Guest contributor: Kristen Keckler

Almost Paradise

categories: Cocktail Hour


I’m going to India, where the malaria risk to US travelers is listed on the CDC website as “moderate.” To me, that sounds like “somewhat likely.” As in, a “moderate” drinker is someone who usually doesn’t usually get wasted but is somewhat likely to slip up once a year at an office party. So I looked up a few other countries’ malaria proneness to put this information into perspective, figured out the possible categories of “risk to US travelers” are: none; very low; low; moderate; and high. Other countries that rank as “moderate” alongside India are: Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Malawi, Zambia, and Pakistan. As opposed to countries like Botswana and Laos, which ranked “very low,” and countries like Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, and Benin, which ranked as lands of mosquito annihilators, or in other words, “high.”

I just popped my first Malarone a few minutes ago. Malarone is an anti-malaria medication that, as far as I understand, can’t really 100 % prevent malaria, but I’m guessing—hoping—it must help a teensy little bit. Today is also my birthday. So after my coffee and birthday scratch-off lottery tickets, as suggested on the patient information sheet, I swallowed the first pill with a glass of milk, which was gross enough—I’m not much of a milk drinker. In my head, I’m hearing the song “Almost Paradise” (Reno/Wilson duet from the movie Footloose) as “Almost Parasites.”  According to the doctor, pharmacist, and CDC (Center for Disease Control) website, Malarone has no side effects. Or at least very few. I did not read too far down the sheet because, honestly, ignorance is bliss.

My last (and one of my only) travel experiences in a third world country was sitting on a fluffy white towel and gazing at the turquoise surf while sipping a sweet coconut-y concoction with a name like Banana Monkey. And overly tipping the person who brought it to me and whose country I was, by doing little of anything, also actively exploiting. My experience with seeing the actual country was out a cab window, being whisked to the airport, mopeds weaving through traffic and dogs galloping free through dusty streets. I learned more about the Dominican Republic reading Junot Diaz than I ever could spending a week at Hard Rock, Punta Cana.

Nowadays, everywhere you look in the travel industry, the words “Eco Tour” or “Eco Lodge” (and make no mistake–they don’t mean econo) are being tossed around like recycled green sea-glass footprints on a pristine beach, enough to make a vegetarian sporadic yoga poser slash hiker, eat local-er, and lover of cute and nonpoisonous indigenous species dream about a quaint tree-house room outfitted with mosquito netting dipped in aroma therapeutic essential oils and a freshly squeezed guava and raw sake martini waiting on the table. But I’ve never been on an eco-tour or to a green resort, many of which are no greener than my thumb.

So when I was presented with the opportunity to actually “be” the “Eco Tour” I couldn’t resist. Okay, I’m not the tour, but I’m about to accompany the solar-powered rock band Solar Punch, a quartet based out of the New York City area, on their fifth such Climate Change tour (“GreenKarbon 2013”) through India. (Yes, I invited myself along and the band said okay since I’m going to write about it.) They will be rocking out, recording music, and giving talks and demonstrations in how to harness and use energy from the sun—their message is first and foremost, finding and spreading information about solutions to climate change. The tour is in part sponsored by Sanctuary Asia (“the Voice of Wild India,” which, according to their website is “India’s leading wildlife and conservation magazine since 1981”).

We will be traveling from Ahmedabad to Adipur to Mumbai in a small bus outfitted with solar panels through which they’ll harness energy to charge all their equipment. (I’ve checked the forecast—a long 10-day line of happy sun emoticons.) They have four hybrid-flexible panels of 68 watts each and an inverter that converts direct current to alternating current if I’ve got my physics right. I’ll be learning more about actually how this all works along the way, Almost Famous style.

This all sounds very cool, and yes, I’m about to molt from excitement. I do, however, have a love-hate relationship with traveling: I crave and fear it in equal parts. I over pack (constantly afraid of being too hot or too cold, too casual or too over-dressed). I always wear the wrong shoes. I worry about getting kidnapped by organ traffickers, that sort of stuff. But in every overseas trip, there are always those sweet spots where the tug of war between my two sides, the neurotic micro-manager and the free-spirited adventurer/observer reach a truce, drop the rope. Sometimes it’s when I’m sipping the best coffee I’ve ever tasted or noticing the way birds congregate on the spires of some nearly ancient church. Solar Punch guitarist and songwriter (not to mention physicist) Alan Bigelow told me there would be plenty of these moments ahead for me.

He said, “India will change your life.”

I’ll keep you posted.

Kristen Keckler, right, and travel companion Elisa Zazzera, film maker and photographer for the band and also band seamstress.

[Kristen Keckler is a writer and professor and regular at Bill and Dave’s.]

  1. Alan writes:

    Kristen, now that our Solar Punch tour has concluded, I was amused to read your anxious text above from before the tour. I am proud of how well you handled the twists and turns of our journey and I look forward to reading your follow-up pieces.

    For any skeptics of how a solar-powered band works, I am more than happy (eager) to share all the details of our portable off-grid solar-energy system, but meanwhile, I trust Kristen’s follow-up compositions will paint a fascinating description of our musical collaboration with solar (renewable) energy.

    Thanks again, Kristen, for joining us in India!

  2. Tommy writes:

    Kristen, I love that your patient information sheet suggested scratch-off lottery tickets. Who’s your doctor, I think I need a prescription! Maybe I read that wrong. 🙂

    I am skeptical (what an odd looking word) when I hear claims touted by extremists and zealots. I look for holes. I follow lines from plug in hybrids that promise to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil straight ot to smoke belching coal burning power plants hundreds of miles away. While I embrace and applaud a solar powered refueling station for the band’s equipment, and admire the vision, ingenuity, and moxy that made it real, the cynic in me worries two days of consistent rain will dampen the whole experience, and wonders just how much power (4) 68 watt generators can provide after a day of Indian sunshine.

    And I love when I’m proven wrong! In a November, 1983 National Geographic article, pilched recently from a recycling bin, “Across Australia by Sunpower”, Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins built and drove a solar powered “car” (total vehicle weight 276 pounds) 2,566 miles across Australia!!

    When you write your piece, show me the concessions the band had to make to accommodate minimal power consumption, and convince me of the viability of the project – that it’s not all done with smoke and mirrors! What a great adventure, throw caution to the wind, I mean sun. “What else can we do now, but roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair, the nights busted open these two lanes will take us an-y-where…” – Bruce Springsteen. I wonder, why India, and not New Jersey? Life’s for the living… India! Drink it all in!!

  3. judith kulp writes:

    What an incredible opportunity for you. I can’t wait to hear more about the band, their work, your trip. Hello to physicist Alan.

  4. Amy writes:

    I am so excited for you! And jealous! It’s going to be a blast! Have fun.