Well before I’d read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and possibly even before Jack Kerouac changed my life with On the Road, there was just something about road trips that lured me in. I imagined myself hopping into a colorful bus or van, joined by a variety of open-minded, wanderlusting individuals, getting ready for the trip of a lifetime. I didn’t dwell much on the details, such as where we would go. All I knew is that this experience would expand my mind and test my limits. It didn’t dawn on me until after my trip this spring in Kerala, that during those 15 intense days, I had been going further on the Magic Bus.
Who were we? Instead of the Ken Kesey’s ragamuffin mix of Merry Pranksters, we were 29 travel bloggers from 28 different countries. Ranging from the pensive to the exuberant, the cautious to the untamed and undeterred, we were a group of souls brought together by Kerala Tourism. As writers, photographers, vloggers, weekend warriors and professional hobos, our official mission was to explore and showcase the spectacular beauty of southern India. The real undertaking, however, was to connect with each other, learn about the complex land that welcomed us so eagerly, and all the while delve deeper into ourselves. As it was on the original Magic Bus, the true purpose was to go further into the world, not necessarily farther.
Our whirlwind trip started in port city of Kochi, where we arrived a couple days early to ease ourselves into the culture and tend to our jet lag. Our March 20th, we all came together at the opening ceremony, introducing ourselves (literally, on a stage) and meeting the bus that would carry us throughout the journey. Boldly adorned with vignettes of Keralan life- from Kathakali masks to houseboats and towering coconut trees to geometric tigers to women tending tea plantations- we caught a glimpse into the colorful region we had yet to explore.
Armed with much-needed air conditioning, comfy blue seats, and the ever-important international plug sockets, we would traverse countless miles of territory in just over two weeks. Guided (and organized) by the ever-knowledgeable and saintly-patient Manoj, our Magic Bus took us through the phantasmagoric depths of Kerala. Inching through the unruly, congested city streets of Kochi to the backwaters of Alappuzha, winding through the misty mountaintops of Munnar, the verdant lands of Wayanad, and ascending to the northern heights of Kasaragod, our many hours on the bus were much, much more than a ride.
We shared countless moments together, chatting about travel, world affairs, and animal rights; taking pictures of each other sleeping; learning bits of the Malayalam language; singing together; sharing banana chips and cashews; afflicting each other with uncontrollable belly-laughs; holding our pressure points to stave away motion sickness; waiting for each other to stop taking photos and get back on the damn bus; working quietly on our laptops through the bumps and jolts. Over the seconds that turned into hours, and the days that blended into weeks, we would come to know and accept each other like family. And, for me, through the blithe comradery, the serious discussions, and times of silence, I came to embrace myself on a level I’d never before grasped.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, climbing aboard Kerala Blog Express would be equivalent to going further on the Magic Bus. My journey in Kerala with 28 other travelers would not only push the limits of my mind, it would also expand my capacity for understanding, compassion, and self-acceptance. And, after 15 days, it would leave me with a connection to these other human beings that no amount of time or distance could erase.