Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel
by Rosita Boland (Doubleday, €16.99)
Elsewhere is a fascinating series of essays written about extraordinary journeys travelled by Rosita Boland over a period of about thirty years. She set off alone with only a 10kg bag, a passport and a black note book, no camera! These notes and her memories were her source for these nine thought provoking essays.
In a forward, the author tells of her love of words and how she learned new words taken from Chamber’s Dictionary to enrich her poetry. This now enriches her prose.
The title of each chapter is a country name and an unfamiliar word which hints at a deeper theme to the traveller’s tale and of the authors personal journey. From a friend, she hears a new word, “Fernweh” an ache for distant places, and responds, “So that’s the word for it, all these years, for this yearning for elsewhere.”
In 1988, newly graduated, the author went to Australia on a one year visa, working briefly in a holiday resort deep in the rainforest and, as her departure date neared, she realised that she had acquired “an intense desire for freedom” which would not allow her to settle in back Ireland.
Over the years, Rosita Boland worked in England for three periods, usually in publishing, earning enough money to go ‘elsewhere’, always planning her next escape, not wanting a career, but always restless, always collecting dreams of elsewhere.
In 1995, during such a period in England, Rosita Boland fell in love. It was mutual, but complicated by the fact that he was in a relationship. So she decided to stick with her planned journey to Asia.
There follows a riveting account of how the author made her way back from Nepal to Europe through Pakistan, where she walked alone on the Karakoram Highway close the Chinese border in awe of the range of 6,000m mountains of which K2 is one.
It was there that she had her formidable courage tested by a terrifying bus journey along a ledge between a mountain cliff and the Hunza river hundreds of feet below. All during this time she was sending and receiving poetic love letters from each post restante. Brame, which means ‘fierce longing, passion’, is the apt word for this
There are many more adventures to be recalled, remembering Thailand, where she spent Christmas exactly two years before the devastating tsunami, author reflects on how Fortuna, the goddess of luck, chance and fate has protected her always. She was never assaulted or ill, while ‘elsewhere’, although there were unpleasant and potentially serious incidents.
In absorbing stories of experiences in Japan, Peru and Antarctica, each with a defining word or phrase, we learn a more about the author, her own story, her values, her joys and her sorrows and friendships formed, some long-lasting, others brief.
In 2015, after all her independent journeys, Ms Boland returned to Ireland and became a journalist for the Irish Times. She found that she did have a career after all, and in this role she visited Iceland, ‘the land of the Snow Queen’.
Reading these exciting accounts, I envied her fierce determination to follow her dream and her ability to overcome obstacles and dangers, but was only envious of her time in Bali. Although for her it was a time of suffering and healing.
Rosita’s other great desire was to someday be a parent. She had suffered two miscarriages and sought to adopt, only to hear that she had ‘aged out’ of the process and would never be a parent.
Devastated by this, she took leave of absence and went to Bali, where she lived and reflected, surrounded by beauty, releasing her pain by immersing herself in a magical infinity pool and swimming and swimming.
Just before she left this paradise, a final agonising and deeply experienced ‘arcane’ massage freed her spirit enough to bear her pain and allowed her to feel again delight in an ‘image of a red haired woman on horse, flying with silver edged wings, through a starry night’. Her life has been mended with gold!