Finding Inspiration in Mark Twain

“Travel is fatal … to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many more of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

Well, Mark (or Samuel Langhorne Clemens), I could not have said this better myself. In fact, I’d probably have opted for a few more f-bombs and cutting insults. But then, I can get a bit harsh on those that baffle me. The other day I posted a blog about photography and travel, and on Facebook I had a post about my 8 year anniversary of my journey to the Middle East. One of my friends from high school (over 20 years ago now), posted this quote on my feed – and said it automatically reminded him of me. And it always has he says. And I would rather have this quote attributed to my character than hearing a girl call me “hot”. Granted, girls rarely call me “hot” these days (or any days for that matter) so I’d probably be beaming from that, but being referred to as the guy that travels is pretty damn cool to me.

I know I’m a lucky bastard. I know not everyone is a position (globally situated, no kids or commitments, not afraid to have a bill or two because of travel) to see as much of the world as I do, and I understand that. What I don’t understand, is those that can and simply won’t. Why are we so afraid to experience something different? I have a friend here in Dubai (my friend from the other half – more money than sense), and he took his family to a massive resort in some tropical paradise and surrounded himself with fellow Brits. Didn’t leave the resort in 10 days. Didn’t do any cruises, jungle excursions. Just sat at the pool with the other pasty skinned Brits, met them all for pints after dinners, and basically surrounded himself with people he’s known his whole life. Why spend thousands (and I mean lots of thousands) on something he could have done here. He has a pool at his villa. He’s a short hop from the private beaches here. There’s a fine English-style pub within a short taxi journey from his place too. He ate nothing but Western food as well! Baffles me.

I’m pretty fussy about food; but I guarantee you there is something on a menu in any country that I will try. Sometimes I have to try very hard to get the wait staff to hear exactly how I want something cooked; but it can be done. My last night in Thailand, sat at a long bench table overlooking the Andaman Sea, watching the lights from the fishing vessels bob up and down with the waves, a hollowed-out pineapple stuffed with Pad Thai in front of me. The English guy beside me dutifully munching on his cheeseburger. He might argue; but I think my experience was better.

I have always wanted to get out of the corner I was more than happy to occupy as a teenager. My stutter and constant teasing from it made my alone time very important and healing for me. But any chance I got to explore, to hike in the hills, to camp, to fish, or go anywhere with my soccer team, I was out of the security blanket I called isolation and I was thriving. I became the resident vehicle animal spotter on all trips to the mountains. I learned their behaviors so well I could tell what clearings might be best to see what kind of animal. I could pick up minute movements from hills and mountains as we passed. I loved being the guy to tell dad or whoever else was driving to stop so we could try and get photos. And when I came back home I’d find my corner again.

But those who travel and don’t experience the culture of the place they visit bug me less than another type of friend I have. Maybe I have an overinflated sense of worth, maybe I think I’m better than I am; but this type of friend just annoys the crap out of me. And I’m sure you’ve all got friends or know someone like it too. This person is even worse than the person who has seen something better than you, done something better than you, “if you think this tree is gorgeous, you should see the one in St Lucia…” Blow me! You like St Lucia’s trees so much you should go back there. And I’m pretty sure the trees in St Lucia aren’t 400 year old Redwoods either! Congratulations for travelling. Does your passport say “dicksicle” as your middle name? No, it should. Your travel experience is not better than anyone else’s. And even if it is, do not insinuate that the other person wants to know that it is; or even agrees it is. Okay, so I’ve been criticizing other people’s vacationing methods so I might sound a bit hypocritical with this point. I just know I wouldn’t go somewhere and not take in any local culture. He’s perfectly fine with it and always loves his holidays. I just know it wouldn’t work for me.

Anyways, moving on. When I went back to visit family and friends in Canada in 2013, I was with a group of friends (one an old acquaintance) and we were deep in conversation when one of them piped up, “Canada really sucks.” He’s Canadian. Born in Canada. His parents were born in Canada. His ex-wife and kids were born in Canada. He’s 2 years older than me and has never had a passport. I ask him where he’s been. He rattles off a dozen places in Canada.

