The 5 most serendipitous moments of our travel so far

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Sometimes I believe that travel is the greatest invitation for serendipity.  A person who craves unexpected adventures puts themselves directly in that path when they go somewhere wildly new.  

This belief is supported  by the countless travelers I’ve met with stories that’ll knock your socks off and make you wonder how they ended up in the right place at the right time.

Here are our stories of serendipity.  Times we stumbled upon something amazing.

5.) Chinese New Year in Malaysia

This is number five on the list because it would have been even better to be in China for Chinese New Years, but instead, we spent Chinese New Year in the home of a Chinese-Malaysian friend we had met in Bali, dining on traditional dishes with his family.  They just kept offering us food and despite being mostly vegetarian at the time, I ate whatever they handed me.  Thus, I now know that pork knuckles are apparently delicious.

4.) St. Stephen’s Day fireworks in Budapest

As is the way of serendipity, it happens upon you and catches you unaware.  Drew and I are always unaware.  It was no different this past August 19th when we noticed a lot of bustle in Budapest.  We had made plans to spend the day with a friendly stranger we’d met on the train from Bucharest to Budapest (another sort of serendipity) who had offered to let us borrow his super-epic-BMW-motorcycle (I’m pretty sure that’s the official name of the motorcycle…that’s a thing, right?  right???).  After spending most of the day racing down country roads on his epic bike, trying to keep up with him and glance at the castles whizzing by, he led us back to his house and explained that we should be going soon if we wanted to catch the fireworks.

“Fireworks?”

As it turns out, April 20th is St. Stephen’s Day, or the Day of the Foundation of Hungary.  One of the ways this holiday is celebrated is with a 30-45 minute fireworks display over the Danube river in Budapest.

The fireworks show was so long and impressive that I sort of zoned out and forgot what was happening, just watching the lights glitter off the water.

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3.) Ogoh Ogoh Ceremony / Nyepi in Bali

Last time we visited Bali we felt endlessly grateful for meeting a friendly fisherman who treated us like family in so many ways.  When we returned to visit him this past month we felt even luckier as it happened to overlap with Bali’s biggest holiday: Nyepi.

Nyepi includes so many ceremonies and events that it’s hard to label it as one holiday.  Most notably it includes a ceremony on the beach just a few days before official Nyepi (which fell on March 31st this year), the “ogoh ogoh” ceremony the night before Nyepi, and the day of silence (Nyepi).

The ceremony on the beach is like a bulkier version of the regular ceremonies held every few weeks.  Like these ceremonies, a priest sprinkles the crowd with water as the crowd puts petals behind their ears.  Ceremonial baskets of food and fruit are prepared as usual too, but there is a carnival-like celebration happening all around in the meantime with drum music and socializing and a rigorous, ritualistic procession of thrones in a circle at the water’s edge.  Epic.

The Ogoh Ogoh “parade” or ceremony is a procession of giant sculptures that the older children of the community have made.  Each local school works for a large part of the year, making their unique sculpture portraying a demon or “ogoh ogoh”.  Then, ont he 30th they parade their sculptures along the streets towards the cemetery where they will be burned.  All but one that is.  The best ogoh ogoh will be kept on display. The idea is a little bit like Halloween in that somewhere in history the event was inspired to summon the demons before purification happens on the next day.

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Nyepi is the day of silence.  Tourists are all notified of this holiday and must participate to as far a degree as they can.  No electricity, no cooking, no working, no internet, no leaving home.  The streets are empty except for a few “religious police” who guard the streets and enforce the holiday.  Otherwise the town may as well be a ghost town.  It’s actually pretty spooky watching the patrol-men pass by and hoping their flashlights don’t catch you creeping towards the doorway to watch them.

2.) MahaShivratri in Sri Lanka

When we arrived in the coastal town of Trincomalee, it wasn’t long before we could tell the town was preparing for something.  For one, when we visited the local temple the women were all smashing coconuts onto the ground.  Of course, we had no idea if this was just …the thing to do at the temple in Trincomalee or whether it was something special.  The next evening we discovered that it was something very special.

