I must admit that I’m really enjoying the act of traveling. For most people, transit time is often considered a necessary (and often frustrating) sunk cost needed to reach a destination before they can “officially" begin enjoying themselves. Granted, I’m only on week three of a fifty-two week-long trip across the world, but every time I change cities, I become genuinely excited to figure out transportation, find the bus station, and spend the day in transit, because at the end of the day arrive in a brand new city! Where do I get dropped off?" "Where’s my hostel?" "What’s the city like?" "Who will I meet?" "What is there to do here?”
I imagine back home my parents are shuddering to think this is what I enjoy about traveling.
Even when I traveled for work in New York, the process of booking tickets, hotels, etc. and getting to my destination was always entertaining... what I did for the next 12 hours after I arrived, however, is a completely different story (but that's a different blog post). Still, the simple act of moving excites me to no end and I really hope that it stays that way.
Since leaving the US, I’m constantly reminded of the old adage by Buddha which states that, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.” While there is still a great deal of time left on my trip, with each day that passes and every city I visit, my appreciation and understanding for the simple phrase deepens. While my end goal is still to reach Japan, it isn't the point of my trip, it's the act of getting there and the people I'll meet along the way that excites me.
Otherwise I should have just booked a flight to Japan from Portugal.
I’m sad to leave Portugal because there is still so much I wanted to see, but what made the journey from Porto and Santiago enjoyable was simply watching the world pass by. The entire time I was on the bus, I kept thinking this may very well be the first and last time I ever see this particular landscape. In fact, there is a high likelihood that I may never return to many of the cities I visit during this trip again in my lifetime. It is a disheartening realization to come to, but one which allows me to appreciate what lies right in front of me for however long I can. With no expectation of returning and no way to really capture the moment in a photo (thanks crummy effects of the bus; see picture on left) all I can do is simply enjoy the view as it scrolls by my window, because once it passes from sight - that's it.
For two hours I sat gazing out my window as one mesmerizing landscape after another passed by. Unlike the completely flat terrain I’m accustomed to in East Texas, the scenery en route to Spain is full of imposing hills and mountains separated by steep valleys covered in deep, lush green forests. The thick, gloomy clouds that plagued the region for the past few days disappeared as we left Porto and the beautiful, bright sun illuminated the spectacular vista before me.
The vast majority of the landscape in Northern Portugal appeared completely deserted, save for a few solitary dirt roads and old, neglected stone bridges covered in moss. As the bus meandered through the mountainous terrain, little towns and villages could be seen periodically in the valley basins below. From high above, these tiny pockets of human civilization - identifiable only by their bright red, terra-cotta colored roofs - paled in comparison to the gentle green giants which flanked the towns on either side. Unlike in the big cities, society out here cannot beat nature into submission, and must instead adapt to its whims.
As we passed into Spain, humanity's impact on the landscape was more readily apparent. Large tracts of farmland began appearing as the basins between the mountains became wider. Unlike the rivers which developed organically over the years, the farms were neatly cut up into small squares and rectangles. Each of these rigid plots of land contained various types of crops or livestock and were separated straight fences that intersected at perfect, ninety-degree angles. It is comical to see that even with all of humanity's effort to organize and straighten out the world, every time one of these rectangular plots of land met a meandering river - the river always won.
This intertwined relationship of human civilization and the natural world made for a remarkably tranquil pastoral scene worthy of a painting. It's not surprising to see so many works of art depicting this type of landscape, it really is a beautiful sight to behold. Even as impressive as the reproductions are, there is still something about seeing it with your own two eyes that can never be fully captured in a painting - or a photo.
My entire trip to Santiago was full of simple fleeting moments like this. Here I am making my way through Portugal to Spain, I have a beautiful vista before me, the contents of my entire life under my seat in a backpack, and no plan for when I arrive in to Santiago. I have never experienced a greater sense of freedom in my life and, even though there was no way to fully capture the feeling, I couldn't stop smiling the entire trip. I may never see this particular landscape again, but I'm glad I at least had the opportunity once in my life.
Buddha was right, it really is better to travel well than to arrive.