In Alex Garland’s fictional novel, “The Beach”, the main character, Richard, attempts to travel to a fabled paradise known only to a very select few. He is given a hand drawn map to reach the island, and along with the help a French couple, they eventually arrive at their destination. After overcoming some severe obstacles, they finally reach the dream locale.
“The Beach” is a very popular story amongst backpackers, as it resonates the desire to step off the beaten path and find your own piece of paradise. While the novel took its downward spiral and had a somewhat gruesome ending, the premise of its words still echoes in the minds of travellers.
While “tourists” are quite happy to visit the places that have already been discovered, “backpackers” long to do the discovering. In this modern age of the internet and Google maps, the world is getting smaller and these pristine locations are becoming few and far between. But that doesn’t stop us from searching.
Everywhere you go when you are on a long-term journey, you hear these famous words from older travellers: “You should of been here 20 years ago.” It can become so disheartening that you often just succumb to the fact that you will never find that untouched Shangri-La and should just resign to visiting the places that guide books direct you to.
The problem is that not only does the “20 years ago” idea still remain ingrained in our thoughts, we can never shake it and we shall always strive to find what we ultimately desire. Some people manage to achieve this, through arduous efforts on boats, tuk-tuks, buses, horses, climbing and their own two feet. But for most of us, we never quite reach it. We have to become happy with wherever we end up. However that shouldn’t stop you from actively searching.
Maybe your idea of paradise is the foreigner-drenched beaches of Thailand or Mexico, or the packed trails in Nepal and Peru. Maybe it’s the wi-fi engulfed fishing villages dotted along the Mediterranean or the busy mountaintops in the Alps. That’s fine. In fact, that’s perfect. Pursue it. Enjoy it. Live it.
On the shores of Maya Bay in Southern Thailand, where the “The Beach” was ultimately filmed with Leonardo Di Caprio, it is a zoo. Tourists pack the sands from dawn to dusk, snapping their pictures, all daydreaming of how amazing it would of been to be Richard in the movie. To have discovered this patch of heaven. But alas, they were too late. So now they pay their money, are escorted to the beach and fill their cameras with memories and dreams. An old Chinese proverb states that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Very inspiring.
As for me, I’d rather do the discovering.