Simple shop in a wooden shack and toddler in the scruffy lane alongside
History,  Landscape,  Lens-Artists,  People

Learning through travelling

People, places, past and photography

Try to travel, otherwise

you may become racist,

and you may end up believing

that your skin is the only one

to be right,

that your language

is the most romantic

and that you were the first

to be the first.

Gio Evan

The above is the opening verse, in translation, of the song Viaggiate by Gio Evan, poet and songwriter. A friend posted it on Facebook and for me it sums up everything that is wonderful and important about travelling.

I’ve described my enthusiasm for travelling in previous posts but when I came across these words I had to return to the topic and share them with you. And Amy has given me the perfect excuse to do so with her choice of topic for this week’s Lens Art challenge, ‘Travel has taught me’. I wish I had written those words as they sum up my response to that question so well. But as I didn’t, the next best thing I can do is try to illustrate them.


Travelling can teach us so much; it could be said that it is the main theme running through my whole blog. Here I want to concentrate on four ‘lessons’ from the travel curriculum, my four Ps: people, places, past and photography

People

When the British Member of Parliament Jo Cox was tragically murdered in 2016, her contention that, ‘We have more in common than that which divides us’ was widely quoted. It became a mantra for all of us who deplore those who try to sow the seeds of division in our country. I also found that it resonated with me when I reflected on my travels. If travelling teaches us anything I believe it is exactly that. Again from Viaggiate:

Travel,

because if you don’t travel then

your thoughts won’t be strengthened,

won’t get filled with ideas.

Your dreams will be born with fragile legs and then you end up believing in tv-shows, and in those who invent enemies

that fit perfectly with your nightmares

to make you live in terror.

Travel,

because travel teaches

to say good morning to everyone

regardless of which sun we come from.

From North Korea to Senegal, Oman to Cambodia, and in many other places, I have encountered people who are, beneath their many differences, pretty much like you and I. They strive for the same things from life: good health, positive relationships with others, enough food to put on the table and a roof over their heads. They love their families, they work hard (mostly!) and are welcoming to strangers such as ourselves.

Group of adults and children around a picnic blanket
Family picnic in Moranbong Park, Pyongyang
Two women in colourful headscarves with a baby
Church goers in Mar Lodj, a small village on an island in the Sine Saloum Delta, Senegal
Small girl climbing on her father's back
Father and daughter in a village near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Places

Like most of you I learned geography at school, and like some of you no doubt, I enjoyed it. I became fascinated with maps (actually, I had always been fascinated by maps, ever since I learned to trace Milly Molly Mandy’s route from home to school on the endpapers of my favourite story books!) I was intrigued to see how contour lines marked the highest points. And I was enthralled by images of very different landscapes: deserts, forests, savannah.

Later I grew to love the wildlife documentaries for which the BBC is quite rightly acclaimed, especially the series by David Attenborough. Life on Earth shaped my understanding of the natural world.

But there’s nothing like travelling and seeing these places for yourself to generate a respect for the world’s wild places and the creatures, and people, who live in them.

View of barren mountains and narrow track
Looking down into the canyon at Jebel Akhdar, Oman
Dead trees in a desert, surrounded by dunes
The iconic landscape of Dead Vlei, Namibia
Low level view of water and rushes
Exploring the Okavango Delta, Botswana, in a mokoro (traditional boat)

The past

Another thing I’ve learned through travelling is a lot of history. It wasn’t a subject that interested me much at school. Perhaps we studied the wrong periods; perhaps the focus was too much on world events and too little on the people who lived through them. Or maybe my teachers just weren’t inspiring enough! Whatever the reason it took travelling to spark my interest in how the past has shaped our present.

In North Korea I came to appreciate how the occupation by the Japanese, the events of WW2 and the years that followed it created the base on which the Kim regime built their power. In Japan I saw the impact that the dropping of the first nuclear bomb had not only on the city of Hiroshima where it fell but also on the Japan of today, where children are taught from an early age to value peace above war. And in Oman I learned how the country had rocketed from feudal system to modern society in just a few decades, fuelled by the passion of one sultan and his fight to depose his autocratic father.

