You may not be able to step into the same river twice, but revisiting a place can be even more rewarding than the original visit
24 March 2010, 5 Years Ago This Week:
“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it.”
Vladimir Nabokov’s famous quote, from his Lectures in Literature, has become most applicable for me to travel. That is, the places I feel compelled to go back to – Angkor being an obvious example, also Petra in Jordan – are the places that somehow speak to me, often in ways I cannot articulate in any coherent way. That is, going back there makes me feel something on an emotional level, moves me, and yet I cannot express exactly what or why. And obviously it’s absurd that I should feel any connection with these places over 1000 years old. It’s not like I see dead people. But it is what it is and I happily abandon any intellectual attempt to explain it to myself for the palpable thrill of re-experiencing a favourite place – at once familiar and yet coming into sharper focus and, perhaps most of all, creating the time to go a little deeper into its history and significance, to spend time thinking about this place, rather than the million lesser distractions we all have.
“What the fuck does this have to do with an octopus?” you may justifiably ask at this juncture. I took this photo of my favourite dive sites in Thailand, Hin Daeng – “Red Rock” – so named because of the swathes of red coloured soft coral that festoons this pinnacle in the middle of the ocean three hours boat ride from Koh Lanta, the nearest island. My first dive at Hin Daeng in 2004 was a blur of bubbles, strong currents and little else. But every subsequent visit allowed me to understand better, allowing me to anticipate where the marine life would move to stay in shelter – and so be able to get this shot of notoriously skittish octopus. By staying beneath the ledge he’d alighted on, I think I managed to avoid presenting myself as a threat to the octopus so he could literally look down on me. Certainly he was willing to pose in regal fashion for several seconds unphased by the bright lights of my camera strobes lighting him up like an underwater paparazzi victim.
This familiarity with a place is something under-rated – you are not repeating the experience when you return there, you’re seeing it again with fresh eyes but with all the extraneous detail cut away because your mind has processed all that on previous visits. With revisiting a place, you start to see more of what is really there which in turn makes it potentially a completely different experience.
(NB: This octopus photo, along with several other shots, appeared in an article I wrote for CNN Travel (well, originally CNNGo but it got folded into Travel).
What Is 12 Years Of Travel?I'm publishing a photo each week during 2015 that was taken in the same week sometime in the previous 12 years on my travels. Join me in my journey to combat early senility by trying to remember what the hell I was doing over the last decade.
- Week 1: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Melbourne
- Week 2: Cannibal Rock, Komodo, Indonesia
- Week 3: Ocean Reflection, Ari Atoll, Maldives
- Week 4: Vertigo Bar Sunset, Banyan Tree Hotel, Bangkok
- Week 5: Talc Alf Sculptures, Flinders Ranges, Australia
- Week 6: After The Tsunami, Khao Lak, Thailand
- Week 7: Drugs Warning, Jakarta Airport, Indonesia
- Week 8: Beng Mealea Temple, Angkor, Cambodia
- Week 9: Failing To Climb Mount Kinabalu, Borneo
- Week 10: Night Diving At Maaya Thila, Maldives
- Week 11: Schwezigon Paya Temple, Bagan, Myanmar
- Week 12: Octopus, Hin Daeng, Thailand
- Week 13: A View With A Room, Bangkok Tree House
- Week 14: Koh Haa, Thailand
- Week 15: Angry Whopper, Singapore
- Week 16: Kuda Gili Shipwreck, Maldives
- Week 17: Model Shoot, Bangkok
- Week 18: Banda Islands, Indonesia
- Week 19: Port Eliot, Cornwall
- Week 20: Exmouth, Australia
- Week 21: Newquay Cliffs, Cornwall