RVS Guest Author: Steve Repic, Grounds Coordinator – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain
The glint in Maria’s eye told me that we were in for a treat when she exclaimed, “I hope you are very curious.” It wasn’t the excursion to Quito’s catacombs or the scramble on the roof of the convent that piqued our interest. What was truly amazing was when Maria directed us to a local one-man museum on the Equator. In the distance we saw a huge UN- sponsored bronze globe marking the equator, but when we scoped out our discovery, all we saw were a couple of sinks and a bucket of rose petals. We watched as the owner poured water in to the stopped sinks about two meters apart. He then tossed the rose petals on top and pulled the plugs. My light came on! The petals in the northern sink spun in one direction, while the southern sink spun in the opposite direction. It was the Coriolis effect in action. We were standing on the equator! The surveyors had placed the official marker in the wrong place.
While traveling in Malawi, we met a couple of boys who asked if we would like to take a tour of their village. We decided to meet the next day, and when we showed up sporting a maple leaf on our backpack, they became ecstatic. The tour unfolded with many local people breaking from their daily routines to give us big hugs and hearty handshakes. Soon we saw the reason why. First, there was a well with a Canadian flag on the riser. Next, we were ushered into a school that was full of books, maps, and other equipment stamped with the Maple leaf. It was the same at the local clinic. People were so very thankful. We represented all Canadians who helped make life a little easier. It was the best civics lesson possible. From that point on, our awareness of Canada’s impact globally was in the forefront of our daily life, so much so that when Canada contemplated closing the embassy in Malawi, we voiced our concerns. We had seen the positive effects of our good works.
Travel truly can restore your childlike joy and sense of wonder. In Antarctica, we plopped ourselves down on the snow and waited for local scouts to check us out. It didn’t matter if they were Gentoo, Chinstrap, or Adelie. We witnessed the age-old routine of these diligent nest builders. Our new penguin friends waddled up to say hello. This natural encounter cemented our belief that many areas of the globe need to be preserved in their wild state, so that others may experience the same sense of discovery.
Our travels to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan corresponded with the coronation of the new King. By chance, we were directed off the road to clear the route for the royal motorcade. In the distance, we saw a group of small boys rolling some hoops down the road. I couldn’t help but join them. They taught me their skills and we all laughed heartily at my shaky start. I then showed them how to convert their rings into hula-hoops. They laughed even louder. Sometime during our play, the motorcade passed. No one even noticed. The local boys had introduced me to the concept of the Gross National Happiness that was so important to their new king. That day it was embodied in the idea of inter-generational cultural exchanges that were based on play. Kids are kids the world over, and laughter needs no translation.
Travel can act as a cultural wake-up call. While trekking in South America, the locals introduced us to the philosophy linked with pachamama, or Mother Earth. Conservation of valuable resources and connection with the earth were engrained in everyday life. They saw North Americans and Europeans as their ‘little brothers’ who had somehow lost their way. They were patiently waiting for us to mend our ways and to return to a respectful treatment of mother earth.
Another eye opening moment came in Africa. After several weeks of travel, it became painfully obvious that there were no longer many long tusked elephants. Our sense of inquiry led us to understand that most of the “tuskers” had been poached to the extent that the gene pool remaining were predominately short-tusked elephants. I could speak forever about “ah ha” moments we’ve experienced traveling – tea with Buddhist monks on the top of Himalayan monasteries, peeking over the abyss at Victoria Falls where Dr. Livingstone dropped his rope to measure 311 knots (one for each foot), to running around like kids in Patagonia when the sun came up and revealed Fitzroy and Cerro Torre in all their glory. Suffice to say that travel can be humbling, mind opening, challenging, confidence building, and best of all provocative. Travel provokes thought and makes you challenge preconceptions and seek more knowledge. Go out and experience the world as a traveler, and not as a tourist. Embrace the educational opportunities. When you come home become engaged and do something different to make a difference. Enrich your own sense of place. I hope you are very curious.