With no more undiscovered ‘blank spots’ on the map, exploration and discovery is now an individual adventure of experiencing how others live. But that does not prevent me from dreaming myself back to the deck of James Cook’s the Endeavour.
10.03.2016 - 26.04.2016 19 °C
I have to admit that I am very much a romantic when it comes to travel. Romanticism is often defined as an emotional glorification of the past. It is thus, by definition, anti-rational and anti-enlightened. If I could, I would have joined the early European explorers, the ones who expanded our conception of the world, our knowledge of it and eradicated blank spots on the map. Given the chance, I would happily have joined James Cook’s expeditions of the Pacific; Magellan, who’s ships first circumnavigated the Earth; or joined Livingstone’s trek across Africa. This despite the dangers that would follow by setting out on such expeditions: Both Livingstone and his wife, along multiple travel companions, died on his expeditions; Cook lost more than a third of his crew, and only 18 of Magellan’s 270 men crew survived that first circumnavigation – Magellan himself died in the Philippines, only halfway through the voyage.
That emotional Romanticism tends to be very determining for where I travel. Travelling for me is a matter of exploration and thus also of facing dangers. As Melville wrote towards the end of the first chapter of Moby Dick, “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and [to] land on barbarous coasts.”
The fact that everybody is heading for Southeast Asia, Australia and India (and to a lesser degree Central and South America) means that there are plenty of travel stories informing us about those places. So, what is then left to discover and explore? Further, the share amount of travellers and tourists traversing those areas mean that the local communities have adopted.
Tourist infrastructure has made everything relatively easy and the adventure of travelling is dimmed as a result. Most visitors are staying in hostels and hotels with other travellers. There are minibus services, catering explicitly to visitors so they do not have to struggle with local transportation. And Western culture, although with a local twist, is made readily available through full moon parties, beach bars and international fast food chains. While there certainly is exploration left to be done in the less touristic areas of these places, it is impossible to avoid the crowds. Honestly, there is not much Dr Livingstone’s Adventures about being run over by a tourist bus in front of Angkor Wat or the Taj Mahal.
In short, the popular destinations are very far from the hardship, difficulties and discoveries I want – and think - my travels should be full of.
Travelling for months is not a vacation. It should not be treated as an extended weekend of fun, in a place that is a bit sunnier than home. Exploring the unknown. Being far from friends and family. Struggling through terrible bus-rides, food poisoning or corrupt officials. The feeling of being lost, weakened or threatened (the last is rare). These are all valuable parts of a romantic’s adventurous explorations. Part of my travelling. As much as enjoying a beer on the beach at sunset is it. Actually, that beer tastes a lot better after a 36-hour bush-taxi ride, where you had to share your seat with a goat, than after 8 hours in an air-conditioned minibus shared with just four other backpackers. Travel is exploration and exploration is suppose to be tough. The hardship only makes the experiences of discovering new places feel that more real – and as a result that more enjoyable.