Jack Kerouac once wrote, ‘But no matter, the road is life.’ And it’s this compulsion, this itching of the feet to explore off-the-beaten tracks and discover what new insights they have to offer, that sings from the pages of Snyman’s book. Beware; it’s contagious. I know because I’m infected too.
In his opening chapter, Snyman ponders the question of what he has learnt from his travels, and whether travelling can change a person. I know it has changed me. If you open yourself to new experiences and to new people from all walks of life, you’ll discover every single person has something to teach you – if you’re willing to learn. Let’s face it, whether you’re visiting a game reserve in Botswana or a tiny Karoo dorpie, it’s not just the wildlife or the architecture that make it unique, it’s the people too.
That’s the difference between a traveller and a tourist. A traveller moves among real people in their own environment and soaks up their wisdom and philosophy, their way of being in the world. A tourist simply hops from one tourist “must-see” to another, skimming across the surface and coming away with his soul unchanged, his imagination untouched by the wonder of a life lived differently.
With his permission, I’d like to give my take on three of what Snyman calls ‘lessons the open road teaches us’.
1. First, the journey is as important as the destination. If you just barrel along the N1 trying to clock your best time between Cape Town and Joburg, you’re not going to have Experiences, with a capital E. Take your time, explore the minor roads that curl around the country. Once you’ve visited remote settlements with evocative names like Lekkersing and Spoegrivier, Riemvasmaak and Baardskeerdersbos, not to mention Hotazel, your whole perspective changes. You become a go-with-the-flow traveller rather than a tourist hell-bent on getting to the end point just so you can turn around and come back again a week or two later.
2. Second, appearances are deceptive. Take the time to look past the surface and see places and people for who they are inside. You’ll be amazed at how they can enrich your life. I’ve met people who complain about the ‘lack of game’ in the Kgalagadi after a morning without lions, but wouldn’t know a barking gecko, a whistling rat or a yellow mongoose if they tripped over it; people who say the Karoo is ‘empty’ but have never stopped to listen to the humming of its silence.
I’ve met scientists who at first glance appear forbidding or dusty but turn out to be engagingly passionate and funny. People who look like bergies, homeless and hopeless, yet speak with a poetry many writers would envy. San trackers who can neither read nor write, but know so much and are so darned clever that they turn preconceived ideas of ‘uneducated’ on their head. And in the deep rural areas, poor people surviving on very little but their kindness, their dignity and their ability to laugh at life.
3. Finally, a journey is never really over – because you’ll always have your memories to dip into. The trick of travelling is to open your mind to new experiences that will create those memories. If you do the same stuff you do at home every day, I’ll bet you won’t remember it ten years from now.
Whenever my husband asks what I want for my birthday, I say I want to make new travel memories. Because it’s recollections of places you’ve been to and people you’ve met that grow ever more mellow and sweet, that stay in your heart long after any material gifts have lost their sparkle or been thrown out to make space for more.
One thing is for sure, every time you come back from your travels, you’ll be a slightly different person because of where you’ve been, what you’ve seen and done, who you’ve met. Whether or not you’ve taken photographs or written a journal, you’ll always have a series of new clips to add to that You-Tube storage unit you call your memory.
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