A Traveler Reflects

At some point in college, I made a top five list of countries I wanted to visit. Ridiculous, I realize, but, as someone who wants to go everywhere all the time, I had to order my thoughts and plans somehow. The list was as follows, in no particular order:


As of a few days ago, when I left Cuba after a week of exploring, only Morocco is left on that list.

First was India. Anyone who has followed this blog or known me for any length of time knows I spent three and a half months there in 2009. I planned to circumnavigate the country, but within a week of arriving, I realized that was impossible, even with more than three months. So, I did my best to truly get to know a good portion of the western half of the country, going from a wedding in Delhi to the hippie beaches of Goa to the diverse state of Kerala to sophisticated Mumbai and surrounding Maharashtra. Then up to Rajasthan, in all its miserable heat, and onward to the comically sacred cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh before discovering calm and relief in the Tibetan exile community of Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj.

When I finally left, I’d more than had my fill. Only now, three years later, do I feel I might be ready to go back to explore the eastern half of the country.

Just a few months after I left India, I found myself in Turkey for two months. I taught English for a family in Istanbul, explored that city to the best of my abilities with my bus pass tab and far more walking than anyone else there ever does. Rachel and I jaunted off to ancient, picturesque Çannakale and Assos, on the Aegean coast, and went inland to the moonscape of Cappadocia.

Everywhere I went, everyone I met, everything I saw just made me fall deeper in love. I speak essentially no Turkish (I do know two ways to say “I don’t speak Turkish,” though), but I would move there in a heartbeat. Barring that, I will go back as many times as I can to explore this complex, ancient land.

Last year, in early 2011, an absurdly cheap airfare prompted me to jaunt off to Copenhagen for a long weekend, allowing me to check Denmark off my list. Of course, four days is hardly scratching the surface of a place, and we only got out of the city for a day (though the country is so small that it only took an hour or two to get to another region entirely). Fortunately, it was the first warm weekend of the year, so I got a glimpse of why the people here could be the happiest on earth, but I am firmly convinced that another trip is necessary to better understand.

And now, Cuba. Because of the US’ trade embargo, I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the opportunity to go there, but travel restrictions have been slowly lifting of late and I had to make sure to visit before the embargo is lifted altogether and the country changes entirely. It is a place frozen in time, to a certain extent, and as soon as American money flows in, 50 years of development will be crammed into two or three, as Cubans race to catch up.

For now, though, it is still a strange place, with rebuilt 1950’s Chevrolets and Chinese-built tour buses sharing the potholed roads. Seventeenth-century Spanish colonial palaces – some restored, others crumbling – sit next door to concrete boxes, in equally varied conditions. Women wear modern clothes, while men seem frozen in some 1950’s-Caribbean hybrid of fashion. Everyone is well-educated, no matter their job, and, among the younger generations, is simultaneously fiercely proud of their history and disillusioned with the current government.

I could gush for ages – and I will, soon – but for now, know that Cuba did not disappoint and I cannot wait to go back. I see what Hemingway – and many others – loved about the country.

I don’t know when I will get to Morocco. Hopefully soon. I’m certainly not pinning all my resources on going there immediately, but I know I will get there soon enough. But when a friend posed the question to me of what my next top five will be, once I have been to Morocco, I found myself stymied.

As ever, I want to go everywhere. How do you choose or limit yourself? For at least six years, I have focused on these five countries, and everywhere else was exciting and fascinating, but not the top five. Now, the world is once again a blank slate, but I have to narrow it down somehow. So, I have mulled it over and here are the next five, for my late 20’s:

Syria/Iran – I lump these together because I cannot see how I could possibly go to either anytime soon. But should situations change, they are both high on my list, and getting to either would be a dream come true.

What are your top five countries to visit?

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