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Somewhere between Kom Obo and Luxor, Egypt
Today was the last trip through a strange place on my journey. Kom OboEgypt was another non-descript, poor, dusty, but still fascinating villageI traveled through on my way back to civilization. I spent my last nighton a felluca boat down the Nile River with a few dozen backpackers. I gotoff and they sailed on to their own adventures. I found my way on the localbus to the taxi station, negotiated a reasonable price to get to an airport,but have spent the last three hours at a police checkpoint waiting forthe tourist convoy to arrive and secure my safety for the last 80 kilometersto Luxor.
Tonight I fly to the resort village of Naama Bay in Sinai and will besurrounded by Italian tourists, pizza shops and English package-tour scubadivers. My last week on the road will be spent in tourist land, hardlya villager to be seen anywhere except in the kitchens of the resort hotels.Safety, comfort, and perhaps a little boredom.
Just about a year since I dropped out of my old life and explored anew one. Don't know how many times I told the story of my past, and explaineda distinct lack of knowledge of my future. But it will be here soon enough,and with it some difficult decisions about growing up, and growing old.
It's hard to come to grips with what I have experienced this year. Whathas become commonplace to me would be a tremendous adventure to most people.For instance, I'm sitting now with ten arabic-only speaking men, watchingsoccer, as donkeys trot by and trucks filled with livestock are checkedout by policemen carrying machine guns. My taxi driver was angry becauseI didn't argue enough with the officer at the desk about getting throughthe checkpoint early. Maybe his automatic pistol on the desk gave me pauseabout pestering him too much. A hundred meters in either direction turnsto rocky, mountain-filled desert. I've sat and watched as a huge bouldergrows a shadow down a mountainside as the sun gets low. A train goes byand the air fills with yellow dust, but no one seems to notice, they justclose their eyes for a minute and wait for it to pass. I'm the onlyone wearing pants. Everyone else sports a light-colored robe, and somebeat the heat with white wraps around their heads. My tablemate smokesa shisa, a bubbly waterpipe with a ornate, but well-worn handle.
At last the tourists arrive and we are free to go.
I suspect if you told me a year ago that I would live these momentswith hardly raising an eyebrow I'd have laughed out loud. Who amongst myfriends would find this commonplace? Even as I write it it seems like theopening paragraph to a spy novel or exotic love story. Perhaps I'm justtired of the road and it's time to go home.
But what lies in wait for me there is scarier than any excursion I'vemade these past twelve months. I have to enter the workforce, make plansfor my future, get married, have kids, buy a car, rent an apartment, reapplyfor a drivers license. These things frighten the daylights out ofme.
Much of being a traveller is addictive. I've talked to dozens of dropoutswho now make their way doing what they once did for love, and now do formoney. I've met ex-banker divemasters who no longer wear suits, and livein cheap apartments near exotic dive sites. They make more than enoughto live, but seem as burned out now as they describe they were when theydropped out of the regular world. I met a travel agent from the UK whosaid fuck-it and moved to Egypt, cutting her salary by two-thirds but livingin paradise. Still, she looks a little wistful with a beer in her handstaring out to sea. How much happier is she really here than there?
But there is lots pulling me to do the same. Just one more course andI, too, could cruise exotic ports working as a scuba guide, chasing touristgirls and refining the perfect tan. Maybe I could even grow into runingsome sort of tourist business: a shop, a bar, a hotel. I have the generalskill, but still lack the passion to follow through.
Back home doesn't seem that much more exciting. I can go back into theinternet world, organizing web sites for corporations and taking theirmoney, exchanging the money for vacations once in a while, and increasingmy retirement account for later on. But really, that doesn't seem to holdmuch allure.
I can write a book, that could hold me over for a few months. Maybeeven get the thing published, go on the lecture tour, become an author.It'd help if I could spell a little better. And I'm so little impressedby my last year's achievements I'm not sure I could be that inspiring.
So, in a week or so I return to my hometown, live with my parents, andwander around looking for some form of monetary income. Thirty-eight andliving with mom and dad. Won't I be a hit at the reunion?