“Of journeying the benefits are many; the freshness it brings to the heart, the seeing and hearing of marvelous things, the delight of beholding new cities, the meeting of unknown friends and the learning of high manners.” Muslih Uddin Sadi.
A good friend that I met and travelled through South East Asia with once stated that he hated the ‘travelling’ part of travelling, always questioning if we were ‘there yet’! It’s a statement that I’ve often thought about and the inspiration of this post. As I was sitting on a six-hour bus journey between Ottawa and Toronto, I was gazing out the window at the stunning natural scenery of wild flowers and many lakes when my mind started to drift back to journeys I’ve taken in the past that have
stayed in my memories for one reason or another. Your mind is the best camera you will ever own.
I guess my patience with long journeys started from a young age when my family would make the 12 hour trip from Germany, where we were living, back to England. My parents would play games with my sister and me, which, more often than not, involved us looking out of the windows.
Although I have the ability to fall asleep at the snap of a finger no matter how tired I may be on a long trip, I’ll always find myself looking out the window at the landscapes rushing by. The first journey I often think about is the four-hour bus trip I used to take from my village in Ecuador to the capital, Quito. I think one of the reasons it sticks with me so vividly is partly for the beauty of the drive along the valley of volcanoes (as it is known by locals), but also mainly because this magnificent scenery provoked so much self thought in me every time I passed it.
I feel that you can learn a great deal about a country just through observing ‘life’ outside the windows. And if you want to use that time while sitting on a bus…take a local bus. There isn’t any reason you need to sit in an air-conditioned bus full of other tourists, noses stuck in guidebooks. Look up and out of the window, around you at the locals and how they interact and you will learn a lot more than what any guidebook can tell you. From the moment you leave a hectic bus station picking up people from the roadside, only slowing down in order for them to jump on, to the chickens and musicians that join you, sitting in the walkway, to breaking down and having a sun break for a few hours while ‘home-attempt’ mechanics give it a shot, all of these things make a local bus journey far more insightful.
I think my most memorable bus journey was my first one in Cambodia. We had just left the blissful heaven of the 4000 islands in the south of Laos, and crossed into Cambodia …by “semi local” bus! While the majority of people were smelly backpacker travellers, there were a few locals on board, too, who worked at the border crossing! We were all crammed into the bus-easily double capacity, bags piled in the aisle with people using them as seats, complete with bike next to the driver leaving one last spot for his friend who was to hold the door closed for rest of the eight-hour journey. I was one of the fortunate ones who could actually see out of a window, and I found the journey fascinating.
We had decided to make the somewhat awkward journey to Siem Reap, which included a stop off in a working town. We had, to an extent, prepared ourselves for Cambodia and knew about the heart-wrenching genocides of the 70’s, which had led us all to a slightly depressing image of what Cambodia would be like. There were two things that struck me within just hours of having arrived in Cambodia. The first I noticed instantly–the amount of political signs and advertisements adoring the roadsides. I had assumed that after the Khmer Rouge outbreak political campaigns would be quietly done and focused in the cities, but for hours on end driving through the country the signs lined the roads with nothing else in sight.
I was impressed and surprised about how positive and uplifting the Cambodians are. A very high percentage of the populace all have a direct relation to those taken by the Pol Pot regime, and yet not one person I spoke with seemed crestfallen–they have all moved on. It was so liberating to see a country not hanging onto the past but looking forward to rebuilding. Cambodia as a country is on its very own journey — of progression.
Journeys aren’t always about the physical move but rather the process of getting to a place in your life. Sometimes it’s bumpy, sometimes it’s smooth. Too often we are too preoccupied with the destination that we forget the journey itself. The important thing is to enjoy it–look ahead…and out the window!