Sunday, February 28, 2010

Athlete's Foot Cream For The Soul

It's no surprise to anyone reading this blog and those that know me that travelling is an important part of my life. My 2004-07 trip certainly played a large part in forming my current worldview. From a rather naive, irresponsible, selfish individual I became a more relaxed and understanding person (OK, probably still somewhat irresponsible and selfish) with a different perspective on what was important for me. It's a difficult thing to do, analysing oneself, and the idea of travelling "broadening the mind" is a huge cliché; but it's a cliché for a very good reason: there's more than a grain of truth to it. It made me aware of so many issues, problems, realities that I was blissfully unaware of before and gave me a thirst for more. More knowledge of the complex world we live in, the inter-relationships and connections and the history; more of the nature that is so beautiful it melts the heart and makes you realise how precious it really is; and more contact with people from diverse backgrounds whose lives are so different to mine, and yet who share that common humanity, with whom, despite such differences, connections can be made.

I suppose travelling is a drug, one from which it is difficult to escape once you have been fully immersed. It's a common refrain amongst travellers that they have a List of places they want to visit, and that, contrary to logic, the more you see the more items get added to your List as you learn about further wonders of the world. And so the traveller is always undertaking a Sisyphean task trying to soak up all the world and its wonders, whilst it blithely keeps up with them like the Red Queen. I am no different, and over the past 9 months I have been staring at the huge world map hanging on my bedroom wall, tracing out routes for myself to as-yet unexplored places with evocative names: Roraima, Samarqand, Papua, Gagauzia. With each passing day the desire to go grows. Yet on the other side there are forces compelling me to stay. My Friends, who I care for dearly and whose company I enjoy; Indolence, because I have a comfortable job and life here; Caution, because if I go then I know that a career will be unattainable for me so late in the day; and Loneliness - not the loneliness of the road, because I know I will meet plenty of fascinating people along the way - but the Loneliness of not being able to stop, put down somewhere, have a settled, family life. I have met plenty of travellers in their 40s who just kept going and never stopped. However much I admire them, I do not want to end up like them, as I feel there is an essential part of life that they have missed out on.

But in the end the pull was too strong (I suppose I also wasn't sure whether being a consultant was really the life for me - I don't know if I have the requisite ambition). I don't know what pushed me over the edge, but one little incident sticks in my mind. I was going past a bathroom furniture store which had a sign in the window saying "have the bathroom you've always dreamed of". It seems an inocuous piece of advertising, but it got through to me: I don't want to dream about bathrooms; I don't want to be limited to that. So a couple of weeks back I took the decision to give in to the itch in my feet and go. Once I had taken the decision it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest and I could breathe more freely, more easily.

I don't know how this trip will turn out, but one thing is for sure, I will not live to regret not taking the opportunity. I also hope that it will slake my thirst for travel and let me settle down with a peaceful soul.