Many travelers are in search of the most authentic experiences possible. Some will boast about roughing it or being invited into a stranger’s home, others will stay put in a small rural village for days and weeks, board out of their minds, only to prove their determination to get under the skin of a particular place. All of us crave finding those experiences that are both real and different from what we’re accustomed at home, that’s why we travel.
The Good: Lesotho. We drove our way into Lesotho to enjoy a few days in the mountains with the intention of finding the authentic Lesotho experience. We certainly had no idea what that might be but we happened upon the Malealea Lodge in Lesotho (at the direction of EVERY guidebook we found) and wondered how it could be considered an authentic experience when everyone went to the same place. When we arrived we found a lodge nestled in the mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of the city, co-existing with the local village in a way we didn’t find anywhere else in the world. This lodge employed local people, offered ways to meet and talk to local villagers, and give back without harming the community. When four of us decided to go on a hike without a guide eventually got quite lost and were ultimately forced to ask for help in returning home. The man we got that help from wore full ‘tribal’ clothes, spoke no English, and communicated with us using and signals and gestures. Still we were able to share jokes and take photos together, perhaps enriching his memories as much as our own. It was a complete The Gods Must be Crazy experience and one that I will never forget.
The Bad: China. Tibet is one of those magical places that captures the soul of everyone who has ever uttered its name. We wanted to go to Tibet with a burning passion but the realities of Chinese politics make that extremely difficult. We planned to try our luck anyway when we began to learn of Tibetan villages and cities outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region. We were able to work a visit to these areas into our trip and once there really felt as though we were in Tibet. One city, Xi’ahe, holds one of the most important monasteries for Tibetan Buddhism and we were able to tour its riches and see for ourselves every bit of the Tibet shown to us in Brad Pitt’s Seven Years in Tibet. Why is this in the “bad” section of this post, you might be asking? That’s because we felt the grip of the government and saw repression in action. A people who received a new road so they could watch the army come to town. Over a dozen police officers barging into our hostel to harass the owners for paperwork, no doubt related to our presence. A history of foreigners being run out of town by the officials for fear of seeing what happens on a bad day.
The Ugly: India – Sometimes we have a tendency to dwell this ugly section and put only completely negative experiences here. In hindsight, this experience is one of courage, determination and outright stupidity. We rode the trains in Mumbai! We rode them at rush hour, in the morning and in the night. Dozens of urban commuters packed like sardines in a space meant for ten. Pressed human mass that joins together like the water in a wave to spit people out at the appropriate stops. It took strength to push through that sweaty multitude of flesh and a good bath to cleanse myself and get ready to do it the next day. I played Rugby nearly the entire time I was in college, I think to prepare for the three days I spent riding the trains of Mumbai.
This column of ishouldlogoff.com aims to answer those questions that we always get asked. What was your favorite this, or your worst that. We aim to highlight a new topic and will do so until we run out of ideas. If you have an idea for a Good-Bad-Ugly post, feel free to tell us in the comment section below or send us an email. To read all of them, click here.
Indian Train Photo Courtesy of flickr user archer10 through a creative commons license.
Photo Credit: Train station by Flickr user Biel Calderon