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By Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday explores the hi-octane underbelly of the competitively priced backpacker way of life From drug-induced Apocalypse Now re-enactments in Vietnam, difficulty within the pink mild district in Amsterdam to an unforeseen come upon on a camel in Pushkar, Ayun bargains an armchair portal at the adventure of the shoestring traveler. With a knack for putting herself in to extraordinary occasions all over the world, Ayun stocks the commute tales so much are too self-conscious to bare.

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Renewed purpose put a spring in my step. I was on my way to Africa, man! Crazy. In less than a day, I would trade my parka for shorts and a T-shirt, the northern European snow giving way to the dust of East Africa. Wondering what Tanzania held in store made me sentimental about dear old Amsterdam with its flower markets, its big breakfasts and its legalized prostitution. Ooh, there was a good shot, right there! If I had been looking the other way, I’d have missed it. A couple of alleys opened into a broader boulevard, creating a small triangle of public space.

There were eighteen of us, from seven countries. We sat in a circle near the truck, introducing ourselves by name and nationality, sizing up potential tentmates. Later, one of the frat boys from Wisconsin told me that I’d had food all over my teeth. Elsie, a stout, capable Swiss girl, asked to tent with me. I was delighted to reject her, having already hooked up with Deborah, who bore a passing resemblance to Ally Sheedy. Coming from kibbutz, she seemed to know what was what. I’d learned a thing or two Eurailing around with Nate.

Oh no! If she got her hands on my friend’s little Pentax, chances are she wouldn’t give it back. She’d probably rip out the film and hurl it to the ground. My brain scrabbled off in several different directions. She was going to break the borrowed camera! I’d have no way to take pictures in Africa! She was going to take my film! If size counted, I’d have been able to shake her off like a bear dispatching a bothersome Yorkshire terrier. Even without the Michelin bulk of my parka, I had plenty of padding, having taken liberal advantage of the free-food-for-staff policy while waitressing at Dave’s Italian 43 A SARONG IN MY BACKPACK Kitchen.

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