In a book I was reading recently, the protagonist is asked what her word is. Continue reading
Sometimes we need to push past our comfort zones…
A spot caught my eye as I headed back to the hotel one evening: an actual beer pub with a sign in the window for local brews. As was the case in Lisbon, beer is not Spain’s strong suit, wine is. Although I certainly enjoy both, I am a wine novice with an uneducated palate…but beer–well. The pub was closed on my first pass-by, so I merely stood like a child with nose pressed to the window and read their postings regarding what was on tap that week. I carefully noted my location (brooding statue in intersection) so I could find my way back. The following evening, I strode forth after my regular late afternoon freshen up back at the hotel, full of anticipation and high hopes. I tipped my head to the Brooder and made my turn back onto the designated street. I wanted to get a “flight” with samples of all that was on tap that night, but upon arrival discovered that most were IPAs and porters–not my preference. I ordered a wit beer and headed outside to one of the bistro tables on the sidewalk to savor. Another solo sipper sat at the table next to me. We raised our glasses in amiable cheer to each other. After a few minutes I asked him what kind of beer he was drinking. He smirked and shrugged and I took on a teasing tone, “What? You don’t want to tell me?” He blushed and admitted, “I was going to point it out to you on the menu…but I don’t have my reading glasses!” We both laughed and I invited him to my table to borrow my readers. I asked him to teach me the word for glasses, and he did, but it would not stick in my head and eventually it became a joke between us as I asked him for the word over and over again during our days spent together.
As an introvert, I don’t have the compelling need to seek out companionship and surround myself with conversation. It is, however, pleasurable when it happens organically (and when I am brave enough to reach out!). He and I continued our conversation into the evening and at some point his friend joined us at the table. These strangers welcomed me into their city and were gracious and fun and generous with their schedules, taking time out of their daily lives to escort me to places I might not find as a tourist. I went with each of them on separate days to beach towns outside of Málaga. Juan took me by city bus to a quaint restaurant for a divine seafood lunch where he educated me about typical southern Spain tastes and encouraged me to brave my hesitation and try everything. We met up with a group of his friends at a nearby bar where I suffered through the worst mojito I’ve ever had and drowned in my grossly insufficient language skills.
The next night I drove with José in his car (and yes I was a bit nervous but it was a calculated risk I decided to proceed with) to the seaside town that his parents live in. We shared a romantic candlelit dinner with wine and sea bass and fried sardines which I swore I would hate and instead ended up loving. A moonlit walk followed with extraordinary sand sculptures on one side from a contest held that day and cliffs rising on our other side. He held my hand and said that from his parents’ seventh floor apartment one could look across the water to the lights of Africa and this amazed me.
Some risk has to be taken sometimes in order to savor the full offering–new foods, lack of confidence in the language, unfamiliarity with customs–I’m glad I ventured out.
I’m living in what you might call voluntary poverty. Perhaps since I am never worried about losing the roof over my head a more appropriate term would be voluntarily low income. During my time in Wilmington I held two jobs back to back that entailed such high levels of stress that my health was suffering and my soul withering. I contemplated the platitude that I was working all day to afford the house and car that I could barely enjoy because I was constantly working; my soul was utterly exhausted by the daily struggle to spend the bulk of each week in a situation I hated. I eventually walked away from every bit: the job titles and the house in Wilmington and the Lexus that they afforded. Now I reside in a small apartment on the “wrong” side of town, drive a pretty darn old 4Runner and cherish the hours I am now in control of. It is certainly not a choice without consequences nor always happy and easy…but I can never go back after tasting this new, simpler, more profound way of living.
Travel is not impossible on a slender budget, just a bit difficult to orchestrate, at least for me. There are many sites about budget travel and I am no guru on the subject. I am, however, an advocate of deciding to prioritize what has meaning in my life and committing to making it happen one way or another, come hell or high water. I am still amazed and impressed that I forced through to Málaga, it was not easy at all and Cam and I ate a bit of ramen following my return until I could get another paycheck in. I came very close to calling it off a month or two before I left, but I knew I would never forgive myself if I caved. It did end up being a life-altering trip whose memories will forever enrich me. The ramen memories will fade.
