– Authored by Anmol & Melody
31st Dec 2019
Today is not only the last day of the year, but it’s also my birthday. Right now I’m sitting here in this beautiful resort in Uganda, trying to reflect on this incredible year that I have had. I think a great way to do that, would be to share the stories of 12 unique strangers who have made the biggest impact on both Melody and me over the last 12 months. These stories are bound to inspire you, just like how they inspired us.
But before we start, just a quick disclaimer, we are trying to keep this post anonymous. These are positive stories, but they are never the less private stories. So we will try our best to not reveal any personal information that can help identify the said people. If you are one of these awesome people and would like us to include your name/photo/social media link, please let Melody or me know.
That being said, let’s start:
(These 12 stories cover all these countries)
We were on a tour bus in Quito, Ecuador when this Asian-looking girl with beautiful long hair rushed into the bus and sat next to us. The conversation followed immediately after we locked eyes with each other, and so was our friendship. She first started with the taxi driver that made her late for the bus; and from there, we exchanged our life stories; and then all throughout the day, She kept on sharing the products of her unstoppable brainstorm sessions on how to make us a famous Instagram travel couple. From the moment we met, her brilliant mind and cherry lips did not take a break. We loved her passion and intelligence. It turned out that her life story was incredible, too.
- She was born in Thailand. She already had multiple successful and award-winning Children’s books under her belt when she was just a teenager.
- In 2018 she travelled through Eastern Africa, solo.
- She’s an Unbelievably talented underwater photographer and a Hollywood film executive.
- She works in LA, but her work takes her all over the world. She is actually pretty well-known.
Guess her age?? 24!
She is the first person that we met in our travels who made us truly realize that your age doesn’t limit what you can achieve in life, only your own ambition and persistence do.
This might be considered cheating, but for this month, let’s talk about not one person, but two: an amazing couple. The boy was from Spain, and the girl from Colombia. We stayed at their apartment in Medellin, Colombia, and had a blast. They were both students, but the boy was also a model and the girl a cheerleader in a team that competes around the world. They were young, bold, beautiful, fit, fun, and most importantly, they were free.
They would go up to a skater-boy who was practically a stranger just to ask him to show us a trick; they would explain to us the deep meaning behind all the tattoos they covered themselves with; they would slip through a fence and take us to the mountain top in the middle of the night and show us how to walk on burning coals with bare feet; and so much more…
They had an aura around them that just inspired freedom like we had never experienced before.
We say it all the time that you only have one life so do everything you want to do, but that was the first time we were shown what it truly means in practice and how beautifully mesmerizing it can be.
We seriously miss them.
This one is from Pyongyang, North Korea, and it’s the story of our tour guide.
As a North Korean, she was probably one of “the chosen ones” to be presented to foreigners because she was young, pretty, well-educated (in North Korean standard). We were accompanied by her for 4 days, listening to her well-scripted stories and “facts” that do nothing but to sing praises to the country and its leaders. But it was clear that the tour guide also knew the unspoken truth. The only difference was that, she was a much better actor than we were. Still, we tried our best to cooperate and play this game of lies with her, acknowledging her “admiration” for the regime, because this is just a game that everyone visiting North Korea has to play.
On my last night, I couldn’t pretend any longer so I confronted her with the “facts” but she completely ignored me. This irritated me even more so I kept pushing. In the end, she said that she can’t respond to me with her smile suddenly disappearing and fear creeping up in her eyes. I only realized how serious it was when we were assigned another guide the next day.
To this day we don’t know what happened. I have a fear that it might have been because of me. Maybe someone overheard our conversation and thus got her in trouble. Maybe she was fine but to avoid risking herself or her family, she chose to not come the next day. We will never know.
This experience taught us a very important lesson — to always try to understand other people’s realities without superimposing our privileges. When basic safety is not even secured, freedom of speech is just a luxury. Maybe in this situation, ignorance is truly a blessing because I could only imagine how painful it is to knowingly live a life of lies. It made us appreciate the freedom we enjoy and also sympathize with people restricted in any form, be it their government, religion, or society.
Let’s switch to something positive. The most incredible traveller I have ever met is a guy I met in Koh Phangan, Thailand. He is from Peru, has been travelling for the last 4 years, and plans to continue for another 10.
