The Point of Travel – Real and Virtual

Here in Paarl, South Africa – the wine country just north of Cape Town.

Staying at my wife’s cousin’s farm, in a location currently vying for “Place Most Likely to Make You Jealous You Don’t Live Here.”

High, rugged mountains on all sides, vinyards just sending out new buds, plum orchards in blossom with intoxicating scent, guava trees practically throwing their excess fruit at you as you pass.

The dinner bottles of Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, sourced from the very vines you passed during your sunset stroll. Table Mountain in the south western distance, invoking the two oceans that lap against its grassy base and the murmur of limitless horizons and the whiff of Malay spice caravans.

Now that’s why I travel!

Yesterday Nelis (the dad of the farm) and I took our four kids to Cape Town.

We “did” the waterfront, lunch in a tourist trap (the “mopani worms” appetizer for 40 Rand should have tipped us off),Greenmarket Square with its craft and t-shirt stalls; half of Table Mountain (cable car down for maintenance, “so nothing goes wrong,” returned the gift shop proprietor somewhat defensively when we inquired what was wrong with it); Signal Hill, with breathtaking panoramic views (including the new soccer – oops, football – stadium under construction in preparation for the World Cup 2010 mania that has utterly gripped the country; the beach at Camp Bay with its neoprened surfers, wedding parties, and tattooed middle aged ladies playing with their dogs; and the gardens near parliament with their mix of familiar and exotic birds and flowers.

Fun, yes, but secretly I was pining for the farm the entire day. The homey-ness of the well-stocked kitchen, the scuttle of miniature dachshunds and long-haired Weimeraner under our feet, the sense that nearby in every direction nature was turning elemental energy of sun, moisture and decay into the miracle of fruit.

The relaxed curiosity of my kids, hanging with their English-as-a-second-language cousins just as easily as if they had known each other their whole lives. Working for hours on an apple pie together, serving it golden brown with a latticed top crust, proudly contributing to a farmhouse dinner and receiving praise from the grownups in the form of sighs of pleasure.

The Point of Travel

In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton reminds us that travel is all about the pursuit of happiness. So is the rest of our lives, I suppose, but travel brings the goal into focus.

Every decision, from where to go, which vehicle to rent, what to order for dinner, whether to camp or indulge in a real bed tonight, is calculated to maximize the pleasure of the trip.

I’m finding that this trip is honing my marketing mind by helping me get back in touch with this raw desire for happiness that, to some extent, drives everything we do.

The Internet is not so much about surfing as it is a round-the-world epic. One minute I’m on a site about a water sports store in Fort Lauderdale, and the next I’m exploring photos of the Natal coastline. Then I teleport to a blog about diving in shark-proof cages, which leads me to a Mozambique government site with data on water temperatures through the seasons. And maybe I wander back to the store to make a purchase, and maybe I don’t.

Like traveling, searching on the Internet is a constant confrontation with the unknown. A never-ending source of curiosity and boredom. A minute-by-minute evaluation of the relationship between my grasping human mind and its environment.

And like traveling, there’s nothing I like better than stopping at the perfect place and resting in the rightness of the fit between desire and fulfillment.

It’s no accident that the places that have “done it” for me on this trip have not been tourist meccas, but authentic expressions of the good will and good taste of good people. This farm; the White House Bed and Breakfast in Grunau, Namibia; my wife’s family’s 200 year old ancestral sheep farm just outside Springbok, South Africa.

The point of travel, it seems to me, is to feel the embrace of homecoming.

While I can’t give you a soft bed with a fluffy comforter, a farm breakfast, or a stroll in the orchards, I hope this site provides you with a taste of hospitality and kindness on your journey.

I thank the road and the farm for reminding me how to greet and treat you, dear reader.

May all your travels lead you home to warmth, love and safety. Feel free to stop by here anytime…

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