One of my happiest memories: sailing down the Laotian stretch of the Mekong River in a wooden boat with nothing but a tiny backpack for a three-week long trip.
I made the trip a little over four years ago, to escape (or maybe alleviate) a particularly acute episode of existential depression. The circumstances of my life then were stellar: I was studying and teaching philosophy, living in a studio apartment of my own right across the university, with enough time and resources to indulge my passions for languages, literature, meditation, travel, volunteerism and yoga.
And yes, I was depressed.
Nothing is as depressing as getting depressed without cause.
So when the semester ended, I packed five shirts, three pairs of pants, a sufficient amount of underwear and a camera into my Jansport backpack (yes, the kind that students bring to school; not even the kind that backpackers use—the ones that can carry tents and stoves and possibly even a urinal) and flew to Bangkok for the start of a three-week sojourn through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
(One of the interesting things about traveling through Southeast Asia is the cognitive dissonance that comes from journeying through a landscape remarkably similar to one’s native environs, and then finding lots of things that just don’t…fit. Like encountering temples instead of churches; or trishaws instead of tricycles.)
Nothing profoundly memorable occurred during that trip; there were no jaw-dropping encounters with architectural, cultural or natural wonders. But I remember being nourished by many, many tiny moments of grace: trekking to Kuang Xi Falls, biking through Vang Vieng, wandering around Hanoi, and certainly, boating down the Mekong. There was just enough familiarity to everything that I could be put at ease, and just enough novelty that I could revel in the anonymity granted to the stranger.
In other words, I could just be.
Funny how I have to travel so far just to be who I am.