42 countries. Almost 40 years. I’m just ahead in the game of keeping ahead. It’s a motivation. And when one isn’t increasing the number of random, raunchy and ridiculous experiences on foreign soil, the addiction needs a hit. Or major withdrawals are guaranteed.
With two months to go until a big bird takes flight with me under its wings, it was time for some reflection.
I’m often asked about my favourite place. I have none. For in each place, each face, each experience, lies a grateful moment that could never compare with another. Experiential travel is about exploring, external and internal. For journeys outwards travel as far inwards. Defining moments in one’s life can occur in the remotest places, the deepest jungles, the darkest recesses of a hidden alleyway, the expanse of an ocean, the serenity of a Sufi mosque, pain of a mountain climb or connection with a begging child.
I often hold back sharing places I’ve been, people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had. How can you truly understand another’s life experience unless you have been in their shoes? You can listen. It doesn’t mean you care. I care about my experiences. Because they have moulded and pummelled me by providing a breadth and depth of life that could not be gained in any other way.
It’s a big statement. But by reflecting tonight on memories that sit inside me, I finally accepted they are one of the reasons I feel so vulnerable. They are what make me different. Reflecting, I feel privileged. Frustrated. In awe. Inspired. Changed.
These are not my top 10 experiences, for all, and the hundreds more, are equal. Without thought, these are simply the first ten that come to mind and why they make me give thanks.
- 1994: buying fish from the local fisherman on the remote Gili Trawangan, Indonesia, wrapping it in banana leaves and cooking it in the sand, joined by the local children in an evening of music and song. To remoteness. To cultures not stained by greed or intervention.
- 2008: Building a house for a poverty stricken family in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, taking every child in the village to the water park for the day and going back to that village two years later. To be thankful. To cry. To appreciate. To give.
- 1996: Standing five metres away from the mountain gorillas of Zaire. To lifetime goals fulfilled.
- 2000: An outstanding wilderness experience on the west coast of the USA. Kayaking with seals and whales in Monterey Bay. Hiking in Yosemite. Traversing the Grand Canyon covered in snow. Skydiving. To the unexpected.
- 2005: Leading a blind woman on 120km of the Great Wall. I’ve walked over 1000km of the Wall. This is the only time I saw a sunset. This is the only time I have seen and felt fear, adrenaline, commitment and courage with each and every step. To inspiration.To overcoming adversity. To belief in and commitment to self.
- 2008: Sitting in a rural village in the middle of Bangladesh speaking with the women about how their lives have changed with the support of a local NGO. To passions. To change. To purpose.
- 2004: Spending a day with an 83 year old grandmother husking rice in the rice fields of Longjii, and that night receiving a thank you gift of the jacket she had worn all day. To friendship. To the unspoken word.
- 2006: Birthday trek along the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yunnan Province ending in a surprise traditional hilltribe celebration. To fear. To mountains. To beauty. To power. To culture.
- 2005: Finding a banya in the middle of Russia and jumping into a freezing lake… naked. To exploration. To lack of inhibition. To self.
- 2008: Spending two weeks meeting Komally Chanthavong, Nobel peace prize nominee and following her footprints of change across northern Laos. To humbleness. To humility. To authenticity. To never giving up.
Oh, and then there was all the times I would let others wander while I sat and drew with the local children. There was no need for guilt brought on by begging hands and sad eyes. It was time to ride bikes, colour in and allow a child to be a child.
Stop. I could write chapters. Each page filled with colour, emotion, experience and life.
This list is simple. And yet it has taken me an hour to write. Interspersed with the tapping of the keyboard, were tears, laughter, desire, pain, awe, perspective, acknowledgement, reconnection with Purpose and hundreds of glimpses of places, faces and experiences.
Travel. You have provided me with a rich and colourful life. You have moved me. Excited me. Developed me. Taught me. Showed me. Strengthened me. Encouraged me. Allowed me. Given to me.
To travel. Abundant has been my no ordinary life.
you bloody ripper!