Other Roadside Attractions
|Serendipity, Here We Come
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by Joe Harkins - July 29, 98
Supposedly the oldest story known, The Three Princes of Serendip, is a travel story that some say was recorded originally in Sanskrit. It tells how three young men from Persia set out to find Serendip, the fabled Island of Silk, source of the fiber for resplendent royal garments.
They were gone for years. Their destination is now called Sri Lanka, the large island off the coast of India, roughly half the size of Alabama. Although they never found silk, what they did find was so exotic that their journey and its outcome became the basis of a modern word, "Serendipity - finding something wonderful while searching for something else." Dictionaries and encyclopedias usually end their explanations at that.
But there's a point to the story, a point that speaks about why we travel and what happens to us when we do. At the end of their excellent adventure, the Three Princes returned home. The marvelous things they found and the amazing things they did during their journey changed each of them so profoundly that no one, neither their wives nor their parents nor their friends recognized them.
Some people say that's why we travel, looking for wonders, knowing they will change us. One famous travel writer, Henry James, took the thought one step further by saying we travel "to find ourselves."
This phenomenon is embraced by some travelers. It's probably why so many today, empowered by the Internet, are recording their own serendipitous discoveries and changes in online travel journals and diaries. Who needs a publisher when you have a web page?
Dan K. Phillip's Web Surfer Travel Journal lists dozens of sites built around diaries of their owners' highly personal adventures. Many are by gifted amateurs but his own professionally written journal, "Four Corners- A Literary Walk Across America" sets a standard that Alexis de Toqueville might have respected.
A deeply personal and affecting document is Philip Greenspun's Travels with Samantha. A rattling van, a laptop and a camera were the tools for creating this superb record of discovery. His photos of beautiful women he meets along the way say as much about him as they do about his subjects. The entire text can be downloaded and printed in a handsome format using the free software available at Adobe Acrobat.
Americans like Bill and Fran Lack are not the only ones who go meandering across a huge continent with a modem and laptop. Two Aussies, Max and Carol, who seem not to have last names, overcame an interesting problem to gather the material for their trek across Australia. As their site illustrates, few motor homes are built down under. They didn't like those they found so they built their own.
Across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad is more than just Keith West's journal of that trip. This US Naval Academy graduate's meticulous online guide to travel pre-planning might serve you well for a trek to Chicago or Beijing.
Yahoo Ongoing Travelogues lists online journals and web sites of almost three dozen real and virtual trips. Some of those trips are still underway and will be for years, but are updated regularly from the open road and high seas.
At Sea is more than just the name of a web site. It's literally where it's coming from.
The 32-foot sailing yacht New World left Houston, Texas, March 2, 1997, and has been chasing sunsets ever since. Lee Gunter and Mindi Miller post their separate diaries and the ship's log to the web site regularly via the Inmarsat-C satellite. A transmitter on the boat automatically generates a thin blue line that displays their progress in real time on your monitor. Right now, they are in the harbor of the stunning volcanic island Vanuatu in the South Pacific archipelago just beyond Fiji.
Yes gentle reader, Sri Lanka, known once-upon-a-time to The Three Princes as Serendip, is west of their present position. Even as you are reading these words in July 1998, Mindi and Lee, with us as a virtual crew, have weighed anchor, bow pointing towards landfall at Serendip and something serendipitous.
We'll all be there soon.
(note: The material that appears below may or may not have been published in your local newspaper this week depending on available space.)
Other Roadside Attractions
The Speed of Light
Traveler's Tales with an emphasis on exotic Asian and South American destinations.
Although the site hasn't been updated since 1996 and the photos are not going to win any prizes in the Annual Nikon Pro Contest, the destinations are off-beat and the text is charming.
Around The World
The World Travel Guide