Sunday, April 08, 2007

Alex's Top 10.

Nearing the end of our trip, I began thinking about putting together a personal “best of” list about our experience. Inevitably, people will ask variations of the same question: “what was your favorite ___________ (city, country, ‘part,’ day, etc…),” so it made sense to stand back and take a little stock. I first thought of listing my favorites, or “best” experiences, in the sense of what was the most interesting culture, breathtaking view or finest meal. But, on reflection, I realized that approach would only scratch at the surface. Because our travel reached into such disparate environments as rural India, ultramodern Tokyo and the Vietnamese hill tribes, I would fail myself if I did not try to give some attention to even the most “foreign” experiences—those that were unpleasant or uncomfortable, because it is from these that I probably learned most about myself.

Here, then, in no order whatsoever, are my top ten “most memorable” experiences from our six month sabbatical:

1. Getting to know Bob’s Kids, Bodhgaya, India.

These kids were beautiful, amazing, heartbreaking and inspiring and were the highlight of the entire trip. Big thank yous to Derek Whitefield, Michael Bourne, Anil Chaurasia and, of course, Bob Chartoff, for letting us participate in this most worthy cause.

2. Diving with a giant sea turtle, the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Imagine diving in stormy, low-visibility water and looking up to see a giant turtle floating gently overhead, sleepy eyes at half-mast, munching contentedly on a bright orange jelly fish.

3. The 6 hour train ride from Beijing to Datong, China.

This was one of those miserable experiences from which you emerge, hopefully, a bigger person. Basically this was a 6 hour journey stuffed into a crowded steel box, alternately cold and hot, filled with human pollution of every kind.

4. Sharing the beach with slumbering cows, Goa, India.

5. Wrestling with juvenile monkeys in the Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

6. Eating sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan.

7. Utter and complete disorientation in the Akasaka train station, Tokyo, Japan.

The main thing I seek in travel is to be confronted by cultures and surroundings as different as possible from my day-to-day existence. Our second day in Tokyo we submerged into the depths of this train station. I am not exaggerating when I say that nothing was familiar. Nothing. Nothing written in an alphabet I could understand; even the signs made no sense. We couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. I felt like I’d dropped acid or something—really strange.

8. Stalking Rhino in the Royal Chitwan Nat’l. Park, Nepal.

Does it seem like a pattern is emerging here? Animals, animals, animals.

9. Encountering the Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

Simply the most beautiful man-made structure I’ve ever seen. The surrounding town of Agra could use a little sprucing up, though.

10. Being excited to come back home.

When we embarked on our trip I was so excited I couldn’t fathom ever wanting to come back. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover in mid-February that I was actually excited to return, to our family, home, cats and—believe it or not—my job!


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