Taking Chances

 

 

They told me they came from a distant land

Where nothing was the same and everything was different.

Beautiful. Spectacular.

 

I became entranced by their stories and wanted to go there.

But they warned me not to go on my own.

The people there spoke a strange language and lived a way of life as if they were on another planet or in another time of history.

The terrain was wild, with mountains and lakes.

There were all sorts of hidden dangers.

‘Whatever you do, don’t go on your own’ they warned me, ‘when you, go come with us’

But they never went home.

They loved their country but only at a distance.

It was a place in their minds.

Something created from reminiscences.  

 

I got impatient and decided to go on my own.

They stood there and watched me as I went.

I told them that I couldn’t live anymore in the country of my birth

I was suffocating I said. Bored. I needed to depart.

 

They looked at me in silence.  

‘You will regret this!’ they said.

Regret?

Of living in a place I knew too well.

Regret ……

Taking chances?

 

Cold Turkey

 

When Anya and I went to the south of Spain to go trekking, we chose to base ourselves in a town called Capileira.

Situated in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it was small – population 500 – and offered easy access to some good trails. 

It took us two days to get there on local transport. 

We were surprised by what we found…….

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Skola

Skola was a small town in the west of The Ukraine.

We were renting an apartment there and going for walks in the nearby forests, as well as walking around town and observing life. With a population of 6000 Skola was small enough to familiarise yourself within a day or two. And the streets were not exactly busy given that there were relatively few cars. Yes, it was quiet little backwater of a place, Skola – or so it seemed.

One afternoon, with our walking sticks in hand, we were approaching the town square on our way back to our apartment when we heard loud music. Rounding a corner we were met by a crowd of people. Striking in a town where the streets were usually silent.  

At one end of the square was a statue of an old man with a book under one arm. We assumed that this was another one of the statues we had seen over the previous weeks during our travels in The Ukraine. In other words, the statue of one or another communist era hero which no one had got around to pulling down: statues of Marx and Lenin for example, or of a brave Russian soldier symbolising the ‘liberation’ of The Ukraine from the Nazis in 1945. Some liberation: exchanging one brutal dictatorship with another.  

Passing the square every day, we had made jokes about the old man with his book.

Until that fateful afternoon, that is.

The air reverberating to music and singing, we made our way through the crowd and saw: on either side of the old man with the book under his arm people standing in a row holding large Ukrainian flags….

What was going on here?

We watched the proceedings in a state of disbelief.

Evidently this particular statue held some sort of significance for the locals.

This wasn’t one of those statues whose existence was ensured because of the sheer weight of apathy.

Who was this man?

And why was he so revered?….

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Home

There is something addictive about getting up in the morning and moving on, leaving everything behind you, the baggage of yesterday’s experiences and last night’s dreams, and starting out anew. 

It’s an irresponsible way of life, a free life.

In this mode of existence, a few days is a long time.

You arrive in a new place and confront the unknown.

The simple tasks of orientating oneself to the new surroundings, of seeing the sights, walking the streets, exploring the new and the unknown, experiencing a different culture, heighten the sense of being alive. The mundane tasks, finding the nearest shop or supermarket, when and where the next bus or train leaves, form a minor epic full of frustrations, unforgettable scenes and comic situations.

And then before you know it, comes the feeling of familiarity – that you know this place too well, that you have been here for a long time. The senses becomes dulled. You see less, notice less. You begin to regard your hotel room, your temporary lodging, as ‘home’.

Before long, the strangeness of arrival, exhilarating, mysterious, fades. In its place comes the comfort of living according to a set of small routines. Then comes the creeping ennui, the listlessness, the feeling that you have too much time on your hands –  and then it’s time to move on again. 

To once again be a stranger, a pair of eyes wandering a foreign landscape, someone who is always arriving but never stays…….

 

On The Precipice

Perhentian Besar.

There were no cliffs there. The island was almost flat.

But a precipice might not be visible to the eye and this surely was the most dangerous kind.

Pernentian Besar: it was a small island off the eastern coast of Malaysia and well known for its sandy beaches, glass clear waters and wealth of green jungles. Like the nearby and much larger island of  Redang, it was a popular destination for divers.

In season that is.  

During the monsoon – November to March – with grey skies and heavy rains and the seas whipped  by strong winds, it was deserted.

Maybe that’s why we went out there.

Otherwise it seems like a mystery to me.

It was in February 2017 and in my travel diary, my focus was on recording his plight, that mercurial man standing on the precipice……

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