I began this adventure with no clue of where I would go, except for the first city listed on my plane ticket. I had no idea how long this trip would take, nor where it would take me to. However, this uncertainty was not pulling me back, rather it was encouraging me to go forth and just do it. 1 year and 7 months later, after hitchhiking more than 70,000km on the road across the world, I have returned to the very place where it all began. Finally, I am back in Singapore (with a little sniff of sadness, maybe).
Looking back at the route that I took, I could not imagine what 70,000km really meant, until I did a quick Google search. In 70,000km, you could circle the Earth’s equator almost twice. Alternatively, you could take two return flights on the world’s longest flight from Singapore to New York. You could also drive 15 times coast to coast in the United States, or walk 8 times along the entire length of the Great Wall of China. It never felt so far while I was on the road, but looking back it was indeed a long, long journey!
To get around the world, I swore never to take a bus or train. All 70,000km of road was done either by walking or hitchhiking. It sounds crazy, but I felt that it was a great way to meet local people and embrace various lifestyles. To me, travel was never about the end destination. Taking photos of nature and cities was fun, but it was never my purpose of travel. Rather, the journey in itself was what I craved for, and what I truly enjoyed. I enjoyed the conversations with people, the intense cultural exchanges and the unimaginable dramas. This epic road journey was always done around people, all 70,000km of it.
One of the greatest takeaways from such a journey is the realization that we are a lot more similar than different, regardless of where we live. Indeed, culture, religion, language and history shape how we think and behave, but deep down inside we were all created the same. In every country that I visited, I always met people eager to invite me home. In Central Asia, they believed that a guest was a gift from Allah. As for Central America, they believed in a warm welcome for foreigners to their countries. Whereas in the land of the Incas, it was an honor to be able to share with a guest. The reasons may be different, but the instincts were always the same.
However, I also looked forward to seeing the subtle differences among people. I enjoyed the fact that we are unique beings, with little eccentricities that we are secretly proud of. Once, a driver picked me up and we drove to meet his family, who lived along the way. I said “hi” to his wife and child, and we continued on with our journey. At our final destination, he brought me home again to meet his family. Initially I was confused, but when it turned out to be a different wife and child, it all become clear. In another instance, a lady picked me up and invited me to her house. As we arrived, her beautiful wife and mother-in-law warmly welcomed me. We shared meals, went on a road-trip and even had a thermal bath together! Though it might sound strange, it certainly did not feel strange at all. Rather, I really enjoyed my time with the three ever-so-optimistic, laughing ladies!
Of course, no epic adventure is complete without some kind of drama. I doubt few people have been surrounded by policemen armed with rifles, spiked batons and floodlights in the middle of the night for wild camping. And later having to walk an hour back to the city with the police car just behind you. I also had the privilege to be pointed at with a pistol two seconds after I got into a car. Before I entered, the driver asked why I was hitchhiking in such a dangerous place (I was in the mountains in the south of Colombia, which was the stronghold of a Colombian terrorist group). I replied that I had faith in Colombian people and that I was not scared! After he pulled the pistol on me, he asked if I was scared. Hell yeah I was scared. Thankfully it turned out to be just a joke, though I was not too sure if it was appropriate…
Of course the drama does not end there. I still vividly remembered the fateful day when I was robbed at knifepoint, and the other day when I was almost robbed by a man wielding broken glass. I also remembered the day a drunken passenger tried to kiss me and then punched me because I was pushing him away. While some of these incidents would feel dangerous and scary, I never felt as if my life was in danger. Rather, I always believed that somehow I would be able to untangle myself from such drama, with a little common sense and street smarts of course.
While drama does sound exciting on paper, it is definitely something I do not look forward to. Rather what keep me motivated are the beautiful things that people would do for another person. I cannot count the number of times I was invited to have a local meal, or invited to stay over at someone’s home. I also had the privilege to go on road trips with the people I met along the way. The local people know their country best. Many of the most memorable places I had been to were recommended by the locals. These places were definitely not grandeur or over-the-top beautiful. However, they were overflowing with a local flavor and were unique in that way. Sharing a beautiful place with hundreds of other tourists is great, but sharing it with hundreds of other locals is better.
Definitely, long voyages like these are not as rosy as the travel industry makes it out to be. I have had my fair share of frustration, agony and disappointment throughout this journey. People usually ignore the fact that for every hour spent in someone’s car, there is an hour spent in the hot sun or downpour waiting for that car to stop. Also, long distance hitchhiking does not happen just like that. It involves days where I had to camp beside sewage containers, muddy forests or right in the middle of a pack of crazy dogs. Hitchhiking also involves hours of walking with a heavy backpack. No hitchhiker magically appears on a road – he has to physically get there. It is a tough hobby to maintain, though it is also an interesting way to see how far human resilience can go. I was amazed at how much patience and determination I never knew I had.
Travel is a journey. It is a journey of understanding my beliefs, my true personality and myself better. It gives me the chance to cut out the social forces that influence my behavior, so that I can behave in a way that truly defines me. In this 1 year and 7 months adventure around the world, I never felt freer, happier and stronger. This round-the-world journey was not just a trip to take pictures or to add countries to my bucket list. It was a lesson about self-awareness and about pushing boundaries. With this epic adventure now behind me, I never felt clearer about myself.
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