They faced a long drive to the neighboring state of Karnataka. The tour office had assigned them a guide. Nupur was a tiny woman of four foot eleven inches and shining, thick black hair. Nupur wore a red dot between her brows and her sari like the robes of a queen.
Their minivan came with a driver and his son. Each time they reached a bad place on the dirt roads the small boy jumped out to assess it. Kim saw deep potholes and was glad for their combined care.
The sun beat down. They drove through parched countryside that needed the rain the monsoons would bring. Each home they passed had water sprinkled in the dirt before the door to keep down dust.
Finally, they reached Hampi, and Hampi looked nothing like the beaches of Goa. Hampi was the surface of the moon. The landscape consisted of huge sandstone boulders with the Tungabhadra River running through it. Here the Hindu god Shiva was the consort of Pampa, goddess of the river.
When they saw where the bus was heading, everyone gasped.
“Holy cows! Look at the tower!” Greg exclaimed.
The Virupaksha temple was a pyramid topped with a spire and a red flag. Impressive from a distance, up close the temple was gargantuan. It towered a hundred and fifty feet above their heads.
Architects had carved the creamy white stone into decorative levels. Exotic gods. Strange goddesses. Female figures spraddle-legged and touching themselves.
A gigantic wooden chariot was parked in the temple’s huge courtyard. Long yellow garlands draped the wagon. The top of the chariot hid under a multi-colored cloth. It ballooned out in wide stripes of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. High up, carved lions raised their paws and carved horses reared.
“Tonight this chariot will carry the god Shiva to the river for the Nandi Purnima,” Nupur informed them. “It’s a Nandi full moon. Nandi’s the bull who attends Shiva, so this is extra auspicious.”
The tour group left the minivan and gawked, mouths open.
I’d wanted to see Dubrovnik for years. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dubrovnik is one of the most intact – and surely one of the most beautiful – walled cities on the planet. It was strategically built on the Adriatic coast, has spectacular scenery, and provides settings for one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones. It had to be perfect!
Note to Self: In the future, question any place that sounds too good to be true. It usually is.
Aw, come on. King’s Landing! Cercei’s Walk of Shame! Tyrion sightings!
This trip was going to be awesome!
I frequently meet a friend on her way back through Europe as she travels around the world. We travel well together, enjoy exploring new spots, and always have great luck with our plans. We’ve never booked a bad hotel.
Note to Self:Always and never are adjectives doomed to fail at some point.
I flew to Dubrovnik a day early and went hunting for the hotel. I dragged a suitcase up the stone stairs of narrow alleys. And down the stone stairs of narrow alleys. And then back up the stone stairs of narrow alleys. No sign over the doorway, no answer when I repeatedly knocked. Not one person who could give me any information.
It was really hot, humid and sticky, and overcrowded with tourists now heading to the outdoor restaurants for supper. I sat beside my suitcase on the hard stone steps, trying to stay calm (forget about cool or collected – at that point I was drenched in sweat). I dug out the phone number for the hotel contact.
Note to Self: Never, ever leave home without your cell phone fully charged and that list of phone numbers close at hand.
“You’re here?” a male voice exclaimed. “Someone will be there with a key in ten minutes.” i was still waiting over half an hour later. A pleasant young man finally arrived. Why hadn’t I called when I arrived at the airport to let someone know to come meet me?
Note to Self: They never suggested that we do this. Regardless, it was their the guests’ fault.
He let me into thehotel… a home converted into apartments. We’d requested separate beds; the room only contained one. I didn’t mind sharing, but the hotelroom furnishings were neither as advertised nor promised. The air conditioner had been installed so that it blew directly into the head of the bed.
Note to Self: Check carefully when booking rooms. Sometimes Southern and East Europeans have loose definitions for things, including accommodations and measurements of time.
What about the included breakfast? I asked. No worries, I just needed to head down the steep stairs a few streets, turn into the main road, and find the café the hotel apartment rooms had made arrangements with to feed guests.
Relieved to finally be in my hotel lodging I showered, changed clothes, and went out to find dinner. No time left for sightseeing.
