Posts Tagged ‘wonder’

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

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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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I’m living in one of the most under appreciated and most vilified places by foreign ( non Texan) media  the United States and loving it. Most days  we feel as if we have the place to ourselves and couldn’t be happier. The number of tourists in some  global hotspots has depreciated the quality of  traveling there….. not so in Texas.  There is so much to do here , spread out over such a huge area that crowds ( except for sports venues) are rare. The cost of living is extremely low compared to most other places I have been in the developed world and that really takes the bite out of world class travel.

We chose Fort Worth for today’s day trip. It was back in the spring when we were there last. The streets, shops, venues and bars are much more lively now that the sun is shining every day. We added the Amon Carter Museum of American Art to our list of free public facilities to our list. And guess what…the parking is also free and we didn’t have to make any advance reservations or take transit to get there!!!  ! Ft. Worth has it’s roots in the cattle industry, being the end of the Chisholm Trail of Old West fame.

On the way, we stopped at a road side diner for a traditional Sunday lunch of Southern home style cooking…   fried cat fish filets, fried okra, pecan pie and sweet tea. The catfish was excellent, spicy hot, the way it should be. Did I forget the corn bread biscuits and sweet bread rolls with honey and butter…..shame on me. Once down 26th Street in downtown Ft Worth….also known as The Stockyards… we were treated to an antique car show…many groups of street performers…and we stopped into the very famous ( if you’re a cowboy) White Elephant Saloon for a drink and some quality time holding up the bar with the locals. WARNING… MEN WEAR HATS. People have been drinking beer and playing pool to the sound of some of country musics most famous performers for decades. Sure… it’s smoky and stinks like sour beer….but the people are super friendly and you know you’re in one of the most famous Cowboy Churches in the country.

I’ve lived in a lot of places around the world…. but my travelers eye has spied Texas as one of the best destinations for  the unexpected.

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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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A coming film… The Worlds End….just happens to be written around my favorite pub which happens to be situated in my favorite neighborhood in the world… and coincidentally The Worlds End pub on Camden High Street, London appears in two of my novels…The Bloody Oath,,, and The Enablers. Now is that weird or what? Great travelers find great places wherever they may be. I remember traveling in the days before guide books and backpackers when there were only a few travelers, the world was still relatively pristine and unsullied,  and we’d meet in the oddest places simply because there were no other foreigners to be seen.

A small village in Bali for example….it was simple enough to ask a headman..”Is there any other foreigners here?” And they would send a child to find them. In Bangkok, the Malaysia hotel was the place to run into your friends and the odd CIA or KGB agent. Now of course such places are overrun with tourists looking for coincidental fame and we travelers do our best to avoid them. Strange as it may seem. in the late sixties and early seventies there were under a dozen hardcore travelers, all traders and traffickers of the exotic of the world, and we would meet constantly in airport bars, woodworking villages, gem mines, clothing districts….. And now the movie industry has ‘outed’ The Worlds End…and I’m sure the ancient dive will be awash in backpackers hoping some ‘cool’ will rub off on them…..argghhhh:(

The Worlds End has hosted Charles Dickens who set many of his novels in Camden…..Percy Shelly lived around the corner. The heavy oak floors are bowed from being stepped on since the seventeenth century, The ancient stone tred on the door step is swaybacked with use. I liked to sit looking out the imperfect panes of glass into the street and watch the world go by along the high street. The interior walls are black with five hundred years of pipe smoke. There are few places in London like The Worlds End…..I’m conflicted that they’d made my old haunt a movie set. Of course I say that about all the places that should have rested instead of being commercialized…..oh well…..sometimes it’s true…you can’t go back.

Enablers

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Bloody Oath

I stay in a lot of hotels. I live in a hotel today. A very nice one I might add. But regardless where I go in the world I always encounter cockroaches at one time or another. My wife hates roaches, I am her designated bug killer. For years I wondered why I’ve found so many cockroaches dead or dying on their backs. There have been times I simply found them sleeping…because when I disturbed them they went off , and tried to scurry away. I found this strange, but never questioned why…. until today when I Googgled the question “Do cockroaches sleep on their back?” Surprisingly I came up with hundreds of thousands of answers. Here’s a good one.

http://www.trapsforroach.com/?node=main&id=275&lang=

I have to add…the internet has really changed my life. I might have gone to my grave never knowing the answer to this all important question.

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