Taking a month-long trip isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been traveling on my own, exploring the world since I was 12 yrs old. I made my first solo train ride when I was 12. I saw my first foreign country when I was 18. I took my first airplane ride at age 19 to take a nanny job for the summer with a Dutch-Belgian family in America. It cost 250 guilders to fly to New York and come back on the SS Rijndam from Montreal, an 8-day journey across the Atlantic. 250 Guilders, a student discount. I spoke English for the first time. I had to use a phone booth to inform my host of my arrival; I had trouble figuring out the instructions of use. I was alone at JFK airport in a throng of people speaking unknown languages. I cried when I made the connection and heard Dutch spoken to me.
Those were the days of doing Europe on $5.00 a day. Imagine that now! $5.00 a day means you’re homeless and don’t get to eat much. I ate little when I hitchhiked around Europe in 1969. I bought French bread, cheese and tomatoes. Those were my staples while I saw the sights. I slept in youth hostels; I slept in a beach house in Denmark owned by the family of a Danish boy who joined forces with me; we walked along the harbor in Bergen Norway, at 2:00 AM in the opaque light of a sky where the sun doesn’t set in midsummer. After a harrowing 24-hour ride from Switzerland through the Appenine mountains with Siciians, who turned off the engine of the car on the downhill to save on gas… I tasted my first, blood-red watermelon. Ah, those firsts!
55 Years later I’m still traveling. I sit with my computer at an airport desk while waiting for a delayed flight. My phone is charging, movies are downloaded via Wi-Fi on my phone to entertain me on the long flight across the Atlantic. The flight has gotten none shorter since my first flight, the cost of the flight is 8-fold. I enjoy watching people. I take pictures and share them with friends via an app where I document my travels. Via WhatsApp, I let my family know that my flihght is delayed.. They already know, as they follow my flight status on their computer.
My mother received one postcard when I hitchhiked around Europe from Rome. My location was unknown to her during those days. Staying in contact with loved ones has changed. I won’t have to wait 45 days till I pick up an airmail letter from General Delivery Kathmandu to find out my grandmother (then) passed away. The grief is the same. Instant knowledge is irrelevant.
Reading and Waiting
We’ve become used to instant messaging. We have lost the art of waiting and seeing what will happen. On those long ago travels, I read books. I started with the Tolkien trilogy in English, 3 books, a 1000 pages each. That kept me busy for the 2 months I was away. Because I was a recent high school/gymnasium graduate and a snob about my language abilities, I added Sartre in French. I think Sartre set the stage for an existential depression that followed soon after I returned.
I still read print books. I’m reading the Golden Spruce, a historic NW narrative about the Queen Charlotte Islands, showing how we as humans can ruin the planet: ignorant, violent, greedy. I knew so little when I arrived in the New World. It took a while for me to realize that the forests in Oregon and California were only a fraction of what they used to be.. Walking through an old-growth forest on the Pacific Crest trail at almost 70 years old, made me understand.. This book, the Golden Spruce, could set the stage of another existential depression. Except I’m old now, not as emotional; and hours of meditation practice have helped me be more even-minded and filter my outlook on things.
Feeling Part of the Whole
I write a blog on my computer while I wait. I walk the long corridors of the concourse to help my circulation. It’s an ordinary day: wake up, eat, move about, read, write and meet people, all in the controlled temperature of airplanes and airports. I haven’t felt the wind today; I haven’t felt the sun, except for a brief time when I walked onto the tarmac for my first flight.
It’s quieter in airports now. People talk less, people stare at their phones and tablets, and listen to whatever via earbuds. Hundreds of people, all so separate.. I’m glad I asked the woman that ordered her vegetarian meal in front of me to sit with me. We were humans connecting across cultures - she was Indian - and generations. That’s what travel gives me: moments of feeling part of the whole colorful medley of people, all finding their way somewhere.
Up, Up and Away
The loud call of the cart driver’s voice with an Indian accent jars me out of the earbud quietness as he weaves his way among the throngs of people. The delayed plane arrives at the gate, travelers are disembarking, filling the gate area with their talking. After a quick cleaning and a change of crew, the machine will change course and take me away for a month of old and new sights, new perspectives and heartfelt connections.