Monday, February 29, 2016

Day 7: Piton de la Fournaise

With the little excursion yesterday I felt like having an adventure today and the greatest adventure one can tackle on Reunion is Piton de la fournaise which is the name of the active volcano on the island. Most people go with guides but all the websites were in French so I decided to make a go of it because, after all, how difficult could it possibly be?

Right before 8AM I got in the VW Up! and wheeled away from my hotel. Again, I’m so amazed at how fast I fall into routines and can feel as if I’ve been doing something for years. This, of course, only happens when I’m someplace I’ve never been and have no knowledge about anything in the place. Anyway, I got on the main road and finally found the right roads to hit D100 that took me back onto the RN1.

It was early in the morning and I hadn’t had an energy drink since I was in Paris so I stopped at a gas station which felt almost like a pit stop because the exit and on ramp are exclusive to this gas station, but going in I lived out a life dream.

This is going to sound odd, but for 20 years I’ve had a dream of stopping at a gas station in a European country. Yes, I’m technically in Africa but the soil is European and walking into the gas station I froze and soaked in the moment because I’ve done some incredible things in this book but this might just take the cake… Okay, in the grand scheme of things this may not be that high up on the list but my Aspie heart was elated as I went to the refrigerator and got a cranberry flavored Red Bull and then I stood in line. This was all so normal! I stood in line and no one around me knew I was from 10,000 miles away and had no idea what they were saying. I got to the counter where the clerk said, “bonjour!” and I, for the first time on this trip, responded with, “bonjour!” and he said the price which I had no idea what it was but I knew I had enough so I handed the money to him and he gave me change and said a bunch of other stuff and when he said “au revoir” I responded in kind and left with the biggest smile you could possibly imagined and I got in the VW, backed up, stalled it, caused a traffic jam, but still had the biggest smile possible.

The drive in store would be partially similar to yesterday’s drive with a trip through Saint Louis but instead of cutting off I’d be continuing to Saint-Pierre up on the RN3 where I would need to find D36. Now here’s the tricky part about D36 and that is there are two of them. Two! That would be like having two main streets in the same town in the same region but not connected. To complicate things road signs here aren’t overtly present outside of the RN1, and RN3. And if that wasn’t enough I accidentally triggered something on my phone that deleted the desired path. Thankfully, with Google maps, the phone remembers where you are and keeps a low-rez image of the region you are in as well as it knows where you are even in flight mode. However, narrowing down whether to take the first, second, third, or sometimes fourth exit at a roundabout can be tricky and on the second roundabout after getting off the RN3 I decided second exit and YES! I was on the D36.

The tricky thing about driving here is that, even though D36 is a semi-main road, there are many spurs off and at some point in time I took one of those spurs and ended up snaking through a neighborhood. Ten minutes later I was back on D36 and ten minutes later I was off on another spur where I came across a water truck and they were watering the shoulder. As to what this accomplished I’m not sure because this road was pavement and only a car width-and-a-half wide but I had to wait for the truck to move to get by. A couple corners later there was a man with a dastardly looking paddle that had the dreaded white bar with a red background and the road was closed so a U-turn was made and I had to deal with the water truck and its crew who were none too happy to see me and they talked to me and I made no indication that I understood them, because I didn’t, and this time the crew and the truck took their good time to clear the way. That would be ten sweet minutes to sit there and think about life.

The road was more fun than the day prior, not as spectacular with cliffs and one lane roads, but there were hairpins and the road was wide enough to not be scared the entire time. As I got to the point where D36 meets D36 (confused yet?) and merged into one D36 I was entering the farm land of Reunion and there were farmers working on the fields and cows with some impressive sized horns. From where I had been just an hour prior on the ocean it was odd to now be in a place that could pass for Iowa!

It was going to be tricky once more finding the right turn towards the volcano as I was looking for the road called Chemin Mathias and even if I wanted to ask someone for help there was no one about today. Really, yesterday driving up to that small mountain village the roads were filled with cars but here I was alone with just the road, daylight, and the cows watching me pass by. When I thought I was getting close I saw a sign that said, “Route du Volcan” I remembered back to knowing that Vulcan was the logical… wait no, that’s Star Trek… Vulcan was the Roman God of fire and volcanos are fire therefore that arrow was telling me the way to go.

As sunny as it was at the hotel the skies were now grey and the temperature was dropping. It was 28C at the hotel and now it was 19C and the numbers continued to drop as I entered the park where the volcano sits which is a really long name and has lots of accents marks I don’t know how to make in Microsoft Word, but I was getting close.

When I got into the park the trees all of a sudden were fir trees and I could’ve sworn I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The roads got twisty again and the 180 degree hairpins came back and I was not going to take these at any high rate of speed and once again I got in the habit of letting cars by. Somehow the cars I let by I got in front of them and the game went on but eventually I made it to where the pavement ends.

Mars? Am I on Mars? I knew I wasn’t but the surroundings could fool you and you’d have
thought they shot the movie The Martian right out in any given direction as the ground was red and rocks were haphazardly everywhere with some formations and others that tried but failed and were just in a pile. The road now was a gravel/rock mix with plenty of pot holes. I was stuck behind two other cars that were doing just 10kph and trying to miss every hole. A minivan stormed by doing at least 50, and I thought about joining him, but there were an alarmingly high amount of various car parts scattered about. There was a hose, then part of a muffler, then a wheel so I figured that the two cars in front of me knew something that I didn’t so I followed them slowly.

What should have been a 100 minute drive turned into 165 minutes but there I was at the end of the line. The temperature was now 14.5C, or 58.1F and the slight mist became a steady mist. “Dang! Only if I had a water proof jacket” I said only to remember that I do, at least back in my hotel room in my second suitcase which is my USAC raingear. So I was without a rain jacket, oh well, I still had shorts on. Shorts? Um, okay, this wasn’t starting out all that well but I did bring my extra warm long johns that I wore in Norway so I put those on and then put my shorts over them and I got my energy bars and water ready and I got out of my car ready for the five hour trek.

            Five hours lay ahead and if it were sunny I would be able to see the destination, but the ceiling was low and the mist was now teetering on being called a heavy drizzle. I got to the gate that had information in many languages and one was the dangers of an eruption and if the gate is closed it said, “do not pass due to extreme danger” which I thought was the most obvious statement ever because you can have signs that say, “don’t feed the bears” or, “don’t get out of your car in a nature preserve” but lava, yeah, I’ll do anything I can do to avoid a run in with lava.

            There were other bits of information such as, “don’t attempt to hike in heavy rain or heavy fog”. I looked up at the sky and it wasn’t exactly foggy and an annoying mist teetering on a heavy drizzle is not heavy rain so onward I went and found the 20 stories of stairs. That’s right, on this hike you immediately start with the steepest decent possible with what is the equivalent height of 20 stories and the stairs are spaced far apart and are uneven. One wrong step and it’ll be a nasty landing and my phobia of losing a tooth kept coming into my head.

