At school, I had a friend who had a map of the world that occupied a whole wall in his bedroom. He had placed a pin with a red coloured head on every city he had visited in his meagre 16 years on the planet.
His family was wealthy and they had travelled North America and Europe and much of Southern Africa. I was envious of the red dots that salt and peppered his map and dreamed that one day I could populate a map of the world with such proof points of visitation.
Whilst I have been fortunate enough to visit five of our seven continents and would have a lot of pins in my map of the world, I am more proud of the inner destinations I have mapped.
I believe that there is a sort of cartography of the self that results in a mental map of the endless spaces and terroritories of our selves that we are obliged to curate. I am not sure that the inner landscapes can ever be effectively demarcated, but we need to constantly pioneer into new spaces to ensure our versions of reality are evolving.
In her book, ‘Out of Africa’, Karen Blixen describes a game she played with her nieces in Denmark where they would supply her with the first sentence of a story and she would then complete the tale from her imagination.
She plays the game with Denys Finch Hatton and he begins the story with her: “There was a wondering Chinese named Cheng Huan, living in Limehouse and a girl named Shirley… .” Blixen completes the tale, “… who spoke perfect Chinese, which she learned from her missionary parents … .”
Blixen mesmerises Finch Hatton. Transfixed by her gift of storytelling he asks her if she had been to the places she described. “I have been a mental traveller,”she replies.
For the last few weeks my family and I have been enjoying a road trip across California. There’s been the disappointment of expensive hotels that underwhelm both in location and their vague correlation with the photos on their website. Beautiful home-stay rentals that stretch beyond your expectations.
There’s the joy of reconnecting with family and the awe-inspiring discovery of vistas so magnificent they take your breath away.
Travel also causes us to conquer fears – like driving a left hand driven car on the right side of the road. Or there’s my personal terror of driving across bridges that had to be faced. And in San Francisco there are some major bridges to be traversed!
Travel affords us an opportunity to disconnect from our normal lives and reconnect with new or misplaced parts of of our lives. We see new sites and we gain insights. The external occurances somehow connect with an inner experience. And so we get to encounter new landscapes internally and externally.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” Martin Buber
In Monterey I luxuriated in grand splendour in a hotel on Cannery Row. The street is steeped in the memory of the tuna canning enterprises from days of yore and it’s ugly corrugated iron shacks have been transformed into a space that exudes history.
This is where John Steinbeck set his novel ‘Cannery Row’ and I bought myself a copy of the book in the very shop that is described as Lee Chong’s grocery store in Chapter One. The current owner pointed out where the till used to be and where the Tenesse Whiskey and cigars were sold
In Yosemite I marvelled at the rock formations. The granite monolith Half Dome dominates the landscape and the pine fragranced air transported to me to a time where I imagined the Ahwahnechee people who dwelled in that valley for 7,000 years. Mentally I could picture them re-enacting rituals of bear hunts and wrapping animal skins around their wigwam frames.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
The labyrinthine corridors of our minds have wonderful mysteries enshrine in their walls. We don’t really need to leave our environment to travel and to explore and to discover. The mysteries of ourselves are boundlessly fascinating and the examined life mines treasures that enrich us beyond our own imagination.
Travelling is in many ways like dreaming. Dreams just happen to us, without, it seems, any conscious control from the dreamer. Great landscapes emerge, peopled with characters and creatures that come from who knows where. We journey through our dreams unknotting our complexes and psychoses; resolving the inner conflicts of our competing organs and their sensory demands.
We bring the essence of these adventures back into our conscious lives. Our dreams somehow knit us back together.
We are transformed and made better by travel – be that the journeys we make across our continents or the depths of our consciousness we explore through self discovery or the mysteries of our lives that get revealed to us in our dreams.
Mapping out new territories inside ourselves and placing new red-headed pins in points of discovery at our conquered fears, delightful idiosyncracies and our unplumbed strengths of determination gives us a sign that we are progressing through life and learning who we are destined to become.