I willingly surrender my mobile phone and camera. My passport, anything that I can read or write on, my pens; into the safe they go. The registration fee for 10 days, including food and shelter, is 2000 baht (70AUD). I give all my money and tell them I will send more. (I meant it at the time; turns out they would prefer me to donate it to another charity as it’s unlikely to arrive through the mail). I sign a form agreeing to follow instructions and abide by the rules completely. Room key 111 is free. A woman hurriedly scans my form, they won’t feed me Dairy. You’re a beginner? At 4pm the Abbot, Ajhan Poh makes a welcoming talk- he tells us; he wants to offer us ‘the best thing in Thailand’- Buddhism. We sit on the stone floor of a large open-air meditation hall, facing 3 ponds surrounded by reeds.
We are at the International Dharma Heritage. A funny little nun leads the tour around the grounds. The men and women have separate sleeping areas, and the boundary is a ditch. There are hot springs, two for men and one for women. The people here are English speakers (or non-speakers, as the case may be). We collect a drink bottle, a blanket and a mosquito net, and cushions for the meditation hall. Our bed is a cement slab raised off the ground, with a ‘wooden pillow’- a block of wood with a bit cut out for your head.
(I undertake the training to intend not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats.) At 6pm in the eating hall we drink ‘tea’; today it’s chocolate milk, they give me sweet juice instead. Because Tal and me arrived late, we sort out details while a video about Buddhadasa Bikkhu, the founding monk, plays on the TV above our heads. There is time for some final question and answers, and then at 7.15pm, the silence begins. We walk wordlessly past one another, heads bowed.
In my cement room, I unpack my backpack. A fellow meditator-to-be leaves her new purple sarong, purchased for a friend, outside my door. I didn’t bring one, and we must bathe completely covered. I hang my clothes on coat hangers on a piece of rope in my room. As well as the allocated blanket, I have the blue blanket from British Airways. The lights go out at 9.30 and silence falls.
I don’t mind the silence, really. I must learn to master my mind though. I came into this with knowledge of the power of the mind, and the hold my own mind has over me. The thought of sitting alone with it scares me. I am wary at the self-destructiveness that will arise in me if I am left to sit with myself.
Day one, day one, start over again… Step one, step one, with not much making sense just yet. I’m faking it, til I’m pseudo making it, from scratch, begin again. But this time I as I, not as we. (I undertake the training to intend not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear garlands, ornaments and beautify myself with perfumes and cosmetics.)
At 4am the bell begins to ring. Each time it slowly tolls, it sounds like it will be the last time, such is the pause afterwards. But it continues on and on, gently ringing until we are all up. Today, the first day, I wrap myself in the sarong and walk to wash myself. The dorm is a large square, with a garden in the middle and 60 rooms around the outside, facing inwards.
There are two big old trees in the middle on the grass, and 3 large round cement tubs filled with water along each side. At the far end is a row of toilets and the square main cement tubs. I cut the corner and as I walk toward them in the twilight, I find myself stumbling in a drainage ditch. I inwardly curse. On the tub edges are plastic coloured dishes, which you fill with water to pour on yourself. Holding the sarong in my teeth, I pour water underneath. The water is cold. I dress in unfamiliar clothing, not singlets or dresses. I have to be covered from shoulder to knee at all times. When I guess it’s about 430, I make my way in the dark to the meditation hall for the morning reading.
We will sit in the same places each time to avoid confusion. I am in the women’s section, the right, at the back, on the outside. To my right is a section of stone floor, then grass and trees. The weather in Thailand has been so warm and balmy; I haven’t needed my favourite purple jumper, which is with my luggage in Bangkok. Now as we sit for meditation between 4.45 and 5.15am, I miss it. I have such dislike for being cold. (Day 3 I finally approach a nun, she gives me donated jumpers to choose from). From 5.15 to 7am we do ‘Mindfulness in Motion’- this replaces yoga as no one volunteered to instruct. I am disappointed. The sun rises half way through, at 6am. This is the only time are allowed to lie on the floor of the meditation hall and I make the most of it. I follow along at times, and do some of my own stretching. Noteworthy is an exercise where you stand and wave you arms, behind and then out in front and then behind, for 500 repeats. Pushing up in front, letting swing back. And repeat. Apparently the Abbot does thousands of them. At 7, an orange clad monk speaks to us about Dharma and meditation.
At 8, we file to the food hall. A large group of people walking in utter silence, slowly, up a dirt path. Today, everyone is diligent and conscientious, intentionally measuring their steps. We queue for a stainless steel bowl and spoon, and ladle food from a large stainless steel vat. For breakfast, warm rice gruel, with corn and other small pieces of veges floating round in it. A platter of leafy green lettuces and cucumber, a platter of spiky red lychees and small sweet bananas, and a tub of green tea. We sit women to the left and men to the right. The food reflection is read and we repeat, ‘With wise reflection I eat this food, not for play, not for intoxication, not for fattening, not for beautification. Only to maintain this body, to stay alive and healthy, to support the spiritual way of life. Thus I let go of unpleasant feelings and do not stir up new ones. Thereby the process of life goes on, blameless at ease and in peace.’ We are encouraged to eat slowly, to put the spoon down between mouthfuls and not put more food in our mouth until we have swallowed. The diet is vegan and pleases me no end. There is a lot of food and I eat until full. Out the back, four tubs of water; to remove solids, to wash with soap, to rinse, to rinse again. They have asked us to aim to keep the final tub free from any solids or suds. Separate tubs to wash our cups, stacked upside down to air-dry. Around 9, I lie down on my cement slab and stare at the ceiling. I knock on the door of the Thai woman who lives in our dorm to turn off the lights and supervise- I point to the weeping gash on my left ankle. Funny thing, this whole time I have been travelling, I have not injured myself. Until now, very few bruises, cuts knocks or scrapes- I struggle to remember any. She pours Bedatine on it and applies a Band-Aid.
I collect a rake and a tub, move to the area I need to rake. The grass has many roots and is tangled together. Ants crawl on my legs and bite me, getting all over my white fisherman’s pants, which now have blood and pus on them from my ankle. In frustration I pick up the leaves one by one, empty them into the tub, return the rake. The bell rings at 10am for our Dharma talk. A large thin mat, two flat cushions, two plump cushions.
Our feet must not face toward the speaker at any time, it is considered rude. As is lying down in public, much to my disdain. When my lower back is out of alignment and hurting, the quickest way to fix it- flat on my back and relax until it crunches back into place. Not so here. We may sit in lotus, half lotus, or on our knees Japanese style. Small wooden squares make a mini seat, and those with back problems (AKA whingers) can sit by request on a chair at the back. As time passes I become more creative with the cushions. Each day we are spoken to about Buddhism basics, in particular the teachings of Buddhadasa Bikkhu, who founded Wat Suan Mokkh. As I come to understand their point of view: The cause of all suffering, or ‘dukkah’ is ignorant contact, when we forget the basic truths of life- Impermanence, and Not-self. Forgetting the basic truths leads to ‘Upadana’- grasping, clinging, attachment. The aim is to free yourself from this state, through practising Mindfulness of Breathing, Anapanasati.
At 11 o’clock we learn Walking Meditation. The aim is to wholly envelop your mind in paying attention to the movements of your feet. To do this, you must move very slowly. Imagine your foot lifting off the ground, moving through the air, lowering to the ground, pressing down. Lifting lifting lifting, moving moving moving, lowering lowering lowering, pressing pressing pressing, for 45 minutes. The pond to the left of the meditation hall has on it a bridge leading to a small island in the centre. Each day it is well populated with people and I keep it for later. When I eventually venture there, the ground of the small island is covered in ants. There is a low tree and I return often to sit between its branches, wrapping myself around and watching the other people slowly walk. I have one moment where I look around, and everyone is deep in concentration on walking so painstakingly slowly, and I notice the ludicrous, almost insane nature of this (although in truth it is no less sane than normal human reality) but for a clear moment I feel as if I am in a mental asylum.
45 minutes sitting meditation. The wound on my ankle is weepy and in the heat attracts flies while I am attempting to sit quietly. They bite. The water we bathe in is communal tap water, when the sore becomes yellow, I show it to the nun and she gives me saline solution to bathe it in. I attend to small details. Each morning, each break, I apply fresh Vaseline to my tattoo. With a small pouch of washing powder, I sit and wash my clothes in buckets. I use the dishes to fill the buckets and worry about contaminating the well with powder. The clothes dry quickly on the strip of washing line outside my door.
I learn to sleep sitting up leaning back against the pole. I sit on my knees with cushions under them, put my head on my thighs, and sleep. I sit with one leg forwards and one backwards, bend onto my knee, and sleep. I rest my forehead on the floor, intending to rest, and sleep. At 12.30 the bell tolls and we go for lunch. File silently up the path each time, queue and fill our bowls, read the food reflection. This will be our final meal for the day. (I undertake the training to intend not to eat in between after noon and before dawn.) There are a few dishes to choose from, curries and rice, as well as lettuce, bananas and lychees and tea again. Eating slowly until I am overfull, to last all afternoon, with a couple of cups of tea. Doing everything carefully, washing up the plate, cup and spoon. I develop a routine, leaving the cup on the sink, washing the bowl and coming back for the spoon. Minor details.
I experiment with seating, most days facing outwards with my back to the male half of the room, looking across the steel boundary to a dirt parking lot with a rainforest hill. Sometimes Thai workers drive along the road in their tractors, motorbikes or cars. Cats mill around near the kitchen. One such tabby waltzes through the breakfast hall while we are eating in our carefully constructed silence and meows, prompting one of the participant’s response of an aggressive irritable shhh! One day, the renga tall pretty girl who is always playing with the animals, hands me a purring cat. Later I sit with in the courtyard on a straw mat and stair at the roof with the noisy cat purring; it is kind of mangy around the mouth and ears, I think back to Morocco and wonder if I will catch something.
On Day One at lunch, an American guy is yelling at the nuns. They are mild-mannered and do not yell back. His girlfriend’s mother (?) died a week before he entered, and he wants them to give him his phone out of the safe to call her. He has signed a form that he will not use it while he is here. He yells at them they are fake Buddhists. They suggest to him that he can leave. He does not. They give him the phone and usher him outside the gate to use it. His manner shakes me, he swears and is abrasive. I wonder if he is a voice for the frustration of the group. I stay away from him when walking the grounds.
In the breaks after filling my belly, I go to my room to lay down and fall asleep, waking again when the bell tolls to meditate. I do my chore irregularly, sometimes in the morning or afternoon or evening. After the fiasco of the first day, I rake in places where those ants are not. I am unsure exactly where I am supposed to be raking; I check the chore book at breakfast and lunch. There is supposed to be another girl raking as well but I don’t see her; perhaps she rakes immediately after eating. Must be in a different spot though, because each day I have leaves to remove. I take satisfaction in the clear patch of grass immediately to my right when I sit in silence.
The bell tolls for meditation instruction. The British monk speaks to us daily about Anapanasati, working through it chronologically, building our knowledge and understanding to enhance our ‘practice’. (In the afternoons we listen to recordings from the Buddhadasa, which are fascinating but unfortunately usually end with me asleep.) In the space of walking meditation I go into the courtyard around our rooms and walk. I follow the path methodically around and let my mind become restful. I notice details; particular girls clothes, how their rooms are kept. I notice that most of the women have bought large suitcases packed full with many things. Their clothes hang in their rooms and fill the rope. I take comfort in the simplicity in my room; I left most of my things in Bangkok and have only the bare essentials with me.
4.15, sitting meditation. I have never been much of a meditator. I find the pressure of forcing a not calm mind to calm itself distressing. When the lady at check-in asked me if I meditate, I replied, Sometimes when stretching or in the shower. I love to lie in the shower, under the steady beating pressure of the water and let my mind be calm and still. My energy cleansed. The things that bubble to the surface of mind at such times are usually useful. I have read and heard much of the benefit and value of meditation. I don’t want to push myself too much too soon, so when meditation times begin, I focus first on finding comfort and not wriggling too much. I try occasionally to ignore discomfort and pain in my body rather than run from it. It is enough to be here in this time of reflection. I watch my thoughts carefully, I observe, but I allow them liberty to wander. When I am tired, I allow myself to sleep to help the time pass.
At 5pm, Chanting books are distributed and we echo the monk ‘Buddham saranang gacchāmi, Dhammam saranang gacchāmi, Sangham saranang gacchāmi’- To the Buddha, the dhamma and the sanga for refuge we go. All day I have sat with my new tattoo facing up to me. In the breaks I have applied Vaseline, tending to it. Now we chant- Life Does Not Last, Death Is Long Lasting. Inevitably I Must Die, Death Ends The Cycle Of My Life. Life Is Uncertain, Death Is Most Certain. They are willing us to remember the impermance of life. (This I have realised, when I left Norway I wrote to Endre, Life is impermanent, Life is beautiful. One, or the other, why both?!).
The chanting follows with Alas! This Body will not last. When Consciousness Is Gone, They Throw It Away, To Lie, Upon The Ground, Like A Fallen Log, Useless… I don’t want to say it. I only know one dead person and the thought of his body thrown on the ground with dismissal makes me deeply distressed. Tears.
After the chanting is Loving Kindness. The nun speaks of forgiveness, having a gentle heart, love for the family, and such. She recommends exercises and we practice some. She tells us of a young man who ran away from home and lived on the streets. He became a beggar with no food clothing or shelter. A woman took him into his home and he was incredibly grateful for the meal, shower and clean clothes she gave him. He felt eternally indebted to her. And this is what our mother and fathers do for us all our childhood. I can relate to him as I’ve experienced this incredibly gratitude for very small things, and begin to think about my family throughout the loving kindness. Soon I return home to a family I haven’t seen in over 7 months. I feel wary and as the time in here slowly passes, my mind pulls up old memories of them. We will need to talk.
At 6pm we file up to the hall for tea. In the afternoons I sit in a small wooden hut across from the food hall, alone usually. I prefer it, finding the presence of another unsettling. It pulls me out of myself, distracts, and evokes an aversive reaction. I see myself tense and begin to watch myself when another is near, rather then watching my experience. There is a long trail of ants opposite me. The ants here have more character than in Australia, often they are bigger, most are black, none green or red. On a path I watch them quickly gather stones to build a tunnel up and around their track. I absorb my attention in them as I slowly drink my warm cup of tea in the afternoons, and increasingly after meals. On Day 4 when I am Breaking, this is where I sit. I study the ants, their diligence and single focus movements. I wonder what they think- if they think, what their organising concepts look, feel and sound like. I wonder what motivates them. I wonder what it would be like if I had the work ethic of an ant, I wonder what it is like for them to stop and touch each other in the way they do. I’ve since heard that ants don’t sleep. I take comfort in their rhythmical movements, their large sense of purpose held in small forms. I am coming to peace with them. One day I sit and there is a decaying frog that they are taking to pieces slowly. I am repulsed; and then come to accept it for what it is. In chore time, one of the participants is cleaning and moves to remove the frog. I hiss at him and shake my head. He leaves it. Until the next day, when it is gone, swept away. Humans interfering, enforcing their will, resisting the way things are and wanting to change it. (I undertake the training to intend not to take away any breath.)
This time is also allocated for bathing in the hot springs. My hair is freshly dreaded and my ankle freshly tattooed and neither are supposed to get wet immediately. So I delay. Having something to look forward to helps immensely. (With each passing day, it is easier to convince myself to see it out. I habitually resign small pleasures for the following day).
There is a grass path leading to the springs, new territory. It is lined with coconut trees, they are all around and gardeners tend to them. The water in the spring is hot. There are cement steps in, and trees hang over it. Mosquitoes sometimes buzz around. The ground is mushy, laid with wooden planks. The spring appears to be naturally formed, with muddy walls and foliage. I cautiously dip my hair. With undignified, naughty pleasure, I float on my back. To the right is a tree archway, beyond which the planks end and the spring continues. None of the girls usually swim there: I want to. I am afraid of water, of bugs and insects and water creatures. Each day I cautiously venture a little further, frustrated with my own fear. The water is nurturing, calming, and coming out of the pond, even the Thai air feels crisp. There are two showers where the girls get nekked (despite protocol) and rinse.
At 7.30 the bell tolls. We sit and meditate in the hall. At 8.00 together we walk slowly around the ponds in single file. It is surprising and enjoyable, a large group of people walking silently and mindfully under the stars and moon. We pause and face in towards the water, barefoot under the sky in silence. When it rains for nighttime meditation, the woman walk in single file silently around the outside of the main meditation hall. The small nun leads, and pauses to face inwards after sometime. Some girls in the line annoy me, by having clicky hips or by walking with odd timing, or not by leaving even gaps, walking faster than the nun and then making everyone in the line stop when they run out of space. The rain brings the insects alive and the geckos inhabit the silence.
For the duration of the retreat we have remained barefoot inside, as is Thai custom; at the entrance to each building and hall there is a small square foot bath for washing your feet and removing the small sand stones that line the paths. When we walk around the smooth stone of the meditation hall in the silence and night rain, I carry with me a light broom and use it to brush from the path the tiny stones that many imperfectly washed feet have carried onto the stone.
At 8.30, we return to our positions to meditate. The gentle quiet nuns give final instructions, and at 9 we retire to our rooms. The gates are closed and at 9.30 the lights go out. I lay in bed in the darkness, with the gentle rustles of the girls in the rooms around me adjusting their things. The first day has passed and I work to calm my fast beating heart. The wooden pillow isn’t so bad and I am quickly asleep.
On the second morning, I lay awake as the bell tolls. The long pause each time makes me think it has finished, but again, it continues until I am up. I am wearing clothes that are unfamiliar to me, two white shirts I picked up at the charity store, and my comfortable fisherman’s pants. I work at changing clothes often and washing so I can remain clean. The day repeats.
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
07.00 Bells, Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00 Bells. Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45 Bells. Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & Chores
14.30 Bells. Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15 Bells. Sitting meditation
17.00 Bells. Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30 Bells Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 Bells Sitting meditation
21.00 Bells Bedtime
21.30 LIGHTS OUT
In hindsight, this experience feels mysterious. I chose not to capture any part of it, to let it all flow away. Fragments, slight variations
There is roughly 40-60 of us, half male, half female. (I undertake the training to keep my mind and body free from any sexual activity). I find myself walking behind one of the guys and staring at the hem of his pants thinking, lets just get married already. You, Me, lets go. The chic equivalent of ‘Lemme throw you down and fuck you right here’.
Each day our numbers fall a little, spaces clear up in the meditation hall, cushions are left and I add them to mine. It encourages me that I am doing well.
Another guy whose pants I liked is sitting outside the female dorm on a water tub; they are whispering to each other and I divert my eyes and ears. (Quickly people relax and become less disciplined. I notice how distracted my mind is by the sound of human speech; it pulls my attention like nothing else.) I need to wash my ankle but can’t get the tap to work- she asks me if I am okay- I nod briefly, smile awkwardly, and go back into the dorm. Later she hands me a note with a smile and walks away. She is leaving and wants me to email her and wishes me luck. Next day they are gone.
I find myself hugging a tree. I have heard about so called ‘Tree Huggers’ and never knew this could go beyond a fondness for preserving nature. I find myself in need of grounding, solid comfort. I push myself against it and find it’s ‘solidness’ exceptionally grounding and uplifting at once. To the left of the mediation hall is a large old tree. The nun tells us they call it ‘Big Tree’. Around it is sand, which is carefully raked by participants each day, they leave patterns stemming out from the trunk, sometimes circles, with their rakes. One day I hoist myself up in the tree and lay on the wide solid braches, my legs dangling over like a sloth in the sun. One of the girls makes a hand movement at me and mouths that it would make a good picture. For a minute I silently lament that it will never be a Facebook profile picture. I watch the ants crawling over the tree. Eventually the nun asks me to get down, I must ‘have respect’.
Much awaits me when I leave and it occupies my mind. The retreats ends on morning of the 11th. On the night of the 11th I will get the overnight train to Bangkok- I have not yet made a booking. My wallet is in Bangkok. I plan to find an Internet cafe, to Western Union some money to myself, pick it up and get the train. Then to find my wallet and get to the airport. Then to pay the flight change fee and get on the plane home. It leaves at 6pm on the 12th of August. To amuse myself I run through the details, backwards and forwards, planning. Increasingly, I think about the vegan restaurant in Bangkok, with their apple crumble and coconut cream custard. It is this coconut cream custard and crispy apple that nearly is my undoing.
