BootsnAll Travel Network

Trip Thoughts and Frequently Asked Questions

Since my return to the US, I have been asked some questions mulitple times so I thought it would make a good blog topic to answer them.

1. What was you favorite place?

This question gave me a lot of trouble. First and foremost, I don’t tend to group things that way. It’s very rare that I have a favorite anything. What I like or dislike about something or someplace changes and usually depends on the physical and emotional setting that I am in at the time. People aren’t usually satisfied with an answer like this and you can tell they really want you to pick something. As a result my answer evolved to countries that I thought were the most interesting from a natural scenery perspective. I usually listed Nepal, New Zealand, and Iceland. Lately though, when I find myself thinking back on my trip, my mind keeps returning to Nepal which is really surprising for me. By the end of my time there I couldn’t wait to get out. This was mostly due to the never ending aggravation of getting stuck for hours in one strike or another. Strikes are to Nepal like lawsuits are to the US. They are constantly ongoing and called for the smallest of offenses. As I am now no longer in the trenches so to speak, I can now think back on Nepal a little more objectively.

Nepal was probably the most exciting time in my trip. While not exactly off the tourist trail, for me it was probably the most exotic and taxing (both physically and emotionally) country in my trip. Before leaving on my trip, I would often sit and imagine what I would encounter both good and bad. In Nepal those thoughts were realized in the form of magnificent vistas, epic journeys, encounters with extreme poverty, distress, and troubled governments.

Nepal was just ending a civil war and rebel Maoist groups were causing trouble. Strikes sometimes violent could flare up at anytime and one had to be a bit careful. This hint of danger was present my whole time there and made everything I experienced just a bit more exciting and vibrant. I will never forget the way my heart pounded on the drive from the Tibet border to Kathmandu when we encountered group after group blocking the roads demanding money in a language I couldn’t understand. There were rumors of strikes and road closure the closer we got to Kathmandu but we could never find reliable information.

Kathmandu was equally memorable. It provided introduction to the third world and a truly exotic culture in a way that the rapidly modernizing China never could. The city was and still does rank as the most unusual city I have ever been in. It was the only city of that size where many of the roads were unpaved. People jostled for space as they moved down the narrow twisty streets. Traffic down the streets was often obstructed by 500-1000 year old statues and temples which were still very much in use and covered in offerings. It was the only place with a dentist district complete with an offering site for the god of toothaches. The tenemants sprouting up on each side of the street were often full of holes and falling down. Families shared one room with holes in the floors and stairwells.  I could look one way and see a wife or mother wailing next to the burning body of a loved one and look the other way and watch monkeys play and fight amongst the roofs and spires of ancient stone temples. In the background one could only get a hint of modern life in the form of traffic noise or cell phone rings.

The Annapurna Circuit gave me a sense of true adventure. Cut off from the distractions of the outside world, I could really focus on just the walk and the experience of the remote villages and rugged terrain. Not knowing when or if a Maoist group would show up or whether my body had the stamina to make it over the high passes in the cold and thin air  only added to the experience The walk showed me that if need be I could draw on reserves of strengths I didn’t know I had. The 1500 ft stair climb that I had to do with my pack on while suffering from weakness and nausea was one of the most physically difficult things I had ever done.

I plan to return to Nepal one day and hopefully see more of this unique place.

2. How did the trip change you?

The short answer is that it didn’t at least in an earth shattering philisophical way. I didn’t have any revelations about what to do with my life, nor did I meet my future wife. The changes were much smaller. I no longer have a fear of traveling in places which are very different from my normal experiences. I got very little sleep on the nights before I entered Fiji which was my first developing country (also just had a coup) and China. My first day in Hong Kong was one of severe culture shock and sense of being lost. The largest thing I probably gained from the trip (besides the satisfaction of checking a life goal off the list) was a sense of awareness of just how culturally rich the world is. Despite all of these differences, most people want the same things out of life (better opportunities for themselves and their families.)

3. Were you treated poorly as an American?

One of the biggest fears that US citizens have of traveling is that they will be unwelcome in some countries. I have simply found this not to be the case. In every country I was in, I never felt the need to hide my identity and was often made very welcome. The people were usually very positive. Even if they had disagreements with US policy, they were still open and welcoming hosts. This being said, there are rude people everywhere. The times that I did encounter hostility came not from citizens of the countries I was visiting but from European travellers. Most of whom were just spouting thing that they had heard on TV or relying on stereotypes and not bothering to verify the facts themselves (like actually visiting tue US.) I usually didn’t give these people very much of my time especially when I got comments like you are not a typical American (got this when I stated I am not fat, showed them that I probably had a better grasp of history and current events than they had, etc). One of the biggest stereotypes one encounters is of the loud, culturally insensitive  American traveling around. People who spout this one are also just showing their lack of experience. I saw bad behavior in many groups whether from Italians screaming at each other in the temples of Angkor Wat, Germans wearing inappropriate clothing in Buddhist temples, or a French couple groping each other much to the embarrassment of the locals who frowned on such things. I give these examples not to pick on the groups listed above but to show that bad travel habits aren’t just the domain of Americans. I often find it very amusing to hear Europeans make comments about the lack of American culture as they wear blue jeans, watch American movies, and listen to American music. Nor is the United States the sole dispenser of bad, unilateral, or invasive government policies. A small minority of European travellers love to criticize these from positions of undeserved moral authority showing a great ignorance of recent history. Looking back over the past 100 years, one can find examples of colonialism, government policies, and actions from nearly every major European power which caused massive deaths and hardships. All this being said, criticizing something or asking your opinion on an American policy isn’t automatically a sign of hostility nor should it be unwelcome. I had many stimulating debates on one policy issue or another with many friendly and well informed Europeans. The best way anyone can arm themselves if they really have a fear of such encounters is to become aware of the cultural norms of an area they are visiting and take sometime to be aware of what’s going on in the world around them.

4. What’s next?

My next great adventure will probably involve jumping into the world of home ownership. Of course one has to have money to do such a thing so I am currently trying to reenter the job market. I initially toyed with ideas like going to Alaska or Australia to find work and continue the adventure. In reality though, I think I want to spend sometime around family and friends and have decided to contain my job search to the Baton Rouge area.

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