I had made absolutely no plans for what I was going to do when I got to Paris because I wanted to be totally open to whatever happened. I had confidence that I could figure out how to at very least find a Youth Hostel where I could stay for a minimal amount of cash. I got a cab to the train station, thinking I would find someone to help me find a youth hostel. I carried my bulky and very heavy backpack around as I tried to find someone who spoke English. But I could find no one who was able (or willing) to help me.
After three hours of failed attempts to find information, I decided just to forget about this unfriendly city and go visit my sister in Mannheim, Germany. Thankfully, I was able to find out how to get a train to my new destination. It seems a bit silly now, in retrospect, to have left such an interesting city without making more of an effort to find lodgings. I must have been really tired!
The train trip was long and uncomfortable. After all, I had been on a plane for the past eleven hours, and I was tired. In fact, I felt bored. This was not at all what I expected on my grand adventure. After six hours, I wearily arrived in the German city and somehow contacted my sister, Jeane. Unfortunately she was at work, waitressing in an enlisted men’s club on the American Army Base. Even though I was exhausted, I now had to sit in the noisy club listening to loud music for a few hours. When Jeane got off work and we reached her apartment, I was so relieved and overjoyed to be able to tumble into bed and rest–finally!
My sister introduced me to a few of her German friends who were willing to show me the sights in this not very exciting city. After a few days of wandering around the town and visiting with her friends, I felt restless. I was ready for something else. One of her friends suggested that I visit the Odenwald, a nearby area that was scenic and had lots of castles, rivers, and interesting sights.
“Why not?” I said. I hitchhiked (yes, I know that was pretty stupid) an average of thirteen miles a day, going from village to village. I also walked many miles, at first fascinated by the beautiful countryside and the picturesque castles, rivers, cottages and landscape. My expensive tennis shoes did not protect me from having unbearable sore feet. The youth hostels I stayed at did not yield the friendly connections I had hoped for. The scenery started seeming like it was the same. And, as a vegetarian and a person not into beer or any kind of alcohol, the food and the restaurants seemed very bland.
I was devastated. Here I had planned, saved, and looked forward to this trip for a year, and now I was experiencing two of the worst feelings I could ever imagine–boredom and let down. I yearned to find my niche and to feel alive with joy and excitement. But it wasn’t happening.
After a week of wandering in the Odenwald, I returned to my sister’s apartment and poured out my woes to her. “Something’s missing. I just don’t get that excited about traveling around this area. What should I do?”
“Why not go to India,” she said pragmatically. “Kevin (her boyfriend at the time) went there and he though it was really great. I hear that it is really exotic and cheap. Europe is Western, and that means it is pretty much the same as the United States Besides, you’ll spend a lot less money there and then you can travel longer.”
To this present day (42 years later) I still remember those words, “Go to India–it’s cheap and exotic.” I feel very grateful to Kevin that he was able to impart this information to Jeane.
At first, I felt disappointed. After all, I had been preparing for a year to travel in Europe. I had pored over the travel brochures and had great expectations of how great it would be. And in retrospect, I realize that I could have found much more interesting places in Europe than the Odenwald! But I think that God was guiding me to a powerful experience that could not have happened in Europe.
But I also felt excited about the possibilities. It was not an easy decision for me to completely change my plans, but soon I made up my mind to go to India. “How do I get to India,” I asked Jeane. Her words were simple and easily remembered, even though I was about to travel thousands of miles in completely unknown territory. “Take the Orient Express to Istanbul, and take the “Freak Bus” to Afghanistan. You’ll figure out how to get to India once you get to Afghanistan.”
“What is a freak bus,” I asked.
“Afghani men come to Germany and purchase buses that are considered too far gone to repair by picky Germans. They drive the bus to Istanbul, and pick up travelers, also known as “freaks” who want to go to Afghanistan. It only costs about $35.”
“Oh, that sounds good,” was my reply. You would really think that after my experience in Paris, I might be a little concerned about such simplistic directions. But time after time on my trip, my common sense seemed to stop working. It was as if an unseen power was guiding my path, and if I relied on my logic too much, I would have missed out on some amazing experiences. Yet at the same time, I was miraculously protected time after time.
I had to make some major changes in my already simple life. Jeane told me that I needed to get rid of the big, heavy frame pack I was carrying because it would be impossible to carry in the crowded busses and trains in India. I’m not sure what I did with the pack, but I must have been rather disappointed since it was expensive, and it had been my backpacking buddy numerous times. Yet I was good at following advice. Fortunately, the day pack I brought along was fairly roomy and I could attach my sleeping bag to the outside. I was definitely traveling lightly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was definitely a minimalist.
After downsizing about half of my possessions, and making a few other preparations, I was physically ready for this radical change in plans. I had only been away from home about three weeks, and yet here I was apprehensively standing in line to buy a ticket on the famed Orient Express. I was physically prepared, but emotionally I was not quite there. “Am I making the right decision?” I asked myself for the hundredth time.
As I came to the head of the line, I automatically responded to the clerk who asked me what I wanted. “A one way ticket to Istanbul,” I said. After I gave him the money and he handed me the ticket, I said in my very best German, “Danke shoen.” I realized I wouldn’t have many more chances to speak German (which I had studied for 3 years in school) for the rest of my travels. Oh well!
I settled into my seat in the train. My new adventure had begun!