“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”Working in tourism you end up spending a lot of time pondering what makes a tourist experience worthwhile. A lot of people will probably point out at this point that a tourist experience is almost by definition anything but meaningful and worthwhile. But I'm not talking just about the plastic, package visits to the township to see the poor, smiling children or to the game park to see the sleeping, sedated lions. I'm talking about the much broader experience of travel.
The introspective spin-off of this has me contemplating what makes my visits to places meaningful. Mahwelereng for example. Mahwelereng is a dry, dusty township in the Limpopo province with dirt roads running in a grid pattern, between tiny, 2-roomed houses, little boxes but each house on it's own stand, each one with it's own little bit of earth. One of the things that makes a place important to me is experiences, moments that defy expectations. As you travel around the township, some of the yards are filled with broken down cars and bottles and beer-cases and rubbish. Dirty, broken-down yards - yet another example of the wide-spread hopelessness and degradation of South Africa's poor. Others are, against all expectation and logic, filled with roses. When I was there the roses were in full bloom. The picture in my mind, the story I take away from Mahwelereng, is one of shouting, laughing children playing soccer in the dirt road between houses painted gentle yellows and blues and pinks and gardens filled with roses.
My travels have taken me to all sorts of places. Some have had little impact. Others stay with me forever. I don't think it's dependent on the place. Kroonstad, for example, is a perfectly nice place and is just as... well, nice.. as some of the other places I've visited. But Kroonstad doesn't stay with me. I have no mental snap-shots of moments that matter from Kroonstad. Unlike, for example, Colesberg. Colesberg has this coffee shop where you pass through what is an old house, right on the main road, and you can sit under grapevines sipping some of the best cappuccino I've tried in a while. It's gentle and peaceful with a stunning view of the hills and the dull buzzing of bees in the background. Colesberg's little museum is also great- a fascinating record of the settler history of the place. And if you're really lucky, you might see an exhibition about the 'Karoo Gypsies' - die Karretjiemense.
The places I remember are not necessarily remembered for any particular feature of the place or anything that you'd see in a tourist brochure. They're remembered for fleeting moments of wonder. It goes beyond tourism. My whole life is like that. I like to look back on my life, when I think about it, as a collection of amazing moments. Some of them are because of the magnificence of nature - the majesty of Table Mountain on a perfect summer morning, the winelands in Autumn, whales in Pringle Bay. Some are just the beauty of an ordinary day, or a perfect moment with friends. Some people spend years searching for perfect moments. I thing they're missing the point. Or perhaps they're just not paying enough attention. Those moments of awe and wonder can happen any time. Those moments when the world stops and you can see clearly and the joy wells up within you fit to overflow and everything is right just for that moment.
I'm contemplating joining a friend on his trip through Africa later this year. I'm getting quite excited about the idea. I've never really travelled much outside of South Africa. The wealth of opportunities for wonder is exhilarating. And I suppose I'm also caught up in another kind of wonder and excitement - the joy of the anticipation of wonder. I think I have a few of the others a little worried that I'm going to try and turn this trip into a structured package tour. I'm really not. I don't need to have detailed plans of where and when and how much. I do insist on plans in many aspects of my life but I'm perfectly aware of the value of vague plans and the need to chill on holiday. And that half the joy of travel is spontaneity. I am spending lots of time drifting around cyberspace learning about the kind of places we might go. It's such a lovely game - going from site to site finding out about some of the prettiness and awesomeness and wonder that is out there, in prepartion for the fleeing moments of wonder that might just happen - wherever we end up going. So much of the travelling I've done has been for work and pre-planned. I'm loving the simple pleasure the anticipation of wonder.
Whether or not this particular trip happens (and I very much hope it will), I think that travel and tourism are destined to be an increasingly important part of my life. The joy of reveling in the capacity for wonder - which I do with impunity regardless of the fact that I'm supposedly all grown up - is addictive. And so, it turns out, is the anticipation of wonder. I thrill with joy just thinking about it.