I sat in the rickshaw, trying to think of anything cool, sweating profusely in the mid-afternoon heat of Southern India. Jim was in yet another seedy hotel, searching for an acceptable room, a dismal possibility, even according to Lonely Planet. As usual, my job was to wait with the bags and the tuk-tuk, rickshaw, taxi…. whatever our current form of transportation entailed. It had been one hell of a day, beginning with us arriving late for our water taxi, being forced to run along the banks of the river with our full packs, and leaping aboard as it pulled away from shore. After a 4-hour journey through the back canals of Kerala, we arrived in a no-name town, our stop for the night en-route to get to Kumily. And it was hot. Like 98 and humid hot.
Our rickshaw driver chatted on incessantly, but I tuned him out, hardened from months on the road. We were at our third and final hotel, and I was fading quickly. The first two choices had been bad and worse and this, the only other choice in town, wasn’t looking even remotely doable. While fretting in the heat, travel tired and feeling totally done with it all; travel days, heat, and, most of all, India, I finally started to actually listen to what the portly rickshaw driver was saying.
Stay at his house? With his family? Excuse me…? Jim exited the hotel, appearing totally beat and dejected by the day. Imagine his surprise when I announced our driver would like us to stay with he and his family. We headed off into the side streets of the town, weaving among the palm trees and gardens overflowing with lush flowers. . Aryan’s house was, shall we say, unexpected. Tiny, immaculate, and bright, pepto bismal pink!
What transpired was a night of magic. Aryan, his wife, and young daughter willingly gave up the bed in their tv room. They made us an extraordinary dinner of vegetable curry, rice, and assorted sides all served on banana leaves on a tiny table set up in their bedroom due to lack of space elsewhere in the house. We learned of their family and how the street housed most of their relatives. How they were only able to afford one refrigerator amongst them, which resided at Aryan’s parents home, explaining the frequent trips down the street during dinner preparations.
Later that evening the men headed to a nearby field to see the fireflies, lighting up the night sky. We sat on the porch talking differences in culture and, unsurprisingly, American politics. We watched a bit of Indian television with their daughter and had an uncomfortable night on that bed in their living room.
The heat hit early the next morning, waking us before dawn, and Aryan brought us to bus station for what was to become a death defying trip from hell. But the memories of that incredibly unexpected night will live with us forever. Travel memories are defined, not so much by the places, but by the people we meet along the way. And, although magic can happen anywhere, it seems to happen more often in India.
Weeks later, heading up the coast to Goa, Jim was “adopted” by a group of school kids as we headed out for a sundowner. As often as the Indian people want something from you, which is pretty often, they just as often humble you to your knees with their generosity.
The more we travel, the more people we meet all around this amazing world, the more evident it is that in order to truly embrace life, we also have to take a chance and embrace serendipity.