It’s OK to be not OK

I’ve just read a blog post on the fact that “feeling those feels” is OK. It was about a girl in Nicaragua who had to sleep with rats, got bitten by 68 mosquitos on her calf alone, developed a full body chlorine reaction and then got stung by jelly fish. It was a lovely piece but all I could think was “I’ve got nothing to complain about by comparison”.

And then I read another, entitled “it’s OK not to be OK”. And the message finally sank in. Again.

There have been times in the last few weeks where I’ve felt that I’m just not built to live in the world. There are times I find the simplest things a trial. Repeatedly I rail, wasting precious energy, against the most unchangeable rules. I rage at the world for being what it is and at the same time I rage at myself for being what I am. I pass through a cycle of ever increasing speed, between happiness and wild despair. And each time I feel more despair at the despair I’m feeling. Where has my acceptance gone? Why am I not OK when I should be?


Enjoying a day dream moment in a tea shop, Fort Kochi

It’s an old and familiar place I revisit, one I thought I’d kicked into touch a long time ago. And so each time I go back there, I can further level a lack of progress against myself. The good news is that recognising I’m in it is part of coming out of it. So the fact that I see it somewhat clearly now bodes well. But it’s safe to say that we’re both finding things difficult without our bikes. And it’s also safe to say that we’ve been pushing on through thinking it’ll get better. Instead of accepting that it’s OK to not be OK with it. India was only ever an over-winter solution and a chance to get to MTM2016 and make the most of our remaining visa. And whilst we’d both hoped that we might carry on into South East Asia from here as backpackers, we’re now both clear that we are firmly in the motorcycle traveller camp not the backpacker camp.

For those of you reading this who’ve never ridden a motorbike, you may well wonder what the difference is. Basically, what it comes down to is this: the difference between the two, for us, is our happiness.

Overland Purgatory

“I think you need to read your posts from a month or two ago” Says Adi sat next to me at Motostore & Café in Bangalore. “I’m being serious, you guys are the reason I’m not worried about planning anymore and I overthink everything! Having you turn up here without your bikes completely changed my ideas about how things need to be done” He might have a point. We’re in serious need of a perspective check.

We’ve not moved in a long time and now we’re facing facts that the bikes we’d so hoped for will not materialise in a timeframe that’s useful. The walls are beginning to close in. It feels as if our independence has been stripped. And we’ve wasted time we could have used to be moving, waiting desperately for one of the lines we cast to come up trumps. But all avenues pursued have finally dried up. In the end we had to put a stop to it or risk waiting around forever. The well-meaning offers kept coming in until the last but it was always a case of one more day, wait until we hear tomorrow. The tomorrows stretched out into weeks and once again, we ran out of time. Sometimes, it feels like time has been the only thing we have lacked on this journey. We’re grateful for the efforts of our friends but it seems the world has other plans for us. As obvious as this has become, it’s taking a while for our heads to get into this groove.


large groups of tourists on Fort Kochi beach

Meanwhile, the feelings of being trapped increase. We can’t explore as we’d like to and it’s hard to escape. Everything that’s difficult about India – about being in any foreign system and trying to get daily mundane things done – is beginning to get blown out of all proportion. A simple task like shipping our motorcycle gear back to free up bag space, becomes an epic task that drags on still. We book a flight and set an itinerary to make the most of the remaining 7 weeks on our visa and try to give us something to look to. But it’s too little, too late to stop the black dog prowling around for the slightest opening. We know we’ve overstayed but there’s nothing we can do about it until our plane leaves in a few days.

Illness

And then I came down with the flu, a proper dose that ties me to bed. The Bangalore air exacerbates the congestion and sleep deprivation tears my mental strength to shreds. We had planned to head out to Wayanad, with Poornima and Binil at their kind invitation to spend some time together. Most likely, it would have been a tonic and we were looking forward to it. But that has to be cancelled now. Whilst it promises to be a relaxing weekend, I can’t take the risk of pushing myself too far with travel so close on the horizon. I slump deeper into the doldrums.

I wake at 5am, despite extreme exhaustion, my head whizzing along at 100 mph, making a mountain of every conceivable molehill it could latch itself onto. Projecting into the future and portending doom with a certainty that is no more real than the dreams I wake from. Paranoia, the like of which I’ve not experienced in years, pins me breathless to the wall. Despite knowing it for the charlatan it is, its clutches on me don’t flinch in the slightest. I just want to move.

