Thailand Part II: Conquerors of the Useless

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After all of that, I found myself asking the same questions everyone else was asking me. If I could go back, would I still do it? After such a miserable experience will I ever travel somewhere exotic ever again? If I had just stuck to all-inclusive resorts in Florida or Carnival cruise ships it is almost guaranteed I would be safe and always feel relaxed. By the way, since the week between writing part I and II of this blog, another person has asked if I have seen the horror movie Hostelin response to me telling them I went to Thailand.

Last year after I canceled my flight home from Costa Rica for the second time I was having a disagreement with a loved one back home. She was upset because a ten-day trip had turned into a trip with no return flight home. I apologized and said, “You don’t understand, this is my passion” she replied, “Everyone has a passion for vacation Derick”. Let me explain something, especially to my fellow Americans.

When I was in Costa Rica, Thailand, and living out of my car, those weren’t vacations. That was backpacking. Vacationing and backpacking are complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

Vacation is a straight hallway with white walls and florescent light ceiling. It is when you need a break from your routine life so you get a hotel on the beach in Florida, have some drinks, get a suntan and return home with only a different hue than when you left. Backpacking is a winding rocky trial on the side of a cliff unable to see around the turn ten feet in front of you. Backpacking is scary, enlightening, dirty, gratifying and uncomfortable. Traveling to other countries scares me and to some extent it always will, but each time I visit another country it becomes less fearful then the last. The fear of the unknown is ingrained in humans and it is completely natural.

I remember the first night I ever stayed in a hostel in Portland Oregon sharing bunk beds and showers with complete strangers freaked me out. I slept with my cell phone, wallet and car keys hugged to my chest. As I discovered, hostels are one of the most incredible parts of traveling. Strangers a lot of times turned into friends for life. There was Kunal and Sinje from Germany whom I both met in hostels and partnered up with to travel ten days plus together. There were Sam and Dan from Scotland, two of the most outrageous guys I’ve ever met who I island hopped with in southern Thailand and got into more trouble with then I will write about publicly. Alex, a genuine human being I briefly met in Acadia National park, Maine while completing my final corner of the United States in my car who six months later happened to be in Bangkok the same time I arrived and showed us the ropes of how to get around Thailand. I can never return the favor to him for all the advice he gave me.  Dylan and Jacob from Australia whom I spontaneously spent a lonely Christmas with….I could keep going.  I never knew what sort of character from what country I was going to be able to have a beer with each night. I have never once felt threatened or unsafe in a hostel. Keep in mind this is not an excuse to be naïve. Where else can you think of that you can sit down in a circle of young people from literally all over the world at the same time and have intellectual conversations on politics, stereotypes, and beliefs? I’ve only found this this magic in a run down building tucked in the back of a dirt road with hardly noticeable sign(need a better way to phrase the sign) , that stuffs 14 people in one room full of bunks and one bathroom for ten bucks a night.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”-Mark Twain.

 

Yvon Chouinard the founder of the clothing company Patagonia once said that mountain climbers were nicknamed “the conquistadores of the useless”. He said of course the end result of mountain climbing is completely useless but on each climb he always learned something about himself and came down a better person.

“Taking a trip for six months, you get in the rhythm of it. It feels like you can go on forever doing that. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high-powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, and you know, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.” –Yvon Chouinard, 180 degrees south

I have always returned home from backpacking a different and better human being. Traveling has been the ultimate exposure therapy for my depression and anxiety. It has made me a more patient and empathetic human. I do not give much credit to the beautiful Facebook picture worthy scenery. Absolutely not, the uncomfortable experiences of traveling, everything you DON’T see on my Instagram, is what has molded me into who I am and continue to change to be. The pain and suffering makes those incredible picturesque moments that much sweeter, as if I’ve earned it.

People would see my pictures and say how jealous they were as if I lived in this fantasy. The truth is, for every incredible moment I experienced there was the other side of the coin that had some sort of fear, pain, or risk attached to it. By the time I reached the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I hadn’t showered in two days. My ass hurt from traveling for hours on end, planes, taxis…the back of some random guys truck that speaks broken English and smoked a spliff while driving us two hours through the jungle to the sanctuary. Some questionable food had my stomach turning and the only bathroom was a hole in the ground. I felt disgusting and defeated…but then, the next moment I’m running down hill with a group of elephants and into the river to swim with them. All that thinking washes away, and all I can feel is, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced. It was consistent pattern. It happened when I went scuba diving on the island of Koh Phi Phi. Anticipation and fear were drowned 60 feet under the ocean and a meditative Zen was all I could feel. Paying six bucks to drive a motorbike through heavy traffic that follows the opposite side of the road than I’m used to.

I have this theory, and it is only my theory. I believe our physical minds have been reinforced for thousands and thousands of years of evolution to protect us from nature. By this I mean anxiety and fear are programmed in our DNA to save our lives from real danger. The problem is evolution takes a very long time to adapt and our physical environment has changed drastically especially in the past 200 years. Our instinctive minds cannot process modern life and technology. It is as if we’ve put ourselves in captivity, like a lion in the zoo. We have made ourselves so absolutely comfortable and complacent meanwhile our ancient mind is still trying to protect us the way it has for thousands of years. This conflict then causes irrational anxiety to harmless everyday modern situations, and then over a long enough span I believe depression is born as a conclusion. I believe this because when I get in a repetitive routine, when I’m comfortable and should be relaxed is when I struggle the most. When I take myself out of my element and into the “wild”, when my mind is stimulated with new views, accents, tastes and smells and feelings something happens. My life spectrum goes from grey to darker shades and with darker shades comes the lightest of light I could ever imagine except for in books and movies. I find I am closer to myself then at any other moment.

“The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul”…”But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast” –The Prophet

 

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