This is Part 2 of the World Travelist: Read Part 1. Listen to more stories of adventurous travelers on the Gathering Road podcast.
“Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to entertain the improbable opportunity that comes looking for you. And never be so faithful to your plan that when you hit a bump in the road — or when the bumps hit you – you don’t have the fortitude, grace and resiliency to rethink and regroup… Plans or no plans, keep a little space in your heart for the improbable. You won’t regret it.” – Elizabeth Warren
One young American couple celebrated their honeymoon by toting carry-on and a backpack each through six countries over 32 days. They had decided it was the best thing to do before starting new jobs and commitments that would make travel much less possible for the next few years. Allowing for travel, they spent no more than 4 days in each destination. Using Trip Adviser and friends referrals, they planned a list of must-do sights, city tours and experiences but left time for discovery.
More than once their hotel was anything but the comfort advertised online and a new place had to be found. They learned to let go of expectations and tried new foods, walked into neighborhoods never described in a guidebook, made friends over beers and broadcast soccer matches, on buses and over meals. They discovered a new daily rhythm and daily rituals. It was exhausting, threw their relationship against the mill of necessity and out of soft-focused romance, yet bonded them in ways they couldn’t have expected. There were crises, the discomforts of jet lag, a few bruises and tummy aches, but always they knew it was a privilege to travel freely and they returned richer for the adventure.
That’s just one couple, one way of seeing the world, full of risk but also connection and a lifetime to savor the memories, the sense of accomplishment.
The elephant in the dark
I had a similar adventure many decades ago, on a six month sabbatical, with a boyfriend and an open itinerary.
Looking to escape the chill of Europe, we ended up in Sri Lanka after discovering a cheap flight on a Russian airline. During several weeks of buses, vans and train rides, temples, rooming houses and snorkeling, we arrived at a beach front village just before dusk. Our small hotel was the only business on a small swath of beach and after putting down our bags, we ventured to the dining room. There was no food! The cook was away getting stitches and the kitchen was closed. Tummies rumbling we decided to walk along the only road in town and soon stood at the driveway of a huge mansion looming in the dark. It was a scene out of a horror movie but we could faintly hear a familiar Rolling Stones song and emboldened by hunger, decided to investigate.
At the front door a small plaque was barely readable in the shadows. We’d found a guest house.
No one answered the door, yet the jungle behind the house was dimly lit. Deciding to take our chances we slowly walked towards the light. As we turned the corner, the scene couldn’t have been more welcome. On a small lawn were several round tables and a handful of couples sat eating and talking in different languages. Soon we were seated, no questions asked about where we’d come from or how, and a delicious fish curry dinner was delivered. Our server was the teenage son of the guest house owner and as we completed our meal, he asked if we’d like to meet his elephant?
You don’t get an invitation like that every day!
In Sri Lanka family elephants are lovingly cared for and work, helping to clear brush, tote building materials and live on foraged plants and branches. We had already seen them in shallow rivers being massaged but htis was a first.Within moments we followed him into the jungle and soon, in the moonlight, made out a towering, bulbous shadow, dense against the thin, verticals of the brush – his elephant. Our young host’s pet had been part of the family for more than 20 years, longer than the boy was old. The creature swayed as we approached and its trunk extended towards our host. Even in the darkness, the affection between them was clear and the creature offered us and embrace as well.
Our guest had introduced us to a member of his family, a deep relationship and today, nearly 40 years later, I still savor that introduction. My encounters since then with creatures in the natural world have been informed by the respect and admiration that boy offered his family’s elephant.
Of all the wonders I discovered on that journey, the elephant is one of my favorites and I almost missed the encounter. A string of circumstance led me to that moment in the dark jungle. The space was there for it to happen. We took a chance and ended up full that night in so many ways.
I’ll always aspire to be travelist. How about you?