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Posts Tagged ‘travelphilosophy’

I wrote this over a year ago. It had been 14 days since I was in Asia, and it sums up many of my thoughts about this whole over-arching experience.

Asia is gone to me, snuffed out in a way I anticipated but didn’t fully acknowledge. And I feel a sense of loss. I miss having no preconceived notion of what I will find around the next corner. I miss the signs of life that are unavoidable on the street, in every window. I miss the interactivity that comes from being a curiosity.

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What could possibly be noteworthy about yet another bus journey? Surely, I must be running out of things to say. Indeed, that is my own hope as I embark on the 24 hour journey from Pleiku, Vietnam near the Cambodia border, to Hanoi. A boring and restful trip would be perfect. Things are looking promising: AC works and the seats recline surprisingly far. So far in fact that I could quite comfortably pluck the eyebrows of the man seated in front of me as he reclines into my lap for a mid-morning nap. This closeness feels a touch too familial.

Instead I take the chance to investigate his long thumbnail.

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Pleiku, an altogether nondescript Vietnamese town becomes a forced, one-night stopover on the way to Hanoi from northeastern Cambodia. No map, no Vietnamese Dong, and we don’t know where the center of town is or where to find a cheap hotel.

Ryan remains at the bus station with our luggage as I shuffle off to source some money. The asphalt is burning under my feet and I can feel my skin sizzle as I trot off along an empty highway, head hanging low. Nobody speaks English and I am at a loss as to where an ATM might be this far out of town.

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It is 2 am and Michele, Caleb, Ryan and I, all in a state of delirium, stumble onto the street. We just spent 30 hours in a vehicle that remains a sorry excuse for a bus. Having passed through various cycles of pain and numbness, impatience and resignation, I find myself surprisingly composed and despite the late hour, capable of one last ‘rational’ thought.  It’s decided, this time for real:  I’m finished with buses! This resolution, like its predecessor, of course doesn’t stand a chance. In fact, adding it all up I have made and broken a version of it some 47 times – after every one of our travel days in the last four months.

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Michele receiving a kiss from an Albino Buffalo.

Tana Toraja, I’ve been there, but I’m not sure it actually exists. Centrally located amidst small mountains inland from the expansive coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia, Toraja captures my imagination like no other place before.  I am enamored by a well irrigated garden-like environment full of butterflies fluttering from orange to pink flowers, dragon-flies of extraordinary size and eagles soaring just above the peaks of pine trees. The rich coffee and fresh fruit juices might as well flow down the countless rivers dissecting the countryside. Pink buffalo pierce me with their aqua-blue eyes as I stand in the shadows of the towering boat-shaped roofs of Tongkonan. (more…)

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With map and compass in hand, we are determined to complete our self-guided trek through the enchanted hills of Tana Toraja, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. As we walk along deep green rice paddies, a couple waves to us from a balcony. They ask us where we are going and gesture for us to come in and have a drink. But we are eager to make some headway, so we thank them and indicate that we will continue on. (more…)

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Our “Laos Village Trek” evaluation form had questions about whether, in my opinion, there was lots of trash in the villages, whether any villagers had asked me for money, whether there had been sufficient drinking water, and whether I had consumed any wildlife. But it was the implicit assumptions of the following question that really made me blush… (more…)

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A prayer for the long-term traveler: Let me always remember that this world rewards my attention handsomely. Beware the whirlpool of meaninglessness that lurks when I lose sight of the horizon, when the world’s endless mosaic before me seems daunting and impossibly demanding. There is a hazard to travel over the long term: that it become a chronicling or mere tracking of the “galvanic twitches of the eternal pointless present,” as Wallace Stegner memorably puts it. Too many people and sights that become interesting in the same way, too little agency to act beyond my prescribed role as a stranger in these contexts. But I have faith that, as I keep learning about my surroundings and keep my eyes open to new kinds of surprises, this experience can be endlessly engaging. (more…)

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Michele and I are constantly having conversations about our lives, about what we value and what lifestyle is the ideal way for us to find meaning in this world. Over the course of the past several months (really the past two years), a number of common threads have emerged to shine some insight on what each of us holds dear.

For me, improvisation is a value that is embedded in my heart; I deeply believe that life is most beautiful when I act in spontaneous dialogue with my surroundings. I think one reason our time in Sikkim resonated so well with me was that it seemed like an environment that rewarded this value. A whimsical decision to climb a small path on the roadside was rewarded with a spectacular view of mist rising from the valleys.

Our most dramatic day in Sikkim was spent on a 19km day trek from Yuksom to Tashiding, traversing mountains and valleys on stone-gripped footpaths without a map. We walked through small hamlets and cornfields, gesturing down the path to strangers while asking, “Tashiding?” through the unnatural smiles of tourists who are unable to communicate with the locals. (more…)

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The photos in this post were taken on our last day in DC. Caleb and I wanted to spend our last day doing what we loved doing during almost three years of living in DC. We took a long walk of exploration. We steered into Northeast, behind the farmer’s market close to Gallaudet University, and there along the train tracks we committed home invasion: freshly washed clothes lying on a wall in the sun, a bag of groceries, a cooking station. I remember thinking: In what ways could this person’s life possibly be anything like mine? What do we share?

Traveling in India feels like a constant act of home invasion. Vulnerable aspects of peoples’ lives are laid bare. I am witness to intimacies that should be reserved for lovers and families, not strangers like myself. It feels both wrong and sacred. Discretion is an unaffordable luxury for most. Unlike the person whose home we observed by the traintracks in DC, there is not much I can do to protect the privacy of people in many places in India that we visit.
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