('On-line' text of)

'VIA RISHIKESH - A HITCH-HIKER'S TALE'
An account of hitch-hiking from England to Europe,
North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan & India in 1970

by Paul Mason
© Paul Mason 2006

Chapter 10

PORPOISES OUT OF NOWHERE

In the clear light of day things seem very pleasant here below deck. Certainly, the two tier bunk beds that proliferate our quarters are much more preferable than deckchairs. As yet there have been no fresh sightings of the affamed giant cockroaches and I am relieved to find the mummified corpse has gone too! The bed on which the body lay has been freshly made and there is a gentle looking man standing nearby it, beaming a warm smile at me. I take a leap of faith and hazard a guess as to the identity of the corpse: -

'Hi! How do you sleep all wrapped up like that?'

'Sleep? Yes! How you are?' he falters.

Though it is plain that he understands very little English, I persevere in trying to strike up a relationship.

'You sleep with a sheet over you? How do you breathe?'

'I go home Pakistan,' he replies nervously.

'Do you all sleep like that in Pakistan?'

'I television take Pakistan. Good television.'

'You buy television Tripoli?' I ask (trying it his way!).

'Tripoli. Yes. Go home Pakistan.'

'Very good. I go breakfast. I later see you.'

'Yes later see you.'

Yolanda and I now make our way to the restaurant.

'One breakfast please.'

'Only one?' the steward asks in surprise.

'One breakfast, yes. But can we have two cups?'

Seated at other tables are the cabin passengers; something warns me not to make conversation with them. I sense that they feel superior to us. Isn't it strange how people convince themselves that they are better than others are, keeping themselves in a state of separation, a kind of apartheid? Such peoples' realities co-exist with one's own but don't necessarily have a meeting point. But with regards to my own reality there are many unanswered questions, so here I am in search of my identity, floating somewhere off the coast of North Africa.

Schooling attempted to prime us for middle management, nine-to-five lifestyles, the house, the two-point-four kids, the motor car in the garage and a head full of worries. But instead I found my satisfaction in blasting away on an electric guitar, croaking the half remembered lyrics of some blues tune, all this at five in the morning with the windows open wide. I enjoyed wearing flamboyant clothes, falling in love and meeting the greats. And I reckoned maybe someday that I'd be doing a tour of the States! So, why is it that I got rid of my guitars, and closed down my social world? I wrack my brains for some kind of answer.

I remember of course. Oh yes I remember why. It's so simple really, these days I look at life rather differently now don't I? Though I'm no longer in search of glory or fame I have become convinced of the need to find a meaning to my existence. I find I no longer try to 'call the shots' but listen instead to the 'still voice within' when seeking guidance. Since making this change I have closed down my former life and been catapulted across the world, but for what purpose I can't say. The way I figure it is that for just once in my life I am letting 'Thy will be done' (instead of just listening to my own desires). Actually I have the utmost belief it will all work out, but there are times when I doubt it.

Our breakfast arrives and consists of a pot of tea, a bowl of porridge and some toast and jam. We share it equally between the both of us, fifty/fifty.

When we are done, we go back below deck where I poke around our quarters, nosing about.

'I've got it!' I call out to Yolanda.

'What?' she puzzles.

'I've got the answer, we'll be alright now.'

'Oh I see what you mean. It's a lot better now. I can't understand why the windows were closed in the first place,' puzzles Yolanda.

On his return from breakfast, Anthony immediately notices the difference. 'Great. You've really done it. I just hope he doesn't find out you found the key.'

'We sleep here, it's our business, he can stuff it!' I scoff. 'Anyway he's a creep, the opposition. Spot the opposition and you're halfway there,' I quip in a mood of self-congratulation.

We spend another day loafing about the ship. Yolanda washes anything she can lay her hands on. Knickers, bras and blouses are soon hung to dry across the network of pipes.

'You did well to get your jabs in Libya,' chirps Anthony, 'but why didn't you get them in London before you left?'

'We didn't know we needed any,' I explain.

'Well, you probably couldn't get into some countries without them. Anyway it's better to have them, for your own sake.'

I see his point.

'I went to Istanbul last year. It's great there, fantastic food and cheap too,' Anthony continues.

As the discussion turns to diet we tell him of the butchers we saw in Algeria. He nods, 'They eat anything. Horses even. You name it!'

'Shall we change the subject?' I ask.

'Indians don't eat meat,' he announces, 'the cow is sacred in India. When you buy sandals there sometimes they have a stamp on them denoting that the cow died a natural death. I'm going to get a pair, I also want a pendant like the one John Lennon wears on the collar he has.'

It seems India holds a strong attraction for Anthony, it's strange how the three of us are being pulled there from our seemingly comfortable lives back in England.

*

Treading the deck I realise that not even a vestige of land can be seen from the ship, for in every direction there lies an unending expanse of placid blue water. Undeniably a pretty sight for a picture, it in reality quite daunting. Never before have I been to sea and I am stunned at the isolation. The ship is now not only our home; it is our city, our world.

Apart from the few metal plates and insignias around and about the ship, there is nothing else to remind one that the ship was once used in warfare. The crew is all Turkish; it is difficult to make oneself understood by any of them. From time to time, as I wander around the vessel I notice members of the crew prostrating themselves on rugs. I report my finding to Yolanda and Anthony.

'They're Moslems, they're praying,' Yolanda informs me.

'They're doing it all the time,' adds Anthony. 'Regular intervals in the day. They pray towards Mecca in Arabia.'

'What's the difference between Moslems and Mohammedans then?' I ask, eager at the chance to clear up a few confusions.

'Same thing,' they agree.

'Buddhists?' I try my luck.

'India, Burma, Thailand and those countries,' Anthony explains.

'Are the cows sacred to all of them?' I puzzle.

'Oh that's in India, the Hindus,' Yolanda corrects.

'Yes. I know a bit about Hindus. I went to school with a couple of those. Bashir and Deepak Mathur, nice quiet people, I think they were both Hindu. They seemed to me as if they were very contented, not easily put out, neither of them.'

'Buddhists pray to Buddha. He believed you should give up all desires and seek Nirvana,' says Yolanda eagerly.

'Isn't seeking Nirvana a desire?' I ask sincerely, 'But what or where is Nirvana anyway? Is it in India?' I suggest, tongue deep in my cheek.

'It's a state of peace, enlightenment,' explains Yolanda.

'The Hare Krishnas are into that, aren't they? I saw some of them in Hyde Park. They didn't appeal to me. They had this magazine 'Back to Godhead'. What's all that about, never heard of Godhead before?'

'Godhead is Enlightenment. It's all about losing the Ego,' explains Yolanda eagerly.

'I'm not sure about that. It seems to me that it's necessary to have an ego. Nobody would make it very far if they didn't have egos. Everyone needs a sense of identity. Isn't that what happened to Pete Green and Syd Barrett? They took so much acid that they lost their egos? I think I almost lost my ego for a time you know? It was ghastly, I'm only just over it now, thank God!'

'You don't understand,' Yolanda states coldly.

'I try….!'

*

It is peaceful sitting around on deck. Mind you we are starting to get decidedly peckish. Our rations of juice, biscuits and fruit are rapidly zeroing out and we really can't afford to buy meals in the restaurant. But it is no funny getting so hungry, it is getting so that when I move past any crewmembers I stare at them; attempting to telepathise my needs. But it doesn't seem to work. I discuss the problem with Yolanda only to find that she has been doing the self-same thing! Oh, roll on Greece, maybe we will get something to eat there?

When darkness again descends we find ourselves down in our quarters, chatting away to one another, again. We seem to be on a 'contact high' in many of these conversations. Tonight I am wearing my djellaba and both Anthony and Yolanda seem greatly amused when I launch into an impression of Richie Havens singing and playing 'Freedom'. And in the process of paying tribute to Richie I am reassured to find my ego is still firmly intact. In truth I enjoy myself immensely. cavorting about until I finally collapse in a heap exhausted, splitting my sides laughing.

*

Strangely we never ever seem to see the steward who is in charge of us. But as far as we are concerned this is a good thing, since he would most likely go crazy at us for opening the portholes. But as these are well above the water level there is no danger of seawater getting in. I stick my face out the window and think I see a movement closeby.

'Look you two! Sharks!' I shout excitedly.

'Let's go up on deck we'll get a better view,' suggests Anthony.

Hurtling up the metal staircase we are met with such a wonderful sight; a whole school of dolphins swimming and dancing to the side of the ship.

'Porpoises,' Anthony states informedly. 'They're probably after food. The kitchen's probably been throwing some food out. Yes, look over there.'

I see all sorts of debris bobbing up and down in the water. Yes, it might well be food I suppose. Come to think of it though, why is the kitchen throwing away food?

'I'm hungry,' I say involuntarily.

Anthony does not reply. It's an open secret that he eats regularly at the restaurant and I suspect he feels a bit uncomfortable sliding off and leaving us while he fills his stomach. I wonder if telepathy really does occur? I wonder how the porpoises know the food is being thrown out.

As Yolanda and I stand about on deck, the Ship's Mate makes himself known to us and invites us to his cabin for a meal!

