When Questions Lead to Amazing Travel Experiences
Have you ever been somewhere and have a question bubble up in you that cannot be contained and you find yourself asking it? Something as simple as “what is that?” or “where does that alley lead?” Sometimes that question is borne of necessity and other times it comes from a deeper place inside you. In this feature, we explore the times that asking – or answering – a simple question steeped in curiosity has led you to an amazing person, experience or story on your travels.
Sometimes it’s the people we meet
Are you having bike problems or just want a shoulder to cry on?
Anne-Marie P. had spent a month motorcycling solo across the American southwest when she began having trouble getting her bike to start in the morning. There was no shortage of hills, so she’d push the bike out of her campsite, pop the clutch on the way down a hill and it would start. A day later, it wouldn’t start if she turned it off and that morning there was no hill in sight.
“I convinced some German tourists to help me push it down the road and up a hill so I could get it started and was thinking about what to do next. By this time, I was on Nevada’s Route 50, the ‘Loneliest Road in America.’ I decided to make my way to the nearest bike shop, but it was a hundred miles away,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even turn the bike off to refuel or get something to eat, so eventually I was choosing a chocolate bar to be my lunch while the bike ran at the pumps of a gas station in the tiny town of Ely, Nevada.”
That’s when she noticed a hand-lettered sign on the pumps that asked: “Are you having bike problems or just want a shoulder to cry on? Call me – Jake at Sagebush Machine Shop.” So she did. And as it turned out, Jake had the most complete shop in his backyard that Anne-Marie had ever seen.
“My battery was running dry in the desert air and he filled it with water and put it on a charger overnight. I camped in his backyard that night and the next day I was back on the road! He was a very interesting guy. Had hiked to many backcountry Anazazi ruins and photographed them. Took me out for a short demonstration ride on his KLR bike before I left,” she says. “I found out years later that he was well known in the motorcycle world for being able to help and fab up any part someone needed and was sorry to see he had passed away when I tried to find him again.”
So you grow sorghum?
When Marti S. was 15, she was on a road trip from Ohio to South Carolina through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her dad got lost, and they stopped for directions at a shack where a woman was selling honey, sorghum and remedies. Her name was Florence Boyd, and she was the local healer and midwife, putting a couple of local boys through med school.
Marti’s dad loved talking to people and learning from them and knew hill country hospitality from being a hunter. He asked her about the sorghum and off they went.
“I suspect she was lonely and glad for the company. The building of the Blue Ridge Parkway had reduced or cut off traffic through much of the area, so it seemed she was alone a lot. I will always remember her grabbing my father’s hands and looking at his fingernails before she would let us in. He passed her test. She turned to me and said, ‘Honey, never trust a man with narrow fingernails. He will do you in by sundown.’ What young teen girl would not remember that? I still look, by the way,” she says. “I think I remember her primarily because I had never met anyone remotely like her. It was an eye-opener on life outside the burbs. I don’t think there is such a thing as getting lost. You just get misplaced. Kind of like when you lose an object and find something else you need when you are looking for it.”
Can I really climb up there?
Thirty years ago, Nancy M. I travelled to Egypt. She was inside one of the big pyramids, staring at a ladder set up for explorers to climb a shaft into the next chamber. She was hesitating, asking herself if she could do it.
“I felt a poke in the back. I turned around and there was an elderly lady behind me with an umbrella. She gave me a grin and said: ‘If I am going so are you. It might be our last chance.’ She was quite elderly and was not with a tour. Maybe her group or friends were left behind at the hotel. She seemed to be ready for any adventure and her attitude was contagious,” says Nancy. “She had the biggest grin on her face when she said it might be our last chance. She agreed to go in front of me so I could help her if needed. We both made it to all the upper chambers.”
Other times we meet our purpose
Why do you want to get into Laos so badly?
Hope P. and her then-boyfriend travelled the world for six years after university. Near the end of their first year in 2000, they decided to journey from Cambodia to Laos – and had to find, befriend, ply with drinks, and bribe a corrupt Cambodian government official to make it happen.
“‘Why do you want to get into Laos so badly?’ The official seemed to sneer at us, confused as to why we needed to leave his country for its sleepy neighbour. At that moment I didn’t really have a sound answer—both inside myself and for the official poised to help us cross the closed border to Laos PDR. But his probing forced me to get clear on my WHY,” Hope muses.
Hope’s boyfriend and the Cambodian official who got them into Laos
After all, Laos had been a tightly controlled, land-locked (but for crossing the Mekong River from Cambodia), and communist country badly bombed in the Vietnam War. Hope had little knowledge of it but felt a massive tingle to explore it.
“You know, that tug in your gut that urges you to do things you would never normally. ‘We need to meet our friends,’ I responded. Surprised by my answer, I realized that I would be meeting mysterious new people in a new land. Curious to discover a completely new country and culture compelled me to keep pushing on with this stern man. Something about Laos was calling me from the deep,” she says. “At the end of a very drunk lunch, he decided to stamp this certificate that we could bring over the border. We had to hide underneath a tarp on a little put-put boat and go from Cambodia to Laos, hoping that if no one caught us on the way we could make it to the Laos border and pay off an agent with this letter.”
On the other end of a covert boat ride from Cambodia to Laos
Becoming restaurant owners and reopening as Hope’s Oasis in Laos
And then there are times we walk away with a life lesson wrapped in a rich story
What’s the best thing you learned from your grandfather?
I see the world in stories. Everyone has one. Some people are full of them. I unearth them as I travel – by asking curious questions. One of my richest recent discoveries came to light as darkness cloaked a car whisking me from Denpasar Airport to The Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali. The late hour and the hectic travel schedule that saw me crisscrossing time zones for weeks had me blinking owlishly in the back seat at first. But soon, I was leaning forward in my seat, engaged.
I arrived just in time for Galungan and Kuningan (February 19 to 29 this year). Galungan is a Balinese holiday that celebrates the victory of dharma (good) over adharma (evil). It marks the time when the ancestral spirits of deceased relatives visit Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan when they leave.
My new friend and driver explained that women are so busy preparing and placing offerings during the holiday period, that it’s up to the men to cook the family feast. I watched a light spark in his eyes as he told me that his grandfather taught him how to prepare the traditional holiday meal.
I could have left it there and closed my eyes in the back seat as I longed to. But I smelled a good story, and it reinvigorated me. So I asked him what the best thing he’d learned from his grandfather was, expecting him to describe a dish. What I got instead was a life lesson. Much attention is paid to the balancing of flavours and seasoning in the traditional meal — sweet, sour, savoury, bitter, salty, spicy. Each represents a human emotion, his grandfather told him. You can’t have too much of one and not enough of the other if you want a well-seasoned meal — or life.