Beyond time and money, it takes an obsessive level of interest in the world to want to see all of it. Sure, there’s Maldives, Paris, Sydney, Napa, etc. But the world is not exclusively Mai Tais in beaches, or cigarettes and a magazine in a cafe. There are places such as Bolivia, India, Somalia, and the rest of those countries which to describe as severe is an understatement.
Unfortunately, I have a very poor imagination for a person who loves and enjoys reading and writing as much as I enjoy wine, food, music and sex, not necessarily in any particular order.
In order to complete the equation of fully getting lost in the orgasmic pleasure I get from reading and writing, it becomes an imperative for me to experience and collect stimulus from different landscapes and people.
Take sentences such as;
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…” from the The Prince by A. de Saint-Exupery
“Anyone who is observant, who discovers the person they have always dreamed of, knows that sexual energy comes into play before sex even takes place. The greatest pleasure isn’t sex, but the passion with which it is practiced. When the passion is intense, then sex joins in to complete the dance, but it is never the principal aim.” from P. Coelho.
For me, lines like those are as usefully descriptive as a limbless person playing charades, or a mute explaining the beauty of poetry.
In short, it becomes necessary for me to see and experience the world, which isn’t always a bad thing if you only read about wineries and brothels, but I’m also interested in Hinduism, the Bolivian alitplano, German Christmas, touring endless Moroccan highways and bullfighting.
So in order to have more time for books and notebooks, I made a list of guidelines that will give me a general idea of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.
1. My best tip is to divide the world in terms of religion.
Religion has the biggest influence and impact on culture and lifestyle. And why not, after the crusades, burnings at the stake, warring prophets with their delivering words.
It may not always be the same for each country. For Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur in particular has Islam-lite compared to Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern nations. But monks are never balder than the next Buddhist nation.
Religion may not have dibs on food selection, but next to terroir, they have the biggest say on it.
2. Visiting neighboring countries tend to look similar, be it in people, architecture and culture.
Because most borders are relatively new compared to human civilizations, we don’t always have to see the world through countries, instead, divide the world in parts. While some countries are sandwiched, like the Basque country between France and Spain, most tend to be drawn from the same pepperoni pizza. Take for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, they are like different versions of a curry that is India. Hong Kong and Macau, tearing themselves from China, for better or worse. Or Yugoslavia, broken down into a couple of super nationalistic eastern European countries, but visit each one and you’ll probably see more castles than you ought too. As much as the Germans and Austrians like to differentiate themselves from each other, they speak the same language for chrissake. And don’t even get me started between Spain and Portugal.
Although sometimes, similar neighboring countries are on your side too. I wanted to see Tibet, but for now, Nepal will do because the Chinese government took over and imposed ridiculous rules for visiting.
My tip is to visit those old superpowers where civilizations centered themselves during the time when they used animals, precious metals and stones to trade for commodities. They would usually be a few countries per continent. They would tend to be where architecture and culture are grand, such as Rome, Peru, India, China, Russia etc.
Or if you want to have a view of Mediterranean life and architecture, skip between 3 countries, they are not exclusively Spain, France and Italy. Check out Slovenia, Bosnia or Croatia too and you would be surprised to see that its not always comfortable and sexy. And still, there’s Greece and Turkey (again, choose one) for Europe meets Asia. Also Tunisia, Libya or Algeria for the African continent. Israel, Lebanon, etc. for the Asian side. They mostly form the Mediterranean sea and you wonder why they sell kebabs in different names from all those countries.
3. Nature will always be nature.
If I dropped you in the middle of a tropical forest, would you be able to tell if you were in Brazil or South East Asia? Or if, like Leonardo Di Caprio from Inception, you wake up/arrive from/in a dream/real life (only Christopher Nolan knows) and find yourself randomly beached, could you even tell which continent you are in? The Philippines have 7107 islands, sounds intimidating. But visit a a really nice beach, maybe two, same for mountains, do it good and you’re done.
When I was seriously contemplating about taking a $400 90 minute mountain flight over the Himalayas, some European guy from trip advisor wrote “If you’ve flown over the Alps on a nothing special commercial flight, its not gonna be very different.” That was a really lame thing to say but I realized after that he wasn’t completely wrong and $400 poorer.
Between deserts and snow, they’re always hot and cold, sandy and wet. The Sahara transcends from a lot of African nations, some are at war with each other. Choose one and save yourself from the risk of being caught in the crossfire.
When it comes to food just as in wine, “terroir”, or land, is king. Before immigration, refrigeration and shipping, if a couple of countries reside on the same valley, coast or mountain, don’t expect the vegetation and animal protein to be different. Don’t believe what the Portuguese say that they have completely different cuisine from the Spanish, you are probably talking to a person named Ego. Or land locked nations, again, like Germany and Austria, sausage anyone?
When it comes to colonization, I have a very mixed feelings about it. Its a two faced coin. Producing mixed cuisines and beautiful people (mestizas, creole, etc), but it made the world so much smaller by erasing cultures and wiping out the indigenous people. I have a big reservation when it comes to visiting South Africa for the people because I find it decidedly English in so many ways. Even parts of Australia. Maybe because they mostly came from England anyway.
Borders give us a challenge but we don’t always have to see the world through countries. The idea is to spread up that map, take a ruler and lay it on the map, stick pins between countries maintaining 2-3 inches of space in between. Divide the world in maybe 8-10 trips, do it well by completely immersing yourself in each one and you will get a sense of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.