High above the clouds, in the volcanic range of El Salvador is the Santa Ana volcano which never sleeps. Inside the ring of nested calderas, a green boiling lake releases clouds of fumes into the air. From above it looks like the eye of a volcano which is full of rage but is holding back its emotion.
I am with Laura and Vivien from Switzerland. I see tears flowing from Vivien’s eyes.
“Why are you crying? Tears of happiness and awe?” I ask her.
“No, sulphur gases,” she replies by wiping off tears from her cheeks.
Located at 2381-m Santa Ana volcano is the highest and the most active volcano in El Salvador. We walk along the rim of the crater. A slight mistake can throw us down a couple of hundred meters into the sulphurous boiling lake. Yet we are here, far from our homelands, all in the spirit of travel.
Why do we travel?
Our foraging ancestors were constantly on the move in search of food and lived life as nomads migrating from one place to another. So migration and exploration are in our genes but after the agricultural revolution, humans began to settle down in permanent homes. Back in the time, travel served a specific purpose—mainly trade, education, exploring new territories and routes, or making the pilgrimage. It was only after the industrial revolution that the idea of recreational travel took off.
Now, tourism is one of the world’s largest industries. Business travel accounts for only about 15 % of all travel expenditure, a large part of the remaining 85% is recreational tourism. Today, travel has taken the shape of consumerism. Travel agencies, newspapers, magazines, books promise us that if something is not right in our life, we must travel abroad to have new experiences, widen our horizons and reach our full potential which will eventually make us better humans. So we spend precious years of our life doing jobs we hate, trying to save enough money so we could travel to the distant lands, even if shortly, to discover the purpose of our life. But when we arrive there, instead of finding solitude to reflect on our inner self, we encounter big crowds, much bigger than the ones we had left behind. Despite that, we travel like maniacs, rushing from one place to another ticking off places from our bucket list as fast as possible, never taking the time to stop and learn about a place or a culture, interact with people and incorporate something new in our life. So, during travel, we may have been able to escape from our daily routine and experienced moments of awe and pure bliss, but just seeing new places doesn’t change us. As is always the case in consumerism, we tend to consume more by travelling more; in the name of cultural tourism, honeymoon tourism, wedding destinations, adventure tourism and so on and so forth. Today being well-travelled means a wiser person, so we flood images of our travel on Facebook and Instagram to boost our image but inside we remain hollow. We never quite become the person that the tourism industry had promised us we would become if we travelled but didn’t tell how exactly. Thus all the effort and time to go to the foreign lands just becomes a recreational activity.
Travelling is as much about seeing inside as much seeing outside. It is about constantly asking questions, staying curious, being open to other ideas and ways of life and embracing them into your life, learning about the environment, our impact on the earth, bonding with nature and thinking how we can give back to people and to the planet. In a nutshell, it is about leaving our home and returning as a different person. If it didn’t happen, we didn’t travel, we just toured.