LXXIII/ Not all classrooms have four walls

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Hello France. Long time no see eh? Damn, I realize it’s been a long while I haven’t written either. You know sometimes life gets so intense that your only choice is to soak it all up and hope for quieter times to get a chance to write it all down. Wait for quieter times to digest it all. Sometimes there’s just so much going on in your life that you best just stand aside, be a spectator and learn. No time to take notes, as there’s always more coming in.

Because, hell, it’s been a heck of a long journey. Here I’m not even sure whether I’m referring to those past intense four months in Asia or to the uninterrupted two-year-long journey around the globe that I’m just coming home from. Or was I referring to those past seven years during which I hardly spent a couple months tops living in France?

See, even I get confused. But as I like to say, when you don’t know where to start, just start somewhere. So let’s take a moment here to take off my hiking shoes, sit back and straighten things out. I have been home for a couple weeks now and this is hardly the first opportunity for me to have a moment to myself where I can write a little and hence, try and put everything I have been through into perspective.

When I think of it, it’s funny to realize how full of energy you are while traveling as everything is a challenge in itself, to go shopping, to find accommodation for the night, to survive another twelve hour bus ride, to communicate with locals, to undertake a ten day trek, to merely cross the road downtown Hanoi, to cope with an almost permanent upset stomach while doing all of the above…

And now that I’m back home, I find myself to be kinda lacking energy just to carry on with the easiest daily routine one can ever have. Given those past four months where I had to fight my way through a one step above challenging Asia, I suppose it’s merely because my nerves ultimately got the better of me. It’s like I’ve been under so much permanent pressure and stress, always having to keep my guards up, constantly having to keep an eye on my backpack not to be robbed, haggle for hours for any given spending – from a motel room to a handful of peanuts, every other day having to think of what’s gonna be the next step, how to get there, look up flight tickets, hotels, go through hundred reviews, struggle with their shitty Wi-Fi, spend half of your days trying not to be scammed (too much) and so on… Please believe me when I say that long-term traveling is more than a full-time job in itself.

And so now that I’m back in “safe territories”, I am just falling in love with how simple life is around here. Anything you need, anything you want, you know where to find it and for what price. Back in Asia, I once heard: “Nope mam’ you can’t haggle here, this is a fixed price” and the lady went like “A fixed price?? What does it mean?!” It says a lot about how things work down there. However even if you make mistakes or get scammed, it’ll never really affect your overall budget that much. Like you pay 40 cents for a pack of cigarettes, same amount for a beer… In some places, rum was even cheaper than bottled water.

But damn, what can I say, it’s just so good to be back to such an easy lifestyle we have up here in Europe. Of course in two weeks I probably spent more money than I did in about two months’ time back in Asia but gosh, you can’t put a price on how laidback this all makes me feel. And shit, let’s say it… THE FOOD. Gosh I’m never going away from our delicious cheese again for so long.

Again, it’s funny to realize that what I love about being back is the very reason that had me run away all those years… The need for adventure and unknown combined together with the boredom and fear associated to routine and monotony.
Ain’t nothing your body likes better than routine. On the contrary ain’t nothing more damaging to the adventurer’s mind than routine. And yet here I stand, torn between the mind and the body’s needs.

Of course what we call the “reverse culture shock” hit me pretty hard over the first weeks I was back. Though now I’m used to being back again and to my greatest enchantment I have no desire to leave again anytime soon. I feel like I’m healed. Cured from my perpetual need for elsewhere.

Over time, traveling through those third world kinda countries, I’ve come to wonder what the fuck was I doing there, whether my mere presence there wasn’t kinda insulting to the local population. What’s the sense of all that? To do some “sightseeing” where the locals often can barely afford to feed themselves properly. To enjoy “being rich for once” sipping on cocktails in places where most people have their belt going around their waist twice so they’re skinny… Given everything you witness on a daily basis, at some stage you come to seriously wonder why the fuck do we flush toilets with drinking water at home but let’s not go there now.

So I decided maybe it was time for me to withdraw from the world of travels, or at least temporarily. I needed to head back some place where I’m just a random local that can easily blend in and no longer be a “wealthy white kid” amongst the “yellow or black”. I decided to take a break from all that. I decided my tortured mind deserved some peace and quiet at long last.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

No more crazy honking in the streets, no more people delousing each other on the sidewalks, no more scams at every corner, no more chaotic cities giving you a taste of the end of the world. No more headaches trying to figure out their bus or train system, their incomprehensible schedules, their fucked-up ticket selling points and so on. No more “same same but different”, no more sign language, no more struggles. No more days where your personal space gets repeatedly violated, no more “good price for you sir”, no more mosquitos biting your calves in their dodgy buses while you’re praying for your life to a god you never believed in.

You know you’ve been backpacking for (too?) long when nearly nothing that is in your backpack is part of your initial pack. Time’s up nomads, I’m headed home.

Because no matter how romantic it may seem at first glance, traveling long term is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

These days I have a pretty strong need for comfort – all that comfort I’d given up so long ago. Once I caught up on my cravings for cheese, my next need was for new stuff, just like I needed some renewal in my life globally speaking. To get new clothes, treat myself in many ways – things I had not done in years. By doing all that I got a sense of starting a new life, which is nice. Once I posted “I travel a lot, I hate having my life disrupted by routine” and some friend cleverly answered something I didn’t quite understand at the time; “hasn’t traveling become kinda your routine?”
I can see now how she was totally right.

Having been gone for two years straight this time, I can totally see that there’s a major difference with all those times I took off for a year. My vision on the world has totally shifted. Now the wind is blowing on my back and I only see the reasons why I can. I found out that everything, every place may look like what you want it to. Hence even home can be a wicked place if you decide that’s what it should be like. You know, not all classrooms have four walls.

“I was obsessively bound to movement, drugged with space. I was chasing after time, believing it was hiding just over the horizon. The vigorous use of time may offset its fast pace, and that’s how I dealt with its swift passage. A free man possesses time. A man who dominates space is merely powerful. In cities, the minutes, hours and years escape us. In the country, time grows calm. It lies at your feet like a good old dog and suddenly, you’ve even forgotten it is there. I am free because my days are.”

There’s an old saying about traveling, that when you travel, you not only get a new perspective on the world, but you also get a new perspective on home.

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