The next morning, I eventually found the café after going in the wrong direction and hungrily gazing at a half-dozen other breakfast spots. “Where’s your voucher?” the waiter asked. “Uhh, I wasn’t told I needed one,” I stuttered, and retrieved the hotel booking invoice I luckily had with me. The waiter vanished with it and consulted a colleague. He returned with a different menu with fewer choices. I ate a passable breakfast and headed off to walk the city walls.
Now, this was more like it! Not a bad view in any direction and it was early enough not to feel the oppressive heat already settling on the city. What a shame there were so many other people crowding the ramparts.
Back at the room I waited for my friend to arrive. One of the young men showed up and insisted, “No, you don’t need a voucher for breakfast, regardless of what the café says. And you should have waited and walked the city walls late in the afternoon when the cruise ships have left again.” So why didn’t he tell me this yesterday? But, I thought, it would have meant traversing the walls for two hours in 90-degree peak afternoon heat, so I didn’t speak up.
He wouldn’t let me pay with a credit card. Cash only. We’d have to wait until his associate came the next day as my friend hadn’t arrived yet. When we paid, he couldn’t make change. He promised to bring it by later; if we weren’t there, he’d put the money they owed us under the room door.
The man and the money never showed up.
The last morning, I tried to get out of bed and thought I was going to throw up. I had developed benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) from the extreme heat, not enough fluids, and cold air blowing on my face all night.
Just before we checked out I wrote a curt note indicating where to have the money deposited that they still owed us. As we were leaving we ran into a cleaning woman. “Oh! The boys couldn’t make it over yesterday. They asked me to give it to you.” We then headed off to the airport with money we no longer had any time to use.
Note to Self: Make sure to carry lots of small bills to make change next time you go back. If you ever go back. 2nd Follow-up Note to Self: Cash-only vacation options are a really bad idea. 3rd Follow-up Note to Self: Do Not Sleep Directly Under an Air-Conditioner. Ever.
I remind myself Dubrovnik is all romantic corners and silly tourists taking selfies.
and the European Cup soccer matches!
I’ll tell you another time about how I almost didn’t make it on our plane going home. Or why my friend was late getting to the hotel room. She’d been charged $600 for her rental car, dinged when a gang tried to scam her with a staged accident.
I shall be forever grateful that we were there together. We even laugh about parts of the trip to Dubrovnik, and figure those few days used up more combined residual bad travel karma (and available cash) than any trip we’ve ever gone on.
Note to Self: Re-read this post before planning the next trip!
Kim’s view was simultaneously filled and obstructed. The front courtyard and Hampi Bazaar Road were crammed with bodies. Worshippers raised their arms to touch Shiva’s massive chariot. Mandapams, porch-like structures once used for commerce or the homes of wealthy traders, lined the sides of the street. Pilgrims claimed spots in them, trying to find shade.
Women in brilliant saris walked past. Old crones with henna-patterned arms carried small children. Turbaned men sampled fruit from a pyramid of dates. An all-white cow rested serenely on a pile of garbage. A painted bus had parked in the dust; a pilgrim dozed on one of the seats with his bare feet sticking out through the open window.
Kim peeked in a shop selling cheap clothes and plastic sunglasses. When she turned, she banged her head on a string of water bottles hanging in the doorway. Sunlight reflected off the mirrored insets of embroidered bags and shirts in the next little shop.
She pushed on through the crowds, trying to spot her group. A couple in a patch of shade looked up as she walked past. Their oxen leant against the cool stones of an ancient wall. The bovine pair had their forelegs tucked under them. Their curved horns were painted crimson and capped in metal. Magenta pompoms with orange and blue tassels hung from the tips; a pile of cow shit steamed.
In the middle of the road a clump of pilgrims whispered among themselves, pointing. A man crouched in the dirt. He was perhaps thirty years old, mustachioed and handsome. Thick hair brushed across the white bands smeared on his forehead. He wore a peach-orange cotton shirt and pants. The man knelt, barefoot, on all fours on a rug. A big copper pot dappled with white streaks and red dots balanced on his shoulders. A string of beads wound around the pot’s lip. A long cobra slid clockwise over the beads, flicking an orange tongue. Hands darted out from the crowd to touch the snake and drop coins into the pot.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
We flew down to Tunisia for a week in September exactly a year ago. I’d planned to write about Hammamet’s lovely laid back tourist vibe, the gorgeous beaches and how much fun it was viewing the Mediterranean from the Africa coast for the first time.
I didn’t want to obsess on the fact that a few weeks later terrorists shot tourists in a museum down the road from the souk we visited. I definitely don’t want to think about the beach where tourists from around the world were murdered in cold blood this summer. It’s less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the hotel we stayed in.
Those cowardly acts have nothing to do with what Uwe and I experienced. I took notes as I sat on our sweet balcony, and here is what I wrote:
“The tourists are international. Every body size and shape, every age is represented. We see groups of Italians, French, Egyptians, Algerians, Germans and Brits. Women in black leggings, head scarves, and long sleeved tunics sit by the pool. Two men (young Arab males) hold hands and spring into the pool at a running jump. Kids run and play everywhere I look. Old folks in wheel chairs are pushed by family members.
The French and Italian tourists live up to their reputations with their rule of remaining poolside until 6 p.m. Then they go to change for dinner at 7.
Lots of Middle East tourists are traditionally dressed in modest clothing.  They swim in the ocean fully dressed! But there are also single Arab women in bikinis, or young couples on holiday.”
“Paragliders are pulled by boats, a yacht and sailboat or two glide by, an endless panorama of ocean spreads from left to right. Without talking about it we head past the pool to go down to the lounge chairs under sun umbrellas on the beach. Uwe reads and I edit the manuscript for my second book Tsunami Cowboys. I’m beyond happy: I’m in an exotic locale with fun stuff to notice all around me and I’m doing good writing work. Each afternoon around 4 I stop and swim in the ocean.”
Our hotel was about twenty minutes from the center of Hammamet.
Sometimes we strolled into town for dinner; some nights we had a drink at the hotel and picked one of the restaurants there. We did a couple of tours, to Tunis, Sidi Bou Saïd
and the ancient city of Carthage. 
I bargained for sandals at Tunis’ souk ,
and harissa and couscous spices at an outdoor market.
Touristy? Sure. But here are more of my notes from that week: “Everyone smiles and says hello in the hotel. We’re all here to relax and co-mingle. I have the lovely experience of being welcomed as an American – and when was the last time that’s happened lately – the locals intrigued to learn where I’m from, and even more intrigued to hear that I live in Europe.
I think that’s partly because not many Americans make it to the area, or maybe our hotel books more Europeans and Arabs. Certainly on our charter flight from Germany I’m the only Ami on board! Tunisians are delighted when I assure them that yes, I am enjoying my first visit to their country.”
We learn that Tunisia’s population of 8 million has swelled by an additional 2 million people displaced by wars. Tunisia is a democracy in an unstable part of the world. The Tunisians on the coast are hospitable, curious, worldly. And I want to go back.
I want Tunisia without terrorism.
NOTES:  A sign by the pool read “Clothes clog the drains! Bathing suits only, please!”
 Carthage made the fatal mistake of challenging Rome. The Romans burned it to the ground, killed all the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Then, to make sure everyone got the message that it was a really bad idea to go against Rome, they sowed the area with salt so that nothing would ever grow again….
 The shopkeeper held a lighter to the bottom to prove that they were made of camel and not plastic.
I spent a few weeks north of Hong Kong in the New Territories. The transportation system is easy and each day I went exploring. I’d read up, select yet another fascinating place to discover, and off I’d go.
As a massage therapist I went to pay my respects to Sun Si-miao Zhen Ren, Perfected Master and god of Chinese Medicine.
He was a doctor and herbalist who lived from 581 – 682. (Yes. 101 years.) Perfected Master Sun authored some of the most important Traditional Chinese Medicine treatises. Along with medical recipes and information on everything from acupuncture and massage to herbs and diet, he wrote the following: “A Great Physician should not pay attention to status, wealth or age. Neither should he question whether the particular person is attractive or unattractive, whether he is an enemy or a friend, whether he is a Chinese or a foreigner, and finally, whether he is uneducated or educated. He should meet everyone on equal grounds. He should always act as if he were thinking of his close relatives.” 
He tried to heal whoever needed his help, regardless of whether his patients were rich or poor. He turned down offers for jobs as physician at the Sui and Tang courts, working instead with ordinary people.
His books are still required reading for all TCM practitioners. Taoists honor him as a god of healing. Even today, the ill and infirm (or people wishing to stay healthy) visit his temple to make offerings.
So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple.
