Travel & Fireworks

I’ve been thinking that the classic image of friends gathered in a living room, politely yawning through someone’s 300 vacation slides, hasn’t really gone away. It’s just been replaced by emails with massive photo attachments, or links to someone’s Flickr and Facebook pages – two platforms easier both to browse at length and to ignore.

Some people love to talk about their travels, while others go to all kinds of interesting places and rarely mention it.

Yukoners are the same: any airport pick-up or drop-off means seeing acquaintances and friends who could be coming from or going to anywhere. I’m going to guess that “Hey, where are you off to/ where are you back from?” is a common question in every Yukon town.

A new column has been poking its head into these pages occasionally of late. “Intrepid Traveller” is an experiment, a space growing from observing how much Yukoners travel and how this shapes our relationship to living here.

Do we travel to expand ourselves? To escape? To get perspective? To eat mangoes that taste right?

The moments that stay with us from a trip don’t necessarily stand out from the weave of the holiday, vacation or work jaunt right away. Those are the moments that tend to pop up spontaneously in conversation.

A few days ago I ran into Leslie Piercy, a long-time Dawsonite I’ve come to know a bit through film nights in town. She was packing to leave for Mexico, where she goes each winter until spring – another Northern habit.

When I told her I’d started this editorial job and would be looking for stories, her face lit up. “Maybe I can tell you about the walking pilgrimage I did one year in Mexico!” she said.

It wasn’t so much what she said, but how excited she was, that stayed with me. I emailed her a few days later.

“What happened that stayed so strongly with you?” I wanted to know. When she wrote back, I asked for permission to print one part of it.

If you have a travel anecdote you might like to share with our readers, drop us a line and we’ll chat. Maybe it would fit into the Intrepid Traveller column.

Here’s Leslie.

The second day of the pilgrimage, we woke at 3:00 am to the sound of truck motors, flashing lights, voices. And a fierce pain burning the bottoms of my feet.

I knew I’d never be able to walk today.

I maneuvered myself into kneeling position in the tent and crawled out the door, spinning onto my bottom as I grabbed my sandals. By positioning my weight on the back and sides of my heels, I could creep to the kitchen tent and grab fruit, with atole and tamales.

The moon – full! – was hanging right in front of us. It was now 4:00 am, and the pilgrims were leaving. The urgency made me forget my feet. We could not find our way without that river of people.

We zebra-striped along, the moon casting shadows of people, cacti, and fence posts on our path through the high desert of Mexico. Banners sailed in front like ghostly galleons. The leader sang out every now and then, the words of a chant, a song, our intention for that day.

Peace” is what he cried out for, and I got a lump in my throat. I fought back tears at the thought of the hundreds of us marching that day for peace.

The fireworks alerting the spirits kept me present with their frequent cracks in the night air. I looked ahead and up—and there they were!! Fountains of light just there in the sky! Thinking of all the dawns I had lain in bed listening to that racket, never really comprehending, exactly why shatter the night like this?

And now, here I was, galumphing along, wanting to cry with the pain and sometimes going so deeply into it that I forgot it was there. Mesmerized by the beat of the people, like a giant heartbeat, pulling me along.

Being in that crowd, surrounded by the strength of people who had endured far worse things than blisters, made me know, made me feel some of the pain that walked with us. I felt part of something bigger than I could have ever imagined before in my life.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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