My last few days in the island had been spent holed up in my Taj Socotra Hotel room and I had alternated between feeling horribly sick and homesick. The fever, which had started because of a fast spreading ear infection, had been diagnosed as malaria and it had taken a whole bunch of weakening antibiotics to help me feel strong enough to get back home. The medicines had given me delusional thoughts and the confinement of my room had nearly driven me mad. Yemen’s and global political situation had made me feel very anxious and I had counted days to get back my strength to be able to return to India.
Only once, had Anwar taken me for a drive to the beautiful Arhar Beach and as spectacular as it had been, weakness had made me enjoy it’s panorama from the comfort of the car. That enjoyment too had been short lived as aching body had made me crave for a bed and we had rushed back to Hadibo before the fever had become too high. Ill health had wrecked havoc in my travel plans and I had to change my Socotra-Sanaa-Dubai-Mumbai tickets for a later date. So, technically speaking, although I had stayed in Socotra longer than my original plan, I had ended up doing nothing special except being violently sick, sleeping, healing, missing my family and India.
Yemeni mainland had been undergoing rapid political changes during that phase and uncertainty had hung like a death pall. I remember TV channels showing repeat telecasts of the small Arab country burning in discontent and my entire sick period had been filled with apprehension. The Yemen government had fallen apart and their entire parliament along with all peripheral ministries had collapsed. Houthis had officially taken over and news channels had shown fearsome civil riots spreading across Yemen like wildfire. News of disruption of services, peace etc had trickled down to the island and embellished horrifying stories had added to my woes. Socotra at that moment had only 7 foreigners (including me) staying on the island and among us, 4 had been South African missionaries, who had been there on duty. Every evening, they had huddled in my room, to check up on the sick tourist, watch news in silent anxiety and each had faced a deep fear of not being able to go back home in a long time.
Incidentally, at that time, extremist groups in Syria and Iraq had executed captives in the most inhuman manner and Japan and the rest of the world had vowed revenge. News of constant drone attacks at the off limits Hadramout mountains and the surrounding desert towns of Marib and Shibam had been pretty terrifying and we had counted fearful days before ISIS had made it’s presence felt in Yemen. In retrospect, those had been some of my most emotionally disturbing and mentally taxing travel moments and to fall sick in a country where Al Qaeda, Houthis and armed Sunni tribes had been vying for power, had been a real nightmare. All these thoughts, disturbing media telecasts and an ill body had made feel extremely homesick and my most evenings had been spent crying myself to sleep.
I remember, how images from my home, my city and the safety net of my family would flash in front of my eyes and immediately gorgeous Socotra sunsets would fade into dull monochromes. A really slow internet also had not helped my cause and apart from catching on with what’s happening with life on social media handles, I had only managed to leave messages of my safety to my family back home. Indian embassy’s glaring Travel Advisory to Yemen had made things more scary and I had feared my consulate leaving the country, before I got better.
To keep myself from falling into pieces, I had started writing again; scribbling endlessly on pages and pouring out my thoughts through a proper fountain pen till I used to fall asleep on my open diary. Strangely the act had helped in venting out and had healed me, while I had counted days to go back home. I have always enjoyed writing and have preferred a fountain pen to electronic devices and once again the curling, wet letters had soothed my mind.
Today, in the comfort of a beautiful spring day in Moscow, reliving those nightmarish moments seem impossible and the pressure of the anxiety faced then, is hard to pen down. So I am attaching excerpts from my travel diary to help explain the situation in a more poignant way. The next few posts are taken directly from the diary and are perhaps the most candid that I will ever get. Inane, insecure, frustrated, hysterical, at times borderline crazy, selfish, scared, heartbroken, anxious and lonely; solo traveler’s thoughts at the time of uncertainty are a direct giveaway on how difficult it is to be responsible for your own self, in an unfamiliar surrounding amidst situation beyond our control. The intense homesickness and frustration felt in such situations are at times too much to handle and even the simplest of things result in extreme mood swings. Falling sick and of course, being a woman adds a whole new dimension to the entire mess and you find asking yourself, why on earth did you ever have to do this anyway.
I don’t understand quirky travel concepts neither can I ever relate to offbeat tourism, which is packed in the cocoon of safety. Pushing the envelope to explore the unknown is the biggest nirvana for me and recently I have been scolded by my 74 years old friend, for being a fatalist. Having said this, I respect solo travelers of all kinds and bow down to the mental strength they carry within themselves. Solo traveling is a huge achievement in itself and exploring hard to access, isolated places at the time of crisis is not every one’s cup of tea. Being with yourself alone all the time, is perhaps the biggest hurdle of solo travel and when the world is going crazy and nothing seems right, having no one around to word out your fears, is like constantly battling demons inside your head.
While paid solo traveling to exotic destinations, seem like a job made in heaven, here’s a sneak peek at what goes inside the solitary traveler’s head, when the world goes lawfully wrong or unpredictable. Solo travel and enchanting strangers are a very potent combination and more than often, single travelers tend to find emotional, physical, cerebral and spiritual connect with other solitary souls on the road. Justifying it, dilutes the beauty because it is not everyday that you find another sponge which is as saturated with magical experiences as you are. And good, tough and at times dangerous, solo traveling is but an addictive greed to hoard such experiential jewels.
Continued in next post…
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE