One of the most exciting things about travelling is travelling. The very process of transition, moving from point A to point Z. This is probably the only disadvantage of TARDIS: by default it doesn’t give you a sense of time and space (paradoxically!), nor a proper aerial view from the window because of the vortex jump…
Just a while ago I was talking to someone about people cycling, riding a donkey/horse or even walking by foot around the world. Imagine how different this perspective must be – when you are the only one controlling your time and space, your distances and your schedules.
As for me, I don’t really control my legs well to give this thing a try.
But stepping on the road – especially a historical one like the Silk route or Camino de Santiago – and taking it slow means that you are ready for the epic experience of following someone’s steps, retracing someone’s way through time and space. Marco Polo is far ahead and you need to catch up with him to listen to his stories. You lose so many stories if you decide to fly from Europe to China instead.
You miss the riches of Constantinople, breathtaking (literally) deserts of Middle East, plains and lush green steppes, snowy mountain tops and blue eyes of lakes, looking up from the Earth to the skies.
When I was small, aged 3-6, my parents used to take me and my cousin along with them on camping trips with their student buddies. Of course, they had a lot of interesting stuff to do instead of nannying us. So they normally gave us a pack of playing cards and left me and several other kids to entertain ourselves. There, on the shores of the Black sea, we passed the whole school of ‘preferance’ and other card games and gradually became high-class cheaters. Since then, every train journey to the South (20hrs +) we spent playing our parents in card games. I loved trains. This tuh-tuh, tuh-tuh sound of the wheels, the feet sticking from the top bunk beds into the corridor (looks a bit like a morgue at night but well…), the classy metal glass-holders and steaming tea from ‘provodnitsa’ (the coach attendant), drunk students playing guitar, huge men making terrifying sounds with their lungs and vocal chords in their sleep, same huge men falling from top bunk beds into the corridor…
Russian long-distance trains are full of stories.
I never tried boats though, until I started going abroad. The most memorable ones were, of course, in the Philippines. Instead of reading out safety instructions before departure, they pray. On loudspeakers. For 20 minutes non-stop. Twice a day. Basically, if the ship starts sinking – you gotta pray. No other way to save yourself.
My longest sea crossing is still awaiting me in the future.
As for the buses – many a blog post and ‘dear diary’ I have written on those long bus journeys, and many a language I have learned crawled up on a bus seat (designed, as it seems, for people with a camel back). Except those epic bus rides in Nepal and Philippines, where a seat was out of question but the roof seemed comfortable enough.
Not to mention, of course, that sometimes a person sitting next to you on the bus can change your life or twist your route. Or at least host you overnight when you end up stranded in an unknown city at midnight. On my first ever trip abroad alone (Ireland 2008, I remember it like it was the day before yesterday) I took loads of books because I thought I would read a lot on bus rides… I probably got over 10 pages – the rest of the time I was being talked to by other passengers willing to listen to my story or to tell me theirs.
And yes, hitchhiking. I won’t talk much about how amazing it can be – because mostly people are interested to hear ‘your creepy hitchhiking stories’. Well, that’s one:
I was catching a ride from a border town in Bulgaria towards Sofia. I had no particular plan but I had to leave the country that night because of the transit visa. A guy who stopped for me was about my dad’s age, no bloodtsains on his shirt and no knives or axes piled at the beck seat. He was quite normal, I reckoned, and he was driving from his homecountry Turkey to his new homecountry Germany. After about 2 hours – during which we discussed horses, Russia, Germany, Turkey, horses, horses and music – he started telling me a story how he got raped when he was 20. Apparently, the innocent boy went with his best friend to Portugal for a wedding. That’s when he got drunk for the first time and, feeling dizzy, decided to go the f*ck to sleep in the bedroom upstairs. But in a few minutes – bah! – his best friend’s aunt (a married woman! oh no!) came in – and raped him.
I think this illustrates enough what kind of crazy shit you can hear from a person who gives you a ride. Sometimes you just don’t know whether to laugh hysterically or nod sympathetically. Like in this case.
Which brings me to my other rule: I find it quite pointless to hitchhike in a country where I don’t speak the language. Probably it’d work better if I had a set of hand puppets, but generally I’m quite bad at communicating with hands. I want to hear stories and I hate this awkward silence when the driver cannot ask me more than ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Do you want a cigarette?’
After all, it’s not about saving money. It’s more like playing lottery to find out what the road will bring you next.
And if there’s something I truly believe in, it is the Road…
…goes ever on and on,
down from the door where it began,
now far ahead the road has gone,
and I must follow if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet –
until it joins some other way,
where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? – I cannot say!
All this doesn’t change the fact that if I ever find a teleport machine I would be first to volunteer for its testing.