I’ve met a few “citizens of the world” on this trip. Guys (invariably the are men) who have been backpacking for so long they either take offence at being asked where there from, or answer it with a treatise about socialisation to backpacker hostels and pancake breakfasts.
“Well I’m not really from anywhere any more.” The word ‘from’ spat out with total disdain at the concept of being owned by geography.
It doesn’t take long to confirm that they are pretty lonely characters who disguise their roots in the hope that it will either make them more interesting, or at least less pigeonhole-able. Drilling them with questions serves to both find their pigeonhole, and annoy them enough to entertain me. A fused Israeli ex-army soldier dealing pot to fund self medication, a dull Brit who bought a flat in London at a good time and pretends he survives off the crappy jewellery he makes in Nepal, an alcoholic Dutchman with questionable sexual peccadilloes living cheap in Goa... none of them were from anywhere.
I take pride in answering that I’m from ‘The London Borough of Croydon’ with a gentile cockney accent, knowing that that answer would cause eyes to roll anywhere in England, but that the full title can make it sound chic to a foreigners ears.
I always assumed that my shared love of travel with these global citizens came in part from the anonymity of being away from home. Gone is the defining insight your friend project on to you. No longer am I lazy Andy who gets really dull when he’s drunk, falls asleep at parties, and only gets comes to life when he’s talking technical about Toyota Landcruisers. Now I can be intrepid Andy, with a thought provoking blog, and a cool looking truck, rugged and mysterious; at least for the first few minutes of meeting people, before I have a drink and start winning on that the coil springs from an HJ80 can be fitted on a Pajero, usually followed by me dozing off.
But now I’ve come to another conclusion about why I like being away from home in this way, formed in part by watching the Wire, a cop show that I downloaded and got into watching over Christmas. (It’s taken a while for the penny to drop.) All the characters in the Wire, the policemen, the politicians, the drug dealers, the journalists, give their loyalty to their organisations for better or worse, and have to take compromised actions because they are bound by their allegiances. Good intentions and idealism gets sidelined for a greater good that generally doesn’t really materialise. Plans are thwarted by rival plans that dissect through the storylines. The organisations are the character’s failing.
In London not only am I bound by my friend’s preconceptions of me, which are hard to escape, but by the organisations I belong to and that govern me. My job, my home, my social circle, the local chain supermarket, the train station, the newspapers I read, the libertarian politics I share with my friends, the capitalist system, the rule of law, my nationality. They are all organisations, identities that I subscribe to, and in return demand that I make compromises for them.
Tom, my Nepali guru, told me his aim was to free himself of his belief systems, and the preconceptions they bound him to. He admitted it was impossible, but still worth striving for. Beliefs; religions, political leanings even attitudes, are also organisations and identities that support you when you join them, but demand your loyalty and compromised actions of you.
Living in the truck instead of a home, and living pretty frugally makes it easier to shed a lot of belief systems and shun organisation memberships. It’s hard to be without the stability and support of these organisations in life, but it’s liberating too. And this, more than the anonymity of travel, is really what I’m enjoying about this life on the road.
As you head inland from the SoCal coast to the desert life becomes more alternative, less regulated, more hippy. At the gates of Death Valley I’ve entered a realm of eco-statues, communal skinny dipping in at night in hot pools, and live Bluegrass echoing around the desert mountains. It’s about as far from the organisations of the London Borough of Croydon as I’ve been on this trip.
But if I’m asked what I think about something, I guess I’ll be answering, “Well, I don’t really think anything any more.”