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RIMI PATI

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 8/15/2016 |





I have had the unique opportunity to travel to many countries across the world. Traveling has broadened my perspective about the world we live in. While we live on a planet with over seven billion very different people, I have found through my travels that outwardly different cultures share quite a few unexpected similarities. Traveling comes in tandem with many travails some of which can be disquieting.  However, they haven’t discouraged me from future travel. I will now disclose some of these travel woes, many of which may be entertaining to the reader.

In the last two decades I have travelled to many exotic locations. Unlike some of my fellow Anglo Saxon travelers prone to angry sunburns I blended fairly well in places like Marrakesh, Morocco. I felt quite at home negotiating the narrow alley ways in the medina. The only transportation inside the souks or Moroccan marketplaces were donkeys. No vehicles were allowed.  They transported goods and carried out trash. Unlike the lordly oxen of Varanasi, these donkeys were hard working animals.  I decided to venture out into the bustling market to buy a Berber carpet. I did not realize how far deep inside the Medina I have been sucked in. Mint teas and colorful carpets kept me glued to the stores. All of a sudden, I panicked when I saw multiple pieces being rolled up and packed for my purchase. Neither Arabic nor French were my strong suit, so I resorted to Hindi to convince the shopkeeper that I had limited cash on hand. Unfortunately for me, the only store exit door was barred with piles of carpet. Sheer panic dried my throat when our tour guide appeared at the door along with one or two other people from the group. Apparently, quite a few of our travel group had to be rescued in a similar fashion. A few years later in Tijuana, Mexico, I remembered that lesson and stayed close to the guide while avoiding alley ways.  

Another destination which haunted me for decades was Venice.  The year was 1988 and I remember being part of a tour group covering Venice, Rome, Naples and Florence. We were warned about the possibility of theft so I kept my bags close to my body at all times. My luck deserted me during the last leg of the trip.   Roma gypsies caught up with me in the lady’s washroom. I was not on guard as I was amongst women.  Once I sat in the bus on our way back to the Venice airport, I realized our Travelers checks and passports were missing. I actually wept, visualizing the harassment I was about to face on our return.  Fortunately, our police report helped us pass through customs. The majestic ruins and the romantic gondola ride of the amazing leaning tower were memories that would be treasured for years. However, that fateful theft kept us away from Italy for years to come.  Moscow was another calamity tale but mostly due to our incomprehension of the Cyrillic script.  Unlike other major world capitals English was not omnipresent in sign posting, neither was the announcement on the subway system clear to us. As a result, we rode past our destination several times. The Russians were easily the least helpful railway employees I had ever encountered. Lack of English made many people reluctant to talk to English speaking tourists. Taxis were few and the drivers appeared to wear a gangster like expression. We were helpless in negotiating fares. We had to fight for a place to sit during our long wait for the flight. For once, we were glad to leave a travel destination when the flight was announced.

Tales of travel travails will be incomplete without mentioning fateful encounters with wild animals. Last summer we were in Yellowstone National Park. This time our party consisted of three couples and two young men. Every travel group has over enthusiastic photographers. Our group was no exception. When she stood right under the moose’s antlers to video him drinking water, we were slightly alarmed. More alarming incidents awaited us. As mud valley approached, bison sightings became frequent. At one point the rangers held up traffic for bison crossing. When our friend decided to get out of the car, we heard the ranger’s angry reprimand: “get back in your car ma’am, right now.” Our photographer friend decided her shoot would be National Geographic worthy. She had planted herself squarely in the path of the bison. Lucky for us, the bison had a tolerant temperament. He brushed past the small car while his enormous girth blackened out the sky. We held our collective breaths and thankfully the moment passed. We often forget that the animal is in his natural habitat, we are intruding with our camera flashes, I-phone cameras and cars. An avid traveler always aims to get a good sense of the place and tries to look within instead of perpetually aiming the camera and capturing every mountain, meadow or sunset. The bison, moose, whales or grizzles never signed up for this constant carnival atmosphere. Yet I frequently hear how much people enjoy playing with the dolphins in Cozumel or feeding the koala in Australia.  Kids often cannot distinguish between cartoon animals and real life ones.  But as adults we surely need to guide them better.

Not all of my travels involve hair raising moments. My latest one to the Caribbean country of Turks and Caicos was tranquil and dreamy from the start. The ocean breeze was balmy and the temperatures remained very manageable even though it was summer. We stayed in the North West Caicos in an island called Providenciales. Ranked the number one beach destination in the world for two years running.  I always to try to experience local cuisine. At Turks and Caicos, we learned Conch was king. The islands had abundant conch harvest and the local industry included conch hatching farms. Fresh conch meat was consumed in salads, soups, tacos, pasta, and of course deep fried and served as fritters.  We attended the local “Fish Fry” event orchestrated by the tourist board which gave the locals and tourists an opportunity to do trade and mingle. Sadly, local arts and crafts were limited by cheap Chinese souvenirs flooding the market. Last, I must mention the tiny island of Little Kays inhabited by birds and iguanas. These tiny dragon-like lizards had developed an unfortunate addiction to Dorito chips. The boatmen lure them with packaged food kept aside from the customer’s lunch so that tourists stay satisfied with guaranteed iguana sighting. Luckily, the colorful fish sighted during deep sea snorkeling needed no artificial baits. Our sailing experience could have ended in major disaster. Luckily, we turned back as dark clouds could be seen in the horizon and the normally calm ocean churned ominously.

When all is said and done, travel travails are minor bumps in the road to exotic adventures and learning and I for one will not let them deter me from future travel opportunities.


[RIMI PATI]

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