By studying Portuguese in college and learning the language well enough to write a thesis, as if in English, I thought I was getting in touch with my roots. Sure, in a way I was, but my roots within Brazil begin and end with family; everything else is historical. How could I, in aiming to get in touch with my culture, my “roots,” have forgotten to examine my most literal roots: family.
Before leaving, I had already made up my mind to travel by land as much as possible. Why? Well, first it’s cheaper. More grueling, sure, but cheaper. It also provides me a better view of the landscape– from within, as opposed to above. So far I have only taken one flight, which was the one from LAX to Bangkok. This flight alone totaled 20 hours. Thankfully, there was a layover in Taipei. There, I was able to stretch my legs, albeit standing in lines for two hours to transfer over. A stretch nonetheless, I suppose. I was worried as hell about the time, though. My flight left in 30 minutes and by my judgement I wasn’t leaving the second line anytime before the next hour. Shortly after, a slender, GQ-looking Asian airport staff-member pulled aside all of us scheduled to be on the flight to Bangkok,giving us a “fast-pass,” which was nothing more than him just waving us past everyone including security. Our bags weren’t even inspected.
A few hours later I arrived in Bangkok; but my bag did not. “Was I at the wrong baggage claim?” That didn’t seem to be the case considering I recognized people on my flight all around me. “Maybe there was a secondary baggage claim for larger bags?” Nope. I tried to smile as I walked around, confused and a little worried. Then, amidst a bunch of Thai words, I read my name on a sign at bag-check stand. “That’s strange,” I thought. That’s without a doubt my name.” As it turns out, out they did not have enough room for my bag. Just my bag. My bag was literally the only bag that did not make it onto the flight. I can honestly say I was relieved that; it wasn’t stolen, or “lost in transit.” Still, I was able to smile. They promised me that it would arrive on the next flight and that they would deliver it the next day at the latest. Having no choice, I smiled, signed, and turned towards the exit, still not sure which way that even was. Of course, I went the wrong way and had to double back, towards the actual exit.
I felt surprisingly optimistic and happy despite having basically lost everything I came with.
I can still recall with absolute clarity the moment I walked out of Sukhumvit Airport with nothing but a wallet, passport, the clothes on my back and big fucking smile.
As of now, my running list of transportation times and types is as follows:
20 hours worth of flight-time;
32 hours of bus or van;
10 hours by scooter/motorcycle;
15 hours by boat;
5 1/2 hours by commuter train;
Today I leave Van Vieng to Pakze by bus. This will add another 16 hours of travel-time to my growing list. In a way, it has become a sort of game. “Can I do this whole trip without flying, even once, aside from my flight into Asia?” I think I can. When I think of how uncomfortable it will be though, I just remind myself that I am not here for comfort. At least, not this kind of comfort. In fact, in more ways than one, I am here to enjoy a certain degree of discomfort. A discomfort, however, that will be a catalyst to other things, perhaps a new way of thinking, a higher degree of patience, or the ability and desire to just be okay with everything that happens around me. This gets me thiking about one of my favorite authors. In college, I identified wholeheartedly with Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet of Apache/Chicano descent. In one of my favorites, he writes: “I could not bear a life with everything perfect.” This quote has kept repeating itself along my travels. I see people get so frustrated because their food hasn’t arrived in a timely manner at a restaurant, or the street vendor, taking her time, takes up 15 minutes to make you a sandwich; sit with it, enjoy it, cherish it. Everything is fine and there is, in fact, nothing wrong. At least not until you make it.
It’s January 24th, 2017. Twenty days ago I arrived in Bangkok. The twenty-hour flight that yielded a fifteen-hour time difference was like time-warp, disorienting. That same night, I ate and drink scrupulously, waking up with a bad case of food poisoning wherein I threw up everything in my body for a whopping fifteen hours. It led me to question many things, namely the scorpions I ate, and the random, unrecognizable foods my new friends and I coaxed each other with, as well as the excessive towers of Chang. They left in the morning. Fifteen hours later, I was still lying in the top-bunk, alone, mustering the strength to get up and vomit only for fear of vomiting on the beds below. I believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. To say the least, those first 48 hours in Bangkok were sobering, humbling, and a little intimidating. I began to question my trip.
That same night, in a (surprisingly awesome ) hostel bordered by a lady-boy house and a loathsome, disgusting back-alley filled with piss, cats, leftover bottles, and half-eaten food trays– a straight-shot to Khao San Road– I met several people with whom I connected. As I tried to keep up with my new, local friends, I realized two things. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought. “What do I have in mind?” I can assure you all received half-assed, vague, and likely unsatisfying but calculated responses. By now you must know I like to hold my cards close; what I know is not for everybody to know. I am open, yes, but I am by no means an open book. I am travelling because I know I will find something. Ironically, I don’t know what. Honestly, I don’t want to know what. I know my path through these lands will have many corridors to explore, some spiritual, some social, but mostly unknown. I want to explore them all.
I know I am one among many passing through here, however my twenty days here have already reaffirmed that I am much more than that. I like to think I am more conscious and more aware. I care about different things, and frankly I believe I care more. That is not to say that I am better, or they less. Just that my life has been conducive, (or perhaps even necessitated), a deeper awareness of myself. This same awareness can be confusing and conflicting. Yes, that more accurate: conflicting.
I know many of you have been asking me to upload pictures, write blurbs, etc., which it seems I have refused to do until now. I had to experience things through my own eyes first before pasting things on the web like so many others. I am not here for you yet I am here because of you. In all honesty though, my journey is your journey.
With this little preamble, I leave you to enjoy some of my favorite parts of this trip. Here, I share with you my mistakes and lessons learned, my insights and thoughts, and my trajectory throughout Asia. This is not just a travel blog; it is as geographic as it is mental. I also know that would not be here without many of you and several of you have been instrumental in facilitating this trip, whether it was by housing me in the months I was prepared to be homeless in order to save up, or by giving me extra shifts at work, or even by simple encouragement. You have all motivated me in your own ways. I think you know who you are. I hope you know who you are.
Wishing you the best.