In 2004, I was planning to visit Africa for a 3 week vacation. I was to visit Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Africa is a fascinating and wondrous place, and I felt that the best way to see all of the glory that is Africa, was to become an ammeter historian, trying to understand the last 200 years of culture, civilization, and social history. And so I started reading. I read numerous books about Africa, learned of the quest attempted by Stanley and Livingston, heard of the two Nile rivers, and learned of the man-eating lions of Tsavo, among many other wonders of that continent. It was partly through this expanded and deeper view of Africa that everything came to life for me. I felt like I was walking in the footsteps of all that came before me.
Riding on the trail of great explorers
In 2014, while riding my motorcycle across Patagonia, coming finally to the straits of Magellan, and crossing from the main-land to Tierra del Fuego, I once again felt this overwhelming sensation that I was in the very same place that a great explorer had once been. I could see the two oceans. I could see the dangerous rock canyons that caused the ancient ships to fight off total destruction every moment. I felt like Magellan did as he crossed these straits. I stood tall on my bike as I rode off of the ferry, landing on Tierra del Fuego. Traveling just a bit further, I came to Ushuaia, the southern-most inhabited place on Earth. All of these places were made richer, and more fantastic because I read voraciously before embarking on my voyage.
I feel those sensations, once again, from deep within
Now, it’s 2018, and I’m once again preparing for an epic journey. A journey that is certain to invoke these same feelings. A journey that will challenge me, and yet reward me with highs that are even higher than the greatest challenges. A journey that will open my mind to the wonders of other cultures, other peoples, other rivers and seas, other foods, other customs, and sights that will stir me from deep within. Yet, I fear that I’ll only be able to realize these feelings, and feel this strongly, if I prepare for my journey by reading, and studying all of the countries that I’ll ride across. I want to be prepared to feel that sense of wonder as I ride across great open spaces, and through cities with almost unimaginable traffic. I need to start preparing, and this time, I’ve decided that I’ll read even more, but I’ll also enjoy movies, documentaries, and other film representations of journeys which are much like mine.
So, which movie is causing me to stir?
It was in fact through one of these movies that I discovered the story of a great man. A man, whose name I’ve heard, but nonetheless, a man that I new little about. This man’s name was Marco Polo. In short, Marco Polo’s story is that he traveled to China, in the company of his Father and Uncle. While his Father and Uncle were seeking rarities that they could trade for riches, Marco wanted only to make his way to China, and to see the world, being mindful to document it for all to read.
Marco traveled the Silk Road all the way to China, but after arriving, and instead of returning to Venice with his Father and Uncle, he decided to stay in China, and serve the master of the great Chinese Empire. He put himself in the service of Kublai Khan; The richest and most powerful man on Earth. He served Kublai Khan for 17 years before returning to Venice. Upon his return to Venice he was imprisoned, where he met Rustichello da Pisa. Rustichello was so taken in by Marco’s story, that he decided to write it down, and publish it.
Hmmm, it’s a Marco Polo film festival
The first movie that I watched, and that was about Marco Polo was called Marco Polo, and it was two 90 minute episodes. The movie, Marco Polo, seasons 1 & 2 is available on Amazon Prime, and through other means. I was so taken in by his story that I watched another, and yet another movie about Marco Polo. The move that I watched this evening, and which has me really excited is called In the footsteps of Marco Polo. In this movie, released in 2008, two guys from Brooklyn, NY set out from Venice, Italy, to effectively follow Marco’s journey, using only ground transportation (Horses, Camels, Yaks, Cars, Trucks, Buses, Trains), and ships, attempting to be as faithful to Marco’s original journey as possible. The journey that they were hoping to recreate was over 25,000 miles, and could easily be described as “fantastic” and “Imaginative” by all of those that heard about it, but to Marco, it was simply his life.
While telling his story to Rustichello, Marco stressed that every word of his fantastic story was true. In fact, he noted to Rustichello that he decided not to tell some of the most fantastic parts of his journey for fear that they would not be believed. Marco’s fears were realized, and even to this day, there are many skeptics that say that Marco did not make it to China, and that most of his tale is a lie. Today, there is much proof that his story is real, and in the film “Following the footsteps of Marco Polo”, you would see the two guys regularly call out when the find one of the items that Marco described in his book. Some of the items that these two guys came upon have been around for 1000 or more years, and can still be found today.
I feel the spirit rising
When you watch the movie, you see the spirit of Marco Polo come alive in these two guys. I mean, these are two, very average, very normal guys who spend 2 years of their lives, traveling through war-torn countries, through war zones, across great desserts, just as Marco did. All the while, they were noticing all of these small little items that Marco had written about, some 700 years before.
They wondered in each new discovery, and embraced their travel with an almost undying sense of adventure, and perseverance. They made me proud to be planning a trip to these very same places. My trip will be different, yes, much different. I will not travel through war zones, but I will be traveling through Russia, at a time when we are once again approaching a cold-war kind of mood between our two countries. I’ll be traveling through China when we’re “renegotiating our trade deals”, and I’ll be traveling through Germany, which is the only country in Europe classified as a level 3 risk by the US State Department. Tension is rising, accusations are flying, and politics is ever-present. I’ll be in the middle of my own kind of risk/reward battle,
Pay it forward?
After watching the film tonight I wanted to share with all of you this feeling that I have. This feeling that sits like an explosion of discovery and adventure. A feeling that comes at you like Christmas morning at age 7. A feeling that makes you smile a constant smile. A feeling that makes you see the wonder of things to come.
As I look at the World today, and I see so much tension in America, and around the world. I see bigotry, and racism in far too many unexpected places. I’m reminded of one of Marco Polo’s greatest quotes. “Bigotry lives in fear of adventure and travel”.
So, to all of you, I say that you must find that thing that will give you the feeling of being that 7 year old on Christmas day. I hope that you can find that thing, and embrace it. Use it as your rocket fuel to allow you to see life for all of its glory, and all that is yet to be revealed. Use the feeling for good, not for evil, to fuel your adventure, not your retreat. Use that feeling to overcome the feeling that you’re going to see this big world, and you’re going to enjoy every day of it.
Marco, here I come
And so, with all of that said, it seems clear to me that as I travel into Europe, near the beginning of my journey, I must find a way to get to Venice, to see the museum that bears some of the things of Marco Polo. I’ll see where this great explorer was born, and where he lived a good portion of his life, and I’ll remember him as I ride my motorcycle through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China, following along the Silk Route that Marco walked on some 700 years ago.