Being open to possibility

After 12 days of traveling, I am back home from exploring Thailand. While the surety and comfort of staying in luxury rooms and participating in organized tours isn’t the typical life of a vagabonder, one of the best parts of the trip wasn’t on the itinerary.

Transplanting Rice

(taken by Gennaro Salamone)

Late one morning after rising with the dawn and biking to a couple of different markets, our small group happened upon a handful of farmers in one of hundreds of rice paddies near Chiang Mai. Initially we stopped to take some photos, but through eagerness and our guide’s translation we ended up joining them in the mud, transplanting rice alongside them. They probably thought we were a bit crazy, but continued on in their work letting us help them. While our half hour of labor could not be measured against Thailand’s yearly production of more than 30 million tons of rice, it was satisfying to participate in such a simple process that has been so vital to Asia for over 5000 years.

As Rolf reminded us a few months ago with a quote from Elisabeth Eaves, deep involvement in the unexpected makes for the best kind of travel. Whether on a tour or on your own, in a foreign country or your own backyard, vagabonding has more to do with how you move through the world than with how long you’ve been traveling or how off the beaten path you’ve managed to get. By being open to possibility, we were able to connect with some Akha hill tribe farmers in a passing yet meaningful way, without the use of a common language.

It was this same embrace of the unknown that inspired my wife to drive over 6 hours from San Francisco to the Los Angeles airport to pick me up instead of letting me fly back the next day after my overnight layover. This foolishness not only enabled us to see each other again sooner, but provided us with an impromptu road-trip up the Pacific coast of California, where we enjoyed lunch at a Filipino restaurant in Lompoc and frolicked in the ocean waves at Pismo Beach. Rather than pay for an overpriced hotel in San Simeon, we snuck into an empty site on a state campground for the night and slept in the car. The money we saved allowed us to rationalize going on a whale watching trip in Monterey Bay. As if the rolling sea with 10 foot swells wasn’t enough to excite us, we found ourselves surrounded by dozens of whales. Three¬†Humpbacks put on a talent show just 30 feet off the bow.

Welcoming the unexpected with open arms often involves sacrifice, as my tired eyes and aching ribs are a testament to from a night of poor sleep without a mattress while jetlagged, but the unknown rewards can make it all worth it.

Sometimes a little craziness goes a long way.

Posted by | Comments (5)  | July 22, 2010
Category: Asia, Images from the road, Lifestyle Design

5 Responses to “Being open to possibility”

  1. Sage Says:

    Good advie! I learned how to use a machete to cut grass (with a handy hook thing) in a Hondaran graveyard once, helping a man who was preparing it for the Day of the Dead.

  2. Ninna Says:

    What a fantastic experience! Last summer I WWOOFed in Italy, and farming with the Italian farmers was one of the best experiences I’ve had; that feeling of camaraderie is irreplaceable. I just watched a video of travel writer Julia Dimon exploring Thailand; she went to a fish farm and learned some Muay Thai kickboxing. Check it out:

  3. Rebecca Says:

    Excellent advice! It’s good if you can be a traveler with an open mind. You never what you’ll experience if you just go with the flow. Planning is good but sometimes it’s better to “fly by the seat of your pants!”

  4. Paul Says:

    Yeah, your groups’ half hour participation was a huge help to those poor peasants. And yeah, that’s exactly what they thought of you ( “crazy” is a bit light).

    How would you like if they came to your home in SF and started digging holes in your front yard ? Would that be a “meaningful way” to connect ?

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