            Zigging, then zagging, followed up by more of the same over and over as the decent continued onward into what I presumed to be a crater of some sort. I didn’t exactly know because it was now becoming a moderate rain with moderate fog. I had some trepidations on continuing but a volcano! How often does one get to do this? (Residents of places where volcanoes are common don’t answer that)

When I got to the bottom the world changed. On the decent stage there were an abundance of greens be it trees or flowers and now I was back on Mars, but instead of driving through it I would now be walking in it and the ground was not even as it obviously, at some point in time, been lava as I could see streaks where it had flowed and there were even some imprints of footsteps which puzzled me. I did have to look down a lot because the ground wasn’t even in the slightest and I had to choose my step closely all the while following the white bits of paint which is the guide. As close as the dots of paint are I became concerned because this meant when it gets foggy it gets to the point where one can’t see 15 feet in front and as I looked up for the first time in a while I could only see four dots in front of me. This now, in my book, classified as heavy fog. Oh, and the rain? It was now heavy with winds gusting well over 20 and here I am with nothing truly waterproof outside of my boots which were soaked on the inside from rain coming down and my computer bag substituting as a hiking bag and a voice of reasoning started to say, “Aaron, what the HELL are you doing? It’s one thing to travel to place you’ve never been but you know you can manage that but this? You’re no outdoorsman!” I decided that voice didn’t know what it was talking about and I continued onward.

I then heard something I hadn’t heard since the angry watering men and that was voices and through the fog came a couple and the woman frantically approached me and said, “bonjour!” and I returned in kind which led her to believe that I spoke French and I had to say, meekly and in the form of a question, “English?” and then the hand gestures and guessing games begun.

Her words went from French to partial English but I heard a word I understood as “accident” is the same, or at least spelled the same, in both languages, so I said and nodded, “accident?” and she said yes. She was visibly frustrated on trying to find the words to say. She kept pointing the way I was going and the way they came and she kept making a motion of a jacket which I presumed she was concerned about my well-being but she reiterated accident and I pointed that way and asked, “did someone fall?” and I made a falling motion and she nodded. She then said “serious, about 10 minutes from here” and that they were, “seeking cover and help”. I said I had nothing and they continued their way back to the starting point where there is a snack bar to seek that help. As they left the man, which hadn’t spoken, yelled to me, “be careful.”

I ventured forward ever the adventurer but their words now hit me. They had said, and I left this out, someone was tending to the seriously injured person, but as the rain now falling icily, and the wind blustering, and the fog denser than it had been I realized a trip onward would be asinine. There’s being an adventurer and there’s being in conditions in which one knows what they are doing and then there’s foolishly risking one’s life in the pursuit of trying to get an awesome Facebook profile picture. This wasn’t going to happen and I turned around and then climbed the stairs of doom (they weren’t as fun going up as down) and when I got to my car an hour later I turned the heat on and I thought about my day and then I thought about the various delays I had. It was an hour’s worth of delays and had I gotten there at my scheduled time it probably would’ve been sunny and I might not have brought the long johns. I’d have been hiking up the volcano which the weather is even worse there and potentially that could’ve been me needing help. Furthermore, with the conditions so poor, had I had an issue there most likely would have been no other parties making a trek that day, or even tomorrow if the weather continues to be poor, so with that thought I was content on my decision to abort the journey.

It was a long drive back, which I did see an ambulance at the entrance to the park some forty minutes in so help was on the way, but the drive back was made longer because I took the wrong D36, but made exploits in the crater got me thinking about how all this can tie into Asperger’s. This trip, at least on the island thus far, has been the least social of my trips, but it’s also been the most “out there” trip. Had this been trip #1 I wouldn’t have had the gull to get a car and venture out. Could I have done it? Possibly, but with each trip comes just a tick more of confidence and within the failure of my expedition comes the heart of this story and that is this; this book isn’t about a person on the autism spectrum exceeding their limits, but slowly increasing it. Could I someday be a hiker trained enough to take on conditions like that in earnest? With the training yes, maybe, but I’m not a hiker nor have I had any training so how could I even expect to make it with those odds against me? So too is everything else regarding the autism spectrum. The next person you may read, or know, that is on the autism spectrum may not want to travel, and doing what I’m doing in this experience may end much like my expedition to the volcano, but that’s the important thing.

Limits are an important thing to understand and when a limit is reached it’s got to be realized. I reached a crossroads in that crater; admit defeat or carry on to which would have been highly perilous. I chose right, thankfully, but what if I had tried Hammerfest on my first trip with no confidence? How would I have dealt with the drunk man without the confidence in previous life experiences? Progression is a key to life, autism spectrum or not, and one can’t simply go out and be the best or exceed their limitations simply because they want to. No, one has to work for it and work hard for what they want. It’s small steps, one at a time to get to a destination and for the next person out there, instead of a volcano, it may be getting a driver’s license, getting a job, or understanding fractions (ugh! Fractions) but whatever it is if the person isn’t prepared it could end in misfortune. Thankfully, today, I decided not to exceed my limitations. Hey, I just turned 33 yesterday, I gotta at least get a couple days past my birthday!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day 6: 33! And the Road of 420 Bends

The day I loathe above all others came and because I’m 10 time zones east of home it came earlier this year (yay…?) and I was amazed at how fast it felt routine to go outside to the courtyard where the pool is which is also the dining area to have breakfast. This time I was on sparrow watch and got my drink before my food much to the display of the group of sparrows that were watching me hoping that I didn’t learn my lesson. Well, take that sparrows! No breakfast on my account on my birthday!

With my foot healing at doctor’s orders to stay off it the best I can and also stay out of the ocean for two days I was left at a loss as to what to do today. My first thought was to sit in my room and sulk all day on everything that isn’t and all that I’m not but that quickly seemed unproductive so I decided it was time for a road trip. I had never heard of the destination which was a town called Cilaos but it was at the end of a roadway with the name of N5 and from the roadmap the road looked to be a fun drive so out the door I went with a minimal amount of preparation. All I knew was to get on the RN1 to the N5. How hard could it possibly be? I mean, in America, interchanges are essentially information overload with sign after sign after sign.

My phone gave me directions for the first six turns I needed to do and I made it onto the RN1 and I knew the N5 started in the town of Saint Louis. What a coincidence seeing that I come from Saint Louis but I’m sure, here, it’s pronounced much more French like which I’d opine is the proper way. Anyway, the signs counting down Saint Louis went from 40km to 25 to 15 to… Um? Somehow I missed the exit and thankfully it wasn’t 20 kilometers like the day I got here before the next exit so I exited, did a U-turn, and look diligently for a N5 sign but no sign came and now I was through Saint Louis again. How did people live before turn-by-turn navigation?

