Fireworks rocketed heavenward, fizzling and popping, exploding into colour and light. They shone across the curvaceous roof of the Golden Temple, out across the nearby streets, and all throughout Amritsar. Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim alike were celebrating the festival of lights under a blanket of stars, walking barefoot in the night, necks craned back to scoop up so much of the fiery sky.
It was beautiful and serene and majestic. At least, I’m pretty sure it was, as I mostly watched through my hotel window.
A day before I had ordered something called “stuffed potatoes” at a restaurant, assuming that it would be maybe one potato, jammed full of spinach and curd and curry paste. In fact it was a half-dozen potatoes, stuffed with this and other such delicious detritus, and also possibly rocks and moustachio trimmings and shaved gold, and I felt duty-bound to at least make some sort of valiant attempt to consume the mighty offering placed before me. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time.
The next day as my friends set out, I clutched at my midsection, grimaced, and decided to pass on breakfast. Stomach issues would lead me to pass on lunch, on sunshine, on a beer, on many hours of exploring this busy hub in Punjab. I felt like someone was tickling the inside of my thorax with razor blades, and as I had very few pairs of pants, I didn’t feel like it would be terribly bright for me to stray too far from a well-stocked bathroom.
Diwali passed me by, the fireworks glimmering through a dusty bathroom window. The sparkle and glimmer of fire against blue-black erupted against smeared, dull glass and I sighed, turned another page of my book, and familiarized myself once again with the texture and colour of the bathroom tile.
The most recent years of my life have seen visitations to some of the most historic, the most beautiful, the most serene and wild and fascinating places on the earth. Whether by design or by sheer cosmic jolly-making, many of these places also tend to have the highest per-capita rates of traveller tumbly-rumblies.
When you are hopping off the back of one portable electric scooter and into the back of a rickshaw, sometimes your understanding of hygiene and nutrition dwindles. With so much world to see, with temples to traverse and roads to walk and jungles to forge through, you are suddenly much more capable of pinching your nose and swallowing whatever appears before you.
The kind of factors that I would usually utilize to filter my gastronomic experiences are thrown to the wayside when I know there are ancient steps to climb. While in my usual life I am usually careful about taste and texture, on the road I am willing to overlook a lot. On solid ground, in my home country, swathed and coddled by Canadian bourgeoisie, I might reject something brown and quivering that has been rotting in the tropical sun. But offer that same food up to me in front of Angkor Wat, and have it served by a broadly grinning elderly Cambodian woman, and suddenly I am deeply forgiving.
As a result, my visits to the various amazing sites of the planet are typically accompanied by raging stomach difficulties. I open new doors and peer out ancient cornices and crenels, I traipse across dusty stone floors, and I bake under hot jungle sunshine. And I slowly, grievously deny my churning insides.
It is a difficult battle to bare—the desire to see the world, and the desire to stay inside all day, cradling your thorax and staring jealously at a toilet. When there is so much world available outside, it seems ludicrous to spend your days indoors. And when the bathroom tile is so cool and soothing while the outside world is so full of people who might judge you for pooping yourself, it seems just as beyond reason to venture outdoors.
A careful balancing game begins to play out in your mind, as you weigh the likelihood of needing a spare pair of pants with the chances that you might return to this place one day. You count out the sights you might miss in a single day of pantsless depression, you consider every moment indoors a moment of money being flushed down the toilet like so much rotten curry.
Thus far I have not found an appropriate keel between neglecting my own internal harmony and the need to thrash about the unknown places of the world. The people I travel with are just as bad, just as likely to wave away massive intestinal parasites as being minor annoyances, only to cramp up terribly as we climb the stairs to the Batu Caves or walk the road to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Because when travel becomes a big part of your life, you can’t fathom sublimating it to some other need, even one as basic and urgent as your own health and comfort. You never know when you will return, and thus you must squeeze as much out of the lemon of life, even as water rife with heavy metals or a particularly sour wedge of checking squeezes the life out of you. Attending to your gurgling stomach seems like a failure, like admitting defeat. How can I admit my own humanity when the Eiffel Tower is right there?
Adventure calls, but so does nature, and responding to one is often at the expense of the other.