I find myself writing to you tonight from a space that is nostalgic to me, but totally new simultaneously. I'm in an internet cafe in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India's southernmost state, sitting on what feels like a piano bench and pounding on a largely dysfunctional keyboard (see there, I had to type that word three times), for which I will pay roughly $0.35 an hour. I'm on a budget, so I'm on the clock.
The story I'm about to spin is far more exciting than the true reason I'm back in India. I came this time to be silent. And to sit.
Vipassana meditation is something that I have put off for years. In short, it is an absolute bare-bones approach to meditation: a 10-day course of complete silence and renunciation, with 10 hours of meditation each day. What happened to me, what swirled through my head during those long hours, and how my knees felt, is fodder for a different post. What went down immediately following Vipassana - that's why I've gathered you here today.
There was a lot riding on this trip, my friends. Japan has been my top destination for longer than I care to remember, and we had to cancel our tickets there in 2015 due to being, well, unable to walk or move. Fittingly, the trip got off to a fairly ridiculous start.
"Where is your girlfriend?"
"My girlfriend?" I asked, staring at the Japanese gentleman at the AirAsia ticket counter in the Bali airport.
"I'm traveling alone."
"Yes, I see that sir. But where is she?"
"What? At home. In Ubud."
"Ah, yes, of course. Have a nice trip!"
And so began my 11 days in Japan. It was a perfect intro, frankly, to what would become one of my most curious, weird and hilarious trips yet. I've found that when you head into a trip with a completely open mind, the place just opens up for you. I'm not talking about a red carpet—I mean that when you say 'yes' to the opportunities that unfold while traveling, when you spot the universe winking at you instead of sticking to the set script you planned from ho...
While my site is mostly visited by friends and family, that post rippled surprisingly far—to the point that people in Tel Aviv would stop me on the street and ask if I was ok.
For the TL:DR crowd (and it is long, I admit), it goes like this: Tali and I spent 7 months backpacking through India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. We had plans to continue on to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan, but the trip was cut short. Brutally short. We were on a scooter ride in a tiny village in northern Laos, just shy of the Vietnam border, when a drunk driver in a truck swerved into our lane and hit us head on. Tali stood up from the crash site more or less unscathed. I didn't stand up at all. I landed on my head and shoulder, tumbling into a ditch with—we would find out after a 2-day epic trek to Bangkok—a broken knee and collarbone....
It's one of the first questions people ask me when I tell them that I spent the past 6 years living in Israel. It's a question where the emphasis comes, every time, on the 'like,' and the word is loaded with about a half dozen other questions.
- Was it scary?
- Should I believe what I read in the news?
- Did you ever meet a terrorist?
- Did you ride a camel?
- Did you ever kill someone?
These unasked questions tend to go unanswered (but the correct answers are, by the way: No, Sometimes, No, Of Course, and Only with kindness) because they go unasked. Most people deem them rude or awkward. But the truth is if you get me started, I'll talk your ear off about the country's political and social problems while big-upping Tel Aviv to no end (it is, truly, the best city in the world). What's more, people seem to fully separate Tel Aviv and Israel in their minds. If I tell someone I came from Israel, I get the arched eyesbrows and the above unasked quest...
A few days ago, I was sitting in the new teacher orientation at Green School, the environmental school where Tali is now teaching 7th grade. Though I'm not a new teacher, the school was kind enough to invite all the partners (read: stay-at-home husbands), and we all showed up dutifully. One of the school's blissfully down-to-earth guidance counselors was leading a session on Transitions, with a capitol T. As in, how do people handle the transitions that come with a new school, a new job, a new country, a new culture. It was a session she runs for students, but also new teachers—this whole thing is brand new to us, too, of course.
"One of the more difficult parts of transitioning to a new country is that the things you used to do thoughtlessly—like, walk to buy groceries, or call a friend, or even enter your neighbor's house—now take thought," she said. "The things you knew how to do at home you don't know here. Literally, every part of your day has to be a thought. Where am I going?...
