My heart is still so happy that some days I feel like it is literally beaming. I knew what I was looking for before I left, but didn’t want to set any expectations for the trip, so I kept it quietly to myself. It was quite simple what I was hoping to find… and find it I did.
I’ve never been a big city girl, yet much of my trip was spent immersed in some of the biggest cities in the world. From Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires to Cairo to Shanghai to Delhi, it seemed I could not escape the MegaCity culture and everything that entailed. These cities were amazing experiences, so different from anything I’d experienced before and had so many beautiful sites to see and beautiful people to meet. But yet I found myself still yearning for what I’d been hoping for.
It wasn’t until Thailand that I found the bliss I’d been looking for. The local cafe where I got to know the owner. The newfound friendships with inspiring women. Getting to know the local street dogs, from the ring leader to the little scrapper who earned his place amongst them. Having locals get to know me who would stop to talk to me as I passed by them on the way to the laundry shop. Rising with the sun and sleeping when the sun went down. A detoxification of both body and mind. I found my own little heaven in the back skirts of Thailand.
But finding this begets the question ‘what happens after’? After a few stops on the long way home at the end of October, I wasn’t sure what the immediate future held in store for me. Would I be sad it was over? Would I immediately jump into something else? Thankfully, there was no sadness, as many a wanderluster have experienced before me. There was just the determination of the next part of my journey. As it turns out, home is just a quick layover. I will spend the holidays with my family and friends and then continue on. Now, California is calling my name, with the peace in my heart I discovered in Thailand still alive and well. There will be a new cafe, new dogs, and new friends in my future, and I could not be more excited for what’s next.
Having now settled into my home here in Phuket, Thailand, I have discovered in just a matter of days why people absolutely fall in love with this place. It’s everything any traveler could want. The weather is beautiful, the views are stunning, the sites are incredible, the culture is new and the people are just fantastic.
I decided to book a place in Rawai, away from the tourist craze that can be found in Pagoda, Phuket. While a few years back I would have loved it there, with the parties, the clubs, the drinking; I now find myself drawn to the opposite. The silence, the peacefulness, the serenity is what I was looking for and most certainly found. My evenings are spent sitting on the patio of my house, drinking ginger tea, reading my book and journaling some. It’s an absolute paradise to recharge yourself in.
During the day, I spend my time exercising, doing yoga, chatting with the lovely friends I have made, drinking coconuts and just focusing on making myself a better person each day than I was the day before.
From the moment one is done their schooling, the chance of having a month to focus solely on themselves and their own health is a rarity. Being where I am, surrounded by nature and natural food, I am making sure not to let it go to waste.
This is an experience I wish I could give to everyone. Stepping back from the world, recharging and then stepping back the world with fresh eyes, new perspective and an open heart is a win for those who experience and those who benefit from it.
While I was in India, I posted nothing about my time there. I just couldn’t bring myself to write, as India is an experience which one needs time to reflect upon before truly understanding it.
India was one of the countries I was most looking forward to, as I love everything about Indian culture from what I’d experienced at home in Canada – from the food to the clothes to the movies – it all drew me in. I knew before I arrived that India was defined by the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor, but nothing can prepare someone for the poverty that is India. We have poverty in Canada, certainly, but India is a whole new level. I truly, genuinely wish that everyone opposed to foreign aid could experience India. It broke my heart.
To start with the positive, the food, clothing and Bollywood experience did not disappoint! The food was even better than I hoped and as soon as I get home I plan to take some Indian cooking classes. Indian has become a weekly necessity to me.
The struggle I encountered was when I got to Delhi. Where I stayed in Mumbai sheltered me from the poverty there, but there was no hiding it in Delhi. I struggle to write this even after many weeks have passed, as I want to do this proper justice so people really understand.
First, the amount of physical disfigurements was something I had not known about before and was not prepared for. Not just people missing limbs, but men and women begging whose arms go backwards instead of in front, their lower leg twists up instead of down, keeping their foot at their waist. Shoulders curve backwards, elbows backwards, any kind of natural body position we don’t ever have to think about, there are so many people born differently. After reading up on it, I can’t find exactly why this phenomena is so prevalent in India. People offer answers that range from polio, to a lack of vitamins and supplements, to exposure to toxins, and so many more reasons, all of which are awful and should at this day in age be avoidable.
Which brings me to my second point. The amount of homeless people in Delhi is like nothing I’ve seen before. I would walk outside the door of my hostel, which inside was a different reality to just outside the front door. People sleeping everywhere! From the moment you walk out, there’s always more people than you can count living outside. And what really struck me here was why they were there. So often at home, homelessness is attributed to addiction, mental health issues or an unstable family home. But in India, much of what I saw was predominantly clear rejection from birth. The disfigurements alone in India are cause for family shame, so parents rid themselves of the shame (their kid!) from the time they’re born. It’s heartbreaking. Not only are these children and adults having to deal with the reality of their physical challenge, but they are also rejected from society. It’s like they never had a chance.
