Our earthly circumnavigation fades to the background of my mind these days with visions of our wanderings crystallizing in the quiet of night just before drifting off to sleep. Outside the realm of the unknown the memories are friendlier. The difficulties of travel, the discomforts of lumpy beds, the uncertainty of food and lack of routine all fall away. In the safety of knowing the story’s “end” I linger over the images inside my head from our 10 weeks of travel. I’m finally free to just enjoy myself rather than worrying about the next thing down the line.
That I am not an easy traveler is not surprising since I’m a worrier in general. So it fits with my character that travel makes me apprehensive._ Countless people have told us, “Oh, you’re so brave!” Believe me, I’m far less resolute than I appear. Yet there’s a duality that I find myself confronting. That is, my curiosity about new places rubbing up against a certain fretfulness about the unknown. Experience tells me that once I’ve arrived in a new place and had a chance for sleep the novelty of the adventure usually wins out. I can say I’m glad I did it, pushed the “what-ifs” aside and sought my curiosity’s satisfaction.
Over the weeks of travel we learned the need to pace ourselves. We constantly repeated the mantra, “You can’t see everything.” We learned to pick and choose, prioritizing our hearts’ desires against what would be nice to see. I learned that every day need not be crammed with some sightseeing activity. In fact some of my favorite spots include times of relaxation in very ordinary places, like Green Park in Athens, where the locals stroll and the old men play endless games of backgammon. We went there twice during our two days in Athens and it felt like a luxury to sit quietly in a park and soak in the sun and do nothing more than share the daily lives of ordinary citizens. The week before in Istanbul I realized that our trip was a sort of marathon, an act of endurance as much as a trip of a lifetime. Part enjoyment, part pain and drudgery.
Across Europe Dave focused on train stations. There’s something timeless about them; people arriving from and departing to distant places, and waiting eternally. The analogy to us was clear. Yet I will always remember us with our backpacks, Dave with the larger two, me with the smaller ones, strapped on front and back, and always … always … my wide-brimmed hat atop my head. I see Dave ahead of me on the sidewalk and my reflection in the store windows as we make our way to our destination. There’s a determination in our step and a keen attention to what’s out there. It’s as if to say, we know where we’re going. Though we didn’t always. Part of the adventure, part of the fun, was making it up as we went along.
And I had to remind myself of that. Especially as the time progressed and I grew weary of strange eating schedules and unfamiliar hotels. Yet in the end I find that’s a good deal of what makes me glad we did this trip. Knowing I can overcome the unknowns, combat the doldrums of waiting, survive the minutiae of planning, and wait out the occasional case of “nerves” that overtakes me. The payback was huge and well worth all of the downsides. Walking the rice fields of Bali. Snorkeling in Amed. The relief of a morning thunderstorm in Singapore. Gliding up the Mediterranean from Greece to Italy. Our intrepid hike through the countryside of Ronda, Spain. Watching the donkey train outside our pension in Fez. One memory gives rise to the next. It’s good to be home but it’s just as good to know we went.