Posted by Tania Kindersley.
There is a time, in middle age, where you have to admit that there are some things in life you are simply not going to do. This might sound a little defeatist or morbid, but I actually find it rather liberating. I can concentrate on what I am going to do, rather than fret about possibilities missed.
Travel, to certain destinations, for me, is one of these. I know now that there are places in the world I shall never see with my own eyes. I really hate to fly. I hate everything about it: the expense, the queues, the security panics, the discomfort, the lurking fear that I shall in fact die in a ball of fire. So I am now embracing the fact that I am not going to go anywhere I cannot get to by train or boat. I feel rather joyful as I write that sentence. I realise that I have known this for a while, but refused to confirm it; there is a lurking guilt in me, because I was brought up in a generation that religiously believed in travel broadening the mind.
The gap year was fetishised in my youth. Everyone hurled their possessions in a backpack, and set off for South America and India and the Far East. How we all scoffed at those mad statistics everyone bandied about in the eighties, about only 7% of Americans having passports. I remember feeling properly shocked by the fact that George W Bush could become president when he had only ever visited Scotland and Mexico. How could a son of such preppy East Coast privilege, from a family of great wealth and sophistication (however much he tried to pretend he was just a down-home Texan) never have been to Paris or Rome or Bombay or St Petersburg?
So travel was never just a whimsical luxury to me, but enshrined as a moral imperative. This is, of course, absurd. There are plenty of perfectly good, clever, imaginative people who do not dash off about the world. There are travellers of the mind. I suddenly realise that I do not have to castigate myself because I shall never see the statues on Easter Island. I am going to think of the great luck I had in seeing the places I did. I shall live off my hump, like a camel. I shall remember Venice and Rome and the Italian Lakes and Capri and the great, crazy New Year's Eve I spent in Naples. I will recall taking the train from Bombay to Cochin, three magical days in a crowded carriage with an American artist, two Swedish hippies and a very polite Keralan called Albert. I have in my mind Manhattan in a snow storm, and Seattle in the blinding sun, and Paris in the rain, and the marvellous city of Malacca in the sultry, tropical heat.
All the same, I feel the need to bid a formal farewell to the places I shall not witness. It is an occasional series, if you like. Today, for no reason I can identify, it is Colombia.
I shall never see Bogota:
Or the wonderful Las Lajas Cathedral:
Or the majestic plaza at Villa de Leyva:
Or the backstreets of old Cartagena:
But thanks to the miracle of The Google, I can see the pictures. And I think that is sort of all right.
Fact check: I am certain that 7% figure can never have been true, although people did repeat it as if it were gospel. I do discover the current number of Americans owning passports is 22%, according to State Department figures, and I do think that is quite strangely low. But then if I lived in a country with such an amazing variety of landscape and flora and fauna, maybe I would come over all Uncle Matthew and refuse to go abroad too.