“Of all the adventures and challenges that wait on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home. On a certain level, coming home will be a drag because it signals the end of all the fun, freedom and serendipity that you enjoyed on the road. But on a less tangible level, returning home after a vivd experience overseas can be just plain weird and unsettling. Every aspect of home will look more or less like it did when you left, but it will feel completely different.”
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Chapter 11 by Rolf Potts
Of all of the journeys we make the journey home is often the most displacing.
When we take off from everything we know and dive, head long, into the great and glorious unknown, we do so knowing that there will be discomforts, things will shock us and we’ll be confused. We are mentally and emotionally prepared for the culture shock and the disparity between everything we are, everything we know, and the new realities that will engulf us.
In coming home, we often don’t take into account that, after an extended time away, living in an entirely different reality, we’re doing the very same thing in reverse. We hit the ground taking for granted that everything will be the same, assuming that we know what to expect, feeling as if it should all be easy. Except it’s not.
For me, the hard things aren’t what one would expect to be difficult: Big box stores completely overwhelm me, after a year of shopping in markets and corner stores. The onslaught of language on my senses: In my second and subsequent languages, I can choose what to make the effort to read and filter what I don’t want to bother with. In English, I can’t help but read every single word. I can listen to one conversation at a time, and let the background chatter in a foreign language rush by me. In English, I hear the guy three rows behind me in the bus complaining about his girlfriend’s mother and it drives me batty. It’s having to make a choice between twenty brands of ketchup. It’s Fox New’s trite treatment of a country no one can find on a map. It’s the sudden lack of Kinder Eggs.
It never fails, I hit the ground expecting “home” in all of it’s warm and comforting glory, and instead I find that I’m once again an alien in a strange land. It only helps marginally to remember that it’s me, not “them.” On seven levels, re-entry is wonderful. On seven more, it’s unsettling, and hard to navigate without weirding out the people who love us most. I’ve learned three things that seem to help somewhat:
What about you? What are your experiences with re-entry and coming home? What have you learned? How has it changed you?
“Live, don’t know how long,
And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.”
–Inscribed with chalk (circa 1500) on a cellar wall of Schloss Tratzberg by Maximilian I; quoted in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts
The air is unbreathable, hot, and terribly humid. The air conditioner perched at the top of the wall at my right is just an empty plastic shell that reminds me that there could be some extra comfort, if someone had cared to replace the wiring. Instead, rivulets of sweat pour down my forehead and temples, sliding down my spine and flowing over the small of my back, soaking into the elastic of my underwear. I had to take my shirt off to endure this first Indonesian live test.
“Cut the set short, I can’t breathe…” Sam screams from behind the drums, his man-boobs twitch, lucid with sweat.
“Why man? They are loving it!” I answer screaming on top of amplifier white noise between two songs.
“I said cut it fucker, I can’t fucking breathe! I am feeling sick! There’s no air!”
OK then, roger.
This is the best travel I have done recently, hands down.
We are at the back of Khansa Studio’s rehearsal room in Pamulang, somewhere in the sprawling suburbs of Jakarta, nestled between a row of halfstacks and a small melee of young Indonesian hardcore punk believers. They are probably twenty, but the room’s so cramped it feels like they are hundreds, all blowing hot air in our faces. One has just finished walking up the wall to my right, supported by a bunch of other lunatics pushing him at the small of his back. From my perspective, I believe for a moment that the room is rolling sideways, and this guy’s trying to run with it. When Sam hits the last of four strokes with his sticks, we launch into the last song of the night, and I wonder if this still makes sense. Looking at how the kids spin and jump and crawl on top of each other, forcing me to step back against the amps, I am tempted to say “yes”. But reflecting on the fact that I am sweating as if I were playing guitar inside of a Finnish sauna, our drummer is having a respiratory crisis, and tonight – and for the rest of this tour – we will never get paid a single rupiah, my European heritage materializes with a hammer to smash the bubble of underground dedication right before my eyes. Why are you doing this, Marco?
