day twenty-three: goodbye to mumbai

do not waste your mornings. do not waste this last morning in india.

we don’t.

feel the sun rise and allow our bodies to rise with it. this time we know how to get to the beach. we walk briskly along the waterfront sidewalk. our distance marked out in kilometers for us on the cement. over two miles easily. so many people up early and exercising alongside us.

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what feels good for today?

we take some time to practice for ourselves. to melt into the muscles that are calling out in ache. to take in the arabian sea sand beneath our feet one last time. words and symbols drawn into the sand. i sit down and close my eyes.

about four months ago, i got a tattoo on the top of my left foot. it says, “here.” sometimes we all need a reminder to be where we are.

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tomorrow i will be back in los angeles attempting to pick up the debris leftover from three months of globetrotting, but today, i am here.

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in god’s own country. where you are tested daily. where light switches are overabundant and smiles come free. where everyone still takes time to read the newspaper even though they have equally, if not more, electronic boxes of endless information in their pockets.

i am grateful i get to be here.

we hop a cab back to the hotel and i just take it all in.

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over breakfast, we think about our top three memories of india. we get lost in conversation about america’s culture. does it have one of its own? or just a collection of other cultures? we debate the need for less options. explore the ways that endless choice leads us millennials to feel lost or overwhelmed. we discuss our passions. when we knew that they were our passions. i come to the verge of tears twice.

writing and my mom’s incredible strength.

i like that talking about things can bring me to the verge of such intense emotions. i like that i am not afraid to reach those moments over breakfast at 8am in india with jasprit, teresa, and sybille.

for the first time ever on this trip, jasprit takes out pen and paper and we make a schedule. for what you ask? back rubs! one final massage from the master. his generosity is welcomed but not unnoticed. love is reflected in love.

we all set times to meet for lunch and dinner, but the hours in between are ours to embrace. only a few remain before we board our 2am flight to paris and then to los angeles.

teresa and i head out to find a paper store. with iphone map in hand, we guide ourselves through the city talking about everything and anything. mother daughter bonding style. it is sunday and most things are closed, but we do find one store with cute journals and cards and gifts. i see happy things in sidewalk stands.

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i buy a few things including the sara must-have classic: a shot glass for my collection of shot glasses from everywhere and anywhere. the collection that sits boxed up in a storage unit in chicago.

why do we fuel our collections?

i have lived for three months out of a couple bags while all my stuff sits in a basement and collects who knows what. i always want to purge, but i can’t bring myself to give up my dad’s old elvis records or the love letters from my sixth grade boyfriend. furniture can go, but the books i wrote in elementary school about ocelots and dance competition miracles cannot.

we don’t need a lot to survive. we don’t need a lot to be happy. we don’t need a lot to find meaning.

we all meet back up for lunch and dinner. by now, we all know our favorite dishes and want to make sure we get them in one last time before heading home. for me, this must include an evening stroll to the india gate plaza to find another corn cob cooked over an open flame and covered in lemon and spices. after some scheming and smiling, i managed to get some of the corn masala to take home with me. yum.

and even on my last day i am still finding more favorites. cardamom milk. wow. i am all about this whole adding spices to milk thing.

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pack it up. head to the international airport. it is chaos. pure chaos. but only outside. you have to wait in line to even step foot into the airport.

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i am pretty sure our passports and tickets were checked six different times. but, once we were inside, all was well. through all the documentation stops and onto our twelve hour 2am flight to paris.

i did not sleep at all, but i watched a couple movies that kept me entertained.

the trip is over. my leftover rupees are useless. until i return.

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day twenty-two: indian tourister

6:30am. chai. car. a bigger car this time. mainly to fit the mass amounts of luggage we seem to be acquiring.

flight from the long capital of kerala city name to mumbai at 1:40pm.

let the race begin.

the driver estimates that it will take five hours to get us to the airport. india roads and traffic are more unpredictable than los angeles. will there be a detour? likely. a random road closed? probably.

he starts off as a pretty conservative driver. not passing too daringly. not veering to the right every five seconds to check if the coast is clear is speed ahead. and then, as the minutes passed, his cautious facade cracked and crumbled. he was going to get us to the airport on time, no doubt about it.

i sat in the back seat staring out the right window, holding onto the handle above the door to alleviate the pressure being pounded into my lower back as we flew over each bump. ipod in my ears. driving and staring out the window becomes epic with the right soundtrack. i felt like i was in a movie. the road trip scene where they catch half my face in the frame but focus in on the scenery through the window.

