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I’ve been wanting to write something about travel writers for a long time. About those people who write about travel, on their blog, on Medium, or even in actual travel journals, published in the form of actual printed books.
(I am collecting those books. I am harvesting them in second-hand bookshops all around the world as sure as death is harvesting souls.)
There are travel writers on Medium; there is even a Travel tag. I click on it now and then, to feed upon passionate accounts, some excited itinerary planning, tales of culture shock, whispers of having felt miserable, walking alone under pouring rain and an impossibly heavy backpack.
Sometimes though, I am disappointed. Some days, all I see in the “Travel” section is:
“The Place Everyone Should Visit Before They Die.”
“I Wrote Three Lines Without Formatting And It’s Not Even a Haiku.”
But sometimes, I am, literally, carried away. Sometimes, I read what I expected to be reading. What you felt, right there, right then (yes, you.) How it was. How it changed the very core of you.
Reading about Travel, for me, is reading about points of all returns, about returners and wanderers, about renouncements and momentums, about return paths. About a moose in a field of garnets.
Did that paragraph just above sound like Greek? No wonder. Travel is a fantastic beast. It is a world of its own. It has a mythology, and a lexicon. It has you at its core. You are its ἀοιδός, as the Greeks used to say: its singer; its poet.
“The Point of All Returns”?
You know what it is. It is the point, in every travel — sometimes a whole day, sometimes just a fleeting sensation, sometimes even just a “click” at the back of your mind — when you know it’s time to go back home. This is the moment when almost every one, everywhere, returns.
Returners and Wanderers?
I say almost, because this is also the moment when some of us topple over and fall to the other side. They start wandering; they become vagabonds who just could not renounce.
Renouncements and momentums?
Renouncement is at the core of every travel. Because, you see, travelling is like building momentum. You go further and further, you drive a road, and that road, that drive, that whole travel thing, grows within you. The more you dilute your job, your school year, your inner turmoil into that road, the richer you become. And then, there is that point when you break momentum.
Try to think about it. You are on a journey, something like a road trip. Weeks. Maybe months. (Some dare years.) What particular moment made you feel it was time to turn back? What particular moment made you shoot a last regretful look at the road to the left (still unknown, undiscovered) and made you turn right (back home, back to the train station, the airport)?
Did you get that feeling it was time? That click? That, was your point of all returns. It is not always geographical (a crossroad, the end of a trail). It can also come in the form of a sign.
The moose in a field of garnets.
I experienced one of those signs once. I knew our point of all returns was near. It was our last evening in Lapland: the day after, we were supposed to cross the arctic circle southward and head to Kiruna, Sweden, and then, relentlessly, back home.
But we were reluctant, you see. We were, albeit insensibly, toppling over. We were blocking renouncement. We were aspiring to become wanderers.
That evening, we had cooked dinner and shared it with a couple of birds, who took to explore our cooling pan. We had recharged our batteries in the small visitor center and we had even plugged our kettle there and filled all our thermos with enough hot water to drink tea for the next two days. We had carefully rearranged our food, equipment and clothes in the back compartment of the car — heck, we had even changed for the night (fresh clean fleece, teeth brushed, hair combed). All we had to do was drive a few miles, walk a few yards to the tent and zip ourselves in.
The road was empty. It must have been 11 pm. The sun was still bright, the sky a soft evening color. Images were whirling in my mind. A trail where we had been walking on thousands of tiny garnets, a camp spot where mosquitos were so numerous that they were flying into our mouths while we tried to brush our teeth, the footprints of a reindeer in the mud.
I was about to make a statement about staying in Lapland. Come on, not forever, just one more day. Ok, maybe one more week, tops. But I didn’t make that statement, because at that point we spotted a form on the horizon, on the side of the road. I said: “Hey, is that a dog?” We squinted. We were coming closer and, instinctively, I slowed down. There were no other cars on the road. The closer we came, the bigger the form got. “That’s a big dog!” (Stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking).
It was a moose. A wonderful, huge, male moose with breathtaking antlers. He was looking at us. He had been looking at us coming. We stopped the car and were now maybe fifteen feet away from him. His eyes were deep. I couldn’t breath: it was the first time we had met a moose in Scandinavia. Never breaking eye contact, I slowly reached for my camera. Too bad: the battery was missing. I had left it in its charger, which I had packed at the back of the car.
And then I thought: this is a wonderful gift. It was just this one time. It was our sign. This very instant: it was our goodbye. We knew that, on the return path down south, we were less likely to come across significant wildlife.
With a slight nod of the head, the moose turned away and trotted back into the Lapp bush.
This is how mythologies are built. The trail, the mosquitoes, the tiny garnets, the footprints of a reindeer, the roadside moose, the birds in the pan, all of this melts together into a beautiful song replete with Greek words and fantastic beasts, and years later a poet, a travel writer, will tell you about a moose in a field of garnets.
The Three Stages of Travel
All of this tells us something about Travel: it’s like a rollercoaster.
First, there is the momentum, the thing growing inside you. The dilution, the letting-go: we radiate our selves and feel freed, or relieved, or lost — it all goes back to something we let go (job; school year; turmoils).
Then there is the point of all returns: the broken momentum, the epiphany, the climax: we renounce and return, or we topple over and wander.
Finally, there is the return path. Have you noticed how things feel so different on that path? I am not talking about the sadness, the “it’s-the-end-of-the-holidays” obvious feeling. I am talking about the way the light on things, your interactions, your everyday actions (buying food, brushing your teeth, zipping yourself out of the tent and pouring yourself a cup of hot tea) feel different. This is why one travels in the first place. You gather yourself back together, every single piece, and you realize that there are now extra pieces. You have been enhanced. Enjoy it, keep it alive. Write about it.
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