Monday, June 28, 2010


I freely admit to one and all that I have been, at times, a travel idiot. I followed the crowd, did all the "things to do while in Paris", and collected more souvenirs than I could possibly look at in a lifetime. Eifel Tower? Been up, twice. Changing of the Guard? I could probably do their routine as well as the guards can. Beer in Munich? Oh yeah, way too much. Join tour groups? At the drop of a hat. Didn't want to miss anything, you know.

It came from being young, active, and wanting to see everything. I liked the idea of backpacking through Europe with good buddies, looking for adventure, and finding precious little of it. I was hooked into the mandatory things. And so, for many years, I thought travelling meant visiting all the art galleries, battlefields, bars and restaurants in every major city I could get to. I thought that, when I visited London, I had seen England: visit Paris and you come to know France: get drunk in Germany and you are an expert on the German soul.

Utter nonsense.
It's hard to say exactly when the conversion began, but it surely dawned on me as the sun rising in the morning. I had logged many miles in airplanes, trains, busses, cars and had seen absolutely nothing that mattered much. I was a tourist-prisoner, trapped in an invisible cocoon which I created myself and kept me from learning about people and lands. I thought I was a good traveler, but, in reality, I was an astronaut wrapped in a space suit of my own fears and prejudices.

Later trips in my life have yielded far better results. I have seen marvellous things and, best of all, have talked to real people who actually live in these places. I have learned about single malt whiskeys and Scottish independence from real Scotsmen. I have learned that I actually know very little about the struggles of aboriginal people from Hopi and Navajo with whom I have shared breakfast . I have walked across Arctic tundra and seen fresh muskox hoof-prints and listened to stories of surviving a trek to the North Pole with an actual Arctic explorer who was also my camp host and dinner companion for a week.

I know now that Ayers Rock is actually Uluru, that you have to choose a pub very wisely in Dublin, that kangaroo has to be cooked absolutely correctly or it becomes rubber, and that if you wish to find God, a canyon in Utah or Arizona, or a rainforest in Alaska are far better places to find Him than Notre Dame or Westminster Abbey.

When I told some of my buddies about my upcoming Iceland trip, I was pleased that I wasn't assailed with the "What the hell are you doing that for?" reaction. Instead, I was greeted with interest. They wanted to know what I would do there. I shrugged and told them I wanted to see the land and meet the people. I want to learn about Iceland, and how a strange isolated little island could become one of the best, most advanced, most civilized countries on earth, perched on top of land that can be best described as a science project only half completed. I will be in Reykjavik, of course, .... but only for three days. Then, Lou and I will get in a car and get out of town as quickly as we got out of Las Vegas two years ago.

I still like to visit the big cities and see historical monuments. But only for a little while. Then I get hungry or thirsty and want to find a place to sit and relax and drink coffee or beer where the locals go. I want to see the sky over a new country. I want to walk on different ground. I want to see anything that is not normal, for me. Now THAT'S travelling.

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