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elephants in truck beds. four people crammed onto a speeding moped. brightly colored buildings becoming a blur. we drove through our driver’s home town. he rolled down his window and caught up with someone he knew who happened to be driving next to us. and threw a couple waves to several others along the way.

community. those places where everyone knows everyone. the places you hate because you have no privacy and love because you feel home. the places that remind you of why you left but make you always want to return.

we are returning. to mumbai.

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one more night in this massive city. a new hotel a few yards from our last one. the neighborhood is familiar now. i can walk around and know where i am. i can point you towards the sea. or the train station. or the best fruit stand. or the blocks packed full of shoppers.

i ventured out among them with jasprit and teresa to find a bag to transport the collection of magical gifts i had acquired back to the states. a red and black duffel bag decorated with a patch deeming me an “indian tourister.”

tourister.

i like made up words. i am a tourister. touring around this world looking for the next location to pull me into an adventure like this one. suck me into the loud music streaming through the air outside my hotel windows and hammer honking horns into my head forevermore.

it is my last night in this city. in this country.

i catch up on work, yet i want work to wait. i’ll be home in two days.

i unpack everything and repack strategically separating out the items i want to put in the bag i am going to check. what am i willing to part with if my bag goes missing in action? i pack all my stuff into the soon-to-be checked bag and pack all my gifts and memories into the indian tourister. it would be a shame if i had nothing to bring back to you but my dirty clothes. those can get lost, the scarves and spices cannot.

journal in hand with purple pen ready to capture mumbai once more. i head into the night. i am ready to head into the day.

day twenty-one: spices spices tea tea

rise and shine (insert cedars camp song here amy and dan). field trip to munnar day!

pile into a car at 6:30am and drive drive drive six hours to munnar, the city of tea plantations and spice fields. a quick stop at a halfway restaurant for breakfast full of “homely flavours” and then back on the road.

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a little bit before munnar, we stop at a spice garden for a tour. i learn about rubber trees, touch me not, cardamom, nutmeg, cocoa, papyrus, and so many other herbs and spices. we walk through the garden with our guide learning all the ayurvedic used of each plant. touch me not is for migraines. funny.

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cardamom.

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black pepper.

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and nutmeg.

and then we head into their small shop.

up to this point, i have managed to fit all my purchases into the two bags that i brought on this trip. not anymore.

what? saffron for $4? um, yes please. so all of load up our bins with spice gift packs and homemade chocolates and masalas and coffees and teas and and and and…

i will definitely need to buy another bag to fit all these goodies, but i cannot wait to make my own warm milk with saffron or cardamom. yum.

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after we shop, teresa and i decide to make a stop at the fish pedicure stand they have set up at the entrance. yes, i said fish. have you seen these? for a couple bucks, we sit down and stick our feet into a tank of water full of little pirañas or something like that. the lady called them “thailand fish.”

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oh. my. gosh. what a strange feeling. a hundred little fish mouths eating the dead skin off your feet. it felt like a bunch of little painless shocks, and it tickled horribly. but ten minutes later, my feet were so soft. my dancer/climber feet were so soft. amazing. i can’t figure out why this hasn’t taken off in america yet. maybe i’ll just set up my own home fish pedicure station. although, i need those dancer/climber callouses, so maybe not. maybe one day.

we get back in the car and continue along the curvy mountain roads marked every 100 feet with signs reminding us this is an “accident prone area.” going higher and higher in elevation, getting better and better views. the tea plantations roll over the hills. the bushes covering the land with leaves greener than portland forests during the rainy season (yes there is a “rainy season”). the bushes all form symmetrical rows creating a sort of an organized checkerboard.

near the top, we reach munnar. a small town in the midst of all the tea plantations.

