The World is a Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Image Credit: wekosh.com

I met a man once who didn’t have a passport. He was middle aged, a respectable businessman. You know the sort.

I don’t know if there were complicated reasons behind his inability to travel outside of the United Kingdom, but he said that when people ask him about it he tells them that he is too busy working to go on holiday. Whose work is so important that it relies on them to be at home 365 days of the year?

Living in the UK, I can’t imagine not wanting to travel.

To me not having a passport says “This is good enough”, and that the rest of the world doesn’t measure up. What about the pyramids in the deserts of Egypt and the jungles of Central and South America? Not that interesting.

The Colosseum in Rome? Boring.

The canals of Venice? Second best to the Droitwich Junction canal.

Tokyo is waiting in the night, lit up like Piccadilly Circus on crack.

Or there’s rain forests where you can stop, and listen, and hear no signs of civilisation.
When you’ve seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?

There are various lists of the “7 Wonders of the World”, and you can compare and contrast them all day, but at best in the UK the only real “Wonder” you are going to see without a passport is Stonehenge — even if you wanted to count the Channel Tunnel (as the American Society of Civil Engineers do with their list) you’d still need a passport.

Don’t get me wrong, Stonehenge is an amazing place in its own right — but is it so good that once you’ve seen it you don’t have to think about the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal…?

You can see most of Europe by car if you are so inclined — the channel tunnel takes no time at all, and before you know it the rest of the continent opens up before you.  Distinct and individual countries and people, side by side with their own private ways, old alliances and rivalries, rich varieties of languages and food.

Take in the view of Paris from the hills of Monmartre. Walk the streets of Madrid or Barcelona, and savour the smell of orange blossoms on the trees. Feel humbled among the orange tiled rooftops and green shutters of Dubrovnik, a city that has withstood centuries of earthquakes, fires and mortars to remain one of the closest places you will come to paradise on earth. Parts of the Berlin wall still stand, and even the city as a whole is like a living testament to some of the most important events of twentieth century.

But without a passport, they might as well be on Mars.

Even if you don’t like cities, you can find peace and solitude among the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayas. When you wake up one morning in the mountains and you are above the cloud layer, you know that even when you go back to your daily routine you won’t be the same again.

You can see giraffes grazing by the side of the road like cows on the African savannah, or travel the 1,100 kilometres of the Nullarbor plain through the Australian outback. Or you can stay where you are, at home, and these things will stay where they are, because there’s always work to be done.

You can take a pack of huskies across frozen lakes and hills between red painted barns and not see another living soul.

If the world’s a book and you’re on page one, who’s to say you will even like page two? You may not. You may hate it. But what about page three, or page 33? You could visit somewhere else every month for the rest of your life and never need to return to the same place twice.

Arguably, one of the greatest things about travel is returning home. Maybe nowhere will ever be as good or measure up to home, but not to travel is the equivalent of never reading more than one book because you already have a favourite, or refusing to listen to another song again because of there being one you like so much.

Sometimes I like to list all the cities whose rain I’ve known. Dublin where the locals shout across the street to comment about the weather and Lisbon, whose mosaic-tiled hills turn deadly in a storm.

Rainy cities where rivulets carry traffic cones down the road and sultry cities where middle-aged women pause with their cigarettes to offer sex when you’d rather an umbrella and cities where the dark clouds roll in over the surfers, bobbing in the water like seals. Cities where the rain is salty from the great lake. Cities where the rain fills the fountains and smooths the stone streets and cities where the rain has become part of the architecture and part of the soul of the people.

What you experience and what you learn when you explore gives richer depth and meaning to where you call home.

Originally published on Under30CEO 

Day 6: Winay Wayna-Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, PeruYou think you know Machu Picchu. You have seen it in guidebooks, in things to do before you die lists, in Facebook photo albums of various friends. You’ve seen it in high-definition technicolour. How can seeing it in person not be an anti-climax?

I thought all of these things, until I saw it. The lost city, that technically has no name, but is referred to by the name of the mountain: Machu Picchu.

And maybe it’s the altitude, and maybe it’s exhaustion, maybe it’s that you’ve been working towards this moment for so long: planning and training and fundraising and hiking — but either way, it’s a big emotional moment. I tell everyone the same thing: if you want to see Machu Picchu, you should hike the Inca trail to get there.

Sure, you can take a bus up the mountain from Agua Calientes, and arrive all fresh and rested, but where would be the sense of achievement?

The last day’s hiking started with an unexpected lie-in. When this became the plan, I don’t know, I was fairly sure it was meant to be an early start to be there for sunrise: but none of that mattered once we were awake and on our way. To tell the truth, the hike to get to Machu Picchu on the last day fades in my memory: because there was an enormous event waiting at the end, and everything else becomes over-exposed because of it.

 Inti Punku, the sun gateWhat I remember most is the stone steps up to the sun gate, from where you look down on to the lost city below. One more set of steps, except that lining the steps on both sides are the trip guides, the doctors, the porters you have become close to over the last few days. And they are all cheering and applauding. I raised an arm in triumph for a photo: I did it. On bruised and blistered and broken feet, I did it.

After the photo opportunities with mountain Machu Picchu in the background, we were encouraged to spend a few minutes in quiet reflection about why we were there and what we had accomplished. That’s about the time that the exhaustion and altitude combined to have almost everyone break down in tears. We were all there raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and all had stories about how cancer had affected the lives of people around us — or us personally. My aunt would have loved Machu Picchu and Peru, and it seemed like a fitting tribute to her memory.

What I don’t often talk about is the pain I was in on this last day. I’d been on a prescription pain killers all week to deal with the pain in my injured foot and in my knees, and had foolishly decided for the last day to start reducing the dose. Looking back, I could have waited another couple of days, but I under-estimated how much of a hike the final day would be. But you know what? Look at that smile. I was genuinely happy. In that moment, it was all worth it.

Among the ruins of Machu Picchu there are wild llamas just wandering around, and once you have descended the long, winding path down to the city you yourself just wander among the ruins and the grass: marvelling at the pyramids and the buildings, and the ingenuity of this long lost civilisation. Everyone there probably wishes they were alone to experience it without the slightly grubby hikers, like me, or the fresh faced tourists just off the air-conditioned bus. Just the same, you remember the feeling of the city and try to memorise all the details to report back later.