Matt and I are on the road again, if only for two weeks. For ultimate, of course. We’re both headed out to Dubai for WCBU 2015 to play with Currier Island (not a real place). Matt is on the open masters team, and I’ll be playing on the women’s masters team. We’re super excited to see many of the friends we made while we were traveling through Southeast Asia and playing in the various tournaments in that region. Matt and I are both excited to travel together again, and we’ll try to update the @lisamattrtw twitter feed and @toteymoo instagram for the next two weeks or so.
Oh, hey! It’s me, Lisa, and I’m still alive. I arrived back home three weeks ago, and it’s been a hectic few weeks. But if I was pressed to tell you what’s happened in all that time, I couldn’t give you a great answer. It’s all been quite a blur.
I thought going home would be easy. After six months of every day being a new adventure full of unanticipated situations and meeting new people, I was looking forward to returning to my routine: get up, go to work, go work out and play ultimate, go hang out with friends, etc. Nothing to it, right? Easy peasy. Except…
A friend from home recently asked me to describe my travel adventures with one word. After a bit of thought, I settled on “freedom” which was the inspiration for part of my last post. But after giving it even more thought, I’m going to amend my one-word summary to “humbling.”
Having seen more of the Earth, it seems logical that the world would seem a little bit smaller. A little less mysterious and a little more known. Instead, quite the opposite is true. The vastness and diversity of the world has been even more impressed upon me than before. If I thought I was a tiny speck before, imagine how my battered ego must feel now!
May 11th is Matt and I’s six-month travel anniversary! On November 11, we left Denver with nothing but vague plans (if anyone is keeping score, very few of those plans actually panned out which I consider a good thing) and a sense of adventure. It has been an incredible and amazing journey, and I’ve loved almost all of it, but it is drawing to a close for me. On May 26, I begin a 36-hour journey back to Denver while Matt continues on to Europe. This is the homestretch. In three weeks, I will return to the real world.
A lot of people have asked me how I feel: am I sad that this crazy adventure is ending or am I excited to be going home?
That’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. The politically correct answer is “both” (or “neither”?), but we all know that’s not the truth. It’s closer to a ratio, 40:60. Or maybe 30:70. Little Billy can be a shithead, sometimes.
There is an endless variety of travelers wandering about the world. There’s those backpackers who buy hideous elephant pants and wear them everywhere, perhaps not noticing that the only other people wearing them are other tourists. There’s the oblivious, obnoxious, loud-mouthed over-tanned American who considers herself a gift to the world. There’s holiday travelers on the road for just a week or two and splurging in five-star resorts we only dream of. There’s gap year kids whose primary concern is getting drunk. There’s the massive Chinese tour groups that every other traveler hates because of how loud and inconsiderate they are. There’s the retirees who spend half their year on the road and the other half (or less!) at home. There’s those who make a distinction between a tourist and a traveler and pick a side (guess which). If I had to describe Matt and I, we are part of the band of ultimate players roaming around — low profile until we congregate at tournaments and go nuts.
These are some tips that are good for any trip, long or short. And probably for just going to the grocery store at home, too.
smile and say hello
We noticed in Laos, many people initially regard us warily or suspiciously. But as soon as we smiled and said, “Sabaidee!” (hello), people break into huge grins and wave at us. People are much more welcoming as soon as you demonstrate friendliness and a willingness to try to speak their language. Even something as simple as smiling helps people feel less threatened and breaks down walls, and it’s hard to resist smiling back at someone who is grinning like a fool at you.
Along those lines, always learn how to say: “hello,” “thank you,” “delicious,” “beautiful” and “very.” “Yes” and “no” are helpful but most people understand head shakes and nods or hand signals (be careful with hand signals as they vary greatly across borders!).
Make an effort to learn as many words as you can and people will love you. Even if your pronunciation is awful, people will appreciate the effort.
It’s very useful to have one other phrase up your sleeve, too. In Myanmar, Matt found that saying “See you later!” in Burmese (“nah mah twee may”) was a huge hit — it’s such a simple phrase, but no one had ever heard a foreigner say that! The reactions Matt got were hilarious; lots of gasps and laughs of excited surprise, and people often wanted to engage us even more afterwards. Having a phrase that is more casual or that is slang is a great way to endear yourself to the locals.
I’ve read a few books while on this trip, but the choosing of these books has mostly been at the mercy of fate. The library from which I could select was whatever books were available on the day’s hostel’s book exchange. Between photocopied versions of travel guides and books in German and French, the selection was often very limited indeed. I had very low expectations of finding thought-provoking reading. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this quote in “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” by Salman Rushdie and my brain started churning.
The end of our trip through Myanmar happened to coincide with their lunar new year which meant we would be around to see the beginning of Thingyan, or the Water Festival. By far, this has been my favorite local celebration that we’ve come across, and it might be one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip!
What’s a water festival? As best I can tell, it’s a giant water fight that the whole country participates in. This is the hottest part of the year, and the 4-day festival is a way for everyone to celebrate the new year and cool down before the monsoon season starts in May. Traditionally, splashing water is seen as a blessing for the new year or a washing away of sins from the previous year, but it didn’t exactly seem like people had that in mind as they rowdily soaked each other!
After the awesomeness that was the Boracay Open, we hung around on the island for a few days of relaxing (from our super-stressful life of ultimate, adventure, and travel) with some of our favorite ultimate players and backpackers. One day, we headed to Puka Beach which claims to be one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in Asia. That’s like me claiming to be one of the 10 funniest, most awesomest Lisa’s in existence, but maybe there’s some truth to their claim. It is really pretty:
Unfortunately, after a few hours of relaxation on the beach, we had two of our most negative tourist experiences of our trip.
When we set out on this adventure back in November, visiting Myanmar had never crossed my mind. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know how close we would be to it — it borders both Thailand and Laos — and I barely knew that it used to be called Burma. But as we began meeting other travelers, the most common advice we got was that we absolutely had to go visit Myanmar because it was just opening to tourism, it is one of the last places you could go to “get off the beaten track,” and that the people are incredible and not yet tainted or jaded by mass tourism.
Well, we’ve made it! We arrived in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) on March 22nd, and we will be here for 25 days before heading to Nepal. So far, we’ve visited Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and are currently in Pyin Oo Lwin. We’re only a week into the country, but these are some quick thoughts on what we’ve found so far.