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we walk through a beautiful garden and take in the sunny day.

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we eat lunch at a fancy restaurant overlooking the mountains and plantations.

we breathe in the beauty.

and then, we pile back in the car for the six hour car ride home. yep, we did it all in one day. i am pretty sure i have driven this much in one day before, but man oh man, it was a lot of car time. luckily, staring out the window at the views was pretty occupying. a good way to see a lot of landscape in a short amount of time.

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we breathe out the beauty.

and then, we are back in fort cochin. and the strike is over. and the traffic sucks. the empty city has disappeared. horns are honking. we are not moving. welcome back to indian reality. it was so nice to experience the city on strike first. the silence, the calm. but the reality is welcome too. the noise, the excitement.

as we get closer to our hotel, we pass by a huge festival complete with men dancing on elephants and loud music. the city is alive. india is alive.

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i need to keep myself alive, so i head back to the hotel and do some work in the hotel lobby. now, when i say hotel, i really mean a small homestay with probably six rooms. and when i say hotel lobby, i really mean the living room of the house.

i sit on the couch, plug in, and tune into all the clients who make my adventures possible. as i try to work, the innkeeper and his buddies keep trying to give me a beer.

no thanks, i’m trying to get some work done.

five minutes later…

are you sure? you want a beer?

nah, i’m good. got to get some work done.

five minutes later…

you can have a beer now?

hah. oh gee golly gosh. i show him what i am working on and explain my company and what i do. he is like, ah you are like me, work 24/7. yes, yes, i am like that. okay lady, do your work, but the power is going to shut off for 30 minutes from 10-10:30pm just so you know.

don’t worry, my computer battery lasted during the random power outage that they knew about. apparently it happens every night? still didn’t figure that one out.

late night. pack up. prepare to head back to mumbai. the last leg of this journey.

day twenty: the best hug ever

sorry for the delay. onward with india…

waking up early is easy with the promise of chai. walk down the dead streets and find the nearest chaiwala. in fort cochin, pay two rupees and get a sugary shot of chai. served in a small glass vessel (literally think shot glass) and steaming hot. your mouth and tongue adapt. it is nearing the end of this trip, and i am starting to be able to slam the heat without burning my mouth. teresa said it’s about breathing over the liquid in your mouth or something like that. she is amazing at this feat of magic. i bet teresa could swallow fire and not even blink.

all chai-ed up, we head to the dirty beach in fort cochin.

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it is lined with chinese fishing nets and boats. they throw out the nets and reel them in.

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what are they catching? i have no clue. i did not make the tourist stop and pay them for a tour and explanation. teresa and sybille did though, so maybe this information made its way into one of the russayog blogs. but i can tell you about the shoes.

there is so much trash on part of the beach, and the majority of it is shoes! if i wanted to dig through it all, i bet i could find a hundred matches, easily. where did all these shoes come from? do people really lose their shoes to the arabian sea that often? or lose their shoes in general that often? high heels, tennis shoes, sandals. they all found a second home upon the fort cochin beach.

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we yoga it up. and then teresa and i retreat into the fact that we are actually children inside. we do some ballet moves and draw in the sand with our feet. “chardi kala” we write. unbounded optimism. i draw a smiley face. we run into the waves and rush out. they wash away our words and leave a black film outlining each letter. smiles.

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walk through the empty streets (kerala still on strike) and daydream. it is around 7am and the field is already packed with boys playing soccer and cricket. i guess i would be doing the same thing if i had the day off school due to a strike. and perhaps, they wake up early to beat the heat, but i think they literally hang out there all day. sweating running base to base. are there bases in cricket? it seems like there is.

and then i see her!

a fellow yogi friend of mine from portland has been traveling around india parallel to me. for most of the trip, i would see her location on facebook and it would be following me from city to city but a few days behind. (you can read her amazing blog/project here.) she and her boyfriend are making a documentary over the course of their six weeks in india. i had seen that she was going to be in kochi, and hey, so was i! finally our paths cross. she sent me a message with the name of her hotel.

walking back from the beach, i see her hotel from a distance, but it is breakfast time, i will try to find her later.

not so much.

i see her standing by the field. cue dramatic music for our should-be-in-a-movie reunion scene. i start running towards her screaming, UMA! she sees me. we hug the biggest hug ever and never let go.

and then we let go.

and then we share our two totally different experiences thus far in india.

and then we say good bye, for now.

and then i eat breakfast at the hotel.

today is for exploring. alone. i walk aimlessly around fort cochin. taking photographs of baby goats and girls practicing dance on doorsteps.

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of cricket winning scores and high fives.

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i find a post office and get excited, but of course it is closed. the whole town is shut down. so, i shut down too. i find a tree by the beach and lay down underneath its shade.

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it is hot here. hot and humid. like a midwest summer. just how i like it. i pass the day away by the seaside. watching people. watching waves. watching the black film outline each letter i write.

in the evening, sybille and i put on our tourist hats and head to a traditional kathakali dance performance. it starts with an open viewing of the men putting on their makeup. an hour of transforming the normal into the fantastical. becoming the story. kathakali is a form of dance that includes super detailed movements of the eyes, hands, feet, and whole body to act out a play. the combination of movements creates an actual language. sign language becomes full body language. there a series of movements that means father, mother, baby, happy, a bee pollenating a flower (yes this is actually one they demonstrated), etc. any word has a set of motions.

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the play we went to see was about an evil god pretending to be a beautiful lady trying to have sex with this warrior dude in order to get into heaven. he figures out who she really is and kills her.

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now. i can tell you what the story was about because the handed out the script prior to the start of the performance.

i now know how most people must feel when watching one of my modern dance performances. wow was i lost. had i not had that script, i would have been so confused. clearly, i did not understand the body language. but nonetheless, it was quite a performance. big costumes, big drumbeats.

my bedtime is getting earlier and earlier. maybe the heat. maybe the exhaustion of traveling. but as soon as that performance let out (maybe 7:30pm), i headed back to the hotel and crashed. dreamland status.

day nineteen: improvising in a strike

a hard workout in the hot sun on the beach. a great way to start the day. the waves cresting and crashing like dominoes. sending a ripple from one end to the other. only four more days in this sacred country.

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what sara does after a hard work out. perhaps a little loopy from dehydration…

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we had gotten word that today and the next day would be a 48-hour strike in kerala due to an increase of the price of diesel, and as we walked back from the beach, every store was still closed. and remained closed.

all taxis were out of commission. the state is shut down. it is amazing. a place so busy now so quiet. no horns honking. nothing.

but wait, we need to get to kochi!

jasprit had preemptively booked us a train to kochi instead of our initially-intended taxi ride. but we still had to get to the train… our hotel arranged a car for us to get there. when we unloaded, our driver got hassled by locals about giving us a ride. it’s a strike! what are you doing? come on.

but, we got to our train. a sleeper train! it was late, but it arrived. and i laid on a top bunk for five hours as we moved back up north.

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we arrive and now have to figure out how to get to our hotel. hmm.

jasprit goes over and talks to a policeman for awhile. he motions for us to come with the luggage. the policeman has called us a ride. how? apparently, he told the driver we were with the army. hah. that is one way to get a ride in the middle of a strike.

so we pile ourselves and our luggage into the tuk tuk and drive the empty streets to fort cochin. as army men.

jasprit has managed to make every transition in this country completely seamless. no matter what curveball india throws our way, he is there to make it work. a completely different experience than most foreign tourists experience during their first visit to india. i feel truly blessed to be a passenger along for this ride. the wide-eyed child just taking it all in from the backseat.

we arrive at the good karma inn around 7pm. the mosquitoes and i are becoming quite close. as in, we are now blood sisters. as in, i think they think my body is the last supper. oh well. i’ve seen worse.

we head to dinner at one of the few restaurants open during the strike and eat a “quick” meal. quick in kerala time. aka it took almost two hours. i feel like i am back in south america. argentine time was my favorite time.

