Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Travel Adventures & Self-Reflection

I had mixed emotions going into my vacation. I was ready for a break and was looking forward to focusing on myself and my own needs after the long days of travel and the transition to India. The recently diagnosed tendonitis in my shoulder was preventing me from most physical activity, including my tried and true stress relievers of running and yoga. My mind was cluttered and my body tired. But I was also sad to leave the group in Palampur, worried I would miss an important moment or significant breakthrough for the students. I had been with these 19 individuals for over two months now and had not gone a day without being in their presence. Our TBB selected family had grown close and more often than not my days revolved around the students, their needs  and the program. Ten days was a long time to be away and I found comfort in each hug and the well wishes from the group. I had this feeling of uncertainty and sadness as my tuktuk drove away from the IDEX house.

I have never enjoyed  crowded, chaotic transport terminals regardless of the country. As the sun set and the platform got dark, I wandered between parked buses inquiring if I had found the right vehicle.  I would show my faded ticket and ask “Delhi?” hoping someone would take pity and guide me to my seat.  I eventually found an English speaking, fellow searcher and together we determined that our bus had not yet arrived but when it did it would not pull into a slip but rather idle in front. So just before 7pm, I ran to what I could only hope was the correct bus, found my seat and settled in for the 12 hour trip south to New Delhi. As the dark, narrow road snakes its way down the foothills of the Himalayas you can’t help but wonder about how many accidents have occurred or how many cows have been hit. I was grateful for my deeply reclining seat and quickly allowed myself to be calmed by the sway of the bus and the cool air.

We arrived at the Dehli metro and bus terminal just after 5am and the dark, hazy city was just waking up and starting its day. By chance I had been seated by a French woman who has lived into India for the past 25 years and we had spoken briefly during a midnight break. She inquired where I was headed and helped me get to the metro part of the station. Together we boarded a yellow line train and headed into the city. I felt like a small child being prepared to fly unaccompanied to visit family on the other side of the country. She showed me the route map, reminded me of my stop and explained where to go once outside. As we approached my stop I gave her one last wave and offered my thanks before venturing off on my own.

My first task, and last act of duty before flying to Goa, was to take all of our passports and a pile of paperwork to the Thailand Visa Application Center so it could be processed while I was gone. The plan was to pick everything back up on my way back Delhi the following week. The process was long but relatively smooth and I left to find my hotel feeling confident that all would be fine. Unfortunately I had neglected to make a copy of my passport and Indian visa before submitting it and had to frantically call my co-leaders in hopes that our partner organization would be able to find and email me the copies they made so I could check into my hotel. If I hadn’t been confident in our PL team before, their words of support and quick action would have done the job.  I got into my room, bathed and settled down to read or watch a movie quietly hoping that I would have smooth sailing from there. But what would an Emily travel story be without a speed bump or two?

I have determined that the problem is domestic travel regardless of the country. While living on the east coast I had multiple flights delayed, connections missed and spent the night in half a dozen airports. My bags rarely made it back to Wilmington when I did and once, according to the flight tag, my suitcase went through Kazakhstan. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I received an email telling me to call a given number to rebook my flight to Goa the next morning. According to the email and the news stories I found, a plane landing in Surat had hit a buffalo (think water buffalo not bison) and the airport had been closed indefinitely. I can only assume that the plane I would have used the next morning was to come to Delhi through Surat and could not be diverted around. With the help of the amazing concierge at Hotel Star, I was rebooked on a flight the following afternoon and returned to my room to get some sleep. I knew I could now sleep in but woke around 7am to an email informing me that my flight, due to leave at 1:05pm, would now depart at 3:00. Par for the course at this point, I acknowledged the email and went back to sleep.

Agonda Beach
From here my luck improved. I arrived in Goa as the sun was setting, met my prearranged taxi and made the two hour trip out to Agonda Beach. Goa has strong Portuguese influences as it was a Portuguese province for nearly 450 years until it was annexed by India in 1961. Even in the dark, as we wove through rush hour traffic on the narrow roads, I could see that influence in the architecture of the homes and buildings and the number of Catholic churches, schools and hospitals. We eventually got through these more populated areas and entered into the thick, green jungle that seemed the separate the beaches from the city. I was welcomed at Fusion by Sylvia, one of the owners, and shown to my new beach hut home. It was a simple, stilted bamboo structure with a single room containing a full bed and two small bedside tables. Front and back porches provided more sitting space and the attached, outdoor bathroom was stone-floored and roomy.  I ventured out for a late dinner and a celebratory beer before turning in for the night. Setting up and crawling into my mosquito net was reminiscent of the countless nights in The Dombe where I meticulously tucked in the edges of my net to prevent any midnight arachnid companions. I slept like a rock and woke around 8 o’clock as the hut was beginning to get warm. And here starts the routine I settled into for the next five days: reading or Skyping in bed, breakfast at the Fusion restaurant, walking the 200m to the beach, finding  a more quiet spot to set up my towel or settling into a lounge chair, getting some sun or going for a swim, reading, daydreaming, meditating, walking and eventually going back to my hut to clean up for dinner.

My hut
Once I let myself relax and not think about what the students were doing back in Palampur, I found that blissful state of having no responsibilities and no obligations. I could not emerge from my hut until 10am if I didn’t want to or skip lunch to explore huge boulders while the tide was out. I could spend an hour just floating in the warm, salty Indian Ocean or I could stay under an umbrella and read for hours at a time. I could have three mango ice cream bars while walking through town just for the hell of it and consider it lunch because the idea of sitting down in the stifling heat seemed outrageous. I could sit peacefully and meditate on a shaded rock listening to the waves lap against the rocks and crabs scurry across barnacles closed up tight to prevent dessication. I could go hours without speaking to anyone, smiling at those who passed acknowledging their presence but not fully engaging. I was finding a way to untangle the mess of thoughts and emotions in my head, to release the tension in my shoulders and lower back and to better my ability to think about absolutely nothing.

cows on the beach
The days slipped by slowly and soon it was time to think about repacking my few belongings and preparing to head back to Delhi. I went for one last swim Thursday morning, one last chapter read in the sun, said my goodbyes to new friends and set off for the Goa airport. My return trip was uneventful, my hotel air conditioned and cozy and my sleep peaceful. I was in a completely different head space now and my time in Delhi was dramatically more simple. I remembered the metro route to the Visa Application Center and spent just 20 minutes there collecting and organizing the passports compared to the nearly 2 ½ stressful hours I spent on the front end. I relaxed in Delhi’s Central Park amongst young, Indian couples flirting in the shade, groups of young men horsing around on the hill and wandering tourists. I walked through a street market, dodged the Delhi traffic and enjoyed a cold coke on the corner before going back underground to make my way to the bus station. I found a corner in the terrace of the terminal to wait the three hours until my bus left and read and wrote a couple emails. And then , at 7:20pm, I boarded my bus to return to Palampur. I felt some of those responsibilities and obligations begin to sneak back into the front of my brain but I simply acknowledged them and let them go. Before I knew it I would be back at the IDEX house worrying about seminars, accounting and students’ GI issues but for another 12 hours I could simply be present for myself and sleep as my bus snaked its ways back up towards the towering Himalayas.

I'm Alive - Kenny Chesney & Dave Matthews 


  1. I need a song linked to this post, please ... :)

  2. oh my goodness Em. I would have messed that trip up a step 1; finding the correct bus to Delhi. You're amazing. And I love you. and I'm glad your plane didn't hit a buffalo. xoxo