A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Since I’m whining about travel…

In Travel, Writing on January 23, 2013 at 6:00 am

Since whining about travel yesterday, I went to a few old journals to see how bad it really can be–or not. I found this note from 2005 and thought you might enjoy the following:

The Potala

The Potala, home and palace of the exiled Dalhi Lama.

I arrived in Bangkok last night after an exhausting travel day. It started at breakfast in Lhasa (Tibet), when I ordered hard-boiled eggs, which, when they arrived, exploded as I peeled them, being rotten and stinky. The waitresses in the Cafe where mortified and, ever so cautiously, attempted to dab me clean. I was less troubled by the mess than the stench.

From Lasha I flew east three hours, to Chengdu, China.

I’d made arrangements for a guide and was picked up at the airport by a driver and Maggie, my guide for the day, a bubbly little Chinese girl with dancing eyes, who was bound and determined to make sure I saw everything the city had to offer. She ran me ragged, feeding me some of the best food I’ve ever eaten–Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan Province, need I say more?–to imploring that I go to the Chinese opera, which I declined.

Streets of Chengdu

Streets of Chengdu

Leaving Chengdu around midnight, I flew three hours (across one time zone) and arrived in steamy and noisy (even at 2 in the morning) Bangkok, hired a taxi and asked for the Oriental Hotel. The driver didn’t speak English, despite a well-practiced greeting. Road-bound he tells me “No, no, Ort Hotel.” “Oriental,” I say, swaying from side to side as we bound across lanes. I take out my guide-book to Bangkok, pointing, then pounding on the page, describing it as one of the most famous hotels in Bangkok, maybe the world. Oddly, I want to shout “Graham Green,” as if that should somehow register and mean something to either of us. He shakes his head as he looks at the guide-book, while driving, car horns blaring, then hands it back to me, again shaking his head, handing me his cell phone. Me, exhausted–which doesn’t make me happy–and about to explode, hand it back to him, this time I’m the one shaking my head. 

At last he places a call at sixty something miles per hour and hands me the phone. I

Bangkok by tuk tuk

Bangkok by tuk tuk

pronounce “Oriental, Oriental” into it, hand it back to him, at which time he talks to the person on the phone, then pronounces, “Ah, Oriental…” We make a sharp move across traffic and twenty minutes later roll in, about 3 am. I am greeted at the door by three porters, proclaiming, “Ah, Mr. Bruns, we’ve been waiting for you,” as if I was someone to wait up for. A very welcome sign, indeed.

Water taxi, Bangkok

Water taxi, Bangkok

Bucking the hint of intimidation, as Bangkok certainly is to this traveler, and getting a full night–and some of the day’s–sleep, I leave the Oriental and walk the block to the dock where I hire a water taxi–10 Baht (about 20 cents)–and head up the Mae Nam Chao Phraya, switching boats mid-river (neat trick!) and on to the Wat Ra Kang dock, setting out on my most favorite of things: aimlessly walking the streets of a new city, camera in hand. At day’s end, after making my way back via land taxi(s) and rickshaw, I enjoying a killer meal of Pad Thai (as you might expect) then settle in for the night, as the rest of the city, amid serious grid-lock of taxis, motor bikes and rickshaws, marches to decadence (which has been offered, though declined), lights, and clammer. I call it a day.

Travel Bitching.

In Travel, Writing on January 22, 2013 at 6:00 am

Airports are such an interesting microcosm, everyone rushing around, on their phone, clutching a boarding pass between their teeth while towing an overstuffed bag on wheels. The airport is a kingdom of singular self-interest. Can I get past this stationary person on the moving walk-way? Why does the TSA agent single me out for a pat-down? When will the queue move? Will there be overhead storage left for my overstuffed bag on wheels?

Travelers are tribe nomads without the communal grace of a tribe. Travelers are myopic in focus: get from A to B with the least amount of hassle. Most travelers are blind to other members of the tribe, even the ones in need of tribal support, the elderly, the young, the confused.

The airport is the place where the most cherished of human attributes, joy, enthusiasm, compassion, are too often left curbside along with drinking water, guns and knives. The result is not Lord of the Flies, but it is sometimes close.

