Quote: There is nothing so good for the human soul as the discovery that there are ancient and flourishing civilized societies which have somehow managed to exist for many centuries and are still in being though they have had no help from the traveler in solving their problems. (Walter Lippmann )
Living for travelling
31st December 2003, the date on which I start in Lima, Peru the fourth stage of “the round of the world in 80 internet-cafes” is approaching and – as always – the first symptoms have arrived, I have a broad smile from one ear to another, my feet dance on their own, my eyes sparkle and I can feel the butterflies in my stomach.
A big part of the e-mails I receive at “Vagamundos” have a common denominator, I get asked why I travel so much, they want to know what I accomplish by travelling and they ask me how one can make a living out of it. I can’t answer to any of these questions clearly, because they are questions that I haven’t even asked myself, I travel because it’s what I like most, I enrich myself as a person and making a living out of it is something like discovering the philosopher’s stone.
Trying to put some concepts in order, with the invaluable help of other travel literature writers, I have gathered - in a sort of a Decalogue- 10 phrases and an ending verse that summarizes the essence of the Travel in capital letters. Each one of them is a piece of a puzzle, which once completed, will probably amaze you.
“I thought it was an adventure, but in reality it was life”. Joseph Conrad
This phrase is connected to the title of the journal: in general we tend to disassociate completely our everyday sedentary life from our travelling vacations, but they are 2 worlds apart, they are watertight compartments, unfortunately for many people it’s 11 months of suffering for one month of happiness. To me, travelling is a way of living, I experience it not as an artificial paradise, but as an everyday reality, where there is no room for routine.
Joseph Conrad was a merchant sailor, his job brought him to places like the Congo River and the experience he gathered there helped him to write “The heart of darkness”, the book that inspired Coppola for “Apocalypse Now”; both the book and the film are a journey to the human mind and soul beyond limits, but Joseph Conrad knew pretty well that his adventures were nothing but Life, and in capital letters indeed.
“Happiness has many faces. Travelling is one of them.” Jose Saramago.
Jose Saramago knows a lot about journeys and exiles, since his commitment to freedom obliged him to leave his country, Portugal, in a time when the winds of freedom still hadn’t arrived there. Creator of a very personal universe, he’s an ethical point of reference in times when ethics had been devoured by aesthetics. The Literature Nobel Prize that he received was a fair prize for a man without a price.
You don’t have to lionise journeys, happiness can be achieved in many ways; I find it in abundance by travelling and thus I spend a big part of my life doing that, but I can also feel absolute happiness at home, travelling around my room, paraphrasing the title of a great book, “Night Expedition around my room”, by Xavier de Maistre.
“To those who ask me the purpose of my travels, I reply that I know well what I’m running away from but I ignore what I’m looking for.” Michel Montaigne.
Michel Montaigne, a French essayist of Spanish origin, descendent of a Sephardi family that escaped the persecution that the Jews were subjected to, with three relatives burned in the bonfire by pigs (this is what converted people that kept on practising Judaism were called like), fought against injustice and religious fundamentalism.
Escaping is a perfectly valid reason to travel for and it has helped me many times in order to space out and change perspective and to help me confront my “ghosts” after returning. Currently I am not running away from anything but I keep without knowing what I am looking for, although I’m sure I’ll recognize it when I find it.
“The best thoughts are the ones strolled”. Friedrich Nietzsche.
Just the fact that the best philosopher of the 19th century wrote this phrase, is a reason good enough to start warming up your feet and, above all, your mind by walking. At least for me, it has always worked. Besides, the idea of vagamundos.net was born and grew during 2 trips to Patagonia and Thailand in long walks at their wonderful landscapes.
Nietzche lived a life on the edge, philology professor at 25 years, chronic ill and almost retired at 35, accused of being an anti-Semite, confronting the academic authorities, admitted in a mental hospital, having fallen out with his friend Richard Wagner, who was also accused of anti-Semitism and without doubt, a man ahead of his era. He must have walked a lot so as to produce a work so complete and profound, that wasn’t really appreciated until one century after his death.
“To travel happily one must travel swiftly”. Antoine de Saint Exupery
Antoine de Saint Exupery knew a lot about swiftness, because he virtually devoted his life to flying; at 26 he was a pilot, but his career was too short, as at 44 he disappeared in a flight between Corsica and the French coast, it is unknown whether he was shot down by the Germans, whether he had an accident, one more of the many he had suffered in those light machines, or if he flew without rest to Asteroide B612 to visit the Little Prince, book which he had published a few months earlier and which contains many levels of reading. I sincerely believe that it has never been possible to condense so much wisdom and narrate it in such a simple way as in the Little Prince.
“One never goes that far as when not knowing where one is going to”. Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was leader of the puritan party and one of the most important figures of the English Revolution, responsible of the 1649 crushing of the Irish rebels seeking independence. Without knowing his life in depth, this phrase, one of my favourites, doesn’t look like the most appropriate for a politician, militant and strategist of Britain, but his eccentricity is well known. In my travels I don’t tend to plan further than my sight can go or than my feet can get me o that day and the sense of freedom that this produces is invaluable.
“I don ask anything else: the sky above my head and the walk below my feet”. Robert Louis Stevenson.
Stevenson passed away at his 44 years, like Exupery, on the island of Vailima in the South Pacific, where he had been transported in an effort to relieve from the tuberculosis that undermined his health. He had a completely classical education, studying engineering and law, but his passion for literature turned out to be stronger, luckily for the lovers of the “Treasure Island”, “The black arrow” and another masterpiece, the rare case of “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, and although it looks like it has nothing in common with “Treasure Island”, they both deal with the eternal struggle between the good and the evil.
The chosen phrase relates to the last years of his life, as in 1889 he was transferred to live on the Samoa Islands. The natives called him “Tusitala”, “the one who tells stories”. He died there in 1894 and was buried on the top of a mountain, with the sky above his head and he went on his way.
“A journey of a thousand kilometres always starts with the first step”. Lao-Tse
The founder of Taoism was one of the great Chinese philosophers and his name meant “Old Wise Man”. Taoism talks of three powers in the universe: a positive one, a negative one and a third one, a conciliating power. The first two oppose to each other and at the same time complete each other. They are “yin” (negative) and yang (positive). The third power is Tao, or the superior power that includes the other two and balances them, the cosmic source that provoked the Creation.
This phrase has always impressed me for its simplicity and the great truth it encompasses;
Great figures of humanity started with a first step, which could be the one that took Neil Armstrong to step on the moon for the first time or the one that took Sidarta, later known as Buda, when he left the luxuries that surrounded him and decided to go out in order to get to know the real world.
Without trying to compare myself of course, the 1400 km and 1.800.000 steps that I made on the Walk of Santiago, started with one first step on September 8, 2003 at the Hercules Tower in La Coruna and finished 69 days later at Cabo Fisterra. I lived the rest of 1.799.998 as intensely as the last one.
“In order to see the world in a grain of sand and paradise in a wild flower, take infinity in your palm and eternity in one hour”. William Blake
William Blake was an English18th century poet called “The crazy one”, creator of a mythology of his own, intricate and of great power that complemented with writings that anticipated another great insane, Dali. His work is prophetic and difficult to comprehend, his proverbs of hell are famous, here is one gem: “The hours of madness are counted by the clock, but no clock can count the hours of wisdom”. Probably mi wisdom clock has stopped, or my wisdom is not enough, but I don’t get it.
The name of the group “the Doors” was adopted by one of its verses, “If the doors of perception were purified, all things would appear to man like they are, infinite”.
In any case, the phrase illustrated in this Decalogue seems to me absolutely brilliant, it speaks of the capacity of humans to synthesize and understand the world that surrounds us.
“We travel seeking beauty, but we will not find it unless we carry it inside ourselves”.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson studied theology at Harvard University, following the family tradition, with 7 priests of the Unitarian Church in his family, but the religion corset squeezed him too much and he abandoned it before his 30th birthday. He started travelling throughout Europe (he was North American) and started publishing poetry and very original essays, that led him to join the movement known as democratic individualism and Trancendalism. Perhaps his most famous book was the essay “The meaning of life”.
The phrase included here is among my favourites, because it speaks about the eternal balance that has to exist between what you give and what you receive, you cannot achieve real love if you are not capable of offering it and you will not find beauty in the world if you don’t carry it within yourself.
“Life is a long pilgrimage that always makes rounds, which always returns to the southern forest, to the lost jungle”. Pablo Neruda
With master Neruda we close the circle; the great poet, traveller, diplomat and above all a human being endowed with a crushing lyricism and simplicity, in this phrase tells us that life is a great journey back to the maternal womb, a pilgrimage that, like the Walk of Santiago, is a journey towards essence, simplicity, happiness, kindness, yang and also a route through the dark side, the yang. If the Journey is productive, we will find the Tao.
When I finished the Camino de Santiago, one of the strolled thoughts I made that I wrote in my notebook said: “On the Walk I did not come across answers, but I simplified the questions”. I don’t consider it to be a poor harvest.
See you soon!
From La Coruna, Spain
Translated by Yorgos Axarlis
Published: 27/12/2003 00:33
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