Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Wanderlust ©

a strong desire to travel: a man consumed by wanderlust

What a great word that is. It has the spirit of adventure to it. Utter it and you can almost picture Christopher Columbus navigating high seas or the buccaneering Hiram Bingham storming his way through the dense Andean jungle. The French translation “envie de voyager” or “desire to travel” lacks the passion and poetry contained within that one word: wanderlust.

As a child I wasn’t consumed with a desire to see the world. In fact my world was the typically narrow one of a child and it was reading that I turned to to satisfy my appetite for adventure. Family holidays took place in Spain, Turkey and Greece in holiday resorts and the big wide world didn’t really exist for me. Until I heard of gap years that was. Back then, the gap year wasn’t too common and only for the fact that I stumbled across a copy of a gap year brochure, am I writing this now. But once the idea of visiting Argentina entered my head, I couldn’t really shake it. One thing led to another and before you knew it, I was in Heathrow airport with a horde of strangers at my side, passport in hand and a 24-hour journey to Andean Argentina ahead of me.

Let me stress that I was as far from the intrepid traveler as you could get. As a young 18 year-old, I had virtually no experience outside the classroom and the homes of family and friends. But over the next five months, something shifted in me. My youth and inexperience gave the trip a sharp and fleeting sweetness that I’ve been seeking ever since. It wasn’t plain sailing but somewhere between the bus rides to work, the newly formed friendships and my fledgling Spanish, I fell in love with Argentina. I learned to my surprise that I liked the tactile way the people would reach out to you. That I enjoyed being the centre of attention when it was kind-hearted and curious. That you didn’t have to earn friendship by being the funniest or the coolest – the people there offered it for free. I learned that all experiences are good experiences in the end. And finally, that passion and warmth are two of my favourite qualities in a person.

I returned to the UK a changed person with renewed interest in the world and a hefty dose of idealism that I’ve had to water down over the years. But those were my formative years and my opinions have remained essentially the same ever since. In the past ten years, my appetite for travel has taken me to France, Spain, Iceland, Portugal, Italy, Morocco, Switzerland, the USA, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and back to where it all started, but I’ve never quite managed to recapture the heady feelings of my early days in small-town Argentina.

These days I am consumed by wanderlust. I look out the window and imagine myself zooming down an American highway on the way somewhere… in this sense there’s a bittersweet edge to wanderlust – that idea of seeking ‘a great perhaps’, the rainbow’s gold. Or maybe it’s just that once you’ve whetted your appetite and experienced the freedom offered by extended travel, you realize the limitations of staying in one place. And yet the idea that homesickness cannot take up residence within one consumed by wanderlust is false. That is the great irony.

As I sit here now, my beloved passport is about to expire and so comes the end of an era. The gold crest on the cover is no more and the whole thing has the ragged, worn appearance of a well-loved teddy bear. One that you should throw away, but you can’t because of the memories. Those stamps represent a time when the number one concern was how many places we could fit into six weeks’ travel. A time where a passport was all you needed in life.

It may be that nothing will ever match Argentina 2004. Maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe once-in-a-lifetime trips are just that. But I’ll keep looking! I’ve got a lot of blank pages to fill.

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