Journal – Be zen and charge ahead

Publié le 2 Décembre 2011

The surgery was “a little bit over two weeks ago”, and I’m still in bed like an idiot, leg up on a pillow, since it’s still a bit swollen. I don’t feel bad, but I really don’t like this bluish foot and its sick and fatty toes.

Right now, I should be hopping through Istanbul towards Beirut, as part of my global tour of innovation and social media.

I still haven’t started to plan out my next trip, but I’m already trying to figure out where to go at the end of January and beginning of February. Somewhere that’s not too far, because of my fragile Achilles tendon, nor too cold. When it drops below 50° F (10° C), I’m not happy. Trapped, I’m already dreaming of new travels. This is what makes me lose time or be disorganized, but also what pushes me to keep moving.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever been this zen. I’ve always thought that to travel right, you had to be able to handle any setback. With a smile.

For example, when I spent the night in a holding cell – they call it a “hotel,” but it has locks on the windows – in Abidjan’s airport,(in French) the only thing I wanted to achieve, while waiting to see if my friends could get me out, was to get right to the next step, Accra. Rather than move backwards, as the logic of customs officers demands. It’s a question of principles. When you travel, you move forward – that’s the main source of pleasure. Moving backwards quickly starts to taste like failure.

But I didn’t complain. It wouldn’t have accomplished anything, and I couldn’t fault the Ivorians for putting a French man in a holding cell if he didn’t have a visa, as my fellow countrymen have no problem doing the same to them.

What I’m saying – keeping calm in face of the inevitable obstacles, in travel or in life – is in reality only half of the equation. It’s the most important, maybe, but as with all halves, it’s meaningless without the other – the ability to charge ahead. I learned this with my friend Augustin in 1965, when we were travelling through India and decided to hitchhike back.

We worked in shifts – it helps you last longer. When confrontation was necessary, like when the authorities at the Kuwait border post didn’t want to let us re-enter because we weren’t Arabs, one of us took care of it while the other read in the shadows (in the best of cases). A role-playing game. A time when my nonchalance went a little too far.

4 a.m. I still remember the the cold-water faucet that I was practically attached to, trying to fight dehydration – even at night, it’s really hot – when Augustin pulled me by the shirt, trying to get me to leave as quickly as possible, saying that the hotel was on fire and that all the other guests had already left. “Let me get a drink first,” I said. First things first, right?

A few minutes later, when we were on the street watching flames shooting through the windows, I had to admit that he really wasn’t wrong for wanting to hurry. At least I stayed calm – he said it was because of fatigue. And it’s me who started to pushing us the next day. We couldn’t miss our chance, since we were there to take part in one of Kuwait’s big attractions for hippies in that era: they bought blood. For $30, I recall. Which we were counting on to finish our trip and return to Europe. After a long trip: a flight to Mumbai – which we still called Bombay back then – and then a train in northern India. A tiny leap over war-torn Pakistan. Kabul, and then bus and every other kind of ground transport to Beirut, where we had taken boat from.

We had started to learn this calm a few weeks earlier
at the border crossing between Herat and Mashhad, between Iraq and Afghanistan. Stuck there because there weren’t any customs agent on one of the sides (I don’t remember which), we had to spend a few days waiting, with only two half-crazy Brits and inexhaustible reserves of hash, which I discovered during that period. It helps you stay cool.

Today, without similar recourse, the wait is ten weeks. Interminable, even with the Web. But I’m determined to get back on the road for Winch5. The first two legs of the trip, Mexico and the little bit of Africa that I saw, reinforced what at the start was just an intuition: innovation and change comes from everywhere.  I’ve been surprised by the quality and the vitality of everything I’ve discovered. I just need to deepen this search for a better understanding of it and, in order to do so, to search myself for the reasons that  made me take on this adventure and gives the tone to what this adventure reveals.

[Photo credit:, modified with Instagram]


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