and yet everyone moves so fast. they talk fast. they massage fast. they drive fast. they wiggle their heads fast. and yet, life moves slow. even slower for the next 48 hours.

i wish we could orchestrate a 48-hour strike over a hike in gas prices in america. impossible.

bedtime. our windows and balcony door open to let in some air. and mosquitoes. oops. close the door after an hour of slapping and swatting and hiding under the sheet. a mosquito actually bit my lip! after we shut the door, all was fine. except it was hotter.

you win some, you lose some.

day eighteen: didn’t miss a thing

the thunderstorm was in full swing still in the morning. i woke up to my alarm, looked out the window, and went back to sleep for two hours. 8am! it is the longest i have slept until on this whole trip. felt good.

today was a lazy day. the rain made me happy because i could catch up on my work without feeling like i was missing out on something. but then, of course, the sun came out. but i still took it easy.

worked. wasted the day away daydreaming about the future. slept. ate a bit of the surprise package of delicious peanut brittle jasprit and teresa gave to me (thank you).

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but it was our last day in chowara, so i peeled myself out of my lazy basking and started to stroll down to the beach for sunset.

i stopped off at a tailor to sew on a set of sleeves to my salarkamee. 150 rupees ($3) and a pen to completely tailor my outfit to fit me perfectly. tailors are everywhere in india. they can make anything you want in about two hours. new shirt? done. new pants? done. alterations? done.

and pens. everyone, adults and children, wants pens. apparently the really inky ones we all love, they do not have. so i hesitantly gave up my turquoise pilot G-2, but his smile was worth it. interesting the things we covet from other cultures. if i had known, i would have brought boxes of pens for them to share.

i continued my stroll stopping in the shops, keeping an eye out for certain gifts on my list. asking and comparing prices. falling into hour long conversations with the store owners.

like aazhimala deva. the old, skinny, bearded man who made beautiful wood and stone carvings. i told him i had taken a woodcarving class in college and had cut my hand several times. it was honestly one of the hardest artistic mediums i have ever attempted. he asked me how many hours a day i did it. i said twice a week for two hours for four months. he smiled and said no wonder you weren’t very good.

yes, practice makes perfect. although i did make some pretty cool pieces in that class.

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then i moved onto a jewelry shop run by a 28 year old kashmiri man named tanveer shmad rathes. i was in his shop for literally an hour or more. it started out with me looking at bracelets. it ended with me laying on the floor meditating.

he told me about his wedding that he was planning for next year. do you know your wife? no, my parents are looking right now. he had high hopes because he was educated, owned his own business, and owned a house. the wedding will cost about $100,000 and will be five days long. thousands of people. in october. his brother will get married at the same time.

and he doesn’t know his wife. wait, did i already say that?

then he told me about his muslim religion. his family business. my business. how much a normal website costs to build. he showed me how to write in urdu, which is written right to left. so crazy to watch.

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and then i browsed his shop. when i got to the singing bowls, he ran over and said, “meditation?” um, yes?

he pulled a cloth down from the shelf and laid it on the floor. he closed the store door and shut the blinds. he pulled three copper (i think) singing bowls from the shelf and placed them at one side of the cloth.

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lay down.

i lay down.

he reaches for my hand and places the right in a mudra with forefinger to thumb, the left in a mudra with ring finger to thumb. palms up. feet together touching.

close eyes.

i close eyes.

empty mind.

i empty mind.

he begins gonging the bowls and letting the vibration fill my ears. empty out my brain. bring the universal sound of om into the air. moving from left ear to right ear. from near to far. i disappear from the chowara store tile floor. i don’t know where i went.

but then he touched my forehead, and i sat up. he showed me how the water jumps in raindrops when you fill the bowl with water and circle around its edge. he explained how the singing bowls are used in buddhism. i say i am familiar. he says you look like you would be.

we talk about american politics and war. and pakistan. and his customers. and tourists. everything and anything…he told me it all.

and then, he shook my hand and walked me outside. it was dark. i missed the sunset, but i didn’t miss a thing. it is the people. it is always the people for me.

day seventeen: ayurveda(y)

before i traveled to india, i was in puerto rico for a week. in chowara, i was transported back there as the rooster crowed at 5am. in puerto rico, i would roll over and pray for them to shut up. in india, i wake up and walk to the beach to see sunrise.

standing on boulders, we breathe in the morning air as crabs and ants scurry quickly over my feet before i have any time to freak out. the beach is still flooded, but the stagnant water creates an amazing reflection pool for the sunrise. a crucifix standing tall amidst the oranges and blues.

