A Journey to Unexpected Joy: Tales of Adventure and Self-Discovery

Unexpected joy

The key to finding joy is in embracing the uncertainties
and stepping into the beauty of the unknown.

– Brené Brown

For fifteen years, I’ve been living life on the open road. I started traveling when I was 19, roaming the far-flung corners of the globe on a budget of less than $10 a day. I lived rough during those times, but I lived FULLY. I was very willing to be uncomfortable in order to experience life intensely and learn as much as I could from it.

I ventured deep into remote Venezuela, traversed Pakistan’s greatest peaks, drove a beaten up and battered rickshaw across India, slept in caves in Turkey, Jordan, and Nepal, hitchhiked across the wild landscapes of Iran, adorned myself with tribal hand-poked tattoos from remote rainforest communities and all the while, sought to grow as a person by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s been a wild ride.

Being on the road and traveling on such a tight budget, being frequently anxious, hungry, cold, hot, and uncomfortable offers up a remarkable sense of freedom but it certainly comes with its fair share of unpredictability and instability.

At 34 now, life got me thinking about the past 15 years of adventuring the world. All the victories and all the failures. All of the lessons learned.

The road is full of bumps, friends — that’s something that I’ve grown to understand very well, and also to embrace. However, amidst said bumps, I have discovered something extraordinary – moments of profound joy that have forever transformed me.

And it’s to those very moments that I wanna take you right now, embarking on a trip into the realms of unexpected adventure. From remote mountain huts to broken-down rickshaws, each of these tales serves as a testament to the inherent power of embracing the unknown and finding happiness in the most unconventional ways.

This, my friends, is how I managed to find joy in unexpected places.

A shepherd’s hut in the mountains

Perhaps the most unexpected place that I was to find joy and a true sense of family was a shepherd’s hut in the Pakistani Himalayas.

I first visited Pakistan in 2015, and during this time, I spent a large period of time in the small village of Ghulkin. Nestled in the Hunza Valley, alongside the ancient Silk Road which winds all the way through ancient peaks and onwards to the fabled lands of China. 

It was here, in this small village of but a few hundred souls, with no phone signal, while enjoying a very severe digital detox, that I crossed an ancient glacier. I remember that the ice shone so bright in the sun it hurt my eyes and as I picked my way across the glacier, treading carefully to avoid falling into a gaping crevasse, falling my friend Rehman, gingerly holding my ice axe, scrambling up sheer walls of ice with the aid of a rope that looked far from safe, slowly but surely our goal presented itself; a small shepherd’s hut of stone and timber, upon the far edge of the glacier. I have spent, in total across several trips, many nights here journaling, watching the stars, and basking in the stoic, timeless embrace of the mountains as they turn pink in the fading sun. 

Since then, I have returned to Pakistan almost every year to spend time with the family that I spent a few weeks with in 2015 sleeping on their floor. It was in this humble dwelling that I discovered a new sense of family community and connectedness, while being disconnected from the hum and thrum of the internet and social media. 

A broken Tuk Tuk in India

Driving (or should I say pushing) Tinkerbell, a psychedelic-painted rickshaw, 33 kilometers an hour across the vast expanses of India was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This dusty and dented old vehicle could only be push-started, and it was insanely difficult to get it moving. 

However, it was also a wonderful bonding experience that I enjoyed with my brother. It taught me the value of seeking humor in things going wrong, finding the silver lining in unfortunate circumstances, and never giving up.

After six weeks of driving this monstrosity of a vehicle around, we said a solemn goodbye and left it with a wizened and turbanned dude in an orange robe. Tinkerbell simply could not handle the hills up into the Himalayas, so we abandoned it. Still, it was an incredible experience that truly taught me how valuable humor can be while moving through life.

Hitchhiking across Iran

Oh, the ancient land of Persia, magical and incredible Iran. It is without a doubt the best place in the entire world to go hitchhiking. I visited Iran a total of four times, hitchhiked all over it, and I never had to wait long to get picked up.

I met people who spoke almost no English but were always keen to help me out, pick me up, and offer me hospitality. I was often invited into people’s homes, fed, and regaled with tales of their own experiences traveling the exotic and colorful landscapes of Iran.

I learned to have faith in going into “scary” countries that more often than not the media has portrayed unfairly. To give them a chance. I also learned that, in general, people in these countries are often super kind — these journeys across Iran taught me what genuine kindness looks like, and often did wonders to restore my faith in humanity!

A temple in Myanmar

On the first morning of 2016, I watched the sunrise come up over the temple-studded plains of Myanmar. It was perhaps one of the most intoxicating sights in all of Southeast Asia, with 7,000 temples stretching away as far as the eye could see. And it was, of course, the first day of a brand new year.

I’m not religious, but I felt the raw power of the temples pulsating in front of me as the golden rays of the first sun of the year crept over the stunning vista.

I spent New Year’s Eve along with my brother and girlfriend at the temple, where we shared lessons from the year gone by and hopes for the year ahead of us. It was one of those moments that you can’t help but feel extremely grateful to be alive.

Community in Venezuela

While exploring Venezuela, a country deemed as quite dangerous (and in a way, rightfully so), I experienced a sense of community through Couchsurfing. I was surprised to find such a caring, hospitable community of people in this country which the media had told me was basically a hellhole. I was looked after by very kind and hospitable people who were passionate about showing me the best of their country.

This taught me again to never judge a book by its cover, and to always give these places and the people who live there the benefit of the doubt.

Venezuela is an absolutely incredibly beautiful country bursting with differing landscapes, the most lightning-prone place in the world, and the highest tabletop mountain in the world, Mount Roraima, which I summited over five days.

Ancient traditions, small jungle communities, the pulsating Amazon teeming with life… It was here that I caught my first piranha (a happy meal on a line, as a local told me). The piranhas were not particularly tasty, but it did beat a regular happy meal.

Finding a dog in Bali

An event that was to change my life was finding my adventure doggo whilst visiting Bali, the island I now call home. She stumbled forward, a tiny, malnourished puppy. There was no shade, except for a small patch caused by my scooter, and it was there that she chose to hide herself. I wandered along the beach, and when I came back, she was still there.

“Fuck it,” I thought, and I picked her up. She smelled terrible, but I took her home. Four years later, she’s my best friend, has saved me from alcoholism, and has helped ground me and battle my anxiety and depression during a difficult divorce. Chimmigi, Farsi for ‘what are you saying’, has been the one constant thing in my life that has very much kept me alive, accountable, purposeful, and striving forwards. I freaking love that dog. 

Finding a dog and bringing her into my life was one of the most joyful experiences I have ever had and taught me that if you are kind, purposeful, and accountable, joy is never far away.

And you — what was the most unexpected place you ever found joy?

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