To the End of the World
By: Sami AlTokhais, November 30
Cesare Pavese, the Italian poet and novelist, said of travel: “It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things—air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky—all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
I am in Medellin, Colombia – 4,539 KM from Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where I officially started my trip. My Latin American journey is all done through ground travel. Having passed within 9 countries, I still have a long ways to go… to Ushuaia. Not to be mistaken for the club in Ibiza, Ushuaia is the southernmost city on the planet – and it is located in Argentina. Its motto, Ushuaia, fin del mundo, principio de todo, translates to, “the end of the world, beginning of everything.”
Why am I doing this? Why am I travelling to the end of the world? My family and friends question the sanity behind my actions. And they may have a point. Five months ago I quit my job and booked myself a one-way ticket to Guatemala. Why can’t I just settle down and enjoy the little things in life, like weekends away from my 9-5 job, or even a nice raise?
The decision to quit my job and embark on this journey had a lot to do with the struggle to find meaning in my everyday existence. Before quitting my job, I had engaged in travel photography for over 6 years throughout work or school vacations. During that period, travelling opened my eyes to the ways people carry on their lineage of traditions and values in efforts to survive and prosper. For example, a few years ago I spent some time with the locals in Zanzibar, Tanzania. I spent hours observing their day-to-day activities, which eventually changed my own thoughts on opportunity and dignity. As I continued to travel, seeing the way other people live, something inside of me slowly shifted. A mix of fear of the uncertain, love of discovery, and the will to act in the face of opportunity unveiled itself, and became the impetus for making my decision. The road was paved and there was no turning back.
Before starting my journey I spent two months in Antigua, Guatemala, which is one of my favorite places to be. I had learnt a lot in the preceding years from spending shorter periods of time there amongst the ancestors of the Maya. Their art revealed itself to me through various means of expression that I was exposed to everyday: music, architecture, pottery, sculpture, painting, and most importantly weaving. As with the original Mayans, many women in Guatemala still weave traditional attire, scarves, bags and more. In the Spanish colonial town of Antigua you see many colorful textiles being worn and sold on the cobble streets of town. On this trip I spent a few weeks learning Spanish in Antigua, before starting my adventure from Mexico. As I continue my journey southward, I am now able to engage locals in simple conversations. There is something meaningful about the art education I continue to receive through direct experience.
As I continue, my fondness for travel grows even more. Travel is not simply a physical activity that represents going from point A to point B. While that may be a philosophy for some, many find travel to be the best way to fulfill a need for exploration and experiencing the new and the unfamiliar. Personally, I like it because it exposes my insecurities. Tackling them on the road becomes a must. I was somewhat of an introvert until I began to seriously travel. Since there aren’t many Saudi or Arab backpackers in Latin America, I was forced into becoming the unofficial Saudi Goodwill Ambassador in the region. I answer people’s FAQs to the best of my knowledge – a social role I would have felt discomfited by had I stayed put in the familiar confines of home.
Art and travel are both journeys of discovery and expression. When I travel, my senses are heightened, making the sights, sounds and smells more exciting and engaging. Taking advantage of this sensory experience that is triggered by the travel experience has enabled me to improve my photography and writing in ways that I could not have otherwise. I have met wonderful people and heard many great stories. I have also met other artists who have found their vision through their personal journeys in this part of the world.
As I contemplate the past 4 months that I have spent traveling, I feel more connected with myself, with the places I have been and with the people I have met. As I approach Ushuaia, the end of the world, my trip will come to an end. However, it will also mark the culmination of my ongoing transformation and a new beginning will commence.
Follow Sami’s journey on instagram @samitokhais