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there is a large population of christians in kerala. i think maybe the largest concentration in india. there are no pews in the churches we have seen, and the hymns are of course in the local language. but their names are biblical, and the crucifix stands tall. an adaptation of the christianity i know.

today is ayurvedic treatment day. designed from two words: ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning knowledge; ayurveda, meaning the knowledge of life. it is considered the oldest natural healing system and branch of medicine in the world. i’m sure you have heard the word because it has become very much a part of the western world. it is perhaps more prominent now in western cultures than in indian cultures.

but with prices so low, there is no way this girl could pass up a traditional ayurvedic massage plus whatever else they had in store.

so i visited the doctor. you have to see him to get your prescription for treatment. it went something like this:

doc: name?
me: sara
doc: age?
me: 26
doc: any problems?
me: not really. migraines sometimes.
(he then takes my pulse and blood pressure.)
doc: okay, general massage and siro dhara.
me: can i do a facial too?
doc: okay, and face pack.

he then wrote these things on a slip of paper and sent me out the door. normally, people (foreigners) go to these ayurvedic hotels and spend a week there getting treatments daily for a week. i would just do one day. so, i headed to the main office and booked my treatment. noon.

i didn’t know what to expect from this treatment, but it awakened every sense. i enter a room and the woman tells me to take it all off. every last bit. while she is standing right in front of me. that’s cool, i am not shy about nudity. and she informed me that she is a mom and has seen it all.

and then the journey begins. i sit on a stool while she rubs oils and powders into my scalp vigorously. she pours oil over by head, and it drips down my whole body. the smells conquer my every inhale. it smells like gingerbread. i have no clue what it actually was, but it left a clay red color in my hair.

after awhile it is time to move to the table. face down. warm oil again covers my body as she energetically rubs every inch of my body. again with very high energy. lots of slapping and rubbing. wake up those muscles!

i roll over and the warm oil again covers every inch. an awakening of my tired body. a new refresher after so many days of travel. and my prescribed “general massage” is over.

onto the “face pack.” she applies a creamy face mask that smells of bananas and cucumbers, but it is a dark redbrown color. she places cucumbers over my eyes. the cooling effect brings me back to reality. calm. cool. collected. i lay for what feels like eternity and drift in and out of sleep. my feet twitching me awake every so often.

she comes back and wipes my face clean. i go pee finally and get wrapped up in a cloth. she lays me on a different table with the oil drum set up ready to flow over my forehead. and the siro dhara begins. for 30 minutes, she fills a big pot that has a small hole in the center of it with specially prepared medicinal oils and butter milk. it sways from left to right funneling oil on my head. i feel like i am being hypnotized. back and forth. back and forth. occasionally it stops and circles the middle of my forehead, my third eye.

after about 20 minutes, i was ready to be done. my mind started wandering. it finally came to an end. she squeezed the oil from my hair and drew a line down my forehead with the gingerbread powder.

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wow.

i walked back to my room barefoot, hair and body covered in oil, and mind like ooze. don’t shower for one hour. okay. i’ll just sit. because i cannot actually think.

three hours worth of pampering for $50.

wow. i spend the rest of the day blissed out. showered. wrote. slept. dreamed. enjoyed the relaxation. but one day was enough. and fifty bucks is still fifty bucks. and three hours is still three hours.

we ate dinner by the pool. and i drank a watermelon juice. fresh squeezed watermelon juice. followed by a plate of watermelon. mom, they even chopped it up for me just like you. although it was just a plateful, not a huge bowl of the entire watermelon. yum!

