Today, we travel for work, escapism/pleasure, and information. In the past, the only travellers were soldiers, sailors, warriors, merchants, and crazy adventurers. Today old ladies go to Turkey to see the sights; in the past only society’s misfits would venture that far. Think of Alexander and his belligerents travelling from Macedonia to India. Think of silk transported from China to the wives of Roman senators. Think of Dutch sailors in search of the spices of the east. Think Livingston & Stanley in Africa. Think Spanish in search of gold. Think of why people go to Amsterdam?
Today my son is in the U.S.A. navy and travels for work. He has seen India in crisis, launched missiles from the Gulf, sought deserters in Thailand, and done surveillance off Somalia. His job is travel. He talks longingly of the silence of the open sea on a dark night as they sail in hostile waters. He comes from ancestors who were smugglers travelling from France to Cornwall with valuable but illegal goods. He comes from people who fled Dresden as student protestors. He comes from men who left Ireland to defeat the British in South Africa and who hoped to defeat the Empire and bring freedom to Ireland. Travel in his ancestors’ time was a way to better their state, get freedom, and to maybe provide for a family. Today he and his family travel to strengthen family ties, to promote the interests of the U.S.A., and to make life better for the oppressed.
It is said that travel broadens the mind. In this posting, I explore this idea and conclude it is a myth. This posting is prompted by a recent criticism that I am narrow-minded and should travel more.
“Do you enjoy travelling?” I was asked. The truth is that I hate security lines, immigration grilling, and customs control as I try to smuggle booze, cigarettes, and assorted nick-nacks. I enjoy settling down in an airplane seat, putting on the Boise noise-cancelling ear-phone, and turning on the iPod. I love the thrill of a new city, strange hotel rooms, and the offices of a foreign client, a mining client. I love flying into a new mine and seeing the vast vista of open pit and tailings impoundment. I love the intimacy of new people, their views, perspectives, and concerns. I love solving a new mining problem and setting things astray with an insightful comment or suggestion. Most of all, I love returning home from a trip and smelling the forest and trees of a wet Vancouver spring or fall. Of going into my own bedroom and the comfort of a soft bed and old sheets and towels. I love cogitating on a long trip and replaying the scenes and impressions of foreign places, customs, and problems.
I have traveled extensively to mines around the world. Having being born, brought up, and worked in South Africa until I was thirty-two, I have seen many mines from the gold to the platinum to the diamond in South Africa. I worked on mines in Botswana. True, I never went to Zambia or Zimbabwe. But I did complete a Master’s thesis on a mine in Swaziland. I had many trips to Spain to consult on closure of their uranium mines, and along the way visited the uranium mines of the former East Germany. I have visited Australia, but seen none of their mines. I have consulted and visited mines in Guatemala, Chile, and Peru. No visits to Costa Rico, although I would like to. Obviously I have visited many mining states in the United States from Texas to Alaska, from Oregon to Pennsylvania. In Canada, I have been on mines from BC to Quebec, from Saskatchewan, through northern Alberta to the far parts on the Northwest Territories.
By any definition of travel, I should be most broad-minded. I confess however that I am not. My prejudices are the same as when I was a student. I still love my country, but distrust the politicians. I still love my church, but distrust the priests. I still believe all people deserve an equal opportunity and that it is crazy to imprison people because they think differently from you. I still judge people on first impressions, like some, and hate some, trust some, and am wary of some. I still know Darwin was right and D. H . Lawrence was a great writer. I still love opera, blue grass, and folk. In most ways, travel has changed me little.
I have seen different societies and ways of life. I have seen topography from the stunning to the mundane. I have met and worked with every color, race, and orientation. I have judged them all on the basis of intelligence, ability, and humanity. I have liked and hated on the basis of first impressions, not on the basis of origins and the learnings of my travels.
