When we set off from Chicago to start on a Green Global Trek in Latin America, we fell in love with Granada, Nicaragua. We did not know how long we would be living in Granada, but we knew we wanted to anchor ourselves there, building a new chapter in our lives and traveling throughout the region. We lived for 6 years in Nicaragua until we decided it was time to reboot and launch the second chapter in our Green Global Trek, in Southeast Asia.
This time around, we are investing some time up front to get acquainted with the region before deciding on the specific city/town where to base ourselves. In essence, we have been on a year long “shopping spree ~ shopping between cities, comparing and contrasting their attributes and gaining enough of a sense of what our future lives might be, so that we can make an educated guess.
This shopping process might be stressful for some. It is not for us. It is in fact thrilling to discover new cities and to immediately shed any sense of the impermanence that is inherent in“travel” versus “living”.
There are two dimensions to our selection process. On one hand, we have made a shortlist of potential candidate cities. On the other hand, we have made a shortlist of our criteria, which we filter through repeatedly to compare our gut feelings with our wish lists.
Naturally, we don’t expect that any city will meet all of our requirements; but with these criteria made explicit, we can enter into a bit of horse trading between ourselves as a couple.
The towns or cities we put in the candidate list before we set forth were: Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An, in Viet Nam; Chiang Mai and Pai, in Thailand; Phnom Penh, in Cambodia; Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos, Ubud in Bali and Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia. There are a few outlier countries, with no specific cities in mind – Nepal, Tibet or Myanmar.
We set off from Nicaragua with one way tickets into Hanoi, and our adventure has taken us so far through Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Laos.
So what are the criteria that we are entrusting to yield our future homes?
For me, the criteria center around: 1) Easy access to plentiful fruits and greens ~ a food source that is amicable to a mostly vegetarian / vegan lifestyle, and still yummy; 2) Nature ~ abundant – the more the better. Green, green, green. It’s about the quality of the air, and being surrounded by trees and/or rice paddies. Something about the green in nature that brings serenity; 3) A natural body of water ~ somewhere to cool off in. We seem to keep landing up in tropical climates, which can be challenging especially in the hottest months. Having a lake or a river or the ocean, makes a big difference; 4) The people and culture ~ Being able to have real relationships and connections with locals. This is trickier than it may seem in the countries we have chosen, because of our lack of language (to date) and also because relations between locals and foreigners have been shaped through history sometimes brutal histories; and 5) Being able to join a thriving community of yogis and yoginis.
Now for Ben’s list of priorities: 6) Architecture ~ the town/city has to offer innate beauty so that each and every outing in the street presents aesthetic pleasures;
7) Cappuccino ~ Yes, it’s THAT important to Ben. Nothing like a good cappuccino, preferably with a reasonably recent newspaper in English, French or Spanish. If that can be delivered in the package of a cafe culture reminiscent of France, all the better; 8) Ethnicity ~ It’s no coincidence that our business, some 10 years ago, was called “Ethnicities”. The textiles, the carvings, the crafts, the artisans themselves, the overall aesthetic, and the rich socio-cultural context that present opportunities for positive impact; 9) Gastronomy ~ Gotta have good food. Much as we loved Nicaragua, the “issue” of a limited local culinary culture made it a priority for this next round of our Green Global Trek to wind up in a country with a rich culinary history. This is one of the main reasons we chose Asia over Africa; and 10) Potential for impact and income ~ The nexus between positive social & environmental impact and income is the ideal.