It’s amazing, what you’ll find when you’re really looking.
The world is full of spectacular intricacy — the petals of a rose, the gears of a wristwatch — and yet, we often pass it by without so much as a second thought. We focus on the destination, blind to our surroundings.
It’s a shame, especially when those surroundings are shouting to be heard.
Ever been to a hostel? They’re filthy — or at least, the well-travelled ones are. Signatures cover the walls, ceiling, and sometimes, the furniture — mementoes of trips long-past. If you look long enough, you’ll see other things, too: words of wisdom left from one traveller to another. Some quotes are well-known; others are brand new.
Below are a few of the favourites I’ve come across:
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
“It’s not where you go; it’s who you meet along the way.” – The Wizard Of Oz
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and obvious, and so simple, and yet everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve SOMETHING beyond THEMSELVES.” – Alan Watts
“Be happy in the moment and you’ll never worry about the future.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing in life, but being here feels like a good place to figure it out.”
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates
“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” – John Irving
“The only trip you regret is the one you didn’t take.”
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
“You cannot control the wind, but you can direct the sail.”
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
“I trust that the universe gives me exactly what I need at exactly the right time. Everything works out perfectly.”
“Everything you have in this world is borrowed for a short time.” – Welsh proverb
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller
I read those words and thought of the thousands of other wandering souls who had sat there before me, and the many thousands yet to come. I thought of the simple pleasure of leaving words for someone else to read, and the equal pleasure of finding a message others skimmed right past.
Then, I read this one:
“It’s all shits and giggles, until someone giggles and shits.”
Just when you begin to feel inspired by humankind’s intelligence, you’re reminded that you’re reading quotes on a hostel wall, and life isn’t so serious after all.
More words of wisdom.
Tales from the road:
1. One drawback of growing out a beard: it doesn’t fly too well with airport customs. I had to write my signature on the spot in Hanoi as further proof that I was indeed who I said I was.
2. Laos has the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily-bombed country per capita in the world: over two million bombs were dropped on the country by American fighter planes during the Vietnam War. While we were in Vientiane, a fellow traveller recommended we check out the COPE visitor centre, a place where amputees — many of whom have fallen victim to long-dormant explosives — can receive prosthetic limbs and undergo rehab. It was especially heartbreaking to hear the stories of families who lost loved ones to hidden explosives.
3. On the topic of the Vietnam War: in Hanoi, we paid a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, where American POWs were held — including, most notably, Senator John McCain. The Americans dubbed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ during the war — further proof of humankind’s ability to find humour in the bleakest of situations. Before that, it was used to imprison Vietnamese resistance fighters during the years of French occupation. Incredibly, many managed to escape through the narrowest of underground sewers.
4. Hanoi has a fascinating legend attached to its lake in the Old Quarter. From Lonely Planet:
“Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, heaven gave Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword that he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war, while out boating, he came upon a giant golden tortoise; the creature grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake. Since that time, the lake has been known as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) because the tortoise returned the sword to its rightful owners.”
5. The coffee in Vietnam is on a completely different level. I tried egg coffee for the first time, which may very well have been the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had: think the taste of tiramisu, with the thick foam of a latte throughout.
Things I’ve seen:
1. Mountains galore.
Laos is full of them — spectacular limestone karsts, rising above rice terraces and farmers’ fields. Nowhere are they more prevalent than in Vang Vieng — one of the most visually-stunning places I’ve seen in the past four months.
A sleepy alternative after the backpacker hub of Vang Vieng, the nation’s capital offered its share of grandeur. Among its most-known landmarks is Patuxai, a monument built to commemorate Lao soldiers who died fighting for independence.
I thought Bangkok was chaos. This is chaos. Car horns permeate the city of six-million at all hours, and red and green lights might as well be one and the same. To add to the frenzy, scooters fill the sidewalks, and vendors hawk their wares on every corner.
What I’ve been reading/listening to:
Dan Brown – Deception Point
Snakehips feat. Tinashe & Chance The Rapper – “All My Friends”
Great Big Sea – “Ordinary Day”
(Header photo by Sara Panchaud)