There are a lot of strange travel traditions that you hear about while on the road. Always wearing the same underwear for flights, cooking a meal from your country for every host you stay with, collecting every bus and train ticket to later make into a 16-page scrapbook to bore your family to death with.
But the best travel tradition I’ve ever been a part of was what I’ll call “The Travelling Book.” The idea was that you’d read this book, write a short comment and your name and a date in the front or back inside cover, then pass the book to another traveller.
Not writing in someone else’s book is an unspoken rule of life. You can unfriend someone on Facebook and chalk it up as an accident. You can eat someone’s last Rolo and get away with it. You can fuck your wife’s sister and you’ll probably be forgiven over a romantic weekend in Paris. But taking a pen to another person’s book, dude, that’s a friendship-ending crime.
I’ve known one exception to that rule. It was a book that was given to me by someone who’d been given it by someone else who’d been given it by someone else who’d been…Yeah, you get the idea. It didn’t belong to anyone. It was a book of the world. The book was “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. You might know it. It’s a book about India and about love and about life and about heroin smugglers escaping from Australian prisons who end up fighting for the Afghan army by way of acting in Bollywood. As you might imagine, it’s epic. A 900-page epic to be precise.
I received it in the jungle. An American woman left it on the dinner table overnight and I picked it up in the morning, curious. I read the first paragraph and then the second and the third, then I found myself on Chapter Two, and I’d already fallen in love with the characters, but then it was breakfast and the American woman wanted her book back.
She left the jungle a month later and gave me the book. “Just remember to give it to someone else,” she said. “Don’t keep it.” I started reading it in the jungle and finished it a few weeks later eating breakfast at a hostel in La Paz, Bolivia. Nice bread, that hostel had. And jam. And it was as much as you could eat.
In Peru I gave the book to a woman sharing the same house I was. I like to think that book has been twice around the world since then, but of course it might be sitting in the bottom of someone’s rucksack at home, tidied away in an attic, feeling all sorry for itself, wondering when its next adventure will be. I believe it’s still out there, on the road, staying with a volunteer at a Vietnamese shrimp farm or with a middle-aged woman on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
I love that idea. Whatever the reality is, I have a perception in my head of where that book might be, so when I’m being a worker drone or eating my muesli as part of my regular routine, I can stop and wonder where “Shantaram” might be that day.
So yep, that’s right, sometimes I live vicariously through an inanimate object.
Anyone else had any experience of travel traditions? Or have their own that they want to share? The weirder the better!