Short Story 6
United Arab Emirates, India, Singapore, Mexico, Costa Rica
11. United Arab Emirates
I’m roasting in the middle of the desert an hour or two away from Dubai. The car thermostat says 113 degrees, but this is the Middle East, and July is the hottest month of the year in the United Arab Emirates. I have a red Arab cloth, known as a kaffiyeh, wrapped around my head and face, except my eyes. The tour guide/driver suggested to get one due to sand storms or fierce winds that can happen unexpectedly on this desert. The kaffiyeh makes a good souvenir for me too. The tour guide/driver starts the engine of the SUV; I quickly hop on to the front seat riding shotgun. It’s better than being crammed in the back seating row with three Arab locals who look more worried about what’s about to unfold during the tour. This high-speed ride on the curvy desert is badass. I tightly grip the grab handle to prevent my body from violently jerking while trying not to let my head hit the inside of the car roof. I’m hollering excitedly! The female Debbie Downer of the group sitting behind me wants the tour guide/driver to ease up. The driver ignores her since he and I are on the same page to continue putting the pedal to the metal. I’m glad I didn’t eat breakfast before this wild ride, otherwise I might’ve gotten nauseas or vomited.
It’s a zoo at the Chandni Chowk Market in Delhi. If I were claustrophobic, I would probably have high anxiety or a nervous breakdown right now. Too many moving pieces make it hard for me to process my surroundings. A cow just walked by me. Other cows are roaming as if they are pedestrians, while the locals act as if they belong to the community, similar to innocent stray dogs. I walk farther to the industrial side, where many goods are carried in creative ways by the locals. It’s hoarder central with no foreigners in sight. I go deeper into Old Delhi, off the beaten path, in this cluttered maze. Rather than feeling worried and anxious from being lost, I view it as an opportunity to try local street food. I don’t know what I’m eating, but if the food catches my eye, it will end up in my mouth. I find my way back by foot to where I’m staying about an hour later. I immediately head to the bathroom to puke and go diarrhea. I repeat the double whammy a few times before calling it a night. I guess being open-minded to carelessly eat street food that I never had back fired on me. Still, getting lost in the Chandni Chowk Market and Old Delhi was fun.
Good is an understatement for the Chinese food in Singapore. The hotel where I’m lodging is next to the Tiong Bahru Market, the bread and butter of a local Chinese community. From where I’m staying to the market is like walking across the street to a neighbor’s house. The second floor of the Tiong Bahru Market is foodie central. There’s about 25 street vendor-style food stalls in an outdoor/open-floor cafeteria. My airport driver even said I’ll experience traditional Singaporean food at Tiong Bahru and it won’t hurt my wallet. He was right. The food is delicious, cheap, and has me coming back for more. It appears I’ve been the only foreigner inside the Tiong Bahru Market the last three days. I don’t feel like an outsider. The Chinese community locals aren’t giving me these get-out-of-here looks or staring at me as if I’m a zoo animal. I did some sightseeing in Singapore’s major tourist hubs in certain upscale districts, but when it comes to eating, I save my appetite and think like a Chinese local by eating at Tiong Bahru. The daily dose of mini pancakes with no syrup are so tasty and addictive that I come back for seconds, sometimes thirds, before leaving the cafeteria.
It’s been about 20 years since I was on Mexican soil. Merida has an old-school and non-tourist vibe that I’m digging. My parents are also in town, and I’ll meet them downtown at the Palacio Municipal, Merida’s City Hall. There’s supposed to be live music and a neighborhood gathering this Saturday night. As I walk toward the Palacio Municipal, where loud Mexican music is blasting, I notice my folks from a distance. In front of the building are two car lanes full of people dancing. They remind me of aunts, uncles, and some grandparents grooving to the beats. My mother and father are moving their bodies after 40 years of marriage. My dad signals me to trade places with him as my mom waves me down to dance with her. I smile and say, “No,” like a middle school guy shy to get on the dance floor. My mom quickly grabs my hand before I can say anything and takes me to the street. Without thinking, my body moves to the upbeat music. It feels like an oven inside the dancing area. My mom and I finish and my dad says, “You didn’t look shy. Some of the locals liked your moves.” I’m sober tonight too.
15. Costa Rica
La Fortuna/Arenal resonates with me the most out of Costa Rica’s four main domains (city, rainforests, mountains, and beaches). There are a bunch of activities to do in La Fortuna, such as zip-lining, horseback riding, ATV driving, bungee jumping, volcano sightseeing, hot springs (unisex spas), and the heartwarming Sloth Trail. Still, the upward and downward rainforest hike at the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges has me active and speechless. About every 15 minutes, I walk across a long wobbly bridge made out of steel and aluminum. I’m on the highest hanging bridge, 147 feet above the massive rainforest, surrounded by greenery and vegetation. It feels like I’m floating above the trees, observing Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano, inhaling and exhaling fresh air through my nose. The sounds of various insects, birds, monkeys, and other animals feels relaxing and peaceful instead of alarming. It's raining now. Rather than saying to myself, “This sucks!” or “Damn, I’m going to get wet,” I continue hiking on the ascending and descending trail in a meditative state. The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna is a calming and trance-like experience, even though the hike is more than a walk in the park.
Now for a question I get from people about traveling and one that you might be wondering: which country is your favorite? The answer is, there is no best country. Each one is unique and memorable. That’s the beauty of traveling to different countries: they all bring something to the table.
Thank you for dropping by!