“Humming birds brought rainbows to the earth, say the Nahuatl, brought colour. Colour rustles everywhere, which way to look first, everything is unfamiliar, tourist become traveller in the slow upheaval of connection.”
These words are from a book called Touching Ecuador by W. H. New. I bought it from a second hand bookshop in the old city of Quenca, in the Andes when I was vainly looking for Ecuadorian literature translated into English. It was the closest thing I could find. It is actually a poetry book written by a Canadian about Ecuador but it achieved the same end and gave me further insight into where I was attempting to be a traveller rather than a tourist.
Next stop Nova Scotia where I read ‘No Great Mischief ‘ by Alistair Macleod, a beautifully crafted family saga set on Cape Breton Island over three generations. Although I was visiting in summer, I could feel the winter ice through the pages and the strength of the familiy ties forged through hardship and isolation.
“In the late afternoon the sun still shone, and there was no wind but it began to get very cold, the kind of deceptive cold that can fool those who confuse the shining of the winter sun with warmth….They took two storm lanterns, my mother carried one and my brother Colin, the other, while my father grasped the ice pole …it was dusk out there on the ice and they lit their lanterns. Then their lanterns began to waver and dance wildly…They’ve gone under, said Grandpa.”
Last stop New York where I started ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. It was like going into the personal lives of people I passed on the street and looking behind the doors of their tiny over-priced NY apartments:
“The apartment had only one closet but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting accross the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts, even though it was October, smoking.”
What literature has helped you climb into your travel destinations?
There is no drive more stressful than the one to catch a plane that waits for no man, woman or child. Then having successfully negotiated the traffic, you arrive to find massive queues to check in, more queues to get through customs, then they want you to take off your shoes and reveal that sock you didn’t get around to darning, and wait, there is something suspicious looking in your very carefully packed hand luggage which now has to be emptied onto the table. Your life goes from order to chaos in an instant and before you know it you have abandoned that plan for a lesurely drink at the bar and your name echoes through the long white corridors as you run faster and longer than you have since primary school, to the boarding gate rumaging for that boarding pass only to be met by frowns of disapproval for being late.
Recently on my way to South America, I arrived at LA airport the obligatory hour before take-off with only hand luggage and smugly thinking I had already checked in on-line only to discover that I hadn’t and had to queue. The guy in front of me was way over the baggage limit and it took Copa Airlines the best part of an hour to argue a price. Meanwhile my blood pressure was slowly rising to bursting point. Raw fear that I would miss the plane that would bugger up my next connection that would bugger up the next etc. Breath. Check-in staff and perhaps laid back South Americans especially, don’t take too kindly to red faced gringos (even if I am Australian), shouting and crying.
And even if you have checked in successfully and are sitting at the boarding gate, calmly people watching, don’t not listen to all those announcements in a foreign language followed by the English announcements that sound nearly as foreign because one might be for you and there might be a reason that those people you have been watching start to be replaced by different people. Your gate has been changed and boarding is now! The new gate is not next door, it is right up the other end and you find yourself running again along long corridors, hearing your name being called and more frowns from staff diminishing any chance of an up-grade. And when you finally are the last person to board and you find the seat that you booked months in advance, an old Chinese lady is sitting in it. The flight attendant signals for you to go to the last seat at the back of the plane and you submit like a chastened child because, after all, you are late again.
Hoarders beware! The same fear of throwing things out lurks around the suitcase at packing time. It might help to understand that it comes from the fear of letting go of things in case we might need them in the future but this has to be weighed against the advantages of travelling light. Rationalise. What would I do if I needed this but didn’t have it? If the answer is buy one, then consider not taking it. Recently it took me 3 packs and repacks and a lot of ratonalising to pack for carry-on only, for a 7 week trip to North and South America where I might encounter anything form zero in the Andes to 35 degrees on the coast. The secret is layers, only 2 pairs of shoes and a light waterproof jacket. Just think. Arrive only one hour before the flight instead of two, no baggage check-in queue, no waiting at carousels at the other end for a bag that may have been lost, breeze through customs, no assistance needed to carry luggage and you can keep your bag under your legs to avoid the temptation for anyone to steal it.