I have never been abroad alone, and I had no plans to go. The only trips I had had to foreign countries before were with my family and my school.
It was during my first year of engineering school, when I met my two good friends Oz and Tom. We were classmates and neighbors, and spent most of our time smoking weed, listening to music, and talking about everything from philosophy to the delicate craft of growing weed in your closet.
One of the subjects that kept popping up in those countless hours of conversation was Oz and Tom’s amazing adventures to exotic destinations around the world. I kept hearing about places like Nepal, Australia, and New Zealand, but the most fantastic and mysterious stories came from India. After a few months, I knew those stories by heart. I could tell you where to find the best chai and thali in India, the difference between an angry Indian head shake and an "I don't care" Indian head shake, and where you can find fairies in the forest. And by the time the year had ended, I knew exactly where I was headed.
Semester break was the perfect time for my dream vacation. Now I just needed to find the right companions to come along. I asked Tom and Oz, of course, because it only seemed right to relocate our weed sessions from one country to another. And what country would be up for that task if not India?
But Tom and Oz had other plans for the semester break, and apparently so did all my other friends. Some were working, some were taking summer courses, and some just couldn't imagine filthy and crowded India as a relaxing get away resort. (Oh boy, were they right...).
So that was my luck – I finally wanted to go somewhere, and no one wanted to come along. Summer vacation was on its way, and if I wanted to get a low cost ticket, I had to buy it right away. What to do? I couldn’t go alone…or could I?
It was now or never. Next year I’d probably start working a real job and join that endless rat race, and all my dreams of a long and exciting adventure would fade away. Instead I would have to pretend to be satisfied with a semi-vacation for a few miserable days to some over populated tourist trap shithole, during the holidays.
I would try going solo. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen?
Well apparently, there were a lot of things that could go wrong, according to my friends, my family, and any total stranger who had to venture an opinion, right after I bought the ticket.
When you decide not to read anything about the place you’re going (because you want to "surprise" yourself and go with the flow) you'll get to hear everyone’s fine knowledge of world geography.
The announcement came as quite the shock to my parents, who plan every trip so carefully, knowing exactly when and where the next restroom break will be and how much time to spend there.
So, to make a long story short, these are some of the "fun" stories I’d heard while I was getting ready for the flight.
My friend Nina, a wild spirit indeed, got stuck in a remote village in India in the middle of the night, when the only local bus – that only passed through once a day – drove away with all her stuff while she took a bathroom break. (A very common thing in this fine land, as I was about to find out).
Nina, reluctant to sleep in a muddy field and get eaten by some unknown animal, knocked on the door of one of the locals' huts, who kindly invited her to sleep on the floor with his whole family. Of seventeen souls.
All of that was nothing compared to the stomach ache that turned out to be an intestinal parasite that got her hospitalized after an intensive ten days of traveling back and forth from the bed to the toilet in the guesthouse. Even that experience didn't break her spirit, but when her collar bone broke after a motorcycle ride she thought it might be a good time to end the trip.
I guess I wasn't spooked enough, because I kept going back for more.
My friend Jonny said that when he landed in Delhi, the capital, there was a girl from his flight who wouldn’t stop crying from the moment she stepped out into the city. She was so freaked out by what she saw that she just took a turn right back and caught the next flight home.
Oz and Tom didn’t spare me, either. Telling me how the Indians are fascinated by foreigners and their conversations, sitting way too close to you on the beach/street/market/bus and staring deeply at you while you speak.
My mom added that sunglasses are a requirement. Not for the glare, but to prevent that deep eye contact. And always to be fully dressed, not showing even a tiny bit of skin, to avoid becoming a one-woman petting zoo. My dad emphasized the importance of not talking, drinking, eating or breathing in the street if I didn’t want to end up dead.
Those were some interesting observations considering the fact that my parents had never been to India.
To make matters worse, I just had to read that article about the guy who specialized in bringing back home all the young adventurers who flip out on drugs in India. I could already imagine myself being brought back home in a strait jacket, thinking I'm an orange and trying to peel myself.
On the morning of the flight, I was totally panicking. All of those tales, and all of that advice, were echoing in my head. My parents freaking out as well, and tried to take some of the pressure off by reorganizing my huge backpack. At the moment my mom grabbed the backpack to pour its content out and pack them her way, I remembered that I had put a box of condoms inside.
Luckily, I was still able to function and prevent that awkward moment from happening. (I had a lot more of shameful situations waiting just ahead for me. There is absolutely no need to start on them now).
It was time to go. My parents drove me to the airport. On our way out my father said that I still had time to change my mind, that it was a bad idea, and why would I do this to them?
It reminded me of my eighteenth birthday, when my parents bought me a skydiving lesson as a surprise present. And on the way out to that airfield, my dad had said the exact same thing.
Yes, my parents always know the right thing to say and the right time to say it. And I say that with love.
So there I was, saying goodbye to my horrified parents and waving as I walked to the gate, thinking to myself: ‘No worries, in the worst-case scenario I just land there, cry my eyes out, and turn around to catch the next flight home.’