Change Your Life Through Travel
“The Travelers’ Tales series is altogether remarkable.” —Jan Morris
Travel brings extraordinary gifts that help you break through the crust of old patterns and reawaken to the joys, mysteries, and miracles of everyday life. Whether you’re gaining a new understanding of a foreign culture or having an epiphany that opens new inner worlds, travel is a catalyst for living a richer, more loving life. The stories in The Gift of Travel reflect the simple yet profound gifts travelers have received from people and places around the world.
- Learn to speak Thai with an unforgettable language teacher in Bangkok
- Save a child’s life, and yourself, on a train in Barcelona
- Immerse yourself in the soul-wrenching music of street musicians in Brazil
- Surrender to a whole new life in the Canary Islands
- Enjoy the sweetest waltz you’ll ever have in rural China
- Watch preconceptions crumble like sand castles in the Sinai Desert
- Become enlightened, Mexican style, when your bus breaks down in the Yucatan
- Discover that you can go home again in a tailor’s shop in Hong Kong…and much more.
Part One: Essence of Travel
Mein Gott, Miss Siripan–Susan Fulop Kepner
The Khan Men of Agra–Pamela Michael
A Woman’s World
No Distance in the Heart–Thom Elkjer
The Road Within
Crossing the Linguistic Frontera–Joel Simon
Letting Life Happen–David Yeadon
A Simple Touch–Robert J. Matthews
The Gift–Joseph Diedrich
Part Two: Some Things to Do
Seeing Red–Louis de Bernieres
A Tibetan Picnic–Barbara Banks
Food: A Taste of the Road
Paper Patterns–Charles N. Barnard
Road Scholars–James O’Reilly
Tambourine Men of Recife–Moritz Thomsen
The Great Invisible Pheasant Hunt–John Carroll
There’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled
Glide and the Family Church–Sean O’Reilly
Police Beat–Arthur Dawson
Part Three: Going Your Own Way
First Tango in Ladakh–Hugues de Montalembert
Murderer’s Eggs–Richard Sterling
Circle of Gold–Michele Anna Jordan
Lunch at Pensionne Suisse–David Robinson
Treading Water–Larry Habegger
The Road Within
The Places I Went When My Mother Was Dying–Wendy Dutton
A Mother’s World
The Pelican–Lynne Cox
Women in the Wild
Waltz at the End of Earth–Paula McDonald
Food: A Taste of the Road
Part Four: In the Shadows
Destination Paris–Marcel F. Laventurier
Sharing the Pain–Rajendra Khadka
Heavenly Wardrobe–Judith Babcock Wylie
Wild Trek Dog–Wendy Smith
A Dog’s World
Remember Africa?–Jo Beth McDaniel
Love & Romance
Part Five: The Last Word
Just Desert–Andrew Bill
A Simple Touch
by Robert J. Matthews
It was almost winter, and nearing the end of my stay in Nepal, much of my time was occupied with saying good-bye. I had gotten to know many new people on this particular visit, but those persons whom I most actively sought out were those whom I had gotten to know the least.
They were waiters, merchants, black-market money changers; they were little children and old women who sold single cigarettes and matches along damp, narrow streets. I certainly did not know these people as one knows a friend or even an acquaintance, but for the past several months they had been my landmarks along countless streets and in innumerable restaurants, and they were by now as familiar to me as any back home. It was this collection of faces, brief greetings and equally brief conversations that always endeared Nepal to me.
Upon finding one of these persons prior to my departure, I rarely would actually say good-bye. Instead, I found that all I really wanted to do was just look at them once more; to memorize them in their world, perhaps foolishly thinking that the moment could later be recalled with the same life and clarity as the original.
Sometimes, in my marginal Nepali, I would say that I am returning to my own country. Most often the reply was simply a smile, accompanied by the characteristic little sideways nod of the head which in Nepal means understanding. And that was all.
One person with whom I did speak was an old man I used to see almost every day. He seemed to spend most of his time just sitting in the sun on a small, raised wooden platform next to an outdoor marketplace where aggressive women with clumps of wrinkled and faded rupees in their fists deftly negotiated the cacophonous buying and selling of fruits and vegetables.
The first time I saw him he smiled at me. He said nothing, nor did I stop to speak with him. I recall giving him a rather cursory smile in return, and then continued on my way without another thought. A few days later I saw him again, still seated in the same place. As I passed him he smiled at me again just as he had before. I was taken by how sincere this man’s expression was, and also how peaceful he seemed to be. I smiled back and offered the traditional namaste, which he returned. I could not quite explain why, but it was that ingenuous smile of his that many times made me detour just to see him and say hello.
