Really, you probably don't want to read this. The food does look good though, doesn't it?
I wait an hour to meet up with a French girl named Celine. I'm in Fort Kochi and don't know anyone but her and I haven't seen her since she left the houseboat. Celine could only afford to spend the first night on the houseboat trip. Both nights were beyond her budget. I most always say, "Forget it, I'll cover it" (a trait that I picked up from my friend Bill but he's way more generous than I am).
Rakel the Norwegian shall we say, strongly mentioned, that I spent too much time talking to Celine. I need a break from traveling alone, so I didn't make the offer, and Celine left. Celine didn't hint at a hand-out, so don't think that. Rakel also says that we've been picking on her. Which we have, in a good way.
Rakel was in India for two days before the houseboat trip. She flew into Cochin without seeing anything else of India except airports, and thinks Cochin is a dirty polluted place with badly paved streets full of poor people. Most people don't mention the pavement, but I always ask their opinion since I'm like that. Celine and I have both been here a few months and we talk about what a great area this is. Sadly, once Rakel visits more of India, she'll realize how nice the state of Kerala is. After the houseboat trip, Rakel goes south; I go north back to Ft. Kochi to see if India Railway has found my bike. Celine was there, and on the houseboat we had talked about seeing some Bollywood. After an hour of hanging out at the meeting corner, I figure Celine stood me up. I go to a nearby restaurant and order some food.
I'm a sucker for ordering Mexican food when I see it overseas, and this place has it. I order the mushroom spinach tacos and some "special tea". Special tea is beer served in a tea pot in the state of Kerala. It's a bit like prohibition which is another reason I love India. In India, when there's a written menu, like this time, I point out what I want, when I order it. I don't do that in the US, but when language and accents are a problem, it helps. Still, I get served food that wasn't what I ordered about 10% of the time here. That hasn't happened to me yet at Waffle House in southern USA. Even with my mangled California accent, I still get my hash browns "all the way". Lucky for me, I'm not picky and I eat most everything that gets put in front of me. And time spent working in restaurants and knowing lots of wait staff means there's no way in hell am I ever going to send anything back in my entire life. Even you people who eat at really fancy 5 star places, you're playing with fire. Go ahead and deny it if it'll help you sleep at night. We laugh at your type the most.
My mushroom spinach tacos had no mushroom or spinach, that I noticed, but had some kind of chickpeas and some kind of fish. It tasted pretty good.
Around 1am, my stomach is killing me. It's bloated and painful. I think the fish got me pregnant and I'm about to give birth. I sit on the toilet for a long time and nothing happens. I realize I'm not lactating, but I feel so full I'm about to burst and I wonder why I think of goofy things like "fish pregnancy", "lactation", and "need to blood type that fish to see who the father is oh my god, I'm like that pregnant guy who had the sex change" when I'm in pain. I sit for a long while. Liquid that smells like old fish squirts out. Many times. Many, many times. Every 3 to 20 minutes for hours. I had no idea my intestines held so much liquid, and no idea that that much liquid, over that much time, would still smell like rotting fish. An Israeli in Varanasi told me about this, and he was calling it, "pee-poo". To cut a story short, although obviously not short enough but it's too late for you now, this triggers my puke gland, so I throw up while having the runs. Lucky for me, it's hot here and I'm naked. I still haven't figured out how to use the cup of water to wipe my butt while keeping my pants dry, so I remove them when I use the bathroom. But I was sleeping in boxers anyway, so wet pants has nothing to do with this but to serve as a distraction while I pick-pocket you. Go ahead and check. I'll wait. I'll use the $24 you had to buy a full tank of fuel.
First time in my life puke and poo has happened at the same time. I've always wondered what sort of hell that would be. It always disgusts and amazes me when it happens to other people. I want to ask for details but I figure imagination is better than experience in this case. I've hoped it'd never happen to me from the second I first heard about it.
One of my favorite phrases is, "better you than me". I've had three big fears in my life. This was the third one. The second is, breaking both my wrists or arms and having to find someone to wipe my ass. If that happens, I plan on buying a bidet but there'll be some time involved getting it installed (can't do it myself, my arms are broken). It wasn't as bad as I thought, not the bidet and broken wrists thing, but the puking with diarrhea. The bidet thing hasn't happened to me yet. Better you than me, they always say. Oh, my other dumb fear is being chewed on by an unknown water dwelling creature so I don't like going into rivers, lakes, ponds, pools, and the ocean where I can't see the bottom. Probably from watching "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" since I didn't see Jaws growing up. The beast has no shape in my imagination so it's not sharks, giant squid or crocodiles.
The only thing to fear about puking and pooing, is puking and pooing on yourself. But when you're in that condition, a little bit of puke and poo ain't no big thang at all.
Chalk up another plus for Indian bathrooms. Most places have a "gutter thingy part that water goes out of" called a thing a, uh.., drain, it's called. I think I'll leave that in this time. It's like talking to me. I stumble over nouns sometimes, or I say the wrong noun sometimes noticing it after I say it, sometimes not. I always edit out my thinking process when I write because I type descriptions until the word comes back around. Or I put in some XXXXX's and sleep on it. Google is a life-saver when there's internet but that "drain" word came without google or sleep. A drain.
In my actual life, most of my friends (some I believe might be they're thinking they're doing me a favor with a white lie) say they don't notice anything wrong with my speech patterns. A few old friends say, "Yup, there's a problem" which I'd rather hear. I know there's a problem. I haven't gotten any good explanations of how I've changed, but I know that's there too. It's a hard thing to describe since I'm not sitting in a corner saying, "Hello walls". Spending hours as a kid reading the dictionary worked well for me so I can usually think of another noun. Verbs are processed by another, a non-dead, part of the brain. If you've read what I've written before Ye Olde Heade Trauma happened, it should be pretty danged obvious. I need to think of a better way to refer to this. I'm scared I come across like the writer Pete Dexter.
Most of you probably haven't heard of Mr. Dexter. He wrote "Paris Trout" and used to be a great columnist for the local paper, the Sacramento Bee. He wrote some bland stuff, but some was great. About every third column though, he'd mention the time he got his ass kicked by a bunch of guys, "It looks like a sunny day here in Sacto, which reminds me of the time I got beat up by 23 guys with baseball bats". That gets old real fast since it's not done in a Jay Ward's "Rocky and Bullwinkle" Commander McBragg sort of a way because it wasn't ended with a horrible pun. My brain is filled with so much useless trivia that it done exploded but that's a reminder for me to add "Rocky and Bullwinkle" to my netflix queue to watch with my attorney. After Mr. Dexter sold "Paris Trout", his columns went way down hill, then with the movie rights (go and netflix it, it's got some interesting stuff), he thankfully stopped writing for the Bee and moved to an island where he now writes Ziggy. He tried out for Garfield, but oddly enough, Jon Davis has a brain and said no. Spend some time basking in the miracle of Garfield. Really, try Lasagna Cat and Garfield minus Garfield. Jon Davis thinks they're funny and didn't sue (a completely non-American thing). I made up the part about ol' Pete. No idea what he does on his island. Maybe walks around with a baseball bat saying, "Are you looking at me?" Although what I write as a travel diary are mostly notes, not anything that I spend a lot of time writing. Except for when I can't sleep and I keep adding more and more stuff and something that was short and sweet and make it long and boring. The opposite of writing. As I keep saying, "writings for later" and we all saw how fast I started work on fixing up Round 1 of my asinine adventure. When I pay more attention, I don't start many sentences with "so", "and", "but" and "anyways" even though I know it's "anyway without the 's'" but I like how "anyways" sounds. Same with saying "that there" and other redundancies that I like hearing and I try to hack out the unnecessary junk. I'm pretty sure I explained this years ago when I wrote I wished I'd brought along a copy of "Strunk and White".
Okay, back to being naked on my knees. My face is in a toilet, with puke dripping out of my nose onto my sarcastic moustache and down my chin, with hot runny diarrhea on the heels of my feet dripping into my toes - the part that wasn't puddled up on the bathroom floor. A good time had by all. Things like this make me laugh, even when it's happening, because really, there's not much more that could go wrong and freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose. Except that after I puked, I went to brush my teeth and remembered that I ran out of toothpaste. The moustache faithfully held onto a couple bits of chickpea for me. The Boxing Day Tsunami (Christmas Day in the US), killed a lot of people here in south India, but there not as many tourists as in Thailand. If there was another tidal wave that killed hundreds of thousands, I don't think the headlines will read, "300,000 killed, plus one American who was covered in his own vomit and feces". Unless you're my friend D. She can top every horror story in the world with her childhood stories, and I'm sure her horrible upbringing has absolutely nothing to do with her doing porn. And what I just described happening to me, she's probably filmed. D doesn't have a moustache, sarcastic or otherwise, I'm sure she'd like me to mention.
I can say, from having diarrhea in the US, where we use toilet paper, and in India, where it's a cup of water, that a cup of water is way easier on the butt. It still gets sore after 36 hours but not as sore. I thought I washed my hands a lot when I had a job hosing diseased monkey poo, but that's not even close. Pee-poo. Wash butt. Wash hands for at least 30 seconds (especially the left one!). Wait 3 to 20 minutes. Repeat. For hours. The sun was up before I stopped and people ask me why I let so much stuff slide in life. Things can always get worse.
I spent the next day in close proximity to my toilet. Lying on my bed reading Cometbus laughing about the time Aaron Cometbus printed as a joke that Sammy Fang got run over by an ice cream truck and had his legs broken, while wishing I had remembered to get more toothpaste before my puking. Which fills up first? A hand full of shit or a hand full of wishes? I got a message from Celine the French girl. It turns out I was on the other side of the park where we were supposed to meet. She offered to go to the store for me since I was sick, but I felt fine and was taking a break from eating. That break lasted 36 hours. When I get diarrhea, I try to let it go for the first day or so. The body is flushing out what it doesn't want, and I don't want to take unnecessary drugs since I don't want to build up immunity to medication. If I can't afford to sit around for days, then medication.
My first food was some bread and a good tasting spicy tomato dish even though I know I should be following the traveler's diarrhea BRAT diet: Bananas, plain Rice, some "A" word that I don't remember but I think that's from not paying Attention and not brain damage, and plain Toast. The tomatoes played nice for many hours but woke me up repeatedly in the night to go out to play. Why wouldn't they all leave at once? In and out! You'll break the screen door! Dang kids, get off my lawn! Tomato runs smell a lot better than dead fish runs.
Now I've gone 72 hours and everything is holding together nicely. Still, every time I have to fart, I go to the bathroom, take my shoes, socks and pants completely off, sit on the toilet in dreadful anticipation, but it's been good. This reminds me of a conversation I had my with lawyer about my grandfather farting. I'd tell you about how that came up, but that would violate the lawyer-client ethics code, even though she's the lawyer, I'm not willing to violate her civil rights. I am allowed by law to say, my Pop would fart next to someone, look surprised and would ask straight faced, "What did you say? I couldn't hear you".
My Pop was also born with a full set of teeth. As he grew up, he grew another set. Double teeth! But it gets better. He was a big strong guy, and a fitter for the railroad. My family is from the Appalachians in Eastern Kentucky, and my Pop would get woken up by the sheriff during Prohibition to tell the moonshiners when the Feds were on their way. The story goes, very few stills were ever found in Flat Holler, Kentucky. Back to the good part -- teeth! Pop had a good sized wooden barrel in his backyard that he'd work from since he was always working with his hands. He could pick up the barrel with only his mouth (no hands at all!) and flip it back over his head so that it'd land right side up. I don't know when he developed that trick -- he acted like he could do it since he was born -- but he kept it up until his 80s. I've got some friends that saw him do the barrel and mouth trick. He had the double set of teeth until he died of lung cancer (you know, railroad work and all) when he was 90. I've got a picture of him digging a grave for him and my grandmother at the family graveyard back in Kentucky. I'm not a good photographer but it's one of my favorite pictures. I take after the Portuguese side of the family, no double set of teeth and I'm short. No one in the family yet has got the double set of teeth. Who'd think something like a double set of teeth would be a regressive gene? I got the fart-jokes-are-funny gene though. The Dutch oven makes me laugh just thinking about it.
