notes from Janey . . .
It’s been over 35 years since I flew to Europe by myself in 1973. My travel legs are steadier now. My armor is thicker, my patience packed deeper. I’ve endured much since then.
Rank smells, huge bugs in my bed, outdoor meat markets and hordes of flies. I’ve been smashed together with people and pigs on a Guatemalan bus for 12 hours, only to do it again the next day. I’ve been sick. I’ve been stranded. I’ve been robbed. I’ve been lost. But none of this stops me from starting to pack a month before I’m due to go to a place even more remote and unknown. I must love it.
And not for just the stories I glean from it, but what it does for me. I like the person I am when I travel.
If you strip away everything you are accustomed to — language, clothing, customs, landscape, the appearance of the money, the food, everything — you get a real close look at who’s left standing. You either like who you see, or you don’t. When you travel, get ready to know yourself a little better.
Recently, Tupelo and I were rumbling through Cambodia on a bus heading to Thailand’s border. As the bus shook over the bone-rattling road, the hard seat beneath me made it impossible to get comfortable, but I didn’t complain as I looked out my window as if it were a TV screen. Plowed fields were churned dark behind overworked oxen and sweating men. Naked children played in the mud. Fat pigs wallowed in shadows cast from thatched huts on stilts.
I felt removed from the scenes blurring by my window. The ancient bus quarantined me from their lives. I could never fathom their joys and sorrows, their deepest secrets.
I was just skimming through their world like a dried leaf on moving water. And yet I felt my heart opening, exposing long held beliefs, questioning them, fleshing out new thoughts, surprising myself. Gratitude for my own life spiked with a tender barb.
When we booked the tickets the day before, the smiling travel agent pointed to the poster on the wall that showed a sparkling, luxury motorcoach. We laid our money down gladly, envisioning the comfort we’ll be floating in for the 150 dusty miles to the border. What showed up the following morning was nothing more than a repainted school bus. It was too late to make other arrangements so without a word we jumped on board. The promised air-conditioning was an opened window.
Luggage stacked high on the seat in front of us threatened to fall with every curve and pothole. But we are used to it. This is just the way things work in the third world.
When you travel, you’ve got to leave behind the tendency to have everything exactly the way you want it to be. Instead bring along an endless supply of patience and a hefty dose of humor. Otherwise it’s going to drive you crazy.
You can’t travel stiff. Because of the immense differences in cultures and peoples, one has to bend to fit in, to make do, and hopefully enjoy the process. Travel tests our limits in nearly every way. We have to be willing to find out what they are, and then go beyond.
Travel shakes out the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good for me is the incredible sense of awe and fascination I feel when immersed in a new culture, and finding out how well I fare in varied or difficult situations. The bad is the heart breaking scenes of human conditions and the mistreatment of animals. The ugly, hum – I guess I haven’t found that yet, but to tell you the truth, I’m not really looking.
The unexpected brings us deeper and more meaningful travel experiences. Giving up our tendency for control stretches us, sometimes digging up traits or fears we thought were long buried. It can be unnerving, but eventually this can be a good thing. Like I said before, if you travel be willing to get to know yourself a little bit better.
Getting to know yourself better should be at the top of the list for reasons why you travel. Go ahead. Let go. Surprise yourself. You can thank yourself later.
(Article and photos by Janey Wing Kenyon)
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