The Latin Strum

Wrote this up a few weeks ago last time I went to Wonju and forgot to post it!

Anyway, at the beginning of April, I headed up to Wonju with my old co-teacher KY, who 1) has been long overdue meeting Andrea, and 2) has been wanting to learn Spanish from one of my other foreign teacher friends from the States, RO, who lives in a distant town via the Wonju route.

It ended up being a very Spanish themed weekend in the end. Maybe because Andrea and I were giving KY a crash course in Spanish before meeting with RO, but we also started learning the Latin Strum via Mele Fong’s Ukulele tutorial on “La Bamba/Twist and Shout”.

And because singing along in Spanish wasn’t enough, we just had to watch The Motorcycle Diaries afterward to get our Latino fix.

I know Motorcycle Diaries is old news as far as praising its narrative beauty and graceful cinematography, but it deserves saying again. It’s really one of those travel stories that manages to capture the essence of a journey.

That is to say, most of the time you’re having a horrible time or horrible things are happening to you and you just have to roll with it to keep afloat.

Pushing your way through mishaps.

Rarely do you get one of those romanticized trips where every passing moment is an inspiration and revelation. Instead what you get are glimpses – moments you see as still-shot photographs that usually don’t even mean anything at the time, they’re that small.

Stillshot memories from the end of the movie.


So right now, I want you to look out your nearest window – or if there are none just stare at a wall in the room you’re in. Really stare at it. Take in every detail, really absorb it. If you’re looking outside, observe the shape of the trees, the density of the shrubberies, the model of cars, the cracks in the road. If you’re looking around a room, memorize the knickknacks, the books, the carpet or wood floor, the peeling of the wallpaper or chips in the walls, the folds in the curtains.

Now close your eyes for ten seconds and try to recreate the scene you just fixed your eyes on.

When you open them again, take note of how much you were able to remember. I’d warrant you forgot about the discolouring of the curtains, the way the position the cars were parked, the dust on the knickknacks, the knots in the tree branches.

Now take this one scene you remembered maybe 20-50% of and multiply that by every moment of every day for as long as your travels last.

This is the ephemeral nature of life on the road. Most of what you do and see disappears instantly. As such, it’s only when you look back that you see the great monument you’ve created, the wordless narrative you’ll never be able to express in its entirety. It’s both sobering and humbling to carry within you something greater than yourself.

You catch glimpses of other lives, stories being lived out that you’re just a cameo in. Again, this is humbling and even frightening, because after a while you can’t help but see that that’s how life really is: you pass through, sometimes just looking, occasionally influencing, and most of the time forgotten. It’s brief and fleeting, but beautiful for that very reason.

If the entirety of the human species has only existed that long on this scale, contemplate for a fleeting moment how scarily short your entire individual existence on the Earth is.

It’s hard not to get caught up in ourselves and our own personal dramas, to exist outside your own point of view and start to see that just as much as you get caught up feeling you’re the centre of the universe, every single other person out there is thinking exactly the same.

Travel is one of the few things that really helps you gain that cherished perspective of existing outside your own brain.

And what you end up with then is a series of these ephemeral moments that you aren’t a part of, but that change you completely. Like a glacier, that slow accumulation shapes the landscape of your world so by the time you’ve passed through, you’ve carved a path you can’t ever un-walk.

Except that glacier is only in you. If you look back to where you came, your presence has already faded. You can’t change the road, the road’s changed you. (Except of course if you’re Che Guevera, in which case you do make a hell of an effort to change the road).

Travel is so much bigger than can ever be expressed, and it’s near impossible to say how these ephemeral things that exist for only a moment can align in such a way that forms who you are by the end of the journey, but they do. All you can do is live in the moment while it’s there.

Anyway, that’s my philosoraptor contribution for the week! These were the things I was thinking as I was perfecting my Latin strum. Ideally it makes some kind of sense. I use this as one case in point on how difficult it is to express the nature of travel, but I hope it rings true for some of you.

5 thoughts on “The Latin Strum

  1. Wonderful observations as always! I’m just going to add a little bit based on my less wide ranging experiences.

    I’ve traveled little outside of the U.S. and Canada, but I have probably been 60,000 miles or more outside of the northeast part of the U.S. and nearby Canada, almost all of it on local roads. Half of that has been in the last five years.

    As time goes by, naturally details begin to fade, but brilliant flashes triggered by who knows what happen not infrequently. Odors, dust, light, colors, rock formations, sunsets and rises, a turn in the road, all that and more can cause a flashback.

    But it’s the people that I remember best. Their stories. Their struggles. Sometimes even their voices: The server in a chain restaurant in the south working three jobs, taking care of his sick mom and child by himself, with a deep, rich voice that ought to be narrating everything; the desk clerk at an inn in North Carolina who not only was about to be the first in her family to go to college, but WAS the first to graduate from high school … and who was being disowned by her father for being uppity; the British man, retired from a job in England, living out the rest of his days with his wife in Florida while working at a souvenir shop; the enormously wealthy couples gathered round a fire pit south of the Grand Canyon; the garage mechanic from England who lives for adventures and thrills, e.g., bungee jumping from the highest platforms in the world — I’ve already gone on too long, but there it is. Incredible sights. Incredible people.

    Eyes open as wide as you can as long as you can. Take it all in, as you pointed out. The best you can do is remember some, be changed by some, and absorb it in ways that cannot be explained.


    1. I couldn’t agree more! Those peaks of memories that come pack to you at random and the stories that stick with you…one of those Mastercard Priceless perks of travel 🙂 and you could never go on too long about the kind of people you met! Yiu can’t write more interesting characters in fiction…


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