Climb that mountains, sail that ocean
“…for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.”
So English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson made Odysseus say in his poem Ulysses.
These words have always resonated with the wanderluster in me, who “cannot rest from travel: … will drink life to the lees” and even more so now, perhaps because I’ve only days ago visited Calypso’s Cave where the legend has it that beautiful nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years.
Or perhaps with a bittersweet feel, as I come to the end of my week in Malta (Shameless plug: If you want to find out about my travels, head over to Instagram and check out my account @sonabanjo).
Earlier this week I met a British couple at the hotel who boasted it was their sixth holiday in Malta, while Mr O. and I were already dreaming of destinations yet to be discovered. I am often dumbstruck by the fact that most Brits are perfectly at ease spending their previous fortnight’s holiday in the same place in the same country at the same time of the year, every single year. Imagine! Same place. Same country. Year after year.
The first time I heard someone comfortably admit to this was a couple of years ago when a former colleague mentioned he and his wife enjoyed going to the same resort in Algarve, Portugal, for the same number of day, at the same time every August. “Because we like it there,” he simply explained, the oddity not occurring to him.
Over the years, I have met quite a few people, mostly British, who do the same, “because [they] like it there.”
Each to their own, but in a world with so much to offer, going back to the same place “because we like it there” reeks of laziness to look further, ignorance of all that the world has on offer and perhaps even fear that what you find at your next destination may never live up to the last, or worse home, and you would have spent money to get there only to be disappointed.
“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list,” I’d like to think, in Susan Sontag’s words. Granted some of the places I have been to have not lived up to others, and calling two of the greatest cities – Istanbul and London – home, it is ridiculous to think much of the world will live up to those gems. The trick of a seasoned traveller is the make the most of any situation they find themselves in and enjoy the ride.
Most recently, a friend of Mr O. travelled to Istanbul, and she spent her long weekend there complaining about everything from the traffic to the crowds.
Quite thick-skinned to criticism of my beloved homeland which, let’s face it, boasts quite the chequered history when it comes to tourism, I was only entertained by Mr O.’s frustration at the same friend and her daily rants over Whatsapp.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind,” said late Anthony Bourdain.
Why laze by a pool in Algarve year after year when you can get lost in the souks of Dubai, haggle over tagines in Marrakech, take a boat ride down the Bosphorus in Istanbul, have traditional pastizzi in Valletta, take a midnight motor ride in Kigali, watch the most mesmerising sunset in Kuala Lumpur?
Why worry about the traffic when you can look out and enjoy the journey?
I am typing this as I sit in my hotel room, following an evening spent frolicking in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and watching the sunset over the bay one last time. I look back and remember the good, the great, the grand, and yes, the not so good as well.
The one-way lane that led nowhere as we were trying to reach the well-off-the-beaten-track Wied il-Mielah arch in northern Gozo, getting to the much lauded Xlendi Bay the same afternoon to find out there wasn’t actually a beach to swim in, the long wait for the ferry on the way back to Malta, spending €10 to get into St John’s Co-Cathedral and finding it over-crowded and overly commercial, the many a scenic route taken which would have cleared any kidney stone had we been suffering them.
All this, and alongside some of our best new memories to remember in old age, a surprisingly fun bus tour of the capital Valetta with our friendly guide Ainsley, a magical evening spent enjoying picture perfect views of the harbour and dining on fresh fish in Marsaxlokk, our first evening trying out Maltese delicacies and watching Maltese folklore, exploring the alleyways of the old cities of Mdina in Malta and Citadella in Gozo…
I’d rather take the journeys most are too lazy, ignorant or fearful to take and let the journey change me and shape me into the old traveller I will doubtless becomes, with memories in her heart and tales to tell her grandchildren of distant shores. Because, in the words of great Jack Kerouac, “in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”
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