Back when I thought I knew more than I know now, I renovated a dilapidated café in a tumultuous neighborhood in Winter Park, Florida. One “little” monumental mistake cost me everything. I lost my restaurant, my relationship, my life savings, and my dream. I couldn’t experience pleasure; food had lost its flavor.
Someone briefly bumped into my life that reminded me how to love, laugh, sing, and eat. He roused my inspiration with a parting gift of a photo that he had taken of a random street in South East Asia. A year later, I began my rite of passage to backpack alone through Thailand and Cambodia to find that street.
My time near Chiang Mai was spent mostly trekking the Burmese Mountains. This was a physical and mental challenge for which I trained, but was unknowingly unprepared. I’d requested a “high-difficulty” experience, which I instantly regretted. The first day, some had to turn back. As the steepness increased, I questioned my decision to continue. I crawled the last ascent of the day and lay in dirt, clutching my inhaler, in a moment of asthmatic vulnerability. Somehow I wheezed my way through.
On our last night, we cooked. We plucked onions and carrots near a river and combined them with soft sweet potato. A simple pot of rice boiled, while creamy curry melted into the meat from a roast pig, and the vegetables assimilated themselves. The capsicums cleansed and the coconut milk soothed, with bitter and bright attributes peeking through. That dish represents the indomitable spirit.
But, my greatest realization occurred just as my trip began. We landed at dawn in Bangkok. On the way to my randomly chosen hotel, my taxi flew down an off ramp. As I squinted towards the rising sun, I looked up at the boulevard sign and recognized exactly where we were. I began gasping and tears flooded my face. I knew my life would never be the same, because I had decided to travel eight thousand miles around the world just to find that very street.