June Mendez | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 10, 2016

Father and son travel over 6200 kms, sometimes sleeping in tents, sometimes in the back of the car and sometimes depending on total strangers to take them in. What Allan Mendez and his 16-year-old son Zeus experienced on this journey is priceless.

June Mendez traces their journey from Lonavala to Vizag and back…

Give to me the life I love
Let the lave go by me
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.

Bed in the bush with stars to see
Bread I dip in the river
There’s the life for a man like me
There’s the life forever.

The Vagabond R.L. Stevenson

The travel bug bites, and once its intoxicant enters the bloodstream, a person is infected forever. There is no known antidote for the wanderlust that invades every aspect of one’s being, exploding in a raging desire to continuously be on the move. Travel then becomes a way of life, and the hunger to explore and experience new destinations becomes insatiable.

One of the best ways to satiate this craving, however, is to journey on the road. It is this lure of the unknown, the elation of discovery, the unprecedented emotion of sleeping under the stars, and the warmth that one often experiences from complete strangers that has enticed my husband, Allan, to take to the road time and again! Impromptu drives and rides to nearby places, slightly longer trips to Nashik, Aurangabad and Goa, and drives to farther destinations like Delhi, Shillong and Sikkim have formed a large part of our children’s growing years and helped shape their learning.

Having experienced all this and more over the years, it was hardly surprising that Allan decided to embark on a much longer road trip, with our sixteen-year-old son, Zeus in September. He would’ve loved to have taken our daughters along for this trip too, but they were tied up with other commitments.

“I didn’t really have any specific plan or motive for taking Zeus on this trip,” shares Allan. “I just wanted him to experience and enjoy all that the road has to offer without any pre-conceived notions or prejudices. India is such a beautiful country, yet we have so many biases towards different parts. I set out on this trip determined to explore with an open mind—opening his eyes and mind in turn!”

Allan Mendez and his son Zeus

For the second time, this was going to be an exclusive trip for father and son. The first being a few years ago when the two of them drove down in the chassis of a truck from Lonavala to Salem, making just one stop along the way.

Mapping the route…

“I don’t remember much about the trip to Salem,” says Zeus. “All I remember is the thrill of sitting high up in a truck. We could not talk much as the truck was quite noisy. We were also in a hurry to reach Salem so we didn’t really have time to appreciate the surroundings as we drove down. This time I was looking forward to the trip as we had no clear destination in mind.”

Travel is one of the greatest teachers, and the first step to learning began at home for Zeus, who was assigned the task of chalking out the whole plan for the route. The idea was to drive along the periphery of the map, from Maharashtra in the West to Kolkata in the East. A journey of more than 8000 kilometers! They were going to take the roads less travelled, avoiding regular highways as far as possible to take the route closest to the sea.

“The fun part about using Google maps is that it gives you various routes to choose from,” says Zeus. “I had a fair idea about the places that we were interested in driving through, so chalking out the route was fairly simple. What took up more time was the in-depth research that I did about the various places along the way, like the food, climate, the places of interest, and the staying options,” he adds.

After the theory lesson, it was now time for the practical experience!

The journey begins…

The Tata Safari was finally loaded up, the backseat removed to be replaced with a mattress (the car or a tent would be the bedroom for the next few days) and extra supplies taken along just in case it became necessary to cook.

The first stop was at a family friend’s house in Ratnagiri district about 234 kms from Lonavala, and then onto Tiracol, Goa, where the beach was home for the night. Mangalore, Kasaragod, Coorg, Ooty, Palakkad and Munnar were some of the places that they stopped at as they drove towards the southernmost tip of India—Kanyakumari. From there they drove up the East coast towards Vishakhapatnam passing through Rameswaram, Pondicherry and Chennai along the way. They had to cut short the trip, to return from Vizag via Telangana towards Maharashtra.

Nevertheless, they still managed to cover more than 6200 kilometers!

Allan Mendez and his son Zeus

For most of the journey the two of them either slept in the back of the car or in the tent. Being in your own vehicle on the road also gives one the liberty to make a stop anytime one wants, to just dive into a welcoming body of water, or to pause a while to marvel at the changing landscape and culture as one drives from one state to the other.

Zeus was quite taken with the kindness of a few strangers along the route. “There was this old man from Goa who rode almost two kilometers away from where he was headed just to help us locate a book store. He ended up taking us to a stationery store instead!” reveals Zeus. “The fact that he immediately sensed we needed help and reached out, was quite amazing. There was also the dabba owner in Tamil Nadu who allowed us to use his private washroom to bathe in, and the restaurateur in Pondicherry who sat explaining the whole business of owning and running a restaurant to me, when he heard that I was interested in the food business,” beams Zeus reminiscing of the kindness he experienced.

The biggest gain…

Although the people and places did have a positive impact, I think the greater gain from the entire trip came from the learning and sharing that happened between father and son.

Zeus observed and learned the patience and skill of driving along roads and bridges that hardly seemed motorable at times, he learned to communicate with total strangers, learned to understand and read the subtle signs of a hostile environment that can sometimes emerge along the way, but more importantly, he learned to express himself without inhibition as he immersed himself totally in conversations with his father.

“During the trip I learned so much more about papa and our family history. There were so many interesting stories about his growing years, which we laughed about. We were totally free with each other in our conversations, and because of this, I learned to read and understand papa’s moods better, and adjust my conversations and reactions accordingly! Although I do share a fairly open relationship with papa, talking about certain things on this trip was different because I had enough time and the space to tell him everything I wanted to say,” reveals a satisfied Zeus.

Allan on the other hand, learned a different level of patience and understanding. He learned to be more in tune to his son’s moods and preferences, listened openly to all that Zeus had to say, and patiently taught his son new skills along the way.

“For most parts of the trip, our conversations were centered on general topics,” reveals Allan. “This was a deliberate move as I wanted Zeus to enjoy the trip without too many inputs from me. Having been away for a large part of their lives, words of wisdom and advice that have been shelved come readily to the surface, but I tried to quell these outpourings, to give him the space to express himself. I did not set out to deliberately teach Zeus anything on this trip, but there was a fair amount of sharing, and in the process, a lot of learning happened for both of us!”

The girls and I waited eagerly for their return which coincided with Zeus’ sixteenth birthday. The tiredness on their faces was apparent, but that was overshadowed by the excitement of sharing their experiences. Opting out of this trip had not been easy for the three of us as we’ve always been keen travelers, but then it was also important for the two of them to make this trip alone.

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