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Travel, Vacation & Meaning Travel, Vacation & Meaning
by Nikos Laios
2021-01-09 12:00:42
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2020 will go down as the most challenging year for the world in quite awhile, and as I write this it’s the 30th of December and I’m waiting for the New Year vacationing down at a little coastal surfing town called Bulli, which is located on the eastern seaboard of Australia and about an hour south of Sydney. The skies are grey and the roar and scent of the nearby ocean floats in through an open window, and a classical music FM station is playing a Hungarian gypsy violin concerto by some European master. The air is slightly cool, and the possibility of rain hangs in the air, there haven’t been as many hot days as last year, but when they do appear I spend them either on Sydney Harbour or here at Bulli beach whenever I’m down here for some body surfing. A cloudy mist hangs over the eucalyptus rich escarpment to the west, and in the east the vast southern Pacific Ocean spreads out to the horizon, and I marvel at the wild seething power of the ocean and take a moment to reflect on life and the year that was.

stat000_400To many this year has been a very challenging year that brought with it changes, loss, insecurity, anger and despair. Shut businesses and job losses, formerly comfortable middle class people cueing for handouts and welfare payments, while for others this year has brought introspection and a deeper existential question on life, meaning, and authenticity and challenging the very construct of modern society. Things that before the outbreak would have been considered a daily part of life have now become frivolous and meaningless, and that includes vacationing and travel, the movement of people around the globe that hitherto made the world a more connected and warm place. It’s a bit rich for this writer to speak of vacationing being frivolous when I’m currently on an eleven day break in a beach house in a small coastal surfing town in Australia, but it’s more than a holiday as the main goal of this break is to see family I have down here, the remainder are all in Greece.

I am very fortunate that I can go on this break, for Australia like other Southeast Asian countries has been the best at managing this pandemic. Most states here in Australia have very minor case infection numbers - mostly a few from returned travellers from overseas who are currently in quarantine - and here in the state of New South Wales we have had a minor outbreak caused by an American strain of CoViD linked somehow to either a returned traveller, or quarantine staff/airline staff, with three new locally acquired cases reported yesterday. Since the start of the pandemic until now, Australia has recorded 28,350 confirmed cases in total, 909 deaths due to the virus, and as of the 29th December only 189 active cases nationally; some of the best statistics in the world. Economically Australia is now technically out of a recession having posted a 3.3% GDP growth for the September quarter after a -7% drop in GDP in the second quarter. So both from a health and economic perspective, Australia is performing better the most countries in the world. This writer feels very fortunate In being here at the moment, where life has returned to some semblance of normalcy compared to other nations, but the world has changed, and even here in Australia, life is not exactly the same as it was before the pandemic.

So, how has Australia achieved this remarkable management of the virus? Firstly Australia is blessed with a very competent government who acted immediately at the start of the pandemic and formulated a plan, acted together with all other state governments and where most importantly all citizens here sacrificed a small amount of personal freedom temporarily and where we all listened to the various CoViD-19 movement and social distancing rules imposed on us at various times. State borders to each other where at times closed as was internal air travel, international borders shut and returning Australian travellers placed in mandatory periods of 14 day quarantine, plus the most efficient contact tracing system in the world. That’s it, that is how Australia achieved this success, but most importantly political parties put aside their differences and all Australians acted together and followed the rules so that we could exit the tunnel of this terrible virus in reasonable shape; where here the USA, Europe and the UK have much to learn from Australia’s example.

travonvi0001_400This year will be the first year that I have not travelled back home to Greece, to Europe to spend time with family and friends and fill and rejuvenate my European soul in my homeland, for that’s what my annual return back to Europe means to me. I have been returning back to Greece every year for the past 15 years, and this year will be the first that I will not be back, no return to the whitewashed Cycladic cubed buildings clinging precariously to the sides of cliffs over the Aegean blue, the glistening domes topped with crosses, the Sunday church bells and wafting aromas from local bakeries. The clickety-clack of dice cubes on backgammon boards, the babbling voices over coffee smells, serious eyes pondering philosophical questions on the meaning of life, the wafting aromas of spinach pies floating over the weeds and flowers in the ancient Agora in Athens, and the ancient shades and ancient marble blocks and stones watching the present, cicadas buzzing in the ruins of the ancient state prison where once Socrates spent his last days, the ancient theatres where the plays of Euripides and Sophocles once enraptured audiences, the trimmed curved fishing boats of the present ploughing the Aegean with rough bronzed hands pulling in the nets, or the lonely shepherds sitting on craggy peaks surveying the lowlands below over hazy blue descending peaks, or the feasts held in village squares in valleys and on island cliffs, the clasped hands in circular Greek dancing and the warm laughing faces like all the generations before us back to the ancient times.

That’s what returning back home means to me and to many others, but I fear that international travel will not return back to normal until this pandemic is truly over, and this potentially won’t be for a few short years, even with the vaccinations in 2021. Yet this year has offered all of us the hope of a new opportunity for a deep reflection on life, our existence and a deeper meaning, to transcend the vulgar consumerism and materialism that is the mark of this age, and here I reflect on the words of that great Greek author and poet Nikos Kazantzakis who once said; “I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”


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Arthur 2021-01-09 15:02:16
Brilliantly written
You have touched my heart Niko

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