I swear most of India is great. I'll try to do a mostly picture post next where I talk about neat stuff. I remember getting flack from Round 1 that all I do is bitch and moan about my crappy old bike. It constantly breaks down because I'm riding it instead of admiring it (except for a small ride on warm, but not too warm, sunny Sundays that normal riders do), and all the horrible things that happen in between the bike breaking down. If I cared about old bikes breaking down, I wouldn't be riding them. That's part of the fun. I have another thumper, a Yamaha SR500, that I think would be perfect for this kind of trip (my only hesitation with My Yammie (there'll always be a moon over), is that it's OIF, oil in frame, and if I break the frame, it could mean a very long walk). If I wanted everything to be peachy keen, I'd take cruise ships (and then complain that Julie the Loveboat Prostitute pawned all my stuff for cocaine and my ice was warm).
But still, India is wearing me down. I have to return to Delhi to get a visa to Australia and I don't have that in me right now. I'm trying to see if there's a way around that but the brief internet research hasn't been much luck. I need to get the Duc back to California and I've heard that right now the US dollar is doing good again in Australia. I'm not sure why and don't know how long that will last. Probably until after the election when the oil prices go back up. If you're thinking of fleeing the US to Oz, now's a good chance to transfer money.
I've also heard that the US has bankrupted Iceland. I can't imagine Bj÷rk being poor again, but if she's needing money, maybe she'll make another movie. "Dancer in the Dark" is a great movie.
I should fly to Oz for a week and buy a ticket to California while the Aussie dollar is weak, but I won't get there until after election. That also leads me back to spending an unknown amount of time in Delhi which doesn't sound good at all. Yes, puking and pooing on myself is fine. Round 3 of undetermined days in Delhi, not good. Round 1: waiting for Ducati. Round 2: waiting for package. Neither showed. Is the third time the charm?
Not getting my Ducati into India changed my plan of trying to figure out how to ride to Turkey. From there, Europe isn't a problem. I heard a crafty plan about riding to Turkey that might work but I won't be able to try it. My parents will be relieved since that means I won't be crossing Pakistan and Afghanistan. You only hear the bad stuff on news, most of that area is stable. I'd recheck before trying it. In conditions like this, you ask people who traveled the direction you're heading. Anyway, you can't ride an old Ducati round the world without an old Ducati so there's going to be a Round 3. Maybe across the US to Europe or down to Argentina then to South Africa and up. I've heard this story before. Without having an old Duc, I changed my plan from "let's see if I can make it to Italy" to "back by March" to "back by Christmas" and now I'm thinking Thanksgiving would be nice in California. My dad BBQs a great turkey and his new set of teeth should be settled in enough for him to eat solid food by then.
Sounding like a broken record, India is too tough for me alone. I've been here three months, hope to do four, slim chance at five. If you ever camp out in the desert by yourself, then this next part will make sense. It's easier to be alone when you're alone, than to be alone surrounded by people. 1.2 billion super friendly Indians makes it hard to be alone.
PS. In the last report, I left out heart breakings. Other girls who broke my heart, girls whose hearts I broke, and other times we broke each others heart. I really didn't want to spend time rehashing my love life when I wrote that. I was writing about Brahmins with Guns (sounds like a band name) and riots. Hell, I'm crowding 40 and haven't been married (except for my wife who's a friend who married me so I'd have health care and she has a great fiancÚ anyway - Hi Josh!), so of course heartbreaking abounds. Besides, the movie had only three girls. Two of my three girls had been in contact with me in the last few months after years of no contact, and being on vacation means time to think. The other one used to send me a hate email once a month for a long time which I always enjoyed getting. Stuff like, "I hate you, you're the worst person ever. I hope you are doing well". I was a dillhole when I responded to the last one so she stopped. That's what I get for punching a dead gift horse in the mouth. As another coincidence, I can hear my neighbor puking from outside my window. I can tell s/he enjoyed those tacos, too. Man, the sound of puke echoing through a hot and humid room can sound terrible sometimes. Sometimes? I'm sure there's plenty of times that it sounds great.
Oh, and letting some stranger ride my bike was fine. It's a beat-up Enfield with crash bars. Is it possible to do more damage to it than I do? I ride it like it was designed for. The engine was probably designed in the 1930s, maybe 1940s. Pushrods. Pre-unit construction (the tranny and the engine aren't combined). Roads largely weren't paved back in England back when they designed this bike. They're barely paved here now and there's lots of mud, dust, and dirt. Check out these great photos of war Harleys being ridden. I've kept my Enfield on the ground at least (so far). No worries. I think I'll be shipping my Enfield to the US, so show up and ride it. You shift on the right side because it's A Proper Bike, by the way. One up, three down, the way The Lord Shiva and his 330 million Other Incarnations meant for it to be. I'd like to put a sidecar on it, but not here. I thin a faster bike would be a better idea anyway. I doubt this bike solo will do freeway speeds. Does anyone know if an Enfield 350 will do freeway speeds? Sustained freeway speeds? Doug? Not that I'm planning on riding it on freeways. My plan is to get the Vincent motorcycle logo painted on the tank, only instead of reading "The Vincent", mine will read, "Fere Vincent" which is Latin for "Fake Vincent". No, I don't know Latin, but the Brit Iron mailing list is great for a number of things. Oh, and get the separate front and pillion seats that the bike originally had. That looks nifty keen.
About the furthest I can make on a day riding is 250km (155 miles). Usually much less. Sometimes 100km/60m is all. And I love to ride so I just sort of go without stopping. I've spent a couple 13 hours riding and didn't make it to 250k. I'm not Indian is part of it. I didn't grow up with the traffic here. And I like to ride slow to look at things. Riding at 80k/49m here is riding fast. 30-60k is enjoyable. Still keeping up with most traffic, but not at speeds where attention takes all.
The roads are crap. Horrible condition with all the animals and the traffic that goes into oncoming traffic.
