The conditions were perfect: you’d gone to bed at 10pm, only to awaken every ninety minutes with gastric discomfort. It wasn’t unusual. Since the moment you set foot in Nepal, your guts have been on the fritz. At 2:30am, you were awakened by the deep, persistent churning of your bowels; you slipped your bare feet into your enormous boots and tramped down the hall of your guest house to take care of business.
No big deal. Only you couldn’t get back to sleep. Not at all. You lay there patiently in the dark for one hour and finally gave up. Grabbed your laptop and decided to make good use of the wifi when no one else was awake to share the bandwidth.
You talked on Facebook, sent some email, played around on OKCupid just for shits and giggles (the goal being to set up some interesting coffee dates in advance, so you could have some “conversational adventure” when you would eventually return to San Francisco). The minutes clicked by with laborious tedium. By 6am you were cold and hungry, but nothing was open. You walked the streets of Kathmandu’s Thamel district, desperate for a coffee. The only place semi-open still had no power, so no way to make an espresso. You gave up on the coffee dream and continued to walk. You shook your head at the rickshaw drivers and the egg roll carts. You bumped into a few Americans you’d met days before—they were out for a morning jog and invited you to come. You declined, since you were barely functioning above zombie status.
By 8am, coffee was available. You read A Short History of Islam by Karen Anderson for one hour before venturing back to your room to see if Maeva was awake. She was not. You got back in bed with a racing heart beat—caffeine plus six flights of stairs plus diarrhea and mild dehydration is never a nice combination.
“I’m really feeling pretty tired today,” you muttered to Maeva after her half-hour of cursing the hotel just after rousing. No hot water. No electricity. A noisy club outside your window. A generator that runs from 9 to 11pm every night. “I need an easy day.”
Hint #1 – You begin to get sick towards the end of the trip.
It wasn’t that the other days had been hard (if you excuse the nine hour bus ride for a mere one hundred kilometers two days before—the worst traffic you’ve seen in your life). It was that you were still unwell. The tummy troubles were excusable. But the feeling of being on the brink of a sore throat all of the time, wasn’t so cool. And then there was the pseudo ear infection: the pressure near your temples, the popping, yet no congestion at all. You swallowed Vitamin C, did your best to eat vegetable dishes for nutrition, stayed warm, tried to sleep adequately and walk in the sunshine as often as possible.
Later in the morning, Maeva ordered a chai, and you sat doubled over on a sticky bench, feet sliding in chicken shit under the table. Your guts—God, they were a mess. Chai didn’t go down well. Neither did the bunch of bananas you forced yourself to eat.
Hint #2 – You state often how tired you are.
“I am so tired,” you kept saying. It was a plea for Maeva not to encourage a day trip out of the city. You wanted just to rest a bit, even though lying around the room was boring.
You were not just physically tired, but mentally tired. When you’d met that group of Americans and told them you’d been floating for eighteen months and had been to like.. god… something like eighteen countries, you finished with, “I’m very tired. I’m going to Malaysia in a week. I will travel there for a few more, and then I’m going home.” You were counting down the days. You’d been counting since you bought the ticket to Malaysia for $212 before your Base Camp trek.
But you hadn’t been counting the days for Malaysia. You’d been counting for home.
Hint #3 – You get angry when time doesn’t pass fast enough.
As if a week in Kathmandu wasn’t insufferable enough! What could you do? Just wander the streets every day and look at all the things you wanted to buy but couldn’t because of the strain of shipping/transporting it? You dreamed feverishly of bringing home sacks of tea and spices, soaps, balms, and more. But you couldn’t, because you were not at the end of your trip. Your trip was far from over.
Hint #4 – Shopping feels more therapeutic than usual.
Sure, gifts for friends can come out of a totally different budget. It’s not exactly travel-related for you. But gifts for yourself became an issue. These pants, that shirt, those books. You had stopped shopping for travel needs; you were shopping for the needs of your future life.
Hint #5 – When the batteries are recharged and you still think about home, it’s a good indication to go.
You’d been saying that when the travel batteries are low, you must be careful. Making decisions when tired is never a good idea. Get some good deep rest, sunshine, good food, and then tackle your problems. You’ve noticed on your trip that when the travel batteries are low, you think obsessively about home. But once recharged, you are usually excited for travel again. But recently, even when rested, excitement for home prevails.
That’s when it’s time to go home. Truth. You had begun to resent the calendar. You had begun to resent Malaysia as a barrier to home. As though it stood in your way as a necessity. An arbitrary one, for sure. But you had a ticket! You have to go! You bought the ticket!
“I can’t stop obsessing over the idea of scrapping the entire Malaysia trip and just going home,” you said over lunch. Maeva encouraged this. She had, in fact, been encouraging you to not go to southeast Asia for weeks. You both had known that you didn’t have the energy for it, and yet you’d stubbornly decided to book the trip anyway.
