Emma's thoughts on travel
Manchester Travel Blog› entry 253 of 254 › view all entries
We sometimes get asked by fellow travellers - "Has travelling changed you?" To which I've replied "No." Travelling has, however, been a huge learning experience. It has been very interesting learning about the connections and links between countries, based on colonialism, communism and economic ties. The theme of oppression, both past and present, has been a thread running throughout our travels. The Inuit peoples of Canada. The Aborigines of Australia. The bombing of Laotians and Cambodians in a war that wasn't even theirs. The Vietnamese. The Cambodians again at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Yet another military coup in Thailand. Severe restrictions on freedom of speech in Malaysia and Singapore (as in the rest of SE Asia). South Africa still trying to balance huge racial inequalities, despite the successes of the post apartheid era. We could have visited China, Burma and Indonesia, all of whose inhabitants have suffered (and still do) gross human rights abuses. In Africa, there is large scale suffering in Zimbabwe and Dharfur. In the middle east, the Palestinians continue to suffer appalling injustices at the hands of Israel. The people of Iraq continue to suffer the illegal occupation of American and British troops. The world is still far from being a peaceful place, something for which we all must take some responsibility. We take freedom of speech completely for granted in Britain. The irony is that we don't use it effectively, and allow our government to make some frightening decisions on our behalf. Like millions of people in South Africa and around the world, Nelson Mandela has long been a hero of mine, and it has been wonderful to visit his country. If today's world leaders had only a fraction of his qualities as a man and a statesman, the world today would be a better place. It is time that politicians began making decisions based on morals and integrity, and not on serving self-interests, big corporations and the rich. Travelling certainly helps to open your eyes to the world - everyone should try and do at least a small amount of travelling, if for no other reason than to realise that the world is a community and we should all care about what happens to the people in it.
On a lighter note, we have also been asked about our favourite moments, places or memories of the past year. For me, many of the journeys we have made have been just as fascinating as the places we've seen. Had it not been for my fear of flying, we may have flown more than we have, and been the worse for it. As it is, we have done some fantastic overland journeys on trains, ferries, slow-boats, cars and buses, and experienced some memorable border crossings - driving up to the Laos/Vietnam border on the back of a motorbike - catching a boat across the Mekong into Laos - to name but two. Travelling overland also gives you some sense of the vastness of countries, and how countries are different despite their proximity to each other. This is summed up more expertly in a book we have recently read:
" As soon as you decide to do without planes, you realize how they impose their limited way of looking at things on you. Oh, they diminish distances, which is handy enough, but they end up diminishing everything, including your understanding of the world....To understand is a joy, but only if it comes with effort, and nowhere is this more true than in the experience of other countries. Reading a guide book whilst hopping from one airport to another is not the same as the slow, laborious absorption - as if by osmosis - of the humours of the earth to which one remains bound....
.....Reached by plane, all places become alike - destinations separated from one another by nothing more than a few hours' flight. Frontiers, created by nature and history and rooted in the consciousness of the people who live within them, lose their meaning and cease to exist for those who travel to and from the air-conditioned bubbles of airports, where the border is a policeman in front of a computer screen, where the first encounter with a new place is a baggage carousel, where the emotion of leave-taking is dissipated in the rush to get to the duty-free shop - now the same everywhere."
Travelling becomes a way of life, and a mentality almost. Neither of us has missed work, or the stresses, routine, meetings and deadlines that go with it. It has been great to get out of bed at whatever time we want, to enjoy leisurely breakfasts, to have no idea what day it is, to read lots of books, to watch the sun rise and set, to survive without the use of a mobile phone, to walk barefoot, to watch the world go by in a pavement cafe.
There have been one or two downsides of course - occasional homesickness - the constant emptying and re-packing of one's rucsack - the scaryness of getting a haircut in a foreign country - handwashing my underwear for a year and watching it slowly turn grey - and managing to blow the budget on a regular basis.
Some of our best moments have been in places where we have escaped from our fellow travellers - just us and the locals eg. boarding an early morning local bus in Laos, with vendors selling bugs on sticks through the windows. We have tried the local food wherever possible, but drawn the line at bugs on sticks, sauteed snake, and frog porridge. Travelling is addictive: nothing matches that magic of crossing a border into a new country and absorbing the 1001 things that make it unique and special. I'll leave you with my favourite moments:
The beautiful mountains, lakes and glaciers of the Canadian Rockies ~~~ watching the fireworks on NYE from a boat in Sydney Harbour ~~~ a two-day sail down the Mekong in a slow boat ~~~ a classic train journey across Canada ~~~ sharing a hard sleeper cabin with the locals on the overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City ~~~ snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef ~~~ sunrise on the Mekong Delta ~~~ watching an ice hockey game in Montreal ~~~ diving and swimming with turtles in Mozambique ~~~ watching blue penguins at dusk, NZ ~~~ riding the bamboo train in Cambodia.
A big thank-you to everyone who has read our blog this year - we hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as we have enjoyed writing it.