Last year one of my photographer friends, Jim Sterne, gave me his paperback copy of “Travels With Charley” by John Steinbeck for helping him with an exhibit. Published in 1962, this book is a travelogue about his 1960 journey to rediscover America accompanied by his French poodle, Charley. I don’t remember reading this book in high school (although our English teacher, Mrs. Zielsdorf, did her best effort to enlighten us uncivilized prairie dogs!) or college but it does serve as inspiration for this blog post, why we travel.
During his travels, Steinbeck made the observation (reinforced by his conversations with local people) that many Americans were fearful. That fear was in the form of the Russians attacking us and a nuclear holocaust. It was after the Russians launched Sputnik in October 1957, the beginning of the space race and the Cold War, and on the cusp of the election of John F. Kennedy (many were fearful of voting for a Catholic and the Vatican running our country) as President. Some readers might remember drills at school in event of an attack either conventional or nuclear. Note: none of those things happened but the fear of it happening stuck with many of us a long time. Interesting how not much has changed in those intervening 55 years. We are still fearful but who we are fearful has changed.
To a large extent why we travel is to overcome those fears by getting out of our comfort zone and bring home a broader perspective of the world. This is done by experiencing other cultures, meeting people on their own turf, and seeing some of the wonderful historic sites our country and world offer to us. So I believe that fear is for those that don’t get out much, to see the world first hand, and realize that most people around the world want the same things that we do; take care of our families and live a good life. Now I know there are real threats in this world but to be paralyzed by them isn’t the answer either as we end up being fearful of things we can’t control or do anything about. But understanding and learning is the way to overcome the fears foisted on us by the 24/7 news cycle and our current crop of politicians.
This discussion reminded me of one our four trips to Costa Rica when we were driving up to Volcan Irazu to check it out. We started out mid-afternoon and realized about half way up that it would be dark when we returned. On the way up, we saw this village off the road about a mile and thought the white church was so beautiful and deserving of some photographs. So on the way back, we drove into the village (we think it’s Tierra Blanca) to scope it out. As we drove around, some irrational fears began to take hold. The village appeared to be very poor, almost third worldish and when we approached the church what looked white was actually a pale green and needed some repairs. Here’s the street scene leading up to the church:
As we were driving around the town, we saw a campesino returning from the fields. He was on foot with a sack thrown over his shoulder and I immediately saw a potential photograph. We circled around the block so I could get a good angle but we ended up in a barrio with people starring at us, we think wondering what a couple of gringos were doing in their neighborhood. Well, I missed the shot because he turned off on to another street but I was compensated with this photo of a worker on his horse.
As we drove away, we discussed our fear of feeling unsafe deciding it was blown out of proportion as Costa Rica is one of the safest places in the world with very little person on person crime. In addition, the people are satisfied with what they have, as long as they have just enough to live on and their families around them, they are happy. They don’t see the need to have bigger houses, cars (most use public transportation), and the go go life style we experience here at home.
On this trip, we saw a lot of people walking along the road. We discovered that they were “walking to Cartago” an annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. People walk from all over Central America and once they reach the Basilica crawl the last 22 meters on their knees as a demonstration of their piety and to pray for their own health or the healing of loved ones. Here’s a photo of families walking up a long, steep hill between Orosi and Cartago.
Sometimes when traveling the very unexpected happens and often becomes the most memorable part of the trip. To make a long story short, our daughter Melanie, was in Costa Rica for her graduate work at Earth University. A couple of years prior, she had spent seven months living with a host family in Siqiurres in eastern Costa Rica. We picked her up and went to visit her host family. When we arrived, the host mother, reminded Melanie that the next time she visited that she promised we would go to visit Grandma who lived up in the mountains among the coffee plantations. We weren’t planning on this trip but we agreed, so the next day we picked up the host mom and Dona Maruha, a good friend and neighbor and set off to see grandma. When we turned off the highway, we discovered why a 4 wheel drive was needed, the road was very rocky and full of potholes. I don’t remember how long it took us to reach grandma’s but it was at least 45 minutes. Here’s what the road looked like. Up in the mountains, there is little public transportation so walking and hitchhiking are the most common modes of getting around. There was a public pay phone down the road from this location as well as a small store.
When we reached our destination, here was our reception party, all the nearby relatives turned out to meet the gringos and oh yes, the host mom. We never did figure out how they found out we were coming, maybe someone had a cell phone. By the way, grandma is the woman in the blue dress and white apron. Also, notice that most tried not to smile. A lots of great stories came out of this visit, I’ll save some of those for a future post. It’s an experience we’ll always remember and reminds us of why we travel, to understand and learn about others.
Well that’s enough for this post. We are heading off to Pennsylvania tomorrow to spend Christmas with our daughters and son-in-law. So next week, watch for some stories of our travel to PA.
All our best and Season’s Greetings,