India Trip : Mind-Altering Experiences : December 2006

Ok, some people may be thinking why I am writing my first entry to my travel diary now, 2 days before I leave to India. In a word: Mefloquine (sold under the brand name Larium).

After, much deliberation, and internet research into anti-malarial medication, as well as consultation with my Father, I decided to take Larium. You only have to take it weekly and it’s commonly prescribed in Europe. It is not the usual medication prescribed in Australia, however; that’s doxycycline (which has its own problems) - plus you have to remember to take that one daily.

I took my first tablet last Thursday. So far I don’t think I have suffered any of the more uncommon and serious side effects that I had been worried about it. However, I have noticed that I had been feeling sleepy at times when I ought not to have, and not feeling sleepy at times when I ought to have. Furthermore, while sleeping, I have been experiencing for more dreams than usual. Dreams that feel far more vivid, more detailed, feel more real, and stay in the memory for longer. I looked it up online today, and these sleep problems, as well as the dreaming, are apparently common side effects. I think the Europeans must view mind-altering side effects less seriously than Australians do.

On Saturday night at Frank’s going-back-to-Europe party, I mentioned I was taking Mefloquine (in the context that I was refusing alcohol.) Some guy with a broad Aussie accent, a registered nurse so he said, started lecturing me that I was crazy to be on it, and that it’s a toxic drug, and was extremely bad for you etc, I don’t think he got the irony that he was both drunk and stoned while he was giving the “don’t take drugs” lecture. So it goes like this:

Last night, I was at the airport, I had all this luggage (far more than I will actually be taking in the awake world) – I had to repack it at the airport for some security regulations, and my immediate family were all there, but they weren’t helping one bit. My friend Marji was there too (in this alternate universe, he was joining me on the trip, but had almost no luggage, just a tiny day pack. “Yes, am I travelling light. It is typical Czech, actually”). Marji wasn’t helping with the luggage repacking either. So real did the dream feel, that it took me several minutes of being awake this morning to stop being pissed off at my family and Marji. “You didn’t have to help repack, but you could have at least hung around and watched my other bags for me, instead of all selfishly wondering off to have a coffee.”

In one word: vivid.

The Terror of Nightmares : April 2007

The sleeper bus from Mangalore to Kochi was a completely new travel experience for me. Unlike on the sleeper trains, where it is one person per berth, this bus was a two people per berth set-up. I’m not sure what happens when you are travelling alone, or in a group but with an odd number of people – perhaps you have to pay double but get a berth to yourself, or perhaps you get ‘coupled’ with a complete stranger. I would have been a small child the last time the last time I had shared a bed with another male, and now here Daniel and I were climbing onto the top bunk together. At least we did not share a blanket or anything – with the warm conditions not requiring one – and so I can say that I still have “an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality” as George Costanza once professed. We lay on our backs so that our feet faced the front of the bus. I used a small travel bag as a pillow. Just like on the sleeper train, I could never manage to avoid getting my little shesh-besh board in by bag from sticking into the back of head.

I had the window position; Daniel had the aisle. Normally, on an aeroplane, I prefer the aisle. However, with no toilet onboard the bus, the aisle had little value. On both the window and aisle side of the bunk was a draw curtain. With both curtains closed, it was almost like we were sharing a coffin. You wouldn’t want to have been overly claustrophobic. Despite the bizarre conditions, not to mention the movements of the bus, I managed to fall asleep.

As I mentioned in my entry on Mind-Altering Experiences, I was using the drug Larium (mefloquine) as preventative against malaria, and one of the side effects I had experienced were extremely vivid dreams. The dreams had a tendency to start out as fairly non-disturbing (as far as dreams go) until right before the end, where there was a terrifying twist, often leaving you waking up feeling like you are in the Twilight Zone. There might be something about sleeper trains and buses, because up until this night, the worst dream I had experienced had been on the train from Mumbai to Goa (see my entry titled Journey to Goa).

It isn’t easy to write about dreams and portray them as they seemed. This is because some of the most bizarre things can appear completely ordinary to the dreamer (at least while they are dreaming). Not to mention the plots frequently make absolutely no sense to the reader. So bear with me as I make this clumsy attempt to let you into another of my bizarre nightmares.

I’m not sure why, but this dream I had aboard the bus, like then one I had aboard the train, also started with a religious backdrop. While the changes I describe in the dream seem abrupt, to me while I was dreaming, they were seemless – as if each stage of the present was how it had always been. The first thing I can recall from the dream is that I was walking down the street in B’nei B’rak, Israel, where my Grandfather’s Sister lives. As you’d expect, a lot of Chasidic people were walking down this street. It was a Saturday around noon or 1pm, and they were presumably walking home for lunch after Shul. Then the streets were no longer the streets of B’nei B’rak, but the streets of the Perth suburb of Yokine, where I live, however, it was still B’nei B’rak – that is it was physically Yokine, but cognitively B’nei B’rak (I hope this makes sense). Pretty soon after that, it was no longer just physically Yokine, but cognitively Yokine also. However, there were still plenty of religious Jews walking on the streets. And just as seamlessly as the place had changed, so had my means of transport. I was no longer travelling by foot, but by car. I was thinking to myself as I passed by so many religious people strolling on the footpath: “ Since when did Perth have so many Chasidic people? It’s almost like B’nei B’rak here! And I hardly recognise any of them either! So many new people!”

