The paradox of a conflicted nomad

2019-11-07 @Travel

Is all that transport really that painful? Must the logistics be so nightmarishly brutal? Here I often play the cynic.

The reasoning questions not only the very concept of travel, but the type of traveller. Someone as myself transports from one distant point to another, and upon arrival, spends months at the destination. Just sort of lives life, attends to whatever craft we do (for those capable of location-independent means of doing), entertaining whatever hobbies, engaging the social life, speaking the respective language, consuming the respective local brew. Nothing extravagant. Just life.

Rather, it’s a sort of life today’s world facilitates. For me it feels totally natural. For someone else it’s anything but.

I don’t feel strong cultural ties or attachment to roots. Others feel enormous attachment. I handle long periods of isolation with ease, provided I stay productive. Others' mental health plummets in lack of social stimuli. I find nothing extraordinary speaking one language today, and another tomorrow. Transacting in one currency today, another the day after. Greeting women with one kiss on the cheek this month, and two the next.

Someone might consider such variability plain cosmic. Inconceivable. Someone might identify with one village, one community, one set of customs. Identify with them as strongly as own skin.

And those are all perfectly acceptable ways of life and outlook. I find the geographical whereabouts another abstraction, similar to a flock of birds whose migratory patterns represent a natural way of being. For another creature, the location remains an integral identifying feature.

I think I sufficiently nailed the point. Let’s proceed.

I don’t really classify as ‘travel’ the majority of those moments I stay at a chosen set of coordinates and live life. The only travel concerns that periodic movement between two remote locations. (From time to time I still embark on shorter, five to 14-day trips that closer resemble the traditional form of travel, but this bears an exception.)

In fact, many of my authentic ambulatory moments embody uttermost chaos. Others are but a nagging pain in the ass. Granted, I’ve worked on fostering a stoic demeanor to better handle like situations. To avoid sensitivity to certain physical discomfort. To be mindful of the moment. And be that as it may, such situations still inspire a dash of philosophical thought.

What kind of a fun travel story makes a 14-hour nighttime layover at a San Salvador airport? Contained within one terminal gate of nothing but steel armchairs and interrogatory lighting. Passport held hostage by the immigration vigilantes.

How about the arrival at the Phnom Penh airport hours before the grand opening? As I’d learned, some airports do shut their doors. Remarkable. Especially in a healthy breeze of nighttime wind, dressed rightly for the tropical occasion.

These ultra-long layovers and untimely logistics have become something almost fashionable in my travels. All-night wondering throughout impetuously air-conditioned airports. Early morning arrivals at obscure hotels to end up aimlessly circulating the neighborhood in anticipation of check-in. Midnight arrival followed by a taxi ride, to ultimately discover the driver only accepts cash that I’d yet to obtain (seems less suspenseful on paper). That’s travel. Catastrophic? Nothing of the sort. But no trip to Chinatown.

Neither does one feel jolly at facing exorbitantly high economy airline fees for failure to conduct an online check-in. Or a rendezvous with a ticket validator 20 minutes of leaving the Berlin airport (having purchased a month pass that just doesn’t cover that one airport zone. An even more exorbitant fine naturally follows, as steep almost as the monthly pass.) Travel bliss.

Immigration procedures too can leave one in a bedazzled state. A R$8.28 (USD ~2-3) unsettled 1-day visa-overstayed fee in Brazil had pursued me over a couple of years… until the chance arrival at Juscelino Kubitschek (Brasilia) turned into a 1-hour detainment at the immigration window alone. An immigration worker led me throughout the airport backwoods (still not cleared for immigration), across three cash machines, until one successfully yielded to my request. Something in this guided excursion caused me to feel utterly naked. Alas, formalities must be respected, and the R$8.28 fine had to be paid in cash at the house of lottery. I (long) missed my flight connection, but gained two (appetizing) meal vouchers, and more importantly, the reassurance in the friendly and largely well-humoured demeanor prevalent across Brazil (as much across informal interactions as the bureaucratic machine.) I keep returning.

Other immigration protocols leave a less satisfying aftertaste. Sometimes it begs the question. Why do I put myself in such conditions? Why do I choose overnight bus transport to enter Belarus from Poland? With delightful immigration stops on each side, as the crickets hum their nighttime tune. Not a kind of luxurious bus one may associate with intercity travel, but a slightly stuffier and narrower kind one might board to reach the panaderia across town, or possibly the penitentiary. Clearly, no hope for a working toilet. Hold your thirst.

Hold your thirst or face interesting consequences. A Dominican Republic intercity bus travel too presented similar comforts and limitations. Yet my friend found opportune to buy us both cold and satiating beers as we boarded. The timing could not be more perfect. Two hours later and I experienced an unbearable urge to be relieved. A fatal urge. No taking refuge in an empty bottle. Not with the bus occupied to capacity. I made an instinctual survival decision. Rush to the bus driver and plea to pull over. Or more like politely demand. And he obliged. I fled out to the woods in whatever abandoned corner of hell we stopped, luggage and passport on board, suspicious motorcyclists circling like vultures in the dark hour of the night. I cared for nothing but relief. And the most satisfying relief I felt.

I suppose most logistical arrangements have transpired uneventful or sometimes even unexpectedly pleasant. All expense paid prolonged stays in consequence of missed flights. Serendipitous encounters. Or one to top them all: travel with a sole backpack and that sense of glorification at immediately mounting a city shared bike situated next to the bus station (with outcries by a concerned Toronto citizen for not wearing a helmet). That I consider “rock star” travel material.

Alas, the pesky moments seem to better resonate in memory. Perhaps I learn more from them. Perhaps they shape me into a stronger being. Or rather, a stronger child. I often feel like an overgrown child.

The precariousness sometimes jolts my nerves. I then fantasize on the prospect of pure teleportation from point A to B. A yearning to eliminate the few elements of authentic travel that remain! Quiet a paradox, one could suppose. A digital nomad skeptical of travel. A nomad who prefers to merely occupy the destinations and conduct the respective nomadic affairs. A nomad of propensity to avoid that movement one associates with the nomad lifestyle. But hey. Stranger phenomena has come about.

Questions, comments? Connect.