Tag Archives: song

A song for the crossroads

 

What is it that motivates us to travel? It seems we often come to it when our life is at a Crossroads – and on the journey we take time to step back and assess our options, to process things that have happened to us. Sometimes when we feel stuck in our lives, we take a physical journey, hoping it will lead to psychological progression and life change. And sometimes the more we’re at a crossroads, the more we’re attracted to extreme destinations. None more so for me than on my trip across the Nullarbor Plain at the height of the Australian summer.

When I think of that trip I remember vast flat lands and wide skies. From the Bunda Cliffs, where you feel like you could run and then just drop off the edge of the world, to swathes of sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and the vast treeless plain of the Nullarbor. When you’re wrestling internally, the vast landscape has a calming effect. And sometimes it takes getting out of normal routine to show you what direction you really want to head in, to give you motivation to commit or re-commit to something or someone.

This is the only trip I’ve been on where I’ve slept in a swag – out under the stars in a big canvas bag, where you could look straight up at the domed sky as you fell asleep (with a slight sense of trepidation about possible snakes, spiders or scorpions deciding to slip into the swag spend the night with you). The wide expanse of the sky brings perspective and context to the decisions of individual human beings.

Everyone in our original Nullarbor tour group who braved the hottest part of the journey together, travelling for hours at a time in a minibus with malfunctioning air conditioning through 46 degree days, was at some sort of life junction. An overseas student finishing studies and about to return to her own country, an interracial student couple, a single mother and her son, an accident survior and his partner from another country, a woman who had nearly died and the friend and colleague who saved her, a traveller in search of love, a rural new couple, a widow on a first big trip without her husband, a man devoted to photography and me, and our guide. As we travelled we shared our stories between bus seats and we experienced many firsts together. Posing in front of the iconic Nullarbor signs, huddling under a cattle grid waiting for a road train to drive overhead, sleeping in swags on the empty plain at Afghan Rocks, swimming with dolphins and sea lions at Baird Bay, seeing the Big Galah, spotting yellow footed rock wallabies, Running down the sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and frolicking in the welcome cool of the sea at Streaky Bay.

I just heard last week that our guide on this trip, an excitement loving, well travelled, world weary man, had died. He died living a lifestyle he wanted to live. We were such children when he guided us across the plain: in awe of the sights, questioning the dangers and he drove, cooked, advised, entertained. He could certainly tell the tallest stories. I think of the song that somehow became our bus song on that trip: Starships (a song with some dubious lyrical content that I’d never heard before that trip). Whenever the chorus came on, ‘Starships were meant to fly, hands up and touch the sky’, we’d all do actions. It almost felt like our outstretched arms were flying us across the Nullarbor. When I’m stuck at a crossroads, I remind myself, ‘starships were meant to fly’. It tells me I’m meant for something new, a new life journey, a new life experience and I’m meant to embrace it, to fly. No matter what the lyrics meant originally, in the midst of the mundane they also remind me of the highs of life, the moments in the sun. Such as those minutes spent standing atop a perfect sanddune or singing with arms stretched wide as we moved through a landscape that stretched on farther than the eye could see. And when I need the impetus to move forward from life’s crossroads, I say to myself: ‘let’s do this one more time oh oh oh oh’.

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Why I’ve decided to be more generous to buskers or the things you miss when you travel

Stone sculpture of a figure and busker with his back turned in Lagos, Portugal

When you are on the go traveling, what do you miss from your more settled life back home? Maybe what we don’t miss tells us something about the things we could happily life without.

I recently went traveling for nearly 3 months – some of the time I was living in the one place with friends, and the rest of the time I was traveling around, staying no more than two or three days in any one hotel. I can tell you straight away one of things I did not miss while I was away and that is TV. At home I watch far too much, but while I was away I was not even tempted to turn on the hotel TVs, I preferred to either just sleep or read in the room, or else head back out the door for more exploring. And of course I didn’t miss all the routines of settled life like cleaning, cooking and buying groceries.

On a sunny saturday I arrived in Brussels and wandered my way from Brussels-midi station through a number of streets with the eventual goal of the Magritte Museum. When I walked uphill and got to the top of the Mont des Arts, there was a busker playing guitar and singing in English in an open area. When I heard some familiar songs sung in my language, I realised how much I missed music and particularly the freedom to sing. I suppose you could sing in the hotel shower, but apart from that, there’s not much privacy or freedom to sing when you travel (unless you’re a musician, or you’re on a bus tour where people want to revive their school camp bus-singalong days). 

I came across a few buskers in my travels at times when their music gave me pangs of longing. When you travel to countries where your own language is not spoken, even the simplest things become hard and hearing songs sung in your own language provides a real touch stone. I have to say I almost never give money to buskers (although I did give money to a classical guitarist at the market who did a great rendition of ‘Paint it black’ earlier in the year). But I know now how much a (good) busker can give you something you didn’t even realise you were missing and so I plan to be more generous to buskers in the future. 

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