The clock has ticked aloud into my third year of blogging. WordPress has slid me a quiet message without much fun-fare; no balloons or whistles have been blown, the skies are not alight with the flash or sounds of fireworks. There’s no cake or soda. I guess this is what adulting means..*pin drop silence.*
Travel doesn’t pair itself with certainty, especially not for solo black female travelers such as yours truly; but travel is like that…sometimes things don’t go well and alot of what makes it pan out right is having a good travel insurance, or else some moxie.
I need to shed some light as well, on the mass of humanity out there; people who’ve subconsciously or otherwise, reached out to make an awful travel experience turn out beautiful much like serendipity striking at just the right time. Most times, they have been locals anxious to be hospitable to the guest visiting their country; but at other times they have been folks just like me, with a bag strapped to their backs, and that distant yearning look in their eyes, that longs to be filled with the splendor of the world; these are folks who’ve helped me in more ways than one..heck, they are the jewels in my story.
I can truthfully say they’ve nudged me to the direction I am at; to demand more out of this life of travel; to start with a tiptoe but continue with a belly-flop into the world of exploration and seeking out other lands and peoples and cultures. I’d like to salute them in this brief ode. I may have mentioned a couple in my travel stories, but many have gone without a mention. So here goes..
1) The angel nun: On the long night bus ride from Sarajevo to Zaghreb, was this nun in a habit. Sounds cliche, right? She sat a row behind us, but I hardly noticed her until much later on.
You see, Bosnian bus drivers make their announcements in Bosnian, so it can be pretty tough for those who are clueless about the language; you’ll spend alot of time glancing around and trying to decipher what has been said, whether it’s “We are stopping for a five-minute toilet break,” or “We are stopping for 30 minutes to have dinner at the roadside eatery” or “The bus has broken down and y’all need to hitch-hike to your next destination.”(joke.)
I think this nun who looked mature but not elderly, with skin the color of a milky latte and a svelte frame; saw us glancing about in confusion after one such announcement, and leaned a little forward, just out of shot of my ears, and whispered the translation in crisp English.
The bus stopped at a scene of an accident, and policemen were milling around with their flashlights. I snapped away like a paparazzi in search of a story that would make headlines. She whispered again..gently but firmly, “Put the camera away…if they notice you taking pictures, they may take it away from you.”
Throughout the trip, she gave me that constant assurance, sounding just the way I’d like my guardian angel to sound. When we reached Zaghreb, I wanted to take her number, or email or some contact, but she had got down and vanished into the crowds and out of sight. I remember her mostly for the peaceful serenity she carried about her like an invisible handbag; that of someone who had spent so many hours in quiet meditation and solitude, that a perpetual aura about them, touched everyone who came close to them. If I was her assignment for the day, she did a good job.
2) The Somali border policeman: Imagine arriving in Mogadishu a day after the Al-Shaabab terror attack (that blasted off half of Jazeera hotel) and having no contacts on ground. Everyone at the immigration desk was antsy as a result, and people like myself were interrogated thoroughly; reason being, my only contact was in Canada, and I hadn’t been connected to the media on ground before my flight, plus my phone had died on me. After being kept aside to wait for a while, the immigration handed me over to the border police post. I was scared, but calm. I hadn’t committed a crime.
As I waited in the humid office, while deliberations were held in rapid-fire Somali, this senior plains-clothes policeman sauntered in authoritatively, and begun to chat with me in dutch. He heard that I had come from the Netherlands and he had been living there for years. The first question he asked was, “Have you eaten?” (The flight had arrived early morning and I had been waiting for several hours, so I was quite hungry.)
Even before I responded, with a snap of his fingers, he got the messenger to bring me food from the nearby restaurant. I had a very tasty meal of spaghetti and meat balls with a banana, (italian colonial influence?) and cold mineral water.
He acted very fatherly, frowning on my choice of attire. Having a fedora on with a sleeveless dress that went just below the knees, and no shawl around my neck and head was underdressing, according to Islamic-Mogadishu standards.
“When you get to your hotel, you have to shop for an abaya and head-covering. If you walk around Mogadshu looking like that, you may be taken out by a sniper-fire,” he warned.
He also told me about the Al-Shaabab attack, wondered why I had come at the time to Mogadishu.
