Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Hereditary travel


My Father in India possibly in 1995


Is travel an inherited trait passed on through blood? Or is it something we learn? Are we born to wander the world seeking Wanderlust? Ben Whateley-Harris investigates his potentially inherited yearning to see the world from his late father.

The switched flicked to the on position in my mind and I was suddenly a travel junky. I tried it all. Teaching in Africa, volunteering in Asia. Backpacking before university and blowing most of my money and then living in beach bungalows and drinking far too much when I did it all again after university.

Once that switch was flicked there is no escape. For me it is like a drug and I wonder whether my father felt like that. Inside me there was an insatiable desire and hunger to travel. To see new things and experience places in far flung areas of the world.

To be honest I cannot remember if I have always had yearnings to travel. When I was young did the thought cross my mind at all? I knew from an early age I was obsessed with looking at maps, flags and learning countries capital cities. But when I was young were these travel yearnings and love affairs that I have now just fantasies inside books that I was reading?

Looking back I am not sure if it is an age thing, or a maturity level. Do you suddenly grow tired of your surroundings and crave a new horizon to look at? Or is it our hunger to seek out new experiences for ourselves.

Do books, television and film influence our travel habits? Probably; but what I do know for sure is the older I get the more like my late father I become.

He had many traits which I have inherited; his humour for one I think is quite similar to mine and I also believe that I have his appetite to see the world.

He passed away only six days after my fifteenth birthday so I never got the chance to talk to him about the places he visited in an adult manner. When you are a boy of fifteen all you think about is girls and trying to smuggle a beer to secretly drink when no one is looking.

As I get older and find the odd grey hair and strangely an occasional grey chest hair I realise I am like him in ways that I would have never have thought about when I was younger.

I am still in touch with a small amount of people who knew him and they say there are amazing similarities between us. Although I am sure many people would say that to sound nice or emotive.
The one fact that is unquestionable however is our mutual love of travel.

Looking further afield in my family I note that my Grandfather hitch hiked through a war ravaged Europe and up through Scandinavia in the late 1940s and my mother had a brief stint working in Spain.

Putting those two examples aside I do not know of anyone else in my family apart from my father who had this longing to see places in the world that many would not care to see.

Of course I have relatives who spent a long time away during the war serving their country. This does not count as sometimes you had no choice where you went. (My late paternal Grandfather ended up in Iceland and finished in Berlin just before the German surrender in 1945).

My father travelled because he loved to travel. He had a yearning for knowledge and sights far away. He wanted to experience all that he could, spending Christmas time in India, months trekking to see ancient Colonial forts from the British Raj and China to name just a few. I have one of his old passports, I think it was his last; and it is littered with stamps of all shapes and sizes.

He loved military history so travelled to the Middle East and India quite a lot to see the sights from days long done.
I know he did not have the chance to do the larger scale trips like I have done. He was in a different position taking on a family business after his own father died.
To him it was a joy to explore and see what others will only ever see on television.
Travelling has become my raison d’etre; my passion and my love. I travel when I can and when money and time allows for such indulgences. One occasion however brought me closer to my father in death then I ever felt in life.
Dad waxed lyrical about the beauty and majesty of Petra in Jordan. His photos and history that he gave me haunted me for years after his death. It wasn’t until 2008, 11 years after his passing that I decided to travel to the Middle East and see the ancient Nabatean city hewn from the red rock for myself.

Walking down the Siq leading to the famous Treasury I suddenly realised that I understood my Dad. I felt like I knew him. Because when I saw and experienced Petra for the first time I fell in love.
The ancient city captivated and mesmerised me. I was hooked totally and utterly.
To stare at such beauty and awe inspiring marvel made my brain do cart wheels of joy. I knew there and then that I had experienced the same thing my father had done. I knew that he must have had a smile as broad as mine as I stood gobsmacked at what lay in front of me.
What I saw made me realise that we felt the same emotions and I knew he was there with me. This one place made me believe that travel traits can be hereditary but they are also influenced by our lives we lead.

My father somewhere in the Middle East
India was another of his passions and it burns inside me. I have unfortunately never been as I have branched off with travel for my own love affair with Africa; but I have a burning desire to travel to the Indian subcontinent and experience what he did in my own personal way.

I am not sure we would have made very good travel companions? Father and son teams normally argue and I believe I would have annoyed him or him me. I do feel that given the right destination we would have made a fantastic travel pairing.

Sadly as he is no longer with us and I have no contact with that side of the family many questions about his travelling life and life in general will always be unanswered for me. I will always wonder if given today’s number of cheap flights and world accessibility he would go to the places I have been.

I hope one day to find another place like Petra that made me feel closer to him in death then life; a place that makes us kindred spirits once more.

Lastly I really wonder whether he would have done any crazy travelling exploits such as the Pamplona Bull Run or bungy jumping off Victoria Falls bridge had he been there at the age I am now?
That is one question I can never have answered but I would like to think that the answer is; yes one thousand times yes.

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