I was delighted to discover that at the temple you can worship gods. Goddesses. Protectors and saints. Local deities. Buddha.
The entrance is protected.
I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.
Then I ascended the stairs and entered the compound.
The temple is just outside a metro stop, smack dab in an urban area. The serenity of the shrines and their religious activity is set against a backdrop of tall buildings.
Wong Tai Sin Temple includes a meditative garden, and I wandered around to take photographs.
As I walked I thought about the gods of medicine. When Uwe and I were in Egypt in 2013 we visited the ruins at Edfu. They contain a room known as the Laboratory. The high walls are covered in hieroglyphics that are some of the world’s oldest formulas for incense and unguents. Our local guide Khairy spoke German and was finishing a degree in Egyptology. Khairy believes that the Egyptian gods were real men and women. He thought they’d once lived and had made discoveries or created things so extraordinary that over time they came to be considered gods. He said, surely whoever wrote the recipes inscribed on these walls must have seemed like a god.
I recalled Khairy’s words as I explored the temple.
When I left Wong Tai Sin I don’t know if I came away a better massage therapist, but I love the idea of a temple to a person who dedicated his life to healing others.
NOTES:  On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians (大醫精誠 Dayi Jingcheng). This has been called the Chinese Hippocratic Oath.
Cleopatra: He’s speaking now, Or murmuring ‘Where’s my serpent of old Nile?’ — Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene 4
This is Part 2 to my post about our brief trip to Luxor, Egypt. As I look through Uwe’s photographs from that week I’m struck by his images of the Nile.
There is something sensuous about this river… One of my very favorite Shakespeare plays is Antony and Cleopatra. Here is the description of Cleopatra floating down the Nile:
Enobarbus: The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
The winds were love-sick with them, the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.
…From the barge A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her, and Antony,
Enthroned i’ the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air; which, but for vacancy,
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too
And made a gap in nature.
Agrippa: Rare Egyptian! (Act II, Scene 2)
The Nile is iconic. It’s the longest river in the world, around 4,160 miles or 6,670 kilometers The Nile originates at Lake Victoria and Lake Tana, and ends at the Mediterranean. It flows northward through Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Egypt.
It is the largest oasis on the planet. When we visited in May 2013 tourism had declined so far that there were no longer any direct flights to Luxor. Instead, we flew to Hurghada on the Red Sea and a van met us. We drove for four hours across the barest desert landscape imaginable. No nomads, no towns, no vegetation or animal life to be seen. When we reached the Nile, visible signs of life appeared again.
All of the great ancient cities we visited are on the river’s banks. Karnak, Luxor/Thebes. Dendera, Edfu. From our hotel balcony we gazed directly across the river to the Valley of the Kings. The Valleys of the Kings, the Queens and the Nobles are on the west bank of the Nile River as you must be buried on that side in order to enter the afterlife.
We sailed downriver to Dendera, enjoying the scenery that flowed slowly past.
The fertile Nile was the original source of Egypt’s wealth and today 40 million Egyptians (50% of the population) live near its banks. There was life on the shores and in the water everywhere we looked.
Cleopatra: …we’ll to th’ river: there, My music playing far off, I will betray Tawny-finned fishes. (Act II, Scene 5)
Antony: The higher Nilus swells, The more it promises; as it ebbs, the seedsman Upon the slime and ooze scatters his grain, And shortly comes to harvest. (Act II, Scene 7)
The Egyptian calendar was based on the Nile’s three flood cycles. According to Wikipedia, “[t]hese seasons, each consisting of four months of thirty days each, were called Akhet, Peret, and Shemu. Akhet, which means inundation, was the time of the year when the Nile flooded, leaving several layers of fertile soil behind, aiding in agricultural growth. Peret was the growing season, and Shemu, the last season, was the harvest season when there were no rains.” 
As I looked out at the river and thought about my mother, I sensed the rhythms of life and death more clearly than ever before.
To the ancients, the Nile was the River Ar meaning “black” because of the rich, fertile sediment left on the banks from the Nile’s flooding. When the Aswan Dam was built in 1970, the annual flooding ended. But by the time we left I knew why Shakespeare’s hero confessed,
Antony: Egypt, thou knew’st too well My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’ strings, And thou shouldst tow me after. (Act III, Scene 9)