Old World Wandering is a story told in parts. It is not a collection of tips, advice or point-form wisdom but, if pressed, Claire and I might offer one suggestion: if you want to travel, buy a world map and hang, stick or paste it to your wall. We did exactly that seven years ago, in London, and it worked – almost too well.
London is a rite of passage for many South Africans: we go after finishing school or university, spend a year or two working, branch out to France or Spain, Amsterdam or Prague, and return home with pockets full of pounds. That at least is the formula, but a year after leaving Cape Town Claire and I felt stuck. London was sucking up every penny we earned, scuppering our nebulous travel plans.
Then, on a day like any other, we bought a map. It sat on our wall, staring blankly at us, until I traced a vague line across it. “We could get all the way there, by land,” I said to Claire, and pointed to a dot on the east coast of China called Shanghai. It was intimidating, but also exhilarating. The map had come alive. We agreed to try, and that was it: with a vague outline in place, plans formed around it. Better jobs were found, money was saved and, with the first four months of our route carefully mapped out, we left England for a journey overland, to Shanghai.
It took us a year and a half to reach China. We made it through Europe on schedule, but dawdled through the Middle East. Then India swallowed us up. Shanghai almost swallowed us too, and we spent three years in the city, making a life. But our journey had filled us with inklings of other lives, in other places. We wanted to live in South Africa again, as adults, and we decided to make our way home to Cape Town, overland.
We’re still on our way home now, after 18 months on the road. By the time we get there, we’ll have covered close to 100,000 kilometres by train, bus, boat and foot, which is roughly equivalent to going seven times around the earth. I was staggered by the number, when I sat down to calculate it, tracing our routes like I had in London, on a map.
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