There's a concrete ditch that cuts through the rural/urban pastiche of fields, ragged dirt roads, clumps of orphaned trees and crumbling infrastructure that define the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Once upon a time it might have been a river, shady and clear--those times are gone.
Walking along a barren dirt road with Junior and ten or eleven other Port-au-Prince streetkids, we suddenly cut off down a steep slope, descend through a scanty wood and end up at the ditch. The kids start tearing off their clothes. They can't be serious. But they're more than serious--they're giddy.
As they leap into the water I cringe. I see a trashed-out urban park married to the LA river in miniature. But the kids see a swimming hole worthy of any boy or girl from Indianapolis to Siem Reap. On the lip of a pool one little fellow leans back and does a front flip into the water. Everyone laughs. Another little fellow magically produces a tiny oval of soap, about the size of a skipping rock. And he soaps his head and hands and arms, then splashes off and turns to me and grins and says: "Ahh!" Clean.
My favorite thing to do when traveling--be it across town or across a continent--is to find these little pockets of transcendence. For it seems that the essence of happiness is sensing the beauty in the overlooked, finding meaning in the mundane, expecting enlightenment in the unexpected.
Now when I think about that swimming hole my heart rushes with the same sensation I get when seeing the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Strange as it sounds, both are beautiful to me. It's just the way it is.
For me, meaningful travel is watching the world as you see it transform based on how another sees it. Without those kids, the swimming hole would just be another sad reminder of Haiti's troubled past. With the kids, it's an imperial spa.
I'm hoping Jared and I find a few places like this during our journey through Cambodia--but I'm sure we will. How could we not? And maybe that's why we wanted to leave the kids we meet and work with something that has enriched our many journeys. I know when I swing my leg over the saddle of my mountain bike, my world transforms. It's been this way since I explored the endless wonderland that was Ames, Iowa as a 5-year-old. Hop on that bike, little fellow, and watch the world unfold. Any place becomes a magic place--no matter what's going on around you. And losing yourself to the road is as simple as a turn of the pedals.
Every kid should have a bike.