“Sightseeing is one of the more doubtful aspects of travel … It has all the boredom and ritual of a pilgrimage and none of the spiritual benefits.” Paul Theroux
If you, like me, travel regularly for images, stories and that something different then endurance is your goal. And sightseeing is part and parcel of the exercise, well for freelance photographers it is. Both travel and sightseeing (or tourism if you wish) involve prodigious amounts of walking but equally significant use being made of man-made means of transport. And therein lies the need for an ability to endure lest you lose your mind and commit mass-murder or some equally heinous crime.
For nothing can drive you to the brink quicker than the prospect of being cooped up in a cylindrical metal tube for fourteen hours at eight thousand or so meters above the earth, or sitting on your ever-numbing arse for seven hours while stuck in a careering bus as it honks and bashes its way through obscure villages and towns.
Travel, despite all the romantic notions and eloquent words written of it remains a process of getting from A to Z whether A or Z are planned or not and regardless of all the other letters of the alphabet in between that may come up during the course of the journey.
Yes there are the collective moments that raise the journey to spiritual highs and which endure long after the journey and the hardship of travel is over. But at the time, when you’re contemplating amputating the hand of the man who insists on picking his nose in full view, it is best to be able to sleep whether actually or relatively by entering the traveler’s meditative-thousand-yard-stare state of endurance.
On any journey, check out the travelers or tourists, if you prefer, as they arrive at their hotel or at the end of the day when they return from their sightseeing and observe their slow, deliberate gait and tired, deeply sunk eyes and know that’s how you look too.
iPod’s may help ease the pain of boredom as will a good book but only for a spell, for at some stage the pain in your arse will exceed your ability to find a more comfortable way of sitting. Or the cramping of your knee muscles will demand some relief from being bent and hooked up beneath your chair and it’s then, when you can no longer suffer the indignity of being cooped-up that the myriad annoyances surrounding you will manifest.
You’ll notice that women who coughs constantly and you’ll speculate on what possible breed of ugly avian flu bug she’s spreading. That child sniffing and the one that’s crying, they too will become an annoyance and you’re forgiven for harboring thoughts of infanticide whilst torturing the parent for daring to bring their ugly screaming brat on such an arduous journey.
And when you finally alight from whatever mode of transport you’ve endured and you’re greeted by hordes of shouting, bawling touts for taxis or Tuk-tuks or whatever the local form of transport is, resist the feeling to pull out your pocket knife and slit the throat of the man who has just drawn up a gob of phlegm from the depths of his lungs and deposited it on the sidewalk in a disgusting whoosh of spittle.
For this is the romance of travel you’ve come for. This is what all those kilometers you’ve endured teaches you … restraint, a meditative composure and an ability to endure is the spiritual result that transcends you to a travelers nirvana. Enjoy it and lose yourself in it.
On this trip so far, I’ve endured an eighteen hour flight broken by a four hour stop-over in an artificial environment called an airport, been bussed across the Mekong Delta and the Cambodian countryside. I’ve been Tuk-tuk’d to temples and Wats, been rick shawed from hotel to boat ferry, been ferried up the Mekong for five hours and drifted through the Mekong’s delta in a sampan for eight hours. I’ve walked countless kilometers and climbed thousands of stairs carrying my backpack filled with cameras and lenses. I’ve managed to avoid killing someone or punching the next person who spits on the sidewalk.
And my arse and knees are still in one piece. My back and shoulders have gotten stronger and I’m less prone to notice the annoyances. Perhaps it’s all this Buddhism I’m surrounded by influencing me. Maybe I’m having a spiritual experience and I’m not aware of it. Maybe I’m in travel nirvana or I’ve reached some kind of zen pinnacle. Only the next four weeks will tell as there’s still time to fall victim to my deepest, most base instincts and use my pocket knife for something more than it was intended. There’s still time, time for anything to happen …