A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

The Traveller's Curse

We talk about what we know

Once, while traveling, I met a philosopher. He’d been on the road for three years, at a time when I had only been out there for a mere three months. This number interested him for, according to his experience and observation, “At three months the journey stops being a trip, he said, and becomes a lifestyle”. I took note of this and started asking other travelers, until I felt the idea somewhat confirmed. Some of them casually referred to this moment as the “three month crisis”. Its effects though, I'd rather them call the Traveler’s curse. Yet it was only after looking at this phenomenon through the glass of Echeverría’s ideas that I could understand and explain some more of the reasons behind this.

In his essay “Juego, arte y fiesta” on culture and society, the late mexican/ecuatorian philosopher Bolívar Echeverría explores the notions of temporality and historicity through the juxtaposition of the common and extraordinary experiences. He defines time as the combination of routine and rupture. On one side we have routine: the moments of automatic behavior, when there is no questioning of attitudes or codes of conduct. And on the other hand, there are those moments of play, of party: the times of uncertainty. Rupture he presents as the moments of joy, of shadow, of unknowing: they are situations during which the history, values and identity of a community may be changed, rewritten. Or reflected upon at least.

Echeverría thought of whole societies; he wrote about their collective experiences, however, I find it that his ideas may be applied to the individual experience too. I find it particularly interesting to analyze from this point of view one of the “extraordinary” experiences of most intensity and transformation a person can experience. Travelling.

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A voyage is, by its very nature, a constant onslaught of novelty for the traveler. Leaving the comfort zone is always difficult for us human beings. Yet even if the change is only geographical, the experience tends to be rewarding. It is even more so when we exit our own culture and encounter different worldviews, idiosyncrasies, and languages. Few things force to introspection and thinking as much as a nearly absolute incapacity of communication with the surrounding people.

He explored three types of rupture moments: playing, party and art. I shall now explain what his three concepts have in common with travelling.
The main element of his definition of play as a rupture in routine is his take on ludic pleasure. Just as some spicy food drive the senses wild, the tongue not being able to define whether salty, sweet, sour or just what, play intrudes into the historicity of daily life. The notion of linearity takes on a secondary note and “the impossibility of establishing whether a fact owes its presence to a causal linking of previous facts, or precisely to the breaking of such causal linkage”, generates an extraordinary moment: it ruptures the flow of time.

Now, coincidence is the queen of traveling. Lack of communication, language barriers and such difficulties, make meetings with people of similar backgrounds something of special importance, even if only for the common language. This encounters shape and redefine the experience, shaking up set plans and opening new paths of exploration to the point that, when looking back, seemingly random encounters tend to feel as predestined. To try and analyze the chain of events leading to, say, two acquaintances to meet on a road on the outskirts of Berlin, or high school friends to bump into each other someplace in Thailand, it could drive someone mad. It becomes easier to just accept the happenstance and enjoy the moment. Thinking decision followed which and affected what is nonsensical, and in this respect traveling has a lot of play in it.

There is also a lot of party, or festive rupture, in the travel context. In this kind of rupture with regular time, the burst of the extraordinary moment occurs during a ritual ceremony, as Echeverría calls the height of the moment. It is an event during which all social values enter in a state of suspense, during which the routinary way of existence is compromised. During this instance, he says, a sort of “fullness” may be glimpsed; it is a sacred experience, a trip onto the land of imagination, to the world of objective and subjective purity, a place to just “let go.

Because of the constantly present onslaught of novelty in a journey, this kind of festive experience occurs during the exploration of new places. The recurring encounter with different ways of living, thinking, eating and dressing expose the own values and worldviews. The traveler naturally enters a state of epojé, of suspension of judgment, which brings her closer to that pure, sacred and ritual, experience. The daily routine is so broken that the everyday is exceeded, it becomes an extraordinary moment full of creative potential; a festive rupture.

And third, art, or the esthetic experience. This moment is much related to the two previous ones. It is not perhaps an activity in of its own, rather the interruption in the daily, for an instant, of that almost divine world of purity and imagination. It is catharsis, and the reconstruction of everyday life around this moment. The search for this rupture is not performed through substances, ceremonies or rituals, but rather through other techniques that project the essential into this functional, pragmatic world.

In this sense, one might think of a journey as a prolonged esthetic experience. Daily life is reconstituted around the encounter with novelty, with judgment-free purity.

So now, back to the “three month crisis”. This moment occurs when one walks through the mirror, so to speak. It happens when, during a journey, poles are inverted. Traveling is the greatest rupture of everyday life; an adventure that has no place in the daily life. But when this experience is prolonged, extended, then things change. Through repetition, everything loses its novelty. Even novelty itself.

Events and moments that were so impressive at the beginning of the journey become commonplace. Deciphering a map, looking for a place to sleep, meeting new people, new strangers, finding one’s bearings in a new city… By being met them time and time again, this experiences lose their edge of extraordinaire. It is now that the traveler longs for home. She misses not having to introduce herself again on every conversation, even meeting someone more than once becomes precious. The traveler becomes sullen and introspective. She will miss her having her own space and to just do nothing for a day. Friendships with people in a similar state will bloom very fast and conversations will turn deep in no time. As both parties tend to be tired of introducing and defining themselves every single time, social norms and procedures lose importance, and the experience takes on a whole new level.

Suddenly, people with whom the traveler has shared just an instant, a few hours or a drink maybe, they become friends for life; even if they may never meet again. The bonds created thusly become stronger than those developed for years with some others. Coworkers, schoolmates, even family may lose their place to someone that is, by any usual standards, a complete stranger. And so, the traveler loses part of her roots, detaches herself from the past and drifts away from her history and all she’s known before.

