It's almost unbearable, this 'lightness of being' as Milan Kundera describes it, bussing through the mountainous terrain of Laos under a starry night, navigating dirt roads and motorcyclists. It's a similar feeling watching the golden afternoon light sink into the Mekong River as the water sprays into the boat in the breeze. It's a vast, pervasive sense of longing that comes with such a landscape, a shrinking and an opening, a humbling withdrawal and yet a selfish craving for more. It's a deep awareness of our one and only chance at this glorious, wild life.
These feelings are the foundations of my desire to see more of the world. I am Marianne Dashwood; I am Sensibility. It has taken me a while to reach an understanding of why this is, why sights and architecture and The Things You Go and See to Tick Off Your List fail to excite me like interactions and the small details of the day do. I'm emotionally driven and that is okay. I am fuelled by the small details that enrich my existence.
At the moment I'm lying in my hotel room while my friends are exploring Hanoi, Vietnam because I feel inspired to write. I need that freedom of expression in order to process my experiences, and it does not phase me if it is at the expense of a sight or moment. For most that's a crazy thing to be doing, for my introverted self it is necessary. My friends understand, and I love them for that. I flick between this blog post, a 'Word document of shit' as I described to some writers in Bali and Hubert Selby Jr.'s Requiem for a Dream. I am feeling content.
It has been a wild fortnight, beginning with four nights in the Malaysian jungle in Borneo after Kota Kinabalu city. Sean and I took a risk, hearing snippets of a hippy shack in the jungle that would give us the mountain climb we so desired to do at half the price than anywhere we'd been quoted. After climbing into a small minivan of locals and palming off the address to someone we thought was the driver, we were driven an hour and a half to the cheapest, most glorious slice of jungle paradise. We arrived at a collection of brightly coloured shipping crates with grounds populated by shaggy puppies. We were positioned right in front of Mount Kinabalu, the mountain we were set to climb the following day; the highest peak in South East Asia.
And climbed it we did! but not without the many physical and mental challenges that strenuous physical activity brings during and thereafter. I was elated.
We drove through the mountains with our hostel owner, a short, stubby 59 year old Malay backpacker while singing What a Wonderful World, cradling new puppies and full bellies of Indian and Malay and Thai food. He treated us to an evening crawl around the pubs in the jungle, free flowing beer at every bar alongside local karaoke and his prostitute companion. We ate ostrich and deer and wild pig from the mountains. We made friends and soaked in hot springs and let the little fishes nibble the dead skin off our feet in waterfalls. He told us stories of his magic mushrooms, his children and his multiple wives. We soaked up the obscurity of the experience and lay in our beds at the end of each peculiar day shaking our heads, thankful that we decided to take a risk and to make it out alive.
After a 12 hour layover, Sean and I met the rest of our travelling friends in Vientiane, Laos, where together we ate a feast of live prawns and traditional Laos food on the river, swam in pools, searched high and low for the delicacies of ox tongue and spent more money on Magnums than dinner. We revelled in each other's company and I was overjoyed at simple luxuries I had never once been afforded in a hostel environment: a room entirely made up of people I knew, being able to leave my bags and clothes unlocked and littered on the floor without fear of theft, to recall memories from home and to be greeted by knowing smiles and additional comments.
We took a 12 hour bus through the countryside to Luang Prabang, where we climbed waterfalls and hills and took more river cruises on the Mekong. We lurked markets, ate from local vendors, spent time discussing the politics of a a good Laotian soup and again, ate more Magnums. I ran into four boys I partied with in Bangkok a couple of months earlier sitting in a cafe, still travelling the continent. A shock and an absolute pleasure to see them again.
And now we find ourselves in Hanoi, Vietnam. The place of Vietnamese rolls and pho. The prospects of our upcoming destinations are exciting- the four or so long distance buses not so much.
While I process the lightness that I feel, the joy in my heart, the instability of my future back home, the depleted bank account that I'm trying to avoid, I give thanks that these experiences are being shared with some of my closest friends. I draw strength in the belief that it is okay to be different and to approach things left of centre, it helps me in the fight to haul myself out of a sinking pool of feelings sometimes, of the lightness of being that makes me heavy in my search for meaning.