Sculpture of soldiers, one injured, and a flag
At the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Pyongyang
Three girls posing with smiles
School children in the Peace Park, Hiroshima
Gate and turrets in a stone wall
The Royal Palace in Salalah, Oman, with an extract from a speech made by Sultan Qaboos bin Said on the day of his accession, July 1970

Photography

Travel has taught me to be a better photographer. I see more and I see differently. Looking back at photos of long ago trips I can see how today I would frame a shot differently, take it from another angle. Or not take it at all!

And I would argue that photography has taught me to be a better traveller, or at least a more conscious one. I look at things more carefully than I might if I didn’t have a camera in my hands.

Of course it’s important sometimes to put the camera down and just be in the moment. But I would challenge the often-repeated statement that if you’re busy taking photos you are missing out on really seeing what’s in front of you. It’s because I’m busy taking photos that I take in so much. The little toddler running down the road in my feature photo, taken in a village in northern Laos. The man washing his clothes in the reservoir at Chittaurgarh, on the steps of the Shiva Temple. The man who looked up at me as I took photos from a bridge over the Taedong in Pyongyang, watching him and others dredging weeds from the river after a storm. The driver taking a rest in his tuk-tuk while waiting for passengers by the Terrace of the Leper King at Angkor Thom.

Man on stone steps washing clothes
Washing clothes in the reservoir on the steps of the Shiva Temple, Chittaurgarh Fort, Rajasthan
Man in a blue boat, looking up
Collecting weed from the Taedong river after a storm, Pyongyang
Man asleep on the seat of a tuk-tuk in front of a carved stone wall
Sleeping tuk-tuk driver at the Terrace of the Leper King, Angkor Thom

Sometimes at home I find myself noticing things I would have passed without a second glance had I not got so used to looking for photo opportunities on my travels. That’s been a huge source of pleasure during the pandemic when my travels have been severely curtailed. But now I’m ready to get back out there and carry on learning!

Travel,

otherwise you end up believing

that you are made only for a panorama

and instead inside you

there are wonderful landscapes

still to visit.

Geo Evan

41 Comments

  • Wind Kisses

    Brilliant photos and I love your outlook on travel. The photo of the man washing clothes with the goat? I could have sat there for hours watching the day go by. donna

  • Teresa

    Taking photos doesn’t let me forget. That’s what I always tell my kids when they say that they don’t take much photos because they want to be there in that place in the moment. With every photo, I remember the experience, the weather, the people that I met.
    Well, every person is different. Thanks Sarah for all the lovely photos you are sharing!

  • pattimoed

    Wow, Sarah. This is a fabulous post! I’m echoing what everyone else has said here, but ….what’s wrong with adding one more voice to the “chorus”!! Great photos, quotes, and inspiring thoughts. Just wonderful!

  • restlessjo

    Manja brought me here through her post, Sarah, and I have to agree with her. You’ve done a stunning job! Though I agree with the basic premise, I have to admit that the issue of saving the planet and the impact of travel on vulnerable places like Venice do give me pause. But do I think the world will be a better place if we all stay home? Not really! And it would drive me barmy!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jo 😊 I do know what you mean about the impact of travel and it gives me pause for thought, but there would also be a considerable if different impact if we didn’t travel, thinking about how many people around the world rely on it for their livelihoods. What we do need to do is be more considered in our travel choices – visit somewhere less overrun or go at a quieter time of year, choose hotels (and restaurants etc.) run by local people not big multinationals, off-set flights, take fewer but longer trips (especially when flying long-haul), use the train if that’s an option, make ethical decisions about animal welfare and support wildlife projects … and so on and so on!

  • Heyjude

    I like your philosophy about travel and I agree with you that taking photos does make you look closer and have an awareness of what is going on around you. Except for selfies. I have stood with my mouth open as I watch people pose in front of some landmark/view/icon and snap a photo of themselves then move on without really looking. And I’m not sure that I want more people to travel, as everywhere seems overcrowded to me now.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh gosh yes, I don’t get that selfie thing at all! I want to see the landmark/sight, not myself 😁 At Angkor we saw a queue of people waiting to photograph themselves in front of the ‘Tomb Raider’ tree while just a few yards away there were many more equally photogenic trees with no one around at all, which we could photograph as much as we wanted 😀 As to more people travelling, I know what you mean, but that’s maybe one benefit of Covid I guess. We visited Angkor Wat in February 2020 when the Chinese had already closed their borders and as they make up the most numerous nationality going there the numbers were down by over a third – bad for tourist income but great for us! The same with the Real Alcazar in Seville last year, much quieter than usual 🙂

