I didn’t take a picture at the time, but the palm trees I was contemplating out the window of my very stationary bus were in a pretty unattractive spot as far as palm tree locations could go. They sat in a line at the edge of a service station, breaking up the service station from the slum houses the service station workers lived on a dirty highway in nowheresville Assam, North East India.
Many people may think that this long term travelling business is fun and games all the time. It’s not. Sometimes it’s days on end of long bus rides and bed bugs. But it’s not a choice I would change for anything.
It was hot, it had been over 40 degrees most of the day and we had been on this bus for probably 10 hours and who knows how many more to go. I feel filthy, my body is dirty. Another layer of sweat is forming on top of the thousand layers of sweat and dirt that have already dried on my skin, built up to the point where all I can feel is grime squashed deep into my pores and my skin itches with a months worth of jungle bites and sores. In the moment it almost seems like I might never be clean again. **I am tired, and the only two things in the world I want right now are a shower and sleep.
Our bus was broken down here, so I had plenty of time to contemplate these palm trees that were now, as the sunset being illumed by the dull artificial light of a line of cracked oversized light bulbs below them. If the sun was setting a hazy pink behind them on warm tropical island I probably would have described these palm trees as beautiful. Here I can’t help but describe them as somewhat oily and dejected looking. There is nothing actually wrong with the palm trees though, they are most likely as healthy as their tropical island friends, it’s just the surroundings that bring a dejected look to my eye.
I begin to wonder then, do the palm trees care? An Eckhart Tolle quote springs to my mind, “..see how every animal and every plant is completely itself. Unlike humans, they have not split themselves in two. They do not live through mental images of themselves..”
The tree has water and sun and so is a tree, it does not sit around lamenting it’s unfortunate fate and being planted in such an un-beautiful location, or does it? Does it hear whispers of a more beautiful place across the world? A place where palm trees all have ocean views and sea air instead of oil pumps and waste? Or do we not understand palm trees at all? Are they shy retiring creature that hate being looked upon all the time and wish they could be planted I the place of their lucky cousins near the service station that hardly ever attract a glance?
As I don’t know if or how palm trees think, or indeed what is important to them if they do, I have no idea if this palm tree laments it fate or not. I believe Tolle is probably right and in this moment I need to be more like the palm trees.
I am returning to Assam after a month of travelling around India’s most remote state of Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal was beautiful. I saw amazing tribes in experienced the beauty and tranquillity of and had the opportunity to see so many amazing sites I will never forget.
I also had to wake up more mornings than I would like to think about at 5am so I could travel (i.e. be thrown around on bumpy, often un tarred pot holed roads) for upto 10 hours with 10+ of my new closest friends squashed into a shared sumo jeep that really only comfortably sits 8 people. I got drenched to the bone hiking in monsoon rains, covered in bites and rashes from mosquito’s, leeches and who know’s what else. I had 2 hot showers, and maybe 4 shower’s that weren’t out of a bucket in the entire month. I hand washed my laundry in the same buckets I was showering from. We where even investigated by the Indian Investigations bureau at one point, as the area is close to the Chinese border and apparently our movements aroused some suspicion.
Would I change any of it? Oh know, not at all. I will put up with alot to watch Buddhist prayer flags waving in the wind of the remote Himalayas and wake up on a deserted jungle river beach. To sit and drink rice beer with friendly tribesmen and butter tea with smiling nuns. Somehow the downside’s and the pain and the endless hours on buses actually make the good bits more good.
At times like this, when I think I just can’t bare another second of this sticky hot mess and can’t fathom how it can possibly take two hours to fix this damn tyre, I know that I am going to appreciate that shower and my sleeping mat on the floor of the bamboo hut that will be my bed that night more than I possibly could after a day at work in the city.
If the palm trees don’t mind living here, I can probably put up with it for a few more hours.
*The image above is not of the actual breakdown in this story, but of a different breakdown on a different bus ride. It is a regular occurrence.
**On arriving back at the village in Assam where we where loosely based I was to exhausted to have a proper shower and made do with a quick splash to wash the worst of the sweat off. I was then treated to Indian wedding music until around 6am in the morning – at which point the temperature started to rise above 30 degrees again making sleeping difficult. Sometimes you don’t even get that shower and sleep you were so looking forward to :/