Trust and Travel and the Complexities of Adventure
October 2, 2007
Trust is perhaps the hardest lesson for a traveller to learn. Knowing when and who to trust while travelling can mean the difference between a beautiful inter-cultural exchange and a boring night in a hotel room, enjoying a nice day of city strolling and being bled dry by a tout, or, in dire circumstances, even the difference between life and death. In point, I feel that the only ways to learn these precious lessons is through tribulation, error, self-introspection, and by keeping your ears open to the tales of other travellers. I would like to share some of my experiences in trusting and not trusting the people and places that I have come upon through walking down the Open Road.
When I first began travelling in the summer of 1999 I was full of trust for the outside world. I grew up in small and impoverished farming community in Upstate New York (very, very far from New York City in all respects) and I never had any problems with anybody. I had no reason not to trust the world and to think that most people are anything other than good hearted. I refused to believe the news reports that whizzed across the television screens that tried to convince me that the world outside my front door was a frightening, dangerous place. I rejected this notion whole-heartedly, and set out travelling to prove it.
For these first years of travel I was almost completely without fear. I travelled down through Ecuador and into the jungles of Peru, through the Amazon basin and back across the Andean highlands, and eventually made my way down to Patagonia. I walked through cities at all hours of the night, I was not deterred by ‘bad’ neighborhoods, and I welcomed the gentle breezes of Providence at every step. I was young and travelling purely for the adventure of it. I learned a great amount and had many memorable experiences throughout this time, precisely because of the close distance that I allowed myself to attain to the people that I travelled amongst. I made many friends, would take peoples invitations to stay in their homes at will, got into cars and went for rides with friendly strangers, and I had neither suspicion nor fear of almost anyone. My intent was to test the mettle of the cultures of the world for myself, and this I did with fantastic results.
Then in 2001, I ran into a rough patch of travelling that shook me up and knocked a little sense into me. I was attacked three times in a three week period. The first time was in Santiago, Chile while I was walking through a park in the middle of the night and found a large knife up to my throat. Then a week later, in Uruguay, I had a rough run in with a couple of goons who said that they were under cover police officers and wanted to detain me. I fought them and got away just to go to the police station and find out that they really were officers of the law. The third incident was in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, and I was walking to catch a bus and a group of men with pistols jumped out of a truck and again attacked me saying that they were the police. I fought them and momentarily got away, but was quickly re-apprehended while manically running through the aisles of a grocery store. I was then roughed up quite a bit and promptly arrested. These three assaults in three weeks in three different countries happened like clockwork, and they had the result of making me grow up a little.
These three assaults reminded very thoroughly of my mortality. I was a knocked a little off kilter, to say the least, but kept travelling on down to Patagonia, where I walked on the side of discretion for a while. During this period I found that my approach towards travelling changed rather drastically: I remained slightly aloof, was not apt to seek friendships, and cringed every time a vehicle stopped near me for fear that I would again be assaulted. I had basically lost much of the trust that I had gain in two years of previous travels. I began feeling a little nervous while walking at night, I would look behind me at the slightest sound, and I became suspect of the kind offerings of would be friends.
I travelled in this reclusive, suspicious manner for a couple of months, and then realized that I was miserable. I was in the midst of the supremely beautiful and miraculous Patagonian landscape, by which I was completely enthralled and spiritually rejuvenate. But my contact with people faltered to a staggering low point. I had lost a great part of my faith in humanity, realized the laughable frailty of life, and sought communion only in the solitude of the mountains and my own internal dialogue. For two months, I do not think that I had a single real conversation with anyone outside of the internet, and, for all intensive purposes, my idealistic trust and reliance in the safety net of humanity was wholly shattered.
This complete isolation eventually became a little too much to handle, and I figured that I should moved on from South America. So a couple of months later I travelled to Ireland and took a job as a gardener at an estate in the country side of County Cork on the River Blackwater.
I was comfortably alone here in Ireland as well, but I was put in a good position to rebuild my notions of an unshatterable world of excitement and adventure. I found that it was incredibly easy to hitch rides, and this activity alone restored my faith in simple probability- faith in the fact that I would meet nine good hearted, hospitable people for every asshole. I found it very easy to hitch from one end of Ireland to the other, and the people that I met, as well as the friendships that I found, made me realize the folly of my self-imposed Patagonian seclusion.
Then, as fate would have if, I was met with a test. I got a real bad ride from a homosexual creep who decided that he fancied the young, long haired, sweet looking kid that he just picked up. It was a rough go and a slight struggle, especially as he sped up his car and tried to drive past the place that I wanted to be let out at. But I eventually got him to stop and I escaped unscarred.
As I made my get-away from this creep, I realized that I was smiling, because I knew then that a large part of the joy, excitement, and adventure of travel was found in such perilous situations. Camus said that, “What lends value to travel is fear,” and in this moment I knew this to be true. My problem in Patagonia was not just mere loneliness, seclusion, and the toppling of my highly idealized vision of humanity, but also because I was simply bored. I took few chances, I did not taste the fruit of adventure that was placed right before me; in point, travel lost a major part of its exciting glimmer. I then remembered another quote that I had once read years before on the Manabi Coast of Ecuador:
“Adventure only happens when things go wrong.”
I laughed as I realized that simple trust is needed for any adventure to run its course. If I was going to walk this world with my head down like a money-laden tourist I was going to miss the show that’s happening right in front of me. I then knew that if I was not going to embrace the people and the places that I travel through, then there was no reason for me to travel at all. Sure, I realized that I would occasionally get burned a few times by homosexual creeps, crooked police officers, and thugs with knives in parks, but is this not part of the great affair of travelling? Is this not part of the excitement? Is there not real adventure in momentarily living in true to life peril? Isn’t the acquisition of such tales one of the reasons why we travel in the first place? I now feel fortunate that I was tossed into the woes of fortune’s folly so early on in my travels.
All travellers welcome disaster.
I began travelling because it was just something that I had to do. There was no choice in the matter. I wanted the constant excitement that wandering inherently provides- bad excitement or good, it is all the same. I just needed to breathe full the crisp air of chance and stoke up the embers of life to their raging limits. We all need this, I do not think there is anything special about it. There is just something that draws humans to the Open Road, something that makes them crave freedom and constant flux. Perhaps it is some cerebral wiring that is left over from our nomadic days, a last remaining vigil of the times when men roamed with the gentle course of nature.