“Once the traveler found civilizations radically different from his own awaiting him at the end of his journey. Now he finds impoverished imitations of his own, set off here and there by the relics of a discarded past.”
–Clifford Geertz, The Cerebral Savage: On the Work of Claude Levi-Strauss
When I speak of the romance of traveling I am more speaking about the cerebral voyages of dreaming into maps, thinking of lands long gone, talking of uncharted lands, and planning journeys just for the fun of doing it. When I talk of the romance of traveling I think of the story of the two monks who would everyday talk about the journey that they were going to take together the following year. They would plan, write packing lists, and itineraries, but they both knew that these travels would never come to fruition; that they would only travel on together over mountain and sea in their imaginations alone. This dreaming, this joy, this excitement is what I mean by romance.
Tramping down long dusty roads, thirsty, sunburned, and tired in the height of a tropical summer is anything but romantic. I know. But the yarns of these voyages that spill across night-time table tops and mugs of tea makes them seem as romantic as any paradise. I hear of forsaken lands and I have the automatic urge to go there. Tell me a place is the hottest, coldest, driest, ugliest, most incorrigible and I will be sure to dream of it daily. Tell me a place is easy living paradise, and I will shun it with a scoff of my boot. Perhaps raw experience, being pushed to the extreme, is what I mean by romance.
I read of past voyages through harsh terrain and territory which are written up in the travel annals of old. These journeys always seem exciting and romantic. But I know that they often time sucked in the doing. I know that it sucked for Harry Franck to tramp through the Siamese jungle without water or food. I know it sucked when he had to fight the natives with his fist for a few handfuls of rice. But in the writing of this tale, this all seemed so very romantic. I too, want to walk through jungles unprepared but ready for anything. I know that it will suck. But when I think of the tale, when the story is written – when the hunger pangs are gone, when there is plenty of water to drink, when the scars have healed – this journey will be pure romance. Memory is a selective fellow, always remembering only the aspect of the journey that are enjoyable, rich, and full of beauty. When I think of past travels, I can hardly recollect any of the hardships, rather I am able to simply reveal in the romance of hard road. If memory did not work in this way, I don’t think that anyone would travel more than once. I think that in retrospect, after you have made it through the deluge, is when the passion for the road traveled over kicks in. Perhaps romance is the property of traveler’s tales.
I think now of planning for traveling, of gazing into a map for hours on end, of thinking of where I will go and the adventures that I will find when I get there. I know well that half of the exciting scenarios that I dream up will not happen, but I dream none the less. Because I like dreaming. Like those two monks, part of the excitement of the day was found in mentally wandering over the globe. Why? Because they thought it fun. I do too. Perhaps dreaming of endless mountains is what I mean by romance.
But sometimes I stop short, look around, realize that the sky is blue and there are big fluffy clouds hanging out with no place to go. I find that the sun is shining, and the roosters are crowing, some teenage kid is listening to pop music, and the dogs are frolicking in and out of playful leaps and bounds. I feel energetic and head out into the hills. I take a deep breath and look all around me, and I know that romance is always, and forever will be, right here. Whether I realize it in the moment or not, these days are always full of beauty. Maybe I chuckle a little, as I know that, even though it sometimes cannot be appreciated in the moment, that what I mean by romance is always here right now in front of me.
It seems to me that the days in which my clothes are a little too dirty, when the sun is a little too hot, when the beggars are a little too aggressive, when the people are a little too dishonest, when the buses are a little too full, when the hotels are a little too expensive, and when the roads are a little too long are the days that I will look back upon only to remember the humor and romance of it all.
The grit of the Road cannot pass into memory.
“Adventure only happens when things go wrong.”
This is what I mean by romance.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
Copan Ruinas, Honduras
March 19, 2008