Sorry if I've repeated this in other posts. I'm not sure what I've posted and what I've said in email.
On my way from Varanasi to Agra (home o' the Taj Mahal), I did a 12 hour day and was around 9 hours on my second day. I got passed by a 125cc bike with a passenger. A girl, about 10, sitting side saddle. About 99% of females, unless they're riding, ride side saddle. Bikes are required by law to account for that here.
I'm riding about 95% of maximum stress level trying to keep them in sight. It's been a couple long days and I'm starting to think they were just screwing with me. Then the girl gets bored and starts playing with her scarf. I can't catch them but I'm not far behind them. They turn off and the bike in front of them was a 100cc with a grandmother on the back.
I start laughing at myself again and I say, to no one, and to everyone, "okay, next town, I try to find a guest house. I need a break".
I pull over where the bicycle rickshaw-wallahs are hanging out. Pantomime that I need to sleep and they're pointing out where a guest house is. A big guy walks up and asks me in English what I'm looking for. He introduces himself as Radhe (name changed), says he has a guest house and invites me. I say sure.
He has his friend ride on the back since it's in a village 7k from where we are now. I know my riding scares Indians when they're on the back. It's organized chaos here, but I don't know the organization. He has me stop for pan (that mouth reddening betel nut and tobacco and two kinds of leaves (I think) mouth freshener) and Radhe pulls up, tells me to hop into his SUV and has his friend ride my Enfield.
He asks if I'm scared and I say, "If you're going to kill me, then you're going to kill me. I'm always up for rolling the dice". He didn't understand the dice comment and takes me to his village.
He says the village of 2,000 belongs to him. He owns the land for almost as far as the eye can see and his family owns many Enfields. Enfields in India are a sign of class. Like owning a Caddy in the US. His family is Brahman and they've owned the village and the farmland for generations. He asks me again if I'm scared of him. Back to "if you're going to kill me, then do it, but no, I'm not worried about it".
Radhe is 23 and dropped out of school to mind the village. He also opened a mobile phone store, which means, just like most Indians, his mobile phones don't have any money left on them so he has to borrow phones. Phones here are free to get calls and many people I've met have no money left on their phone.
Radhe takes me to his petrol shop and tells me he likes to drink. Starts around 9am and stops when he goes to sleep. Asks me again if I'm scared and says I should take my money and leave my bike and saddlebags at the fuel station.
I take my backpack with me and his brother rides my bike back to his village. He calls his father who lives elsewhere, his uncle and his brother in Moscow who's going to medical school. Many Indians are unsure of their English so the conversations are mostly, "Hello sir! You will be in good condition".
I'd totally felt fine the first four times he asked if I was scared, but the phone calls made me start to think.
We get to his village and his family are all Brahmins. The extended males in the family come out to meet the Westerner. It's me, filthy from riding two days in the dust, unshaven, while people get a chance to practice their English. I actually like that. It happens all the time here, but I've also met lots of Indians that say they don't speak English until they get drunk. Usually the drunken English is good. Certainly well enough to get the major points across which is impossible lots of times here.
Radhe gets ahold of a revolver, I think it's a Webley, loaded and cocked, to protect me from the bad villagers and town people. I can only assume they're marching up the road with pitchforks and torches. He's a bit drunk and waving the cocked and locked revolver. Booze and guns have always been a good thing for me, but he seemed a bit out of control. It's like telling a 10 year old they can swear around you. They know the words, but not how to properly use them. He asked if I was scared and I say, "Only of you firing that thing by accident". Of which he understood about zero percent because he's drunk and not paying attention.
He takes me out to dinner with his friends and the borrowed revolver. He tells me to take my backpack with me to keep it safe from his villagers, but then tells me to leave the backpack in his SUV, here in the "ciminal section" of town.
I explain the "here is fine, 10 minutes down the road is dangerous" theory to him. It's lost on him since he knows better.
He wants me to drink. I tell him I don't drink. He buys me a small bottle of whiskey and some chicken. No one else eats, they drink White Mischief vodka and watch me eat. My whiskey and their vodka both get mixed with mango soda. That sounds horrible, but even "good" whiskey here isn't good so it helps. Strictly bottom shelf.
Radhe gets bugged that I'm not sucking the marrow out of the bones and then orders another bottle. I'm willing to do some dumb things, but I don't want to get drunk in this situation. Although I did wonder if I could outdrink him. He's a big guy, but I've been practicing since before he was born. I think of the trouble we'd probably get in and start sipping my mango whiskey soda. Luckily, his friend accidentally knocks the bottle off the table. It was still capped but they didn't notice that so they figured it was spilled out. Whoever works at the restaurant got most of a bottle of whiskey the next morning. Along with my hidden pile of chicken bones with the marrow still in them. Shhhh... don't tell Radhe about my uneaten marrow.
Eating marrow doesn't bother me, but the meat in India is sketchy. The meat in the US is sketchy too, but that's because it's full of chemicals and hormones. Long term cancer vs short term runs and the long term cancer wins out most of the time.
I had to explain what the LHC, Large Hadron Collider is and how the world was safe. The India media announced the first test was the end of the universe and panicked a lot of people. It embarrassed educated Indians. I'm a news junky and read a lot of science stuff, so I offered up a pretty good explanation, if I do say so myself. Then Radhe switched topics and said, "Indians have small penises because we're all malnourished". Maybe that's why Ron Jeremy isn't Indian. How else do you answer that? He wanted to know if I had any "blue movies" and was sad that I don't. I reckon it's a good thing I like old slang because "blue movies" went out of use in the US in the 60s. Try looking up the origins of "scum bag", I'll wait.
I think I mentioned that I've been asked, "Is it true Western women will let you put your penis in their mouth?". As funny as it sounds, it's even better with the Indian accent of pee-nus and they've always been drinking when they ask that. Every single time it makes me laugh.
We drive back to his place. I was told there's no drunk driving laws in India, but I wouldn't be able tell when someone here is driving drunk. Organized chaos at the best of times.
We sleep on the roof until it starts to rain. We wake up when the sun rises. Maybe 4 hours of sleep.
His brother, who rides my Enfield like a madman, is super friendly and funny even though I don't understand what he's saying. He starts to read my palm and I'm curious what he's going to say. Of course, I am thinking about Ted Simon's myth-making "Jupiter's Travel" here. Radhe asks if I believe in that, I say no, but I'm interested, and he says, "I don't believe in that either" and stops translating. All I understood was money. I was confused over if I once had a lot of money or if I was going to one day have a lot of money. I wouldn't mind learning Hindu so I can find that guy in the future. Not for the palm reading but he's a really nice and funny guy. At least when he spoke another language.
We're running on Indian time, so even though we got up super early, and it was looking like rain, I couldn't leave for hours. It takes a while when everyone is hungover anyway but there was an hour long conversation of feeding me. I kept saying I was fine and should leave before the rain but that was ignored. I don't know if it was on purpose. I didn't eat. I hop into the SUV and Radhe drives me to town. First he needs to stop and call village farm workers over to the car. I don't know what he was saying, but I assumed it was showing off for me.
We get to the town and it's raining. We stop, whiskey and mango soda is bought, and the drinking continues. I turn down the booze because it's raining, the traffic is indescribable, and it's only 10am.
They say it won't take long for me to get to Agra since the bike is so fast. Radhe wants something American so he can tell people he knows an American. I gave him a Ducati pin, that was made in Italy, that I got at Gowie's ranch in Australia. "Yes", I said, "This is American". He was happy, but still disappointed that I had no US money to share with him. The rain picks up and we sit for another hour. Radhe says he has decided he would like to see Agra too, so his brother will ride my bike in the rain and he will drive me. I tell him that's far too much to ask and that I enjoy riding in the rain.
He decides to go to his mobile phone center and work. His brother puts a bunch of roses in the handlebars of the Enfield. I wonder if we could understand each other if we'd both still like each other. I think so. He was a completely outstanding guy. So was Radhe's friend the veterinarian.
The rain slows and I ride off to Agra. It clears up and I got to Agra about 4 or 5 hours later. Which is good because I like showing up to places in the daytime. It started sprinkling again, and I drove around looking for a place to stay while my map book gets wet.
I stop my bike in the rain and flip through a book to find a guest house that sounds good and is cheap. I see some westerners and ask them for some help. The guy asks where I'm from with his Spanish accent. California, I say. He says he figured I was an American because he can't understand my accent and I'm loud. They walk off. Thanks, guys. I get directions to a guest house from a tourist center, but then I get lost again.
I ride through a flooded road. No idea how deep the water is but it seemed like a good idea to ride in it. I put my feet up on the crash bars and let the Enfield thump along in first. The water clears 2 feet. The heels of my feet gets wet on the crash bars and I start wondering if this was a good idea. Then I hope my waterproof saddlebags really are waterproof. I make it a small island. There's a lot more water in front of me so I continue. I wonder if my saddle bags are leaking. If so, then everything's wet. It'd serve me right.
More deep water but I just ride. I don't know if the locals are looking at me because I'm doing something dumb or if it's just the way Indians look at others anyway. Everything and everyone gets looked at here. I think especially westerners. I get through a couple blocks of water, down some side streets that even in the most heavily touristed area of the world, the Taj frickin' Mahal, through spots that I doubt non-locals go down.
Somehow I end up at the same spot where I got brushed off for being an American. The second most hated country in the world, right after Germany, as I get reminded meeting other tourists. "Oh... well... not you, but you know". Yup, I've heard that once or 20 times. A tout, a shifty tour guide type, walks up. I cry uncle. Yes, please show me a guest house I can park my bike at. I give him a scary ride through the crowded shopping mall streets and park the bike. I don't know how much of a commission he got, but it was a good place to stay. It was a good price even though part of my rent was commission.
The next morning I stop to eat. There's monkeys all over the place and some guys with pellet guns shooting at the monkeys. Not close enough to kill them, but to keep them away from their apartments. I've seen a lot of soldiers with automatic weapons and it was funny to see guys looking like snipers trying to shoot monkeys in the ass with an air gun.
I talked to a girl who was walking down the street with a bag of bananas. A monkey ran up the street towards her. She said, "I know where this is headed" and the monkey took her bananas. An Indian friend told me they'll take your clothes and stand on a nearby rooftop. If you don't offer them chapati (bread), they'll rip your clothes. If you throw them bread, they drop your clothes. That sounds made up to me, but monkeys are crafty.
I walk down to the Taj Mahal after eating. It's overcast so I don't get to see how the marble changes color. Probably a good thing, since it means staying there all day. The ticket for westerners is 750 rupees and it's only good for one entrance. You can't walk in and keep going back throughout the day without paying. I don't remember if this is one of the many places that if you have a real camera, instead of a cheap pocket digital, they charge you extra to take pictures. I think it is but I'm too lazy to google that right now.
I'm standing in line and some guy is pointing out that on my ticket I can get a free bottle of water and some slip-ons for shoes. Can't wear shoes in the Taj itself. He keeps talking and the guy in front of me says, "He's a tour guide after your money. Nice Dali by the way". I shoo off the tour guide and ask where this guys from. India. Obviously from Punjab, Punjabis really stand out, but I thought he was from a Western country. His western name is Gary, and he's the first Indian who's pointed out the stache as a Dali thing. Usually it's Bharat Singh, an Indian freedom fighter who had a moustache like this Dali guy.
I see Gary at the Taj itself and he stops to get a picture with me. I give him my email and he sends me a copy. He lives in Delhi and I hoped to meet up with him but Delhi was trying to kill me so we never met up.
I watch as the Archaealogy Society of India worked on one of the Taj buildings. Chipping out original bits, and based on the repair work I saw up close, probably filling the holes with toothpaste and pan spit. Good thing Westerners pay an extra 600 rupees to see the Taj to keep it in good repair. Agra is a very corrupt city.
Me crushing the Taj with my fingers. I think only 90% of the tourists do this trick.
The Taj with archaeaologists hard at work. That is kind of unfair. Archaeaology isn't well funded so I think this is the best they can do (well, the best would be to not do anything).
A pile of Taj at my feet.
Outside the Taj is a street filled with autorickshaws and bicycle rick-wallahs. I hop in a bicycle. It's a lot of work and I tip well. I haggle down a price, still paying more than what Indians pay, go for the ride, and then usually pay his first offer as a tip because I'm an American and we tip, you danged Spaniards. Even though I already knowing he's making extra money from Westerners. Although, if he's a jerk about taking me to places for commission, he gets nothing. He takes me to a restaurant he gets a commission from. It's pricey and I don't want to go. I had enough of commission places already. Three western girls walk out and I ask how it was. They say not bad but I'm still annoyed at the commission place.
Two of the girls were Portuguese, not from where my mom is from because that's Canton Ohio, but her parents are from a village near Porto. These girls were heading to Delhi the next day. So was I. Cary, one of my sisters, was sending a package. A small printer that works off a digital camera so I can give villagers pictures of themselves. Of course, after she sent it, I found a place in India where they sell them. Anyway, the hotel the Pot o' Grease had in Delhi was very close to my hotel so we made plans to meet.
I asked the rick-wallah to take me somewhere he actually eats at, and we went to a place that had the best veg biryani that I've had in India. After that, he gave me a ride to all the other tour spots where, as a Westerner, I get mobbed by little begging kids. Some spots are worse than others.
I ask if he wants to get a beer and see some Bollywood. He says sure, so off we go. He then takes me to another commission place where his boss works. I won't buy and I'm annoyed that he took me there. Lots of rickshaw rides charge more when you won't go to one of their commission shops. The rick-wallah is just 18 and the legal age for drinking is 25. Not that anyone cares. His boss says don't let him get too drunk.
I go to buy the beer and the guy gives me an inflated price. Everything here has the price in rupees on the label, but he scraped it off with his thumb. I'm not new here, I know the price of beer in this city. I'm also getting a small bottle of whiskey. This guy won't budge. Sometimes I walk away, sometimes I just pay the inflated price. This time, I put my arms on the counter and pounded my head into my arms saying, "India. India. India. Why won't you give me a break?"
I'm not used to the non-stop haggling. Sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes it's fun, a lot of the time it wears on me. Haggling over 8 cents for a bottle of beer. I don't care that it's 8 cents but sometimes, sheesh buddy, you're making a sell anyway. India is wearing on me.
I didn't get a tour book (you know, like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide) for Australia, New Zealand or Japan. India I had to. Even then, it's hard to live here. I don't know how much more I can take. I (mostly) loved Australia alone but India mostly by myself is too much. I think I'll head back to California for Christmas.
Off the movies we go. It was a love story. In 1996, a guy broke a girl's heart. Then in 2002, he broke another girl's heart. Then the movie becomes current. He proposes to a girl and she breaks his heart. He thinks about the girls whose hearts he broke, and decides to contact them to set things straight. I wasn't up for this plot line. Too close to home. The 1996 girl involved a wedding and I'm thinking again "why is India against me". Maybe in a past life I assassinated Ghandi.
My life doesn't completely parallel this movie. See if you can follow along because I'm not explaining this again.
I proposed to a girl who basically put me through the ringer. "Sure, of course", she said. "Just let me finish college". Then, "Just let me finish grad school". It took me years to figure out this was road to nowhere.
Meanwhile, I meet the 1996 girl while thinking I should give up on the first girl. The 1996 girl is one who I recently contacted with an apology around wedding time. Unlike the movie, I don't think I closed loose ends. I think contact after 12 years frazzled loose ends. I'm a heel but maybe this bit will close loose ends. I wonder if I'll get a black eye when I go back to California from her or from her ball and chain.
My 2002 girl cheated on our first anniversary, which was a life saver. I'm glad because getting hitched to her was an ill-conceived notion of "screw this, I might as well marry this one" which is a lousy reason for getting married.
Then pretty recently, the girl I proposed to, contacted me. Maybe she's the one from the movie closing loose ends before she gets hitched. It won't screw up her current relationship. It's a bit like "twice bitten" but she bit me more than twice. She's too fragile for riding round the world on a bike anyway.
With some of my crappy relationships boiled down, I'm a soap opera. Two girls I really wanted to marry, and a third that I figured "might as well" since I was worn down. That kind of thinking gets you to eat chicken in a hotel that you know will give you the runs.
It's hard to live down the reputation I earned in my 20s. I've changed. Well changed back to what I was pre-high school. I'm back to reading constantly. Quiet again, only not from shyness, but head trauma that shut down my smart mouth. Head injury and shyness that was hidden with drinking, and I don't drink much anymore. Sometimes it seems it'd be easier to change friends but I like my friends. Most are better than I deserve. Not Brad though. I deserve that guy as a friend.
At the movies, I go to the bathroom to recycle some of the whiskey and mango juice. As I piss into the urinal, I notice something is hitting my feet. Ah, nice that the plumbing ends with a 90 degree bend aimed at your feet. I guess aiming at the wall might've gotten less splashback which doesn't come into play when you're kicking yourself.
The drunk 18 year old rickwallah says, "Buy a pizza at Pizza Hut. It'll only cost you 45 rupees". I've been to a Pizza Hut here and I know it's more like 245 rupees, but we went and I split a pizza with him. He wouldn't go in, maybe caste related since that has come up with other rickwallahs and nice places, so I got it take-out. He was surprised that I didn't eat half of it then bring him the leftovers.
The next morning, I left for Delhi. I stopped to get some bolts for the Enfield. The roads here are horrible and the luggage rack rattled off a couple bolts. Enfields don't like being ridden like a dirt bike - where you stand on the pegs and try to float over the washboards - but I like it so I subject the poor old Enfield to it.
It makes no sense to do it myself since it gives a guy a chance to earn 20 rupees (47 cents). I take a picture and I step in human shit. Ah, India. Men and kids shit and piss in the streets here. If women do it, I haven't noticed. Where do women shit in Indian cities is my ongoing question for India. I figure the answer is, "the streets".
