Monday, December 12, 2011

Random Ramblings Epilogue

Day & Night - 12.12.2011

I sat down on my bed, opened my laptop, and browsed to the folder where all my blog entries resided. It was like one of many days in the past year or so, except that now, I am sitting on my bed at home instead of some hostel or guesthouse. My thoughts are many, as were the experiences in my trip, as I tried to pen my last entry of my blog, and of my ramblings.

I have always been a private person. Sometimes, intensely so. A perfect fit into the stereotypical mold of the Man who would keep to himself, and not divurge much about their feelings. And so, never in my wildest dreams, would I think that I would be blogging publicly about my journey, revealing snippets of myself, my feelings and my "failings".

This trip is not just an excursion to fulfill my "101 destinations to see before I die". I wanted to try things differently; I wanted to explore paths that I normally would not take and face the challenges of trying something new. And so it is with blogging. Further to that, I wanted a "travel blog" that is a little different from the usual travelogue of describing places visited and/or recommending places/restaurants. So I tried to incorporate inspirations or "lessons" garnered from the experiences and encounters. Of course, the key word is "tried", and certainly, I did not always managed that aspect. But still, I would at least try to provide an interesting enough tale. And I'm happy I tried.

I am not a prolific writer, so sometimes the words don't come so easily. But on days or events that generally moved me, the words flowed. I remembered when I left Lapland with my failed quest, I wrote my entry in two hours, on the overnight train back to Helsinki; and it was one of my favourite pieces. Similarly for the Antarctica entries. But there were many days and times, even if I had two or three stories forming in my head, I could not begin to pen it down! And I fretted that these uninspired posts would pile up!! It was certainly challenging!

But I am so so glad that I did it. It was during those times when I tried to put thoughts and feelings into words, that I truly reflect. And well, I honed some writing skills as well!

A special thanks to all who had motivated me with your encouragement and 'Likes'! ;)

Long-term Backpacking/Traveling
During the later months of my travel, I met a South Korean girl who was also on an extended trip. She had a problem of not meeting like-aged female backpackers - round-the-world travelers in the late thirties were few and far between, she lamented. I sort-of agreed (adding that those over the 'four' were even rarer!), though I think it was purely coincidental. The world is just too big, and both of us are too  insignificant a number to conclude on that statement. But those few that I encountered (who were thirties or more), their travel were all more extreme than just a gap-year. One had cycled around the world for the past 3 years; another had driven his car around the world for the past 5 years, and well, yet another had traveled for the past 11 years!!

And I just had to wonder about my limits. This journey had laid my limits bare, and there were many a times that I wished I had a younger body, a stronger mind. A little more street-smart here, a little more adventurous there. Endure a little less of comfort living, yet enjoy a little more of life on that foreign soil. No, no, these are not regrets! Just retrospective reflection.

With that reflection, came just a tad of regret on one aspect of the trip. My obsession with sticking to my budget had perhaps, in a way, skewed certain decisions. And sometimes, my penny-pinching habits had reached paranoia levels - there were times when a taxi ride of $1 could have saved me 40 minutes of strenous wandering with my full luggage, or that 30 minute walk (and back!) just to get that 50-cent cheaper meal. Further onto my trip, as days of "administrative stops" become longer, aside from finding a good clean hostel (with Wifi!), discovering a well-stocked supermarket nearby provided a twisted sense of bliss that I never knew could exist.

Sadly, while I do try to sample the local specialty wherever/whenever available (cheaply), most of my sustenance were what I call "peasant food". It was a blessing indeed that I am a bread-lover, considering that the amount of bread I had consumed in the past year could have been twice the previous years! So, I was really thankful that somewhere in the middle of my trip, I had friends who joined me and as a group, food exploration was more affordable, and alot more fun!

I don't know, but perhaps this prolonged excessively budget-conscious traveling lifestyle had taken its toll, making one succumbed easily to travel fatigue? Or perhaps, it was just a self-rationalizing excuse :)

One thing's quite certain though. My photography, too was affected by the rigours of traveling. I had packed my photography gear pretty much the way I did for most of my travel. Even though it was the longest trip I would be undertaking, I had convinced myself that photography would still be paramount. And given that my previous longest trip of 2 months, I had fared relatively well, I was looking forward to capturing some serious travel photography.

The only thing really serious was my overall disappointment. The mental strain on the logistics of travel, on avoiding scams and dangers etc, left little else for imaginative composition, let alone the quickness to capture "magic moments". I was never a street shooter to start with, and an uncomfortable people shooter at best, so at the end of the day, the number and quality of shots (or lack thereof) of these genre were indeed disappointing.

And when The Fatigue consumed me towards the last parts of my trip, it was a surreal experience. An interesting scene may appear before me, and the photographic instinct within me would conjure a potential frame in my mind. Yet, there was immense resistance in reaching for my camera (even the compact!) in my bag. I felt like my limbs were no longer in control and another entity had taken over. Ridiculous!

Luckily, my passion for landscape photography salvaged some battered ego. Still, there were many areas that left me wanting. I looked through my photos of Torres del Paine and felt that so much more could be done (the place had sooo much more to offer!). And amazing Antarctica! The disappointment in my pictures was as big as the icebergs that I tried to capture. Though there were a couple of images of wildlife that I'm pleased with, it was that theatre of icebergs and glaciers that had so captivated me. Yet my pictures spoke otherwise. And the most painful realization of it all? That this was probably my most luxurious, and least stressful portion of my trip!!!

A friend once remarked that sometimes, when one gets too engrossed into the photography, one may lose the appreciation of the actual experience of the event or scene. So while my overall photographic experience was disappointing, I could only comfort and console myself that I had indeed experienced many of the experiences... *snicker*

The Ultimate...
One of the most unique experiences of traveling, is the people you meet and the conversations you have along the way. Every traveler would get different experiences. Inevitably though, there would be many common questions asked and many varied stories shared. And inevitably, when others knew of my extended trip (especially towards the later half), the single most common question would be, "What is your favourite place?", "Which country did you like best?" and its variants.

I suspect it would be repeated when I reached home.

The answer was more straightforward when one of the travelers rephrased the question to the following,

"If you could only go back to ONE place, which would it be?"

It may seem "unfair" but my answer would obviously be Antarctica. After all, the place is exotic, it is so expensive to get there, and the name alone would set people's eyes widening. But truly, being someone who loves mountainscapes, winterscapes, scenes of ice and snow and scenes of nature in general (and without breaking my knees, legs, back etc), the answer is really quite apparent.

Antarctica aside, Patagonia would have easily vied for top spot for my favourite place. Though both of these could not rightfully answer the question of the country I liked best (since they are not a country). And even though I prefered Fitz Roy on the Argentinean side of Patagonia, that hardly make Argentina my favourite country... so that particular question would have to be left unanswered...

There was another variant of the question though, which would generate a different answer. Many also asked which was my most memorable place/experience etc. Needless to say, the treks in Patagonia, the excursions in Antarctica all answered the question perfectly but there was one that was quite out of the ordinary.

In terms of the most memorable travel experience, and one that I may not necessary care to redo again, would be the Amazon riverboat journey. A journey filled with an amazing smorgasbord of conflicting feelings such that somehow, you would want to relive that experience, yet at the same time, be revulsed at the same thought. An experience that no amount of reading, photos or videos could prepare you for, and it is that initial impact of the entire episode that could not be replicated on a second visit.

But at the end of it all, of course, all of my experiences are dear to me. All my ramblings and all my photos. And all together, they form a very special chapter of my life. Thanks for reading (if you have followed this far!) and if you haven't realized, I do have a website which you can check out, um, in case I do have another trip or blog in the unforseeable future...

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish!!*

PS:  Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome and appreciated. You can find my email on my website

* shamelessly quoted from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Ultimate Feeling

Day 448 - 03.12.2011

I smiled as the bus pulled over at the entrance of the immigration building. I thought I had my last overland border crossing of my trip during that re-attempt on the Armenia-Iran border. But apparently not.

When I started my trip, I had envisioned that I would naturally return via air. It never crossed my mind that I would be coming back by road, that I would have a stopover in Malaysia. But here I was, retreiving my luggage from the belly of the bus, and heading straight to the automated clearance system.

I smiled as the group in front of me were fumbling with the self-service passport scanning, and complaining among themselves in a language and accent so familiar. I smiled even as my fingerprint scan failed to open the turnstile. This had happened before, and really, what would go wrong on this border crossing? :)

The officer opened the gantry and motioned me forward.

"Sorry sir, just let me do a quick check here."

I smiled and nodded.

I was soon back on the bus, and the bus soon on its way into the drizzling night. I smiled as the letters in corner of my mobile phone screen changed to the Starhub operator. I looked out of the window, and smiled as I saw a typical road sign but the words 'Mandai Zoo' sprung out strangely into my face. I smiled as rows and rows of tall rectangular flats, neatly and brightly lighted, whizzed by. I smiled as a beautifully lighted and spiral-shaped  bridge came into view - I remembered it as Helix Bridge. I smiled at a petal-shaped building, that was not yet completed before, but now looking pretty in the night. I smiled at the beautiful and familiar night skyline, but yet looked a little different.

I smiled when the taxis sped by, ignoring my frantic waving on this drizzling Saturday night in Beach Road. I smiled at my smile, knowing that 448 days ago, I would have been throwing profanities at the taxi drivers  instead.

I smiled this day, at the ordinary, at the mundane, at the things I  normally would not. And why not?

I am home! :)