on traveling


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About Traveling

I love to travel. But what is travel, that it isn't a vacation?

Well, on a vacation you stay in a hotel, usually a nice one. You go for one, maybe two weeks. And generally, you do one thing that's really fun over and over - lie at the beach, go skiing, etc.

A vacation is a treat - you pamper yourself, you have a good time; most of all, you take your culture with you - the hotel is as nice if not nicer than where you live at home. The restaurants are as good or better than what you're used to. It's great fun. But it's sort of unreal - it's a week of fantasy.

That's not what I do.

I travel.

To me, travel is about immersion - trying to experience what it's like to really be in another country. I stay in small ($2 - $10 a night), out of the way places,in inns, roadside taverns, a tent, a hammock - I've even slept in a brothel (by myself - though if I had changed my mind, convenience was a key feature...). It's about meeting the locals, learning a few words of the language.

And it's about re-thinking who I am, what my culture is, what it means to me. Travel does nothing so much as poignantly show you what your own country is all about. Sometimes it makes me homesick; and sometimes it makes me not want to go home at all.

Usually, I take a trip for anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 or 4 months. I take next to nothing with me - 2 pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, 2 or 3 shirts, some socks, a couple pairs of underwear, and some toiletries. Depending on where I'm going, I might add rain gear, boots, a tent, stove or sleeping bag. Usually a couple of books, a pocket-sized camera and a diary or notebook. That's about it -- it all fits in a day pack, weighs 15 pounds, and fits comfortably in an overhead compartment.

Travel wears you out. Look what it did to my shoes.

Travel is also about what you do, what you choose to see.

We're very fond of thinking that the United States is as good as it gets, as good as it will ever get. That's just hubris, of course, but it becomes more evident when we travel, and see our world from the outside.

It is said that the history is written by the victors; it would be more accurate to say it's erased by the victors.

It's important to me to see the remnants of once-great cultures; to see the vestiges of ancient civilizations. There are scattered bits and pieces hidden around the world, still there to see if you try hard enough. And they won't be there forever. The Moors and Arabs, the Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Tuareg, the Romans to name a few. These people built colossal empires of enormous importance, amazing beauty, empires of which there are very few traces left.

Cortes marched into Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) on November 8, 1519. Of the few surviving first-hand accounts of this civilization (the Aztecs themselves kept no written records), probably the best is The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz.

Of Tenochtitlan he says:

"And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land...we were astounded. These great towns and [temples] and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tales of Amadis. Indeed some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream.... It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.

"I say again that I stood looking at it, and thought that no land like it would ever be discovered in the whole new world....

"But today all that i then saw is overthrown and destroyed; nothing is left standing."

I think we owe it to ourselves to bear witness to the wonders of the worlds, the wonders of our species, and our accomplishments. You will not find greatness in the everyday - it must be sought after, and treasured.

May your bags be light, and your wanderlust never quenched.

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