a minute later crying and walking away. Curious. When we board the plane I stand and wait, I have the aisle seat and I want the window seat (again). Two young guys are sitting with me and I ask if I can have the window. They are half drunk and don’t care. As the plane is taxi-ing down the runaway, I ask them where they’re from. One looks Israeli and he is, but the other looks Belgian. He says, nah, I’m an Israeli in disguise. I reply- Well, you will be in it a minute.
…Get it? Maybe the best joke I have ever made. As the plane takes off, I eat some passionfruit Arik gifted me. It is on my lap and I say to the boys, Well, at least if the plane crashes and I get it all over my face they can write on my grave ‘She lived and died with Passion’.
Eric sends me on my way with a metro ticket and directions to get the train out of Barcelona. Maybe he sees a lot of people hitching out of here, cos he knows the details off by heart. Somewhere along the way, Romain told me ‘Milovuiji, Te kiro, I love you’. After all the tantrums, all his cursing and screaming at the sky, saying goodbye is pleasant and painless. I sing Meatloaf to him, even though he doesn’t understand the English words, ‘I want you, I need you, but there aren’t no way I’m ever gonna love you. Don’t be sad, two outta three ain’t bad’. I go back for more hugs from Honza. I will miss talking with that vivid blue green guy.
On the bus without buying a ticket. At the metro, the card Eric gave me doesn’t work. I have change. Get the train, talk to some young guys. Montmelo is a quiet, sleepy little town, hilly. See a guy and know he will help. Ask him, ‘where is the autoroute?’ I do the backwards walking with finger out motion, to explain what I want to do. They are slow to understand. Where am I going? Paris! I say. Paris?!? They look at each other. Shake their hand like a floppy dead fish, Spaniard speak for ‘phew!’. Finally they tell me, it is a long walk. He asks me, where I am from, I am alone? He is grabbing his car keys. Drives me out onto the autoroute, stops at a big service station. Inside for a coffee, asks if I am hungry. I choose some rice, pasta sauce, cooked green vegetables. Don’t talk much. Mixed through the veges are pieces of cheese. I am not in the mood (for once) to send it back; I want to eat while I have the chance. Painstakingly I remove the cheese bit by bit. And eat the rest. Tell myself it won’t be so bad, What’s a food allergy between friends? We are on the wrong side of the autoroute and drive across. I take his picture, say goodbye. I don’t think he thought I would actually leave him and go do what I said I would. After he leaves, I wander inside. Ask for some cardboard and a pen. It is getting late. I walk from truck to truck; they are all stopped and parked to sleep for the night. Inside it is quiet. I sit and talk with a guy, he tells me to find the freezer trucks cos they go all night. (At least, I think that’s what he said. He only speaks Spanish). Speak to the security guards, they are friendly but nothing is happening. It’s dark by now; I hover around the service counter and try to judge where people are going, if they will take me. Before I hitched the first time, I remember reading about a couple that did this, approached people in service stations. The thought freaked me out so much more than standing on the side of the road. What if they laugh in my face? What if they don’t like me? Worse, what if they say yes because they feel obligated, even though they don’t want to?
I am sitting in the restaurant and a car pulls in. It’s silver, catches my attention. I look away. The guy is inside and I have a good feeling. I start a conversation with him. Turns out he has family in Australia. He lives nearby, so isn’t going anywhere. I ask if there are aubergues or pensions around here, somewhere cheap to stay. He asks around. Nope. Asks the staff if I can sleep here, Nope. Surprisingly, he offers to take me to a hotel and pay the rest of the cost for me. I hesitate. Or I can stay at his house, he says with a shrug. He understands my hesitation. This is the dilemma- we both know it is socially inappropriate. I will think about it. We drive along the road to his house, via the hotel. There is a huge industrial area with many many trucks. If I stayed at his house, he could drop me here on his way to work in the morning. He tells me there is also a bus, right outside his door. I think, if he is going to give me something, better a bed in his house than his money. And his house is nice. Wooden floors, well decorated, comfortable. He tells me his ex girlfriend decorated it. The house is on a hill overlooking a small town nestled in a valley. We sit outside, he eats pizza and apologises the fridge is empty. His father is in hospital with cancer and he has been there everyday. I thank him for going out of his way for me during a rough time. Funny how personal pain breaks down your barriers and makes you more giving. We sit up for a while and talk. He tells me how his girlfriend cheated on him, and left the day his dad was diagnosed. It was a year ago and the wound is still fresh, even though he tells me it is fine. The house has beautiful family photos, Australian memorabilia, guitars- he is a musician. He tells me, he moved here for her. He doesn’t wanna be here, I can feel that before he even tells me anything. I tell him, make a change. Sell the fucking furniture, get rid of the couches and TV she chose. Let it go, move where you wanna be. What are you waiting for? I wash off the Barcelona dirty sand and moisturise my sunburnt skin. I fall asleep to his song ‘Lullaby’.
