After nearly three months in Egypt, most of which we spent hiding in the Sinai Peninsula, we finally crossed to Sudan, a trip we awaited and dreamed of for a long time. When we walked out of the Sudanese embassy in Cairo with our visas carefully glued in our passports, we felt – and most probably looked – like two little children. I believe we skipped and bounced all the way to the metro station… Why were we so excited to visit Sudan? That’s a simple yet tricky question to answer.
Above: Mom’s highlight: petting baby goats and having tea with Aïsha’s family on our way to the fruit market in Dahab (Sinai)
As we did for Egypt, we didn’t plan to visit most of the touristic highlights the country has to offer. – After conferring very, very seriously yesterday from the top of a hill outside of Karima, in search for perspective, we decided on skipping Merowe, Sudan’s most famous pyramids. – What attracted us here has little to do with archeology and we want to spend more time sipping coffee in quiet villages, eating foul (a local meal made of fava beans) in little cafeterias and we are more than satisfied with reading about the ruins we are passing on the Internet, from the comfort of our room at night.
Snob much? I sometimes wonder myself, which is why I decided to put a few words on the train of thoughts that lead to the final ‘let’s skip Merowe, shall we?’. All things considered, I don’t feel like we’re being snob or showing signs of any kind of travel fatigue, far from it! I feel like we are simply observing the path that fits us the best, travelling at our own pace and seeking the experiences we came out here to find. After years of sustained travelling, not only did I learn to travel (a bit) more efficiently, I find that I can listen to myself better than I did in my early years and if there is anything, truly anything, I wish to pass on is this: curiosity is our best compass.
I started reflecting on my behavior as a traveler a lot last month while my mom was in Sinai with us for a visit. She offered us the gift of fresh eyes and ears on things that we don’t even question anymore. She explained: “When I told my colleagues I was going to Egypt to visit my baby daughter, they all asked me if we were going to visit Cairo and the pyramids. ‘I don’t think so’, I answered, and they all replied that I ‘can’t go to Egypt without seeing the pyramids!’ ‘Of course, I can!’ said I. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do!”
I was so proud of my mom, because peer pressure is an insidious demon, just as powerful as the infamous fear of missing out (aka FOMO), and she dodged both in one single blow. She had two weeks and there were two very important things she wanted to do: rest and spend time with her kid. She knew that she would have to make choices and skip a few things to do so and she was at peace with that.
Often times, when I ask other travelers about their journey, I notice that – maybe I am wrong, I have no empirical proof of any of it – there is very little passion in their eyes when they list the sites that they visited or plan to go to. When I ask what drove them to these sites, I usually get a generic ‘because it looked cool’ or, and that’s even more surprising to me, stunned eyes.
I would expect to hear about childhood dreams or untold fascinations for obscure bits of history. After all, when we travel, we put a lot of resources into bringing our physical body to another geographical area. What is it all worth if we don’t do it with a deliberate purpose? Tourism is not always a walk in the park: there are persistent touts to avoid politely, heavy sun to bare, steep entry fees to pay, long days and crowds to go through. I usually need a good reason to put myself through a day like this and have so much respect for those who manage to keep the fire after months of them.
Travelling triggers self-development in ways most other life settings can’t. It opens our horizons, widen our comfort zone and confronts us with our limitations. Another opportunity travelling offers that is rarely spoken of – probably because it sounds way less romantic – is the one to say no. We don’t have to be passionate about everything! By learning and accepting to narrow down our choices to a few core elements, we are given the chance to define a bit better who we are. What deeper motivations, what curiosities and personal quests drove us out of our comfort zone and keep us pushing forward? I find that curiosity, while it might not always point me in the ‘best’ or the most popular direction, always leads me to the most satisfying destination.
There is nothing like figuring out myself, whatever it is that I want to figure out. This approach helps me walk on new terrains with more humility, more patience and more self-confidence, simply because I allow myself to be more authentic. By being ourselves, as I like to remind myself once in a while when I am a bit down, we allow others around us to do the same, whatever their culture or background, and that’s more powerful than what words can say.
After three months in Egypt, we did not visit one single major highlight, but we discussed philosophy with a Bedouin elder – I personally received some solid advice on how to live a long happy marriage from a 84 old Bedouin man called Suleiman –; we learned a new method to brew coffee using sand as a temperature regulator; I finished a writing contract that I was very passionate about and to which I dedicated nearly a year; we hiked through gardens and snow in the middle of the desert; we ate tons of fruits and veggies; we visited eels and families of clown fish and after doing all this, we took down a scam on Airbnb. I call this trip a great success.
My mom? Well, she went back to Canada and told her colleagues about the ripe mangoes, the coral reef and her Bedouin host throwing cigarettes to his friend across the fire pit and they never asked her about the pyramids again; they could not believe how peaceful she looked.