I am currently in the planning stages for a trip to Mexico City in June and the path is no easier this time around. Refraining from eating out, buying cost effective groceries, planning my driving to avoid unnecessary gas usage…all factoring in to force this trip to happen. If I can view it as simple living, as a form of mindfulness, as working towards a goal, it makes the sacrifices along the way easier to bear. Life is to be lived as fully as we can manage, and for me, that is always travel.
Málaga touts itself as a city of art, and it does not disappoint–it is packed with low and no cost museums. As most tourists, I spent hours online before my trip reading about what were the “must see” spots and constructed my top ten list. I think I checked off three–maybe. The weather was intensely perfect and I couldn’t bear to be inside for any length of time. The surprise, however, for the Mindful Traveler, was that art lives around every corner of Málaga, the city oozes art: seemingly every surface is covered with street art and this became a fascination and a fixation for my hours upon hours of solitary walking–I just never tired of it. It was one of the defining features of this special city for me and I treasured each new discovery. Research your destination…but let your trip unfold organically and see what happens beyond your list.
Cacophony was the perfect description. As I lay back on the park bench, not quite to doze-status, but very relaxed, the birds were rioting above me. Wild and jungle-like and full of argument they railed on. I chuckled at the sheer volume.
One day I decided to plonk myself down somewhere unobtrusive and just sit a spell—every day contained hours of walking and my feet were begging for some time off. My daily morning routine had developed a concession to my American nature: a trip to Dunkin Donuts at the train station for a large iced vanilla latte and some sort of snack to carry on my trek: today was a cream filled donut that I worked to briskly consume and free myself from its sticky demand for attention. I headed to an area I was familiar with just across the river in a rather non-touristy section of town full of the goings-on of the ordinary citizens of Málaga. A wide pedestrian area between streets, it had a smattering of small benches and I chose one to perch upon as I sipped the latte. I had brought a book, but it remained ignored. Across from me was a heavy wooden door with iron clasps and latches. Having a certain affinity for doors, I snapped a picture. As I sat, I realized what a collection of people was crossing my view and set about secretly snapping pictures as each interesting character trod past my view of the door.
Here are abuelo and abuelita, the darling and cherished grandson scampering a few paces ahead of them in his somehow crisp and spotless white shirt, tidy pastel shorts, a tiny knapsack so scholastically upon his back although he was surely younger than kindergarten. How they beamed at their descendent while they strolled; no more pressing engagement apparently than enjoying the morning with the tiny gentleman. The Cyclist coasted past with his aerodynamic helmet and shiny form-fitted bodysuit. I licked the remaining donut glaze from my fingers. A trio of teenage girls chattering away as they pass the wooden door, fixated on their phone screens while flipping their hair. I understood not a word, but as such things are universal, I knew they were sharing the latest gossip. Now comes a couple, the woman in hijab, the man in ordinary clothes. They carry on a low conversation and walk briskly, perhaps an appointment requires their prompt arrival. A young boy, maybe thirteen like my son, has joined me and sits now on the adjacent bench. He does not focus on the wooden door and its passersby but instead casts his gaze anxiously about and periodically texts on his phone. Maybe he is attempting to meet up with someone—I never did find out who—after ten minutes he conceded this wait and jumped up to leave. I too have now grown restless and gather up my few belongings. Tossing the plastic cup and sticky donut wrapper into the trash can, I continue along my way to find out what else the day holds in store.
And this is why I travel alone: no agenda whatsoever, absolutely no concerns for the wants and needs of others. There will be no whining about hot, hungry, tired. No complaining that we are leaving too early or too late. No passive aggressive darts flying because we have yet to lay eyes on this cathedral or trudge through that museum. I’ve structured my entire life on this now: to simply BE in this present moment without worry about appointments or meetings or agendas. Nothing at all compels me anywhere but where I am, right here, right now. This moment I am living is noisy and full of life and activity. An absolute cacophony of birds is rioting in the canopy of tropical trees over my head. People on park benches nearby are deep in conversations in a variety of languages. This is a city trip so the world is full of the noise of city life: the tourist bus idling at the curb spewing black exhaust, the bustle of citizen traffic rushing about their daily life, the workers busy with their construction banging and pounding away. It can be seen as an unwelcome intrusion or smiled at as the vibrancy of life. The birds are honestly making the most racket.