– Kimberley Debra Pinto
I’m really excited to meet my friend- she’s been on a six week long vacation, four of which she’s spent completely off-the-grid. As I wait for her to arrive, I shuffle impatiently through the postcards she’s mailed me, the only proof of her existence in those weeks. They’re from Berry, Somme, the Loir Valley- the stamps tell me it is France, but definitely not the France I’m used to hearing about.
She soon bursts into the café, a whirl of braided hair and jangly bracelets and swishy shawls. This is new, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so colourful. Before I can wrap my mind around it fully, she has plunged into rapturous descriptions of “French this and French that.” Having spent my summer watching trees grow, her stories give me a chance to live vicariously so I don’t really mind.
She doesn’t seem to have had any plan-“just wherever I felt like” is not good enough for me. The very thought of going someplace unknown with no forethought is enough to terrify me. What if you got lost? How could you possibly holiday with no connectivity to the outside world? People would forget your existence after a while!
I never get an answer to these questions but when she’s done talking I think maybe I don’t want it answered.
She tells me of old world cobblestoned towns, where the buzz of modernity hasn’t really hit and where legends and superstitions are not just stories to be told. A secret little valley in the Berry region surrounded by pine and mystery, the fabled birthplace of French witchcraft; the cliffs of Elcalgrain Bay, where wreckers lured unsuspecting ships onto the rocks by shining deceptive signals; endless white beaches where the “sea and sky meet, I swear!”
She shows me a scar she got when she was learning to surf, I get the recipe for the best ‘escargo’ soup conned from a jazz artist in Gers. I hear about churches with frescos, museums and lavender fields.
I ask for photographs and she laughs.
“I never really thought about taking photos. And anyway, it’s all there in my mind, better than any camera could ever capture. I don’t think I can forget it.”
I’m wondering what has possessed my normally sane friend. What is it that is so different about her, that’s changed? She’s almost radiating it. I spot the horseshoe necklace she bought when she hitched a ride with the Romani gypsies. And I think that’s when it clicks.
You can never schedule an experience like that. You don’t plan for it, it just happens. And ultimately that’s what travel is about. Freedom to experience what you never planned to. To discover new things, well, new to you anyway. It’s about people forgetting you exist and you not caring about it. Ultimately it’s a battle between what you think you are looking for and what you find – and that’s where the magic is.
Obviously at that time, I didn’t really get it. But when I reach home, I find I’m fighting wanderlust-to see a different sun everyday and to get lost in places where I don’t speak the language.