This page will include travels in all ways – some physical and some not. The second ”travel tale” relates to a dream for example.
India ~ #1 Magical Mystery Tour (a haibun)
Early one March morning I step from my door into a chill spring day. Flocks of birds are gathering, swooping and swirling in hieroglyphs overhead. I lock the front door, adjusted the bag on my shoulder, wave to a neighbour and stroll through the well known streets to the station. The smell of strong coffee hangs in the air. This walk leads to India.
bright morning so clear
new day, new way, a journey
i walk with no maps
The train takes me onward to board a plane on a long-haul flight. Beyond the Black Sea I am crossing a desert at night. It all looks so empty down there below. It stretches for miles and miles with barely a light to shine out. The hostess hands out peanuts and warm damp facecloths as the Germans and Afghans start to argue in the seats behind me. They can’t agree on a price for porn. By the time the flight circles across the ocean to avoid Pakistan, it’s a fight.
a patient woman
dividing warring nations
just part of her job
i see only stars
a dark sea moves beneath us
i await the peace
At last I see India spread out beneath us, a planet of coloured lights. Pink, gold, green, red and blue lights in circles, stars and winding snakes wink up from rooftops and roadways. It’s a magical sight in the black velvet night. The plane sinks slowly lower and lower. I see palaces, rail tracks and slums as the heat rises to meet us.
city of beauty
brave delusions, illusions,
mandalas of light
Leaving the plane we enter an underground concrete hall, a subterranean world of passports and guards. At the airport exit at last, surrounded, encircled by a throng of staring faces and out-stretched arms, I smell the thick blue smoke of burning oil mixed with incense. A thousand taxi drivers want my fare to Delhi. I deliberately choose the worst car. I have my reasons. We bounce along over pot holes into the back streets and empty markets of Paharganj, near the train station, where I wake a porter in a cheap hotel and find a welcome bed for the rest of the night.
asleep to strange sounds
i am flying and falling
starlight into dust
I wake to the cooing of pigeons outside my window and the blaring of truck horns in the streets. I look out onto rooftops full of colourful washing, carpets spread over walls and women crouching,cooking. A secretive cat slinks past. I go out into the day of the crowded market, seeking breakfast and find an elephant. I have never met an elephant face to face in a street before. It’s ears are painted in patterns of pink and yellow. The man who rides it tells me to give the elephant a coin in the flat palm of my hand. The elephant gently takes the coin and passes it up to the man. I buy the elephant a banana and pass that too. The elephant eats it, gives me a long serious look and moves on.
the elephants trunk
three tender probing fingers
in a grey skin glove
I wander on into the bustling city. The traffic fumes, the scents of spices and the noise besiege all my senses. I pause at a second hand bookshop and buy poetry. I see children living in gutters beside street stalls festooned with flowers. I pass out coins and gather a crowd. Too surrounded I have to hurry away. I am bewildered. When dusk falls I find a tea stall by a temple away from the noise. I share tea with a sadhu and a peaceful white cow. The cow has kohl outlining its gentle brown eyes and a necklace of marigolds with a tinkling bell. I become lost in its eyes. It is as if we had met before in some other time and place. The crescent moon hovers above the temple.
my doorstep one day
now far away from my home
the journey begins
India ~ #2
This is in the form of a poem but is in fact a travel tale from a trip to India and the white cow is an image i have never forgotten – the events described are real – and when i say the cow bowed i do mean that – the sadhu walked away having bowed and the cow gave me a last quiet look and bowed its head before turning to follow after the sadhu ……
The White Cow
the palace of gold and blue
stood high above on the hill
shimmering in heat like a mirage
the chatter of monkeys was shrill
in the river below elephants bathed
later that evening, so clearly recalled now,
as the sun dipped down in a pink haze
we saw a sadhu with a white cow
we followed to a tea stall
by the steps of an old temple
the cow so beautiful, gentle
its eyes lined with khol
wore a garland of marigold and a bell
that rang softly as it gazed at me
reaching my heart and casting a spell
on the temple steps we sat
slowly sipping hot tea
beneath a sickle moon and one bright star
we spoke in quiet voices
until the man and the cow both bowed and walked on
i see that cow as clearly years later
as if it was but a moment ago
i listened to the sadhu’s every word
it was the white cow i heard
it spoke only of acceptance and love
Having seen a phrase about a mountain path beset with tigers I recalled a dream I had in which my dream horse (a frequent visitor) was unusually allowing me to guide and choose our path (usually I just go where I am taken) and I began to ascend a very steep mountain track and my horse began to struggle but yet still obeyed me until I felt ashamed of the damage I was doing to the horse so I stopped and apologised. My horse immediately forgave me and turned to pastures and galloped to the sea. I took this dream to mean that if we ‘’go with the flow’’, that is Awen, we learn far more than by forcing our own view and decisions upon our life and the way – the sea is not high like a mountain (where perhaps I had foolishly wanted to ‘dominate the peak and look down on all’) but it is a symbol at the very least of the source of life and it ‘’goes with the flow’’, and the moon.
