There was some guide, but he had disappeared a long time ago. He was visibly drunk and seemed to have far too easy going approach to the whole bat cave walk we were busy with. Like a car salesman he had promised us all sorts of things that were soon to be proved at best incredibly exaggerated and at worst blatant lies proving how little value was placed on us beyond the money from our pockets. Everyone else – my sister and her friends – were closer to the end of this tour that was still terrorising me; I was in between two massive rocks trying to find a place for my foot in order to climb up. It was dark with a few rays of hot midday sun pushing through from the holes I couldn’t locate. And then there were the bats I was only too aware of. Is the talk about vampire bats a myth or do they exists? I am not even interested in animals – why on earth did I want to do this?
I am sure no one had taken a particular pleasure in this exercise, but I wasn’t feeling like I could remember ever having felt before. After struggling myself into the daylight I think I told my sister that it’s possible that I am a bit claustrophobic. It was 19th of April 2004 in Pokhara; the main town of Nepal’s Annapurna region.
Today, just over six years later, I am trying to find a parking space near the Main Road in the Cape Town’s busy student area in Rondebosch. The familiar unease is taking over; the music starts annoying me, my wife's words become blurry as my focus is split and my body is feeling uncomfortable like so many times before. I dislike traffic here, especially on any main road and I’ve always explained it to myself as a cultural difference. Us Finns may be known to a few as the fastest nation on earth; whether or not we ever were or still are, I do think our culture more often than not promotes the good driving and following the rules of the road. Maybe this is just heart grown fonder with nearly a decade of distance, but when compared to Capetonians, we drive well.
BAM! It hits me in the head like a mugger in the underpass. These things are connected. I am not just frustrated impatient driver feeling superior in the midst of soccer mums, taxis and the ones who feel that an expensive car is a reason not to care about the laws; why else would they have paid that much money for them, and I am too polite to point out that it might be to compensate other physical attributes of one’s body in a form of extension. It’s not me being unable to understand the carelessness to the point that I am reacting to it with physical discomfort and the early signs of road rage – it is me being mildly claustrophobic.
It’s a breakthrough moment for me. It’s just me getting to know myself a little bit better. I don’t intend to hide behind it or to let that impact my life in any negative way, but I am glad to have realised this connection. My fear of narrow places is hardly out of control; it’s barely even worth mentioning, I guess, but it is the reason why much of this traffic has felt overwhelming for a few years now.
I feel good today to have grown again – to know myself a bit better and to find a concrete explanation which can be understood and countered, instead of just general unease that – and you can take my word for it – has not been a stranger on these roads.