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Archive for the tag “traveling”

The Art and Addiction of Escape: Explaining the Explorer

The following reflection is written by my cousin, Wesley Troost, of Kampen, the Netherlands. He grew up on a dairy farm but began guiding outdoor adventures and participating in extreme sports when he was 17. While searching for what this means professionally, Wesley has traveled extensively as a guide, explorer, and soul-searcher, including a trip around the world in 2010-2011. His greatest victories range from graduating from a year of schooling on personal growth to jumping off a 59-foot cliff into the Vorderer Gosausee, a lake in Austria. Challenges yet to accomplish include solo skydiving and creating a successful company of his own.

Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara, Nepal


Isn’t it strange how we all fight almost day and night for a secure, settled life but still admire a traveler?

I used to work as an outdoor sports instructor for months in a row. But I knew that I loved, and still love, the thrill of excitement and the satisfaction of feeling alive after completing an awesome trip. This motivated me to search for more mountains and more adventures. As the Netherlands doesn’t have any mountains at all, it forced me to travel. Not a bad thing, you could say. And it wasn’t!

For at least five years in row, I have spent more nights in a tent then I’ve spent at home. On a good night, I’d have a real roof over my head; on other nights, the stars were my roof. But most of the time a couple of framed poles and a sheet of fabric were what I called my home. And every day was a new adventure. I could go on and on about all the stories, but that’s not my point today (although sometimes it is).

Wesley on a night train through India (2010-2011)

Night train through India

The adventures triggered me to keep going and keep searching. And I kept on learning, exploring, laughing, and making friends. But in between all of this I longed for a warm shower in a warm bathroom! I longed for a couch that I could call my couch where I could rest my head, for food that I didn’t have yesterday or the day before, for a closet that I could open with all of my clothes in it, for a heater that could be turned up or down according to my will, for chocolate sprinkles on fresh Dutch bread, for all the friends I left behind, for a house that I could call home.

A couple of years ago I decided to travel the world. After my work season finished in Europe, I packed a bag with the goal of seeing as many countries as I had dreamed of before the next work season would start. I kept a blog about all the great adventures and the beautiful landscapes. Nepal, India, Thailand, New Zealand… I have never felt more alive. If you have ever taken the gamble of going wherever you felt like going — without a plan, without limits — you too know the addiction of freedom. It doesn’t stop until time or money runs out.

People admire the courage. The courage to put your will ahead of the risks.

Jodhpur, India (the blue city) (2010-2011)

Jodhpur, India, the Blue City

But only three weeks into my trip I found myself stunned. It was at a busy train station in Varanassi, India, where I watched backpackers leaving the station, one after the other. Every single one of them held a worried gaze in their searching eyes. Overwhelmed by the culture and the question, now what? As if they had all forgotten why they left their steady homes and everything they had known to live among the complete opposite. Their eyes stunned me with the question: Why had I?

The question left me with only answers that didn’t satisfy. Not only for that day or that month but for a couple of years. Until now.

Agra, India; home of the Taj Mahal (2010-2011)

Agra, India, home of the Taj Mahal

I haven’t traveled a lot lately. But if my bank account will allow me to, I’ll be gone to discover and explore the many more countries that I dream of. Why? To get a break from life. To escape from the pressure of every day. A day in Western culture causes a human more struggle then finding food, shelter, and happiness in a place where we are total strangers. Let me rephrase that: at times I would rather leave my culture, friends, family, and all the comforts of my home to release myself from the world that I wake up to every morning. Sounds a bit alarming, doesn’t it? But it’s the world we created by ourselves. We have so many balls in the air that we sometimes feel like running away for them not to come down on us.

That is why sometimes I choose cold showers. I choose hiking while my feet hurt. For food that is so spicy that it hurts going in as well as going out. For trusting people I have just met. For traveling 33 hours non-stop. For a bed so hard an elephant couldn’t dent it. While in the meantime I enjoy the world’s most beautiful sunsets. I enjoy nature’s prettiest sceneries and all the thrilling activities it can provide. I enjoy all the cultures. All the people and the stories they carry. I enjoy the pure freedom of deciding whatever I want to do the next day. And I enjoy learning more than any other time of my life. With a searching gaze in my eyes.

Varanassi, India

Varanassi, India

30×30: Lesson 26: The goodness of strangers

I was robbed on a crisp December morning in Strasbourg, France, after I had bought hot roasted chestnuts on the Place de la Cathédrale and decided that I needed to change my world.

Growing up, I had unconsciously divided all people into those who were “safe” (extended family, church friends, my ballet teacher) and those who were not (people who drank beer, stayed out late, and swore). This division did not affect my actions, for I knew better than to condemn people openly; instead, this manner of thinking crowded the corners of my mind and divided concepts into hard-lined truths and lies. Such lines made life more clean-cut, less troubling. It allowed me to refuse to deeply listen to those who were not like me.

That day in Strasbourg, I had resolved to cross that mental line and buy lunch for a homeless woman named Romina, for she, too, was alone and frightened in France. We left the square together. Then my purse disappeared. Then Romina vanished. Snow fell. For a long time after that, I looked the other way when the homeless extended their hands. But strangely, my faith in humanity was only beginning.


I’m well aware that I am writing this post from a certain amount of privilege related to time, place, financial status, and race. I do not have a history of personal trauma due to others’ verbal or physical abuse. When I approach strangers for directions when traveling, I do not (usually) have a face that provokes suspicion, fear, or hatred. When I am stranded in airports or cities in Europe, I always have a savings account that I can draw from, a safe hotel room that I can buy, a warm meal that can bring me comfort.

But I’m writing still because, despite this, seeing the humanity in the difference of others had to be learned before it was felt.

I was humbled by it when I stood teary-eyed in the Greyhound parking lot in Harrisburg, PA, two minutes too late for my bus, and another driver, already at the wheel of a second bus, jerked his thumb toward his empty seats. “Climb on in,” he said. “I’m headed that way, too.”

I was inspired by it with Xavier, the director of the local opera in Nantes, France, who stood on an enormous stage in front of the Opéra Graslin to direct a singalong of 2,000 people for France’s National Music Day. When I ran up to him in the crowds afterwards to thank him for his work, he said, “You can’t leave the city without seeing the opéra perform” and gave me his personal comp ticket for the next show.

And then there’s the family of the Chesnie farm who picked me up at the bus station near Vay, France, and allowed me to work with them and their cows for a day, without us ever having met before.

And then there was that baker in Basel, Switzerland, in 2005, who gave me and four friends an armful of day-old bread when we had no money left to spend and pushed us out the door before we could attempt to pay.

I strongly believe that, in this world, there is horror, but there is also peace. I have been loved by strangers without reason and aided by them without compensation. And beyond the differences I once saw in people there are also similarities — homes, fears, joys, expressions, dreams — that frame our daily lives.

Is it too optimistic to think that I can be the change that I want to see in the world?

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

30×30: Lesson 5: On being white

Anne Timothy was there the day that I discovered I was white.

I met Anne when writing this article reviewing her Trini kitchen, “Anne’s Caribbean,” at the Broad Street Market in 2010, and — as I tell the story (although maybe she would tell it differently) — I asked so many questions during our interview that Anne eventually threw up her hands and invited me to Trinidad.

“Jon, too?” I said, not sure if I was to take her seriously. But Anne laughed — she’d already met Jon whenever he’d ordered a meal from her one day, asked her how to eat it, and promptly did everything she instructed, down to dousing the white rice in pepper sauce and using the roti flatbread as a spoon.

“Yes, Jon too.”

And that is how I found myself emerging from the airport in Port-of-Spain at sunrise in August 2010, eating doubles before 7 AM with the fog steaming over the Northern Range mountains.

I’ve already written elsewhere on this blog about Trinidad — a rhythmic country of sea and home and liming and fish stew and curry and sky — but what I’ve failed to mention is what I’ve only told Jon: that this may have been the most meaningful trip I’ve ever taken for reasons beyond the friendships, the bake-and-shark, and the bandanya.

In western Europe, where the majority of my travels have been centered, most cultural differences are variations on similar themes. Handshakes exchanged for bises. Wine for beer. Gothic architecture for Romanesque. Within these cultures, if I keep my mouth shut and keep from hesitating, I can pass for German, English, or French. It’s a game I play — a grown-up version of Pretend, of constructing belonging, of creating home.

Trinidad’s population is roughly 40% of African descent and 40% of Indian, meaning there was still a 20% category into which my skin could fall, but after days of traveling with Anne and her family, I would brush a strand of hair from my face and pull back, shocked at the whiteness of my palms.

“I knew knew how white I was,” I blurted one afternoon.

Anne laughed. What an announcement. In the eyes of the vast majority of the world, whiteness (along with maleness) is among the clearest signs of privilege; it is so clear, in fact, that I had lived for 25 years not having seen it. What did it mean that I had managed to completely ignore the historical tensions surrounding race — was it denial? How had my unspoken, socially-bequeathed privilege shaped the way I viewed myself and others? If I could not have seen this until I stepped outside of America within the arms of friends, what else had I missed?

Rain fallin, August 2010

Rain fallin, August 2010


Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

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