Because this blog is ostensibly about travel, it’s hard to write about not-travel, about staying put. But it is also about getting lost and boy, are we getting that in spades, at least in terms of disorientation. We’re literally in suspense, as our feet rarely touch the ground these largely indoor and balcony days, as well as the figurative sense of not knowing what the future holds. What (I hope) our years of travel have given us is a sense of and talent for improvisation, a certain acceptance of how things are in any given moment, and less of an attachment of how things should or ought to be. I very much like the Rick Steves quote: if you don’t get what you like, change what you like. We have very few nonnegotiables after 10 years of traveling, and an exaggerated sense of delight when things are nice. I hope this continues to serve us well as we enter this new phase of no-one-knows.
I think we all know people who acquire with age such an agglomeration of likes, dislikes, and musts for their happiness that it becomes a sort of brittle shell. If you let it, travel dissolves that. But western standards follow western travelers like a virus (shall we say?) You’re traveling to a poor region, but you insist on having fluffy towels that are changed everyday? As the kids say these days: stay the f*ck @ home. And what is a cruise ship if not an enormous bubble of western swaddle to protect you from ever leaving your comfort zone, plus a side dish of the controlled exotic? (I’m done now, don’t worry. End of generalized rant. Some of my favorite people have taken fabulous cruises.)
I’ve been thinking of the future of tourism, about how enlightening travel can be and also how destructive. I’ve been thinking about the small inn we stayed at in Cambodia that felt the need to install hot running water and showers in the bathrooms when the Cambodian way to bathe is to pour cool water over yourself from a giant urn. All that infrastructure to attract and appease the western tourist. About the tour guide we hired to show us the temple complex of Angkor Wat, who, when I told him we had a beetle-obesessed nephew, made a point of finding all kinds of specimens for me to photograph as we walked the wooded paths between temples. He mentioned that after their father was killed by a land mine, he and his brothers caught and ate insects. We found a restaurant in Siam Reap whose mission was training at-risk youth for jobs in the hospitality industry. Insects were on the menu, I ordered and ate them. Silkworm larvae are delicious; creamy and chewy (sorry). Red ants are spicy and crunchy. What will happen to those kids, our tour guide in this great pause, this collective holding of breath? (The cruise industry can go to hell.)
I’ve long had a fondness for reading about and traveling to extinct empires. I figure it’s good training for not taking your current position too seriously. And I’m thankful that we woke up one morning about 10 years ago and said someday is now. Or as Mark recently said, Today! It’s the new tomorrow!
The Siam Reap bathroom. You might not think this is a lot of infrastructure and luxury, but for a country like Cambodia it sure is. This is a place where gas is sold in any old kind of bottle by the side of the road.
It’s the failure of the water heater here in our Montpellier flat that has brought on this wander through my mind. Our landlord has coronavirus (a mild case thankfully), he’s nonetheless been attempting to get it fixed. We’re nonplussed about it. We’ll bathe Cambodian style and consider ourselves lucky to not be fussed about such a thing.
May your worries be few!