At a recent loft party in Brooklyn, someone asked me a question about my travel writer’s life: “Is there a place in the world that you definitely don’t ever want to go back to?” I loved this atypical inquiry. What I get most of the time is: “What’s your favorite place in the world?” I usually don’t have a straight answer to that one, since I love different places in different ways. And now there was this new question that made me stop in my tracks, made me think from a different angle. Was there a place on all my travels that I really hated so much that I would never return?
I thought and I thought, while a small group of people eagerly awaited my answer. When it came, it was perhaps unexciting: “No, there isn’t a place in the world that I wouldn’t ever want to go back to.” The truth is that I find something interesting about each place I visit. Of course there have been spots that haven’t stirred me. Some of those destinations are placed highly on travelers’ pedestals yet left me pretty indifferent.
That night’s conversation reminded me of something that a guide said to me a few years ago on a 4×4 tour of the Patagonian wilderness around Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina and the world: “Places are like music. They emit a frequency of sorts, a melody. The moment you arrive, you hear it. Either you love the melody and continue singing it to yourself even after you leave the place or it leaves your head the moment you move on.”
I could relate to this. There have been places I visited that left such an indelible mark on me, so deep that they still appear in my dreams. Like Phnom Penh, the Amazon, the highlands of Bolivia… I can’t easily explain why these places stirred me so, made such a strong imprint. At least some of these visits were brief, only scratching the surface. So why is it that I still can’t shake them off?
Other places leave me cold. Paris is one of them. I’ve visited this travel superstar on many occasions, staying with dear friends who live there, getting the insider-y look. Yet for some strange reason, despite having to admit it’s a stunning place, Paris and I just don’t sing along.
Since that misty morning in Patagonia, I often think back to the music analogy. I can really catch the frequency of some places around the world. We click beautifully. I “get” these places. Yet the imperceptible noise of other places doesn’t really jive with me. Still, to this day there hasn’t been a place that turned me off entirely. There’s always at least a single tone that sings to me. For that tone only, yes, I would go back to all the places I ever visited.