Unit 7 The Joy of Travel
Twenty-five years ago I felt like a wreck. Although I was just 23, my life already seemed over. The future appeared as much like a wasteland as the emptiness I could see while looking back to the past. I felt lost, without choices, without hope.
I was stuck in a job I hated and trapped in an engagement with a woman I didn't love. At the time, both commitments seemed like a good idea, but I suppose it was the fantasy of being a successful, married businessman that appealed to me far more than the reality.
I decided to take a class just for the entertainment value. It happened to be an introductory counseling course, one that involved personal sharing in the group. We were challenged to make commitments publicly about things we would like to change in our lives, and in a moment of pure impulsiveness, I declared that by the next class meeting I was going to quit my job and end my engagement.
A few days later I found myself unemployed and unattached, excited by the freedom, yet terrified about what to do next. I needed some kind of transition from my old life to a new one, a sort of ritual that would help me to transform myself from one person into another. So I did something just as impulsive as my previous actions: I booked a trip for a week in Aruba.
In spite of what others might have thought, I was not running away from something but to something. I wanted a clean break, and I knew I needed to get away from my usual environment and influences so as to think clearly about where I was headed.
Once settled into my room on the little island of Aruba, I began my process of self-change. I really could have been anywhere as long as nobody could reach me by phone and I had the peace and quiet to think about what I wanted to do. I spent the mornings going for long walks on the beach, the afternoons sitting under my favorite tree, reading books and listening to tapes. Probably most important of all, I forced myself to get out of my room and go to meet people. Ordinarily shy, I now decided that I was someone who was perfectly capable of having a conversation with anyone I chose. Since nobody knew the "real" me, the way I had always been, I felt free to be completely different.
It took me almost a year to pay off that trip, but I am convinced that my single week in Aruba was worth three years in therapy. That trip started a number of processes that helped me to transform myself. This is how I did it:
I created a mindset that made me ready for change. I expected that big things were
on the horizon, that a trip such as this could change my life. I believed with all my heart that I could change, if only I could find a quiet place to sort things out and experiment with new ways of thinking and acting.
I insulated myself from the usual influences in my life and the people whose approval was most important. One of the reasons that therapy often takes so long is that, once you leave the safety and support of a session, you reenter the world where familiar people elicit the familiar reactions. By separating myself from others' approval and influences, I was able to think more clearly about what I really wanted.
I structured my time in order to produce change and growth. Solitude, isolation, or new environments in themselves are not enough; you must also complete tasks that are relaxing and educational. The most important part of any therapy is not what you understand or what you talk about, but what you do. Insight without action is entertaining but not always helpful. Instead of reading novels and calling home regularly, I took the time to participate in different activities that would make me change.
I pushed myself to experiment with new ways of being. I sampled alternative lifestyles and pretended to be a different person. I acted in unfamiliar ways just to see how it felt. Whatever I would usually do in various circumstances, I forced myself to do the opposite. This reinforced the idea that anything was possible, that I could do anything I wanted.
I made public commitments of what I intended to do so it would be harder to back down. There were times when I wanted to avoid doing those things I found most frightening. Until this trip, I had never traveled to a strange place deliberately alone. Whenever I thought about taking safe routes, I imagined that I would soon have to face my classmates and that I would have to explain my actions to them.
I processed my experiences systematically. I wrote in a journal each day and spoke to people I met about what I was doing and why. When I returned, I talked to several people I trusted about what had taken place. Each of them offered a different perspective that I valued and found useful in incorporating the experience into my life.
I made changes when I returned that continued the transformation that started while I was in Aruba. It is easier to make changes when you are away from home than to maintain the changes after you return. To make sure I didn't slip back into old patterns, I immediately made new decisions about my work and my relationships that kept me moving forward.
I decided that much of my future traveling would have some transformative dimension to it. Although it is possible to make extraordinary progress in a single week,
transformative change takes place over a lifetime. I promised myself that I would make other trips from time to time in order to continue my growth.
The Romance of Train Travel
If there is one main characteristic of the modern world that makes our lives different from our grandparents, it is probably speed. We are always on the move, and we don't have much patience with slow systems of transportation. We want to get there, and we want to do it fast! Carmakers, airline owners, and the planners of mass transit systems all share a common goal. They are all trying to provide us with faster and faster ways to reach our destinations.
Nevertheless, many of us actually want to slow down. Although we complain when our plane isn't on schedule or when we have to wait in a traffic jam, we also complain about always being in a hurry. Every once in a while, we hear the sound of a train
whistle—clear and high in the night air—and we feel sad. There is a strong sense of nostalgia for other places and other times, when life was slower and, perhaps, better.
Why does a train whistle bring on a feeling of nostalgia? Perhaps it's because many of us remember a favorite novel or movie that took place on a train, and the story told of danger and excitement. There's a sense of romance about a train that simply doesn't exist on a modern jet plane. Several railroad companies are taking advantage of the nostalgia for train travel: They are offering unique tours for travelers who aren't in a hurry and who enjoy the romance of the past.