  • maristravels

    Lovely post, Sarah, and I agree with every word you say. My travels were first of all dictated by my love of history and I wanted to walk in the footsteps of those who went before in real life and in literary life because history for me has always been mixed up with literature. Then when I became really involved in war history and the history of the ‘between the war’ periods – the time that really changed the political landscape of countries – my travelling life was sealed and I’ve continued in that strain. I don’t post on this subject because I don’t think WP is a form for political debates and, as I know from Twitter, things can get out of hand if one is not carefully. Must say, once again, your photographs are exceptional and your feature photo from Laos is just gorgeous. Do you frame any of these and display them at home? I would!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Mari. I think it’s wonderful when you can explore an interest through travel and at the same time add to your interest in that subject, as you’ve been able to do. I try not to get political in my posts but I’ve been known to be more so in discussions in comments threads, although usually with like-minded souls 🙂

      We have some photos from our trip to Rajasthan printed and displayed in our dining room, and also a few coastal views in the bathroom. The problem is that we also have so many pictures BOUGHT abroad that there’s only so much space for our own!

  • rkrontheroad

    The reflections in this post really spoke to me, especially the first section about people. We are all so much more similar, once we open our eyes and hearts to the ways other people live and what they value. Living abroad has brought that home to me many fold. Great portraits.

  • Anne Sandler

    What an amazing post Sarah! And so true, from how photography helps you see things to how experiencing a place helps cement the history. One thing this community has taught me is that as photographers, we are the same no matter where we call home.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Anne, and that’s a great point. Interacting with other bloggers helps to bridge the physical distances between us and see how much we have in common if we have shared interests.

  • Manja Maksimovič

    Ahh, what a wonderful post, Sarah! You said it all so well and succinctly with such great photo examples. I love the last batch of three the most. You were made for people shots!! I’m struggling a little with this theme (and with your rule of thirds too!). I guess I’m a really bad student. :p

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Manja 🙂 I doubt you’re a bad student, we all find that we respond more to some themes than others. But I just went back to look at your latest post and see, your cat photo is nicely composed according to that rule! However it seems to me that you often opt for symmetry in your photos, perhaps because you photograph a lot of buildings for which it often works well 🙂

        • Sarah Wilkie

          I’m almost the opposite – I’ll take a photo of something apparently uninteresting if I can make a nice composition of it 😂 Although of course I also take lots of ‘record’ shots when the content is the most important thing!

  • sheetalbravon

    Sarah, your posts have now become my source of wonder and delight.

    I was nodding right till the end especially when you said that taking photos have made you more aware of the way you view the world. I had the same feeling but I could never put my finger on it.

    Also my biggest discovery has to be Gio Evan. Thank you for sharing his words. They really resonated with me.

    What an amazing interpretation!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sheetal, that has to be one of the loveliest comments I’ve ever received 😊😊 I’m glad to have introduced you to the Gio Evan lyrics. I wanted to post the complete song but wasn’t sure of the copyright position!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much 😀 No, as I mentioned in the text, I was on a bridge over the river when I took that shot. It was on one of only a handful occasions when we were permitted to walk in the city – escorted of course!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you John 🙂 I’ve certainly been fortunate to have visited many places even though for the most part we were constrained by time and have done no really long trips (work commitments, elderly parents and more recently of course Covid!)

  • Rose

    Wow Sarah, Gio Evan’s verse, your words, and images are all impactful. Travel is a wonderful means to genuinely experience the world, in a way that classes, books, and the internet cannot equate. While I’ve been out shoveling snow, my brain has been ruminating about many of the topics you touch on here. Count me in with “all of us who deplore those who try to sow the seeds of division”.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose, I knew this verse would resonate with many of my readers, you among them 🤗 And I’m rather glad to have given you some things to ponder about while shovelling!

  • Amy

    Hi Sarah, I love how you address learning through travelling. Such a special post to share with us. Beautiful words and images of these four lessons.

  • Tina Schell

    Well Sarah I knew you’d have a terrific response to this week’s challenge and you did not disappoint! I agree with all of your lessons and your images reinforced them perfectly. It makes me sad that so few people actually travel as it is indeed an amazing education. Some wonderful images this week as always.

Do let me know what you think - I'd love to hear from you

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