FEAR AND LOATHING IN MEGHAULI
(Or 'How I learned to stop worrying and steal a safari hat')
–A True Story
Most of what he said was not true,
The story he told me while we sat there on the roof of a moving bus,
Shannon, he was a bounty hunter, on the trail of the Lazy Traveller,
Convinced he was hiding out here ~ somewhere in Nepal.
I never stopped to ask him why he wished to catch this person,
Something about Shannon’s eyes told me I didn’t want to know.
He carried himself with obvious, but quiet strength,
A self-possessiveness that could handle anything,
Yet an air of being utterly untouchable by any worldly misfortune,
He wore... Dunlop volleys.
He was going to Elephant Polo he said...
There he would have the death of the Lazy Traveller,
You mean like people on Elephants playing polo?
No, Shannon said emphatically,
It is not like that... it is exactly that,
People who ride on the backs of pachyderms with mallets four metres long,
Playing on an airport runway at the edge of the Chitwan Jungle,
The world championships of this sport are being held here in Nepal.
...Scotland are the reigning champions.
I... see, I said, warily,
You got the Brooklyn Bridge handy I can buy?
He said No... I do not, but...
Shannon then proceeded to tell me of his long hunt,
How he had chased from one country to the next,
For the death of a Lazy Traveller,
He went onto explain how he had set a trap,
Laid in the blurb, of a lonely planet guide,
The perfect bait to catch a lazy traveller,
This time... We will catch him.
The first hints of a smile graces Shannon face...
Elephant... Polo ~
It wasn’t what I had expected the world championships of Elephant polo to be,
Yet, I don’t really know, what on Earth I had expected them to be.
Nepali people playing any sort of sport is scary,
They’re incredibly friendly, but also as tough as old leather, shoes kicking your arse,
While chewing tobacco wearing shorts up mountain trails,
Drunk, and carrying one hundred and six kilos,
By a strap across their head,
And laughing... at something.
If the Nepalese want to run elephants into each other trying to score goals,
You are not going to stop them,
But something ...has gone wrong here,
Banners... Chivas Regal, Chivas Regal?
Lots of tents, with no one in them,
A bagpipe player, bagpipe player?
White faces... not Shannon’s or mine, no,
The Nepalese? On the far side of the field,
At the edge of the Jungle, and roped into that one side,
No white faces over there, no dark faces over here,
Unless serving drinks or running on and off the field to hand-scoop up the gigantic shit,
That these gigantic beasts dropped,
Before the lumbering colonial beast come back swinging back at them again.
What’s going on? The game was...
Middle aged millionaires with snooty looking wives in two conversations that ended abruptly,
When mentioning you’re not staying at their exclusive jungle resort,
Brandy and cigars had nothing on these men,
The game was, one American telling me about his jewellery contracts with diamond miners in Africa,
Or an accountant in Mali at a tobacco plantation,
And I had not been watching the actual game,
Any more than guardian angels or regulating bodies have watched these people.
It was the kind of exclusivity that defines the difference,
Between the politically incorrect jokes that are funny,
~And those that aren’t.
We are kicked out of two empty tents,
We are simply not supposed to be here.
We notice the polo players leave their helmets,
In a pile at the edge of the field in between games.
Shannon folds arms inscrutable behind sunglasses,
I turn to him like an appeal to God I need to exist,
Where have you brought me? What is this place?
He had made no comment on the proceedings,
Then Shannon looks at me,
As if for the first time noticing I was there.
Randall, he says, slowly... rooftop buses and mud floors are insufficient,
He says each word implicate with conviction, and disgust,
You are becoming, the lazy traveller,
Me? I look around, for roaring elephants and overpriced alcohol to explain him... What?
These people, he explains, can’t possibly squat the way Nepalese do,
But we are in the middle of the airfield,
Shannon steps closer to me, his eyes locked on mine,
You will find their toilet... all your answers lie there,
You will find it... or die, a Lazy Traveller.
So into the reserved area of I had to sneak,
The fact that I was white ensured my admittance,
Just walk through, nod to the police guarding the entrance,
Just like you were supposed to be there,
I was supposed to be there.
And there it was... a smaller fenced off area,
it was magnificent,
The most beautiful thing I had seen since the man in Morocco,
With his bucket hat and backpack on backwards,
Utterly lost, I found, the toilet!
A faucet, aluminium funnel, flushing toilet with a lid,
A trench dug –in the airfield- leading to a plumbing and a small septic tank,
It was Piggy’s glasses in Lord of the Flies,
It was homeliness and western convenience,
I understood Shannon finally... because it was everything that travelling was not about,
It was comfort in the jungle.
I walked out of that toilet cubicle, absolved,
Purified in the way a religious devotee is after a temple visit,
And then noticed... a free buffet!
And no sooner am I scoffing down food,
Than a fat, waxed moustache walks up to me.
You know... that food’s only for polo players don’t you?
I try mouthing, method acting, this arrogance,
I... am a polo... player,
Oh really, what team are you with...
Tiger tops... I mumble through a mouthful of potato salad,
And I wave vaguely back at the tents behind us,
We both know, that Tiger tops means nothing,
It’s just the name of the resort... that I’m clearly not staying at,
But the moustache is so stuck up,
He doesn’t know what to make of me,
He mumbles about having to go check with someone,
I yell after him,
Fine! Yeah you go do that, yeah!
And immediately begin scoffing food back in my mouth with renewed vigour,
And I might have gotten away with it too...
If I hadn’t grabbed for that huge handful of fruit on my way out,
Waltzing up with my bounty,
To tell Shannon I found that funnel, grinning like an idiot,
Shannon grins at me,
Don’t know look now but the police are following you... idiot.
Now we were trying to hide amongst the crowd of short Nepalese,
Ducking behind people trying to make it out of there,
But there was something in the shine of that faucet... full of shit,
Something about the fit of the jodhpurs these poncy English people were wearing,
Something about... that pile of hats.
Shannon, I say slowly his name like a long forgotten song lyrics,
I... can’t leave... I’m going back, for a hat,
No Randall, Says Shannon, you have confronted the face of lazy travelling,
But in that toilet bowl I knew what I had seen,
Adventures, the difference between “hey wouldn’t it have been cool if we had...”
Instead of “wasn’t it cool when we went and did...”
So I bid Shannon goodbye, as he made for the gate,
I swung around to the far side of the field, where they would not be looking for us,
Waltzed up, asking one of the bored white people,
Get a photo of me in front of the elephants?
Oh wait wait, I said, can I get a photo in one of your hats from the pile?
I beamed at him sincerely,
Because you’re taking a photo of me taking your hat,
Wanna be raj-boy.
The camera is passed back and I just as quickly fade from his attention,
Even if I am wearing one of their hats, which, oops, I forgot to remove after the photograph.
I slowly mosey away from the crime scene,
Surreptitiously, just make it to end of this row of tents,
Then flung the hat clear over the barriers, and out into the jungle,
~ fly free my friend!
And having now evaded the wrath of the Nepali police long enough,
I unrestrictedly walk out the foreigners exit, and found the hat quickly,
Its upside down round bowl spoke to me the way that toilet seat had,
If the rich had apparently discovered the cure for irony,
Or at least a way to shield themselves from realising they were ironic,
Then I had found my own cure, for lazy by-the-book travelling,
In stealing from these fat de-evolving rich people... in polo pants.
So that was how the death of the Lazy Traveller went down,
Amongst the worst grotesquery since I was at the Kentucky Derby in 1972,
Is another story altogether...
What's been presented here on the blog tonight is the version as read at the Dan on 01/08/2009. Writing and peforming this proved much more difficult than first imagined, the length of the story got away from me several times, consequently, there's a lot of nice little details and colour that I was forced to leave out (in particular a whole thing about the Nepali government ministers who were there, and more detail on my miraculous escape). As it is, it was over eleven minutes (!!!) on stage ~ which in my experience is usually the equivalent of a six hour film, and a bad one at that. But folks didn't seem to mind.
So, at some point there will appear -at least in writing- a substantially larger, more complete version of the story, that holds truer to the gonzo thing I was trying to inject here, and hopefully leave you all the more in doubt as to how much of this I'm making up... (just look at that smile) . Meanwhile, thanks for reading, dear reader.