Among the many things that struck me about this remarkable work were Lawrence’s descriptions of Wadi Rum, Jordan. He wrote of a wall of rock “sinking like a thousand-foot wave down the middle of the valley”, sharp hills forming a “massive rampart of redness”, domes and boulders of sandstone and ” parallel parapets” that “run forward”. in an avenue for miles. It was, he declared, an “irresistible place”, a “processional way superior to the imagination.” … Our little caravan became self-aware and fell utterly silent, afraid and ashamed to flaunt its smallness in the presence of the stupendous hills. The landscapes, in the dream of childhood, were so vast and so silent.
Although I had no intention of visiting Jordan, mainly because I had very few plans, I knew I had to see this place for myself. After covering most of Egypt, I crossed the Sinai Peninsula by public minibus and then the Red Sea by ferry. Once in Wadi Rum, a 4×4 driver dropped me off in the middle of the desert that Lawrence had, if anything, underestimated. Armed with a map, some local advice and my experience as a wilderness guide, I spent a week hiking alone over salmon-colored dunes and among monumental massifs, from a hidden waterhole to the another, until I return to the main village.
Immersing myself in this fantastic landscape and sharing tea and food with the Bedouins I met there were among the most meaningful and formative of my early travel experiences, fueling a desire and establishing the mental infrastructure for future expeditions on foot – and by camel – in remote areas. places. And I only found my way there because I ran out of reading material.
Since the coronavirus pandemic first marked a pause in international travel, we’ve had time to think about how to travel better once we feel safe enough to return. A growing number of travellers, for example, are taking steps to lessen their impact on the environment. Others are turning to culturally immersive trips, getting to know a place and its people while pumping dollars directly into local economies. And new hygiene requirements have become common priorities.
Adding to this list, I’d suggest leaving home e-readers and smartphone bookcases empty on all but short trips, and picking up physical books instead.
At first glance, this advice may seem counter-intuitive. After all, the big selling point of eReaders is their ability to store tons of books on one small device, a convenience when packing light. But physical books have their own practical advantages. They can’t break, never need to be charged, aren’t susceptible to theft, and if one is lost, you don’t lose more than a few dollars. Plus, in a pinch, you can use the pages you’ve already read to start a campfire.
However, the best reason to favor paper over pixels, especially on a long trip, is its relative disadvantage, the fact that you will run out of reading material and need to look for a new book wherever you are in the world. It creates an element of unpredictability in a journey, signaling an openness to both seek out and discover any book that crosses your path next.
The serendipity involved is a key part of the art of travel: not needing to control or pre-program your experience, letting things happen organically, and seizing the chance to rejoice in the unexpected. The most memorable moments of any trip, those that give us stories to tell beyond reciting lists of sights visited and meals eaten, are usually unplanned. Because longer adventures involve traveling through our own inner landscapes in addition to the physical places we visit, and because the books we read influence the terrain of our imagination, I want to leave room for surprises in the parallel literary journey. to the one I’m doing in the field.
Although Wadi Rum moments — when a randomly found book changes the course of a journey and, perhaps, one’s life — do happen every once in a while, they’re rare, and they’re not really the point. , anyway. It’s the embrace of spontaneity and where it can lead that really adds value to his travels. I often happen to be happy with the books I come across, which I usually wouldn’t have thought to pack on an e-reader, had I brought one.
After finishing “Seven Pillars” in Egypt’s Siwa Oasis, I approached a British traveler in a restaurant and asked him if he had any books he had finished reading. I traded Lawrence for Thomas Pynchon (“V”) and befriended someone I was going to travel with for a few days. In Morocco, I rummaged through a dusty second-hand book stall in a town on the edge of the Sahara, which sold mostly Arabic and French titles, and somehow came out with “geek love” (In English).
I once met two young Americans whose ties and name tags looked out of place on the streets of Ulaanbaatar; after a fascinating conversation about their mission in Mongolia, I came away with a highlighted copy of “The Book of Mormonas well as directions to a strange little store, where I picked up a bilingual edition of “heart of darknesswith Chinese character pages facing English ones.
And after foolishly resisting for years, because how could something so popular with 8-year-olds be so good, Harry Potter came into my world via a street cart in Ahmedabad, India. Other titles that have come down to me include Gandhi’s autobiography“Frankenstein,” “East of Eden” and “The beach.”
Occasionally, of course, you may experience a brief dry spell or pick up a misfire, which, rather than cast doubt on this endeavor, suggests an altruistic justification for carrying physical books: to keep a healthy supply of them circulating in the travel bibliosphere, refreshing bed and breakfast book exchanges, restocking hostel libraries, and supporting trade among travellers.
As you flip through that well-worn paperback that ended up in your hands, you might be wondering, “How many other people have read this book?” How far did he travel? And where will it go once I pass it on? The book becomes an object with a life of its own, connecting you in a small way to the mysteries of life on the road. Those kinds of questions, and that kind of connection to the noumenon of travel, would never arise from a file downloaded to a digital device.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advice can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDCs travel health advice web page.