Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

I know why I left home early to travel the world, it was to escape my pain and find freedom among strangers. What I realized was that no one I’d left behind was interested in my pain, they envied me for my escape. They thought I was ‘getting one over on them’ and enjoying life more than I deserved. My closest relations envied me for where I’d been and hated me for the stories and scars I’d bring back. The squalid objects in my rucksack were items that disappeared if I let my guard down. I found it hard to believe at first that anyone would covet the talismans of my poverty.

In the earliest days of my traveling ways the people I knew all thought I was taking more than my share from life, because we’d come from the gutter, and as a child I was the lowest of all things, among a hierarchy of creatures, myself being less deserving than all, when in fact most days I was laying my head down tattered, torn and hungry. To many I’d become a  revenant, showing up unannounced and unwelcome at a crowded table… and then a despicable stranger when years of absence had gone by without contact, proof of life, or regard. The truth about travel is that it’s a life…lived day to day, on a budget, on a shoestring, often precarious and dangerously, not a lifestyle…something you share with no one as you’re always alone.

A young person I know on Face Book recently posted ” If travel was free you’d never see me again”. I laughed, knowing that travel has always been free if you let it control your life, give yourself freely, unabashedly, and leave everything and everyone you know behind to pursue the path. It’s the possessions and people you leave behind and conversely come home to that control the amount of time you spend ‘on the road’….not money or desire. You’re either a traveler or a tourist…you can’t be both. Being a ‘traveler’ isn’t a euphemism for ‘travel’…or for having fun while others work…being a true traveler is a calling, a thing, it’s who you are because you’re not ‘one of them’…a different person than the rest, a light in your heart that no one will ever see. Travel is a lonesome profession  you’ll rarely be paid for.

If you’re one of the lucky few who organizes their personal lives to become a traveler, and equips themselves with the will, the wherewithal and skills to ‘never come back’, and the instinctive knowledge of how to deal with abject loneliness by making friends with bar fly’s and street walkers, then you’re a rare bird indeed, and the people who knew you will hate you for it. They will respond to you with veiled contempt and palatable envy.

The distance grows day by day, the vibrations in the air between you and where you came from will have changed, the correspondence between you ‘and them’ is less frequent and shorter until it’s cut off into bit’s of necessity. The money you make while working away will find itself fueling another leg of your journey, never a return ticket. There’s never enough time to go home. I’ll tell you what it’s like to forget the street names of your home town and why it’s suddenly so strange to call a distant capital ‘home’. There’s someone living in your room.

Because of the social status and symbolism we decadent westerners put on the ability to travel to rare destinations , to work in foreign countries, change the world you once knew when others can’t….you will become the focus of peoples envy and contempt. You will become the despicable stranger. Ex-friends who’ve had a downturn of fortune and can no longer ‘keep up’ will avoid returning your emails.

What was once home will become alien ground, salted and lifeless. The tribe will have circled inward and abandoned the notion of kinship with an outsider. “If travel was free I’d never go back”, that’s both funny and sad. Always be careful what you wish for. Because once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole my friends there’s no going back. By the time you decide it might be possible to return you might find the world you left behind has changed so irrevocably that there’s nothing to go back to. To travel is to be taken by the wind.

Because traveling is not somewhere you’ve planned to go or somewhere you’ve been. It’s a state of mind, an act of being true to your inner voice. It’s a statement that describes a poem written in the flesh of your soul. It’s the essence of who you are. The traveler is by nature and practice a loner….like driftwood. Travelers are willing to addict themselves to the journey without looking back at the havoc and consequence. It’s not about how much it costs or much you have left in the bank. The clock is never ticking down for the traveler because time is irrelevant.

You seek to refine yourself. Your peers are people who own nothing and carry nothing other than the bare essentials. Travel is not about coming or going. It’s about where you’d like to be next. The journey begins to explain why you don’t fit in anywhere anymore…because you’re fragments of all the places you’ve been and not the mirror image of a place where people seek to emulate each other for security. Travel is that fragile state between life and longing to be somewhere else.

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

Petroglyphs of modern saloon culture

What a world of contradictions we live in. My own self administered paradox is incomprehensible, even to me sometimes. “How can you live like that?” an engineer we met in Dallas asked in astonishment when Trish and I  explained that we hadn’t been ‘home’ more than a few weeks in the preceding few years. In fact we’d lived in the Hyatt Las Colinas in Dallas for almost three years running when we bumped into him at the poolside BBQ one afternoon.

He’d just bought a house in his native country, the Slovak Republic, it was his goal to have security and a sanctuary. The mindset of our engineering friend is common, it just isn’t for us. “I don’t know”, I replied. “Things just have a way of working out”….and they really have. Our recent and free week long stay at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap Cambodia is an example of how ‘things’ can ‘work out’ if you’re organized and travel savvy.

Some people envy us, they covet what we have, but have no understanding of how we came to be the nomads we are. I wouldn’t describe what we have done as sacrifice, we just want different things. As a friend of mine once quipped, “You have to be very organized to be as lazy as I am”. That sums up our lifestyle succinctly, though not entirely accurately.

Trish and I have foregone many things. We don’t have a long term mortgage, own a boat or a car lease. We haven’t renovated the house and stuffed it with material goods. We have never been consumers of ‘stuff’, instead we collect experiences. Our life is personalized, we do only what we choose, and yet we have achieved a level of success by enjoying the banquet and the open bar, but never eating the worm.

I haven’t felt like writing since I wrapped up my last novel. That two year experience was arduous, and I’m not feeling the energy to do that again any time soon. My daily life is consumed with personal thoughts about today and tomorrow, but nothing too far down the line. I feel like I’ve done enough scheduling to last quite some time.

Planning the next act of travel is my only obsession these days. I have fantasies and dreams that don’t include security or pride of place. I don’t work anymore, and with retirement I have allowed myself to exercise a degree of ‘I don’t give a shit’, that I haven’t allowed reign in the past twenty five years or so since becoming a husband and father. Getting older is somewhat like being a teenager again, feckless and cynically disorganized.

I just got back from a trip to Cambodia. I was less impressed by the poverty than I used to be. I looked for happy photographs instead of images of misery and neglect. Trisha and I fed the children beggars instead of artfully ignoring them as many tourists do. I saw far too many people working way too hard at ‘getting everything done’ as they grow closer to the end. The simple facts of life lay strewn on the sidewalks and gutters like cast off flowers . I saw  tell tale signs of utter exhaustion, fear and desperation, disconnected people, no where near the completion of their guide book inspired ‘bucket list’. I seek no such frustrations.

When I was young(er) I  left ‘home’ to travel. My passions took me away for so long that I became disassociated from everything and everyone I’d  ever known. After years away I returned a stranger to family and friends who’d moved on. I remember the impression that the streets of New Delhi were more familiar than those I returned to.

Today I live in Bangkok Thailand, occasionally struck by emotions of longing and separation. Returning to BKK from Cambodia was a homecoming to familiar territory.  I walk around my neighborhood and realize I know everyone, everyone knows me. People noticed I was gone. My favorite soup stall vendor, Khun Fa, remembers what I like, it’s endearing.

I’ve lost the familiarity with what was once my home, once again I will have to start over in Canada, where communities change rapidly with new immigration endlessly churning the population and neighbors last for minutes until they’re replaced with someone elses great expectations. I have no idea what to expect if and when I return. Here in Bangkok, people reside in the same area for generations in giant family units, and give life a sense of continuity. That’s how things are going, I’m floating from one day to the next, unwinding myself. The end of the road for a happily homeless traveler has no stop signs. Fringelords

“Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it”, so goes the old saying. Ever since I was young I wanted to travel. I was impressed by two books, The Wealth of Nations , The Travels of Marco Polo and  any documentaries/photojournalism work from the wild world outside my tiny corner. By the time I was eighteen I had been infected by the travel bug so that as soon as I was able to get my first passport and the inoculations necessary  I was gone. I have been traveling or planning to travel ever since.

‘Getting away’ has always been a personal obsession. The preoccupation with foreign countries and cultures has been a distraction. While I should have been in university with my cohort I was exploring my fantasy world. I missed all the usual benchmarks anyone of my generation strove to achieve and the knowledge of those that did has faded like a mist. I have never attended a wedding or a funeral. To my family I existed only as a postcard or a phone call at Christmas time, appearing only in the event of  some catastrophe.

I learned so many things on the road that I can’t share with anyone. My relationships are transient by practice. Time away has severed all ties.   I pay a price for my wayward ways. I am more comfortable in a hotel room or short term rental bungalow than in the house I own. I prefer the company of strangers. I go home and feel like an alien when nothing looks familiar . The cross streets of New Delhi or Bangkok are more recognizable than the place of my youth.

