I meet John at a bus stop, the kind that has peeling paint, graffiti sloppily covering all three walls, and a shaky rusty tin roof that any decent-sized wind could rip off in a moment’s notice. Waves of heat curl off of the road, exhaust spits out of trucks and cars passing by, and the sun is so blinding it feels like exposing bare skin for two seconds would leave you with a painful and permanent burn. I sit on a cement block inside awaiting my ride. I ask John if he knows when the next bus will be. These conditions aren’t so ideal for an albino like me. It turns out he’s heading to the same place, Scarborough, but via route taxi. We begin to talk.
People in this country like to get to the meat of a conversation very quickly. He tells me what his mother used to say to him before she passed. That as long as he has blood pumping through his heart, he should do good unto others. John’s accent is difficult to understand, so I’m smiling and nodding the whole time but actually thinking: “What the fuck are you saying!!?”. But eventually I tie up the loose ends and this is what I get from the conversation: She said that this shit-ridden world is not for nothing and instead of pursuing happiness, we should pursue meaningfulness, integrity, and truth. Happiness will be the bi-product. We should live for others, strive to improve the quality of life of others, and to live freely, truly, and for the greater good of humanity. Not bad from a conversation of which I only understood 46 percent.
Well. This explains why he insists on paying my cab fee.
I have plenty of cash and it’s not like I need a win today, so I urge him to save his money and give it to someone who needs it. But I’ve never seen anyone so adamant about anything in my entire life. I end up letting him live out his mother’s legacy. It’s the least I could do.
* * * * * *
I’ve been on the isles of Trinidad & Tobago. The former is Isle X, the latter is Isle Y. The Village of Spades is Speyside and C-Ville is Charlotteville. Why here, you may be asking. I have no definitive answer to this. I do know, however, that I have this condition called wanderlust. Please allow this very important tangent:
Some symptoms of wanderlust: travel-related ADD, the constant urge to be elsewhere, incessant boredom and discontentedness with home and any place familiar, dramatic increase of heart rate when in the vicinity of an airport or picturesque postcard, adrenaline overdose, shaking, dizziness, hallucinations, impulsive tendencies, and some people have been known to black-out and find themselves at their nearest international airport purchasing a one-way ticket to Timbuktu. Not that I’d know anything about this.
Some important points about wanderlust:
It remains unrecognized by the CDC. Research and data are either completely lacking or wholly blemished. This is probably because one without at least a little wanderlust is completely incapable of understanding and knowing what to look for, while one with wanderlust has their head in the clouds.
Wanderlust is not to be confused with a human’s natural inclination to be curious about the unknown. The unknown takes many forms, as does curiosity, but wanderlust is specific to globe-trotting and travel. An airplane is a wanderluster’s wheelchair or crutch, while foreign street food is the IV.
There is no cure for wanderlust, only treatment. It comes in the form of cheap tickets and discovery of foreign lands.
The severity varies. A light case of wanderlust would manifest itself in dropping everything and taking a random impromptu walk in a nearby park. Laying in the grass and pointing out shapes in the clouds is a must. Someone with wanderlust would see clouds shaped like hot air balloons and vintage travel briefcases, not unlike how a woman with baby fever would see infants and bottles and rattles in the sky. A severe case, my case, will take someone to the ends of the earth, to the empty deserts, to isolated villages on isolated mountain tops, to strange, dangerous neighborhoods in strange, dangerous cities. Wanderlust took Neil Armstrong to the moon and back (a true wanderluster wouldn’t give the conspiracy myth a second thought). Either way, there is nothing you can do about it except submit to your whim at any given moment.
If you somehow manage to stay put despite your globe-trotting ideations, seek professional help. There is something wrong with you.
Some of the unlucky ones grow out of it, and some, it sticks with them until they die. It is seldom the cause of death, unless your condition brings you to Somalia, but research shows it actually replenishes the soul and keeps it alive.
I’ve accepted my fate as belonging to the latter category, to the point where travel is so deeply woven into my character that it would be impossible to untangle this pathogen from my own strands of DNA.
I’m young, though. Too soon to tell?
Some things you just know.
This is my best attempt at explaining why I bought these tickets to Trinidad & Tobago while being completely ignorant about this country, short of its existence and geographic location. My aforementioned condition is why I came here without a plan and general preparation (I still am without flip-flops, sunglasses, and bug repellent), with an intense, irreconcilable need to see what is here, who is here, and what and who would cross my path, accidentally or otherwise.
The government warnings about Trinidad & Tobago don’t paint the prettiest picture, similar to my artwork from grade school. Yucky words like “unrest”, “extreme violence”, “cartels”, “attacks”, “sexual assault”, and “fanny packs are a reliable method of security” jumped off the page. Considering I would be traveling alone and would rather die than wear a fanny pack, I got nervous for a second. Then the next morning sitting in Starbucks, sipping my black coffee and thinking about the trip, I said out loud: “Fuck it. I’m going”. The confused stares of my neighbors were well worth this outburst of weirdness. In retrospect, I had bought the tickets already, and there really was no chance in hell that I wouldn’t get on that plane. Travel is many things, but it’s also an investment. Not to mention, airplane tickets to anywhere are worth more than gold to an individual with wanderlust.
It took a short time on a small island to see that the people in the US government who write the travel warnings and advisories are composed of over-calculating misfits who never leave their houses. In hindsight, these warnings never accurately portray a place as it really is. Sure, shit happens. As it does everywhere, some places more than others. I wonder what the travel advisory is for the US, because this country is a hell of a lot more dangerous than some places I’ve visited that have been labeled by the government as “GET OUT NOW”. These warnings search, isolate, and magnify potential hostilities and disregard almost all other apsects of a country (I could expand on this sentence but I’ll spare you). If you call me naive for minimizing the seriousness of these advisories, I call you naive for maximizing them. Anyone who has traveled to places other than Western Europe knows I’m right.
And all of a sudden, I find myself in Port of Spain, Trinidad’s largest and most dismal port city. The country did not welcome me with open arms, but I have forcibly embraced it, like that one smothering aunt you see once a year who has no concept of boundaries. Unlike much of the region, tourism accounts for very little of the national wealth. Islanders aren’t a slave to the dollar and they know it, hence their apathetic attitude towards me. This is how it should be, but I understand not all nations have the geographic fortune of landing on reliable internal sources of revenue.
Now, regarding the things I learn from traveling: some lessons are place-specific, like the etiquitte expected of someone in a Russian sleeper car, where to get the best wine in Madrid (I couldn’t tell you, I’d have to show you), and how to make the perfect Chilean ceviche and Argentine empanada. Other lessons are broader and can apply to anywhere, embodied by the experiences that travel offers as a whole. For example, random kindness of strangers is not a myth. Trinidad & Tobago have not taught me this but they have reaffirmed it, as every country does time and time again. Rather, the country doesn’t reaffirm it but the people do: John and the dozens of other people I’ve met on these islands who give until they’ve nothing left. John’s mother’s legacy should be more widely advertised. Maybe I’ll pull a ‘Banksy’ and paint it on a billboard somewhere.
I don’t go home until Thursday. In the meantime, I’ll almost exclusively be swimming, evening out this sexy sunburn, and eating fried fish right here in Buccoo Point.