When, eventually she returns to the everyday life, old friends are met again, family embraced and the traveler thanks the routine just as much as she acclaimed novelty at the beginning of the journey. Everything falls back into place and it feels great to be back. That is, until all becomes commonplace again. It may take weeks, months, even years but one day she will find herself longing for open spaces, seemingly random encounters and unending possibilities. The adventure, the rupture will call to her, and her heart will find no rest at home.

And such is the traveler’s curse. It is this cycle of nostalgia, the paradox caused by the normalization of the extraordinary and the longing for the routine, which makes the traveler a traveler, and no longer a tourist. It makes her gaze return always to the horizon, for she’s realized that she’ll always be far away from someone, from somewhere, no matter where she may be.

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I had this words somewhere in my backpack, I think they're better here.

Here's Echeverrías essay, for you spanish readers: http://www.bolivare.unam.mx/ensayos/Juego, arte y fiesta.pdf

And a good related read! Georg Simmel's essay on Adventure: http://condor.depaul.edu/dweinste/theory/adventure.html

Thanks for reading!

Posted by Zaspirucho 05:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises nature culture travel train road time human philosophy stranger thoughts essay crisis Comments (3)

Temples, tuk-tuks and friends

Finding more than I was expecting from Cambodia

sunny 25 °C
View Liberty Goes East on Zaspirucho's travel map.

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If you want to see the whole world, stay no longer than three days at a place. It's not just me says it. I first heard the concept in the Kino’s Journey series (Kino no tabi anime). But in Europe I put it into practice and realized its wisdom. The thing is, if you stay any longer than that in a place, you will start building bonds, maybe even leaving a piece of your heart behind you. That is if you manage to leave. So when I got to Siem Reap I paid for three nights. Immediately though, I was surprised by the laid back atmosphere, and by the ease with which I could meet people… After Ko Phangan and Bangkok, the vibe felt very different. I can see why people keep coming back to this place, even staying some of them.
101_1355.jpgThe traveler fears not loneliness. Still it's better to have someone to share the moment with.

The traveler fears not loneliness. Still it's better to have someone to share the moment with.


Already since the train to Cambodia I had met an Australian girl, Jo. We shared the tuk-tuk to the border and did immigration together. Having read extensively about the scams that surround that border crossing, we were wary and distrusting. And sure thing, the driver brought us to a “Visa agency” just outside the official buildings. But we just shrugged them off and made the last blocks on foot, knowing we’d get the visa on arrival at the actual border.
Once there, if you have not completed your e-Visa application form in advance, you must first head to the passport control and pay your fee. It is 20$ for the regular one month tourist visa, and you must provide them with a passport sized photo. That is, unless you lose your photos somewhere in the black hole that your backpack has become. Then you must pay an additional one dollar. Or, like in our case, five dollars. Why? Because give me your passport and shut up. That's why.
So we were slightly suspicious when, after the 3 hour bus ride from the border to Siem Reap, they said we could have a free tuk-tuk ride to our hotels. Nothing is free, we thought... But sometimes, it turns out, rides are included in the bus price. The only catch is that your driver will offer to be your official Angkor ride. Which is great if you want to be taken there, I guess--but I’d rather bike myself there, thank you.
101_1500.jpgIt's a good place to bike around!

It's a good place to bike around!


I knew half the name of a hostel to stay in, and Jo had no set plans or bookings, or any idea really, so we made our way to the Garden Village Guesthouse. It is a great place that caters to any budget, from the 1$ khmer style bunks, to 30$ AC bungalows. So we settled in, and before I knew it, we’d met Tyson the musician. I congratulated him on his moustache (not anyone can pull it off as he does!) and invited him to go get some live music, since I'd learned of some couchsurfers that were playing in a bar a couple streets away. It’s funny how things turn out. Tyson brought his accordion with him and joined in for the last tunes. Next day they performed together on a rooftop bar, and on the third morning they recorded some music and a video at Angkor during sunrise. A couple of days later they left to some other musician’s house in a village, somewhere in Cambodia. All because I invited a stranger to go get some music.
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In such a manner have the days passed. One day I biked to the Angkor temples with Tyson and Jo. Another day I went there again by myself, to later come back to the Giant Puppet Parade, based and organized in Siem Reap and made by local children... Days fuse together. Between the meeting of people and the long conversations, I have found myself to be here in the company of equals. Odd figures all, people that could, but rather not blend in. Travelers, artists, and philosophers of the road. Somehow the three days became six, then ten. But it is now time to move on. Tomorrow I shall visit Angkor for one last time, and then hop on a night bus to some other place.
101_1529.jpgIt's been a good one!

It's been a good one!


From all these conversations, my internet foragings, and by the amount of time spent in silent thought, some semblance of a plan has risen. There is the possibility of work in Italy and France, and maybe in Denmark or the Netherlands. Yet the main realization of this past few weeks is that I have no intention of returning to Mexico. I wish to continue with my education though, so I seek to enroll in a Masters course in the Open University. It is an Online programme, so I’ll be able to work, study and travel, all at the same time.

Lets do this!

Lets do this!


I feel like I’ve been somewhat passive with my learning this last couple of years; waiting for my professors to assign me a task, or to give me the opportunity to prove myself. As such, I’ve been stuck in the same place for three years already. It’s about time I move on, continue looking forward. And since the web is brimming with free learning tools and resources, I intend to overload my brain in the coming months. Something good shall come of it, I can guarantee it. At the very least, I’ll have more think about during those flights and train rides. And there will be lots to read and write. So lets see how this adventure evolves!

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Thanks for reading!

Posted by Zaspirucho 00:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged travel cambodia siem_reap friends angkor music hostel parade online stranger scam study puppets learning Comments (2)

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