On my bucket list when I planned my route for my round the world trip in position numero uno was the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the largest arts festival in the world. The Fringe was one of the few non-negotiables because if I was going to traverse the planet, by god I was going to see some good theatre in the process!
And so that’s how I set my route around the world; it’s that simple really. Pick something you’re most passionate about and just do it!
Solitude. Tranquility. Utter peacefulness. That’s what it’s like underwater; you become a part of a world outside of human society – we can go down there for a visit, but it’s not ours.
I learned scuba diving the summer before leaving on my travels; my first stop was Australia and I was bound and determined to be comfortable underwater before hitting what I considered the mac-daddy of all sites, the Great Barrier Reef.
The smell of burning wood hit me first as I ducked through the entrance of the small house – ducking saved my head from earning yet another gash and also put me right at eye level with the beaming smile from the Guatemalan woman nervously wringing her hands in the center of the room. As I stood up tall on the other side of the doorway I abruptly found myself in the center of her house.
She was eager to show off her functioning stove and welcomed our requests to snap a few photos –she was proud. I was one of several volunteers who had hiked to a rural town outside of Xela, Guatemala to help with a stove building project in the region.
These young Guatemalan children paddling around the lily pads on the Rio Dulce (Sweet River, in Spanish) came at a perfect time on my four hour boat ride down the Rio Dulce.
The thing is, I was so frustrated just minutes before I spotted them paddling amongst the lily pads down a side snake of water off the main river. Our guide was being tight lipped about why our boat was stopping every 20 minutes down to a putter, but I had a sneaking suspicion the boat was broken.
And yet he wouldn’t tell us why; he just pretended it was natural for the engine to sputter down to an overheated, albeit temporary, death every 20 minutes. He’d take that time to point out local birds, a white heron gliding over the water and landing in nearby brush.
But I wasn’t seeing any of that; instead I was agitated and wondering how long it was actually going to take to reach Livingston.
Then I spotted these children.
At peace in their surroundings and lost in the moment of their own games; their boats sliced through the blossoming lily pads and their giggle floated over the rippling water.
And I realized I was missing the point of the Rio Dulce if I spent the entire boat ride up the river caught up in my pending destination.
I look at this photo and remember that I still find myself sweating the little details occasionally, ones I have absolute no control to affect. Though for today: take one opportunity to forgive yourself and just let it go, whatever it is, and enjoy your today! :)
As is the norm in North America and Europe, I drink milk. In fact, my dad is the poster parent for the National Dairy Council because I drank at least two glasses a day well into my twenties.
Then I went to Southeast Asia.
And stopped drinking milk. Outside of Western countries, dairy consumption often drops down to almost nil – anything that needs milk will have either powdered milk mixed just minutes before served to you or soy milk as a normal substitute. For the first few months in Southeast Asia I suffered acute milk cravings.
So when I saw a menu in Luang Prabang, Laos with the phrase “glass of milk” on the menu I did a happy dance in my head.
And then they served me a thimble full of milk. Okay, fine, it was a shot glass.
A shot glass of ice cold deliciousness. While I was sad to have so little, my traveling companion Laura and I embraced the humor of the situation and this newly discovered cultural quirk while I downed my thimble of milk and we called it a day.
Since then, I’ve learned some of the history and reasoning behind the utter lack of milk and dairy. It baffled me at first to see cows roaming the hillsides and yet no milk and cheese culture. Lactose intolerance, though, is rampant in Asia. Consider this, Europeans ,on the whole, show as little as 5 percent of lactose intolerance while that number ratchets up to 90 percent in some Asian regions.
My dairy induced longing on my round the world ended when I set foot on the Indian sub-continent and fell in love with curd. There, like the US, a mere thimble full of milk is scarcely enough.
Sometimes joy and fun in an experience is directly proportionate to how difficult it is…
…the short hike to the lookout point for the Blasket Islands in southern Ireland is one of those circumstances. It was cold and windy for my driving/hiking adventure and with the ever-present misting Irish rain a constant companion every time I stepped out of the car.
