Travel has, for some time now, been a sacred practice with me. Not necessarily escapist backpacking, but the willful breaking of ties to the places, people and rules-of-the world in which I am enmeshed. It is, I suppose, pilgrimage of a kind. Traveling has meant testing myself. In heart, in mind, in spirit. That’s why the stuff I write about is often not all that physically far from where I sleep at night, but always a thousand miles from the world of the familiar, the safe, and the known. I think I’ve grown a little from pushing each year, and I’ve not died yet. Which brings me to May.
I’ve not confirmed this yet, but May seems to be about the time each year that I begin to think about journeys (Hmmm. It’s traditionally June. I’m a little ahead of myself here.). When the magical edge of the last dream begins to fade under the dust of the days since. Things seen and places been never truly leave you – the steel and the sparkle always remains there, deep inside your structure like some bright light, deep underwater. I’m different as I returned this year, as I was different returning from the year before. Each cycle of journey and reflection changing the light ever so subtly. Making it a little brighter, a little bigger.
But light requires renewal. Requires affirmation and celebration in a way that darkness never does.
And so return the thoughts of travel. Of challenge and change. Dusty trains and rusty deserts. Islands and mountains. Laughter, anger, and resignation to the wash and suck of wherever the days may go.
There are places to which I have always dreamed of returning. To close a loop that began years ago.
The last few journeys felt as though they selected themselves. To Cairo, to Uganda – when the idea came, it grew roots and never left. It demanded that it be undertook, and it was.
This May, I feel different. I feel as though I have choice without demands, and a rare opportunity for retrospect. I have a chance to consider a journey waiting somewhere in the dusty list of travels that I had once considered, and never forgotten since. The list I always think to when asked where I would most like to see.
Some of the places are places whose point of introduction I can no longer recall. Mauritania, with the longest train in the world. Or the non-countries of Akhazia, and Nagorno Karabakh.
Some are places to which references, as though omens, have crossed my path wherever I have traveled. Places that have come to represent the constellations by which I map the magic of where I have never been. Varanasi, in India, is one such place. I first learned of it via stories written by Solbeam. Then on a bus in Zambia. Again in the desert at Wadi Halfa. It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth. Legend has it that Lord Shiva founded it personlly five thousand years ago.
They have been in the back of my mind each May for many years now. Something I’ve always wanted to do – always mindful of how many undone things that category can come to dishonestly hold.
There are places to which I have always dreamed of returning. To close a loop that began years ago. Such as a return to Laos, to the place where I first understood how different the world could be. Or to Malaysia, to the tiny hostel in a back alley of Kuala Lumpur and the towns on the southern coast where I began to feel the stirrings of the restlessness that ultimately came to engulf me. Returning to those places now would be a pilgrimage of sorts. Saying thanks, as the me I became years later, to the me who had no idea the life he was setting in motion. The one who lit the first lights in his unreflective curiosity.
And then, always in the back of my mind, there are places that aren’t really places at all. Like the Camino de Santiago, or trekking in Nepal. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have encountered stories of the introspective pilgrims who have walked the trail from France to Spain, or through the snowy peaks of Asia. They have been in the back of my mind each May for many years now. Something I’ve always wanted to do – always mindful of how many undone things that category can come to dishonestly hold.
So, truth be told, I don’t know.
I don’t know where I will go yet. But it feels already as though I maybe preparing for a journey of reflection. In the past, I’ve stepped outside the place I call home for a challenge. I’ve traveled to confront fears I felt towards dangerous places. And I’ve traveled, often, for sheer curiosity. But I’ve never traveled for spirit before.
Much may still come to pass. A journey may yet present itself – as journeys often do – unannounced and resonant. But perhaps I would do well to plan this year for metaphor and story, for reflection.
For a journey that can take me a little closer to that strangest destination of all. Myself.