In the morning, I wake late. The bed was comfortable, its lunch time. He left long ago. In the kitchen I find a note ‘Good luck Angela!! I wish you find in your travel what you’re looking for. PLEASE accept the money, a little help to arrive to Paris. Good luck.’ 60 Euro, sweet bread, jam, tea. I eat on the balcony and sigh a blessed sigh. I pack, write him a note or two. Cry, let the tears wash away the pain. And other words, about life and letting go. I hesitate to leave, and when I am outside on the road, I have narrowly missed the bus. Why did I hesitate?? I stand at the bus stop and marvel at how red brown my lower legs and feet are. Don’t think I have ever had tanned feet before.
Sit and write. The bus to Thim comes, where the trucks are. I missed the direct bus and have to change, I buy water. I have no idea where to get off. Find myself in a quiet street. There’s a truck parked, the guy is young and has a good feeling. He shows me where the autoroute is while he smokes a cigarette. Un chicka solo?! I could stay and talk but instead I start walking to the autoroute ramp. When I get there, DHL trucks are going, and a company like DHL doesn’t pick up hitch hikers. Ask a young guy if there are more trucks around somewhere else, when he understands what I need, he says he will drive me. And drive me he does…. Right back to where I was hitching from last night. I sigh, unsure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. There was such trucking potential in Thim! I approach the trucks again, and then stand with a thumb out. The thumb doesn’t work with Spaniards, you have to make them feel special and ask them directly. Some trucks are sitting nearby and watching me. They call me over, a young guy is reloading a new container onto the back of the truck; it was the older dude with the baldhead that called me over. They ask what I am doing. Going to Paris! They are going in that direction, I pull puppy dog eyes and a hopeful smile. They tell me, there are only two seats, and they can’t take me. I tell them, other trucks take me, why not?! They pull faces and try to explain something. No Entendes. The truck is ready, they tell me to get in. Then I understand the problem- both of them have to go in the truck. They point to the bed and close the curtain. Living on the edge, ha. (If one more person tells me to be safe, I will egg their house. Do you think you can prevent yourself dying by wrapping yourself in cotton wool? Do you think you have control, that you can keep the chaotic outside your door? Get outside, look up at the sky, and take a deep breath. Like I said yesterday, the most dangerous thing I have done is come overseas with a MasterCard rather than a Visa. $1500 phone bill, sleeping for a week on the beach and crying cos you want a strawberry ice-cream? Priceless.)
The trip passes with me staring at my Lonely Planet on the bed with the curtains slightly ajar. The young guy drives and is quiet. The baldy guy teases me, chatty and friendly. I only own halterneck swimmers that pull on my neck. Going without a bra was no problem on the beach, but now I wish I owned a bra. The more I talk to baldy, the more self-conscious I become of my boobs floating around under my t-shirt. As time passes I begin to prefer the guy who doesn’t speak. But it was baldy who bought me onboard and I am happy to be going somewhere. We stop at the grocery shop. I have worn the cargo shorts every day since Josh gave them to me (hence the ankle tan). I especially love them with my new baggy white undies sticking out the top (Hi mum.) Baldy points out there is a tear in the bum. He gives me some green and white boardies. We go for a drink; with my orange juice, I wear the boardies and sew my pants sitting at the bar, much to their amusement. Sometimes I am an oddity, it’s true. In the supermarket, Baldy points around, telling me to look. I choose an avocado and some honey. We feast in the truck, they just keep feeding me, tomato and salt and oil and avocado on crispy Spanish baguette, (Man I love Spanish bread. Whoever said French was best was lying), as well as garlic toasted bread, and sugary… sweet… bread like… crispy things. We cross the border into France. The truck is going a looong way, to Italy. Baldy tells me to come with them; there are only 2 beds. Umm, no thanks. Societal expectations, judgement, awkward situation. If it wasn’t for the overnight stop I would so be down with going to Italy. As the sun sets I get edgy and restless. After much agonising over the map, they to drop me at a servo outside of Montpellier. I have been near here before! And the sun is setting again. Ha. FML.
Inside to ask for cardboard. There is only one way to get from the autoroute into town to find a bed, by car. I make a sign to Montpellier. With Paris on the other side it’s double or nothing. Sit outside on the cement seats. See a girl and a guy with backpacks. Hitchers! I am so excited, but play it cool. Casually sit near them. They are having a feast, speaking in French. I start a conversation- she is a Couchsurfer and has practically moved into his house- he tells me he has told her to leave and I am not sure if he is teasing or serious. She’s from Israel, with curly hair. I offer them my honey, bread, avocado, chocolate. My favourite things. I mention I don’t have a bra and she says, I think I have one in my bag, I never wear it, don’t like the things. I don’t think its gonna fit me, but she pulls it out and it fits me like it was made for me. I bounce up and down in supported bliss. A woman pulls in and the dude automatically helps her park the van, this way, a lil more, a lil more, stop. The woman goes inside and he turns his attention back to the girl. The blonde lady comes back out and I have a feeling… I ask her where she is going. Nime, where these guys are headed. The dudes ear prick up and he is paying attention again, stands and speaks to her in French. My work here is done! The cool girl gives me her email, I take their picture and I am alone again. (I’m never alone, I’m alone all the time…). Buses pull into the servo, people pour out and it cramps my style. I can’t tell who to take the time to ask where they are going and who is just getting back on the bus. At one point I leave my bag to walk to a car, but I don’t take my eyes off it. A guy nudges his friend and walks towards it. I intercept, sit back down next to it and look pointedly at him. There is a man with a motorhome that has two beds. He is sleeping at the servo tonight, he offers for me to sleep in it. It’d be better than the bench, but an enclosed space with this guy? He seems harmless, a little eccentric if anything. I tell him maybe. The trucks are parking up for the night again. One offers for me to go with him at 6am. I am realising it will take as much effort to get to a bed in Montpellier as it will to get to Paris. Live and learn.
I move to a bench closer to the cars. A guy sits next to me, I start a conversation. He is also going to Nice. All these people going in a different direction. I wonder if perhaps I should go to Italy instead. There is really nothing stopping me. At the least, I can go with him to Marseille; the truckers said a lot of trucks go to Paris from there. He’s tired and was hoping I could help with the driving. We both would have liked it if I could, even with the other side of the road thing. We talk a little as he drives. His girlfriend studies Psychology and he is into Social Work. He is an intellectual, wears glasses. Has an intelligent, but fixed, view of the world. I share what I think about some things (?) and he isn’t particularly impressed. We stop and he buys me a tea. It is Moroccan flavoured, I’m surprised. But there are Moroccans here, so of course. Back in the car, I am falling asleep sitting up and feel bad he can’t do the same. At Marseille he tells me, he is too tired to drive all the way. His mother has a retirement house in a small village near here and he will sleep there. I can join him if I want. I want. We stop by the beach for one minute for a beautiful view of the moon, Jason Mraz plays on the radio. The house is one room. There is only a couch. He looks for blankets and says he will sleep on the floor. But the couch is a futon and I tell him, we can top and tail. His head next to my feet. Wrap myself in my Moroccan blanket and sleep.
He didn’t have enough change for the parking all night. I told him I would get up and deal with it in the morning so he can sleep. 5 short sweet hours, I haul ass outta bed at 8.45am. He mentioned he was looking forward to sleeping all day so I pay for parking until 4. Works for me, I want to wander and interweb. We are in a small bay between Marseille and Toulon. When I return with the keys, he is awake and packing and cleaning and returning everything to how we found it. Errr. I dress and pack as well. Things are a little strained between us. He asks me what I want to do, and I want Internet. I need to look at a map and send out some CouchSurfing requests to Paris. He is saying its all good, but I sense he is impatient to be on the road. He hovers around with annoying anxious energy, thankfully goes back to finish packing. An hour later I return (he thought I would get lost?) and he is sitting outside the flat on our bags. Without further ado, he drops me at a tollway. He’s a little bossy about where I should go and how to do it, makes a hitching sign for me.
I largely ignore what he says, sit down and eat some bread and honey. Cross the road to the public toilets. A Spaniard police man on a bike sees me carrying the signs and tells me I can’t hitch here. After I use the toilet, I hitch here.
It is very sunny and I am already burnt all over. Spend time admiring all the strange tones of my skin, like my hips from when I was shovelling, my feet, and the stripes across my chest from my bikini. My hair is lighter too. I apply sunscreen; two young girls stop. They are going the other way, worse luck, could have been nice. They give me a map of France.
Travel for a short while with one man then stand back in the sun. An older man in a golden car stops and we drive for hours. I nod off to sleep a few times. He seems to yabber a lot, I am so tired and he speaks to me loudly in French. Maybe he thinks yelling the words rapidly in my face will make me understand. Not exactly relaxing. I have the urge to get out a few times, but he is still going in the right direction so I stay. At the servo, finally honour the urge to get out. I buy a tin of Ravioli and hope there is only a small small amount of meat. Near the counter my eyes fall on a bright purple hooded jumper. With white string. Put it on. Love at first sight, baby. I didn’t own a jumper. This one is 25 Euro, which comes from the man with the jaded hearts money. Outside I am bouncing and happy in purple goodness. The man I have been driving with seems concerned about my future. There is a car and he says the number plate says Paris. He approaches and begins to talk to the driver and I think, Oh god if I leave this in his hands the driver won’t take me! Run interference: Cute bad french time. Bon Jour! Je voux alley Paris… Tu alley? She says. The driver is young and nods.
In the car with Ben. His English warms up and I don’t need French so much. Way back near Barcelona, I bought 5 lighters with cool designs. He smokes and I offer him one of them. It’s red with a chicken turning into an egg and back into a chicken again. I think he likes it.
He puts some strange bubbly music on that I like. He works in TV, and so do his 2 housemates. We have a nice vibe going on; he mentions he has a girlfriend called Valentine. I don’t believe him- be my valentine! She calls and he motions for me to be quiet. The sun is beautiful today, slanting through the clouds. He asks where I am staying, I tell him I plan to CouchSurf but don’t know where. He has wanted to try having people surf with him, offers for me to be the first one to stay in their new flat. Perfect. He calls his flatmates, speaks in French. When he gets off the phone he jokes that they didn’t want me. Maybe he could tell me listening closely, stranger things have happened.
We drive for maybe 6 hours, in the van. I am chatty; he asks me why I jingle. Honza had a bell around his neck, I liked it and when I told him so, he put it around my neck. Just like that. So now I am laughing and talking and pulling faces and jingling in the car with Ben. In his apartment, we are worn out from the journey. The sun is setting over Paris, behind the Eiffel tower. They live on the 27th floor, impressive view. I meet housemate Julien and his girlfriend Natasha; they don’t speak to me much. His other housemate Anna seems nicer. Softer, more human than Natasha and Julien. They are beautiful, maybe they know it- they are aloof and a little distant. (Also, Anna has fluent English and that makes a difference- the French’s relationship with English can be grating. They don’t like speaking it or don’t like that they can’t speak it.) Anna, Natasha, Julien and Ben work in TV and live in Paris. I feel so awkward in my trucker shorts and 3 Euro shirt I have been wearing for a week. Until now I loved this new outfit, but now I am painfully aware the Barcelona dirt still hasn’t entirely washed out of my skin. In Barcelona, I had cold beach showers and didn’t have to be clean. There were no mirrors to look into, but when I saw one, the sunburn made my eyes look even greener. Now I am awkwardly tiptoeing around. We eat dinner in silence (I have heard the Parisians can be cold). Julien has cooked curry rice with coconut milk, it’s good. They make a bed under the window with the view of the Eiffel tower. Anna is nice, gives me her keys and writes the address in case I get lost. I shower and I can feel Ben is still awake. He leaves his door ajar. I sit on the end of the bed, confused with the vibe from him. He has work tomorrow, I ask to borrow his internet. Excuse myself and stay up late, facebooking, looking at maps, looking at CouchSurfing. I want to book a flight to Israel.
10th July. Next day I sleep until lunchtime, wash my clothes, then Internet again. I find flights from Belgium. It will take all my money, but I can feel the clock is ticking and it’s now or never. Do what I am reluctant to do- ask Dad and Jules if they will give me a loan. I am fantasising about going home, and collecting receipts. One hell of an insurance claim to make! Actually looking forward to it. The parentals don’t have cash right now, apparently we have a new driveway though. Dad tells me, book the flight and we will do what we can. So I book for the 12th, return on the 17th. I had heard from Ariel’s brother that I should tell him when I am coming- I have emailed once with no reply and now email him again. Natasha has been out, when she returns she raises an eyebrow that I haven’t done anything all day. I find I am explaining myself. Apparently she does speak English, in a crazy strong American accent. After some nice bonding moments in the kitchen, I dress and leave to explore. I am wearing my new purple jumper- lucky I bought it when I did, perfect timing. Crappy Paris weather. There is a pet shop with German shepherd puppies in a glass cage, not impressed. Look for a bakery, buy a nectarine. Natasha and Ellen recommended places to visit- I head vaguely towards the middle of my map. Get out at Château, there is a pretty fountain. I like the trees and water in France. In the subway I noticed Ads for a dance performance- I am now standing in front of the theatre where it is being performed. The lady at the desk tells me, it is sold out, but I can sit in rows at the side for 5 euro. Sweeet! I have 5 euro. It starts at 730- while I wait I find a supermarket which will accept MasterCard, buy some lentils and a thick, pure fruit smoothy. Sit on the edge of some trees; a small bird eats my bread while I dip it in the vinergar-y grey beans, surprisingly delicious. (NOTE: I think this was my first serious encounter with lentils).
A black youth (and friend) are across the street from me, all clad in bright purple, I love it, and stare unabashedly while the police come and fully search them. Because they’re black? Or because they are lingering suspiciously?
I am happy I am watching some American Dance Theatre in PARIS of all places. I am sitting behind a pole but lean forward around it, and then sit on the stairs. In the second half, I fall asleep for a few moments. Then everyone is on their feet applauding, the curtain closes and opens again, the dancers move forwards and backwards, the lights go up and down again and everyone is still applauding. The dancing was good, but not that good. It seems so prerehearsed, the whole encore thing, I don’t really want to participate. It invalidates the whole process! If you do that everytime, what is left when a performance is actually special? The poster had some stunningly toned half naked brown men jumping around in the air, unfortunately I didn’t get to see that- maybe if I had, I would be on my feet clapping as well. I leave the theatre and to my surprise, the sun hasn’t gone down yet. I don’t have any change and decide to walk (instead of Metro) to the Eiffel tower. I can see it in the distance and walk in the general direction.
Half an hour later, still walking, and I could swear I am almost there… Almost there… Almost there… It’s getting bigger and bigger above my head and I keep thinking I will arrive any second. But I have SERIOUSLY underestimated how big that thing is. So I keep walking and walking. I walk along the river, over the river. I offer to take a photo of a guy making a movie of a big barge, lit up and pretty. I stop on an island near the Notre Dame Island. There’s grass flowers and trees. As I walk along the river, there are boats renovated and permanently moored as restaurants and party venues. A couple walks past me towards one such boat, her in a dress and him in a tux. I get the feeling of being really outside of things, acutely aware of my aloneness; there are parties I am not invited to.
I sit near a large ventilation fan on a brick wall above one such place. Beside me I find a small souvenir fan ‘Paris’. Someone has forgotten it here.(I wanted to buy a pretty red one in Spain). I start walking again. Someone is drumming on the other side of the river. Tourists point, take photos on the bridge. The sun is low. I am thinking about Dom, back in Australia. I am thinking of the past, of what we had between us, of what I have heard from him lately. I realise, what we had is gone. I feel like I am single, like I do not have another half, another person holding me in their heart, for the first time in a long time. It scares me for a minute, I spend a while walking in melancholy. Then I realise: Now I am free to create something new. I begin to compose in my head a list, to paint a picture of what I would like in a partner. Of what I wish to find. Warm skin, like Romains on the beach in Barcelona. Slightly taller than me. Listens to me while he traces lines on my skin. Looks at me with an amused glint in his eye when I am being impossible. Wisdom without a struggle, honest. Toned soft brown back. Eyes as amazing as Honza’s. Interesting history, stories to tell. Brave, resigned to face things. Sense of humour and irony. Devoted, anchored with a steadfast core (the words to The Script sing in my head, I’m not moviiiin…). He doesn’t need to know himself, because he just is himself, this man. He expresses his anger, he listens and takes advice, he is affectionate and seduces me at least once a day. With the realisation that this is entirely possible, I feel a little more hopeful, a little less like I will be alone forever more.
