Esperando un Camino
In my office there is a bronze sculpture we acquired in Madrid, Spain some 25 years ago. It is about a foot tall and depicts a young woman. She is barefoot and has long flowing hair. Dressed in a peasant blouse and long skirt, she stands with her hands on her hips looking down. At her feet is an open bag with a bedroll and a book sticking up out of it. There is a small satchel leaning against it. The title is “Esperando un Camino.” The artist is Joseph Bofill
I don’t know where she’s going but I’ve always wanted to come along.
My work has taken me to most states across the USA as well as Canada, Germany and England. One of my few regrets is that I’ve never had the occasion for an international posting.
But I’ve had the good fortune to see a bit of the planet on my own: Mexico, Canada, Ireland, Wales, England, Greece, Crete, Puerto Rico, Tahiti, Venezuela, Curacao, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Paris, India, Kashmir, Goa, Nepal, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Eleuthera, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Barbados, Antigua, Martinique, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala. Pretty much in that order although I’ve visited some more than once. And I may have forgotten one or two.
Rickshaw under repair
I’ve traveled to and around those places by plane, train, bus, subway, taxi, hired car, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, hitch-hiking, foot, horse, donkey and elephant. Not only traveled by elephant, but herded rhinoceros by elephant back in Nepal. I love saying that!
My wife says that a lack of traveling interest would have been a deal breaker.
While we’ve been on cruises, tours and stayed at resorts, those don’t much appeal to us. When my daughter was little we went twice to Disneyland while I was in LA on business. When I die, and if as many predict I go to Hell, I will be spending my eternity trapped and wandering in a Disney park.
The Devil, with Hell in the Background
Interestingly, at least to me, our daughter also loves traveling. At the tender age of 19 she’s been to Europe, Africa, South East Asia and Australia. At 16 she spent six weeks in Thailand with a group called The Experiment in International Living. Had I known how little supervision would be in place I doubt I would have let her go. But she loved it, and I’m glad I did.
Yours for the Asking
We’ve tried to raise her to see the world as her backyard and she does. She is already applying for an internship with the US State Department and she’ll be honing her fluency in French while studying outside of Paris for her Junior year 2012-13.
Many people, of course, don’t care much for traveling.
It is a highly personal choice. However, I can’t help but think part of the problem is the way the Travel Industry approaches the whole business. Mainly: avoid the locals and their culture whilst cramming as much into as little time as possible so people can check off their list and say “Yep, I’ve been there, done that!”
I can remember a day tour we signed up for in Mexico a few years back. We started early, were loaded into the van with the other sardines, ah tourists, and raced about the area to see every possible thing the tour company could come up with. Many were old churches.
The third one was especially lovely, or at least so it seemed as our guide hustled us along at a record pace. “Look there! See that! Isn’t it wonderful! OK back to the van, we’re running behind!”
As we walked back thru the courtyard my wife turned to me and said, “Man, when we do a church, we do a church!!”
Before I was married I spent a month roaming Ireland on my bicycle. The Ring of Kerry is a beautiful road around a western peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic. At one point there was a small parking area overlooking a spectacular view. Since I had the place to my self, I crossed the road and climbed a small hill for an even better vantage point.
This is thirty plus years ago, but I still have that vision clearly in my brain. I must have spent 2 or 3 hours soaking it in. Rarely have I seen its equal.
At one point a huge ugly tour bus pulled up. With this blight now in my line of sight I stood to gather my things to move on. The tourists piled out of the bus, at least some of them, put their cameras to their faces and began snapping away. Not one, far as I could tell, paused to actually just enjoy the view. Before I was done stretching they were back in the bus and on their way.
Worked for me, but I couldn’t help feel bad for them. On the off chance they ever look at those photos now my guess is they wonder, “Where the hell was this?”
Whether you want to travel at all and how you do it is obviously up to you. But if it seems not to appeal or your experiences have been disappointing, maybe the way we do it might be of interest.
Here are some keys that work for us:
Travel slowly. For our honeymoon we spent three weeks in Scotland. The most common comment was, “Three weeks in Scotland? What can you do for three weeks in Scotland?”
