Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect Place

Growing up I had a lot of opportunities to travel, my family drove every summer to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Northern Minnesota, I have memories from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from when I was 6, Hawaii in the 6th grade and a few cruises around the Caribbean. But I didn’t really get the backpacking bug until I was twenty. When I was nineteen and a sophomore in college I studied abroad in London for a month and then took a trip with my brother and two friends to Paris, Interlaken, Switzerland and Southern France. But even then I complained about the inconveniences of travel and the sub-par standards of hostelling. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it may seem like I’m a born traveler, but the truth is, it’s been a long, step-by-step process, weaning me off of the comforts of my spoiled suburban upbringing.

When I was twenty years old, the summer after my junior year in college, I was put in a summer study abroad program in Madrid, Spain. I’d actually put the deposit down on a totally different, more decadent “culinary” trip, but after the 2003 Madrid train bombings, most of the fashion and interior design majors (100% female) dropped out of the program. So I was forced to either lose my deposit or take the last remaining place in an intensive Spanish language course in Madrid. The program only lasted a month and afterwards I booked a last minute flight on Royal Thai airlines to meet some friends in Rome. I’d never even heard of Royal Thai airlines and the fare didn’t even show up until 24 hours before the flight and not being the seasoned traveler that I am now, I was a bit nervous. On top of this, I had just booked sleeping arrangements in Rome at a campsite outside of the city and I was supposed to be meeting a guy I didn’t know very well to then go and rendezvous with friends of mine who were just getting off the London study abroad program. Needless to say I wasn’t, nor have ever been, a very good planner. The whole thing was very fly by the seat of your pants (whatever that means). When I got to the flight they showed me to my upper deck seat in Executive Class on their 747 with a LIT candle in the bathroom and offered me an in flight massage for a small fee (I declined). I arrived in Rome and hopped in a taxi and was dropped off in a rural area at what turned out to be some sort of gypsy encampment. I needed a nap, but fearing that I would never wakeup if I stayed in my 100 degree hot-box of a tent, I left my bag in the tent, put a small padlock on the zipper and ventured into Rome. Once in the city I tracked down my friends and had a fun evening before attempting to catch the last subway to the outskirts of town. Then I boarded a bus and went in the wrong direction, to the other side of town, where the bus broke down, leaving me stranded in a desolate parking lot in a bad area. After hiding behind a dumpster for an hour I flagged down a taxi only to discover that I couldn’t read the name of the camp site I’d haphazardly scribbled down in my notebook. Fortunately, the cab driver seemed to know where I needed to go and drove me back across the city and dropped me off in from of the campsite. It was now almost morning and the large gate was locked and the attendant was nowhere to be found. A group of drunken backpackers also arrived at the same time as me and we hoisted each other over the wall. The guy I was trying to meet didn’t show up the next day, so I ventured back into the city once again, though this time I was able to return to the campsite without a hitch. The next day I called my mom (who had booked my flights) and asked her to extend my trip another month. I was hooked. I was a traveler.

Rather than continue to narrate the many tales of my backpacking adventures I’ll get to the point of this story. I’ve now been to 5 of the 7 continents and seen many different countries, cultures, lifestyles and ways humans use the land they occupy. This has left me dissatisfied with any place I now go. Of all the cities I’ve visited in my life, London is my favorite. I love the tube, I love that you can take speed trains to the country side, I love the architecture and I love the culture. But I’ve only ever seen London in June. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it as much any other time of year. And even London is not free of slums. I loved Huahine Island in French Polynesia, it’s one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’ve ever seen. But they have mosquitoes which carry Dengue fever. And it’s completely disconnected from the world, isolated in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. I love Europe. I love that you can travel between any country in Europe by train, arrive in a dense but beautiful city and hop on the Metro. I love that you can eat gourmet food anywhere you go. But hundreds of years ago native bear populations from Spain to Germany were completely wiped out by hunting. What looks ideal on the surface still bears the scars of human folly.

It’s not that I’m looking for perfection, because all things on earth are subject to the law of entropy. But my travels have indeed become a quest for places where man and nature coexist in a more symbiotic relationship. And where technology also exists as non-insidiously as possible. My goal now is to find a place to call home. Over the last eight years I have packed up everything I own and moved about twenty times. Over the last year I’ve sold most of my possessions; anything that wont fit in my backpack or in my small car is now gone. And I’m on a quest for a more ideal place to call my base. Taking notes from birds, I’m also hoping to one day migrate, having a summer home somewhere tranquil in Northern America and having a Winter home possibly somewhere near the equator. I know that sounds ideal, who doesn’t want that luxury? I’m just really being driven crazy by man’s inability to moderate his consumption and his inability to think with foresight when using the earth’s resources and developing the land. I’ve also noticed that some countries do this better than others. Some cities function better than others. A nicely designed home feels more welcoming to guests than a messy one. And a congested living space decreases ones ability to function properly within it. In short, messiness causes stress. To that end I’m studying the world while I travel and attempting to figure out how to alleviate the stress that is caused by problems in modern living. One day I hope to have some influence to help sort out the mess that’s been made of our planet. All that being said, the earth is still a fantastic place and worth the struggle to conserve it.

Where is your favorite place you’ve ever been? Any suggested reading on this subject?

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