I don’t know. Probably because these days I only conceive traveling as a concoction of brutal anthropology, self-inflicted ruin and mind-numbing exploration of the weirdest fringes available in the world. But it does indeed make me feel good, for I know that I’m probably not the only one, but certainly one of the few, to have had this vision and this cross. Suddenly all of the problematic divides among travelers and tourists disappear, because they are not important anymore. I’m only trying to make my time on Earth meaningful to my own self, I guess. Is there anything wrong with it?
MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld
Day 63 of our year long ‘round the world honeymoon will be forever etched in our memory. In October 2009, my husband and I had just concluded a three-week G Adventures tour of southern Africa and had a few days to spend in Livingstone, Zambia. The falls called to us. Knowing only it’s mammoth size, endless supply of rainbows and something called Devil’s Pool; we went in search of adventure but what we found was both a literal and metaphorical ‘jump’. The water rushed past us with its continual flow symbolizing the twists, turns and sometimes, jagged edges of life. How on earth did we get here?
Devil’s Pool is a natural rock pool cresting on the edge of the Zambian side of Victoria Falls (also known as The Smoke that Thunders). During the dry season, the Zambian side of the falls is low enough for visitors to attempt the adrenaline rush of Devil’s Pool. “Climb up this way” our guide David said as he gestured to a large rock that placed us just above the small pool. At the far edge of the natural pool lay the actual edge of Victoria Falls. My heart jumped. The falls rumbled. How did we get here and now what was I supposed to do?
For so long, I’d lived a sheltered life in Long Island, NY. During university I took my first international trip and each year ventured further in my travels. I found that traveling allowed me to find my true self. My comfort zone was grew and my fears lessened, but this was a jump on a totally different level. Moving in together was a risk worth taking, getting married was a leap of faith, taking a year off from a career I’d been in for over ten years was scary but this was on a much greater scale! At the time, I’m not sure I truly knew what it meant, but it was the beginning of a complete shift in attitude, confidence and total life balance.
We watched a group of travelers in front of us and they lived. “Are we really doing this?” I asked my husband of nearly two months. “Absolutely-there’s no turning back now!” David (the guide) stood on the rocks on the left, the cliff’s edge was in front of us with another guide standing ready to catch our hands if necessary and we waited our turn. These guys literally walked on the world’s edge every day-I wonder what their mothers said about their job? I imagine their life was as balanced as could be. Water was everywhere. David said ‘jump’, and insanely, I listened. Landing safely in the pool my smile may have actually surpassed my ears! The rush was inexplicable. Mathew and I sat, as so many did before us, on the edge leaning back to see the falls rushing over the side and watched as a double rainbow appeared before our eyes. Incredible doesn’t do it justice!
After the jump, excitement replaced fear and our appetites returned. It wasn’t just the desire to devour the delicious eggs benedict and scones offered to jumpers after their plunge. Now, after successfully looking fear in the eye, jumping and more than just surviving-I wanted more. This wasn’t just an incredible day or travel story to retell; this was a life-changing experience whose effect was far greater than I ever could have imagined.
Three years after that jump, the feelings hadn’t lessened. We’d returned, gone through a hurricane that nearly decimated our community and the desire for more was still there. The entire jump from the giant rock into the pool at the top of Victoria Falls took all of ten seconds. The journey to reach the top of that rock took well over thirty years and was comprised of as many bumps, tumbles and magic as the waterfall herself. The interesting thing was that the magnitude of the jump was not in those ten seconds as I had first thought but instead it was the aftermath that held the greatest significance.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined spending time traveling the world or ever having the courage to take that leap at one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls. That leap led to more as I finally began to believe that some form of net truly would appear. Perhaps those first few nets of my family, my husband and the pool at the top of the Victoria Falls led to finally believing that even I could be my own net. By four years after the jump, we’d taken more time off from work and gone traveling again facing new challenges and taking greater risks than I ever before would take. I finally felt that I could be my travel self, that true self at home or abroad. The ‘world’s greatest sheet of falling water’ (according to UNESCO) taught me about courage, fear, wonder, risk, encouragement, balance and joy.
