When I was 11, my family took a trip that included a stop in Caracas, Venezuela. I primarily remember two things from my time there.
First, I recall riding in an air conditioned bus with other tourists through the outskirts of the city and seeing miles of shacks lining the hills around Caracas. That was my first exposure to widespread poverty, and as a kid, I’m not sure I knew what to do with that.
What stood out at the time, however, wasn’t the dilapidated nature of those thousands of tiny abodes but the fact that almost every one of them had a television antenna attached to its roof or side (since some of the makeshift roofs would not have supported even an antenna).
In my young mind, I figured that TV sets were expensive items. How could anyone who lived in such poor conditions afford such a luxury? And yet the landscape before me was one of mud, corrugated tin, sundry bits and pieces of wood, leftover construction materials and this massive forest of metal multiple T-shaped antennas standing out against the skyline.
It was, to me, a wonder.
The second thing that amazed me that day was a trip up an aerial tram to a peak overlooking the city. It wasn’t the vista, however, that grabbed my attention. Instead, clinging to the walls of the tram station in the darkest corners and shadows were moths the size of a man’s hand. Make that a professional basketball player’s hand.
I had never seen an insect bigger than a small hummingbird before and here were moths that could have stood their own against a bird the size of a robin.
I’m sure I pointed out both of these marvels, the antennas and the gargantuan moths, to my parents. I’m sure they acknowledged and appreciated my observations. But I don’t think they got the wonder of it all, at least to the degree I did.
Why? Because as adults, they understood that living in poverty, by our standards, does not mean living without resources or the desire for entertainment afforded by an inexpensive television set. They knew that bugs can get big. They knew that, to them, there were far more interesting things to notice in Venezuela.
They knew all this because they were adults and adults know these things.
But now that I am, at least chronologically, an adult, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. As an adult, I’ve seen the devastation of poverty in places around the world. But I also have so-called answers for it, rationale and ideas for solutions. Adult responses. Yet none of those adult concepts makes me ponder the situation or let it get under my skin and to my heart as much as being aware of antennas or moths as a kid.
We can travel in pursuit of answers. That’s what we’re trained to do as adults. But the older I get – ironically, the longer I’m an adult – the more I believe there’s a more fulfilling and meaningful way to travel.
I think I need to spend less time explaining things like poverty and Lepidoptera (the species of butterflies and moths) and more time marveling at a landscape of antennas and standing mouth agape at huge, scary, and beautiful insects.