India and the longest journey ever undertaken – Part 2

Paresh Shah works for Unitech Engineering.  It’s a company ‘…to solve the corrosion problems’, or so his business card says.  It deals in Advance Engineering, Thermo Plastic Piping Systems.

Paresh Shah also works for God.  Or at least that’s what he was trying to convince me of the morning I came out of the toilet on the train to Mumbai that was nearly 4 hours late and that had enabled me to miss my connection to Delhi and therefore my liaison with Marta Calvo for a New Years knees up in Rishikesh.

After dismissing the likelihood of my intentions to make my train connection with a smirk and a turn on his heels just 5 minutes before, this complete stranger was back to gawp at my ticket.  I could hear his brain whirring.  I could hear a far off ticking.  I think I saw a halo appear above his head.  Whatever was happening, it was about to confirm my faith in the ability of humans to be wonderful, caring, compassionate and full of selflessness.  Paresh Shah opened his mouth…

According to this portly, stout little fellow with a balding palate and a dirty over-worn suit, I was to disembark at the next station, get a taxi to a place called Bolly Wolly station and meet my train there.  ‘Easy as pie’ I said, in my most mocking of tones.  My mind was thinking the following…. ‘Did he say Bolly Wolly’?

It was on the 5th time of asking that i gave up trying to understand the name of that station.  He looked at me like I was taking the rise out of him.  I guess I kinda was…

I stood there bemused as he sauntered off, thinking how can I trust the directions of a man from a country where when you ask directions, generally you end up in another country…?  I thought of the ramifications of alighting my train at a random station at 7.30 a.m, knowing not where I was or how to move on but believing that Bolly Wolly held the answers to my prayers.  Where would i get a taxi?  How much would I be fleeced for?  Does Bolly Wolly even exist?  And what if my train doesn’t go through there?  The possibilities of extreme failure and a life from that moment on of destitution within this country of such things was making my belly do the ache.  We were 5 minutes from the next station.  A decision had to be made.  ‘Shitebags’ I thought.  ‘SHITEBAGS’ I screamed. And then something happened…

Paresh Shah returned.  ‘This is what WE are going to do’ he piped.  ‘WE are going to get off at the next station, WE will get a taxi to Bolly Wolly and We will meet your train there and YOU will get on it’.  ‘Can I snog a strange little Indian man’, I asked my brain?  ‘No, best not to, I need his help’, my brain responded.

So, off we got and away we ran.  ‘We dont have much time’, he shouted over his shoulder, sprinting away from me like Ben Johnson after a good strong dose.  I followed him to the nearest taxi stand, underneath this station in the arse-end of nowhere.  After much haggling, the 1 hour taxi ride was gonna cost us 600 rupees, about 7 pounds and 50 pence.  A little extortionate, I thought (!), but seeing as this man was going out of his way to help me, I decided to pay 500 rupees of the fare.  Only fair…  The driver was a Sikh man.  I was just about to learn exactly what that meant for the future of my seemingly short life…

On a train, in the future, someone would tell me that Sikh’s only care about themselves.  And by that, they didn’t mean themselves and other Sikh’s as a collective, they meant literally, about themselves, ie, the individual.  I was told this by a Sikh.  After my taxi journey experience, I thought, even if only for about 8 seconds, ‘This person must be have had a ride in my taxi drivers car’.  The only thing this driver was missing was a crash helmet, seemingly because it wouldn’t fit over his MONSTER sized turbaned head.  And not cos of his turban but because of the immensely sized ego that couldn’t quite fit in his substantial frame.  And he really didn’t seem to care too much about my or my fellow passengers life, even though my fellow passenger probably had the say as to whether he would go to Sach Khand or not, being the Angel that he was, as time and again we were inches away from an on-coming truck and a gruesome, twisted metal-induced finale!  I saw a white light about 17 times in 45 minutes.  And at one stage, having paid to go through a toll, our driver screwed up his receipt and threw it at the guy in the booth!!  I found this actually pant-wettingly funny and if I wasn’t so petrified for the rest of the journey at my man’s complete lack of care for anything outside of his own aura, would have got his address and sent him a Christmas card… although, he would probably have tracked me down and curve-balled it right between me eyes!

There is a certain awkwardness when you are sat in a car with someone who doesn’t really speak much of your language and, you, absolutely sod all of theirs, but that awkwardness reaches new levels when, petrified at the sight of an on-rushing Rickshaw, you grab the nearest thing to hand that you think may save you from a death of shattered glass and bent steel through the eyeballs and that thing at hand is the slightly damp, sausage like thigh of a strange small Indian man who has saved your bacon.  In a split second, my mind ran through various scenarios, each one pertaining to a different facial expression of apology to this man-angel.  It’s amazing how, when faced with the need for a certain look, the mind will play games with your own consciousness’ desire and make you look like you have just sharted whilst grimacing a ‘lets go to bed look’.  This is exactly what I did when I looked at Paresh Shah in apology at grabbing his Lincolnshire thigh.  If only there was another un-comfortable 30 minutes of our journey left, I internally screamed…

Once we arrived at Bolly Wolly, or Balawali as I realised it was called at our arrival, brown of pants and light of lives, our little Indian Engineering Angel continued his Olympic 100m training routine and shot off into the distance, yelling at me to hurry.  I did, but I was carrying three months of clothes in a huge sack whilst he was carrying only the weight of expectation (and mind you, a gargantuan amount of compassion too).  For a moment, I thought maybe he was trying to escape me, having made an error of judgement and been too nice to say so but not too nice not to leave me stranded at a comically named train station!  But then, I realised he wasn’t.  And that made me feel better and run faster.  But then, what happened next, is just stereotypical of an Indian’s lack of interest in the keeping of time…

It’s been said that animals have a completely different concept to humans regarding the space-time continuum.  I think this refers to Indians too…

We get to a platform.  And before he inquires whether our train has arrived or whether we are even on the right platform, he walks up to a shoeshine and gets a mirror like sheen to his 17-year-old slip-ons!!!  I am standing there, watching the incredulity of this situation, wondering if I am in a twilight zone episode but instead of asking him politely ‘WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING, MAN’, I start to think of the t.v series Police Squad and then of all the films i have seen where a detective will get his shoes shined whilst asking for information that only these shoe shiny fellas know, like ‘What time does he have his coffee, Frank’? or ‘How many times does he order the Pastrami sandwich…… Frank?’ (for some reason, Frank is the most shoe-shinier name I can think of, even on a station platform in the middle of India).  I also realised something about myself at this situation.  Sometimes, my mind will readily free itself from reality when faced with any degree of the importance of immediate thought as to what to do.  At this moment, rather than ask Mr Shah what the hell we needed to do as a train hit the platform, I was thinking of Grey-suited-trilby’d detectives paying backhanders for info on local gangsters.  Still, I do like the 50’s look of suit and hat and pine in fact for the time when we all have to dress as such once again… hmm!!

Anyways, once we could see our distorted faces in the footwear in discussion, I was politely told we had missed the connection by 5 minutes.  When I looked at how long the shoe shine had taken, it was comically close to 6 minutes.  Indian Angels, I thought, have a strange way of revealing their plumage…

But my trust was still fully locked in to this little man and he proved it to be rightly so when we jumped on another train ten minutes later and found a seat.  By this time, I should have been on my train 6 hours ago so how the hell we were gonna catch it when we hadn’t even reached its original departure point, I had no idea.  But this is another strange thing about India.  You can try to work something out and come to the conclusion that it can’t possibly be so or make sense but somehow it seems to always do so.  And as I am sat trying to work out how to catch up with a train that I am 6 hours behind, within an hour and a half whilst travelling at roughly the same speed, Mr. Shah gets out his personal computer and shows me that in an hour and a half, we will arrive at a station and 45 minutes later, my original train will come through and I will catch it.  And as I wailed in his general direction, with sincere gratefulness and humility, I realised once more that this country will give to you whatever you require if you just show some faith and a li’l love.  ‘Jugad’, I thought.  ‘What a bloody trip’, my mind responded.  ‘What’s Jugad?’ my mother texted me…

And as my station approached, I said my thank you’s to this Angel in disguise… and what a disguise… and hopped off that train.  And as I did so I thought ‘Us humans really should try to invent a new word or phrase that truly expresses gratefulness and thanks in a way that Thank You just doesn’t convey’.  Cos when someone does something so extremely wonderful for you and all you have in way of a retort is Thank You, it just seems so mediocre.  So I have decided I am going to send him a card when I get home to England and maybe even a solid Gold Rolls Royce to express my gratitude.  Or I’ll just post a Thank You card, after all it means the same thing doesn’t it…?!!

That night, on the train to Delhi, it was the first time I had experienced a substantial chill in the air since I landed in this magnificent country.  I was on my top bunk, the prefered amongst most travellers on sleeper trains due to the fact no-one can come and wipe something grim on you whilst you’re asleep.  The fans overhead were off, again a first, a sign that we were heading North to a place where winter actually hits, although the outside temperature still rarely gets below 5 or 6 degrees.  I woke up at one point, pulled my new throw over myself and mused ‘I am heading to the mountains, where at night it may get down to nearly zero degrees and all i have is a rucksack of t-shirts and two long sleeve shirts’.  Sometimes my genius amazes me.

During my train journeys in India, i have regularly used my ‘sack’ as a pillow.  This is cos a) it’s an anti-theft measure and b) i have no pillow.  But my sack isn’t a pillow.  Pillows are filled with Angel’s feathers, nurses smiles and the vibrations of a softly plucked harp.  A rucksack used as a pillow is filled with Mountain ranges, crab claws and the screams of innocent lost children.  A pillow does not my rucksack make…  But needs must and so on this night the Sandman visited and z’s were manifested until at 6 a.m some Satanic preacher turned on the light that was hovering 3 and a half inches from my retinas and that was it, a night’s slumber broken as if made by the finest bone china and attacked by an angry shark, ridden by an Indian tosser!  I guess i did hit the sack at 9, having decided to listen to a song from every album on my mp3 that had an album cover!  Amazing what one will think to do to pass the time on a long journey!

Another thing i do to pass the time here, is use my incredibly MASSIVE I.Q to think upon stuff.  I keep looking at elderly people and musing ‘I wish i knew what they know and how much of this life they know!’  When sadness hits, i tend to wish i was older and therefore have more of the tools to cope with the feelings of maudlin that currently beset me.  Maybe a lot of the people i see, who i think know a lot, know nothing at all!!  But wisdom, if it ever can have a face, which it can’t but I’m gonna try to give it one anyway, has the face of an elderly person staring out a window wistfully at a past that emphasised the true greatness and fullness of life!  In my eyes anyway.  One day, if i am lucky enough to make it that far, i too wish to stare out of a window, a shard of sunlight warming my old bones and wrinkles, wistfully reminiscing about a life that was full and worthy, thinking of all the good times that far outweighed the heartbreak and sadness, that at times threatened to suffocate and destroy and with a wry smile on my face murmur to myself the words ‘Wow, what a bloody journey’.  India is already teaching me to appreciate what i have rather than pine for what i don’t have.  Well, not teaching, but reaffirming that knowledge…

As i head North, India seems to be expressing its poverty trait.  I see people who have set up home in tents, shacks, dwellings that i cant even describe as buildings but that are 4 poles with coconut palm leaves wrapped around them as walls and a piece of old, disintegrating tarpaulin as a roof, living on the edge of railway tracks, along fetid rivers and in the middle of open fields.  It´s insane how little people seem to have here.  It makes me think of people at home who, when they don’t have the latest phone or i-pad, poop themselves and get stressed and think they are falling behind the rest of the World.  ‘People, try having no house, try having to grow and make your own food EVERY DAY, try living right next to a railway track and washing your clothes in a filthy river’!!  These people still have more humility than most of the people i know.  Kind of makes me disappointed in those around me who are sucked into this materialistic wonderland that includes a Helter-Skelter taking you directly to hell!  There are women everywhere doing labouring work, carrying bricks, digging with pick axes, I’ve even seen 4 women carrying concrete railway sleepers, which usually takes 4 strong men to carry.  Here, if something has to be done, it has to be done, no matter the gender, no matter the ability of the person.  Boy, have we got an easy life back home.

Although poverty seems to be everywhere here, it doesn’t take away from the natural beauty of the surroundings.  At times you could be forgiven for mistaking the countryside with England or France.  There are lush green fields, quenched by the recent monsoon rains, rolling hillsides and magnificent specimen trees, the guardians of the nature that flourishes around them.  Whereas the magnificent landscape of the South reminded me of scenes from Apocalypse Now, the North is more All Creatures Great and Small!!  Both are equally beautiful, both make me glad to be alive!

Another thing i have noticed here is that things are never repaired.  Nothing is ever repainted either.  If something starts to fall down or crumble away, it is left until the inevitable happens and it ceases to be what it once was.  It’s a strange phenomenon.  Everywhere, there are buildings that you think are derelict but are actually just as inhabited as you believed they once were.  I guess when food and shelter is paramount, a lick of paint and some bricks and mortar are irrelevant.  But it’s EVERYWHERE.  No-one, it seems, wants to take responsibility, even for their own property or land.  It’s as if they are saying ‘Well, whatever happens, its (one of the) Gods´ will’!  How great it’d be, i keep thinking, to rock up to someones house, fix their collapsed wall or their broken roof and then leave, moving onto the next unsuspecting person (damn you Alan Titchmarsh and your Ground Force team for already doing what i originally thought of just now…!)  Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, send me some cash anyway, i wanna go and help some Indians!!

As i moved on to the outskirts of Delhi, we rolled past a river, that was backed onto by some ‘houses’.  The river was brown, flanked at both sides by litter and was still and stale and stagnant.  And there, amongst the festering murkiness, were women, WASHING THEIR WHITE BED SHEETS!!!  The fetid brown liquid holding the key to their whiter than white linen!!!  It’s no wonder every single person i look at inspires the thought ‘Does ANYONE in India wear clean clothes?’

I reach my alighting point, Hazerat Nizamuddin station, on the outskirts of New Delhi and for once, the train journey i exit from wasn’t a particularly fruitful one in terms of interesting conversation or temporary friendships made.  But it was a long one.  So far, the journey to see Marta Calvo for a New Years knees up had taken me 49 hours.  My next train was due into the station in 2 hours time and i have already become adept at waiting… and waiting… and waiting… which is a good thing as when i board my train for the final 5 hour journey to Haridwar, it sits on the platform for a further hour, delaying my arrival  which again, puts into jeopardy my chances of getting to Rishikesh for New Years Eve!!  But my faith doesn’t wane… until i ask a fellow passenger what time we are due to get into Haridwar and I’m told 1 a.m.!!!!!  And Haridwar is an hour to Rishikesh by bus… the last of which departs at 11 p.m.!!!  It’s now 52 hours of travelling and i feel deflated at the fact that i am gonna have fail to reach my destination by the desired time and for the desired reason.  In fact, i may as well have not bothered coming all this way at all, i thought, in a moment of exasperation.  But as we pulled out of that station at 4 o’clock, a wave of optimism hit me from somewhere and for some reason i thought ‘No, I’m gonna make this, I’m gonna get to Rishikesh for New Year, I’m gonna see Marta Calvo and we’re gonna see in this 2012 cos i need it, i need to let go of the past year and all its difficulties and sadness and i need to see in this New Year with my friend, having fun and looking forward.’  And 2 minutes later, another voice pipes up… ‘We’re due into Haridwar at 10.30 p.m’!  A kind soul put my mind at ease and so i could relax into the penultimate leg of this gargantuan journey on the dirtiest train i have ever been on, with my ticket that was actually for the ‘General Class’ carriage, which i will tell you about another time but suffice to say, at about 40 pence for a 6 hour journey, isn’t somewhere you really wanna spend much time at the end of a near 60 hour journey!

Part of the delight of travelling in India is encountering situations and seeing sites that you’ll never encounter anywhere else in the World.  The first hour of this leg of my trip was spent watching a Sikh man adorning himself with a turban.  First of all, he and his wife stretched it out, half the length of the carriage, whilst his son doused it with water.  I couldn’t believe how long this was, easily 15 foot i reckon, maybe more.  IT WAS HUGE!  But the way he kept wrapping it around his head was incredible.  It wouldn’t quite end at the right point so he kept unwrapping it, moving the starting point half an inch at most and starting again…and again…and again, whilst my mind was locked in!!  And after what seemed at least an hour, he was done and working on the turban for his colossal beard!!  You ever see anything like that on a British train?

Although there are lots of people to meet and conversations to be had whilst travelling the sub-continent, many of those ‘chats’ are with people who don’t speak my language.  Too many times i have men staring at me waiting for me to respond to a question i don’t understand or sat watching me write in my book about things they can’t possibly read but pretend they can.  It’s funny sometimes, but when you’re tired and have been travelling for over 50 consecutive hours (aren’t all hours consecutive?!), it can be a trying experience and you long for either a couple of hours of ‘down time’ or a conversation with someone about something interesting.  And as the hours to New Years Eve ticked ever closer, a decent conversation was exactly what i got.

A young student, probably 19 or 20, sat down and in English that made me feel like a character from On The Buses, started telling me about life here in India and asking how it compared to mine at home.  We talked about relationships, work, his confidence that his parents would find him the right woman to marry and in this hour of chat, i learnt more about the India of today than i was probably to learn during one conversation on the rest of this journey.  The eloquence that this boy spoke with was a joy and yet he wasn’t from Bangalore or Mumbai or one of the grand cities of India, but a small town 3 hours away from Delhi.  However, one thing more than any other endeared this young fellow to me and that was his help in the following incident:

As the train guard approached asking for tickets, i completely forgot that i was sat in the ´Up-market´ carriage whilst my ticket was telling me to ´Get the hell outta here and into the General carriage, you free loader´!  Didn´t shout loud enough though did it?  For here approached the Guard and out came my wrong ticket and so as if in a game of ´I produce – you produce´ (a game i clearly just this second made up which as it happens is about the most boring of games anyone ever thought up on the spot… although if you had a pocket full of abstract and oversized props, could actually induce much fun), he relieved of his pocket a notebook and a pen, handed it to me and asked for 800 rupees!!!!  800 rupees!!!!!! That´s, like, 10 quid…

I didn´t have 10 quid but i did have an intelligent young Indian man with me who argued my case (the case was that i was an ignorant tourist who thought he´d get away with travelling with the middle classes with a ´General class´ ticket, although, in my water-tight defense, the train was suitably empty and did i mention how filthy it was…?!)  SO i paid about 100 rupees as a penalty and nuff was said.

I got to Haridwar and obviously missed the last bus but managed to get a rickshaw to take me to Rishikesh, at 11 p.m  The journey was around an hour.  I was wearing a shirt.  It was 7 degrees…  And as we are flying through the pitch black streets towards my destination, with only seconds to spare, my driver does what all good drivers of someone who is in such an incredible rush does… he pulls over to buy some cigarettes!!!!  Not only does he do this, he chats lazily to the store owner whilst i am in the back of his rickshaw, mouth agape, fists clenched, eyes popping out of my head, shouting as loud as i can at nothing in particular at the incredulity of my current predicament, a bit like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adLjqbrMQYA

I get to Rishikesh at 11:45 p.m!!  ´Just enough time to run across this bridge in front of me, find my room in the pitch black streets i can´t see across this big river and meet Marta for a New Years Knees Up´ (in what i was slowly noticing was a very quite place for New Years Eve), i thought.  And as the time was being noticed by way of my phone, a message popped up from Marta.  ´Thank the Lord, she hasn´t forgotten me´!!!!

The message was sent at 10:30 p.m.

I expected ´Meet me at this place before 12´

I got ´I am very tired, i go to bed, see you tomorrow´…………

59 hours of non-stop travelling it took me to get to Rishikesh, in the North of India from Gokarna in the South West.  I had gone from temperatures of 30´C to 7´C.  I had eaten food i would not normally even be able to look at, let alone stomach.  I had poopsydoo´d in a train toilet at least 3 times.  And i had travelled by train, bus, rickshaw, taxi and Angel to meet my friend for New Years Eve.  And at 10:30 p.m,…… she had gone to bed……

And as i wandered the quite, dark streets of an alien place at gone midnight, looking for something, someone, anything to do, having spent the chimes of midnight in a crappy reception signing my details into a book for a room i wouldn´t even use for storage of stuff i hated, a bitter, lonesome, melancholic ´Happy Bloody New Year´ crept out from my lips.

Finally, i found a coffee shop that was open, sat down with a hot drink and a brownie and looked over at the t.v that was showing other people having fun and seeing in the New Year with their friends.

´Happy Bloody New Year´ i repeated to myself and choked on a chocolate chip…

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India and the longest journey ever undertaken Part 1

One story i wanted to recount to you about Gokarna that was left off of my recent blog post was one which involves a certain drink here, one i believe to be illegal in some parts of India, although like many things illegal, substance wise at least (I’m not talking cow bumming and the such), it shouldn’t be. The drink I’m talking about is Bhang Lassi.  It’s a way of drinking Bhang that doesn’t need the presence of Alcohol and therefore makes it a much more pleasant (too pleasant sometimes) ‘aperitif’.

On the evening I’m referring to, mine and The Tiny Pole’s last in Gokarna, it was decided by the latter that she was to try the mysterious concoction with a newly acquired friend.  After over an hour of waiting, this refreshment arrived and, having been given permission to try, i took a ‘coupla’ mouthfuls.  ‘Mmm, Delicious’, i quipped and thinking nothing of it, sat down to resume my chat with Perry NorthGlide about the inherent selfishness that seems to reside in young people, especially girls in their mid-20’s, these days!  About an hour or so later, a chuckle appeared out of nowhere and suddenly the direction of my mind took a vicious 720 degree turn and i was, how do we describe such feelings in the West?……, ‘High as a Kite’, ‘Away with the Fairies’, ‘Totally rock n’ rolled’, ‘Bhanged out of my tiny li’l mind’.  After two mouthfuls!!  Unfortunately for The Tiny  Pole and, later as i was to experience, myself too, she had a good half a glass, ‘at least’!  And being so petit and not of a past that had consumed much in the way of such things, the effect on her was rather more, how should i put it… Gargantuan!  Within half an hour or so an Almighty glow appeared to ensconce itself around her tiny frame and a giggle sounded out from her rosy lips.  She was as high as Hunter S Thompson had ever been!!

Once time had passed at what seemed like a minute every hour, a silence took hold of her at about the same time as a permanent grin plastered itself all over her moosh!  Even in my state of complete dishevelled-ness, i noticed this.  But i didn’t realise to what extent this person had been affected by the BHANG until it was time for her to leave…

Having been made aware of her desire to part company with the company, i gave her the key to the room we were sharing and bade her farewell.  However, I was drawn to her attention by a concerned Jew who said that maybe i should walk her back to the room as the conversation he had just had with her made about as much sense as a dinner consisting of Liver and Bacon.  Mutually concerned, although less so, it has to be said, due to my intoxication, i inwardly sighed as my next drink arrived and said ‘sure, come on you tripped out weirdo, let’s get you home to bed’!!  Bed was a 5 minute walk along the beach.  30 minutes later, we arrived.  The extra 25 minutes were due to the fact that The Tiny Pole stopped me every 3 seconds to ask ‘Saul, was that real, what we just experienced, was that real, did it really happen?’.  ‘Did what really happen?’, i respond.  ‘That, that whole evening, did it happen or wasn’t it real, did it really happen?’.  ‘Yes, it really happened’.  ‘But did it REALLY happen?’.  ‘Yes, Tiny Pole, it really happened’.  (3 seconds later)  ‘Is this really happening or is it not happening?’.  ‘Yes, Tiny Pole, it’s really happening?’  ‘But how do we know it’s really happening?’.  Stumped at this, again due to my intoxication, i muttered something about starfish and that seemed to suffice, for all of 3 seconds before… ‘Saul, are you sure that this is all really happening?’.  ‘Yes, I’m sure’ (although inwardly i cant say for sure i agreed).  Three seconds later i heard ‘Saul, did that real’ … and so on and so on for what seemed like the duration of Songs of Praise before we reached the room.  ‘Do you have the key, Tiny Pole?’  Then, realising that such a question was clearly too troubling for a mind that was trying to comprehend the reality of the Universe and herself within it, i delved into her bag and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and rummaged…… and pretty much rummaged again, before emptying the entire contents over the floor, to find nothing remotely resembling a key to a room within which, by now, she should have either been sound asleep or conversing with the mosquito’s on the creation of black holes and salmon.

So, back to the scene of her demise we went, all the time having the same conversation we had been having for roughly 45 GODDAMN MINUTES on the nature of the immediate reality we found ourselves in!!  And yes, there on the same table upon which i had passed the key over which now seemed like weeks previous was the device i was so praying half an hour before was camouflaged at the bottom of what seemed like Mary Poppins’ sack!  We had taken so long to return to this scene that the majority of people had retired.  And by retired, i don’t mean turned in for the night, i mean reached 65 years old and devoted the rest of their lives to crosswords, gardening and smelling of cabbage.  Another half an hour of endless questions of the same monotony later, we were back at Bates’ Motel.

I was preparing for a night of tripped out conversation but looking over at The Tiny Pole, i saw that it was now the job of the sleep Angels to tell her to shut up asking the same bloody question ten gazillion times and so into a peaceful slumber i too slipped, interspersed only periodically by the incessant bzzzzzing of the local wildlife in mine earshole!!

They say that Bhang is made from the ground up buds and leaves of the annual, flowering herb the Botanic fraternity refer to as Cannabis, to use its correct latin nomenclature.  But sometimes, the extraction of the latex within the seed of the Papaver Somniferum is added for extra ‘potency’ as well as for more of a ‘psychoactive’ experience and it is this added ingredient which i think made for the evenings extra and unsuspected ‘entertainment’ from a particular North European source.  Still, i did pee myself 8 times at the hilarious state of my travel buddy, even if it took an hour and a half out of my life to just wander backwards and forwards across a freezing, deserted beach in the wee hours of a morning.  ‘Priceless experiences one garners on such trips to foreign shores’ i dreamed…

The following story though, is about as epic a story as i have ever told.  It may not be the most epic story any of you have ever read, it doesn’t have the suffering brutality of a Dostoevsky or the sinister and atmospheric scenes of a Dickens, neither will it enthrall you like the emotively bizarre and mysticism of a Murukami and for that, i am minimally apologetic!  But hopefully, i can recant the tale in a light that will at least ensure you don’t nod off in the next 6 hours it will take you to peruse it!

The tale involves quite possibly the longest journey ever undertaken for the biggest damp squib of an ending since that bloke sold all of his belongings to go across the World to win back the heart of his wife only to find her in bed with TWO of his friends AND her father!!!  OK, i made that up, but hopefully it infers what i am trying to say.  Then again, you could just read the story and make your own conclusions…

At 2p.m on Thursday 29th December, a beautiful man of impeccable taste and rippling biceps left the beach of Gokarna in the Indian state of Karnataka, waving so-long to his hordes of newly acquired devotees and made his way to the local bus station.  Full of beans at the endless possibilities that lie ahead for him, he jauntily ascended the steps of his guest house to the street above to catch a rickshaw to his first destination.  Although the rickshaw driver had no idea what the man was saying, our fellow waffled on about the excitement he felt of undertaking this mammoth journey to meet up with his very good friend in a town in the far reaches of Northern India.  It was an excitement he had seldom experienced, in fact, it could be said that it was an excitement only felt previously during games of hide and seek and whilst being one of the ‘hiders’, hearing his pursuer approach rapidly and voraciously only to drift past in nonchalant ignorance of the space within which he had contorted his vast, muscular frame.

For many minutes he regurgitated the details of his upcoming trip to the blissfully unaware driver, not caring that the conversation was as one way as the Germans march across a European continent, only halted thanks to a small Island of people devoted to a stiff upper lip and a incomprehensibly miserable demeanour.

Once alighted from this death trap of a machine, the bus to Kumta was boarded and so began, in earnest, the start of a journey so epic as to make Lawrence of Arabia’s seem like a nip to the local offie!

The bus journey to Kumta was to take around 45 minutes, giving our man in Gokarna over an hour to wait for a train that would move him through over 800 km’s of the Indian countryside.  In fact, lets take this time to have a gander at the journey plan of our hero so we can enlighten ourselves with the quest.

His great friend, Marta Calvo-Hongkongphooey was residing in the mountainous town of Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand, Northern India.  As New Years Eve approached, our mans only goal, his life’s one desire (apart from being shouted at by a troupe of the Worlds finest burlesque dancers at how naughty he had been recently whilst being fed lemon and honey Lassi through a ten-foot long-curly-Lilac-coloured-straw) was to reach Marta before midnight on December 31st so he could see in the New Year, a very important New Year for many reasons, both personally AND Globally, and thus do so with a smile across his wide and voluptuous chops.

HIs bus from Gokarna was to take him to Kumta, where he would have to catch the 16:20 overnight sleeper-train to Mumbai, arriving at around 04:30.  From Mumbai Central Station he would have to make his way, by bus, taxi or rickshaw to another one of Mumbai’s stations to catch the 07:55 train to Delhi.  Again, this was a sleeper-train and having caught this train, our fine young fellow would have to busy himself for over 27 hours before arriving at India’s capital city, where he would alight to catch another train North to the Holy city of Haridwar, 24 km’s away from his final destination of Rishikesh.  This last 24 km’s would have to be travelled by either bus or, if time wasn’t on his side, rickshaw, thus finishing his journey as hit had been started.  The total amount of Kilometres undertaken would be close to 2,750 all of which had to be completed within a 57 hour and 59 minute time frame, from the moment he left Gokarna to the moment he arrived in Rishikesh and more importantly, Marta’s warm salutations.  Even thinking about it created a sweat of such epic proportions to remind him of the story of Noah and his orgy of bestiality aboard the most famous of Cedar-built cruise liners many years before.  This being India however, the adventure was less about the destination than it was about the journey and with this in mind and with a stoic self believe, success was the only thought in his vast, mensa-like mind.

To do this, time and fortune had to be on his side as, being India, anything remotely possible could happen to crush his dream and send him into a state of despair that not even his true life’s desire could drag him out of.  To spend the first few moments of New Year 2012 alone would be simply too much emotional agony for our man to bear and so it was of the utmost importance for both him and the Universe that he should make this journey within the time limits given.

And so it came to be that our Hero found himself on that local bus to Kumta train station, chatting to some young men and trying to learn a few words of Hindi, rather unsuccessfully one might add!

Alighting at Kumta and being pointed in the right direction, he walked the 20 minutes or so to Kumta station and as he walked up a dirt road, alongside the tracks he would have to cross to get onto the station platform, this song came to mind

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBeTeeh3lUQ

Crossing the tracks in any country in the World can be a dangerous undertaking.  Crossing the tracks in India takes on a whole new danger as it’s not only the trains you have to be aware of.  When you use a toilet on a train in India, you see directly where that waste goes.  That’s right, it goes straight onto the tracks.  And although there are signs on trains that state that passengers should not use the toilet whilst the train is stationary in a station, seldom are the signs adhered to.  And so, it was with a fleet of foot not known since Nijinsky that our protagonist VERY carefully made his way from one side of the station to another, Maceo and the Macks still ringing out in his mind’s eye.

The time was around the 15:30 mark and so an hour or so had to be spent waiting and with this in mind, a few snacks and some liquid refreshment were purchased for the journey ahead and some polite conversation undertaken with those who were interested and well versed enough in the Queens English to do just so.

At 16:20, he gazed down the tracks, whilst the blazing afternoon sun, coupled with a hint of apprehension, produced a bead of sweat on his perfectly chiselled features which ran , unhindered, down a face some had hinted at being Jesus-like.  This wasn’t a simile at which he minded.  After all, having features refered to as Godly, how could one?!

With no train in sight, the thought of only having 3 and a half hours to make his connection and the failure of doing so crossed his mind but being of a positive disposition, that thought was quickly quashed and replaced with a relaxed assuredness that all would be fine and that, this being India, things were bound to run a little different to the timetable given…

3 hours later, at 19:20, when the train had still not arrived and the sun had taken its daily bow, a panic took over that drew attention from the locals, also still waiting for their night train to Mumbai, in the form of wails!  And although these wails were of an internal nature, the energy that poured forth could be felt by the Monks of Buckfast Abbey.  For to catch the connecting train in Delhi, this train would have to be Japanese-like in its efficiency from this point on.  And it still had not arrived.

However, within 10 minutes, he was stretched out on his third-tier bunk, hoping that this vehicle would, with God-speed, make up lost time and get him to his connection with aeons to spare.

How pitifully wrong he was to be…

After a nights sleep, relatively undisturbed, he made his way along the carriage, 2 hours after the train had initially been expected to reach India’s filthy and rancid smelling capital.  2 HOURS LATER!!!!  He quickly asked if he had flown past his alighting station whilst dreaming of Sweet Lassi and the Burlesque Troup that took up a good few per cent of his daily thoughts but much to his relief, they were still 2 hours from Delhi.  2 hours?  A quick calculation enabled the realisation that of course the connecting train would be missed and so a new decision on how to progress to the final destination had to be arrived at.  This being December 30th, he knew that every seat on every train in the whole country was likely to have been booked.  ‘Hell’, he thought, ‘What on Earth am i to do, I’ll never get on another train without bribing someone a significant amount of rupees and even then, the possibility is scant’?  With a panic in his welling eyes, he asked a fellow passenger about his chances of getting to his final destination.  A smile boke across the portly fellows face as he listened to the intentions of our plucky traveler and a sneer at the smile broke across our own man’s gait.  ‘There is nothing i can do’ he mused, ‘but leave it in the lap of the Gods… well, apart from relieve myself in a hole in the ground whilst hanging onto a handrail for dear life, trying to make sure i don’t urinate all over my dropped trousers’.  And so, with his mind trying to come to terms with the ramifications of his missed connection and the possibility of spending the first few seconds of New Year’s Day 2012 on a government bus being druelled on by an aging lady with one HUGE tooth attached to her gums, this is exactly what he did.

to be continued…

India – Christmas on the Beach

The train from Trivandrum to Aluva was pretty straight forward.  It was hot and i sat by the window watching more of this wonderful country pass by me.  Whenever i get on a train or a bus here, i love to hang out of the window as much as possible, breathing in this country as i carve my way through it.  The sights and sounds and smells and other sensual pleasures i absorb as much as possible, and rarely a minute goes by when something else makes me think ‘Bloody hell, I’m actually in India’!

None more so do i get this feeling though as when I’m at an Indian bus station.  You see, when you are trying to get on a train in India, it’s generally a pretty simple task.  You ask the ticket clerk the number of the train and if you’re lucky he’ll also give you the right platform number.  But generally, if unsure, you can find someone to ask and before you know it, you’re trundling on your way.  Indian bus stations are a different ordeal entirely.

I arrived at Aluva, found out that a taxi to Munnar, my final destination of that day, would cost me in the region of 2500 rupees.  This sounds a lot of money, right?  And to me, it was way out of my price range.  2500 rupees is about 30 quid.  30 quid for a taxi ride?   Not too expensive.  Aluva to Munnar takes about 5 hours!!!!  30 quid for a 5 hour taxi ride sounds like the greatest bargain since i paid just over 50p for a 5 hour train journey a week before!  But knowing a bus would cost me about a pound and that it’d take about the same amount of time, it was to the bus station that i headed.

Standing on the road, looking at 50 odd buses, trying to think which one might be going my way, i decided to ask the ticket man for a pointer.  “The bus arrives at 3 and will pull up in the middle” (of the forecourt) i was told.  ‘Wonderful’, i thought, how easy this is gonna be…  Ya first mistake in India is EVER muttering those words about anything.  When someone tells you something, whether it’s what time something is to arrive or whether they are male or female, you have to, as my friend recently said, ask around the answer.  I have deduced it takes 5 extra questions once the answer has been given to you to get the real answer.  And by ‘real answer’ i mean the answer that you can believe 75% of.  This is India.  So, i wait for the bus to come in and i start noticing that every bus looks the same and every destination is written in Hindi.  ‘But’, i think to myself, ‘it’ll reveal itself’ (as the bus i need to get on).  This is India after all and even though it takes an eternity to get the right info, things also seem to just happen the right way in India.  Jugad, they call it – or It Just Works Out is another way of putting it.  Anyway, so it gets to 3 and I’m anxiously standing there waiting for this bus, looking at every one that pulls in, completely ignorant as to which one it could be. I ask a guy next to me if he knows which bus is going to Munnar.  He says he doesn’t know but he’ll point it out when he see’s it.  10 seconds later, he say’s, hurriedly, “That one” and points to a bus flying past us on its way to the mountains, one Englishman short of a full quota.  And off i run… and run… and run…shouting to the bus ‘You’re an Englishman short, you’re a bloody Englishman shooooort…’  And i swear, as I’m running, I’m thinking of what i said above about when someone tells you something, having to ask another 5 questions to get to 75% of the answer!!  And i’m thinking, if i get on this bus and it’s going somewhere different, I’m gonna go back to that bloke who told me it was this bus and blow ‘im up!!  But the door swings open, i shout Munnar, a guy smiles at me, probably not just at how mental i look chasing this bus, covered in its trailing dust but also at the thought of how I’m gonna get on a moving bus (a week ago, my recently departed travel buddy and i had to perform a similar stunt and being behind her, i couldn’t help think she looked like a Hippo doing a bunny hop trying to jump onto a moving vehicle!).  Anyway, i leapt aboard, like a pouncing Cheetah and soon was spitting bus dust from between my teeth, on the way to the AMAZINGLY beautiful hill-station of Munnar…

http://wikitravel.org/en/Munnar

Before i left England, i had decided that if there was one destination on my trip in India that i had to head for, above all else, it was Munnar.  The pictures in the books i was reading about India made this place seem almost surreal in its beauty, shots of lakes and mountains shrouded in mist, tea plantations more verdant than any countryside or alpine postcard and serenity everywhere.  Well, this being India, the serenity wasn’t so apparent, but on my way up to this mystical place, i saw the mist and the verdant in droves.  As i said, i love to hang out of the windows of the vehicles I’m in, breathing in India, absorbing it.  And as we swallowed up little mountain villages on our way up, up, up, and i swallowed flies the size of footballs, the light faded little by little and this crazy white man, hanging out of the rear window, feeling the cool mountain air rushing through his thinning locks, was a sight for every Indian climbing aboard.  “Doesn’t he know it’s winter”, i could see them thinking.  But as shutter by shutter went down around the bus and people huddled under jumpers and pashmina’s, i sat there, feeling the mountain atmosphere of India fill my soul.  Another reason i sit at the back of the bus in India, hanging out the window, is so i don’t have to see what’s coming our way.  Lets just say that i fully understand the reason why road deaths in India are the highest in the World.  A bus travelling at 600 m.p.h will attempt to overtake a lorry on a completely blind bend in the knowledge that, if something comes the other way, either the oncoming vehicle will move or we will crush it to death.  What the driver doesn’t take into the account is the sheer drop that we will inevitably race towards, with oncoming vehicle under our tyres, stopping any steering from taking place, as well as the fact that as the bus we are travelling on is 113 years old, we will die from the lack of protection due to it having been bandaged up over the years with newspaper and prayer.

This is ya average Indian Bus…

http://www.worldofstock.com/stock_photos/TRA2818.php

Seriously, every time i get on a bus, i honestly don’t know if i will get off again by stepping down from the gangway or by being thrown through the window towards the rubbish that this country is built upon, at terminal velocity.  Jugad, i tell myself.

Anyway, i get to Munnar, having taken in some of the most amazing mountain scenery i have ever seen and start the process of finding my next travel buddy.  She has a room, so i don’t have to worry about traipsing around looking at beds wondering whether the bed bugs are just settling in or leaving town.  As i spot a rabble making noise on a balcony, i head northwards assuming it must include the tiny Pole i am meeting.  It doesn’t.  But they are expecting me.  So i pull up a seat and start chatting to Perry, an Israeli and two young German boys, clearly high on Indian chariss and other substances, slightly less Indian!   Immediately i am asked by Perry if i am romantically linked the The Pole.  When i tell him that’s a negative, he starts to tell me his feelings for this person he met a night earlier and all of as sudden i am embroiled in a conversation about love, lust and broken hearts.  I immediately take to Perry due to his unerring honesty and the fact that he too has had his heart broken and so knows of the feelings that my heart and mind are dealing with.  I also take to one of the Germans too, a hedonist if ever i saw one whose dream is for 1 billion people to take Acid with him so he can enlighten this proportion of the World.  I hope he succeeds, i tell him, but this time, i won’t be one of the billion.  Anyway, the Pole returns, we spend a cordial evening getting to know my new acquaintances, help them smoke some of that Indian goodness and arrange to see them again in Gokarna for the Rainbow Gathering we are to attend for Christmas.

The next day, myself and The Pole head to the tea-plantations on the most relaxing and scenic of walks, armed with a stick for beating the ground to warn the Cobras we are coming and some chocolate to charm the tea-picking ladies with.  Another trait that India has is its propensity for its people to ask for a photograph with you.  My face adorns over a thousand walls in the houses of families across this country, grinning like a buffoon with total strangers.  And you know, i don’t care in the slightest.  I find it hilarious.  But if there is a group of ten people, each one will take a photo so as the previous photographer doesn’t miss out on having that ‘shot’ with you.  So you watch the birdy ten times and hope that none of them have passed on head lice!

After walking to Munnar Centre, a small, bustling market town, selling the usual crap that every single shop in India sells, we trundled back to our hotel, via a conversation with a couple who weren’t a couple but who were a martial arts fanatic and a woman with Jesus in her heart, to which my travel Pole responded with a silence that drove the Jesus lover away (note to self; if anyone ever says anything to which you can’t think of anything to say, start singing loudly, armpit fart, do whatever comes to mind, just don’t let the sudden void be filled with silence).  The uncomfortable quiet could be felt in Hungary.

The next day, after some stellar food at a nearby hotel for about a pound 50, our second great meal there in 12 hours, we embarked on a 28 hour journey to Gokarna and OM Beach.  Yes, that was 28 HOURS.  However, if it wasn’t for one amazing Indian man who took it upon himself to get us here, we would never have made it.  You see, getting a train in India is a trickier task than you realise.  You can’t just turn up and pay for a ticket on the day of travel cos chances are their wont be any room.  And i don’t mean just a seat, i mean any room full stop.

http://www.google.co.in/imgres?q=indian+trains&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1280&bih=699&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=JC1Bna5btLx-VM:&imgrefurl=http://funnyreaction.com/&docid=Edu3091Rbt8UhM&imgurl=http://funnyreaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/1.jpg&w=585&h=350&ei=ADAIT6fQDdDhrAf447wD&zoom=1

See?  And we didn’t really count on this being a problem, getting on a train.  But we also didn’t think that this being Christmas, every seat on every train would be alloted for the next 10 days at least.  However, having been tipped off by our Israeli friends that their was an area manager at the station who managed to get them on the next train, it was for this man we headed.  And boy, did he pull out all the stops and then some to get us on a train that day.  IN England, you NEVER get customer service like this.  You never get customer service full stop anymore, but this guy put any person back home who provides a service of any kind to anyone, to shame.  I don’t know how he did it, i don’t know how many poor families Christmas’ were ruined by us stealing their seats at the last-minute and i don’t wanna know.  All i do know is that we got on a sleeper train, bound for somewhere near where we were headed and that was enough for us.

Again, this was a place (Gokarna) that my trusty travel bible insisted i go to.  This time, i wasn’t disappointed.  What you see is exactly what it was like every day.  From Christmas eve until the 29th, i stayed on this beach, paying less than 2.50 for a room per night and spending about the same every day on food and water.  I meditated on the rocks at sunset, watched big crabs make their journeys to and from the shore and generally lazed about like a lummox!  I felt tanned and healthy and my mind was starting to put its troubles to its rear as life started to feel like it was worth being part of again.

The best part of these few days though, apart from the wicked hand-made sequined blanket i bought in the charming town of Gokarna, knocked down from 1500 to 850 rupees, therefore depriving two children of their meals for the next 2 days (but it really is a BEAUTIFUL blanket), was the people i met.  Funny Jews, charming Englishmen and feisty Frenches, the complete works!!  The Rainbow Gathering didn’t happen (thankfully, i might look like a hippy but i wash regularly and don’t wear awful clothes…) but i did hit up the spot it was on, Paradise Beach, where here i met some madly interesting folk.  An Englishman i spent time with lives on the same spot on this beach, as part of a li’l community, for 9 months of the year.  He rises at about 5.30 in the a.m and sleeps at around 8.30/9 in the eve.  In between, he relaxes in his hammock, maybe makes a coffee, maybe swims, eats very little but healthy food and generally lets life take him where it wants to.  I found this initially hard to understand, “…it’s like you are giving up on life”, i said.  But then, Monks, Sadhu’s, Guru’s, people of a spiritual nature do the same and it’s accepted, ‘so’, i thought, ‘who says this shouldn’t be acceptable?’ as he had me by the throat up against a coconut tree.  It’s not a life i would choose, but there is no stress, no people in his life who lie and cheat (some readers take note!) and so cause him harm, no pressure to do what is expected of him and no rules to follow.  I’m moving in Friday…

Also in Gokarna, there is a li’l legion of Westerners who gathered at the Dolphin Cafe and again, these people proved my tiny little mind wrong of its conclusions about them.  You see, i always feel that, when i meet Westerners abroad who choose a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, that they are escaping from something, maybe a trauma, a particular situation, the law, THEMSELVES.  And i always think that by running away from their problems, it makes them weaker in the long run and unable to handle life’s pressures that maybe are essential for us to face if we are to continue living in some form of society.  And so i broached this subject with some of the people i thought this of and found out that i was too quick to judge. Sure, many of them choose to leave, lets say, England, due to the pressures of society or the rules they have to live by but they leave primarily because they just don’t want to be part of ‘The Rat Race’, they don’t want to have to ‘own’ things, they don’t want to have to ‘fit in’ to societies codes of conduct and so they go and live on a beach for 6 months and the mountains for 6 months, they find work to support their 3 quid a day lifestyle and they live happily and without the stress of modern-day society, without all the lying and cheating (sense a pattern here?!!), hurt and injustice, rules and regulations.  I can easily see the attraction and though it’s not quite for me, ‘judge not lest thee be judged’ i left saying.

One man whom i spoke to fascinated me more than anyone though, a man who goes by the name of Jordan.  This guy, after being broken-hearted at the end of a relationship by a cheating whorebag(!), decided that he would do something extraordinary with his life.  Maybe the mind-set he was in made him do this, maybe it forced him to re-think his life.  What did the fellow do?  He walked, from Canada to Mexico, over 1,800 miles in 10 months!  He raised over $15000 dollars via a website on which members of the public donate cash of any amount, be it a dollar or a thousand dollars, for random projects or adventures that random people are undertaking (www.kickstarter.com i believe this particular website is although there are others too). This man had never stayed in a tent in his life.  Never done anything much on his own, besides the usual activities…  Yet, the trauma of a broken heart made him do something amazing.  And along the way he interviewed people about their love lives, stories of love lost and broken hearts, took millions of photos and is now about to write a book of his journey and his findings.  This man’s story touched me.  It made me realise that good CAN come out of bad, that happiness CAN triumph over sadness and that out of the darkness CAN and WILL come light, if you search for it.  This is the website (http://www.walkingtomexico.com/)  If you ever see a book about this trip, support this man and buy it.  Oh, and the woman who broke his heart?  Unhappy, in another relationship, making the same mistakes as before whilst the recipient of the broken heart is living life to the full, meeting lots of new people and having adventures he would never have had before… so there, whorebag!!!

On the 29th, i was to leave the comfort of a travel buddy and embark, again, on a journey of epic proportions that would include missing a train but finding a true heart, realising i CAN eat train food without poopering myself and that i could have a conversation with someone who only speaks Hindi about nothing in particular whilst being 52 hours into a 58 hour non-stop journey!

My time in Gokarna however and with these people really set me up for the rest of my trip.  I saw first hand that life can really be lived without the oppressive rules, not just of society, but of what those close to us expect.  I realised that true happiness can come from the most unlikely sources and out of the darkest situations.  I understand that a pestering beach bead seller is actually just a man who longs to love and I now know that i look Hotter than July with a tan and a six-pack.  But more than anything, i have had one of my and life’s most pressing questions answered by my newest Israeli friend …

Yes, every Jew DOES love Seinfeld…

India and it’s CHOCOLATE DAD vs. BLACK BARRY!!!

So, although this is supposed to be a blog about my travel adventures through New Mexico, it isn’t.  In my mind, this is terrible.  For it means two things.  Primarily, that i haven’t finished telling you about the rest of my travels in the States and Canada.  This is because of recent events in my World that have made this a tricky task to complete.  And much less primarily, it means i have to interrupt, at least for now, a blog that was to run as a series of blogs about one part of the World and my life within it.  This in turn means that it all seems a bit disjointed to me.  But as you couldn’t give a hippo’s bottom, i guess it doesn’t matter.  In fact, why even bother reading this paragraph at all…?

The next few blog entries will be about my trip in the sub-continent, we call India, they (the Indians, not the other ‘they’ who always seem to know a lot and say many things but to which there are no faces!) call Bharat.  Not Baharat, the spice.  Why would you think it was Baharat when i didn’t say Baharat initially?  (i once cooked a hideous dinner for my bro and sis-in-law, replacing Cajun spice with Baharat, a faux pas i don’t recommend copying)

I started my travels in this country with a person, then continued with another person and am now alone.  Just so you know.

Oh, and excuse the lack of photographic evidence, one’s camera has ceased to do its proper duties and so forced one into being more wordy than per usual…  Yes, it is indeed possible…!

So, we’re about to land in Mumbai and I’m peering out of the window, wondering, as i tend to, if these are to be my last moments on Earth and feeling strangely relaxed about the possibilities (weird) when this whole World of shacks, shanty’s, call them what you will (palaces would be a li’l wide of the mark) opens itself up to my gogglers.  If it wasn’t the most horrifying but also intriguing sight i had seen since Danny Itter pulled a moony (poor boy, probably never pooped his pants in his whole life.  Huh, school boys, eh…?).  Thousands of people living in squalor right next to the runway of a major airport and not an orange tabard on any of them.  Clearly these people had no idea of health and safety, something i was to learn first hand not an hour later.  Still, the kids seemed happy playing in piles of garbage and faeces.  Huh, kids, eh…?

Taking a rickshaw in any part of the World seems like it could be a li’l risky when you see the size of one against a big truck.  Taking a rickshaw in one of the craziest cities in THE craziest country for driving on this planet is mental.  But in my eyes, also the most exciting thing you can do, besides being shrunk down to the size of a blood cell and being injected into a bloke, but i see that’s already been done…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14R9pfNDm3E

How i didn’t die 73 times i don’t know.  But then that’s been quite a theme so far on this journey, so I’ll just assume that up to this point, i wasn’t supposed to be dead yet and be thankful for it.

Whilst my travel buddy flew to Goa to celebrate the 30th birthday of someone neither of us really care too much for, i decided to embark on the mentalist taxi journey ever undertaken by man, in which my driver was clearly trying to break the record for the most sharts exerted by a passenger.  He’s in the Christmas 2012 version in case you wondered!  I then waited 4 and a half hours at Mumbai station, which i plead with none of you to ever do then took a 9 hour train ride in the sleeper carriage which is THE most oxymoronic statement i will ever utter.  I did this cos a) i don’t really like the 30-year-old wench whose birthday it was and b) because Goa is the last place in India i wanted to go to and so the fewer nights there the better.  This is where my journey took me (eventually)

http://www.google.co.in/imgres?q=palolem+beach+goa&hl=en&sa=X&biw=1280&bih=699&tbm=isch&prmd=imvns&tbnid=9MAlparwD8t1XM:&imgrefurl=http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/West/Goa/Palolem/photo1002320.htm&docid=PrtpdslnF3WI3M&imgurl=http://i1.trekearth.com/photos/93270/palolem11-1990.jpg&w=800&h=524&ei=gIMAT5emD4nZrQf0u72gBg&zoom=1

Seems pretty nice to most of us, right?  But stick a bunch of white kids in the piccy who wanna get all ‘Sexed on the Beach’ and, well, still seems pretty good to most of us right, but y’know…!!  For some reason my travel guidebook stated that this was one of the 35 best places in the whole of India to check out.  I’ve been here less than a month and I’ve already hit up two beaches that were much more interesting and much less white.  Or red, depending on the time of day.  But i did drink out of a coconut (always a novel experience), have a cold shower (always THE Worlds worst experience) and swim in the sea (mostly always a Rad experience).  I also saw the Worlds most beautiful child stand in front of me and beg me for some change.  My first realisation of one of my many weaknesses i am experiencing on this trip, how to stop myself from giving all my pocket innards to begging children.  I would have given her my entire bank account if it didn’t say minus before all those horrible numbers.  A li’l piece of my heart that i reserve for children broke right there. But instead of ignoring her, i chatted in English, a language she should clearly understand at 3 years old but obviously didn’t, said so long and got the most adorable smile and wave goodbye from her as she happily trotted off to her mother who beat the hell out of her for returning empty-handed or for talking to strangers, i couldn’t tell which.  Serves her right if the latter, i say…

I also saw something properly shocking but also most whimsical in Goa.  There are many cows in this part of the World as I’m sure you know.  I expected to see them everywhere.  What i didn’t expect to see is them eating out of garbage cans.  And i certainly didn’t expect to see them eating tin cans and swallowing them whole.  I guess that’s why they have four tummy’s.  Pretty crazy and a li’l bit sad, huh?.  Like the dude who ate Aeroplanes and shopping trolleys…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6Pl2-lx12A

Anyway, we left Palolem and headed to Udipi, home of the Masala Dhosa and a huge Krishna temple.  The train journey was amazing, as most train journeys in India tend to be, the countryside providing this particular piece of amazement.  As we trundled past palm forests and rivers the size of Wales, the scenery resembled something out of Apocalypse Now and totally blew me away.  Train journeys here are seldom boring, even if they last days, cos the scenery is always unbelievably beautiful and spectacular.  Some kids on the train took us on our first public bus journey when we got to Udipi and, well, with the other 498 people on board, we were a li’l ‘Sardined’ for the 10 minutes it took us to get to where we were going.  Then it was a trawl around the finest Hotels in the whole of India to find a suitable room, including going up one staircase that had poops sprayed up the wall on every floor (something told me i didn’t wanna stay here) before we settled for the greatest half-star, zero board place around and after i managed to barter 100 rupees off the price (about 1 quid 15p), dropped our bags and headed into our first night in ‘real’ India.  And that’s when i fell in love with this place.

India in the day is mental.  India at night takes on a whole new level of craziness.  Try crossing the M25 at 8 o’clock on a Friday night, in the dark.  Then imagine doing it when there are no lanes, no rules and no interest in whether you, as the crosser, lives or dies.  It was worse than this…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DGu5X3Dy0I

But every time we did it, we got better and better at it until i just didn’t even bother looking anymore!

Eating out here is another Russian Roulette moment.  Every time my hands go to my mouth i wonder if this mouthful is the mouthful that sends me to the bathroom for the next two days.  As yet, it hasn’t happened and i think it’s cos i have decided to only eat in places that are proper busy.  That way, if I’m going down, I’m taking my fellow diners with me!  But the food is superb.  It’s Masala Dhosa for breakfast with a cup of Chai (cost – 60 pence), Thali for lunch (cost – 50 pence) and some curry thing for dinner (cost – a pound tops)… EVERY DAMN DAY!!!!!  If i even hear the words Masala Dhosa in the next week, i’m gonna rip my ears off and throw them at the next guy on a motorbike i see.  That way, at least i wont have to listen to anymore of the incessant beeping that happens every 1.8 nano-seconds in this country!!  Seriously, its like having road runner constantly chasing you around, 24 hours a day.  Any bus journey you take is punctuated with a beep every time someone on the bus blinks.  Thank the lord for the Indian pop music that’s played at 6 gazillion decibels for the entirety of your 7 hour bus journey!!!!

Udipi is a special place though.  It’s a very holy town, with i think the largest Krishna temple in India.  We were lucky enough to meet an old chap who decided to take us on a tour of this amazing place one evening.  He showed us a supposed 6,000 year old Krishna statue, a 60 foot tall Wooden chariot with the most ornate carvings you’ve ever seen (or I’ve ever seen, i don’t know what you’ve seen), told us the story of why there is millions of pounds worth of Rupees buried under the temple and even helped my travel buddy get blessed by an Elephant!!  And the next night, he led us around the temple whilst a diamond encrusted chariot and some men with real live fire followed us!!!  This was my first real experience of how amazingly friendly and open Indians can be.  This man was such a wonderful soul and I’m sure he’ll be reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama, if that form of after death experience exists.  We also had a fascinating tour of the greatest coin collection i have ever seen, including a coin that was from the place and time that Jesus was (supposedly) around.  I actually touched a coin that Jesus may have touched.  How mad is that?  The best part of the tour though was when the collector told my travel pal that her huge tattoo was ‘Repulsive’!!!!!  I’ll never cease wanting to remind her of that!!!

However, Udipi will always be most remembered for one thing and one thing only.  Easily the most difficult decision i will ever face in my entire life and probably not even just this life, but all other lives i may live in this realm or any other realm.  The impossible choice between these two TITANS of the desert World…

CHOCOLATE DAD and BLACK BARRY!!!!!

Yes, that’s right, the two Heavyweights came head-to-head for the first time on our menu and boy was it a close one.  I’ll let you guess who won out and reveal all next time.  But man, it was a decision i hope i will never have to make EVER again…

CHOCOLATE DAD or BLACK BARRY…

That night, a sleeper bus awaited us to take us to Mysore.  Sleeper bus.  Another Oxymoron.  I had 6.8 seconds sleep in 9 hours before, at 6 a.m, we arrived in Mysore to be greeted by a dozen rickshaw drivers trying to take us to our hotel we didn’t yet have.  And cos of that journey or the fact that i contracted Dengue Fever (one still doesn’t know) from a Mosquito, i spent the next 2 days with a fever of 740 degrees.  But it didn’t stop me seeing another one of my books’ 35 things to see in India, Mysore’s Old Market.  A word of advice to myself.  Stop following the damn books advice!!!

We did get taken on a tour of a bidi factory though…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beedi

…where guy’s sit for 8 hours a day, constantly making these things.  For 20 years this one guy has been churning out over 2,500 a day, non-stop bidi making.  He makes about 3 quid a day and supports his family on this.  My travel buddy and i tried to make one each.  She was a natural and starts work there on Monday…

Another constant in India is the fact that you always feel you’re gonna get ripped off, which is sad cos most of the people here are Ace o’ Base.  But we did get taken on a tour of ‘supposedly’ The Body Shops only oil making facility in India, where we were fleeced buying some Lotus Flower oil to stop bite 3 million appearing on my cohorts body.  Later on we paid a quarter of the price for Citronella oil, the ONLY thing that stops the buggers biting you, at the market.  But when you’re being fleeced for little more than a few quid, you don’t really mind so much.  Well, i didn’t anyway, my fellow traveler eventually let it go yesterday!  But when a meal for two costs less than a fiver, and I’m talking about a proper meal with drinks and cakes and EVERYTHING!!, you realise how li’l money you are spending and that a few quid here and there is meaningless.  One crazy thing that happened in Mysore though was this:  As we were walking along, a man walked past me and brushed his hand against my penis…  At first, i thought, ‘Surely a mistake, a over-zealous swinging of the hand perhaps’ but as i looked back, a face was smiling at me, one eye closed in the form a of a wink.  Slightly perturbed, i carried on my jaunt only for a few seconds later, the perpetrator to walk in front of me, over-zealous hand again brushing against my sensitive region, cheeky face again staring back at me, grin accompanied by wink.  ‘The little bugger’, i thought.  “Travel buddy, that man keeps walking past me and brushing my penis, please can we turn left down this side path” i begged!  As i looked back, i saw we’d lost our tail.  Moments later, we were at a bangles stall, admiring the owners finest wares, when out of the corner of my eye, i see the cheeky li’l pot-bellied chap heading straight for my loins.  Not being one to have his penis touched by a strange man for the third time in quick succession, i barked and pointed as he approached “Dont you touch my penis”!!  It worked! He sailed past with a grin on his Chevy, straight for the public loo’s where he had a three-minute love-making session with me and his recently penis tarnished hand…  in his mind…

We stayed in Mysore a night too long, due to my slowly reducing fever and then headed to the hill station of Ooty.  The place wasn’t that great to be honest and i have since been to an infinitely more beautiful hill station (more about that another time) but we stayed in a nice YWCA and it was somewhere i could completely kill off my fever.  I felt bad that it had taken a coupla days out of my travel pals time away but when you feel sick in India, you really feel sick and so recovery was needed.  However, one thing certainly helped the healing process happen quicker than usual.

On the bus to Ooty, i saw one of the greatest natural wonders i have ever seen, surely the missing 8th Wonder of the World.  I wish i could have had a picture of it but i think i stared long enough for it to be forever emblazoned across my mind’s eye.  Sat opposite me, with feet in sandals, showing the full extent of the miracle, was none other than this.  A woman with 6 toes…… ON EACH FOOT!!!!!!!  Yep, ol’ Tapani 12 Toes was on the bus, flaunting her dozen digits in front of all and sundry!!!!  And during one rest stop, she stood legs straight and leaned over to her right, hand on cheek and rested her elbow on the floor, still in standing mode.  Imagine Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal.  She did that but sideways.  “That’s what an extra little toe can do for you”, i mused!!

Then it was off to Trivandrum on another night bus journey and another trawl to find a decent room.  But for a fiver a night for the most expensive, you can’t really grumble.

Sadly, Trivandrum was both pretty boring and also where i had to say fare-thee-well to my travel braud.  With much regret, we parted company.   Soon after, i packed my bag and it was off on yet another train ride to meet travel buddy number two in the AMAZING hill station of Munnar, which, before arriving at,  i undertook possibly the greatest bus journey i had ever taken… up to that point at least…

Dallas, Texas (and I think i met the man who shot Bobby…)

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As we left Austin with the taste of a Taco breakfast still bashing out its bad-ass Clinton-esque funk against our taste buds but with rain poking its massively unwelcome hooter outta the clouds and dripping contents only slightly less disgusting than the usual conkyness above our trusty steed, all thoughts turned towards http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsVZUJVVaIE&feature=related.

And then, all thoughts turned towards how we could get our hands on some more Taco’s. And then all thoughts returned to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsVZUJVVaIE&feature=related. This went on for about 2 and a half hours. Then for once, we got onto one of those big roads that we have tried our darnest to avoid for so long and went around the outside of Houston, which i was glad about because a) the sky was grey and made Houston look as appealing as a Thursday night shopping spree in Hackney and b) when i asked someone in Austin which part of Houston to stay away from their response was ‘Houston…’

I’d been to Dallas, Texas once before, on another road trip. The year was 1994 and i was in the U.S for Christmas, visiting what were then, sort-of relatives. During that two week trip, much road was covered but in a less enjoyable way than the amount of road currently covered in 2011. Sat in the back of a crap car watching the most tedious of landscapes fly past, listening to Garth Brooks and Reba for what seemed like 237 hours every day whilst at the same time (or about 7 hours later due to the time difference) my new girlfriend was sat 7000 miles away waiting to get jiggy for the first time was, for a 17 year old man-boy, about as loathsome as a Tory running your country. But hey, i saw the ‘perhaps’ grave of Billy The Kid… Ace…

This time, i was determined to make more of the journey. I didn’t have a new girlfriend waiting for me back home, i had a new wife sat next to me. Also, being nearly double the age of that youngster, i thought i would be more interested in the inherent beauties that are the multitude of landscapes Texas has to offer, being into such things and the like and such. Plus, this journey was much more fun cos i am older now and so can buy a burger whenever i like and not just when i’m allowed. Although being America, a lot of the burgers here are pants. The Tacos however…

We were heading to Dallas (again) to see a friend of my co-traveloceraptor. The friend, i had been briefed, used to appear on here http://www.nakednews.com/ though maybe it was the t.v version. And apart from the fact that she is from Toronto (Nooooooooooooo……….) and now lives in Dallas with a new husband, that’s about all i knew about her. All i knew about her husband is that he is a Republican (nooooooo…!!!). I have yet to meet a Republican on this journey. Which is strange because i have been through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and now Texas, all of which were Republican-winning states in the last Presidential election. Maybe it’s the company i keep or maybe Republicans think things like couch surfing are surely to result in Chainsaw Massacre-esque endings but i did find that a tad odd. But not to worry, i was about to meet my first and he sure as hell would make up for the lack of others!!

Another reason for going to this part of the World was to enhance the possibility of reclaiming assets that once were mine. I took these photos with me as legal evidence…

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It didn’t work…

As it was just a coupla days after my cohorts Birthday on the day we were to arrive in Dallas, Texas, we were being taken out by the newest additions to our glut of McRadical travel experiences, Lilly and Jason. And OH BOY, was it a NIGHT OUT…

We rock up to their gaff in the ‘burbs and no sooner had we said ‘Howdy’ then we were whisked off to a bloody huge stadium. We stroll through the backstage area and appear at the very front right of the stage. The music is deafeningly loud (i’m a Jazzman, remember?!) and there’s this little shed looking place within which music stuff is happening, y’know, graphics, guitars, loads and loads and LOADS of guitars. And Jason is chatting to this dude and there’s hello’s and hugs and kisses (i like a kiss from a man with a big beard… is that strange?) and we’re from England and we’re visiting and then this dude gives me two guitar picks and one of them says Ozzy Osbourne and guess who they belong to? And guess who was gonna be playing in about an hour? And guess who pees his pantyhosen and sprays water on the crowds and himself to cover up the fact that he leaks wee wee out of his winkle?

So we were at an Ozzy Osbourne gig. For free. Backstage. With an awesome dude and a radical dudette who like to party and drink and do shit that even i’d probably be too scared to do, although i doubt it cos i’m made of rock… Talking of rock, that wasn’t it. As we strode through the crowd, looking like a bunch of people made of rock, past all of the gutter snipes who actually paid and therefore were much lesser beings than we were, i heard a pretty familiar riff that a memory in the back of my mind said ‘You know this and you used to play massive air guitar to it when you were young and ‘ansome’ and as we took our place by the soundy dude that only people who are made of rock and have backstage passes are allowed to be near, i turned on my toes and there, right in the middle of the stage with trademark hair and mouth-hangingy fag was none other than my ol’ namesake Saul Hudson!!!! When i found out his real name, i wondered ‘Why didn’t any of my friends give me a cool nickname like Slash’? And then it came to me. They did. It was just spelt differently…

I stood there for about an hour, listening to said namesake rattle off every amazing guitar riff that his time in Guns ‘n Roses allowed and i’ve gotta say, it was PROPER!!!! What a great start to a trip to Dallas, Texas i thought. Then Ozzy came on and was absolutely caka but it was pretty ‘WHOA there’ to see what taking all the drugs that makes Rock n’ Roll, Rock n’ Roll can actually do to your brain. I wondered if Ozzy knows he’s about as properly wired in the brain department as a man who’s had his brain wired by a mouse. Still, the 850,000 people in the stadium loved it so he must be doing something right.

When we left Ozzy to his Diurnal Enuresis, i was hungrier than a horse in a cave and so was delighted to learn we were going to eat steak and lobster at one of the top steak and lobster spots in Dallas, Texas. When we arrived, my delight hit unfounded levels as i learned i would be eating my steak and lobster whilst watching pairs of boobs flouncing themselves right in front of my mince pies. And not only were we in a very upmarket looking strip joint, i found myself in what looked like the Twin Peaks Lodge. Would Sherilyn Fenn be serving up my dindins, i mused? Sadly not. However it could just well have been the little red man so i told myself to be thankful for what i’ve got and sipped on a cocktail of such lusciousness that i forgot about Sherilyn Fenn and instead focused on things that were a li’l tit more here and now…

Our hosts were as consummate as any hosts could be, taking us to an awesome gig and then to an expensive restaurant for some of the best tiddlies and tucker i’d drank/eaten so far on this trip. The conversation was open and interesting and Jason showed none of the stereotypes that Republicans are labelled with, in fact, i think i wet my pants 14 times at his hilarious stories. But being cut from a different cloth, as i lay in bed that night, i wondered what he thought of me, a skinny dude from England who dresses a li’l funny and likes Jazz and sleeping on strangers’ couches. Was that an insecurity? I’m not sure. I didn’t think so at the time but when you stay at peoples houses and they treat you to all and sundry, it always makes me wonder whether people see me as a free-loading hippy and so i guess yes, looking back on it, there was a li’l insecurity. When i meet people i like, i always want them to have a positive opinion about me cos there have been times in the past that people have told me that they initially didn’t take to me for whatever reason and it wasn’t until later that they realised i wasn’t who they initially thought i was. And being very liberal and Jason being very Republican, i wasn’t sure how we’d develop our relationship. But as i learned, your political stance doesn’t make you instantly the same as those whose promises you put your faith in and Jason turned out to be a totally hilarious chap who was totally liberal… in some aspects!

The next day, we were whisked off to a place by Lily that i had driven past once before but never stopped at. I guess everyone who comes to Dallas, Texas for a short time visits the spot that JFK was done over by his own Government on, sorry, i mean, Lee Harvey Oswold… We were once again told to keep our hands out of our pockets as Lilly paid for our history lesson in the JFK Museum. And even though i’d studied this topic of history when at school, it was in nowhere near as much detail. It was an increibly insightful place that i urge anyone who goes to this part of the World to explore. I went in with certain beliefs about what had happened and i came out with those beliefs fully confounded. I don’t know why the CIA wanted their President dead for sure, although part of me believes that JFK’s ‘support’ (though i use this term loosely) for Black people may have had something to do with it as well as his desire to be at peace with the Russians at a time when the race was on for global military domination between those two super powers. But one thing i am pretty sure about. Oswald, if he was involved, and i don’t think he was, wasn’t alone. The whole thing left me saddened that a father of two young children had his life taken for trying to be a leader in human rights. Sure, he was a politician and probably cheated on his wife with well-documented flings, but i think his death set America back 25 years and the rights of the impoverished even more so.

Back at the pad of those who i now call friends, i was treated to one of the strangest but actually increasingly common sights of a humans love for all things canine.  Lily has these two little toy poodles.  I don’t care what they’re called.  I just know i really don’t like li’l dogs.  I know if Lily reads this, she’ll be upset at my disregard for these tossers!  But Lily, you more than made up for my feelings of despise for your mongrels!!  But the strange thing was, and i have experienced this with my own mothers behaviour towards her mutts, the amount of love and adoration someone can have for two dogs.  It really is like watching someone who believes that these two creatures, with brains the size of a bowl of chard, are more valuable than the most sacred human life.  If there was a fire in the house whist we were all asleep, i truly believe that Lily would have saved these two sods before coming to our rescue.  I dont blame her for it though…..!

What did sadden me a tad was that there is another canine in the mix, a rescue dog called Socks.  Socks has real troubles, man.  She has a pathological dislike for dudes, obviously stemming from some previous owner who probably called her names and blew raspberries at her all the time.  Socks lives in her own apartment but as she doesn’t get on with the two fluffy demons, has to socialise with herself.  Which she’s probably dead happy about cos i would be if it was a choice between listening to two poodles yapping or spending my time meditating, which is i’m sure how she passes her days.  And as she has man issues, i bought it upon myself to try and get her to like one.  Namely, me.  So, with biscuits in hand, i set about trying to entice her towards a friendly stroke.  And after about half an hour of enticing, she wasn’t interested in me at all, so i forced myself upon her and stroked her whilst she sat there shivering, petrified i would call her a no-good-son-of-a-bitch and stick my thumb on my nose, fingers a-waggling.  2 days i tried with that poxy dog, to no avail.  Serves her bloody right, thats what i say…

That evening, we hit a very good Mexican place for more lushness provided by our newest friends. We consumed more cocktails, more great food and more sweet chat and i felt totally relaxed with my new buddies.  But it was on the third and final night of our stay that things really heated up.

Jason, you could say, likes guns.  Jason likes guns in the way that i like dancing.  Jason likes guns in the way that i like sweet looking threads.  Jason loves guns almost as much as i love my wife.  Jason loves guns so much that he has lots and lots and lots of them.  I know, i’ve seen ’em…

So on our last night, we go out for dinner, to another lovely restaurant and once again our amazing hosts don’t let us pay for anything and i am humbled so much at their friendship and hospitality.  There is talk at the table of funny experiences we’ve all had over the years, a bit of politics and guns.  Now, i’m not much for guns, per se.  I find it pretty scary that there are things that with such great ease can end the life of another person in a second or that can cause so much damage to the delicate body of a mere mortal such as oneself.  Maybe its cos i value human life so highly, i believe it to be the most precious, most significantly beautiful and wondrous event this World could have ever enabled itself to experience.  And things that can take that away from us in an instant i find ugly, vulgar and filled with evil.  But when i got back to Lily and Jasons, i couldn’t right ‘alf wait to touch ’em…… the guns an’ all!

So, we stand in a room and i’m passed gun numero uno and it’s this…  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Walther_PPK_1848.jpg.  But a silver one.  It was surprisingly heavy.  But it looked light something i would light a cigar with, not something that would kill you in a second.  Then came lots of other ones, Lugers, Baloogas and Freddy Krugers (can you tell i have no knowledge of these things whatsoever) and then finally, after I believe number 36, came firearm number 37, the biggest and most powerful.  And here’s my man to tell you what it was:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z2ucmARq-k

Holding this conspirator of death was pretty damn weird.  Mostly because it felt like a plastic toy but also because i could easily imagine shooting it and killing someone.  It was almost empowering to hold it but at the same time i felt unhappy cos i know that people really do kill other people with these things and i just can’t believe in death over life i’m afraid.  My travel braud gave up holding them after number 3 or 4, pretty much for the same reason, but it was slightly worrying that whilst she was holding the first few, she was pointing them in my direction every time!  The strangest point of the evening though was when i pointed to a li’l pink rifle in the corner and said, ‘Is that yours Lily’?.  It wasn’t…

We were going to go to the shooting range in the morning if we had time and i was pretty excited by that but when it didn’t materialise, i guess a part of me was relieved cos i didn’t really want to know how it would feel to chug 4 billion bullets a second at something.  What if i went mad for a second and took everyone out?  Or worse, what if i failed to hit the target?!!  Sure man, it would have been pretty cool and manly to shoot one of those babies but i can swing a sledge hammer like no-one’s business and that’s much manlier than most of you!!

After another one of Jason’s rockin’ breakfasts, including the legendary beer biscuits, it was time to saddle up and hit the road.  And although it was minus 57, the sun was out and pointing us in the direction of New Mexico.  But not before i was kitted out for the final push through the Lone-Star State…

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And just when i thought this couple couldn’t be any more lovely, when they realised i was missing a petrol cap, they rang round the local car shops to check the availability and secretly went out to pick it up and although they were out of stock, they sorted one out for me to pick up on my way out of town.  That meant i could finally get rid of the black boxers that were shoring up our petrol tank, stopping potential thievery of liquid movey juice and replace it with something silver and ‘ard.

So we bade farewell to these two totally radical dudes and although Jason watches Fox news and Lily treats her dogs as though they are the Lords who created the Universe, i thought as i drove off, snake-skin Stetson on head, ‘Everyone of us is so different and that should be embraced, but there are also many similarities and it’s our similarities that can bring us all together’.  Republican or not, it’s the truth.  And if you don’t believe it, i know a man with 37 guns who can make you…

Austin, Texas

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Cowboy Hats, Guns, Over-Zealous Christians, Patriotism, J.R Ewing, Heat, Belt-Buckles, JFK, BBQ, Country Music, Desert, Tex-Mex, SIZE…

Just some of the things myself and others proclaim when asked what comes to mind when thinking about The Lone-Star State. At least 85% of these i experienced on our tour of this fabulously intriguing place. Shit happens in Texas and our experience of it was to be no different…

The drive from Louisiana to America’s largest state took us, at least part of the way, along the Gulf Coast. And as i was low on oil at that time, i decided to scoop up some of that ol’ Coast liquid and you know what, it kept me running all the way to Canadia! Thanks BP…

And as we headed inland towards our destination of Austin, a city with a rep that exceeds the State it’s housed in and that we were both proper excited about, the surrounding topography surprised the b’Jesus out of me. I expected monotony. I got England! Check this out

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That’s not what you think of when you think of Texas, huh?
Once in Austin we were staying with Sammy and how that came about shows the true warmth and friendliness of your average American. A guy we met at ‘THE’ house party in Memphis, the one shining light, emailed his friend the night we told him of our plans to hit up Austin and they came up trumps, saying we could stay with them for our entire duration (5 days). You see, fellow English people, not a flakey behavioural pattern in sight. The guy said he would do something and he did it… take heed you mongrels…

Everyone we have met on our journey up to now who had been to Austin had raved about it and most said it was their favourite U.S city and some of these people were those whose opinion i respected. So it was ON!! Now, i knew that because of the Anarchistic beliefs of those whose abode we were heading to not to expect too much in the apartment stakes, having learned from my previous errors of judgement. And when we finally arrived, on this wonderfully warm and sunny day, i was glad i listened to myself! It’s always slightly stressful when you are heading somewhere you’ve never been to stay with people you don’t know. The Lord knows we have done it so many times already on this trip and will continue to do so many times I’m sure. And when we rocked up in the ‘hood of Sammy and Co, it was the Proper Ghetto!!! And at first i was thinking ‘Our van is gonna get trashed here, in less time than it takes to chase a cat with a pound of Stilton’. But once we were given a spot in the gated car park, i felt 4.173% better. The house we were staying in was rancid. No other word can describe it. Well, i guess a few others can. For example Fetid, Putrid, Lurid, Bilious… It stank of a mixture of dog, smoke and Satan, hadn’t been cleaned since World War 1 and was covered in a film of grease that reminded me of the films Grease AND Grease 2. However, I, being a judgement free zone, made no such thing… other than ‘These people must be grossly unclean’!! But they weren’t, they were friendly, open, intelligent, charming, warm and inviting and so it just goes to show, cleanliness ISN’T next to Godliness, that’s just a line from a bunch of control freaks to make you think God won’t like you if you hum.

Gil, the name of the dude who set us up with this ‘home-stay’ from Memphis also turned out to be here too. Now a few li’l words about Gil if i may.  Gil is one of those guys who lives his life the way HE wants to, by his rules and no-one elses and i respect him greatly for this. He doesn’t seem to have two pennies to jam into his nostrils, let alone rub together but he still manages to cross this vast country and experience it and its people in all its glory. He hitchhikes, walks, sails and crawls (maybe… I’m sure he has at least once) around America, couchsurfing, sticking up Anarchic posters and generally trying not to live the way the establishment wishes him to. Oh and he’s 19…! NINETEEN!!! I am constantly meeting teenagers who have done more in their short life than i have in my middley one! It’s amazing, i truly love it, seeing young people live by their rules, being ballsy enough to be doing what they want, where they want, not giving two hoots and a quack what other people think

Gil is a man of Indian descent with a very ‘andsome look, almost Prince-like and with a good brain, he wears a leather jacket and the same pants for a few days on the trot. This all makes me like him a very tiny amount more. I can’t tell you why. It’s none of your business quite frankly. But i enjoyed his and his lady’s and her housemates and their friends’ company. However, i do feel had i not been there, maybe their friends would have been better off…

I’m gonna tell you a story in my best Max Bygraves…

A group of us were walking around the city one early afternoon. The sun was out, so were my pre-cooked chicken drumstick like arms (in colour, not shape and size, that would be both David Lynch-esque and Vulture-fearingly terrifying). Mike, a really lovely young chap, had his skateboard with him and chancing upon 3 flights of concrete steps, decided to try to skateboard down them. These were the new kind of steps that lead down to a building, probably housing accountants, administrators and the such, sandstone in colour, ending at a path that was bordered, on one side at least (the right) by a lush green lawn that happened to be receiving its weekly manacuring by a man with a large biped-driven mower. Along the side of the stairs that were closest to the lawn, following them down to their conclusion, was a smooth surface, about 2 feet wide.

Now, i cant draw it here, it’s not saving properly for some reason but you get the gist I’m sure. As you looked down the steps at the bottom right hand-side was a big heavy metal lawnmower positioned on the edge of the lawn by the path. This is why I’m describing this in detail…

So Mike tries to board down the steps but fails after getting only a few feet. And because i am one who wants people to achieve their aims, in most scenarios, i point out to Mike that next to the stairs there is a ramp he could go down instead. I didn’t tell him to go down it, i didn’t put my hands under my armpits and wiggle my elbows up and down, providing mimicry of a farm-yard bird and i certainly didn’t say ‘Mike, if you don’t do this, you are a half-man, half-pansy flower petal’. No, i merely pointed out that in his quest to use his skateboard as a device for reaching the bottom of the stairs, he may be more successful if he went down the smooth ramp adjacent to them. And before he could be warned of the perils of such an undertaking and i guess before he gave himself time to enable fear to make the decision for him, he flew onto his board and aimed himself downhill on the ramp of EXTREME DECAPITATION!!! (please don’t read on…) There were three ramps to navigate. He made the first ramp and hit the flat at quite a speed. He made the second one and hit the next flat at about 120 m.p.h. He even made the final ramp, gathered about another 735 m.p.h and hit the last flat before the jump to the path below…

Which is when the horror that life can conjure from its depths grabbed this situation and shoved its forehead right into Mike’s life’s conk…

It wasn’t the fall that caused the damage, as luckily he missed the bottom of the steps and therefore potential ankle snappage. It wasn’t even the landing on the ground at Mach 4,016. It was the dastardly placed heavy metal lawnmower that, as Mike rolled toward, stood firm to deter all possible attacks by skateboarding hero’s, placing its big heavy handle solidly against his right eye. And the feeling that i initially experienced as this event unfurled itself in slow motion before me was akin to the feeling you get when you see an accident happen and then someone get up appearing to be unharmed, only to notice seconds later that their arm has fallen off… The gardener just sat and watched, choosing not to go to Mike’s aid when he saw blood gushing. Maybe he was annoyed that his verdant lawn was now somewhat rouged but to Mike, this was a lack of compassion that he, nor I had i been in that situation, could handle. So a big, bold FUCK YOU was tagged in permanent marker on the Orwellian machine as the gardener swanned off into the building, with an unintentional red squiggle seared right through it from Mike’s volcanic-crater-like eye wound. It didn’t help that my travel tart started proclaiming ‘You told him to do it, he wouldn’t have done it had you not said to, it’s Saul’s fault everybody, IT’S SAUL’S FAULT!!! Of course, it wasn’t my fault that Mikes eye had a gash just above it to rival a proper, real, overused gash. But i still felt a tad responsible and so an hour later, when recovery mode had started to kick in and after he had bought some superglue to stick it back together and some cheesy crisps, probably bought with a thought along the lines of ‘Well, I’m gonna bleed to death so i may as well get cheesy-crisp-cancer too’, i bought him a pizza slice and took some photos of rad street art such as this by Shepard Fairey…

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as well as of a sweet American automobile, possibly a Plymouth…

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I was hoping that the skateboard incident was to be the one and only time i was to see gushings of blood during my time in Austin. And i believe it was.

There were many cool things to do in this city, too many for one visit. But as my travel beau and i are keen to get as much out of our experiences as possible, we tried to do them all.
As in Portland, Oregon, Austin is littered with food trucks selling every sort of nourishment the body both does and does not require.

