A Month Without Sundays

The Backwaters

This looks like a good place to stop and never leave.

The pact was this: four months was not, actually, that long. Our time in Thailand was but a blip, our sojourn in Laos but a fraction of a blip. Two months in India sounded long on paper. On the ground, however, when the scale on the map lengthens before you, when centimetres become tens of thousands of kilometres, two months seems paltry and insignificant, barely enough time to pick up your backpack, see a Ganesh statue and eat a bowl of curry before you have to move on. We needed to move. We needed to go.

And so we went.

We had been riding hard. When we weren’t waking up in darkness to catch a train sputtering into the dawn, we were breaking free of our mosquito nets and jumping right into a hike. Faith gained the nickname “Walking Distance” as we suddenly took on hours-long slogs with our backpacks in the midday sun when she decided our hostels were close enough and when the prices for local transportation were just too expensive. We had stomach bugs that we were ignoring, mosquito bites so infected and grotesque that we were fielding offers from haunted houses to act as leprous zombies. We had long since abandoned shoes, our feet developing the hardened carapaces of crab pincers, the shape and texture and colour of a bull’s rear hooves. We ate and slept and drank and ran and danced and walked and hiked and moved and moved and moved.

We were frenetic and incapable of pacing ourselves. Every second that we weren’t going somewhere or eating something new felt wasted, a boon handed down from above that we were casting aside and neglecting like soiled Kleenex. This was our opportunity, and we didn’t know if we would ever return, so it was important to harvest as much as we could. We needed to absorb India, we needed to absorb all of Asia, as completely as we could. This was our lemon, and we were all squeeze.

It was exhilarating.

It was exhausting.

The burn-out was quick and unheralded. It is easy to run out of fuel when you purposefully look away from your gas-tank, when you shy away from considering your sanity or your health or your remaining intestinal fortitude. We had been going for so long so comfortably, we forgot what it was like not to go at all. The feeling when it caught up with us, when we suddenly met the wall, was impossible to comprehend.

The road back into Kerala was not long. The sun was low in the sky in early morning, and the day had barely even pondered becoming hot. We drove through rich, verdant landscape, passing lime mosques and fuchsia churches. A bus belched oily spews of exhaust fumes directly towards our car, but this was something we had grown used to. Our journey was barely over an hour.

And yet when I emerged from the ride, my ears worn from the incessant honking, my throat scorched from what felt like taking bong hits from the tailpipe of an interstate bus, I felt drained and weak. I felt used up. I felt done. I was a shucked grape-skin, a deflated tire. We were deposited on a beautiful beach, and as we stared out into the ocean, we needed to decide how best to spend the rest of our precious, dwindling time in India.

To the Lighthouse

This place is as good as any to die of exhaustion.

I realized in that second that I had completely run out of steam. An hour-and-a-half in the car had totalled me, had wrecked every last bit of spirit I possessed, had made me feel like a soggy, soupy mess. My head was pounding. I suddenly noticed how badly my feet stunk, and also that they were the colour of asphalt. My spine strained below the weight of my suddenly unseemly backpack. My stomach gurgled, as it had done roughly twice daily for the past month, but suddenly in this context I cared to listen and to do something about it.

I asked if maybe, just maybe, my companions were interested in settling in this town and not leaving for a week. To my shock, they acquiesced with relief.

For the next ten days we stocked up on leisure, taking part in decadence beyond anything we had envisioned in our journey. We would swim in the great wide swath of beach through the centre of Kovalam, ordering plates of pineapple and mango, sliced fresh by pleasant but viciously territorial old fruit ladies who would clamour for our attention and hiss insults and angry diatribes about their competitors. When we grew weary of the beach, we retired to the hotel pool. When we grew weary of that, we wandered back to our rooms to watch cable television, movies about Jason Statham kicking things, to play board games or listen to music or read books. We bought cheap Indian beer and cheap Indian rum and lazed our nights away and barely managed to stagger from our rooms before noon in order to continue our glorious bacchanalia of supineness.

Our problem, as we came to discover, was that we had tried to run too hard and too fast, that our engines had simply given out when the stress became too much. Our vacation, our adventure, had included too much adventure without enough vacation. We had been running on Saturdays, the day of parties and errands, the day of hiking and drinking and running, the day of all-you-can-drink buffets and dashing through tropical rainstorms. We hadn’t had a Sunday in months; a day for a cup of soup, a day for a water-stained book from a thrift store, a day for washing your laundry and watching it dry.

In our month without Sundays, we suddenly yearned for nothing more than the chance to relax, to doze, to laze. Before leaving we had dreamed of only the thrill, the Saturday rush, of cramming an entire continent into our eyes and mouths before we left, possibly forever. But too many days of thrills, too many days of near-death busrides and hikes up the sides of waterfalls and burning hot curries and elephant baths and motorbike tours of forgotten caves can begin to wear and tear. Sometimes you just need to stop, to draw the shades on the world, no matter where in the world you might be and how much excitement could be just outside your window. Sometimes you just need a Sunday.

8 thoughts on “A Month Without Sundays

  1. Totally agree – my husband is of the “running” variety and I prefer a little more leisure in my trips. I like the way you put it – sometimes you just need Sundays…

    • I think, ultimately, you need a balance of the two. I prefer a running version of travel, and generally try to cram as much world in as I can. But without the breaks, and without someone there to tell you to take breaks, you can run right into a wall.

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