In the countries I have visited so far, I have always craved to be out in the open, around trees and lakes, with few people around me.
In Vietnam, I spent USD $265 on a hike. Too much right? After months of city dwelling, I needed it. After all, that is where I have always found pure happiness – amongst the trees!
A long ride to the national park, much asking for directions and searching for vegetarian food, forms filled in the dim light of a lamp by a lake, a short boat ride, a 2 minute golf cart ride to get the keys to the hotel room, and the end of the night in the room.
However, the trip to the hotel did not disappoint as much as the attitude of the hotel staff, who found it inconvenient to cook vegetarian meals, had little to no knowledge about the species in the park and why their large mammals were extinct, and were unable to advise us when crocodiles could be seen at the nearby lake. With my training in Antarctica, I patiently waited for an hour on the second floor of a lean, tall, three story wooden structure. Staring through the camera my friend loaned me, I noticed something harsh and brownish on the lake surface.
I zoomed my friend’s camera to focus some more, and omg! There, far in the distance, after being told they were not around, I and only I saw the teensy weensy eyes of a croc! I took one hazy photo and then it disappeared, not giving me a second chance to hold the camera more stable.
But, the walk to the lake and back to the hotel was the best part of the experience. As I walked amongst the trees, I mulled over my thoughts while listening to cricket-like chirping around me, an orange jacket around my waist, and drinking my bottle of water in the humid heat. I realized how much I had missed hiking. Solo or not. This was #MyNature.
On this trip I have realized my best experiences may not necessarily be solo, but they must involve hiking, pushing myself, and feeling the incredible physiological and mental satisfaction of achieving something while being out and about, amongst the trees!
Case in point – Myanmar. My favourite experience there was the ride along a narrow stretch of water that turns into a wide lake and then begins to be spotted with floating farms with cows and chickens, houses and shops on stilts with clothes hanging outside to dry, and tufts of green dotting the lake.
Despite the stopovers at the tourist markets and only one small child asking for payment (uncharacteristically) to park our boat, I enjoyed watching the clouds above me with squinted eyes due to the harsh sunlight beating down on me.
As I lay there face up in the boat, staring at the sky, I could feel the boat leaning forward, landing in the water with a whoosh everytime there was a dip in the river. Inle Lake is known for its fishermen who row the boat with one foot while using their hands to hold their coned nets and catch fish.
Many of us choose to idealize this picture and the simple way of life, with local residents bathing in the river, and their children fishing with makeshift rods.
I choose to remember this serenity of Inle Lake, and wonder whether I truly understood the economic and emotional state of its residents #MyNature.
In India, I enjoyed my brief, 90 minute walk from my resort, on the outskirts of Pushkar, to the Bathing Ghat in the city town. Hiking in my Merrells in the desert sands, I felt I could tackle anything in front of me. Heat? Pshh! Sand? Pshh! #MyNature. I heard kid’s voices in the distance. Oh sweet village children; innocent, smiling, children. But my naivety was shattered.
First asking for chocolates, then for my bracelet, and finally for money, I wondered where their innocence had disappeared. And, whether genuineness could be preserved while also building infrastructure, spreading technology, and encouraging tourism.
And finally, the environment was totally different in Cambodia, which took me back in generations to a time when a whole city was dotted with differently built Hindu and Buddhist temples. Angkor Wat.
After a long drive in a tuktuk, hiking in the heat from 5am in the morning till 3pm in the afternoon, past trees enveloping the temples, in the dirt, up each temple’s steep steps, along the temple’s corridors, and finally sitting outside the temple by a murky, green lake watching the sunset. I could not get enough of it, gulping down mouthfuls of water and trekking in my Merrell shoes was the best feeling!
In the past two months, I have learned that if one enjoys travelling, it doesn’t matter if it is solo or with someone (only the right companion is required). #MyNature is one in which I can be outside and push myself physically and mentally. I have hiked in national parks, deserts, villages, and cities. I have experienced minor and rare incidents of sexual harassment, a fascination for foreigners, and commercialization and exploitation of tourists (local and foreign). I have appreciated architectural prowess while feeling overwhelmed by my historical knowledge of wondrous monuments. I have gone entirely vegetarian and experienced difficulty finding vegetarian food. I have learned that there are advancements in the East that I have not come across in the West, and I have learned women are pursuing any and all professions around the world. In all these experiences, one thing is for sure, I feel most comfortable in #MyNature, one in which there are trees and I can hike. In fact, did you know that Stanford researchers have found a positive relation between hiking and mental health!