Tag Archives: Travel

The Curse of the Traveler

When it is just me thinking about an explanation, I just laugh it off as my own failings. But then, you encounter someone who echoed your exact thoughts. Lightning struck as something murky before became known as the truth. I will soon be taking on a new journey after having secured the empire at home. Can’t help feeling like Stilgar at the end of the galactic conquest in Dune from a humble beginning at a sietch in a sea of sand.

An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that’s perfect (we all know there’s no Shangri-La), but just for a place that’s “just right for you.” But the curse is that the odds of finding “just right” get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

 

Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can’t travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you’ve seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

None of this is to suggest that one should ever reduce travel. It’s just a warning to young Travelers, to expect, as part of the price, a rich life tinged with a bit of sadness and loneliness, and angst that’s like the same nostalgia everyone feels for special parts of their past, except multiplied by a thousand.

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Drink, Dive, Dance 5: Gemma

Gemma_ArtertonI was reminded of a summer fling today while reading about an actress. My fling looked like a younger version of Gemma Arterton without makeup. A mixture of German, Belgium and Dutch blood. Skin as pale as snow hair as blond as gold. German blond, not the viking’s platinum blond. So I will call her Gemma from now on. Before her, I wasn’t into tall women with strong square jaw and a curvy body because it is the exact opposite of Asian culture’s standard of beauty, but after Ylva and Gemma, that look have taken root in a special spot in my heart.

It’d always remind me of how naturally we went from fun adventurers who bumped into each other on the road to wild night of care free sex. Then they mess you up because that’s all they wanted and leave you in the dust for someone else on a whim. Northern European women are strange like that.

I couldn’t understand why I was so sexually attracted to this not-too-pretty women beside me and remembered thinking as we walked down the streets in Paris and London; “Why is everyone staring at us.” Later that night as we lay in bed, sweat glistening all over our bodies, I asked her: “Are you supposed to be hot in your country?” She didn’t say anything, but she took out her phone and started showing me all the guys she’s slept with and the current contenders who are trying to bed her: A Mexican and a Dutchy. She have also told everyone about everyone.

“What kind of cruel game is she playing with everyone’s heart?” I had thought and just brushed it aside as an European thing cause I couldn’t deal with this weird extreme open view on sex and relationship at that time. I mean, if I was the Mexican or the Dutch guy at that moment knowing what she was traveling with me, I’d feel like shit. But apparently they know.

Most fun summer of my life probably. Gemma was extremely open to new experiences and she is a very sweet, submissive girl. Never complaints about the conditions of the environment we are in. Whether it’d be a shitty hole in the wall, or on top of a cliff with nothing but bread and water for lunch. She loved all. Almost reminds me of high school romances.

Ironically, she left me for a rich old man as I was starting to convince myself that it actually might be ok to make a baby with her. Alles ist gut. I suppose. I do not believe anyone can hold a free spirit like her. Wish her the best of luck in life and best of things for her.

Drink, Dive, Dance 4: Alessia 2

There’d always be some shitty cafes beside the dive shops serving bitter tasting mud that they’d try to pass as coffee accompanied with overpriced croissant that resembles the pastry by name only. By some shitty unwritten rule, they’d always have 2 tables on the side of the road exposed to the dust for you to sit and sip your cup of mud.

The reason why these coffee shops survives, and I am really guessing here, is because of all the early morning divers who have to show up at the dive shop at 6 am in the morning after a night of dancing and binge drinking. Divers are always tourists and tourists always party the night before. The tables outside is for divers to keep an eye out to see if their dive group is departing. Logistics and organizational skills are not the fortes of people living in the country side of Asia.

At dawn, I’d stumble back to our cabin with a bit of the ol’ sailor shuffle from a long day of diving. Swaying from side to side as I fight against the gravity called exhaustion. Everything felt heavier.

Alessia often tried to describe what it felt like seeing me hobble back like that and I’d always chuckle inside because what she experienced and what I was feeling at that time are as different as night and day. Laying in bed at night, she would tell how she’d catch herself holding her breath watching me appearing from the horizon, with my long dark hair flowing in the wind and my tanned body glistening from sweat. Such was our typical day on Poya Lisa island, a true Robinson Crusoe-esq existence, heavenly and harsh at the same time and I wouldn’t do it for longer than that. Our toilet paper would run out for example.

This happened several weeks later after I parted way with Alessia last in Labuan Bajo. I was investigating how to get on a boat to swim with the Whale sharks at Gorontalo, North Sulawesi and preparing for the final leg of my adventure in Indonesia when Alessia decided to join me after finishing her trip with her father. Alessia, it turns out, had two weeks before school starts in UK, but instead of spending the time moving in to her new apartment and getting oriented with the new environment, she wanted more adventure before getting back to the real world. So like this, our path crossed again.

The adventure through North Sulawesi was to finish a trip that I couldn’t finish from Ylva‘s recommendation. It took especially long to prepare as It is a Malaria infested region with real civil war still going on in central Sulawesi with some truly untouched jungles and still unique tribes unfazed by civilization: Tana Toraja (The mountain plateau people) and the Sama Bajau (Sea Gypsies).

Gorontalo, the place that we met for preparation is a frontier town, almost Indiana Jones-esq-ish. Imagine Indiana Jones style conditions with some modern cars thrown in and you get the idea. It has one special feature that most people don’t know of until you get there. Every year, the whale sharks (a holy grail that every diver chase after) would come around summer and feast on the fish trimmings from the sewage pipes of a fish cannery.

It was during this time when Alessia witnessed the power of the Chinese language at work and I have to admit, without Mandarin, I wouldn’t have been able to arrange the whole trip with basic official Indonesia (they speak a different dialect in North Sulawesi) and pointing at a map. Han Chinese lineage, it turns out, is everywhere in the  world. “I feel so safe and protected when traveling with you, never had to think and worry about anything.” said Alessia as we retire back into our cabin on Poya Lisa 4 days later.

This final adventure turns out to be one of my more memorable ones along with that time Mark and I got in trouble in the souqs of Morocco. Particularly because it’s the first time I had an adventure like this with a women who is able to handle such discomfort. Another time perhaps, my coffee ran out.

 

 

Drink, Dive, Dance 3: Laurence

Laurence is French, albeit an atypical one. When nobody is around us on the snowy Annapurna trail, I’d tease her about her Polish accents. She’d lower her head as a reflex and then sneak a peak at me in between her bangs, eyes betraying her anger while simultaneously trying to hold back a laughter. For the French, my Quebec accent is just way too funny to remain serious with me for long.

She is the first French traveler I’ve met who wanders outside of the French circle and mingle with everyone else. Not only that, she is perfectly fluent in English (with that Polish accent). A walking Oxymoron for those of you familiar with how typical French travelers act.

Laurence, revels in finding the cheapest place to eat and then proceed to negotiate the price down. We’d often find ourselves in some hole in the wall local restaurant to eat; grimes on the wall with a fan that’s older than my grandma. She’d sit down after ordering, napkins on her lap, back straight and then proceed to eat her Dal Bhat with the most elegant command of the fork and knife I have ever seen.

Dining, it seems, is a very important event in her blood. I’d learned the difference now her different needs after a while. “Quelque chose à manger” means, let’s grab something on the go and keep sightseeing. “Bon! On trouve un resto là.” means I need to sit down and go through the proper routine of dining à la Français.”

For her, my ability to barter even better than her was the biggest turn on. We’d often have bartering matches where we take turn at different shops to get the same items at prices lower than the other was able to get. Each one of us is fully capable of planning the whole trip by ourselves and is able to get the best deal out of it while the other person can focus on whatever frivolous adventure that we want to try. The complete trust in each other’s abilities as travelers is unprecedented.

Laurence, for me, is the perfect traveling girlfriend… except for her quirky need to experience proper dining from time to time, as if straying away too far from “culture” is too painful. But its the memories of these quirks that brings a smiles to my face.

