This isn’t a story of sun lit beaches and crystal blue waters or the scent of incense wafting on the breeze. This isn’t about a carefree woman swishing a white scarf behind her whilst whimsically leaving a trail of footprints in pure, white sand. This isn't turquoise waves, or heat that "envelopes you like a blanket" or another yoga posture silhouetted against the caramel of another setting sun. This isn’t picture postcards or self congratulatory social media posts or a pininterst board or an insta - gasm of travel porn.
This isn’t mountain ranges hazing into the distance or the starfish fronds of a palm tree against twilight, this isn’t the pink stuccoed walls of strange crumbling colonial buildings or the peeling paint of another continental town.
This isn't the travel pretty and this sure as hell ain’t the travel beautiful. This isn't the perfectly swooshed cappuccino set against geraniums and rusty railings of another picture perfect coastal town looking down upon a crescent of navy and another nestled picture perfect town.
This is an ode for a love of travel that never gets spoken about. That in between land that internet and social media forgot. The in-between time that every hungry wanderer still gets a frisson from.
So this in an homage to the unsung. The in- between hours.
This is the bleary, nauseous feeling of another 14 hour night bus and the road side cafe that you get chucked out at at 4 am in the morning. This is for early morning dust, and a strange city coming to life as another stray dog tries to piss against your backpack.
This is for the long days and dreary nights on cramped train cabins and bleary mornings stacked with rucksack in roadside cafes waiting for another connection. No idea where you are, not sure when you’ll be leaving. This is for the wanderers who already know you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re going.
This is for the hotel with the mother lying on a stained mattresses at reception nursing a baby ; the click of the plastic fan in another roadside cafe and the smell of bleach. For the boy mopping the floor with vinegar from an old cola bottle. This is for the stray dogs, parading around town, holding their early morning mothers meeting, giving out orders for the day and then split, scram. This is for the shop with 70 litres of condensed milk and three types of corn syrup, the crushed together packets of old cigarettes, the bunches of herbs trodden into the floor, the range of gizmos and gadgets in the window, the nodding cat with its shaking paw high on the wall. This is for the shy kid serving me in the store with the fake Oreos and dove soap bars squashed in moldy packets between sacks of grain, tupperwares of bread rolls, and pork scratchings in cellophane. This is for the whiff of tobacco and mothballs, the stench of fish on the wharf, or a small boy curled up asleep in the shiny shank of a supine water buffalo. For the whisp of smoke from a fire lit before dawn outside a hut, for the sleepy shuffling eye lid heavy hours where dirt streaks tiles and floors smell of disinfectant.
This is for the tuk tuk drivers lounging in their seats, women swatting flies with plastic bags on sticks across the purple trays of offal, taxi drivers wiping sweat from their brows and the old crone that fixes you with her one good eye, sat bent beside her cardboard tray of chicklets. This is for the dirty, dusty, inglorious queasy hours of travel when the bus stops for no reason and every one gets out and stares at the engine or the driver throws a bucket of water at it, or there’s a crash up ahead and you watch as a mom holds her child up to piss by the side of the road and sunflowers push through the open window and someone tries to sell you some corn. This is for the blinking, Jesus and mary swinging in the taxi window and the driver who crosses himself at every turn in the road. This is for the loud tinny music from an old transistor radio, or blaring from the bus with its incessant, jangly beat that never ends christ how i hate love miss that music. This is for the ubiquitous blare of football from another tv screen, the stink of gasoline dirtying on the pavement, for the stray cat and its one winking eye, the caretakers and the cleaners, the stench of rotting fruit as rubbish mounds up in the kerbside, and the blue streak of dawn rising on another tired city as people gather for work, the graffiti, the tin cans, the empty garages and the endless roads.
This is for formica table tops and the grains of rice sitting in moist salt shakers , the thick sweet coffee served in a plastic cup with a bloop of condensed milk stuck to the bottom or the crusted rim of a tomato shaped ketchup bottle served with chips half cooked. This is hours spent typing up notes in airport cafes and an arse sore from plastic seats. The dirty, salty, scratches on a backpack hauled onto a boat and slopped with sea water, the hours, minutes, days spent squashed into buses with mens jeans and arms too close to me and a box of chickens squarking. This is being crammed into the backs of lorries sitting on sacks of pretzels, of barrels of water slopping and the gentle nudge from the eels within, the thick purply hunks of raw meat that get crammed on a crate beside me and for women’s hips pushed into my own, shyly looking at my skin from under eye lashes for women wrapped in scarves blatantly looking at my skin and laughing, pinching it, pointing at it, thrusting their children into my arms. For snot nosed kids gazing over shoulders, or puking in corners, for watery eyed babies. This is for the great swathes of travel time that no internet meme, postcard, social media post or insta filter ever remembered to tenderly curate. The in-between hours of travel on the road, that still shoots a thrill of tiredness and adoration through my aching, hungry body as i sit slumped propped up by my bags in another road side cafe waiting for a connection at 4am in the morning.
I love every dusty, itchy, bloody, chirping, stinking shrieking, queasy, rushing bleary eyed bloody beautiful second of it.