What we’re doing is sharing our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd favorite travel memories before passing it on to another blogger to do the same (and so on and so on). The team with the longest chain wins the contest (and a mini prize) along with bragging rights.
As much as the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is about the journey, it’s hard to deny how special a destination it is. For me, this spiritual journey, complete with aching feet, medieval villages, and beautiful Spanish countryside culminated, as it does for all pilgrims, in the city of Santiago de Compostela. My arrival was filled with emotion, a moment I had thought about every day as I walked the nearly 1,000 km. Experiencing this moment together with my Swiss friend, with whom I forged a 40-day walking relationship, only made the moment more powerful. In Santiago, I’d tried to downplay the significance of my arrival at the cathedral, but I wasn’t able to convince myself that the moment wasn’t extraordinary.
I don’t ever remember crying at the top of any mountain. But I did on top of Emei Shan when the fog blew off the peak and opened up a view out above a soft layer of clouds. This is the view normally reserved for those flying at 30,000 ft. Huge peaks in the distance stabbed through the cloud layer. Even as the masses arrived on top of this popular sacred Buddhist mountain of China, I felt like I was alone. Knowing that every single one of them rode a combination of bus/train/cable car to this point made this moment even more exceptional for me, who hiked the two days and thousands of stone steps through the cold fog up 2,000 meters of elevation to get here.
One late afternoon I was driving a motorbike down a dirt road between villages in northern Cambodia, outside the city of Kampong Cham. As an old woman on the side of the road motioned to me, I slowed down wondering what she could possibly want. I came to a complete stop and she just got on the back of my scooter. I continued driving and she tapped me on the shoulder a couple of miles down the road where I let her off.
What seemed like a totally typical thing to do for this woman and quite ordinary for some Cambodian motorbike drivers ended up being one of my most memorable moments in southeast Asia. The act was extremely simple and could have been forgettable to some, but for me it was huge. It represented two things. One, that the Cambodian people had accepted me, some foreigner, as one of their own. They respected me enough to ask for a simple favor. Two, it proved that this woman and I were able to communicate without speaking one another’s language.