For almost a hundred years, the famous Orient Express carried royalty, the rich, spies, and dangerous international criminals. It was the scene of mystery, crime, and often history. But after World War II, when air travel became popular, it never got back its old sense of romance, and it finally went out of business in 1977. Soon after that, however, an American businessman began to buy the old Orient Express cars and fix them up. He restored the train to its former condition, and since 1982, the train has run twice a week from London to Venice and back. Although the twenty-four-hour trip doesn't offer the danger and excitement—the adventure—of the past, it offers luxury: rich dark wood, fresh flowers, champagne, very special food, and live entertainment in a bar car with a piano.
Another famous excursion by train is the Trans-Siberian Special, which makes just three trips each summer from Mongolia to Moscow. As passengers board the train at the beginning of their trip, they toast one another with Russian vodka at a welcoming party. For the next week they cross the former Soviet Union with occasional stops for sightseeing in big cities and small villages. In addition, there is a bonus on this trip; this extra advantage is a daily lecture on board the train in which an expert explains Russian history and culture to the passengers.
If you are looking for fun and adventure, you might want to try the "Mystery Express", which runs from New York to Montreal, Canada. This trip interests people who have always wanted to play a role in an Agatha Christie play or a Sherlock Holmes detective novel. A typical journey on the Mystery Express offers the opportunity to solve a challenging murder mystery right there on the train. In the middle of the night, for instance, there might be a gunshot; soon, the passengers learn that there has been a "murder" on board. For the rest of the trip, everyone on board participates in solving this mystery by exchanging information and opinions about the crime. By the time the train has pulled into Montreal, the traveling "detectives" will have figured it out and caught the "criminal." Of course, no real crime takes place. The "murderer"—as well as several other
passengers—are actually actors. The trip is a safe, entertaining, and very creative weekend game.
If you're looking for variety and beauty on a train journey, you might want to try the trains of India. The Indian government offers several special tours. One, a fifty-mile trip on the famous "Toy Train," takes seven hours one way. The train travels through rich, luxurious forests with flowers, trees, and more than six hundred varieties of birds. Before it reaches its destination, it makes several stops so that passengers can take photographs or have picnics if they want to.
Another tour, "Palace on Wheels," is for travelers with more time and money. Each of the luxurious cars on this train used to belong to an Indian prince. For seven days, passengers go sightseeing to palaces and cities where musicians, camels, and women with flowers meet them.
Perhaps the most unusual Indian train is "The Great Indian Rover," for travelers who are interested in religion. On this six-day tour from Calcutta, passengers travel to a town in Nepal, where Buddha was born, and also to the place where Prince Gautama sat under the bodhi tree and became Buddha.
"The greatness of our people is their great cordiality" is a line from the national anthem of Aruba, and from the moment one sets foot on this beautiful island in the center of the blue Caribbean Sea, this will be found to be true. The Arubans, descended from native Arawak Indians and Spanish and Dutch settlers, offer a warm welcome at any time of the year, but they show unusual hospitality and special happiness during the New Year's holiday, when the island's many gambling casinos and night clubs as well as other types of entertainment places celebrate the New Year with great festivity and warmth. A spectacular midnight fireworks display will add to the celebration and musicians will
walk from house to house singing good-luck greetings for the New Year.
But before putting on a party dress (dressing up is expected at Aruba's night clubs) one should see the island's many spectacular daytime attractions. Sunbathers and swimmers can stretch out on seven miles of beautiful sunny beaches. They can also head to the northern coast with its uncrowded beaches and snow-white sand dunes. Divers will marvel at one of the Caribbean's largest shipwrecks, a 400-foot World War II German freighter that was abandoned by its crew and later sank off one of the famous beaches. Experienced divers will want to explore the notorious CALIFORNIA, the only ship that received the sinking TITANIC's distress signals in that Atlantic Ocean tragedy. Unfortunately, the CALIFORNIA failed to respond, thus it will be known forever as the "notorious" CALIFORNIA. Experienced windsurfers can ride the fast-moving waves off the island, but beginners will want to try the calmer, shallower water near the shore, and divers will find many reefs full of colorful undersea life including coral, marine worms, and fish of unbelievable variety in color, shape and size. Aruba also has many sports facilities for sailing, deep-sea fishing, water-skiing, golf, tennis, horseback riding, and less demanding activities like shuffle-board, table tennis, and countless board and card games Of course, there's more to Aruba than sunny beaches and nightclubs. The island boasts a fascinating history and has many historic sites to show for it. These range from the Stone Age cave-wall drawings at the National Park to the marvelous 20th-century Dutch architecture in the capital city. For natural wonders, there are the back roads of the northern coast where strange looking trees and rock formations can be seen. The Natural Bridge, a dramatic coral structure 100 feet long and rising 25 feet above sea level, is also a favorite scene along the northern coast road. And if a woman forgets to bring her beautiful dress for New Year's, there is no big worry—Aruba is a shopper's paradise. There are wonderful boutiques and duty-free stores throughout the capital and in the more than a dozen shopping malls and many luxury hotels. If one is dressed for an elegant evening of entertainment, the casinos are places where one can place bets and hope to win a fortune. Win or lose, a person is always lucky while visiting the fantastic island of Aruba!
Caribbean beaches are famous, but the cordiality experienced in Aruba makes it a true jewel in the crown of Caribbean islands.