“Smugglers Paradise” by Ryan Hitzel
Photos: Dylan Gordon

After a long day of travel and exploration in the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, India – we sat down for a well-earned Kingfisher and some jungle curry. “Leech anyone?” said one of the crew with a grin. In between his fingers was a little black worm like creature and a whole lot of red blood. Everyone feverishly began to check their bodies for the nasty parasites. All but myself and Rod Stewart were victims with bloody socks and pants.

As we laughed it off, our guide counted off the bags. “17 bags boss, one short!” The laughter ceased. Of course it was mine, and of course it had all of my credentials plus $800 in cash. I polished off my Kingfisher, ordered another and let out a drawn out and defeated sounding “Fuuuuuuuuck.” Just before I began to imagine a solo journey that would take me to the U.S. Embassy in Bombay with no credit cards or I.D. to procure a new passport, our guide Binod raised his hand. “I’ll find it Elvis.” After I offered to join him, he shook me off and disappeared into the night.

We’re a pretty resilient crew. Full of leach-ridden legs, moderate cases of Delhi-belly and a fair bit of sorrow for my dilemma so, we decided to drink it off.

Two hours later I get a call on my cell phone. “Elvis, Elvis – I’m getting close. What color is the bag?” Binod asked. “It’s the Green Crux pack.” I responded. He continued on to tell me that he was going house-to-house just outside the tiger reserve and that he had just spoken to someone that reported that “it had fallen out of the back of a jeep.” A pitiful line obviously lifted from a Hollywood mob movie, but it was all we had to go off of. Two beers later he called again. “Elvis, I’m at the local police station. One of the deputies said he had heard that his sister’s friend’s husband had a tourist’s bag in his living room.  I’m going there now!” He was so ecstatic and energized I didn’t know what to say. “With the cop?” I blurted out. “No, he won’t tell me where it is! I’ll find it boss,” he said. Holy shit, I am fucked.

The energy of the group had picked up; it felt like at a minimum I’d have clothes to wear. Which I supposed was positive, but I was starting to worry more about Binod out there by himself sleuthing out a crime in the remote Indian countryside at night. “Kingfisher please.” Ok, I’m all-good.

The final ring of my cell phone came just before midnight. “Mr. Elvis, I have it. I have found it!” he screamed in jubilation. “Epic, you’re a legend Binod! Thank you!” I replied. “But Elvis, where is your money and your passport? I can’t find it.” Uh oh. “It’s in the smuggler’s pocket, it’s hard to find, but it’s below the straps on the back of the pack.” I explained. “Smuggler’s pocket? I don’t see such a thing. No, no someone stole it I think.” he said in a slightly panicked voice. “No, no the zipper is black and…” Then all I could hear was an explosion of Hindi in the background and the phone hung up.

The mood shifted again. “Kingfisher please.”

Thirty minutes later Binod walks through the door of the restaurant, head hung. He then passes off the bag and I pat him on the shoulder. “Thanks Binod, you’re a good man.” I began to investigate the thoroughly violated backpack. The main compartment was torn up, headphones and a few other odds and ends were missing. The crew was defeated. From there I went to the smugglers pocket, praying that I had properly stowed my valuables where I was supposed to. I quickly unzipped the pocket. Bingo. Wallet, passport and cash nesting unharmed. The boys erupt and I’m pretty sure old Binod shit his pants in relief!

Disaster averted. “10 kingfishers please!”