As backpackers crunching up controversial carbon as we cross countries, are we part of the problem or part of the solution??
Backpacking has always been part of a larger, much more collective community of like minded people. Now the world faces unprecedented challenges, with rising sea levels, melting polar caps, soaring temperatures, irregular and extreme weather conditions, a disintegrating ozone protection and the extermination and elimination of some of the earths most precious natural resources. The worlds community must come together. They have. Copenhagen, coined the worlds most important environmental action awareness meeting ever.
The world leaders have come and gone. Resembling a parade of non confrontational appearances, acknowledging each country has a role to play, acknowledging that the earth and its 6 billion inhabitants face an environmental catastrophe.
Humans, only 200,000 years old, living on a 4 billion year old earth, have conquered this world, exploited it, sustainably abused it. In just 50 years, our earth has been more radically changed, than all previous generations of humanity.
We are all responsible, but are some more responsible for these factors than others? This was the cry from some of world's least developed countries, and a fair enough one I believe. But its too late for bureaucratic processes of accountability, its time for action. its time to stand up. Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?
Will flashpackers now think twice before taking that domestic flight to save a few hours? Hopefully travellers at the very least will attempt to offset their carbon footprint.
And so Copenhagen comes and goes. There has been a deal reached. A flimsy framework has been floated. World leaders from the 5 major seats on the UN security council are hailing it a success. The developing countries and countries most at risk from immediate global warming repercussions are not so enthused. Understandably.
It is non binding, there are no numbers or dates, it sets no target or timescale for curbing greenhouse emissions. It is what it is. A political catwalk with a lot of talk and little action.
Its too late to be a pessimist. Eco warriors keep fighting the good fight. Backpackers, travel with a collective conscious. Politicians stop talking. Leaders, start acting.
Life presents us all with various confrontations, problems to overcome and situations to deal with. When you take everything in life away from around you, your left with one thing, people. People are the one true inspiration in this world, the only thing you really need in times of hardship is someone to stand by you.
'No matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point you gonna need somebody to stand by you'
In fact they are a daily burst of inspiration while my feet lay idle. They stir the blood on a cold northern hemispheric winter morning. Whip the emotions up into a mini 'far away' frenzy, sometimes they even take me away for what pensioners would call, 'a special moment'.
I hope that they do the same for you.
"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” ~ Jack Kerouac
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” ~ Maya Angelou
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” ~Mark Jenkins
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard
The trump card came in the form of two white pills, small and tablety, knock out nuggets of saviour in this hour of need, several hundred kilometres from Quito in a loud rickety bus with the stifling midday heat creeping up on us all. I reached into my pocket, leaning up on one arse cheek hanging out the aisle and all of a sudden fatty brrm brrm falls through the non existent gap between us and made this a horizontal three seater. I pop him back out as I settle back down, and in one smooth motion, drop the pills in my mouth as I chug on some of my luke warm apple postobon.
'Later gator' I smurk down at El Gordito, catch you on the flip side chunkster. My head must of lay dormant for a period of ten minutes, trying to shut everything off and slip into sleeptopia. I flipped over to look out the window. Cows in the fields were gazing up at the bus roaring past, I tried to think of sheep back in New Zealand, waiting for them to start jumping and take me to those white fluffy clouds and sleeeeep sleeeep sleeep
And the cumbia band played on. It felt like an hour and my pill action had bore no harvest, I was still awake. Fatty brrmm brrmm had been restless as per usual and the cows were still passing in the blurry rush outside the finger marked window. I felt hungry but I felt sick at the thought of food. A wave of nausea sweept over me. Ahh, could this be it I optimistically pondered, I dropped the shutters on my eyelids and lay my head back to rest.
No matter how much you butter it up, there is no way to describe the feeling when a sudden surge of diarrhea grips you.