Again, I exited quickly and turned around and got off in Saint Louis and was quickly greeted with proper city traffic with stop and go but then I got to the most confusing intersection of all time; it was a four way go. Four way go? In America we’ve got four way stops where all cars stop and in a chaotic way it works as cars take turn going but here, on a four way go, it’s much like a poker game where you’ve got to bluff your way across the intersection. No really, if you wait for a car to let you go, or rather had I waited for that to happen I’d still be there waiting, and waiting, and waiting. I wasn’t in a waiting game and I didn’t know the proper rules, as I’m a rules stickler, but when there are no rules chaos ensues, and it somehow works, but I went for it and made it through and at the next intersection there was a sign pointing left with the town name of Cialos. I only knew of one road that went that way so I took it and a mile, ahem, about a kilometer-and-a-half down the way I saw it, the N5 had begun.

The locals call it the road of 420 bends and it started off tame alongside an empty river bed. Many signs warned of the dangers of this empty river as the signs, and they were in English which meant the signs meant business, stated that flashfloods can occur even on a sunny day. I tried to figure this out but it was English and I’m not from here so I took its word for it not that I had the urge to go playing on the large rocks that formed the river bed.

I did mention it started off tame but the speed limit end sign, which is a sign with the kph with slashes through it much like the end of town sign I said in a previous post, was shown and this confused me because as that sign came the road began to twist, turn, rise, and dip with the likes I have never encountered. If you’ve been to the Black Hills in South Dakota there are some twisty bits there but this was, this was driving nirvana! However, I was scared out of my mind and was more nervous taking on this road. At one point I pulled off and wondered, “Is this really worth it?” as the lanes were just one car width wide and at some points there was only one lane and I’m in a rental with a manual transmission. Do I have any business trying to climb this mountain? Actually, walking up seemed an easier proposition.

I felt up to the challenge so I got back in my car and I’ll admit I was nervous because this road required 100% concentration. If any driver’s concentration ever waned there are reminders everywhere on the consequences as memorial crosses can be seen every mile or so. There’s no margin for error and at some points in time there’s just this flimsy one foot high stone wall separating you from a several hundred foot straight down drop. Oh, and this also is in the midst of a blind corner with only one lane. Perfectly safe, right? The locals drove this road as if it were Daytona with, what I swear, was reckless abandon as it seemed they never slowed down. I’m white-knuckling it and they’re driving this road as if it’s main street of any small town in America with no dangers lurking.

Not only are other cars a factor but gear selection also is a major part of working this dance that is the N5. I really wanted a co-driver like those that race in rallies have with the co-driver saying, “3 left into 2 right into hairpin left” as I had no idea what was around each bend which is why I drove with such caution. Each time a car came up behind me I would, when there was actually a chance, peel off the road to let them by and each time the driver of the passing car waived at me because they could easily gather that I was unfamiliar with these roads and I would try and stay with the car that passed me but after a minute they were gone. I just didn’t like the prospect of having a head-on collision.

The gear game was getting rather old and in this series of back-to-back hairpin, and when I
say hairpin it’s quite literally a 180 degree corner and as I would turn in to a right hand hairpin I was looking out the rear passenger window to view where I wanted to go. However, I had three cars behind me at this one hairpin and I forgot to downshift to first gear and I stalled the car. It was the first time I stalled it outside of my awful time trying to find the reverse gear my first day, but the car behind me honked at me and I said, “Yes, because I want to stop on a narrow road and cause a scene!” which obviously they couldn’t hear but the string of cars passed me and I was once again, after restarting the car, back on my way.

Every so often a small village would be passed and at one point there was this town in this valley that I’d have loved to stop and take a photo of but there was no place to pull off to do so. I had stopped previously in the road to take a picture of a hairpin but that was when I knew I had at least two minutes of time between myself and the potential next car, but here visibility behind was nothing and the locals drive this road, as I said, at Mach 3. Yes, it seemed the higher we got the faster they drove.

It just kept going! The N5, which I was now calling special stage Never-ending 5 just kept going and with mountains on both sides of me I had no ability to judge my progress. It was upshift-downshift-up-down-down-up-up-down-turn-turn-turn some more and it was all great fun but this was more intense than any race I had ever been in. Now maybe had I been in my car, in the states, it would’ve been different, or maybe if I knew the road, but the last thing I wanted was to deal with wrecking a rental car on foreign soil.

When I thought I was near the now all but mythical town of Cilaos there was this 90 degree corner with the sign for tunnel. What the sign didn’t say was that this tunnel was just barely one car width wide and was about 100 yards long. “Oh, lovely!” I said with the greatest sense of sarcasm possible, “How does this work?” A car was coming out so I focused to the light at the end of the literal tunnel and I proceeded and just as I did a car made its way on the other side. I frantically tried to figure out how to turn my headlights on but it wasn’t in the space that every car I’ve driver had them, but thankfully the brights were the same so I blared the high beams and the other car stopped, reversed, and blared their horn at me the entire time I was in the tunnel. “Yes, thank you, I’m not from around here” is what I would’ve said but that driver was angry and I wanted to proceed.

Seriously, where was this town? Another tunnel, more hairpins, some construction cleaning up a fallen boulder (that’s reassuring!) and some landscaping were seen but Cilaos remained this mythical town up in the clouds but as I rounded one last turn there was the town sign. I was there! I had made it! I’ve always had the dream of going to Germany to drive the Nurburgring but now I don’t know if that track will have the same mystique as the N5.

Now that I was in Cilaos I had to figure out what to do. Do I just do a U-turn and leave? I figured I’d drive for just a bit and then do so, but as I got to the high point of town there was this church as well as some clouds coming off the top of the mountain which made for an incredible photo op so I found a parking space and got out. I then saw, over to my left, the start of a hiking trail. I didn’t bring my hiking boots but did bring a liter of water so I figured my injured foot, which was the foot that was constantly working the clutch pedal, needed a break from clutching so what better way to rest than to do a hike, right? I’m not good at taking orders it would seem.

My inspiration for this hike was a waterfall that I could see so I started down the trail and it wound down, down, and further down. With each step I knew I would have to walk back up and after 20 minutes, when I got to a paved road and on the other side the path split into four ways, I figured that was my sign to turn around and walk back. It was at this time that I finally realized something; this was my birthday! The fact of this had slipped my mind with all the twists and turns and being scared out of my mind but for the first time since I was little I was having a blast on my birthday. Granted, this was because I forgot about it, but that’s okay because, well, it just is.

The hike back to my car sucked. No, really, it sucked. I don’t know if it was exhaustion from all the travel (have I actually rested on this trip?) or the energy exerted from swimming in the ocean the day prior, but each step up felt like a 1,000 foot journey. I said aloud, “I’m too young for this!” which then reminded me that today was my birthday and the joyous mood dropped for a moment but I got back to my car and mentally prepared for the return trip.

