This essay was written by my partner, Tom, for our personal blog. It’s a beautiful summary of what we experienced on our travels:
MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.
I’ve always found Ernest Shackleton’s famous want ad inspiring. He was looking for men to join him on his ship “The Endurance” on what was to be an ill-fated attempt to cross the Antarctic. Despite the fact that Julia and I have not spent the last year on a ship stuck in sea ice, our trip has been in many ways an exercise in endurance.
For almost a year now, we haven’t slept in the same bed more than a few nights at a time, and we frequently haven’t slept in a bed at all. We walk into a store and can’t remember if we’re supposed to say hola or merhaba or sawadee to the shopkeeper, whether we need to pay 45 rupees to the dollar or 19,645 dong. (Messing up a currency conversion caused me to accidentally stroll into Bangkok with $700 cash in my pocket in Thai bhat.) And the animals begging at our feet have gone from the stray dogs of Central America to the cats of Turkey to the monkeys of India to the birds of New Zealand.
The fact is, it’s a big world out there. Only part way through the trip did Julia and I admit to each other that we sometimes wondered if we were actually going to see our friends and family again or if we would ever make it back to the country we call home. The road can sometimes be a scary and lonely place. Once in a while, I would do things to trick myself into thinking that I was back home, like listening to Americana music or staring out the window on long bus rides and picturing myself on a friend’s lawn on a summer night. After a while you start to miss things, things you wouldn’t think you’d miss like singing along loudly to music while driving, cooking for yourself, putting the autumn quilt on your bed or the excitement of the first snowfall of the year.
Our seasons have been all screwed up over the last year –we left in early summer, went to the ‘wet season’ to the ‘hot season’ to the start of the ‘dry season’ back into summer and now we’re entering autumn. And when we arrive home in a few days it will be spring! We’ve been experiencing vivid dreams at night throughout the trip, dreams of our youth or old friends we haven’t seen in years, as our subconscious struggles to put our current day-to-day life into context with the rest of our years.
According to Mark Twain, travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” but I frequently question whether I’ve become more open minded or less so. We’ve seen societies that are highly functional and societies that are frustratingly dysfunctional in many ways. It also seems that our trip has been a tour of failed U.S. foreign policy. We hear over and over again, “Everything was going okay until the Americans began carpet bombing /funding a guerilla campaign /economic sanctions /arming the rebels…” The only place where we didn’t hear that was in India, mostly because the UK beat us to it (thanks for making us look good by comparison, old chums!) And yet everywhere we go, people welcome us with open arms, seemingly able to separate the actions of our government with the will of our people.
The single biggest lesson that I’ve learned from our travels is that a nation functions best when women are completely equal members of society. Educating and empowering women seems almost to be a cure-all for improving a nation’s health and happiness, generating economic prosperity, solving environmental issues, slowing rampant population growth, and improving overall quality of life. While clearly I’ve always believed entirely in gender equality, I only now understand the far-reaching effects that empowering women has.
We’ve awoken to monkeys howling in the jungle and an infestation of bugs crawling on us and the gentle ring of yak bells high in the Himilayas. We’ve been cheated and hustled and been shown incredible generosity. We’ve seen countries still reeling from the atrocities of war and genocide. We’ve watched one nation struggling with a devastating flood and another with a devastating earthquake. We’ve seen crushing poverty and lavish wealth, and we have likewise felt very poor and very wealthy ourselves at various times. We’ve met a king, herded goats, rode elephants, and swam with sharks. We’ve visited mosques and monasteries, temples and churches, danced to the celebration of Ramadan and broken bread for Shabbat. We’ve tasted fine wine and exotic foods and things that made us sick to our stomachs. We’ve watched the sun rise on the Taj Mahal and the sun set on the Blue Mosque. We’ve drifted down gentle rivers through the rainforest and we’ve dodged the endless traffic of Asian cities.
One night in a dusty hotel room, we caught the end of the Curious Case of Benjamin Button on a scratchy TV. One of the final scenes caught my attention because it struck me how much it reflected on how we feel about our trip.
Now, as we board a plane to cross the Pacific Ocean, we too are starting over. We’re moving to a new community, in a new state. Soon, we’ll be getting married. Sometimes, I do get afraid about starting over. I worry that we’ll be lonely without friends around or that I’ll have trouble finding work. But mostly, I’m excited for everything that lies ahead for the two of us.
For all that we’ve seen and done in the last 10 months, it has been the people we’ve met along the way that have made the trip the most special. We’ve met some of the most incredible people on this trip, from locals to fellow travelers, old friends and even some friends of friends. Some have taken us in, showed us a helping hand, or just shared an interesting conversation with us in a cafe. For the people we’ve met and the things we’ve seen and done, we will remain forever grateful for the memories we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
The world is a beautiful place.