Better than fiction: traveling tales of discovery and memories

‘Traveling somewhere with a purpose is so much rewarding than travelling somewhere with no purpose beyond looking at the usual sights.’

Alexander McCall Smith

We travel for the strangest and most different reasons. Perpetually looking for something that would release us from the boredom of everyday life, the usual rhythm of our daily routine. We yearn for something that would give us more than a collection of photos of breath-taking landscapes and beautiful countries. We travel, in part, to reconnect with ourselves. We leave looking for inspiration, eager to find that one thing that would make us feel Alive. Just a few days of seeing the world gives us the confidence and the strength to face whatever is waiting for us back home.

Better than Fiction: True Travel Tales from Great Fiction Writers is a compilation of inspiring tales written by some of the world most acclaimed fictional writers narrating their most significant non-fiction journeys. These thirty-two stories present a whole spectrum of themes-from disorientation to revelation and redemption, from life-threatening episodes to life-saving encounters all of which set in the most incredible places as varied as Antarctica, Saudi Arabia, Africa, Argentina, Europe…

travelingThese stories are reminiscences of past journeys that in a way or another left a mark in the writers’ lives. As you flip the pages you are a faced with an explosion of emotions; the sadness, the anger and disappointment, the nostalgia and the beauty of discovery. Indeed, self-discovery the realization that in that precise moment and in that place something changed irrevocably is a key element in almost all of these stories.

‘Shooting Pompeii’ by DBC Pierre, for example, tells us of the writer’s first trip to Pahuatlan del Valle in central Mexico. By his admission this was a coming of age trip. We are told of a time in which things were strangely simple and intriguingly dangerous: ‘the culture still struggled with Spanish, their remoteness having delayed the Spanish Conquest by four hundred years; and the mountainside still clacked with amatl bark being beaten into sacred paper, an industry that peaked in Aztec times when the emperor’s court ordered tons of amatl for use in state magic.’  Pahuatlan and the towns around still retained their tight connection with their culture and their beliefs: witches and warlocks inhabit those lands and practice magic, clean your soul or cast a curse. This was a time that has now been lost to civilization.

As he returns after nineteen years everything had changed. The people that he met all those years ago are gone, a hotel is now towering over the main street together with a new cocktail bar. As he closes his story we are left with his pondering on one of main aspects of traveling: Time. Every time you go back to the places that you have once visited and loved you have a different experience. There is sadness in his words and there is wisdom in his story. ‘I was there, and I have the picture. I lived it. I was there and I am here, and I’ll live something else; and that’s travel, that’s life.’ 

Equally intriguing is ‘Huaxi Watermill’ by Arnold Zamble who at the end of his narration summarizes his stay in Huaxi, a small town in Guizhou province, with a couplet ( an exacting art form in which the lines have to be of corresponding length and made up of the same number of words)

I come from a distant place to Huaxi Watermill

Here I feel at peace, my mind becomes still.’

Isn’t it what ultimately we, as travelers and as human being, are looking for?  A place where our senses are able to calm down and where our minds are finally free from the noise generated by the complexities of life.

Some of these stories resonate with our love for traveling and with our feelings in regards to it. Charles Finch tells us that according to him there are three kinds of trips that have a lasting effect on a person. ‘First, there is the trip that confronts you with the natural world, forcing you to see yourself very small, as if from a great distance. Second, there is the trip that comes at a crucial time in your life, after you just got your dream job or someone has left you, and it doesn’t matter where you go, Quebec, Montserrat, whatever…  Third, there is the trip that shows you other human beings who are different from you, how they live, what they do.’

I couldn’t agree more. Traveling gives you new eyes and heals you. I found myself crying when faced with the outstanding beauty of Scottish highlands, overly excited and in awe while walking at night with two Maori guides in Waipoua forest in New Zealand, or just speechless when confronted with the warmth  and the love given to me by my Japanese host family in Hokkaido.

What if you had a life-changing experience that transformed your entire vision of life and triggered something inside you that you thought it was gone long time ago? What would it be? Would you change your entire life in order to fulfill that newly found desire?

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