Going down the mountain was easier than going up although I did have a couple close calls with the public transit busses but I made it back to Saint Louis and ended up taking a wrong turn and had to endure the four way go again and I just went and it seemed to work and no one honked and on my way back to the hotel I took four more wrong turns (oh, GPS, how I miss you!) but eventually I made it. I had been gone just five hours but those five hours were filled with literal twists and turns and when I walked into my room I didn’t think, “I’m 33” I instead thought, “Oh, my, goodness, what a ride it’s been!”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day 5: A Trip to the Doctor

How does the medical system work on Reunion? What’s the price? Would I need my travel insurance I got? There were a lot of questions but frankly I didn’t give a hoot because there was coral in my foot and it needed to be removed five minutes ago. For the fourth time I went to the front desk and asked if there was a doctor’s office and sure enough there was one right beside the pharmacy I had gone to.

            This meant, for the fourth time today, I got back in my VW Up and now with no issues with the reverse gear I made my way and once again parked a couple blocks away which meant walking on my foot was of great joy (sarcasm alert) and went into the door beside the pharmacy which led up some stairs to a… Dentist office?

            There are certain smells in this world that are unmistakable and the smell of a dentist’s office is one of them. And, in this case, if the smell didn’t give it away the pictures of a dentist’s chair and smiling faces did. The receptionist was on the phone and I waited patiently and when she got off I asked if she spoke English which the response, which I was learning is the norm, was, “a little” so I asked if there were a doctor’s office in that building and she said, “yes, down and to the right.”

            I went down and went to the end of the building and I saw nothing. I walked into the pharmacy then which was to the left and asked the person behind the counter and the only thing she could say was, “I don’t speak English” but she got the manager who was very much happy to help me and when she showed me the way it truly was down and to the right, as it immediate right and I had walked past the door without noticing it on my first time by.

            Inside the receptionist spoke no English and had me right my name and birthdate out and then I waited for an hour but then it was my turn and I went into a room where two doctors were working. One spoke a fair amount of English and the other a minimal amount. The one that spoke English asked me what happened and I spoke as plainly and as matter of fact as I could and he said, “it’s better safe than sorry with coral, let’s take a look.” Out came the magnifying glass and lights and he said, “There’s nothing there.” Nothing? I was sure there were still some small specks of coral and he took another look and the other doctor then got a pad of some sort and rubbed it and told me, “for this no charge, no money, don’t worry about it.”

The doctor with the minimal amount of English thanked me for speaking so direct and without much flair or accent in my voice because he said he could actually discern the words I was saying so I mentioned that I am a public speaker as my job and then the doctor that spoke better English inquired as to what I speak on to which I said autism and he looked confused. He had never heard of it. I tried explaining what autism was but the words I was using wasn’t be understood. He then asked what the French version of the word was and I remembered I had Google Translate on my phone and I was connected to wifi so I translated autism which went to autisme in French and then both of them knew it. The doctor with the minimal amount of English then said he had saw this wonderful movie about a professor that… that… He had trouble finding the words so I asked, “cows” to which the word meant nothing so he then said, “moo” and I said with confidence, “Temple?” to which he then grinned and said, “Yes! Temple Grandin!” so I had to show him the picture of myself presenting with her at a conference and there was a gigantic smile on his face.

We then talked about what I do with police officers, and how six years ago there wasn’t the awareness there is today. I was asked how many people in America have autism and I rattled off the numbers and we talked for about half an hour about autism. They then gave me the name of a French journalist who wrote a book about, I think her son, with the title of, “the boy who steals toothbrushes” or something along those lines which I will look up when I get back home, but the conversation came to an end and they realized there were other patients to see so once again I was told, “No money, don’t worry, you do amazing and important work!” I couldn’t envision ever hearing that from a doctor in America.

We shook hands in front of the receptionist and I left only to be tracked down by the receptionist when I got a block away and I heard her shouting, “Monsieur!” so I turned away and she said, “Euros!” I said, “The doctors said ‘no money, no pay’” This confused her and she said, “No pay?” which told me she had no idea what I was saying. Not wanting any confrontation I went back and the doctors I had seen were already with another patient so I couldn’t get their affirmation of my claim. Despite my words the receptionist drew up a bill for 27.60 Euros which I didn’t want to pay but I took out a 50 Euro note and handed it to her once again saying, “the doctors said not to pay” to which she said, “yes, no pay” thus reinforcing that those English words meant nothing to her and rightfully so as if someone from France came to Saint Louis and told me anything in French I’d have no idea what they were saying but I’d try to make it sound like I knew what they were.

The receptionist left to go somewhere with my money and she came back with change and I then left a bit out of money but all things considered I now knew my foot had no more coral in it and that autism is something known even on this island 10,000 miles away from home and the doctors wanted to know a little bit more about it and if I had to fall upon some coral, run about town getting various medical supplies, and pay some Euros to find that out that is perfectly fine by me because of two reasons; the first is it gives me hope to know that autism awareness is far reaching but secondly, I can now say I’m given an impromptu presentation on both the almost top of the world and the almost bottom of the world. Next time I have something sensational like this, however, I hope it doesn’t require a fall, or Swiss army knives, or any of the other almost comedy of sequences experienced today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day 5: Aaron vs. Coral

Morning came and jet lag wasn’t an issue. I don’t know what it is but the two times I’ve gone to Europe I’ve been ransacked by it but when I went to Japan and now here it hasn’t been an issue. Now watch since I’ve said this tonight will be an issue. That’ll teach me to boast about something, I’m sure.

            Anyway, it was morning and time for breakfast which was in the same place as dinner was so I got some scrambled eggs and homemade pancakes and placed them at my table and then I went to go get orange juice, which I can’t stand but milk wasn’t an offering, and when I got back to the table about a dozen sparrow, or sparrow looking birds, were having a party feasting on my breakfast. Two men a couple tables behind me burst out laughing and my drooping of my shoulders in defeat added to their laughter. Was anything going to go smoothly on this trip?

            It was a stunning morning and I had no plans. I actually thought my body would have nothing left in the fuel tank but as I got back to my room I looked out at the ocean and it was all but calling my name. I haven’t been to an ocean in a state where I could go into the water for over two decades. My family up until I was about nine would take a yearly vacation to Panama City, Florida but every time since then I’ve been to the Gulf Coast it was to cover a hurricane and take pictures. That being said I wondered what wonders would be experienced in the water so I got my googles, swimming trunks, and swim shoes and out I went.

            This part of the island as the lagoon which is an area of somewhat shallow water protected by a barrier reef. This is important because this island has had a severe problem with sharks, specifically the bull shark, and swimming is not advised anywhere but here as I heard a story just at breakfast about, a couple years ago, a person being taken by a shark right in front of their mom just 20 meters from shore. I somewhat feared sharks in this lagoon but there were about a dozen people out there and one was fishing which meant they were local so if the local person felt safe out there then so should I.

            I have to admit it was a bit intimidating walking into the water. I love to swim, I don’t do it enough, but I’m proficient at it but there’s something that tugs at the soul as one willingly leaves land to walk into an ocean. Perhaps this could be used as a metaphor for taking a leap, but that’s sort of what it is. Land is safe and the ocean has sharks.