An inferno roars within you, tears through your innards and shoots down through your intestines at a lighting pace. Your stomach tightens and your sphinixter is overcome with a sudden urge to relax, to release the pressure building up behind it. And its that very urge that you must combat and defeat within the 10 second onslaught of a flush of instantaneous diarehea. If not, kiss your dignity goodbye.
No, this cant be happening, I frantically tried to regather my composure. The young mother and Andreas had looked up at me, I must of lurched, squirmed or maybe even let out a terrified yelp. I was so focussed on keeping the back door locked that I lost any sense of my movements and/or vocals. Wow. What the hell just happened. It took me 1.5 seconds to not only realise the gravity of the situation ahead of me but the cataylist responsible. I had been done. I had slipped down two doses of laxitives.
The joke was on me. My thoughts were climbing over top of one another, I tried to sit up straight, I started to smile, I gripped the aisle hand rail, I took a deep breath. Thats actually quite funny. I bet they are pissing themselves with laughter right now. Oh my god, what a numnuts I am. Oh shit, Here goes, here it comes, its on....
This was going to be the mother of all battles. Fighting off a double drop dossage of laxitives whilst sweating out a hangover with loud music and an uncomfortable and irritating seat partner called El Gordito.
I took my breathing down and tried to scramble some thoughts together for a plan of action. I needed a toilet. Sweat started to gather on my brow. I needed toilet paper. Nah first things first. No amount of Colombian one ply toilet paper is going to mop this badboy up if the dam bursts.
Another surge started to swell within me. The tide started to turn somewhere deep in my tummy. I started thinking, this is it Den, your all over here, its the laxitive express hurling down the tracks hard and fast.....
A million thoughts crossed my mind. Kiss goodbye to all the dignity you have stored away whilst on this trip Denis, in fact, explain to the raging bus driver in your fumbling spanish that his seat is soiled, explain to those around you who are pulling out handkerchiefs fasting than you can scramble your words together. Look the young mother and Andreas in the eye and say sorry, i shat myself.
And it burned, burned burned....that ring of fire... that ring of fire.....
This border is critically acclaimed as one of the most dangerous in Latin America. An area where Colombia's 60 year old civil war has caused tens of thousands of people to "vanish", millions more displaced, a constant heavy military presence and a general uneasiness that rings throughout the area.
It was this ring that got me on my 22 hour bus trip ..... I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down down down and the flames went higher, and it burns burns burns.....that ring of fire
It all started back in Bogota at the Platypus Hostel as I was stuffing the last of my belongings into my backpack. I was out in the courtyard in a hurry to say goodbyes to fellow backpackers that I had befriended during my brief stay. Familiar faces, smiles and waves. That goodbye blur on a Sunday morning in a foreign hostel. No one wants to really engage you, its too early, its Sunday, acknowledgements are sufficient. The unspoken backpacker code murmured and nodded. Respected.
This Dutch dude pokes his head out of the door, I reckonised his face hazily, I had seen him around, perhaps we had chatted, shared a few brews around the courtyard with the many other backpackers that stayed in the infamous Platypus Hostel in central Bogota. It was a Partypackers hostel, the type of place you meet some of the Gringo trail's interesting characters.
"Hey man, you going to Quito?! Good luck with that one, these will put you out hombre, its a long trip man, happy days" and with that he stretched out his hand, I reached out to the half opened doorway, the shady Dutchman hiding half behind it, not wanting to fully emerge into the bright sunlight streaming through onto the old colonial patio. I shook his hand, instantly noticing the press of a small packet in my palm at the same time.
"Sweet mate, cheers aye, good luck on your travels" and with that I was off. Two of my friends had risen in the morning and were brave enough to show me to the door and send me on my way. Sunday morning soliders they were. Only the previous night they had partied with me until the early hours, true Platypus Partypackers, now valiant as ever, escorting me to the street to send me on my way.
Goodbyes were brief, as they often are on the road. You meet so many people, I had numbed myself to the reality of the situation, I may never see these guys again. It had been an amazing journey across the Carribean ocean to Colombia and down through the countryside. Months of travel together and now a solem hungover goodbye on the empty cobbled stoned streets of downtown Bogota on a sunny Sunday morning.
