Going on exchange is good for a whole host of reasons, including the significant amount of free time you find yourself confronted with. Being an avid tripper and having chosen to study in Holland (for obvious reasons) it seemed only natural to combine their readily available hallucinogens with a spot of sightseeing.
So there we were: my ever-keen friend Redbeard and I, chewing a handful of psychedelic truffles (White Diamonds – for the experienced tripper) as the bus left Tilburg. Our destination was Efteling: a fairytale inspired theme park nestled amid the green pastures of southern Holland. Notoriously zany, it seemed like the perfect place to combine the euphoria and other-worldliness of truffles with all the adrenaline of roller coasters.
A little feature I wrote for Lostravellers and their new (flash as) relaunch. Check out the original here.
As anyone who has travelled will no doubt recount, the nomadic life has an addictive quality. It is hard to pin a specific reason for this down. Is it the freedom of a transient existence, the lack of responsibility and obligation? Or is it simply the stimulation that derives from plonking yourself right outside your comfort zone and being forced to make do? After all we all like to get a bit on the lash, and everyone feels some sense of triumph at an adversary overcome.
While undeniable that these reasons contain some kernel of truth, is it possible that the spark that fuels the fire is more basal than mere escapism or endurance? While by no means a definitive answer I want to suggest here that it is creativity, or the act of being inspired, that drives the need to continue exploring.
I’ve been away from Holland for just over three months now, and life on the road doesn’t lend itself well to regular updates, hence the gapping chasm since my last post. Pretty useless I know, but hey, what would Jesus do? He wouldn’t even know how to use a computer, probably.
I still have nearly two months to go so expect plenty of yarns to come. Next stop is the magical sub-continent of India, which segues nicely into a little explanation on the origins of my current moniker..
The word ‘wanyasi’ is derived from the Sanskrit Saṃnyāsa, pronounced ‘sanyasi’ in the Dravidian languages. Literally translated ‘sanyasi’ means “renunciation” or “abandonment” and is a life stage in Hinduism where the individual forgoes all material possessions and dedicates their life to spiritual pursuits.
Our first morning in Prague had been a struggle, albeit one of our own making. But we were determined to make the most out of our 800 koruna donation to the Prague Municipality Office and so headed out again to brave the aged concrete of this former Soviet state.
Fortunately we were no longer unaided, with an old workmate agreeing to show us some of the city’s less touristed spots. It had been a while since I last saw Erza, a slew of unpaid parking fines and a drink driving conviction ensuring that it will be a while before he returns to New Zealand, if ever.
But the recognition was instant and we were soon headed in the direction of the old town. Erza and his friend explained that they wanted to take us to a place where you can smoke; Erza obviously remembering a few post-work sessions in the car park behind the bar and the big doobies of summer days in Western Park.
But the shop was shut and we opted for dinner instead, willingly led into the depths of a cosy pub and its smog of cigarette smoke. I copied Erza and ordered the local stew, quaffs of Pilsner Urquell perfect for washing down the hearty dumplings that came with the meal.
Our first day in Prague started bright and full of promise. We had arrived late the previous evening and gone through the now-standard routine of figuring out public transport and the local currency, shuffling through an ever-dwindling wad of euros at the bureau de change.
“How much much money you reckon we’ll need?”
The smartphone proved invaluable again and we followed its advice to a hostel that turned out to be considerably more pricey than promised. Glad to have a home base we agreed to the extortion (why does it always feel like you are getting ripped off when you arrive somewhere new?) and wandered up the hill for a bite.
In Berlin we had largely avoided paying for the S-Bahn and had consequently developed the dangerous belief that no-one really checked public transport this far east. This assumption was affirmed by a free ride home after yet another Italian dinner in a country that wasn’t Italy. Local culture, like.
It felt like I had got off in the wrong town. It was quarter past eight on a Wednesday morning and the parking lot outside Utrecht Centraal was eerily quiet. The air was cold and grey snow huddled in the corners, seeking refuge from a brisk wind.
Perhaps it was the wintery conditions, or the fact that the station was undergoing some large-scale reconstruction, but this certainly wasn’t the Holland I had been expecting. Where were the tulips, the canals, the historical buildings?
Winter is a bleak time anywhere, and first impressions can be hard to shake.
My arrival in London heralded a number of changes. Tuk-tuks and tramadol were swapped for the tube and pints of warm larger; bottled water and roadside pad thai traded for solid English fare and drinking the shower water. The Asian humidity gave way to crisp English wind and I braved it alone, the solidarity of good friends exchanged for the independence of flying solo.
Heathrow was quieter than I expected and customs was thankfully uneventful. I lugged my pack down to the tube, following in the footsteps of a million antipodeans before me. I had directions to my cousin’s house: take the Piccadily Underground to South Kensington, get a bus from the road to Clapham Junction (345 or 49), head up the hill past the KFC and the big ASDA supermarket then take the first left.
Piece of cake, right?
On the tube I lose my ticket. A forgiving employee lets me out; his brief chastisement is far preferable to the cost of another ride. Once I find the right stop the bus is straightforward and it isn’t long before I am hesitantly knocking on the door of a bricked Lavender Hill flat.
The remainder of our time in Pai slips by under a warm haze of Tramadol and weed. The weather is stunning, and we laze by the pool, reading and napping the days away.
We scooter out to some underwhelming hot springs and laugh at the signs forbidding you from cooking eggs in them. Later we discover the pool where you CAN cook your eggs, and it is a curious scene indeed. You emerge from forest into a small clearing and are confronted with half a dozen Thai tourists. They crowd around the steaming pool, cooking eggs suspended in plastic bags that swing from the end of bamboo rods. We laugh some more, and photo bomb the chefs standing proudly with their cooked lunch.
Brother Fox and I go for an excellent walk into the mountain jungle and follow a river upstream for several hours. The forest is lush, and different enough from the nature back home that we constantly find ourselves pausing to admire a different mushroom or strange plant. Our lazy pace fits perfectly with our mental space and we yarn contentedly, reaching the rewarding depth of conversation that comes easily to kindred souls.
Perhaps it’s that phantom Catholic guilt, dragging me over the coals for such careless spending, or some internalised Freudian wet blanket telling me I shouldn’t enjoy myself this much. But over the last few weeks I have had a suspicion, well founded I might add, that I am being incredibly indulgent. Indulgent in choosing to come on an exchange to the far side of the world, indulgent for the travel I am fitting around (read, over) a relaxed uni schedule, indulgent for indulging in thoughts of an eternity of being this free from obligation.
So I want to build on the theme of an earlier post, and try to unpack in greater detail the logic behind taking time off.
It is easy to feel trapped in a particular schedule, with historical expectations shaping our lives. Is it perhaps time to reconsider these expectations?
The days in Bangkok blur into a stream of memories. The final assembly of the gang was completed late on Christmas Day, and was followed by a swift yet prolonged dose of beer and banter, the heat and infamous strength of Chang nearly my undoing as we roamed the late night wasteland of Khao San.
For the uninitiated, Khao San road is a short strip of concrete pavement in Central Bangkok that bustles with the trade of a thousand backpackers and the hawkers who cater to them. It is a monument to the success of the banana pancake trail, and a temple to the potent buckets of red bull and vodka that fuel its worshipers. Crowded with stalls of fake Ray Bans and tourist t-shirts in the day, it later transforms into a motley collection of bars and clubs that continue on to the wee small hours. The street hums with the raking noise of the frog toys pushed by a tireless coven of Thai women and a roadside wok sizzles as another order of pad thai is fried up for the masses.