No one tells you that the hardest part of traveling is coming home. After nine months of not being able to drink tap water, and carrying toilet paper in my purse because “you-just-never-know”, I was ready to come home to Canada, to my family and Tim Hortons and a shower I knew would have hot water.
So why as the plane began its descent into Toronto was I feeling not only reluctance, but fear? I suddenly wanted to pull a one-eighty and go back to the humidity and mosquitoes and the glorious unknown of Southeast Asia. I didn’t want to face the cold weather, certainly, but I also did not want to have to face the dreaded question, “So, how was your trip?”
I’ll try to tell you.
It was sitting with my feet dangling off the edge of a train as it whizzed through the hills and tea plantations of Sri Lanka, sharing samosas with a young soldier.
It was freezing at the peak of Indonesia’s second highest mountain, witnessing the most spectacular sunrise I had ever seen and feeling more strong and capable than I had ever felt.
It was watching tears run down an elderly Burmese man’s face as we both stood doubled over with gut-wrenching laughter, not able to communicate with words but laughter somehow transcending all language barriers.
It was the photos I didn’t take because I was too busy being present. A girl not more than five years old walking her herd of goats through the mountains. An elderly woman and a baby perched on her lap, sharing a Popsicle. The sunrise from atop a pagoda in Bagan.
It was freedom and joy and pouring rain. It was feeling infinite and exhausted and useless and home. It was more jaunts to 7/11 than I ever expected.
It wasn’t always glamorous, certainly not always Instagram-able. I saw more poverty than waterfalls, more injustice than pristine beaches. And no one wants to see a photo of you during a bout of food poisoning (#travel!).
Sometimes, it was lonely. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have to miss out on things at home, or that I could be there for people who needed me. Sometimes there were long bus rides at night being kept awake by wild bus drivers, staring into the darkness and questioning the journey, wondering if I was in fact lost or running.
And while you ask me about the places, what I really want to tell you about are the people who made me confident I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I want you to know the souls behind the faces – dear Pon who would propose to me every other day with a new plastic ring, or Kaopee who couldn’t remember anything I taught her except “blue”, which she used often.
I wish you could meet Chaydan - fashion business man turned hippie whose passionate, whiskey-induced speeches reminded me of what was important in life – “love, love, LOVE”.
Ameer – who welcomed me onto his tiny boat which was also his home, and in doing so taught me about simplicity, joy, and hospitality.
Chinh – a tiny Vietnamese woman of immense strength and passion who supports her family by guiding tourists through the rural areas of Sapa.
Or the many other sojourners I met who welcomed and inspired me, and taught me to trust the journey.
Travel is not many things people make it out to be. It is not an automatic cure for ignorance; receptiveness is a choice. It is not the quintessential element for a meaningful life; if that was the case much of the population would be condemned to a worthless life. Nevertheless, travel is unique in that one is forced to experience more, learn more, and make more connections in a short time than in any other facet of life. In effect, nine months feels like a lifetime and it is not easy coming home to a place where little more than the colour of the bathroom has changed.
Nonetheless, I am convinced that the lessons received while traveling are not fleeting like our tans. Rather, the vigor imparted on the mind and the colours which paint our experiences will seep into our vision so that all we perceive is forever tinged with the affects of our adventure.