Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why I Travel

Ringing in the Travel

 China 2009

While traveling, my brother, Jim,a retired History professor at Whitworth College, asked me why I traveled, and accompanied it with an article from ReVision Magazine, Vol.32. No. 1, titled "Transformative Travel" by Susan L. Ross. My guess is that he wanted me to read the article to see if it struck a responsive chord with me. It did not. Perhaps her opening line colored my view of the rest of her article because she started with:

"This article explores how travel, when approached in a conscious way, can be a widely available, individually tailored, and enjoyable way to gain self awareness, spiritual experience, and an expansion of consciousness."

The only travelers I have seen that are not traveling in a conscious way are the drunk or drugged out people you see in the cities throughout the US and some other parts of the world. Maybe they, too, are living in their own conscious way.

Dr. Ross’ orientation is in the area of recreational therapy for folks with post traumatic stress and adventure therapy with an orientation to traveling to sacred sites to cultivate ancient rituals, relationships with living energy.and partnerships with elders. I am sure some travelers would recognize that their travels fit into these categories.

So if none of Dr. Ross’s categories of "Transformative Travel" give me that "Aha moment!" then I think, why do I travel?

In reflecting on this question, I reviewed some of my travel blog reports, thought about where, when, and how I like to travel. Here are some of my reasons for doing the travel I do:
  • Enjoy challenges,
  • Try something new and different,
  • Gain perspective about other cultures compared to mine,
  • Because I can.
Enjoy Challenges
The mental challenges include figuring out where I want to travel and setting up an itinerary so my spouse knows where I am going and how to contact me. Of course, while traveling I make lots of changes to this plan as opportunities arise—-and keep her posted on my changes. Planning for your travels is an integral part of your travel experience. Many times your travel is over even before you return home. As John Steinbeck said in Travels with Charley: In Search of America:

"Who has not known a journey to be over and dead before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased."

I like to prove to myself that I can navigate my way through territory I have yet to explore, and
find food, shelter, and travel in places where no English is spoken using phrases from guide books, pantomime, and recently, iPhone translators the locals have, are challenges I enjoy.

The physical challenges include taking some adventures ranging from:
  • riding zip lines in Chile and Nepal,
Chile 2011

  • climbing volcanos in Chile, Washington Oregon and California,
Villaricca Volcano, Chile 2011

  • shooting white water rapids on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, California and Washington
Klamath River, CA 1968

  • snorkeling in SE Asia and Latin America,
 Krabi, Thailand 2005

  • riding camels in Mongolia, horses in Peru, and elephants in Thailand,
 Mongolia 2014

 Cusco, Peru 2005

 Thailand 2005

  • taking amazing hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail, Circuit "W" in Patagonia, Hua Shan, Great Wall of China, Leaping Tiger Gorge in China, Cordillera Blanca Mountains in Peru, and the Great Baikal Trail in Russia.
 PCT Mexico

 PCT Canada

 Torres del Paine, Chile 2011

 Hua Shan, China 2009

 Great Wall, China 2014

 Leaping Tiger Gorge, China 2009

 Cordillera Blanca, Peru 2005

 Grand Baikal Trail, Russia 2014

  • boating the Amazon, Mekong, Perfume, Mae Kok, Chao Phraya, Kwai, Yangtze, Li and Yulong Rivers,
 Amazon Boat 2012

 Cargo on Amazon 2012

 Hammocks on Amazon 2012

 Canoe, Amazon Jungle 2012

 Mekong River, Laos 2013

 Chao Phraya, Thailand 2014

 River Kwai, Thailand 2013

 Yangtze River Boat, China 2009

 Li River Boat, China 2009

Yulong River, China 2009

  • biking from Danang to Hoi An and short mototaxi rides in the cities and islands,
 Easy Rider, Vietnam 2014

 Friendship Pass, China  2014

 Ko Samui, Thailand 2004

 Yangshuo, China 2009

  • riding trains, boats, and buses,
 Trans-Siberian, Mongolia 2014

 Hard sleeper, China 2014

 Sapa Soft sleeper, Vietnam 2014

 Kwai Train, Thailand 2013

 Bullet Train, China 2014

 Bullet Trains, Japan 2004

 Mekong Delta, Vietnam 2007

 Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 2012

 Halong Bay, Vietnam  2008

 Ko Samet, Thailand, 2014

 Krabi, Thailand 2007

 Phuket, Thailand, 2008

 Chiang Rai 2004

 Fortaleza, Brazil 2012

 Sukothai, Thailand 2013

 Pingxiang, China 2014

 Minivans, various

  • getting lost and then finding your way,
  • traveling during a revolts or coups,
 Quito, Ecuador 2005

 News, Ecuador 2005

 Campesino Road blockade, Bolivia, 2005

 La Paz-El Alto, Bolivia 2005

 My hotel, La Paz, Bolivia 2005

 Cochabamba, Bolivia 2005

 Thailand--Coups almost annually

  • eating unusual foods like durian, monkey brains, snakes, tarantulas, snails, fried crickets and  larvas,
 Snake Restaurant, Hue, Vietnam 2002

 Blood whisky, Hue, Vietnam

 Tarantula, Cambodia 2007

 Brazil Nut Larva 2012

 Brazil Nut Larva, 2012

 Fried Crickets, Vietnam 2014

 Caviar, Russia 2014

 Snails, China 2014

 Snails, China 2014

 Terremoto, Chile 2011

 Street Beer, Hanoi, Vietnam 2007

 Lomito in Punta Arenas, Chile 2011

 Borscht, Russia 2014

 Chicken Livers, Russia 2014

 12 courses, Myanmar 2004

 Deer in Delat, Vietnam 2014

 Tamarind Restaurant, Hanoi, Vietnam 2014

 Rice meal, Taungoo, Myanmar 2004

Try Something New and Different
I am always curious to try anything new and different whether is is a place, an experience, food, modes of transportation, especially when it comes to doing it in a different culture than my own. I enjoy going to countries that are not similar to my own which is why I like going to SE Asia and Latin America over Europe. I shy away from Africa since the public transportation system seems fraught with uncertainty and danger as does travel to some of the Middle Eastern countries.

Rather than flying from one city to the next, and then getting a taxi to the downtown area, I prefer using the local transportation whether it is a light rail, metro, bus, jitney, or mototaxi. Taxi rides for me are very infrequent even though cheap in many countries I visit. I find that the Lonely Planet guides provide some of the best information on the various modes of transportation available when going to or leaving cities.

I enjoy staying at the budget hotels as described in the Lonely Planet guides or in hostels with dorms and other travelers from different countries, usually European countries like the UK, Holland, or Germany, Australians, Chinese and Japanese. I encounter very few Americans in the hotels and hostels I stay in. The physical challenges listed above give you some idea of the types of different activities I like to try.  Here are some of the interesting and inexpensive places I have stayed:

 Lovina, Bali 2011

 Lovina, Bali 2011

 Chiang Rai, Thailand 2004

 Ko Samui, Thailand 2004

 Ko Chang, Thailand 2007

 Pingyao, China 2009

 Lingshed, India 2008

 Paraty, Brazil 2012

 Ito, Japan 2011

 Capsule Hotel, Nagoya, Japan 2011

 Kyoto, Japan 2011

 Nagi, Nepal 2002

 Manang, Nepal 2002

 Inle, Myanmar 2004

 Inle, Myanmar 2004

 HCMC, Vietnam 2014

When I take local tours,  I am usually the only Westerner among the tour group. Some of the tours have been in Brazil, Chile, Peru, China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and Myanmar.

 Yangtze River boat 2009

 Bike tour inYangshuo, China  2009

 Ladakh trek, India 2008

 Secret Wall, China 2009

 Amazon Jungle, Brazil 2012

 La Throng Pass, Nepal 2002

 Room to Read, Laos 2007

 Room to Read, India 2004

 Room to Read, India 2004

 Room to Read, Vietnam 2007

 Room to Read, Cambodia 2005

 Road trip Myanmar 2004

 Mingun guides, Myanmar 2004

 Broke Dragon Terrace, China 2009

 Changsa, China 2009

 Changsa, China 2009

 Safari South Africa 2005

 Damnoen Market, Thailand 2004

 Dominoes on Amazon boat, Brazil 2012

 Laos village, 2002

 Delat tour, Vietnam 2014

I have had lots of different foods both in restaurants and street food that the locals seem to enjoy. I try some of the spicy food, but if it is too spicy, I start hiccuping so I end up piling on more rice or noodles or swilling cold beer to soothe my taste buds. I have sampled fried crickets, larvae, tarantulas, snake, snails, deer, rabbit, sausages of all kinds, known and unknown fruits and vegetables.

Gain Perspective About Cultures Other Than Mine
With each culture I visit, I increasingly realize that ours is not better than theirs, but rather different. I gain a greater understanding of my own culture by viewing other cultures. We could learn from some of their cultural and public services and they could learn some from our culture as well.

While doing some home stays with families in Peru, Thailand, Bhutan, Nepal and India, I got to see first hand how individuals, families and communities interact with each other, their neighboring communities and tourists. In most of these home stays there were few outside influences since they were out of range of TVs, radios and in most cases roads. As a result they found ways to work, support, and entertain each other. Festivals and other gatherings were occasions for them to arrange marriages for their "eligible" children and maintain relationships with neighboring villagers that may help each in the future. I also enjoy encountering other festivals in my travels.

 Vegetarian Festival, Thailand 2006

 Vegetarian Festival, Thailand 2006

 Loy Kratong, Phuket, Thailand 2005

 Wedding party, Cambodia 2005
Dali High School, China 2009

 Bagan monklets, Myanmar 2004

 Monk initiation, Myanmar 2004

 Fengdu kids, China 2009  
 Room to Read, Beneghat, Nepal 2002

 Room to Read, Nagdi, Nepal 2002

  Restaurant owner, Ta Prohm, Cambodia 2006

Vicos school, Peru 2005

 Salvador, Brazil 2012

 New Year, Penang, Malaysia 2008

 New Year Penang, Malaysia 2008

 Cheers in Yangshuo, China 2014

 Ollantaytambo festival, Peru 2005

 Black Hat festival, Bhutan 2000

 Black Hat festival, Bhutan 2000

I value the kindness of strangers as they help me along my journey by giving me directions, treating me to meals or drinks, giving me rides, offering me places to stay, discussing their lives and dreams, and so on, even if sometimes, we do not have any common language.

 Guilin tourists, China 2009

 Galapagos BD party, Ecuador 2005

 Panchamama feast, Peru 2005

 Baha'i Temple, India 2004

 Valparaiso boating, Chile 2011

Because I Can
Now that I am retired, I am fortunate to have the time, money, health to travel as much as I can, as long as I can. Also, my spouse, Tani, still enjoys her work and supports my solo travels.

I enjoy solo traveling because I do not have to coordinate with anyone on where to go, how to go, how long to stay in any one spot, and also because it makes me more open to reaching out to others, both locals and other international travelers.

To maximize my travels, I rely on frequent flyer mile programs to fund my air travel to overseas. I enjoy the challenge of seeking out ways to rack up mileage by "churning credit cards and other mileage offers.

Once in country, I focus on local transportation modes both as a way to save money and to observe and interact with people. Oftentimes I am the only "Westerner" on the boat, bus or metro. My trips of usually 2 months end up costing around $3,000 to $5,000 which is about what a two week vacation to SE Asia, Latin America or Hawaii would be excluding food and local transportation.

My trips would even cost less if I did not spend as much as I do on food, but I am a foodie and enjoy eating well. Also, when I am at home, my daily average dining and grocery expenses average $28 per day compared to $35–38 per day when I travel. My home average normal food cost of $28 per day would be $1,680 for two months. If I were to back out this amount from my 2 month trips, these trips would then just average between $1,322 and $3,320.

We are all on a life’s journey and how I enjoy traveling may not be enjoyable for others. With that in mind, I like to refer to this Walt Whitman poem from Son of Myself, section 46 that points that out:

"Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land."

When I finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail—-a trail of 2,660 miles from Mexico to Canada, I remembered one of the most frequent mantras I heard from other hikers was HYOH—-hike your own hike, meaning that to enjoy your long distance hiking experience you need to stop when you want to, rest when you want to, eat when you want to, and hike at the speed that you want to without feeling pressured by others to do otherwise. With regard to travels, that would translate to TYOT—travel your own travel. That is what I continue to look forward to doing.

Cheers, Ollantaytambo, Peru 2005

Next up, a return to Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico where I will do some more hikes in the area and describe them in this blog. My next overseas adventure, in the Spring, may take me to the Philippines for lots of island hopping by boat and possibly plane.

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