Whenever I miss Laurence, I’d visit a high end French restaurant, lean back on my chair and just close my eyes.

 

 

Drink, Dive, Dance 2: Alessia

The strange thing with me and diving is that I never experienced any anxiety at any stage of the diving experience, even when I was just a beginner. During my travels, I noticed that I have a natural affinity with anything water related.

The beginners nervously threw a glance my way from time to time, double checking to see if they are checking their own equipments properly. The new ones never just ask, somehow fearing that we’ll look down on them. They also, always ask how much air is left in the other diver’s oxygen tank.

If diving is meditation, then prepping the equipment is like the ritual you go through to get into the flow state before entering meditation. I enjoyed every bit of the the process as it is my own life and I am the sole person responsible for its outcome,  whether I fuck up or not.

Breath in, breath out, left hand at the back of the head, right hand on the BCD and lean back. One by one, we flopped backward into the water into the famously cold arctic water of West Coast Canada. My world blacks out as I instinctively closes my eyes. For some reason, I can never keep my eyes open when entering the water. Probably a reflex from the shock of suddenly being overwhelmed with cold water…

Exhausted from fighting against the famous strong current of Komodo island’s dive sites, I grab hold of the ladder as I await the others to climb up first. The dive master called the shot and we made the emergency ascent after only 40 minutes as the others are now too exhausted to fight the current. It must be because of the timing of everything together, but when I looked up into the boat, Alessia stood by the railings in her red bikini and flashed her big white smile at me. I had neglect to get to know Alessia before as she is a shy girl and I spent most of the time chatting with Leilani, an advanced diver whom I’ve been traveling with for the past 2 weeks, about the beautiful dive sites around Komodo Island. However, during that moment of exhaustion and delirium, seeing that welcoming smile, was like seeing an Angel smile.

Alessia is an Italian to put it simply. Dig a deeper into her roots and you are dealing with multiple citizenship and genes. But for the most part and simplicity’s sake, she is a traditional Italian who’ve had a protected upbringing and I am the dishevelled Vagabond, free and fearless. Alessia with the little curve at the end of her lips, long and shiny curly hair, the wider jawline from her other lineage and her propensity for single minded pursuit of something once she decides she wants it in her life. All of these combined made her a refreshing breeze for the me at that moment.

The trip around the nearby village with flat and dusty, nothing exciting, but we had each others company, the sun and the ocean whenever we got too sweaty. I would often tease her about her binary conflicting internal struggle. That of her clear desire for jumping me and her traditional upbringing of being a good girl before marriage.

Besides diving, sun tanning and making out after beer with Alessia, there wasn’t much to do at Labuan bajo. Leilani and I already went to the Komodo islands on our way east towards Labuan bajo, so there’s really no interest in taking that trip again and beside that and the diving town of Labuan bajo, there isn’t much else to do. So like that, we spent three day at this little unknown tropical paradise until Alessia had to leave to travel with her father. It was supposed to be their bonding trip.

Nothing further happened between us in those three nights. We’d always come back to find Leilani going at it with some guy she picked up from “Paradise” (if you go to Labuan Bajo, you will know this place) and a sock on the door knob. Besides, Alessia is still mentally panicking about the whole issue. I was in a good mental place at this stage of my journey so I didn’t push any further. Then, two more days later, after saying goodbye to the other vagabonds I met on the way, it was my turn to step onto the propeller plane back to Bali. You know you are in a very remote place, when the planes are small, propeller based and your luggage cannot be heavier than 10kg. It really brings about the feeling that you are on an adventure and along with it, all the things that make your heart skip a beat, like the huge dive your propeller just took because it couldn’t fight the strong downward air stream. I shut my eyes thinking “this might be it, I am going to die a happy man.”

