Thousands of (often) lonely and rough kilometers I have conquered. In the deepest jungle of Surinam in search of the unconquered Devils Egg mountain to skiing along the Iraq-Iran landmine-strewn border, I strive to satiate a childhood fascination with exotic culture in far-flung corners of the world. From my travel, I have come to realize that people are the same everywhere: Mongolia, North Korea, Cuba, Argentina and behind the Iron Curtain that was pried opened by Gorbachev…..
Everywhere one goes, one finds egoists, simpletons and helping hands. There exists everywhere criminals and personifications of Jesus Christ himself. Everywhere, there is loneliness as well as hardcore socializing.
There are danger pits as well as safe havens. I will never forget how, during a bike-trip over the Lena River in Siberia in the freezing cold, an old lady opened her wooden hut to me and pushed her dog forward as a hot water bottle. It was minus 50 degrees outside, my eyelashes had broken off and the tip of my nose had turned a little black.
So many impressions are imprinted in my mind – from roaming the streets of Asia filled with intoxicating smells to wandering aimlessly along nameless streets. Some countries do not even have streets, such as Mauritania, which is an endless sandbox where I struggled to cross on a motorcycle towards La Rose, the magical salty lake next to Dakar.
The world cannot be reduced to clichés… but if I have to, I will define it as multi-faceted: Europe as the analogy of air – where the smell of ancient history fills ones lungs; South America as fire – with its intense passion for life; Asia as water – forever changing and filled with energy; Africa symbolizing the richness of earth with its endless treasures being exploited. And at the far end, there is Australia with its scorching sun and overwhelming space.
It has not always been pleasurable – I have bent over dead bodies in Bukavu, a bloody border town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I was also pursued by hundreds of ruthless child soldiers with soul-less and hopeless eyes. In Ethiopia, I witnessed a horrific crash when a team member drove into a deep ravine and broke every bone in his body. Little did I know then that by re-positioning his twisted head saved his life.
It is said that travel shapes the mindset of man. True to a certain level. But growth can also be achieved without travelling by having a keen eye for the details in one’s environment. The oak tree in the neighbor’s backyard, reaching majestically towards the sky, holds as much amazement as the trumpeting elephants in the Savannah.
My 84-year-old grandmother travelled in her mind through books. She declared passion for faraway places that she never saw. It shows that she was blessed with an imaginative and appreciative character.
Over the years, I started doubting my one-liner: the world is my playing field and journalism is my game. The world offers many faces and grimaces of life. A balanced person is one who is grateful for all his experiences, even if that “travel” is not by kilometers.