Written 6 May 2014
I’m spoilt. Not in the traditional sense of having too much money and parents who indulged my every whim and fancy in order to make up for being absent presences in my life. In a way that is far worse, and in a way that cannot be fixed, if such a thing needs to be fixed.
This morning, I woke up to the sound of African drums and was greeted by the imposing view of a glorious serra, the peaks blanketed in clouds as a fine, misty rain fell and afforded everything a strange, surreal, dreamlike quality. Two weeks ago, I watched the sun rise over a clear horizon, unbroken by ships or islands in the distance, the soft orange glow illuminating crystal clear waters and an empty shoreline dotted with palm trees. Two months ago, I stood in awe of a hundred thousand gallons of water gushing down 82 meters across 700 meters at one of the world’s most majestic waterfalls. And these are just a fraction of the amazing things I’ve seen. The rest, I don’t have the words to describe, nor do I care to – I would not be able to do them justice.
I am spoilt, not because I have tonnes of money or people around me who indulge me excessively. I am spoilt, because I have had the opportunity to see the amazing wonders of the world. I am spoilt, because I have come to see the kindness of strangers as something to expect, and even depend on. I am spoilt, because I travel.
People often talk about how travel opens your eyes and broadens your mind, it teaches you to be thankful for the small things and helps you appreciate the comforts you have at home. But something that is not often mentioned, except by weary travellers who have been on the road too long, is that travel ruins you for other things.
When you’ve seen the tallest building in the world, every other skyscraper becomes just that. When you’ve seen the biggest waterfall in the world, every other waterfall looks like a trickle of water over a ledge. When you’ve seen towering mountains, walked across vast plateaus, swum in oceans of the clearest blue, everything else pales in comparison. That sense of awe that makes your breath catch in your chest and raises goosebumps up and down your arms, while never really going away, is dulled into something far less…inspiring.
The thing is, the human mind isn’t impressed by repetition; it’s impressed by novelty. And as amazing as a magnificent mountain or gushing river or scorching desert is, it ceases to impress after the first five (or ten or fifty) times you see it. Travel, while awakening your senses, also dulls them. A tired lament of travellers isn’t that they’ve seen too little, but (often?) that they’ve seen too much. Seen so much that what lies before them isn’t (and perhaps will never be) as impressive or amazing or awe-inspiring as the other things they’ve seen.
And at this stage of my journey, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the feeling of guilt – that I am spoilt for having seen so much that I am unable to appreciate the other amazing things I see. Perhaps, it would have been better if I had never left home and never seen these things, such that I still have appreciation for them and don’t take them for granted.
Yet, maybe this is the test of a traveller. A traveller then, is one who, even after weeks, months, years on the road, can still find beauty in the ordinary. Who can still appreciate every river, mountain, desert, city with wide-eyed wonderment like he did on the day he first packed his bags and left. Who sometimes, still stops to smell the flowers.
As for me, I hope one day, I will stop being spoilt, and start being a traveller.