Friday, June 18, 2010

Tintin never went to Cambodia

We can never recapture the wide-eyed excitement, that pure innocent joy and wonder felt as children on Christmas morning, waking up at 6am to open presents, or trying to catch a glimpse of Santa. When we get older we encounter other excitements: sex, drugs, music, films and lots of other things besides which try to emulate that innocent wonderment again.

Travelling’s not a bad one to add to the list. As I go, I unwrap cities, foreign tongues and alien landscapes and almost feel like I am a little boy again, or like Tintin – invincible and fearless, without a care in the world.

There is a beautiful simplicity about travelling. Not the missed buses, the upset stomachs, the language difficulties, being ripped off or any of the trivial things. No, I mean the way of life. And it does become a way of life. One lives day by day, for the day, just as most of the natives do in the countries you're visiting (assuming you're travelling in developing countries). One has no diary, and no real plan. The furthest you can think ahead is a day. Of course it's a fantasy. Money, work and a place to live are of no concern. Hotels are cheap, money is cheap and in fact the only nagging feeling is this is not going to last forever, and it doesn’t.

A friend of a friend had sold everything he owned to go to India. He spent nine months there and when he returned to England, with nothing, he killed himself. That is rather an extreme example. But after travelling extensively, how can you ever be satisfied with what life has to offer at home? Just like in a movie or a soap opera, where a week of events in the characters lives is the equivalent of a year in our time, so it is with travelling. All television does is edit out the boring bits, and likewise it is with travelling.

It becomes a drug. Like being an alcoholic or a drug addict, once you start you find it hard to stop, and even if you do stop it will always be in your blood. It may destroy your life, leaving you rootless, lonely and troubled, with a lack of motivation and direction. Certainly there's no enlightenment or answer for us ‘out there’. Certainly it's not a better way of life, but maybe it's the only way of life.

And so it becomes like a 9-5 office job or smoking; it becomes a habit and a routine. You do it, but you're not sure why. You start to take travelling for granted, where seeing amazing temples, climbing mountains, exploring deserts all becomes commonplace – and even boring. It's not until you get back home that you realise what it was all about, hopefully. Then you have to put a little bit of it into your life at home and hopefully you've learnt something.

Thirty years ago it was the hippies who ‘found’ Ibiza, a poor little island off the coast of Spain. Then the developers took over. And the rest is history. The same happened with all those islands off Thailand – 'found' by hippies, ruined by big business and mass tourism. I feel like I've been to every place I've been to at least thirty years too late. San Francisco, New Orleans, Tijuana, Prague, Tangier, Bangkok, Paris. Even London. It's all over now. Now is the easiest and cheapest time to go travelling which also makes it the most boring. Everything’s been done, everywhere’s been seen, photographed, written about, and ruined. Everyone has been everywhere. Every inch of the globe has been mapped out.

Julian was telling me about his travels in the sixties and seventies. Afghanistan, Vietnam, Thailand, San Francisco. He was where it was at, when it was at. Time and place go hand in hand. I’ve been in the right places at the wrong times. Or like my aunt Sally going to Afghanistan in the 1970s. I mean how cool is that? You can’t go anywhere interesting now and survive. It's just not worth it.

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