Heading down Flinders street now, near Dog Swamp shopping centre, and must have turned right onto Wanneroo road (As I write this, I now realise that you can’t turn right at that intersection, but it was dream). At some point, if I had been the driver of the car (with no passengers), I was no longer. I was now a passenger in the back of a car, although somehow I was still essentially alone. Up to this point, as bizarre as the dream may seem, to me, in the dream, it felt quite normal and not really that disturbing. It was at this point though that the dream took a terrifying turn.

From the back of the car, I noticed a young girl of primary school age, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, standing in the middle of a busy intersection, not too much further up the road than the string of shops with the Marco’s Pizza and the Ezy Plus convenience store. Her head was facing down and she was holding her hands, in the way one might hold their hand up if ordered to do so by a person with a gun. There was a look of helplessness and despair about the girl. She had fair hair and skin, and was dressed in drab shorts and a singlet. I should add that she was not even Jewish, and thus I have no idea how the B’nei B’rak thing earlier in the dream was relevant to this latter part of the dream.

When my persona saw the girl, I recognised her from being in the news a week or two ago as having been standing in an intersection like this due to some psychopath(s) having her in the site of a sniper rifle, as well having taken her family hostage, and threatening to kill them and her. If she moved from this position, she would be shot dead, and her family would also be killed. My persona had not paid much attention to the news story at the time, but was now freaked out by the realisation that she was STILL standing there as this hostage of psychopaths, a week or two later after first casually reading about her in a newspaper. I had a sudden understanding that this situation with the girl was somehow of enormous importance, perhaps even to the fate of the whole world.

Now came the final phase of the dream. I suddenly became aware that the driver of the vehicle that I was in was involved in this psychopathic cult. I was now sitting in the back seat of his supercharged hot-rod, but it was if I was only now aware that he had stealthily hijacked me from my normal car or driver). He was accelerating the car, faster and faster (thinking about it now as I write this, I wonder if the real-life bus driver was accelerating the bus as such while I was experiencing this part of the dream). For some reason, I knew that I was the only the only person in the world who could save this poor little girl, and if I was going to do this, the first step was going to be to overcome this villainous driver. I could not see the driver’s face, just the back of his head – he had a short slick black ponytail, tied up in a way that it barely hung down from his head, if at all. Here was the most subjectively horrifying thing: even though I could not see his face, I was aware that when I did see his face, it was going to frighten the absolute hell out of me. I realised that his face was going to be not-quite human, but rather some kind of satanic face, straight out of the Polanski film, Rosemary’s Baby. It was with petrified anticipation, that I waited for him to turn around to reveal his face, and I knew it would happen within the next five seconds….

And then I woke up from my dream. Being a mefloquine-induced nightmare, it wasn’t as simple as sighing, “Ah, it was all a dream” and then moving on. I lay there in this coffin, with a few odd tears coming even out of my eyes and rolling down my cheeks, feeling both freaked out, but also guilty that I had not managed to save the girl. I knew it had been a dream, but I nonetheless felt that the girl and her family had been horribly murdered, and with the responsibility of saving them been thrust on to me, I had failed. I also then thought about why I had failed. I never had a chance of saving her, because I allowed my fear to virtually paralyse me. I should have reached over and applied a choke or strangulation technique to the satanic driver, but I had been afraid of him, afraid of seeing his face, his inhuman face. I was a coward.

I felt like I really needed to talk to someone about how I felt, to tell them what had ‘happened.’. I looked over to my left, and there was Daniel, who was sharing this coffin with me. Was he awake? I didn’t think so, but even if he was, I then I thought to myself: “Hang on, I can’t just tell him about this now. It will seem very strange. After all, we are just two guys travelling together – we are not a gay couple. Furthermore, I have tears on my face, so not only will it seem gay, but much worse than this, it will be like I am the woman of the couple!”

I know this seems ridiculous to you as the reader, that I should have been so upset about from a dream, but if you’ve ever had a drug induced dream like this, then may be only then will you understand how real it can all seem. Unlike regular dreams, the emotions and the events of these mefloquine dreams do not immediately fade away once awake. Rather, they linger with you for a little while. I didn’t really have a concept of time, but I am estimating that for the first 15 minutes I was awake, I was lying there feeling quite disturbed, with tears in my eyes.