WWW & The Wanderlust Gene

Before getting into my list for today’s “Where Was She Wednesday,” I want to share an interesting bit of travel-related news I just read about.

I’ve always been aware of a certain “high” feeling I get when I travel somewhere new. It’s a dopamine-like rush that’s hard to describe – it’s not just a psychological (“Wow, this place is fascinating!”) or emotional (“I love this place so much!”) response… it’s an actual physical response. Goose bumps, racing heart, and lightheadedness are just a few of the sensations I’ve sometimes experienced during an exceptionally awesome moment on a cool trip. I imagine it’s something like an athlete’s endorphin rush (although I’m such a fitness-sloth that I wouldn’t know about that first-hand) or an addict’s uncontrollable urge for “more! more! more!” Kinda weird, right?

Well, guess what I just found out? It’s not just me!

Recently, it has been discovered that some of us possess a special gene that predisposes us to being insanely turned on by travel. A wanderlust gene, if you will. It can be scientifically detected – it’s not imagined…

“Scientists have recently revealed the existence of genome DRD4-7R, a variant of dopaminergic neuro-receptor dubbed ‘the Wanderlust Gene’. According to researcher David Dobbs, around twenty per cent of us have it: amongst its traits, according to Dobbs, a stronger urge to explore new places, ideas, foods and relationships, as well as a tendency to embrace adventure, movement and change.”

(July 2015, Gecko Tales)

Intrigued? You can read the whole article here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the wanderlust gene, especially if you think you have it too!

And now for the WWW list. Here are the places I’ve been reading about, reminiscing about, and (privately) journalling about this past week:

  • 10/22/90 – Brisbane, Australia

    The Glass House Mountains are connected to a fascinating aboriginal legend, a cautionary tale about the importance of courage. You can read about it here.

    The Glass House Mountains are connected to a cool aboriginal legend, a cautionary tale about the importance of courage. You can read about it here.

  • 10/23/90 – Bus Tour of Sunshine Coast, including Maleny, Yandina, Noosa, Glass House Mountains, a pineapple plantation, and Mooloolaba
  • 10/23–25/90 – two days of royal treatment at the Mooloolaba beach house of a couple that we had met on our Great Barrier Reef sailing trip the previous week. After a lot of trepidation (should we call? shouldn’t we call?) we tracked down a pay phone while on a break from our bus tour and reached out to Barry and Betty who had asked us to look them up if we were ever in the area. (We didn’t know then that Aussies are not at all like Canadians – when they say “you should come visit us sometime” to someone they just met, it’s not just a polite gesture… they actually mean it!)
    Mooloolaba Beach – where we soaked up the sun and were treated like long-lost relatives

    Mooloolaba Beach – where we soaked up the sun and were treated like long-lost relatives

    Were we ever happy we decided to call. Turns out that Barry was there alone, without his wife and daughters, and he was thrilled to have us stay and fill in as family. Barry insisted on treating us as his guests; he really wanted to show off some famous of that Australian hospitality. The whole visit was wonderful but what stands out in my memory most was dinner at an awesome steakhouse. What a treat after weeks of hostel food (rice, beans, eggs, spaghetti). Have I mentioned yet that Donna and I were getting by on a $48/day budget during our trip? Yes indeed! And that included accommodation. Needless to say, there hadn’t been any steak in our journey up until that point.

  • 10/26/90 – back in Brisbane
  • 10/27–28/90 – Byron Bay: just chilled in a laid-back hippie/surfer town. (I was too chicken to try surfing, but I did hang with a few Aussie hippies!) Interestingly, I wrote about how nice it was to be unscheduled and not on the move for a couple of quiet days. Despite my wanderlust gene, I guess once in a while even I needed to stay put…
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A Memory’s Worth a Thousand Pictures

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There I am, in my then-fashionable oversized tee, on a ferry in Australia.