MahaShivratri fell on February 20 in 2012 when we accidentally attended, but otherwise, according to “whenisdate.com”, “It occurs on the 14 night of the moonless day of the new moon in the month of Phalgun”.  So…figure that one out.  Basically it follows the Hindu calendar so it’s a different date every year.

The festival celebrates Shiva with a lively procession that starts at the temple and visits each local town before then returning to the temple again hours later.  Families gather at the side of the road with (sometimes flaming) offerings.  The procession includes musicians, floats and wagons for collecting offerings and blessings.

And…smashing coconuts.  I don’t know if this is just Sri Lanka’s twist on the holiday but the locals explained that men and women threw coconuts on the ground in hopes that it would shatter into many pieces and signify good luck and fertility.

I smashed no coconuts.

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1.) SriLanka fishermen’s strike

This may not seem like a serendipitous moment, but to me it felt like an incredible opportunity to experience something real.

Our first morning in Sri Lanka (Negombo) we spoke with the hotel owner about possibly renting a jeep.  As it always seems to go, he had a friend who had a friend who had a jeep we could rent for cheap!  So he went off to call his friend and we went off to our room.  When he knocked on our door and told us that all the roads were closed and we would have to stay in his hotel another night before renting a jeep and leaving town…I secretly didn’t believe him.  It sounded like a story made up to squeeze one more night out of us during slow season.  So Drew went on a walk to see if there was any truth to this “closed roads” story.

The roads were crowded with people.  Homemade blockades of logs and junk and even fires were blocking every road in sight.  In some spots, women created a human chain across the road and they shook their fingers crossly and scolded any bold young fellow who approached on his scooter.

The locals were eager to tell us what was going because they were at the peak of adrenalin, angry at the Sri Lankan president for allowing a sudden spike in oil prices, a spike from 70 rupiah to 105.  The women were the wives of fishermen who were refusing to fish until the price of oil dropped again.  There was a strange neighborliness in the confrontations on the street.  No one was getting hurt and everyone knew with whom they were angry.

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We watched the commotion tell a story of the people of Negombo.  So intently in fact that when the church bells rang at the cathedral- the pride of the town- to notify the people to return to their posts on the street, and when the president sent tanks to disperse the crowds, refusing to meet their demands…we felt in some very small way a part of this struggle.

In the following weeks I tried to keep up with the news to find out how things were being resolved…but it seems no one was covering the story.

 

 

Thanks for reading.  What are your serendipitous travel moments?

8 Comments on “The 5 most serendipitous moments of our travel so far

  1. Hi Carrie (and Drew). I just came across your website (via a post on FlyerTalk), and I feel like I just found buried treasure! My husband and I also cherish the serendipitous moments. Our favorite was when we visited one of the monasteries of the Meteora in Greece. It was first thing on a Sunday morning, and the caretaker invited us to have a cup of coffee. There were a few other people in the room, and more began to trickle in, and then one of the monks came in and sat down. They all began to converse, and after a while we realized we were the only tourists–and no one else spoke English! Gradually, as others took their leave, they first approached the monk to say goodbye and kiss his ring. How were we going to get out without offending anyone?! We finally made our predicament known, and someone summoned the caretaker to interpret for us. Everyone, including the monk, got a good laugh. It really is one of the coolest (and funniest) things that has ever happened to us during our travels. 😀

  2. I once got caught up In a Palestinian protest in Milwaukee. I suppose I support freeing Palestine now…

  3. I once came out of the metro at Pireaus in Athens and directly into an anti-American protest. I didn’t stick around too long, but it was interesting to observe.

    Less serendipitously, I was also in Athens for a week-long garbage strike. Suspension of daily service, no back alleys for garbage disposal, old plumbing meaning no flushing of toilet paper and other bathroom waste, and 90 degree temperatures did not make for an enjoyable experience on the streets of Athens.

  4. I was in Prague on June 13-14, 2003, when I suddenly heard loud honking and motorcycles cruising outside my hotel window. It seemed to go on forever, and I wondered if some parade was about to happen. Apparently, the Czech Republic was having a referendum on whether to join the EU. The proposal was supported by 77.3% of voters, and I got to experience the jubilation on the streets!

    • Wow that sounds awesome! We will be in Prague soon so this story makes me excited for that!

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