Many dream about leaving their job and buying a one-way ticket to a fantastic destination. Durangoan Ray Pierotti did it.
Pierotti, 67, retired as the energy adviser and lighting specialist at La Plata Electric Association in July 2018 after 20 years with the co-op. In November, he left for India with no date for returning to the states, he said. He had envisioned a two-month trip across Southeast Asia, but stayed about five months in a region of the world he had never visited before.
Pierotti, who is naturally chatty, set out to meet people – students, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, foreign tourists and others. The open attitude he adopted on his trip brought him joy, and it is one he wants to have in his everyday life.
“By doing that, you see so much kindness,” he said.
Confronted with overwhelming hordes of bicycles and cars, particularly in Vietnam, he didn’t observe the road rage that consumes so many American drivers. It is that patience that he wants to apply upon his return.
“If I can put it into action the rest of my life, that would be the ultimate,” he said.
He came home because he had to do his taxes, a responsibility he was a bit annoyed about fulfilling.
“The more I traveled, the more I wanted to stay out on the road,” he said.
Pierotti visited India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. He traveled like a 20-something, staying in dorms and renting bicycles to explore. Even the natives commented on his style of travel.
“There weren’t too many travelers like me my age,” he said.
Just like many Millennials, he documented his trip on Instagram, where he posted dozens of the moments he spent with locals or other tourists.
Wherever he went, he endeavored to learn the basics of the language and how to be polite.
Pierotti advises other travelers interested in connecting with people in a foreign country to make similar gestures of goodwill.
“Learn a little bit of the language so people can look at you and know that you are making an attempt to be respectful,” he said.
About 80% of the time, communication with any given individual was difficult or impossible, he said. But he found the natives generally spoke enough English for him to get by. When he did meet someone who spoke English well enough, he made sure to ask tons of questions about their jobs, economy and government.
“I had people that didn’t know me at all that wanted to buy me meals and buy me beer,” Pierotti said.
He was invited into the kitchens of taxi drivers and restaurant owners for dinner, an experience he appreciated as a former restaurant owner himself.
Not that everyone was friendly or every moment was comfortable for Pierotti.
After he landed in Delhi, his taxi driver tried to scam him by taking him to the slums and asking everyone where to find Pierotti’s hotel. After two hours, Pierotti got upset and demanded to be taken to his hotel.
“That was scary – that was my first few hours in India,” he said.
In the spring, he saw some of the worst air pollution in the world when the rice farmers from Malaysia to Thailand burned their fields.
But he also visited Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world, dived with hundreds of sharks in the Maldives and visited the killing fields in Cambodia, where those who did not agree with the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s were sent to work to death.
In northern Vietnam, Pierotti drove the Ha Giang Loop, a motorbike loop, through mountains he likened to scenes from “Lord of the Rings.”
It was in Vietnam where he met a group of Buddhist monks and nuns, who are in general fairly private people, who befriended him. Few of them spoke English well, but they kept offering him food and lodging, every time they met by chance on the road. In the end, they left him with an open invitation to visit their monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam.
“Little things like that made it a wonderful adventure,” Pierotti said.