When we travelled to Litang in western Sichuan, high up in the mountains, the trips were some of the least comfortable of our whole trip. Imagine spending 8 or 9 hours bumping around in an old bus on a bad road. The back of the bus is occupied by Chinese or Tibetan men who are chain smoking during the whole trip, spitting on the floor of the bus and making a general mess by throwing everything from cigarette butts to plastic wrappings on the floor. In the middle of that, 3 ducks. The bus stops from time to time for toilet (I said it was an old bus, so no toilets inside). When I say toilet, I mean Chinese toilets. Squatting toilets where your business goes into a not very deep hole, and there are no doors, just low walls to separate the several cubicles. Now, everyone who has ever read a guidebook for China knows that the Chinese stare at westerners. It’s just that they’re curious. Ok, I can cope with it most of the time. But coping with being stared at by every single Chinese woman in those toilets while doing your business needs very strong nerves, and a good sense of humour.
Now, you may ask, why take these horrible buses? Why do such long uncomfortable trips, when we could just take a plane?
Well, that’s the point of this post. Without these uncomfortable trips, we would never have seen what we have seen. Beautiful mountains. Traditional houses. People wearing traditional dresses, working in the fields. And it’s not set up for the tourists, it’s for real. That’s how they live, work, travel, shit.
Travelling is about all this. It’s about smelly trains (how many of you still know what “human smell” is? Go take a russian train). It’s about bumpy buses that break down in the middle of nowhere. About people just doing their everyday life, transporting chickens and all kinds of other goods. Travelling is not about taking airplanes and then say you’ve been everywhere (that may be “going on holiday”. Plane travel is about the most uninspiring way to travel, in my view). And that’s why travelling is not always easy, or pleasurable, or “fun”. It’s an experience, about feeling on your own body how most people in this world still live. It’s about getting to know yourself better. Travelling is not just going on a long holiday. Travelling is not running away from yourself, but getting closer to yourself.
What I am taking from this? That I’m able to be happy with very few things that all fit in my small backpack. That every day has something special, be it positive or negative, be it while travelling or when back home in a routine. And also, the day we decide we have arrived somewhere, our trip will be over. Because travelling is not about arriving, it’s about moving, be it in a train, boat or bus.
(Inspired by P. Theroux)