I'm stuck in traffic and there's cops waving down motorcycles. Usually when I see this, I smile, wave and keep riding. They don't shoot (at least not so far). Traffic was so bad and slow that there was nowhere I could go. I stop and the officer says, "100 rupees". US$1.10 maybe. I ask, "what for?" knowing that I should just pay and leave, but I want to see how this works exactly. If I ever get murdered, it'll probably be from me trying to figure out how the scam works exactly.
He looks at my sketchy paperwork, pulls me out of view and says again, "100 rupees". Then speaks a lot of Hindi knowing I don't understand. I speak a lot of English knowing he doesn't understand. I really want to say, "I'm an American! I'll call my embassy! I date a lawyer!", but figure if he picks up any of that, it'd end the joke fast. We both laugh.
I'm curious if I could get a lower price. No luck. I had a few 500 rupee bills in my wallet since I needed to buy fuel. I'm not good at arguing down a bribe when I have a lot of money. Well, based on the backsheesh I've paid so far, I'm not good at it at all. He was very friendly about it and told me to leave.
His boss stopped me as I reached my bike to see my insurance paperwork. The one I have that expired in 1997 in another guy's name. This Enfield has been passed tourist to tourist since then and it was retired as a police bike. He notices the paperwork is bunk, starts to say something, but the bribe officer takes the papers, gives it back, and tells me to take off. Cholo!
I'm not a resident and it would cause too much paperwork is what I think the deal is for police not wanting to deal with it. If I insisted on a ticket, it would be a royal pain in the ass for everyone.
I get to Delhi. Ride around lost in the traffic forever. Stopping to pull out my map of Delhi to figure out how to get to the Karol Bagh district. On one of the super narrow streets, not the ones narrow enough to where I can touch walls on both sides and let me remind you again, I'm a short guy, I collided with a bicycle rickshaw. Super slow speed that hurt my foot and broke my shoelace when I hit his rear wheel hub. I slowed down (from barely able to keep both feet on the bike, burning the clutch because idle speed was too fast for me riding in a pedestrian crowded mall, to one foot down clutch in), nodded at the rick-wallah and kept riding. I assume it was my fault. There wasn't any damage and if it wasn't my fault, I was told I could've gotten him in trouble simply by stopping.
I got trapped in Delhi for a week and a half and lost it. There was a begger outside my hotel who'd tug on my shirt when she could get close enough to say, "Baby needs chapati". Chapati = bread. I always think "baby needs a new pair of shoes" but I don't think she plays roulette. I can't help everyone here but that doesn't stop everyone from asking. Hanging out with the Portuguese girls was good because when they were with me, they didn't get groped and all of us weren't hassled as much.
I ate some chicken at the hotel which went through me. I felt fine but had to stay by a toilet for a couple days, so I didn't go out to get my bike shipped. Then it was Ghandi's birthday, a national holiday, on the first day I felt good. I went out that day but was overwhelmed at the train station.
People have asked me to describe India and I say, if I think they'll get the reference, "Colonel Kurtz could describe India. I can't". India is neat and terrible and fun and horrible and confusing and nice and hellish and giving but surreal sums it up the most for me. Which goes along with the Salvador Dali moustache that Indians love to see on a foreigner. India is burning me out.
Occasionally, getting a bottle of water takes 25 minutes and 25 Indians. Even though the price can get doubled and the bottle is frozen solid or it's a recycled bottle filled with polluted tap water. If you've been to India, you know that I'm not exaggerating with that time or the number of locals that can be involved. Stopping and being surrounded by 100 Indians who just want to gawk.
It reminds me of when Ben Weasel started getting famous for his band Screeching Weasel, which didn't end up famous and I think, that did him a favor. Ben said it was freaking him out when he'd go out and people would just stare without talking to him. I got most of it when he said it, but now it makes more sense. Why would anyone want to be famous? Oh yeah, the money. But still, no money and no fame seems a better deal to me.
Most of the time, it's just like buying a bottle of water elsewhere in the Western world, and it's not a big deal at all. India is not an area where you can say, "It'll go well in a big city" because you don't know when it's going to happen. But it's like this for everything and it's wearing me down.
I've seen too many dead people. Too many dead animals. There vultures circling the sky in Delhi. Homeless sleep everywhere outside. Have you ever seen "Soylent Green" with Charlton Heston? It can be almost that bad. So many cripples and eye problems brought on by malnutrition, pollution, and no work safety. Malnutrition in people and animals. So many pissing and shitting in the streets. They don't have many public trash cans - trash all goes into the street here. It's unbelievable how littered and polluted it is. Too many beggars. Too many little tiny kid beggars and I can't afford to give every 3 year old with its hand out rupees. Getting mildly ripped off on 90% of everything I buy since I'm a tourist. I holed up in the Delhi hotel, ordered room service, sat on the internet, and made plans to head south with Rakel from Norway to go on a houseboat. She was flying into Cochin. That's about 2,200 km away from Delhi. A long ride sometimes lasts a full day and I make around 200km. I figured I'd ship the bike on a train and take a plane. A splurge but I needed it.
I was trying two different ways. A train and a truck. I had to get actual paperwork to get it on the truck and I was told they made it stricter for the train. As I was told, Israelis show up here after their mandatory military service. Lots abuse drugs and get into fights. Somehow it was problems with the Israelis for why it would be difficult on the train. Although I wonder if Israelis are told "For you it would be no problem, but the Americans have messed it up".
Then there's getting actual paperwork. It makes no sense to me what counts as "actual" since foreigners aren't allowed to own anything here. It took me a week to get the mobile phone I bought sorted out, plus 2 copies of my passport, visa and mug shot. Part of getting actual paperwork was to get the bike smogged. 40 rupees for the government paper and for labor the smog guy would only say, "whatever your heart desires" which is code for "how much can I take you for, sucker".
I was pissed about that because he would not back down from "whatever your heart desires". Most of the time they'll give you a price to haggle with, but this guy wouldn't. I'd say 95% of all the Indians I've met have been friendly, and they're friendly even when they're ripping you off. Then I rode through Delhi holiday traffic for the 2nd day in a row. Words cannot describe Delhi traffic on a good day and saying "holiday traffic is bad" is like saying "Hitler wasn't very nice".