And yet I get emails from people who say they envy the travel lifestyle. I say to anyone who considers what we do as a permanent choice for themselves, “Be careful what you wish for… because you just might get it”.

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You know you’ve been away too long when going home feels…weird. Trish and I have a home in Vancouver BC Canada, we go there sometimes, but not very often. You’d think we’d have a greater attachment to the place after so many years of struggling to pay for it ( Vancouver has the most expensive real estate on the planet) and raising a family there. Instead we left to recapture our lives. I feel a rare twinge of nostalgia and little remorse for having left that turbid and restricting world behind. My past is like a time capsule trailing  at the tail end of a drifting spidery thread. I guess old memories never die….they just stalk you.

Almost two years ago we moved from Bangkok to Dallas Texas. Our immersion in Thai culture was so deep and intense that leaving felt as if we were tearing ourselves away from something we loved completely. Now, after all this time in Texas we have been accepted as locals. Texas is a transient culture… everyone is welcomed here. It  feels like home. When we recently revisited Vancouver, it was a strange and distant land….nothing was familiar . Like Jim Morrison wrote, “people are strange, when you’re a stranger”.

I wrote a novel some years ago titled ‘The Revenant’, about a man who tries but fails to reconcile with his past as he spirals towards death with his last breath of life. There is an old saying that goes “you can’t go back’…and whoever coined that expression was speaking from experience. A revenant  is a person returning home to a population that gave him up as either lost or dead. I wondered about that this morning, not for the first time, ‘have I taken a step too far….have I moved beyond the point of no return’?  And BTW…Happy Halloween.

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Texas is a widely diverse society. In fact the state leads all others in welcoming immigrants. Surprisingly this is not reported by the general media. Looking back I see that Texas has always been a diverse cultural melting pot. Many native American tribes resided here for tens of thousands of years beginning with the mass migrations of Clovis People after a succession of Ice Ages that swept people south. The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the land, traveling north from Mexico.

A reverse migration of sorts brought a mixed population of Mexican, Indian, Spanish and Mestizo back to Texas in the early 1500’s. The first mass scale cattle ranching industry was established in Texas. The mixture of people clashing became Texano’s, and they came from everywhere. Small towns still carry the names of small Irish and Czech villages that hopscotched from Eastern US ports across Tennessee and Arkansas into what is today Texas. Lost in all this were the native Americans striving to maintain their dignity and identity after being rolled over by the modern world.

Yesterday Trish and I attended a Pow Wow, a meeting of people and tribes, in Grand Prairie Texas. It reminded me that Texas wasn’t always a maze of freeways and industry.

 

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Armadillo’s are nocturnal creatures, the only ones I’ve seen have been laying dead by the side of the road . I am  a crepuscular creature, preferring  the twilight and  dawn hours when it’s cool. I like to head out early and come home late, before the sun explodes and showers it’s violent burning radiation onto the world . It’s the singular intensity of  radiation that really turns me on. I love the incredible color separation at high noon when every blade of grass, tree and golden hay bale in the field is glowing  and redefined as if by HDR Photoshop effect. I come from a place where the sun rarely shines…and when it does it’s weak and apologetic.

I have developed a special appreciation for the sun after growing up in sun starved Vancouver BC Canada where people walk with their hidden heads bowed submissively and that element of their miserable existence has become an aspect of their societies wider personality. It’s not called ‘No-fun Vancouver’ for no good reason. Events are contrived and politically managed….there is no spontaneity there…people are never free to be …outside. Its the sunshine and being able to live out of doors that makes places like Texas so cool.

When we drive down the Texas highways and the clouds pop out glowing white against an intensely cerulean sky as if we’re sitting in a moving IMAX 3-D theater….it’s otherworldly. I can imagine coming to an understanding why people see the face of God more often in places where nature is such an intense experience. This weekend we visited historic Jefferson in Johnson County on the Louisiana border and Greenville…further north towards Oklahoma. The higher elevation of Johnson County produced a surprise… tall pines forests as opposed to the dry deserts of southern plains. Jefferson is where the bayou’s begin and steam boat travel was once possible from Baton Rouge on the Gulf Coast.

On the way we stopped in McKinney for lunch…. a sweet and well preserved old west  town north of Plano on the 75 Hwy North of Dallas.  We stop as much as we can in whatever local phenomena happens along the way….this time it was the Dairy Queen in Farmersville, maybe one of the last whitest places in America. We caught the lunch crowd as the Baptist church across the road was getting out.

Strangers are obviously unusual in rural Texas, we turned the conversation down to a whisper when walking through the door. I wanted to apologize for Canada burning down the White House in the War of 1812….but  a mixed couple with strange accents and glowing sun tans was as much as  this crowd could handle.  I learned something….I now know you can order biscuits and peppery sausage gravy at the Farmersville Dairy Queen.

Road trips through small town America have to taken in convertibles. Its true….you can drive for days and still wake up in Texas. The open roof adds intensity to the tactile experience… like taking communion with the world around you. The scenery and sounds blast by in motion and audible parallax while wind buffets and slaps your face and  sunshine burns your skin raw so that you glow…and exhibit raccoon eyes in the rear view mirror… it’s exhilarating. Before settling on  Camaros we drove many different vehicles. I find the Camaro Convertible to be the best road trip car I have ever driven.

Having the top down eliminates the bubble effect of an enclosed vehicle with a favorite radio station keeping you anchored in the past. The open road is life being lived…most times without conversation, you sit in awe as the planet spins by beneath you….you’re tied to a strip of fading asphalt so you don’t lift off and fly. After every road trip we return home to see ourselves in the mirror…sunshine silly and smiling like delighted children….before plunging into our pool….. knowing we’ve done something important with our lives by living for today.

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Sometimes I get to act like a kid again and do something impractical. Getting out on the open road was a practice that formed the mindset I enjoy today more than any other influence. So…when I got the chance to put a cool car like a Camaro Convertible on the road and drive to San Antonio Texas I was thrilled at the prospect. Highway construction in Texas is like religion, zealous and never ending. Whatever your chosen destination or route there are plenty of alternatives, from super toll ways to busy highways , freeways laced together with turnpikes and farm roads that stitch the  hinterland together.

The amazing thing is that any road you choose will be in fantastic condition. The route I took was so smooth… it was like gliding on silk. We drove the always busy TX E 35S out of the massive Dallas Metroplex to the 130S that took us through Austin….and on the way back we drove the TX 281N to the HWY 67N and FM 1382 dotted with small town America and the history of the Old West. Many of the sparsely populated towns along the way …. like Hico…or Glen Rose…are like time capsules that stopped growing when cotton peaked and caused the entire area to fall into a long slumber. This separation cleaves two worlds neatly in two…. the old from the new.

Civilization along the sleepy HWY 281 N/S between Dallas and San Antonio is primarily centered around a bucolic ranch culture…tall signs pop out in the form of elaborate wrought iron gates above cattle barriers announcing a fanciful name …like Rancho del Blanco …or some such thing….but  indicate that nothing but more miles across  barren land through grazing herds of scattered cattle or goats might be at the end of the road.

San Antonio itself is a tourist machine for primarily American holiday makers from the South and South West…..and it is a fantastically well developed place for easy access… for example the River Walk is spectacular.  Although there are now thousands of restaurants, tours , an incredible range of accommodations, hotels and gee gaws designed for family fun…. San Antonio is primarily famous as  home of the Alamo…which sits like a queen amongst a palette of tourism jewels.

This was the location where tough minded Texans fought Mexican General Santa Anna and lost… but eventually declared  independence on March 2, 1836. Something that’s not as well advertised outside the region  is that this area had been occupied by  Spanish missionaries for hundreds of years prior to  American immigration. Before that  native Indians  occupied the land for thousands of years. Each left some fascinating reminders of what Texas looked like before the United States came to be.

A chain of religious missions and outposts …including aqueducts, built by the Franciscan order of Catholic missionaries now forms a series of National Parks called The Mission Trail. The trail is composed of four missions and other private settlements, set miles apart  connected by a narrow strip of asphalt that winds  through  broken desert and green arroyo’s . Although the fortified building complexes seem to be ruins at first glance, they are still being used as active churches for local people. The sense of 500 years of continuation, church bells, prayer ,  history and community is fascinating. Fortunately for us, none of these places are over run with tourists. The experience reminded me of visiting profound archeological sites somewhere in the third world…..not minutes from comfortable San Antonio.

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Given that I have choices, I will confess, I love what I do. As strange as my lifestyle seems to some, you can’t imagine being rootless… until it happens to you. Most days I feel as if my feet never touch the ground. I’ve written extensively in the past on the subject of the hard core travelers life…but I’m not sure I’ve ever really nailed it. I would imagine this inherent rootless nature is what keeps me searching for another place to temporarily hang my hat. I know of many people who make an entire life out of one city, one job, a single interest,

I wonder how they do it. That would bore the crap out of me. Some people start with good intentions, but let themselves be dragged down by an avaricious disposition to possess material objects. Others get lonely while away and seek the structured comfort of a long term relationship and all that entails. Young people lose their youth and the world becomes objectified into paying bills and raising children. It takes a special personality type to drift off and never  touch down…like a perpetual travel machine.