I try not to give myself up to this hopelessness, but usually fail. I admire the agent who pushes the elderly lady to her gate, smiling and chatting her up. There is much to learn from the pleasant young lady who wishes me a good day when I buy a pack of gum, her daily grind being so, well, very grinding.

It seems the airport microcosm is where self-interest most prevails and the better edges of human nature are chipped away by the press of elbows and bags and the mounting pressure of advancing departures. Should mother nature grace this scene causing delays the tribal nomad retreats deeper into the tent. There stored deep in the darkest corner is collected the garb of anger, outrage, and the cloak of self-righteousness.

This sounds so very upsetting, yet the experience is not necessarily so. Granted travel is hardly fun for most of us. The travel situation is nonetheless electric with the tension of anticipation: I am going home. Or, the mystery of a new venue awaits me. Or, I will soon be united with those I most love. Or, can I close the deal?

The tribe will put up with most anything for the reward at the other end. My personal problem with that notion is the fashion in which one gives of oneself to the future and suffers in the immediate. I don’t have a fix on such things, but I know that such practice betrays an ignorance of the present moment–a value I hold dear despite the unpleasantness. I believe the present is where I most need to live despite the occasion of wishing otherwise.

I reflect on this–and then, in the air and almost home, I look out the window and see the surging blue of the North Atlantic, the ribbon of land I call home, and my pulse begins to race. Look there, a lighthouse! And there, a lobster boat cleaving the water! My heart sings! “Why do men travel rather than sit still?” wondered Chatwin. Because the view is so very wonderful! Because without it, home is less marvelous!

I  leave the tent and fall into the embrace of my tribe.

Oh, the places you’ll go…

In Adventure, Travel on January 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

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The travel section of yesterday’s New York Times reminded me that I was once a traveler. The specific article prompting this observation is called, The 46 Places To Go in 2013. Of the 46 places listed I’ve been to eight. That is not a bad average, I guess. I used to be a regular and steady country counter and was full of myself a few years ago when I had to have more pages sewed into my filled passport. Bragging rights no longer motivate me, and the travel bug, as some call it, has lessened, albeit, all but disappeared. As I said I was once a traveler, which is like saying, I was once a dancer but don’t have the legs any more.

(Perhaps some day we will discuss the distinction between the traveler and the tourist.)

In the same Times section is an article by Paul Theroux (b. 1941) called My Travel Wish List. The piece was tagged, “The Man Who’s Been Everywhere, Except These Places.” I was pleased to discover that I’d been to at least two places on Theroux’s wish list, places he has yet to visit, Bhutan and the Seychelles. (Seychelles travel piece.) He also comments that he’s never been to Maine’s northern-most, and remotest county, Aroostook; nor has he climbed Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. (“Come ‘on, Paul. I’m a Maine Guide, let me show you!”) I’ve admired Mr. Theroux’s writing for years, and applaud his curiosity-driven life.

“Travel is a state of mind,” he writes in his essay collection, Fresh Air Fiend. “It has nothing to do with existence or the exotic. It is almostfresh.air.fiend.001 entirely an inner experience.” To the non-traveler this might seem odd, even contradictory, but it rings true to my experience. First travels taught me the artificial nature of conventual education. History, geography, language, literature, culture–they all combine into a monolithic “inner experience” when one travels. “Experience and travel,” wrote Montaigne, “these are as education themselves.” Travel of the right order affords one a unique perception regarding the net of experience. In that way it is not unlike a hallucination, where one caresses the stars while sipping champagne. Odd things are perceived, understood, and accepted, transforming the traveler. The world will forever be perceived differently henceforth.

What happened? Where did my passion for the world go? There is no answer at the ready for that question. Travel has been as important to my life as the books I’ve read, if not more so. Is it, as a friend suggested, that in coming to Maine I arrived at my destination? Perhaps, but that seems too pat an answer–and does not lessen the sense of mourning. Perhaps the restlessness of a younger man has been exhausted–at least the physical restlessness. I find this answer close to truth and sadly disconcerting, for I value the quality of restlessness and think it an attribute worth cultivating. It seems not much of worth is accomplished without a healthy dose of it. I do not know an antidote, nor think one likely, for this condition. I find it quietly upsetting and do not think too long on it.

