Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Richness of Exploring....The Value of Wandering

For some reason, while sitting on a bus in Vancouver, BC; I was thinking about a book that I had perused at my sister's house some years before...

Perhaps it was because I was just about to move back to New Zealand for the summer, to start a new chapter in the book of my life that this book came to mind...

In any instance I thought of that book that I picked up from my sister's coffee table (it's a real 'coffee table' type of book, so that at least is apt...)
1000 Places to See Before You Die has vignettes of many places around the world that you absolutely must visit...at least in the authors opinion...

I may have looked over this book after returning from 9 months or so of wandering in South America, and so my perception of another's wanderings was perhaps tempered by my own, and I must admit I have since not so much as glanced at the book; but at the time I flicked to the pages on that particular continent and needless to say I was underwhelmed by what was shown!

Flipping through those pages I was at least a little struck by the preponderance of tourist traps and travelers 'hot spots' included; many of which I had visited...and many of which were the more banal experiences of this vagabond.
It is of course just opinion, and I have no desire to beat up on the book - because I'm sure for author Patricia Shultz the places are indeed 'must sees' and for many others I'm also just as sure this is true.
But, and I finally get to my point, it does show that when we place too much credence in the opinions of others, and do only that which 'should' be done, we can miss out on so much of the wonder in this world.

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.
~ Gilbert K Chesterton

I remember sitting in a cafe in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City with my good friend Jason, enjoying a cup of Vietnamese coffee (the type with sweetened condensed milk....yum!). There was a young woman sitting just across from us at another table and introduced herself, and very quickly asked if we had been to any bars, cafes and hotels as she was a travel writer for a travel guide (she didn't mention the name...) and needed to give some recommendations in her write up for the city. We both (myself and Jas) thought that was pretty funny, as it certainly looked to us that she had been sitting in that cafe for many hours and we wondered how much she had been out exploring...or whether she had simply asked other travelers what their experiences were. Now there is nothing wrong with getting the opinions of others, but there is a point when if you want to grow, learn and evolve you have to actually do! 
And if you're writing a travel guide, or section thereof I think it'd help to know more from personal experience! (And I'm not suggesting that she didn't....but....)

A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
~ John Steinbeck

Anyone who has done any amount of travelling knows that guide books are a prime example of this. Some places that are derided turn out to be gems, others that are highly recommended (like the dirty, squalid, rundown shack in which I stayed in Tucaman, Argentina) are in fact veritable crap holes (excuse me!) and some not mentioned at all provide the wonderful memories that will last a lifetime (like the cafe in which I sat sipping Sangria on the banks of the river in Hoi An whilst petals fell like snowflakes from the flowers of vines that provided a canopy over the outdoor patio, on which a sign proudly displayed 'Not in the Lonely Planet!).

There is not much more gratifying in this life than wandering and stumbling upon places, people and events that are truly magical for you, and it matters not if those same events are magical for somebody else. They are your treasures.

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.
~ Benjamn Disraeli

I am reminded of another book, now in the retelling. Lent to me by a great friend in Vancouver, it is The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. It tells ostensibly of a journalists journey into the Australian heartland to research the 'song lines', Aboriginal songs that describe the land, the people and history of the great country; and becomes a winding and marvellous allegory for the beauty and wonder of traveling, really travelling, when one wanders, learns and lives out the grand human imperative of being free in a very literal sense.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.
~ St. Augustine

There is a time too, to return home, or to put down roots and sit with your memories and apply what has been learned on the road, always in the knowledge that life is a process, and the road is always there when you need it.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.
~ George Moore



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