Carlos Amantea

If you are travelling alone in a strange country, you are forced to walk alone, eat alone, sleep alone --- recycling the oldest of thoughts, feelings, memories, hurts, angers, and dreams.

The money is weird, strange faces peering out of funny-colored bills with peculiar words, signatures and watermarks. You don't even know what it's worth: 100,000 lire, 10,000 yen, 50,000 pesos. What's that in real money? you want to know.

People laugh with --- or possibly --- at you, raise their voices at you, turn away from you for inexplicable reasons. You do your best to imitate the mother tongue, but when you utter the sounds to someone, he either shakes his head and walks away, or answers you in a babble of words that are impossible to understand.

No matter your education, intelligence, or social standing, you are reduced to the comprehension of a five-year-old, the vocabulary of a three-year-old. You haven't the foggiest idea of the operating rules, and the things you think you should be able to trust could make you deathly ill.

"Should I even be bathing in this," you think, trying to keep the shower water out of your eyes and mouth. The food looks good enough to eat, but it could lay you out for a week. A mosquito bite could give you a lifelong disease. Danger and destruction lurk in the most innocuous looking places: light sockets fall off walls, live wires tumble about, door handles come off in your hands, shower heads fall on your head, and when you flush the toilet, it begins to boil up angrily, threatening to flood you and the floor and your room and the front desk with your own leavings.

Companionship is flaky, and today's best friend may be 6,000 miles away tomorrow. Fear of thievery turns one into a travelling paranoid schizophrenic: "Let's see, where can I hide the keys while I'm swimming?" Certainly not in the car, or under the beach towel. "I suppose I should get a piece of string," you think, "and tie it around my neck, but suppose I were to lose it, how would I ever be able to make it home?"

To make matters even more difficult, the country of your choice gets involved in a soaring inflation, so that you are never quite sure if you are getting a bargain or not, and when they cash your traveller's checks at the bank, they only have 5,000 peso notes, so they give you a hundred of them, and there is no way you can carry a hundred 5,000 peso bills around in your pocket without looking like an advertisement for instant holdup and murder.

To journey is to test one's sanity. The last time I was in a foreign country, and my travel partner disappeared, I was in Southern Spain, on the coast, near the unfortunate and ugly town of Almeria. I had rented a house on the Mediterranean, and now that I was alone, I had determined to continue to live in it. It was cold and bitter --- Southern Spain is on the same latitude as Philadelphia --- and that part of the country is noted for winter mistrals that come up from the south, blowing bitter winds, making one's days icy, one's nights a futile attempt to find a warm spot in an empty bed.

The bedroom had a door that opened onto steps that went down to the sea, and one night I woke up to hear a dark furry creature shooshing up against the door, trying to get in, trying to get to me for god knows what reason. The wind had blown down the power lines, and for five days I was trapped in that house, with no water (the pump to the well was broken), with a cold and sullen maid who wouldn't talk, only looked at me out of her withered eye-sockets.

Neighbors all looked singularly hostile. I couldn't concentrate on any of the books I had brought with me, and I would wake up in the morning with a strange vision: before my eyes a tiny line, no bigger than a hair, on which were strung six or eight skulls, tiny skulls, some green, some blue, some red. No features, just wide vacant skull eyes and fleshless skull mouths. It did no good to shut my eyes (that's where they lived) and when I opened them, I was alone in my cold, bare room, the wind whistling in around the windows. A distant door would bang, the wind would whistle and cry --- the wind that wouldn't go away.

--- From The Blob That Ate Oaxaca

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