night set upon the hotel, and we all felt as if we were in an agatha christie novel. thunder and lightning in the distance. bats flying overhead. at any moment, i thought we would hear a scream and someone would fall from the roof into the pool.

but no one did.

but the thunder and lightning did move in closer. at midnight, i awoke from my sweaty slumber to cool air and a downpouring of rain! ahhh. i love thunderstorms. especially in hot jungle climates. it continued throughout the night and into the morning.

what a way to end this day.

day sixteen: stolen heart in kerala

sir, you have to go sit and wait because the flight is overbooked. you’ll probably be able to get on, but just go over there for now.

hah.

what you always like to hear when you are flying to a new location on vacation. mumbai to the world’s longest town name: thiruvananthapuram, capital of kerala. we sat and waited, and a few moments later, she brought over our boarding passes. in an exit row even! chardi kala as we russayogi’s like to say (meaning unbounded optimism).

two hours later, and all i can see from the sky are palm trees. thousands of palm trees.

we land and hop into a taxi. the driver is bumpin’ awesome beats, and i am all smiles. and this song is playing in my head.

all beach towns are the same. you can’t teach it, you can’t explain it, but they have all got it. run down one story shacks. palm trees. the ocean attitude.

we are in the jungle. ideal ayurvedic resort in chowara beach village. just walk down the red dirt road, through the open field of drying laundry, and enter paradise.

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now, we are not talking about pristine five star amenities, we are talking about natural. open windows that let the smell of the chicken coop waft into your room unexpectedly. heat that makes you sticky. bugs that march over you as you sleep. salamanders that scurry across the ceiling. bats that swoop over the pool at dusk.

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it is a nice change of pace. breakfast takes at least an hour to get to you. and so you sit because life is easy and slow and it’s okay. there is no place to be except here.

and the beach.

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sybille and i walk down to the beach and immediate are befriended by two thirteen year old boys, michael and john. really those are your names? yes madam, we are christian.

and then three more boys appear. two who are older, 20 and 21. in college. one studying psychology to become a teacher.

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they sit and teach me malayalam, the local dialect. i instantly whip out my iphone and record their lessons. i point to body parts and they name them. i point to the sky, sun, water, rock. parra is rock. i remember that one. they ask me questions about where i am from, what i do. you own your own business? like you are the boss? yep. i am the boss.

we climb across boulders to escape the flooded stagnant water that appeared yesterday. we can’t get to the actual beach unless we wade across. not today. tomorrow i will adventure to the waves. today i will sit on the boulders.

they of course want to take photos, and i of course want to take photos. snap snap snap. and what else is on your iphone madam? music? do you have gangham style? no, i don’t. no worries, we do!

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oh. yes.

they lead us back away from the others (to avoid embarrassment), and then we dance gangham style. four indian teenage boys and me. there is video, but this moment is pretty engrained in my head for life. little john has this big teethy grin that goes on for miles and could light up anyone’s day. add that with their crazy dance and high spirits…pure magic for this girl.

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we followed our dancing with a bit of yoga. they told me these were soccer stretches, not yoga. we balanced on the rocks in tree pose.

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they warned me of the cactus by my foot. and then they filled up with energy as i watched the next brilliant idea cross their minds.

michael hopped around me and picked the flower/seed pod off the cactus. he ripped it open, and the red juice squirted all over his hand. then, like any teenage boy, he acted out his best bloody hand scene complete with sound effects. another joined in, and we were turning this peaceful beach getaway into a playhouse. just the way i like it.

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we tried some of the gooey red goop. it was sweet and dyed our fingers, lips, and tongues. no worries. they rushed over with some crushed leaves and began furiously rubbing our fingers. sure enough, it was fading the red. natural soap.

as the sunset, we headed over to a big rock to sit down and enjoy. michael and john snuggled up on either side of me, and we took more photos. cheery cheery (instead of cheese). we made faces. played patty cake. my energy matched theirs and the oldest said, “you mental madam.”

