I was again on the train, ridding the rails, this time going back home. This route is familiar as I move from Gothem to Upstate quite frequently in order to patch up some falling chunk of my place and return to the city in order to work. A broken heating element. A failed drain. A board that wont stay nailed down. All require money and with few jobs upstate it keeps me moving about.
I had just been a day or two before in the mountains of Montana. And I had traded all that for the familiar view of the cold river beside the train chugging up a well-worn track. There was no bar car on this train. No glamor at all. No travelers. It is a far ride from the wilds of Gothem for the wilds of The Valley, but these are Power Commuters not explorers sharing this train with me. I was, however, surprised at how excited I was at getting home. The port came in to view (since the rails are on the sunrise side of the river) and the little familiar lights and buoys I use to navigate when I am on the water. I would have to open a mountain of bills. I would have to find out what was broken next on the place. I would have to reorganize the trash cans and pick up several weeks of debris that gets schmeared all over the property (it’s in a rather poverty stricken village of very sloppy people – but that’s another post). Yet, I was glad to be back.
In travel there is an expanding of one’s experience but there is also a state of forgetting or a suspension of the work-a-day world that allows one to temporarily step outside your life. The intended mode of travel is to explore, but it also is to forget. We travel to leave behind all those things familiar and take on the unknown… even if you peeked using The Googles Maps or found an old Lonely Planet on the coffee table and looked up exactly where we would go, what we would do, the cafe’s menu, whether John Luke was the waiter that day, etc. The opposite point on the compass of travel is, of course, staying home.
We may forget our bills. Leave behind all those sticky connections in life. Those things that hold us back. But, in order to travel, we must come home from time-to-time.
Leaving and traveling would not be something special if we did not come from somewhere. Have a location fixed on the map from which we diverge. If we did not spend time at home, what would travel be? The constant state of moving sheds that husk of the traveler and one becomes the wanderer. A displaced person.
In travel I have heard traveler stories. Stories about cheep beer. Good Hostels. Missed flight connections. The tips and tricks of travel. Especially back in the days before Tripadvisor or other traveldotcoms.
In those days, sometimes the talk was of other travelers. There have been a lot of stories, but the one that has stuck to me was the stories of The Monk. I think I heard about this in Germany. Or perhaps Austria. I heard about The Monk from a traveler as we drank in the kitchen of some hostel. Perhaps it was Spain and the teller was German. He spoke flawless English so he must have been Germanic.
The story was of a man who came from an unknown country. It was said he was from Australia, or Canada, or the United States. He was an English speaker and had been working in finance or some other position that allowed him to amass a certain amount of money. Of a sudden, this man’s wife and children died in a car accident. At this time he was at the top of his career but an older gentleman, one who had managed to make the dream so many men have, to have it all to have the girl, the gold watch, and everything. And it was taken from him in an instant.
In the ashes of that life he choose another. He sold all his assets and placed them all in a trust, perhaps managed by someone else, perhaps managed by the very people he used to work for. He pulled up stakes and took to traveling. At first, as the teller claimed, The Monk said he was planning to travel but a few months. And yet, the loss was not sated, the memories still there and painful and home was a vacuum of loss. The void caused by his grief not filled. So he traveled on. He lived in places for a few days, a few weeks, a few months. Great places. Beaches with nightly party campfires and dunes where dancers served tea, jungles and temple exploring adventures, and mountain forests with yoga health camps, mountain cabins of clean air and pure blue water trickling from glaciers just miles away and hotels in disco sex districts of exotic cities. He lived it up for a while, but then lost interest in the easy pleasures that money can buy and gave up the hotels for hostels, gave up planes for buses, gave up all his identifying documents other than his passport. And for his name, he had given that up too. He said he started calling himself whatever name came to mind. In travel, he lost himself, and yet, he had, at the time he allegedly met the narrator of this story, traveled the world several times, having visited every country in the world – some more than once.
I remember a group of travelers discussing stories in awe. I was at least. It was the goal of so many gathered then and that I have met since. The Irish boys working bar in exotic lands and then moving on when the money is saved to work again when it runs out. The Australians who said that it was so expensive to leave their land they stayed away for years and never again left. The Germans who also travel long and hard. The female traveler who spoke only of being female and traveling. And me. We all were amazed to think of the freedom this money brought but also the sad story. The man who had moved on from being a traveler and became something else. The Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman, the Ancient Mariner, or any number of other cursed travelers come to mind. Yet, the traveler said The Monk had been to nations during revolution and seen sunsets from ancient mountains and sunrises at the temples we see only in magazines or in films we saw when we were children but no longer remember correctly since we have added to the colour and texture to these images. And the Monk had seen it all in-person, or so I was told.
I was never able to corroborate this story. We did not have Uncle Googles back then, nor an iThingamajiggy to immediately look things up. We had only traveler’s tales, and home.
After my latest travel I had myself returned home, to the small port village on the banks of the river. There I retreated to by cabin and unloaded my bags. The antique post cards, strange trinkets, and bits of something I had bought in order to better remember my time out there. I met no other travelers since I do not move in those circles anymore but I do miss those days when I did. Since back then, before The Googles, Tripyahooadvisorplanet and the like, we travelers would gather over beer in the courtyard of the hostel and swap tales and advice, pushing one another to move on and explore more of this gray-green planet, and all would bemoan having to return home in time to resupply, gather money, attend school, go back to some meaningless job, but deep down I am sure we all were glad of being able to return as I was so excited to get back to my horrible humble chunk of home.