Sunday, October 19, 2014
Connecting The Dots: A Traveler's Guide
TRAVEL has always been my spirit's wavelength. Most of my life's work, if not all, are ushered by an incessant kick to keep on rolling. Needless to say, I struggled to put to bed this particular Indie issue until I again hit the road—to Athens and Augusta in Georgia, and Greenville and Mauldin in South Carolina, and back to Asheville—to get my chakras attuned on deadline. But it's not all about chasing the proverbial Muse on the open range that keeps my wings flapping, it's just the inherent nomad in me that continually seeks release out there. Can't help it.
Years before the books “The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux and “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon had me at hello, I was already hiking trails and pitching tents up the Cordilleras in northern Philippines where I grew up and on deserted beaches in southern coastal villages where I had tours of duty as community organizer and news correspondent. This wanderlust vibe didn't find rest in America either...
Theroux's four-month journey across Asia, traveling through Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, was negotiated in a train, and Least Heat-Moon traversed 13,000 miles in three months in his van, visiting mostly small towns untouched by fast food chains and interstate highways.
I guess, I am crazier...
I mostly took the Greyhound coach, with occasional train rides and plane flights, interjecting trips on friends' generosities who drove me from one spot to the next. Yes, I prefer not to drive a vehicle—which confounds many who are aware of my traveling high. How I connect dots at a time when carpooling has been elevated into a lucrative business enterprise and “induced isolation” is now humankind's definition of privacy, individuality, and caution—is puzzling, to say the least. And if I say, “I can travel from city to city, state to state, with only $10,” I am immediately judged as arrogant...
CONNECTING dots as a traveler requires lots of patience, acceptance, openness—all within an exalting sense of community. Some unacceptable “rules” persist however.
Don't be too choosy with food or drinks, whatever is offered by your hosts, try to experience them. If your diet says a dogmatic no-meat, GMO-zero or gluten-free then this sort of “ride with the wind” fervor isn't for you. Food exclusivity is imperative to our well-being but building a network by way of cultural openness and interpersonal dynamics help a lot. One thing that got me around was my nonchalant submission to any culinary blessing served by my hosts on the dinner table. Reject or refuse a lizard lasagna or guava puree or mango-flavored rice wine? Expect not to go pass an awkward reception...
Another no-brainer: fit your body on any available space—worn out couch, back of chevy, front porch, barn shed, horse manger. Errant cockroaches and invasive spiders? Don't scream. Call Andrew Zimern, instead.
Flakiness doesn't work as well. Promptness and quick “yes” or “no” do matter. If a friend or acquaintance says your ride will be at 4:21 PM in front of Starbucks on Main Street and 9th, deal with it, try not to negotiate an alternative plan. Be there. A slight “unpleasant” weather forecast or 15-minute rainshower should not drive cancellation on your part either. Deal with it.
However, be picky with travel companions. This is not something that need be idealized or romanticized as random reflex. You don't want to get flagged down with a “volatile substance” or “what's that smell?” thingy in the glove compartment. Also, you may consider pondering traveling with a super-intense soul who easily slides into a tangent on just about anything from Miley's phallic baubles to hummus tacos, Engels to vertical parking woes etc. Prefer laughter. This is a fun ride, not a seminar on new age spirituality or objectivist epistemology.
More than all, traveling doesn't always mean financial distress. If your travel planning says a few hundreds allotted on Holiday Inn, dinners on Red Lobster and Olive Garden, prime seats in a Black Keys concert, visits to uptown shops and boutiques—then, you are a tourist, not a traveler. Save the money for longer and more trips, than max-out credits on one-break a year jaunts. Travel for rediscovery, not frolic. It's all about networking, not sight-seeing.
Camping, bonfires, makeshift grills, naked stars, rainfall, and the sublime discomfort of bug bites and frogs' din—all these stay in your memory, and passed on as bedtime stories to grandchildren. What is the point of traveling when you only duplicated the relative pleasures of your house? What is there to remember? I mean, even the withdrawal symptoms of zero internet-connect for 12 hours straight is worth personal triumph, right?
More than all, don't start packing until you've already, methodically drew Sharpie arrows and notes on your gargantuan map. Prepared directions, local connects, campsite availabilities, even peace and order situations in a town or city that you'd fancy should all be prepared and printed hard-copies before you kick the ignition on. I am very anal about this—I never visited a place where I don't have at least one resident as a reliable contact. Being a journalist helps a lot, of course. And when I do stop in a certain city, I try to read in open mics and visit downtowns for future Traveling Bonfires event-organizing or simply a reading leg for my book/s.
Nothing is instinctive in a travel plan. It's pre-planned. Randomness is over-hyped, free-spirited adventures are highly-overplayed. Don't be stupid, life isn't falling from the blue, blue sky out of a prayer. It's all written in a notebook. Hence, I'd rather stick to my primitive stubbornness. Connecting dots, irrelevant of my elongated recitation above, is pretty much like reading smoke signals. To be able to travel the way our ancestors did, seeking greener pastures and new life, finding wisdom than inviting wonder—we just need to be more patient and resilient about reading forgotten myths.
After all, connecting dots is connecting humanity. You don't need a Platinum credit card and an SUV for that one.
[Like a Rolling Stone / Oct 15-Nov 15, 2014 column, The Indie, published in Asheville NC]