I am not hungry, despite the large periods in between food. The food here is filling and sustains me energetically. I awake in the morning encouraged by the prospect of eating. I enjoy the bananas and look forward to the afternoons that come with dark, sweet juice of the kind which I have never tasted before (or since). I enjoy the slow leisurely eating, as I am naturally a slow eater. To keep my mind quiet I count my chews- on one particular instance I remember chewing a mouthful three hundred times. My bowels become regular after only a few days of clear routine. (The toileting is interesting- the retreat has both western and Thai toilets but they are not in the habit of using toilet paper- instead there are taps and round dishes beside the toilet which the Thais use to pour down their back and wash with their left hand. Despite the humidity, in the heat the water dries quickly. We are encouraged to this, although many of the foreigners choose to continue using toilet paper. For small business I find it okay but for big business I stick with the paper. In case you were wondering. I digress.)
For lunch a few dishes to choose from set out in large, stainless steel pots. I fill my bowl full and anxiously look around to see if I am taking more food then others. I notice with judgement that some women, one in particular, consistently begin eating before the food reflection, while the rest of us sit and wait for everyone to be seated. I notice with a little distress and defensiveness the men crossing to the women’s side and eating from our vat when their own is empty. I notice that I don’t usually breathe eating, not properly. I become practised at holding the focus on my mind on breathing while I eat- I bring the attention back, again and again. My peace in eating slowly is disturbed as hot curries begin being served for lunch. The discomfort is too much to eat slowly and I find myself breaking the peace and rhythm and swallowing quickly. The food varies from day to day with small treats, early on there are crunchy vegetable fried cookies that are to die for, and on another day we have some kind of liquid durian poured over rice bubbles in small bowls. Some of the westerners are unsettled by its strange taste and don’t eat it; more for me, I love the newfound, sweet alternative to milk.
What I am now realising on a deeper level then before, is how we use food, like talking, reading, watching TV or working, as an easy way to escape ourselves and our mind. As I pace back and forwards through the events that must occur after I leave here, mentally listing, I decide I will go to Bangkok and back to Khaosan road for the apple crumble before flying home. From the monastery, onto the train, and back to the apple crumble. With coconut cream custard. This is what awaits me when I leave here, and I can leave anytime. I am tempted. I tell myself, just make it until tomorrow, and if you still want to leave, you can go.
There is a shop in the food hall, which sells toilet paper, t-shirts, toiletries, aeroguard, pens and paper, sarongs. It is open irregularly. People line up, buying t-shirts. There is a funny one, of the ‘Monkey mind’, and the girls wear them. I have absolutely no money. I watch the people queuing to accrue new possessions and wonder if they are hearing the teachings of the ego. I ask the nun if I can pay afterwards for a pen and paper, she says yes but questions me whether I really want to do that. I leave the pen and paper in the after-hours supply box. One of the young guys chases after me on the path and asks me if I am leaving. I shake my head. ‘But I would for apple crumble!’ I say, breaking the silence momentarily, then disconnecting and walking to my room. I smile.
Tally leaves a leaf glistening with morning dew.
As the days pass I apply less and less Vaseline to the tattoo and the wound on my ankle slowly heals up.
The women settle in a routine, smiling at each other, cooperating in silence. Gesturing sometimes, although I choose not to. One of them is absolutely beautiful, immaculately presented despite vowing not to beautify herself, with makeup and plucked eyebrows. Blonde hair, curves and large breasts, distracting.
Around day 4, I enter a meditation hall with a floor of sand. In a small shed are brooms and rakes: I get one and during Walking Meditation I painstakingly and repetitively rake the sand, trying to get the surface perfectly smooth, gradually moving my way across to form a square. It reminds me of the small Zen garden on the counter at my work in lotus, but life-size, with the same meditative effect. I return to rake again, this time a man joins me, sitting in meditation at the end while I move with my back to him. Suddenly my rake brushes across a big dead frog and I squeal. He looks at me questioningly and I shrug. I keep raking, and then let out another yelp when the ‘dead’ frog started hopping around. I laugh helplessly at how startled I was. When I realise that all the circular holes in the sand are frogs burrowing, I get grossed out and don’t rake anymore.
Perhaps on day 6, I see a man walk to the woman’s section, and gently place leaves rolled and tied on the pillow of one of the girls. I watch her return and pick it up. Smile. There is a distant meditation hall, open, flat, small and raised but each time I walk there, they are already sitting in it; I wish I could have it to myself.
Allocated question time with the British monk sits in an alternate meditation hall at the top of the stairs speaking freely, Day 3 and 7. We have the opportunity to ask about things that are challenging us, things we don’t understand. Day three, the angry American guy interrupts, asking challenging questions and disrupting the flow of the group. I wonder why he is here. (Soon after, I notice with relief he has left.) I sit and move restlessly up and down the stairs, in and out of the sun and the light rain. I am attentive. I want to hear everything he says. The British Monk (Tan Dhammavidu/ Ken) is charismatic and cynical. He speaks of his previous life, about civilisation and football with biting wit. He jokes regularly. I want to connect and understand. Some of the retreat participants stay behind to ask him questions about their own practice; I linger. The monk tells of the higher meditation experiences- of the ecstasy and joy that can be achieved once the mind is disciplined to become not only still but focussed. Each time I stay right until the end. He is patient. He speaks to the group about how he was full of anger when he was a young man, he tells us of his work on the floor of a factory wearing a beanie, he would keep to himself and spend time sitting in his room. He would get up at 4am in the cold and meditate before and after long shifts, and on the toilet seat at work. He speaks of noticing within himself a long time ago an aversion to people- as they approached him, he would watch inside and find himself affront or withdraw. The monk speaks of his mother in this time, as well as in his talks, about how he hates her. He speaks of how he now walks for alms, and how villagers with a small baby have adopted him as its grandfather. He is interesting and the group sits to attention when he speaks, occasionally chuckling at his surprising comments.
In the food hall there are whiteboards- each day the schedule is posted up, as well as a small thought to meditate on for the day. On day three and day nine there is a sign up sheet with optional sign up for appointment with the monks. Each time I look at it but do not write my name.
As the days pass, the tension in me builds. I sit in meditation and rub Tiger Balm on my shoulder and neck muscles. In Spain Nilla asked me, What are you running from? Now I sit quietly and wonder about that. Myself, probably. We’re all running from ourselves. Each day now we chant that our bodies will be thrown away useless; I rub Vaseline on my tattoo. The Buddhist texts refer to people becoming ‘hot headed’ and on Day Four I am sitting at breakfast with a hot head, slowly chewing, and a patch on my vision begins to blur. I hold my hand in the patch and my hand disappears. I stare at the table and slide my bowl across towards my peripheral vision- it disappears, I slide it back, it reappears. Fuck. Fuck! I wonder if I am going blind. I eat quickly (comparatively), wash my bowl and spoon. I lay on the cement in my room. Breathe.
I feel I have a temperature. I walk back into the hall and the ‘question time’ monk has an empty seat before him. He asks if I have a question and I hesitate, he gestures me to sit down. My eyes are filling with tears and I have questions I cannot articulate. I approach the nun and she takes my temperature. It is normal. She tells me, I am thinking too much. I need to take a Panadol, and rest.
In the meditation hall, Tally gently places a frangipani by my head as I stretch. My heart wells over.
I lay down in my room with my headache. I lay on the cement on this day and cry. I am angry and my body hurts. I don’t want to listen to them anymore about this impermanence, about how nothing lasts and everything must end. About how my body is just flesh and nothing more. No soul, no self, no purpose. I am upset about Ariel, and upset that I am still upset. I am afraid to let go. As I rub the tattoo in meditation I think about what it means. I wonder if the tattoo was an attempt at achieving permanence of something that is gone. I wonder if I have anchored my grief to a little picture on my foot. I wonder what it means that I chose that. I panic that I will not be able to truly move on, let go; now I have a reminder written on me for the rest of my life.
I am lying on my back facing the cement ceiling and my heart is beating quickly. My breathing is shallow and I know better than to go to war to try and force it to be otherwise. I wish it were, though. A warm Thailand evening. I heard a noise; next to my light on the wall is a small, transparent pink gecko. I study him. Close to the light I can see his insides, his small belly rising and falling rhythmically, his hearts’ strong beating. He looks fragile, with everything so obvious. We have been advised there may be spiders, scorpions, frogs and geckos in our rooms, and that they live here too. The other day one of the girls screamed and fussed over a spider. Now I am happy he is here. I sit with him, watching his rising and falling breath. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. It calms me, I sync with him. Girl and the gecko are one.
Next thing, he jumps from the wall and I am horrified to hear a splat. I jolt upright. He has launched himself in a failed attempt to catch a moth attracted to the light. I fear I will find a gorgeous, splatted tiny bub of a gecko on the floor, one who has met his untimely end. Peering over the edge of the bed, I see an unfazed gecko climbing back up the wall. I grin in relief as he retakes his post next to the light for a second attempt. He is more successful this time. I feel encouraged; perhaps I won’t end with a splat.
After an exhausting day I am glad to sleep. When I wake on day five, I find I am much calmer than I have been before. I rake my leaves after breakfast and feel good. As I sit for meditation I find that my mind has become completely blank. Happily, curiously, I explore it. I sit with my eyes closed, focussing forwards, breathing, and watch myself. Thoughts do not come, and when they do, they are quieter, calmer, muted. I am almost wary to be in my own head in case I ruin this lovely place I have found inside myself.
The mind runs backwards and forwards through time to find things to entertain itself with. I see now the benefit in learning how to have discipline with it, for with thoughts, memories and expectations come an arousal of emotion, and in silence with no distractions there is no outlet or escaping. If you want to remain sane, you must learn control.
On day seven, a woman comes up to me while I am looking for the attendant nun and pulls a face. I pull one back and things become dreadfully confusing for a while, with her whispering something I can’t quite hear or understand. I gesture randomly for a while before I realise she is leaving today and would like her purple sarong back. Embarrassed, I return it to her with a ‘thank you’ smile. (At least I hope she understands that’s what it is.) The next evening I walk down the steps into the hot spring full clothed, through a group of women sitting together in dignified peaceful silence. Self-consciously I get into the water and swish around with my see-through, baggy clothes now sticking to me, desperately wanting to explain to them that I don’t have a sarong anymore. Instead I giggle awkwardly and enjoy feeling naughty.
There is a both a man and a woman’s exercise hall; on perhaps the 8th day I finally go here with pillows and lay on the ground looking up to the ceiling, enjoying the solitude and new sights, new possibilities of places to sit.
On the 9th and 10th day, the routine varies. On the 9th, we will only eat once, in the morning we will have lunch food for breakfast. (I read the food meditation). And today, the schedule allows for free time. I wander around, and finally venture to the meditation hall I haven’t yet visited. A group have assembled and after hesitating, I venture there anyway. A man is tracing pictures on a woman’s hands. Tally is with an American guy, I am wary of him. He is speaking and I resent him for breaking the silence. I can feel my heart beat quicker in the presence of people, with the pressure now to speak when I would rather not. They are going to leave and get food and cigarettes- they ask me if I want to speak and I shake my head, they ask me if I want to come and I do not.
But I hang around anyway, in the small open meditation hall. When they leave, I am relieved to return to the comfort and peace of myself, although my heart is still beating quicker, such have I adjusted to living alone. The man and woman who had the gift of the leaves have been drawing pictures; I pick up their pen and a vine leaf from the ground and write.
Holding the mind is like holding a butterfly. You must not strangle the butterfly, nor rob it of air in your attempts to keep it still, calm and quiet. You must cup it in your hands; you must give it air and patiently wait. If you shake the mind it will cling, or flutter about, just like the butterfly, getting very distressed and trying to escape. If you want to hold the butterfly, you must rob it of light and sensory stimulation that will startle it, and patiently wait until it is calm and quiet. That is how you hold the butterfly. But why would you want to hold the butterfly?
Butterflies only live for one day.
We’re all just air and butterfly.
Young, Dark skin guy comes onto my radar. He walks with a little bit of a skip and seems like he is always aware of the attention of those around him. Jitwam, the one who asked if I was leaving. In the final few days I branch out from my little hut and sit in the bottom of the bell tower, and then in top the of the bell tower, and finally in the little hut across the way. He is seated and I take to him my vine leaf, sitting across from him. I hand it to him and he reads it, bemused, places it on the table. Tells me that’s funny, because he held a dying butterfly that was so beautiful he stuck it in his diary. I jump up and run to my room, and come back holding a second vine line, one I didn’t copy down. It speaks of a pond as like a mirror for yourself and if you want to see it clearly you need to let the water settle; how when in love two people spiral together above the water, spinning higher and higher or dropping with a splash into the depth of the cold water. Also, though, it speaks of how you should not try to capture or hold onto a dead butterfly. Funny that.
Walking away from the conversation, my peace is disturbed, a short interaction where I did not even speak stirs up so much emotion and it is obvious inside me; now the inner atmosphere is more aligned with silence than with noise.
For meditation instruction, we gather around an image of the Buddhist wheel. We slowly move through an explanation of the symbolism. Contrary to what most people believe, Buddhdasa and his followers teach that reincarnation and rebirth is not rebirth of the ‘self’ through physical lives, because there is no self, and the ego would only want to have us believe so. As we are impermanent, reincarnation and the related karma is actually the rebirth of the EGO, and karma is the effects we experience within ourselves in this lifetime; the dukkha we experience is a result of allowing the ego. When the British monk first explains this, I feel a sense of relief. He is a rational, almost scientific man. Reincarnation is the only tenant of Buddhism I have struggled to grasp so far, and now I do not need to. This makes perfect sense to me.
The way we walk the ‘Light path’ is Anapanasati, Mindfulness in Breath- and walking and speaking and eating, refraining from chasing pleasures, calming and disciplining the mind and remembering impermanence. As part of this, the monks take a vow of celibacy. The British monk tells us of his solution- to stop conceptualising the body as something ‘beautiful’ and of pleasure and desensualise it to be ‘just flesh’. In India there is a burning of bodies you can view; the British monk instead speaks of once seeing a dead dog on a beach, of it becoming rotten and swollen. He recalls these images and links them to flesh to decrease his desire for sex. Nooo!
On the evening of the 10th, the final day, we are asked to move sand for construction at the monastery, and to ‘sweat away the ego’. Males and females are separated. People begin to speak to coordinate things and I wish they hadn’t. (I undertake the training not to harm others by speech.) After all this time in silence, I have much pent up energy and look forward to shovelling and moving sand. The women however, are complaining, they don’t have shoes, the gaps between them in the line to pass the sand are too long, the baskets are too full, the baskets aren’t full enough, they want to rest, they want to shovel instead, they don’t want to shovel anymore, there are prickles, there aren’t enough baskets. Some work but most fuss and fuss, I tell them- just move the sand! I shovel furiously, while most gossip. I am wearing my ring and don’t notice my finger blister. When they stop passing the baskets, I roll my eyes and carry the sand all the way to the end myself, perhaps ruffling a few feathers as I go. When the bell tolls and time is up, I am disappointed and want to keep sweating and exerting myself- but they can’t get away fast enough.
In the evening at the springs and in the dorm the silence is well and truly broken, although I continue to practice mine. We gather for a talk by the Abbot, and then it is time to share.
I am ready to speak when question time comes, of course. I know exactly what I will say.
And then the boy with the butterfly gets up out of nowhere, sits down before me, and says
‘I feel like I have stepped into the matrix…’ Before it is censored, my mouth blurts out- NO WAY! I can’t believe you just said that! I was about to say that!!’ to laughs, followed by a bashful ‘Oop, sorry, go on’, sitting back in my spot. Apparently I’m not so practised at silence after all.
It’s like choosing between the blue pill and the red pill. And once you choose, once you see through the matrix, you can never go back. That’s all he had to say and I follow. Words flow, sharing about the tattoo and worrying if my mother will kill me, about the journey, thanking everyone, a few jokes. Everyone shares- when they open their mouth, the identities, the accents, the operations of their mind spill out in a surprising way. One girl says she believes she is an alien. (Definitely alienating). We return to the rooms for one more night of ‘silence’, although the girls are definitely relaxed about it now.
On the morning of the 12th day, we gather in the breakfast hall to collect our possessions. We trade emails; a woman gifts me a 1000baht to get back to Bangkok. We donate any unwanted things to the Mokkh; we congregate under big tree for photos.
We walk together to breakfast, a flurry of conversation; At breakfast the boy whose pant hems I silently screamed at sits next to me and tells me that a clairvoyant told him he would marry a psychologist he met on his travel. We suffer a dull tour of the Wat Suan Mokkh grounds, see beautiful art work and I speak with Anushka.
Waiting at the bus stop Tally, Jitwam (butterfly boy) and I sing. Back in the town none of us want to part; we mill around until the group that will stay overnight finds a hotel. I sit next to Tally as she receives some news from the heavens that makes my heart want to pour out to her <details>. Jitty sings a haunting tune that still rings in both our heads, though he can barely remember- I dance and spin around the hotel foyer. I have a heated, passionate discussion with the orange haired girl who handed me a cat in the breakfast hall- she lends me Band-Aids and it ends in hugs.
The serious meditator and me are both headed back to Bangkok. I delay parting until I find Tally to say goodbye, I am sad to leave Winston and jitty. We find a song-taew to get the overnight train. There is a long wait at the station and I am thirsty. He lends me his water. I talk to him and he reads his book. People give me death stares for talking too much as they settle in to sleep. It’s to be expected perhaps.
I feel good. I haven’t seen my face for 12 days as there were no mirrors, and with new hair this is strange indeed. What strikes me when I go to brush my teeth in the train bathroom though, is that my whole face and my skin seems clearer than I have ever seen, but more than that I am taken aback that I seem to be glowing, light, in a way that words fail me to describe. I like it.
In Bangkok, I find my wallet, at the shop where I left it. Less money in there than I expected. We are walking down the street and in the middle of the road I see Lavi, the man who left the leaves and traced pictures on the girl’s palms.
Tally has spoken a lot with him and was amazed by him- I have been cautious and mistrusting, when he looks at me I cannot understand what is happening behind his eyes, it is like there is a wall there. (When I later ask him about this, he explains it as having respect when I chose to remain silent although others spoke). We greet him joyously- I am glad for the chance to open myself to what Tally saw. Without further adieu- Apple crumble and coconut cream custard!!
Lavi speaks with an incredibly gentleness, a calm, he explains he feels he is all the children (people)’s king, here to check on and care for them. I ask him what he thinks anger is, and he explains it as a lack of trust.
*Please note. I did not take the beautiful photos taken in this album, as I left my camera packed away for the duration of the visit. Credit goes to Tally Atkins, Helen Rodionova and Chou Rouge. Thank you for the beautiful memories ladies 🙂
* To the amazing, unique people contained within the square walls of this story: Please forgive me for the liberties of description and for my omissions. I welcome and would love to hear any additions, adjustments or corrections. Memory is a funny thing.
Above all, Bless.
Light, Love and Laughter!
From my heart,
The website with attached readings can be found here: http://www.suanmokkh-idh.org/
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.
June 23rd. In Nador, I ignore the hustlers; a mini cab to an ATM and the bus to Mallilla, the Spanish Enclave. With my backpack I walk across the Moroccan border back into Spanish territory. As I cross the border, I dance- in hindsight, it may have made the authorities suspicious. I eat floury fried Moroccan pancakes with sweet spread; I cheerfully float my way back into Spain. Spain feels so different, there is a fountain and I walk in it. I feel relieved like a weight has lifted off my shoulders, and yet, still a little unsettled. I find a map, head towards the port. When I hesitate at a street corner, some young girls approach me to ask if I need help. Outside the port is a service station, I buy a juice. Outside I realise it is milk juice. Give it to a man who is lingering around, annoying tourists like me. Realise, I am still in Morocco. Walk a few more steps past him, stop and look around. In Algeciras, a big port, there were a lot of trucks just driving around the port and not going anywhere. Lots of trucks are leaving without containers. I slowly connect the dots. Get into a conversation with another (annoying) man. He tells me, there are police, you can’t hitch here. (Of course not, it is a port. Ha.) He tells me very few trucks will actually go onto the ferry, maybe one. I tell him, I am one, I only need one. He tells me to hitch with a car, I nod and agree, walk away. He doesn’t wanna listen to me, I am young, I am female. I take note of the cars even though I suspect he has never hitched before and doesn’t know what he is talking about. In the port, suspicions confirmed- same price to be a passenger in a car as to be a foot passenger.
I dump my pack and sit. It is hot and the bag makes me want to stay put rather than explore, if exploring means I have to carry it. Upstairs for foodstuffs. I take off my shoes, they are dirty, my feet are hot and the shoes give me blisters. The Spanish waiter comes and tells me, this is a restaurant and I can’t be here without shoes. I scowl at him, stalk across to them and put them back on. Order a sandwich without milk. Send the crispy deliciousness back to the kitchen when it comes with cheese. Eat, as the sun sets through the large glass windows. I watch truck after truck drop its container and drive back into Morocco (that man was right about one thing…). The ferry leaves at midnight and I realise that even if I hitch onto it, it will mean being up all night.
At 11pm I cave in. I pay $110 bucks for a bed on the overnight ferry to Malaga, from the cute guy who walks with me upstairs. I am surprised to show my passport and pass through security. I walk down the long tunnel to the ship. At the entrance, he asks for a second ticket, I look in my book and it doesn’t seem to be there, only the receipt. I dump my bag and walk back. The guys tell me they gave it back to me, look around. I tell them they didn’t, they tell me they did, I look again in the book and I have it. Feel like a dickhead; walk back to the boat. Heave my pack up. The ship is luxurious. I ask the people at the desk if the rooms have a shower and they raise an eyebrow. They tell me I will have to share the room, like that’s going to be a problem. I can’t find the room- they give me directions. In my room is a woman from Morocco wearing a headdress, she asks me how I liked Morocco and I tell her, starvation, corruption, dead meat everywhere. She tells me, yes that is the problem of the economic. To me, it seems like so much more than that. She starts to get really into the conversation, I want to organise myself and sleep. When she begins to draw diagrams about Islamic things (?), I excuse myself. I have wet smelly clothes in my bag. I find a captain looking guy who says he will put them in the clothes drier for me. First, I scrub them. My feet are filthy when I shower. A really fat girl wearing bright colours arrives, I don’t speak to her. She arduously climbs the ladder to the bunk above me and I am amused. Clothes are finally dry, sleep.
Wake as the ferry arrives in Malaga. Ask for directions to a net café. Finally find it. Walking takes so much effort with the fuckin bag, when people tell me, it is only a ten minute walk, I think, are you crazy?!?! With this bag?!
I stop at one of the many Tapas bars open even this early in the morning; mushed tomato spread on toasty bread. Sit and upload pics and wonder where will I go, what will I do. Kim is online, she is in Madrid. Maybe I will go there. At the bus station I ask for prices. Find an Internet café in the bus station, start a conversation with a friend. Her name on facebook is ‘Painful emotions need to be released otherwise they will keep your happiness a prisoner’. I ask her, how? How do you release them? She tells me to find somewhere safe to let myself feel. I tell her, I don’t have time. I don’t have time to stop, there is so much to see and I only have one month left here. She asks me, What are you running from?
Outside, I unfold my blanket on the grass and sit down. I resolve not to move from the place until I have stopped running. (I wonder if I will need to pee). Until I know what I am running from, until I face what I need to face. I write for a while, and realise I am feeling like crap about myself. I lie down and fall asleep. When I wake, the sun is setting. I sit on my blanket on the grass for a while longer, write some more. The grass is getting damp. People are looking at me. A homeless lady stops and makes a conversation with me (because she is hungry?) She wants my money. I fold my blanket and return to the bus station, buy an overnight bus ticket to Madrid.
The bus arrives, next morning I awake to a lot of blood, period time. Wash my clothes in a sink and move upstairs. I have left my new, perfect, Moroccan hairclip on the bus; but at 6am, the company information desk is closed. Lie down and sleep on the chairs in the waiting room. The police repeatedly make rounds, waking everyone up and telling them not to sleep here. What is it with Spain being so controlling?? I leave, get the metro to some grass and sleep for a few more hours. The grass is slightly damp with spiky pine needles. SMS Kim to come meet me from an Internet Cafe- we decide to meet at 4. Spend a few hours talking to people, emailing, thinking about travel. I leave and find an organic store. Smells good, I am disappointed the books are in Espanya and not English. They have soy yoghurt and I wish I had more money. On the Metro to meet Kim, my bag is big and it is crowded. I have gluten-free bio muesli to eat with the yoghurt. When I begin to talk to Kim, I realise how much crazy stuff has happened. I use the toilet in McDonalds then we walk to a big park and sit on my blanket under a tree. I tell her I want to sort out my things; I want to get rid of something. I put my hand in my hangbag, and my wallet is not there. Instantly I know it is gone. I remember having it on the Metro, when I was eating, and not since. Kim watches me and wonders why I am not freaking out. She is like, are you sure? Check. I know its gone. I ask lost property, because as kim pointed out, there is a tear in my handbag. Ask if anyone found it but no, it’s gone. The people I ask make a strange hand movement, and say a word I do not know, ‘Robados?’. They are suggesting it was stolen. I realise perhaps it was, while my attention was on the tasteless bio muesli and yoghurt. I stop to look at a market stall. In a daze, I tell the guy, My wallet was stolen on the metro. Shrug. Kim asks what I will do, offers to lend me money. She has been Couchsurfing with a guy in Madrid and is leaving today- she texts him to ask if I can stay with him for the night. His name is Angel- G makes an ‘h’ in Spanish so it’s pronounced Uncle. Or something.
We have falafel and beer. While sorting through my things, Kim wanted the pretty amber necklace I bought in Morocco. I gave it to her, and now she pays for lunch. Kim has to get the bus at night, but first we go to find the girl a supermarket. She wants Interspar (?) but settles on a small Asian supermarket. We meet her Couchsurfing dude. He is in a hurry. He takes a photo of us with our huge backpacks and we say goodbye (for the last time?).
In the car with Angel I quickly begin to understand what she meant when she said he is irritating. His energy is scattered all over the place, he is a little bit controlling and he is a worrier. At his apartment, he gives me a room with the couch and balcony. He gives me a tour of the house, including showing me how to close the shower curtain with sunction caps so that the water doesn’t come out. Hah. He is well meaning and wants to please, but bossy. An odd combination. He prepares some food and insists I try salami. I eat a tiny bit- meat is still freaking me out big time. There are these cool lettuce thingys and we dip them in hommus. He pulls some frozen bread out of the freezer, swearing it is the best in Spain. He reheats it in the oven and when I try to eat it, it is so tough and chewy, I can only eat the middle. He swears it is good and when we clear the table, wraps it in napkins to keep for later. He wants to stay up and talk- I want to sleep. I try to teach him to play cards, apparently he never played before. WTF? He doesn’t want to. He goes to bed and I sleep.
Next day, sleep lateish. When I leave the room, I could swear he has been sitting outside the door all day waiting for me to wake up. Odd. Get on the net and start to sort out the credit card situation. Cancel the cards, speak to Western Union. He hovers around. We go to the police station, there’s a 2 hour wait. Post office to ask about Western Union and postage. Back at his place, I chat with Bridget on Skype. Thank god for her being around when I need to talk. Speak to a friend from Wollongong and hear news that Ariel made a baby before he left us. Eva is due Christmas day. Start crying. Dom writes me that there are some things he has done that he feels he should tell me, when he tells me, I continue crying. Angel comes in and thankfully leaves me alone when I tell him I need time. Over dinner, I cry. He is going out for a few hours, I politely decline to join him, fetch falafel and enjoy the solitude. Later, Angel falls asleep on the couch and for some reason doesn’t want to go to bed- he offers me his bed and I refuse. The couch is good for me, I am settled there. There are awkward moments when he stands in his boxers and tells me he wanted to kiss me. I say Okay, don’t respond, and he goes to bed. Late into the night I stay online, talking to the bank and wondering what to do. I wanted to write a blog about Morocco, but there is no hope of that now. Life is still throwing punches, the round isn’t over yet.
June 27th, we go to the police office to sign the statement about my wallet being stolen. The officers are nice. Back to the Post Office. I have the urge to send things home. I ask the pendulum when I can’t decide which, and mail home 2.5 kilos of my souvenirs, favourite scarf, and my diary. I give the staff the code and collect the majority of the contents of my bank account in cash. Angel stresses me out with how he is stressing out about everything. But things are getting done, it would have been much harder with out him, I try to be patient. Next, the doctor. They send us to the hospital where they can deal with things covered by insurance. The diarrhoea, which began in Morocco, has not stopped and it has been 6 days. I was hoping it would cease and desist of its own accord, but Bridge almost gives me a heart attack when she mentions Cholera, so I go. They wristband me, the young doctor pokes my belly and prescribes anti biotics. Angel has a two o’clock appointment and is on edge. Everything is done and dusted, and I want him to go and do his thing. He is going away and wants me to come with him. To my frustration, he insists he won’t make it on time. A manipulative move, worse still when he perks up and says, now you have time to cut my hair. In the garage, he has a motorcycle and insists I take a photo of him on it. At one point, I wonder if he is a little mentally retarded. There is a huge supply of paper towel in the shed; he has no explanation when I ask what one person could possibly want with so much paper towel. I fetch falafel from the shop across the street. I like the guy, tell him about my travel. He gives me free chicken and salad; I’m stoked, even though Angel is paying. Back in the apartment Angel is having a heated conversation on Skype in Spanish, some family drama. I eat and finish packing, then head to the falafel shop again. It feels so Moroccan and surprisingly, I like that. Yesterday a girl was smoking happy hookah, and today the men asks me to sit and offer me some. I accept, and enjoy the appley goodness. One of them is overweight and tells me he is sick. He has a headache, I show him where the pain is in the back of his neck. Tell him to drink water. I try to be patient while Angel gets ready to leave. Sit outside and watch the fountains, trees, and old men shaking the trees. It is a pretty area, where he lives.
Angel drives me to the big ass road. I am headed to Barcelona, via Valencia. He suggests a service station but I want an onramp. In the first lot of cars is a police car, which of course, stops. The two guys ask where I am going, I’m answering all their questions then realise (when they mention adding me on facebook) they are just flirting. I pull out my camera to take their pic and they leave. Next, a car with three dark skinned guys from…? someplace. They drive me a short distance and drop me at a Repsol. Not many cars are going. I approach a lady, ask where she is going, if she will take me, and she flat out says no. Ha. FML. There is a small dirt road next to the service station coming from god knows where, I call out to a guy, he agrees to give me a ride. He has a lady and a child at home. I tell him about my wallet; he points to the hole where his car radio used to be and shows me how his window no longer winds up. I laugh, a lot. He drops me at a servo when our roads diverge. Outside is parked a highway security car, ‘civil guardia’, I chat and ask where they are going. No luck, but as I wander around, they are pulling strings for me. A smile can go a long way. As I ask if there is any cutlery (I want a spoon to eat some of my bio muesli), one of them comes in trailing Sergio, who is going to Valencia and is going to take me. I grab my pack and we go, sweet as. As we leave, the owner of the servo gives me a super cold, big, fresh bottle of water. Sweet as.
The land has lots of varieties of coloured fields. It is hot, dry, red and rocky, similar to Australia. I take photos. The guy wears big aviators and we talk a little, then don’t talk a little. We stop at a service station- I am so excited because there is a microwave with bags of microwave popcorn!! And funky cups of powered coffee, when you open then and shake them they become hot and liquid. Craziness. I buy one of each. (And never get to open the coffee. Dammit.). Sergio asks me where I want to go in Valencia, drives me to the centre of town, say goodbyes. The Lonely Planet doesn’t have a Valencia map and that freaks me out. I walk across the bridge; people are playing sports in the riverbed which has been dry for ten years. I take photos of them and the sun, low in the sky.
In a cute square with a fountain and pharmacy, I get the anti-biotics. I hate them, but I don’t want Cholera. I ask some people with a map where I am, they don’t know either. Wander around aimlessly, hungry. A man asks if I am lost or looking for a hostel, some British girls overhear, they are staying nearby and I walk with them. There is space in their hostel, plus free Internet, I check in. Dump my bag, go and find food. Want Falafel, find a place, eat.
All I want to do is write a blog. Purgatory. Get out of me and onto a page what has happened, in Morocco and the previous 3 huge weeks. My head is full of people and experiences that I want and need to share. I sit at the computer and type. I eat, I bathe, I lay in the sun. I write. I am sitting still and writing until it is all out of me. I wash my clothes. In the early evening, I change rooms to one where I am alone and the bathroom is clean. I fall asleep on the floor. I find food and pay 9 euro to have some really awesome Spanish Paella. There is a square with a musician sitting and singing, busking, the crowd grows and grows to listen to him. Then the police come and tell him he can’t sing anymore. Fucking Spaniards. I am awake at 1am and start writing again. Around 3am guys come back drunk from partying and wanna talk, one of them offers me a massage: Greg, pommy. They are distracting, and at one point I accidentally delete everything I just wrote, annoying but I write it better the second time around anyway, includes less crap. Greg gives up on getting my attention and goes to bed at 430ish. I keep writing. I finally go to bed, get back up, and keep writing. At 2.30 in the arvo, I publish the first one, and by 430pm the second. Pick up my bag and leave.
(At some point during the writing, I thought about Mustapha in Fes, about leaving like I did. I did what I did, acted how I acted, because I was scared. Now in Valenca, I cry because I think I have missed the opportunity of a lifetime to connect and heal. Since leaving, I spend time daydreaming about how to contact him again.)
I get the tram out to where the autoroute is. On the way, there are crazy lollyshops, and of course I find some strawberry sorbet. Stop for a toasted sandwich and water near the fountains, then congratulate myself on understanding the tram system first go. The road to Barcelona is very very big. I am in the right place but there are so many cars and nothing to make them slow down. I know the place is all wrong but I stand with my thumb out for a while anyway. I pretend to be a aeroplane traffic controller and gesture the traffic to infront of me. Get some laughs, but noone can really stop here. Try with the university exit but no luck there either, some people shake their heads at me. There is a bus stop nearby and I get on, hopelessly trying to find change, to speak Spanish, to navigate down the bus with my huge ass pack. The bus is going along the road, somewhere. As it turns off the autoroute and goes into a town, I hesitate to stand up and press the button, unsure where it will go if I stay on. In the town, it stops outside a train station and I get off. Start walking, find some cardboard. Into a workshop for a permanent marker. I walk back along the road the bus drove down and stand on a round about. Some people tell me Barcelona is in the other direction-I get all confused, I mean, I know it is north, but this route goes south back to the autoroute, no?? End up holding my sign to cars coming from any direction and hoping for the best. I am in a small town not far from Valencia- noone is going to Barcelona.
A man drives up and back, passing me like 4 times, finally. He seems nervous and gittery as he talks to me in Spanish, I am not sure but I think he is asking me for sex. I need to pay attention when people teach me naughty words. I walk to the next car along where a guy is watching, he seems amused. Only speaks Spanish, I ask him if he can drive me to the autoroute. He agrees and we start driving. Next thing you know, we are on a dirt road in the middle of an orchard and he is stopping. Donde est autoroute?? He is pointing but I am not so sure. He keeps asking why I am alone. I keep shrugging my shoulders. When I lean into the car to pick up my bag he stands too close to me, brushes up against me. I raise an eyebrow at it, pick up my stuff and say goodbye to him, walking in the direction he pointed. His car pulls away, I am glad he is gone, but I am in the middle of a deserted orchard, outside the town. The autoroute is up ahead, but the middle part where the cars go fast. I walk towards it and jump the fence, ripping my new favourite white pants on the wire in the process. I stand looking in both directions for a while then start to walk in the direction of what I hope is Barcelona. Trucks honk at me. It is late afternoon, the sky is gorgeous, white aeroplane trails, oh how I love them. I see a phone battery on the ground and pick it up. A few minutes later I see a phone and pick that up too.
After a few kilometres, I reach a toll way, stoked. As I approach, the security sees my sign and tells me I cannot hitch here, point me back in the direction I came. Are they fucking crazy?? Dump my pack and sit on it, next to where they smoke, they ignore me and go inside. I try holding the sign subtly without them noticing but feel awkward and decide to chill out on the grass in the rest area instead. Short while later, I am making faces at the trucks and trying to reach them via telepathy, one pulls in. I excitedly run around the front to find that the driver has stopped to piss. He pulls his pants back on; I hold up the sign and say ‘Por favor…’ He tells me, he doesn’t have any problemas, do if I have a problema? I tell him no, and off we go.
He has a daughter and is divorced from his wife. He is going to Italy and onto Germany, or something. Sometimes I wonder if I should just stay in the truck and see where it goes. He offers me food, gives me a pear. I eat another one of the oranges from the orchard. He does a mandatory stop (trucks in Europe can drive for a maximum 10hrs). The truck is a noisy refrigerator. I go to the toilet, it is a squat toilet, what the hell?! Am I back in Morocco or something? The service station shop is closed, he asks again if I am hungry. He has all meat and cheese and yoghurt, I don’t want meat and cheese and yoghurt, but end up eating chicken pate spread on cruton toast. He can tell the pate is freakin me out, although I try to like it. I fall asleep sitting up and he tells me to lie on the bed. I do and he drives. He wakes me a few hours later, I have been drooling. We are at the service station outside Barcelona. There is a hotel here and he tells me to go to it, I say I will and even though I am tired, I know I won’t. He is apologetic to leave me here; he is concerned for me, protective and father like. Say goodbyes. Take his picture, of course. So many pictures, of the people who drive me and feed me and give me directions.
The hotel is 60 euro a night. The dude at the desk asks how much I can pay, and I say, 20? Not possible. Across the bridge to the other side of the autoroute- there is a trucker shower. First proper shower in a while, although the ground is feral, feels good. Put on my favourite white pants and black zip up dress. Wander around, the food is expensive, end up getting some toasted bread rolls with salt oil and tomato- love it! Buy some freshly squeezed orange juice for like, 8 dollars? The police are sitting and eating, I ask for directions to the train station. It’s a ten-minute walk and thankfully, when I act confused and they have trouble explaining, they offer to drive me. One of them is attractive, he is learning English and keen to talk it. It is 4am when they drop me at the train station, which isn’t open yet; they give me the police number and tell me to call if I have any problems. I unfold my blanket and lay down to wait. The station opens at 430, I check the train times, park myself on a bench and go to sleep. I wake to the train pulling into the other platform, dammit. Continue sleeping. Cross to the other platform, pay like 8 euro for a ticket, get the train into central Barcelona. Takes half an hour and the sun is rising. Out of the train station, into the sun and onto a random bus, wondering where I will find myself, what I will see. The bus drives for a while, to nowhere. I ask where I am, and they ask where are you going? I shrug, and laugh, get the bus back in the other direction. At a big square I disembark and take some pictures in the morning light. The Lonely Planet recommends a cool organic food place- Get the metro to Liceu in Las Ramblas. Walk around; there are lots of people. At Boqueria market the stalls are setting up, it is still fairly quiet. There are fruit stands, lolly stands, juice stands. All are meticulously detailed, brightly coloured. I buy a juice that is too expensive, walk further into the butcher section. There is so much meat- including rabbit bodies stretched out with the organs still intact, everything still has the eyeballs in.
I find the public toilets and then ‘Organic is orgasmic’- I reckon!! I put my pack down and just stand and watch them. All vegetarian stuff, some with cheese, but so many vegetables. It is not cheap and I need to make a wise decision about what to eat, so I stand and watch, occasionally asking questions. One of the guys moves comically slowly, comically carefully, as he unwraps the food and puts it on display. I laugh hysterically when he stuggles with some cheese off the top of one patty getting stuck to the bottom of the patty on top of it- I have hardly slept. I wonder if he is stoned. Eventually I can’t decide, don’t want one particular thing enough, so I leave. On the way to the top of Las Ramblas, there are animals for sale and I film the Armillas.
At the top, in Placa Catalunya are 2 big fountains. I walk around the grass, see a dog and a man spooning right where I would choose to sleep.
Instead, I slept next to the pigeons and hope not to get poo on my blanket. I wake up to two guys asking me what my name is, where I am from… I tolerate them for a while and then ask where a toilet is and leave. They tell me where, but I don’t pay close enough attention, I am still waking up, and have woken up HOT.. I walk into a cafe, feign to browse the menu then make a beeline to the loo. Do my business, change my clothes, wash my face.. Come out and look at the menu again. Honestly, I would like to eat here but it’s fuckin expensive. I order a water, take a seat at their insistance, stay an ‘appropriate’ (I hope) amount of time, and leave. A backpacker was showering in the fountain and I wanted to as well- but the aircon has cooled me down so I keep walking. At the bus stop, the official red barcelona tour bus is 21 euro. I debate it briefly and then decide to just take a random bus instead. Get on a bus, last stop is at the port and I get out.
Wander around for a minute. A girl is walking backwards on the escalator while her well put together mother takes photos of her. I sit beside the water, and then walk over the bridge- on the left instead of the right, disrupting the flow of traffic, staring into the water, gazing around. There are a lot of fish, big ones milling around the piers. This is different, to other places, to what I remember from Australia; can’t remember ever seeing a fish in Darling Harbour, let alone a big one. I peer over the edge and am scared of falling in, with my pack on I would probably sink and drown, plus all my things would be wet. (I have always had this fear of dropping things into the water- probably stems from a childhood watching my father drop wallet after wallet into Lake Glenbawn.)
I walk back towards town, past the huge statue of Christopher Columbus, watch two fattish tourist guys take pictures of it, and can’t bring myself to do the same. I don’t want people to see me like I see them now, with a camera between them and reality, capture capture capture. I sit under a tree close to some other backpackers for a moment, and eat- some of the leftover museli? Briefly consider sleeping here, then walk further, in search of grass. And on the other side of the statue I find it, strewn with other backpackers and young people lazing around. Can’t decide where I will be happiest and safest, out of the road of people… Find a spot under a tree and don’t know what side of the tree root I want to sleep on, make the pendulum decide for me. Unfold my blanket, MP3 in, backpack and handbag under the head, passport within an eyelash distance, sleep.
About 3.5hrs later, around 6.30, I wake up. A large group of people are next to me, getting bigger as more arrive with blankets. Everything is right where I left it, I stretch contentedly, blink my eyes affectionately at the group, roll over, and go back to sleep.
Half an hour later, I wake up. The group is gone, and there is a big empty patch on the grass above my head. Stand up alarmed, and look around. Where is my pack? I search my brain to see if I moved it… nope, definately left it here. I am in denial, but let out a yelp anyway. A couple are sitting nearby and I say- someone stole my backpack! They look alarmed and the guy stands up. It was definately here? uhuh.. Did you see who took it? Nope… There is a police car nearby and he takes me to talk to them.. They give him directions to the police station. The blanket I was laying on, the Lonely Planet, and my handbag with camera are still with me. As I fold the blanket I dimly register that I am packing up headphones with no MP3 on the end, and no sunglasses either. I am still too stunned to pay attention to the details the police give us and follow him, a little numbly, to the station. (That is, after staring in disbelief a few more times at the patch of grass.)
At the station, I thank the guy, take his pic, say bye. There is another Aussie at the counter in front of me, she has had her handbag stolen at the beach. Apparently it’s commonplace, normality. At the desk there’s a tall neurotic guy wearing a tourist information vest, he is helpful, albeit weird. I have held it together til this point, but sob a little as I try to let the reality sink in. The Aussie (Kate) gives me her number and the address of her hostel, says she and her friend have a spare bed, to give her a call. I am comforted by this info. Make the police report. Stolen- Mp3 off the end of the earplugs in my ears. Sunglasses. Huge ass backpack. Contents- all of my clothes, 2 pairs of shoes, favorite green dress. Passport and all the cash I received via Western Unioned 2 days ago. Cosmetics, toothbrush, deodorant. Tarot cards. Phone chargers, battery chargers. With me in my handbag, I have my expired drivers licence, the only remaining ID, and 5 euros. The neurotic guy gives me the address of the consulate, the address of emergency social services that may provide emergency accomodation, and sends me on my way. The social services place is closed; next-door is a police station- they tell me it doesn’t provide social services anyway. I tell the lady at the help desk (and a guy who is hanging around) what has happened in my best blase voice. Their jaws drop in a way that is a little satisfying. They ask me what I will do, I tell them I have somewhere to stay, walk out onto the street. As the sun sets, I make my way back to the Rambla. The Lonely Planet says there is another Organic, and that this one has massage chairs. When I get there, no massages. I look at the menu; it is expensive. I ask for their advice on how to best spend my last 5-euro. When they suggest salad, I tell them what has happened. They listen with sympathetic eyes, the waitresses ask me questions and translate to the people in the kitchen. One of the waitresses tells me I can’t eat it here, but she will give me food. The beautiful chef lady ladles deliciousness into a container and I am on my way. The food is better then what I would have gotten if I had of been a paying customer, I am in heaven. Back on the Rambla, I call Kate and there’s no answer, I leave a message. Finally find the address she gave me, Hostel Floras, 79 La Ramblas.
Inside, I try to explain what’s happened, ask for Kate. She walks in with her blonde, shorthaired friend. They are extending their stay- Kate’s friend goes to get money. Kate and the desk dude (Deepak) negotiate whether or not I can stay in their room, he says they have only paid for 2 beds of the 3. Kate’s friend returns with cash, Deepak asks for a key deposit of 5 euro, but she doesn’t have anymore. I offer up my last five- they refuse, apparently they are freaked out its my last 5 or something. Ha. Deepak refuses to let me stay in their room for free, Kate offers to pay. It turns out Kates friend doesn’t want someone she doesn’t know staying in their room, after what has happened. I tell her I understand, they go upstairs. I realise someone has just decided not to trust me; in the foyer I sink to the floor and cry. Different to the tears earlier today, these ones burn. Deepak gets uncomfortable, tells me to come and sit by him, tells me to stop crying, tells me I can sleep in the room with the girls if I stop crying. They don’t want me, they don’t want me. He tells me I can sleep behind the desk. He makes tea, asks if I am hungry. I’m not. It is late already, although I am exhausted, I sit up and talk with him. Indian, pretty nice. He shows me how google maps works like google earth, shows me what the Australian consulate looks like. Finally he tells me, just sleep here. He is still uncomfortable, worried his boss will fire him, but what else can I do? He points behind the desk. I am hoping there is a cosy bed like in the back of a truck.. But there isn’t. Just floor. He tells me it’s better than nothing, I spread my blanket. Lie down, close my eyes. He asks if he is annoying me talking on the phone, I say no, sleep.
In the morning, Deepak wakes me early. He is scared his boss will come. I am slow to move, I am tired. On his insistance, I get up, fold the blanket. He tells me to come back if I need to. In my backpack was the police report from having my wallet stolen. I need a copy for insurance. Its too early for the consulate, so I go a police station that can give me a copy. There is a big queue, I stand near the front. In the foyer, people are taking numbers and the man guarding the entrance doesn’t speak English. It’s difficult to explain across languages; they haven’t a clue what I am asking for. On cue, I start crying. A cute young guy comes over and asks me what I need. I tell him and he tells them. Turns out this guy needs a replacement passport, these are the people who do it. He translates for me, so they bump him to the front of the 2-hour queue. He is stoked. While I am waiting for him, I find a Net cafe and with the change he has given me, look up the area in Madrid. I have nothing to write in, I buy a little red book. Find Georgito again (pronounded Horhito, G is H in Spanish), he takes me and buys me breakfast, tomato on crispy bread with fresh orange juice. Now it’s me who is stoked. Over breakfast he says, they are sailing to France and then Croatia, leaving in the morning. He tells me, he and his friend run a luxury boat for a guy, they’re behind schedule. We are walking the same way, him to a bookstore and me the consulate. He talks excitedly; I am quiet (it is possible). He mentions that it’s a pity I don’t have a passport, or I could come with them. He gives me his number, tells me to be in touch. We part ways.
Use Horhito’s change to get the metro to the consulate. No fuss, the Spanish lady knows what she is doing, has done this before. Sends me to get a passport photo down the street. (I feel like a feral and wash my face in the consulate toilets; no one has a comb.) When I return she tells me there is a $160 fee. It’s Wednesday, 1st of July. She says it will be Monday before there is a new passport in Barcelona. I tell her, but I have a friend who is sailing to France…
Australia, January. Nel tells me, this journey was in place before you were born. You will meet a man, darker skin and more full then Dom, with a green shirt, sandals, and a leather necklace- your kindred spirit. She says, something about sailing in Croatia.
I don’t want to wait in Barcelona until Monday. I can go to Madrid to fetch the passport overnight, but then I will be in Madrid, and would have to pay to travel. It is possible the form could be expressed, processed, returned by Friday, but not tomorrow morning. I can’t decide what to do until I talk to Horhito. I fill out the forms. She will send it, and they will only process it if I send money. She writes me a letter requesting I be allowed to travel into France without a passport, and gives me a photocopy of the old passport. I make my way towards the dot on the map Horhito gave me. Walk down the Rambla across the bridge into the port. I stop and stare at the patch of grass where my bag was- it really isn’t there. A syringe is however; I take a photo and wonder if the people who stole my bag used the money for drugs. I walk alongside the water; the security tell me to walk in the middle of the walkway with the rest of the people. Get lost more then once, it is fucking hot and sunny. Little do I know, there are lots of ports in Barcelona, and the dot is in the wrong place. I walk into the reception of one; the lady looks me up and down, asks the name of the boat. ‘Big Bad Boy’, I tell her. Computer says no. I walk out, along the water in the sun for a while, no luck. I go back to where the lady was, go in via the side gate, use the toilet in the restaurant, and search for the boat (in the sun). He told me it is G28. There is A-E here, no G. Stare at the map and wonder what the fuck is going on. Walk around the shopping centre (in the sun). Ask for directions from a guy in a nice car, he tells me it is a long way away, to walk back across the bridge. That bridge…. how frustrating. He gives me a ride, about 5 metres, to the beginning of the bridge. Horhito calls and tells me he is waiting in front of the museum. I ask around, noone knows museums, or they ask me, which one? I don’t know. Find the maritime museum, sounds fitting, but no Horhito. Finally get a message from him, that he is in a restaurant in Barceloneta and I am welcome to join. Barceloneta?! I walk a long way, in the sun. Wish I had a bicycle. I wonder if I will have forgotten him by the time I get there. They have already ordered, I apologise for keeping them waiting, point out that this is not the dot on the map.
The captain speaks very little English, only Italian. He sits across from me, asks me questions. Feels like a job interview and I can’t understand the question. I do my best at guessing. Captain goes to the toilet and Horhito says, the Captain doesn’t want me on the boat. Tells me, things are rocky with the new owner and he doesn’t wana risk it. I hold my composure, they order me food. Make polite conversation, try to relax. They have to go work, tell me to meet them later, tell me to order dessert, leave. As soon as they are out of the restaurant, my head is on the table and I am crying again. For real, again. I have been examined and found lacking. Throughout the meal horhito and the cap complained about the restaurant, but now the waiter is at my side asking me what is wrong, what he can do to help. I tell him, everything is stolen, but that’s okay, I am just a long way from family and friends… and the man who just left? He decided not to help me, not to trust me. The waiter brings me strawberries. (I asked for it with sugar, and he hands me a packet, they were kinda right about the service…). The waiter tells me to come if I am hungry, he promises me free food, gives me his number. He says he knows some Australian friends, that he will call and see if I can stay at their place. He is getting out his phone but I tell him, don’t worry about it for now, maybe I will come back later. (I will come back, but not to stay with some people he knows who happen to be from the same COUNTRY as me… recent experience tells me that doesn’t account for much.) I thank him and leave, with directions for the beach. My clothes feel disgusting and I want to wash.
At the beach, there are people everywhere. All I have is my handbag, with passport copies and camera. I place it as close as I can to the water. Stand into my knees and wash my clothes without taking my eyes off it. The water is a beautiful temperature and I want to swim through it. Instead I glue my eyes to my bag, take off my dress and pants and start scrubbing. I want to wash my face but dare not put my head under. I hold my clothes over my head and squeeze the water onto myself. I wish I could ask someone to mind the bag, but I don’t know whom to trust. I wish I had of left it in the restaurant, and now I am half naked with wet clothes and won’t walk back through the square. After the clothes are scrubbed, I empty the contents of my handbag into my purple plastic bag and wash the handbag as well- it was also way gross. I scoop up sand particles and rub them between the material. A lady thinks I have dropped something, but it is someone else’s felt bag floating through the water. I pick everything up, rinse in the showers. I wring out the clothes, carefully spread them across a bench in the sun, lay down with them, and sleep with my hangbag wrapped around my wrist.
…The sun is moving across the sky, I wake periodically and move with it. Eventually, it leaves the ground completely, angling across the sky, and the clothes are still wet. Now what? I hang everything from the tree near the bench; perhaps I should have done that sooner.
A dark skinned youth, male, sits near me and tries to start a conversation. Morocco is still fresh in my mind, when he asks where I am from, I am defensive as hell. I don’t give him much, but he keeps making conversation. Asks me if I want to go out, tells me he is a DJ. I tell him I am not interested. After a while, I walk over to the sand where a man is building a sandcastle- he tells me it is an ashtray. I think it’s hilarious, and go to take a picture. But my camera battery is flat. A woman who has been lingering around like a bad smell, possibly drunk, possibly mentally ill, follows me. She doesn’t speak much English but tells me I have to give him money for taking a picture. I tell her, I don’t have any money. I didn’t even take a picture. When she doesn’t let up, I start raising my voice at her. I march over to my bag, grab the police report written in Spanish, and shove it in her face. I tell her, I have nothing! She finally understands, starts to laugh, tells me to come and talk to her. I am close to tears, ignore her and go back to my bench. The conversation attracted the dark skinned youths attention, he asked what has happened. I am close lipped. It is getting dark, he asks me again to come out with him. Tells me, he is new here and hasn’t made many friends yet, that it is all about who you know in the work he does. I tell him I am waiting for my clothes to dry. Tell him everything was stolen yesterday. He offers me a t-shirt. I am hesitant, given the conversation so far. But I go with him. On the way, he wants to buy me a toothbrush. He tells me, he would hope that someone would help him similarly. I say thank you no, just the shirt.
Josh lives with his brother, they have wooden floors. He dishes up some food, it is fish, I eat rice. He gives me juice. He is chatty and puts on some of his music. I am impatient- I want to go meet with Horhito, I want to sail to France. He wants my company. He finds me a black shirt and some cargo pants that tie up. I am so excited about the shorts, Dom would love them. I wash my feet, he gives me some deodorant. He is still sitting on the couch, I want to be moving. I mention Internet cafe, I tell him I want to go. It feels like Morocco, I don’t like it. I am suspicious and guarded. He offered to help me, was he hoping to buy my company? I told him I had to go, I told him I want to use the Internet to speak to my family. I have to get things sorted. He tells me, why leave? You can stay the night here, I will sleep on the couch. Relax, he says. But I just wanna get out of there. We walk to the metro and kinda fight along the way. I didn’t realize how much I was holding in, I had been silent. At the metro he gives me his number, tells me to call if I need to. Again asks if I might want to go out later- he just doesn’t get the point! I have too much experience of this, and too little patience for it. I am relieved to leave him. Stop at a department store and spray myself with perfume, before I make my way back to Barceloneta.
And by that I mean, make my way, and unmake my way, and make it again- I am beginning to suspect I am capable of getting lost in my handbag. My sketchers have been giving me blisters ever since I first got them, and they make my feet hot. I am forever taking them off and walking barefoot. My feet hurt and I am impatient. I want the boat; I want to talk to them. Finally, I find G. Horhito is outside it on the phone. His eyes light up. Probably suprised I am still alive given how long it took me to get here. I spread my blanket next to the water and sit; he wants to show me the boat. It is gorgeous, I feel awkward as they give me a tour. Horhito has polished the owners room and is protective of keeping it clean, cute. I use the toilet and impress them with my intelligence when I figure out how to flush it. Horhito showers. The captain gives me a drink, asks me more questions about myself. He is trying to be kind, I think. Either that or I am on trial. Probably just being kind. Horhito dons a gorgeous blue shirt. They are hungry, and exhausted. I have already eaten but they feed me again anyway. The captain will say my name, like he is going to say something, and then nothing. (To this day, I am at a loss as to what he wanted to express). Over dinner the passport question comes up, I tell him I have letters and a copy of it, he is not impressed. There is a prolonged awkward silence, which gets even awkwarder for me when they try to change the subject. On the way back to the boat, Horhito questions my decisions. He says, you have a problem and a solution, why not put them together? Seems simple to him. I tell him, which problem are you trying to solve? The passport problem here in Barcelona? Or the Angela-is-meant-to-be-on-the-sailboat-to-Croatia problem. Truthfully, I was counting on the cap changing his mind, I was hoping to charm him, but I didn’t understand him, so I couldn’t. I grab my stuff, thank the cap, and leave. Ask Horhito to come sit by the water with me. We talk for a while, he is exhausted but I could sit here all night. There are people on the deck of the boat opposite, I started a conversation with them earlier when I confused the South African accent for Australian. They are leaving for France soon as well, I have the opportunity to ask them to take me, but I don’t. (Perhaps rejection made me shy, for a minute.)
I walk back towards La Rambla in search of an Internet cafe. By now it is getting really late and they are shut. A guy approaches me as I walk down the street, I ignore him. Excuse me miss, where are you from? What’s your name? I tell him Sorry no, and keep walking. He asks again, I speed off into the distance leaving him to eat the dust off my heels. Then stop. And turn around. And all up in his face, I say, Why? Why do you do that? Why do you talk to me, when I made it clear I didn’t want to talk to you?? He is taken aback, but only for a second. He tells me, he wants to talk to me, I am alone and something about looking sad, and working… He has dodgy English, and I have dodgy Spanish. He asks me if I want a beer, I say no. But I do want baklava. In a kebab shop, he buys me one, and then another even though I say no. I keep my guard up, don’t tell him my situation. (I reek of vulnerabilty.) He offers me to stay at his house anyway, promises it will be ok. By now, it is 3am and La Rambla is quite a walk… I go with him. On the way, a group of men carrying what looks like a sawn off shot gun, and or a spear or a bat…? People with weapons, you get it. I am glad I am not alone right now. He lives in flats, we enter and he is whispering. I ask the pendulum if I am safe, it says yes. (I doubt my father thinks this is a fail-safe mechanism of testing my environment). The place is full of sleeping people, I ask where the couch is. I find there are people on it already, breathing heavy and sound asleep. He points to his bed, himself to one side, me to the other. I shake my head and tell him, I will sleep on the floor. He starts swearing to all kinds of gods, telling me he is different, telling me he is Indian, and repeatedly tugging on his earlobes. (WTF??). I stand my ground; one of us is on the floor. The room is cramped and I don’t like it. He says ok, I can have the bed. I sit on it and get out my blanket. I look over and he is leaning his back against the wall, still in his clothes, arms folded across his chest, eyes closed. Is he trying to make me feel bad that he is on the floor? I almost laugh out loud at him, maybe I do. Tell him, if you will be like that, then I will sleep on the floor. He starts tugging at his earlobes and swearing to the gods again. I can be a stubborn cow, I almost leave. He fetches a big thick blanket. It is perfect for me and despite his presence; I look forward to sleeping on it. Then he says ‘just one kiss?’ reclining on the bed like some kind of superstar or Hindu god, one who will have huge earlobes if he keeps swearing bullshit like that… And the weirdest thing of it all is that he reminds me of my little sister Taya, with how he talks, how he walks. So, I am up and out the door without a backward glance, back into the hands of the city, sometimes outside is a safer place to be. I ask a homeless guy if the dudes with guns/weapons are gone, they are. He asks me for a cigerette, I still don’t smoke. I sheepishly ring the bell at La Ramblas, Deepak isn’t incredibly happy to see me but tells me to have a sleep anyway. And I do.
This time he lets me sleep a little longer. After some puppy dog eyes, he offers me a bed someone has just checked out of, for 45mins in the morning, before get up get up get up! He’s really worried about his boss. Thank him and leave. Buy some fruit salad. There’s a big ass net cafe around here somewhere. Good news- I have an email from Mustapaha! Hallejuah. Yesterday Bridget Kuster, my New Zealand African goddess, messaged me with the address of the consulate and the offer for her to send me money. She sends me 200 bucks for PASSPORT and some food. Thank god for Western Union. Although the Spaniard at the consulate has assured me the letter verifying my identity will be sufficent, the lady here won’t give me money without a passport. I sit down on the step and sob for a while. Sometimes I can be really dignified when I cry; this is not one of those times. A girl in a dress asks me what is wrong- she tells me it is possible to change the name to someone else- that she can use her passport to collect the money. But this will requre me going back to the net cafe, contacting Bridge, getting her to contact Western Union… I hesitate (she who hesitates is lost). Her boyfriend doesn’t want to wait around and they leave. I go to another Western Union, boldly walk in like I didn’t just get knocked back. I hand the teller the form like there isn’t going to be a problem. He takes a while to process it and I bite my nails. When he hands me the money, I burst out crying in relief. (When it’s good, I cry, when it’s bad, I cry. When its rainy or sunny or…) He is suprised. Nice guy. I thank him and take his picture. Deposit the money to the ‘new passport fund’ at the bank. At the entrance, there is this funky glass chamber you have to stand in and wait while things whir around, reminds me of Inspector Gadget or the CIA or something. After the bank, back to the phone box. Call the Embassy and ask Spaniard lady to process my passport. She says it won’t be possible by tomorrow. I call the consulate, they will do what they can, tell me to call back at 4. I use the Internet while for a while, my parents message they are putting money in my account. The balance is $477 DEBIT. Someone has overdrawn my account. I call the bank, tell them it is fraudulent; a dispute will take up to 46 days to process. So any money coming from family won’t reach me in the meantime. Call Mastercard, ask for a Emergency replacement card anyway. They tell me the card won’t work in ATMs. Whatever, for the moment I have money. So of course, I buy an icecream.
I have about 30 dollars. Wander around. For 3 euro, a pink shirt, ‘Create your own style’. These sketchers are driving me fuckin craaaazy, 1.70 euro gets me a magazine with some white cane thongs attached. Ditch the mag on a cafe table. End up at the beach. People are building sandcastles again, but these ones aren’t ashtrays… They’re actually really good. I sit down near two guys building a man reclining on two wine barrels. It is late afternoon; one of them is smoothing the details with make up brushes. He works on it relentlessly; his is shirtless and crazily tanned. As time passes he becomes more theatrical with his movements, as though aware of my attention. The other has a black labrodor near him and I try to call her over… Always puzzles me that I need to make different noises to animals in different countries, the seeming normality of ‘pup pup pup’ is not natural. They talk for a while as I sit with my feet in the sand. I interrupt- Where are you from? They’re speaking Czech. Mluvim malo cesky; they can’t beleive it. It’s been a while and I struggle to find my Czech words. Honza moves closer to me and we sit and talk, sit in silence. He has bright blue green eyes. Eventually he asks where I will sleep and I shrug, he points to the sand and I shrug. He minds my bag while I run to the water and happily swim. I was wearing my swimmers when my bag was stolen, and for the moment that pleases me. More people appear and sit nearby, he introduces me. They offer me wine from a plastic bottle. Who are these people? I am just happy to sit for while. They offer me paella- tell me a resturant nearby gives free food at 6 and 12 oclock each night. I’m stoked. There are many people on the beach late into the night, even on a Thursday night. Right nearby is a beach bar full of partiers. At around midnight, Eric begins to move all the things from the sand to the shore (cement). Under an umbrella on the sand, they have bags. Eric is the oldest of the group, with wild curly hair. He is the most bilingual. The boys only speak Czech, but Eric seems to be able to speak Hungarian, German, French and Spanish. Honza tells me the trucks are coming. Bright lights flood the area and the people start to disperse. Huge tracters come down the walkway and onto the sand; they are cleaning the beach, flattening it. Honza tells me they will bulldoze the sandcastles, that they repeat this every night. The police presence is strong and dust fills the air from the dirty, disturbed sand.
As time goes on, I start to realise a few things. 1) These guys have chronic substance abuse problems, wine flows. 2) Eric is the ringleader, like the guys are the lost boys or something. 3) Most relevantly, they seem to live on the beach. After the dozers are gone, the beach bar closes. One by one, the guys pass out on blankets on the deck. I sit and talk with Honza. He gives me a wooden box to put my pendulum in; it fits well in the purple bag, a nice gesture. Someone asks if Romain is sleeping, I can feel his presence nearby. He is sitting on an electricty box (or maybe its a garbage bin?) waiting for my attention. We walk along the beach. He draws a big loveheart on the sand, I walk across it and write ‘footprints across my heart.,.’ I spend some time building a yin and yang. I look across and he is building a ridged huge ‘Angela’ in the sand. (I think he likes me). We lay on the sand and I am falling asleep. He fetches blankets. He has crazy warm skin and I am asleep again, despite the noise of partiers, on the beach all night long. Next morning we wake in the hot sun. I am impressed, the guys are already building. I had left my cargo shorts in Erics care and my last 5-euro note is no longer in the pocket. I wonder if it was him. For breakfast, Eric makes a spread, of crunchy Spanish baguettes, with coffee made from sachets of powder. We have it with tomato and cucumber. Romain is wearing a hat, I tell him I like it and he gives it to me. More talking with honza- my Czech is coming back and so is his English. Occasionally -‘Eric! Jak se rekne Cesky..?’ (How do you say in Czech…?) As time passes, however, I begin to realise that perhaps Eric doesn’t understand English as much as I thought, or French or Spanish.. Perhaps because he starts answering such questions with a nod and ‘yes’. Ha.
Walk to the consulate. My passport is there, what a suprise. Stupid Spaniard telling me the impossible. She doesn’t like to be wrong and is far less friendly today. I ask some questions, leave. Stop at an expensive chocolate store, briefly make conversation, but I really just want to eat a tester. Back to LA Ramblas, to the hostel to check if they have received my credit card. Deepak only works at night, they tell me they haven’t. Back to the phone box to bang my head against the brick wall that is Mastercard. After a long delay, they tell me that the card was sent and received this morning at 8am. Back to the youth hostel, who apologise and tell me they do have it (It has Deepaks signature on it.) I am stoked. Head to a supermarket and shop for about an hour, maybe 2. Agonise over every decision. Moisturiser, deodorant, undies, sunscreen. Toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, no conditioner. Swimmers, a coconut and a small blue towel. Batteries for my camera. Decision after decision, despite a growing sense of uneasiness. At the checkout, the bill is a lot; I had a lot to replace. And the card doesn’t work. I tell them, try again. The guy behind me chimes in that his mate had the same probelm- I tell them Mastercard said it might do that and to type the numbers. They tell me, increasingly irritated, they know their job and that isn’t possible. Of course its possible, but the card still doesn’t work. I leave empty handed. My undies are wet from swimming. They are irritating my skin. I take them off, but the damage has been done. My legs chafe and every step is agony. At a few pharmacies I try to buy some talcum powder or nappy rash cream. No bueno, card doesn’t work. Dejected, I tuck my pants between my legs and waddle back to the beach.
It’s late, maybe 11. I have been absent a while with no explanation. Tell Honza I have had a horrid day. Romain is getting increasingly irritable towards Honza the more I talk to him. Jealous? They are both typical Czechs; Honza of the alternate guy variety, and Romain of the cute boy type. Romain is attractive, but impatient with his inability to speak English, it makes him uncomfortable. Like one of the other guys, he is missing 3 front teeth. They look rotten and it freaks me out a little. Certainly doesn’t make me want to kiss him. I choose to sleep on the beach with the boy who is enamoured with me, away from the other men. Because I know he will feed and protect me. How primal.
Early Saturday morning, I wake in hot sun, swim. Choose to battle with the money problem again. Bank to bank I go, they don’t take Mastercard or don’t know what I am talking about. They are dismissive and I can’t take it. I want to rent a bike. I show my Spanish note explaining the situation, designed for the bank- as a result the dude thinks I am asking him for money. The card is declined, and I cry because I want icecream. Word must have gotten along the grapeline, because next thing, Romain is presenting me with a cardboard carton of delicious, creamy, icecream. Mam allerge mlecne vyrobky.. He doesn’t understand, pushes it towards me and walks off pleased with himself. I sit holding it helplessly while it melts in the beach heat. I pull Honza aside and tell him, he translates. Romain is embarrassed and throwing his arms in the air. I eat a tiny bit, take it around and feed it to all the men. They want me to have it but I force them to eat it. I am frustrated, get my white skin out, I grab a big shovel and shovel sand for a while. I am wearing my ring and it blisters my finger.
Eric thinks there may be banks still open (it’s a Saturday) in Las Ramblas. Eric gives me the good bike and I pedal off with the wind in my hair. And the banks are closed. I use the interwebs for a bit (I bought a lot of minutes the first day). I go into the exchange place and ask to withdraw money. They can do it and are open til 10, but the card is declined. Call Mastercard and tell them their card isn’t working, talk to the Commonwealth (Please Hold- Fuck you, I want an icecream). The card is supposed to be automatically activated and for some reason that didn’t happen. Back into the exchange place, use my new passport and withdraw some cash. Yay! At the supermarket, reselect the things I want, minus the swimmers and the cocunut. Strawberry Sorbet icecream cone. At the beach the sun is setting and I run for batteries to take a picutre of the giant aeroplane. I have bought a (kinda expensive) new white dress, I put it on and there are whistles. I sit on my blanket and soak my clothes in a bucket with the new washing powder. Brush my teeth. Honza and I lay and talk while Eric runs around swordfighting with small children and Romain takes (blurry) photos. I buy two cold Heinekens for the boys (Romain is grabbing at them before I can even give them to him) and an ice cold Spanish Mohito from the beach bar.
I wake in the sun, swim, shower. Rinse my clothes and dry them on the umbrellas. Build a shade in the sun with my blanket and sleep the day away. Time passes on the beach. Honza carries buckets of water back and forth from the tap, occasionally I follow him. My bag now has a passport, credit card and money. I guard it more ferociously, especially since my Lonely Planet and pendulum have gone missing. Without fuss, without a backward glance, after this long journey, they simply disappear. After a brief perusal at the last place I saw the pendulum, I don’t bother looking for them. The Moroccans (?) roam the beach like ghosts and things disappear. I hold a small hope that Eric, all-knowing Eric, has put them somewhere. It’s improbable. In Merzouga, the boys in the desert had tied their ring to a string in the same way I used the blue sodalite pendulum. So now, without further ado, this is what I do.
I am asleep under a tree on the cement. The ground is very hot in spain, so is the sand, it burns everyones feet. A small girl is standing screaming, alone, barefoot. I put on my sandals, run to her, scoop her up. Someone else is asking here where mummy is, she doesnt know. I have hold of her and all my things, I walk across the sand asking ‘Donde??’ She points and I walk. I put her down in the shade to rest for a second- where is my ring?? One by one, everything is being stripped away. I scour the sand, look up and the little girl is gone. Back underneath the umbrella, a sliver of silver. I put it back on. Everything is being stripped away, but maybe not that, not yet.
I ride into Las Rambla on a bicycle with no brakes. Romain makes a fuss about me being careful, to begin with I think he means of the bike being stolen, then I realise he doesn’t want me to hurt myself. Aww. Afterwards Me, Honza and a friend swim out to the breakwall. The rocks are slimy. I want to back flip. There are so many fish and crabs, it freaks me out. Me and Honza lay on the stones in the sun and talk, me in Czech, him in English. He hasn’t been here so long. He chooses to live on the beach, tells me money makes things complicated. Things make things complicated. He is happy. I like that.
I am going to Paris. Word gets back to Romain and Sunday night, he screams at the sky. Porkay Angieeeeee Porkaaay… I raise my eyebrow at Honza and reiterate that Romain reminds me of a small child chucking a tantrum. The drunkeness has worn so thin. An aussie is on the life guard tower, he says something amusing.. ‘Attention people, stop drowning, I’m chilling up here’. Some drunken girls build a large penis in the sand and then whine when a perve starts taking photos of their asses as they bend over it.
I don’t want to sleep near Romain anymore, but not near the other men either. I deliberate for a long while with Romain insisting I sleep with him in the sand. I want to sleep in the sand, but alone, and I don’t feel safe here. Eventually I sleep next to Honza.
Monday morning when I wake, they’re already building a Mickey Mouse. It is time for me to go. Honza gives me a small backpack; everything fits in it well. I give him the tub of laundry powder, additional toothpaste, and my bronzer brush. He lends me a razor to shave my legs. Apply deodorant and I feel human again. Before I go, Romain and I talk. His father died three weeks ago, his sister arrives tomorrow. He tells me he drinks to numb the pain. I tell him in Czech, I have been here. That won’t help, nothing helps. I sing to him ‘No amount of coffee, no amount of crying, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine… Gotta have you‘. I get it. I cry for him.
On the ferry to Ceuta, I am restless. I want to stand in the sun but am worried I will burn. The truck driver gives me his sunnies. I stand inside, outside, in the shade, by the railing. I hope to see the dolphins, but can’t keep still to wait for them. The truckie doesn’t speak any English, we use a lot of hand signals. As we come into the port, a guy approaches and they speak Spanish for a while. He is driving to Tangier and offers me a ride. I accept, and once we have established with hand signals that no, I am not a drug pusher. We get in his car. It is first in line to come off the ferry and as the big door beeps and rises, my stomach is all a flutter. Africa!
His name is Ali, 28, lives in Marrakesh. Speaks Spanish and French and Arabic. The wait in the car is long at the border into Marruecos. There are many police. I have my temperature checked and repeatedly show my passport. Then, we drive. He drives fast, over taking many cars. I don’t have time to capture all the new things I am seeing. All the buildings are white, for the heat I presume.
There is construction everywhere. We are near the coast and the streets are lined with freshly planted palm trees. He is driving the long way to Tangier. We stop at a restaurant and he buys me a big tuna salad, many fresh veges. I ask if I should change out of my singlet and into something that covers more of me. We sit outside the cafe and there are no other women, only men. He has a tall glass of hot mint tea, crammed full of leaves. It is sweet. He buys me bottled water and we drive. There are police standing around at every intersection. We stop at clothing stalls; energy flows through me and I briefly shuffle on the pavement to the techno music pumping out of the shop. He starts looking at the male clothes while I browse the female. 99.9% of the Moroccan population are Muslim, yet the fashion doesn’t seem so different. I choose a modest shirt and a white dress and ask where I can find an ATM. Ali pays for all the clothes together and we leave. We stop at his friend’s house and 2 women wearing hijab’s (head scarves) join us. One of them speaks a little English. The females will take me into a local ‘hamman’ to take showers. I am clueless as to how this works, I ask if I take my toothbrush and they laugh at me. I am expecting big communal bathtubs but it is an ordinary shower, with dodgy water pressure. Get clean, put on the new shirt, it feels good. Back in the car, the woman and I speak, French and English. Ali’s friends wife, she is a Capricorn as well. She shows me a photo of her husband, wrinkles her face and tells me he is a baby. He is 23, she is 19 and they have been married 7 years. She tells me, he is in Marrakesh with his other wife. He tells me her husband believes the woman belongs in the house. (I wonder if Ali has the same views about the world). She makes stabbing motions to her heart when I ask how she feels about it. I ask if they have children and she tells me no, trying to explain to me why, I don’t quite understand. She tells me she doesn’t take tablets, and makes stabbing motions to her stomach. I show her my map of where I have been and where I will go. Her eyes widen and she says, alone? Holding up one finger. Alone?
Everywhere I go, I meet this same question. You are alone, just you? Again and again, ‘Alone? Just 1?’. Wei. Sei. Nodding my head and shrugging my shoulders. She asks why, and I respond, ‘Pohkwa non’, (why not?). Ali returns, we say goodbye to her, and drive again. We overtake a donkey too quickly for me to take a photo. Ali sniggers. Morocco passes in a blur. We stop again at another male dominated shop. Many eyes on me. I use the bathroom. A man is sitting outside it with pieces of ripped up sheets of butcher’s paper, to dry your hands on in exchange for money. I left my wallet with Ali; I dry my hands on my pants. There is meat hanging and cooked cows heads sitting and steaming. I stare and take photos.
He buys meat on metal skewers and when I taste it, it doesn’t taste like the meat I know. There are hungry small cats around and I rip my meat into pieces and feed it to them. Ali watches me closely. He is eating other meat as well, tells me it is ‘bueno’ (good). When I ask him what it is, he draws a picture of a penis. We talk in an odd mixture of Spanish and French, developing a common language as time passes. In the car I ask him, ‘Quest-ce du faire?’ (What you do?). He shrugs and says, Nada. I say, ‘Du faire nada, du nada deniro’ (you do nothing, you no money). He laughs and taps my head, says that I am intelligent… but doesn’t answer the question.
The sun is big; low in the sky, large, orange. I can look straight at it and see the outline.
We drive past red flags with a star on them- the Moroccan symbol. I’ve loved that star, my whole life; I draw it everywhere, habitually, over and over again. As we come into Tangier, I pull out the Lonely Planet, request an Aubergue. Ali talks and finally I understand- Casa means house in Spanish, and he is inviting me to stay. I am uneasy, pull out my list of French words and ask, who? As in, who else lives there? He is staying with a friend and tells me, non problema, non problema. I want to say, I don’t want to marry you, but I don’t have the words. He carries my bag up the stairs and we enter a 2-room apartment- my first of many Moroccan experiences. The window is open and the walls and floor are covered in cockroaches and bugs. We stamp them away. I use the toilet and there is no paper. He tells me he is going to the berber and will be back in half an hour. He hands me the TV remote and leaves me wondering how I became a woman sitting at home waiting for the man so quick and effortlessly. I watch some animal planet and sort my things. He returns with strange cuts in his haircut. I request a net café; it is closing, I change my status. (Ha.) I request dairy free ice cream, we get some, meet up with his friend- I like him. Ali’s phone rings a lot, at one point he meets some guys, pulls out a wad of notes and exchanges euro for dirham. They speak Arabic to each other and it reminds me of Rami- Arabic is so guttural and always sounds aggressive. People are constantly bargaining with one another and do it so loudly.
In the centre of town, the weather is warm and there are many people out late at night. By the beach, my eyes widen at horses running along the sand. Ali sees this and points to me. I am unsure but excited. I pick a small horse and get on it. First time in a long time. The man holds it and leads it along. I don’t want him holding it and nudge him to let go. When the horse starts running I scream and yank the reins. The guy seems alarmed and thinks I will fall off. My knee starts hurting something chronic when I kick the horse and say ‘ya!’. The horse doesn’t seem to want to go and I worry that perhaps it is tired from doing this all night, perhaps its feet hurt. On the sand I look across and Ali is riding too, although he seems much better at it then me. Get off the horse and can hardly walk. I thought my knee was all better since snowboarding in Norway; apparently not. Sit on the stairs for a minute. The boys look concerned and I feel like a dickhead. We drive for a while, up onto a cliff with an amazing view. Drink beers and laugh; I like his friend. Ali drinks, drives, speeds, doesn’t wear a seatbelt- we get stopped by the Policia. They take his licence and hold it out of his reach. Everyone speaks loudly and what seems to me, aggressively, in Arabic. At the same time, it seems like part of a long rehearsed game. Ali slips them money and we are on our way. He tells me, this is why they can do what they want, cos they just pay and get away with it. He seems happy with the arrangement.
The boys have hopefully suggested ‘discotheque?’ and once they agree to return home for me to ‘cambiar’ (change) I agree. Put on the new white dress and boots. Before we enter the club, I hand Ali a piece of paper and ask him to write his phone number on it. Why, he asks (pohkwa?). I say in case I get lost (Donde est Angela?). He tells me, you will not get lost, because I will not take my eyes off you for one minute.
At the club, he walks with his hand guiding my back. ‘You’re free as a bird’, he says, like they all will say, though that is clearly not the case. I want to run away, along the beach by myself, free. The club is lush, red velvet seating; a beautiful woman in a black dress sings Arabian songs. The waiter brings happy hookah and they pass the pipe. A little unsure, I sit and smoke some of the bubbly apple flavoured smoke. I eat nuts; Ali asks if there is anything at all I want. I am hungry. The other girls in the group only speak Arabic; they try to show me how to dance with my hips. Ali puts his arm around me and it is heavy. I push it away a few times then ask if we can go outside. I can’t fucking breathe in here. The courtyard has a big pool with gorgeous comfortable shaded cushioned beds. We sit on one and he asks me, Ka Pasa? I am upset, I used both my hands to weigh down his hand, tell him this is how I feel. I want to be free. He goes back inside for a minute and I sit with my legs in the pool. The attendant talks with me in french: when Ali comes back, he tells him I can swim if I want. I want. Strip down to bra and undies, float on my back and look at the night sky, thinking, I am in Morocco! Wrap myself in the towel, get dressed at the attendants request. He brings a white silk napkin to wrap around my hair. Back inside, I dry my hair with the bathroom hand drier and ditch the napkin. Shortly after, we leave. Somewhere along the way, Ali kisses me and tells me he loves me. I tell him not to say that. Back at the apartment, his friends girlfriend takes off her headdress, she is pretty. They tell us, they will sleep on the couch and we can have the bed. No no no no, I don’t want the bed. They insist, worst luck. Ali lays on me, he is heavy, I tell him no, I do not want. I give an inch and he takes a mile. He is upset with me, sulks. He asks me why. Always with the why. (Hasn’t he bought my love?).
The next morning, I am up and packing. I will go (Je voux alley). He doesnt want me to. He tells me, Guapa, solo, no bueno. He tells me I am loca chica. His friend thinks I am crazy when I want to eat the leftovers out of the fridge, bring fresh meat and salad. The meat includes all parts of the cow and I just can’t stomach it. We got to the train station and there is a train at 2 o’clock to Fes. I am unsure where I want to go, but sure, Je voux alley. I realise I have left my lonely planet at the flat and am not going anywhere without it. Back at the flat, Ali’s friend is kneeling on a mat on the ground praying, we wait and do not disturb him. I get the book, I have missed the train. What now? I spend a while looking at the map and trying to figure what to do. I want to go to fez, and I want to go to merzouga, the desert, the sahara. I want to get the bus. Ali and his friend tell me to stay. Next thing the old landlord is coming, I think they have fetched him.
He is telling me he speaks many languages and has travelled much. He tells me to stay, that we will have drinks. I politely and gently, and then more firmly, tell him No thank you, I will go. (Merci beaucoup, Non, je voux alley.) They ignore me, tell me we will go for drinks. Je voux alley, je voux alley. My words fall on deaf and stubborn ears. The landlord tells me I am stubborn. He tells me I cannot go alone. Just fuckin watch me. I pick up my things, walk to Ali. Please. (Por Favour). I thank them, we leave and drive to the bus station. He puts on sunnies, isn’t looking at me, makes stabbing motions at his heart. He asks me, Fes? Or Merzouga? Merzouga. He finds an overnight bus, buys my ticket, and checks in my luggage. We have a few hours, I tell him, icecream and swimming. There’s no sorbet and we drive along the coast for a while. We stop at an outlook with cannons and security guards, we talk to one for a while, he teahces me French and I teach him English. Ali leans against a brick wall with me between his legs overlooking the ocean. The view is pretty, there is a small puppy; I’m happy. On the way back to the car, groups of men sit around on fold up chairs under the trees. Moroccan driving is insane, chaotic, I love it.
At the beach, we walk along the water. I have trouble spotting another female. There are groups of guys playing soccer everywhere and I want to join in. We reach a little enclave surrounded by rocks where males of all ages are flipping and diving off the rocks into the water. Ali looks around and says we will go to the other one. I plant my feet and ask why. He looks around and communicates he does not feel safe leaving his things. It is pretty here and I can’t be bothered moving. I wait. Some children leave, gradually there are only a few. I point to the rocks near the water, tell him to put his shorts there. I trust. I demand he trusts. My swimmers are in my pack at the station, I am wearing the long, purple, modest shirt he bought me. I took my bra off so it doesnt get wet, he notices and chastises me. Tells me I am in morocco (in case I hadn’t noticed). He thinks I have no idea, he thinks I intend to take off the shirt. I roll my eyes and take off my shorts. We count (un dois treis!) and jump in the water. It is crystal clear and bloody freezing, I squeal and stand on the rocks. Many fish swim around my toes. I grab him and jump in and swim out again as quickly as I can. Dressing on the rocks, I want to ask him for advice, I want him to tell me about Morocco. I say, un chica Moroc, ke problema? We list them on my fingers. Solo, Alone. Gaston (men). Pocito Deniro (little money). He thinks I am ‘loca’ for wanting to go to the desert, tells me we will go together to Fes. I persist, ask- moi problema, ke faire? (If I have a problem, what do I do?) He tells me, if men grab me, there will be nothing I can do. But isn’t that the same anywhere? I tell him, Australie, moi papa, dice, gaston problem. (In australia, my father says exactly the same thing).
We walk back and stop for fresh orange juice. Everywhere through Moroc, there are stands with oranges. He stops by the side of the road and returns with strange, sweet, weird fruit (Figs). I like the way he just does things, assertively. I wonder that perhaps here, the male active energy is entirely in the male, and the female receptive energy is entirely in the female, and maybe thats how the society balances itself. Rather then a assorted ‘whole’ individuals, a mass of halves, fitting together. Ali stops to get pizza, I wait in the car, feel stifled by the culture, by the male dominance. He buys me a kebab and we drive around looking for an Internet cafe, I want a map. He doesnt want me to go, so strangely enough, we don’t find one. Nevermind, I will go without the map. At the bus station, he gets on the bus, speaks to the people, and finds me a seat next to a woman. I get the feeling I am being handed from one set of hands to the next. I hand him some euros to change into dirham, he hands them back to me with 200 dirham. He gives me his phone number, tells me not to sleep. I roll my eyes at him. He says goodbye, awkwardly hugs me.
The bus is full, and hot. The roof window is propped open with plastic bottles. All the women wear Hijabs, the lady nexts to me speaks only Arabic. I feel out of my depth, and guarded. I’m relieved when some guys at the back start talking English to me, I reply in as much french as I can. I am asking questions and attempting to tell them my plans. The sun sets, the bus tears through the country. Empty water bottles rattle around the floor, the conductor opens the door as we drive and throws them out. At one stage, he walks down the aisle and pours soupy water everywhere, to make the bus smell better. Moroccan people usually smell good, I have noticed. But the country itself stinks of meat, cooking cow intestines and polluted waterways. I feel nauseous just thinking about the smell. The conductor, if you could call this guy that, makes many announcements in Arabic, the bus stops and goes again. People get on and off; everyone is awake in the streets. The warm night atmosphere feels quintessially summer. I am afraid to stray too far from the bus in case it goes again without me. The buses go throughout the night rather then the day heat. We stop at cafes with the doors open and meat hanging in the air, people approach me quickly, madam? to ask if I want tissues, if i want to eat at their cafe. At one stop, I spend a while trying to ask how long until the bus will go (quanto es tempo akei?? How many is time here? Voux alley quanto es? Want to go time is? *Hand signals*) and then venture to the toilets. I am not wearing shoes and it is a squat toilet, with no toilet paper. I shudder, pee and wash myself. Walk straight past the toilet attendant, a guy from the bus tips her for me. He asks, Angela, and points in disbelief at my feet. Sei, no bueno!!! I agree. Sleep a little, the sun rises. At some point along the road, I notice many rocks sticking up out of the earth, and wonder at this type of desert landscape. Then I realise, the rocks are grave markers.
7.15am at El-rachidia. Thankfully two guys from the bus are also going to Erfoud, tell me we will share a maxi taxi. I’m still feeling so guarded, but trust one of them. Tell him to wait, inform the women I am leaving. I am not sure if they had a different plan for me, or perhaps they don’t care. $3.50 for the longest maxi taxi ride ever. The guy in front is sleazy and I ignore him. Tell him, no! when he asks what my name is. I quickly tire of strange men asking me what my name is, where I am from. At Erfoud, as soon as I am out of the car, people pounce on me for camel rides. 200 dirhams (30 bucks AUD) to Merzouga. There are no other people going in grande taxis to Merzouga, it is too early. If I wait a few hours, perhaps. Men begin to approach me, madame… They offer me hostels, ask if I want to ride a camel, tell me to come to their agency. I walk from the crowd and sit on a bench. A man bothers me for a while. I buy some watermelon and share it with him.
I ask him lots of questions; there are 20 aubergues in Merzouga. I refuse his offer to go to his agency to see his camel pictures. He can see I am tired and confused and offers me rest at his agency. I ask my pendulum, and tell him I will sit for a while and maybe to go the markets. He zooms off on his scooter and I wonder if that was the right decision. Another guy approches me with the same deal. He tells me, a car has come from the auberge to the markets and will go back to Merzouga soon, if I want a ride. I know it will come with a catch, I ask him, what if I don’t want to stay? He tells me I am free. I ask the pendulum, and go with them. On the way, they repeatedly ask me if I want to take pictures. I decline. They give me a spiel about the desert and the sights that I am sure has been repeated many times before. We are in a FWD that drives along dusty paths. We arrive at a sand coloured building plonked in the middle of the sand. They go to carry my bag inside, I tell them wait. And ask, Combiien? How much? Leave the bag, inside sit on a couch. They bring mint tea. He starts selling to me, drawing diagrams. I don’t touch the tea and interrupt him, how much? A room for the day to sleep in, a camel into the desert, dinner and breakfast. Four different trails, 300, 500, 700, 800. (46, 77, 108, 124 AUD) I tell him, I want the 700 hundred, for 500 hundred. As he sells to me, I nonchalantly play with a gorgeous silky black kitten. I consult the pendulum and we settle on 600. I drink the tea. Shower, ask a woman to wash my clothes, sleep for a few hours. The room smells like the soap used in mens toilets. I wake and go to the desk for change for a hundred-dirham bill. They tell me there isn’t any, I don’t believe them. I go to fetch my clothes from the woman, offer her 20; she wants a hundred (surprise surprise). I give her fifty, and wonder if I have just exploited Africa for the first time. Or is Africa exploiting me?
Outside, there is one camel waiting for me. I had imagined a whole line of camels, but it is quiet. Going into the Sahara with 2 Berber boys… uneasy. They tell me the camels name is Bob Marley. He stands up with me on him, and they start walking. I ask, where are your camels? They tell me they will walk, and that they won’t get tired.
I am suprised, it is 8km and I feel guilty for riding the camel. They ask me questions and I am guarded, certain they have asked these questions many times before. When they ask me my name and I refuse to answer, they say they will call me Fatyma. The most common Arabic female name, for Mohammad’s wife. Either that or Aisha, which means ‘she who lives.’ I prefer Aisha, definately. They keep asking me if I want to stop and take pictures. They have lived in the desert their whole lives. Mustapha is 28 and the younger guy with long eyelashes is only 17. We cross from black pebbly desert into red sandy desert. At some point, I realise my bag and the clothes in it are soaking wet; the lid was not on my drink bottle properly and the water has spilt. I hang the clothes from the camel reins and they are dry within minutes. I rearrange positions throughout the two hours, sitting sideways and crossing my legs. We stop for pictures and Mustapha tells me he will ride the camel with me. He puts his hands on my legs, my hips, rubs my shoulders- I feel violated. I ask to walk for a while and then get back on the camel alone. I take my sand filled shoes off and the way Mustapha looks at my feet makes me squirm. We stop and they drink water from a nomad. We reach the oasis and Mustapha ties a piece of rope around Bob Marley’s folded leg so he can’t stand; I hate it. I ask where the other people are, there are none. They put out mats and we sit and drink tea. I ask for water and they give me water from the well, tell me to let it settle first, it is cloudy. There is no wind but the sky is overcast, which means although it is silent I will not see the stars. There is no sunset, but I climb a hill anyway.
Back at the tents, the boys are playing checkers with camel poo in the sand. I lose to Mustapha.
It is getting dark and I am uneasy for sheezy. I ask if we can make a fire, if we can have dinner. Mustapha invites me to help him and I can’t stand to be in the enclosed space with him. I lay outside. He joins us with loud Arabic music blaring from his phone that grates on me. I want to lie quietly and find some calm for my fast beating heart, he asks me questions and wants to talk. There are 6 smalls cats and I watch them run around, listen to them meow. They are hungry. We eat ‘Tangine’, cooked carrots and potato, bread. I avoid the chicken in the centre. Afterwards, melon. I am full. The boy with long eyelashes goes outside and mustapha tells me jokes. He starts to touch me and move closer. I tell him, Non. He asks if I am married. He tells me it is hard being in the desert with no chance with women, offers me a Berber massage. I say no, I do not want. He asks me why, I say, I do not want. He asks why I will not help him. I passionately speak, about being free and making my own decisions and about the culture- the woman kept in the houses and the men in the streets. He falls into silence. I tell him that I have an ‘ami’ in Australia, and I left him to come here and be free. It is becoming clear to me how important my freedom is. How much I hate to be told what to do, to feel dominated or compromised or controlled. Eventually I ask where the bed is, and to my relief, it is not in the same tent as the boys. He walks me there with the light of his mobile. I did not bring mine and I ask for a candle. He says goodnight, apologises for earlier. Asks me, one final time, Berber massage?
I change into pyjamas and get into the bed. Just in time, the candle burns out. I lay in the dark and my heart beats fast. There is wind and it whips the tent. Surprisingly, I quickly sleep. At 5am, they wake me to the rising sun. I lie on the sand and watch it come up. There is bread, marmalade and cheese (nah) for breakfast. I ask where is Mustapha- he has gone to find Bob Marley. I laugh, he got away! What a champion. A while later Mustapha returns, Bob Marley walked back to the aubergue in search of breakfast, Mustapha walked all there way there and back to bring him for me to ride. Mustapha ties his leg again. As we eat, bob marley hops up and starts walking off with one leg. Mustapha yells at him in Arabic and goes and ties his other front leg as well. I look over and Bob Marley is dragging himself along with his two front knees. Fucking hell.
On the way back, there is no small talk like before; they seem to be in a hurry. Suits me just fine. Mustapha leads Bob Marley, dragging him slightly too quickly across the edges of dunes and he nearly falls over. I wonder why he does that, Bob Marley is hungry and will get there as quickly and efficently as he can. I ask him to hand me the rope and let Bob Marley walk himself. I am curious to see which way he will walk when left to his own devices.
We arrive and they pull out fossils to sell me. I am not interested but like a granite elephant. They ask me how much I will pay and I say, How many hours does it take to make this elephant. They tell me a week. I tell them bullshit. An hour a day for 5 days, perhaps. They ask for 160 ($24), I tell them to put it away. Back at the aubergue, I take my time, shower and repack my bag. I have diarrhoea, no bueno, am not feeling so good. Leave the room, return the key. In the common room tell the boys I am ready to talk. Sit with one of them (Josef) who tells me there are no taxi’s back into town and they will charge me 160 dirham for a ride. I tell him, screw that, I will walk to another Aubergue and share a taxi there. He tells me, you are in the desert. He tells me, it costs 100 dirham for them to pay for fuel there and back. I tell him, well, I will pay 50 then. He laughs and tells me I am intelligent. I hold my pendulum while we talk. I tell him, 600 for the bed and food, 10 for the bottle of water, 50 for the fuel, 35 for the salad. 60 for the elephant, makes 750. The boys refuse to sell the elephant that cheaply. We decide on 800 and leave to drive back to town.
On the way, we talk in Spanish, French, English. I share. He had said the silky black kitten was his, that its name was Dark. That kitten was affectionate and playful, and I think you can judge people by their animals. He asks me if I have a boyfriend, why I am alone. I tell him, I had an ami in Australia but I left to come here. Why didn’t he come with me? Because I told him not to. Because I wanted to be free. My ami may or may not be mine again when I return home, C’est la vie. I ask if he has a girlfriend. He tells me, he has no chance. I tell him, if you think you will go then you will go, if you think you will stay then you will stay, if you think you have no chance then you have no chance. He tells me he did, but that she died 2 months ago. The way he interacts with me is different to the other men, and this is why. She died when Ariel died, my heart goes out to him. My eyes well up, I stare out the window and struggle to control myself. I ask what happened, he says her stomach hurt and she went to hospital: that it is hard but he tries not to think about it. We reach El-rachidia and I want Internet, and I want to get the bus out of here. I am sleep deprived, sick, and emotionally exhausted. He tells me the bus goes in a few hours, that I can rest at his uncle’s house where there is Internet. He sees the doubt in my eyes. I ask the pendulum if he is good, it says yes. We go. The house is nice, but all surrounded by dirt. It is very hot. In the garage on a mat on the floor lies a tiny baby.
We sit with her, she is so beautiful. I notice that all through the house there are no beds or chairs, only cushions and mats. I like it. I go upstairs to use the Internet. The urge to write my way through everything that is happening is strong but Josef sits close and curious. The feeling of male domination returns. He brings tea and sweet desserts. I stand on the roof and view the hot, barren landscape, there is more construction, this time houses.
Food is served downstairs. We sit around a low circular table on small stools. In the centre of the table is a cow’s head, with eyeballs and skin. They rip the skin with their hands and dip the bread in the eyeballs. His cousin (?) speaks english, ‘Disgusting, isnt it?. I am unsure what is appropriate and try to be polite. I don’t eat the cow head. Meat on metal skewers again. I eat some and pass the rest around. Try and fill up on salad and chicken. Afterwards, lots of melon. In the kitchen, the young girl tells me about her passion for learning English, how she was going to school but when the baby came, she quit and came here to help out in the house. I like her and want to encourage her. There is so much crap in the kitchen; they prepare the meal like it’s a feast and I wonder if they always do that or if it was because I am visiting. I go upstairs, Josef is on the computer, I feel uneasy. He reaches out to touch me, and I move away. Downstairs the youngest daughter is walking on her fathers back, massaging his toes while he lies there like a giant slug. She seems heavy and silent with resentment and anger as she walks on him, bored. I ask the pendulum if it is time to go, it says yes. I ask Josef to take me to the markets to buy a blanket (‘Je voux alley’). His sister/cousin seems upset I am going, I get her address and tell her I will write. We drive to a shop and the man says the carpets are 2000 dirham. He has to be joking! I look at josef and ask, ‘how much would you pay for the carpet?’. He answers 1500 and I don’t believe him. I bargain and when the guy won’t go below 1000 ($150), we leave. I ask the pendulum if I can trust josef right now and it says no. He says to me, at the end of the day you are just a tourist. He stops to buy a chicken from a hole in the wall chicken farm. I watch them, white and overfead on hormones, they can hardly walk they are so meaty. The guide tells me to move out of the way and I realise, we are not taking the chicken alive. They are killed and defeathered in a boiler less than 2 metres from the others, all waiting for a similar fate. I step over fresh chicken blood and sit in the car. I can’t fucking take this, all of this. I sit outside the car and don’t move.
He asks what has happened, I ask him to drop me to the bus station. I am feeling so emotional, I just want to leave. We drive across a river, and the stench of the polluted water doesn’t help. The bus is going at 8.30. I wander through the shops for some retail therapy. I stop at one where the same carpets are 200 dirhams. They offer me sweet tea, a sales tactic, and I accept anyway. I browse, and bargain, stubborn in my exhausted state. The men are suprised at my boldness. I buy a beautiful red and orange blanket. I tell them I need an ATM for bus money and the younger man walks me there. On the way, he talks about the police corruption, how he does not have a democracy. He begins by asking me, how do you like Morocco? I can’t think of anything good to say, my heart hurts. I tell him that in Australia we sing ‘For we are young and free.’ I am proud to be Australian, after what I have seen. I see so many things that I want to take pictures of, but don’t want to make it any more obvious then it already is, given the colour of my skin, that I am a tourist. A foreigner. That I don’t speak the language, and that I have no idea how much things here are worth in Moroccan money. In Morocco, I have no idea the value of things. He is a merchant as well and takes me to his shop. We talk for a while, and I became exhausted of it again. He offers to buy me a Koran, asks what I believe. Am I Christian, Buddhist, Catholic, Islam? Nope, nope, nope. I tell him there is a god, for me, but there is no book. He says, yes, but one god?? Holding up one finger, Only one! He tells me his woman is free to do what she wants and wear what she wants, that people come to Morocco with preconcieved notions that aren’t true. I tell him No, my experience right here and right now, is that there are no females in the street. That the men call me ‘Guapa’, tell me I am pretty and ask if I am married, everywhere I go. They seem to take my energy, whether I like it or not. Here, as a traveller, I am hustled, which in my experience, is to have people always wanting something from you. I have felt not only reduced as a woman but reduced as a tourist as well. No longer a person but something to be transacted. I sigh, stubbornly bargain with him, and buy some of his jewellery for gifts.
I have missed the 8.30 bus and go to see if there is another. I am relying almost solely on the pendulum now to make decisions. Outside the bus station I ask it what to do and a man approaches me and starts a conversation about it. Suprise suprise, he has a shop. I go with him and sit; whenever he starts to sell to me I shake my head and say, please (s’il vous plait). He laughs. He asks how I find Morocco. Like many Moroccans, he wants his pride patted. I am not going to lie. I pour everything out to him, no judgements just what has happened, experience after experience. His eyes grow sad and he nods. We have a good conversation, though I don’t remember the details. He is a good person, someone who I would ordinarily like and trust, but I am in his shop, and I am a tourist. I bargain, say I will leave without the necklaces when he won’t sell them cheaply. I am not bluffing, I am fed up. He gives me them for 52 dirham each (arbitrary number the pendulum suggested) and I walk back to the bus station. Approach the 1030pm bus to Fes, the men tell me it is full and turn away. There are people milling everywhere, they send me to the other bus. They tell me it is full. They tell me, I can get a maxi taxi for 1000 dirham instead. I tell them, no, I only have 150 dirham for the bus. I ask if I can sit on the floor of the bus, like I have seen other men do when the bus is full. They tell me, we can show you aubergues. I point to the ground and tell them, no, I will sleep here if I have to until there is a bus for me. In desperation I lie and tell them I have a plane to catch in Fes tomorrow, that I cannot wait. A man moves, and there is room on the bus. He gives me the window seat; I wrap myself in my red and orange blanket and sleep restlessly. My stomach is killing and I need to go. This bus is direct, and when it finally makes a stop, the diarrhea continues. My belated realisation, I drank water in the Sahara, Africa, where there are no hospitals. Ameteur. I get bread; I never want to eat meat again. The blanket smells like smoked flesh, Moroccan flesh, intestines and brains and liver all mixed together. Standing outside the bus, the women eat yoghurt and throw the rubbish on the ground where they stand. Where are the garbage bins? I remember my bookmark from Vienna ‘Be independant, Be careful, Do not waste.’
So I am in Fes, infamous Fes. The place I wanted to come and get lost in. I begin by leaving my bag of preciously bargained for souveniers on the bus. I return, look for the bus. With the help of some guys who speak American computer English, find the driver. He says to come back in an hour and he will have the bag. I call my mother- she tells me to go to the doctor. I want Internet. I walk into town, past a goat. Above the walls of the Medina, behind which lay the city, many black birds circle. Down the cobbled lanes, there are cats everywhere and early morning market stalls opening. I see a tiny kitten, I pick it up. I look into its eyes and realise it is very sick and will die soon. I put it down, keep walking and start sobbing. I hate this place, I hate this place!! Imogen Heap loops in my head ‘Get me outta here, get me outta here, get me outta here… get me outta here get me outta here get me outta he-ere’.. Men ask if I am okay, if I need help, if I need a hostel. I can’t tell who are hustlers and who are not, I keep my guard up as I cry, rather aggressively responding, Non! Merci beaucoup, si’l vous plait, non. My strong will and intellect put me in a good position to bargain but my compassion feels like such an archilles heel, I wondered what would happen if they could see my utter vulnerability for them. Perhaps they can. I sit on a step, cry and watch the people go by. I let the tears pour down my face, a small boy watches me curiously. I want to vomit. From fear, bad food and water, and compassion that burns. Sleep deprivation making it harder to hold it together; craving time and space to fall apart.
Morocco, putting the ‘cunt’ in country. Irresponsible, chattering like a desperate and attention starved child. Compassion tells me, perhaps the people are just trying to claw their way out of a dog eat dog world, like dogs. But I am human too. I have been manually breathing since I have been here and I don’t know what any of this means. Je ne se pa. Afterwards, they will ask, how was it. They will say, Morocco, how exciting! The truth is, Morocco is a little bit of a head fuck. This is the experience I have been waiting for- to mull over for months and years to come. And yet, there’s more.
At the airport, I try to figure out where to go next. I want to go to Latvia, but the flights are expensive. Maybe can fly to Paris or London, and then what?? I consider hitching the ferry to Barcelona. In a travel agents office, she feeds me salad (I decline the meat). I fall asleep on beautiful couches for a few hours while she looks for flights for me. I am exhausted and struggle to keep my eyes open. My body is shutting down. I wake to a security guard asking me my name, I tell him no and look away. When I am able to rouse myself, she is saying she can find me a youth hostel and I can fly to Paris in the morning for 40 euro. I feel the suck of the place, everyone always wanting me to stay, to spend more money. I want to get out asap!! I go outside and ask the pendulum, again. It says, the 6 o’clock flight to paris for 100 euro. I think fuck it, and decide to get it. It is 6 o’clock now and she has closed her office. No Paris tonight. I get the bus back into Fes, and then a mini taxi to the centre.
I walk through the city and the hustling begins again. Hostel, madame? The truth is, I do want a hostel. I ask for directions to an ATM and a guy walks with me, tells he will take me to a hostel. As we walk his friend joins us and I do a double take. Familiar. Dreadlocks, brown skin, understanding eyes. Green shirt, sandals. Out of his mouth comes something I like, though I am sure has been said many time, ‘no hustle, no bustle’. First hostel cheap rooms are full, I briskly say Merci beaucoup, leave. Then number 56, family run, students. I ask if I can sit. In a room with curtains, cushions and mats, I collapse, bury my head and try and pull myself together. Mustapha gives me space. The hostel dude shows me the room. On the roof terrace, we stand silent and wait as the bargaining goes on. He says 140, I say 100, consult the pendulum, I will pay 120. I shower, Mustapha offers me tea. Yes, on the roof; I put on the white dress. I smell clean and feel good. On the roof, the sun is setting and he tells me what I need to hear. Words to remind me what I already know, words which even immediately after are gone with the wind. The realisations, the Moroccan jewels of wisdom slipping through my fingers like grains of sand in the Sahara. My eyes are welling with tears and he asks Ka pasa, what has happened. Je ne se pa, I don’t know. I walk to the edge of the terrace and watch the black pottery smoke billowing above Morocco. He stands behind me, murmurs, nuzzles my neck. I had asked the pendulum if he would touch me, it said: if I wish. I push him away and let him come close again. He asks again, Ka pasa. He crouches in front of me, waiting, and then he kisses me. He whimpers; kissing him is like crying. We sit with our heads in each other’s necks.
One of the men, with a white shirt and potbelly, comes up the stairs to the terrace. Mustapha is on his feet and saying, We will go. They move quickly down the stairs and I don’t immediately follow. There are raised voices. I wait for them to subside but they only get louder. I return to my room and change out of the dress. The voices continue, loud and in Arabic. I return to the roof. An American student is there. ‘You know what there’all yelling about?’…’Me.’ He says, Sounds like quite the adventure. Over the railing I watch Mustapha leave. Minutes later it begins again and there is a scuffle. The man with the belly comes to me and apologises, says his family is about respect. His chest is heaving and he is sobbing and struggling to control himself. Downstairs the old man in the white hat and green robe knuckles are bleeding; he was holding the men apart. The man with the potbelly says ‘…dice…amigo’. He wants me to talk to my friend. I stand outside the door, Mustapha runs to me; they talk in French and Spanish. He tells me to get my luggage. I tell him, I want to stay. His eyes flash at me and he asks if I trust him. I ask the pendulum and suddenly I understand, I am being asked to leave. I repack my bags, the American says I am crazy and gives me his phone number.
Mustapha is upset with me. I grab him, look into his eyes until I see them get clearer and we smile. Mustapha carries my bag, and a young boy come up and begins to hustle him, thinking he is a tourist.
I love it! Laugh at him, pick him up and carry him down the street. He squeals and giggles. We go to Mustapha’s sisters house and leave my bag. There is a little girl, with tiny frizzy hair. Her name is Na’ima (Comfort, amenity, tranquility, peace). She holds my hand and we play with her. I have found something in Morocco I like, the children. I realise I have left my wallet in the hostel, we return and get it. When we leave, Naimah looks up to me and speaks in Arabic, don’t go, don’t go. Mustapha tells her I will come back. He is distressed about my wallet, I am non-plussed, I know where it is. I don’t know where my pendulum is though, and he tells me, you are losing everything! He is angry. He doesn’t know the irony, that I thought I would get lost in Fes. I drop my jumper and he picks it up for me. I am exhausted and hungry but feel playful around him. We walk through the streets; I eat Bean Goulash from a stall in a pottery bowl. I run into games of soccer, laughing and kicking the ball. Naimah comes with us for a while and we count and swing her into the air between us. I tell him to tell her, I love her hair. We make animals noises, chase her through the alleyways. Mustapha sends Naimah home and I buy a 10kg watermelon for 20 dirham. He carries it for me. I stop and buy some scarves. He sees a friend. I tell her she can have the watermelon, I only want one piece. At her house, there is an open courtyard in the middle with big wooden doors. We eat the watermelon. She is talking in Arabic to Mustapha and I know she is talking about me, she is saying I cannot come here and travel alone. I look up and say, Sei, sei, entiendes. (Yes, yes, i understand). Mustapha raises his eyebrows.
Back in the street and Mustapha is telling me he will not let me go alone. I am telling him, you have no choice! You will have no choice. Telling him, things for me are not the way things are in Morocco. I am free to do as I wish whether I am a man or not. He keeps putting his arm around me protectively, using to to steer me, to push me, to hold me back. I can’t stand the weight. I hold his hand by the pinkie instead. The streets are deserted; I am raising my voice and the Policia walk past. They stop me and ask for my passport. It is in my bag, I cannot be on the streets without it. They tell me to come with them, ask me my name. I wonder if they will rape me. I need to pee. Mustapha returns with my bag, I show my passport, they speak to Mustapha in Arabic and won’t let him translate to me. He is angry, furious, he has to pay them 100 dirham. I tell him I will pay it and he tells me not to talk to him about money ever again. Once again, the Moroccan pride melts away and underneath there is a pain, a hatred for the corruption of the country. I cannot stand to be near his anger, I cannot listen to his rant. He tells me he sits on the roof and cries about his country. He tells me, just feel for me! He doesn’t know the problem is I feel for him too much. He tells me, I will sleep on the terrace of his sister house. I ask him where he will sleep and he says, at his parent’s house. We go in, I use the squat toilet, my stomach hurts. On the roof he lays out a blanket on the cement and asks me, oddly, to help him. I lay down, he sits up on the roof for a while. When he comes back, he asks if he can sit on the blanket, then lays down. I say to him, you said you will sleep at your parents house. He asks me, do you want me to wake them? I repeat, you said to me you will sleep at your parents house. I feel I have been manipulated by a Moroccan yet again. He asks if he can watch me while I sleep and I feel like a Moroccan is trying to take my energy again. He tells me, he has never been to school, ever. He rolls over and turns his back to me. I don’t reach out to him. I need to sleep so badly.
The next day, there is distance between us, no more playfulness. I want to leave. It is summer solstice and I wanted to be in Latvia today. The family are poor- I walk into the room where they all sleep and when Naimah opens her eyes, the first thing she sees is me. She reaches out her arms, I pick her up, hold her on my lap. Mustapha keeps taking her off me. I don’t like it, and decide he must be jealous. Naimah fetches an egg. She was supposed to get three, Mustapha tutts and I laugh. I eat breakfast with the family, salty egg and crispy bread; it is delicious. Naimah hits her brother with a stick, and says ‘la, la’ (No, in Arabic). Mustapha takes me to find an ATM that will accept my card. He walks ahead briskly, I want him to slow down and smell the roses. When we are near the police, he sends me ahead, angrily asking me if I want him to get in trouble with them.
At the bus station, the 11.30 bus to Nador is leaving. Quickly Mustapha arranges for a space and puts me on it. He angrily says, not even a thank you? Before I have even had a chance. I rip out a page of my Lonely Planet, scrawl my name, phone number and email. He tells me, if I try to call you and it doesnt work, it’s your fault. Kisses me on the lips. As the bus pulls out I am both releived and upset, I wonder if he knows how to use email, if I will ever see him again… And I didn’t say goodbye to Nai’mah.
Morocco passed as such a blur, I longed to sit still for a moment, write, and let the experiences pour from me. I have been flattered, surprised and warmed by the responses to my writing, my journey, and was uneasy to write again lest I disappoint. I write to clear my head and heart, and to calm my anxiety that I will forget my experiences and my journey will be lost. Above was my attempt at describing the sensory digestive and emotional overload that was Africa. In the wake of it, I have many many questions. Watching Mustapha, I surmised that perhaps yes, all people are good, except when they are scared. And maybe we are all afraid. The Moroccan people seemed to be desperate, frightened, hungry. In pain. In Morocco, I was very scared. I manually breathed for 4 days. If I create my reality, what the hell was that? A friend tells me, you will see reflected in the outer what is in the inner. The pollution, the fear, the starvation, the manipulation, the stench of death: all within me? As I write, my back hurts. In Morocco, I reached the conclusion; to be open is to be assured of the strength of your position. To be closed is to be defensive because you are unsure or afraid. Thinking back to Mustapha, I must live with the fact I closed myself to what was potentially the opportunity of a lifetime to share, to grow. For this, I must learn how to forgive myself. Why was I so scared there, when I haven’t been before? The country left me so confused, I looked outside me for answers, to the pendulum. When the world is at your feet, and your inner voice too quiet to hear, how do you make decisions? Though I spoke forcefully, and bargained steadfastly, I was edgy and jumpy, afloat. The hustling was relentless and I found myself lying as the guidebook suggests. Found myself saying that i have an ‘ami’ waiting in Australia, when I tired of bashing up against their repetitive, senseless questions. Part of me hoped maybe i do- but mainly, i just wanted to escape them battering me with their words. I wish I could leave this entry with something more poignant, with a sense of closure on something that will take a lifetime to digest and revisit.
Where do I even begin? At the beginning, I suppose it’s best. Or at least, where I left off. Pau, in France. Couch surfing.
June 7th, the day Kay flies home, I sleep all day, 16 hours straight. Eat more delicious food and fall deeper in love with French bread. At night, I blog. On Monday, I wander slowly around town; upload pictures at the Internet cafe. Go for a kebab and am given free delicious turkey coffee. Take the guys pic. He tells me about himself, about his travel; he is nice. I get the bus out of town, across the river, and walk back. The water smells a bit funky but the gardens are nice. I watch the sunset and think of Ariel, wonder where he was born. Wish he were with me, in his beloved France. Listen to the bells toll and wonder why the church is closed, to me, a true house of god would always be open. I go home to a house where everyone speaks French, and get into an argument with Antoinne about whether or not bread has milk in it. When he begins to question my Aussie accent, I walk out of the room. He gets out the dictionary and quizzically asks ‘easily offended?’. He doesn’t realise he is wearing sneakers just like the ugly sneakers Ariel used to wear- must be a French thing.
The next day I sleep until 3 and spend some time reading the lonely planet, wondering where to go next. I shower and repack my bag, and after consulting the pendulum, I don’t do the washing up. I decide to head to San Sebastion, in Spain, where Kay recommended. This morning I said I was going to go… and now I say it again. Raised eyebrows. Yes it’s late. I have such an urge to be moving. I consult maps and bus timetables. Nick has travelled and hitched himself. It’s not practical, he says, thought he understands I must do as I feel. Around 8ish, I finish saying goodbyes. I abandon half of my overly abundant tampon collection in the bathroom, write on the kitchen walls in whiteboard marker, and leave.
I walk in the wrong direction. I realise the boys were right, the buses have stopped running. I stand for a moment and wonder, for the first of many times, what the fuck am I doing?! I walk back in the right direction, towards the bus station, and start to readjust to wearing my pack. A cool and quirky guy on a bicycle gives me directions. I get to the bus station and there are still no buses, not even night ones. I consult my map, think ‘fuck it’, and start walking towards the highway. It is a long way. I stop at an intersection and stand under an open window, that is playing music I don’t know, but love. Start walking again, and then even though I am in town, turn around and stick out my thumb. The car stops, opens the door, and drives me to the toll way. Legend. Jump out, find a spot under the sign going to Bayonne, and stick out my thumb. And wait. And wait. Few cars are coming, a truck stops but he is not going where I am going. I start to seriously doubt my decision to leave; I am counting the minutes to sun down. Finally a guy stops and drives me to Bayonne. We speak a little, he has children. It is well and truly dark as we drive along into town along the river, the view is gorgeous. He drops me at the station at around 10.30pm. Check the prices for a ticket to San Sebastian and dude, it is way outside my budget. The ticket lady tells me I must get the train to Hendaye, and from there to San Sebastian. I get the train, it is a nice train, and I sleep a little. At Hendaye I start asking questions. Where is the food? There is no food, it’s late. Where is the train to San Sebastian? There is no train to San Sebastian until morning. Where is the Aubergue (youth hostel)? There is no Aubergue; this is a tiny ass town. I make small talk and wait, bracing myself for a nice sleep in the station. A couple appear, they are getting a taxi to San Sebastian for 50 euro. They offer to split with me 50/50. I tell them I am a student and offer to pay 15. They agree 🙂
In the back seat with the pretty Parisian, we listen to French rap on her iPod. As we come into Spain, it starts raining. I am still excited to be here. They get out at their hotel, and the taxi driver turns and asks me, Where to? I pull out my Lonely Planet, eni meenie miny mo.. I point to a hostel and off we go. All the streets in San Sebastian are one way, and I feel guilty as the driver winds his way back and forth and final drops me off. I ask him to show me where I am on the map, I have no idea. Take his picture; he was a helpful guy, wave bye. It is 12pm; I walk through the streets in the general direction of where I hope the hostel is. Around me are people partying in groups. I stop dead still and consult the lonely planet. I am not sure how it began, but then next thing I knew, two Aussies are in front of me and I am telling them about my escapades. It is such a relief to speak fluently, to use Aussie phrases and be understood. Damon is completely in awe- Kate is drunk. They are hungry and looking for the Mcdonalds, it is closed. We go and eat burgers, as Kate would enthusiastically tell you over and over, they are good burgers. I tell them I don’t know where I am staying, Kate tells me checkout is closed but there are spare beds in her room and she will sneak me in. Sounds sweet to me!
Inside, there is free Internet. I log onto Facebook. Kate comes out and starts to tell me I have to get up early in the morning and remake the bed. She is worried they will kick her out. I tell her not to worry, and stay up til 4am on the Internet. Next morning, as promised I get up (fairly early.10ish) and help myself to the free breakfast. Cornflakes and orange juice, yeah baby. Ha. Feel a little uneasy but everything is cool when I check in for the following night. So then Kate starts getting all enthusiastic about ‘going places’ and ‘doing things’. I give her my phone to take with her, and noncommittally tell her maybe we will meet up later. Off she goes, and I spend some of the day in virtual reality. Start to feel concerned I am in a new place and missing the chance to explore it, but it is overcast and eck. I walk through the streets in search of a cardigan; it is still overcast and a tad rainy. I want something pretty and white. I stop and try, for the first time, some of the infamous ‘Pinxtos’, or Tapas.
On the benches of all the bars, which are open throughout the day, are many varied types of different small snack foods, a lot of them seafood, and on crispy bread. You eat what you want and pay later. I have two big juicy mushrooms on a piece of bread. Walk and sit by the harbour on the rock wall. The ocean bashes against big huge cubes of stones, I mean, they’re pretty big. I wonder how they got there, and notice that some of them have graffiti on them. Given that they are down pretty low and a long way from access, I admire the dedication and effort of the kids who tagged them. Get bored and wander back into town.
I stop outside a shop that has a huge stuffed bear in front. The bear is covered in this ridiculously soft fur and even though I am sure people are staring at me, I stand and caress it. Go into the shop…. and don’t leave for at least two hours. Some pretty purple material catches my eye, I pick it up, pants- I am sure I am in love. I try them on and they are those saggy bum pants girls in Europe wear (no offence Ellen) and even though I love the colour and bagginess, I just can’t bear to look like I am wearing a nappy. The music is beautiful and it smells so good. They have those Orgasmatron things with 8 legs like a giant spider, made of metal, feels like heaven in a head massage. I spend ages in the change room and this time fall in love for real. White pants, baggy, nice bum, doesn’t even remotely resemble a nappy. 25 Euros. I put on a green dress and it feels like coming home.
50 Euros! No bueno. I take it off. End up leaving with natural deodorant, vanilla essence and THE pants. Go and have a delicious free strawberry ice-cream. I lie by the harbour in the sun, and read the lonely planet. I am waiting for the places, things, people, that make my heart flitter. I read about Morocco, about the Sahara and camels and the riots of smells sounds and sights… and decide I will go there.
Back to the hostel, more Internet. I have locked myself out of the room and when the Internet stops working, I lay in the common room, stare at the ceiling, and wonder about my life. I pick ‘The Lovers’ from my tarot cards. People come in and out of the room and I start to rally for evening activities. Kate comes back; she has bought a new dress. Four of us start to play cards and drink Sangria around 7, I get dressed into my green dress, and we leave at ten. We are with two Aussie boys; they astound us at the first bar by making out with two girls within five minutes of entering. We dance, we drink. Are we human, or are we dancing? We leave to go to different bar. I lose the group and am left with Jackie and Stu, busabout buddies of Kates. I have a few drinks in me, someone asks me about my recent travels, and I tell them ‘I kissed a prostitute!’. I am stunned by what happened, how it unfolded. I tell the story, some laugh, which relieves my unease, others look as unsettled as I am. We walk and talk, go into a new bar, pay too many euros to enter, they aren’t there. But a Spanish guy is, he doesn’t speak English so don’t talk, just hang out and listen to the live band. Every few minutes he puts his drink in front of me, I don’t say no. Have an awesome convo with a guy called Ryan, Aries. Tell him about my life for a while, my plans to travel to Morocco, he uses his mobile to add me on Facebook. Go back to the first club and find the group, Alex and Lee the Aussie boys are leaving and I follow. Back at the hostel, I speak deep and meaningful to Alex for a while.
(In the morning, he informs me I was telling him about my hitchhiking philosophy, that all people are inherently good, etc. etc.) Then things get interesting with Lee, and Alex sleeps on the couch. It’s awkward and by sun up I am back in my own bed.
The next morning I wake up still drunk, unstable and giggly. Hopeless. Kate feeds us pasta and I slooooowly pack. We walk around the bay to see the blowholes and I (arbitrarily) resolve to leave at 2.30. The sun is bright. I have fun annoying lee and Alex with knock-knock jokes. I chase a fat man wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Do not blow farts’. The group dare me hug to him. His name is Enrique and he tells me that I can get a train, which goes through the centre of the earth to Australia. Huh. Say goodbye to Kate and the girls, they are going on the fun-icular. Walk with Lee and Alex until I get the urge to go around the mountain rather than through the tunnel. They’re right, it’s a dead end, and I slowly make my way down to the sand. I feel the water and suddenly have to go swimming. I chase after them and beg then convince them to take my things for me. I run to the water. I take off my shirt and bra (gasp!) and run into the water in my undies, holding onto my boobs and expecting the police to crash tackle me any second. They don’t and I giggle at the fact I am swimming topless in a beautiful beach in SPAIN. I swim out to a pontoon with a slippery slide (!) and after saying ‘pardon’ to a naked guy, do a backflip (Scott would say its crappy) off the edge. I swim to shore as quickly as I can in, I am starting to get cold and a little edgy with the whole ‘ocean animals seaweed’ thing. I swear I see a turtle swim under me, but that could just be my hysteria talking. Put my clothes on, walk into the hostel in my bra, rinse my hair, get my pack, check the map, leave a goodbye card for the boys (the joker) and leave.
It is 666km to Ourrense, northwest Spain. I sent out some random Couchsurf requests, they replied with ‘Come!’, so off I go. Apparently it will take 6hrs and I leave at 4pm. I get the bus to the big road, and it is not the best for hitch hiking. I stand on a pedestrian crossing right before the beginning of the AutoRoute. The cars can’t really stop, and although I get the feeling a lot of them wouldn’t anyway, some look at me like, yes, but not here. I move to the roundabout. Here, still not the best, but possible. Except they don’t want to take me. People shake their hands and wag their fingers. Ahhh. I’ve heard they are a tough crowd in Spain. The sun is starting to be all slanty; the fountain is beautiful. I head to the bus station (close by) and buy a ticket for 9 euro to Bilboa, think maybe I can hitch there. Sleep a little on the way. It is starting to be painfully obvious that I got sunburnt today, making it difficult to carry my things. At Bilboa bus station I reassess my options. Not keen on carrying the pack anywhere. Cart myself all the way to the train station (de ja vu) where they tell me there are no overnight trains. Head back to the bus station, ‘umm’ and ‘ahh’ about what to do. Buy a ticket for 30 euro, going overnight straight to Ourrense. 930pm to 6am on a bus, yeah yeah. Sleep.
Friday June 12th, sleep at the bus station for a few hours. Call Roland, I am here. Stop at a shop, think, What would I love?, and buy them a big ass jar of honey. He comes and meets me on the Ponte Roman (bridge), wearing funky pants. They are a house of volunteers who work doing environmental.. things. The walls are covered with eco-friendly messages in Spanish, devastated I can’t read them. I am feeling real exhausted> I drink tea and make polite introduction talk until I can excuse myself, siesta 12pm-2pm. In the afternoon I shower and watch Romain cook. He is disappointed I don’t speak Spanish and refuses to talk to me. Pity, cos it seems like we could get along. They are heading out; I shower, do my hair, make myself smell pretty. I go to the Internet cafe. What do I do there? I don’t know. Waste my life in cyber space? Maintain vital relations with friends and family? Something like that. Roland said he would come and find me, but he is busy having sexy times with his Spanish tutor, so I decide to find the party on my own. I remember that Roman mentioned a pub called ‘Luxury’, where they have free tapas. Free Tapas!! I want to go there. I go into a corner store and employ my dodgy Spanish, ‘Por Favour, Donde Est Luxury?’ I made drinking motions, they have no idea and are annoyed at people who don’t speak Spanish. I persist, ask for the phone book. No listing. Ask the clients, no idea. They are starting to get enthusiastic now, as my enthusiasm wanes: they are like a force growing beyond my control, spilling on out onto to street to solve the mystery. After, say, 20 minutes or searching and translating and gesturing, I look across the street, and there is Romain. I point, ‘Amigo, muchos gracious’, and leave. Romain is all like, what are you doing here? Uncomfortable and embarrassed, I now feel like a stalker. The situation worsens when the lady from the shop comes running out with the piece of paper on which I have written ‘Luxury’, and starts speaking rapid Spanish to Romain. Man, I have no idea what went down there, but I want to disappear. We head back to the house for them to smoke some weed. I eat honey straight from the jar. By the time they are ready to head out, I no longer want to go out. To hell with good social grace, the girl needs to sleep.
Sleep til noon. Don’t want to do much, mooch around. Ask the pendulum questions for a while. Ronald, Cecile and … are going to Alleriz for the weekend and invite me along. At ten to three they tell me, if I want to come, meet at the corner at 3. Pack and run with Roland. We meet Dora and her dog Bitcho; we squeeze into the backseat of her tiny car with him.
The windows down, me and Bitcho are blissful. At her house, I wash up. She makes a delicious salad with crunchy, French style bread. Roland and I keep eating after the others stop. Her boyfriend mentions a siesta, and I am out cold. The others come and speak to me intermittently, I mumble and continue sleeping. Outside the house, Portuguese drummers stand in a circle and beat on drums frenetically. (At one point, I see a man in the crowd crying with passion.) A few hours pass and Dora drags me out of bed to follow the group to the river. I am irritated and half asleep, though a little less resentful upstream where there are small waterfalls. They’re heading back already. In the centre of the small town, there is a festival atmosphere; I get off on the dodgem car bass. Dora says we will stay put, because they are about to run the bull past her place and she doesn’t want to get caught amongst it. Run the bull! If not caught amongst it, I must at least witness this. Roland feels the same; we head back to the apartment to put down our things. Surprisingly Cecilia follows- Born in Peru, allergies, slight build. The narrow cobbled streets are crowded; the people are like what water would be like it if was stupid. They are waiting for the bull, they flinch, squeal, run together in waves, when someone so much as twitches or blinks. We split up. I see the bull, tied through the nose, men are hitting his flanks with sticks and he seems bored of the whole thing. People take pictures. Back at the house we watch from the balcony. The people traditionally pour water from buckets and hoses on the crowds below. Roland and I sprint down, get wet and dance about.
I wander around the fair and see woman chopping large purple octopuses into pieces with scissors, plate after plate, mechanically. The others are drinking in the flat, Cecile is drunk on coffee liquor that burns but makes you want more, she’s cute. Come back with Roland to try the octopus. It is coated in chilli powder, I avoid eating the suckers. Don’t know how it happens but Dora and I are having an impassioned discussion about why I ate the Octopus. I didn’t want it, I didn’t like it, I think its wrong and I will never eat it again. She says I did want it, subconsciously, that is a biological drive. She doesn’t feel how sick I am in the stomach. I am uncomfortable with my own passion, in conversations like this. We watch a concert in the park; the woman changes outfit every song. Roland comes onto me and I ignore him. I spend some time kicking a large beach ball around and am relieved when we go home, shower and sleep.
We sleep most of the day. We are leaving soon; I start flicking through my tattered Lonely Planet. Where am I gonna go? I am cloudy but think down through Portugal and onto Morocco. When I mention Morocco, Dora warns me, absolutely do not go to Fes, it is impossible to navigate, you will get hopelessly lost. And with that, the seed is planted. I want to get lost in Fez. We run to the bus stop for the bus back to Ourrense. I say I am going to go. Where? I don’t know. They are waiting for me to answer and I am paralysed. I pull out the pendulum. Cecilia suggests, catch a ride to Portugal with the drummers. I am tempted for a moment, what a cool idea. Pendulum says no, my head says they will probably stay another night here anyway. At the bus station I say bye and thank you. Sit with two guys and talk; one is going to Vigo and the other to Santiago, they tell me to come with them. I hesitate too long and they are gone. Examine the road and start walking. Put my thumb and yes, Spain is a tough crowd. Keep walking to a service station with a puppy and a toilet. Ask a guy if he is going west and he is. Jose- PE teacher, mountain biker, strange skin. On an urge I get out at a service station half way to Vigo. Sit and talk with people, look at the map. Ten minutes pass and a lady approaches me, her and her husband are headed to Santiago. They have a daughter named Angela- they drive me across the border into Portugal. Drop me at a restaurant: I request cardboard and a marker, the family stare at me.
Out on the road, no takers. Buy fruit from a roadside stall, ask a Portuguese man where he is going- something gets lost in translation cos next thing he is driving me north back into town. Get out at a servo. No luck with anyone, or the Internet. Start walking to the bus station, it is a long way and my pack is heavy, jokingly put out my thumb. People raise their eyebrows. This isn’t France, that’s for sure. At the next service station I sit and talk with a young couple. <Describe> They give me directions and I keep walking. Next thing a car pulls up; the two from the service station will drive me and have bought me a bagel. No bus or train, they find me a hostel. 17.50 euro a night. Find a burger and Internet at a pub until 1am. Have a double bed to myself, sleep naked.
I dream that the free breakfast is expensive and when I wake up I have missed it. I sit and write: What I would do next, if I could do anything. Portugal, Morocco, Barcelona, Ibiza, Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Greece, hitch the ferry to Israel, Fly to Germany, sex and ice-cream, Belgium, London, Thailand. I get the noon train to Porto (28 euro). Omelette and frustrating Internet: 2pm train to Lisbon (25 euro). I am tired and irritable, sleep. There are no trains from Lisboa until tomorrow, bus and metro into town. Mango smoothie as it gets dark. Find a room, the old man who runs the hostel carries my bag upstairs. When he says 30 euro, I say I will go… then pay 25. Have turkey and broccoli for dinner. Lonely Planet says there is Internet open til 2am, I bask in indecision. I will go there, I will sleep, and I will go there… I walk in circles. Drink free Portuguese liquor samples, can’t decide on a magnet. I buy one and he gives me the second one free, a rooster! I wander around asking people for directions, in the strange town past dirty fountains. After maybe an hour, I find the Cyber Café in a deserted back alley. It is closed down. Metro back, sleep.
Up at 12, find an Internet cafe AGAIN. Call my mother. Contact British Airways to arrange stopover in Thailand. Call Optus. Get the 5.20 train to Faro. For a while now, I am having a crisis of faith, well and truly. Where am I going? What am I doing? I want a plan, but not just any plan, a plan that is fool proof, includes everything, and has me right where I want and need to be. I tell myself just to deal with what is in front of me. In the cafeteria compartment, a man talks at me for a few hours.
He kinda looks like the guy form the office. He buys me tea; I eat dairy free chocolate fudge. He asks me questions, he is writing a book on spirituality but is all tangled up in his mind. I am tired. A strange and amusing family sit behind him; their son begins to stare boldly and obviously at me. I excuse myself. Back at my seat, I quickly get into conversation with the guy across from me. We have matching huge ass backpacks stowed behind our seats and I am intrigued. Prefer him to office guy. Benoit. With a frizzy main of hair and heavy French accent. He has been hitch hiking but found Portugal impossible. He is headed to Morocco. He knows about the train to the Spanish border, I will go with him. We change trains at the bottom of Portugal. It is dark; the train is old and rattly. We share food. Talk a little. He is travelling the world with his backpack researching ecological farming practices. Kudos, I like him. The train goes slowly, it is hot. The darkened countryside has many smells; I stand on the seat with my head out the window and feel so alive. I like his company. In Faro, we go looking for a bus station. There are no buses. We stop and talk to people who ordinarily, I would ask to drive me across the bridge into Portugal. He is sure there is a 2am Alsa bus. We look for Internet, I eat a burger, we decide to sit and wait. 2am and 230 come and go. Ange’s intuition 1, Progress to Portugal Zero.
Ben has a tent and is keen to pitch it, in the dark dirty paddock. I want the well-lit, thick green grass infront of the ferry station. Ben asks the pendulum, it says the grass is good. The police pull up when I am sitting on the bench seemingly talking to myself. To Ben’s surprise, they say we can sleep until the ferry in the morning. I ask them to drive us across the Bridge to Spain; realise that only works when I am alone. Ben plays guitar for a while. We put up the tent behind the kiosk; Ben nonchalantly gets in to sleep. Once again, what am I doing_! Go to sleep.
At around 5am, I hear a noise and spring to my feet. Sprinkler. Mother fuck. Ha-ha! We are right near one going full ball. I cover it with my hands to protect the tent, getting drenched and squealing. 4 or 5 sprinkler rotations and finally ben emerges.
I am laughing hysterically, he is half asleep. He covers the other sprinklers with kiosk signs- Move the tent! Move the tent! Move the tent! …Finally he moves the tent. I make a movie. Sprinklers 1, Pendulum Zero. We repitch the tent in the dark dusty paddock and sleep. Up at 9am. We eat; Ben plays guitar, we work seamlessly together as we pack and run for the ferry. Back in Spain, it is getting hot. Ben is in a hurry, I am used to a more leisurely pace. I want to wear blue- I buy a singlet for 12 euro. There isn’t a bus for a while, I am hungry. Ben is reluctant to go into the shop because he doesn’t have money. He follows me as I ask for ‘Griffo? (Tap) water with ice, and directions. We walk to the highway. Ben doesn’t think it will work- I am determined- The bus to the Port in Algeciras is 70 Euro. We find a carton, Ben makes a sign. Fuck the sign I say; I get out on the road and start making smiley faces at the drivers, dancing and begging. Today the planes are drawing ragged odd lines across the sky- a young guy stops and takes us to Huelva. We are in the middle of nowhere and it is very hot. Ben thinks we have made the wrong move and wants to get the bus. I tell him to cross the road, and race me to find a ride. Him for the bus in Huelva, me for Seville. Thankfully, I win. There are fields of sunflowers.
After a short ride, out at a large roundabout. Ben wants to stand on the road, I want to stand near the exit to the service station. Quickly a French couple pulls up, headed to Seville, I holler for Ben. They don’t speak English- Ben is French, I sit back and relax. I sleep, and feel a little guilty for not being engaged.
Seville. Ben wants to get the bus, I want to keep hitching. First we must head into town for food and rest. How? A man suggest renting bicycles, I am so excited. Ben is sceptical. There is only one, he says. ‘With an attitude like that there is!’ I tell him yet again. Another bicycle is returned… and one is broken. I rent one anyway. Ben checks it out and informs me I just paid 5 euro to register, although the bike is free. We ride it around to station and wait for another bike, none comes. I try riding the bike with my pack on and bens pack on the front- laugh hysterically, can’t do it. He gets the bus into town and I start riding. It is uber hot, I am sweating, and the river is pretty. Ask people where I am and realise I am ridiculously far from our meeting place. Ditch the bike and get the air-conditioned bus. Bus 1, bike Zero. It is 41 degrees and I dip my head in a fountain. We arrive at the same time. He is leaning against a brick wall in the cement square. We are hungry; I want to go into the cathedral. Ben waits with our baggage. 2 euros to enter, the woman insists I put my wet shirt back on. Fuck you, I think, do you reckon god hasn’t seen this before? The cathedral is huge, there is a tour, and I just want to go where the people pray. I walk through massive dome glass windows and realise Ariel is definitely not here.
There is a courtyard with a fountain and lines and lines of mandarin trees. I sit on the edge of the fountain and the man tells me to take my feet off it. Here, is Ariel. I miss him, he is heavy, and I don’t want to carry him anymore. I remember a story from the weekend in London, about a man whose son died. Every night he dreamt of him carrying buckets. Finally, he asks his son what he is doing, and the boy says, Father, you keep me here; these buckets are your tears’. I cry, wonder if it is time to remove the bracelet I wear from him. Back in the church, I want to yell at the people, that they will not find god here, that god is outside living and breathing and laughing and loving, they should go look for him in their lives. Hurriedly I walk 34 flights up and down the bell tower, return to ben. It is so hot, I am tired and decide to get the bus with him. On the way, I lay in a fountain.
He is impatient but amused. At the bus station, he fetches egg on bread (tortilla?) while I buy the tickets. We get the bus, sleep.
As the sun sets in Algeciras, Ben goes to find his friend at their meeting place and I find an Internet cafe. Her name is Celine, I feel like I already know her. They talk in French and I feel isolated, tune out. We debate what to do and find food. The guy charges Cecile 3 euro for salad and she argues with him until he gets tired of it, and feistily tells her just to take it. She is embarrassed. We sit and eat. I am edgy and restless. I have grown accustomed to following urges that are not always rational, doing things a certain intuitive way. I am following them and I don’t like it. They discuss things in French, and then I make the same comments in English. We go to see if any sailboats are sailing to Morocco but they are all too small. At the yacht club I start a conversation with a woman, they take over in French. She has a houseboat, goes and asks her partner if we can stay, he says no. If I were alone, it would have worked. She walks us to where she thinks we can camp, along the way they talk in French. She becomes more and more agitated as she speaks, I am glad I am not involved in the conversation. She leaves, they tell me, She was in fear, not love. She told them, if they can’t even afford 10 euros for a bed, they should just give it up. It looks like rain- the pendulum says yes but camp anyway. Ben and Cecile find a spot under trees and begin collecting foliage to sleep on. I stand around and feel useless. We pitch the tent and they spread their blankets outside it. What kind of traveller am I, I do not have a blanket? In the tent I spread my clothes over and under myself. Early in the morning, Ben joins me, with one hand gently on my hip.
Next day we walk to the port, look for the truck. I am frustrated still, at having to compromise the wills of three people. I decide I will go to Ceuta, which is on the Moroccan continent but Spanish territory. They will go to to Tangier. There is only one person per truck anyway, and they do not have phones. The first truck I approach will take me. I put my backpack in and walk to find food. I say goodbye to Ben and Cecila. Being with them became confusing and I am kind of relieved. I wait for a few hours. My truck driver’s friend chatters at me irritatingly. I am still feeling exhausted and do not want to listen to him. The truck driver returns and asks if I have eaten. Poco, I tell him. He tells me to come; I walk with the three men to a buffet restaurant. 7.50 Euros, I hesitate, and they tell me to come. Encourage me to fill a few plates. I eat, meatballs and salad and rice and vegetables and bread and then jelly. When he pays, I take a picture. We go to the truck, his friend gets in, and he indicates to the bed with the curtain. I sit on the bed, he shuts the curtain, and we board the ferry. Not how I expected it to go but hey, whatever. The sun is hot and the water churns as we pull out of the bay. Africa, here I come.