Last night, I had a dream. I was sitting in the main square of Amman, the capital of Jordan, listening in fascination to an elderly man playing the oud (a musical instrument commonly used in Persian / Arabic music) to no particular audience. Genetu, a friend from the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, joined me for a while, then insisted that we go on a short hike near his village (in Ethiopia of course). So we did, and as we huffed up a cliff, I spotted a giraffe in the distance… in what seemed like the bush in South Africa!
By the time I woke up from such a surreal yet vivid dream, I was filled with a yearning for the places of my past.
Every time I look at a world map – and I’ve been looking at one pretty often since I discovered Trover, a social network for travellers to share hidden gems from around the globe – there are certain places that jump out at me; places where I see a past version of me. I can almost hear my indigenous Quechua friend explaining how a famous waterfall in Ecuador is actually alive, smell the apple-scented smoke from a shisha in the vastness of the Wadi Rum, and feel the crisp air as I cycle in the Slovenian Alps.
As Pascal Mercier once wrote: We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.
So this post is dedicated to all the countries I need to go back to and find parts of me I left behind… (see my entire list of Places I’d Love To Go Back To on Trover; it’s geotagged to all my favorite spots in each country). These countries are the ones that, thankfully, make me feel like even though I don’t belong anywhere in particular, I belong everywhere:
You know that giraffe I dreamt about in the South African bush? It wasn’t entirely a figment of my dreams; I first saw it, most unexpectedly, from the window of my lodge at a game reserve near Johannesburg, munching on leaves right in my backyard. Amazed, I ran out and we gazed into each other’s eyes a while… then I saw his family (presumably) join him for what seemed like their evening snack 😉
South Africa was love at first sight. The impossible beauty of mist-engulfed Table Mountain, wild ostriches and African penguins near Cape Town, unexpected friendships in the township of Mamelodi, road tripping along the stunning Swatberg mountains… there is just so much I need to go back for!
Living for a couple of weeks in the last house in one of the last villages (before the border of Russia) in the Caucasus Mountains, I think I lost track of time and the outside world. As temperatures dropped, the leaves turned a delicate yellow, red and orange; the apples in the neighbours’ front yards ripened to a juicy red; and everyone came out of their homes to dig out potatoes from their fields. Then one morning, I woke up to snowflakes falling gently on the vast mountains, and everything around me was enveloped in white – surreal and breathtaking!
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I first fell in love with Georgia in 2014; I thought this trip would give me some closure, but as I hiked past mountain villages forgotten by time, felt drawn in by a remote monastery with a priest vowed to silence, and stood longingly at Georgia’s border with South Ossetia, I knew my affair with the Caucasus was far from over.
See: Dreaming of Georgia (my geotagged collection of the country’s best kept secrets on Trover)
Life as a digital nomad is not always easy. Sometimes payments don’t arrive on time, sometimes words fail me, sometimes I just question my entire lifestyle. On days like that, I close my eyes and transport myself to the shores of Lake Atitlan. That feeling of jumping early morning into the clear blue waters, in the backdrop of three stunning volcanoes, as fishing canoes row along… that feeling reassures me that I’ll be okay. I’ll have to be, because sooner than later, I have to make my way back to what feels like my place on earth.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina was never really on my Europe wishlist; to me, it was merely the country with a hard-to-pronounce last name, until I met a Bosnian couple on the Croatian countryside, and spent four straight hours chatting with them about everything from Bosnia’s painful civil war to the similarity between Slavic and Sanskrit languages. Their warmth and generosity convinced me to drop all my plans and travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And so I did, even if impulsively and short on time. The night I arrived, I was in a somewhat disoriented state of mind as I quietly ate dinner in a small cafe by River Una. A middle-aged man sat next to me, and started telling me about the sad state of employment in the country… then offered to pay for my dinner which I had finished before we got chatting! Despite a language barrier, I struck up many unexpected friendships, heard heartbreaking stories of the war, and discovered magnificent waterfalls, rivers and hiking trails – without a sign or another soul around.
I yearn to go back, before it’s pristine beauty and friendly locals put it prominently on Europe’s tourism map.
My first trip to Ethiopia didn’t quite turn out the way I expected it to. I didn’t budget right, I didn’t do enough travel research, and despite having grown up in India, I wasn’t ready to confront the economic disparities. Yet I have some fond memories of the time I spent there – the local boys I hiked with in the impossibly beautiful Simien Mountains; the lady I broke injera and chugged homemade fermented barley beer with, in her round rammed-earth home; the priest (and part-time guide) I explored the underground churches of Lalibela with… and all the beyayenetus (fasting food platters) I relished.
I like to think I’m a more mature traveller now, and long to go back to spend time learning about the fascinating way of life of the tribes in the south and journey to the Danakil Depression – the hottest place on earth.
I recently set the world record for the shortest stay in the Maldives – 24 hours! It so happened that my flights couldn’t be organized as planned, and I already had an onward one. So I arrived in the late evening, kissed the turquoise waters with my eyes, spoke at the World Travel Writers Conference, and left. I promised to go back someday, but that promise slipped to the back of my mind.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you probably know I’m having a tough time deciding where to travel next, somewhere it’s not too cold, somewhere not too far from India. But last week, while browsing travel discoveries on Trover, I stumbled upon a picture of bioluminescent plankton on a beach in the Maldives… and impulsively booked a (super cheap) one-way flight with my partner to Male! My Maldives wishlist has grown since, to include SUPing, ecolodges with conservation programs and snorkeling with whale sharks and manta rays. Hopefully we’ll find an affordable guesthouse or Airbnb and live out the island dream.
See: All my Maldives’ finds (so far) on Trover
I still look back at my month in Ecuador with wonder and awe. Hiking solo amid the breathtaking beauty of the majestic Andes, on little-known trails, without another soul in sight and without a hint of fear for my safety, felt meditative and incredibly liberating. Hearing stories of living waterfalls and extinct creatures from my Quechua host family, while feasting on quinoa and oatmeal soups (I learnt that their diet has traditionally been vegan) transported me to a world I hadn’t traversed before. Then deep in the Amazon rainforest, I had a near life-changing experience that I’m not entirely ready to post about yet… perhaps because I left behind a part of me that I can only find when I go back.
Win 1500$ to travel!
Heads up: Trover is running a cool contest, giving away a 1500$ Expedia travel prize to one lucky winner. All you have to do is sign up on Trover, and share your favorite desserts / sweet treats from around the world with #SweetSpot – enter now!
Contest ends Nov 27th. See the terms and conditions here. Good luck!
Which places around the world would you love to go back to someday?
Note: I’m collaborating all month with Trover to share cool contests and hidden gems from around the world!
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