Day 16. What Rules? What Road?

Planning doesn’t work particularly well here on the playa. In fact, today it doesn’t work all. I’ve signed up for a couple of morning chores at my camp, and after dutifully completing them, I have this idea to go spend the hot middle of the day checking out four events found in the program, instead of napping or laying in the shade like I’ve done the previous two afternoons.

I down a breakfast of scrambled eggs mixed with salt and vinegar potato chips (delicious, you should try it) and get on my trusty bike filled with enthusiasm for the day ahead. It’s a great mix I’ve selected. First, I’m going to go get a facial. Then, it’s off to a camp serving ice cream cones. How cool is that. Then I’m going get a reading to find out what my spirit animal is and finish it all off with a henna tattoo.

Except the facial-giving camp informs me they are doing facials tomorrow, not today, and I must have read the booklet wrong. I’m totally welcome to have a seat and chill for awhile though ….  I sit awkwardly for a few minutes, certain I have read the booklet correctly, before giving up and moving on.

The ice cream camp turns out to be demonstrating how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which is not only cool but like minus 100 degrees cold. The camp is filled with many if not most of the children at Burning Man, and their parents, and my odds of getting an ice cream cone appear to be slim to none. I mean what kind of adult pushes little kids aside to get ice cream? I consider pushing aside a few of their parents, but my better nature triumphs and I move on.

The spirit animal man gets his wisdom from turning over a deck of special cards, and I have the misfortune to show up right before a group of eight others. Flustered, he rushes through me, and I’m not sure if it’s a lizard, koala bear, or wolf I share a kinship with but I do get that I need to be following my dreams while having a plan B. Okay. I could have told him that, but I try to put sincerity into my thank you.

I spend about half an hour trying to find the henna tattoos, located at 4:00 in center camp. (Later I learn the Center Camp area has its own clock system unrelated to the main roads.) Hot and cranky, I finally give up.  This has certainly turned into a shitty day.

Then I stumble upon friends and next thing I know I’m on an art car with some sort of south seas theme. It takes us to a memorabilia-filled tiki bar tucked into a bus and I’m drinking rum drinks and talking to a psychiatrist about phobias when I meet an older burner at the bar who’s been doing this since the early 90’s and he kisses my hand and suddenly I feel so welcome here.

But there’s no time to linger. The person I’m closest to has friends getting married at sunset and he’s realized it’s getting late. Suddenly I’m following him on my bike, pedaling as fast as I can to catch up with a bridal procession that is heading out towards the temple.

“She’s a trained opera singer,” he whispers to me as we get off our bikes and the bride, dressed in a sort of Victoria’s Secret corset, picks up a guitar and prepares to sing. The setting sun glitters off of the groom’s grey and black sequined tux as he listens to his beloved’s song of love. I think I have never attended such a beautiful ceremony. This has certainly turned into a fantastic day.

Do I have a rule of the road to glean from today’s experience. I suppose I do, but I’m more inclined to say “What rules? What road?”

I do have a song for the day, though. Lights and Music. It captures the sound that accompanies me across this magical desert.  Enjoy it at the end of this post.

Once the wedding party starts dancing, I head out to the deeper playa, to enjoy the art that comes alive in the dark. I wander around for hours, marveling at how fast things change, and wondering why the nice folks that put this shindig together even bothered to print up a booklet listing the events.

Maybe they do it just because they have a sense of humor.

Day 4: Bloom here

That has got to be rule four. Be here now. Bloom where you are planted, even if you are planted here along the Mississippi River for only four days.

I’ve spent two nights at my sisters and have two more nights to go. This is the longest stop of my 28 day journey, save one, and half of my brain at least is already worrying about the trip ahead, checking on reservations, considering needed supplies. No, I tell myself. Stop it. Just stop it.

This is precious time. The river is wonderful, the company irreplaceable. I settle back into my seat on the boat. Is there a song for this? Of course there is.  Here it comes, live from all the way back in 1969.

Day 3. Just Don’t

Day three. Today I’m off the road enjoying my sister’s hospitality, and her boat. She and husband Gary like to drive up and down the Mississippi, eating, drinking and feeling the wind in their faces. It’s not a bad way to enjoy life.

We stop for lunch and my sister insists I try one of the many flavored long island ice teas. I’ve already had a glass of Rose and it’s only 11:30 and hard liquor doesn’t sound good …. but this is vacation, and who could resist a blood orange long island ice tea. Two sips into it and the headache starts. Bad idea. I should have resisted it.

Rule three, I decide, is if it doesn’t sound good to you, don’t order it. Don’t eat it. Don’t drink it. No matter how much your sister likes it, or how much you like your sister. Just don’t.