I’m no longer afraid to jump. In fact, there are times that I look forward to those jumps and find them far more exciting than nerve-wracking; the complete opposite of life prior to Day 63. I’m not sure she knows what she gave me in those ten seconds but because of her, I know that the possibilities are endless and that the risk is without question, worth the reward.
Thank you, Victoria Falls.
To see more of Stacey’s travels check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.
This week I’m in San Francisco, after riding my motorcycle from Washington. First, I have to say – the ride down the PCH was in-damn-credible! Thanks to a friend’s suggestions, I got off the PCH near Fortuna and took the Avenue of the Giants scenic route. Who would have thought that there was a scenic route to an already incredible scenic route? I’ll write more about this another time. Take my recommendation, though, if you are ever in southern Oregon, take 199 West and to 101 South, then just take that as far as you’re able. Here’s a couple pictures to wet your appetite.
Now – this week, I wanted to ask a question. When you travel to busy, vibrant locations (big cities and such) – do you feel a bit lost? A bit secluded?
The other night, I was talking with my friend Boris, who I met when trekking through Siberia (a real awesome guy, btw). Anyway – we were discussing what it was like to visit a large city like San Francisco when you’re traveling solo. We both felt that if you don’t already know someone there, it’s easy to feel a bit alone. It’s the reason he gave me some things to do in SF; recommendations that would get me started and he also introduced me to some of his friends.
Truth is – often when I’m traveling solo, I feel the need to some alone time to acclimate. I remember going to Göteborg, Sweden a few years ago. It was a great place to hang out with a vibrant night life. Before I could venture out, though, I had to spend about a day alone in the hotel to absorb the new environment. Only after that did I feel comfortable in going out to explore the city. Yet, on every adventure I’ve been on, I’m often traveling as part of a small group. In those instances, I felt comfortable in most situations (well – except for some really sketchy ones). I was able to jump right in and explore the surroundings.
I noticed the same thing at World Domination Summit a few weeks ago. I was fortunate to have a lot of friends to hang out with and springboard from; but, it’s something that I would have struggled with otherwise. I find that with small, intimate destinations it’s much easier for me to get involved and to be a vibrant part. Once there’s too many people, I tend to step back and observe, rather than participating.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts – is this just part of my introvert tendencies – or is this a more common feeling?
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”
These words ring through my head as my new friend hangs her head and cries. She is devastated.
My friend attends a school run by those who seem to be more fortunate. She attends school for free in a nation where free is synonymous with poor quality and any kind of quality education costs at least a small sum. This young girl walks to school everyday in her hand-me-down uniform and devours her school lessons. She speaks English, a language she taught herself, better than her teachers. Sometimes she skips school because the streets of Varanasi hold more interest than the tired worksheets that are levels and levels below her intellect. There is no such thing as “differentiated instruction” where she goes to school. People tease her for her “hand out” education” but still she shows up, still she finishes her homework, and still she practices her English with anyone who will listen. Despite her poverty, she offers her help to anyone she considers a friend and flatly refuses compensation, even if she knows such a decision will earn her the ire of her older sister. This little girl, who owns no toys, says she believes she will always get what she needs from the universe, even if it is only a very, very little bit. She possesses the drive and exudes the potential that everyone raising money for a school like hers talks about.
But at school today, she was humiliated.
Today my friend’s teacher reminded her of her “place” and delivered a lesson on class structure that included telling a little girl that she should be “happy for what she gets”. All because my friend expressed a preference for one donated item over another.
As she cries next to me, I am reminded of the phrase I heard so often in my youth and wonder if whoever made it up had ever had anyone repeatedly tell them they were “less than” and undeserving of exhibiting normal human behaviors?
“Why can’t I have a favorite color? Why can’t I have an opinion? Why does everyone hate me because I am poor?”, she says as she kicks a stone. She can’t, for the life of her, understand why being poor should make her a blank canvas, devoid of all opinion, preference, and choice. Frankly, I don’t understand it either.
As I sit with her, I notice the boy down the street being all but broom swept out of a store as the owner calls him a string of names in Hindi. A tourist couple are discussing the touts in town in less than flattering terms, with smiles on their faces, and not fooling any of them. Another traveling pair was sitting next to me last night and trying to engage me in, what seems like, the never ending discussion on “terrorists”. Several tourists have visited my young friend’s school and come out raving about the “wonderful” work being done for these children who have “nothing” and have “horrible home lives”. The beat red cheeks of the children over-hearing these comments tells me that many of them didn’t know they had horrible families until this very minute.
Words hold meaning and words have weight. As I look down at my young friend, beaten by words, I wonder why anyone thinks their words do not matter. And then I start to take stock of my own language. Language flows from our lips to someone else’s ears and into their hearts. If we do not choose out words carefully, they take on a life of their own. Have I had a small part in creating a world where words can be hurled like stones, aimed to leave a sting and a bruise? Have I myself used words that have hurt, whether I meant to or not? If I admit that words do, in fact, hurt, do I not have an obligation to work to do better?
When we humiliate a child in class, even verbally, we break them a little. But it’s bigger than that. When we call people we don’t know terrorists, when we mimic accents that aren’t ours, when we try to justify our stereotypes of Africans, Pakistanis, and Italians, when we tell fellow travelers to expect the worst from the world’s poor, when we refuse to acknowledge cultural differences and bad mouth people we met once, when we tell stories that generalize a nation or a people based on a single experience, when we allow our entertainment industry to export a narrow definition of beauty, when we tell racist jokes, when we use words like “cute”, “frigid”, or “bitch” to describe a powerful woman- when we say these things we break people too, even if just a little bit. And, just as bad, we set people up to treat other people poorly based on preconceived notions, misconceptions, assumptions, and a lack of cultural awareness. We perpetuate the notion that it’s ok to verbally take someone down as long as you don’t throw those “sticks and stones”- that it is somehow not as bad.
The little girl sitting next to me is economically poor, no getting around it. She sure she is “less than” after being told by teachers, tourists, peers, shop keepers, and police officers that she is just that. She has grown up in a world where words saying she is too brown, too poor, and too female to be “right” have been repeated over and over and over. Words have most certainly hurt her. Today was just the latest in a barrage of ignorance thrown at her due to things far beyond her control, mindsets rooted in ignorance and hate passed down from long ago. But somewhere in her she also still believes that they are wrong. She has not accepted the box they have created for her. She looks at me with her hurt in her eyes and silently asks me to tell her is is not “less than”. She does not accept the words but they still sting. Her tears pour out and I wonder how many little girls are sitting on curbs, in blue hand-me-down uniforms, crying over words that weren’t supposed to hurt?
If you want to really enjoy Phillip Island then be prepared to spend $150 or more a day. It’s a tourist hotspot, you can expect busy bars and great eateries. Street side camping is a no go, you can expect to be moved on. Big4 is Australia’s leading campsite franchise so we found one on the island. We found them very clean and friendly – expect to pay $35 for a pitch for the night.
Describe a typical day
Our visit to Phillip Island was more than a sightseeing expedition, I had decided to put myself through Tough Mudder. This gruelling obstacle course was far from a holiday! The Phillip Island Circuit had been converted into a ceremony of fitness, endurance and a pinch of stupidity. After a morning of being zapped by electricity, diving into ice baths, crawling through muddy ditches of water, cramping calf muscles and covering ourselves head to toe in mud, we ventured to the local Koala sanctuary.
I dare anyone not to fall in love with Koalas. The cutest, walking, eating, pooping teddy bears that climb trees and just sleep and eat. This sanctuary takes you through a small exhibition that insights you with the simple facts about Koalas. It all seemed to be very child friendly and easy to understand. After a quick walk around we made our way to the conservation area.
