I’m super excited that Mar over at Once in a Lifetime Journey has nominated me for the Liebster Award for up-and-coming bloggers. So without further ado, here are my answers to the 11 questions and my nominations at the bottom. Enjoy!
1. What makes you a unique traveler?
I don’t know if this makes me unique, perhaps unusual, but whenever I visit somewhere new my synapses go into overdrive making connections, many of them unexpected and bizarre, in a frantic effort to understand the place. Outwardly I could be staring at the ceiling of a beautiful Mexican cathedral, but in my head I am comparing the immaculately carved wooden beams with the smooth, rustic ones I saw in a Buddhist temple in Japan; smelling the incense and thinking about my Bangladeshi Christian friends who retained the traditionally Hindu custom of purifying the house with incense at dusk; wondering to myself why Jack Kerouac always identified as a Catholic despite his strong syncretic and mystical tendencies; and humming that one song on Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill album about Catholic school girls (what was it called again?). I am literally all over the place and the only common thread is my own perception and experience. I used to think I was alone in this, but even the tiniest possibility that someone might be inspired by my personal stories and point of view, the same way I was inspired by Basho and Kerouac and Camus, is actually what sparked the idea for this blog.
2. Tell us something that nobody knows about you.
When I was a kid, there was a big, wild field behind our house. Just prairie grass and sand-hill plum thickets. I used to mix up food coloring and water in tiny glass jars and bottles like potions and hide them in the bushes way out in the middle of the field. My own personal buried treasure.
3. Solo, with friends, with strangers on a tour, with your family or with your partner?
Traveling with friends, family or partners can be a great way to enrich our most important relationships, and I’ve personally enjoyed all three. But if I had to choose, I’d go it alone. Why? Because when I travel with loved ones, I find that I see a place through the lens of their perceptions, not my own; their interests/preferences tend to turn the trip into a sightseeing checklist; and I meet fewer, less interesting people. As much as solo travel can make me insecure and a little crazy, it forces me into some seriously personal reflection, live in the moment, and even open up to some truly wacky local characters.
4. Describe your best travel companion.
My best or ideal travel companion would be someone who is fully open to the infinite possibilities of travel and pursues new experiences with a wild, unquenchable thirst. And I’m not talking about adrenaline junkies, cheap thrill seekers, or the bucket list obsessed. Someone who does stuff for the sheer joy of living and because he has an unwavering faith that any activity, however it plays out, yields invaluable mystical insights. That’s the kind of person I’d love to travel with. (Did you just glance over both shoulders, see nobody interesting, and realizing I was describing you? Drop me a line.)
5. What was your worst travel experience?
The first one that comes to mind was my first taste of just how crazy monsoon season can be in Bangladesh. My teammates and I were staying in Dhaka at the time but we headed south to visit colleagues in Barisal, where we cooked swamp greens and hand-ground goat meat burgers, danced in lungis, and generally had a gay ol’ time (my instructions before departure were to bring a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label and a badger). The problem was getting back to Dhaka. On our last day in Barisal the torrential rain began, but we were rushed for time so hopped on the bus mid-morning anyway, expecting reach Dhaka just after sundown. The Padma River is between Barisal and Dhaka, and buses cross on huge rickety ferries. As our bus pulled up to the dock we saw a line of buses a mile long waiting to board the ferry and cross. The ferries were suspended due to choppy water on the river. So there we sat. And sat. And sat. All night long. No bathrooms (I had to squat in the shadow of the bus in the rain when I couldn’t hold it any longer), no food (we thought hawkers would always board to sell us a samosa or something…didn’t bargain for the rain), screaming babies (the worst), and bored but also terrified as the rain slammed the roof of our bus and leaked into the windows. The night seemed to drag on forever and I seriously began to wonder if the sun would ever come up again. The next morning the rain had calmed just enough to permit a very scary passage on the ferry and onward to Dhaka, where we arrived 26 hours after boarding.
6. What has been the most magical moment you have lived on the road?
There have been a lot. One that sticks out is a night I spent stargazing at the “Roof of the World,” the Pamir Mountains. My trek mates and I had just finished a depressing, meager dinner of fried dumplings, not-so-freshly churned butter and sweetened green tea at our homestay–a “village” of two families inhabiting two yurts and a metal trailer in the middle of nowhere, Tajikistan. I was feeling a little sad and ashamed of being a privileged American tourist in such a poor country when the stars appeared, one by one in the dusky sky. Soon the pitch black sky was dusted with the most spectacular view of the Milky Way I have ever seen (Hubble Telescope photos aside). Growing up on the Great Plains I was no stranger to big, starry skies, but the view at over 13,000 feet was unforgettable. It really helped put things into perspective.
7. What is a brave/crazy thing you have done while traveling?
In Tajikistan I rented a rickety old Soviet jeep with some random Swiss tourists to travel the Pamir Highway. I just wanted to dig the culture and the landscape in this isolated region. My Alpine travel mates had other plans however. Two of them were die-hard, mountain-climbing altitude junkies and insisted our jeep driver take us to all the tallest peaks in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. I had no interest in going above the highway’s already stratospheric altitude, and so carried nothing resembling climbing gear. No boots, no walking stick, no windbreaker, no gloves, no hat, none of it. But I let travel gusto get the best of me, and followed my companions up the slippery, snow-dusted face of a mountain to the very peak and back down again. In old tennis shoes, thin cotton pants, a thin cotton sweatshirt, no gloves, no walking stick. My über-prepared Swiss companions took pity on me and took turns lending me their windbreakers and walking sticks, which helped a little. But several times on the climb I became painfully aware that if I tripped or sprained my ankle, it would be a long time before someone would safely carry me back down. But once I started, I literally couldn’t turn around and go back, we only had one guide. Conquering that mountain without gear and without a plan was probably one of the craziest (stupidest?) things I’ve ever done, but the satisfaction of standing on the peak was well worth it.
8. What is the most important lesson you have learned on the road?
I was going to launch into a heart-felt soliloquy about trusting “the locals” and “the universe” to lead us to our destined path of travel, but instead I’ll go with something a bit more mundane but much more important as a blogger and aspiring (some day!) writer. Keep a diary. Do it. I know the bumpy chicken bus makes it hard to write. I know you think you’ll remember it all when you get home (you might) where you’ll faithfully write it down (trust me, you won’t). And if you’re anything like me, I even know you believe in the beauty of ephemera, that life is for living not recording, let it go! But believe me. All of that is bullshit. Even if all you jot down are the names of the list of places you visited and a few sentences about how you felt that day, do it. Because in 3, 5, 7, 15 years, you will thank yourself for the valuable reference and the embarrassing insights into the person you used to be. We’re only as good as the sum of our experiences, but if you can’t recall your travels faithfully, how do you expect to understand how they’ve changed you? Keep a diary.
9. What is the most amazing place you ever stayed at?
The Laxmi Niwas Palace in Bikaner, India. I stayed there with my mother in 2008 when we made our way through the Delhi-Agra-Rajasthan triangle. Built in 1904 by His Highness Sir Ganga Singh Ji, the palace was once the abode of the Bikaner royal family and has hosted an array of nobles, statesmen, architects, and now tourists. Wandering inside the palace’s immaculately decorated walls one really does feel transported to another time. Having dinner in the lavish courtyard was one of the highlights from that trip.
10. Where were you last?
For the past year I’ve been working my first real full-time soul-sucking office job since 2008, so travel has been less frequent. But I always make time for little side trips to uncover underground culture or take in the abundant natural beauty of Mexico where I live.
11. Where are you heading next?
In two weeks I’ll be in Lima, Peru! Like last time, I am going for work, but hope to steal some free time to explore the city’s underworld and cover the tracks of Beat legends William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, who visited Lima in 1953 and 1960 respectively. Have any hot tips for Lima? Share them in the comments below!
The Liebster Award is a chance to get to know other travel bloggers.
If you’ve been nominated, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is:
- Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your own blog.
- Display the award on your blog as a feature image, graphic, or widget.
- Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
- Nominate 5 – 11 blogs with less than 1,000-ish (doesn’t have to be exact) followers that you feel deserve the award.
- Ask a new list of 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
- List these rules in your post Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
- Publish the full post on your blog.
- Notify your nominees with a link to your Liebster post so that they can learn about it.
Here are my five nominees and 11 questions for them to answer.
And the nominees are [dramatic drumroll]…
- Jason at Rolling Like a Stone because DJs who quote Bob Dylan are awesome.
- Laura at Birdgehls who has committed to her journey despite working 60 hour weeks!
- Kas at her blog Kas Sommers: Quality over Quantity, because sustainable lifestyles (and travel!) are so important.
- Allison at Head Elsewhere for escaping Washington DC (no small feat) and inspiring other young women to travel and think outside the box.
- Rae Mae at the hip(ster) series for reminding us that travel can happen anywhere. Also, coffee!
And finally, the questions [dun dun duuuuuun]:
- Describe one of the strangest characters you’ve met on the road.
- What is your favorite travel-related book?
- Describe a memorable meal from your travels. Where and what did you eat?
- Describe your most terrifying travel experience.
- What inspired you to start traveling?
- Why do you continue traveling? Have your reasons changed since you started?
- If you could only listen to one album on a 19 hour bus ride, what would it be?
- It’s time to empty the ol’ backpack and stay put for a while. City, mountains, forest, desert or beach?
- Describe a travel destination that totally defied your expectations (good or bad).
- You’ve got an hour layover at an airport. How do you spend the time?
- What’s one destination you have returned to or plan to return to again and again? Why?
Looking forward to hear back from all of you!