Growing up in Rural Australia is like living in a Grimm’s Brother fairy tale – there is plenty of adventure, but all of the characters are white. Barefooted, beachside bliss was my early life. I walked to school, got home when the sun set, and knew every face, name and secret that existed within the 1000 person coastal village. When I graduated from high school, I knew all there was to know about the world I lived in, yet I knew nothing about the world itself.
At 18, I went to university and began to see the shades of life that made living beautiful. I spoke to people with accents for the first time. I was fascinated with any story that didn’t look or sound like mine. At university, I became infected with the need to travel.
I chose Japan for my maiden journey. The Japanese taught me that happiness is found in simplicity, that a smile needs no translation and respect is in a gesture not a word. I learnt that adults dress up in their favorite Disney characters when going to Disney land. I learnt that I have no problem dressing up as my favorite Disney character when going to Disney Land. I discovered that Tokyo’s heart is in the back alley Saki bars where old men drink alone, toasting to a day of hard work. There smiles are missing teeth, but not kindness.
Since Japan, I have been pedaled around the Indians كيرلا الهند , surfed Hawaii, crossed the equator, trekked the Canadian Rockies, hitchhiked the Californian coastline, sailed the Dodecanese, backpacked through Turkey and abseiled the coastline of Corsica. It is not however, the monstrous landscapes that captivated me. It’s the people and their ties to the land.
When a whiff of adventure floats by, I take a deep breath and dive right in. I seek out the people that create the beauty that’s sewn, boiled, painted, kneaded and picked. The cheese churners, silk dyers, earth plowers, headdress weavers and bongo drum bangers. A country’s identity is its people, the history that lives amongst the culture and the happiness they find in their hands and the hands of their children. The pride of a country lives in the local market place.
When I was in Southern Turkey, the colors bursting from vendor’s carts charmed me. The beauty of the copper platters, pots and tea sets competed with the cart next door. Above, silk scarves hang from wooden beams. As I got lost in the dazzle of the Bazar, the smell of spices and candied nuts trailed me.
In Istanbul, I visited a copper-smelting factory and was captivated by the sensuality of callused hands. Men who have sweated in the same seats for 40 years. Hunched over in concentration, they twisted and hammered the glowing hot metal, molding and detailing the copper into functional art. Platters with the intricacies of paintings, chandeliers with the details of shaved crystal, trays with the subtle contours of pottery, all made off copper, by men who look like art has never touched their lives. It is because of these men however that art has touched mine.
It is essential to know a few phrases before visiting any non-English speaking country. This is a matter of respect and function. These expressions include, but are not limited to, “I’m Sorry,” “Lost, please help,” “Hello, how are you?” “Sorry, I’m a stupid tourist,” and “Thank you.” It was while on my morning run along the jagged coastline Sardinia that I came to this vital linguistic realization.
I had scaled a sea cliff and found myself unintentionally on private property. While I was attempting to find a safe track back to the port (where my lodging was), an old hunched over woman appeared. She strode towards me flailing her arms as if warding off a flock of bats.
“Privato! Pravato!” She yelled, hobbling towards me, her eyes bulging with the type of anger usually reserved for felons. I could have run, but I have never ignored anyone the age of my grandma.
She grabbed my arm with the strength of a prison guard and led me through her property, away from the port and past a cage full of rabid looking dogs. We stopped at a barb were gate and she retrieved set of heavy-duty keys from her apron.
“Privoto! Dogs.” She threatened pushing me through the gate. She snapped the lock, grunted then was on her hobble-along way in the direction I needed to go.
I walked along the fence line, wading through thorny shrubbery, searching for a path around Privato! After 1.5 hours, I met the coast. I scaled down the cliff-face with the plan of scampering around its base, back to the port. The Sardinian coastline however is not a blissful rock hopping kind of seashore. It is an undulating fortress of jagged stone that is as impassable as the padlocked gate. There was only one option. I perched myself on stone’s precipice, calculated the water depth by the shade of blue, closed my eyes and jumped.
The salt water stung my skin as I plunged, praying it was deep enough. I burst through the water’s surface and gasp my first breath of hope for 2 hours. I bobbed for a moment, performed some self congratulations pirouettes and then swam towards the direction of the port. In the end, I made it. Water logged, as scratched as a 90’s mix CD and about 3 hours overdue for breakfast.
I will never forget the old woman’s scowl or the ferocious dogs. What I pocketed from Sardinia was a list of What not to do when Travelling Abroad, a great story, an appreciation for the land and an understanding that the ferocity of a giant can take many forms.
Whether your travel is guided, prearranged, fluid or work, it is the people you meet that are the highlight of your trip. The diversity of culture, religion and traditions is what defines a country. The openness to new experiences while travelling is what will define the rest of your life.