At this point, I wish I had thought of some nickname for my readers other than, well, "readers". Because then I could have started this, my capping entry for this one-year excursion, with something like, "Hey there, Loonies, it's been a fun ride, hasn't it?" But I can't, so let's move on from here. This is my blog's epilogue (epiblog?), and I can guarantee you right now, it is not going to follow any logical narrative path. It is somewhat stream-of-consciousness, and will just jump from topic-to-topic of what I want to note. It'll be fun. And it'll put a bit of a capper on the whole trip, I hope. So let's dive in!

Let's start with some fun tidbits about this trip, shall we?

The Wandering Loon Official (And Likely Inaccurate) Factoids:

Total Number of Days: 375 (In some senses, 376, but I like the number 375 better, so that's what I'm going with)

Total Number of Miles Traveled (Roughly and Not of My Own Feet): 79,710 Miles
Circumference of the Earth: 24,901 Miles
Times I Traveled the Circumference of the Earth: 3.2
Methods of Travel:
       Plane - 66,941 Miles (83.98%)
       Bus - 6,600 Miles (8.28%)
       Train - 3,490 Miles (4.38%)
       Private Car - 1,782 Miles (2.24%)
       Cycling - 714 Miles (0.90%)
       Boat - 183 Miles (0.23%)
Average Distance Per Day: 212.56 Miles (Roughly the distance between Los Angeles and Fresno)

Okay, gonna be honest: I don't have any clear numbers about how much I walked. All I know is that it was a lot. The EBC trek was about 77.2 miles, the Kilimanjaro trek was...I genuinely don't know, nobody said anything. In New Zealand, I put in a good 20 miles in one day in Kaikoura. I would guess, using fairly rudimentary measurements and being fairly conservative, I walked about 600 miles for the sole purpose of walking (as opposed to, say, walking from a bus stop to a hostel). One of my sisters told me on my arrival that I should have worn a pedometer on the trip to see how many steps I've taken and get a better idea of how far I've gone. And she's right, dammit!

Writing and Photos
Total Words Written in Official, Numbered Entries on TWL: 401,990 (Actually significantly shorter than I thought)
Number of Pages TWL Would be as a Standard-Sized Novel: 1,582
Average Number of Words Per Day: 1,072
Hours of Non-Written Content: ~9 (About 2 hours of video, about 7 hours of heavy breathing audio which nobody listened to, including me)
Total Number of Photos Taken: 27,514
Average Number of Photos Per Day: 73.4
Total Number of Photos Filtered and Posted Online: 9,900
Percentage of Total Photos Used: 36%
Could I Have Been More Discerning: Probably

Number of Countries I Visisted (In That I Had to Show a Passport): 22
Number of Countries That Didn't Stamp My Passport: 1 (Australia, grrr....)
Number of Books Read and/or Listened To: 16
Number of Hotels/Hostels I've Stayed In: 62 (This might be wrong for reasons I won't bother explaining)
Number of Couchsurfing Homes: 6
Number of Times I Paid to Stay at Someone's Home: 4
Pairs of Shoes Worn: 2 pairs worn down to nothing, 1 pair of boots used on Mount Everest only, 1 pair used and still working, and 1 pair of flip-flops
Number of Haircuts Gotten: 5, plus one I gave myself
SIM Chips Bought: 16
Number of Times I Went to McDonalds: 21
Amount Earned Through Sidebar Clicks: $2.75 (Which is too low for me to get paid)
Amount Donated Through My Support Page: $0

Okay, I think that's enough.

Now, I had mentioned that I might be writing another post about my wacky adventures readjusting to life in the quote-unquote "real world", but I think I'm going to skip that. It hasn't been all that wacky, to be honest. I found that my muscle memory with cars is now somewhat switched to Commonwealth sides, and so I was turning on windshield wipers instead of turn signals, but that's about it. More than anything, the biggest weird things I've had to adjust to is the facts that a) I have lots of free time now, and b) I am with people that I should be spending time with. Like, right now, I'm living with my family (as I don't have my own apartment to go to). I normally only do this for short trips in Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like. But I've always lived on my own. Even when living with other people, there was no issue with people just separating and doing their own things. But, them being my family, it's as though I have more obligations, and thus feel asocial when I'm doing my own thing. Which is a tricky situation, because there's a lot I want to do. This epilogue post was one thing, as is my doing a super-filter through all of my photos for the best-of-the-best collection, which I would use for a photo book, and maybe some other purposes.

