Tales of a travel addict: innocence and experience
Bingo rented a rose-dappled cottage up the valley from me in the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh. He spent most of his day smoking charras, a form of hand-processed cannabis resin, made by rolling dozens of cannabis buds through one’s palms until a layer of pollen builds up on the skin.
Bingo was Israeli, traumatised by his three years of military conscription. I had forgotten all about him until Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid ended up in prison in Peru and suddenly the memory of a morning almost 20 years ago came back when I had called by Bingo’s cottage and was assaulted by a dark pungent waft of air and the sight of hundreds of wasp-like lumps covering the earthen floor.
“Just one run,” he said to me, uncertainly. “I’ll get into Heathrow in Easter Week. They’ll be too busy to notice me: just another Jew home for Passover.”
I saw then that the lumps were tiny bits of charras wrapped in cellophane, and I started into the same warnings I had given others before about the risks involved. I explained how the US had installed high-tech scanning equipment at New Delhi’s departure gates and that sniffer dogs now roamed the check-in desks.
Back then, we all knew stories of people languishing in Tihar Prison outside Delhi, but still the prize proved too tempting for some. The charras could be bought for a pittance in the mountains and then all it required was cutting and compressing it into easily swallowed pieces that were wrapped in cellophane and heat-sealed. Each of the hundred little balls had then to be aired to get rid of the smell of burnt cellophane and then stuffed, one by one, inside of one. It could take hours if you were doing it alone, but every few months you’d hear rumours that someone else in the area was considering it.
Bingo was too disillusioned to bother listening to my warnings. His military experience had left him numb. From what I could gather he had never actually shot anyone, but the months spent levelling West Bank farms and orange groves with a JCB still haunted him – in particular the sight of a farmer standing helplessly by as his ancient trees were shattered into firewood.
Bingo reckoned that if he swallowed just half a kilo of pellets he could make enough in London to travel for three more years. The world owed him that, he felt, in compensation for his three lost years. I tried warning him again about the dangers of the pellets opening in his stomach, or going missing in his intestine, or coming back out again before he reached Heathrow, but his eyes glazed over and I thought once more what a tragedy it was that the notion of a Jewish homeland was dependent on the sacrifice of each generation’s youth.