Wander, Seek, & Find

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Double Rainbow on Christmas Eve

Every morning the last few weeks, I’ve eaten cornflakes for breakfast. And suddenly the world seems less troublesome…

People often travel to find themselves, though why or how they lose themselves remained a mystery to me until recently. Instead I imagine bodiless souls ordained by some holy ascetic to wander the countryside, Will-o’-the-wisps gliding down a path in order to recommune with their weak, dependent bodies.

And it’s hard to argue with that logic; check any Instagram travel account and you’ll doubtless find a quote about how travel is the only thing you shell out dough for that will make you richer, or how travel changes you, broadening your mind and transforming you into Wander Woman, complete with money belt rather than Lasso of Truth. Then why are so many of us so incredibly lost while everyone else seems to find their way?

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My Jamaican Home

I have thought, read, and written about the concept of home and travel so much, you would think I have all these answers. Yet even after shirking work to travel for a year, I have no more answers than a three-year-old eating his own boogers.

So how did I lose myself when Peace Corps is supposed to be all about finding yourself? How did I become so mired in purposelessness, apathy, and despair when there are people whom I can help literally at my doorstep?

While pondering these puzzles, I realized a couple of things:

  1. People like to learn more about themselves, and then share that with the world. Case in point- While reading Eat, Pray, Love, I came across a section where a medicine man, Ketut, describes children born on Thursdays.

The official tree of children born on Thursday is the banyan. The official bird is the peacock. A person born on Thursday is always talking first, interrupting everyone else, can be a little aggressive, tends to be handsome (“a playboy or playgirl,” in Ketut’s words”) but has a decent overall character, with an excellent memory and a desire to help other people.

The point is, I was born on a Thursday.* And this quote is basically my Tinder bio. Which brings me to Point

  1. There’s nothing like a lived experience to teach you about yourself, and you cannot avoid them while traveling. After cussing out a taxi driver in Cambodia for not opening his trunk so I could get my backpack, I realized where my patience ends. After ten days of Burmese food, I learned it does nor pair well with extra cheesy pizza and margaritas.

Like Shrek said, life is like an onion, a layered, stinky, brings-tears-to-the-eyes affair that, when cooked correctly, is quite satisfying. And traveling is the most visceral, immediate way of learning about the life and self you’ve become.

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Moss Filtered Light on the Hike Up Blue Mountain Peak

In short, we find ourselves everywhere we go, between the pages of our favorite book, in the scent of a blossoming flower, or in the touch of a lover. There is no life experience that doesn’t imprint on us in some way, whether or not we acknowledge it. And perhaps this is why the kookier of us careen down life searching, grabbing at every passing token that offers us an explanation of life’s greatest mystery: ourselves. Travel is just the medium I choose to unlock these mysteries, a slow ex-pat odyssey as full of questions as answers, and often not the ones you were seeking.

So maybe it doesn’t matter why I felt so purposeless, in need of finding me. Perhaps what matters more is that I know how to find me, to read in another’s pages feelings I heard as my own, to drift from whence I came in order to come back fuller, wiser, to  tell cheese puns no one wants to hear.**

Returning home from weeks on the road, I saw a box of cornflakes on the table. They were the same brand I had purchased during my trip and I smiled as I recognized the label, the same my host mom always buys. I might travel endeavoring to find myself, but when I crossed the threshold, that box reminded me I had been there the whole time. Sometimes it just takes a trip to notice a box of cornflakes.

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Cornflakes ton UP

*My favorite tree is the banyan tree. I don’t have a favorite bird, but it might as well be the peacock, because that is, in essence, what I am: a loud, gregarious, bawdy young woman that likes to dress in finest feathers, but wants to help people too. As for the playgirl, you’ll have to ask my boyfriends…

**Did you hear about the cheese factory explosion in France? There was deBrie everywhere 😀

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Follow the Less Travelled Road

As soon as I jumped on the back of his motorbike, my adventure began.

Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

 

Wind whipping my hair*, Cambodian faces stuck on mine as their bikes edged forward, I noticed that there were no other white people on the backs of motorbikes, luggage hiding between the driver’s legs. I smiled as their frozen eyes never left mine.

“Dahling, it’s not smart, it’s normal,” the British hotel owner cooed as he explained a quicker, cheaper way to get from Point A (Sihanoukville, Cambodia) to B (Bangkok). Instead of lounging in the luxury of an air-con, tourist-filled 20 hour direct bus to Bangkok, Cambodians segment the trip, driving along the coast, the quickest way via public transport. “When in Rome,” I thought, “take the Cambodian buses”.