Time to share a few photos…

Let me explain something to you younger readers: when we traveled in the olden days (the 80s & 90s), we didn’t have Facebook, Instagram or blogs in which to record our impressions and upload our photos for friends and family to see back home. We wrote in journals (private ones) and took photos with clunky cameras loaded with film that was almost impossible to have developed while on the go. Furthermore, developing the film, for backpackers like us, was really expensive, so you had to be careful about how many images you collected. Highlights only! Donna and I sometimes developed photos at our destination if we stayed put long enough; but often rolls of film were shipped home so that Mom and Dad could foot the developing bill. I didn’t see some of my pics until the following year when I returned to Canada! Hard to imagine that sort of delayed gratification nowadays, isn’t it?

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Donna and me with some fellow Canucks we met at a hostel in New Zealand. Can you tell they’re Canadian dudes? Notice the mullets and the beer!

As I flipped through my photos from the South Pacific this week, I thought a lot about how much has changed since photography went digital and the internet made postcards, letters, and journals obsolete. Emails, texts, social media and WordPress are now the traveller’s tools for sharing. How much more convenient! So many more details can be recorded! So many more people can share in the adventure with the traveller! I was feeling kind of gypped while looking at the scant few photos I took during my first month away. To make matters worse, I’ve also been visiting some modern traveller’s blogs. I felt envious as I examined the comprehensive, often beautiful, records these travellers are creating while they explore the world. These options simply weren’t available to me.

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Our luxurious Fijian “ferry” as described in my last post.

Today, though, as I struggled to find some time to write this post amidst all the other goings-on, I thought to myself, “What if I had felt the pressure to record something online everyday while I was on my trip?” Would I have felt stressed about fitting it in? Or guilty if I didn’t bother to? How many experiences would I have missed out on while blogging, tweeting, texting, photographing, tagging, posting, and generally focussing on a smartphone or tablet much of the day? There was actually a lot of freedom in no one being able to contact me (no cellphones!), in knowing there was only a limited number of photos to take, and in not being committed to a blog. Without those distractions, there was so much more time left over for really savouring and seeing what was around me. Really SEEING it, you know?

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So happy to have discovered this photo of the no-longer-in-existence tree I wrote about in my post about One Tree Hill.

Suddenly, my envy toward modern backpackers completely evaporated. Now that I think about it, I actually feel kinda sorry for those guys.

I also realized another thing: although middle age has made my memory a bit fuzzy about things like phone numbers and the names of my kids’ teachers, my recollections from my year away have remained amazingly intact. In my mind’s eye, I have a gigantic full-colour album containing thousands of crystal-clear snapshots.

I can’t share them on Instagram, true dat. But that’s okay. I can see them. They’ll always be there for me.

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Here I am schmoozing a couple of Fijian police officers in Suva. How do you like their uniforms? Wild, huh? They’re only slightly less dorky than my bright white sneakers and floral headband.

Where Was She Wednesdays

I mentioned in my last post that I would soon be weaving in extra posts that are less about my musings and more about just the facts. Why? Some of my followers mentioned that they’d like to know where I travelled (25 years ago) in between the places I’ve chosen to blog about.

That’s how the idea for my WWW List was born. (WWW stands for “Where Was [She] Wednesdays.” I know, I know. There should be an “s” in there too. Just ignore it, k?)  Each Wednesday, I’ll play a bit of catch-up by listing all locations and experiences that I have been reminiscing and reading about on my own every morning – i.e., the ones I haven’t highlighted in a specific individual post.

Ready for my first WWW List? This one will be longer than normal since I’m listing three weeks’ worth of activity this time around. Next Wednesday, the WWW list will be much shorter. Here we go:

  • 10/2/90 – Toronto to Chicago (airport only) to San Francisco (you can read about Day 1 by clicking here.)
  • 10/3/90 – Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, kicking around San Fran
  • 10/4/90 – Napa Valley for epic wine tasting tour (wasted on our undeveloped palates, but enjoyed all the same.) Luckily a local friend offered to be our DD!
  • 10/5/90 – missed this whole day thanks to crossing the international date line en route to Fiji. I thought that was a really cool thing back then, and still do now, come to think of it!
  • 10/6/90 – Nadi to Rakiraki 
  • 10/7/90 – Nananu-I-Ra, a 3.5-km-wide Fijian island reached by large aluminum rowboat outfitted with a rusty outboard motor. (The brochure called it “a ferry”… haha.) Ended the day with a traditional Kava-drinking ceremony… horrible-tasting and face-numbing, but pretty cool in a let’s-bring-everybody-on-this-tiny-island-together kind of way. If you’re curious you can learn more about it on this actual 20-something blogger’s travel site.  She describes the ritual perfectly.

