I’ve always thought that the best stories of travels are when you go outside and experience it in the cheap way. I mean, when you are facing them you think you are in a place called hell and you start thinking about all this past actions you made that lead you there; to a shitty hostel, laying stiffly on a dirty bed, trying not to make noise while you weep. Yes, while you are living them, you might not be so happy, but once they are in the past, you wish to be there again because even though you felt miserable at some point, that was an experience and you survive and now it’s all laughs.
Most of my travels (solo and with friends) are like that; cheap. And mostly it is not because I have wanted; it is because I just don’t have enough money. That’s it. I remember one time a Canadian friend of mine was talking about his travels in Thailand. I told him that when I went there I was short on money and that I was literally walking with my head down just in case I found some cash in the street (Which I never did). He laughed about it and said “How can you be poor in Thailand? Eh” And to this I answer: “Dude, I was poor in India”. So, you can imagine how short on money I actually am when I travel.
Now, India sounds amazing; it is exotic, a far away place full of colors and Bollywood, I couldn’t ask for more. I remembered I was so excited to go there, I wanted to see the Taj Mahal, eat that spicy food and I wanted to dance to the Indian music. But my first day there was slightly different from what I imagined it would be. First of all I am pretty sure I was pale and in my eyes you could see fear. India IS an amazing country, but it is so different from what I was used to, that I had a strong cultural shock. Thoughts like “What I am doing here? How many days till it’s over?” were running like Usain Bolt in my mind. I was freaked out.
First of all we arrived to the airport, my sister was waiting for us already and a van from the hostel went to pick us up, so far so good. But then, we went outside the airport and this chaos of trucks, cars and tuk tuks (Rickshaws in India) were crossing our way like a cattle on E and no direction at all. It was three in the morning and it looked like everybody was awake and decided to take a night ride. The streets were full of crazy drivers trying to make their way. After around twenty minutes of that we arrived to a calmer area. The lights were faint, there was dust everywhere, and there were also piles of garbage every ten steps and cows sleeping next to them. My cousins and me were seeing this image with our mouths and eyes wide open.
The van stopped in something that looks like an apocalyptic scene from a movie and I was just waiting for a zombie to come out and attack us. We took our big backpacks, we started walking to this not so bad building that had a bright sign on where you could read “HOTEL” and we thought that was ours. We were mistaken. The driver called us up and said that the hostel wasn’t that way and he pointed to a really dark and small alley. My heart started to beat so fast when I saw that. Everything was close and you could hear water leaking. At the end of the alley it was our hostel, and it said: “Sweet Dream INN, homely comfortable stay.” “Sweet dreams my ass,” I thought, and I can assure you it was everything except a homely comfortable stay.
It looked that the last time they had cleaned the bedclothes was in the times when the Backstreet boys were cool. You could see that back then they used to be white but now they were beige and it had spots of brown everywhere. The door was a heavy iron door that was locked with a padlock. And the bathroom was full of fungus. It looked like keeping the rooms clean wasn’t a priority.
That was my first glance to that country, but you cannot see much with just a glance, you have to really go deep and beyond. Yes, you have to feel the country. Not just look at it, you have to taste the flavors and smell the air. You have to even dance to it.
Days passed and the cultural shock went away. We started to enjoy India and we loved it. We felt it.
And after I let myself do that, India was spectacular. And I remember that the day I had to leave, I was already thinking on going back. And even now, years have passed and India is still on my mind.