It was a funny moment when I realized that Tara and Tyler would start their journey back to the States on the same flight as me. Their two-plus years traveling together has taken them through experiences and landscapes I have only glimpsed through their writing and photographs.
Just to imagine that we'd meet in Bangkok and spend an entire evening talking was kind of unimaginable to me. To see their bikes, even freshly de-tarred and packed away in boxes, felt to me something like visiting a museum in which were famous relics I'd read about for ages. Because, really, I kind of had been reading about them for ages.
I was the super-fan.
I had taken notice of their blog sometime in the fall last year, when I was thinking about doing my own bike trip from Albuquerque to the Grand Canyon and back again. Some internet search for "bike trips" or "cycle touring around the world," assuredly typed in a half-daydream, had brought me to this creative and jazzy-looking blog with pictures and personality that grabbed me right away.
Furthermore, as I had just bought my ticket to Bangkok for the following spring, and they had been traveling in Thailand for a few weeks (little did I know they were already in Vietnam), I figured that I'd get some good traveling advice as well.
Witness: the birth of a dedicated reader.
My two-month trip in Southeast Asia with my exquisite partner, Greta, had experiences and landscapes I valued, but was also interspersed with checking in with where Tara and Tyler were in the world. We had exchanged a few e-mails in February, and I was encouraged by their warm responses to suggest meeting up in Bangkok sometime before we both left.
I was sure they would be too busy writing and packing and preparing for their next big journey in the States—wow, was I surprised when I found myself shaking their hands at Shanti Lodge!
In the evening we spent together, I realized that not only were they as awesome as I'd hoped, but they were awesome people like me, with joys and fears and concerns for the world and hopes for the future. Shaking the hands of my heroes turned out to be less surprising than finding that their hands were made of flesh, bone, muscle and blood, and not of sleek and shining carbon-steel.
When I met my two new friends at the gate to our flight to Incheon, Korea—complete with nine hours of layover before our connecting flights—I imagine we were feeling very different about it. For Tara and Tyler, the flight was a landmark in their years of traveling.
Returning to the land of your birth, to your family, is a moving experience after a long time away. I think it felt like something of an ending for that other part of their lives. But for me, it felt like a beginning, albeit a very small one. What to do during a nine hour layover in Korea with new friends?!
Go out and find some Kimchi, of course!
When I suggested finding a bus to the mainland port area (Incheon airport is actually on an island on the western coast of Korea, near Seoul), I again half-expected the dynamic duo to decline, for understandable reasons of total travel burn-out. But yet again, they surprised me with their outgoing and adventurous spirit. We found our way to the buses, and to mainland Incheon.
Korea was much colder than we'd anticipated. I was dressed in shorts and sandals - perfect Bangkok attire - with a light hoodie thrown in "just in case." Tyler and Tara, clad in their snazzy merino wool, had no complaints. :-) Tara's Note: I was freezing!
Though we hopped off the bus around 9am, we found the streets to be eerily deserted and silent, including the traditionally-bustling alleyways of Chinatown. Even the brightly-colored monorail that wound itself along our walking route lay quiet and somber. The crowd-free environment was perfect for unhurried, meandering conversations under grey skies, through a park dazzlingly decorated with a canopy of cherry-blossoms.
After a few hours, we finally decided we'd like some food. Our wandering took us to a small building in the middle of a parking lot. The four tables and sets of chairs outside suggested it would be a restaurant, but I suspected it could also be a used car sales office. Luckily we found a hot ceramic stove inside with good smells surrounding, and a menu on the wall, sketched in Korean on a whiteboard.
Smiles exchanged with the woman cooking, we started pointing to Korean food listings, hoping for some kind of sampler. A friendly man made "yes" and "no" signals in response to our guesturing, and pointed to definite menu items which, we hoped, would get us some yummies! And that is exactly what we ended up with!
There was cold, fermented rice or coconut alcohol (served in a bowl), some kind of scallion pancake, noodle soup, and onion-pepper-soy dip for the spiciest kimchi I've ever had. This impromptu Korean feast was so delicious and warming on a cold day!
During our meal, the friendly man who had helped us order started to leave, but I felt that we hadn't thanked him enough for his assistance. So, I asked him to wait, and quickly whipped out my trombone—did I tell you I travel with a trombone?—and played for him "Arirang", a traditional Korean folk tune I'd just happened to learn in band many years ago. It was fun to watch him grin when he recognized it, and clap along to the familiar beat…
That led naturally to lessons for Tara and Tyler who, besides being fantastic bikers, programmers, artists and friends, are also secretly musicians! A mostly empty park nearby offered a chilly but spacious venue for their world debut as trombonists.
…amazed me with their virtuosity and sensitivity towards music! It's too bad there aren't any recordings of them, but they of course insisted that I play for them and record it.
By giving ourselves a generous time buffer to get back to the airport, we were able to have a final stop at a delightful bakery near the bus stop. It had star-trek style fancy glass sliding doors, which were fun to operate with the press of a single finger against a sensor. Tyler and I sat and talked photography for a while (well, mostly I just listened), while Tara was off exploring the neighborhood in search of a restroom. I'll have to wait to use Tyler's teachings until I can get a camera with control over aperture, unfortunately…
Stocked with freshly-baked goodies, we headed back to the airport for our respective flights back to the States. I felt deeply contented to have spent time with these great folks who'd inspired much of my daydreaming over the previous few months. Our goodbyes had more of a "see-you-later" quality, and I hope to see them again in Albuquerque for the 2012 Balloon Fiesta in October next year. Thanks you two!
Your futon is waiting for you in Cambridge, by the way… bring heavy, heavy bike locks…
Tara & Tyler:
After we parted ways with Jesse, we felt fortunate to have shared our layover in Korea with an enthusiastic new friend. We were exhausted, and would have simply slept through our layover if it wasn't for his limitless energy. Thanks to Jesse, we had a brief taste of Korea!
Thank you for writing this entry Jesse!