A Blueprint for Travelling
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
When I begin to design a blueprint for my vacation, like a kaleidoscope of moving colours, past travels begin to crystallize in my mind. Always, it is as if a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of thrills opens before me. I become excited as I begin to prepare for my holiday.
So, I begin with self-imposed questions. What do I want from the vacation? Are the necessary funds available? Is it to be a family outing? Is it to be an adventure trip or is a seaside resort the goal? For some others it might be a few weeks of exploring the wilds, fishing, water sports, just sailing the seas, nightclubbing, or gambling in casinos. For each type of vacation, one must prepare in an appropriate fashion.
After deciding on the type of holiday, one must consider a travel budget. Many vacations are ruined after one borrows money, then spends the furlough worrying about how to pay it back. This then should be followed by identifying the affordable and appropriate place to go.
Planning comes next. That can be a problem, especially for novice travellers. Through the years, I have cut down on what I pack to essentials, mostly synthetic clothing- for a month sojourn: a shaving kit, one pair of comfortable walking shoes, one sweater, three washable shirts and three pants, the same number of washable under clothing and stockings, and depending on the destination and purpose, one good suit, a tie, and shirt. All these must fit into a small suitcase with space to spare for miscellaneous items. I have found that the lighter the suitcase, the more pleasurable the vacation.
However, this is not the case with the other members of my family. A few years ago, I planned to travel on a three-week vacation with my daughter. As we left the house, I could not believe my eyes. My daughter was struggling with two huge and one small suitcase along with her purse which was stuffed so much that it looked like a suitcase. I was annoyed, “What are you doing with all that luggage? It’s only a three-week holiday! Do you expect me to help you lug them along?” She smiled, “Isn’t that what fathers are for?”
An important question when one chooses a destination is what to see and what to do. Perhaps, some of the experiences during my travels will give a picture of what different vacationers seek.
In the late autumn of 1996, I was dining at Rancho Leonero, a holiday resort located at the tip of southern Baja California, Mexico. Turning to my table companion, John Attaway, who hailed from California, I asked, “Why do you come here for a vacation? Isn’t this part of Mexico just an extension of your state?” John did not hesitate, “It’s the fishing. Here, it’s the best in the world. You can have your sun and beaches! To me fishing is the top enjoyment in life.”
The next day, as I watched John, in mounting excitement, haul up fish after fish from the Sea of Cortez, I thought of what had been exhilarating for me. It was Cuba’s Escambray Mountains. As we walked single file on a jungle trail, Maria, a young Spanish woman walking before me would, in great enthusiasm, point out the names of the birds, flowers and trees which, at times, formed a canopy over our heads.
Stopping to survey the splashing waters of a small waterfall, I asked her, “How do you know so much about the jungle and its creatures?” She looked at me somewhat inquisitively, “We all must know about it and protect our natural world. Once gone, this panorama of nature will never return.” She continued, “It’s my life! For my vacations, I always travel to resorts which offer trips to the wild.”
Maria’s reason for travel is in sharp contrast to that of Trevor and Sarah, a Toronto couple whom my daughter and I met at our hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. After this, I never saw them on any of the excursions, or even outside the hotel. One day, during dinner time I asked them, “I’ve never seen you on any of the tours. How do you spend your time?”
Sarah smiled and replied, “We sleep most of the day and spend the night in the casino downstairs. That’s why we go on holidays– to gamble.” Trevor carried on, “Our favourite spot is Las Vegas. We never travel to any place that doesn’t have a casino.”
What Sarah and Trevor enjoyed was beyond my scope of my concept of vacation. Rather, for me, it was Granada – the last illustrious capital of the Moors in Spain. After breakfast at the luxurious Parador Nacional San Francisco, a former 15th century convent, which was once an Arab palace, I sat down to enjoy a coffee with a gentleman whom I had met the day before. In its captivating atmosphere, said to be the most magical of all the hotels in Spain, I began to discuss with Khalid, a citizen from the United Arab Emirates, the Arab/Muslim era in the Iberian Peninsula.
I never thought that I could meet my match when it fell to being under the spell of Moorish Spain. At times I even felt that Khalid was even more enamoured with Spain’s rich Arab legacy than I was. He appeared to be glassy-eyed as he spoke, “I have travelled many times to this beautiful country, and I will come again and again. It’s not the beaches or the cabarets that I come for, it’s the remains and memories of my people which draw me.”
Khalid’s reasons for travelling were in complete contrast to those of Ernest and Ingrid, a German couple vacationing in Recife, Brazil’s top northern resort, as they were tanning in the sun. My travels in the ancient lands of the East did not impress them. They seemed uninterested. Ingrid yawned as she rolled over, “We, like the majority of world tourists, only want good food, sun, sea and sand. Who cares about mountains, or the scenic views and heaps of rocks built by some primitive people in the past?”
On the other hand, Shaun Parent, an ice, and mountain climber who I met in Thunder Bay, Ontario’ northern capital, was a symbol of outdoor thrills. He had mastered the Andes of Peru and the Himalayas in Nepal and was still travelling the globe searching for peaks to conquer. As he rushed in excitement ahead of me up a frozen waterfall, he looked down at me and remarked, “Climbing is in my blood. It’s my Valhalla.” His love for climbing was more intense than that any man could have for a woman.
What I’ve learned from travelling the world is that no matter what vacationers seek, preparation is the key to enjoying a holiday. To make vacations memorable, one should research, in the libraries or through the Internet, the food, folklore and history of the people in the intended vacation spot.
Once there, travelers should sign up for excursions that suit their interest, try the people’s food, attend folkloric evenings and, above all, talk to the ordinary people. In many cases, this can be a learning experience of other peoples and other cultures. Back home, in the struggle of daily life, beaches and food pass quickly into oblivion, but interaction with people is rarely forgotten. As I have come to learn, a genuine traveler and a frivolous tourist do not have much in common.
In my younger days, one of the greatest influences that drove me to search for adventure was the book Sons of Sinbad, written by Alan Villiers. In it, Villiers describes a journey he made on a traditional Arab dhow from the Arabian Gulf to the East African coast. After reading this, I always wanted to trace his voyage.
In the spring of 1997, my dream was somewhat fulfilled. I found myself sailing on a small dhow in the Gulf of Oman. As we navigated the coast, in the distance, the glowing lights of Muscat brought to my mind Alan Villiers’ voyage.
Back home, as I sat down to write about why people travel, my daughter passed by. I asked her, “Why do you think I go on so many journeys?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Of course, to get away from your family!”
Notwithstanding my daughter’s remark, I travel, like many others, for many reasons. Mine, in the main, is the never-ending search for what is new in the world and yonder. But always prepared for a journey.