“This is why I travel overland. I am an overland traveler. I am an overland traveler.”
Laying in bed, I repeat it over and over again, as if it will solve my current woe.
There are plenty of reasons I prefer traveling overland as much as I can. In fact, I am in the midst of developing a whole page and series of posts on that topic this month where I discuss the reasons I like it so much. Off the top of my addled brain some are:
- Seeing and fully experiencing the immense scope of the world.
- The environmental benefits of limiting jet travel, especially short haul flights.
- The uninterrupted time you get on long bus or train rides, usually cut off from the world and left to your own thoughts.
- Being able to travel the way that most locals do most times.
Those are just a few of the reasons why overland my preferred mode of “getting there.”
But as I type this at 4:30 a.m. lying in bed in Amman, Jordan the only reason that makes one shred of difference to me is that I don’t get jet lag on the ground.
Right now, as I sit here and write this, I have a bitter and irrational hatred of airplanes.
Yes, I know that air travel is a modern wonder and frankly, necessary. I didn’t have the time or money to make the trip from California to Jordan without getting on plane. For the amazingly low price of $686.70, I was able to almost transport myself from San Diego, California to Amman, Jordan in 24 hours and 53 minutes.
But right now, the only magic I want to experience is the magic of a full night’s sleep at a normal hour.
This is the first time I have ever had jet lag to this extent. I have been here for a week and the earliest I have gotten to sleep was one night at about 2 a.m. The other nights have seen the bliss of sleep wash over me anytime from 2 till about 5.
That is not how I like to operate. This is my personal version of hell, perhaps not to the level of the Houston Passport Office, but if not that bad, not too far off.
Jet Lag — the Poetic Version
I recall reading a wonderful piece that Pico Iyer did about jet lag in a book called Sun After Dark: Flights Into the Foreign. I did a quick search to see if I could find what he wrote on jet lag somewhere and ran into this long piece he did for the New York Times Magazine called In the Realm of Jet Lag, based on the piece in the book.
He awes me with his skill. Take the time to read it all — he has a magnificent gift.
A day, a human day, has a certain shape and structure to it; a day, in most respects, resembles a room in which our things are ordered according to our preference. It may be empty or it may be full, but in either case it is familiar. Over here is the place where you rest (10 p.m. to 6 a.m., perhaps), over there is the place where you eat or work or feel most alive. You know your way around the place so well, you can find the bathroom in the dark. But under jet lag, of course, you lose all sense of where or who you are. You get up and walk toward the bathroom and bang into a chair. You reach toward the figure next to you and then remember that she’s 7,000 miles away, at work. You get up for lunch, and then remember that you have eaten lunch six times already. You feel almost like an exile, a fugitive of sorts, as you walk along the hotel corridor at 4 a.m., while all good souls are in their beds, and then begin to yawn as everyone around you goes to work. The day is stretched and stretched, in this foreign world of displacement, till it snaps.
The lure of modern travel, for many of us, is that we don’t go from A to B so much as from A to Z, or from A to alpha; most often, we end up somewhere between the two, not quite one, and not quite the other — in an airport, perhaps, that is and isn’t the place we left and the place we think we’re going to. Jet lag, in some ways, is the perfect metaphor for this, the neurological equivalent, I often feel, of some long, gray airport passageway that leads from one nowhere space to another. It speaks, you could say, for much in the accelerated world where we speed between continents and think we have conquered both space and time.
Isn’t infidelity part of the sales tax, part of the lure, of travel? It is, of course, and it’s nothing but the shadow side of the dissolution of self, the release from normal boundaries that flight induces. Indeed, it’s part of what moves us to take flights in the first place: to walk through that archway of lights and become a different person.
Perhaps I am currently in that mental haze that jet lag causes, but my current thoughts are far less poetic and inspiring that Iyer’s words. Then again, my words never rise remotely to the levels he dwells in with his pen. In my current irritated state I jealously cursed him for his talents as I read that piece yet again.
Though to be frank, my jealousy of his talents exists equally when I am working off a full tank of sleep.
Please. I just want to get my normal life back. My normal routine. My “room with things ordered according to my preference.”
Right now, I’m just pissed off.
When I was flying over here, I was taking photos out of the window of the plane, I was looking forward to writing about the magic of plane travel.
Though I am an avowed overland travel apologist, I still do get that bounce in my step when walk into an airport and see the board displaying all the outbound flights – that bounce that comes from feeling that all is possible.
The weather was good as we flew out briefly over the Pacific Ocean, then over the mountainous deserts near Palm Springs, then over the snow capped Rockies, the vast farmlands of the Midwest, over Lake Michigan, and down towards New York City. I sat at my window seat watching America quickly pass by — an entirely different perspective on my home country from the one that I have seen on my many road trips. It was beautiful.
Even the seven hour layover, and the airport price I paid for my burger and two beers, didn’t put a damper on the excitement of the day.
It was the excitement of going from “home” to “travel” again. It is the rush that I live for at this point in my life.
Right now, that tide of excitement has fully receded and left me washed aground, bloating and writhing on the beach. Awake, aground, and annoyed.
So, as the 5:15 a.m. call to prayer signals the beginning of the day for many here in Jordan, I resolve to just fight through. Simply hoping that a full night without sleep will exhaust me enough to rock me to a gentle sleep at a normal hour later today.
And if that doesn’t work…. I think I have an alternative plan in store.
That bottle of wine is now empty from a few nights ago, but I bet I can find another Zumot wine around here somewhere…
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