I definitely enjoyed the ability to both go out for food (especially at real Mexican restaurants), and to have my standard dinner fare (spinach, broccoli, and tomato) available in the kinds of portions and prices I like. Basically, I like having Trader Joe's again. I am also so happy to be reunited with Punkin', my car. (Like, I don't like cars, but I love my car.) And just all the nice little elements of familiarity make it great.

(Truth be told, it seems like very little has changed since I left.)

On the opposite side, is there anything I really miss? Definitely. I think I miss the general exoticism of being in a different place, and the adventure of traveling to places you've never been before. It was my time to stop, no doubt about it. But still, I'm going to miss being "that wandering guy". Of maybe 98% of the people I met, I was traveling among the longest time. I kind of liked having the identity that people pegged me with - the jaded-yet-laid-back traveler. And now I won't really have that anymore. So, on the whole, I guess I'm gonna just miss the whole spirit of adventure, and I'm going to have to find new ways of scratching those itches.

So, on April 8 of 2013, I left on this trip. Right before I did, I wrote the following in Entry #1. Actually, entry #001, because I somehow thought I was going to make it to above 100 entries in this time. But regardless:
I was reminded of all this, I'd say, back in December, when people started asking me, "You excited yet?! Can't wait to go yet?! You ready for this?!" And while I was (and am) indeed excited, I wanted to temper my way of looking at it. After all, I'm not leaving for two weeks; I'm leaving for a year, and the last thing I want to do is overhype it - to romanticize it so much - that I just disappoint myself when I face some less-than-ideal circumstances. I also have the advantage of being a different person than I was a decade ago, so I can ideally take in those foibles with good humor. 
And I have no doubt those foibles will occur. And I equally have no doubt I'll bring them up. All I can ask is that if I start sounding like that bitching 16-year-old Andrew, I hope that somebody gives me a slap on the face, either digitally or physically (proximity permitting).
So I guess the question is, did I live up to my promise? Did I present all of the bad moments with the same sort of good humor that I presented the good moments? I mean, there definitely were some less-than-ideal circumstances, I think most prominently getting malaria, but I want to think that I didn't write about it as though I were some whiny, entitled little brat. I like to think I did well in that regard, but then, I'm a little bit biased. And in that same way, I like to think I also didn't over-romanticize or over-hype either the aspects of traveling, or just the fact that I've been a traveler (I'm thinking in comparison to that article I linked to a while back). I want to think that I've presented this all in a fairy balanced, grounded, and realistic way: I'm not sugarcoating anything, but I'm not...I dunno, bilecoating it either. I just called it as I saw it, and tried to do so in a way that was at least marginally entertaining.

Anyway, when I decided to leave on this trip, it wasn't after years of hopes and dreams of doing something like this. It was just something I decided to do one day. And everything I did, from making it to the Sahara, to working with wilderness, to hiking Kilimanjaro, Everest, and Machu Picchu, these weren't lifelong ambitions. It was all just a case of "Why not?" More than anything, I think it was this kind of motivation - or lack of one, rather? - that defined my trip. I didn't have any huge investment in anything other than experiencing something new. And that is more than just "seeing new places". I've done some hiking in my local woods before, but I've never done any sort of multi-day trek. And now I've done three, in some of the most interesting places in the world. And what's more, I always found that I was always one of the strongest people in these treks. If you compare that to the person I was ten years ago, that's ridiculous. Additionally, some of these new experiences came from the inside-out. Like, before this trip, I took pictures, just like everybody. And I took them with the same kind of general skill as everybody. But as time went on and I took more and more pictures, I started getting a better appreciation for the art of photography. I started framing images better, started taking more interesting pictures, even if you don't see the subject in its entirety. And I developed a love for flowers and flower photography that I never knew or thought I'd ever have. It's funny: one of the other trekkers on Kilimanjaro would always stop to take pictures of flowers. I was among those kinda making fun of her, thinking that she'd waste her battery before reaching the top. But had I done that trek after my time in Cape Town, I would have done the exact same thing. In fact, one of my favorite photos to this day is still a flower photo, and it's still the desktop background on my laptop. And, taking this even further, all this got me to better appreciate the little things (literally) that you come across (and can photograph): the bees (and their hairs, the rips in their wings, etc.), the spiders, the sparrows, the drops of water dripping down a rock face. In many ways, I liked these more than the large-scale subjects of photos.

