To seek out mental exhaustionTo be stranded with nothing but my mind To be shoved completely out of my bubble and to let the one that covers me burst into tears on occasion To see things I read about To have a more enlightened mind and know, from experience, things never to be forgotten To prove I can return alive
Traveling is tough, and those who travel don't always love the loner chapter of the book. At times I hear people say they follow my blog and love to read the stories, some like to think they are experiencing the adventures with me, and others wish they could come along the next time. Some, like my mom, are just proud I'm able to do such things but would never partake in the quests.
The solo traveler lifestyle is a bit of an acquired mindset and may only be at the mercy of one's innate nature. I used to request a seat away from my parents on a flight, stare out the window, eat my peanuts, and imagine what I would do if I were alone. A wild concept, to be without guardians or help, left to tap my own resources and make something happen; my first solo flight to Florida and connection dash across the Atlanta airport gave me a taste of the adrenaline that comes from fending for yourself when no one is around.
During my final Spring Break in college, instead of wearing wet shirts and dancing in strobe, I sat in my basement and schemed. I used a laptop to plot a personal journey around the world, taking the same eastward route of my previous voyage, to see if I could hack it independently. And when my travel agent asked for the dates of each onward flight, I took no arbitrary approach. I counted out the amount of days needed to see the sights, get a feel for things in that country or region…and then doubled it.
To seek out mental exhaustion; I wanted to curse myself for making a trip so lengthy and difficult. To be stranded with nothing but my mind; I anticipated epic novels billowing out of the journey's memories. To be shoved completely out of my bubble; utter vulnerability was the name of the game. Let the bubble that covers me burst into tears on occasion; even though I am an expressionist, I bottle up a lot. This bottle explodes under extreme pressure, like a bottle of Aqua-net in a bonfire. To see things I read about; I'd rather not leave some things up to the imagination. To have a more enlightened mind and know, from experience, things never to be forgotten; it's either my poor reading comprehension gene or my decision to imbibe, but I cannot seem to remember things, unless of course I experience it (Thank you, Confucius). Finally, to prove I can return alive; I wanted to get in touch with the original human purpose: survival.
I'm supposed to be describing Darjeeling, but why the lengthy digression on going solo? It has to do with the need to eat while traveling. It has to do with trying new cuisines and enjoying a leisurely meal in a good ambiance. It has to do with the look of pity across the restaurant, the confusion exhibited and exclusion maintained by other travelers who don't get the weird ones who go alone.
Darjeeling, being an eclectic mix of cultures and a secluded town in the hills, had a fantastic selection of places to break my trend of mediocre food consumption after the stomach woes. I ate fancy-pants grub at a tablecloth joint, had Thai food that hugged me from the inside, and slowly eased back into the difficult tastes of post-body battle Indian dishes. Not one meal ever exceeded $3. Since I became a hermit in the hills to enjoy the serenity of writing and non-hostel culture, I had met no one in town, besides the anxious hotel boys, and normally ate alone. It does not send me into an existential episode when I eat a meal in public by myself; I usually used the time to stare out a window and envision the next thing or read a page of my novel on a Bombay gangster.
As I took a forkful of rice or a gulp of Indian beer, I often saw the glance of pity that all single women hate. A little blonde British woman with a clean French braid, looking past her male travel comrade's head, trying to understand in a split-second why I am so undesirable. Usually, I am too focused or tired to notice, but spending the entire day in a hotel room can make one ultra-sensitive to interactions with humankind.
These moments of misunderstanding don't make me angry but cause me to be stable in myself, sorry for others, feel mysterious to onlookers, and be a keeper of unknowns. I wish I could share with some of these shifty eyes the joys of wandering aimlessly on my own accord, and seldom do I get the chance to do so effectively. Never was I sent away from an inn because they didn't have enough spots open for my whole group, nor did I have to settle for an undesirable location in a compromise with my travel clan. Instead, I settled with whispering to myself while taking a bite or turn a page in my book, "Pansies."
Eating in Darjeeling was not always a big display of my travel situation in seemingly unflattering terms, but at times, I felt downright gangster. People really wonder about your abilities to get around and your strong determination when you hold your own shield and saber, so to speak. Often, less harassment comes your way as a loner because people think you've got a lot more know-how or power than meets the eye. It's like steering clear of the runt or the mute one in a gang...no one wants to question the crazy stuff they did for respect in their world.
Speaking of gangster, my last meal in Darjeeling was the Asian version of a scene from Casino. Walking by a Bhutanese restaurant every day bred much intrigue in what the ambiance would be like and what foods would run down my trap. I hid my massive novel and notebook under my slicker and ran through the kind of rain that only happens when you live inside a cloud.
The seemingly tiny establishment doubled in size with an upper floor, separated into rooms with encircling booth seating and central tables. The walls had a dusty cover of memorabilia often replicated in the corporate chains of Applebee's and Buca di Beppo; the accumulation of real artifacts from the lives of those working in the building: portraits of kings from the Motherland, dated notices on the wall of restaurant policies and sweeping landscapes adorned with pristine monasteries. I sat in a big room by myself, placed my book on the table covered with kitchen linoleum, and gazed out the opened window surrounded by twinkle lights that provided all the lighting in the room. I browsed a menu I was unable to read and mimed for suggestions from the one careful man who waited on me with complete attention. His folding of my napkins in a jazzy manner was laudable and his water refill intervals worthy of a standing ovation. I was taken care of.
The rain dripped slowly. The water trickled down the mountainside in a sweet delivery of ambiance. It was mountaintop gangster.