It was a few hours before midnight. December 30, 2006. I had been travelling for almost a week from an inhospitable and unwelcoming Mumbai toward the Kerala region of India by train. After an hour of searching for a taxi while lurking in the shadows (effigies of George Bush were burning around the city after Saddam Hussein's execution), I arrived in the tiny farming town; the dinner hour had long since passed. I was shown to my room with two single beds covered in mosquito nets, the floors a grey marble, and a neighbor outside standing guard who didn’t mind my presence. I simply passed out.
My next door neighbor
The following afternoon, I washed up and headed downstairs to meet my "classmates" for the next four weeks. In the evening, there was an impromptu New Year’s Eve party afoot but I was well beyond wallflower mode, still worn down by a week of deception that befalls the naïve traveller in India. William walked over to introduce himself, a retired, world-travelling Aussie, learning the arts and languages of southern India. I ended up lucking out in the cultural differences department that evening, not causing an international incident dancing because that was not what women do in this part of the county.
William, never afraid to leap head first into the unknown, eagerly joined the rhythmic chaos. The men circled him as he mimicked their dancing, laughing at the thought of himself. He quite impresses me as a man who despite being in his seventies remains forever young. I spent some time talking with him later that evening about his chemical engineering career, his travels around Australia, and as of late in India. By the time, 12:01 am hit, I was up and running toward the door to head back to my marble palace, but not before William invited me to wake early and join the group before dawn to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. The novelty of seeing the first sunrise of the New Year coupled with being in India overrode the particularly discouraging part about waking up just before dawn.
The beginning of 2007 at dawn
After I left William, whom I affectionately called the Aussie Scotsman, in India, we kept in touch via email, letters in which he always closed with "little old man." I loaded down his iPod playlist in India with a eclectic variety of music from my laptop, which included rock, pop, jazz, and blues. A year later, he wrote me that he was still listening to my playlist as he continued his travels through India, Korea, England, Mexico, Portugal, France, Morocco, Indonesia, and Argentina. Like me, he walked part of the Camino in Spain, and in Uruguay, supposedly inspired by my two-wheeled adventures, he rented a motorbike and putted around the city. He continued to ride in Australia long after his return. All accomplished well into his seventies.
His Australian girlfriend
William occupies a host of fond memories from our time together in India and in the written exchanges thereafter. He had an effervescent glow about him that could completely disarm even the most unwilling of subjects. He embodied a familiarity of home to many a traveler he encountered. His boundless enthusiasm for life will never be forgotten, and neither will his endless stream of support of me in my written endeavors as well as this podcast, which he faithfully followed.
Well, it does have two wheels...
“May you see some light on the path ahead when the road you walk is dark. May you always hear, even in your hour of sorrow, the gentle singing of the lark. When times are hard may hardness never turn your heart to stone. May you always remember when shadows fall...you do not walk alone."