I first met Watson in 1998, when my daughter insisted that we acquire a Pug.
Watson was different. He couldn’t have been more different from our current Pug – Buddy. Buddy is the perfect Pug – beautiful wrinkles, glistening whiskers, teeth so straight they would make an orthodontist salivate, and a tail that curves in a perfect 360 degree arc. And, he’s a friendly dog. Buddy has never met a person or an animal that he doesn’t like. But, he doesn’t have a lot of ambition. In fact, he’s quite content to just sit on my lap all day – which is what he spends most of his time doing.
But, Watson was different. He had a face full of character – crooked teeth, and a permanently “hung-up” lip. His tongue was usually in evidence. And, he was a restless Pug – never content to stay in one place for long. Once he got past puppy-hood, he decided he wanted to see the world. He embarked on a series of adventures – drifting from place to place – never staying around long enough to wear out his welcome. He worked at a series of odd jobs to help support his travel habit. His first stop was North Africa where he held an assortment of low-level positions in various markets and medinas. He tried to fit in – to mingle with the people – to keep a low profile.
He then drifted east to Tunisia – something of a relief after the intensity of Morocco. It was an easier country to handle – a sort of “Morocco-light”.
After that, he slipped into Egypt where he apparently fell in with some unsavory characters.
The Middle East was now well within reach but he chose, instead, to head for the Horn of Africa first. His initial stop was Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He then journeyed to Southern Ethiopia where he decided to give tribal life a try.
The tribal lifestyle soon grew tiresome – just too primitive for a sophisticated dog – all those shells, gourds, and body adornments became just too much. A short boat trip across the Red Sea landed him on the shores of Yemen – more his cup of tea. The Old City of Sana’a provided several short-term employment opportunities. On many afternoons, he found himself in full charge of whatever commercial enterprise he was involved in, since the proprietors were usually sleeping off a heavy dose of chat – the mildly hallucinogenic leaf that is chewed by virtually 100% of Yemeni men.
He traveled north to Syria where he took up with a Bedouin Tribe. But, life in the desert proved difficult. The frequent wind storms made his existence miserable and his tongue was always coated with sand. He had the type of face that just wasn’t designed for desert life.
And also, he was starting to miss the excitement of the big city. He noticed that Istanbul was nearby. So, he traveled to Istanbul. He found his job in the Spice Bazaar to be mildly diverting, but he was already starting to get the travel itch again.
He spent several weeks living it up in this cosmopolitan city. But, it was now time to get ready for the long pull to the Indian Subcontinent. He stopped first in Pakistan where he found work as a bread seller.
A rough journey over the Khunjerab Pass landed him in Kashgar – China’s far-flung western outpost. He kicked around in Kashgar for a month or two – gambling and doing odd jobs. He enjoyed the company of the Uighur People, but found the weather in Kashgar to be abominable.
He made a side trip to Central Asia and it turned out to be a lot more than he had bargained for. Like every other traveler to Turkmenistan, he had trouble with his documents at the border. They eventually let him in, but he first had to cover about 200 yards of “no man’s land” on foot. He worked selling melons for a short time – long enough to underwrite his long trip over the Hindu Kush Mountains to India.
Coming from Central Asia, he had to negotiate the Khyber Pass – always a dicey operation. India proved to be difficult, but fascinating. People were everywhere. Watson had never seen anything like it – the color and noise were beyond belief. After crossing the Punjab, he eventually settled in Rajasthan – a vast, desert province in the northwest. As usual he found work in the markets – first in frenetic Jaipur, later in the much more relaxed village of Bundi.
He had always known that he would have to visit Varanasi – the holiest city in India and one of the oldest cities in the world. Watson wasn’t a religious dog. But he did consider himself to be spiritual. And, Varanasi was enveloped in an other-worldly aura that had a profound effect on him. But Varanasi was also hard work, and the frantic pace had a wearing effect on the little guy. Fortunately, the peaceful mountain valleys of Bhutan were not far away.
The time he spent in Bhutan would set his course for the next several months. This was his first exposure to Buddhism and it really left an impression on him. His first order of business in Burma, the next destination, was to spend time at a Buddhist Monastery.
He enjoyed the simple, contemplative lifestyle. But, he couldn’t live as a monk forever. He had a lot more of the world to see and he had grown tired of the endless rounds of begging – he hated rice anyway. Also, he was running short of funds. As usual, he found work in the market and, thus, bankrolled his journey down into Thailand.
He went on to Vietnam where he spent time with the Hill Tribe people in the north, and then traveled to Singapore by train. After this came the long voyage across the Java Sea to Jakarta, the Indonesian megalopolis.
Before finally heading home, Watson had spent nearly four full years on the road in Africa and Asia. He decided to travel home via Hong Kong, a place he had always wanted to visit. It was a long way home whichever direction he chose, so why not try to see something along the way. He worked for a while in a “Mom and Pop” store selling pressed duck and 100 year-old eggs.
He then made the long journey to Europe, working in a couple of stops before heading home to California.
Watson ended up back in Northern California in October of 2006. He then spent the better part of a year just lying around, munching on dog biscuits and fortune cookies (his favorite food), and basically taking advantage of my hospitality. But, it wasn’t too long before the travel bug took another bite out of him.
This time, he decided to head south – first to Mexico. He worked as a sombrero salesman for a short time and even tried his hand as a fisherman on Lake Patzcuaro. But, he soon discovered that the tasty white fish for which the lake was famous, had long since been fished out. The fishermen with their graceful “butterfly” nets were now there only for the tourists – not much of a future for a dog.
He knew that Guatemala was a dangerous place but, being a dog, he figured that the risk was minimal. The overland trip through the mountains of Oaxaca and Chiapas was hair-raising, but Huehuetenango proved to be nice enough, and it served as a springboard to Todos Santos Cuchumatan, a remote mountain village that had always been on his bucket list. He tended bar, sold watermelon, and even posed as a Mayan baby in Chichicastenango – anything to make ends meet.
His main stumbling block on the way to South America was the Darien Jungle in Panama. Fortunately, he was able to befriend a group of local Embera Indians who helped him get through – basically by canoe. Once in South America, he headed for the Andes – that’s where the people were. In Ecuador, he found the living to be cheap and easy. The only minor problem he had to deal with was the altitude. Living at 10,000 feet always takes some getting used too – especially for a dog who’s accustomed to sea level. He also had a fair amount of difficulty deciding what style of hat to wear. Ecuador, after all, is the home of the “Panama Hat” and the choice seemed endless.
He was now on a bit of an Andean roll, and Northern Peru was just across the border. His first stop was Cajamarca – pristine, and remarkably unspoiled.
Getting to Cuzco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas wasn’t as easy as he had hoped it would be. It involved going through Lima, Peru’s vast, perpetually fog-shrouded desert metropolis – and then a long, rough road back up into the Andes.
Getting to Bolivia involved a high-altitude journey across the Altiplano, around Lake Titicaca, and into La Paz. La Paz, a couple of thousand feet below the Bolivian Altiplano, was still situated at a lung-busting 11,500 feet. Watson figured that he wouldn’t be spending a lot of time in this rarefied atmosphere and, he was starting to get homesick anyway. But there was plenty of small scale commerce going on in the city and, as usual, he fit right in.
Bolivia proved to be the end of the road for Watson. He thought about heading south to Chile and then on to Tierra del Fuego, but it was the wrong season for that and he didn’t want to spin his wheels at 12,000 feet for another 6 months. And – besides – there were no cool hats in Chile anyway. He reappeared in Northern California in May of 2009, and settled back in to a life of leisure.
Watson lived a long, full life. He never really traveled again – except for road trips with his family. He was one of a kind and I still miss him. But, then again, now I have Buddy.
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