Point A

Point A

After strolling across the Cambodian border with Thailand amidst shouts of “I love you!” I asked about public transport to Trat, only to be informed that it had closed for the day. For the cost of 15 Shrimp Head Juice Pad Thai meals, a local bus driver could take me to Trat. I walked on. Along the way to nowhere, I asked again and again about cars/buses/tuk tuks/magic dragons to Trat or Bangkok, to no avail. The only option- private transport- was not an option. So I tried my thumb at hitchhiking.

Walking past the security checkpoint, the first truck I hailed stopped. Ignoring everything I’ve ever been taught about stranger danger, I climbed aboard, and after an amusing quarter hour of hand signaling, map pointing, and English-Thai translation via a helpful friend, we were off!

Pulling into the Trat bus station, my knight-cum-truck driver pointed to the ticket window. After two hours waiting, six hours of drooling/sleeping on the road to Bangkok, I arrived. Well, I still had a hot pink taxi ride to go, but I digress.

Sitting on the Floor, On my Way to Thailand

Sitting on the Floor, On my Way to Thailand

The next day busing back to my hostel**, my phone died. After insta-, tweet-, and snapping pictures all day at a travel blogging conference (TBEX), I grimaced. “My phone hath betrayed me!” I thought. Never unsticking my eyes from Google’s bouncing blue dot, I had planned to follow the bus’s progress to my hostel. How else would I know where to disembark?

Point B: Beautiful Bangkok

Point B: Beautiful Bangkok

I turned to the woman to my left and asked “English?” Her prepubescent daughter studied my hostel supplied map and told me that we were getting off at the same stop. Instant relief from technological difficulties came in human form.

Exhaustion. Anxiety. Hunger. Listlessness. These are a few of the states I enter when I exit my country, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because traveling makes us reliant on our most precious asset: other humans.

After all, smart phones may make travel easier, but they make us dumber. So the next time you find yourself physically or metaphorically lost, put down your phone/tablet/computer/drone and look up. Someone is there to help you. ***

At least I didn't end up on this boat before it sank...

At least I didn’t end up on this boat before it sank…

*never as sexy as portrayed in the movies
**near aforementioned Shrimp Head Juice Pad Thai, referenced here
*** I am not liable if you find yourself lost in the desert, no technology or camels at hand. In that case, ignore my advice. You’re probably screwed 🙂

By the Numbers

You cannot summarize a journey in lists and numbers, but I tried to anyway.

Items I Lost or Threw Away

  • Pair of wooly black socks (one was lost in the laundry, so I gave up the other in defeat)
  • Sunglass case (thrown away in frustration of uselessness…to be continued)
  • Eyelash curler (replaced by a far superior one)
  • Scissors (taken by security)
  • Used pens
  • Glasses (failed to retrieve them from the hostel where I KNOW they are)
  • Umbrella (you shouldn’t put anything you like on the outside of your backpack)
  • Light (it broke)

Items My Backpack Broke

  • My umbrella flashlight (I later lost this umbrella…guess that makes sense)
  • My light (which is why I threw it away…seriously, where can I find a light that won’t lose its battery on a trip because of a button that turned on inside my backpack??)
  • Clarisonic (buttons are dumb)
  • Sunglasses (bent because I threw away my sunglasses case…I’m sensing a pattern here)
  • Watch necklace (is now a pocket watch because the chain broke)

Transportation by Type

Vespa Toledo

I haven’t used this mode of transport…YET!

  • Train Trips: 12
  • Bus Trips: 11
  • Car sharing Trips: 3
  • Flights: 14
  • Taxis: very few, which is more than I should have…except in SE Asia
  • Local Metro/Bus/Boat/Tram/Whatever: many, and I’m not done
  • Tuk-Tuk Trips: not enough, never enough
  • Elephant: 1, I sat on its head, not on a platform
  • Zip-line: 1 course
  • Stranger’s Car: 1, but more to come

Books I Read

  • All’s Well That Ends Well
  • Troilus and Cressida
  • The Master and Margarita
  • Anna Karenina (finished after trip ended)

Journals Used: 2 ½

Countries Visited: 11, 7 for the first time

To be continued in 2015…