$40 per person if visiting Angkor Wat. $20 if not.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
The various temples of the massive Angkor Complex, the hordes of tourists that descend upon them, and the mass of children selling trinkets at each entrance and exit.
Describe a typical day: About half of our days were spent exploring the many temples of Angkor. On those days we would wake early to get out before the sun was too intense. We would spend the next several hours jockeying for position with other tourists in an attempt to get a picture or try for a near-impossible quiet moment of reflection. We usually headed back to the hotel around 2:00 where there was thankfully a pool so we could cool off. Afternoons and evenings were spent homeschooling and working until we’d head out to dinner, walking along the beautiful tree-lined river walk.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local: I talked to one local about the tuk-tuk profession in Siem Reap. According to him, Siem Reap is a bit of destination for people throughout Cambodia to come and try their hand at driving a tuk-tuk. Relatively, they can make good money by driving tourists around the Angkor Complex for the entire day or even over three or more days. Cambodians come from other cities or villages with the hope of doing well. Hearing this was not surprising considering the amount of drivers we saw there.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
There are two sides to Siem Reap for me: the insanity of the main buildings of the Angkor Complex and the town itself. Angkor was certainly worth seeing but really frustrating due to the amount of tourists. Leaving your hotel around 5:00 a.m. is the only way to get around this. Or you can visit the less popular buildings, which are generally not crowded and really peaceful. As for the city itself, I actually liked it quite a bit. I liked being able to find anything I could ever need or want in a small space at the market. The walk along the river is really peaceful and the restaurants were good and cheap. Locals were kind and helpful. Outside of the city and the main temple complex there were a lot of beautiful hikes and natural scenery. The only thing I disliked was that it was incredibly touristy, but it was expected.
Describe a challenge you faced: I don’t really want to call it challenge, but I was confronted with a well known scam in Siem Reap. This one involves a lady or child asking for assistance while holding a baby. She holds up a baby bottle and tells you she doesn’t want money, only milk for the baby. If you oblige and follow her to the store that is close by, she simply goes back later and returns the formula and gets the cash.
I’d been traveling long enough to know that something seemed off with the request so I declined. It was hard, though, to have a mother holding a baby pulling on your arm asking for help and then refusing. Even though I knew it was some sort of scam, which was later confirmed when I read about it online, it was still a haunting image. Despite it being a scam there was still a sadness to it all.
What new lesson did you learn?
I have a hard time enjoying anything if there are too many tourists, travelers, whatever you want to call them/us. Sometimes, though, if you want to see a place you just have to deal with it. I was able to actually enjoy some places in Angkor despite the huge amount of tourists surrounding me by accepting that it is just part of the deal. I can’t expect that a place so renowned is going to be free from tourists and disliking my time or hoping for something different is pointless. I had to accept that part of the Angkor experience is dealing with other people (a lot of other people). It was nice, though, to get to some of the less known spots in the complex where I could be alone and contemplate the grandeur and wonder of such an amazing place.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“These ‘non-places’ have radically changed the concept of home, not only for most of us in the first world but for a growing number of those in the developing world. Perhaps nothing has left so strong a mark on our identities as the periods spent in the sky and in the airports that gather together assorted strangers before sorting them on to different planes. An airport ‘hub’ is a stopping point between places. The ‘hub’ is an apt metaphor for how many of us among the privileged are living out the meaning of home in everyday practice. Those who are frequent flyers and spend much of the year moving between places might find that the place we call home has come to seem like the route to elsewhere. Home is where you do your laundry, run to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned, and frantically rest your weary bones before embarking on the next odyssey. In turn, airport hubs are trying to become our homes, offering outlets to recharge our numerous devices so we can continue to communicate from afar, as well as shopping, restaurants, prayer rooms, and massage.”
–Ruth Behar, “Searching for home,” Aeon, April 14, 2014
Quote: Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. Joseph Campbell
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.
“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?
“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)
Quote: Be more awesome and do the things you’ve only been talking about doing until now. (more…)
Age: Never ask a girl her age after she crosses 40.
Hometown: Aiea, Hawaii
Quote: Your horizon is only as far as you can imagine it. (more…)
“Travel writing is perishable. I find that when I’m reading a book of bygone travels I become irritated with curiosity about what the place is like today — can you still swim in the river, as the writer did? Can you still eat the fish? Are the houses still roofed with thatch? This problem has to do not only with travel writing but all nonfiction. If you look in the Classics or Literature section of any bookstore you’ll see mainly works of fiction. Nonfiction is about the physical world, and over time the physical world tends to disappear.”
–Ian Frazier, in They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (1991)