He always has a warm and heartfelt smile on his face, and he carries with him this “life is wonderful” attitude everywhere he goes. So it was a surprise to find out that he actually comes from a very poor background. At age 19, he had a big fight with his family and left the house with just $20 USD. He took a bus to the next city and started selling random things on the street.
He dreamed of travelling the world. People laughed at him and his dreams, but he didn’t let that bother him. He kept moving from city to city within Peru while doing odd jobs, managing to explore the entire country. Eventually, he covered the entire continent of South America the same way.
Then his persistence paid off and his life took a wonderful turn when he met a Finnish traveller and was offered a seasonal (winter job) in Lapland, Finland for 2018-19. In just 3 months of work, he saved enough to start travelling the rest of the world.
He is a very simple and unassuming person who sleeps in monasteries, travels in trucks, hitchhikes everywhere, and works in all the countries in return for lodging and food. And even when his cash savings of a few thousand dollars was stolen a few weeks before we met, he was extremely calm. Losing money does not stop him from living the life he wants because to him a big bank balance is not a requirement.
For myself and all the people that I have met who have told me that they would like to travel more but do not have enough money, this guy’s story should be a big inspiration to all of us. And it is not just true for travel. You don’t need a lot of money to live your dreams. If you have less money, the journey might be slower, more difficult, or it might require immense patience and guts. But you can still do it.
This story is about a girl from the humble town of Moalboal, Philippines and is a story of staying true to who you are, even against hostility and ridicule from society.
She initiated a conversation with me when I was on the beach. Turns out that she is 16 years old and was working right opposite the hostel that I was staying at during her summer breaks. We talked for a while and then continued to hang out a lot over the next few days. She was funny, confident, will not let any moment in front of a camera go wasted without a chirpy pose, and could speak 7 different languages! She feels like a typical teenage girl except that she is not. She is a transsexual.
Being transsexual in the Philippines is very different from most other countries. Even though it is legal, it is still made fun of and looked down upon. On top of that, in the Philippines, a lot of Westerners come for “transsexual prostitution” which makes any transsexual, including this girl who just wants to be friends with a foreigner, fall victim of society’s game of presumption and labelling. When you are supposed to be enjoying the best time of your life at age 16, this can be very stressful. Luckily, I could see that it did impact her because she knew how to handle the jokes and sly comments from others with full confidence and smile.
During our time together, I often reflected on how shy, anti-social, and afraid I used to be when I was 16. On the one hand, we all understand at an intellectual level that confidence is such an important factor that determines the trajectory in pretty much every single aspect of life. On the other hand, it takes, in practice, tremendous mental strength to get over our own insecurities and disregard societal expectations. So it is inspiring to see how she knows that she lives in a society where people will judge, but she still does not let it impact the way she lives or derail her from who she is.
PS: I almost drowned in the Philippines and she saved me, so I am really grateful for her!
Welcome to Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I became friends with this Indonesian girl when I was travelling through the Philippines. She is tall, thin, and tanned. And you cannot ignore her long and wavy black hair, and the gentle smile on her face. Apart from being young and beautiful, she is also independent, fun, energetic and wild.
When I came to Indonesia, she invited both Melody and me to visit her, and we did. I discovered that she actually has a serious boyfriend and 2 small kids from her previous relationship. In a world where everyone tells us that “it is good that you are travelling now because after you have a kid it will be impossible”, I couldn’t believe how someone could be so free and travel so much all by herself (& she travels a lot!), with so many responsibilities back home. I was bewildered and amazed.
After spending more time with her, I learned that independence and the experience of travel are extremely important to her. And just like me, travel is not about taking a few days off from work to enjoy some vacation; travel is her dream and part of her life.
In her own words, her heart aches so much when she is away from her kids, but at the same time, she can’t be true to herself if she doesn’t travel. This makes sense to me because, if you can’t be true to who you are, then how can you truly be a good daughter, a good mother, or a good girlfriend? We all have responsibilities in life, but at the same time, we all also have only one life. It is very important to not forget that. Her courage is a reminder that irrespective of responsibilities, we need to find time for our passion.
This is a difficult one to write because this girl is too incredible and I don’t quite know how to summarize her life, but let me try. This is a story from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where I met this Brazilian girl who was teaching English at a local institute.
Picture a Brazilian model with life’s wisdom in her eyes, swagger in her moves, and humanity in her behaviour. That’s what this girl is like. Her eyes can pierce right through you. Her mischievous eyebrows are always seeking exciting and counterintuitive life experiences. Her stern lips confirm that she doesn’t give a shit what others think of her. And her nose ring announces that she is not someone you can mess with.
