By Salloum, Habeeb
Contemporary Review , Vol. 289, No. 1685
WHEN I sit and reflect on how travel has changed through the years, I go back to my own experiences, and these have been extensive. They span most of the twentieth century. During the Second World War and since, I have travelled to some one hundred countries--to many, more than half a dozen times. During this period of time, I have seen travel increase by leaps and bounds. From horse and wagon to sophisticated jets--the change has been dramatic.
My first reflections about travel began at the beginning of the 1930s, during my school days in Canada on the south Saskatchewan prairies. As a child, with my brothers and sisters, we travelled the two and a half miles to school by sled in winter and horse and buggy during the remainder of the year. This mode of transportation also served our family in the first part of the twentieth century. Today when people think that this is a primitive way of moving around, in those early days, except for a few of the affluent, it was literally the only way to travel.
This way of travel had its drawbacks and heartaches. I remember driving with my father in the below zero weather to the nearest town, Val Marie, some 18 miles away. Sitting on the covered sled half frozen while watching the team of horses plod through deep snow, all I could think of was how I hated the cold and winter. However, in those years, everyone travelled in this fashion and endured the hardships.
At the turn of the 1940s, there was a dramatic change in our lives when my father bought his first car. Even though it was old and much used, it brought the outer world closer. Now we could visit places we could only dream of in the horse and buggy days. Even though our car would often stop and frequently needed repairs, it created a revolution in our mode of travel, bringing the outer world within our grasp.
In the years to come, the narrow unpaved roads, which we drove on during my growing years were gradually paved, then, in later years, transformed into superhighways. Trips across Canada, the USA and beyond with a family car became a fact of life. The auto as the favoured vehicle of transportation and pleasure was to become a reality in the years to come. In my youth, it was yet in the world of make-believe.
When I left home at the tender age of 15, I soon became a fan of travelling by bus. For me this was comfort supreme. In that era, people- friendly and reasonable in price, buses were the epitome of luxury travel. At that time, I could not dream that there was a better way to travel. I relished my few trips by bus, trying hard to forget the horse and buggy days.
My real travels began in the early 1940s when I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. When on leave, without fail, I would travel by train to visit my family in Saskatchewan or to visit friends in Canada and in the USA In those days, travelling by train was like travelling first-class by air today, but with a more human touch.
Young and with an adventurous spirit, I always looked forward to these trips with pleasure and excitement. Unlike in our times when travelling by air only takes hours, travelling by train across the vast Canadian distances took days. In these few days, for me, the train became an exciting home. During the long journeys, sitting with seat companions for hours, I made a good number of friends. This was especially true when it came to the opposite sex. Budding short-term romances which usually came to naught often occurred. I dreamt about some of these fleeting teenage passionate interludes long after the Second World War had ended.
Even though, at times, I often travelled by bus on short journeys, trains were my passion. In the 1950s I travelled from eastern to western Canada with my family three times and it was always a pleasurable experience. The train stations with their romantic travel auras and the friendly people who took the trains never ceased to ensnare me. …