A travelling Odyssey

“Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone they say come all their miseries but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share.”
– Homer, The Odyssey 

A friend of mine recently told me that my journey is taking on Homeric proportions. It got me thinking…

It took Odysseus over 10 years to reach Ithaca, his homeland, but while he set out with a clear destination in mind, his route was my no means a straight, direct line. He and his crew were blown off course numerous times, and underwent many perils, trials, and much suffering. They encountered strange and wonderful people and places; were enchanted, entrapped and waylaid by beautiful maidens, nymphs, gods and goddesses; and in the end all of the crew perished in a shipwreck. Only Odysseus survived, washed ashore on an island where he was held captive for 7 years. Throughout the story, Odysseus must also reckon with his own hubris – in Greek mythology hubris meant to have excessive pride or self-confidence, and often lead to the hero’s downfall. It was his fatal flaw.

I believe any traveller can empathise with the protagonist. As I look back over 3 years “on the road”  there is definitely a sense of setting out and finding myself swept along, at times unable to control the tides or where the winds take me.

This is, of course, the nature of a long journey. Who can say what the future holds? Or how we will change over time? And yet, we are always planning, the mind forever drifting to the future, and a reality that does not yet exist.  I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked what I will do when I stop, where will I settle down. There is an assumption that we can map out the future, and when it doesn’t go as planned, we become agitated.

“The mind spends most of the time lost in fantasies and illusions, reliving pleasant or unpleasant experiences and anticipating the future with eagerness or fear. While lost in such cravings or aversions, we are unaware of what is happening now, what we are doing now”
– S.N Goenka

2016 has been a year of reflection and introspection. Naturally I began my journey 3 years ago with certain ideas, preconceptions, and plans, perhaps even an itinerary…in my mind at least. What I am learning above all else, is to be flexible, and to understand that no matter where my feet take me, backwards or forwards, it is really unimportant. For like Odysseus, I am the victim of my own choices and I must struggle at times – it is the nature of being human. The question is whether i can accept this and understand that everything changes.

Travelling is at once wonderful and daunting, and it’s easy to keep on going without really paying attention. I have found it becomes routine at times, and each day can blend into another: the same conversations, questions and answers; villages barely distinguishable from one country to the next; even the vistas seemingly a constant repetition – at times I would look at the landscapes and I couldn’t decide if I was in Italy, Greece, Armenia…or Scotland. There is at once a beauty in this, and also a burnout.

Then of course something happens to bring you back…

perhaps its a landscape which suddenly reveals itself

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Armenia
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Armenia
or something as simple as a change of weather, the suns rays revealing a startling beauty
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Armenia
a local ritual, or way of life which reminds you of all the differences that make travelling so fulfilling
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Turkey, the Whirling Dervishes
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Armenia
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Georgia – transhumance. A Shepherd comes down from the mountains
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Armenia

Or a simple everyday task performed in a way you have never seen

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Armenia – ladies make village flatbread in a horse dung fired oven in the floor
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Turkey – traditional village oven
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Armenia

But still…burnout.

“One day in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”
– Sigmund Freud

In November 2015 I found myself at the Iranian Embassy in Yerevan, capital of Armenia. I had left behind Georgia and the incredible mountains of the High Caucasus to make my way onwards. Armenia was the conduit, the passageway to Iran, the next country on my journey. But somehow, as I sat there, thinking about all the adventures I had had, all the incredible people I had met, and the beautiful places I had seen, I realised something…

I was exhausted. Mentally and physically.

But more than that I was full to bursting. Filled with all the beauty and the “newness”. I needed some time to digest all that I had experienced, before continuing onwards.

I was in Armenia, a country of so much history, culture and intriguing possibilities, and yet I was rushing to get to Iran. I was not fully appreciating all the beauty around me. With the approach of winter, I was feeling pressed for time and therefore was trying to rush onwards. And if you’re travelling by foot, rushing is one thing that is very very hard to do! And as Cavafy wrote…

Keep Ithaca always in your mind
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not rush the journey at all.
Better that it lasts a lifetime…

Over the course of 3 years, my journey has kept on evolving, as have I. It is an obvious, and yet, at times difficult reality to accept.

“Life is that which we see and experience through the spirit; but the world around us we come to know through our understanding and reasoning. And such knowledge brings great joy or sorrow”
– Kahlil Gibran

There was a TED talk which said that those who keep their dreams to themselves are statistically more likely to realise them. Whereas those who start telling everyone, feel as if they have already completed them and therefore lose focus. Perhaps I have been guilty of this! So many people have helped me on the road and without their hospitality, friendship and support, I would never have been able to keep going. I feel extremely privileged for all the wonderful friends I have made. However at the same time, there is a pressure which I feel. The need to succeed. To reach “Ithaca”, not just for me, but for all those people too. It is my very own hubris in a way. I am guilty of trying too hard, when in reality I need to do only one thing: think less and accept the reality as it is. Everything changes! Anicca 🙂

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Armenia

The Road

3 years since I stepped out on the road.
Did I know what I had started?
Something stirred in my soul
The merest hint in evidence
But the truth as yet contained
Within a cloud of possibility.

A simple plan, step by step.
To go forwards
Follow trails, and see my dreams
Become reality in my mind.
Simplicity was to be my guide
And nature my strength.

Paths I would cross,
Hearts that would meet,
A world opened
And a simple truth revealed
Life In its essence
Embracing me.

Onwards, ever onwards.
My soul moves
Drifting through each land
At once in harmony with,
and fighting against
My passions and desires.

I am helpless.
Control gives way to peace,
Fraught with dangers,
A war rages on.
Hopes, dreams, ideas preconceived,
Slowly unwinding.

Why the complication?
Surely it is no more
Than one foot in front of another?
Nothing easier,
And yet at the same time, impossible.
My own limitations revealed.

Do I fear my own freedom?
There is no backwards.
The idea exists only in my mind.
With this simple truth
I go on.
To a new beginning.

Whether physical or mental
Each passing day takes me forwards.
I ask only the strength for this.
To accept the reality
That presents itself.
All is change.

I cannot control it
It is a part of me
For better or worse,
The road stretches out in front of me
With all its glorious possibilities.
Do I have the courage to follow it?


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