It became an obsession. Where to stay, how many countries to go to. How many places to visit. Whether to try to take small dips into many countries or a deep dive into just one.
I decided to structure the first part of my trip (when Angela would be in Europe on tour) around two things:
1. I wanted to search out a spiritual belief structure of my own because I didn’t have any. Spiritual bankruptcy. Complete lack of faith. Zero belief. If I was to see my friend Na’cho again in the afterlife, I needed to believe in something. Since I had no idea of what that was, and 38 years of my own life had left me with no answers, I wanted to see what it was that allowed others to believe. I was serious enough about this desire to take that around the world.
I could combine the two. I could make a transfer of merit pilgrimage (extended information) to honor my ancestor that had passed in the last year. Plus, the act of giving, meditating, and serving others seems like a good place to start this journey.
From this, a beginning plan was born. There were many things to learn, items to research, gear to spec, and flights and hotels to book. I knew the bookends- leave Orlando and go west to meet up with Angela in Paris for part two if the trip. The rest was up to me.
There were many pitfalls to leap over. The entire schedule, once completed in pencil, had to completely be redone upon learning that it was Thai/Khmer New Year- aka the week-long water fight in called Songkran. (These days it’s essentially a water gun/buckets of street water war of attrition where thousands of Australian kids in their 20s hop cheap flights over to get drunk and party. There is no “opting out” unless you are a monk or elderly. Otherwise you, your clothes, and your camera bag are fair game. Most of the locals flee the larger cities and go back to their home villages to celebrate with family.) Not the greatest time to be trying to have a spiritual connection in the many wats strewn throughout the city of temples. Note: for an accurate review of what it is like to be an adult at Songkran please scan this.
Also, it is the hottest time of the year there with the UV index staying mostly between 9 and 13. The heat and humidity are well hotter than Orlando in August, but that is bearable. Sun poisoning in the middle of a trip is not. With a restructured itinerary that will put me in Angkor for the New Year (also a very busy time to be there) instead of running in fear from kids with buckets.
I hit some luck after spending a few days planning my northern Cambodia temple run. Many tour guides take the Khmer New Year off to be with their families. After being shot down many times one of the highest rated and knowledgeable local guides agreed to take me on the trek. With some very smart tweaks we had a route that would take us to the most remote temples is Northern and Northwest Cambodia with the promise I would always stay on the path they tell me to. Since this is one of the places in the world with the highest concentration of land mines and home to the Malayan Pit Viper (nicknamed the bone melting snake) I will make sure to abide by their rule.
Photo By Wibowo Djatmiko
I have created a Google Map for my trip that shows the specific places that I will be visiting and temples that I will be going to. I have made a journey that will take me to ancient temple ruins in top of the mountains of Cambodia, wooden sanctuaries on the coast of Thailand dedicated to the search for truth, monasteries in Kathmandu where box turtles guard the courtyard entrance from evil spirits, Malaysian caves holding venerable holy Hindu shrines, impoverished remote Nepalese towns that offer up animal blood sacrifices to the goddess Kali, small Italian cities deep in the Alps that have hidden treasures of medieval art and fresco, and a small group after hours tour of the Sistine and Papal Chapels.
Almost every detail has been planned. Only one booster of one vaccination to go and I have taken a gear “practice run” to New York City. Angela had to be there as Arcade Fire had a SNL performance so I tagged along. I spent a day photographing a wat here in Orlando and speaking to monks and staff about suggestions they had and wisdom they would like to share.
I believe I am ready. Invariably there will be something I have forgotten. As long as I have my passport, my good shoes, and a picture of Angela and Na’cho, I will be fine.
All that is left is to stand up and walk out the door.