Paint a picture. Paint overtop all the military checkpoints, violent past, and whatever else the media has filled your imagination with about this place. Paint locals whose smiles speak for their overwhelming hospitality. Paint clear, blue skies, bourn by one of the most dramatic mountain vistas imaginable. This place is what fairytales are made of. As I open my eyes and remember where I am, it all sets in. Reality is what you make of it, but finding the truth to reality is a traveler’s fortune. Here I am in the Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan; what an incredible place I have found myself in.
People always ask me how I can afford to travel so much, all of the time. It starts with hard work, dedication, and priorities but I definitely have some tricks up my sleeve that have saved me tons of money in the past. Knowing how to get cheap flights has been one of the things that has enabled me to see so much of this world. There are countless airlines, flight companies, and travel agencies out there that persistently fill up your inbox with what they claim are the latest deals. It can be incredibly difficult to differentiate between which of these are real bargains and which ones are just another marketing scheme to get you to pay full price for a flight.
Gobi Desert, Mongolia
The silence of the desert engulfs me as I sit alone, atop the highest sand dune I could find. Shades of gold, purple and black paint a picture across the dunes as far as the eye can see. As the sunset unfolds, the picture begins to change, but the silence remains. In the distance, herds of Bactrian camels graze on the vibrant, desert grass. Beyond, more massive towers of sand and black mountains dominate the darkening, blue sky. This place, so remote and so silent, etches itself in my mind forever. Suddenly, I am consumed by thoughts of the arduous journey that lays ahead. It will test all my skills and experience as a traveler. I am about to cross the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia.
Jerusalem and West Bank, Israel/Palestine
High above, the church bells begin ring from the Holy Sepulcher. “Allahu Akbar,” blares from the hundreds of loudspeakers throughout the Muslim quarter. Jewish Rabbis glide in-between alley ways, on their way to the Wailing Wall, singing hymns from the Tora. The air fills quickly with the scent of the thick perfume of frankincense.
I stand in the middle of all this, not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. Just a traveler, an observer of culture and life. The energy buzzes though the air like a summer wildfire. This place is special. There is no place like it anywhere else in the world. The dream comes to an abrupt end when you see the heavily armed military police, standing on every street corner, watching the people, watching you. This is Jerusalem. It can only be described with one word: Intense.
Baliem Valley, West Papua
As the fog clears, steep, jungle-clad mountains loom in the distance. Clouds descend into the valley as they are pierced by the rising sun, painting a picture of solitude and serenity. Up until now, I had believed places of such remote and indescribable beauty only existed in fairy tales. As I crawl out from my smoky hut in the early hours of the morning, it takes an enormous effort to convince myself that this place is even real. This is the Baliem Valley in West Papua’s remote hidden interior, a place where true adventure can still be had. A place where travelers earn their stripes and become explorers; leaving all that they thought they knew behind them. Papua will change you; come prepared.
Monks of black hat cults subdue demons with a spinning dance; the demons lash back with an equally grand performance. The battle of colour and music rages on. Horns of monks from the temple ring hypnotically throughout the valley. The constant beat of the drum releases the parading demons and saints into their spinning trance. The colours, sounds, and anticipation of what will come next from the Royal Dzong gates adds to serene beauty of this spectacle. The Thimphu Tsechu is an event unlike any other, one you will likely not forget.
A family of five, surviving on a dollar a day, cram into a house no bigger than the average North American bathroom. Outside, a river of sewage and garbage flows. Behind the house, the railway bears deafening trains that shake the houses every hour as they rattle by. This is reality of the Jakarta slums, and here I am as a tourist. All the troubles I believe I have go right down the drain. And yet, despite living in such poverty, the people of the slum graciously invite me in to their homes, expecting nothing in return. Read More
Merak, Bhutan འབྲུག་ཡུལ་
The early morning breeze carries fog down the slopes of the mountains. Dew sparkles in beams of brilliant sunlight. Nomads usher their yaks onward, grunting as they carry their master’s earthly possessions past me. Here I am, in the Valley of the Yeti, situated in Bhutan’s Far East. So remote, beautiful, and serene. This is what a traveller dreams of finding.
What defines a traveler? Is it the destinations they travel to? Is it how far they are willing to go to find the adventure they have been longing for? Or is it their ability to discover places so incredible that, in that moment, they realise that they are exactly where they are supposed to be. Maybe it’s all of the above. For me, this very moment makes me reflect all the experiences, all the trials and tribulations I have endured. Finding a place so far removed from the rest of the world can change much in a person, for the better. That is what traveling is all about.
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” There you go, I said it. I’ve always felt that it was just another cliché-stupid-feel-good-about-yourself saying, but this time, I perceived it with real meaning. As my boat cut further up the River Skrang, time came to a halt. The muddy waters, the ancient, massive jungle foliage hanging over the river, the sounds of birds and monkeys, my newfound Iban family singing and laughing behind me; I took it all in. This is what travelers spend all those long hours searching for, all that hard work, all that money spent, for this one, perfect moment. This is a journey I will never forget, one that will stay with me long after I have left this place.
Sarawak Borneo, Malaysia
In an almost trance like state, I lay on my back as the needle is pounded into my shoulder with a wooden stick. Traditional Sape music is playing in the background. Two tattoo-clad Iban, kneeling beside me, concentrate deeply as they slowly punch the ink into my skin. Then, out of the silence, Boy flamboyantly calls out “Maa Guii!” and we all break into laughter. Read More