I travel big but I travel small, gradually expanding my boundaries once I arrive. Acclimating. I adore and absorb the details that create for me a sense of wholeness. I can only travel with those who understand that I don’t necessarily want to pack an itinerary from morning to night and accept my quirk of wanting to stop and take photos of interesting sewer grates.
I woke this morning in Cape Town, a view of Table Mountain from my breakfast window, groggy, adjusting from a day and a half of travel, knowing that I have to take it slow. The evidence is clear: Last night I ventured out for dinner and left my wallet in my room. This morning, I dressed with both my bra and t-shirt on backwards.
So I order coffee from a kind woman who asks if I want a cooked breakfast. She brings me French-pressed coffee, strong. I sip the bitter coffee and notice the way whoever renovated the dining room left a square in the wall so you could see the original brick. The way the air smells bright with flowered trees that I’ve never known. How purple hangs heavy over the streets.
The sunflower seeds crusting a slice of bread. The square of butter in a round dish. How the waitress asks a couple sitting nearby whether they want brown toast or white toast. The man, who was white, ordered white. The woman, who was brown, ordered brown. They laughed and laughed.
A scratchy recording of “La Vie en Rose” plays in this quiet breakfast room, decorated with fertility goddesses and mirrors, and I am struck by connections: Remembering this song played by a street accordionist in Florence, the notes echoing agains medieval walls; my friend and I being serenaded on Duval Street in Key West by a singer that looked like this guy:
One thing I’ve learned this year from returning to places I’ve already been: Experiencing places this way, by moments and by details, rather than by tour bus, doesn’t detract from the whole. Not once have I felt like I missed something big. In fact, each time I’ve felt like I was returning to a very familiar place, like revisiting someplace I never really left.
On this trip I crossed both the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn for the first time. Woot! Go, Cape Town.
I’m traveling again and it’s weird, and wonderful, as always. Being in one place and then
another place, so different from each other, and so quickly. Our great-great-grandmothers marvel at the speed of our culture collision.
I’m sitting in the Dubai Airport now: It’s sleek, spacious, futuristic and spotless, with an overabundance of smiling people with “May I help you?” printed on the their blue polos. They helpfully point toward waiting lines and sliding train doors. It’s surreal after contorting myself into a dark airplane seat for 12 hours. Now I’m sitting in an Asian restaurant and tried to order breakfast at 8 p.m. local time. I don’t know what time it feels like but breakfast seemed right. I ordered soup instead.
Just this morning I waved good-bye to my parents, yellow leaves covering the gravel driveway. Stopped for gas at the Kwik Trip in Winchester, watching bearded guys dressed in camouflage gas up their pickups that carried lumber or ATVs; in a couple of weeks they’ll be loaded with bloody deer carcasses. Drove on a spacious highway under Skeleton Bridge Road, billboards breaking up the plowed fields and nearly leafless trees. One for a store that sells 70 kinds of cheese & sausage, one with a smiley face made from bullet holes (“We sell silencers!”), one for Jug’s Hitching Post (“It’s the meat that matters!”). And one that says “You don’t use heroin; it uses you.” I pass by an electronic Mobil sign that optimistically proclaims that it’s 91 degrees. Maybe it is where I’m going, I think.
I pass a Love’s tanker truck, a port-o-potty on top of the Mercury Marine plant. I pass under Lost Arrow Road, thinking about all the places I’ve been this year — how they’ve all been back to visit places I’ve already been, except for this one. Wondering what all this revisiting is about. Like I’ve been using the gravitational pull of all these places to slingshot myself somewhere new.
I’ve spent so much of this year traveling, both externally and internally, and a friend suggested that my trip to South Africa might be analogous to new lands I’m trying to find within. I think there’s something to that.