500 Days Alone In: The World

by The Hairpin

Marc Escañuelas is currently traveling around the world.

Edith Zimmerman: Marc, you are traveling around the world alone for 500 days. What! How did you get into this incredible situation?

Marc Escañuelas: I got on a plane! A Taiwanese plane that was mostly empty so I got a whole row to myself. In all seriousness, nothing about this trip was planned. I’ve been traveling on and off for several years but never longer than a few months. I turned 30 at the end of 2011 and just felt kinda stuck and decided I needed/wanted a reboot.

What did you leave behind?

Pretty much everything including my connection to reality. Traveling this long is surreal, and you feel as if you’re moving behind the scenery. Facebook tells me when birthdays and major holidays are, and they pop up at me like whack-a-mole. Blunt reminders that time is indeed passing. Basically, I never know what day it is unless I have a plane to catch.

Where did you go first?

I got a one-way ticket to Bangkok because I’d been a few times before. I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go (everywhere) but other than that the trip has been completely spontaneous. Plans formulate and dissolve in an instant with plane fares and visa availability being the biggest game-changers.

Where are you now, and what’s it like?

Right now I’m in Luang Prabang in Laos. I’ve been coming to Southeast Asia regularly for the last few years but always avoided Laos because it’s a pain to get to overland and really expensive to fly into. That aside, it’s an absolutely beautiful country and Luang Prabang is every bit the Shangri La I was told it was.

What was your most recent meal, and who did you eat it with, if anyone? Or, who did you most recently eat with?

My most recent meal was a locally-made sausage (NOT innuendo) at a cafe on the way to a temple. I met a lovely woman from San Francisco while rock climbing in Vang Vieng and we’ve been palling around Luang Prabang together. Mostly eating and drinking espresso. Last night, we ended up at a hot pot restaurant overlooking the Mekong River hoping that we cooked everything thoroughly enough so that we wouldn’t get sick. I giggled when I noticed the Austrian people next to us didn’t know how to use chopsticks.

Do you have a crazy … phone? Did you bring a computer? Are you okay?

I’m hungry (almost always) but otherwise totally fine. I’m traveling with an iPhone and a MacBook Air. Being a writer (or pretending to be one) it’s nice to have a full keyboard to type on, but the laptop often feels like a liability. I’ve never had anything stolen on my travels but the anxiety remains, especially since this week I’ll board an overnight bus to Hanoi.

What’s been the most unusual or unexpected place you slept?

I took an overnight ferry from Corfu to Italy and assumed at the very least I’d get a chair. I assumed too much and ended up on a mat on the floor in a hallway. I had to steal that mat from some kid who’d set his guitar on it coz GUITARS AREN’T PEOPLE. In my head, the guitar was an ex-boyfriend who was a bed hog. Unlike the ex though the guitar sounded pretty when you plucked it, HA!

Another time I was on an overnight ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Tao. The boat was one big dorm with gymnast mats on the floor upon which one could sleep like a canned sardine. On one side, I had a plump Canadian girl and on the other side a really sexy guy of indeterminate European ethnicity. Needless to say I blamed the waves of the Gulf of Thailand every time I rolled towards Europe.

Animal you encountered?

You meet a lot of monkeys in Asia and each one is cute for about two seconds before you realize it’s plotting to kill you or at least steal your sunglasses. Friends back home think I’m crazy for hating on monkeys but they’ve also never climbed a thousand steps barefoot to a temple dodging monkey piss and feces in Burma.

Do you miss … anything?

Different things now and again. You get tired of planning your next move constantly, which is why it’s good to slow down and stay put once in awhile, otherwise you start seeing bus schedules and exchange rates in your sleep. Some mornings you wake up to catch an early bus and your first thought as the sunlight burns the sleep off your eyes is wishing you didn’t have to repack almost every day. You miss a decent cup of coffee. Every interaction has the potential to be a headache since you often don’t speak the language. It makes you appreciate everyday miracles like the barista knowing your name is MARC and not MARG. That griped, there are plenty more moments where it’s exciting to think that everything and everyone you know is on the other side of the planet.

Did you notice the halfway point / day 250?

I did! It was my last night in Venice, a place I had a really hard time connecting with, and I met this girl in my dorm and we had a drink. She was a lovely young thing and this was her first big trip and she was so wide-eyed and excited about everything. Her friends had all chipped in secretly to buy her the plane ticket and she decided the best way to pay them back was to make the most of every minute. We watched the sun set from the eastern end of Venice while we sipped Bellinis.

What did you do on your birthday?

My birthday was amazing! One of my best friends met me in Morocco and we went on an excursion to the Sahara. We rode camels for two hours (which is about an hour and fifty-five minutes past comfortable) to a spot amongst huge sand dunes. I spent my birthday staring up at the stars while making sand angels. Sounds amazing, right? I left out the part where I had tried to run up aforementioned sand dune and overexerted myself and threw up. STILL AMAZING!

What do you have in mind for the next 106 days?

I’m planning on leaving Laos this week for Hanoi to do some more rock climbing in Ha Long Bay. Also, there’s an egg coffee confection I’m desperate to seek out and try. I’ll spend April in Thailand then fly to Europe to visit friends around the Mediterranean. I’d like to explore the Adriatic coast more. Eventually, I’ll fly to New York and see friends before going cross country via buses and trains back to LA.

What shoes are you wearing right now?

A pair of running shoes I picked up in Lisbon and socks from Uniqlo. They’re anti-microbial! Supposedly.

Have you been tempted to go home?

Yes and no, moving around so much definitely makes me feel like I want a deeper understanding of a lot of these places and makes me want to live abroad again. But then I’m also antsy for a new challenge. Whenever it is I end up home, the reverse culture shock will be terrifying. I was in Lisbon on election night and was up until 3 a.m. nail biting as all these states came back for Romney. I told myself if Obama didn’t win there was no way I was going home again.

Previously: Bali

Marc Escañuelas is planning on growing up someday and becoming either a writer or a taxi driver. For the moment, he’s content to live life one espresso to the next taking pictures.