            After getting knee deep I looked behind me where an elderly couple were settling down under the hotel’s umbrellas which once again reminded me of just how alone I am here so I made it a mission of mine to swim out to the reef. This distance appears to be over a quarter-of-a-mile and would further than I have ever swam before but here was a challenge and I wanted to conquer it! That so I walked further, but my googles over my eyes, and lunged outward and went under and was greeted with a festival of life.

            Unbeknownst to me while I was wading out was that my presence had sparked the interest of many fish. There were green fish, black fish, some black slug like things on the ocean floor, coral, and the most miraculous yellow fish with the long tail like thing coming off their heads. One would not know it unless they were fully immersed under the water that there was so much going on. I smiled the best I could but obviously I didn’t want a mouth full of seawater in my mouth so I quickly surfaced and screamed, “Wow!” to which no one could hear, thankfully, but like an excited kid experiencing the ocean for the first time I wanted more so I kept swimming outward wanting to reach the limit of the lagoon.

            About halfway to the waves which marked the end the depth only got to two feet which made swimming tricky because the last thing I wanted to do was feel was that sharped edged coral felt like at speed and also when coming to stop I had to plan the landing much like a helicopter spotting their landing spot. It got deep again and I went swimming at speed and I noticed the fish in front of me all going to the right and a speed I hadn’t seen and I had the silly thought of, “oh look, the fish expressway” but the silly thought was quickly replaced with a, “uh oh!” as I got to it as it was actually a current. This current wasn’t a rip current or anything of a severe nature but it was strong enough that it altered my swimming path and I needed air so I had to surface and not being prepared for the current I had no way to catch my balance and at the same time my foot caught a ridge which tripped me up and to cap it all off there was a drop off right into coral which my left food landed on. There was pain right away on my foot but I thought I just scraped it and I scratched my left hand up as well and my left thumb was bleeding. I thought of trudging on to the end of the lagoon but I figured since sharks like blood in the water I best head back.

            Finding my way back through the coral was difficult as the currents were stronger now and pushing me to the north. The pain in my foot was growing so when I got to a place I could stand I took off my shoe and there was a large black something-rather embedded in my skin. I looked at the underside of the shoe and there was an unmistakable puncture as if it were a tire that had picked up a nail. I’m not a fan of having foreign objects within my skin but this was no time to panic because there was a current that required attention. Again, this current probably couldn’t sweep me away but I had to keep my weight to one side or I would have risked another fall and coral was not on my good side and I didn’t want to have another visit. Besides that coral isn’t to be disturbed and that’s fully fine by me.

            As I got closer to land the current became stronger so I stopped swimming the way I wanted and swam with the current in a diagonal fashion inching my way to the shore and finally I made it. I had been out in the water for an hour and my body was exhausted but this was no time to rest because I had to figure out what, exactly, was going on with my foot. I quickly used the outdoor shower to get the sand of my legs and shoes and rushed to my room and I took off my shoe and there was a large piece of coral that had pierced my skin. I used some tweezers and tried to gently extract it which I did, but then I noticed a bunch of black under my skin in the surrounding area. When it went in it fractured so I looked up “cut by coral” on the internet and I was not a fan of what I read. Oh yes, I know, the internet and anything medical is not a great combo, especially when amputation and death are associated with what one searched. The consensus was this, though, and that was the coral can’t be allowed to stay in the skin or bad things happen. This meant it was time for a small field trip to a store.

            I went to the front desk and explained I needed antibacterial cream and alcohol which he didn’t fully understand what I meant, as English is not common on the island, but he gave me directions to a grocery store.

            It was a short drive and I tried to ask one person that worked there where the aisle I needed was but the only thing she could say in English was, “no English” so I searched and searched and in the far corner I had success but everything was in French! I didn’t know what the antibacterial cream would look like and I looked for something akin to Neosporin (or rather I looked for Neosporin) but there was nothing so I just got the alcohol, checked out, and went back to my room.

            I used my Swiss army knife’s blade and started slowly moving skin about… I know this sounds pleasant but just be thankful you weren’t the one having to do this, and there were about a dozen small pieces of coral and sand in the wound. I worked and worked gingerly (I should’ve been a surgeon with the delicate touch I have!) to remove as much as I could but it just seemed to never end in what was a rather small wound and I realized I needed anti-bacterial cream which the grocery store didn’t and I remembered I drove by a pharmacy the day before so it was the opposite direction of the grocery store so off I went.

            Inside the pharmacy the first person I encountered spoke, as she said, “a little English” and I stated what I needed in words as easiest as I could (anti-bacterial cream isn’t the easiest to say) so showed her a few scrapes and made a motion as if to apply lotion so she went to the back and got me some, and then she also brought out bandages (why hadn’t I thought of that?) and I checked out and went back to my hotel room.

            This was now becoming a bit of a panic because I needed all the particulates removed from my body. I didn’t want paralysis, it going septic, or even losing my foot. Thank you internet for not raising my anxiety levels! Here I am on an island paradise and I’m doing a minor surgery on my foot so as not to lose it. I was losing it, mentally, because I’m 10,000 miles away from home dealing with this situation and I was finally able to see that this is exactly what I wanted in this Aspie Traveler series. This was the unknown and random experience I hoped to encounter. Granted, the consequences of this, if it got infected, were more severe than I hoped to encounter, but this was a test of being on my own as far away from home as possible.

            The internet also said I needed to flush the wound out but the tap water here is questionable (the internet said so) and I remember my grandma using hydrogen-peroxide on cuts and the internet then said use a 50% water 50% hydrogen-peroxide combo so off to the store I went… not so fast. I knew what I needed in English but what would this be in French? I opened up the Google translate app and put it in and I got the word, and I went back to the original grocery story to get that plus some water.

            Back in the hotel I did my final bit of work on it, now about three hours after the original time I got back to my room to address the situation, and there were a few bits I just couldn’t get out so it was then I declared my defeat to the coral and decided it was time to seek professional help which is where I will pick up the story in the next chapter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day 4: The Arrival, the Drive, and Dinner at Sunset

The flight was a short one as the distance between the two islands is a mere 134 miles but as we took off from Mauritius I was left speechless as to the shades of blue in the ocean below. I may have flown over the oceans many times but from 30,000+ feet it’s hard to see anything, but the reefs and lagoons and whatever other words are used to describe this downright sight of pure beauty was, well, I said barely audible, “oh, my, goodness!”

 As the engine changed pitch I knew we were getting close and from my seat in 1A I could see the island approaching on the horizon and I felt very much as if this was some sort of scene in a movie when the main character realizes a long time dream is about to come true. My first impression was that the island was much bigger than I imagined. Not that I imagined it to be small as almost a million people live here, but compared to the behemoth neighbor of Madagascar this island is but a mere speck. However, as we touched down and I could see the mountains covered in a low ceiling of fog and houses all along the side it was obvious this place was certainly big enough and I was ready for whatever was about to come my way which was, well, something certainly was coming my way.