I invoke rule two, forgive myself for the mistake, and go back to slowly sipping Rose aboard ship. The wind blows through my hair and I decide, headache or not, this is going to be a good day. My sister reminds me of what our father used to say on days like this….  Now this is living. He was right, it certainly is ….

Is there a song for this kind of day? Of course there is ….

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

Day 2. Rules of the Road

Day two.  499  miles (7 1/2 hours of driving, 9 hours in car). A journey from the Ohio River along the Indiana border northward on I75 to Indianapolis, then west to Bloomington, north to Rockford and then a ride through beautiful countryside on highway 20 west to Galena Illinois. The back of my car remains packed and secure as I play my music heading down the road.

Only today my music keeps getting interrupted by Google Maps. The app is experiencing ongoing frustration because I have chosen to take a slightly longer route and not drive through Chicago. Nothing against the windy city, it’s a great place and I know it because I once lived there. I just don’t want to drive through it.

“We’ve found a route that is 19 minutes faster,” it chirps as soon as I’m on the highway. “Touch screen to accept.” It continues to try to route me through Chicago for the next four hours. An algorithm apparently cannot comprehend why I’d rather drive extra minutes to enjoy rolling countryside and less traffic.

About 3 hours into my trip I remember that I’ve left something at the Airbnb. It’s sentimental; in fact it’s a lightweight blanket with my name on it, a gift from long ago that I often take when I travel. I’m not willing to leave it behind, so I arrange to send my host PayPal money to express the blanket to me at another stop. It’s a stupid expensive mistake and I’m being hard on myself for making it.

The number one rule of the road is to make sure everything is well organized so you don’t spend all of your time looking for things and can easily see if you are leaving something behind, the sterner part of my brain insists. And it is right, that is a key to having a hassle free trip. But there are lots of rules of the road, and I decide rule number two has got to be to forgive yourself if you break rule number one and leave something behind.

Yesterday I found a song of the day as I was driving into Louisville. Today I have a playlist called Songs to Make You Smile and it is filled with odd and old tunes. Most of them do make me smile, and Lady Gaga’s Telephone and The Weather Girl’s It’s Raining Men make me laugh out loud.

As I drive along 20, enjoying the lovely view that cost me an extra 19 minutes and so distressed my GPS, I finally hear what I know is the song of the day. I’ll be at my sister’s house in a few minutes, enjoying time with someone I love and seldom see. This is what it’s about. The world doesn’t need better organization and more efficient routes. What the world needs now is ….

Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles

So if the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, does the journey of 6000 miles begin with 6 steps? Just wondering ….

This morning I left for a 28 day trip, the longest I’ve attempted in decades. The first 12 days will involve me driving over 3000 miles by myself, in a car loaded down with a bicycle, tent, air mattress, camping and cooking supplies, food, and all the clothing and necessities of life for four weeks. Oh, and lots of music stored on four different devices with three different ways to play it. I may be foolish, but I’m not stupid ….

During these first 12 days I’ll be staying with 7 different Airbnb hosts, and if tonight’s lodging gives any clue, it’s that this will be interesting. I’ll also be retracing significant places from my past, something it is time for me to do.

Today’s trip was easy; six hours and 382 miles. Starting out with a short day enabled me to have a leisurely exit from my home in Western North Carolina, and to enjoy the beautiful drive from Asheville NC to Knoxville Tennessee along I-40.  Then it was north along I-75 to Lexington Kentucky.

Crossing state lines reminded me of how knowledgeable we humans are as a group. The speed limits in Tennessee tend to be around 60 mph, and the observant driver soon realizes the actual enforced speed limit must be around 70, as that is the average of what everyone is driving. Kentucky has a 70 mph posted limit, but by the time I am a few miles into the state, the average speed has risen to more like 85, with drivers riding on my rear bumper if I drop much below that in either lane. Okay, new state, new rules.

I cross the Ohio river and arrive at my first stop along the southern edge of Indian about 6:30 p.m. My hostess is friendly edging over into chatty and when she starts in on her own recent travels I make excuses to go to my room. Glancing over my shoulder, I see the TV turned to Fox News. Oh dear. Best avoid discussing politics. My room looks much like the photo, but is decorated in a more religious fashion than I would have expected. Hey, tolerance for all spiritual beliefs …. Still, I think I’d best avoid conversation in general, so I hunker down in my room, planning my route for tomorrow.

I wonder what adventures this trip will bring. My character Ariel doesn’t know the future, but she sees numerous possible events and has a sense of their probability of occurring. She’s not sure what will happen, but she is sure it will be one of the things she saw.

Me, I spend my day driving imagining all sorts of crazy occurrences. You know what the difference is between me and a precognitive like Ariel? I don’t know what will happen either, but I can be damn sure it won’t be anything I came up with.

