by B.J. Stolbov
I don’t like jets. Yes, I know, they are the most convenient way to get somewhere far away quickly, but I still don’t like them. Jets are just tubes with seats. Soulless. They make me feel detached from the earth.
I don’t like taxis, either. I know that they get me quickly from place to place, mostly to or from airports. They are a necessary convenience. I often try to engage the taxi driver in conversation, but we both know that this is only a business transaction, and I know that the taxi driver’s job is to make the most money from an uninformed traveler. I find it unpleasant, and I’m glad to pay and get out of a taxi as quickly as possible.
I do like to travel slowly. I try to choose the slowest form of transportation available: be it car, bus, motor scooter, bicycle, boat, canoe, kayak, raft, horse, mule, elephant, or, my favorite, walking. I like to see the landscape; I like to see mountains and rivers, rocks and caves, trees and plants. It is the scenery moving by me slowly that soothes my soul.
Sure, I want to go somewhere, but the where is not really the point. A hotel room is just a bed with a roof (when you close your eyes, all hotel rooms look the same). A simple guesthouse with a friendly host is fine for me. A bed under the stars is better. When I want to see places, I want to see the roads, rivers, and paths that connect these places. The adventure is in the getting there.
For me, traveling is in the snap of a twig underfoot bringing me directly into the world around me, the creaking of a bicycle seat at the turn at the bottom of a hill, the rocking in the wind and waves of the small boat, the bumping and bouncing of a bus, the road and the trees and the fields rolling by, the houses with their doors open, and the people, especially the children, smiling and waving as I go by; they are all a part, the most important part, of my journey.
In my younger car-camping and backpacking days, I would travel whenever and wherever I wanted and would stop whenever and wherever I wanted. I set myself a two-hour rule. I would never drive more than two hours without pulling over, getting out, and seeing what was around me. Some days, I only travelled two hours. It took me more than six months to wander and meander across the United States. I had no particular place to go and all my time to get there.
While some people want to get someplace by a certain time, are upset when late, and complain that, it is eight hours, or more, to get wherever by bus, or by boat, or on foot, for me, I’m excited to see scenery that I have never seen before and that I will never see again, at least, not by this day’s light and in this season. I’m excited to see the world going by slowly, the slower the better, so that I may enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
And I don’t mind getting lost. I don’t find it frustrating. I get to find something new and unexpected that I wasn’t looking for or didn’t even know existed, and I get to laugh at myself. One of my favorite ways to discover a new place is to walk around with a map in hand, and still get lost. Then I stop a uniformed officer or local resident, point to the map, and ask, “Where am I?” (Try it! It’s a universal question, easily understood in any language, and I’ve rarely had a local refuse to answer me.) I also have absolutely no problem asking someone for directions. (It’s a great conversation starter, the locals are usually happy to help, and sometimes their directions are correct.)
Getting lost is one of the loveliest ways to discover a place. I’ve found some of my favorite eateries this way. Unfortunately, I rarely can find my way back to it or tell you how to get there. (There’s a wonderful little café in Battambang, Cambodia that serves Khmer/French food named Pomme d’amour. I ate deep-fried Khmer ravioli stuffed with ground beef, mushrooms, peppers, and Khmer spices, and drank local Khmer whiskey. It’s near the riverfront, down a small gravelly side street called 2½ Street. I hope you can find it. Just ask someone.)
But the best restaurant food doesn’t taste nearly as good as a long, slow meal of simple, homemade food, around a family table, getting to know new and interesting people. I like to meet people, ordinary people living their day-to-day lives. For me, this is the ultimate traveling experience, well worth savoring, and I’m in no hurry for this to end.
The secret to good slow travel is not to worry so much about time. If you are alive and well and enjoying your life wherever you are, you can never be lost, you can never be late, and you can never be too . . . slow.
B.J. Stolbov is a novelist, poet, essayist, short story writer, and travel writer. He is the author of the novel “Last Fall” (Doubleday) and the book of poetry “Walks” (Foot Print Press). He is a teacher of T’ai Chi and Chi Gong. Currently, he is teaching high school English to Ilocano-speaking students in the Philippines.