The Social Being
Sindbad and the Sky Lizard 7.
Sindbad thought it proper to ask readers for forgiveness if today's verbal outburst will (again) turn out to be too teacher-like. He hoped readers were magnanimous and would look the other way. You know, he said, here in the wilderness things look a bit different. Especially when you are the cat that walks by himself and for whom all places are alike.
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The topic is interpersonal relations which are quite challenged by travelling — he started his deliberations. Space opens up around you yet you are moving in an invisible bubble with your companions. If you go alone you will soon face the monstrous aspects of your personality. He looked meaningfully at the reader. Are you saying you've only got marvellous aspects? Let us switch, then. I doubt that you will come out positively, though.
Besides having to live with yourself, you also have to somehow come to terms with your partner if you have one. Or your group if you travel with several companions. Some people must gorge on ice cream every second day and on watermelon at least once a week — those are very mild needs, especially if you can find the stuff in the store. Having to spend half an hour with a coffee every fifty kilometers in a place with plastic chairs is more of a challenge for many of us. So is the brave explorer who focuses his entire scientific interest on the study of the alcohol supply of every bar on the way. Substance dependence surfaces immediately when travelling. OK, all of us are dependent on some things, but certain people are content with fig biscuits for a week while others have to pump some drug into their system five times a day to stay balanced.
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How many times will we have to stop for coffee today? — he wondered. Hitchhiking in this country was not supposed to be a life insurance and he had made his way to the small parking lot on the freeway with some uncertainty. Another Anglo country... OK, it's not America. There were only a few RVs and battered trucks in the parking lot. One of the campers was just coming back to his vehicle. Not much space, he shook his head upon Sindbad's enquiry. But he wasn't refusing outright. The tent soon disgorged a nice girl. Reshuffling of stuff, bon giorno, an Italian couple that has been travelling, working, diving, swimming with the sharks for a year and a half in the counterweight continent. Getting to destination with the first car I walked up to, 500 kilometers in one go, not bad statistics so far for Australia, Sindbad thought.
People are social beings unconsciously attracted to the company of other people, even when they think they really just want to be with themselves — he continued with his monologue. The radar searching for humans will necessarily go off after a certain amount of time spent alone. Hitching is obviously an excellent filter, people who stop for you are always the best of their culture. And then there are the other aliens. Not the ones from space, just the people you accidentally meet. Travelling alone opens up a whole zoo for you. You will make friends with people that you wouldn't even talk to in normal circumstances. The best situation for picking up languages. When I started learning Turkish, the intellectuals were of no use. They spoke in complicated Turkish, then, upon seeing the blank stare, switched to English. Truck drivers, on the other hand, were willing to repeat simple, useful phrases. In a situation like that you immediately realize that gestures, eye contact, body language are way more essential than grammar rules. The key phrases that are usually missing from phrase books also pop out.
In English or in Italian? — asked the girl. Italiano lento, slow Italian, said Sindbad, although such a language doesn't really exist. They understood each other nevertheless, and the long, monotonous drive also allowed for quiet periods when he could continue his ruminations.
The different standards for what's normal quickly surface on the road, he thought. Some people can do a thousand kilometers with two ten-minute breaks, while others experience a two hundred kilometer bus ride as a Greenland crossing. They have to prepare for it, fight heroically for a day and then spend time recuperating. It's hard to know ahead of time who you are dealing with. Most people have a very vague idea of their own limits. Experienced travellers can, to some extent, measure up their potentional companions, and a few questions go a long way. Be very honest to yourself and tell me: How much can you walk a day with those nine bags? Ten kilometres? Fifty? For some, two kilometers would be an unsurmountable challenge. Whining is a whole subject in itself. Everyone reaches a limit at some point but Himalaya climbers have a different threshold than those who haven't quite made it to top of the hill near the city.
And then, of course, there are the crazy types. Sindbad remembered the Lapland gathering where someone suddenly yelled: "We have two extra spaces. Who's coming to Nordkapp?" "We are! When do you want to leave?" "Now." "OK, give us ten minutes." In other words there was not a whole lot of time to assess our companions, he explained. One of them, a girl of radiant eyes and amazing spiritual depth came bare feet. When we found out she did not possess any shoes, we got some for her only to find out later that she left them behind presumably as to stay in touch with Pachamama. Although she had health insurance her broken arm was tied to a garbled tree branch which served as a cast. She liked to bathe in the fjords at night and kept wandering off. I felt like a shepherd dog, Sindbad sighed. I had to keep circling to make sure the gentle soul stayed with the flock.
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Except — he continued — that you donˋt really always want to travel in a proven, effective way. Sometimes you want to open yourself to all kinds of unexpected things to push your limits. That Swedish girl has probably taught us, people that believe ourselves to be relatively functional, more than we taught her. If someone is fun to travel with, they are usually fun to live with. A month of travelling together (no hotels or taxis) is like a year of living together. I donˋt know a better way to test a potential relationship than a long hitchiking trip together, Sindbad thought. Although those Himalaya-climbers would most likely disagree.
Forest, forest and more forest all along the highway. Australia is the driest continent but near the Eastern seashore this certainly wasnˋt the case. All Sindbad saw was greenery, silver-alabaster, scented eucalyptus trees. This continent has fairly recently been stolen from the aboriginees, population density is low. Compared to Europe there is still considerable nature left, he thought.
The ethnical makeup of Sydney was not much different from that of Singapore. Masses of Chinese and Indians, sprinkled with Spanish speakers and Arabs with a few pink-skinned people (so-called whites) here and there. In the country the population became bleached, with no aboriginee in sight. I wonder how these waves of immigrants coexist, Sindbad thought. Would it be like in America, the children of immigrants falling into the hole between the two cultures and being picked up by McDonaldˋs? Surface cordiality as people lack deeper connections? Donˋt judge ahead, he rebuked himself. Australians so far seemed very friendly, even the people in uniform lacking official grimness at the border, smiling and chatting with the arrivals which was quite extraordinary.
Talking about travelling companions, he went on, you will have one for certain. The one no matter how far you run, you canˋt escape from. All you can hope for is bringing some fresh air into his stale habits, make him face his obnoxious ways, put him into a lot of situations to be resolved. When standing in the shade of a traffic sign for five hours several things become evident. Not only your resistance to hot weather but also how interesting you are to yourself. Sindbad winked at the reader. How well can you stand being alone? — he asked. Do you talk to yourself?
This was a rethorical question. Everybody talks to him or herself. They may not do it out loud and it really makes a difference what kinds of things you say in there and in what voice tone, shreeking with horror or in a relaxing murmur. And in what language. Changing your inner language is easier in a new place. Although travelling has now become somewhat false due to a little device. The minicomputer called a telephone that nowadays everyone has in their pocket changes things. If, in the 42 degrees Celsius you get really discouraged behind that traffic sign that hardly covers your head, you can call your mum.
Hell, Sindbad said half to himself, yet again I managed to babble a bunch of inanities. What was my point? He deliberated for some time. I think (like a cat around a hot dish, as we say in Hungarian) Iˋm making circles around a certain question. What can I do to be able to travel with Sindbad with more smiles, more ease and pizazz?