“I think it’s going to be one of the hoy-loyts of your entire trip,” Irish Dave said from behind the check-in counter at Spicy Pai, “just be careful and stay out of the middle of the road on those hairpin turns.”
Mariel and I were trying to figure out how to make the 120 kilometer trip to a small village outside of Nai Soi in northern Thailand to visit a village of long necks for the night. (Got all that? Good.) We had missed our 8:30 AM bus (apparently that happens when you attend a face painting party – slash – flash mob the night before your bus leaves) and were considering doing the whole thing on our rented motorbikes. We had only been riding them for three days; we were amateurs at best. But logistically, this seemed the best way to do it, and our trusty and responsible friend Dave assured us the roads were safe and gorgeous, and I couldn’t help but think that this was the type of adventure I’d want to look back on.
So we filled up our tanks, borrowed a map, said our prayers (I had a little chat with St. Christopher), and we were off. Five hours of the most beautiful scenery, lush green and rolling hills, some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve never felt so free. And as always, Dave was right.
It’s been an interesting few weeks. Wrapping up our time in Nepal, jumping a few time zones over to Thailand, adjusting to a new country, new culture, new pace of life. I’ve observed the passing of another year (24!) the passing of a loved one back home (crying over Skype is awkward), and the increasingly swift passing of time as our remaining days tick down towards zero.
I was in a funk for at least a week. After our trek ended, I felt a very distinct lack of purpose, a confusion regarding what it really was that I was doing out here. I felt uninspired by life. Not challenged, not excited. Restless in cities where I couldn’t understand how people spent their time. Restless in a lifestyle of travel when I wasn’t sure what that lifestyle meant or entailed. Over the past few months – in India especially – daily life was so hectic that simply getting through the day and finding things to appreciate brought on a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. So when getting from point a to point b wasn’t a day’s adventure in itself, when the culture of a city wasn’t thrown at me from every angle once I stepped onto the street, the absence of challenge and stimulation created a noticeable void. What to do? How to find meaning in each day? How to shake a funk when your life holds no routine, nothing solid to hold on to but a backpack and love sent through skype and emails and the best travel companion a girl could ask for?
My parents asked me in concerned tones if I’d been writing, the way some parents may check up on their children’s oral hygiene. It was cute. But the answer was no.
And then suddenly I found myself exploring my surroundings on my second day here: wind in my face, new friends in front of me, looking out over the hills to my left, the countryside a contrast of lush green and parched brown. I had finally started to feel alive again here. Pai is the kind of place you plan on visiting for two nights and can’t manage to leave because the community and the lifestyle are so cozy and joyous and relaxing. I couldn’t help but immediately surround myself with kind, loving, happy people who were enjoying life. I learned how to appreciate travel for its own sake, just being in a new place and enjoying what you can and remembering each day that this sucks infinitely less than sitting in a cubicle for eight hours on repeat. I am blessed beyond belief. And I have remembered how to relax. Not only do I feel like myself again, but I feel a lightness and a freedom and a deep optimism that I have missed terribly. I am confident, and I am happy, and I have laughed more here than I have in months. I feel beautiful. Pai brought me back to life and reintroduced me to my best (and favorite) self. To oversimplify and understate, this is a special place. These are special people.
We are leaving today, jumping on a minibus for a 24 hour journey to Vang Vien, Laos. I’m sad to leave despite my persistent happiness. The goodbyes I have said have been painful and the hugs have been strong. And I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll lose this feeling of freedom and joy and liveliness and confidence. I’m afraid I won’t remember it. But all I can do is trust that it’s become a part of me, that the names of all of these people and places are now written on my heart like a constantly evolving mural, that this is not an isolated experience that exists in its own reality but rather one step along my path that I can always look back on.
This is getting wordy, and words seem useless when feelings are so strong. So I’ll end with one fact. The following quote, the last line of possibly my favorite poem, is currently written in henna on my back:
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.