            The bags came out and I wondered what awaited me the other side of the customs door. Would this be a repeat of the tip monsters from Antananarivo or would I be able to navigate in peace and carry my own bags which I’m very much capable of doing? The answer was that there was no one which was an odd contrast. The airport wasn’t up to the 21st century marvel that Mauritius had but I appreciated the low key atmosphere and it was, if anything, exactly how I envisioned this airport to be.

            I now had to find my rental car and I asked a couple people but English wasn’t spoken which I tried three people and this meant I, for once, came across a place that English absolutely isn’t a foregone certainty in that you’ll easily be able to find a person who speaks it. In Norway the ONLY person I came across that didn’t speak was the waitress in the Hammerfest episode so this added to the goal I wanted on this trip on feeling alone and isolated.

            Frustration started to set in and I was in my favorite position of having to figure it out on my own as the social option wasn’t an option and then, I finally found it which it had been there the entire time. The top of the painting on the building was in French but below it, in as plain as English as one could hope, read, “Rental Cars.”

            The lady at the rental car place barely spoke English and I didn’t understand most of what she tried to tell me and I think she didn’t understand a word she said. I asked about full insurance to which she simply stated that, “liability is limited to $800 but will not cover coconuts that fall.” Knowing my luck, thus far, a severe coconut watch has been issued which means conditions are ripe for coconuts falling on unsuspecting drivers.

            So I got my keys and exited the building, made a right and went to spot 29 where I met my friend for the next week, a VW Up. I’ve obviously heard of Volkswagen but never the Up. I did an inspection for damage and all the marks previously noted were there but nary a spot more. I got in and froze because this was a stick shift and I, outside 30 minutes with my friend Travis 15 months ago, haven’t driven a stick shift since 2003. This could be, well, being a former race car driving instructor the last thing I would want to do is stall and create a miniature jam and have angry drivers blaring their horns at me. During this frozen bit I stared at the gear shifter and tried to remember if I needed to hold the clutch in to start, or if only in gear and I remembered that it’s all good when it’s in neutral so I turned the key and the VW came to life.

            Now that the car was started I could worry on the major matter at hand; there was no GPS! I had positioning, in a way, by a static view on my phone which even in airplane mode it knows where it is, but I couldn’t load the full roads nor could I get turn by turn directions. Also, when I began, it didn’t move so I choose the way I thought was west and I started to drive.

            Quickly I merged onto a road where the speed limit was 110kph and I said aloud, “110! I’m not ready for this!” and as I tried to merge I learned that the “Up” in the car title makes no reference to power as I was truly foot to the floor and the car barely had anything to make it to a speed that was safe to merge. “We are off to a grand start!” I told the car.

            Reunion Island, as mentioned with its population, also has a high amount of car traffic as there aren’t that many roads and as I got to the heart of Saint-Denis on the N2 traffic was gridlocked and was stop and go. My left leg got a workout on the clutch but I never stalled it but one thing that puzzled me was that there’s no tachometer in this car which makes knowing when to make a proper shift rather difficult. There is a suggested gear indicator but its suggestions often were counterintuitive to what I wanted to do.

            Finding my hotel, the La Nautile Beach, was going to be difficult. I knew I had to take the N2 to the N1 to a smaller road named D100 but that wasn’t for another 40 kilometers and in this thick of traffic this looked like it was going to take a while, but as I turned the northwest corner of the island the traffic thinned and it became pure motoring with the almost micro car I was driving and cliffs to my right and the Indian Ocean to my right. Freedom was being experienced in full force.

            In the midst of enjoying this freedom driving in a foreign land I managed to miss my exit, or maybe there was never an exit because I never saw D100 so I drove, and drove, and drove some more. There were no exits, no off ramps, but I could see down below about half a mile to my right the road I believed I wanted, but how to get there? I glanced down at my static map of the island and could see that there was a road, the D12 I believe, and I took the off ramp from the N1, which I need to say is very reminiscent of an established highway in the US (not quite to interstate code) but when I got to D12 things got real different in a hurry as the road was narrow, twisty, and off each lane was a deep gap for rain water which meant the slightest of error would result in either a head on collision with oncoming traffic or one destroyed corner of the car by falling into the man-made storm drainage ditch. Oh, and I forgot to mention, all the while from when I began from the airport motorcycles are passing on both sides between cars. They also do this when it’s just one lane in each direction! This raises the stakes as a mistake could be catastrophic so with every lane change I made I checked thrice for motorcycles.

            The D12 led me to Route de Saint-Pierre which was the road I needed so I followed it until I got to a roundabout but I was sure I took the wrong direction because I was now headed up a hill and my hotel is on the beach so I glanced down again and I was on the express road to the N1. “Oh, this is just swell!” I all but screamed but I saw a car in front of me duck off to the right so I followed it onto a rather narrow side road with no ability to turn around. I did attempt to turn around but now had I gone any further I would go up a rock embankment surely doing damage to my car. I needed to move my car as soon as I could because I was now blocking this side street so I tried to put the car in reverse but it wouldn’t go. “I know it’s right below fifth gear because it says “R” and there’s nothing lost in translation, that means reverse so why… won’t… you… shift!”

            It just wouldn’t go so I tried to let the car roll back but as I did that it rolled towards the rock pile but with full lock steering to the right I avoided it so I went down this side street and it looked as if I had enough room to do a U-turn but once again as I tried it I’d have had a collision had I followed through. Now there was nothing that would work except the reverse gear which seem to be simply a myth. At this time two people that were running ran past my car and the women laughed as she passed as she could see me having this physical struggle with the gear shifter. It was probably funny from the outside but if another car were to come by I’d have some rather angry motorists because I couldn’t move my car.

            The anger got the best of me and I slammed down on the shifter and I felt a click and all of a sudden the car was in reverse. It turns out you’ve got to push down on the shifter so as not to accidentally shift into it when you don’t want to. This would’ve been awesome to know ahead of time but now that I had it figured out I did about a ten point turn and headed back down the way I came to the road by the ocean.

            I was now worried because has hard as it was to find this right road it was going to be even harder to find the exact location. I didn’t want to ask anybody for help because I feared a language barrier but I motored along and eventually say a sign for La Saline Les-Bains which, from my memory of where the hotel was, I was now close, but as fast as I entered town I saw the town sign that signifies that you’re leaving town (a sign with the town name and a red slash through it… It’s a really depressing sign) so when I got to the roundabout I did a, well, I did a roundabout and came back the other way. On a whim I turned to the right and followed the narrow roads and just as I was about to give up and ask the nearest person for help I looked up and there it was! The hotel Le Nautile Beach. I had made it after over 70 hours in transit.

            Emotions ran high for me because this trip was now seeming real. I checked in, walked to my room, and couldn’t believe that the ocean is no more than 100 yards from my window. I looked out and simply stared off into the horizon and the waves crashing at the start of the lagoon and allowed myself to once again say, “oh… my… goodness!”