    Nananu-I-Ra island, Fiji

    Nananu-I-Ra island, Fiji

  • 10/8/90 – more chillin’ at Kontiki beach in Nananu-I-Ra. Our accommodations are super-low budget. Picture Gilligan’s thatched-roof hut, only smaller and less swanky, with mosquito nets to keep away the multitude of bugs that come out at night. Shared outhouse and outdoor shower. Shared “kitchen shed” with hot plate for all 20 guests. (We had to bring our own groceries. No shops or restaurants on the island.) I googled Nananu-I-Ra’s current resorts and none of them compare to this pared-down place. It might sound dismal to you, but even though I could afford a much higher-end resort now, I would love to go back in time to this exact spot. Just sand, sea, incredible views, relaxation, beautiful vegetation, cool people. It was magic.
  • 10/9/90 – Nananu-I-Ra via “ferry” to Rakiraki where we board a hellish bus to Suva (capital of Fiji) to see some sites.
  • 10/10/90 – from Suva we fly to Auckland
  • 10/11/90 – Auckland, on New Zealand’s north island
  • 10/12/90 – Rotorua, known for its geysers and natural thermal springs
  • 10/13/90 – Rotorua to Auckland (this is the hitch-hiking day described in an earlier post)
  • 10/14–15/90 – fly to Cairns, Australia
  • 10/16–18/90 – Cape Tribulation, Queensland: here we stayed in “Jungle Lodge,” a backpacker’s paradise in the rainforest! (A snake surprised us in our eco-cabin one night.)
  • 10/19–21/90 – more time in Cairns with stops in Mossman and Port Douglas. Most of our time is spent sailing and snorkelling around the Great Barrier Reef, which was a major highlight of the trip for so many reasons! But more on that another time…

My New Morning Ritual

Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.

– Natalie Goldberg

I’ve finally figured out the rhythm for this project of mine. Did you notice a 10-day jump in time in between the last post and the one before that? This happened for a couple of reasons: 1. I don’t intend to blog about every entry, every day. (That would get tedious for both writer and reader.) 2. I dropped the ball… meaning, on quite a few days, I simply forgot to open my journal. Right after the morning alarm, the busyness of life would take over, and later at night I’d find myself drifting off to sleep berating myself. “Shit, Nancy! You forgot to read your damn journal again today.”

My 25-year-old journal. (Note the chic pastel floral design…ha! It looks more like great-grandma’s address book than a world traveller’s diary, but I honestly don’t think it looked as dorky 25 years ago.) Mark, my then-sort-of-on-a-break-boyfriend and now-husband, gave it to me on my 25th birthday.

But now I have a plan. (And it’s working!) I keep my journal right in the kitchen. First thing, everyday, over my morning caffeination session, I read the old entry. Next, I jot down my then-versus-now impressions in a brand new journal that I received as a belated birthday gift from my sister, Lory. I have been religious about it – I even brought my then-and-now journals with me on a girlfriends’ getaway this weekend and kept up my ritual despite plenty of distraction. Neither the non-stop cacophony and laughter of a dozen crazy women nor a mind-numbing hangover kept me from my plan. That’s dedication!

By the way, I love my new journal.
It’s simple and organic-looking with a single image of a beautiful leafless tree. (I love trees, as you might remember from the last post.) Interesting how the perfect object found its way to me at exactly the moment I needed it. My woo-woo friends insist that it was not really Lory, but in fact “The Universe” that sent this particular journal my way at just the right time. I’m trying to be open to the possible wisdom in this idea, but, you know, I do see an Indigo logo clearly stamped on the back cover of that book…  it seems my friends would have me believe that Indigo not only distributes books, stationery, and gifts, but now also offers consumers miraculous objects from The Universe. Hmmm. I’ll have to ponder that one. I guess anything’s possible …

My shiny new journal. Coincidentally, a 50th birthday gift.

My new journal. Coincidentally, a 50th birthday gift.

Either way, I’m really enjoying my new morning routine. What better way to start the day than with three of my favourite things: coffee, reading, and writing? The other cool bonus about this new ritual is that it has displaced my previous plan which was to exercise every morning. Ew. Ew. Ew.

One of the fun things I did in my old journals was to fill the inside front cover, in block print, with the names of every location visited. As you can see from my photo, I’ve already missed blogging about a good bit of my travels.

All the places you'll go...

Oh, the places you’ll go…

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading my entries these past weeks. I have been, and I definitely did plenty of reminiscing and ruminating on my own; that said, some friends who are reading along here have complained that they don’t know the exact locations of my travels back in 1990. So, to remedy the issue of these “gaps,” I’ll be occasionally posting catch-up lists that show where I went and when. My next post will be the first of these. Watch for it in a few days…

A last thought for you: if you’ve ever considered journalling every day, why not give it a try right now? I’ve only ever made a daily habit of it once in my life – while on my “big trip” – and I’m so grateful now to be able to look back on that time. Partly just for the fun of remembering it all, but also to learn from it. Two and a half decades later I’ve finally resurrected my journaling habit, and I’m surprised by how enjoyable it is.

In fact, as I was happily writing in my new journal this morning, I wondered to myself: Why did I ever stop?

Want to try keeping a journal, but think you have nothing to say or record? You are wrong! You don’t need to be on a trip like I was, or having an “adventure.” Once you start paying attention, you’ll realize that interesting things are happening around you all the time. Still unconvinced? Click here for a great article to give you some journalling inspiration.

The Only Constant in Life

October 13 for the past fourteen years has been very special to me because it’s the birth date of Peter, the youngest of my three kids. Today I kept thinking: how can my BABY be in high school and be that old? Surreal. My headspace has been so occupied by my travel journal lately that I’ve almost forgotten my current real-life status: middle-aged mother of an 18, 17, and 14-year-old.

hitchhiker in New Zealand

Not me… but boy she looks a lot like me back then. Similar backpack, similar age, same stretch of road in NZ!

Long before the boys were born, October 13, 1990 marked a special occasion for me too. I was in New Zealand and it was the first time I’d ever hitchhiked! If you’re older than me you’re probably thinking, “So what? Big deal.” Hitchhiking used to be such an everyday thing in the 70s and earlier. And if you’re younger than me, you’re probably wondering if I was out of my mind.

For a variety of reasons, somewhere along the way, hitchhiking went from being regarded as totally ordinary activity to being thought of as a high-risk behaviour, right up there with base jumping or crack smoking. (I just looked up a recent study that reported more than three in five people said they’d never hitched, including 93% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 88% of 25- to 34-year-olds, whereas the large majority of those over 65 have hitchhiked at some point in their lives. So there you are.) I guess my generation is sandwiched somewhere in the middle–for us, hitchhiking was a bit daring, but not totally unheard of.

Either way, I was 25 and a first-time hitchhiker. Granted, I wasn’t alone; Donna was there with me. But still, all our rides that day were from strange middle-aged men. I didn’t mention in my journal that I felt at all worried: I find that pretty ironic in hindsight. These days I’m known for ranting to my girlfriends about how unsafe Uber is, insisting that, app or no app, “I would never ever get into a vehicle with a male driver I don’t know!” (Note to self: adjust settings on personal bullshit-o-meter.)

All went well that day… very pleased to report that no Hannibal-Lecter-types stopped for us. The drivers were all polite and friendly. On the final leg of our journey from Rotorua to Auckland, we had the best ride of all though. Tom, who happened to work in tourism, not only Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.17.31 PMdrove us right to the door of our hostel, he also took us on a tour of Auckland
showing us all the key sites including the spot in the photo, One Tree Hill, his personal favourite. He told us that he loved going up there to enjoy the view and decompress.  (Remember the old U2 song? Bono was singing about this spot.) From One Tree Hill you can look over all of Auckland while simultaneously taking in a view of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. In my journal, I gush about the tree and the view for almost a whole page.

Some of my memories from NZ had become fuzzy over the years, but I always remembered One Tree Hill and the kind, generous Kiwi who brought us here. I kind of have a thing for trees – I like to photograph them, draw and paint them, and yes, even hug them sometimes – so that’s probably why this place resonated with me.