Basically I'm losing it and then I'm reading one of the email lists I'm on, and lost it on a dumb email. I went on a crazy rant totally over-responding to some post basically calling some guy an animal fucker when he criticized Japanese bikes. I sent it, and thought, "what did I just do". I immediately got a WTF? email from the list owner. I quickly apologized and thought, fuck, I really need to get out of Delhi, which is what people have been telling me almost as soon as I showed up there.
I got the bike on a train, a several day process for me, and took a plane to Kochin in the tropical state of Kerala.
Kerala is the first democracy that elected a communist government way back in the 1950s. The roads here are great. The city is clean (for India or Stockton). Literacy for both sexes is around 95%. I see a lot of fat Indians and though it's supposed to be the most crowded state, I haven't seen streets filled with homeless. People aren't as aggressive to tourists. Rarely any, "Hello sir! Have some chai, no need to buy!" cries of the used car salesmen of the Indian world.
I read they have a problem bringing in big business because businessmen are scared of the communist government and how they might have to treat their employees fair. Before you think I'm a commie bastard, Indians work 6 days a week, often 7, doing 10-14 hour days. Even married with children. Healthcare here is supposed to be outstanding. I saw more cats my first night, then I have in all of India combined. Cats are bad luck so you don't see many (dogs are reincarnation of criminals so feel free to kick them or pelt them with rocks, it's what some of the locals do). The food here is great, but it's great in all of India. Beer is highly taxed so in restaurants you order "special tea" which is beer in a tea pot. They sell coconut moonshine that's good, but it's been hit or miss to how much booze it has.
The only bad thing I've seen so far is fire ants. Especially in my guest house where I'm typing this. It's hot and humid, I'm wearing boxers, and I swear I just got bit on my nuts by one. Last night, they struck my legs when I was asleep. My karma for bad-mouthing India? The fire ant god smiting my left testicle. Funny and painful. India in a nutshell. Nutshell? Nutshell?! Is this thing on? Hey-oooooooooooo. My lawyer would have a dozen better puns for that.
Riot in the streets!
Today, I watched a riot. I was walking around and came up on the police side where they cordoned off a street and stood in riot gear. Lots of neat looking macrame shields to go with the clear plastic shields. I walked right up since I'm an idiot and all. Actually I followed Indian looky-loos up. Everyone's a gawker.
I thought about the riot I saw in Berkeley when they were tearing down a UC Berkeley dorm (Barrington) that housed freaks for generations. Back then I just wanted to see how a riot worked. People on one side, cops on the other, it was getting louder, it seemed like it was just seconds away. I was about 20 and pretty excited that people were taking action for themselves. The riot was about to begin! Change would start happening! We'd make up for what Reagan did! Then it started sprinkling so everyone walked off. I'm still disappointed over that. Americans can't riot when it's barely sprinkling. American's rarely riot at all. No wonder both political parties are the same thing and screw us. When I was in Tokyo, I saw more riot cops than I'd ever seen in my life, including watching riots on the news. Literally, hundreds of riot cops. Japanese news doesn't cover riots, so I had no idea what was going on.
Just like today. No idea what was going on. Hypothetically, should I stand on the side of the cops or the protesters? I had no idea what was being protested. The pennant flags being waved by the protesters had two sets of initials and one was NYC, so I figured maybe they're pro New York Mets fans, crappy baseball-by-big-fat-check-pretending-to-be-the-underdog, and them there commie police were going to have to knock heads and show them the Milwaukee Brewers are better. It took a while to come up with that thought, since I'm not much of a baseball fan, but I couldn't understand the language, and something had to entertain me. Besides, I'm ever so blase about riots these days.
One of the riot cops starts taking pictures of me with his mobile phone and says, "nice mooch". Mooch is Hindi for moustache although the language here is Malayalam, not Hindi, but maybe they share that word. Thats' the first Hindi word I learned from hearing it so often. He comes over, introduces himself, and we talked. His English was great. Eventually the demonstration was reaching the end, so a supervisor told all us gawkers to get back. I realized I forgot to ask what was going on but it didn't seem that important.
I switched sides on the street and walked up to where the protesters were. People started banging flag poles against the barriers, tried to push them over, and then a ton of people ran down the street mostly laughing. I got a couple compliments on the moustache again. It's nice that both sides like it. This was followed by more people who seemed more serious. While this is going on, there's plenty of gawkers on both sides of the street.
Then rocks, bottles, flag poles and coconuts started flying. The cops charged and most everyone ran down the street with cops right behind them swinging sticks. Even at this time, some protesters and some cops were laughing. Ah, India, I love you so.
I crossed the eye of the riot hurricane, walked across the street to a coconut drink stand, and had a drink. Got a couple photos of me with a riot in the background. It separated into two locations. The first spot behind me in the picture, and then up the street. I ate my coconut, had some hot freshly roasted peanuts, and walked up to the secondary riot. The cop who liked my moustache drove by in a firetruck (with the windows covered in metal strips to keep the windows from breaking when things are thrown) and we both smiled and waved at each other.
The police loaded an injured protester into a jeep, and lead away a couple of them in handcuffs. I hung out for a bit and wasn't sure where the rioters had gone to. The cops took a break, with several of them coming over for coconut drinks. It gets tiring pounding sticks on people when it's hot. Bored in 30 seconds, with my MTV conditioned mind, I wandered off to the ferry to get back to my island. Just kidding about MTV, I don't watch much teevee at all. But the rioting seemed to have reached an ending point.
Tomorrow my bike should arrive. I'm supposed to find Rakel the Norwegian for the houseboat ride but my guest house owner has a family coconut farm so I might go for a visit for a taste of the white lightening. I'm so very glad Rakel talked me out of Delhi. I would've kept waiting for the package and Delhi was making me crazy. Crazier. I left without it. I'm sorry villagers that I can't give you photos. Blame Delhi.
It's 3am and the rain just started. It'll cool off then get more humid. I wish it would drown fire ants. If you haven't been bitten by a fire ant, it's not itchy, it's burning. I wish they'd stop chewing on me.