I learned early on how to make a living out of an empty suitcase. I married in the middle of an ocean and raised a child on beaches, in airports and strange cities. It’s a life style I recommend to everyone. I have witnessed travelers suffer tropo so that the antipodal cultures they encounter becomes confrontational. That defeats the whole purpose of traveling. Ideally, you’ll become a kind of  Sadhu, eschewing the possessions and  standards of the world you leave behind. Imagine your freedom…if you can….and become the mighty mighty traveler. Forget about your short term vacation strategy… a month or six won’t cut it…… set yourself free. I promise….you’ll see the most amazing things along the way. Life is short….you’ll never get younger than you are right now.

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Trish and I are celebrating our one year anniversary in Dallas….but this is just the latest stop in a long line of stopovers. As Canadians, we are considered an anomaly. Most people in my country tend to hunker down, build a nest and stay in that one place for life, in the same job, short term vacation, paint the house every five years, have 1.2 children, put a different car in the driveway, buy a house they can’t afford, spend thirty five years trying to pay it off, divorce at least twice…. and never leave their comfort zone until  taken out in a box. Canadians in general are sedentary unimaginative and predictable people. The banks and government love them for acting like sitting ducks.

Many people emigrate,  we are nor immigrants…. we wander by choice. We have zero intention to stay in one place, instead we float in a dish of cream. When the milk runs dry we will  be on our way. In the past ten years in particular, we have been ‘on the road’ so to speak, living in hotel rooms and long stay executive apartments. I particularily like countries that rent furnished apartments by the week, like Australia. It’s liberating to move from one great view to another. I do not want plants or animals tying me down. I have a beautiful wife …why would I need a little furry buddy to assuage my inner emptiness? Aside from Dallas we have lived/ worked in  Paris , Amsterdam, London, Bristol, Beijing, Singapore, San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, New York, Maui, Helsinki,Denpassar,  and visited many places in between…..prior to that..  long stints in  Fiji and Brisbane homeschooling our son on the beaches. For university prep we gave the boy a top boarding school education and he went on to spend six years living on the campus of a great university. He is very independent and we’re quite proud of that.

The travelers lifestyle got under my skin when very young. I suppose you develop a mindset after a while where ‘home’ becomes a concept rather than a place. Our circle of friends are living around the world rather than the house-frau and her balding husband across the cul de sac. I’m permanently tanned from too much time in the sun, whereas in Canada they’re sounding alarms against the idea of even 15 minutes exposure. My travel flesh is deep and dark. My rotator cuffs  joints in arms and hips are grinding like an old transmission from too much time spent in swimming pools and surf lines…my travel bones are worn. And still I have no want to return ‘home’ and begin collecting china or automobiles….or even worse….take up golf.  This a hell of a lifestyle…. but someone has to live creatively.

Canadians in particular are jealous to the extreme, they covet  and become angry when anyone has something they cannot. It’s a peculiarity of the culture. You’ll find  conversations with Canadians  begin with  identifiers ‘what do you do….where do you live, how much do you make.. where have you been on holiday’? It is a Canadian caste system that defines who you are financially compared to every one else. They’ll want to know if they’re ahead or behind so that they can either envy you or despise you. Vancouver , for example has been polled as being the loneliest, least friendly, and difficult to make new friends in as a city…. there is a large population of people reporting some form of depression and mental illness due to the social isolation. People there are so covetous of anything another might have that they can’t decide to ‘just be normal’.A visitor to Vancouver will notice a desperation to own real estate and a huge number of newly leased cars…. but no theater scene, no music scene, art scene, no cool neighborhoods…..just a lot of miserable people sitting around telling you how great their city is as justification for what they’re paying every month. In fact…it has to be the most miserable , covetous place I have ever been.

But I remind people that what you do in life is a choice. ‘Change your mind.. change your life’… is a phrase that popped into my head when I began my career as a traveler hitchhiking around North America and then branching off to spend decades wandering the world. It works for me…..and if you don’t like where you are…pack a suitcase and go somewhere you do. Hey…it works for us. I guess I’ll have to keep my crown as ….THE KING OF PAIN.

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