THE ROUTINE NOMAD. I returned to Kathmandu the same day I did the year before. In the last twelve months I have had a few homes to which I return again and again because I feel wonderful in them: Sauraha in Chitwan National Park here in Nepal, the Kumaon Hills in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, Kanchanaburi, by the Kwai River in Thailand, and the island of Kapas, the jungles of Taman Negara and the historic city of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula.
But there were also several novelties, such as Kenya’s national parks to which I was “blamed” by Valencian friends, the fortified city of Jaisalmer in India’s Rajasthan Desert where I had been thirty years earlier, the Malaysian island of Duyung (meaning mermaid), and, finally, the wonderful and impressive Toba Lake in Sumatra.
I thought of these places when, when I checked into the Green House Lodge in Kathmandu, I was asked what my permanent address was. The Earth?
Despite going from place to place all the time, my days are so invariably routine that my wife (who keeps saying I’m her husband, even though we haven’t seen each other’s faces in nine years) says she knows what I’ll be doing at any given moment.
This last week has been very busy. I left Tuk Tuk early and crossed Lake Toba on a boat to Parapat. There I took a shared taxi to Medan airport. The three hours of travel had different colors: first we drove a mountain road in a rally plan that ran between dense jungles, of which dozens of macaques showed up, then we passed between some oil palm plantations and later we crossed between extensive rice fields.
The aircraft of the servicial Air Asia left punctually and landed at Kuala Lumpur airport at nine o’clock in the evening. Two hours later I arrived in Malacca with just enough time to drink a Tiger beer and eat a noodle soup at the last open restaurant in China Town.
In Malacca I met the friends I had met a month earlier. Almost everyone had spent these weeks in different places: some in Thailand’s Krabi, others in Singapore and a couple in Java. The Malaysian, who has a business in Arabia, also returned, and again he organized one party after another, always washed down with lots of beer. The first night he had already taken a fifty-degree bottle of Swedish vodka out of his luggage, and I ended up needing his help to get to my room at the Voyage Home Guest House.
In those multiracial meetings (with people from Malaysia, Mali, Tamil Nadu, Ethiopia, China, France and Tunisia) I learned that, because of my appearance, they nicknamed me Guru.
I told you that the “Voyage Home” boarding house is located on Blacksmith Street. There used to be eight blacksmiths, of whom only one remains today (although he has already retired). He is an eighty-three year old man who devoted seventy of them to such a hard job. Now he receives visits from schools (the students observe him as if he were a Neanderthal) and also from television channels.
Walking along the Malecon of the Melaka River, I came across a woman who every evening takes two large African turtles out for a walk and, I suppose, they will continue to grow, as they are only six years old. Their shells are authentic works of art: they look like they are made with dozens of pieces of chiseled wood. How do you walk a turtle: putting at a short distance the tender leaves that you like most to eat and marking (slowly, of course) the direction to follow,
Then, as I drank my obligatory Tiger beer on the same boardwalk, I noticed that the bustling miná (mynah) birds and crows (the first hundreds and these dozens) were preparing to spend the night in different trees: racial segregation? By staying in a country for a long time, I learn to appreciate the physical attractiveness of its people, as I did when I was in Gambia for several months. And now, after getting used to the beauty of Asian women, Westerners seem fetish to me.
On a Malacca street there is a traffic sign indicating: Back at Kuala Lumpur airport, and as I was about to leave for Nepal, I noticed an advertisement that said something as stupid as: “Fly like a star and shop like a hero”. How do heroes buy?!
Unlike the previous year, during the flight I could not see the collection of beautiful tropical islands that we had below because the sky was cloudy, but then I enjoyed the always impressive views of the Himalayas, thanks to having a window on the right side of the plane.
Hallelujah, hallelujah: the runway at Kathmandu airport has a new asphalt at last and we were able to land without hitting dangerous jumps. My luggage arrived open and handled, but nothing was missing. After six months in hot Southeast Asia, Kathmandu’s temperatures have seemed very cold to me (18º maximum and 4º minimum). I was also shocked by the lack of control, the sloppiness and the filth of the Nepalese capital: But I like it! I also liked your cheap prices. By the way, the Nepalese rupee has been devalued and now you get one hundred and twenty-six of them for one euro.
Memories of Toba Lake: The constant green color that covers everything, the bushes covered with perfumed flowers, the good Bitang beer, the Dutch names that they continue to use (like “pis pot”): urinal), the resort’s garden that looked like a small jungle thanks to its gigantic trees, the artisans sculpting precious wood sculptures, the TV advertising whitening creams for the skin and the “hiyab chik”, the thousands of flying termites delighting the swallows and cats, the Dutch fisherman releasing the fish he fished with a rod, and the morning friends, who arrived from Borneo the day before I left and we had a good time together.
And speaking of “dangerous friendships”, Valencian friends were here in Nepal a month ago and, apart from hiking (what a march they have), visited Bardiya National Park, and while they were there a tiger morseled a cornaca that had descended from its elephant.
I also want to mention the Occitan friend because I was surprised to read in the international news the name of his village, Le Teil, when recently there was an earthquake that damaged many medieval houses in the old quarter.
Two unusual cases without leaving my cabin. Jumping out of bed on Duyung Island one morning when the tide was very high, I put my foot on something hard and full of protuberances, which turned out to be the shell of a large crab. “Ah!”, we both exclaimed in unison.
As you know, gecko lizards have suction cups on their legs that allow them to cling to walls and ceilings. On the bathroom wall of Tuk Tuk’s hut there was one who had died in an upright position and took several days to detach and fall.
Here in Nepal there is a government centre called “Kasara Crocodile Breeding Center” where crocodiles are raised. According to a news item in the Kathmandu Post, in the last five years have released more than one thousand three hundred of the gavial species (gharial) in different rivers. The previous year they released fifteen into the Rapti River in Chitwán, but three of them died when they got into fishing nets.
In the Nepalese region of Sunsari, and near Koshi Tappo Wildlife National Park, several cows have died of anthrax, an extremely dangerous disease for wild animals.
I saw a picture of a diver standing next to a giant jellyfish that was taller than him and folded in corpulence.
And that’s all for today, my dear papanatas. Bom Bom.
The Cosmic Chronicle, by Nando Baba