I Stood in Front of the Eiffel Tower and Felt Nothing
There’s a thump, and the sound of skidding tires. A muffled screech makes its way out of my mouth as I furiously clutch at the brakes and drag my Birkenstocks into the road in vain, trying to avoid another incident. The dog emits a high pitched yelp and scurries to the other side of the road with it’s tail between its legs, now apparently understanding the danger of dashing in front of a scooter zipping along at 40km/h.
My heart is pounding. The urge to tact-vom overwhelms me, even though it wasn’t me at fault. My fingers gripping the handlebars turn white and the 18-year-old girl clutching my waist shakes silently. I come to a halt in the dirt on the side of the road, nearly crashing my piece-of-shit scooter into the back of a bike ridden by two Balinese boys.
Forget the rice paddies, forget the beaches, forget the nasi goreng – it’s the first time I’ve felt a true, tangible emotion since my arrival in Bali four days ago, it’s all because of a mangy street dog.
At 20 years of age, Indonesia was the 20th country I’ve visited and was thus far another sight on my bucket list that I needed to tick off. I’ve spent almost half of my life caffeinating the masses of Brisbane in return for my meagre amount of savings. Yet at 18 years old, following extensive research, planning and daydreaming, I stood in front of the Eiffel tower in the heart of Paris and felt nothing.
I stood in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and felt nothing.
I stood in front of the Parthenon and felt nothing.
I stood in front of the Taj Mahal and felt nothing.
Tourists from all over the globe “oohed” and “aahed”, all the while looking for that perfect Instagram upload. Baguettes were held up ironically, a majority of the crowd had striped tee shirts on and marriage proposals scattered across the concourse in front of the iron giant. It was too overwhelming. I bought my ticket, walked up its 674 steps, admired the view and then promptly made my way back to the metro to cross off the next sight on my list.
It’s not that I wasn’t impressed by its beauty and history, I’m not a complete asshole, it’s just that it was meant to be some magical, awe-inspiring, life-changing moment. Instead, I sat on the metro in between an Asian family and an old, weathered French woman and considered how I was supposed to feel about an inanimate structure.
Later that night I sat at my hostel’s dining table surrounded by voices of all different tongues. A few were American; some were Canadian. There were two Dutch girls, an Italian couple, a Brazilian group and several Australians – all fighting for the chance to talk. I didn’t say much, only offering an occasional comment or answering the odd question. I just sat, basking in the company and the noise and the ease of friendship.
We went out that night and I got really, truly drunk for the first time and I felt like I finally saw Paris. I woke the next morning with grubby feet, bruises all over my legs, only a few Euros left in my purse and a shit-eating grin. “This is what I wanted to feel.”
When I travel, I operate as if I am on autopilot, not quite aware or able to process the gravity or significance of a situation until it’s already passed. I despise looking like a tourist, meaning that I often walk with purpose, my headphones in and my head down with a severe case of footpath rage at slow walkers. Maybe it’s because I don’t like drawing attention to myself, but I think it’s probably because I like to romanticise the idea of belonging somewhere.
What I wanted and inevitably chased was something bigger, better and more thought-provoking. I wanted more than another box ticked on my bucket list. I wanted to feel something real and to be a part of something.
It took me a long time to come to the realisation that I would never be satisfied by trying to achieve other people’s travel ideals. For me, travel is not meant to be a manufactured Kodak moment.
Travel is messy. It’s about moments and feelings and people and experiences. It’s glancing over at your friend and sharing a wide-eyed look that says, Holy shit, this is really happening. It’s falling asleep next to your new best friend in some park in Spain because siesta was invented for hangovers. It’s nearly getting K-O’d by the open door of a taxi while cycling the streets of Berlin. It’s your reckless travel companion convincing you to jump off of a cliff in Nepal attached to a nice stranger with questionable qualifications. It’s about getting lost in all sorts of places and the crazy shit that happens when you do.
Two hours earlier, I’d watched the Bali street dog amble away from the road, mostly unscathed. Now, I’m back behind the proverbial wheel, flying through lush, green rice paddies as the sun chases us. My hair blows haphazardly around my face, almost obscuring my vision. I breathe in a deep lungful of fresh Balinese air. I’m grinning so hard my cheeks hurt, and I’m feeling it again.
Cover by Jez Timms
Maddie attended our travel-writing workshops in Bali this January, which is where she wrote this killer piece. In exchange for uni credit, Maddie learned a language, had daily writing classes with media industry cool cats and lived amongst the rice paddies in Canggu. Care to join our next intake of hobos? Click here for more info.