I did entertain myself today by deciding to pick one song each day that best describes the feel of the day. Today’s song? Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones. It had me at

“Don’t ask her why she needs to be so free. She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be.”

Yeah. Then there was “No time to lose, I heard her say. Catch your dreams before they slip away.” Yeah again.

I may not be at all sure what this trip will bring, but I am sure about why I’m doing it.

Enjoy a 1990’s Mick Jagger singing this classic.

If you’d like to read a short blurb from each day of my journey, check out
Day 1. The Journey of 6000 miles
Day 2. Rules of the Road
Day 3. Just Don’t
Day 4. Bloom Here.
Day 5. Yes Aretha. Respect.
Day 6. No Trucks. Just Corn.
Day 7. Cry
Day 8. There’s No Place Like Home
Day 9. It’s Okay to Ask a Human for Help
Day 10. Always Bring an Onion
Day 11. Gimme Three Steps Towards Nevada
Day 12. I Want to Scream.
Day 13. Dusty Virgin
Day 14: Magical ride
Day 15. As Nice as I Want to Be
Day 16. What Rules? What Road?
Day 17. If you get interrupted by a parade …
Day 18. I, Human
Day 19. A Border Crossing
Day 20. Someone to Help Me Get Home
Day 21. Time flies like an arrow and ….
Day 22. Stop, or Else …
Day 23. What’s Your Reality?
Day 24. If it seems ridiculous …
Day 25. Backing Up
Day 26. To Stop a Hurricane
Day 27. Lights Along My Path
Day 28. Grateful

What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you

What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Or can hurt you. What you don’t know could fill volumes. You don’t know what you don’t know ….. and “what you don’t know” is the start of many bits of wisdom, not all of which are wise.

I recently had a wonderful trip to Peru, and came home realizing something new about what I don’t know. It’s the only thing that has the power to amaze me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of knowledge. It’s essential for smart behavior in everyday life, and it makes traveling easier and less stressful. I research my trips ahead of time and I have fun looking forward to experiencing sights, sounds and tastes recommended to me by other travelers. But if that is all I do on the road, I’ll never be surprised. My trip to Peru made me more aware of how it is the unexpected discovery that holds the power to astonish.

Take Machu Picchu. It was wonderful, in spite of the rain and the crowds and many cordoned off areas designed to help preserve this wonder of the past. I’m glad I went. But how could I be amazed? It looked just like the pictures. Just like I expected. Very cool.

The day at Machu Picchu was also long and tiring, starting at dawn and ending with a bus, train and van combo back to Cusco. My travel companion was less exhausted than I, and spontaneously agreed to go on a second venture the next day leaving at three in the morning and involving a lot of walking and donkeys. She was off to Rainbow Mountain, a place she had never heard of and wasn’t sure she even wanted to see.

I’m willing to bet it was the most amazing part of her trip. She walked to over 17,000 feet and found herself here.

My day was more restful, but I had time to wander around the streets of Cusco, to sit in a park, find a small coffee shop, and be surprised be at what could be discovered on a self-guided walking tour of this city. I found things to amaze me, as well.

This epiphany about the unknown has prompted me to ask others who enjoy traveling to describe their favorite “I had no idea” moment. One man spoke of a wonderful trip to Nicaragua. He was hoping to go to this ocean on his last day, but his traveling companion insisted on taking him on a jeep ride well into the jungle. He got out at their destination frustrated, only to find they were at a beautiful, clear fresh water lake known to very few people

A well-traveled couple from South Africa, , also part of our Peru Venture, didn’t hesitate when asked for their most amazing surprise while traveling. It was the city of Assisi in the Province of Perugia, Italy. Unexpectedly beautiful. I certainly would never have guessed that.

I have my own such story. My husband and I stumbled on Slieve League in County Donegal, Ireland years ago after visiting the lovely Cliffs of Moher. Slieve League’s sheer drop of over 1500 feet down to the ocean is three times that of Ireland’s more famous cliffs, and I remember clearly how the two of us stood at the top of it in astonishment, wondering how we could possibly not have heard of this.

I now think every trip needs room for surprises like this. We spent our last night in Peru in Lima, and signed up at the last minute for some tour of a park with fountains. It turns out that the Magic Water Circuit, as it is called, is fairly famous, but we didn’t know about it, and the dancing light shows in 13 giant fountains left us, you guessed it, amazed.

Aren’t we lucky it’s a big world, and none of us have the time or inclination to learn everything about it all before we travel?

(For more on my trip to Peru see woman traveling alone and History at its most exciting.)

 

 

 

Replacing me with …

One of the problems with travel is that you get your world news in incomplete flashes, and what you hear isn’t always entirely accurate. The nonsense with white supremacists protesting the removal of confederate statues started a day or two before I left on a trip to the other side of the world. I remember thinking “what are those people thinking?”

