Strangely, my transformative travel experiences tend to happen near rivers. It's something of a pattern I observed again and again. There's something about flowing water, and being able to live near it, walk alongside it, sit with it, and just watch the water stream and fold and bubble over itself.
Living in Toulouse, France for 2 months in 2007, I became friends with its resident river, the Garonne. Somehow, I always found excuses to be near it. Being a poor backpacker, I ate sandwiches a lot during this trip. The stone steps by the river ended up being one of my favourite picnic lunch spots. If I had to walk to town, I'll take the river route as a highway. On days where I wanted to explore, I often took walks up and down the banks, on both sides, just to see the waters, the nature and wildlife around it, and what the locals do here.
The flow water provided something of a grounding anchor to the life pulse of this city. A city which I chose to call home for 2 months; a city I wanted to know better, to its bones. And what better way to know it than by its lifeblood - the river.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?" That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Indeed, there's something timeless about living with a river as a companion. There's an element of je ne sais quoi to it. It's a secret, yet everyone who wants to know it can. The river's charisma, bleeds over to those who live by its flows. When I live near it, live alongside it, I feel calmer, happier and more centred. I look forward to seeing the seasons change it. There's always something different to see and do.
The river's flow, as the flow of life.
Latching on to its ceaseless flow, you latch on to a wave to carry you through life itself. Things feel easier, even if they objectively didn't. And just as they say you never step into the same river twice, you grow old and you change ceaselessly like the river's flow, never stepping into the same river twice, as the same person. When I try to see it that way, it gives poetry and meaning to living. Even if it's made up, it still feels magical to be alive.