A traveller ponders his own mortality in terms of the trips not taken, and challenges us all to do likewise
Congratulations! You’ve won the lottery and been given final notice by both your work and the doctor! You’re as free as an irresponsible lark and as rich as Mammon! What do you knock off the Travel Bucket List? What do you do? Where do you go?
What little thing did you see on the news when you were eight that stayed with you through your life as the height of exoticism? Were there any number of cartoon characters sliding down the pyramids? Dave Lister fantasising about Fiji? The Yukon and Alaska of White Fang and The Call of the Wild?
Kurosawa’s Japan and M.A.S.H.’s Korea have disappeared but do you still dream of being a tarnished hero dodging bullets and winning duels with a single stroke? That vast rich place with elephants and giraffes and rhinos or that even more distant land with the koalas and kangaroos? Lion King or Skippy?
Did you know that Tintin was a blonde, Belgian badass? Did Easter Sunday viewings of Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge Over the River Kwai convince you there was still adventure out there if you had the requisite stiff upper lip? Did you totally get Lost in Translation? Did you see Kids and City of God and bristle with envy at all that damn drama, so far away from home? Did you ever think that New Yorkers and Beirutis saw Braveheart and pined to see that mad place where they painted themselves, killed their own haggis and shagged English royalty?
Did you have a parent with the magnificent good sense to snatch the mandated copy of Sunset Song out of your hands and thrust biographies of Isabella Bird and Roy Chapman Andrews at you? Did The Beach seem like a life worth living?
Or did relatives come back from Majorca beaming like they’d been on a grand tour? A too pricey teenage field trip leave you with a shallow gasp of Paris and the suspicion that it breathes so much deeper? Did your older brother’s friend (so much younger than you are now) come back with stories of Amsterdam and Bangkok that sounded like the dreams of Byron and Best?
Which senses do you sate in your last days? Do you want to taste authentic kung pao chicken and lamb masala and then realise you prefer the proper Chinese and curry at the Panda House and New Anand? Stop at a hundred and twenty five distilleries around Scotland with a doctor’s note and a demand for a couple of drams of each of their finest? You can take a big whiff on the beaches and forests and markets of the world. What you want to touch is your own business.
There’s music and song in every backroom, bar and basement, every house, street and hall, every temple, every tent. You’ll be thrown around by throat singers and basso profundos, drawn back by a troupe of Taiko drummers, wrecked by that kid with the horn off of Bourbon St. Just lie, sigh and listen.
But the sights. My God, the sights. What do you want to see before you go? Which wonder of the world, ancient or new? Seeing as many sunsets and rises and declaring with authority. Which Asian dawn or African dusk is the most sublime? What manner and how much beauty, natural, manmade, animal or mineral, will satisfy your soul? Do you put every penny into slipping the earthly bounds and tripping the light fantastic, escaping into orbit and taking something stupid?
There are cellars of wine, warehouses of ale, inns of sake, soju and baijiu, orchards of schnapps and an empire of ouzo, raki and arak. An aspirant in a favela will pass you a mirror, a divemaster will toke and pass you their favourite on a beach north of Cebu, a Russian from London will pass you the bottle on the Trans-Siberian Express. The father of a teenage drummer will shove a box of sake at you as you walk with their wagon in the town matsuri and 7-year old Mongolians will come hurtling up to the side of the road when they hear your van coming to offer you their fermented mare’s milk. There are strangers with candy and hitchers hiking every second of the day. Dens of honest iniquity and more clubs in the world than there are nights in the rest of your life. Opinions, stories, lies and confessions falling from your mouth when you’re with that stunner that just loves your accent.
The world is wide, your options are wider and the same night comes to us all sooner than any of us imagine. You’re going to die. Where’ll you go before that?