The Experience of Experience

Samuel - 98053, Washington
Entered on October 29, 2008

Three weeks ago, I boarded a night bus that zigzagged through the mountains from Marrakech down to the edge of the Sahara. The road this bus traveled was so tangled up and looped around rocky peaks that it managed to infect every passenger with a crippling motion sickness and wring the puke right out of almost every stomach on board. It was no more than fifteen minutes of pitching left and swaying right before the Arab woman in the seat beside me unveiled and spewed into a grocery sack between her knees. She then passed the bag up the isle to the driver’s assistant, a man employed for the sole purpose of tossing these puke bags out the front window. In the seat ahead of me, a fellow with his head wrapped in a blue turban hurled, too, and then wiped his mouth and beard with the curtain covering his window. These two passengers sparked a firecracker show of vomiting all up and down the isle. And for the next two hours I watched more than twenty little plastic bags splatter on the roadside like water balloons filled with barf. Until then, I never would have believed a road capable of the ocean’s movements, or that I could feel seasick in a mountain range on the fringe of the desert. The only antidote for nausea I’d heard of, other than gingersnaps, required focusing my eyes on a target as far off on the horizon as possible. The moon was near full that night and so I zeroed in on the tips of silhouetted peaks. Fending off this lunacy of the stomach felt like inching my way across a tightrope: if I lost my focus, then my footing/dinner would be lost as well.

I have become overexposed to this planet through everything from the Discovery Channel to Volkswagen ads in magazines at the dentist’s office (for example, an image of a VW Bug parked in front of the Grand Canyon). Too often, I travel to look at what I’ve already seen second hand (that Canyon I saw in the magazine), rather than in pursuit of encounters with the unexpected. That is why I hold my “seasickness-on-a-bus” experience in such high regard. With no preconception at all, I had to orient my eyes, and stomach, to this alien-like culture of projectile vomiting. It was fantastic—puke and all—simply sitting on this bus amid a cacophony of dry heaves and experiencing, firsthand, an unannounced and unanticipated experience.