Next topic! Favorite places and things. Uggghhhhhh, this is my least-favorite thing to talk about, and everyone, everyone asks about it. The thing is, I've been asked "What's your favorite place?" so much that I've actually come up with an answer for it. But I always phrase it as, "If you put a gun up to my head and made me choose a favorite country, I'd say South Africa." And that is true, for the record. I think it's a mix of the fact that I spent more time in South Africa than any other country, and the fact that the percentage of enjoyable days was so high, since I was in Askari for most of it (and Askari may have been my favorite overall activity; in the very least, it provided more wacky anecdotes than anything else), and was in Cape Town - now in my shortlist of "Cities I Genuinely Like". But I genuinely think that choosing a favorite country is a bit of a disservice to the trip as a whole. Hell, I have a hard time deciding whether I like the Kilimanjaro trek or the EBC trek better. So that's why I can only answer those questions with qualifiers. In that particular example, summiting Kilimanjaro was easily the greatest feeling of accomplishment on the trip, mainly because it was so difficult. And, like, Cambodia couldn't be called my favorite place on the trip, but it was definitely the most affecting (I still think vividly about the Killing Fields). It's almost easier to say what my least favorite places were. (For the record, it's Nairobi, Cusco, and China in general.)

My favorite individual spot on the trip would probably be the Outback of Australia. I still remember how impressed I was to see the Valley of the Winds appear before my eyes; it remains one of the few times I literally said "Wow" aloud. If I could augment my body so that I didn't need food or water to stay alive, I would love to just go out in the middle of that and just...wander. Be a part of that landscape. It's so real, and if you don't know what you're doing, you're gonna die. And it definitely fits in with what I've discovered of my preferences on landscapes (well, confirmed more than discovered): I'm a Mountain-and-Desert guy. Even growing up in Southern California, I'm not really a Beaches-and-Islands guy. I like earth. If I were a Planeteer, that would definitely be my element. And it's in those areas that I can do what is probably my favorite activity: walking.

And then, in terms of favorite continent? ...Africa, I guess. Again, I spent the most time there, but I think it's more the fact that I actually felt out of my element. Between all the different continents I went to, it had the fewest amount of other tourists. Like, I talked to backpackers in New Zealand and South America, and it's always the same thing. "Oh, yeah, I'll be going to Southeast Asia on my next trip," or something like that. When I ask about Africa, everyone gets an unsure look on their face. "Uh, maybe, but it's a bit dangerous there." I find it hilarious that these are the same types of people who make fun of others for not wanting to go to Columbia. But even if it was that dangerous there (and I don't think it is), that's part of the fun. And maybe I can say this freely in retrospect, seeing as I never got robbed or attacked, but man, I was walking through the streets of Nairobi and the slums of Johannesburg. Places you literally don't see white people. And everything was fine. And I felt like I was actually traveling places, instead of seeing the same things other backpackers were seeing. And I'm not saying that because I think I'm better than them (I'm not), but just because it felt like these places were truly foreign. And I appreciated that aspect of Africa. But regardless, I did enjoy every continent I've been to, so much so that I couldn't even rank them properly.

In addition to people asking me about my favorite places, one of the other big questions is, "Do you have any travel advice?" After all, I've traveled for a long time; I obviously should have some great insight. But the fact is, it took me a long time to think of any really good advice. And I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating here. It's a two part piece of meta-advice:

  1. Listen to every piece of practical travel advice people give you.
  2. Ignore every piece of philosophical travel advice people give you.
The first part is pretty self-explanatory. Practical travel advice - like "Bring high-quality Ziploc bags with you" - can never steer you wrong, so there's no reason not to listen to it. These are the things you'll find in the back-of-book "Tips and Tricks" sections of travel books, which is a shame, because they should be front and center. What is front and center, unfortunately, is philosophical advice. I've probably bemoaned this stuff, and the people who spew it, enough in this blog, so I'll be brief here. But philosophical travel advice basically tries to tell you why and how you should travel from a mindset perspective. It's the kind of bullshit that says, "Don't plan ahead, only look to today," and "It's not the places you go, but the people you meet, which makes traveling worthwhile." Ignore all of this. It may apply to you, but there's nothing to say that the exact opposite applies to you, and that's equally valid. I even have to caution to ignore anything I may say, because I'll occasionally fall into this trap myself. I can't even in good faith say, "You have to travel; it'll make your life better." It might. I think it most likely would. But everyone is in a different place in their journey through life, so I can't make any blanket statements. So maybe I can give this one other piece of non-advice:
Travel if you feel you are in a time and place to travel. Find your own reasons for doing so. Walk the path that you are to walk. You won't be wrong.
Anyhoo, speaking of advice, do I have any practical tips in terms of equipment? Well, I'll answer that by saying what my most useful pieces of equipment were. I had a 65-liter backpack, so by necessity, I was limited in what I had. Still, a few things turned out to be quite useful.

  • Scottevest Travel Vest: So useful. So useful. So goddamn useful. And it's pretty sleek in design; you don't look like a photographer with a bunch of bulging pockets. But there definitely are pockets - 27, I think - and most of them have zippers. I can't say for certain that the design of this vest kept me from getting pickpocketed, but it definitely didn't hurt. If you feel you can rock a vest - and I've always liked vests - this thing is one of my top choices.
  • My Hat: This one's a bit of a cheat, because of course a hat is important. Still, I really loved my hat, which was a Barmah Squashy Hat in a Bag. Being kangaroo leather, not only was it light, not only was it near-indestructible, not only did it protect me so very well from both sun and rain, but beyond all that, it looked really good. My hat was one of the most iconic parts of my look on this trip. It's easy to find a good-looking baseball cap that doesn't give much sun protection, and you can find a floppy cloth centurion hat that gives total protection but makes you look like a dweeb, but it's hard to find a good middle ground. So I guess I can say, if you can find a hat that you can rock and look good in, that is worth more than anything.
  • CamelBak Two-Liter Bladder: I only had this for the second half of my trip, but boy was it great. If you're gonna be doing treks, it's practically a necessity, but even just walking through towns, it's a great thing to slip into your backpack.
  • Kindle: I don't know if I'll ever be fully into non-physical books, but I cannot ever deny the usefulness of the Kindle. Get one, stock it up with the cheapest collected-works books you can find, and you'll never be bored.
  • Sony DSC-RX100: I'm not specifically saying you should get this camera, but people have asked me about it, and so I figured I'd put it here. This is a point-and-shoot with entry-level DSLR quality photos, and is capable of some absolutely amazing photographs. It also has a entry-level DSLR price; if I didn't know somebody at Sony, I would have paid $650 for this thing new. It also has a rather pitiful optical zoom (only 3x), but even with that, it was a fantastic camera that served me well. (It's also built like a brick, in case you need to defend yourself with it.
  • Quick-Drying Clothes: I won't specifically go into the details, but quick-drying clothes are really useful, especially when you're heading out-of-doors.
  • Android App - WikiVoyage Offline: WikiTravel and WikiVoyage are very useful websites (well, they're pretty much the exact same website, word-for-word), and being able to have the information available to you at a moment's notice, especially when there's no Internet connection, is very useful. It's also good when you are bored, because you can just check out the information of random destinations (or places that you already know, to see how the advice stacks up with what yours would be). There's a few of them available, and as far as I'm aware, none of them are that great. I got the one with a purple logo, which I think has a one-star rating. Still, it's funky but functional, and has served me well. Just make sure you have 850mb available on your phone.
  • Android App - Google Translate: You probably already have this on your phone, but the main takeaway here is that you can download language packs to have offline access to translations. There is almost nothing more useful than this, at least in countries that use the Latin alphabet. In places where the written alphabet is indecipherable, it's still useful, but not nearly so much so.
  • Android App - Some GPS Coordinate App: It doesn't matter which, really. The fact that there is no native program in Android that will flat-out tell you your current coordinates to five decimal places is just baffling. But lemme tell ya, there were several situations where I was in a place that, if I fell and was incapacitated, would take days for people to find me, even if I called them. ("I'm, uhh, in the middle of some trees.") Knowing your exact location could save your life. Also, even in non-life-or-death circumstances, it's fun to know.
And that's all the general stuff I can think of. There are certain items that were more useful in some areas than others, but these I would say are good all-purpose travel items. If you ever are traveling and want some other gear tips, lemme know.

