There comes a time in every traveler’s story where scooter trips in Thailand don’t cut it anymore, where the average adventure no longer satisfies the thirsty traveler. When travelers open a world map to discuss where they are going next, many quickly disregard many of the world’s most fascinating destinations due to war, politics or simply lack of information. These areas are often talked about with a hush tone over drinks with other travelers.
Many mock those who dare to travel on the edge to these places, but the few who decided to brave the unknown are rewarded with travel at its most authentic and wild. These dark areas on the map are what adventurers are made of. The pioneers of travel did not hold back from visiting these parts of the world, so why should you! This post is my account of dodging bullets, navigating into dictatorships, living in war zones and braving the Axis of Evil!
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.
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.
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
Borneo, Sarawak Malaysia
Like images on an old film projector, the jungle slowly flickers by. When the hum of the boat’s engine slows, it’s noise is drowned out by the sounds of Borneo’s deep jungle. Traveling here is not easy, but the rewards of Borneo’s interior are great for those seeking something different, something more vibrant and beautiful. As the boat pushes further downriver, the jungle is occasionally broken by the odd Dayak longhouse settlement. This place is special, a travelers absolute fantasy. I am happy to be back, back in the heart of Borneo.
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
The Islamic Call to Prayer fills the air with its beautiful tones from the many surrounding mosques. Locals adorning brightly coloured Hijabs and purple long shirts walk from the malls to pray at the mosque. The stifling heat almost suffocates you with its soup like humidity.
This is Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei’s capital city. Everything from the golden domed mosques, the thick surroundings of uncharted jungle, the traditionally dressed locals, and poster plastered everywhere of the current sultan resonates of this empires past glory. Brunei is something different, an unfamiliar face you should get to know.
Hove you ever discovered something that you always knew you loved, but only just learned existed? Something that you know, deep down inside, was the one thing you always felt was missing form your life? There I was, strolling through the blindingly colorful, vibrant, high definition streets of Shinjuku.
All my previous years spent traveling could not have prepared me for this. Tokyo takes the most jaded, arrogant, egotistical of travelers and expands their horizons into a whole new realm of traveling. This is exactly where I was. All my preconceived ideas of Japan being too modern, and having too little culture to be of any interest were quickly replaced. What I thought I knew about Japan had been completely turned upside down and violently shaken. Tokyo will change you.