Maeva smoked her post-lunch cigarette and you jiggled in your seat, anxious to rush back to the hotel and jump online for a looksee.
Hint #6 – You stop giving a shit about tickets.
It’s really only happened in college when you were so manically desperate for escape that you would pay one hundred bucks to change your ticket to leave just to leave campus one day earlier. On the way home, you secretly hoped that a ticket to SFO would be outrageously pricey so last-minute, thereby excusing you of any responsibility for decision-making. An expensive ticket would simply make you bite the bullet and go on traveling.
But it wasn’t. That damn ticket was ten bucks cheaper than a ticket from Malaysia to SFO.
That’s when you started to cry. Stupidly. Pathetically. You ran back to your room, brandishing the laptop.
Maeva asked, “What’s wrong? Expensive?”
“No. It’s cheaper!” you whined and thrust the laptop into her hands.
“Well why the hell are you crying?”
“I don’t know!” Silly, but you felt like some kind of travel failure. You knew that your impulse was guided by tummy troubles and a lack of sleep. “This is a terrible time to be making this kind of decision.”
But was it? Or just what pushed you over the edge? Had you not been regularly advancing the date of your return? End of April? Mid-April? End of March? Had you not been secretly consulting Katie’s friends to organize your surprise visit?
You had. Going home, on all accounts, seemed more desirable than continued travel. You bought the ticket. And oddly felt no relief.
Instead of immediately feeling that you’d made the right decision, you felt nothing. You set down the laptop and slid your butt down to the floor. Stared at the bits and pieces of food, sticks, lint, paper and everything else that littered your guest house room floor–tried to find some meaning in them.
Maeva told you it was the right decision. Austerely, sternly. With a “no room for bullshit” expression you so often wear yourself.
You have often wondered about Maeva. Even after six months of being bonded at the hip, she can still leave you wondering. You once asked her, “Do you think you understand me?”
She said, as she should have, “No. I think I know a lot about you, but I still don’t fully understand you. You surprise me sometimes.”
You feel the same way about Maeva. For starters, she never cries. And perhaps you surprise her constantly with your choices in matters you determine worth crying about: like cheap airline tickets, frustrating yoga teachers that judo chop you in the neck, teeny amorous Indian men.
And what does Maeva cry about? Nothing. Ever. She’s too damn tough.
It took a few days for the reality to settle. And then you were shopping like a banshee. Bought kilos and kilos worth of shit: teas, spices, pashminas, soaps, and more. All the things that made this part of the world a famous trade destination in the first place. You totally get it–the intoxicating allure. Things began looking up, but you couldn’t bask in any real feelings of relief.
Probably because you were still pooing liquid three dimes a day and felt like a colony of hamsters was running a marathon through your guts. It really sucks the life out of you. Food no longer looks good, tastes good, smells good. You eat, and then you double over with stomach cramp. Then you get dizzy. Then you scamper to the toilet–which is usually a stinky closet with no light and about 3 ounces of water left in a plastic scum-stained pitcher.
Two days before your departure, you hit rock bottom. It was a day that began with a breakfast ruined by a brass band playing three feet next to your ear outside the window, stomach troubles, an hour-long traffic jam, an outrageously priced entrance fee, weakness and fatigue that left you incapacitated on a stone pathway near a fancy restaurant. The restaurant manager entreated to to please go about your dying around this corner, in the sun, and out of sight. When Maeva resurfaced from the museum you had to skip, you told her, “I think this is what it feels like to die.” You had energy only to lie still, stare at your dehydrated limbs and wonder if you are anemic, jaundiced, or some other off-color ailment.
Back on the bus. Then to your restaurant for dinner. And then… that fucking brass band returned! You wanted to stand up, throw a stool at them. No. You want God to damn every person who has ever considered taking up the trumpet. Was life playing a cruel joke?Why were you being followed by fucking trumpets?!
Then, back in the room, you were too exhausted to do much of anything. Some crappy yoga. Some mindless journal reading. You could just feel your nerves were raw. Your tampon was overflowing. And dear God, you were so thirsty! The beginnings of that sore throat were still there. needed to buy some water. Needed to check the price of tampons… so many imperatives!
Then you smeared your last clothes in grease when you skated by a metal gate. You flipped out at a poor young man who asked you which country you were from. “I don’t want to have this fucking conversation! I’m tired! I’m covered in grease from your gate. I have to answer that fucking question fifty times a day! Enough!”
And the shocked boy said, “Why you angry me?”
You were overrun with guilt. Burst into tears. Maeva assumed you’ve had some kind of death in the family. No.
You were just. Throwing. A. Temper. Tantrum.
Good thing you had a ticket home.