Boardwalks raise you above the foliage of the ground below. Jetties stretch out to the abundant eucalyptus trees. We took to standing out on the observation decks Koala spotting. We needed a keen eye but we got our fix of Australia’s cutest national animal.
During the afternoon we took the van for a spin around the island, sightseeing and picture taking. When the stomach was rumbling we stopped at BEANd (yes the D is supposed to be small) a small franchise coffee house. The cappuccino here is beautiful and the blueberry muffin melts in your mouth. The comfort and service make you feel homely and entices you to put your feet up and relax.
After lunch we took to checking out more of the island; we were biding our time until the Penguin Parade. Here on the island for as long as the locals know, come sundown, hoards of Penguins swim to the island’s shore and make their way home for the night. A permanent auditorium was built for tourists to spectate this amazing event. We sat as the sun fell over the sea.
Before long several Penguins could be seen riding the surf to the sand and within time the small black and white creatures were hitting the beach several at a time. It was a fantastic experience, these Penguins were oblivious to the hundreds of eyes watching them go about their buisness. Many watched as they waddled their way home. We walked along the raised walkways, mesmerised by these beautiful birds strutting into the night. We took the tour through the gift shop and moved off to find a restaurant for an evening meal.
We stumbled on Pino’s on Phillip Island’s main strip. A flamboyant Italian restaurant with a running theme of motor cross – plenty of helmets and leather jackets were displayed across the walls. We opted for Gnocchi and Pizza. It was a carb overload but well deserved. You may pay a little more here than from competing restaurants up and down the high street but you pay for the quality and service (which was outstanding).
Filled up and worn out, we jumped into the van and headed back to the campsite. We reminisced on our day and made our plans for the drive to Melbourne the following day. I slept well that night!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Our heart strings were pulled as we watched one Penguin stumble, he seemed either old or unwell, struggling to walk the distance. He stopped at the foot of a rock as all the other penguins walked on. It was sad seeing him left lonely as the healthy many left him behind. We wanted to climb down and help him on his way but we had to let nature take its course. We would like to believe he was just resting but sadly I don’t think he made it home that night.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I suppose a minor dislike is that Phillip Island is beautiful and busy but could be anywhere in the world. It fails to have a distinct character. Also the Koala Sanctuary could be missed. These adorable creatures are abundant along the coast, you will find them amongst the Eucalyptus trees in natural habitats. So much so you could get bored of stopping for photos. The Sanctuary exhibition didn’t bring anything to the table that a quick Wikipedia search couldn’t offer.
On the flip side the Penguins are an absolute must, it is such a beautiful and natural wonder and Penguins won’t fail to melt the heart. The experts on site have a wealth of knowledge and their input adds to the experience.
The Great Ocean Road!!!!
Ann’s words have echoed in my mind as her sweet, octogenarian face has pleasantly haunted my afternoon walks. We wandered slowly through the natural bridge outside of Waitomo with her and her husband, Ross. I quietly got the kids’ attention and encouraged them to walk more slowly behind him, and not press forward as he did his aged best to step over tree roots and up the rocky stairs to the high meadow where we laughed together about the crazy idea of standing in the presence of 3 million year old oysters. Tony gave him a leg up over the fences. He laughed, good-naturedly, when the boys leapt out from behind blackberry bushes with a roar, as he had undoubtedly done forty years before I took my first breath.
Ann was hand washing for the two of them in a little tub out the back of her camper van, using water that Ross was bringing, one bucket at a time from the bridge. He’d lower the bucket the twenty or so feet to the surface with a long rope and then haul it up, mostly full, hand over hand before delivering it to his white haired wife. By the time she was done rinsing he was there to help her wring out his trousers, one on each end, twisting hard, and hang the clothes from a line he’s strung under the awning.