I have also written a poem about a year ago about encountering a dragon in a steep place and the Tower (interspersed with some comments from ordinary daily life when my dreaming is not looked upon favourably by others). All I longed for was peace by the river (with my muse) in the realm of imagination and the natural flow of the path. Obstacles can be overcome with some determination but most of all with imagination.
Escape from the Tower
Climbing the mountain, trying to reach the tower
Confronted by a dragon, endlessly asking me riddles,
While a great storm gathers all about us
Thunderbolts roar, lightning reflects on my shield
(“What do you do in that room all the time?
What are you thinking about?’’
I stop and get the food
And gather the rubbish that needs to go out)
I am losing my footing on the slippery rocks.
The dragon flashes his eyes with desire
I have to succeed, cannot be overpowered,
I call on the rain to quench his fire
(“Always off in imagination,
What’s wrong with you?
You spend hours on that
And it’s not even true’’)
I answer the final riddle, the dragon steps aside.
My way no longer barred, I struggle on up the mountain.
The tower reaches up to the clouds
Eagles circle above, come to help me in my troubles
(“I know you have talent?
Why don’t you use it?’’
“I work too!’’ i say
“You could work more!’’ says she)
The eagle carries me up to the princess, we hover.
She reaches out to me. I swing her onto the eagles back.
My arm circles her waist, her hair flies in my face.
She leans back on me in relief.
(“You always were some other place,
Even as a child. No different now than ever.
Why can’t you just be normal,
And stay in reality?’’)
We circle together above the now sunlit valleys
Looking down from above, we avoid all the cities and castles
And land in a summer meadow by a singing stream
She adorns herself with flowers, I dream
Here is an example of the funny way the mind sometimes has of leaping from one place to another. I stopped writing just now, for just a moment to make a cup of tea, and just as I sat back down the very first image that popped into my head was a morning about five years ago and, going out one Sunday morning to get some milk from the nearby shop, I saw flowers laid out on the pavement at the corner. A young man had inexplicably driven his car off the road, over the pavement and into a brick wall and was killed. He wasn’t drunk, there was nothing wrong with the brakes or the steering and, according to the local paper later in the week he wasn’t suicidal. But he was dead. This sudden memory has absolutely nothing to do with what I am writing about. I wasn’t thinking about cars, death, young men or flowers while I was making my cup of tea. Maybe in a couple of years I might suddenly realise that having this thought at this moment was very significant indeed but right now I don’t think there is any connection at all. It might be good to know.
On my first visit to Morocco I wanted to buy a chicken for a dinner for friends.When I asked for advice on where to buy one I was asked,
”You would like a white one or a brown one?”
I said ”Oh just a fresh one, not a frozen one”
So I was taken to a shop where the chickens were so fresh they were still alive. They sat comfortably in fairly spacious cages lining the walls of the little shop. The man sold nothing but chickens.
I said to my guide, ”I don’t want a live chicken. It’s for dinner”
He said ”Choose one. The man will kill it”
I had qualms about this but resolved that, if I wanted to eat it, it was rather hypocritical not to see it killed. So I just said, ”Any chicken” because I still didn’t want to issue the death sentence and prefered to leave that to fate.
I also decided that I would not look away.
The man went calmly and caressingly, peacefully selected a chicken and held it under his arm like an embrace, speaking to it all the time. The chicken remained calm. In a rapid gesture the man cleanly slit its throat. No squawking. No fuss. That was that.
When I went home to the UK I told my friends about this. Most of them expressed revulsion despite my careful description of the event and its humane nature.
Now – I ask you to stop and think.
Malaga to Melilla
Sophie and Charlie travelled from Malaga to Melilla on a boat full of Spanish soldiers returning to their postings in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on African soil. Travelling too was a crazy Australian boy, Carl, who, with nothing but a supply of chewing gum, for trade he said, a battered and completely out of date ‘Africa on a Shoestring’ and a spare jersey, was intending to hitchhike through Morocco into Mali and visit Timbuktu. He had allocated himself three months for a round trip. He had worked in London for two years and saved up for the time off but, despite this, had extremely little money. He seemed to think his plans quite unexceptional and easily achievable. Sophie thought he was an optimistic and very adventurous young man and probably very mistaken in his plans.
Charlie and Sophie weren’t carrying much themselves, the main burden of their possession being his guitar and her mandolin, which they had agreed they had to bring. They always found that, when travelling, music opened doors and made strangers friendly. It also passed the time when there was a transport delay. Sophie had not travelled outside her own country before but Charlie knew that music broke all language barriers. He had been just about everywhere and had chosen Morocco as Sophie’s first step out into the wider world because it was quite familiar to him, he had been there with his wife before, and he knew Sophie would be completely knocked out by what she was about to experience. Sophie loved Islamic design and he knew she was about to see more of that than she could ever imagine in one place.
Dolphins leapt and dived beside the boat, shining silver in the sunlight as Charlie and Sophie shared the bread and churizo and olives they had bought in the market that morning. Sophie felt as if she was in a dream but one more intense than she would have been capable of imagining. The brightness of the light was intense.