Then I caught a news blurb in an airport waiting area, and something made sense. They were carrying Nazi banners and KKK flags and chanting “You will not replace me.”  Replace them? That’s what they care about? For the first time, I got what they were afraid of.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no sympathy at all for any of these groups or their causes. But, it is a fact of life that we all will die and get replaced, sooner or later. So, these people want only those who look like them, talk like them, and act like them to be their replacements? How odd. This concept had never occurred to me.

It might have to do with my life long addiction to science fiction. I’m scared of nuclear annihilation and being replaced by cockroaches. Or by human-eating alien plants. Have you ever seen “Little Shop of Horrors?” If you’re prone to paranoia about what is going to replace you, I do not recommend it.

Me, I’m afraid of having the human race replaced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And have you seen the latest “Planet of the Apes” movie? No matter how bad the script is, you can still worry about being replaced by sentient animals. Then of course, there are always zombies and vampires, and don’t even get me started on artificial intelligence. Am I only one in the world who took the Terminator movies seriously? Or Ex Machina?

I listened to these chanters and had to laugh at myself and at them. It’s true; deep down we are all afraid of being replaced by something else. I guess I have my biases, too. But I’ll be happy to leave this world to any size, shape and color of being, genetically engineered or not, who basically has human DNA. That’s a win for me.

Then I got on an airplane and spent the next nine days in Africa.

Now Africa is full of people, many of them wonderful, beautiful and friendly, and none of them, apparently, acceptable replacements as far as the Nazi and KKK chanters back in my homeland are concerned. It made me wonder why I travel and see more people like me and they travel and see nothing but others. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they don’t travel.

I was reminded of a famous quote by Charles Darwin which, apparently, Charles Darwin never said. In 1963, a professor paraphrased Darwin’s thoughts, and his words morphed into the following famous statement: Evolution is won not by the strongest or the smartest but by the most adaptable. 

Yes, it is important to be adaptable. I was traveling without my laptop, so I grabbed my phone and typed all these great ideas into Notes so I could easily email it to myself after I got out of the Uber and back to wifi. Then I though about how even ten years ago I would not have been doing that. But, as individuals and as a species, we must adapt. And those chanting “I will not be replaced by you” are refusing to do that.

I got back home a few days ago and had a chance to see the same footage of the angry chanters, only this time it had subtitles. Guess what? I’d misunderstood those Nazis. They were actually chanting “I will not be replaced by Jews.”

I shuddered. Somehow the specificity of the chant made it even more creepy. It also made the chanters seem even more like the dinosaurs they are. Humans stuck in old ways, fighting for their tiny ethnic clan at the expense of all others and on a sure road to their own destruction.

We live a frightening universe, folks. Don’t believe me? Go the movies. I have, and I’m really routing for the human race to make it to the year 3017. In my humble opinion it’s not looking so good. We up our chances if we allow ourselves to evolve, pulling together and fighting for our mutual human survival.

So, I want to see some marches that matter. Signs with pictures of climate change devastation and nuclear war and diseases we cannot cure. I want to hear some chanting that makes sense. All together now. “We will not be wiped out by you. We will not be wiped out by you.”

Come on humans. We can do this.

(Read more about my trip to Kenya at Smiling my way across Kenya, Still a Sunrise?Like Eating Crab and  Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59)

 

 

 

 

As Far Away Places Edge Closer

An entourage from the White House is on a foreign tour right now, and my social media feeds are full of humorous images like the ones I show here. Given my political leanings, I find them funny even while I recognize the gravity of the situations.

In truth, it is more than news reports and twitter jokes that bring what were once far away places into my living room. I’m not the only one in my family infected by the travel bug, and those I am closest to are often far away. These days, their photos catch my eye as I’m online.

Tomorrow, I will say goodbye to my own significant other as he heads to a foreign country for the first time without me. It is an exciting opportunity for him (and a great chance for me to get a lot of writing done.) But he is a reluctant traveler, and the ease with which he heads off reminds me of how much smaller and more comfortable the world has become. Places that once seemed incredibly remote are now merely “two plane rides away” and “a trip I hope to make someday.”

Is a shrinking world a good thing? We now feel the pain of distant events in new ways. The sorrow they cause is difficult, the increased desire to help is laudable.  I was searching for a video of a song to convey that feeling, to stand in contrast to the various videos of “Far Away Places” that I posted on my other blogs.

I found this instead and realized that it was perfect.  Maybe that’s because it’s about the way the world could be. Or maybe, it’s about the way it really is and we just tend to forget..

 

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door, Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place, Caring About Far Away Places and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)