Slea Head Drive rings the Dingle Peninsula and takes half a day to drive if you’re like me and stop for pictures, hike a little, see a few old rocks and stare down the odd sheep here and there. The Blasket Islands in particular are an intriguing stop on the route because they once contained a very isolated and pure form of Irish culture and language until the mid-1950s. The residents were mostly cut off from the mainland until evacuations in in 1953 and their traditions, resiliency, and culture have noticeably tinged the Dingle Peninsula.
So, there we were hiking through the sheep pastures and taking epic jumping shots over the look-out point and reading through our handy local history book when my bladder sent me an urgent SOS message.
What to do when the only thing nearby for miles in either direction is wind and rocks and a steep hike back down to the car? You prop yourself behind a rock, check that you’re not in sight of any humans or sheep, and drop trou, of course!
And before you think me strange, it is actually acceptable when you’re hiking. In fact, I give you complete permission to commune with nature next time you visit sheep pastures in Ireland…but as a hard-learned tip, make sure you’re not peeing against the wind. :-)
Legs crossed and boiling hot chai in hand, I sat on the floor in the back of Sunil’s shop swapping stories and chatter. Sunil’s shop was popular, and not just with the backpacker crowd haunting the cramped streets of Thamel, Kathmandu, his friends regularly popped into the shop.
And as is the case with any good chai time, hilarity ensues with a cup of chai in hand. See, chai time is one of those rituals you just don’t mess with in India and Nepal; every shop owner in these areas has own their local chai wallah who knows just the right blend of sugar and steeped spices. Then, as you shop and meet locals on your wanderings, friendships form in the oddest of places so you pause your day to share a chai tea and stories.
That’s how I initially met Sunil, an incredibly friendly Nepali man with a shop in the heart of the touristy section of Thamel, Kathmandu. Sunil’s shop stood out from the pack because it didn’t peddle the same exact cookie cutter souvenirs as the other shops (in fact, close friends, you just might recognize some of those scarves in the photo!).
So, back to this goofy photo … see, that’s not Sunil in the photo, it’s his friend Bijay. I can’t even begin to remember precisely how Bijay and I discovered we have the same exact glasses prescription (and as blind as I am, it’s rare to have the same prescription), but we did.
So we switched glasses. Um, of course!
Let’s be honest here, his eyeglasses were a whole lot cooler than mine, and sillier, so, naturally, I convinced Bijay set his chai aside and vogue it up with me. I’m still shocked he agreed!
We goofed around on the streets of Kathmandu for several minutes, both of us using the shop’s colorful batik scarves to thoroughly entertain everyone, including those close enough to hear the guffaws as Bijay warmed up to the impromptu photo shoot.
A few minutes later we switched our glasses back, pranced into Sunil’s shop (our abs aching from the strain of laughing so hard) and resumed chai drinking position, legs crossed Indian style on the floor and lukewarm cups of sweet chai clasped in hand.
Often, the nightly cultural shows specifically arranged for tourists make me cringe and think “oh my dear lord it must be so cheesy.” Surprisingly though, this cultural dance in the center courtyard of a beautiful Balinese temple was captivating. I overlooked that it’s wasn’t actually ceremonial and enjoyed the dancer’s long-practiced moves and obvious training as the performers led the audience through a story of good versus evil, dragons and temptation (and I mean really, is there any other kind of story?!)
Even better though, and more memorable, was the fact that this was one of the last days without rain before I left Bali…from this evening onward the sheets of rain interchanged with near 100 percent sunshiny humidity. The blanket of damp covered my every waking moment in Ubud and the cultural dance is my last clearly dry memory of Ubud. When I left town three days later I didn’t realize the dampness had permeated every single item in my backpack.
I unpacked in Los Angeles 24 hours after leaving Ubud (lots of layovers) and everything was damp. T-shirts? Check. Socks? Check. Pants, underclothes, towel, and notebook? Check, check, check and check. The rain and pervasive humidity last September in Bali was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced!