7 really great travel quotes

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Happy Hump Day! Hopefully these will help you to keep dreaming towards your next trip. We are in the process of booking one, and there’s nothing quite like the delicious anticipation!

1. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark T wain

2. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

3. “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

4. “Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

5. “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

6. “A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Carlo Goldoni

7. “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca


My Date with Alexander McCall Smith: Gorgeous Globetrotters

Scones with Sandy

Scones with Sandy

Unlike the esteemed Paul Theroux and his cynical views, Alexander McCall Smith is telling me that South Africa, despite its problems, really is all that. I manage to extricate the darling gentleman from adoring fans and we sit down, with tea and scones of course, under the balmy winter skies of Franschhoek. 

The man behind series such as The No.1 Ladies’ Detective AgencyThe Sunday Philosophical ClubPortuguese Irregular Verbs and Scotland Street and a growing collection of stand-alone novels talks to me strong females, the prevention of rabies and where he’d like to travel to next. Talk about a Gorgeous Globetrotter!

Sitting for Aerodrome

Sitting for Aerodrome

Travel Tomes: Killing Sahara (Black Star Nairobi) – Mukoma wa Ngugi

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Having recently visited Nairobi, I was excited to delve into this crime thriller (sequel to Nairobi Heat, 2009) and to interview its author, Mukoma wa Ngugi, whose celebrated father, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, I met last year.

Nairobi is a place where the very rich live off the backs of the very poor, where cops are robbers, robbers cops and tribal tension is never far from the hard-drinking, partying, music-pumping surface. Its climate is hot and humid, its natural beauty and degradation equally astounding and the exploitation of colonialism continues under new imperialists. In short, the perfect setting for a crime thriller.

Ngugi’s central character is an African American who has come to Kenya in search of adventure, belonging and a selfish sort of altruism, and instead finds a family – Muddy is a beautiful survivor of the Rwandan genocide and O a ruthlessly loyal best friend.

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Travel Writing at the Open Book Festival 2013 with Don Pinnock, Justin Fox, Sihle Khumalo and Martinique Sitwell

From left - Khumalo, Stilwell, Fox and Pinnock

From left – Khumalo, Stilwell, Fox and Pinnock in the Fugard Studio

It’s Open Book Festival time at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. Yesterday I managed to tear myself from the scintillating people watching of literary, wannabe-literary and hipster types in the ruggedly plastered book and bar-lined lobby to attend the Travel Writing panel discussion chaired by Don Pinnock.

Once editor of Getaway and travel writer extraordinaire, Don gently probed the panelists, all of whom he knows well, with humour and insight.

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Paul Theroux Thinks Africa is the S&*T: Do you agree?

“In Africa every rural village is different, but every city is the same, and a perfect fright,” he writes towards the end of the book, when he’s had enough of Luanda. “Urban Africa” gets the blanket description of “twitching decrepitude”.

– Alexander Matthews

Theroux's End of the Road

Theroux’s End of the Road

Editor of online literary magazine Aerodrome, Alexander Matthews, interviews Paul Theroux about his latest book: The Last Train to Zona Verde and then kicks himself for being taken in by the gentleman’s charm, and for not asking the probing questions he feels he should have.

Alexander is my incredibly brilliant and talented brother (only matched as the most incredibly-talented-and-brilliant-brother by the equally awesome Danny) and is the founder of aerodrome.co.za. (Yip, that’s your disclaimer).

Paul Theroux has crudely dismissed the complexities of our great, varied and pained continent –

“Of course I could put my head down and travel farther, but I knew what I would find: decaying cities, hungry crowds, predatory youths and people abandoned by their governments, people who saw every foreigner as someone they could hit up for money, since it was apparent that only foreigners seemed to care about the welfare of Africans.”

Are all township tours “a voyeurism of poverty” and “exploitation”. Township dwellers serving as guides or selling curios “had discovered their misery was marketable” ?