            The emotions may have been flowing but so to was the sensation of hunger. It was 6:30 in the evening and I walked down to the dining area which is outside right by the pool and learned dinner is served from 7:30 to 9:30. As hungry as I was I stayed in the area but then a pink haze was noticed to the west so I quickly walked from the pool, through the building my room is in, and out onto the beach where I was graced with one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I took a picture and then stood their motionless.

            How did I get here? I mean, yes, I flew 10,000 miles but how did I, a person who was all but hopeless 10 years ago, end up on the shore of the Indian Ocean on a little known island graced with such immense beauty? I was flooded with memories of what was, what could’ve been, and what might just be to come, but as I turned around I noticed something; I was the only person alone here.

            Thankfully I got back to the dinner area in time to make a reservation and they sat me 10 minutes early just as a duo of a woman and a man were starting the entertainment for the evening with acoustic guitars and vocals (it was odd to hear songs in French then John Denver’s “West Virginia” song. I wouldn’t have put that as a likely song to hear here) and it was all so perfect; that is for someone on a vacation but this trip is a trip of self-discovery and self-discovery came as I ordered a new food, this time it was swordfish, and as I finished I looked around and once again I was the only person alone. Granted, yes, that’s to be expected when one travels to a resort type of place, but to visually see it and have it be a reminder of how I feel regardless of where I am is of a highly somber nature.
            The duo continued singing and some Fleetwood Mac songs were being sung when I retired to my room and started to write but exhaustion set in and I fell asleep in the middle of writing this but as my eyes closed I didn’t think, “How did I get here?” but instead, “I made it and what a story it’s been!”

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 4: The End of Travel Is Near: Next Stop Reunion!

I’ve been traveling for over 70 hours now and I’m back at the airport in Mauritius and looking out of the window the beauty of the landscape is something I’m not accustomed to while writing as I can see waves crashing in from the Indian Ocean. There’s now a sense of excitement as I’m about to make it! It seems like I’ve been going from place to place for a month but it’s just been, somehow, four days. However, four days to one location is rather, well, long so I’m going to fire my travel manager… Can I fire myself?

            The Holiday Inn in Mauritius at the airport was a great stay and I wish I would’ve known the amenities they had because I could have gone snorkeling, kayaking, or even wind surfing at no charge! This, however, isn’t about having a great time but is instead about pushing myself. Maybe in Reunion at the place I’m staying they’ll have something like that, but the purpose of this trip isn’t to enjoy myself; however, after my 24 hours in Antananarivo I deserve just a little fun?

            Speaking of fun, I got asked a question at a presentation last week on if I, “enjoy myself” on these trips and I do but not in the way I think a normal tourist would. This, for me, is a highly intensive and almost over encompassing exertion of energy. I mean, I look out this window on what is considered to be one of the ultimate island paradises in the world and I’m still analyzing the meaning of places, and the differences just 650 miles can bring. I think about Asperger’s and how to describe my feelings; I think of ways to describe the physical world around me but this travel isn’t so much about the places I’m in but the fact I’m in these places and how I react to my surroundings whether it’s Norway in the heart of winter or an island paradise in the heart of summer just one month later.

            When I told this parent that was also a teacher this she stated that she was almost sad for me because what an opportunity it is to do this and to not fully enjoy it is, “a shame” as she said. I do enjoy this though; the writings this allows me to accomplish is some of my finest works I feel I have written. With the ongoing issues mentioned in this book (for those reading on my blog there are chapters you aren’t reading as they will be part of the book) I need this; I need to know my strength and I partially do this through new experiences and writing.

            Coming up, when I land, is the part of the trip I have been the most anxious for and that is renting a car. First, there isn’t a 100% guarantee that my International Drivers Permit obtained by AAA will be honored. It should be, but if it isn’t it’s going to be difficult and almost impossible to find a way to traverse the 50 kilometers it will be to my hotel at a decent price (think north of $250 which is much greater than the price of a rental for a week!) but if I do get the car the question I have is whether or not they’ll have a GPS that’s rentable as well. My phone is not international (I really should have one come to think of it) so I can’t simply use Maps and find my way. I have taken pictures of the roads I’ll need and Reunion seems to be an easy place to navigate as there’s one primary ring road around the islands interior mountains.

            When I get there what am I going to do and what am I going to feel? In these 70 plus hours I’ve had a limited amount of meals (I did a number on the hotel breakfast buffet this morning!) and I know I’m teetering of a moderate level of dehydration so am I simply going to crash (in the hotel room, not in the rental) or will I have enough energy to do a fist pump and say, “I did it! I’m here!”?

            Whatever the case may be the end of this seemingly never-ending bit of going from place to place is about over and a dream I had a decade ago is about to be realized and if the beauty of Mauritius is any indication I’m in store for sights that words can give no justice and I hope I can, for at least a moment, take a step back from being a writer being in a place and allow myself the joy of looking around and saying, “oh, my, goodness!”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 3: 650 Miles and Worlds Apart

When it was time to board the plane I just happened to be fortunate as I was enquiring as to what gate the plane would be departing from and at that very moment they called for boarding. At this airport there was no zone, or priority, but rather an open rush to get on the plane. As I exited the building and walked the tarmac there were two acute aromas in the air. The first was the smell of something burning; if you go to Africa, or at least where I’ve been in my life in Kenya and Madagascar it’s hard to shake the smell. Often times it’s burning garbage and at first it’s repulsive, but then it becomes part of the landscape itself and is as distinguishable as the other aroma I smelled and that was the sweet aroma of an incoming African rainstorm.

            I got on the plane before the bottom fell out from the sky and I took my seat which wasn’t a window which was disappointing, but after a slight delay for unknown reasons we took to the skies and it wasn’t long before I had a meal in front of me. I’m not sure what it was, perhaps tuna, but whatever it was I don’t do meat that’s cold so it just sat there, sadly, but it was hard to imagine a US carrier offering a free meal to all on board as well as any drink a person would want at no extra charge. Hard to imagine, right?

            The series of misfortunes continued for me, thankfully this time it was much more mild than the previous two days, but as the meal cart was coming back the other way the driver, ahem, flight attendant had a mishap and the sharp corner of the cart was driven right into the soft spot of my shoulder. I was already hungry to the point that I no longer felt hungry which meant my emotions were even more swingy than normal but I maintained composure and ignored it. The attendant spoke French and it was, “monsieur” this and, “apologies” that but I said I’m fine with a reassuring grimace.

            We landed and it was shades of my trip back from Tokyo as we had some sort of medical issue on board. This was unbeknownst to us passengers and I was third in line to exit the plane when an announcement was made in French, or at least that’s what I think it was, and the person in front of me did a 180 and looked at me and I looked at him and slyly held up my US passport which indicated that I had no idea what was going on and he said, “back to your seat, there’s a report of a potential Ebola case on board.

