Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
A few weeks ago, before Drew and I headed to the States for the holidays, we made a highly anticipated detour to Yangon, Myanmar.
I always love visiting places where we have friends. It just makes the visit a bit richer to be able to see what a “local”, or rather an ex-pat has learned to love. Often it leads us to either unique destinations or unique experiences.
So even though we didn’t get to leave the capital city this time, we had the kind of visit that makes you determined to return for a more thorough exploration.
We didn’t stay in a points hotel. We stayed in our friends’ apartment down a little alley a minute’s walk from a street market. Every morning around 6:00 am various harbingers made their way down the street, shouting a sing-song chant to announce themselves. The milk man. The trash lady. The recycling lady. Each had a unique chant. In a strange way, it reminded me of the old-world habits of the Amish. It reminded me of watching the ice-man carry a giant block of glassy ice into my grandmother’s freezer box before making his way down the dirt road to the next Amish family.
It’s funny how these little memories connect with no regard to the miles of physical space or years of time that separated their happening.
The more I travel, the more this happens- the more I see the world as a whole object. A place of patterns and habits, and occasional anomalies. A place with more similarities than differences. The little plastic chairs that make up side-walk restaurants in Vietnam and China are not so unlike the little folding chairs that make up side-walk tea-shops in Turkey, for example.
The stray dogs that rule the streets after dark in Honduras are not so unlike the ones who do so in Cambodia. Or the cats in Chile for that matter. Or the chickens on any and every tropical island.
Now when I go somewhere new I feel like I’ve been there before. Not that specific place maybe, but a place much like it- with the same blend of characteristics.
In Myanmar I got the same feeling of familiarity. I’d never been there before, but it reminded me of walking along the dusty, side-walk-less streets of Cambodia.
Myanmar had an overtone of adventure though that I miss when I’ve been abroad for too many months in a row. At the time of our visit, we’d only spent about 2 weeks in the US in 7 months. And it had been over a month since a destination had felt novel and adventurous to me. Namibia had felt that way. But French Polynesia, while gorgeous and enjoyable, had not felt like adventure. And despite deciding that Sydney is a my new favorite city, Sydney had not really felt like an adventure either. Again, very enjoyable and in some ways exciting…but it didn’t feel like discovery.
Myanmar did. My “curiosity muscles” were constantly in use.
That’s ultimately one of the main feelings I travel for. I love being confused and curious, confronted with something totally unfamiliar and unusual. Those are the moments when I’m suddenly acutely aware of my distance from home and the expanse of earth and ocean between me and anything I belong to.
Myanmar tops the list of curiosity-inducing destinations this year. Others on that list would be Namibia, Cappadocia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kenya, Oman. Montenegro maybe.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love visiting the places that don’t feel as novel or strange. I love all travel. I love filling in the gaps, like a big blank globe that gets colored in by experiences. I love travel for that. But I love it best when it feels like an exploration into the utterly unknown- a personal frontier.