Saturday, April 5, 2008

Comments, Travel and Risk

Sitting in Internet café in Porto Velho, Brazil – teenage boys playing video games, a feral dog with red sores lying in the doorway – contemplating the nature of travel and risk – and life and risk, for that matter.

I figured out how to add comments to this blog and the very first came from an anonymous someone castigating me for taking my daughter on the bus from Lima to Ayacucho to Cusco. “What the hell were you thinking?” she or he wrote.

I’ve asked Lily to comment and we’ll see if she does. It’s her choice.

The world is big, rich, complex, sometimes dangerous, always interesting. You can hide from it or explore it, embrace it in all its complexities. I’m hoping The Lunatic Express does just that.

My children have grown up in the city, not the suburbs. They take buses all over the city by themselves; they attend DC public schools where they walk through metal detectors every morning. An Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post called their high school a war zone. Lily read it from Cusco, in fact. She laughed, shook her head. She’s almost 18. She has traveled to Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua and driven across the country at least ten times. She is finishing AP Spanish IV this year. She drank a Mojito overlooking the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.

Are we, her parents, corrupting her, scaring - or scarring - her? Or are we teaching her how to feel safe and confident, strong and self-reliant in a wondrous yet turbulent world?

What do you think?

We imagine travel will transform us in some way. We go somewhere else and leave the old us behind. But travel is like therapy, or maybe even a good Ayahuasca trip. It just shows you the real you, there’s no escape from yourself, ever. Your fears, anxieties – how you embrace the world; it’s all exposed on the road. The Lunatic Express will ultimately, I suspect, be a pretty personal journey, a tale as much about my own psyche as the buses and boats and planes and trains on which I ride.

I’d like to think Lily learned and saw much on her short but intense journey across the Andes. She was, yes, scared and uncomfortable for certain periods. So have I been on this journey and others. But she never flipped out. She smiled, kept her cool, learned to trust her instincts and to open herself to experiences beyond her usual boundaries. She was being transformed only by learning the strengths she already had, who she already was: someone capable and confident, and sometimes scared and happy, even at the edges of the world.

Speaking of which, I’m sick of buses. At 2 pm I’m climbing on a riverboat in Porto Velho for Manaus – two and a half days away along the Madeira River. It is big and wooden, with a beautiful curving sheer-line, with cargo stacked high on the first deck and hammocks strung on the second. Very slow and hot and crowded. A similar boat hit an oil barge and sunk five weeks ago, killing 13.

No comments: