I get asked this question a lot. The answer?
The people we’ve met.
People like our friend MP (Mahipal Singh) in Rishikesh, India, who picked us up at the airport, at night, drove us to our apartment, and then went back to his restaurant, cooked us dinner, and delivered it us. We met MP on our first trip to India in 2007 and we’ve been friends ever since. He is simply the best.
People like Tirlok Negi who set us up with a room for our first month in Rishikesh in a guesthouse he and his partner had just purchased. Their plan was to add a rooftop restaurant and turn the place into a a full service hotel. We spent time together planning the room service menu. A month after we departed he sent us photos of the completed work and it was an amazing transformation.
People like Bob Sujeet who stopped his truck and picked us up hitchhiking and gave us a ride through the jungle in Raiwala, on our first visit to the hospice house, so we wouldn’t risk being attacked by leopards or something. The jungle borders Rajaji National Park. Bob is a young entrepreneur who reminded me of myself when I was in my 20’s. He very ambitious, has various businesses in the Rishikesh area, employs a lot people and owns many trucks for his wedding event business. A few weeks later he invited me to work out at his newly opened gym with a free membership.
People like Mayank R. who struck up a conversation with me on the brutal bus ride from Rishikesh to Dehradun. Speaking perfect English, we hit it off and talked the whole way there. Once we arrived he put his plans on hold and offered to help us get lunch, find the way to Big Bazaar shopping store and show us around. We exchanged numbers and later that month we got together for coffee. I met him at the bus station after work one day and we ended up on the banks of the Ganga for sunset. He is studying to learn a 3rd language and hopes to work one day in the diplomatic corps for India.
People like Ramesh in Tiruvannamalai, India, whose mission it is to build and manage small village schools in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty in rural India. He gives his time freely and led us on a guided circumambulation, at night, around Mt. Arunachala. A few days later he hiked the mountain with us during the day. He asks for nothing in return. Last I heard he was visiting Germany giving a presentation to group of potential donors.
People like Vino in Ella, Sri Lanka. Always wearing a smile and ready to take us anywhere we wanted to go, on a minutes notice, in his tuk-tuk. He cooked us breakfast everyday at our guesthouse. He invited us to his humble home where we met his wife and 3 boys. They gave us cooking lessons and we shared a big Sunday dinner with them on one of their biggest holidays.
People like Bo Liu and her husband Stone in Chiang Mai, Thailand who rented us an apartment for a month. Stone gifted us with an original painting he had done which eerily resembled the view out our living room window in Webster. We spent time with Bo talking all things Yoga and Chi Kung, drinking tea and snacking on biscuits. They are early retirees from China now living in Chiang Mai.
People like Michelle Tang in Saigon, Vietnam who shared her home with us for week. We spent many hours relaxing and having great conversations – everything from her family’s businesses to the ins and outs of Vietnamese culture. She gave us some great local tips and brought us tons of local fruit and cake to try. Our visit was topped off with a visit to a vegetarian restaurant on our final night in Vietnam.
People like Yvonne and GB in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia who rented us an awesome apartment and welcomed us with a spread of local food after we settled in. Later in the week they took us under their wing and brought us out to the night market where we tried many different foods, some of which we had no idea what they were. We even tried Durian. They kept in close contact of the course of our 2 months there, offering suggestions and invitations to join them for many local experiences. We really connected with them and were fortunate to have them just a phone call away. We learned so much about Malaysia and it’s culture.
People like Maria Elena and family in Loja, Ecuador. When you book an AirBnb you really never know what to expect. Sometime we get to meet the host, or owners and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes they like to visit and talk and connect, sometimes they are busy living their lives. Maria Elena and her entire family connected with us. We’ve been to the annual festival with them and been to their home for dinner twice already. They have recommended lot’s to do and see. One night they even invited us to their steam room, complete with fresh picked Eucalyptus. And by the way the AirBnb apartment is great!
People like Carlos and Marcella in Sao Paulo, Brazil who gave us so many great suggestions on what to see in their city. It made our experience there really great. Live music, cool areas to walk through, foods to try, churches, markets and more. Carlos is a professional drummer so we have many conversations about all things music. We listened to some famous Brazilian singers on his turntable. He and Marcella made our stay in Brazil special.
People like Peter in Cape Town, South Africa who we hired for a guided hike up Table Mountain. He was full of information about the area and the mountain. We traded travelling stories for most of the day as he led us to the summit and back. We joined him for a large group hike later in the week.
People like Sheldon, a local guide in Cape Town, South Africa who hung back with us on an early evening hike one day and then gave us a lift back into town. We got to know his personal story, what motivated him to become a guide, and received some really interesting historical background of South Africa.
Basanta at You & I restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal who patiently spent 2 days teaching us to cook Nepali dishes, all prepared from scratch. We ate here many times during our visit to Pokhara. He and his wife invited us on a Sunday outing across the lake.
People like Michael and Debbie Campbell, a retired couple we met at the war Remembrance Museum in Saigon, Vietnam. I struck up a conversation with them. They retired 5 years ago, sold everything, and have been travelling ever since – wow. They are 4 years ahead of us and we’ll never catch up 🙂 They been to at least 50 countries. We shared travel stories and tips. Here’s their website.
People like Weena Yogasana in Chiang Mai, Thailand who relocated her Yoga studio to right outside of our apartment building. We signed up and went to class every day and they were some of the most challenging classes I’ve ever experienced. She has a great sense of humor and is a hard core Yogi. We had a blast practicing with her Yoga community and her husband John. She treated us to lunch on our last weekend in Thailand.
People like Sheeba in Kochi, India who hosted us for a week in her home. We got to spend an evening learning to cook some local dishes.
People like Nani Ma (and the entire staff) at Ganga Prem Hospice in Rishikesh, who has dedicated her life to spiritual practice and serving others. The beautiful, brand new hospice house on the banks of the Ganga is a testament to what can be accomplished with a life of service and devotion. I volunteered here leading Yoga and meditation, visiting with patients and even spent a few shifts in the kitchen. This experience touched me so much that it is a place I would return to and volunteer in the future.
People like Swami Kapilji and everyone at the Shree Swaminarayan English Medium School campus in Vapi, who welcomed us into their community, housed and fed us for 10 days, and gave me one of the most memorable experiences of my life. We toured the entire campus meeting and talking with staff and students. We travelled to remote village schools with them. We took part in some amazing events including a wedding for 50+ couples that lasted for 8 hours and included dancing in the streets, literally. This experience touched me so much that it is a place I would return to and volunteer in the future.
People like Hartanto Gunawan at Wat Arun Rajvararam (Temple of Dawn) Community Learning Centre in Bangkok, Thailand who gave up his career as a CEO, became a monk, and then started a school for needy youths and children vulnerable to human trafficking or domestic violence. After meeting him and talking about meditation for quite a while, we stayed in touch and made arrangements to meet with him again and learn more about Buddhist meditation. This experience touched me so much that it is a place I would return to and volunteer in the future.
Yes, there are a lot of nice temples, and waterfalls, and mountains, and beaches, and mosques, and rivers, and cities, and countryside, and shops. But meeting and connecting with other people from other cultures is really the best thing about travelling for me. We’re finishing up our year and have about a month remaining before we return to NH on 11/1. I hope to connect with you once we’re back.