Before long I was on the bus, belting into the lush countryside in the early hours of a relatively quiet morning for Colombian standards. We zipped past the outskirts of Bogota and into the green wider countryside of Colombia, or Locolombia as its often referred to by its inhabitants. I had the blessings bestowed upon me to sit besides a young women and her fat chubby son. El Gordito he became quickly registered in my inner thoughts spiralling out of control. He was restless. Big and burly. A right handful for his young mother. A notable presence wedged in between the pair of us.
"This little fatty bom bom is gonna piss me off" I caught myself quietly muttering out loud in plain english. And as if he heard my cue, he proceeded to drive his toy car up the side of my leg. A shy smile from the young mother and I found myself rebounding back her smile. He's cool, just a harmless youngster. I looked out the window from the aisle seat, only 21 more hours to go. Shit
End of part 1. Part 2 by the end of the week....its too long for one post, would get boring. Tune in for the finale, coming to a screen near you...
We do and we be, we travel and we see, but theres nothing quite like being free. Free from criticisms, free from persecution, free from ridicule. If someone choses to flashpack their way around the world, are they really missing out on the 'adventure' aspect of backpacking travel? If someone choses to stay in one destination because they don't want to see their carbon footprint spiral out of control, are they any less of a traveler? Who am I to critique this valiant Eco-Warrior? This Eco-packer. This is their style. Their spin on backpacking. Their perception on how they should travel.
Under the umbrella of backpacking exist many styles of travel. What I have been reading on the internet of late has been concerning me. I touched on it in my last blog post but felt compelled to write more as I trawled more and more comments on this distinction between "tourist" v "traveler" and even to some extents this "flashpacker" v "real backpacker".
Over 100 years ago, G.K. Chesterton laid it down, his distinctions on this issue were summed in one of his famous lines - "The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see”
One of my favourite authors Paul Theroux’s famous line, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” touches on the contentious issue many young travellers ponder over.
I believe it can be all whittled back to one word. Respect. I respect your style of travel as I respect your personality. The cliche "Live and let live" is ringing in my ears.
I believe the diversification of travel styles and personalities is a progressive one. Embrace it, don't fight it. After all, wouldn't this world be a boring place if everybody looked the same, if there was only one language, one way of doing things, one 'type' of backpacker. It would deny the very existence of what this world is - a mysterious unity held together through the web of diversity.
Amen and goodnight.
Donkey or Camel - Your choice....
Flashpacking. Where no cost is to great in the pursuit of happiness. Its backpacking with a twist. A slice of lime in that Gin & Tonic by the poolside in Rio de Janeiro. That chocolate tiramisu your nibbling on whilst checking your emails at a wi fi connection cafe in Vienna. The sprinkles on your cappucino. Perhaps its that warm towel that slips off the heated handrail in your downtown hostel in Melbourne. The movie-star lights above your mirror. That little care package that those flashpacker hostels often give you when checking in. The little things.
Its the little things that really matter.
Flashpacking is about choice.
But its not everybodys cup of tea. Some like it with no milk nor cream. Forget the sugar, my travels are sweet enough. But some travelers just can't resist those added sweetners, the cream and sprinkles, its all worth it, se vale la pena.
Its a new breed of backpacking and love it or hate it, its here to stay. Whether your a flashpacker, a slackpacker, a market haggler, a content straggler, we all share that same independent spirit of adventure. The ethos of traveling as a backpacker hasnt changed, maybe just the styles.
One of the earliest free spirited travelers i thought should get a mention was Marco Polo. The legend traveled for 24 years. 24 years. I dont know if the term backpacker was probably appropriate, more of a 'slackpacker' - Where some travelers take the high road and some take the low road, Marco Polo took the long and slow road, setting out on a quest to really understand a place and its people. Legend.