She is a beautiful and intellectual yoga enthusiast, who is adventurous, fun, humorous, rebellious, bisexual & polyamorous. This is very unexpected from an otherwise traditional and conservative South American family. She loves the little joys of life and does not let society restrict her. In many ways, she reminds me of me, who enjoys messing up a “conservative” person’s mind just for the fun of it; but our heart is in the right place.
This summary does not do her justice but the following might: She is the ultimate reminder of doing whatever you can to have the most epic life, while not worrying about naysayers or anything or anyone else. Because…
..the biggest crime of our life when we look back from our retired, old, wrinkled age, would be Regret.
Life is too short for regret and missed opportunities, as you will see in the story for next month.
This is a story about another girl. It starts in Khiva and ends in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
This one is as much about her, as it is about me and about love. I’ll give her a nickname, Ariel, like the Ariel from The Little Mermaid. And that’s only fair, after all, she’s from Scandinavia (Finland). She’s simply gorgeous. She has very fair skin, thick blond hair with a greyish hue, and a generous smile that can melt your heart. When she smiles, her lips create a perfect curve. She also has these cute dimples which radiate so much warmth and joy that I could happily drown in them. And when she laughed, I felt like the world couldn’t get any better.
But the thing that I was most fond of was when she says “a-aha” while waving her index finger through the air, smirking with happiness, with this twinkle in her eyes. She’ll do it whenever in her stories she catches someone’s intentions, as if to say “catch ya”. This was too cute. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Hold on, we need to pause. Why am I talking about her like I’m in love? I meet a lot of new people from around the world every day, and in general I find myself very devoid of emotions towards anyone new that I meet. But what I was feeling this time was very very rare. I just felt so comfortable around her, so easy to chat and banter about life, so easy to find joy. Everything was so natural and effortless. I didn’t need to try hard to impress her or anything. I was just being myself. What I was feeling doesn’t happen often. In fact, it has only happened once before in the 27 years of my life, and that’s with Melody.
The night before she flew out, we were supposed to go out, but I cancelled last minute because I was scared. I was scared of falling in love with someone else as a married man who is still very much in love with his wife.
I wished I was not afraid, but I was, and now I regret it. I discussed it with Melody the next day and we both don’t quite know what else I could have done. All I know is that my regret of not having listened to just a few more a-aha‘s, and to see more of those sparkling eyes and mesmerizing dimples, is real. I missed the opportunity to experience more of the zeal for life that she was brimming with.
As I go through my life, I often feel like a robot. I do not feel much in reality, even though I can act in a way to make new, and old people around me, happy. So it was just so incredible to truly feel something, making this experience not only a highlight of my trip so far, but also of my life. It proves that I am not a robot, and I have a capacity to feel, and that the love songs are true — the heart does behave like a kid.
Ariel, if you are reading this, thank you.
After the emotional rollercoaster from the previous month, it was really good timing to meet someone who keeps your heart full and calm. This is a story about the most incredibly hospitable person we have met so far. He was our Couchsurfing host in Gonbad Kavous, Iran.
It was not easy to pick only one person from Iran because this country has the most hospitable people we have ever met. Please don’t let the news scare you off from travelling to Iran. The hospitality of Iranians could very well become one of the highlights of your life.
And this is exactly what Mr. Iran brings to the table (yup, that’s our nickname for him, for he represents the best of Iran). First, let’s get the logistics out of the way, he showed us an amazing time in the city and also took us to his village nearby (Razi, Golestan) for an incredible night out at his parents’ house. We shared meals with him, had fun with his nephew and went to his friend’s farm to practice shooting. It sounds awesome, and it is; but the most impactful thing was the amount of heart he put into everything: the way he says “I love you” to his mom, the way he helps his dad fix the car, the way he plays with his nephew, the way he picks out his wife’s dress, and the way he takes care of us… You know a pure soul when you see one. Everyone who interacts with him will leave feeling so special. We know that because we felt truly accepted and welcomed like we were his family.
Far too many people reserve love like that only for their close family and friends, but Mr. Iran was the ultimate example that the more love you share and spread, the more you have.
