When on the bus to work the other day I came across a passage in Pico Iyer’s selection of W. Somerset Maugham’s travel writings, The Skeptical Romancer, describing a missionary being carried by locals up a hill.

It brought to mind my hike, some 9 months prior, to Cerro Calvario, in Copacabana, Bolivia, at the southeastern edge of Lake Titicaca. At the summit, 3,966 meters / 13,012 feet above sea level, I sat on stone steps catching my oxygen-deprived breath, sipping El Inca beer, and watching a young couple make an offering involving flowers, incense, and beer in hope of soon obtaining a house, a model of which they’d bought from one of the nearby vendors.

Beyond the edge of a low wall, the Lake stretched all the way to the horizon. I shielded my eyes from the reflection the setting sun spilled over the flat waters, a strip of brilliant white searing the view into the back of my eyes. I recalled that polar explorers and mountaineers must wear sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, thinking I should have brought my pair with me to prevent Titicaca blindness.

Dream of traveling

When I was a boy, I devoured adventure novels in which stories took place in various locales beyond the borders of then-Czechoslovakia and the Warsaw Pact countries; Jules Verne was my favorite author, providing a major inspiration for my love of traveling, joined by Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many others.

When I read those pages I was transported to many faraway places alongside the protagonists. Yet I did not dream of visiting the locations of these adventures. I would locate the strange names like Madagascar or Alaska in my trusty Pocket Atlas of the World, thus attaching them to the real world.

But my mind continued to associate them with the made-up stories, so they retained a mystical sheen of imaginary places, mirages on the same plane as Atlantis or the center of the Earth.

Even as a teenager and college student in the 1990’s, after the borders opened and I traveled on my own, the places from my adventure books remained outside the realm of possibility, far away and beyond dreams.

When the Bolivian newlyweds departed, one step closer to fulfilling their dream of home together, and the view stilled, it occurred to me Lake Titicaca was one of those fantastical places of my boyhood.

In fact, I had visited several such places on the round-the-world trip. When I hiked the mountains of Patagonia I wondered why they reminded me of the Slovak High Tatras. When I saw a troop of wild kangaroos lounging by the roadside near Sydney, Australia, I recalled my resolve to have a kangaroo sidekick like Skippy from the eponymous TV show.

The Strait of Malacca. The Bosphorus. Machu Picchu. Sarajevo. The Southeast Asian jungle. Havana.

When the memories stopped flooding in, I had an even grander epiphany. All my life I had carried within me a longing, the kind of faint, shapeless sensation you experience when watching a plane cross the sky or an anchored boat bob off a sea shore.

As the sun dipped below the thin clouds, the shapeless desire acquired the concrete contours of understanding. Not only did visiting the places of my childhood fantasies render them possible and real, it impressed upon me a sense of completion.

Shortly thereafter the places dissolved into memory, the same way authors erase their recollections by putting them into writing.

Dream of traveling

When I was growing up, I contemplated what marks the transition from a boy to a man: a boy climbs trees, a man chops them; a boy runs through puddles, a man skirts them; a boy desires to flee home, a man yearns to return there.

Now I also knew that while a boy entertains a dream of traveling, a man makes that dream come true.

When all this went through my mind, the #12 bus approached the Burnside Bridge. No longer able to focus on Maugham I closed the book mid-sentence. The morning unfolded over the city with the sky opening and the Willamette River reflecting heavy clouds rushing toward the next rainfall.

When the dreams of a boy come true, the man the boy became makes new ones.

21 Responses

  1. Susannah

    This touches my heart!!! I feel the same way about my childhood dreams of travel and adventure! You put into words so much of what I feel!

    Reply
  2. Jen

    I wanted to incorporate WWOOFing into our travels, mostly because I wanted to see if I had what it took to be a farmer. When we started our adventure I just knew I wanted to be more connected with the land, and we took it from there.

    But I honestly never made this connection until just now, reading your story: When I was a very little girl we would go to my grandmother’s farm (where chickens and gardens once reigned is now a suburb – ACK!) and I would dream about life on a farm. My favorite childhood books were Charlotte’s Web and Little Women and anything having to do with animals. I loved watching Little House on the Prairie. All sounds corny, but it was never really romanticized for me like it is for a lot of people – I got the hardships of farm life back then and I definitely get them now. But still, I wanted to do it… and hope I can continue to do it.

    Thanks for the post! 🙂

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Jen. Figuring out what you want to do with your life, how you want to live it, is the toughest part. Now that you know you can start (or continue) making it happen. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Bea

    Very lovely post – I also always had a longing to travel when I grew up and your post rings true to me as well.

    Reply
  4. Natalie Deduck

    Great Post and Reflection!
    As you beautifully said: boys have dreams and men have the ability to make them come true… But we can´t never let our inner child go away, because they are the responsible to keep the dreams alive, till the moment we reach the final destination in Bolivia or any other corner around the world! Happy and safe travels!
    Nat

    Reply
  5. Berry

    I have always dreamed of a life full of travel. It can be hard to do with a family, but that doesn’t change that I would love to do it. I’ll probably have to wait until my boys have left the house before we get to travel the globe together.

    Reply

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