What I Remember, Photo One:
This photo was taken by a man named Vincent, who I sincerely hope is doing well, and who I feel I can safely say is doing something really extraordinary right now just because he can. Last I heard, he was studying Reiki in Japan.
This is Kate and I and a warm beer with the sun setting over the dunes of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India. We had taken a camel safari from Jaisalmer that picked us up at the gates of the fort. Just before we left, sitting in the musty old van that would take us to the edge of town to our waiting camels, I saw a man pick up a barking dog and throw it on the ground, breaking its legs. India can really suck sometimes, but other times it’s the most magical place you’ve ever been, better than your wildest dreams.
When we got to the camel camp, they, in typical Indian fashion, took us to two neighboring villages in the desert on the way out to “get supplies”. This usually translates to people from that village rushing you to try and get you to buy some postcards, figurines, etc. and children begging you for chocolate that you don’t have while your guides gather supplies, somehow, by sitting and eating a meal with their friends. At one of the villages there was a herd of baby goats. Kate loves goats, so when she started cooing over them a man with an incredible tank top farmers tan literally picked one up and tossed it into her arms. She gingerly placed it down and we high tailed it back to our camels, cuz that village was wild.
There were two guides on our trek, both of whom proposed marriage to the two British girls we went on the overnight with. I think their names were Sophie and… Claire? Let’s say Claire. So it was Sophie, Claire, Vincent, Kate and I with two Indian guides and a little boy who lead the camels, walking along the dunes in frayed sandals.
One of my favorite memories of Vincent was what a character he is. He’ll make it into the memoir that will be lost on my hard drive one day and never published, that’s for sure! We met him with Sophie and Claire at our guest house in Jaipur. We found out the two girls were headed to Jaisalmer too and wanted to do a camel safari, so we invited Vincent to come along and he told us he’d meet us there the day of. So when the day of arrived four days later, we got in touch with him via Facebook and he met us at the Fort gates. We were supposed to leave in 40 minutes for the safari, so we were just hanging around, eating snacks and shopping in the bazar set up inside the gates, but Vincent said he needed to run some errands and he’d be back. So he dashed off, and when we saw him again, it turns out his “errands” were essentially that he needed to get into costume. He’d purchased a turban, mala beads, and a white linen outfit to trek the desert. He was, to put it simply, the most entertaining person I’ve ever talked to under the Indian stars on a little sandy blanket. And there were approximately 5 other people I talked to in that same capacity, so…
On the way out to the campsite we saw a dead decaying camel (jarring), lots of little shrubbery, and a pack of wild dogs that would follow our camels and be our companions for the night. Later on I would feed them some of my chapati, and they would become my minions, sleeping around my blanket to protect me from the dune beetles, which they’d eat or paw away. I was the Queen of the Desert Dogs. When we got to the camp, everyone hopped off their camels and immediately became five year olds as we all took turns rolling down the sand dunes. We took the iconic jumping pics, drank warm beer and “wine” (read: gin) that we’d bought from the guides sight unseen back at the fort gates, and shared stories about our travels, which always felt like a contest to me, that I’d rather not be in.
For dinner we had curry, and they made two different kinds. A mild one for the tourists, and a spicy one for the Indians. I really like spicy food, so I asked if I could have some of the spicy curry the guides were eating. They told me of course I could, but it would probably be too spicy for me because I’m not Indian and not a man. The curry was the spiciest fucking thing I’ve ever eaten, but after the comment that I couldn’t handle it because I was a woman I cleaned my plate as my mouth slowly numbed and told them I wished it was spicier. My stomach would punish me that night, and I would take my first desert shit the next morning, but hey, that’s just me bein’ me.
That night, a man came into camp and said he was there to play music. With that, he grabbed a bucket, flipped it around and started banging on it like a drum, singing a song in Hindi. We had a little fire, a full moon, and some stars, but other than that, complete darkness. I just remember laughing to myself, looking up at the stars, wondering how my life had brought me here and feeling really thankful as this man’s voice drifted over the sand dunes and into the night sky. I thought about all the desert caravans that had no doubt passed through these same little sand flecks, cooking over fires and sleeping under stars and trading spices and fabrics in new worlds.
Kate hadn’t wanted to stay overnight, and I think she still doesn’t know why we did it, but I forced her to sleep in the sand with me, and Vincent, and the two British girls we’d befriended instantly, who I’ll probably never see again, but whom I shared the warmth of a campfire with by night, the laughter that came in the morning when we woke up to sand covering us like blankets, and the strangest breakfast of stale bread and limes the following morning.
When this photo was taken, Kate and I were covered in sand. It was in the crooks of our elbows, the backs of our knees, the cracks of our butts, and dispersed through our hair. It softened our feet and made its way into all of our bags. We shared the warm beer, laughed about my desert alter ego Axl van Halen because of my choice of aviators and a tie dyed head band with my linen shirt, and, in a moment of sheer bliss said “I love you, you’re my best friend!”
Those words were something we screamed, laughed, and cried at each other throughout our travels. There were moments where it would just bubble up that we were sharing this experience together that we’d worked so hard for. Countless double shifts at work, nights of planning and booking and budgeting, long journeys on buses and trains, wrapping each others wounds, paying each others ways, fighting over Kim Kardashian’s right to privacy during her pregnancy. All these things, these moments, these memories I have now with my best friend- they’re incredible and they make me laugh to this day. This picture really sums up our trip for me for some reason. I think it’s because both of us wanted to go to India so badly. I think it was the climax of the trip for both of us. This picture was a long time coming, because I’d imagined us on camels riding through the Indian desert together, and it had finally happened, and we were at camp, and we were happy.
This felt like the right photo for the first post in this series, because for me, it’s a summation of that time in my life when there were no jobs, no bills, no rules, nowhere we had to be, we were really just being. Sure, we were beings who demanded WiFi and hated cold showers and squat toilets, but we were, to me, limitless in our opportunity for adventure, and we were (and still are!) best friends, and we were together, and that was all that mattered.
Cheers to warm beers and Indian sunsets over the desert dunes of Thar.