Travel has convinced me of my first impressions that people are the same everywhere, at least in a statistical sense. There are geniuses and idiots everywhere. There are balanced folk and fools everywhere. There are dictators and tyrants in every politician and some political systems are much, much worse than others, from apartheid South Africa to present day Cuba.
In spite of vast miles traversed, I remain convinced most people seek the benefit of their family, procreation, and nurturing of off-spring. Those who cannot or choose not to for reasons of orientation are still decent and honorable—they simply will not breed and thus it has always been. I pity them, but they do not need my pity, only my interaction with them as human beings.
You could say that all my travels has been to mines and that is a narrow and distorted perspective; hence I am still narrow-minded. That accusation I reject. For en route I have been through many countries and their various societies and life styles. I have seen the intimate workings of companies and mining operations. I have met people of all walks and persuasions of life. They are all different but all the same: flawed, self-interested, self-motivated, and at basics fun to be with, trusting if you deserve and inspire trust, and all seeking family, off-spring, or ego-support. They are all trying to cope and prosper.
I have seen enough to know I should reduce my personal carbon foot-print. I have seen enough to know global warming is real—but have learnt enough to know that the earth’s climate has changed in the past and will change in the future and humans will wax or wane as the environment stresses them.
I have seen enough to know humans will fight and kill, will exterminate and eliminate others. I have no illusions about silly ideas of human goodness. Having seen East Germany soon after the fall of the wall, how could I conclude otherwise? Having grown up in a world of privilege and position, how could I conclude otherwise?
Most of my travels have been paid for by mining companies. Most of my foreign hosts have been mining employees. Most of my time has been spent going to and returning from mines. Along the way I have seen cities, countries and communities impacted by mining. I have seen examples to be proud of, and examples to deplore and criticize. I have learnt that society cannot do without mining. But I have seen enough to know that mining done badly is bad for society. I have tried to contribute my bit to making mining better, for I have benefitted from mining and I have seen enough to know that others too can benefit from mining done well.
Thus I must reject the critic who says I have no perspective because I have not travelled enough. To the extent I have not travelled enough, I have had plenty of opportunity on planes to read about the things that make what I have not seen and that happen where I go not.
As you travel, you take your prejudices with you; for you interpret what you see in the light of past impressions and perspectives, and you carry away only reinforcement of your existing ideas. Seldom does a trip change you as a person, make you more informed, more broad-minded, a better person in short. If you liked Castro before you went to Cuba, all the interaction in the world with his political prisoners will not change your prejudices. If you thought X an ugly place, all the sunsets in the world, however spectacular, will not change your mind. If you fear South African violence, no visit to the game reserve will alter this conclusion.
People travel for other reasons, I acknowledge. There is the fellow who travels to consult in distant lands with amazing frequency. His sons are convinced he has other families in the places he travels to with such frequency and urgency. I do not believe this; I suspect it is simply escapism that propels him to inordinate travel. Away from the office, the backyard, the nagging, and the demands, he is at peace.
Then there is the lady whom I find most sensuous and exciting. I have but chatted with her in various dull gatherings. But together we have formulated a travel plan, the end product of which would be a book called Geriatric Travels and Sins. The idea is that we will go to five cities and do everything we were too poor or to timid to do as youths. A way to cash in on travel as books; an all too frequent excuse to leave home.
All of which makes me wonder if travel is not just another way to spread your genes, to sow your wild oats, young or old, vigorous or senile. Are we not simply the off-spring of people who have moved on, gone far from their birth place, and who have peopled the whole world? Is it possible that travel is in our blood because it was in those who in the past lived to procreate? Is travel merely a search for a better place to breed and raise a family? Is the so-called romance of travel merely Cupid in disguise? Zeus had no reason to travel from Olympus other than this; and Hera had no reason to travel other than to catch him in the act.
Thus my advice to any young person: travel, travel as a miner, and broaden your mind, or at least reinforce your better convictions. You will be a better person for it, or at least find opportunities for fun and diversion. Go Mining Travel.