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At one end of the scale, we experienced an amazing taco truck. At the other end of that scale, my soon to be Birthday Braud did what all soon to be Birthday Brauds should do and got her cupcake injected with whipped cream…

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from this li’l establishment…

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And having heard that there is a sweet shop that sells chocolate covered bacon, we went on the hunt, found it and although they were out of the bacon, i did sample a New York Egg Cream, a soda containing chocolate, soda and yep, you’ve guessed it, zero egg and even less cream. And although it wasn’t chocolate covered bacon, it was a soda.  And it was also the most Wonka-esque sweetshop i ever went in.  See for yourself

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We also yammed ourselves silly at George Bush Jr’s favourite Austin BBQ restaurant and the number 1 voted BBQ Restaurant in the whole damn State, Iron Works BBQ www.ironworksbbq.com (if you click the link, go to the bottom right hand-side of the page and see for yourself).  And i gotta say that it came pretty darn close to what Memphis’ Central BBQ had to offer, although there is something about wet bbq that just does it for me over its cousin, the dry kind (Texas = dry, Memphis = wet, got it?!).  But hey, if George Bush says it’s his favourite, then it’s mine too.  After all, he’s spot-on about most things, right?

Austin is also a very pretty city to look at during the night-time, although you’ll have to take my word for it as i only have these shots and they probably don’t do the place justice. Although, George Bush Jr likes it too so…

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Clearly the local government knew we were coming to town as they put up this sign in our honour

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We hit up a Tuesday Night Slam Poetry event one… Tuesday night and boy, there is some SEEEERIOUS talent in Austin. The place was jammed to the rafters with clever wordy-talkerers and people willing to cheer or cuss anything they heard. It was awesome! They even had in residence one of America’s poets of the year, a fine filly who, although said a lot of things about a lot of stuff i didn’t quite understand, did say a lot of things about a lot of stuff i did understand and i thought THAT stuff was wicked. I guess i just assumed the stuff i didn’t understand was probably wicked too cos i clapped well ‘ard…

Another thing that i noticed about Austin that i didn’t notice about the rest of Texas (mainly cos i didn’t see many towns or cities) was its huge Hispanic population.  Now, I’ve gotta say, i think one culture that we’re missing out on in England/Britain/UK/whatever is the Hispanics.  The food cooked up by these tanned-titans of World cultures is just SICK.  And that’s SICK in the way that Americans mean it to mean, not SICK in the pukey way we meaningly mean it to mean.  I’m gonna go off on one in a minute cos quite frankly every time i think of this, a li’l shiver runs through me bones and i salivate insanely, but for me, the Taco is the World’s tastiest snack.  Not that shizzle that you get in English supermarkets, packaged as Old El Paso Taco’s, but actually produced and packaged in Croydon (maybe) in their Wild-West-depicting yellow boxes that contain ‘Everything you need to experience the authentic taste of Mexico in one novelty box’.  No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOOOO.  I mean a REAL TACO.  With fresh coriander, pinto beans, onion, salsa and meat/prawns/avocado, and placed on a (for me soft) tortilla, made there and then by a ‘mango de manila’ who gives a shit about what people are putting into their bodies.  You can generally pick them up for a buck or two each, which means that for less than a fiver, you can eat two or three of these delicious morsels, wash it down with something liquidy and then snog for the next 3 hours knowing that you’re belly is satisfied even if your snogger isn’t (due to the onion consumed, not the technique undertaken!!) Other things i love about the Hispanics is their penchant for a right dance-off, their incredibly friendly demeanour and the rounded booties of their women, generally seen amongst men who like such things as the greatest bee-hinds on’t planet.  For the first time in my life, i went into an Hispanic supermarket (i love supermarkets of other cultures, fascinatingly more interesting than our own back home… just stay away from meat and fish!!) and within this dimly lit David Fincher-esque building, was a small kitchen that looked like it had just been dragged kicking and screaming from its home on the streets of Mexico to Texas, which, really, is still Mexico, just with some very patriotic white people who happened to move in and decide twas to be theirs.  As hunger had struck, or probably just because i saw the word Taco, we decided to check out this strange li’l place for its stomach filling abilities.  If you’d have seen it, you’d have thought us mad.  But madness brings its own rewards and we were to be rewarded with some of the best Mexican food i had ever eaten.  And you know what?  Because of that place, i don’t think you’ll ever catch me in one of those ‘Mexican’ restaurants back home again.  Y’know, the ones where at happy hour you can get 2 jugs of Sangria for £10 and some tucker dressed in more cheese than it takes to induce a heart-attack on a Bison, whilst listening to ‘Manu Chao’ or ‘Masque Nada’ for the seven thousandth time!!  In the UK, any food sold in a supermarket isn’t fit for the street pigeons in Bermondsey, but here i would eat every day of the week, 5 times on a Sunday!!

It’s not just food and Hispanics that Austin has going for it though, OH NO.  It has some pretty impressive nature and landscape around it too.  One day, which just so happened to be a certain lady’s birthday, we went to swim in a natural spring, which proved a li’l too cold for me (skinny dipping in freezing water in my white see-through underpants in front of some strange folk never rang my bell if you catch my drift…) but not for my peripatetic partner who was a tad better prepared as you will see…

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and then headed toward a huge natural ravine, which from these pics, wouldn’t make you think that in the height of summer, its half full with H2O, which if you look carefully at the first shot, you can see a waterline of…

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There, we met some more friends of friends who were totally cool hippie types, totally interested in what we were doing, so interested in fact, that they took us to the little camp they had made up in the woods for when they needed a li’l solace with nature and gange! It was amazing, this li’l Stig-of-the-Dump palace in the woods, a perfect retreat that was totally in tune with the surrounding environment, made entirely of sourced materials and it even had a romantic hammock-for-two attached, for swinging away on those searingly hot Texan summer days. No doubt by the time you have read this (which should have only taken you a fortnight) some Republican Capitalists will have destroyed it as part of their campaign against free-thinking radicals!

On the way back from the Ravine, we stopped off at the local supermarket to grab our sustenance for the next day or two.  Notice i used the word Grab just then, not purchase, buy or barter for.  No, i used the word Grab.  I did this for one reason and one reason only and that was in the name of Dumpster Diving.  Yes, in true Anarchic form, our host Sammy refuses to pay for her groceries when food fit enough for the King of Barking is tossed away every few days from her local supermarket.  And who the hell can blame her.  The things we picked out of their were totally edible, though out-of-date, totally fresh (oranges, apples, pears) and totally FREEEEEEEEEEE…!!!!!  The only free thing that we didn’t require but decided it was coming home with us anyway was the bit of rotten chicken that Sammy sat on but what’s a bit of foul-smelling farm bird in exchange for 816 loaves of bread, more fruit than you could throw at a child and cakes galore?!!  My first and most definitely not last experience of diving in dumpsters for food, though the local book shop owner wasn’t to keen on us doing the same outside his book store which seems ironic cos you can’t eat a book but you can leave it in landfill for 74 years before part of it becomes the Earth again (not the plastic wrapped around it though, I’m sure).  The Madness of the Modern World, when we step back and actually look for it, is apparent in all things…

That night, we hit up the coolest Cinema I’ve ever sat in, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.  At midnight every Wednesday, they show a film as part of their promotion, aptly named Weird Wednesdays, for only one buckeroo!!  And that’s just the start of the weirdness, although i guess if you go every Wednesday it stops being so weird (does something stop being weird with regularity?)  So, you sit down, as you do, and a waiter comes up to you and gives you a menu of WICKED cinema treats to order from.  You can get Burgers, HotDogs, PROPER Nachos, Beers, bottles of wine and best of all, a $5 milk-shake.  And hot-diggety-damn if that wasn’t the best shake this side of Jack Rabbit Slims.  The film they were showing on this particular Weird Wednesday was none other than ‘Fleshpot on 42nd Street’ (read about it here… http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062980/synopsis).  It’s one of those films that makes you think it’s at once both the worst film you’ve ever seen and one of the most realistic and kinda cool films you’ve ever seen. I guess it’s because the acting was so awful and the editing even worse but the film itself about as true to life as any film on the subject I’d seen that made me think these ‘ere thoughts. It’s the sort of flick that these days is shown on the wall at a warehouse party in Dalston to create a sense of creative destitution that, when the viewers eyes shift away from said wall and glance around at the party scene, doesn’t need to be said with a 70’s Sexploitation film! We sat through the pre-movie introduction by a man, i sipped my $5 shake and had 8 mouth orgasms every pop, then gazed at Fleshpot on 42nd Street thinking how grim it must be to a) be a man who puts himself in a prostitute and b) to be a prostitute who has to have a man inside them who they probably don’t like very much…

Anyways, i went home, watched an episode of Frasier and crashed out in the camper knowing that a) i wouldn’t wake up in the house that bacteria built smelling of fags, dogs and Anarchy and b) my dreams would be all the sweeter for Niles, Martin and Daphne. Seriously, i am working my way through the entire Frasier back catalogue on this trip, i must have watched about 3 episodes a day on average, more when stuck in Trixie at night due to being in the arse end of nowhere listening to the sound of ice forming all around my skin-cocoon!  From 1970’s Harlem prostitutes to modern-day upper-middle class Chopin-loving shrinks in less time than it takes to stump up the cash for a night with a street lady!!  Don’t you just love being privileged…!!!???!!!

It was fantabulous to meet these young punky kids in Austin who were genuinely interested in us.  Refreshing too to break down a li’l bit of discrimination i had regarding young kids who live in squalor and don’t work very often. I am starting to come to the conclusion that a lot of people in the World only wanna talk to you about themselves and that surely doesn’t bode well for a compassionate society, does it? And yet here were a bunch of young kids, trying to make sense of the World around them, trying to figure out how to live the way they believe they should live, not how society expects them to live. Isn’t that what we all should be doing in reality?

For all of the perceived thoughts we have about Americans (the majority completely unfounded) they really seem to be an intelligent, compassionate, fun and unique bunch of people to hang out with. And yes, that even stretches to those weird Republican folk, as i found out on the next stop of our journey, in that city that’s named after the old t.v show, Dallas … Dallas

Louisiana, home of Tabasco Hot Sauce and The Muffuletta.

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I’ve never really been into hot sauce.  I mean, I like a bit of spice as much as the next man, but i prefer it the way nature intended, in fruit form, not jammed into a bottle by a futuristic machine that may one day develop its own memory and start reminiscing about how life was better as a brake fluid distribution reservoir chamber and how it harks back for the days when things were simpler and people had more manners and men were chivalrous and women smoked and wore stockings and could be lured by the tilt of a man’s hat (there, that’s the autobiographical part of this writing over with!)  So, without the lustre of hot sauce not foremost in my mind in the State known for such a thing, I guess there wasn’t that much to look forward to…
Apart from NEW BLOODY ORLEANS, WOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

My life was soon to be complete!  Being a bit of a fan of Jazzy sounding…. sounds, New Orleans has always been a bit of a draw for me, although the historians out there will point out that the jazz that emerged from this part of the World until a certain Mr Armstrong came into being, was traditionally ragtime and Dixieland, just two small sub-genres of the music, but i like these styles so shut up.  But ‘generally’ it’s seen as the birthplace of this most American of music forms and so, i guess, when in Rome…… go see the Sistine Chapel, although you’ll probably be a bit disappointed and i would actually recommend seeing the The Painted Hall in Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, which in my opinion is more striking and easier to get to…… unless you live in Rome…

But before we got to New Orleans (did i say WOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOO?), there were other places for us to explore and i was pretty excited about seeing them too, but not quite as excited about seeing New Orleans…… WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO……

First up, thanks to this person

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we were to continue our experience of gluttonously testing each State’s culinary delights by hitting up The Magnolia Cafe in Francesville.

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And Oh Boy (or should that be Po’Boy…?, no it shouldn’t), did we luck out.  I didn’t know what a Po’Boy was before i rocked up here but i think it was, up until i hit New Orleans (Woooo…..!!), my favourite sandwich ever.  The sandwich is said to have originated from a New Orleans sandwich shop and was served free to anyone who ordered a nickel beer, which is how it got its name, Po’Boy, short for Poor Boy, referring to it as a poor man’s sandwich.  I guess its similar to the old East End pubs of London within which when you bought a beer, you used to get a pint of prawns alongside it.  There is still one pub that i know of today that serves up a pint of prawns, The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel.  I guess now that, as there are about 4 prawns left in the World due to overfishing, the proprietors use the stock they have in the pond out the back, serving them up in a sherry glass instead!  Anyway, my Shrimp Po’Boy was top of the pops and after a proper good nosh-up, i came out feeling like one of these…

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But i still managed to go next door, to this sweet li’l coffee shop called BirdMan Cafe, for a frozen chocolate peanut butter pie!  A charming establishment, it dawned on me whilst inside that i really was in the heart of the deep south, the proprietor being a sweet lady who wanted to know as much about us as possible (the gossipy wench!!!!!)

