There are the tourists—those who seek temporary respite from their daily lives, and the glimpse of a famous landmark. There are the travelers—the wanderers, who journey without aim, for the love of being on the road. There are the explorers—those yearning for adventure, for the thrill of unearthing things rarely seen.
And then there are the pilgrims.
The magic of gazing out the window on long bus rides, the alluring call of foreign experiences, the pure, unfettered joy of unmarked locales and smiling locals: These are delights for the traveler, for the explorer with itchy feet. A pilgrim may embrace this ethos, but his itch remains unscratched. The pilgrim needs more than sightseeing and personal metamorphosis. It may be about a lesson to learn or a lesson to teach; it may be about preserving the past and enlightening the future. For the pilgrim, the journey is both purpose and project. Life may be the inspiration, but for the pilgrim, the journey becomes life itself.
Traditional pilgrims followed well-trodden paths of saints and teachers to a sacred site. Their destination was not the place to which they traveled, but to a deeper place within—growing faith along the journey, a strengthening of their devotion.
Modern-day pilgrims also seek a profound meaning within, but their paths are often those yet to be followed. They are summoned to walk miles upon miles through the urban jungle to internalize the rhythm of their city. They are driven to trace the steps of ancestors, guided by an untraditional atlas, discovering where past and present converge. The modern pilgrim will blaze a trail of kindness, dependent on the goodwill of others, or seek out that which is crumbling in an effort to share it with and preserve it for future generations.
Their love for travel is one that grows not when traversing ravines to reach a sign of the cross, or via treacherous footpaths to arrive at a temple. Rather it deepens in the small steps taken by one with empty hands and an open heart. It blossoms in the witnessing of the lives of millions of city dwellers. It expands in the observation of the past’s indelible print on the present. It swells in the compassionate eyes of a fellow human, and it unfolds in the freedom of calling a small suitcase home.
Start of Journey: September 2013
Inspiration: Film from his grandfather’s Kodak Brownie camera
Pilgrimage: Gibson, a filmmaker, was called to retrace his grandfather’s footsteps through Europe to explore the overlap of past and present and examine time-altered landscapes, cultures, and experiences. His forthcoming film, As Can Be, chronicles his adventure.
I followed his path, making a film of my own. His journey has become mine, and one full of synchronicities.
“After my grandfather died I was given his Kodak Brownie camera with his reels of film. He was a mortician in the U.S. Army, but I had never known his story. When I was 10 he had a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak for the last eight years of his life. And now, here I was, watching silent scenes of his travels through postwar Europe. So I followed his path, making a film of my own. His journey has become mine, and one full of synchronicities. One of his films showed a funeral procession of black umbrellas, interrupted by a red umbrella that walks into the frame. When I arrived in Pisa, where I thought this shot was taken, I soon realized I was wrong. But later that day I met an aerial photographer who pointed me in the right direction. When I found the location and started filming, an elderly couple entered the frame—the man was carrying a red umbrella.”
Start of Journey: September 2005
Journeyed through: 90 countries
Inspiration: “Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill
Pilgrimage: Logothetis watched The Motorcycle Diaries and set out to travel the world in search of the kindness of others.
“I had everything externally, and nothing internally. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk making money. I needed to connect, and I wanted to do it with kindness as my currency. So I left it all behind me and began by walking across America. Then I just kept going. I relied on the kindness of others for shelter, and offered something tangible in return—an apartment, paid vacation, tuition fees. What I have to give is little compared to the kindness I am shown. The people who help me often have nothing, and expect nothing in return. A homeless man in Pittsburgh shared food with me one night. Once when I was lost in Uzbekistan, a roadside melon seller took me in and let me eat with his family. Kindness is like fuel, and it’s contagious.”
Start of Journey: December 1996
Carries: A little green frog
Inspiration: If you forget where you have come from, you will never know how far you can go.
Pilgrimage: Kambach is visiting every UNESCO World Heritage site to tell 1,031 stories
to protect our past. As her wonder of the world and its people has grown, she now finds herself calling others to join her.
“I grew up very poor in the Dominican Republic, playing with frogs for fun. But at age 4 I got on a plane with my parents. And that was it. I knew I would always find a way to travel. This idea of heritage, not forgetting our past, is what drives me now. Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one remains—the Great Pyramid. We have let our heritage crumble. After I turned 30, I knew I had to make it my life’s work to see and share the 1,031 UNESCO World Heritage sites with my students, friends, and even strangers, to inspire others to see and help protect them. So far I have seen 160: the rebuilt Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar, the Taj Mahal in India, the West Norwegian Fjords. Each one leaves me changed. Each one tells a story.”
Start of Journey: January 2008
Carries: A small notebook for drawing Kabbalah symbols
Inspiration: “Travel” (from The Essential Tagore), by Rabindranath Tagore
Pilgrimage: Yohai was called to sell her home, relinquish her responsibilities and materialism,
and embark on a simpler and freer life with just a suitcase.
“My mother is 94, and I have watched her health diminish with age. I knew I had to take advantage of the energy I still have. My responsibilities with children and grandchildren are done. Things accumulate over the years, but you can’t hoard things in a suitcase. So I sold my home, reduced my thousands of books to only 50 at any given time, and began my journey. Six months here, three months there—India, Japan, Korea, Greece, Israel, Morocco, Ecuador. It’s incomprehensible to many people that I would move around so much at my age, 66. But I think that’s why it’s necessary—to show the world we are all the same, that age is not a barrier to spirit. I stay in hostels so younger people can see me. I am a peace worker and I see this journey of mine as the same: to show others that our differences are small, that the world is a beautiful and friendly place.”
Start of Journey: New Year’s Eve 2011
Area covered: Over 7,000 miles
Sustained by: Curiosity
Pilgrimage: Green was compelled to walk every block of New York City—over 8,000 miles—by a desire to see what was out there and an appreciation for the lives of those around him.
“I have no clear destination. The more you look for the grand meaning of everything, the harder it is to find, so I don’t look for it. I just look at what’s around—fire hydrants, fence posts, leaves, litter, insects. Sometimes these things reveal a larger story. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they resonate with me in an unexpected way. Sometimes they’re just tiny and inscrutable. But they’re never insignificant, and they’re never false. They are there for some reason. Whatever the case, they’ve entered my life for a moment, and, in that instant, they’re all that I have. So I try to pay attention to them. Being outwardly focused in this way has become a form of meditation for me. As I slowly learn to see what’s around me, I also learn to see myself. I see that I belong to this world and that I can find everything I need within it.”
This article appears in Volume 2 of the Wanderlust Journal, available at 2016 Wanderlust Festivals, 108 events, and select partner studios.