Syck Physh

September 4, 2010

I have often been accused of doing things the hard way, not profiting from others’ experiences, and so forth. My mother referred to this trait as “swimming upstream”, and there was no undertone of admiration in the appellation. It was a charge I could not refute; indeed, I didn’t even have a smart-aleck answer when it was levelled at me. Swimming upstream was a characteristic I would carry well into adulthood, a source of both frustration and amusement to my family, my friends, and myself.

It happens quite a bit when I am traveling, as the places I most want to see nowadays are some of the more difficult locations to get to. In fact, the belated realization that life is a finite commodity has caused me to formulate a plan (gasp!) of the things I want to check out before ultimately checking out. Figuring that my current state of health is likely the best it is going to ever be, it only makes sense to scope out the hard-to-reach places first, while I am still hardy enough (and borderline young enough) to do the climbing, walking, and other strenuous activities required to get there, wherever “there” may be. I have been kind of lazy over the years, and have crossed off my list many of the laid-back and cushy destinations and sights to be seen in a lifetime of travel: the pink beaches of Bermuda; the low-tide crossing to Mont St. Michel; the view of Sydney Opera House from across the harbor at Taronga Zoo; Barcelona’s otherworldly La Sagrada Familia; the Lego-hued tulip fields of Holland; the tiered temples of old Kyoto; the clusters of pastel hillside homes in Santorini; the night tram to Victoria Peak, overlooking the sparkling lights of Hong Kong.

The places I have yet to see will take a greater degree of commitment, however (especially with regard to shedding the tenacious extra avoirdupois I currently carry like a ten-kilo belly-pack): the narrow-gauge train trip to remote Darjeeling, tea capital of Northern India; Peru’s ancient mountaintop city of Machu Picchu; Yellowknife, to witness the original laser light show, the Aurora Borealis; Kathmandu, which I somehow missed during my hippie years; Viet Nam, which (thankfully) I also missed during my formative years, but which I would very much like to see in peacetime; the alpine lakes and meadows of New Zealand, some of which are accessible only by narrow foot trail; and the steamy ferry ride up the Irrawaddy River from Burma’s capital, Rangoon, to the storied cities of Mandalay and Pagan. (Officially it is Myanmar and Yangon, but to those of us who are fans of Rudyard Kipling, it will always be Burma and Rangoon.)

So, the plan is to knock off one of these per year, all other things being equal; the most difficult ones first, the easier ones later on. I am open to other suggestions from time to time, though, and it was one of those that occasioned my trip to Newfoundland last month. While there, over a salmon supper one evening, a fishing guide acquaintance made mention of the fact that only the hardiest salmon survive the gruelling upriver journey from the sea, braving rapids and waterfalls to get to their spawning grounds, where, with luck, they will ensure the future of their kind. He went on to offer the astute observation that “only the sick fish swim downstream”, a throw-away comment for him, but an epiphany for me, or perhaps a challenge, or a motto for the third quarter of my life, even. So, for the time being, I guess I will continue the upstream swim, ‘cause we don’t need no stynkin’ syck physh at this table!