            I then did a 180 and the person behind her did and slowly all returned to their seats. This was much more orderly than the experience I had in Detroit on the flight back from Tokyo and then there was an announcement in English explaining the situation and that all needed to take their seats, stay there, and await further commands. There were no complaints, and little protest outside one man that had a tight connection but he was assured the other flight would wait so long as we didn’t end up in quarantine. “Quarantine” is always a word that conveys confidence in a situation, don’t you think?

            Oddly I had no anxiety over the situation as I did in Detroit. Maybe it’s because I knew this would be a false alarm as the amount of paperwork one has to fill out to enter a country on their state of health shows that they mean business on trying to curb and eliminate the spread of that heinous virus and with that comes a forced reaction to every severe cough, rash, and fever so I noticed from those around me that this was just “life as usual” in the African continent.

            The delay was 15 minutes and all aboard the plane were calm, relaxed, and there was no single person constantly trying to leave the plane like there was on my earlier trip. I keep stating this because the order and obedience from the directive of the crew held so much more respect that what I witnessed by many Americans in Detroit. Once Ebola was ruled out the crew thanked us for our patience and we were free to go and immediately I knew I wasn’t in Madagascar any more.

            The main airport here in Mauritius is new and modern and could fill in for any city in the US. Parked at one gate was an Emirates Airline A380 which the A380 is the largest passenger craft in the world as of now. The airport also had a smell to it; a smell of success is the only way I could put it.

            I passed a couple of officials and English was not spoken so I was worried about what the passport control aspect was going to be like. Landing in Madagascar the previous night, as I wrote, is a process and I don’t think I stressed enough how strict security is on leaving the country. Now don’t get me wrong, I think security is of the utmost importance when dealing with large aircraft and hundreds of people, and Madagascar takes this to heart as you’ll have your passport checked at the ticket gate, then a precheck before security, then a person to double check the precheck, then before you get to security, then when you pass security and if you’re lucky like I was you’ll have your bag opened which then I learned, once you unzip the bag, don’t try and open it or you’ll risk a slap on the hand (literally) as I did. The woman that did this I think realized I wasn’t accustomed to the ways and somewhat apologized, but then a precise search of everything in my bad happened with extra attention given to the books I brought should I read and the power converter I brought so I’ll have electricity. After 5 minutes my bag was clear and I was free to go.

            If security was like that at a large country like Madagascar, large size wise (compare the two and you’ll see what I mean) then what will it be like on a little island Republic like Mauritius? I was the first to the passport control section and I was about to find out.

            My anxieties, as so often proven in my life, were all for naught. The official that handled my passport was professional and even stated that, “We don’t get that many Americans here” and from there I went to the health station and after that it was to the baggage section which the baggage claim had to be the cleanest, best looking baggage claim I have ever seen. I compared LAX six years ago to a prison (it’s since gotten a bit better) but few airports in the US have anything on this place.

            I had another anxiety; how many “helpers” would be descending upon me when I left? To prepare I got local currency and thankfully the exchange place asked if I had a single large bill be it US or Euro to break into small bills. Why yes, yes I did! However, the anxiety was needlessly felt once again as when I rounded the corner to the exit the only people there were taxi cab drivers in what appeared to be very official gear and hotel vans with signs. I didn’t see the Holiday Inn sign so I walked out the door to my right and finally something went my way as the van had just loaded up two passengers and was about to disembark but I was able to get on and immediately, as we got on the road, I thought I was going to die because we were driving on the wrong side of the road! Granted, I was exhausted and took no notice that the driver was sitting on the right hand side and this, many years ago, was part of the UK in a way (it’s now part of the commonwealth of nations, I believe) and took their driving habits that will scare any person in the world that drives on the right side of the road and isn’t prepared for it.          

            It was a short drive and I was now concerned about tips. Would the same game be played? I tried to get my bag and not have the bellman get it because I don’t know how much is proper, or if it is even proper here (remember, it is offensive in Japan to offer a tip) so I had a bit of anxiety again. The driver quickly left once the bags were on the cart which meant there wasn’t even time to offer a tip and when the bellman took me to my room he explained the features of my room and then dropped my bags off as I was getting out the Rupee coins I had which was, I thought, implying I was getting a tip ready but he departed without a second thought of awaiting a reward and my door was closed and for the first time in 48 hours I could simply be without regret, fear, or wondering what was next.

            I’m only 650 miles from the events of yesterday (and this morning) and I am utterly astounded by the contrast and I’m trying to rationalize the difference. It’s difficult being an American in that it is hard to understand the contrast in the world. This wasn’t like traveling 650 miles and going from, say, Kansas City to Denver, but rather this was like traversing to a whole different world. I go back to my words I ended the previous chapter with in that, “the world works” and I do believe it does so but what is this driving force that makes it work considering the country I’m in now is much more modern, clean, and there are kids hanging off the back of a van bus to travel? This force, I think, is the ability to adapt. Maybe this is the hidden theme of the book I didn’t even know was there. I’ve been to several incredible places and at each place the residents there live different lives compared to the other places I’ve been but people, somehow, make it work. Do others have it better than others? Oh yes, most certainly, I’m not going to deny that in the slightest, and yet when you ride down the streets in Antananarivo and the poverty there isn’t this look of downtrodden or defeat but kids are playing, women are selling trinkets, some men will have a small meat shack selling food, but there’s a desire to make the most of it and to try and exceed what is given of them. However, I must ask, isn’t that what we all do no matter the situation?

            Today was a rare day and a day that fully tests one’s ability to comprehend the world. If I were uncaring I wouldn’t have noticed the difference nor would I have felt any emotions towards it, but I am affected by it. I do wonder what could be done where I came from to make it more like here, but is that possible, or is societies, much like Asperger’s, stuck in their ways and making changes, even for the better, are difficult because if things become status quo people within that environment become accustomed to it and what is simply is and that’s that. Maybe it’s because I’m ambitious and that I refused to accept status quo in my life after accepting it for so long that I wonder what could be done to see a change in the world, but then again if it works… But what is the definition of working? Is working one’s tail off and playing some not fair games to make a wage right? Or what about here in Mauritius where wages aren’t all that high per what the all knowing internet has to say but the people here don’t wait for a tip. But then again let’s go back to Tokyo and the overall conformity I witnessed. Is conformity right if it removes any sense of individuality? Obviously the answers to each of these questions can only be answered by each individual on this planet and so too is what having Asperger’s is like. What is the right way to live with it? There is no one answer because we are all so unique and as my third night comes to a close I’m starting to realize every person is different. That’s a profound statement because I’ve always seen it as an, “I vs. It” concept meaning everyone else is equal and if I say something to person A and they approve person B will find it just as funny, or interesting, or astoundingly amazing as person A. It’s an all or nothing mentality and all others are a constant which leads to so many social difficulties because no two people are alike much like no two countries or cultures are alike and tomorrow, well tomorrow I get to experience yet another place with its intricate cultures, ways, and tipping system.