A fair comment from a diligent reader, more people wanted! The countries we’ve travellled through have been deeply leavened with characters from all walks of life. Helpful, hospitable, scammers, non-English speaking (you’d have thought miming would work but don’t you know it, the meaning of hand gestures vary wildly over the globe!), weird, wild, lovers of life, those grinding out the work-day, entitled and egoistic, extroverted and introverted and most importantly (it emcompasses all) those we’ve learnt from. Some vignettes for you. Note some names have been changed. 

Everyone who asked me, where are you from? what is your name? how old are you? what is your job? how many children do you have? yes I love your country and I love you and damn I wish we could speak the same language so we could really communicate!

In Hsipaw, Myanmar, our 21 year old trekking guide whose had taken on as his mission in life, to build a one-room school in a mountain-top village he led treks through. At the time we saw it, just a roofless frame with a view. Teacher to be procured. Such vital determination driven by his own there but for the grace of God go I. The alternative was no primary education for any children (despite the law requiring this) and the children ending up plucking tea leaves on the hillsides. 

The hotel owner with a raucous laugh and a Snow White Pekingese dog. Pretending shock that her husband would get it shampooed and snipped in Mandalay for 20.000 kyat (13 euro). As far as I’m aware, that’s a husband who knows what’s good for him. 

The many poor Indians living off the generosity and gullibility of the street. The maimed making their living begging with artfully woeful stumps and twisted limbs. 

The unconcerned docility of the holy Indian cows chewing the cud in the middle of any highway. 

Beda, the owner of a resort on Majuli Island, India with his practical ideals about the island, its people and their potential. He created a woman’s weaving cooperative which is providing work for the poorest families on the island. As I stayed there, many disparate people came to talk with him. For such a laid-back person, he has a purity of intent which in its simplicity, inspires those around him.

The vegetarian, vegan and animal rights travellers making their cases persuasively. Don’t take those elephant safaris. The more I learn about ethics, the more it’s highly obvious to me, the meat trade is toast in the long run. 

The tattooed itinerant on the road for 7 years with a digital business and his Australian girlfriend pregnant with their first child, choosing a life rich in experiences and loose from society’s expectations, in lieu of one still comfortable materially, just wildly alternative compared with any normal Western standard. I think we spoke deeply for two hours before ever occuring to ask each others’ names. 

A French family with three kids I met in the lobby of a Kolkata hotel who had tired of not having time to connect with each other who had decided to travel for one year and home-school their 9, 11 and 17 year olds. Their idealism and practical approach to life education for their kids really immpressed me.  

Ali, a wonderfully generous Tehran-based man we met completely though happenstance, deeply into his gym work (supported by anabolic steroids) and treated like a king by his mother (calling many times a day) but also deeply concerned about our happiness and wellbeing as we travelled through Iran. Our one regret is not taking up his offer to accompany him to a traditional wedding. 

Our 24 year old trekking guide, R., a lithe jack-rabbit springing over the boulders in Iran, with little regard to ‘danger’ and quietly encouraging as we abseiled down cliffs and jumping roaring rivers. His determination to reject the prevailing social expectations of marriage (never or at least not before 30!), a deeply religious 80 year-old father and the burden of having to provide not only for his family but also gather together the marriage dowry of US$10,000 for his sister. 

Mohammad Reza, a 53 year old Iran-Iraq War veteran who offered us a ride and loosed his life experiences on us. Five years as a prisoner of war in an Iraqi prison, horrendous experiences, still suffering from PTSD, sleeping 2 hours a night, and a hero in his country. He took us to the fish market, bought a Caspian sturgeon and proceeded to grill a fish kebab over coals. From intending to catch the bus at 10am, we finally left at 7pm with impassioned pleas ringing in our ears to come back again and meet his family. 

The elderly Iranian man on the street in Tabriz, Iran who was giving marketing tips and English lessons to shopkeepers for the tourist trade. We met him outside Sisi Shoes, wherein the 80+ year old institution, Mr Sisi himself, was still handmaking shoes at 9pm at night. His rheumy eyes still sharp as his leathery hands caressed his latest creation (and yes I bought some shoes!). 

Our insistent hotel owner in Ardabil, Iran who simply had to have us in his place then placed us in the ‘master’ apartment, thankfully away from the lift shaft they were jackhammering out at 11pm at night. After the most delicious breakfast of cheese, honey and bread, we left without out passports and 4 hours away, he had them couried to us, free of charge. The man is perhaps mentally unstable, but his Iranian hospitality was top-notch.

I met a man in Nongriat (Meghalaya State, India) fervently admiring any and all bugs through an SLR camera at close range in all their otherworldly weirdness. There’s a joy to seeing the world through new eyes, the jungle alive with slithering and screeching insects. On the question as to why people travel, he answered, sometimes people run away. And yes, looking into his doleful eyes, that’s quite true. I have met many hurt people avoiding real life, hoping The Road will provide a solution. 

The planners and the precision travellers, and the penny-pinchers. I’ve met a lot of go-with-the-flow backpackers but also those who’ve planned every day like a military invasion. Deliberately measuring out the days and the Top Ten Must Do’s in the Lonely Planet. Sometimes a couple who’ve only got a week off their high-pressure jobs so they’ve got to fly from city to city (and miss out all in between). The penny-pinchers convinced everyone is out to scam them. Best illustrated by the over 45min it took an American in Kyaiktiyo, Myanmar to find a cold Coca-Cola for the “real” price of 500 kyat. 700 kyat was still too much (NB: 100 kyat is about €0.07). Where is the perspective?

That is simply a selection of the many people we have met who have made our experience so rich thus far. Both travellers with their stories and locals with an English-language ability sufficient to the purpose. I am still waiting for my Babel Fish.

Title note: Maori proverb in answer to the question What is the most important thing in the world? The answer: it is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

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