I invite Mr. Clemens to contribute the last word:

1244“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Thanks for reading,

d

…they carried on.

In Life, Travel, Writing on August 14, 2012 at 6:00 am

Fulton, Maryland

It was hot today and the work suffered. I suffered. But not as much suffering as the small crew of men I’d hired to cut the fallen trees, strip the limbs, and carry it all into the woods, suffered. The temperature rose to over ninety and they brought no water. For a moment we considered going to get them water. Imagine: Going to get them water! Water was at the ready. Tap. How have we come to a place where one drives to a store to get water? Instead, Carole filled a pitcher and grabbed some cups and took it to them.

By mid-afternoon we were spent and finished. But they carried on.

Evening found me sitting and pondering the sky. The trees were filled with the sound of cicadas and the horizon was alive with tree swallows, darting there and there again. Above them, far above them, the silver fuselage of a jet traversed the sky. Listing rays of evening light reflected off it and I discerned it heading west. It was at altitude already and I could only image that it was from Europe and heading to maybe Chicago or even a direct flight, Paris to San Francisco. It was the middle of the night for the people at thirty-thousand feet. Would they land fully awake and excited and push off on an adventure, as I like to do? Or would they be irritable and tired and sleepless and wonder why do this, go places and spend time away from home and the comforts of home and the dog and the toothbrush at attention and waiting? Who’s to say? Regardless, this was my thought after a long day of labor and an evening contemplating the sky with a tall glass of Maker’s and a dog hungry for bed.

The Minaj Plain

In Adventure, Death, Life, Travel on July 9, 2012 at 6:00 am

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Village barber, Rajasthan, 2007, © Doug Bruns

A journal note from October, 2007, Rajasthan, India, the Minaj Plain

The sun sets large on the Minaj plain. Three kilometers north a village bustles with evening preparations as penned lambs bleat. Nightfall returns mother and her milk. Herds of village-bound muted goats traverse the plain. Each hoof-drop triggers an explosion of red dust. Endless goat herds move west into the sun and roll off the edge of horizon.

Alone, I walk into their presence. So many beasts! They pass around me, flowing like a river. I am absorbed, a simple obstacle. Hundreds of goats. They move past, following the herder–but for one red goat, her head dropping with each labored telegraphed step; each advance perhaps the last.

The monsoons were heavy and the underbrush flourished. Thorns abound as agents of infection and death. The goat struggles, losing contact with the many, a victim of infection. She will return late; and some morning, tomorrow or perhaps the next, her journey will end.

A little thing will take us down. A cell goes haywire, a thorn infects. We lose contact with the herd. We eventually each return to night in silence.

The goat-herder, distant, his turban brighter at the horizon, turns–is he checking his charges? Or me?

I press my palms and bow. The gesture returned, he escapes to the edge of the earth. The halting goat follows in perfected uncomplaining silence


Leaving on a jet plane.

In Travel, Writing on July 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

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(Written July 1, 7:20pm to around nine pee em.)

What is it, I wonder, about travel and airports, and planes, and anticipation that makes my head come alive? I go to the airport early because that is where I know the ideas hang out. I watch a waitress approach a customer. She stands silently in front of him. He is oblivious, fingers dancing on his phone. Finally she speaks: “Thank you for texting.” He looks up at her like a stupid cow. She wears a name tag: Ma. Thank you for texting–that’s rich.

Elsewhere and later, someone says, “No ESP for me. I have ESPN. High-def.” See what I mean? You don’t need a Parisian cafe when that stuff is floating around. Times like this I think I can be a novelist. But usually that is because I’ve been drinking in the bar, eavesdropping.

On the plane I heard a man say he was moving because he wanted a bigger garage. People move to have a bigger room in which to store inanimate objects? Really? I have been to places in the world where people have no inanimate objects. This same traveler also was overhead to refer to his spouse as “the wife.” I do not recall every hearing a woman refer to her spouse as the husband. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

I fly more than I like and have been upgraded to business as a result. In business the booze is free and this is my single consolation to travel, aside from the great conversations I overhear and the energy I pick up. Those things are really better than the booze, but the booze makes them significant in a way they would otherwise be lacking or simply less interesting.

Leaving Maine is a heart-break always. I hope that never changes.