Wander Lust


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You won't find it on the map. And there are no scheduled flights. Yet it's one of the best places for discovery on the planet. I hereby submit the case for going, uh, nowhere. It has many obvious attractions-no schedules, no crowds, no 20-pound guidebooks to lug. But most people are reluctant to take advantage of the offerings. After all, it's hard to pack for no particular place at all. And how do you get there, when there's no there there?

In a destination-oriented world, the virtues of a nonitinerary are as clear as dark matter. We're conditioned to think that we must get from point A to point B via the shortest possible route and get there before everybody else. Even though there is nobody else. We break the tape at the end of a hard-fought vacation day and wind up beating nobody but ourselves-out of the juice of journey, the stuff in between.

As Oliver Cromwell once put it, 'a man never goes so far as when he doesn't know where he is going.' One of the ironies of travel is that we often get more mileage out of it when we have no objective. Targets have a way of narrowing the sights to a single bull's-eye. Set out without a fixed destination, and the prizes multiply as you enter a collide-o-scope of people and paths attracted to you as if by some cosmic pheromone.

Transit to your nondestination is provided by a vehicle that may need a little dusting off: wandering, your guaranteed ride to wherever. Wandering sends you off with a radical new priority: no priorities. The goal is whatever your moseying turns up. It's a time-honored route to wisdom in some cultures. Aborigine youths learned the ways of the world on walkabouts, discovering the secrets of survival and confidence on long trips into the wilderness alone. Eastern thought has long baffled the West with its emphasis on journey over destination, a mainstay of Zen and Tao. 'To start from nowhere and follow no road is the first step towards attaining Tao,' wrote Chuang Tzu.

But, by God, we want results, not traipsing around in circles. And we want to know what they are before we leave the door-conquering Kilimanjaro, blitzing Tuscany. Nothing wrong with a mission, mind you, but obsessive quest of the most direct line to the goal turns your travels into rote, notch-on-the-belt affairs. I used to sprint through trips, at the end of the day congratulating myself with how much I'd polished off. I hung up the race cleats after realizing that seeing it all wasn't as important as experiencing a small chunk of it in lingering detail. That's what stays with you.



Now I know that when I wander over to a guy grilling chicken along the road in a Belizean town, something more delicious may happen than bagging a distant town by sunset. Such as finding out about life in Belize when it was British Honduras, or having a woman join us for a chat about music, or being asked to a local dance that night. Suddenly I'm not on the outside looking in; I'm looking for a punta rock step.

Wandering, for me, is a kind of mobile meditation. It clears the mind of everything but what's right at hand. When I'm going nowhere, everywhere is interesting. I don't feel the need to be anyplace other than where I am, which is just the way my blood pressure likes it. I can veer off over there if I want, zigzag to the highlights of my trip. That's where that spiral of road happenings starts, in the collision with the unexpected, roost of adventure, serendipity and the occasional stash of homemade moonshine.



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