And that’s how I am brought back to the current reality. The freezing cold water of the North. A different climate and a different reality. Every time I do something that I did on my long journey, I get flashbacks of a different place in a different culture. Feels like a lifetime, but happened in an instance with all the feelings compressed to a second. An explosion of nostalgia. I will meet Alessia again though, in another part of the country but I didn’t know it back then. Like all the people I’ve met on this journey, our stories continues on just as our lives continued on.

Travel anecdote: Labuan Bajo is an interesting little diving village, what surprise me is how the people I met on the way there seem to throw away their inhibitions once at this place and openly hook up without any fear of shame like in other places. Other than that, there’s really not much to do here. I would recommend every diver to go there to experience the dive sites as this place is, so far, the site with the most marine life I’ve seen.

 

Drink, Dive, Dance 1: Prolog

Every once in a while when I close my eyes and lean back on the chair, I get catapulted back to a different time, different place to relive a small part of the journey I had. Little insignificant things will trigger the memories, It can be a familiar tune I heard while somewhere, it can be the familiar feeling while crossing the street on a red light or it can be the silence from the absolute absence of civilization. Whether the memories were good or bad, I’d stop whatever I was doing in order to cherish the once forgotten experience.

I slowly opened my eyes.

Kathmandu, deep past the chaotic Thamel. The plan was to walk until we don’t see foreigners anymore. That has always been the preferred travel style of Laurence and I; two veteran travelers who met each other while wandering around the Annapurna circuit randomly. Tagging along are three newbies we picked up along our journey to join us in the excursion into chaos.

The smell, the donkey carts, discarded food on the street and people everywhere alongside  the safety of a group of similar minded travelers who are open to experience a place instead of passing judgment. This, to me, was the height of traveling experiences.

From time to time, we’d lose sight of each from being swept away by the crowd or some over zealous barter session with a stubborn shop owner, but we’d always end up finding each other. No man left behind, was the unwitting rule between us. Not that Kathmandu during the day and smack in the middle of the local maze is any danger to any tourist, but we didn’t know that back then.

The fun lasted for the whole day until Matt, one of the tag-alongs, decided to try one of the delicacies from a street food cart. I cringed at the thought as Matt is from England, where food safety is paramount compared to Nepal. “A boy has to become a man one day” I thought. Just as one of the traveler’s rite of passage is to taste the local street food.

Needless to say, our excursion didn’t last too long after that. I closed my eyes and shook my head in laughter at the memories of Matt semi running towards the direction of Thamel where we were all staying.

When I opened my eyes again, I am back where I am. With a cup of coffee in my favorite cafe but sans Laurence.

Travel Anecdote: I didn’t write about the women I am/was with in my life out of respect for their privacy, just as I don’t write about my friends or people I live with nor visit their blog because I want the interaction to be real. But the stories of my journey cannot be complete without including the adventures I had with them. Laurence was an integral part of this part of my journey. I know will meet her again in future flash backs.

Wasted potential

Sometimes, I pass by these beggars on the street who looks absolutely stunning. As a guy, all I can do is feeling resignation towards these people. How can they waste so much potential and end up on the street.

A good looking face opens the door to many possibilities. It means that, as a man, these guys have wasted away countless opportunities that have opened up to them in the years that have passed. Opportunities that were thrown upon them instead of having to fight and struggle to get a foot in the door.

I always wondered how it happened. Was it a sense of pride that led them to reject these opportunities? Was it general incompetence from having life too easy for them as children?

I’ve never been able to get a yes in anything just by asking in my life. I am assuming that this is what high status and good looks gets people. So there’s always some element of maneuvering that I need to apply when I am eventually met with a no at first. Persuading people without using intimidation, anger or seduction is an art worth studying, but its general benefit in my life is very minimal. Persuasion and persistence only pays off when done early in life. When that 20% off an annual utility payment or 80% off an area rug when Eaton goes bankrupt can snowball into something big 30 years down the line.

But when you reach my age. The skills that nets you discounts are no longer worth it due to time constraints. The next phase of life requires skills that multiplies any spending by 100% or 200%.

“What are these skills?” is what is currently on my mind as I get ready to travel again.