IN this time of death, sadness and despair it is somewhat churlish to regret, like most travel junkies, that we can’t get our regular fix of the road less travelled, the wind on our back and another city not my own. But it hurts.
I have travelled since I was three, albeit the first being a cross-provincial road trip in my father’s gleaming Chevrolet, from Montreal to tiny Dundas, Ontario, to visit family friends.
Then all the plane trips to the UK and France to see relatives. My former air hostess mother fully believed in letting me drink champagne on the plane, even though my little legs with dimpled knees (too much sharing!) couldn’t touch the seat in front of me.
But, trapped as all we travel junkies are, sequestered in our suburban homes, fretting that our Voyager points have died and that there aren’t even vapour trails in the winter sky to remind us of better days, we mustn’t lose our memories, those that old Alex decreed should be our travel bags.
In the dead of night when sleep is evasive I have taken to Time Travel, focusing on a country I have either visited or lived in, 50 and 20 respectively, and I lull myself into slumber with thoughts of the places and the people who made life on the road so appealing.
I have done my Swedish death cleaning, all the DIY chores, the dishes, even, so this allows what I am pleased to call my mind to wander the dim alleys of Old Jerusalem or the bright avenues of New York City, or even Nursultan (formerly Astana) and jolt the grey matter into being grateful for the chance to visit disparate and sometimes desperate places.
I started this pensioner’s journey on Kibbutz Ga’aton in Israel, where I spent an idyllic year growing bananas, drinking arak, driving tractors and forgetting all about my St James middle-class WASP youth. I found a Facebook page about my beloved kibbutz, and within hours had connected with several people I had not seen since the Year of the Cheekbones in the late 70s. Sweden, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the US and France all featured in the replies.
The thoughts took me back to lolling in the Dead Sea, naked swimming at Eilat, climbing Mount Hermon and feasting on falafel at Akko. Those halcyon days of hard work, delicious fresh food, visceral companionship, friendship with old Joel, who had a number on his arm, working all night in the chicken house, svelte Swedish maidens in search of a benefits-guaranteeing baby daddy… ah, so close, yet 40 years ago.
Time Travel requires no annoying visas, boarding passes, suitcases to be packed, raids on duty-free, economy class syndrome, fetid morning breath. All Time Travel requires is oiling the mind, sometimes on R600 bootleg vodka provided by my village plumber. And time, infinite time. No Netflix binges, no CNN rage at Trump, no bin day anxiety.
Just time to savour and celebrate the privilege of travel, being things and doing places.
We will travel again, but it won’t be the same. Masks, endless queues at immigration and health checks. Expensive tickets, crap service on board, no minibars, desperate merchants and paranoia about being trapped in a foreign land, all await.
I can’t wait to turn in for the night, perchance to visit Horta in the Azores by yacht, sip a foul wine at Paphos or even have a piece of fish at On the Rocks in Hout Bay. Time Travel is for now.