It's 9:20am right now. I've been awake for nearly four hours already today (you're a bitch, jetlag), and I'm sitting in Seniman Coffee Studio in Ubud, Bali, drinking a double cappuccino with a bowl of tropical fruits. Boy, oh boy, has it been a long road to get here. For the many of you who have asked, over the months, how and why we left Tel Aviv—consider this your (probably longwinded) answer.
It was a road that began nearly three years ago. Walking in Laos amidst these giant karst mountains jutting into the sky, Tali and I wrote our 5 year plan. We would return to Israel for at least two more years. Then we would go somewhere else—anywhere else in the world—for at least two years. Then we would move back to America and have careers, or something. Five years, mapped out, just like that.
It's been long time since I've committed any thoughts to this travel blog. I've been on several trips since I last wrote — to the States, to France, to Thailand, to Bermuda, to the Republic of Georgia and all around Israel — but as inspiring as those travels were, they couldn't jolt me to write. It's part laziness, part writer's block, and a small part simple self-doubt; after writing what amounted to a small book on our motorcycle accident in Laos last year, nothing seemed to whisper "Write about me" quite the same. But that was before Tali and I spent 3 weeks in Africa.
In our time in Kenya and Ethiopia, we easily slipped back into the backpacker mindset that's always entranced me; the feeling of waking up each morning and deciding, right there and then, what the day would hold, with plenty of room for the unexpected. I've got dozens of stories from our trip; here, check out one of the most absurd.
During the two weeks that Tal’s parents came to visit us in India, I had lots of time to spend with her father, Zach. I love spending time with the guy — truly one of the best travelers I know — but our bro-out time was mostly the construct of the women. When they wanted to shop, we had time to roam. And during those 10-minute to 4-hour stretches, we’d often focus on photography, as Zach is an ace with a lens. So if you notice a distinct improvement about halfway through, well, now you know why. Here are my picks for the best photos of the second half of our trip. Please do enjoy.
Up in the clouds. Top Station, Tamil Nadu.
So many foods. Totally typical. Alleppey, Kerala.
Is there a better place to get a tattoo of Lord Shiva than in the middle of a street in India? Yes, probably. Alleppey, Kerala.
In the backwaters. Outside Alleppey, Kerala.
Laundry time. Hampi, Karnataka.
About 500 years ago, this was the center of one of the bi...
Prayer flags over town. Tabo, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh.
It took me a long while to look at the thousands of photographs we took while traveling. For the first few weeks after we returned to Israel following the accident in Laos, I truly didn’t want to think about both what my life was and what my life was not. It was difficult, frustrating, a bit heartbreaking. It was not life on the road. At least not anymore.
But slowly, Tal and I let ourselves return to ‘the trip.’ We began talking about our favorite memories. I returned to the travel journal I kept as we wandered around Asia, where I’d recorded every place we visited, every hostel we slept in, every book I read. And we started to sort through the pictures.
I wont't stoop to be that guy who breaks out the slide projector and traps you on the couch for six hours, but I figured a quick scroll down the page won’t hurt anyone. So here is a small sample of my favorite photos from the first half of the trip. Enjoy.
For six months I wrote about how India pushed me to my limits. But in the end, it was the small, gentle nation of Laos that finally broke me.
Allow me to backtrack for a bit of context.
Tal and I landed in Bangkok thoroughly exhausted, our minds a heavy stew of sadness, relief, confusion, excitement. South East Asia, as we knew from our month in Thailand back in 2013, is not India. In India, you can hit the tourist trail and lay on gorgeous beaches with coconut shakes, or you can immerse yourself in maybe the weirdest, wildest, most insular culture in the world. In South East Asia, it’s a lot tougher to skip that tourist trail. It’s a far smaller region, and the trail is much more worn-in. It may not even be fair to call it a trail… it’s more of a paved sidewalk. And the sites on that sidewalk are built with you, the traveler looking for a good time, in mind. In short, travelers head to India to go deep, freak out and get lost, and head to South East Asia to bum around beaches, drink...