At last I arrrive at the tower, soon it will close for the night. Underneath, two security guards are wandering around holding big ass guns. Is that entirely necessary? I crane my head backwards and try to take a picture from underneath, but it is too big to fit in the picture.
I wonder if they accept MasterCard. I am exhausted; just want to go back to bed, It’s 11pm and I haven’t been in contact with the people back at the flat. There is a minimum purchase of two tickets for MasterCard, I ask the guy behind me if he’ll give me his cash and let me pay with card for him as well, double win because now I have cash on me. There is a wait for the elevator and the people cram in. I do a lap around, take a picture, and make a movie.
In the city of love, visiting the Eiffel tower alone, couples everywhere, sigh. Use the loo, refill my drink bottle, cram back into the elevator. On the way to the Metro I stop at a pancake stand. Smeared batter in perfect circles on a hotplate, spread with Nutella and banana. Ariel used to eat Nutella. Of course it is laden with milkiness. To my delight, this guy also has WAFFLES, which are dairy-free. I get one with banana, it is 4 Euro!!! 8 dollars for a fricken waffle, just because I am standing near the Eiffel tower. The waffle is amazing. It is so delicious I can’t believe it. Outside the metro, I buy a glass statue of the Eiffel tower that lights up, as well as an Eiffel tower keychain. It takes a while to get back to the block, and a while longer to figure out which building. All the apartment blocks look the same. Inside the flat, Julian is sitting on the couch in the dark drinking a beer. I speak to him, explaining where I have been, when he hardly responds I remember he doesn’t speak much English. He tells me Ben has only just gone to bed; I go in to talk to him.
I chat with Ben for a while, tell him about my day. Getting weird vibes again that I don’t know what to do with. Eventually excuse myself. Sleep and wake up at 1030. Dip the leftovers from my stick of bread in some jam. On the bus, the driver won’t take my note. Look at Band-Aids (for my blistered feet) in the pharmacy. Buy a packet of lollies (candy, sweets, whatever you call them). With the change, back on a bus going up and around the north of Paris. I am vaguely heading toward Porte De Montmartre, both Ellen and Natasha mentioned it. There is a semi-circle of soft couch-like chairs up the back of the bus, and small children sitting opposite me. I don’t want the lollies anymore, and offer them to a small girl on her grandfather’s lap. She looks at him and he shakes his head and tells me no. Ahhh I am offering candy to a baby. I get it, but am upset at him for telling her to say no to something that is actually quite safe. Upset at him for teaching her to be afraid. The bus ride is long and uneventful. I change buses. When I arrive at Montmartre, there isn’t much to see. Hear from Ben, he is coming to meet up with me and I decide to head towards the Louvre. I walk south, through increasingly busy streets. I see a statue made entirely of clocks. Spend a while choosing and buying a magnet of the Eiffel tower to add to my growing collection. Have Quick, I love it! The dairy-free hot chocolate fudge, 2.95. Sit upstairs, Ben calls and I start walking south again. There’s lots of grass and hedges made into a maze. I think, the perfect spot to be with a lover, and next thing I am looking at a couple making out, tangled around each other, affectionately in each other’s necks. They are not young. I love that about Europe, that passionate love is for all ages. I can see the river and a big wheel lit up (similar to the London Eye); the Louvre should be here somewhere. I ask an old lady, she takes me by the arm, walks me around the corner, and points. Very sweet and endearing.
Today, I am singing. I walked under a bus; I got hit by a train. Keep falling in love, which is kinda the same. Sunk out at sea, crashed my car, gone insane, and it felt SO good, I wanna do it again…
So there’s the big famous glass pyramid and lots and lots of buildings. Walk through a very posh cafe, act like I belong there, use the loo. (My phone rings while I am in there and I sit on the posh couch). Lie on the edge of the fountain and wait for Ben. He arrives, I am happy. He has brought with him an old camera and takes pictures of me as we walk through Paris. There is an Andy Warhol exhibition; I remember that Erin used to love him. Ben pays the entry. In the Czech republic, the museums never translated to English, thankfully they do here.