“This is no place for tourists,” he said. He advised me to stay in my hotel for the week I would be there. He made me feel safe at the police post, and persisted in calling Canada until my contact person picked up the phone, and sent a driver to get me to the hotel where the media were waiting. Memorable for sure.
3) The Sarajevo boy; The boy we met in the Sarajevo bound train saw us before we saw him, and seemed to be watching out for us from the get go. Just when the train arrived at Mostar train station; a drunk man tottered in our direction, and begun to pinch our cheeks and grabbed my arm in a friendly manner, all the while flashing a smile interpersed with guffaws of laughter and a string of Bosnian words. We managed to get away just in time, and clambered onto the train, now steadily filling up. While we glanced around in dismay, as all the seats had been taken, this boy’s head popped up in the crowd, and signaled for us to follow him. We bundled our heavy bags and keeping our eyes on his back, followed him past several carriages. Finally he stopped in front of a semi-empty carriage, and slid it open. There sat a couple with their baby, and his mum and sis. They made space for us to sit comfortably. The mum spoke flawless English, but the boy and his sister spoke only Bosnian. The boy, same size as my daughter was kind enough to share his snacks with her. He looked spunky and wise beyond his years, and seemed to have that street-smart wit about him. They came off the train a short distance from Sarajevo. One of the most interesting children I’ve met on my travels for sure.
4) The Athenian restauranteur: On our first day in Athens, we thought we had some time to tour the Acropolis but discovered we were time barred as the gates were closing when we arrived. The next thing to do was to walk around, to familiarize ourselves with the city and hopefully grab a bite. I was surprised that many restaurants were empty with no one manning the front desk. Finally, we stumbled into this souvlaki eatery, ordered some and paid for it. As we are having our meal, the owner of the eatery placed two bottles of chilled mineral water at our table. I thought nothing of it, but later when I offer to pay, he waved my payment away.
“It’s on the house,” his expression seemed to say. I was touched by this gesture. To be able to quench your thirst with free cold water when it’s hot and extremely humid is a gift. Unforgettable in my sight. Viva humanity.
5) The Krakow tour guide: After touring Wawel castle and a boat cruise on the Vístula river, we cut through the Jewish quarter on foot. We needed to get to Galeria Krakowska shopping centre then on to our airbnb.
I asked this friendly tour guide for directions, and she begun to explain. She cut herself off mid-sentence and said, “Why don’t I take you there?”
I replied that we’d rather walk as we hadn’t budgeted for a buggy ride.
“It’s no problem, hop in, I will take you there at no cost,” she insisted.
We hopped in, and a couple of minutes later we were infront of the mall.
I was awed by this gesture and couldn’t thank her enough. Memorable.
6) The French millenial working in Singapore.: The first time I went to Singapore, I found the locals a wee bit frosty. There were no smiles, just plenty of stares. I was glad to leave for Malaysia, then back again for my flight to Amsterdam. I was in a surly mood, and slumped in my seat. I just wanted to shut my eyes and wake up in Amsterdam.
Guess who was having none of it?
My chatty neighbour.
He came bounding in just as the gate was closing, and the plane was a couple of minutes away from taxing. He shared that the airline officials had told him, “Ah, it’s you!”
His reply was, ” Who else can it be.”
Within 5 minutes, we were chatting and gabbing away like old friends.
He was on a gap year before beginning Uni later on in the year, and had taken up work on a ship in the region. He had his own share of travel tales; waking up before dawn to watch the sunrise over the horizon, watching dolphins, whales and other marine creatures swim and leap into the air. We exchanged contacts and are facebook friends. Grateful he turned a moody flight into a happy one.
7) The Israeli family on Mt Tampa: Though we came off at the escalator lift, we had to walk a steep rocky path to summit Mt Tampa. My sandals were not well suited for the climb, and me and my daughter had a hard time balancing our footing and pressing on. My daughter at some point wanted to walk on all fours.
This sneaker-clad family noticed our distress and walked back to rescue us, with each one of them holding our hands. They shared that they were from Israel and were touring Romania on vacation. They helped us to the signboard ‘Brasov’ from where we could view the whole city.
Coming down was easier, as we took a separate path that wasn’t filled with jagged rocks and stones. The kind family stayed on our mind long after the trip had ended.
These have been a few of our pleasant experiences, they’ve been so many more, but I leave those for another day.
Have you had memorable travel experiences, good things happen to you?
Please share in the comment section.