It was a crisp, clear morning. A cool breeze was blowing as the piercing blue of the sky was punctuated by fluffy white clouds. An elder man in red and saffron robes led us down a rocky riverbed to a spot where the river water circulated in an unusual counter-clockwise motion, a significant direction thought to create merit, or “good karma.” “This is place” said the robed man, a local elder lama. “The place where the ashes of kings are scattered.”
This serene spot along the Chamkhar River in Bhutan’s central Bumthang region became my grandmother’s final resting place. One year ago this past weekend, my family and I scattered her ashes in the water, fulfilling her last wish that her ashes go to Bhutan, a land that she, a world traveler, had visited and truly loved. At that moment, it was hard not to see why.
A True Traveler
For an inspiring world traveler such as herself, it was the perfect send off. After all, this is a woman who kept a world map over her bed with pins marking the plethora of places which she had traveled to. Many of them she had explored in an era without modern conveniences like cell phones or the Internet.
Photo Credit: David R. Evans
Armed with a travel agent discount card that she had obtained as “payment” for doing some bookkeeping for a small travel agency, she set off on jaunts around the world, filling up passports and bringing home more tchotchkes than you can imagine!
All throughout my adolescence I have memories of the plethora of times she would leave the confines of her casita in the Mexican state of Jalisco and drop in for a visit, using my family as a base from which to launch her adventures. Bhutan. Myanmar. Papua New Guinea with her pictures of the tribes and their penis gourds.
This is a woman who encouraged travel, a far cry from many other people in modern society who think it’s a bit…well…wacky. When I was four and my family up and moved to Ecuador, she cheered us on. When I was fifteen and went on an exchange trip to the Ukraine, she was ecstatic. When I was twenty-one and went to study abroad in Thailand, she insisted that my entire immediate family come to visit me (though little did we both know that my parents would surprise us by getting married in Bangkok…her reaction? To turn to me and say “You’re not a bastard anymore!”).
My grandmother wearing my t-shirt at Bangkok’s Wat Pho when her luggage didn’t arrive!
My Travel Hero
She meant a whole lot to me…my own special hero who I once dubbed my “Auntie Mame.” She was someone that I looked up to so much, especially having grown up listening to her amazing stories that I wanted to follow in her foosteps. She was my inspiration to set off on my own adventures and she always cheered me on the whole way.
My three month Asian adventure last year was the first solo travel experience I’d had since she passed away. It was a trip that was inspired by and dedicated to her, a thought that really hit home on an emotional afternoon in Luang Prabang, Laos, a town we had both previously visited and absolutely loved.
As I set foot in the 600-year-old Wat Visoun, where three years earlier I befriended a novice monk who gave me a blessing for safe travels, I was overcome with emotion. I reached up and felt my grandmother’s tiny sculpted Buddha around my neck and I instantly felt her presence there. Right and then I knew that she was looking out for me.
My grandmother’s Buddha
What is your inspiration for traveling? Do you have a travel hero?