Possessions or Experiences?

18 05 2009

Serengeti sunset mw

                 “Do sunsets usually growl?”                           (Serengeti sunset)

If you were given the choice between a 60” high definition plasma flat panel television with Dolby Surround Sound or a luxury two-week South African safari with private guide, which would you choose? If you said ‘both’, you are a person after my own heart. But greed aside it does raise the interesting question of whether you cherish experiences or possessions more.

Of course, there are some people out there who do have both, but we don’t like them much. For the rest of us mere mortals, if we are very lucky we might be able to pick one or the other once every 5 or 10 years. So what provides the greatest satisfaction in the short-term…and in the long-term?

I am a homebody who has the unenviable burden of also enjoying travel. I say unenviable because while some of my acquaintances are quite happy to live in a shoebox over a subway grating with 43 roommates and live on day-old birdseed in order to pool all of their money into travelling the world, I really do like a few special home comforts and lots of travelling. Alas, not being married to Donald Trump’s daughter, I usually have to pick between the exotic trip or the slab of apple-smoked cheddar.

As I get older I find that experiences seem to be gaining more and more importance. Perhaps it’s a taste of my own mortality, but when I reflect on my life the things that give me the greatest satisfaction and fondest memories are not things at all, but experiences. I rarely sit back and think to myself “Wow, I loved that triple-speed pastel-green mixer with ice-crusher”, but I do remember the first time I smelled the heady scent of eucalyptus in Australia, standing in a jungle-clearing in Costa Rica watching lava cascade from a volcano late one night or hearing a leopard prowling around my tent in Kenya. I will never forget the first glimpse I had of a wild mountain gorilla after several hours of arduous trekking, of waking to a spectacular view of the pyramids from my Giza hotel room or of a wonderful evening in a small basement jazz club in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

When I’m 80 years old, I can probably still have a pair of 2,000 watt speakers with 12-inch aluminium woofers, titanium mid-range drivers and .75 inch tweeters… but I may not have the ability to trek the Himalayan foothills, photograph Angkor Wat at sunrise or camp on the farthest reaches of the Great Wall of China.

I think for now I’ll make do with my 18” TV and continue to indulge my passion for adventure.


Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009


Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 24

17 07 2008


Never offer to buy beer on a sleeper train.


We boarded in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in the early evening bound for Victoria Falls. After grabbing bunks in the hot and cramped 6-berth compartments, someone offered to buy beer and asked for a volunteer. My arm spasmed into involuntary compliance, and we found ourselves deluged with orders from up and down the corridor. The orders mounted. Word spread further. More heads appeared in the doorway. The final count was 40 tins.


We set off down the swaying train, learning from a porter that our carriage was at the very back and the bar car was inevitably at the very front. As we continued our journey, the carriages became busier and more congested and we were surveyed with curiosity and amusement as we squeezed through. Finally reaching the bar car, we joined the queue for liquid sustenance.


“40 tins of beer, please.”


He stared us incredulously, so we politely repeated our order and took a wad of crumpled notes and loose change from our pockets. Taken aback, he turned and gathered the tins. That done, he began to tally the bill. Instead of a cash register or even a simple calculator, the bartender set to work on a menacing adding machine that may well have been designed by Charles Babbage in the 19th century.


Unfortunately, it lacked a multiplication button.


“One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one…” he pounded our purchase on his machine.


The hot queue behind us grew impatient and increasingly thirsty. We became afraid to turn around.


“….plus one plus one plus one plus one plus….oh dear. Have to start again.”


There was a massive sigh and disgruntled murmuring.


“One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one…”


The cold sweat of fear trickled down my neck. Several days earlier I had learned in Matusadona National Park never to come between a hippo and deep water. Early in my childhood I had learned never to come between a thirsty man and a cold beer. I was now standing between several dozen such men and a dwindling supply of suds.


“…plus one plus one plus one…”


We shifted nervously. The discontent grew.


“…plus one plus one….equals….”


We hurriedly paid, gathered up our vast hoards of beer and slipped away from the bar car as quickly as possible, fearful of a massive roar as the others discovered that there was no beer left. We raced back through the packed carriages, over stretched legs and stacked bags, past thirsty eyes and crying babies, guarding our precious libation with our lives. It was only when we arrived back in our own compartment that we dared relax…and cracked open a well-deserved beverage.


“Did you get my Coke?” a voice called from the corridor.


Post by: Simon Vaughan  © 2008