Travel is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and lose sight of the familiar comforts of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky. – Cesare Pavese
This quote got me thinking. I had never really viewed travel quite in this way. And though I wouldn’t characterize it as a “brutality” per se, there is no question that it can be very uncomfortable – be it on an emotional level being away from loved ones or, on a physical level, because of what it can impose – early mornings, changes in diet, jet lag, living out of a backpack, and so much more.
My great Bolivian adventure is a perfect example. From the get-go, the challenges of what the next two weeks would bring were marked by the descent into La Paz airport which is over 13,000ft above sea level. Without the benefit of time to acclimatize, the altitude can really take its toll. Fortunately I was not ill, but I wasn’t moving at lightning speed for the first few days either.
The trip did not give me the luxury of lazy sleepy mornings, warm breezes and pina coladas. Quite the contrary. Mornings were VERY early (especially for me), and as South America moved into winter I was conscious of (trying) to keep warm all the time. One night we even stayed in an unheated “lodge” in the middle of nowhere where the temperature dropped to -20c overnight. Huddled together as we ate supper before hunkering down for bed, we laughed nervously with reference to our cold, dark, isolated surroundings as the ideal setting for a horror movie.
And let's not speak of the food poisoning I got hours before departure…
While these are obvious signs of discomfort, immeasurable is what we learn about ourselves when in these circumstances. As Pavese explains, by disrupting our “known", travel can send us to a place of brutality.
So what have I learned about myself while there? I've learned that:
- My patience is bottomless in situations I find of value or interest
- I can find a solution calmly in the face of difficulty
- I firmly believe that everything is going to be alright
- Most people are often stronger than they think and;
- With enough layers you can actually sweat yourself awake, even in -20c weather.
What have you learned in times of adversity?