The world is big and there’s so much I won’t get to see in my life. So, whenever I come across a good travel show, I’ll generally stop my finger from twitching on the remote, because I enjoy a glimpse of what life is like elsewhere.
Naturally, I end up watching some of Rick Steves’ shows on PBS about his travels around Europe. But, for me, his show falls into the “if you had much more money, then you could do this” category. Most of us don’t have the time or cash to hit the Paris restaurants. So, Steves toughs it out for us and films himself trying various local dishes, or stopping in some back country bed and breakfast. The views are always magnificent, the people always friendly. Bob Seger and other music stars have written “life-is-tough-on-the-road” songs. Obviously, they haven’t traveled with Steves.
But I’m not fully engaged by such television. What truly intrigues me is footage of remote places, where life is much more challenging than determining what pastry shop to hit tomorrow.
I should mention that I also have weakness for “world’s most” shows, as in the world’s dumbest crooks, or the world’s biggest explosions, or the world’s most dangerous seas.
Perhaps the best television I’ve seen recently in this genre is the world’s most dangerous roads show on Current TV, called “Deadliest Journeys.” A couple of the episodes focus on roads in the Congo and in mountainous Pakistan. It’s one thing to imagine terrible roads. It’s quite another to see one driver’s attempt to traverse such a road.
In my teen years, I was around some mudbogging in middle Georgia. I had some friends who prided themselves on their trucks and their ability to get through semi-swamps. I was not into this. I couldn’t really understand how getting stuck in the mud could be fun. But there were times when I was along for the ride. Now, imagine if we teens had loads of medicine, food and clothes jam packed into that truck. Imagine if you had a sick kid and you were waiting on us to get through a 140-mile mudpit to bring him some medicine. This is how life is for so many people. And it’s hard to fathom. We see the 18-wheelers flying down the interstates, which are eight-lanes wide in spots. They transport everything we need to nearby stores. We worry about prices. But we never worry that the trucks won’t get there.
I saw a Congo traffic jam, which is like nothing we see here. Truck after truck sat motionless in deep mud, while up ahead, drivers of the vehicles gathered to lay wood beneath the tires of a stuck truck. The trucks are sometimes stuck for days at a time.
In Pakistan, a truck driver hit the accelerator, taking his top-heavy truck up a steep, winding, one-way mountain road, which was also quite muddy in places. He smoked hashish to “steady his nerves.” What cop could catch a stoned driver at the top of a mountain? There is no patrol up there. There were no rails to help keep the truck on the narrow, crumbly road, where one bad move meant a plummet of thousands of feet. The show focused on another vehicle, where a mountain village couple had taken their 2-year-old daughter to the hospital. She was returning, finally well after a serious illness, but the relieved couple still had to make it back to the village. They rode in a packed truck up the mountain pass. Miles from their village, the road was washed out and impassable. So they had to decide whether to wait on the men repairing the road, potentially spending the sub-freezing night in the truck with a young daughter weakened by sickness, or should they walk the remaining way? They walked, the mother carrying the child. I thought about our family’s trips to the hospital, my emotions when the children are sick. I will remember now not to take the smooth roads on the drive home for granted the next time that happens.
My travels these days are pretty much limited to the armchair. But I know the world is wide. For all the nonsense, all the trivial, mean and pointless TV we see, there is sometimes a beauty there, too. We can see so much that generations before us never could. We can get a peak at how people live in faraway lands, even though we will never make the journey.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.