You could walk, sure. Or you could take a car. But you know what would be much, much better?
If you go for a ride.
There’s something about riding. Something exhilarating, and freeing. It lets you cover a whole lot of ground very quickly, but keeps you connected to the landscape and the environment you’re passing through. You’re not separated from it by a thick shield of glass or plastic. The rushing wind hits your face and you feel the sun on your arms and you smell the smells clamouring to your nose – fresh earth, chimney smoke, pine trees, dust, recent rain, someone’s kitchen, livestock, jasmine floating in the air.
There are many, many ways to go for a ride, and an infinite number of experiences to be had while doing so. Some are difficult, some are easy. Some require a licence, though you could always jump on behind a friend who’s done the hard work already. You can ride at home, or more tantalisingly you can ride through new landscapes, new cultures, new experiences while you explore a new part of the world.
You could hire a bicycle and pedal from temple to temple as you explore the thousand year old Buddhist ruins of Bagan, Myanmar. You’ll bump over rounded cobblestones and soar down dirt roads that connect the incredible ornate stone buildings that dot the flat skyline around you, like so many ancient skyscrapers. Your independence will take you to many of the hundreds of temples not frequented by other tourists, and you’ll park the bike and push through the undergrowth, the star of your own Indiana Jones adventure as you explore rooms built ten centuries ago, climbing ancient staircases and wondering about the people who followed the same path as you so many years ago. Your ride might take you into the village, far from the main tourist trail, where you’ll see pigs running free through narrow streets as kids laugh and wave at you on your way past. You can stop to chat to smiling women, who greet you with joy and share some small part of their lives, like a handmade brooch or a freshly rolled traditional cigar, and you’ll help build international understanding despite not speaking the same language.
You could ride a horse, accompanied and guided by a real cowboy, through the highlands of northern Mexico. With the right guide, it won’t matter if you’ve never even sat on a horse before – if your mount is relaxed and patient, and your guide helpful and calm, you can become part of the landscape in a way that would be closed to you otherwise. Your horse will walk sedately through fields edged in pine as bright clouds scut across the pale blue sky. Your guide, clad in shirt and jeans, real cowboy boots and of course a genuine cowboy hat, will lead the way onto trails that climb rocky outcrops shaped like frogs and mushrooms, paths first trod by the Tarahumara indigenous people hundreds of years before Europeans set foot in the Americas. You’ll trust your horse to pick the right footing, ducking the occasional low-hanging branch as she scales the steep tracks, keeping a close eye on your guide. The smells that reach your nose will speak of the vastness of the landscape, warmed by the pale sun, and dusted with horse scent.
With a proper licence (and trust me, the police will check!), you can find yourself on a motorbike cruising the backroads of Isla de Omnetepe, the island jewel in the centre of Central America’s largest lake, crowned by twin volcanos. You’ll dodge chickens, dogs and pigs, pedestrians and other vehicles, trucks and buses as you leave town, then open the throttle and power along deserted dirt roads, slowing down for the occasional ox-cart or herd of cattle being looked after by their careful owners. With two towering, mist-shrouded volcanos as your landmarks, it will be hard to get lost, and you can follow signs promising art galleries, micro-museums and cafes down by the lakeside to your heart’s content. On the far side of the island, you’ll leave the tourist-focussed area for a landscape dominated by banana plantations which thrive in the rich volcanic soil, fed by the rolling mist. You might choose to share the experience with a new friend who rides pillion on the back of the bike. Let me tell you, there’s something rather fantastic about cruising through incredible volcanic scenery with a cute French guy on the back of your motorbike.
These are the experiences that leave you feeling connected to a place, that let you feel the freeing energy of travel in its purest form. You’re not restricted by bus routes or tour schedules, and you can see and experience the place around you in a way that’s harder to access by foot. It’s the freeing feeling of coming close to flying as you pick up speed, gliding through the air with just your wheels or skids or mount touching the ground. Cycling through the crowded streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown is as exhilarating as it is delightful. Climbing atop a ski mobile in the snow-covered forests of Russia lets your explore and understand those forests in an entirely new light. Plodding across the windswept Mongolian steppe is another experience entirely when done atop an enormous camel, wedged precariously between its two humps and clinging to its delightfully soft, thick fur.
On your next adventure, go for a ride.