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Once we’d saddled up, we headed south to Baton Rouge, desperately in need of some company that wasn’t each other!!  And i guess it was about this time that we started to realise how difficult it can be living with someone 24/7 in a metal-movey-box.  I mean, i’d lived with a giant once before in a vehicle ever so slightly larger and boxier than this, travelling around France and Spain, but in that scenario, many hours were spent doing separate things and i didn’t have the feeling that i had to look out for that person, a) because he was a giant and b) because he wasn’t my wife.  But now, when i don’t get more than the time it takes to do my morning woo to myself, it feels like the World is pushed right up to my ear ‘oles!  Add to that the temperature during the waking moments being the wrong side of zero degrees therefore leaving no time for a comfortable morning meditate and you’ve got one slightly more irritable than usual Mr A.  Seriously, i did really mis-calculate what the temperature would be here in the Southern States.  I said it before and i’ll bloody well say it again (in my best Yorkshire too) ‘It’s right bloody cold ‘ere, i tell thee’…

We hit up Baton Rouge that eve and checked out the local Walmart to see what our morning view over breakfast would be.  And lo-and-behold, we had before us a fine 3-star car park, complete with ‘enclosed trolley storing devices’ and helpful ‘temporary vehicle parking guidelines’ printed on its base.  And whilst my voluptuous fellow voyager popped inside, i surveyed the surrounding area for possible attack points from the enemy.  Having heard that Baton Rouge has a wretched criminal underbelly to rival that of the great Jabba the Hut, i had decided that we needed some kind of protection from the naughty people who may want to disembowel us for our pocket change.  Much deliberation had taken place over what form of defence mechanism one may wish to use upon future assailants.  A baseball bat is always seen as a useful tool, but living in a small shell as we do, there isn’t much room to swing the proverbial cat, let alone a fairly long piece of sporting equipment, so i decided that was out.  Next up was that blunt/pointy (depending on which way you look at it) device for bashing in nails and the such.  A hammer is a pretty nasty thing to be hit with, i thought, and you don’t need much swinging room, but i don’t really wanna have to hit someone, just show them i don’t want them to hit me either!  Sod it, i thought, i’ve got a swiss army knife, if they get to close, i can corkscrew they’re eye out whilst also being kind enough to use the handy toothpick, in case they’ve got a bit of left over pork luncheon meat making an appearance between their incisors.  But did i really want to get close enough to my potential demise to be able to see that he/she clearly doesn’t floss as often as their dentist instructs?  Of course not.  So in the end, i went for possibly the most awesome piece of personal safety weaponry i could think of.  And would you Adam ‘ Eve it, it cost me less than 5 dolleroonies.  Check this bad ass out…

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Now i can decapitate someone for under FIVE BUCKS!!!!!  Seriously though, as a deterrent, i think it doesn’t get much better than a machete.  It looks like it’d do things to you that you’d only see in a Tobe Hooper film and so i thought rather than actually have to use it, i could just look like i might use it and that’d be enough to send a sod running.  Lets just hope they don’t call my bluff… unless they do so in a Frank Bough style, then we may have a ‘real’ game on our hands…  There’s also a rather funny, but at the time for us, a pretty scary story relating to the purchase of my weapon.  When a rather cute travelling companion of mine was buying the killing-instrument, she was asked for I.D by the cashier, a young black girl, in her late teens/early twennies.   When she saw that there was a birthday on the near horizon for my philanthropic philly, she said ‘Oh, it was my birthday last weekend’ and when asked what she did, she responded, ‘I didn’t do anything, i don’t go out after dark, it’s too dangerous, people get shot here’!!  And when she was told we were heading to New Orleans (Woo…) next, she retorted ‘Oh, it’s worse there, people get shot in the daytime’!!!  And there’s us, two whiteys with nice shoes in our bright green salubrious camper with number plates from the most white country in the World, parked in  the less than glamorous part of town, in a car park of one of the cheapest stores in America!!!!  I felt like Moby Dick in an odd-one-out contest, involving a bunch of Sikhs, a monkey wrench, God and the Rolly Pollies.  But undeterred and with my new Predator ass-whooping tool now taking pride of place in Trixiebelle, we went off in search of live music, a nice pint and some conversation with someone other than each other.  And this is where we wound up… http://www.bestofbatonrouge.com/nightlife/chelseas_cafe.php.  It was pretty cool to hit up a bar in a random city but apart from the bar lass, there wasn’t really much of an opportunity to talk to anyone and after having driven 27,467 miles in the last few days, i was bush whackered post-beer-number-one and so it was back to Walmart for a night listening out for gunshots and the galloping hooves of a thieving Highwayman’s steed.

It’s got a damn interesting history has Baton Rouge and even though its more illustrious neighbour is far better known to the World, Baton Rouge is actually the capital of Louisiana.  It’s name, meaning Red Stick, comes from a poncey French explorer who gave the place its name (although it already had a perfectly adequate name ‘Istrouma’, given by the local Indians that had been living there since 8000BC) when he saw a reddish Cypress pole decorated with dead bloody animals that was used as a marker between two territories for two Indian tribes. How very creative of the periwig-wearing git, ‘Red Stick’!  It is one of the ‘Top-Ten Places for Young Adults’ in the U.S due to its strong economy and has ‘hoods with such names as Froggy Mo, Ghosttown, Tigerland, Scotlandville and Ogden Park, named after Hilda Ogden one would assume.  And after i had seen about 3 hours of it, i was happy to gallop off in our horse-car to the more interesting and ExxonMobil-less city of……… Wooooooooo Hoooooooooooooo….!!!

Upon reaching New Orleans, i got lost in the French Quarter and drove round and round and round and round and rou…  If you have ever been to the French Quarter, you would know doing this in a tank isn’t the easiest of tasks.  But eventually, on Decatur Street, we found a comfortable looking parking space and decided we would have a brief look ’round and sup on a Daiquiri, something Louisiana is famous for.  In fact, Louisiana isn’t just famous for them, they positively promote the drinking of them, to the point where this State is known for its ‘Drive Thru Daiquiri joints’!!!!  I kid you not, you can go up to many different establishments and just as if you were at a burger joint, wind down your window and order a MASSIVELY alcoholic beverage, stick the straw in ya gob and wheel off gulping an ice-cold tasty cocktail whilst lolling all over the road, trying not to bash up old women and cops!!  It’s mental and ever-so-slightly cool…

Whilst on our 2 hour jaunt, which is all the parking nazi’s would allow us, we hit up what has become a member of my top-ten-top-shops list, in the World Global category of Earth.  Central Grocery is an Italian-American institution.  It’s one of those shops that no matter how much of Little Italy in New York you walk around (and unfortunately there’s hardly any left so it won’t take you long), you never see because long ago these types of shops were made redundant by the exploding Asian population and astronomical rents.  And it’s a crying shame, cos it’s one of the few things in this fast-becoming sterile World that is as close to the real-deal as you can get.  Check these pics out…

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And let me tell you something else.  No matter who tells you where you can get the best sandwich on this wondrous Earth, let it be said here and now.  If you can find a better sandwich then the Muffuletta at Central Grocery, New Orleans, you’re either the luckiest person there ever was or a big fat liar!!  This is indeed the home of the Muffuletta, a sandwich first created in the early 1900’s for the Sicilian farmers who worked at the farmers market, once in the same area as Central Grocery.  As is a Sicilians wont, the farmers would eat all the ingredients (Muffuletta bread, capicola, salami, pepperoni, emmentaler, ham, provolone, an olive salad consisting of olives, celery, cauliflower and carrot, seasoned with oregano and garlic and covered in olive oil) separately, balancing all on their knees until the sandwiches creator, Salvatore Lupo decided to stack all of the ingredients between the 10-inch-diameter bread to create the sandwich that rocked my World.  Most people can’t eat a whole one, so we went for half each, much to my disdain (i went back a coupla days later and gorged myself with a whole one!!). This is what one looks like:

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I think they deliver ANYWHERE!!  It rocks.  Get one… 1-504-523-1620

That evening, we decided to stay outside of New Orleans and head for some comfort, so we hit up the Bayou Segnette State Park, hooked up to some proper southern electricity and turned on the ‘leccy blanket and oil heater.  Mmm mmm, waking up naked when the outside temperature and therefore usual indoor temperature is way below freezing felt TRES AMAZANT!!  Add to that, having a long hot shower and doing some laundry and life just couldn’t get any better!!!  Not only that, but it was a Saturday when we awoke and that night we were treating ourselves by staying in a proper guest house on the edge of the French Quarter… http://www.elysianfieldsinn.com/.  We were to have a Saturday night in New Orleans and could walk home in a matter of minutes!!!  And the sun was out that day too!!!!  The first warm day since we left Toronto about 3 months earlier!!  Armed with my experience-mimicking-mechanical-rememberallowing-product, i shot back into the city from the State Park, clean as a whistle in me best shoes and took a load of pictures of cool New Orleans stuff that looked very much like these things…

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Unfortunately, that’s about where the beauty ended in New Orleans for me.  ‘Oh No’, you cry.  I’m afraid so, peeps.  Saturday night came, we left our wonderful guest house and hit up a pretty decent Oyster Bar.  We were served by two Black fellas, one older, one younger.  All night every night, these guys shuck oysters for white tourists.  They stand there, having perfected their shucking art for many years, and open oyster after oyster after oyster, constantly, consistently and listen to the same old questions time and time again; ‘How long you been here’?, ‘How many Oysters have you shucked’?, ‘What’s it like since the Hurricane’?, yada yada yada.  But here’s the thing, whilst i would probably be dying inside and hating on anyone who ordered two dozen of these bonza-bivalves, these cats were just as friendly and welcoming as your favourite aunt.  The older one even gave us some of his homemade pecan brittle that gets him through his shift, probably cos we didn’t attack him with dumb-ass questions like ‘Where’s the best strippers at, man’? which some preppy cock face sat next to us did!!  But when we hit up Bourbon Street, looking to chance upon some sweet jazz to round off our night, i lost my mojo.  I’d never seen so many jocks, piss heads and stag and hens in all my days.  Everywhere i turned, there were drunk, obnoxious, frat boys and girls shouting, puking, fighting and generally making the whole seen reminiscent of something out of a Porky’s film.  I even got called Chuck freekin’ Norris by some lass!!! (everywhere i go in the World, it seems, people liken me to this dude!!  Wait til i get my hands on ‘im…)  Sure, there was music, but it was all kinda commercial, to please the throng of tourists.  WHERE WAS THE JAZZ AT???  At the end of Bourbon there is a street called Frenchman Street and it was here that we found a cool bar playing what we were looking for, but by the time we fought our way through all the punks and found it, the cats were wrapping up their set.  Frenchman is actually the coolest street in New Orleans, it’s a little more of a close-knit community than the garishness of Bourbon and this is where all the cool shit happens.  But it also happens to close a li’l earlier probably to deter the tourists, so it was back to the surrounding streets, looking for more of the same but all we found was crap reggae, chart-busters and the type of jazz your dad listens to (unless you’re Chris Bliss’ dad, who listens to AND plays the good shit).  My heart yearned for something i longed to hear.  ‘This is New Orleans man’, i thought.  Alas, maybe i’d picked the wrong weekend to be here but i just couldn’t help thinking, like Beale Street in Memphis, the history and soul had been ripped out of this place to be replaced by a history that sells and a soul that appeases the ugly, fat, drunk, white masses…

On our last day, i did see some pretty ace stuff, a children’s big band playing in the square, some old timers blasting some be-bop and a sailors band blowin’ hard but nothing that lived up to any expectations i had of this town being the jazz mecca it once was.  I did eat the best Oysters i’d ever had though, grilled with Parmesan on top, at this place (you have to click on it, it IS so New Orleans) http://www.acmeoyster.com/, served by yet more black guys waiting on wealthy whiteys but it just saddened me even more that in the 21st Century, we still can’t get over this race thing.  I guess once a place becomes popular, everyone wants a taste of its ‘authenticity’ and therefore it slowly loses its ‘authenticity’.  Hell, what am i saying, i’m just like all the other people trying to experience New Orleans’ magic, right?  But maybe my disappointment shows that at least i was there with the best intentions…

On our way out of Louisiana, we stopped off at a place called Avery Island, home of Jungle Gardens, which includes in its grounds the factory that produces the Worlds supply of Tabasco sauce.  We went in for the customary tour and i nearly wet myself laughing at the chick who was doing the ‘touring’.  There were 4 of us on the tour, but you would have thought there were a hundred, which lasted about 15 minutes, 12 of which were taken up by a 30-year-old video of the history of this World Famous condiment.  But the magical 3 minutes were when our ‘guide’ stood in front of us, as though she was on stage at Wembley Stadium and started reeling off, in one breath, everything we needed to know about the place and the sauce, just like she was reading from an autocue drilled into her eyeballs.  If she took a breath, i didn’t notice it.  I almost wanted to peel her scalp off and see if she was made of the same stuff as the robots from Space 1999!  It was priceless and something i’ll never forget.  And yes, we did get some free samples as well as a taste of Tabasco ice-cream that was an amazing sensation.  I’d never had a food stuff that was such an oxymoron, hot and cold at the same time!!  Totally mental…  Something else i will never forget is the beauty of Jungle Gardens itself.  In the summer they have huge Alligators walking around, right in the same place you can walk around!!!  How mad is that?  I have read reviews from people exclaiming their shock at how such a place can let man-eating alligators wander round, whilst children play 10 feet away!  I’m all for it as a form of population control.  Hell, measles aint working, lets introduce 20 foot Alligators into our cities instead!!  Check out this website for the fabulous history of the place… http://members.cox.net/mryfon/avery.htm

And to prove that we were really there, check out these stunning shots…

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And check this out, they even had a massive bamboo forest!!

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I’ve always wanted to see a bamboo forest in Japan and even though this was nothing like the pictures i’ve seen from the Land of the Rising Sun, it was wicked to see some proper big bamboo.  And the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees was just soooo Louisiana, it was unreal.  We even half-inched some and hung it on our rear view mirror, where to this day, it’s still going strong (it’s an angiosperm and they feed by absorbing calcium and water from the air!!  How freekin’ ruuuude is that.  I love Earth…!!)

As our time in the Deep South was coming to an end, i started to reflect on this small part of our journey.  Although we missed out Georgia, a State with a rich history, i was kinda glad.  We’d seen some pretty amazing places, eaten some delicious food and experienced the warm, Southern hospitality that is so rife in these parts.  But i had also experienced something that, even though is talked about the World over, was still a li’l shocking to see.  The huge racial divide that keeps the blacks working for the whites is still apparent everywhere you go.  It seems the poverty is almost exclusively black, the money exclusively white.  I was tired of being served by black guys who were probably on less-than minimum wage.  In fact, i will never forget what was said to me when i asked our black oyster shucker where he eats in New Orleans on his night off.  ‘Where do i eat’? he said, with incredulity.  ‘Man, i haven’t eaten out in 14 years’…  It made me realise how even things that we take for granted, like eating out once in a while are, in the Deep South at least, race dependant.  And i find that incredibly sad, so, so backward for the World today and in a country with a black President, something that should have been addressed immediately.

As for Louisiana.  Well, New Orleans, great for Italian sandwiches and Oysters, shizzle for Jazz, Steam Boats and all that it should be good for.  Great for hot sauce, Jungles, Alligators and history, atrocious for racial equality.  But then, I guess that’s what the Deep South has, is and always will be known for, right…?