Rum Blood and Smoke Tresses

Day 92: Hampi

In the throes of a precaffeinated, technology-induced frazzle, I manage to rescue my final, fleeting wisp of zen and refrain from chucking my keyboard into the river. The usual buoyant music floating across the water mocks my sour mood, but I daren’t crack before dawn, do I? 

Gathering my things, I stomp across the street to the German Bakery to rewrite yesterdays lost work over a strong cup of goddamned coffee. Alas, when Marnie strolls over to the table to join me for breakfast ten minutes later, I have a blank page and a lapful of adorable puppy. My temper has melted into a puddle on the ground.

Over lassis and omelettes, Marnie and I talk logistics. From Hampi, our next harbour is Goa – the part-ay capital of India. But technology just sticks its robot tongue out at me once more; Indian Railways has suddenly made online booking unavailable between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, thwarting my efforts to plan ahead (sometimes ‘winging it’ is more of a compulsory tactic than it is a whimsical flailing style). We can’t wait around all day; by noon, Marnie and I shall be off frolicking in places where wi-fi is but a sci-fi notion of another dimension. I press my lips together, drop the forkful of frustration onto my plate and swig the last of Folgers-fuck-it-all brew from my mug. Marnie and I go next door and rent a scooter.

The wind whips our hair into tangled threads as we zip out of town and away from internet connectivity. I turn the scooter into a parking lot at the base of a steep mountain. My vertebrae pop one by one as I strain back and squint at the top, where sits the Hanuman Temple – a place of worship for those who recognize their deity of choice to be that of the monkey god. A set of stairs, almost cartoonish in style and painted white and orange, wiggles through the stacked boulders, up the mountain like a giant, carrot-coloured caterpillar. Five-hundred and seventy steps. We take one step, then another. Five minutes later we start a game to distract from the fire stoking in our hamstrings.

“What am I thinking of?” I ask Marnie.

“I don’t know,” she says.

“No, you have to guess!”

“Okay. Is it a person?”


“Is it an animal?”


“Is it bigger than an elephant?”

“Mmm, no.”

“Is it smaller than an elephant?”

“Well, no.”

“Is it an elephant?”

“Okay, that was too easy. Your turn.”

And so on, until we are speaking in huffs and puffs and our thighs are sparking like a poorly wired building in an electrical storm.

Five-hundred sixty-eight . . . five-hundred sixty-nine . . . five-hundred *gasp* seventy . . . 

We plant our feet on the whitewashed floor of the Hanuman Temple, atop Anjaneya Hill. The structure is almost entirely open, the only covered rooms being the centrepiece housing the Hanuman shrine and a prayer room off to the side. Underwhelming, this structure, in contrast to the full-spectrum view of the green and orange patchwork blanket spread out in every direction. Burnt orange, wild green – a puzzle of lush rice fields and sun-baked earth pieced together for eons. Boulder heaps stretch out; rubble remnants of Ben Grimms family reunion; a fossilized field of Fanta. 

Dodging piles of monkey guano, we meander the open structure, careful to avoid eye contact with the impish macaques. Some look downright menacing, such as the handless chimp balancing on the wall before us, glaring. In the prayer room, a group of rowdy monkeys scamper around, jumping over each other, shoulder-rolling across the floor and skipping about like trained parkour gymnasts; they scale the walls only to leap from them, bound across the room and escape near collisions with each other. 

When the view has been sufficiently absorbed, and our due attention to the monkeys paid, we descend the splendid staircase and ride the scooter into a little village for water and bananas. We go to the river, occupied only by those two local guys, one who is here everyday, he says. He wears the same pair of baggy underwear he was in two days ago. As a denizen of this part of the river, he has made it his job to give coracle rides and sell water bottles. 

He rushes over to greet us in wild earnest, offers his hand to help us across the rocks, and delegates: sit here, swim there, lay like this beneath the waterfall. There is nothing quite like being told how to have fun to mitigate the adventure of trial and error. And yet, after pulling my body from the shallow area beneath the mini cascade, my skin is covered in minuscule, scorpion-shaped insects. 


I sweep my hands over my arms and legs, making the critters sprinkle into the water like black confetti. The Indian guy offers a hand, once more, and runs his paws over my back and sides. I sprint forward in desperate attempt to evade the creepy-crawlies and the creeping hands, dive into the deep part of the river and rid myself of both. Marnie follows, and we swim to the rock wall protruding from the other side of the water. Climbing the escalated granite, we turn to face the sun, letting the beams warm our closed eyelids. When we open them again, the little Indian guy is scrambling towards us. He starts pointing fingers again. 

“You should put your foot there, and grab that part, and move to the left side, the left side! Sun is better.”

“I’d like to figure it out for myself, but THANKYOU.” Somehow, my thankyou sounds like a pissed off rhinoceros growl.

Downriver, a couple dudes are setting up a slack line across the water. The River Deputy jumps into the river and swims over, climbs up and stands above the guy, hands on hips, as the dude secures one end of the slack line to a rock. The lips of the River Deputy seem to be caught in a windstorm.

Later, when Marnie and I have crossed the river and are putting our shoes on, the local guy appears perched on a rock above us, arm hanging, holding a closed hand in front of our faces.

“Rocks!” he says. “Smooth. Rub on your body.” 

Before he has a chance to find his wandering hands again, we are back on the scooter and pulling into our guesthouse. Its after noon now – train booking time.

Over lunch in the lounge area, I attempt to book online transit to Goa, but, alas, it won’t direct me properly, and my planning agenda is once again in vain. Whatever! We’ll figure something out. We always do.

We fill a bag with blankets and rum, borrow two cups and a knife from the restaurant kitchen. We buy bananas and chocolate and gingerale. With these things and each other, we head for the hills.

The sun has just set, or, allegedly, far west of here, a fuschia-paint-filled meteor has collided into the earths crust, exploding neon pink acrylic streaks across the dusky canvas sky. A stunning natural disaster.

Groups of rock climbers get in an evening bouldering session away from the exhausting sun, their fingers and toes scouring the rock faces for nuanced crimps and skimpy footholds. This rusty boulderfield is a world class spot for climbers to monkey around on. 

The geological goldmine is broken only by tufts of local flora – wiry leaveless trees and scrubby bushes with thorns that could make a thumbtack cry.  

Marnie’s foot gets tangled in one of these plants and it takes ten minutes for her to extricate them from her shoe and ankle. The flushed sky has darkened into a cosmic bruise. We reach a spot where the rock has flattened into a level surface. From over yonder, where a row of boulders create a wall running down the other side of the mountain, a rash of aggressive rap music pillages the quiet night, and in its offbeat, yelling can be heard; two climbers scale the walls. It’s almost fully dark now, and from our spot we can see their headlamps floating somewhere against a rock face that has nearly melded into the nighttime sky.

Stumbling around in the dark, we whack through masses of thorny bushes in search of fallen branches to sacrifice in the name of campfire. I drag a small dead tree to our chosen spot. Marnie’s image coagulates in the inkyness, all laden with big sticks and fresh scrapes. There doesn’t seem to be a single plant around that does not want to shred our hands into skin linguini as we break them into small sticks. 

Forming the branches into a tiny teepee, we light the collection and soon have flames dancing beneath it. Marnie pours rum and gingerale into cups, and simultaneously, our heads jerk to a spot . . . over there. The bushes rustle. A beam of light wiggles six feet above the ground. A pale, rib-rippled torso emerges from the brambles, then a face, a receding hairline.

“Hey,” Marnie says.

“Hi! I was just on my way back down from climbing and thought I’d come over to see what was going on.”

A guy with a Kiwi accent stands awkwardly in the light of our fire; we make small talk. He seats himself between us. 

“This is exactly what I wanted to do tonight,” he says.

Marnie and I look at each other. His chatter dominates the conversation, and we barely get a word in edgewise. He talks about climbing, about his trip, about New Zealand. Marnie offers him the last bit of rum. He sips it at the rate a sloth might go about devouring a T-bone steak, scrunching his face into a wrinkled kidney bean with every sip, like maybe he’s sucking on gasoline.

When his welcome ferments into that of the overstayed variety, Marnie tactfully requests some privacy. With surprising grace, he bids us goodnight, thanks us for our company, and disappears amongst the boulders like a gentleman mirage.

We’d wanted privacy to discuss ideas for a couple projects, but instead focus our energy to the project of creating the perfect chocolate-filled banana. After three attempts, we still wish we’d brought more chocolate. 

We pour ourselves another drink and stop feeding the fire, then lay back on the big rock surface beneath the glowing lights of stars so inconceivably far away. The sky looks the same as it does at home; the constellations right where we left them. You can travel across the world and yet, the sun and the moon and the stars are always right there. Up.

Pulling ourselves from the clutches of gravity, we peel our bodies off the still sun-heated granite. We gather our stuff and traverse the hard surface of the planet, the beams of our flashlights like lasers, pointing our way home.

Only a pack of puppies interrupt our journey, and after some barking and nuzzling and petting, they let us pass.

At the bungalow, we surrender to sleep, the rum oozing through our veins, the smoke in our hair lulling us into another dimension.

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