This week we introduce you to someone who not only loves going on journeys but also taking you on them through the art of writing. Let her transport you back to a time in travel when internet was a fickle thing, when your intuition was your best tool for exploring, and how you learn art is expensive (hint: it involves police in riot gear).
Mo Duffy Cobb – Founder/Editor of Cargo Literary, Charlottetown, PE
Mo Duffy Cobb is a freelance writer and an MFA grad from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction. She has been published in Literary Mama, Understorey and Damselfly Press, and has travel stories on Scribbles of an Electronic Gyspy and Wanderlusting Life, and is currently working on a full-length travel memoir. She is the Founder and Editor of Cargo Literary, an online literary magazine with a passion for travel narratives and tales of personal growth. She lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with her husband and their own little travellers, aged 9 and 2.
Expansion and Beyond: A Few Thoughts on Travel
Why do you travel?
For me, travel is the heart that seeks. This visceral, fluid contact with history with time gives us the opportunity to go to our own personal reaches not only in the daily, but also in the psyche. We are moved in travel, challenged and given wonder. Travel brings out in us the possibilities of the different, the new, and offers us a unique opportunity to regain our perspectives in a new way. We can be shifted, transformed, or at the very least, refreshed, rejuvenated to take on the world anew.
In my travels, I have gained new experiences, widened my understanding of the world. Even when I return home, there is a deliberate change in the course of my actions, an active learning which becomes my new constant. I remain full of questions, of curiosity. Travel to me has almost become a mental state—even when I am home, I cannot stop seeking. Pico Iyer, in his essay “Why We Travel,” says “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” It is only when we return home that we realized that we are changed.
What has been your favorite place to travel to and why?
When I was a young teacher, I spent a year travelling from Mexico down through the mountains in Guatemala and to Belize. Something was unlocked in me on this journey; I learned to speak Spanish by studying daily, I sat with children and old women, I adventured with travelers. I spent time in pensións (a room for rent in someone’s home) and played guitar with teenagers, traveled by pickup truck with plantation workers, herded goats with farmers, and learned to dance with Mexican families in large, public squares.
There was this innocence then —it was 2001—and I didn’t have a lot of access to information. The web was still slow and cumbersome, not to mention expensive, so I used it minimally and only to email my family, never for logistics, planning, booking or otherwise. There was this inherent and urgent need to rely on your intuition, the advice of other travellers and the locals in the small town. Today I travel mostly with my husband and our small children—we spend months researching the best spots to go, reading reviews and making many small determinations before we ever leave home. I still try to let the mystery lead my way, though, and it’s amazing what we find when we are lost. That’s how I want my kids to travel too, to follow their noses.
What is your earliest travel memory?
My dad’s business partner was in Connecticut when I was growing up and we had family in Cape Cod and Boston, so each summer we would road trip down the eastern seaboard. Some of my earliest memories are of the bridges in New York City and visiting Central Park and the Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. My parents are classicists, and they love art and music. Spending time in museums helped to ground them in places, and to explore these magnificent collections. I never fully understood the value of this art, until I touched John Trumbell’s famous painting, Declaration of Independence (commissioned in 1817) and was promptly greeted by alarms and policemen in riot gear! I have never touched a painting in a gallery again. The other thing I remember from Washington D.C. is seeing Ghostbusters in a regal old theatre with red velvet curtains and carpet. 1984 was a great year for American pop culture.
What was the best lesson you learned from travelling? (Can be anything from a packing tip to a life lesson)
I guess one of the more difficult things I’ve learned is to never make presumptions based on how much travelling you’ve done. Be prepared for anything, but with cautious optimism. When I headed for China in 2010 with my daughter (who was five), we were planning to meet up with my husband who was teaching there. He tried to tell me,
“Mo, you know, China is different than other places we’ve travelled.”
But I didn’t listen! We had travelled in South East Asia for a year with our daughter as a toddler, and I had a lot of experience handling countries, currencies, and accommodations. I assumed that since I was a seasoned traveller, I could handle any situation, any country, and language with ease. I’ll just pop in to Beijing, take a language course for two weeks, and settle right in to the yin and yang of the Chinese countryside.
I never planned for difficulty, and to a certain extent I managed, but it was not nearly as smooth as I had supposed. During the six weeks I spent there, I had many unexpected setbacks, including ordering goats hooves for supper, being shunned by taxi drivers and having to surrender my passport to Immigration when my Chinese visa expired, which my Chinese travel agent in Vancouver said would be “No problem!”
Where are you going next and why?
The Middle East is on the horizon for me: Turkey. I’m not sure when we might get there, but I did buy the Lonely Planet and have been secretly reading it. In September I will start working with an organization called the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, which publishes stories from Afghan women. I have always been fascinated with the Middle East since I was an English as a Second Language teacher and many of my students were from Saudi Arabia.
Turkey seems like the most amazing blend of east and west, a land of contrasts, rooted in historical significance but also offering many comforts to the modern traveller. I’d love to walk through Istanbul’s bazaars with their offerings of rich silks and teas and coffee rituals, be mesmerized by the architecture and enveloped in the scent of saffron.
Travelling for me is like coming home to this wide-open wildness, an adventure interior, to places unseen.
If you want to learn more about Mo you can read more of her wonderful writing as well as other articles written by world enthusiasts at her website, Cargo Literary. You can also connect through the following social media links!
Website for Cargo Literary: http://cargoliterary.com/
Facebook for Cargo Literary: https://www.facebook.com/CargoLit
Facebook for FurtherMo: https://www.facebook.com/pages/FurtherMo
Twitter for Cargo Literary: https://twitter.com/CargoLit
If you wanted to reach out to Mo personally tweet her at @MoDuffyCobb or search her on Facebook as Mo Duffy Cobb.