Never Give Up – Goa, India

I know I haven’t posted for a while. I have been writing and will get up to date here soon. But I just had to tell this story as it has just been the most intense few hours. I was in Pune and had a bit of a stressful time near the end of my visit. I felt pressure to come south so hurriedly cancelled my still wait listed train tickets for Saturday night and Sunday morning in favor of a bus that was supposedly leaving at 6pm. Well obviously that means 8pm so I had a few hours to sit and think while I waited for the mini bus to pick me up to deliver me to the sleeper bus that would take me to Goa.

In that time I thought a lot about how things are not what they seem and how important it is to let go of expectations. It is also important to adapt. Still, as I climbed on the nasty old and very dirty bus that would be my home for the next 12 hours, I cringed. Someone said Paulo Buses were the only way to go and I strongly disagree, although in all honestly I have nothing to compare it to. As soon as I boarded, this bus was a garbage bin and hadn’t been cleaned in probably years. The dirt was caked on so thick you could scratch your initials in the grime.

I climbed up into my top bunk at the very back of the bus and questioned how on earth this could be called a double. There were four single compartments up front but I wasn’t lucky enough to get one. As I was inspecting the scummy mattress for bed bugs, one of the drivers came offered me the compartment to myself for another 400 rupees. Basically he was asking me to pay for two or he was going to put someone with me. I said that was fine as long as it was a woman. He seemed perturbed that I wouldn’t give into his scam but I proceeded to stress for the next two hours waiting for this mystery woman he promised would have to squeeze in with me.

After sometime, I decided to let go of the fact that I was laying in who-knows–what from who-knows-where. I am washable. As are my clothes and I have to get used to the fact that I will get a little dirty now and then. Suck it up sweetheart! I found a somewhat comfortable position using my clothes stuffed bag as a pillow and not their germ infested one covered in mystery stains. I turned myself around so my feet were where the head should be and tried to dismiss the fact that now my head was where all the people’s feet had been. GET OVER IT! I shouted to myself. At least now I was facing the way the bus was going.

As we sped and stopped suddenly then flew over craters in the road, I tried to imagine I was on some new amusement park ride. I bet people would pay big money for a thrill like this! I tried to move away from the idea that I was in a coffin size closed box racing like a bullet on the edge of a cliff side playing chicken with other road monsters in various states of disrepair. I asked the universe to please have provided good brakes and somewhat sane driver. I almost heard it answer back “Sure thing Carmella…but I can’t promise the same for all the other trucks playing chicken with you”. As I drifted into a slumber (yes it happened!) I had dreams of winning the Olympic Luge competition. I got some serious air on some of those bumps! That dream turned into a nightmare of now being in the Skeleton (barebones variation of luge) and losing control, again and again and again…

Just then an abrupt banging on my compartment sliding door roused me. I peeked out to see that we were at a rest stop. I had already decided that I wouldn’t eat or drink anything all night so as not to put extra stress on my system. Do you know how hard it is to “hold it” when you are being thrown around like a rag doll inside a matchbox? So I wearily made my way to the public truck stop bathrooms which were not as bad as I expected . I popped into the first stall which was a western style seatless toilet was soaked but I couldn’t decide in the low light if it was water or urine. I had quickly done my business (you become a speed peer traveling in countries like this) and got back to my coffin, er, I mean bed, only taking about 2 minutes of the allotted 20 we were allowed to stretch our legs. Just get it over with, I thought to myself as I let myself drift off once again.

Luckily I had set my alarm and at exactly 6am I woke with a start. I realized in that second I had made a grave mistake. I first checked where we were stopped and we were only an hour from where I had to get out. Great. That means we are 9 hours from my wallet. With all my credit cards, all my bank cards, my ID (not my passport thankfully) and over 7000 rupees in various currencies. Oh lovely. I had just gone to the bank and usually I disperse my cash among various secret areas of my person and bag so I always have something somewhere no matter what. This time I went to the machine just before getting on the bus. I had so much distraction in the maybe getting a bedmate or having to move or pay more that I forgot. All I had was in one small bright red wallet. And now that was on the ledge of the woman’s toilet in the first stall at the truck stop on the highway between Pune and Goa. (Insert *nasty* swear word here)

To top it off, my phone was almost out of juice. I borrowed a fellow passengers phone and called my friend in Goa (which I memorized at the last second before I got the blank screen) who arranged for me to get picked up since now I had no money to pay an auto rickshaw or even her address which was now lost in my dead phone. I sat sullenly in the morning sun waiting for a strange man to come deliver me to a Couchsurfing friend who I had never met. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t appreciating the spectacular sunrise over this charming small Indian town. I felt like a dark blotch on a pretty painting. I was sad. I was less angry at losing my money and stuff than I was forlorn about my carelessness. Come on! I KNOW better. Seriously. I haven’t lost my wallet in years. Ok, I have lost my wallet in Berlin, Nairobi, Cairo and it always got returned…with everything in it. But that was years ago! The extra angels I had been assigned as a naive green travelers had long expired. I am seasoned now! I am expected to know my shit! That is why I was disappointed in myself. Maybe I have lost my travel savvy, maybe this is the way the travel gods say Go Home! Or maybe I was just getting old and forgetful. But wait, I was young and forgetful and I was fine then!? What does age have to do with it? I refused to continue down that path.

My new friends tried to comfort me with it happens to everyone and we’re all human sentiments but I couldn’t shake the hollow emptiness in my stomach. I ate an orange but it didn’t help. It wasn’t hunger. It was hopelessness. Still, a tiny seed manifested a little voice which offered two itsy bitsy words…But Maybe! My Indian friend Karen looked at me obvious pity and assured me it was more than highly unlikely as she lent me 1000 rupees to tide me over. In fact, everyone I talked to just told me I would have to let it go. EVEN IF someone good had found it, what are the chances that they would know how to get it back to me. This is a rundown bus/truck stop and more modern people take the plane or train…not the lowly bus. They would probably turn it in and then who knows what levels of corruption it would have to get past to get to me. Surely everyone whose hands it passed would take their share. That is how it works. I resigned myself to the fact that the money was gone. But the licence, the cards would be a real problem to replace out here. And it would really screw me now when we are days before Xmas. All my online banking and auto payments would fail…I couldn’t get new PIN’s here. I began thinking about going home.

I called my other friend in Goa who I was staying with and she (her name is Joy, ironically) was very positive. I relayed to her my embarrassingly amateur mistake. A stranger coming to stay with her who suddenly had no money? Suspicious much? She didn’t even flinch when she assured me it was all going to work out and not to let it get to me. She picked me up and introduced my to her boyfriend Cedric who both lightened my mood. They made me breakfast (homemade biscuits! This boy can cook!) while I fawned over the tiny snow white kitten weaving between my legs and squeaking to be picked up. His name is Karma and we became instant best friends. Finally a kitty to play with! This day was getting better by the second.

After eating and laughing a little, I got to work on finding out if anything had been turned in and freezing all my accounts. I had several people on the case and felt supported if not hopeful. I called one of my credit cards and to my shock, found it had already been reported lost. WHAT?! The flicker of hope grew into a fiery optimism as I began to piece together my success story. After several phone calls, I located my wallet, with everything (and every last rupee) intact which is as we speak being delivered to me. I was in a happy state of shock being fueled by an inferno of faith.

As I understand it, a woman from Mumbai on her way south for holiday saw the wallet sitting on the ledge and left it there thinking the owner would retrieve it. She mentioned it to her husband while they ate dinner and afterwards went to check if it was still there. It was. She took it and they waited in the front of the parking lot to see if anyone would coming looking for it. They waited until all the buses had left but they didn’t find me. Instead of turning it in where they could not guarantee what would happen, they took responsibility. The husband contacted my credit cards who left me a note of their contact info so I could get it back. The couple of angels in disguise continued on their trip south (6 hours further than Goa) keeping my stuff safe with them while they waited to hear from me. I finally found them and they just so happened to be with someone who just so happens to be coming back up to my area (literally 15 minutes away) tomorrow. Seriously? If I ever needed a reminder that things will be alright, if I ever needed a boost, if I ever needed to feel that I was on the right path, if I ever needed renewed faith in humanity, and if I ever needed to feel that I am loved…well it couldn’t be more loud and clear.

Joy and Cedric have gone out for the afternoon leaving me to rest with the kitties. The roosters are singing along as the neighbors down the road are blasting old time christmas tunes and the sun is setting over the palm trees. All is well in my world. I am about ready to burst from happiness and gratitude…but I think I’ll take a nap instead. There is supposed to be a party tonight…and I have a lot to celebrate.

Grateful for being blessed by the Travel Gods.

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