I love to travel, whether its in my home state of Utah or somewhere globally . . . it just does not matter . . . I just like to travel. But standard tourism doesn’t hold much interest for me. Its always the goofy stuff that leaves a lasting impression on me. And I love to walk, and the world is becoming very walk-friendly. Werner Herzog’s (German writer/director of Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn) dictum is: “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot, virtue.” Now there is a man after my own heart.
Walking is the purist form of travel. There is time to peruse and appreciate the terrain. You get to meet other people, whether locals or other walkers. You are in the elements. When in the countryside or wilderness, the quiet is very appealing. There is also time to resurrect the words of a favorite poem or song or Bible verse:
He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
I travel with a small backpack (I’m getting better at traveling light). That way I can walk whenever I choose, whether it is through downtown Helsinki, across northern Spain, along Hadrian’s Wall, through Pere-Lachaise Cemetary, down to a crater lake on Summatra, along the terraced rice paddies of northern Thailand, or buried in a Utah slot canyon. It is all good.
Doesn’t have a point of view,
Knows not where he’s going to,
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man, please listen,
You don’t know what your’re missing,
Nowhere man, the world is at your command.
For a religious experience there is nothing like travel, coupled with walking. This subject has been heavily criticized by Barry Scholl (as quoted in HCN): “If I read another story about somebody finding an Anasazi ruin and having a spiritual experience, I’m going to barf all over the magazine.” I think Barry is being a little hard on the religious aspects of travel for the following reasons:
First, for many, participation in traditional church attendance is losing its appeal and they are exploring alternative worship opportunities. This potential was demonstrated to me on an island in Lake Van in eastern Turkey (a largely Moslem country). While visiting an ancient and abandonned Armenian church, my sons and I encountered a group of French tourist celebrating Mass inside the 1000-year-old roofless relic. It was all quite spiritual (sorry Barry).
Second, the experience of traditional travel is also losing its appeal. In December, a few years ago, I was traveling in western China; it was cold and I had a cold. In despiration, I hired a guide and a car; I particularly wanted to visit some of the area’s qanats. The guide who spoke little English was set up to take me to 11 specific sites around the desert oasis of Turpan (only one of the sites had anything to do with qanats). All I wanted to do is spend some quality time at 2 or 3 sties. But the driver/guide had been programmed with a “todo list” and she was going to follow it. This form of “check list” travel (with a few photographs at each stop) is, in the end, not very satisfying. That is why some form of religious observance coupled with travel can be very rewarding.
So what might be some examples of spiritual travel experiences. My friends and I occasionally have a group, non-demonational prayer at particularly inspirational spots: Spiral Jetty in northern Utah, Chartre in northern France, etc. One of our group gave a 2-and-a-half minute talk at the Sun Tunnels in western Utah. After walking a path across northern Spain, I attended a pilgrim’s Mass in the medieval cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. While walking through the historic section of Tallinn, Estonia, I settled into an old church and listened to some wonderful music performed by the organist and a vocalist. In Catholic and Orthodox churches, I love to burn candles. At a beautiful old church in Copacabana, Bolivia, they had a stone tub for burning candles. As I lit several candles, I asked my guide what I should wish (or pray), she suggested the health of my family. In the cathedral, the Priest was performing a folk mass. I think similar opportunities are possible at Anaszi sites also.
Travel is what you make of it. And a spiritual or religious experience should not be dismissed.