Tsugi wa doko. Where to next?
It’s a question that’s always on my mind. I can’t get rid of it, and come to think of it, it’s always been there. While other kids were sticking posters of tits and footballers to their bedroom walls, I was down the local library photocopying pages from an atlas to stick to mine. Granted, I had tits and footballers too, but I also had a rather odd life-sized poster of a famous Swiss skiier and an almost homo-erotic poster of Jean Claude Van Damme from Universal Soldier. Diverse tastes I guess. Later in life, I’d stare at a world map and then google some god-forsaken village in the middle of nowhere. I’d read about unpronounceable towns in Russia, learn how deep the Mariana Trench was and think about where I wanted to go next. Everywhere. That was always the answer. The thought of being in the middle of nowhere, alone, didn’t scare me. I wondered what it would be like to stare into the door of hell in Derweze in Turkmenistan. To drink with moustached locals on the streets of Bangladesh at night. To wake up in the middle of a forest in Guatemala.
Travel consumes my thoughts and it always has done. I chuck money at airline tickets at any chance I get – and during the static periods I’m thinking one thing: where to next? But why? Why do I want to see so much, to always go somewhere else? Is it just the concentrated fun? The utter lack of responsibility? After all, who doesn’t like not having to go to work every day? Well, I have my dad to blame, partly. Nurture versus nature and all that. When I was a kid he’d tell me about his travel antics. About the time him and his mate ran out of money in northern Africa and had to draw straws to see who would donate blood for cash. How he’d sleep on the beach, burying wine in the sand so it’d stay cold. How he’d get out of work on a a Friday in Switzerland (or was it Germany) and hitchhike as far as he could before having to come back for work on Monday morning. That shit’s cool when you’re ten years old. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.
Travelling is a privilege, a luxury of the highest order that sometimes borders on the obscene. Bum about in rural SE Asia and you can eat out four times a day for the same price as a single cup of coffee here in Tokyo. While locals are working hard to make ends meet, travellers are buzzing through back road villages on a 100cc motorbikes having fun. It’s a fine line, and you can’t help at times but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. I am extremely lucky to be from the western world. It’s something that we all take for granted. The passport you keep in your drawer is your gateway to the world. Never forget that: so many people do not have that luxury. The last time I was in Bali I was talking to a kid who was asking me all about my home country. “Why don’t you go there sometime?” I asked, the words already out of my mouth despite knowing the answer. “Because I’ll never be able to afford it.” How do these locals feel seeing us parading around on the beach? Are they grateful? Jealous? Happy? Resentful? All four I think – and it’s largely due to the type of traveller they encounter.
Certain parts of SE Asia are hotspots for scumbags, deviants and perverts: people who mistake travel for exploitation. One visit to Phnom Penh or Pattaya is enough to drive this point home – old withered men with a bad case of sunburn and the clap, arm-in-arm with girls young enough to be their granddaughter. In Cambodia there are posters on the street reminding you not to be a paedophile. Just in case you forgot it wasn’t OK to fuck kids. Dear me. On the opposite end of the spectrum though are the kind people who have ventured outside of their borders to connect with others. People who love the world and want to see as much of it as possible. These are the people you forge long-lasting friendships with with you are on the road. These are the people who travel without smugness, without elitism. People who will not turn round to you and say “Yeah mannnnn, Cambodia is soooo mainstream now, I went before it was cool.” You know the type: assholes who will go to great lengths to tell you how everywhere you have been is shit and everywhere they have been is better. Travel snobs. Gotta love em.
As for me, well I just like the feeling travelling gives me: total freedom. Last year I was on the back of a horse-drawn cart in Bagan, Myanmar, as a the sun was coming down. There was no one about, the only sound being the clip-clop-clip-clop of the horse’s hooves. I don’t even think a smug dreadlocked traveller pulling up beside me on a motorbike and telling me how Burma was only cool to visit during the civil war could have ruined it for me.