I just got back from seven days in rural Mongolia, and am about 5 weeks into a round-the-world trip. Truthfully, so far this whole trip has been pretty surreal. A lot of the time it feels like a bizarre dream, and I have to remind myself to be present or I’ll miss it.
My first three weeks, spent in Russia, were really interesting, as well as really tough. I didn’t find Russia to be an easy place to travel – while a few people went out of their way to help me, many more were categorically unhelpful, and I received many more “Nyet’s” than I did anything else – Nyet meaning “No,” and no went for just about everything – “No, we don’t have this to eat.” “No, you can’t get a train ticket.” “No, I don’t know where that place is.” I don’t write this to be negative, but I’ll admit that my travel through Russia was somewhat marked by the level of ‘Nyet’s’ as opposed to the amazing things I was seeing. I definitely found Russia fascinating, and the landscape vast and beautiful, but, and I don’t know if this should be surprising or not, it was definitely a challenging place to travel, at least for me.
Mongolia has been the opposite – my brief two weeks here have been wonderful. I’ve fallen for Ulaanbatar, a city I was warned was a cross between hideous and get-the-hell–out…But I’ve found Ulannbatar fascinating, as if it’s a city that hasn’t quite decided what it really wants to be yet. It’s bursting at the seams, and growing faster than it seems to be able to really handle – there are new, half-built buildings everywhere, and people from every corner of the globe. It’s a big, sprawling, bustling, lively, chaotic place, and I’m a pretty big fan of it. It feels alive, as if the city itself is breathing and evolving – I like the chaos and the people and the movement of this place.
The last eight days I spent in rural Mongolia, on a trip with three other travelers from Holland and France. The landscape here is unendingly spectacular – our driver would take us into valleys that went on for hours, passing herds of wild yaks, sheep and horses, as Mongolian nomads moved these massive herds along mountaintops and into canyons. We slept in traditional yurts and ate much more sheep than seems normal or healthy, and mainly reveled in the beauty and vastness of it all – and that was just a small slice of the diverse landscape that is Mongolia.
Now, I’m off to Beijing, China, for another stretch of the unknown. I’ll be the first to admit, while I love traveling, I am simultaneously challenged by it and find myself homesick. While I have already met a lot of amazing people, everyone is comparably transient to myself – as soon as I meet one person, they are on a plane, train or bus to the next place, just as I am. And while a lot of the people I have met are in similar places in life to me (they have quit jobs, packed up homes, and bought one-way tickets), they are also in the midst of seeking out new places, new opportunities, and the next adventure, just as I am.
Before I left for this trip, I had mixed expectations. Partially, I simply knew I couldn’t be behind a desk anymore, at least for a while. Part of me simply wanted to travel, at my leisure. A lot of me hoped I would find “something” that I was looking for – the right fit of a career, perhaps, something that just felt organic and natural. I realize it hasn’t been a lot of time – and I’m ultimately responsible for creating change in my life – but thus far, this trip hasn’t given me that sort of clarity. It’s been beautiful, and fascinating, and challenging—but I suppose I’m still hoping for a moment where things crack open or become clearer, a thing that I realize might or might not happen.
All the same, I have no regrets about my decision to come. Before getting on my plane to Russia I braced myself for periods of loneliness, for times when I wondered what/why I was doing this – and those moments don’t come as a surprise to me. My ambition, to somehow channel this trip into a life and livelihood that is somewhat more sustainable than the one I felt I was living – that still looms large. This trip might or might not be what it takes to figure out that balance — or, I might change and not require that shift upon return. In the end, if its ‘just’ a trip, than I will have no regrets – and if it does turn out to lead me to a new phase, a phase that walks that fine line between those things we love to do and those things we must do, well then, all the better.
I’ll be off to China in a few days. As online censorship in the country is fierce, my access will likely be limited. But I’m looking forward to traveling down the Yangtze River, climbing up Mount Cangyanshan, and hitting up the town of Lijiang. And, here’s hoping for fewer periods of lonely and greater moments of growth!