Karl’s Chronicles Article 1 Out For Eleven
Roll back the clock to the mid 80s. Halfway through secondary school with no real interest in the outside world, aside from what flickered in from the imagination of Spielberg. Much of that was American until Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark brought Amazonian tribes, Nepali drinkers and Egyptian history to the big screen, all weaved together by Nazi greed. It’s still one of my favourite films though for different reasons than Harrison Ford’s archaeologist who possessed an acute knowledge of foreign customs and cultures. Perhaps, unbeknown at the time, the images unlocked a deeper subconsciousness for the world and its ways to me, that required years and then a single moment to form its own destiny.
Family holidays back then weren’t prohibited by school dictatorships like the financial premiums parents are forced with today. As a family of five, vacations always unfolded on home territory. Caravan or chalet holidays in Wales and the West Coast that pulled back the curtain on the splendour of our own backyard. An insight ironically flipped over, as later on the world beyond our shores would command greater priority. Those first forays into foreignness came from school day trips to France. Forced into bakeries and cafes to practise ones French that rolled off the tongue like a square wheel. And as a tragi-comedy, when the humiliation receded, they replied back in English.
During one early summers morning as the family drove up to Gatwick airport to see my elder brother fly off. I observed with awe and a little jealousy from the observation deck that his own adventure had already started. The experience of working on a Kibbutz in Israel would be a defining chapter as the veil of ignorance is gradually pulled back. Further trips followed, America then South East Asia and once again that defining roar of escapism sliced across the sky from another airport viewpoint. ‘One day’, I swore to myself it would be me.
Urged on by his own stories I mimicked my brother by volunteering on an Israeli Kibbutz for a few months before spending a further month travelling round. Frequently overwhelmed by the power of its history and where politics and religion flowed like a strong current through the land. As in most countries that are devout, the two have become one, Setting the requirements to how all departments including society should function.
Camp America followed in 1995. An organization of hundreds of children’s summer camps spread across the United States. School children visit either for the day or overnight. Participating in dozens of activities from basketball to tye-dying, rock climbing to baseball. Each camp relies on a crew of counsellors and ‘manpower’ staff. Cooks, cleaners, waiters, maintenance and office which are filled by foreign students. Provided with return flights, meals, basic accommodation and a one off nominal wage at the end of the season. Afterwards the vast United States of America is your oyster allowing roughly six weeks of independent travel before returning home.
Camp America drew to a close the first of many chapters working in London that centred around the career. The serious years as I look back on them, dealing within that pressurized cauldron that the capital is. But its lure is as strong as the moon over the oceans and there really are days when one feels the world has come to London. Oscar Wilde wasn’t far wrong when he stated ‘Tire of London and you tire of life.’ It is a fine example of multiculturalism. A melting pot of faiths, cultures, languages, identities and roots. Busy and jarring but an example that humanity can prevail. A year in a capital city could be just as educating as time spent on the road. Whilst travel took a rest for routine, the pursuance of foreign knowledge is well entertained from the great halls of The British Museum to the endless books of The British Library. You soon discover through old notebooks and diaries, sketches and maps, journals and faded archives how many brave people set forth into the unknown in a quest for discovery. Without Satellite navigation, GPS, internet and telephone. How today, forced by darker circumstances, there are people making arduous often treacherous journeys, thousands of miles, across multiple continents and cruel seas in the hope of securing a better future. An adventure to one, survival to another.
Both Israel and The United States were smaller steps to something bigger, but offered a perfect chance to test the water before going totally independent. That materialized in ’97 with a two year expanse in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. Though I found multiple employment in Australia which helped finance later sections of the trip it was still outbalanced by greater time spent on the road. By June ’99 the first journey had come to a close with reality quickly taking precedence. A second stint in London gave way to a new journey just over a year later. In August, 2000 I used India as the centre for a new journey called The Circle of Five. Visiting each of her neighbours: Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal when the route in India came to their nearest points of entry. Forming on completion a large though wobbly circle. Both in history and in culture, India shares strong connections and characteristics with all her neighbours despite the turbulent relationship with Pakistan. The third journey in October 2002 from Turkey to Indonesia linked the Middle East to South East Asia and harboured an idea to move across the planet from East to West in ten journeys. Each one if possible would be a slight overlap to the last, either where one point finished and the next picked up or by the same region. A grand ambition taking at least thirty years to finalize. Why not make it a defining point in life? Successive routes took in parts of the Middle East, The Caucasus, Central Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia and Finland.
Jump to today and that idea is still in motion with Chapter 9: Ghana to South Africa now unfolding. Chapters 6-9 have concentrated solely on Africa. Four quarters that when complete will hopefully link up a strangely administered circumnavigation of the entire mainland. Initially I thought Africa could be achieved in three journeys but the size, style of travel and pace of life means it must be taken at a slower notch. It leaves two further journeys to explore the Americas surpassing the grand plan of ten by one and then I’ll stop: Out for Eleven.