So, what do YOU think? Read the article here: http://aerodrome.co.za/reaching-the-end-of-the-road/ and let us know.

TRAVEL TOMES: The Old Patagonian Express (Paul Theroux)

Image: courtesy of Goodreads

Image: Courtesy of Goodreads.com

Paul Theroux jumps into a Bostonian subway and, after the passage of many months, out of a train in Southern Chile. This work details the story of his trip in true Theroux style, cynical, matter-of-fact and with vivid imagery.

At the start I was intrigued about his travels though the USA, longing to also be on a train, going somewhere – anywhere -and really enjoyed his perceptions of fellow passages and passing stations. Mexico, too, was lovely – reminiscent of sultry nights, Spanish accents, the dark corners of alleyways and plenty cerveza. However, the USA and Mexico occupy hardly more than ten percent of these pages.

Much like Theroux himself I suspect, I became bogged down in the jungles of Central America where Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador meld together into one jungly, poverty-stricken, dirty mess of inter-continental ‘Americaness’ (don’t blame me – I’ve never been. It’s with him you should be arguing!)

Although seemingly lovely to everyone he meets – although I’m doubtful he would tell us otherwise – Theroux’s cultural condescension and cynical snippiness becomes old (I can only imagine his bitchy asides at a cocktail party) – somewhere on a train in the mountains / in a tunnel / in a jungle / in a town in Central America. It doesn’t go away or get less irritating, but the scenery gets a little less monotonous (once you’ve become stuck in and extricated yourself from the Panamanian Canal crisis),as he journeys through the north of South America and enters Argentina.

His time spent with Jorge Louis Borges, the famed blind Argentine author harks of kindred spirits – the brilliant, but narcissistic artist at the feet and bidding of another – as they read, listen, judge and comment on work of their predecessors. And finally, after leaving Buenos Aires, the journey trails off into the middle of a Chilean desert, where Theroux leaves his train journey, and this book, at an end.

At times, when Theroux is in the throes of some mosquito-induced melancholy (and to be fair, there was a large part of his trip that despite a lack of budget constraint wasn’t very comfortable at all, although one could argue for any volunteered travel being a luxury) he becomes a tad self-righteous. He portentously protests “I did not take any pleasure in suffering the torments of travel merely so that I could dine out of them…” and mentions how although he’d rather travel with his wife, one travels and writes best in solitude. True perhaps, but also possibly what she tells him when she’d like him out of the way for a while. “Yes, darling. You take one for the team”.

That said, there are isolated passages so startling in their clarity and beauty that they force the reader (okay, me) to stop, re-read them and marvel at their genius. Just enough, in fact, to keep one reading right until the very last page. Here are a few to whet your wanderlust:

  •  “Travel is a vanishing act, a solitary trip down a pinched line of geography to oblivion… But a travel book is the opposite, the loner bouncing back bigger than life to tell the story of his experiment with space. It is the simplest sort of narrative, and explanation which is its own excuse for the gathering up and the going. It is motion given order by its repetition in words”. 
  • “Half of jazz is railway music, and the motion and noise of the train itself has the rhythm of jazz… Musicians traveled by train or not at all, and the pumping tempo and the clickety-clack and the lonesome whistle crept into the songs”. 
  • “Moments later, it was dawn. No bulb of sun but a seepage of light that dissolved the darkness and rose on all sides bringing a bluer ozone-scented softness to a sky which became gigantic”.

Travel Tomes: White Mischief (James Fox)

The debauchery of early aristocratic British settlers to Nairobi has long been of fascination to me, fascination fueled by Frances Osbourne’s excellent “The Bolter” (a biography of Lady Idina Sackville, known as taker of public baths, mastermind of swinger parties and the naughtiest of them all).

It was while on a recent trip to Nairobi that I picked up this account of her ex-husband’s murder in 1941 – a veritable Christie-style whodunit that pointed to almost everybody in the exclusive Muthaiga Club inner-circle and brought to an end the rampant gallivanting indulged in by certain settlers during the midst of a bloody global conflict.

