Run the equator: August 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

So you want to know what my favorite place is?

"What was your favorite place?"

How's that for an answer?

I get this question all the time and it irritates me like a knitting needle stuck in my ear. Sometimes I think you ask it just to annoy me – but you’d have to be too devious for that, so I’ll go with the more reasonable assumption: that you’re opening your mouth only to ask the most predictable question because you don’t have anything to say, really. It’s a stupid question. I’ve been to 26 countries during my year-long trip; there wasn’t a lot that they had in common except that I had to eat, shit and sleep wherever I went, and the other tourists annoyed me equally everywhere… but I hardly think that’s a solid basis for a top-ten rating.

I don’t ask you if you like steak more than ice cream. Or whether Scarlett Johansson is hotter than Angelina Jolie. Or whether you prefer beer or coffee. Those, along with the one you keep asking me are stupid questions and do not deserve to be answered. Whatever the answer may be it doesn’t communicate any relevant information and is not going to advance the conversation in any way. It’s just meaningless chatting for the sake of it.

There’s a gazillion of reasonable questions you could ask, that may lead to a funny and interesting conversation. Let me help you a bit:

  • Where did you have the toughest communication experience?
  • Where did you spend the most money?
  • Where did you have the craziest binge-drinking night?
  • Where was the best diving?
  • Where did you smoke the most dope?
  • Did you get laid anywhere?
  • Did you have to go to the hospital anywhere?
  • Did you ever get scammed by a con artist and fell for it?
  • Did you get robbed anywhere?
  • Did you get into a bar fight anywhere?
  • Did you steal from anyone?
  • Did you run naked out in the street anywhere?
  • Where did you have the worst diarrhea?
  • Where did you make the best friends?
  • Where did you have the worst hotel room?
  • What was your weirdest experience?
  • Were you ever afraid for your life?

But no, you all prefer to ask me the same inane question, one that doesn’t even have a relevant answer to boot. Look, I liked all the countries I visited and I hated some of them at the same time – sometimes for the same reasons. You could figure this out on your own if you paused to think for a second before opening your mouth, but since you’re so narrow and you lack any spark of imagination you keep asking me what my favorite place was as if I were 16 and I had to have a favorite movie, a favorite band or a best friend.

I think before I speak!

I should throw the nearest wireless mouse at you when I hear that question, but I’m medicated well enough so I usually restrain myself. Instead, if I suspect that the person I’m talking to has a bit of a brain left and would be able to see the error of their ways with a bit of help or if I believe that the question was just a momentary lapse into stupidity on the part of an otherwise clever individual (don’t we all?) I’ll say that the countries I liked fall into two distinct categories: those that you fall in love with at first sight, as soon as you get off the plane - like South Africa or Greece or Spain - and those that have to grow on you, like India, Laos and Bolivia. Aside of this coarse classification each country strikes you by one or more dominant attributes that make it unique: it can be the picture-perfect beauty of nature, the ethereal strangeness of the landscape, the good time you had with people you met, the rotting garbage lying in the open, the permanent harassment you were subjected to, the beautiful wild animals, the breathtaking diving on the coral reef, the raging night-life, the hot topless girls on the beach, the soaring snow-capped mountains or the delicious exotic food. You may prefer one or the other in certain situations but no single one tops the rest; I’d have to just pick one out of my ass. Not that you would care. You want clich├ęs? Here’s one for you: stop asking me to compare apples with pears!

Even if I had a favorite country… how would it advance your knowledge of the world if I told you anyway? Stop asking me dumb questions just to be nice. If you don’t have anything to say, just shut up. Man, I hate people.

You want a list? I got one! You order it, stop asking me.

  • I loved Mexico for the soaring Mayan pyramids lost in the jungle and its cheap tacos. And because it was the first destination on our trip
  • Going to Belize because going there was a childhood dream come true
  • I loved Guatemala for Antigua’s beautiful ruined convents and Tikal’s army of howler monkeys who scared me to death at 4 in the morning
  • I loved Honduras because the bunch of guitar-playing hippie divers I met on Roatan reminded me of another time in my life
  • I loved Ecuador because that’s where my Spanish unlocked its brakes. And because I met Michael and Mor in the Galapagos
  • I loved Peru for the crushing dignity of its Inca fortresses and for giving me enough diarrhea to fill a bath tub
  • I loved Bolivia because it’s the underdog of South America and the Altiplano made me feel like I was on the moon
  • Argentina filled my belly with the greatest steak on the planet and gave me wireless internet in every coffee shop
  • South Africa had the bluest skies I’ve ever seen
  • In Namibia I floundered to the on top of a giant red sand dune at sunrise and saw lions having sex
  • In Botswana I followed fresh animal tracks through the savanna and saw a herd of elephants coming out of the fog
  • Zambia made me famous for fifteen minutes and helped me earn $1000 in royalties
  • In Malawi I kept looking for the other shore of the lake while I sipped cold beer
  • Tanzania showed me a place that redeemed all ugliness in the world
  • Kenya… well, I didn’t really visit Kenya but it still had the coolest song in the world
  • Egypt crushed me under millennia of history and showed me that sometimes locals just want to talk to tourists without demanding money
  • In Greece I realized that I could drink tap water again but I turned into a wino instead
  • Italy lead me back to Rome, and for a day I was an all-powerful pasta-eating emperor. Maybe Caligula.
  • Spain had scores of delicious tapas and smoky crowded bars and Gaudi and pretty girls everywhere and Robert and Eva
  • Romania is still where I return when I want to remember the smell of hay and fresh snow and roasted pig-ears
  • I almost had my fingers amputated by frostbite for taking my hands out of my mittens to take pictures in front of the Hungarian parliament
  • In Turkey I shed a tear for the defunct Constantinople and then gorged myself with pide and baklava in Istanbul
  • India overwhelmed me with unusual sensations, crushed me with its mass of humanity and got me some peace of mind, if only just for a short time...
  • Thailand explained to me what the song “One Night in Bangkok” was all about
  • I loved Cambodia because you cannot believe that a place like Angkor Wat really exists until you see it
  • In Laos I wanted to become a bearded, balding, homeless dope-head just to forget that I had to return home and look for a job...

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