The earth is often perceived as a foolproof Google map — not very large, easily accessible and knowable by any finger-drumming geek with a computer. In some respects this is true. Distance is no longer a problem. You can nip over to Hong Kong or spend a weekend in Dubai, or Rio. But as some countries open up, others shut down. And some countries have yet to earn their place on the traveler’s map, such as Turkmenistan and Sudan. But I’ve been to both not long ago — one of very few sightseers. And along with oppression and human rights violations, I found hospitality, marvels and a sense of discovery.
In my own “Tao of Travel,” the fact that a place is out of fashion, forgotten or not yet on the map doesn’t make it less interesting, just more itself, and any visit perhaps more of a challenge. But travel maps have always been provisional and penciled in, continually updated. The map of the possible world being redrawn right now — parts of it in tragic and unsettling ways — might soon mean new opportunities for the traveler who dares to try it. Travel, especially of the old laborious kind, has never seemed to me of greater importance, more essential, more enlightening.
What makes pilgrimage even more important is that it takes you to a deeper place, because pilgrimage is like making love to the world.
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