The wheels of the bus go round and round

As I type, we have been on the road for 12 hours now, Hampi being our final destination. First a sleeper bus from Aurangabad to Solapur, then a public bus for the last four hours, with two more to go before we get to Hospet.

Gives me a lot of time to ruminate. Right now I’m thinking I shouldn’t have worn these jeans, it gets prickly in the heat and it doesn’t help that I’m hemmed into my seat by our backpacks piled on my right side, and Xiker on my left. His elbow is constantly poking me in the ribs because, like always, he’s gesticulating animatedly while deep in conversation with an inquisitive Indian fellow. (Well, in his defense he was sleeping until the guy poked him and asked, “you sleep?”)

We may have only been here a week (at the time of posting, its been 3 weeks now) but India is quickly rising to the top of my list of favorite countries.

Agreed, there is a lot to not like about India. The rank odors have me breathing through my mouth like Vader, and when I try to surreptitiously clean my nose, I find that my boogers are no longer green but brown. The piles of trash and excrement in the street are just disgusting, and lord knows how many times I’ve seen feral dogs scarfing down the contents of a dirty diaper…

Most of all, its the beggars, especially the rheumy-eyed children, who really worm straight into my soft heart and I struggle with saying no to every single open palm (or stump) that is extended to us with a plea of help.

That simple list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all things problematic in India, but for me, it doesn’t overshadow the essence that is India.

It is the lively spirit of the Indians that I’m falling in love with.

I’ve found that Indians are curious and friendly. Maybe some of them are suspicious or resentful towards us strange pasty-colored people tramping all around their homeland, (can’t blame em) but for the most part, they are happy to see us here.

Most of the stares are merely out of curiosity and fascination, and when I make friendly eye contact, everyone is quick to break into smiles, pearly white or black with rot.

As I told my parents the other day, to set their minds at ease regarding my sporadic replies to their emails: I feel completely safe here.

Ok, largely because Xiker is here with me (people can be especially friendly towards my blonde self) but we’ve met women traveling alone, and they’ve reported no problems so far.

In South America (namely, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia) the locals constantly warned us to be careful with our things, and cautioned us not to go here or there, especially at night.

But here? It is as if every Indian we meet feels it is his personal responsibility to make sure we get the best out of India.

Whenever we ask for directions, a cluster of curious bystanders crowd around us just to confirm the authenticity of said directions. Sometimes the group of strangers confer for a while, pointing in every possible direction, but eventually they reach a consensus and send us on our way.

A great many Indians know at least two languages, many are familiar with the basics of English, and they all always seem eager to want to learn more.

So when we walk off, often one or two of them will follow us and ask us the usual questions: what your country? your name? how long you do visit India? you like? are you marry? And yes, they almost always want to know, how did a American and Spaniard end up together?

Every train ride or bus ride, we are surrounded by curious Indians (some come from different cars further up the train, having heard of ‘le foreigners’) who ask millions of questions and love to listen to Xiker talk on and on. They invite us to visit their work places, and my notebook is quickly filling up with lists of things we must see or do in this city or that state.

And then, they shyly ask us if they may take a photograph with us (or ask us to take a photograph of them!) and beam at us as we shake hands and bid farewell.