Ibn Battuta - This 13th centuy Moroccan traveler covered 75,000 miles in 30 years around the world. He almost makes Marco Polo look like he was out for a casual stroll. He traveled mainly around the Middle East and Asia as a raggety camelpacker, although become an affluent member of the Muslim world during his later years, presiding as a judge until his death caught up with him.
So those dudes are long gone. Their legacies live on though. But who is still alive that could possibility be the backpacker pin-up traveler?? Could it be.....
• Charles Veley of San Francisco, who has visited 600 plus of what he counts as 673 territories. Or is this guy just a part time hero out for some fame?? Does he truly capture what it means to be a backpacker, someone prepared to travel the road less traveled, in an independent manner for nothing more than the satisfaction of understanding the world we live in.
• How about traveling Matt. The guy who zipped around the world in six months, visiting 39 countries and dancing a crazy little dance in each one of them. Check out the link, its a beautiful and inspiring clip however, he falls short of what in my terms would be one of the most famous backpackers. His travels although started genuine, have turned somewhat commercial. Credit given where credit due, he followed through on a great idea.
He reminds me of another famous traveler i looked up to as a kid. Uncle traveling Matt from Fraggle Rock.
I think the conclusions we can all draw from is that people travel for different reasons. There are so many types of backpackers its hard to "pin up" just one. Where traveling matt might be a bit of a flashpacker and marco polo a slackpacker, i think we all have a bit of backpacker in us, we just execute it with a twist.
Your comments on who is the most famous backpacker are more than welcome....
it is intrinsically integrated into our everyday lives. even on the road, the lure of the net cannot deter travelers from the destination where they are residing. even remote islands around the world will have somewhere to check your emails. if in doubt, whip out the iphone.
its nuts to think how travel and the internet will continue to intertwine and gradually compliment or destroy each other.
What happens in Vegas stays on YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook….
this dusty patchy olde sack
im off again
down this road with no end
A fresh day
I wander off
with nothing more to say
Cos im breathing in the fresh air
got my pack on and i dont really care
as to my direction
the important thing
is my perception
But its the people i meet
and the places i go
these moments they always show
you end up reaping what you sow
Its in the smiles
in the faces
of all earths glorious races
that encourages my faith in this world
And with my backpack on
i sing this song
wandering along in my unique way
anticipating each new day.
travel enlightens us. travel challenges us. travel delivers understanding. provokes thought. travel is holistic.
choice beckons us. choice threatens us. choice demands sacrifice. choice is so elusive. yet choice pervades us.
why, when we have such ability to make decisions, we find it so hard to pursue dreams?
it reminds me of one of my favorite travel quotes...
we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us
Through changing worlds and shifting sands
over high seas & foreign lands
and what stimulates our emotions
as we cross these oceans
staring at the stars
and walking the land
carved from gods own hand
It must be the people
in the smiles
in the faces
of all earth's glorious races
We breathe & we see
we do & we be
but theres nothing quite like
And so we travel...
i start this blog with a capital ?
the existence of this blog has grown out of a personal desire to align myself with a particular travel identity. i have traveled the world. i have backpacked the globe. i am a traveler. a backpacker. an aging student at the travel university of life.
i am now what i once was and i always will be what i have become from the day it all began. over a decade ago when i set out on a backpacking trip on my lonesome i wandered off into the horizon against the flow of societies recommendations and advice, down some foreign dusty dirt road that had no signposts yet trailed off into several different worlds....my wonderful world of traveling had begun spontaneously inside my bubble world of backpacking.
and here i am, many years later, many pairs of flipflops worn through, a stamp infested raggity olde passport, many countries and cultures explored….and im still somewhat confused. not from what ive learnt or from what ive seen on my travels, but more of an identity crisis, a glimpse in the mirror, a re-acquaintance with myself after all these years traveling.
what type of traveler am i now? who am i now...am i still a backpacker or have i transformed, morphed into another form of packer...i dont even carry a pack on my back any more....what type of backpacker have i become.....