Follow by Email

Friday, May 27, 2011

Travel Muses

This is something I wrote over 12 years ago, after a few years of travelling around much of the world and before coming to live in Nepal & India:

My uncle recently asked me what one exactly does during two years of travel ...

Trek around the Himalaya, gaze at snow peaks, try to stay warm, drink salty butter tea out of wooden cups, wait by the side of the road for transport, sit for hours on decrepit vehicles, go nowhere, learn patience, learn languages, stop for endless tea breaks (or anything else someone on the bus wants stop for, except for throwing up), wonder at pyramids and ancient temples , buy silks and visit tailors, travel across island chains on fishing boats, snorkel and dive in turquoise seas, jump off Turkish gulets into the balmy sea and explore ancient Greek ruins, find idyllic, deserted beached, sail at sunset on wooden dhows in Zanzibar, walk barefoot on finger-like sandbars in Mozambique, wander the crowded, endlessly interesting bazaars, fight the masses at night markets, get robbed, go where you shouldn't, try unsuccessfully to get to where you want to be going, get caught for things you didn't do, eat mangos, watermelon, papaya and lychee, overstay visas and pay large fines, get away with everything else because you're a foreigner, eat all the exotic street food you find, get giardia, visit the ruins of ancient civilizations, bike through Bagan at sunrise, photograph Ankor Wat during the monsoon, raft on snaking rivers through Nepal, shop for nothing in particular, search for cold beers, eat and eat, try to sleep while fending off bedbugs and dive-bombing moster cockroaches, keeping your eyes shut to avoid facing the moldy walls and ancient dirt in the cracks of dingy rooms, listen to lively local music, get lost accidentally, get lost on purpose, talk politics with the locals, get sick in the worse possible places, squat for hours over stinking holes in the ground, stretch, yawn, read (just about anything), spend days searching for a toothbrush and ending up with a laundry brush, bargain for goats and chickens, take more photos than you'll ever be able to house in a museum storeroom, mend ripped packs, socks, shirts, pants, re-sole old shoes, replace stolen walkman, write 40-page letters home, bungy jump, search for sea-shells, struggle to do everything in China, rock scramble, wander through vivid-green rice paddies, drink palm wine, hike through parks in Africa with a hand-written map, walk slowly away from wild animals, swing village children around to make them laugh, love, attempt to scrub brown smelly sweat from all your once-white t-shirts, not bother because it would take up all your time, rinse laundry in plastic buckets in the bathroom, run from lecherous local men, yank your jewelry-laden arm from curious village women, photograph them laughing, miss home, spend hours looking for local telecom offices to call home, drink dirt-colored (and tasting) local brews from rusty tin cans, hike, swim in the oceans, bodysurf if there are waves, walk through winding alleyways, get pushed along in the crowds, sample every unrecognizable local product in fly-infested markets, buy more than you can possibly carry with you and then drag it around with you in striped plastic shopping bags, go biking on old Chinese Hero bikes with one pedal missing, yanks and jerks at every turn of the pedal, learn to surf, have sun-downers with quirky ex-pats, 'talk story' with hundreds of other backpackers...

You can see where most of the two + years could easily slip away, hitching rides in the back of pick-ups, flat-bed trucks and on top of loaded cargo trucks throughout in Africa & Asia, riding horses, getting blessings from elephants, travelling on 'slow-boats' and 'speed-boats' on the Mekong, riding camels (being diligent to remove groping hands of camel drivers) through the undulating dunes of many deserts, pushing your way onto a seat on bursting-at-the seams mini-buses (while trying to disengage yourself from babies, chickens, baskets loaded with lettuce and rotting tomatoes and the subsequent fly colony), sleeping under the stars on Egyptian feluccas, geting stopped by overeager young military men with big guns who jab their antiquated weapons into your side or try to obtain your number in America, safari-ing with Masai, running from warthogs, escaping being trod or munched on by sacred cows on the beaches of India, stepping in dung, washing your sandals, riding in rick-shaws and 'autos', even rick-shaws pulled by men in Calcutta, jumping up and down in pain on a carpet of attack ants, crossing borders (another time consumer), sitting silently inside ancient Coptic Christian rock churches in Ethoipia while incense is wafted around you, drinking locally-roasted coffee, staring fearfully down cliffs over which your bus tires are on the verge of toppling, listening to Buddhist chants, listening to melodic Hindu prayers, borrowing 'lung ta' papers from the Buddhist next to you to throw out the window at every critical pass.

And more: watching prayer flags flapping in the wind, listening to bells with a multitude of tonal ranges, and being enchanted at the deep, resonant horns being blown by Tibetan monks, watching snake charmers, acrobats, dancers and street performers, getting caught in the throngs of humanity that include musicians, thieves, fortune-tellers, beggars, prostitutes, homeless, lepers, shockingly young street urchins, veiled women and men with large, protruding, hairy, sweaty stomaches, talking to Christian priests, Buddhist monks, Hindhu saddhus and Muslim leaders, listening in awe to the daily call- to-prayers broadcasted over hundreds of loudspeakers perched on top of every mosque, learning to communicate without speaking (at least the same language), buying textiles and carpets, shopping for baskets and traditional jewelry, fighting off the inevitable mosquito attack every dawn, dusk, and night, drinking chang, raski and arak, spending days alone in hotel rooms, sick and delerious, laughing with joy, crying with frustration, visiting the world's most awe-inspiring sights, spending long afternoons wandering through museums, meeting bizarre and interesting people, feasting on delicious cuisines, learning to interpret history and to understanding current political situations, trying to stay cool during 115 degree afternoons in Pakistan, buying shalwar kameez to visit Sufi festivals, and stretching yourself to limits never imagined ... And look forward to going back home!

'Life is a book, and those who don't travel read only a page' - St Augustine