You're jolted out of your sleep. The rusty cargo van, which has been converted into a city bus is airborne. There's a collective gasp. You claw for the seat in front of you. The van lands hard and skids to a stop. Even though it's dark, even though there are no lights, you can make out the faint wisps of smoke rising from the rear of the van. There is a commotion. Dialects you can't decipher circle around you. Your two friends, who were seated in front of you, motion for you to get up. You grab for each other as people push and shove their way out of the burning cramped space. You notice your foot is bleeding as you step into the chilly night. Bags are being thrown from the smoking vehicle. You grab yours and blink disoriented at the sky above- Orion's belt, so close, it seems you could be lassoed away. Your friends are grabbing you, you're brought back. You watch as the other passengers scatter and disappear between blades of tall grass, off into the night. There will be no rescue van, panic sets in. You're a two hour drive from your destination. At least, you tell each other, at least you're together. Mosquitoes hover, the high pitched wine is driving you mad. You curse yourself for not taking your malaria medication. On the edge of the road, thumbs in the air, two Americans and a Canadian are stranded in rural Mozambique.
It is impossible to control our experiences on the road. Travel is a colossal enigma, perhaps that, in and of itself, is its major lure. We are forced to live in the moment, to bravely face the present with a fresh perspective. Romantic at times, often exciting, travel is rarely an immaculate and effortless path; it can be dangerous, downright frightening, yet off we go, pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones, the safety of the familiar, the ease of our loved ones and friends. Off we go into the great unknown, and why?
We travel to understand
We travel to taste
We travel to be moved
We travel to help
We travel to connect
We travel for the momentos
We travel to get lost, if only for a little while
We travel to be found
We travel to try new things
We travel to turn the faces of strangers into the faces of friends
We travel so that we can arm ourselves with memories, recollections that grow more beautiful and layered with time.
You pace back and forth, breath escaping in white clouds. You have to go to the bathroom. Your friend Tamika is seated on her suitcase, she looks defeated, close to tears. To your right, your friend Lynne speaks with the driver in fluent Portuguese. Bell frogs color the night with their chimes. You can do nothing but wait. Wait for daylight, wait for another bus, a passing car, wait to be eaten alive by mosquitoes or wild dogs- wait.
At last, a set of headlights approach, Tamika jumps up extending her thumb. You join her with Lynne close behind. A large black Escalade rolls to a cautious stop. The driver, a young South African man, offers heartily to drop you home, it's on the way after all. Jumping from the SUV, he places your bags in the trunk.
Two girls and a guy are inside. They make room for you, offer everyone a Hansa beer. You sink into the incredibly plush white leather seats. The windows are down, the air sweet and crisp. Techno music pulses from the speakers.
The two hours with your new friends pass quickly. Before you know it, you're dragging your suitcase down the old familiar path home. Weary, but upbeat, you're ready for your next weekend trip, perhaps Swaziland, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, or Chimoio?
What unexpected surprises have you encountered on the road?