The Australian boy made Sophie and Charlie feel older and wiser. Sophie was glad he made her feel wiser and not dull and boring too, as he might have done a few years before. Carl had met up with a young man from Senegal, called Gad, who didn’t speak English or French or any other European language, so they didn’t speak to each other at all, just signalled, as if across a wide space.
Gad walked bent half over because he carried a big, heavy kit bag full of jeans and other things to trade and didn’t want to let it out of his sight for a second. Gad clearly didn’t trust anyone much, certainly not Moroccans, and looked very disapproving when he saw Charlie and Sophie chatting with a Moroccan man as the boat, beneath a full moon, drew near Africa.
The Moroccan was returning home from Spain and said he went to Spain to trade in leather. Charlie had his doubts about the trade being in leather, but maybe unjustly. If he was doing anything illegal it didn’t seem to be profiting him much. The Moroccan was not happy with the way Spanish people dealt with him and was taking advantage of the time on the boat to drown his sorrows. He was drunk. Sophie was a little surprised at this. She thought Muslims didn’t drink and that maybe it was even illegal for them.
Sophie shared Gad’s distrust to some degree, enough to keep a very close eye on the zipped up pockets of her brand new rucksack, but it was the soldiers who made her most nervous because they we carrying guns. Everyone and everything was unknown to Sophie, except Charlie, and she thought it best to exercise a little caution, at least until she had a better measure of where she was and where she was going. Charlie always seemed just a little too casual about safety and Sophie was not entirely sure if he would notice straight away if something was starting to go wrong so she always kept an eye open for both of them. Sophie felt safe knowing that if she pointed out a problem Charlie would know what to do about it. Charlie had no shortage of courage.
Charlie said that the Australian boy reminded him of his younger self when, years before, he had dropped out from his studies and, infuriating and disappointing his parents, taken to the road. He felt some nostalgic affection for the boy’s almost maverick attitude to life and his innocent presumption that he would get to his destination in one piece and to schedule, simply because he had named it. Sophie thought that if the boy didn’t reach his destination, and that seemed very likely, it would not matter because he was sure to get somewhere and that hopefully it would in some way be the right place for him to be. He said he just wanted to find a really peaceful place.
Looking out across the water, in the full moonlight, seeing the first hills of Africa draw near Sophie kept saying to herself over and over again,
‘That’s Africa, and this is me standing here, and I am looking at Africa. Between Africa and me there is nothing but a short stretch of water and some air. It’s real and it’s Africa. This is really happening to me. I have to fix this moment in my mind forever.’
Sophie’s heart expanded with every wave and swell that bought them closer to the shore. She had a strong sensation of the space between Africa and her own front door and the fact that she had made a direct connection between them. The journey had begun only the morning before when she stepped out of her front door and walked to the train station and now she was on a boat miles from home. She could hardly believe what had been given to her and her heart was swelling with love and gratitude for life. She was going to step off this boat onto an different continent, a huge, hot, unknown, and entirely other continent.
Charlie and Sophie avoided, with some difficulty and an abundance of cautious mistrust, the persistent hustlers at the quay and found a cheap hotel for the night, Carl and Gad following them, suddenly startled like uncertain children in the dark. Sophie felt, in contrast, that she knew exactly what she was doing.
In the morning, there was no sign of Carl or Gad and Charlie and Sophie headed for the bus to the Moroccan border without them.
Sophie was really excited now. Melilla still had the style and atmosphere of Spain but now they were leaving that behind and crossing the Moroccan border, a muddy section of street with a few ugly huts on either side. They walked past the passport office by mistake because they thought it was a toilet block and were directed back to it when they reached the Moroccan barrier without their passports stamped.
The official in the office was relaxed and friendly and stamped their passports whilst joking and flirting with Sophie. Seeing by the passports that they were not married the man told Charlie that he should marry Sophie before he lost her because he could see she was a good woman and Charlie said that he maybe would but he’d have to divorce his wife first.
“Ah yes, this is one of the sad things about Europe. Too much divorce. Bring him to live here,” he smiled at Sophie, “Then he can have two wives. He must treat you like a lady”.
“Maybe I’m not a lady,” Sophie joked.
“Yes you are lady. In this country all women are ladies,” he said smiling.
Sophie found this first English conversation with a Moroccan man, full of smiles and joking, reassuring. It was a good start and took away some of her fear.
Sophie’s head was constantly full of questions. Of course she wanted to go to Marrakech and Charlie had promised to take her there later but first he wanted to see Fes. Charlie had never been to Fes before but had come across a book that described the city as one of the wonders of the world, a place full of the most skilled artisans, locked in the past. He also wondered about travelling on to Essouiera, but had been there with his wife and children years ago and was not sure that, once there, he might not find himself overtaken by nostalgia and distracted by the memory of his wife. He said that it might not be fair to take Sophie there, although he very much wanted to see it again and knew that she would love it.
But of all travels, Eire was the best! Full of music and friendly people! Green and beautiful; trees, stone, moss, donkeys, shrines, high hills, rivers and lakes reflecting the sky and long quiet roads. Of all the places, I would choose to go back there and would wish never to leave again.