My greatest personal struggle was my desire to help but feeling utterly helpless. The sheer volume of people alone makes it impossible to make any positive change in their lives. I read once that the best thing you can do for homeless people, if you can’t donate or buy them a meal, is to always acknowledge their presence, to always say hello, I’m sorry, to just have some kind of communication with them. This is something I’ve always tried to live by, but in India when you do this, then you’re followed and to such a degree that you worry about your personal safety. The last thing I want to do as a human being is to ever not acknowledge someone else just because our life circumstances are different, but in India it was a “ignore it or face the consequences” mentality. It was awful and it made me feel like an awful person for having to be like that.
I’ll write later about the sites I saw and the history I took in, but I just needed to share the heart break which I was witness to. The Indian government has so many challenges on its hands, which will only multiply with population growth. They need all the help they can get.
September 6-16. That’s how long I was supposed to be in Hong Kong. It is now September 22 with no clear departure date in sight. I’ve flown so many flights in my life, yet somehow, my Beijing to Hong Kong flight was different. I became sick soon after landing, with my symptoms constantly changing. One day I was flu-ish and ill, the next I had a head cold with swollen neck glands, the next I was hard of hearing. All the while I had a complete loss of appetite. I took some antibiotics from a pharmacist which helped address my symptoms but not what was apparently the underlying issue. On a bus ride in Macau, I suddenly went completely deaf out of my right ear. The moment this happened I knew something was actually wrong that I wasn’t going to be able to fix myself, so I did something I hadn’t done this entire trip. I went to the doctor.
Final diagnosis was barotrauma with conductive hearing loss and ostitis media. Basically, an ear infection that was so bad that I had gone deaf. Hearing really is one of those things you take for granted until it’s gone. Sitting in a busy restaurant, walking through a crowded mall, or anywhere where I could hear all the noise through my left ear but nothing out of my right is one of the most disorienting things I’ve experienced. Seeing mouths moving on my right but hearing no sound coming from them is, quite frankly, scary. Having it happen in a foreign country is even worse.
My stay in Hong Kong has already been extended by s week, with an undetermined amount of time still here until I have completely healed. In one sense I’m thankful it happened here, where there’s proper medical facilities. In another, this is the most damned expensive country I have to on my travels – why here!
Thankfully, I got the appropriate insurance before I left, so that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about for the moment. When I can leave though, that’s another question.
+1 on the every growing list of reasons I’ve been stuck in a foreign country!
Cairo was one of those city’s that I read up on a lot before my trip, prompted mostly by the overt concern people were expressing in my decision to come here. Most reviews said the city could be seen in a weekend, but now having been there for five days, I would take that one step further: spend just one day in Cairo. Definitely dedicate a good chunk of time for Egypt as a whole, as you will want multiple days in each Luxor, Aswan and Dahab, at a minimum, but Cairo… not so much. Organize an early morning ride to the pyramids, do a camel tour of the pyramids & sphinx, spend the afternoon checking out Tahrir Square & Khan el-Khalili market, do an evening cruise on the Nile, maybe even stretch it to a day and a half by doing a tour the following morning of both the Islamic & Coptic Christian areas, then high tail it out to another city.
The thing about Cairo is despite the revolution being back in 2011, it is still going through the growing pains of finding itself again. At least I hope it is, for if it’s not, the prospect on regaining its glory as a tourist Mecca is quite dim. The first thing most tourists will notice about Cairo is the amount of garbage – everywhere. At best, there’s garbage completely littering the streets to such a degree you actually have to walk through it to get anywhere you want to go. At worst, from what I saw, there are areas where the garbage is piled so high one might actually mistake it for walls at a quick glance. As one of our drivers explained to us, when the people revolted in 2011, many of them didn’t even know what the democracy they were demanding actually meant. So when the Mubarek regime fell, many people thought the new democratic government would clean up after them and began throwing their garbage on to the ground anywhere and everywhere, thinking democracy meant there would immediately be someone else would pick it up. As time went on they quickly realized this was not the case, but by that point there was such a lack of any sense of community, just a blantant disregard for a city with no pride in it to be found. I witnessed this time and time again. The people would throw their garbage on to the streets, the sidewalk, on the floors in restaurants, literally anywhere they were the moment they decided they were done with something. The culture shock I experienced witnessing this was significant, as even in Dar Es Salaam, a city I would never recommend anyone go to, the people did not have this level of disregard for where they lived.
In addition to the garbage everywhere, the buildings are treated with the same disregard. They are dilapidated to such a point that they are literally falling apart bit by bit, with any semblance of maintenance trailing far behind the pace of their degradation. It is actually quite sad to see, as with each day, each week, each month, the ability to try to undo the damage there becomes less and less of a possibility.
And finally, the city infrastructure is just not there. In most places, there are no sidewalks, forcing tourists and locals alike to choose between walking on the street, amidst the chaos that is Cairo traffic, or in the sand, dumped there purely so that people aren’t walking on the crack pipes and electrical cords, which are still visible.
It seems Cairo is in such a state of disrepair that even a functional government would be overwhelmed, unsure of where to even begin fixing the problems. My hope for Cairo’s immediately future is almost non-existenent, when I take into consideration the instability of the current government. It’s so unfortunate, to have witnessed a city with so much history, so much to offer, completely imploding. Perhaps that’s what it needs though, before the people will seem to care enough to change it.