Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jupiter's Travels

I purchased this book by Ted Simon before embarking upon my "America's Trip" in 2005. I had just enough time then to read a few excerpts that I thought relevant to my journey. Now I wish I had read the entire volume prior to my adventure.

In 1973, the 46-year-old Brit set out from London aboard a 500cc Triumph Tiger planning to circumnavigate the globe in 18 months. It took him four years. His story has inspired many others to take the plunge.

Reading Jupiter's Travels now, I appreciate Simon's candor, and the sharing of his own internal spiritual journey. As seems to be my habit lately, I've collected some excerpts here.


(In Kabaria, Tunisia, a young man invited Simon to stay with his family – in the ghetto. He wondered later if the young man had merely done it for the prestige of having an important guest.)

“I didn’t see how Mohamad thirsted for prestige. He got drunk on it, and how can I blame him? It’s all very well for me to go around feeling humble, but I must also be aware of the effect I am having on others. It could be potent.”


(In Algeria)

"'Chances are,' said one mechanic, 'if you don’t worry about it, it’ll go all the way with no bother.' I chose to worry. I took all the tools and spare parts I could carry, and half an hour later the oil fell out. Because I was prepared?

“Does it rain because you carry your umbrella, or because you don’t? It’s a personal matter depending on how you remember it. The way I write my own history it’s low on winning streaks. I never could gamble. I like to work things out in advance, but it bothers me to think of what I might have been missing. I’ve done too much hacking away against the grain of life. Without all that solemn effort, maybe, I could have gone further, faster, easier.

“Remember what my headmaster said thirty years ago, that tarstained old walrus: ‘Simon, you think too much.’”


“My feeling for the Sudanese was one of total admiration. Never had I met such unmotivated generosity, such a capacity for imbuing the simplest life with a touch of splendour. I had felt it straight away in Atbara. In the tea houses there it had been rare for me to pay, though I had tried. When it was time to settle I would find that someone had paid my bill and left before me. Only after I would remember the quiet greeting from a stranger on his way out. Or the proprietor would refuse my piaster. They were small amounts, but they added great value to the tea and made it rich.”


(Upon meeting meeting the “fuzzy-wuzzies” in Sudan)

“This is another reason why I am here; to experience (nothing less) the brotherhood of man. Imagine meeting these men in a London pub or an American diner. Impossible. They could never be there what they are here. They would be made small by the complexities, the paraphernalia that we have added to our lives, just as we are, although we have learned to pretend otherwise. I had come here to realize the full stature of man; here outside a grass hut, on a rough wooden bench, with no noise, no crowds, no appointments, no axe to grind, no secret to conceal, all the space and time in the world, and my heart as translucent as the glass of tea in my hand. The sense of affinity with these men is so strong that I would tear down every building in the West if I though it would bring us together like this. I understand why the Arab idea seems so perverse, so fanatical, so untrustworthy and self-destructive to the Western mind. It must be because the Arab puts an ultimate value on something we no longer even know exists. Integrity, in its real sense of being at one with oneself and one’s God, whoever and wherever that God may be. Without it he feels crippled.

“We Europeans sold our integrity for progress many years ago, and we have debased the word to mean merely someone who obeys the rules. A chasm of misunderstanding yawns between us. At this moment I know which side I want to stand.” Read more.


“…Africans themselves can see no advantage in keeping endangered species alive, unless it’s to make money out of sentimental foreigners.”


“At the time it seemed to me that what I wanted was to have my problem solved quickly and to get on my way. I had a boat to catch in Cape Town and the journey was still the main thing. What happened on the way, who I met, all that was incidental. I had not quite realized that the interruptions were the journey.”


“…a problem shared is a problem halved.”


“The bike also felt off balance, as usually happened when my mood was unstable, I got the impression of confusion, as though the power was not being transmitted cleanly, and my ear picked up noises and vibrations that fed my doubts. The responses were fractionally less positive, the gears less than crisp, the handling felt off, and the whole thing seemed to rumble along in a disconnected fashion, instead of being the tightly integrated machine I was used to.

“I was unwilling to believe that all this proceeded from my own mind, and tried to diagnose faults.”


“Nothing ever enchanted me so much as coming across wild animals. I thought often how human society has impoverished itself by driving this element out of its life. In Africa I began to see the human race, sometimes, as a cancerous growth so far out of equilibrium with its host, the earth, that it would inevitably bring about the destruction of both. Not an original thought, but it came to me repeatedly.”


(Inspired by his readings in Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections)

“All through Africa I had felt growing in me the belief that what was going on around me, the weather, the sudden appearances of animals and birds, the way I was received by people along the way, was somehow connected to my own inner life. Here was a man of great experience and erudition not only discussing the subject and describing similar experiences from his own life, but actually providing a word for it which he had himself coined: “synchronicity,” meaning, for example, ‘when an inwardly perceived event is seen to have correspondence in external reality.’

“I was specially startled to read Jung’s remarks about mythology and the need of the individual to have some story or myth by which he can explain those things which reason and logic cannot account for. It seemed to me then that I had been close to the truth in thinking of my role as a ‘myth-maker,’ and not just for myself perhaps.”


“Try as I would to imagine a rosier future, I could see only ever-increasing numbers of people determined to seize on the resources of the earth and pervert them into greater and greater heaps of indestructible concrete and plastic ugliness…”

“And there seemed to be nothing that I or any individual could do that would make a jot of difference to the outcome, I met many who shared my pessimism, and some who felt personally insulted by it, but I never heard anyone propose a convincing alternative.

“It was my weakness to become obsessed by these gloomy abstractions. I made it my duty to save the world, and each time I failed I felt as lifeless and meaningless as the gray army of unborn billions whose future I was trying to settle.

“Again and again I had to be taught that one single life-giving act is worth more than a million speculations. Once, in Ethiopia, I was restored by nothing more than a smile.”


(Simon describes the many warnings he received prior to traveling in Colombia. Friends advised him to carry a gun. He declined. Thirty years later, I was subject to the same dire warnings. Colombia is one of the countries I'd love to return to.)


"The Pan-American Highway stretches out ahead of me, unbroken, all the way to the U.S.A., and I feel myself being swept along it, with no time, no energy, for anything more. I see the fascination of these Central American countries but can’t drive my imagination to take hold. Everything in me now cries ‘Enough. It’s time to stop. Give us a rest.’”

(I had a similar experience, on the road from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, as I considered whether to continue on into Uruguay and Brazil, and dreaded the thought of passing through all the Central American countries once again.)


(In India)

“They (monkeys) seemed so close to enlightenment, as though at any present moment they might stumble over it and explode into consciousness, Their curiosity is extreme. They experiment with any unfamiliar object, a coin, a hat, a piece of paper, just as a human baby does, pulling it, rubbing it, sticking it in their ears, hitting it against other things. And nothing comes of it. To be so close, yet never to pierce the veil…

“I looked at myself in the same light, as a monkey given my life to play with, prodding it, trying to stretch it into different shapes, dropping it and picking it up again, suspecting always that it must have some use and meaning, tantalized and frustrated by it but always unable to make sense of it.”

(He goes on to describe the confidence the journey has given him, the limits to absorbing impressions and information, the almost god-like feelings, the fear of tempting the Fates by going beyond what was intended for humans.)

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