Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Agony and Ecstasy of Travel

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

After almost a month of travel I came home in the same state as my baggage: battered, altered and exhausted. If it were a simple vacation, I would have arrived refreshed and invigorated, but it wasn’t. I arrived sunburned, cash-strapped and sleep deprived, with lips chapped, nose runny, throat sore and muscles aching. 

In just a few days in Delhi we managed to be accosted by touts, ripped off, scammed, pickpocketed and taken advantage of.  We chased trains, got lost and fell short of reaching a summit. In Nepal’s international airport, we—along with hundreds of others--had to line up for several hours to secure a visa and get through the countless security checks.  The supposedly six-hour scenic bus ride from Pokhara to Kathmandu turned out to be a 12-hour hair-raising, armchair-clenching ordeal.  At a steep, hairpin turn along the Prithvi Highway our bus collided with another vehicle, an accident not so different from the one we got into in Arequipa a year ago.   

So why did I put up with all these? Why do we go to places that would surely expose us to danger and uncertainty? Why didn’t I just pack a bikini, laze on a beach and sip piña colada all day long? It is all for the love of travel and the agony and ecstasy that go with it.  The misery of travel is negligible compared to the potpourri of discoveries, the mélange of perspectives and the medley of life-affirming experiences that I gain from the road.

Life on the road has taught me a lot of things. In those hours I spent in long flights, inevitable airport queues, endless security checks and cramped and bumpy bus rides, where a high tolerance for boredom is required, I can’t but learn how to be patient.  Adrift in the chaos of foreign cities, thrown upon my own resources and relentlessly barraged with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and textures, I learned how to think on my feet.

The comforts of home that I am inured with are rarely present on the road – a clean toilet, a comfortable bed, home cooked food, silence, personal space, paved streets, grocery stores.  These things that I usually take for granted I now value more. Away from the familiar and comfortable, I learned to endure discomfort and thrive in privation. On the road, stripped bare of everything superfluous, I discovered that I can live without life’s accoutrements.

Traveling makes me look at the world in different ways.  Staying in a foreign country and interacting with locals gave me a glimpse of their culture, how they look at and deal with what life has given them.  For instance, while talking to a hired driver in Delhi, I learned that the price of the meal I had at KFC is higher than his day’s pay. He then proceeded to beg for a tip. It was very humbling. It made me question the things I put so much value in; it made me despair over why the world is as it is today.

Climbing a mountain in the dark and then watching Himalayan peaks gloriously turn gold as the sun rose over a small Nepali town gave me a surge of affirmation.  In those radiant hours of the morning my life’s worries seemed to dissolve away from around me.  Amid that world of breathtaking beauty, I felt content, as though I had set off from Manila and traveled for weeks to be there, on that mountain, in that moment, with the person I love, simply waiting for the sun to rise.  It was during that and similar other moments when I realized that travel is truly life affirming.

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