Okay, so a GPS unit is not the sort of item one would normally take travelling unless the trip was to involve some remote hikes or rides; it would just be dead weight most of the time. But then again, how many times have you arrived in a new city, quickly checked into your accommodation and sprung excitedly forth into the streets like a snake from a joke tin of peanuts, only to realise after a few hours that you can’t remember how to get back home? In your enthusiasm to admire that cathedral, book that tour or buy those chilli grasshoppers from the market, you didn’t take note of your hotel name or any of its architectural features.
In situations like these (Aleppo, Syria springs to mind), I find it best to walk up and down the most likely street like a drooling idiot until one of the local shopkeepers approaches me and asks the equivalent of “Why do you keep walking up and down past your hotel you crazy foreign fool?”, before directing me to the building from which he/she saw me emerge all those hours ago. [N.B. This tactic will not work in London, New York and many other megalopolises]
Should this approach fail, your options are few: you could find a policeman, call your embassy or ask a taxi driver to drive you around every hotel in a 3-mile radius. Or, to avoid embarrassment, you could carry a handheld GPS device like the Garmin eTrex 10. A simple GPS, in layman’s terms, establishes your physical location on the planet, logs it to memory and, on request, will point you in the direction of this ‘waypoint’.
Owning, and remembering to activate, a GPS would have extricated me from a potentially tricky situation in India in 1998 (not that they had been invented then. In fact I barely saw a handful of internet cafés on that entire trip). Pushkar is a small town in Rajasthan famous for its annual camel fair and sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites. Such is the sanctity of Pushkar Lake that the entire town prohibits meat, alcohol, public displays of affection and even eggs. Despite these restrictions, or possibly because of them, I was persuaded during my stay to sample bhang – a powder made from the cannabis plant.
Legal in India, bhang is used extensively during religious festivals and even available from government authorised bhang shops. Now I’m vehemently anti-drugs (although I soften my stance on naturally abundant, unprocessed plants such as cannabis or hallucinogenic mushrooms) and usually the only one I imbibe is alcohol, but on this occasion the location, legality and atmosphere persuaded me that should I wish to experience another colour from life’s rich palette, this was the place in which to do so.
Bhang is typically served in a lassi, or yoghurt drink. Afraid that one cup would have little effect, and trying to keep costs down, I asked the waiter to ‘make it a large one’. He duly did so. Twenty minutes later I was experiencing a truly strange feeling - I believe the technical term is, ‘monged out of my box’ - I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t understand basic forms of communication. I was trapped in the high-speed neon blur of U2’s Desire video. The two Kiwi girls I had come with, who were experienced in this sort of thing, would periodically pull faces at me and laugh at my glazed stare of utter confusion.
I sat in the exact same position outside that little pavement café for several hours. My friends all left; the town went to sleep; the place closed up and asked me to leave but I still couldn’t walk. I probably couldn’t have named what country I was in, let alone the guesthouse. When all else failed, the owner ladled me onto the back of his motorbike and somehow deposited me at the correct address. God knows how long it took me to get my key in the door.
If you are planning such a cultural experience as this, I would suggest activating your GPS on arrival and logging your bedroom as the home waypoint before you set sail. This way, any competent individual would be able to ask the unit to navigate you back there, although in this case I think it would probably introduced new waves of discombobulation over me and my Indian host. On second thoughts, forget the GPS. Your best bet would be to take a bit of bloody notice of your surroundings once in a while!