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Monkeys With Suitcases: The Biological Imperative To Travel

Originally published on travelblogs.com.

About 40 million years ago, somewhere in East Africa, there was a stand of trees that was home to a number of tree-dwelling prosimians. A prosimian would look to us very much like monkey, so let’s called them “monkeys” for simplicities sake.


One of these monkeys, George was trying to enjoy a gin and tonic after a hard day at the food processing plant. George brought the glass to his lips, only to be startled by a sudden blast of loud bass-n-drum music from the branch above. Frustrated, George grabbed the broom from the closest, and started banging on the underside of the branch above his.

“Will you kids keep it down? I’ve just spent the last 8 hours digging termites out of a rotting branch with a stick, and now I just want to relax with some PEACE and QUIET!”

The monkeys on the branch above turned up their stereo amongst a throng of giggles. George sighed and retreated to his comfy chair, downing his G & T in one gulp. Looking up he saw his wife Estelle, looking sympathetically at George as she brought him another drink.

Taking the glass, George said to his wife, “you know, this tree is getting way too crowded. We should think about moving.”

Estelle shook her head, “come on now George, we can’t afford to move, not on your salary at the plant. Real estate prices are outrageous nowadays. Why, I just heard from Norma-Rae today that a branch on the lower levels of that small Baobab tree over on Banana Boulevard just went for eight-hundred thousand. It was on the lower level, like the second branch from the ground.”

George downed his second gin and tonic and stood up. “You’re right, it isn’t just this tree that’s too crowded. It is this whole forest. We should move away, somewhere else…”

Estelle raised her simian eyebrow, “where to George, there aren’t any other stands of trees close to here.”

George looked out at the wide, grassy plains. “What about the plains?”

Estelle rolled her big, brown eyes. “No more gin for you, you are talking crazy now.”

“No, I’m serious. Why not? Look down there. It’s wide open space. There isn’t another monkey in sight. Why, we’d have the whole place to ourselves.”

“There are LIONS down there, George.”

“That’s no problem, we can outsmart a dumb cat any day. If we stand up on our legs instead of scampering around on all fours, we can see the lions coming over the top of the grass. And that would leave our hands free to throw rocks at the lions. See, it all makes perfect sense.”

Estelle looked at George, unsure, but she saw that he was serious. Her mind raced. Should she? Sure, it was dangerous, and her mother would call her crazy, but think of the adventure. George was right, there was a lot of open space out there beyond this stand of trees. “Alright, let’s do it,” she finally said.

And so, George and Estelle set out, down the trunk of their old tree home and out onto the Serengeti plains and into the wide world, just one example in what is a long line of intrepid travellers stretching to the present day that have helped spread us humans around this world.


The first fish that said, “sure, it isn’t water, but I bet I could use these flippers to move around on dry ground.” Those early humans from Africa, who kept heading north, thinking to themselves, “yeah, Europe looks cold, but I think we could make a life of it there, we could grow blond hair and call ourselves Swedes!” Those folks standing on the shores of south-east Asia who would eventually become Polynesians, saying to their friends “hey, let’s hollow out this log, throw some plants and animals in here and hit the Pacific Ocean. There has to be something out there.”

It is in our genes, in our genetic code, to be explorers, adventurers and travellers. As life has evolved from the primordial ooze to the wide diversity that exists on our little blue-green rock today, at every step the beings that eventual evolved into us where the ones that got out there, took the chance and made a move. We are chance-takers by genetic necessity. If we weren’t, we would have died out, or evolved into something very different, like rhesus monkeys, sheep or catfish. Overall in evolution, survival of the fittest might rule, but when it comes to human evolution, it is survival of the most likely to pack a change of underwear, a toothbrush and take off down the road.


Some might argue that the time has come for us to settle down. We’ve spread all over the world and made large, unmoveable cities in many places. There is no where left on the earth to colonize, so why keep moving

I would counter-argue that now more than ever we should be on the move. In an age when differences between two groups of people can break out into full-scale thermo-nuclear war, getting to know our neighbours around the world seems like a good thing. We are less likely to bomb them, and they less likely to bomb us if they know us, I would hope.

Further, in an age when we humans appear to be using up the resources of the earth faster than the earth is replenishing it, maybe we need to keep looking for new places to live. There seems to be lots of empty real estate on Mars, or at the bottom of the ocean. Sure, it may seem far fetched and impossible, but that’s probably what all the other fish said to that first one that proposed scampering up onto dry land.


So I for one will keep on travelling, and if anyone asks why, I will say “to evolve as a person, and to evolve our species. I travel because it is what we are genetically born to do. It is my biological imperative.”

Now all I need to do is convince my next employer to give me a couple of extra weeks vacation. You know, for the good of the species.

Posted by GregW 03:13 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged travel_philosophy migration_experiences migration_philosophy

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