In our mid-twenties, my husband suggested we quit our teaching jobs to travel through Asia from Turkey to Nepal. The Encounter Overland company would supply the tents, food, converted army truck, and eighteen more people from all over the world. I pictured myself on this exciting new adventure, tanned and fit in my new hiking books and British army wool sweater.
I got the boots, the tan and the sweater, but while lying in a tent somewhere in India with a rampant case of dysentery, I truly began to understand myself. I hate being uncomfortable. It wasn’t the cold, or the rats (which came later in the Himalayas) or the camping. It was the unexpected twists in our journey that kept taking me by surprise. I’m someone who enjoys a well ordered, nine to five kind of life. But every other person on the trip was exactly like Clarence. ‘Bring it on!’ was their attitude, though we all did our fair share of whining. How many times did we push that army truck out of the sand, ditch, field, etc? I truly don’t want to know.
As I lay feverish in the tent, wearing my tenth and last pair of underwear, I realized that I was a fraud. I was there simply because I married a very adventurous person. The kind of guy that rests on the ground under a tree in the Canadian bush, closes his eyes and goes to sleep. Meanwhile, I apply bug spray and sunblock, find a mat and cushion, have a good book to read and plenty of snacks on hand while being on constant alert for bears.
But here’s what I gained from our Asian journey:
*Seeing the stars in that same field in India, so thick that the black velvet sky could barely peek through.
*Kissing my husband in front of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
*Rowing on the Ganges river while Hindu people in colourful clothing scattered the ashes of their loved ones.
*Seeing the Bamyan Buddhas before they were blown up by the Taliban, then taking a horse and carriage ride through the valley where Alexander the Great once traveled.
*Watching Clarence perform the chicken dance when trying to procure dinner at various shops. Every now and then we’d get some kind of meat, but first there was plenty of laughter from the shop owners.
* Being banished to the back of the truck when leaving Kabul because of a stomach ailment we called ‘The Egg burps,’ a truly foul type of belching that affected myself, Bill, and a few others. This was before the dysentery and should have clued me in about eating street meat.
*Seeing the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Floating around misty Srinagar Dal Lake in Kashmir on a small boat.
*Hearing someone mention Paul Bergman of Flin Flon, while sitting on the floor of a restaurant in Kathmandu.
*Hiking to the base camp of Mount Everest and staying in the simple huts of the Nepalese people. My best tip? Never sleep in the kitchen, because like I said before, rats. Although I’ve heard they have hotels there now, which kind of breaks my heart.
*Watching the sun set on the Gulf of Thailand like a giant orange ball after recovering from sun stroke that was so bad, I couldn’t walk. All I can say is, don’t fall asleep on the beach in the middle of the afternoon.
*Hiking the golden triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma and seeing a sign that said, ‘Please watch out for the murder maybe.’
*Experiencing Asia at a time when it was still relatively safe to do so. Following on our heels was the Iranian revolution, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, conflict in Kashmir, and political instability everywhere else.
*A respect for people like Clarence, whose ongoing curiosity about the world and its citizens keeps them traveling to distant shores and making friends around the world. I pretended to be one for eight months and experienced an awesome adventure I will never forget.
*Meeting strangers who became dear friends. Going through crazy, sometimes dangerous circumstances, and still laughing about it when we’re together. I salute you, my intrepid adventurers. I know you’re having a wonderful time at the reunion in Brighton, England. For some reason, I picture you all in 1920’s bathing suits, cavorting, drinking wine and probably doing the Charleston. May God bless you all. And please live through the reunion so you can tell me all about it.