It’s summer, and that means Anne-Claire and I are traveling again. I’ll say first that the DNA of our trip this year is a bit different than last year’s. Our time is about a month shorter for one, and in that period we plan to visit 3 countries, not 10. As such, I figured Crossing Borders – a provisional name I came up with last year that ended up sticking – might be not be as fitting.
After playing around with a few possibilities, I decided to borrow from the French. They have this great word – “Terroir” – used to corral all the different aspects of making wine. Oenophiles, take note – I only occasionally reference good wine on this blog and usually with the ham-fisted grace of someone who rates bottles based on the quality of the company I shared them with, not the grapes or the vintage or the levels of tannins.
That gets to why I chose Terroir as the new title of this blog. The temptation in English is to ascribe its meaning to an obvious cognate like “terrain” and think the French are just referring to the soil in which grapes are grown. While that’s pretty important (so I’m told), in reality the word refers to the rain, the humidity, the sunlight that went into making a specific vintage, whether there were fires nearby as the vines bore fruit – in short all of the tiny factors that go into giving a wine its taste and character. Perhaps the greatest influence on the terroir comes from the winemakers themselves, who bring a lifetime of experience to bear on each batch. Without them, no line would exist between sour vinegar and a killer red or a crisp white.
In the same way, I’ve found that the people you meet define the character of a journey as well. I still gawk at the structures we humans have battled gravity to create, I marvel at the unique sights, smells and sounds found in the natural world, and I get swept back in time as I touch stones put in place by our ancestors thousands of years before my existence was even a possibility. But it’s the thrill of catching a glimpse of people’s everyday lives and sharing in them in some small way that fuels my drive – perhaps addiction – to travel: the 6-year-old girl who shared nothing in common with us save our humanity and yet had no fear in crawling onto Anne-Claire’s lap in a dusty river town in Mali, lifting our spirits midway through a grueling 24-hour travel day; the hours-long dinners we shared in a tiny village in northern Spain stretching into the night as the sounds of children playing ricocheted off the centuries-old town walls; and the sight of an old friend and her new child who, despite a horrifically stacked deck, still find a way to happiness.
Again, we’re setting out with the same goal – to meet and observe and interact with people on their terms. We fly into Paris, head south to visit a family in Aix-en-Provence and then east to Cahors to visit another family. The bulk of our trip, however, will not be spent on high-speed trains, but rather walking slowly on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. From St. Jean Pied de Port, we’ll hike the 500 miles (or as many as we can before flying home from Lisbon on July 5th) over the Pyrenees, through the Basque region of Spain and across Castillo to Santiago in Galicia.
The construct of this hike does strike me as a bit artificial, that is, taking a route that millions have walked before us for literally centuries, so I’ll try to avoid comparisons with our rather unconventional Ireland-to-Niger trip last summer. It’s not with a deliberate spiritual journey in mind that we beginning walking “the way.” But I do hope to share the same rich, unexpected experiences that people-focused travel can bring through regular updates on this blog.
I’ve been mulling over the possibilities for what to do with this online space since returning from Paris last fall. Selfishly, I enjoy the opportunity to evangelize a bit for the richness that travel can provide, and I truly appreciate everyone who takes the time to read what I write. So my goal is this – to provide one person’s opinion of what the terroir of travel really is. With our hike on the Camino as a springboard, I plan to launch into gear reviews and travel tips, as well as travel logs from interesting places as often as I can get to them, always with an eye on what matters most to me as a traveler – people.
Oh yeah, be sure to tune in a day or so and I’ll explain just what the heck is going on in this picture.