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clearly.

they asked to see photos of my home. we browsed facebook. they told me which photos were good and which were bad. we browsed my photos from this trip. they have never really seen other parts of india. wow, mumbai is pretty. india gate! we have seen that in movies.

and then, when it was dark, they all walked sybille and i up the big hill and back to our hotel. michael asked how old i was. 26. whoa, really? you look a lot older than that. i informed him that in america he would look about 9 and not 13. that shut him up. they made us promise to return the next day after they were done with school. around 4pm.

glowing. how can a girl like me resist a night like that? it is not the landscapes that make different countries different, it is the people. and for me, it is the children. their curiosity. their innocence. their energy. their smiles.

end the night with a delicious bowl of soup and cup of tea. by candlelight, poolside. bats swooping overhead. lightening in the distance. thunder rolling in.

drift into my sweaty, sticky slumber until the rooster crows (literally). tomorrow we meet the “doctor” to find out our “treatments.” i am definitely going to opt in for the $8 facial. we shall see what else the doctor prescribes…

day fifteen: monkeys on elephanta

the beach was further away than expected. wake up and walk. and walk. and get to the shoreline and walk some more. about two miles along the arabian sea. a paved wide sidewalk with people of all kinds power-walking and working out. felt a bit like the chicago lakeshore. one of my favorite places to spend a day walking. watching.

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it was a nice change of scenery to spend an hour on sand. dirty sand, but sand nonetheless. with a beautiful view of the mumbai skyline for our morning yoga.

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there is so many kilometers of skyline because mumbai is a peninsula. i could never figure out which part of the city we were looking at, but it was all a beautiful staircase of skyscrapers along the sea.

before heading out for our boating adventure, sybille and i headed into town for a quick lunch at a cute diner-like hole in the wall and stop at the atm. the high numbers always make me feel so wealthy. it is about 52 rupees to a dollar. you feel so much cooler typing 1,000 into an atm than 30. baller.

with bellies and pockets full to elephanta island we go!

an hour ride on a two-story ferry boat. there is so much trash in the water. people just throw it off the boats. it was strange to witness. strange to so garbage floating so far away from land.

step off the boat and what do we see? corn on the cob. a sara favorite. for 20 rupees (like 40¢), i indulge and chop on a delicious open fire roasted cob rubbed with lime and spices. so good.

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the island is pretty big. it doesn’t have elephants, but it did have a lot of dogs, cows, and MONKEYS! oh and caves. the caves are why people go, but the monkeys are why i stayed. baby monkeys kissing each other. one cleaning another. one drinking a coke. one stealing a banana from a puppy. so entertaining. i basically will have a whole monkey album for your viewing one day.

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there are five caves on the island. we only visited one, but it was filled with large carvings in the walls. sculptures of shiva. hindu offerings. and tourists.

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we board one of the last boats back and catch the start of sunset as we approach the dock (or rather cement steps) at the india gate.

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i had my first language barrier moment on the boat. the woman crammed next to me on the bench offered me some peanut brittle. she spoke some hindu, and i smiled, “i only speak english.” she smiled and shook her head. that was all we could say to one another. most people here know at least a little bit of english, but not her.

i want to learn hindi. i am picking up a word here and there, but the sounds are challenging for my language-learning-impaired brain. it is so necessary in other countries to learn other languages. like in europe, the countries are small and they all speak a different language. but in the states, our neighboring countries speak spanish and english, perhaps some french up in quebec. the necessity for more than spanish to travel locally is nonexistent.

it took me 20 years to become proficient in speaking spanish. something is wrong with the way we teach languages in our schools. from kindergarden to college i took spanish class. i could conjugate all day. read, write, sing, dance, but speak? pssh.

live there.

they say that’s the best way to learn.

live here.

well, maybe not here. mumbai is too big a city for this gal. the people are city people. colder. more concerned about their own doings. not much green space for me to lay in the sunshine and hike through the trees. i need a balance. the ability to be my city side and my nature side.

back to the hotel and i crash. at 9pm. first, sybille makes me try a fig. i don’t think i have ever tried a fresh fig. it tastes nothing like a fig newton, which makes me happy because i hated when they would serve those for snack in elementary school. turns out i actually like the real thing.

the real thing.