There’s an idea out there that long term travelers are constantly on holiday. I understand why it appears that way. One minute I’m in Vietnam motorbiking through the mountains and in the next moment I am in Thailand swimming in lagoons far too magical to be real and writing blogs about places I never knew existed a year ago.
Travelling alone is a lot like life–you’re never actually alone. Meeting people might be one of the best parts of travelling solo but so is the chance to “face yourself”, as a friend of mine describes it.
Way out east on the South China Sea, in Hoi An, Vietnam, tucked away in a quiet corner where frangipani trees meet rice fields, is a place called Nomad Yoga. Within Nomad Yoga is a fierce little guru named Rahul.
When I first moved to Indonesia I did a 100-day “happiness challenge” on Facebook. Each day I wrote a short anecdote or sentiment about something I was grateful for. Sometimes it was a bottle of wine. Other times it was a simple smile from a stranger.
I awoke as a delighted child to the sight of misty mountains and the sensation of fresh cool air on my first morning in Sapa, Vietnam. My friend and I finally made it unscathed on our second attempt to escape the 40+ heat of Ha Long Bay. I was snuggled beneath a comforter. I jumped out of bed and went exploring the town. I found a quaint place for breakfast with proper coffee and fresh juice.
I am approaching the age that my 20-year-old self used to see as some distant thing in the future that seemed impossible, like time travel, and then one day my 30-year-old self said, “well shit, if 30 years old and the Internet can happen, then 40 is looking a little more real.” But now I am approaching it with less impending doom that I expected.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, “the first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” No kidding. I’ve spent a great deal of time in South East Asia. My senses have been abused beyond what I thought possible, to the point where the sight of some things don’t affect me like they once did.
Me Thursday morning: “We’re going to Sapa today! We’re going to hike in the mountains in the fresh, cool air. I have such a good feeling about Sapa and overnight bus rides are always fun!” My friend mirrored my enthusiasm on our last day in Hanoi. We slogged through humidity thicker than chocolate pudding, dodging cars and motorbikes as we crossed the street.
I’ve avoided writing about this for some time because I fear it exposes my ineptness as a world traveller and an aspiring good person who is clouded by materialism. I am clumsy-minded, prone to inner torment and attached insensibly to things that have very little value in my goal towards being a more spiritual person. But here goes…
CAUTION: I’ve used the word NASTY prolifically in this blog, for good reason because no synonym seems to suffice. And, I am going to make some huge generalizations here about “gendered” hygiene, totally culturally specific and from my experience being a woman and living and travelling with boys (and by boys I mean grown men, you know, the ones who put their dirty backpack on the bed!).