The spread is fantastic and so we eagerly tuck into the various dishes arrayed about the table. I have a thirst on me too, and get through glass after glass of water. It seems to me that the water has a slight taste of aniseed to it, which is pleasant if a little odd. We really enjoy the food but gradually we get to a point where we can eat no more. We are well and truly stuffed! The mate leans over and tops up our glasses again, the water seems to go cloudy, but I make no comment.

When the time comes for us to leave I really cannot understand why my legs cannot support me and why I unceremoniously slump back into my seat. Have I eaten too much food? I try again and again but each time I slide back into my seat. Yolanda seems to have the same problem too. The crewmembers laugh at us uproariously.

With difficulty w force ourselves up and find our way staggering down the corridor and then the stairs, all the while giggling and laughing aloud. The truth dawns slowly on both of us, we are drunk!

Halfway downstairs we sway our way into the shower room, strip off our clothes, take a 'douche' and take to our bunkbeds draped in towels. On our way we meet no one, there seems no one about, which is just as well as we now fall to doing what our intoxicated bodies dictate.

It is dark when I awake, I feel giddy and more than a little wiped out. My self-respect takes a tumble; I feel awkward and slightly depressed. I remain lying down a while and only start to get up when I feel relatively sober. I get dressed and go and chat with Anthony. When he hears about the meal we had, he looks downright jealous. This is not helped when I tell him of the cloudy water and of our drunkenness.

'Hali raaki, Turkish whisky, a bit like Greek ouzo. Strong stuff. But you've found that out haven't you?'

I roll my eyes.

I search for my toothbrush and go off and clean my teeth.

'No more booze for me. Never again' I mutter to myself, still half smashed, then I lie down and soon fall asleep.

I must have been sleeping for quite sometime before I have the dream. In my dream I am lying in the rain, and the rain is falling in torrents. I stir slightly and then continue with the dream. More water is falling, it is now falling heavily on my face.

I awake gasping.

'Oh shit. Yolanda, Yolanda, wake up, wake up! We're being flooded!'

'Oh my God,' she panics.'the floor is covered.'

Whipping out of bed I slam shut first one porthole and then another in an attempt to contain the problem. Anthony comes down the gangway sloshing through the swirling storm water. I reckon he wants to help but what can he do?

'We're gonna be for it, look who's here!' Anthony warns.

I look behind him and catch sight of one very angry Turkish steward.

Finding brooms and mops we work hard clear the water, and it is very much later that I feel free to take a break. I find a dry bunk to rest in and stretch out satisfied that the problem has been dealt with. But I have not been resting long before I am aware of someone standing by my side, it is Anthony again.

'He's looking for the key,' he tells me in a hushed whisper.

'Well he can look,' I retort.

'He's really angry,' Anthony continues.

'The windows are all closed so what's his problem? Besides, if he had come and checked down here before, he would have known that they were open. He only kept them locked so he wouldn't have to bother to check. And meantime we roasted.'

I hear Yolanda mutter in agreement.

'What a cretin he is,' she comments, 'but we had better give him his bloody key though. He looks like he's really in a mood.'

'Let him stew. If he's still looking for it later then well somehow he'll find it… Somewhere…? On the pipes maybe? Don't worry about it!'

Well after the storm is over the steward still persists in his search for the key, so, reluctantly I manage to 'find' the key somewhere behind the pipes. He departs secure in the knowledge that the portholes are closed and that we will not be able to open them again. The temperature is steadily rising again, and somewhere hidden from view the cockroaches get themselves ready to run riot again.

* * *

'What's your star sign?' Anthony asks us, out of the blue.

'I'm a Cancerian,' Yolanda states confidently.

'And you Paul?'

'I'm not sure. Someone did my numbers for me; a friend of mine called Nick. He said my number's two and I'm a double moon.' I confide.

Anthony looks uncertainly and asks me when I was born.

'1952, on June the eleventh.'

'You're a Gemini. The sign of the twin.'

'Oh, is that good?' I wonder.

'It's an air sign.'

Fine I'm a double moon, twin air sign. No surprise in that. What a load of balls! I don't like all this star sign claptrap. It smacks of fake stuff. I like the real hippy thing, the real people, like Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, Arthur Brown, John the Bog, anyone who doesn't fake it. Don't give me star signs, shoulder bags and brown rice, give me a guitar, a light show and some good friends. Pseuds! I don't like pseuds. Perhaps that's cos I'm a double moon or whatever.

John 'the Bog' worked at UFO the legendary hippy hangout. When I met up with him we travelled across London in a taxi. We had heard of each other before. We were the ones that took risks. I guess he was nuts too, I was nuts for sure. Not a bad thing - quite the contrary in fact. Risks paid off! We had a ball and that's what counted. John in fact had a veritable harem of girls following him around (lucky him). Hippies weren't only people who squatted in expensive buildings on Piccadilly. Hippies had fun too.

But all that crazy stuff is over. The mission now is to find 'the answers'. We had a brief taste of the 'good life' and now we have to find a way of making it a long-term thing. That's why I have to travel. Somewhere out there, maybe there are people who have it sussed, surely there are. At least maybe if I could find some little bits of suss, I can fuse them all together and get the answer. I feel I have a purpose, a man with a mission!

'We're approaching Greece,' says the ever-informative Anthony.

Sure enough on the horizon I can see land.

But it is a long, long, long time before we come abreast of it. It is an island without any visible signs of habitation, then there is another and another. As the night starts to fall the islands we pass glisten with tiny specks of light. Hour after hour I watch as the cloak of darkness gradually gathers us in its folds. Only the beautiful array of sparkling lights offers any clue as to where the land lies. Like clusters of precious stones they are, set in wonderful designs. Is it by chance I wonder - an accidental artwork for a passing ship to view?

When I return below deck again I ask Anthony about the islands.

'There are hundreds of them,' I marvel, 'I wonder how many more islands before we get to Athens?'

Anthony looks kind of bleary.

'I'm crashing out now. Athens can wait.'

We are all agreed on that.

* * *

It is a slow awakening this morning; I sigh, stretch and swing myself onto the edge of the bunk. Through the porthole I can see other ships, they are moored and still, we are moving very slowly.

I find Anthony looking out too.

'This is the port of Piraeus,' he announces, 'Athens is inland, a fair distance from here.'

'So we won't have time to visit it?' I ask, disappointed.

'I should stick to the port. We're only stopping for an hour or so.'

We ready ourselves to get off the boat.

'Anthony we only have large notes. Have you got anything smaller?'

'Here's an American dollar. Pay me back when we get to Turkey.'

'Great!'

The ship has now stopped and all the necessary nautical things are done to secure us to the land. As we are approaching the gangway we catch sight of the captain who waves. He returns to us our passports so we can get on our way. We walk along the dockside where we find somewhere we can change some money, we convert to drachma.

My first impressions of Piraeus are that feels unwelcoming, but after having been at sea for several days, we are not about to pass up this opportunity of enjoying a change of scene.

We make for a café, after all, Greece is very famous for its coffee so we have to try some. Our dollar worth of Greek change is just enough to buy us a coffee and a roll each. The coffee rather strong and nearing the bottom I find a large deposit of mud. Anthony has spoken of just this muddiness when warning us about Turkish coffee. I clench my teeth to filter the thick contents of the cup. Disgusted, I beg a glass of water to wash my mouth clean of sediment. An acquired taste this Greek coffee!

With the remaining Greek change I go in search of a postcard for my mother. Though she's never been here she's exceptionally fond of things Greek; she just loves the music, Nana Mouskouri and all that bazouki.

I find some cards

'What is this? The Acropolis. Ah this will do nicely. A picture of some ancient ruins. Oughtn't they to rebuild it, it's falling to pieces?'

'Are you going to post it?' Yolanda asks.

'We haven't got any more Greek money.'

'I hope your mum's alright.'

'Do you know we've been away nearly six weeks? Over forty days and forty nights.'

'I don't believe it!'

'It's true, work it out for yourself.'

When we return to the ship, it looks very busy. We stand and watch as a large white van is lowered down onto the deck, then a couple of the crew release the ropes that tie it to the crane.

Down below are the occupants of the van, they are a group of German youngsters. Anthony seems delighted; he appears to relish the opportunity of meeting new people. I join Anthony in welcoming the newcomers, but it is does not come easy, as I have been inculcated with anti-German attitudes. Comics, films and jokes always portray the German people as arrogant, aggressive and insensitive.

'They've come to reclaim their minesweeper,' I whisper to Yolanda.

The new visitors are pleasant enough, two young couples. Pleasant enough. Their spokesman is an engaging young man called Hans and his girlfriend is the very attractive Monick. The other two, Gretta and Christian, seem to have a looser connection. Whether they have fallen out with each other or that they were never together is not clear. I wonder that the couples are travelling deck class as they look far from being poor. Their clothes, their luggage, everything speaks loudly of their having well-off families back home.

We all got on moderately well, but not very much passes by way of conversation on account of mutual problems of language. There is something about Monick I find her distracting. It's not just her long black hair, her sexy figure or her self-confidence.

We get used to the extra occupants in our quarters, even Anthony soon recovers from the novelty of the company of the newcomers and we fall back to our usual occupation of chatting, just the three of us. Occasionally he would sit and read or else get on with some writing.

No one else joins us in deck class, so there is more than enough room for us all to spread out. The German group annexes bunks at some distance from us, Anthony keeps his place in the corner and our friend from Pakistan sleeps near the door.

Anthony figures that this might well be our last night on board. We could well be soon in Turkish waters. We are due to port in the capital of Istanbul. Anthony tells me Istanbul is the most recent name of the ancient city of Byzantium, also known as Constantinople. When he tells me this I am very eager to visit the city.

*

I don't know how long we have slept but a commotion startles me. I sit up and try to take in the situation. There is not much light but I can make out the scantily clad figure of Monick, who is looking very sleepy. A burly official with a revolver clipped on his belt is leaning over her, cigarette in hand; he seems to be questioning her. I haven't seen him about the ship until now so I wonder who he is. By his over-confident swaggering manner I suspect he is drunk.

I lie back down and but sleep only fitfully. Each time I awoke I notice the same official prowling around our quarters. I notice him standing staring at the Germans in their bunks, he lights another cigarette and talks to an acquaintance.

What is his game?

When I awake again I see the official checking the seals on the locked doors, the doors with the German insignia.

'What's inside?' I wonder.

We whisper to one another, trying to work out who he is. The most likely theory we come to is that he is a customs man who we must have picked up after leaving Athens. We are all relieved when he leaves us - and we can all get back to sleep.

*

'Darda nell. Darda nell,' a voice shouts.

For all I know this could well be Turkish for 'Abandon Ship' so I waste no time; I leap out of my bunk and pull on my clothes. After making sure Yolanda is following I go up on deck to try to discover the cause of the commotion. But nobody is in their life jackets; all appears to be calm. I wait for a while but there is still no sign of trouble.

'Darda nell,' a Turk informs us, winking.

We return below.

'I wonder if Ant knows what's going on?' I wonder.

'Is that creep with the gun still about. Did you see him waving it about? What was his scene with the German chick?' Yolanda asks.

'Heavy guy. It seemed like he was gonna rape her!'

'He came round our side and was staring at me too. He really gave me the creeps. Has he gone?'

'I haven't seen him. There's Anthony. Hey Anthony what's going on?'

'Darda Nells.'

'What's Darda Nells? The guy woke me up shouting that.'

'D-A-R-D-A-N-E-L-L-E-S, haven't you heard of it? Really famous place. Churchill. Ancient history. Famous place.' Anthony informs.

What with the mist and the long distance to the shore, visibility is almost zero. Just a fuzzy outline of the shore and that is it.

'Huh. Is this what they woke us up to see? They must be mad,' Yolanda grumbles.

It has been a disturbed night and I wonder if it is really worth waiting for the promised view. We sit it out for about two hours but by then I feel we have earned the right to return below. Though his he looked tired too, eyes are glazed and staring, Anthony stays on deck, he seems to be performing some kind of vigil.

The morning drags until a message gets passed around that we will soon be arriving at Istanbul.

Bags are packed and we prepare to disembark, although it is a few hours before we actually dock.

The little man, who has been so quiet, who had the unusual habit of wrapping himself up to sleep, now seems quite emotional.

'When you come Pakistan, you come my hotel,' he says handing me a scrap of paper with his address. Mustapha, Crown hotel, Gujvanwala.

'Thank you. We come see you,' I answer shaking his hand.

'What a sweet guy,' Yolanda whispers.

Anthony who is by now fully awake asks us; 'What are you going to do now? Are you going to stay in Istanbul?'

'Yup. I want to see the bazaar you mentioned,' I said.

'You'e going to need visas for Iran, you know. Shall we join forces and look for a place together? '

'Sure, we get on don't we?'

The ship's mate sidles up to me. I thank him again for the meal, after all it was a bit of a life saver. He wasn't to know that I was teetotal, it wasn't his fault I ended embarrassing myself.

'This is last trip,' he tells me.

'What? Your last trip?'

'For ship, this last time, kaput.'

He explains to me by gestures that the ship is to be broken up and scrapped. As the news hits me I am aghast. It is so-o-o good that we did not know of this any earlier else we would all have worried, after all they are probably scrapping it because it is unsafe - an old rust bucket.

Those of us who have been travelling deck class all get very emotional before we leave the Kades and as we bid each other goodbye there is lots of shaking of hands and big huggings. The scene is witnessed by the cabin passengers who look on without comprehension, for they have kept themselves to themselves, very right, very proper and very boring.

Before we leave the ship our passports are returned, duly endorsed with new stamps

 

 

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