Fox’s narrative of Josslyn Hay’s death and his subsequent investigation into it is exciting enough when

Muthaiga Club, Nairobi: Today

Muthaiga Club, Nairobi, 2013

tucked up at home, but takes on an almost eerie reality when looking over the Abadare Mountains, traipsing through Karen Blixen’s house or peering into gloomy, roped-off interiors of the Muthaiga Country Club.

While one can get mired down in the minutely researched detail, the romanticism of the story has not faded during the intervening years and Fox recolors sepia photographs of scarily thin-browed glamazons and stiff upper lips holdig hunting rifles to the vibrant personalities that made Kenya in the first half of the 1900s a society stranger than fiction. Reading this account is the closest thing to shadowing the footsteps of these moneyed hedonists.

Travel Tomes: Almost French (Sarah Turnbull)

The story of how an Australian became French, (almost).  Sarah Turnbull meets a Frenchman in Bucharest, and in the spirit of backpacking,

arranges to go and visit him for a week. She hasn’t lived anywhere else since. After years of putting her foot in it, learning how to dress from Ines de la Fressange, writing about the French nuclear program and receiving beautiful roses from Christian Lacroix, she finally feels… Almost French. Her journey to happiness ever after and Parisian chic is often uncomfortable and alien but is told with an uncompromising sense of humor and is endlessly entertaining. The feisty Australian makes social gaffes her forte during her foray into France, offending and entertaining wherever she goes due to the stark differences in social code and cultural norms. For anyone who ever thought that the only thing different between France and English-speaking Western countries was le croissant, this memoir is an education in the exoticism of places not too far from home and the life-altering nature of relocating and setting up shop in the much exalted city of love.


TRAVEL TOMES: The Art of Travel (Alain de Botton)

Divided into five sections (Departure, Motives, Landscape, Art and Return), this study into the how and why of travel combines the study of diverse travelers such as Baudelaire, Hopper, Flaubert, Wordsworth and Van Gough and sets what each can teach us against the backdrop of De Botton’s travel destinations (sufficiently eclectic to include both Barbados and the English Lake District).

Whimsically selective – far from being a comprehensive guide, this is a work of select interests – the book is in part cynical and in part hopelessly romantic. Lovers of travel will find their passions articulated, the cause of their excitement explained. If the author reaches the somewhat pessimistic view that our destination is of little importance because we are taking ourselves too (with accompanying worries, neuroses, quirks and irritating character traits), he comforts by revealing that we can live in a travel mindset even while carrying out mundane tasks at home: “the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mindset we travel with than on the destination we travel to” (original emphasis).

While always having loved airports, enjoying their atmosphere even while delayed and sleep-deprived, I enjoyed the ‘ah-ha’ moments in which De Botton’s brilliance revealed what I knew about myself but couldn’t coherently express. Full of cleverly ‘tweetable’ quotes and bon mots, the eccentric nature of The Art of Travel has attracted a controversial mixture of critical reviews but remains a book to which I often turn back for lessons not only in travel, but in the general human experience.

Quintessential Quotes from The Art of Travel

“A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making itself apparent: I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island”

“There was poetry in this forsaken service station perched on the ridge of the motorway, far from all habitation. Its appeal made me think of certain other equally and unexpectedly poetic travelling places – airport terminals, harbours, train stations and motels”.

“How pleasant to hold in mind through the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon, when lassitude and despair threaten, that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, for Baudelaire’s ‘anywhere! anywhere!’: Trieste, Zurich, Paris”.

“There is psychological pleasure in this takeoff, too, for the swiftness of the plane’s ascent is an exemplary symbol of transformation. The display of power can inspire us to imagine analogous, decisive shifts in our own lives, to imagine that we, too, might one day surge above much that now looms over us”.

“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains”.