“Have you ever left Canada?” I ask him.

“Nope.”

At one point in time (most of my young adult life) you didn’t even need a passport to travel between Canada and the US. All you needed was valid photo ID. You could go to Vegas with your driver’s license for fuck’s sake.

“Then how do you know Canada sucks?” He stared at me for a moment.

“Winters are cold, we pay too much for this, blah blah fucking blah.”

“No, seriously, how do you know it sucks?” I press on again. I’m in the mood for an argument, which is rare. He mumbles about what do I mean or some such nonsense. “Well, you say it sucks but you’ve never left the country. How can you possibly know it sucks? Did someone else tell you? Did they tell you jumping off a bridge is fun so you have that penciled in for next week?” I have a big sip of beer as I’ve lining up a good one. “Have you been to the slums in Mexico City? Have you been to Eastern Europe and seen the remnants of the concentration camps, and the scars whole cities have from the atrocities of World War II? Have you seen women begging because their marriages failed and their families think they have shamed them and won’t let them back home?” He shakes his head. “Then shut up. You have no reason to think Canada sucks.”

He had the means to travel and didn’t want to. I know some people do not have the means to do so. And I know many people like this. And 99% of them want to travel, want to form their own opinions and see new things. Sadly they can’t. And I never stand over them and boast about all the places I have seen. If they ask, I’ll tell them and we’ll talk about it. And we’ll share these experiences and most times, because most of my friends are from varied ethnic backgrounds, they will have a story related to the one I told about how their family or people in their culture would do something. And the learning keeps on happening. The transfer of knowledge and understanding continues.  And my mind expands; making my head even bigger than most thought possible.

Cheers,

Ger

9 thoughts on “Finding Inspiration in Mark Twain

  1. Well said, Ger. As you know, I completely agree. Personally, going overseas to sit in a resort & not explore beyond it isn’t travel to me. It’s just a holiday, it’s nothing you couldn’t have done at home.
    Likewise, I can’t get my head around why people, who have the means, wouldn’t go out and see the world. To see sights you can only imagine, experience new cultures & taste new things, to delve into foreign history & tradition … So much to learn & to experience. And still time to relax & unwind. I think those of us who can get out & travel the world are richer for the experience.

  2. Good post. I have experienced these instances as well in my life. Like how people go on vacation in Europe just to party and get wasted at bars: I find that very disrespectful, and also a waste of money and time. And exploring the touristy parts (i.e. Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London) is okay if you’re not familiar with the place, but they shouldn’t be the only places that you visit if you really want to know more about its history and culture. When I meet people who are planning to travel, I highly encourage them to check out lesser-known areas of the city/country that they will go to, because there’s just so much more to see besides the popular parts. Really, traveling opens you up to the world. 🙂

    • I’ve had friends ask me when I come back from some place new, where the best place to get a pint is! Seriously? I can tell them where the best cathedral to photograph is. They can get a pint anywhere.

  3. There’s no place in the world that I don’t want to see. Experiencing a culture means delving into it,not sitting on the sidelines, and asking for the comforts of home. I’d say you’re lucky, but I think you’ve made your own luck. I’ve had some opportunities to see more of the world, but practicality always won. Until I’m able to participate in my my own, grand travels, I’ll be a happy spectator of yours.

    • I hope my/our travels don’t disappoint. Anything you want me to see in Hamburg when I get there on Thursday?
      I have made my own luck; but I’ve made sacrifices too. Failed relationships, lost some so-called friends. It is what it is. I can be old and single as long as I see something new every year. lol.

      • Had to google Hamburg. Wow! I definitely want to see photos of the Elbe tunnel, and of the port. It looks like they eat a lot of herring, and stuff like that, but if you can find a sausage Kolache, eat one for me. I grew up in a German settlement, and that’s one of the foods that I miss the most. Have fun, Ger. Can’t wait to see how your adventure plays out!

      • Unfortunately I have no photos of the Elbe Tunnel. But there will be shots of the harbour. And plenty of German sausage was sampled … and not in an x-rated film kind of way.

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