We wander around, split up and reunite as we make our way through. It is the first time I have been to a museum exhibition! After all this time in Europe, unbelievable. The museum is closing as we get to the end; I am taking my time and get irritated at Ben when he tries to hurry me along. The ushers are waiting for all the people go. Ben’s sense of politeness kicks in- once he told me that he apologizes when he coughs even if he is alone. Outside, I slide down the railing; we sit on the grass near a pond for a while. He wants a smoke. Anna calls, she is ready to meet up. On the way, Ben asks how I am. I tell him I am letting go of my love at home, because I think he has moved on. I tell him I thought I would have babies with that guy. We stop to use the McDonalds loo on the way; the line is as long as if it were a nightclub. At some point, I trip on my thongs and rip them; they wont stay on anymore so now I am barefoot. (Still the same ones I bought off the front cover of a magazine in Barcelona). When we meet up with Anna she is horrified I am barefoot, gets all concerned and motherly on me. I am not overly bothered, but when we meet up with Natasha and Julien as well, I am painfully aware of my own dagginess, next to his suit and her perfectly put together outfit. The shoe stores are shut by now, we find a 7-11 and buy a sewing kit. I roughly sew the thong back together. Ben and I are hungry, there is a store with a huge amount of different salads and cooked veges with a Greek feel. Turns out Natasha, Julien and Anna don’t wanna eat. I do though! Get the feeling Anna maybe doesn’t like to eat much. Once my belly is full, we visit a place their friend has recommended. It is a strange pub, an open warehouse with art on the walls, it’s quiet and I love the music, makes me start dancing all over the place, attracting attention even though I am restraining myself. Unfortunately it is closing soon, we sit by the river. I ask if anyone ever jumps in and swims, they are horrified at the suggestion, apparently its quite polluted. Plus, they are dignified Parisians. As we sit and talk, Natasha starts teasing me more and more about Ben, she is hinting he likes me. Anna starts chiming in as well, it isn’t right, he has a girlfriend. I like the attention, it entertains me, but I am saying, Wow guys, nothing has even happened, I haven’t done anything! And it isn’t my responsibility what he does or does not feel. I move away from them for a minute, to get some air of my own. Now a lady is asking me if I want to play Pétanque. You see it a lot in France, similar to boules in Australia but you can throw the ball in the air. There are some young men, plus a really old bloke who is one of their grandpa’s (really). A strange bunch under a bridge near the river, I play a few rounds with them, perform okay in one round then lose dreadfully in the next. It is fun and when I rejoin the group I feel better. Tell them I just played with the oldies, I love how random it is. Natasha and I want to dance, Anna and Julien want to go home to sleep. And Ben, well maybe he will go where I go. The bunch under the bridge are going back to someone’s place to dance, they invite us, we could go. We start walking and I go into a club to use the loo… and dance in the bathrooms. The music is good, nay, great, makes me wanna move my toosh. Outside I nudge Natasha and tell her we could go there. She doesn’t have money, neither do I, (growl in the general direction of MasterCard) so we have to convince the boys. Julien wants to sleep, Anna gets in a cab home, then Natasha caves in too. Over red rover. I want to sulk, I am disappointed! I am in PARIS and I wanna dance.