And, in complete change of subject, I also wanted to bring up people. I've said before that, for me on this trip, I didn't believe that people were the thing that mattered most. For me, it was just the experiences, be they in company or alone, which made my trip worthwhile. Having said that, I did meet plenty of people, and had good times with many of them. But if you've been reading along all year, you hardly need me to tell you that. You've seen me write down so many names, you probably don't even remember them all. And in those areas where there were lots of backpackers, I spent plenty of time with them. (Hell, in New Zealand I couldn't stop meeting up with people.)

So I'd like to give a couple quick shout-outs to a few individuals that I think were especially important to meet. They're not all people I spent a lot of time with, or in some cases, even people I liked, but they were the right person to meet at that time on my trip. (And if you're reading this, and I met you on the trip, don't feel bad that you're not on this list. If I listed out all the people that I enjoyed meeting, I would never be able to finish this entry.)
  • Morocco - The Old Man Who Led Me to the Berber House: This was my first real example of getting scammed on my trip, and it happened so early on, that it taught me to be vigilant, which lasted the rest of my trip.
  • Morocco - Mustafa: I would actually say Mustafa was the single most important person I met on this trip. And I only knew him for, like, four hours. After I'd been scammed, I was in the foulest of moods you can imagine. I didn't really want to do anything, and I sure as hell didn't trust anyone. But Mustafa met me and told me he just wanted to talk, and I somehow believed him. And we walked and talked and had some tea together, and then we just parted ways. No exchange of information, nothing, just a handshake. He, to sound trite, somewhat restored my faith in humanity after getting it really shaken. So I'm very happy to have mt him.
  • Tanzania - Dickson: You may not remember Dickson, but he was my taxi driver of choice in Arusha. I know it's weird to name someone like that, but Dickson was a really important person for me at that moment. After I was finished at the orphanage, I didn't know anybody in Arusha, even though I was there for some time before and some time after Kilmanjaro. So in many ways, Dickson was not only a trustworthy and honest taxi driver, but he was also somewhat of a friend in that place and time.
  • South Africa - Lynn and Nevine: Okay, I'm counting these both as one, even though they're two completely different people in two completely different cities. But the time I spent at both of their houses was a wonderful time, and they really did make me feel like a true part of their household (and their life) definitely didn't hurt in terms of making South Africa my favorite country. And in Nevine's case, if he hadn't introduced me to some of his friends going on a day trip up the coast, I would have never gotten into flower photography.
  • Cambodia - Pheap and Awin: I am really grateful to Pheap for being our guide on what may have been the longest cycling trip he's been on (definitely the longest I've been on), and for doing his damnedest to keep my mom and I happy. And while I'd really call Alwin more of an acquaintance than a friend, I cannot deny the fact that when my mom got sick and basically could not go on, he was there with his medical experience and supply kit to help her recover. And he was only on the trip with us for less than one-quarter of the trip, so I thank God that it was during the right quarter. I don't know what wold have happened otherwise, and I'm glad I don't have to.
  • New Zealand - The Lisas, Lee Ann, and Steph: It seems like Te Anau was, in retrospect, my social center of New Zealand. I met so many people there who I would not only travel with, but meet up with later with on the islands. These four, in particular, may not have been the only people I met in New Zealand (boy, were there a lot), but I definitely felt the continuity of meeting them multiple times in separate instances helped provide a feeling of this being a bit more of a unified trip.
  • Bolivia - The Andean Valley Company Folks: This is a bit of a cheat, but I will say that without these people and their generosity in booking activities while I was in Bolivia, my experience there would have been sooooo much more dull. No Carnaval, no Salt Flats, and possibly no Death Road. I didn't know what I was getting into, and they really helped make my stay in Bolivia an enjoyable one. And they were wonderful people to meet, as well!
  • Galapagos - Julie: As I mentioned just a couple entries ago, Julie and I got along really well, and I felt a good connection between us. And she was there when my trip was coming to a close and I was beginning to really have the end-of-adventure feels. She was probably the only person who I would be able to talk openly and honestly about that, so the fact that she was there helped me vocalize my thoughts about the whole situation.
But again, there were dozens, if not hundreds of wonderful people I met. And I keep in touch with a good number of them, and I hope to meet at least some of them sometime in the future. From my friends at Askari, to those I hiked with for weeks at a time, to those I met randomly in some shared room - everyone will occupy some place in my heart. And even those I haven't heard from again, I'll still have long-lasting memories.

Just as I'll have long-lasting memories of this trip.

Now, is there anything about this trip I regret? Actually, yes. Laugh if you will, but I am really disappointed that I didn't get the cool scar I was looking for. I had been mentioning it beforehand and all throughout the trip, but I don't think anyone realized I was serious. I wanted a scar on my face, one that came about from some part of the trip. Cool scars have cool stories, after all. But after coming back, there's something a bit more. When I was traveling, everyone I came in contact with assumed I had seen stuff, because, hey, all travelers have. Most didn't realize the extent of what I've seen/done until I explained, but still, the questions were always asked. Back home, I'm just another guy. Nobody has any reason to start a conversation with "Where ya from?" Nobody has any reason to ask me anything. Man, how smug I would have been if I had to occasionally answer people when they ask "Where'd you get the scar?" So, yeah, I regret that and only that.

But otherwise, I don't regret one damn thing about the trip. I don't regret the places I didn't like, I don't regret the malaria that will keep me from donating blood ever again, I don't regret the fact I had to stop. I had no major objectives here other than to experience things. And I did that in spades. Every place I went was exactly where I needed to be at that time. Every person I met was exactly who I needed to meet. And while I don't think I'm "an entirely different person", I definitely think I'm different. It's more subtle, more subdued than if I came back with dreadlocks and a hemp outfit. I have a bit more appreciation for...well, for everything, I guess you could say.

Last night, one of my best friends asked me what my greatest lesson I learned on this trip is. I didn't know immediately. My answer was long and rambling - I suppose that's my way of filling in time while also figuring out the truth - but it eventually came out to something like the following: All the world, and all the people in it, are ugly and beautiful at once. No place, no person, is greater than anything else. It just is. It all is. I recognize that this may be a bit obtuse, but it actually does fit in with the way I've approached this trip, even if I didn't realize it. The world, as it turns out, just is. And it's up to each of us to see it how we will. In some ways, it's a mirror that reflects our own inner truths back at us.

And while my mirror may have a few cracks here and there, I can't deny I loved looking in it every day.

Now, is this the end of The Wandering Loon forever? Uh, possibly. I might get hit by a bus next week. But, barring that, my general intention is to update this again, sometime in the distant or not-so-distant future, when I travel to some at least somewhat-exotic locale, or do some otherwise heavier-duty wandering. Some of the current ideas I have include going across the United States (I'm thinking of walking, primarily), rafting the entirety of the Amazon River, or maybe going into the borderlands of either Mexico, Canada, or Alaska. I can't promise that it will be for a full year, but I can promise...okay, I can't promise anything, but I hope that when I do that, I'll have the ability to write about it here.

But yeah, that's that. This jackass has been trying to write a travel blog, and this is the result. Was it worthwhile? ........Honestly, I can't think of anything more worthwhile.

Plus, it's been fun. Thanks, all!

No comments:

Post a Comment