I know it will pass. But, as ever, this knowledge makes the here and now no less bearable. I am too sick even to distract myself from it.

—-


The beach at Fort Kochi, a working beach lined with stalls selling fish or tourism paraphernalia

Short-lived respite

We finally hit the road again in the wee small hours to the airport and all goes smoothly. We’re moving again. Whilst it’s not in the manner we would like, it is something and I feel alive with it. When I’m stagnating and static I’m beguiled into thinking I can’t, rather than believing that I can. But when we’re in it and moving we bat away the problems as they arise, one by one almost effortlessly. The world and the experience restores our faith in the process and in ourselves.

We check in to our homestay in Fort Kochi and head out to meet a friend – another traveller from MTM – and his brother for a beer. A pleasant couple of hours spent with easy company before we part in search of food. I sleep long and easy. Hopes high for the future.


The quaint streets have a lot of charm in the town if you can hit them in a quiet time

Tourist Town

But the following day I sink back down again. Fort Kochi is a tourist town more populated by western visitors than by locals it seems. We can find next to no local food and all the little pleasures and interactions of sinking into Indian culture that had made any hardship here worthwhile are lost in one fell swoop. We didn’t come to this place to be backpackers but we had accepted it. Now we’re tourists too and it’s a step too far. If we could only explore beyond what we’ve seen we could no doubt find something we enjoyed but we’re stuck on foot. I ask our host what the locals do, where they eat but he just shrugs and says they all work several kilometres away.

At every turn there’s an auto driver or a shop keeper trying to sell us something. They use a clever mix of guilt, politeness and pushiness that batters at my already weak defences. We need to be constantly vigilant against being overcharged and my suspicions runs high constantly. It’s exhausting. We both yearn for our tent, our stove and our wheels. To be free just to move on from this place, just down the road to a quieter spot, away from the beaten path and onto a path of our choosing.


A couple try their hand at the Chinese fishing nets, they seem to be equal parts practical machine and tourist attraction. In the day light they’re mildly interesting but against a sunset their silhouette transforms them into something beautiful

Even the landscape can’t sooth my soul. This place was described as beautiful to us but I can see only the human-ravaged landscape. Litter adorns the beach to a depressing degree. Ironically, its concentration isn’t lessened around an art exhibit designed to raise awareness of plastic choking our seas. The streets have a charm to them but thronging as they are with loud voices and constant intrusions I find little solace there.

I try to stay in the moment, and see the positives, my attempts becoming ever more desperate and self-defeating. I don’t want to wish away my time here in India but my mind wonders down that track nonetheless.

Shared Understanding

Time to face facts, we’re in Overland Purgatory. Limbo. We’re not travelling as we meant to travel. We’d hoped we could adapt but it seems that motorcycles are too much a part of our happiness to lack them on a trip like this. This journey has pushed the limits of my acceptance and now I’ve found the line over which I won’t cross. Mickey too. To work to accept this as it is now would be to tread water for the sake of what?


Thankfully, the Indians share the British notion that a cup of tea can solve most problems, so there’s no shortage of help here

The blessing is that we’re both on the same page. It would be much harder if we disagreed. And so the decision is taken. We book flights back to the UK. We’ll see out the rest of our time here, staying as flexible as we can to find the right places for us to be. And then we’ll head to Sri Lanka to see friends and then home. Our flights are booked and this decision alone lifts a huge weight. But as we sit on the platform waiting for the train that’s an hour late we question again whether we shouldn’t have just thrown in the towel immediately.

On the train gazing out of the window at the beautiful lush, palm-adorned countryside flying by, I reason that at least we’re not sitting in the same place bemoaning our lack of enjoyment. We’re taking each stop as it comes, we’re switching things up as we need to. It’s taken me a while to see it, but we’re still adapting, just a little more bravely now. Because sometimes you have to pull the plug and say, this isn’t right for me. I’ve always struggled with where to draw that line. As a friend put it today we’re not giving up, just radically adapting.
And so, we arrive in Alleppey, our next destination ready to switch things up again if it’s not working still and, happily, we find ourselves in paradise.


Alleppey, or Alappuzha as it is now known, is no stranger to tourism but it’s more spread out and less oppressive. Coupled with the stunning backdrop of the backwaters, it’s the perfect place to unwind and reconnect