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Why travel: Because it makes you stronger

Travel in places unlike home can be challenging at times so remember the saying: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In a letter home from Malaysia I said the three things I hate most in this part of the world are cockroaches, lizards and the heat: “The first two are far too big,” I wrote, “and the latter unbelievable—the kind of heat that melts you in five minutes.”

Travellers, of course, love to share their “war” stories. A favourite of mine is about a three-day boat trip we took from Indonesia to Singapore (it happened a long time ago). The ship was headed to Mecca. It was packed. When it was time to disembark, a wooden gangplank was lowered way offshore and we were told to jump to rowboats bobbing in the ocean far below. Men moved in behind us, pushing us, searching our pockets and bags for stuff to steal. There was panic and much screaming, with passengers falling into the sea along with their luggage. We had been warned, however, and our valuables were hidden in waterproof bags buried deep in our packs. But it was a memorable and not at all pleasant journey.

Recent travel through Morocco was much easier than anticipated. I’d heard stories about the souks and the young men who would drive us crazy asking to be our guide. Young men did approach us and one even told me that I would be “really, really sorry” for turning down his offer to show us through the medina but his threats were rather tame. Maybe it’s because everything is rather tame after India. Also, I visited Morocco in January when it’s not packed with tourists and probably more relaxed.

India is one of those countries that tests you regularly, probably because it stimulates so many senses. It’s not necessarily the big things that get to you. I remember being really turned off because of mothballs in the shower drain at one hotel. But when I moved to another hotel that there were no mothballs and a toad hopped out of the drain I thought: What else? 

It can be tough to walk down a street and not just be part of the crowd. For many of us that is a new experience for we’re not use to being a visible minority. Locals will sometimes follow you, want to be your friend, ask to have their picture taken with you, touch your hair.

Learning about different cultures is why we ride the bus, it’s why we haggle in local markets over “best price, best price”. Still, world travel can test you and the encounters can be unexpected. Sometimes you’ll need to escape to your hotel or hostel for a breather. But in no time at all you’ll be rested and ready to be on the road again.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2011

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