Here’s the disappointing part. When I searched the internet to find a nice photo to post, One Tree Hill didn’t look familiar to me. Where was the big tree at the pinnacle? I checked Wikipedia and the mystery was solved: the tree was destroyed in 2000 during a political protest. How sad! Until tonight, I assumed that the tree that had had such an emotional impact on me, on Tom, and, yes, even on Bono, was still standing there awaiting my next visit. Wrong. (Again)

So, it’s not just me, reckless-hitchhiker-turned-uptight-Uberphobe, who’s changed over the past twenty-five years. Even the physical features of places I visited have changed. There’s an old saying: “the only constant in life is change.” I’ve never doubted its truth, so nothing I’ve discovered tonight should come as a surprise. But it’s surprising me all the same. I’m quite taken aback.

I guess no matter how you look at it, a quarter of a century is a long time. Even for a tree.

“The moon is up over One Tree Hill

We see the stars go down in your eyes

I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky

And the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill”

– U2

Have a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp8ru3MpoBo

Memory is a Messy Thing

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The first page of the first of my seven journals spanning Fall 1990 – Summer 1991

For twenty-five years I’ve been telling stories about the adventures my sister, Donna, and I had on our around-the-world trip. Whenever I talk about it I mention that we left right after my twenty-fifth birthday and that we were away for about a year.

Wrong.

I did leave after my birthday, but 33 days later to be precise. I was shocked when I opened Journal #1 and saw the date. October 2nd? Really? I could have sworn it was only days after the big party that mom organized as a combined send-off and birthday party for me. (Extremely nice of her, especially since she hated the idea of her daughters setting off on this ridiculous journey.) Would some of my other recollections turn out to be a bit skewed… or down-right false?

Yep.

In my memory, and in my tales about that year, I am a savvy world-traveller. A natural adventurer and competent, mature young woman right from the outset. A can-do girl who can handle anything. When I observe “young people today” I marvel at the contrast between me at their age (so smart! so independent!) and the needy nitwits that so many of them seem to be.

Then I began to read my entries. The very first sentence on the first page of the first journal nuked my notions in no time. An excerpt:

Tues, Oct 2, 1990

I swear to God I will take this to my grave. Donna and I (I can’t even believe this… I can hardly write this down…) missed our flight. We arrived at the airport bright and early–totally organized and refreshed. But we waited at the WRONG gate. By the time we realized our mistake, our plane had taken off. I suppose one day we’ll laugh about this, but right now it scares me. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. How incredibly fucking stupid are we?!!! 

You’d think that would have been my wake-up call, but nope. It gets worse. The airline managed to get us on another flight in time to make our connection, but guess what? After deplaning, I realized that I had accidentally left my passport and wallet behind in the seat pocket! Through frantic scrambling, racing though O’Hare, and shedding some tears, I did get my wallet back in time to board the next plane. Was that twit really me? Suddenly my own kids don’t seem so irresponsible and unfocussed.

As I read that first page, I recognized that I was already learning my first lesson though my journal-reading project. Maybe I shouldn’t be worrying so much about my own teenagers. They just need a bit more time to mature. They still have lots of time to get their acts together. There’s hope for them! After all, I figured my own self out eventually, didn’t I?

And as I thought more and more about how different the reality of my departure was from my memory of it, another truth became clear: memory cannot be trusted. No doubt there will be more journal episodes that don’t synch up to my memories of them. This revelation made me think about the memoir, The Night of the Gun, by the late great journalist, David Carr. (If you haven’t read it, do. He’s an incredible writer.) Without giving too much away, the book is partially about a remembered incident from Carr’s early life: during a drunken rage a close friend drew a gun on him. Except, after Carr does some investigating into his past, he finds out that for decades he’d had it all wrong… it was he who had drawn the gun on his friend!

Nothing as gritty or dangerous as a gun fight happened during my year away. But my point here is kind of the same as Carr’s: despite the popular aphorism, hindsight is not 20–20. It’s not even 20–40. It’s as cloudy and convoluted as a half-forgotten dream at daybreak.

Even before I turn the first page of my journal, I have been warned: memory is a messy thing.