This was closely followed by, “I’ve been to Europe and saw it all during my two week tour.” Ah, OK.
Rushing from place to place ticking off the sights as you go means you’ll spend most of your time in transit. Not fun, and spending a three hour layover in the Frankfurt airport doesn’t mean you’ve been to Germany.
Relax. Find a local cafe and waste an afternoon over a cup of coffee. Watch the locals drift by. Maybe even talk to a few.
Avoid the sights. Maybe not all of them, but choose just a few that really appeal to you. Learn to be comfortable leaving some stones unturned. Be sure that what you see you take the time to see well.
A bench in Jackson Square, maybe mine.
Linger in cafes and parks. Absorb the feel of the place. Breathe it in. Last year in New Orleans I found an isolated bench in Jackson Square. I sat for an hour with my eyes closed and just listened. Quiet your mind and let it it flow.
The locals might not be as scary as you think
Talk to the locals. Lots of travelers complain that the people in such and such a place are unfriendly. Well, if you are flying past in a rush to your next sight you are not, candidly, a very attractive opportunity for them.
In Quito we stumbled on a little chocolate shop. Because we were leisurely poking around Ruth, the owner, took the time to chat. Before long she was insisting that we stay to try her special hot chocolate. Incredible stuff and while we were sipping it, her friend Celeste stopped by. Introductions were made and during the course of conversation we mentioned we were looking for a Spanish tutor.
Turns out Celeste knows just the person and two days later she brings Sylvia over to our apartment. Sylvia not only begins to teach us Spanish, we wind up taking side trips with her. This October she came to visit us in New Hampshire and next summer we’ll be traveling with her thru Bolivia and Peru, two areas she knows very well.
Before we left we were guests in Ruth’s home and her husband, who works as a naturalist on the Galapagos had invited us for a “behind the scenes” visit.
Of course, we didn’t see every church and museum in town.
If you can, spend some time. Even if you’ve only a week, pick a spot and focus on what’s there.
This past summer we took an apartment in Quito for the month. By the time we left we knew all the local shop owners. One day we went to the little shop where we bought our eggs and milk. It was closed. On the walk back to the apartment we ran into the owner. We exchanged pleasantries and asked when he would reopen. He insisted on walking the two blocks back to his shop, opening it and selling us what we needed before closing again and going on his way.
We’ll remember that long after we’ve forgotten the museums.
Leave your camera at home. Too many people waste their time trying to record the trip rather than living it. Indeed, I’m convinced many see everything they see only thru the lens. Give it a rest. If you follow the advice above you’ll meet locals. They’ll have cameras and they’ll send you the pictures they took to remember your visit. As for scenery, use Google. You’ll find better shots of the Taj Mahal or Kilimanjaro there than you are likely to take yourself. Been here, didn’t take the pics:
Arches National Park
Prefer video? This site will take you all over the world:
Do it now. Sad to say, the world is becoming a more crowded place. Back in the early 1970s I visited Arches National Park in Utah. Simply stunning and I had the entire place all to myself all day. Find the undiscovered and go now.
Do it while you are young. There is no question that travel involves some discomfort. Sitting in cramped airline seats for hours on end. Bouncing over rutted roads in antique local buses. “Delhi Belly.” Or….
Sleeping in haylofts after a night of music and beer with your kidnappers.
As I feel the years build the time is coming where the hassle will outweigh the joy. But, thankfully, not yet. If you are going to do it, now is the time.
“I admire the strenuous tourist who sets out in the morning with his well-thumbed Baedecker to examine the curiosities of a foreign town, but I do not follow in his steps; his eagerness after knowledge, his devotion to duty, compel my respect, but excite me to no imitation. I prefer to wander in old streets at random without a guidebook, trusting fortune will bring me across things worth seeing; and if occasionally I miss some monument that is world-famous, more often I discover some little dainty piece of architecture, some scrap of decoration, that repays me for all else I lose. I am relieved now and again to visit a place that has no obvious claims on my admiration; it throws me back on the peculiarities of the people, on the stray incidents of the street, on the contents of the shops.”
W. Somerset Maugham, from The Skeptical Romancer
Addendum 2: Here’s a video well worth your time if the world and its cultures hold an interest for you: