Friday, November 6, 2009

why we travel

This morning I woke up before dawn. With half-awake eyes, I tripped through my morning routine in the dark. Once outside in the world still asleep, I struggle to find a taxi driver to take us to the temple. It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’m haggling with an Egyptian over fifty cents in fare. Once I arrive at the temple, I dodge the hawkers and thieves, just beginning their days’ plundering of tourist pockets. We slip past the guards with knives and machine guns to the ticket-taker, who watches me with an unnecessary amount of scruples and - finally - we emerge into a forest of giant columns, the promised land at dawn.

The light of the new day strikes the pink sandstone and sets it ablaze. The sky begins an extravaganza of ever-changing hues of blue behind the glowing temple walls. And the best part of it all - we’re alone. Probably the only few minutes of the day that we won’t be inundated with tourist hoards and their accompanying leeches. So, I finally release the tension in my muscles, and I look at my best friend and see his mutual longing for the sanctity of this place and time. We breathe in the cold morning and share this holy moment. He takes my hand and we stare, mouths agape, at the fantastic ancient world that surrounds us.

Our travels are a sort of pilgrimage. At no point have we been lying around, sipping Mai Thais and eating hamburgers. To us, this act of travel is a sacred rite - a passage into adulthood, taking responsibility for becoming citizens of the world. Similarly to religious pilgrims, we often suffer in order to attain our goals. The vast majority of our time is toiling, and only a tiny percentage of our time are moments like I just described.

We sweat, stink, rush, cry, pray, curse, become weak, hungry, thirsty, dizzy, nauseous. We see the worst in people - the spitting, seething greed and corruption that can exist within people. There are moments when we are genuinely afraid, or pissed off, hopeless, or just plain cranky.

This is all rooted in why we travel, which effects the way we travel. We go to learn, to see the world that our ancient predecessors made, and to understand them, so that we might not make their same mistakes. We come to stand in the dying natural world, to listen to the siren song of the bleaching coral reefs, to watch the lone tiger prowl through the forest as its population quickly diminishes unbeknownst to it, to stand at the summit of a sacred mountain and be surrounded by ever-more polluted air, to swim under a waterfall in a lush lagoon in water that was once pure enough to drink. We see these places so that we can mourn for them, and tell of their dying moments to our children who cannot imagine such a thing as a wild tiger.

We travel to see the modern world and the quickly diminishing uniqueness between cultures. With the rapid McDonaldsization and mediation of the world, languages are being lost in favor of the television and recipes that existed for centuries are being forgotten in the name of quick, cheap food. We venture into the remotest regions to get a glimpse of the pre-globalized world, and try to learn from the differences and become aware of the vast and sometimes surprising similarities in human nature.

Moving around the world is not about pleasure for us. We only take joy in it in the same way that we take joy in life, in the act of living. Our travel is a serious undertaking, a sacrifice. We feel be must be students of the world, in order to be responsible citizens within it. Over these years we have taught ourselves how we want to live, and how to be right in the world.

No comments: