Traveling Stories – Elephants, Rainstorms, and Turkish Baths

By: Ella R. (‘19)

Traveling internationally can be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. I’ve been lucky enough to have had many opportunities to see the world, and I have so many amazing memories of meeting new people, experiencing other cultures, relaxing, and learning. Here are a few of my favorites from over the years:

Visiting an elephant sanctuary in Laos and riding the elephants

This was a truly incredible experience. I’m not really sure what I expected, but there was nothing to hold onto on top of the elephant; you just sort of vaguely gripped at the elephant’s skin, which was rough and prickly with hairs. Balanced on the back of the elephant’s head, trying not to imagine lurching forwards and being trampled, I thought, Is this actually happening? I’m on an elephant! The elephants carried us across a shallow river and, looking down at the water rushing by a few inches below my dangling feet, everything felt dreamlike and surreal. After riding the elephants, we got to feed them bunches of tiny bananas. The elephants loved them, using their trunks to yank banana after banana out of my hands and shove them, peel and all, into their waiting mouths.


Getting lost in the rain in Austria

My parents and I absolutely love the movie The Sound of Music. When we went to Austria when I was in elementary school, we were intent on recreating as many scenes as possible from the movie. Thus commenced the taking of various of photos of us running across bridges, down streets, and, when we went to the Alps, through hills and valleys. Much to my chagrin, my mom often decided to accompany these already embarrassing photoshoots with singing – LOUD singing. The highlight of our trip to Austria, though, was a biking tour through the city of Salzburg, where we got to see many of the locations featured in The Sound of Music. Afterwards, my mom arranged for us to go to a marionette show at a very nice theater nearby. We set off on the bike tour dressed in casual attire suitable for the warm weather. Unfortunately, on the way back, it started to rain. Soon, it was a complete downpour and, coupled with the confusion of navigating a city on bike, my parents and I found ourselves separated from the group. After much wandering around, we finally managed to make our way back to the starting point for the tour. Soaking wet and tired, we headed off to the marionette show. Upon arrival, our disheveled appearance received stares from the other attendees, who were dressed in much more formal – and dry – clothing. In the bathroom, I attempted to salvage my dripping t-shirt by drying it with a mountain of paper towels. With the towels failing to complete the job, I squatted below the hand-dryer and waved my shirt aggressively in the air stream. A tall Austrian woman wearing an elegant green cap with a turquoise feather glanced down at me and, with an ill-disguised look of disgust, strutted out of the bathroom.


Going to a hammam in Turkey

While in Istanbul, my parents decided that we should go to a hammam, a Turkish bath. I was apprehensive but excited – It will be like a spa, I thought. Perfect for some nice relaxation. Once we arrived at the hammam, however, my optimism began to wane. My parents had picked out a nearby hammam where locals went, as opposed to a more tourist-geared one, so that we could “get the full experience.” This meant the building was smaller and more rough-looking. “It has character,” my mom said, as I looked at it dubiously. We made our way into the women’s section, where we were instructed by the woman working there to bathe ourselves with the hot water in one of the side chambers. The air was steamy, suffocatingly so at first, but gradually my mom and I relaxed and entered a sort of dreamy daze. This ended abruptly when the woman in the main room gestured for my mom to come to her. My thirteen year old self watched in horror as my mother was vigorously scrubbed down, naked, by the woman, in full view of the other bathers. Um, no way am I doing that, I thought to myself. I was extremely self-conscious and shy, and I could not imagine casually stripping down and waltzing naked towards a strange lady, let alone being bathed by her. After my mom was done, though, the woman gestured for me firmly. I glanced at my mom, imploring her to save me with my eyes. She only smiled encouragingly. Probably thinking this will help build my confidence, I grumbled to myself. Seeing no way out, I forced myself out of the safety of our chamber and walked towards the woman. Yet, all at once, I felt not paralyzing embarrassment or giggling self-consciousness at my fully exposed body, but rather a sense of immaturity. It’s not even a big deal, I realized. This woman knows what a woman’s body looks like. She has one. She sees them all day long. I smiled at myself for being so silly and relaxed into the pleasant feeling of being scrubbed down. My parents and I stumbled out of the hammam feeling sleepy, refreshed, and content. The late afternoon sun was warm against my pink skin, and I savored the feeling as we walked back to the hotel, where I fell into a deep and restful sleep.

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