Eventually I found that he spoke a few words of English, and sometimes we would have a cigarette together and exchange pleasantries. Sometimes, after dinner, I would walk through the silent streets that were now only sporadically lit by the weak light filtering through greasy restaurant windows. Then I would come upon him, still seated in the same place. He would be sitting quietly, smoking, and sometimes drinking tea out of the ubiquitous glass tumbler that someone had probably bought for him.
One evening, on my way back to my room after dinner, I saw him in his usual spot, and I stopped to say hello. For the first time since I had known him, I glimpsed his feet protruding from under the rough woolen blanket that always covered him. They were severely misshapen and deeply ulcerated, and the toes were unusually short and seemed strangely small for his feet. I remembered having seen similar symptoms during a brief stint of clinical work I had done several years earlier. No doubt it was very difficult for this man to walk, and it was now apparent why so much of his time was spent sitting. He had leprosy.
Some time after this I again stopped to greet him. He smiled and appeared glad to see me. We spoke easily now, he in his broken English, and I in my fractured Nepali. Out of respect I now called him daju, or “older brother,” as is the custom. The first time I addressed him asdaju his expression did not change, but from then on he called me bhai, or “younger brother,” as though he had been doing so for years.
I cannot explain the feeling, but there has always been something exquisitely heartwarming about being referred to as “bhai” or “daju” by the Nepalis. Perhaps these words were intended to convey nothing more than simple courtesy to a foreigner, but countless times I have been struck by the intimacy these words implied, and the genuine affection with which they were spoken.
We talked for a few more minutes, and when I left I gave him a couple of cigarettes wrapped in a five-rupee note. He accepted this graciously and with dignity. I said good-bye, but resolved to continue to see him until I had to leave.
This I did, and in the course of my last few days in Kathmandu we would talk frequently. I would do as much as I could manage in Nepali, but we usually relied considerably more on English. We sometimes had a glass of tea together in the pale afternoon sun, limiting our conversation to superficial things, but enjoying it nevertheless.
It gets cold at night in November, and prior to leaving I wanted to bring the old man a pair of heavy woolen socks that I had brought for use in the mountains. On my last night in Nepal, I found him sitting in his usual place. It was a very cold night. I approached him and said that tomorrow I was leaving. I then said that I wished to give him my socks. He said nothing. I felt awkward, and as gently as I could I lifted the blanket that covered his legs. I put the socks on what remained of his feet and tried to explain that I would be pleased if he would keep them.
For a long moment he did not speak. I feared that I might have made him uncomfortable, but then he looked at me with marvelous compassion in his eyes and said, “God bless you, bhai.No one has touched me in a very long time.”
Robert Matthews’s first trip to Nepal was a logical extension of his lifelong interest in climbing and hiking. However, it was the rich character and spirit of the Nepali people that was responsible for his subsequent visits. He continues to write and teach mathematics in San Francisco where he lives with his cat, and is sustained by an uninterrupted supply of French bread.
Larry Habegger, executive editor of Travelers’ Tales, has been writing about travel since 1980. He has visited almost fifty countries and six of the seven continents, traveling from the Arctic to equatorial rain forests, the Himalayas to the Dead Sea. In the early 1980s he co-authored mystery serials for the San Francisco Examiner with James O’Reilly, and since 1985 their syndicated column, “World Travel Watch,” has appeared in newspapers in five countries and on WorldTravelWatch.com. As series editors of Travelers’ Tales, they have worked on some eighty titles, winning many awards for excellence. Habegger regularly teaches the craft of travel writing at workshops and writers conferences, and he lives with his family on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
James O’Reilly, president and publisher of Travelers’ Tales, was born in England and raised in San Francisco. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1975 and wrote mystery serials before becoming a travel writer in the early 1980s. He’s visited more than forty countries, along the way meditating with monks in Tibet, participating in West African voodoo rituals, living in the French Alps, and hanging out the laundry with nuns in Florence. He travels extensively with his wife, Wenda, and their three daughters. They live in Palo Alto, California, where they also publish art games and books for children at Birdcage Books (www.birdcagebooks.com).
Sean O’Reilly is director of special sales and editor-at-large for Travelers’ Tales. He is a former seminarian, stockbroker, and prison instructor with a degree in Psychology. Author of the controversial book on men’s behavior, How to Manage Your DICK, he is also the inventor of a safety device known as Johnny Upright. Widely traveled, Sean most recently completed a journey through China and Southeast Asia. He lives in Virginia with his wife and six children.