18 September 2012

Proust Travel Questionnaire*: Author Erin Reese

Traveling steerage class across the ocean to India's Andaman Islands was a new high—and low—for author, astrologer, spiritual counselor, world traveler Erin Reese. Take a moment to ponder the realities of steerage class in India—first class travel is often rough there—where dining and sleeping and toileting and vomiting all meld together in one disease spawning space. It's really the sort of thing only someone—say an author who can spin such ghastly experiences into tales that become bestsellers on Amazon.com—should try.

Erin's most recent journey—she's been traveling since January—took her across three continents and to a bunch of cool countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Thailand and, like all other beings with natal honing, back to her spiritual home, the Motherland, India.

The indomitable Erin Reese inaugurates Wandering-Lotus.com's new Tuesday column, The Proust Travel Questionnaire*, which was inspired by Vanity Fair. Erin's road wisdom goes way beyond your typical travel tips.


What is your idea of the perfect travel itinerary?

Itinerary? What’s that? I jest, but the whole point of unbounded travel for me is to BE somewhere. I’m not a doer. I’m an experiencer. I simply live in places, smell the air, see the horizon, and interact with the local life and the travelers that I befriend along the way. I’m more interested in observing and learning how local people do simple things–going to market, looking after children, tending to health needs, getting from point A to point B, eating in local joints, navigating banks and bureaucracies, and so forth–than visiting memorials of the past or checking out typical tourist haunts. The way I travel can be summed up in one word: intuition.


Where, in the world, are you happiest?

India.

Where did you meet the greatest love of your life (so far)?

Arrivals, Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, India. For me (so far), the greatest love of my life has been a nation rather than a single person.

What is the worst thing that could happen to you while traveling?
Could happen, or has happened? I’ve been through some pretty rough stuff–downright 
dangerous–and survived all of it. If you’ve been an intrepid solo traveler as long as I have, things are bound to happen in the wilderness of humans and Nature. Over the years I’ve spent on the road, I’ve been conned, attacked and robbed. I’ve been locked up, I’ve been sexually harassed, stalked, groped, and threatened. I’ve been circled by snakes, I’ve gotten fleas, lice, scabies, and parasites. So to imagine the worst? The mind can run wild.

What destination has brought out the best in you?


Mumbai (Bombay). This is the magical city where I met my spiritual guru, Ramesh Balsekar. 
He was the sage I was seeking but didn’t know it. I spent large chunks of time in Mumbai the last two years of my teacher’s life, before he took mahasamadhi in 2009. Most people avoid Mumbai (it’s loud, dirty, intimidating, and expensive; people are packed like sardines) as I did initially until Grace took me there against my own free will. But once I got into the spirit, the cultural implosion that is Bombay came ALIVE and revealed her secrets. By the way, for a good contemporary non-fiction read, I recommend Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

What destination has brought out the worst in you?


I must have a selective memory because I can’t think of a place that had such a bad impact on me. I’ve been in a dozen places where I’ve hit a wall, wondering what I am doing there, which made me cranky and miserable. One such place was Kerala.


What must-haves do you take with you regardless of destination?


Notebook and pens, earplugs, Petzl Zipka head lamp, Nalgene water bottle, Swiss Army knife, well-tested walking sandals (preferably Birkenstocks or Chacos) and a few Ziplocs. Most importantly, an open mind and no expectations.


If you could travel with anyone in history, who would it be?


The rishis of ancient India. The original rishis were sages and seers with great siddhi powers. The yoga destination spot of the Himalayan foothills, Rishikesh, gets its name from the rishis themselves. They literally downloaded universal wisdom from the ethers, including metaphysical principles of yoga and consciousness, ayurveda, alchemy, and healing, and even Sanskrit starting with the first primordial sound of OM.


If you could go anywhere, where would you go?


I’d rewind the clock thirty or forty years and travel overland from Europe to India, venturing 
through all the nations that are too war torn to safely travel in now.

What is your ideal length for a single voyage?


One month to get to know a new town, city, region. Three to six months to get to know a new 
nation. Three to six years to be gone long enough to un-know your own nation and see your roots objectively.

Who does your hair when you're on the road?


I do! I hate it, but I do it.


Who are your favorite travel writers?


I honestly don’t read much standard travel writing, preferring literature for inspiration. That 
being said, notable trips in print that have touched me include Ram Dass’ spiritual travel tale Be Here Now, solo female travel writer Rita Golden Gelman’s Tales of a Female Nomad, friend Garth Cartwright’s music-travel feast More Miles Than Money, and two fiction writers that wrote great road tales: Jack Keroauc (On the Road, The Dharma Bums) and Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). For its ingeniously-captured sense of place, I adore Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Also, the quick-read little book Are You Experienced? by William Sutcliffe captures first-time Indian backpacking naiveté so well it’s a guaranteed laugh-your-ass-off ride.

Where would you like to live?


That’s a good question! I’ve been without a stable home for over ten years now, traveling 
between Berlin, India, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I like where I’m living now: between three continents, and on the move. I live in a Mobile Om.

What is the quality you most like in a travel companion?


INDEPENDENCE.


What traits do you look for when connecting with either locals or other travelers on the road?


I'm drawn to connect with other travelers who show respect for local customs (dress, 
manners, etc.) without putting on holier-than-thou airs. I also enjoy connecting to travelers and backpackers who come to me through my work as a spiritual counselor. People who are on the road a long time need guidance to make decisions and to make sense of all that is whirling and swirling around them. I’m grateful to be able to be of service to these folks when they’re at a crossroads, no pun intended.

What is your greatest travel extravagance?


When you travel like I do, there aren’t many things that one could consider extravagant. But 
my biggest splurge is coffee. I’ll scrimp on thirty or forty rupees here and there over a meal and then, smilingly, spring for twice that amount on a cappuccino.

What do you consider your greatest travel achievement?


Crossing the ocean to the Andaman Islands in a steerage class ship and surviving a Robinson Crusoe jungle endurance test without getting killed, or killing myself, in the process. I did lose my mind. And that was the best part.



Click here to buy Erin's first book, The Adventures of Bindi Girl: Diving Deep Into the Heart of India.

Click here to read a review of Bindi Girl.



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