John Wayne

Get off your horse

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Traveller Magazine (South Africa) December 2009

John Wayne has a lot to answer for when it comes to my travel bug says Daniel Ford.

John Wayne’s to blame. Or maybe it was my dad, who made me a big fan of John Wayne. He was my dad’s hero and in turn, as we sat watching his films night after night, he became mine.

And there was good reason too. Young, good-looking, he’d ride into town, beat up all the bad guys, and win the heart of the prettiest girl every time (John Wayne not my dad). I was too young to care about the bad guys (the good guys always won anyway) or the girl (they usually had silly squeaky voices), but the riding into town without a care in the world won me over. If this was travel I wanted it.

THE LUCKY TEXAN (1934) by Lone Star Productions (Certificate U)

[Sound effects from downstage] Galloping horse hooves.

[Enter from downstage] A stranger on a horse.

Old-timer: “Morning stranger.”

Stranger: “Hi old-timer, guess you don’t remember me?”

Old-timer: “Can’t say as I do, but there’s something mighty familiar about you.”

Stranger: “Well Jake, guess it’s been a long time since you taught me how to catch coyote and ride…”

It’s a scene I’ve been trying to recreate every time I travel (without the horse, except on holiday in Majorca once when I nearly fell off a mangy old thing that didn’t like tourists) because being the stranger in town has a hypnotic attraction. Nobody knows you, responsibilities and problems are left behind and opportunities for the future are endless. Maybe you’ll stay, maybe you’ll go, you are what you are and your luggage is all wrapped up in a small bag. And when it comes to clothes, just three of each item as John Wayne would have said: one on, one off and one in the wash. Except for your boots, which stay on all the time, of course.

My business partner, Grant, says he’s going to produce a book called Where in the World is Daniel? his personal variation on the Where’s Wally series. If he carries through on his threat I shall demand that my cartoon character has a big cowboy hat. Er, and a new laptop. Technology has made it possible to travel more frequently while still carrying out business and hurray for that, because who wants to be tied to a desk? I’ve written a chapter for a book while on a sabbatical in Cyprus, drawn up a contract while on a long-distance bus heading to the coast in Venezuela and finalised a book promotion on the road to watch a game of football in Newcastle, England. Thank you technology. Hang on, don’t tell me you are one of those people who still leaves one of those, “Sorry I am out of the office till the 23rd” messages on your e-mail?”

The truth is, once you start travelling it is difficult to stop. The word Wanderlust comes from German, meaning ‘wander desire’. Can there be a better way to describe how the cowboys in the movies drifted around from town to town, devouring the essence of new places as they went? But be warned, it’s a desire that’s impossible to sate. Each new experience, every new person you meet, and each mouthful of unusual food you taste, just leads to a greater need to keep moving. The John Waynes of the world knew it and didn’t fight it; they just kept moving. Today, armed with an iPhone and a keyboard, a Gucci holdall and a Gold card, there’s no reason for anything to be different.

So I’ll keep riding into new towns, ever the stranger. Just without the horse if that’s okay with you.