The protagonist of this story will surprise you. He is a small pizza shop owner in Alappuzha, India. He has a full-time and well-paying job in the city, where he works every day from 7:30am to 5pm. Right afterwards, he comes to a small shop which he rents in the city, opens the shutters, and starts working on his passion: Making pizza. The shop only opens in the evenings, and he works there all by himself until 10pm. Then he heads home and preps dough for the pizza for the next day. This takes him till 11-12pm at which point he gets ready for bed and goes to sleep. Next day, he wakes up by 5am to prepare the pizza sauce, gets ready and heads for his “regular” work. He does this day in, & day out, 6 days a week.
This might sound exhausting. Why would he choose to open a pizza shop when he already has a well-paying job? Well, he started the pizza shop because his kids love pizza and every week they used to drive to the nearest pizza shop, which was 2 hours away in the next city. So one day, he was like “how about we make the pizza ourselves?” and then started crazy pizza experiments which led to him finding his passion and starting the shop. He is not particularly doing it to make more money. He just finds the process too enjoyable.
So yes, it might be considered additional work or even a burden for others, but it is a passion for him. And when he found his passion, he followed it against all adversity. According to him, he is living his dream.
This is a story about passion, and how it can come in many forms, shapes, sizes and tastes. But the most important thing is: once you find it, don’t lose it.
This one is closer to home, because I am going to talk about my cousin sis and her husband. I was not going to bring family into this list, and but their incredible parenting skills need to be shared.
The fact that they drove 8 hours to come and meet us in Bhilwara, India already made us so grateful, but the opportunity to spend time with them and their brilliant kids is the real gift they gave us.
It was eye-opening to see how in an environment where academic achievements are overly-emphasized while personalities are suppressed and personal development is very much neglected, we still see kids whose identities are so distinct, whose individualities are well respected, and whose ambitions are properly encouraged. You see a clear difference between kids who behave the way others want them to behave versus kids who are fully aware and behave the way they themselves know is acceptable and true to who they are.
Besides doing well in school, dancing, reading, storytelling, and so much more, they also excel in many other aspects that we consider much more important. They express themselves respectfully but also freely like there is no gap between them and the adults. They enjoy a good pillow fight and try to win it by going all-in with wits and clear potential of future athletes, regardless of how unfair the game really is when playing with adults twice the size. They never run out of puzzles that drain your brain and in the end make you go “of course!”. They helped their great-grandma (my dadi) to walk up the stairs of a restaurant one step at a time when other kids their age would have run up to claim the food and cake there.
Didi and Jiju, if you are reading this, start a blog or something on how to raise brilliant humans. Because we will have so many questions for you guys. You might as well put it online for the rest of the world to see.
Continuing the story of brilliance, for the last month of the year, let’s elevate ourselves from kids to young adults. What does a brilliant young adult look like? Well, I found my answer in Kigali, Rwanda.
Here I met an incredibly smart and well-versed 24-year-old Rwandan girl who is doing her undergrad at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Duke University, USA. Another girl, right?? Well, what can I say my fellow brothers, we are falling behind on the a-game.
This African girl has the look that can go on Hollywood posters. She has big and soft eyes, a small and elegant nose, prominent cheekbones, and chocolate coloured skin with a beautiful shine. Underneath the beauty, she is also very smart, so smart that she was able to avail one of the most extensive scholarships available to undergraduates anywhere in the world. Not only her entire tuition fees of whooping $75,000 USD per year is paid off under the scholarship, but also Duke University pays for her
- Living expenses
- Health insurance
- Taxi costs
- Summer course in some Irish university
- 3 months field research in Nepal, Jordan and Chile
- & all her flights, even to and back from Rwanda
According to her, the only thing she has to pay for is Coffee and Alcohol. This was almost unbelievable.
It is inspiring to meet one of those people who proved their worth to the world on their own. Coming from Rwanda, she must have gone through a lot to have made it this far. And it is just the beginning for her.
Think about it, the university probably spends over $100,000 USD a year on her, as an Undergrad! What it goes to show is that the world is desperate for real talent and very willing to pay anything for it. Plus, it is one thing to read about all the crazy amount of money being spent in the world, and completely another thing to meet someone who is the living proof of this. And it honestly was a very interesting reality to experience for myself.
Wow, that was long. It, of course, does not include all the incredible people we have met. After all, we could only choose one for each month.
2019 has been a very exciting and insightful year and we are looking forward to meeting so many more incredible people in 2020.
-Anmol & Melody
* a lot of this was by memory, so if we got any details wrong, please let Melody or I know so that we can correct it.