Earlier today Ben mentioned to me, Julien feels like he can’t sit on the couch and scratch himself in the mornings with me sleeping in the lounge room. Anna thinks that I should sleep in her room, because of Ben’s girlfriend, Ben suggests I sleep in his bed. Personally, my bed with my Moroccan blanket is just fine- but I don’t handle feeling unwelcome very well. I don’t wanna ruffle feathers. I shower and sit on Ben’s bed. There is this talk of his girlfriend, but she doesn’t call, I haven’t seen her in the time I have been here. Odd. He says, they have been together for three years and he pretty much feels it is over. He tells me he likes me. I am silent for a long while. I tell him I am happy around him. This much I am clear about. He kisses me and his kisses are perfect. Almost too perfect, like they require concentration. He apologises at one point, when his kiss isn’t up to scratch. I hadn’t noticed. He doesn’t sleep with me, and we don’t sleep much. (At one point I remember what he is doing, when he is kissing me and mentions her, it makes me feel a little sick). Next day, I feel uneasy facing the firing squad. Natasha smiles and nudges me when she sees me, but Anna isn’t speaking to me. I am fairly sure she has a thing for Ben; this isn’t about the girlfriend at all. Ben’s friend has planned a party at their place tonight, now I wish they hadn’t, I don’t feel like company. We stay inside all day (yes even though I am in Paris). Ben cooks for me, (finally, I am starved by the time we eat) and he is good at it. Delicious. We easily settle into a close relationship. He’s a Gemini. When we were eating lunch, he snapped the lip of the laptop in front of me shut and I saw the edge of something I didn’t quite like. (The light and the dark, the good and the bad.) Next thing, people are arriving. Anna has had words with Ben and becomes civil to me, she is making Spanish Mohito’s, they’re strong and not really like the ones in Spain, but with plenty of sugar they go alright. I make polite conversation. I talk to a pretty blonde girl for a while about my travel and she gets all inspired. Love having that effect. We are all pretty drunk, I am in Ben’s room for a while to sit off some alcohol, next thing we are kissing me again. The kissing is heavy but the clothes stay on. Somewhere along the way, he tells me he loves me, the words just fall off his lips like he didn’t quite intend them.
Sunday 12th July is the day I fly to Israel. Time to walk where I want and need to walk. As always, I don’t wanna go. I see the path, and I plan the steps, and then as I begin, I get scared. It’s time to go and say goodbye to Ariel. I wake up, curl into the foetal and start crying. Once at Lotus in Wollongong, a girl had started crying and I had gone instinctually to her to hug her. My boss had said to me afterwards, never do that. Never comfort someone with the intention of making them stop crying. If they need to get it out, give them the space to get it out. Now when Ben puts his arms over me and asks what is wrong, I understand exactly what she meant. Me being upset distresses him. But I have grown used to crying when I want to cry. I get out of the bed and into the shower, I don’t explain myself. I slowly gather my things, a little hung-over. I find the ring, one of the two that Dom and I had given each other. Since I have been in Europe, every day, I put it on religiously, with an awareness of my connection to him. Yesterday, I couldn’t find it, and I didn’t really try. Now it is back on my hand. Ben and Julien fetch breakfast, but come back without strawberry sorbet. (A girlfriend, can’t handle me crying, and now, no ice-cream?! Strike three and you’re out.) I don’t realise it, but perhaps I have left him feeling powerless when I didn’t speak this morning. I was angry with him for not realising what I needed. So now as I pack, as I write down phone numbers and send emails, he tells me to hurry and we are miles from each other. I still haven’t heard back from Ron, but I am going with or without hearing from him. We get the metro and I refuse to rush. At the train station, we have only minutes and we run. He prints off the tickets as I hold the train. With perfect timing, he hands me the tickets, says ‘I love you’, and the doors close. He paid for the train ticket to Belgium, so that I could stay longer with him, so that I didn’t have to worry about hitch hiking. It is first class and a stewardess brings me food, complete with a refresher towel. I’m like the cat that got the cream. When I change at Brussels station, I stand in line at the Quick for 20 minutes to get more hot dairy free chocolate fudge. I am flying from Liege airport on a new carrier, Jetairfly Belgium. On the train between Brussels and Liege, I make friends with a little boy. This train is less flash then the other one, and I chase him up and down the aisles, my neck jingling with the bell Honza gave me. (I wear it every day without fail. Makes me smile.) I make brief conversation with his parents, he is cute.
As we disembark, they watch me approach a cab to ask how much to the airport. The cab driver tells me there is no bus, and the man tells me there is. Pause. They live nearby and tell me they will drive me to the airport. Fuck I love this life. I love people. I love travelling, I love luck. I love when things flow effortlessly. He gives me a coke and I drink some of it to be polite. Not something that happens often. As we pull into the airport, it starts to bucket rain. Once I am inside, the sun returns. A tiny airport with no Internet. I sit on my suitcase in the check in line, something I haven’t had to do before, I am usually later than this. It is obvious this plane is going to Israel; there are men in big top hats and long black coats. To a Jewish country I will go, for the first time. I stare a little. They have short hair apart from next to their ears, where they have curls, which they must use a curler for, little ringlets hanging next to all their ears.