Photo: Me looking through my empty beer glass…
I have a dirty little secret…well, I have many…but no need to get into all of them. I have an addiction, one that I crave, I just can’t get enough of it – I have to get my fix else I’m not a happy person. It’s hard to find my fix – and it certainly isn’t for everyone – but it’s something so unique and exciting – that you will find that you will do whatever it takes to get it…to feel it.
I’m addicted to travel.
Ok – so you are all rather disappointed because you knew this already. Sure, you know that I love travel as evidenced by the last 11 months…but do you know why?
I love seeing newness and wonder in the every day mundane things we take for granted.
I love feeling lost, scared, intimidated in a culture and overcoming those feelings.
I love a challenge.
This sounds really Oprah-self-helpish…which makes my skin crawl…but let me explain. I discovered that I love traveling in 3rd world/developing countries – this is a new fetish, I had no idea that I liked to ‘rough it’ so much. There are really two aspects to this addiction to the 3rd world. First – it’s the general challenge that it offers. It obliterates your definition of ‘normal’, and it wipes any expectations that you have clean. You have to let go and start with a new outlook…where everything has to be re-learned such as how to cross the street, how to eat, how to communicate, how to dress…you are really back at square one. The 3rd world destinations provide me many things…cultural experiences, a chance to understand a simple lifestyle, an ability to contemplate what is important in your life. It’s a trip back in time before good plumbing and electricity, it develops your patience, it tears down your ‘larger is better’ attitude – but it also provides me my fix that I crave. A challenge. There’s no better feeling than arriving in a country – being intimidated by the people and environment – only to leave it 5 weeks later feeling at ease with it all – no matter how dysfunctional it is. You leave feeling accomplished.
The second aspect to the addiction is the rush you feel when re-entering the western world after being in a 3rd world country for a few months. The first hours are the most exciting, the rush starts to fade away after a day or so…so you have to embrace the moment when you have it. I recently satisfied my fix when I flew out of Northern Africa, where I had been for the last 5 weeks, to Geneva Switzerland. I believe Geneva to be the twin sister city of Singapore…you honestly can’t get much more pristine, organized, and antiseptic than Geneva or Singapore. So – when you come from 3rd world travel into one of these cities – it makes the rush even that much more exciting.
The only way I can describe the feeling is that you feel like you are reborn…you are seeing the world again through fresh eyes – everything is exciting, new, baffling – your senses are all heightened and you notice things that you never noticed before. You care about things that you never cared about before. You walk around with a gigantic smile on your face because everywhere you look there is something that excites you.
As I walked off the plane from Cairo to Geneva, the first thing that hit me was the airport – clean, and orderly. As I walked through customs and got my luggage, I walked out into the cool airport – nicely air conditioned – it made the hair on my arms stand up. I walked over to the ATM and changed money. I was fascinated by the money that came out…it was so clean and crisp! The coins were shiny and new…I loved it. I sat and stared at it for a while. In Africa – the money was so old and ratty that I’m sure I picked up a number of various bacteria from it. It practically disintegrates in your hands. It was always a game to try to get ride of the worst pieces of money…see if you could hide them between other bills so that the shopkeeper would take it. It was certainly good money…it’s just that no one wanted to be stuck with it as it might tear and then no one would take it. So you had to treat it very carefully. But in Geneva – the home of money – it was colorful and clean. It looked as if someone was sitting behind that ATM printing it just for you and handing it to you with white gloves on!
The next delight that tickled my eyes was a grocery store…a real grocery store. People were standing in orderly lines, the beeps of the POS terminals hummed in my ears, There was a large refrigeration section…that was actually cold. I next got on the train and marveled at how clean and cool it was. You could actually hear what they were saying over the loudspeaker. I got off the train and walked down a clean, bustling street. Stores lines the street and no one came out and tried to sell you things. It was up to you to go into a store or not. The joy of being able to exercise free will! Cafes had men AND women sitting outside having coffee. The sandwiches were sitting nicely on shelves behind clean glass – there were no flies all over them. Finally – as I came to a road to cross – there was a stoplight…and people actually obeyed it…a true miracle. I noticed that the drivers stayed on their side of the yellow line – there was no beeping, it was just a well-oiled machine.
It’s a different feeling to be looking in from the outside with new eyes. It’s a feeling that not many people get to experience – therefore every time I have the chance – I soak up every exciting moment. My first day in Geneva was memorable – not only because it was the first time I was able to brush my teeth with tap water for the last 5 weeks, but because it was full of new ‘old’ discoveries.
I’ve been living in this comfortable city for 10 days – and sadly all of the newness has worn off . The worst thing is that I have expectations again. I actually expect people to stop at red lights and if they don’t – I get upset. I am annoyed at bad customer service. This signals to me that I’m ready to go back in…into the world of ‘anything goes’, the world of immense patience, the world where crossing the street can be a life of death experience. I’m ready for my challenge of India. A place that a year ago I was afraid to go to…yet now – I crave it…I crave the challenge.
Traveling can be a drug…always looking for a new challenge, a harder challenge. For all of the downs of traveling in 3rd world countries – the ups of surviving it is the adrenaline that I need. This is it – I’m playing in the big leagues of travel now – I’m arriving in New Delhi. Cover me…I’m going back in!