She commiserated with me over hand washing for six, producing meals for an army on two burners in a three foot square space, and the difficulties of adventuring with children. She’d raised a tribe too, in her day, and they’d camped the length and breadth of their island homes. Perhaps she’s a premonition of myself.
I’ve been thinking about that statement, and the layers of meaning it embodies.
Truth be told, living this way is a lot of work. Staying home is far and away easier. But the best things in life are always the things that require the most from us, that we have to work our rear-ends off to achieve. The things we are proudest of mean so much to us because they’ve cost us the most.
Marriage is like that.
Raising kids is like that.
Traveling is like that.
All three together is the perfect storm of all that and two bags of chips.
There was so much encouragement in Ann’s face as we talked and washed and shared “mama” stories. The older I get the more I appreciate the stories of old women. I think because I’m just beginning to understand the many-layered thing that a woman’s life is, stretched thin over the better part of a century. Perhaps it’s because I can see myself in their eyes more clearly than I could at twenty, or thirty.
So many people give up. They give up on the thing they really, really want to do. There are so many reasons: It gets too hard. It costs too much. It hurts too badly. It isn’t what we signed up for. Someone else fails us. We fail ourselves. It’s inconvenient. It’s easier to stay home, in some capacity. We feel that we don’t deserve it, aren’t “worth” it. It’s a fight.
I’ve been thinking lots about the things I really want to do. The big things and the small things. The hard things and the harder things.The things that seem mundane, like staying married until I’m in my eighties, raising kids who are productive citizens and learning to write. The things that seem like pipe dreams too: seeing Antarctica, changing the world, and successfully handing my parents’ legacy to my grandkids. I really, really want to do these things.
For tonight, the things I really want to do included cooking 3 kilos of meat, enough potatoes, cheesy cauliflower & salad for an army, making a double batch of ginger cookies and making my husband laugh until he was squirming to get away from me, which is an accomplishment. I want to sit and sip my tea, munch my still warm ginger treat and thank the gods that be for friends who love me enough to mail me the exact type of tea that keeps me from killing the children; who I want so desperately to strangle sometimes when we all are living in 126 square feet. And I’m willing to live in 126 square feet of rolling space because I really, really want, quite desperately, to make their childhood epic and not to miss a moment of it.
What do you really want to do?
“Here’s what I think: you need to leave and then go back to the places that obsess you. If you want the delight of the unfamiliar you leave yourself enough time between trips to activate the added kick of nostalgia when you return. That is what it means to be a traveler: the desire to immerse yourself, for the ants and the flowers and the sticky heat and the language to become “normal” — but always, in the end, to go home, always with the knowledge (or hope) that the future holds another journey like this.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)
Since it’s summer and the beach is on my mind, I thought I would do a recap of my favorite beaches I’ve visited over the years. I’m not really one for the crowded party beaches, or cold weather beaches, both of those seem to have made my list because of how beautiful they are. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that there’s nothing much better than walking a quite beach at sunset, reading a good book in the shade, or enjoying a tropical drink with the ocean in view. Most of these beaches took a bit of traveling to get to but they were worth it.
We’ll start with Italy, specifically the Amalfi Coast.
A friend and I made the trip here a few years ago and I was amazed at how picturesque it was. We rented a car and had to drive up along the coastal cliffs, which for me was a bit nerve-wrecking. The roads were narrow and windy and people drive insanely fast. In September we were able to find a last minute hotel for around $40 a night, with a beautiful ocean view. To get to the beach you had to follow steep switchback stairs for about half an hour through charming coastal neighborhoods. Some parts of the beach are crowded, others very secluded.
Beach number two, Gili Meno, a small island in Indonesia.
Getting here required a flight to Bali, then a flight to the island of Lombok, then a taxi to the harbor, and then a long boat to the second island in the Gili chain. My friend and I were dropped off on the beach after sunset with no hotel reservations and no plan, but as we walked the coast we easily found a hotel with friend staff right on the beach (as are all of the hotels there). You can walk the perimeter of the entire island in one hour, and the sunsets are supposedly world famous.