The Great Affair
is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly...
…I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more clearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.
I first read this quote in the small bathroom of a farm house just outside of Bundaberg, Australia. It wasn’t really a bathroom, just a tiny room with a toilet. This, I learned, was common in Australia, to have a small room with a toilet separate from the sink and bath or shower. This worked well, though occasionally made it difficult to wash your hands.
In addition to this quote from Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson, the walls surrounding the toilet were adorned with poetry and several photographs from an old calendar. One photo featured an old, extravagant white house in Port Coquitlam, a town only a 30 minute drive away from my own home back in Canada. It’s hard not to say it, so, yes, it’s a small world after all.
I happened to be in (on) the small toilet of a farmhouse just outside of Bundaberg, Australia, because my friend Jenn and I befriended the skipper on our sailing tour of the Whitsundays. It was his friend Scottie who invited us to come stay with his family, despite the fact that we had never met. Pulling into the bus station in Bundaberg we saw Scottie and greeted him apprehensively. His long hair and rugged exterior was intimidating to us two young girls, a long way from our home in Vancouver.
Scottie and his family were incredibly friendly and welcoming. They welcomed us both to their home in the beachside town of Bargara and onto their farm, where we pretended we were helping (though it’s hard to believe we did much). The days we were there we experienced the challenges of herding cattle, repairing broken fences and protecting the animals from dingoes. Each time we drove down the long driveway I noticed the dead cow hanging from a tree off the side of the road. ‘It’s poisoned’, Scottie’s dad finally noted, ‘to kill the dingoes that come after the cows’. I was sorry for the dingoes, but happy to know it was not a sign of our future fate.
Growing up, we learned not to talk to strangers, not to trust them. Had we shied away from this strange man waiting for us at the bus stop, had we not allowed ourselves to be welcomed into his family for two short weeks, we would not have had this unique, Aussie experience. I would not have tried my first prawn curry, cruised through Australian farmland in the back of an old Toyota pickup, shared roast dinners and picnic lunches with a lovely family, or read a random quote on the wall while using the toilet.
Forgotten for a while, the words of Stevenson came back to me here and there but have stuck with me steadily over the past two years of primarily staying home. Travel is a way to awaken ourselves. To learn what is truly needed in our lives, far from our things and our daily habits and conveniences. It is also a way to meet people and, while doing so, learn more about the world. Frequently I have found that though we are different, we are all the same.
While writing this post, I found the paragraph continues:
Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?
Today, about 12 years later, I sit in Santiago, Chile and enjoy a quiet moment in the courtyard of my hostel (resisting the urge to occupy my mind with thoughts of the future). I am at the very beginning of a new adventure that I hope to document here for my friends and family and any one else who finds it interesting. I only hope I can have many similar experiences to the one described above.