The Truth about Travel
The truth about travel incorporates many things. One will have good experiences, bad experiences, and ugly experiences. Beyond this, those experiences will inspire laughter and tears. They also foster learning, learning about yourself, the world and everything travel related. I have experienced amazing moments and discussed moments. Luckily, I have only experienced real concern once. I am going to take some time here to talk about these travel experiences.
I would say that most of my travel experiences fall under the good category. I have been traveling abroad regularly for just under ten years (though as a teenager I traveled to Canada and Mexico) and have not ever experienced a significant set back. I have not experienced theft or bodily harm. Yeah for me! I hope your travels are as good as mine.
- The first time I traveled to India, I traveled with a professor, her husband and another graduate student. The professor had traveled in India many times including a 9 month stent to work on her dissertation. Her husband, had traveled in India and in addition to this and his time spent on his dissertation, he had lived in Varanasi for two years. Thus, I had two well seasoned guides for my first experience in India. I learned a lot from my time with them and I never felt unsafe. They knew where to go and where not to go. Thus, my first positive experience of traveling far afield was going with people who knew the ropes.
- Another great experience from my first trip to India was the companionship. We all had great times together. I had amazing conversations with my professors husband in auto-rickshaws. (He is a professor of religion at another institution.) Sometimes at night we would play a card game together. And my professor, the other grad student and I climbed a hill together to document an undocumented cave.
- One of my favorite experiences in India is riding a motorcycle. I feel completely free on the back of a bike. I ride on a bike with someone regularly now but my first time on a bike in India was in Ellora with a man my professor knew. He gave me a ride to the temple at which we were conducting our research.
- Auto-rickshaws and taxis: Getting a ride is always an adventure. I have been in a taxi that missed the turn and instead of going around the block or making a u-turn, just threw it in reverse. (You might see this as bad, but we did not get in a wreck, so it got my Adrenalin up!) I have had drivers go really slow because I am a foreigner and I have had drivers drive like maniacs because I am a foreigner. The best traffic jam ever was caused by a bull mounting a cow in the middle of the road.
- Delhi by Cycle: This is my favorite thing to do in Delhi. They are a company that provides bicycle tours in Delhi. I have gone on the same tour through old Delhi three times. I will go again when I am back in Delhi. The guides are knowledgeable, I find the bike ride to be a physical challenge, and I always see something new.
- Making new friends: I have made many friends on the road. It is great to talk to people from other parts of the world and from a different background. I have learned much from Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi and others. My larger world created by these people is one of the greatest gifts in my life.
- My mom: I have traveled with my mom in Mexico, Turkey, Bangladesh, Italy, and India. I was so thankful that she decided to go with me to Turkey and Bangladesh back in 2015. Before that trip she had only been to Mexico and Canada. It was great for me to be the one ‘in charge’ if you will. Through our travels we have become closer. We are great travel partners. We get along better on the road. Ha! I love traveling with her but my next goal for her is to travel alone. She has traveled to other countries without me but always with someone.
- Solo travel: Traveling solo will teach you more about yourself than anything else can. You will experience ever emotion from excitement to boredom. One learns what they are really made of. You either take it in and go with the flow or you resist it. Don’t resist it. It makes life much harder.
- New food: I love food. I have tried a variety of new foods across South Asia. I have tried things like pizza made differently in Italy. And I have had American food across North America and South Asia. It is fun to eat somewhere like McDonald’s in India as they do not serve beef. The best Chinese food I have ever had was in Pune, Maharashtra, India.
- Learning: Not only have I learned about myself, I have also learned about the history and cultures of other places. One thing I love about South Asia, is the people. They are all giving, they all want to teach you about their culture and their lives. They do not want to convert you to another religion or change your world view. I think they just want you to have a positive experience and they want one too.
I am happy to report I have had little in the way of bad when I travel. I have never experienced a major situation like theft or assault. But I have had some annoying and scary experiences that I would qualify as “bad”. May all of our travels be only this degree of bad.
- Taxi Rides: On my first time to India, my travel partners and I were in Mumbai. We were taking a taxi across town to go visit a friend of my professor and her husband. Once we got to the neighborhood the taxi driver missed the turn. Instead of going around the block or making a u-turn, he just threw the car in reverse and drove backward and the wrong way down the road. It was terrifying at the time. Now I think it is humorous and that is what I would think if it happened again.
- Tuk-Tuk Drivers: I have had many pleasant experiences with tuk-tuk drivers. One of my favorite people in Udaipur is a tuk-tuk driver. However, sometimes they are so annoying. In a recent post, I discussed my time in Mathura with my mom this past summer. We were at the Mathura train station and my mom needed to go to the bathroom. I noticed there was a pay-toilet across the drive, so I told my mom we should go over there because it would be cleaner. As we walked out of the train station we got swarmed by about 20 tuk-tuk driver. I kept telling them we did not want a ride. They just would not let up. I started yelling and cussing at one of them. Luckily, they think it is funny when they piss you off, so in the end, we were both laughing. Needless to say, when we walked back to the train station no one said a word to us.
- Monkeys: I have had many monkey experiences. I do not like them and I think they are terrible. Here let me recount a story from Nepal. I was climbing the stairs to the Swyambunath temple. As I made my way up I was cornered by a monkey. I had a water bottle in my hand and he wanted it. I handed it to him because I did not want him on me.
- Lost in Dhaka: Oh man, one of the most stressful things to have happened to me while traveling was in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had convinced my mom to travel with me and it was her first trip to South Asia. We had gone across town for dinner. On our way back we did not think our tuk-tuk driver knew where he was going. We switched tuk-tuks. We got back to the neighborhood we were staying in but the driver did not know exactly where to take us. We ended up standing on a street corner under a street light with a map open. Several people gathered around us but none of them spoke English. Eventually a man who spoke English came and told a cycle-rickshaw driver where to take us. It was bad to be lost but the kindness of the people in Dhaka was amazing.
- An Attempted Scam: Also in Dhaka, a woman tried to scam my mom. We were in our hotel restaurant our second night. After the debacle above, my mom did not want to go out to dinner. As we ate that second night in the hotel restaurant a woman started talking to my mom. She just would not let up. She wanted to meet with my mom the next day. She had some story. But it was obvious she was going to try and scam my mom out of some money. After that, my mom did not want to go in the hotel restaurant. So, our third day in Dhaka we had snacks for dinner in the hotel lobby. What a nightmare. I like to eat. I told my mom after that, she could do what she wanted but I was going back to the hotel restaurant. Although the attempted scam sucks, I think not having a proper dinner sucks more.
What I have come up with for the ugly is perhaps misplaced. Though I say it is ugly and some of it is, it is all a part of South Asia. Some of the things are forgivable but others are a fact of global capitalism. The things listed here I have for sure had an impact on me and how I see the world at large. Regardless of if it is good, bad or ugly these experiences have lead me to be a new person. I would not change any of it. My experiences abroad shape how I see my home country, how I see my self and what I want for my future.
- The Smells: I know many people probably think it just smells everywhere in South Asia. It does not, however, there are three distinct places I remember the smell. First, was in Mumbai. There was (probably still is) a shanty town next to the Arabian sea. When we walked past there it smelled like a mixture of rotting fish and human feces. It is the grossest thing I have ever smelled. Second, a pile of garbage in Dhaka. There was just a pile of garbage on the street in a neighborhood in Dhaka. Most of what was in the pile was compost, however, there was some none biodegradable items in the mix as well. I think it stank because the plant material was decomposing. So, it could be used for good in the future but at that particular moment it was disgusting for my nose.
- The Street Kids: Do not get me wrong, I have compassion for the street kids in India. I think it is horrible that there are no social safety nets to help them. In some places there are Non-Government Organizations and I applaud their efforts. On my first trip to India, we were in Mumbai and we were in a taxi stopped at a red light. In this situation, you are just a sitting duck. Two kids saw us foreigners and came over. A girl about 8 or 9 came to my window and a boy a year or two younger came up to the other window. One of my travel partners is fluent in Hindi so he was telling them to go away. But they did not. The girl stuck her and through the window and touched my face. It freaked me out. As an American, I have certain personal space boundaries. (Now after spending more time abroad, I do not have any. Ha.) But what struck me was the girls demeanor and her spirit. It had been completely broken. She did not seem to have a soul. It was jarring. The ugly is not my encounter with the girl but the fact that she had already been robbed of her youth and her innocence.
- More Monkeys: The way houses are built in India allow for the monkeys to get into some areas of some houses. The monkeys could get in the house I lived in. They could get in one of the bedrooms. Not only have I been terrorized by them, they would shit and piss all over one of the bedrooms. Cleaning that up is disgusting. It is just wrong. There were niches high in the wall. The monkeys would sit in them and shit and pee down the wall. Thus, the grossness was on the walls and the floor. Yuck.
- Child Labor: While in Dhaka we went out into a manufacturing district to visit a fabric manufacturing shop. The shop was amazing. We got to visit the workers and they were all adults. They were so welcoming and excited to see us. Bangladesh does not have a huge tourist industry, so we surely broke up the monotony of the their day. Having experiences like these make me wish I could speak Bangla so that I could have really talked to these people. The “ugly” was when we were driving back towards the city. We drove past small manufacturing plants. The buildings were open on the sides and you could see inside. In one place, there were boys no older than 8 welding. The did not have appropriate safety gear, they did not even have on shoes. It was heart-breaking.