I’ve heard it said that travel changes lives but I didn’t believe it applied to me until I had to choose My Three Favorite Travel Memories.
I realized that each trip has altered my life in significant and not-so significant ways. Most importantly, traveling has made me more appreciative of what I have, and also expanded my circle of friends. Traveling for me is both therapy and education – it’s my antidote to boredom and malaise.
I have so many favorite memories of my travels, it was very difficult to narrow it down to my top three. Hopefully, you’ll see why I decided on these.
This post is part of The Blogger Relay that is sponsored by LowCostHolidays. The goal is to keep this chain of stories going and the team with the longest chain of travel stories by September 28th wins.
Bronze – Mérida
Mérida was my first trip abroad. I had spent the year before I started university teaching basic and intermediate Spanish to 10 and 11 year olds. When we heard about a one-week immersion program in Mérida that was organized by the Ministry of Education, another Spanish teacher and I decided to participate. in a one-week Spanish immersion program in Mérida and became chaperones for three of our students.
All the arrangements were made through a travel agency contracted by the Ministry of Education and we turned over newly minted passports so they could obtain our visas and tickets and arrange our accommodation.
But when we made the 4-hour drive back to Kingston for our appointment to get our documents, we learned that our passports had been destroyed in a fire at the agency. No one had bothered to alert us and there was no way for us to get new passports and visas in time to leave with the rest of the group. We wouldn’t be going to Mérida. We returned home feeling disappointed and defeated. But that was not the end of this story.
A few weeks later, the travel gods smiled and with new documents in hand, we were on a direct flight to Mérida. Since we had missed the immersion, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do.
The first thing I noticed was how different the Spanish in Mérida was. It sounded like an entirely different language than what I’d been studying since primary school. I could pick out one or two words but the rest sailed right over my head.
At the market the day after we arrived, I met Mario and his friend, Belgio. Between my version of Spanish and his limited English, I agreed to go with them to the beach at Progreso. (I wouldn’t have done that now!)
We spent a great afternoon swimming, and exchanged phone numbers when they took me back at the hotel. If you think trying to understand a language when you’re face to face with someone is hard, try doing the same thing on the phone. But there’s no mistaking Belgio when he called later that evening and declared, “Te amo. Te adoro.”
‘I love you’ in any language gets your attention. Said in Spanish with Belgio’s intensity and passion, it was a bit romantic. But I couldn’t stop giggling. I was a cynic even then. But what did I really know about matters of the heart at that age?
Coming from a country that had been ruled for 300+ years by the conservative Brits, I wasn’t used to anyone professing such emotions, especially after the first meeting.
I was also surprised to see couples, some looking like they were still in high school, holding hands and kissing openly. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable. (I’ve gotten over that!)
The day before we left, we took a guided tour of Chichén Itzá, the pyramids and temples that were built by the Mayans. I had no idea what to expect as we arrived and was surprised by the size, the detail of the stonework, the sacrifice it must have taken to complete.
I’m not sure what happened to the photos I know I took but I still remember several of the monuments clearly, like I was there yesterday. I think we even climbed the steps of El Castillo and pretended to play ball in the Great Ball Court. Hearing that human skulls had been found at the Cenote Sagrado disturbed my sensibilities, but I’ve become used to that now.
Seeing the monuments stirred something deep inside me and revealed an interest in history and ancient civilizations that I didn’t even know I had.
The next morning, we arrived at the airport only to find that our 10:15 flight had actually left at 9:10 and the next direct flight would be several days later. We were stuck in Mérida, with very little money left. Luckily, the travel agent in Mérida found us a flight that left 2 days later and paid for our accommodation (we reimbursed them back after we returned).
On the day we finally left, we had an entire Pan Am jumbo jet to ourselves from Mérida to Miami. We sat in first class and the crew fed us all the food we could eat. We had no visas to enter the U.S., but we had onward tickets so immigration allowed us transit.
Back home, I felt older than my actual years. My mind had expanded. Three months later, I was on another plane. This time, I left home for good.
Silver – Barcelona
My love affair with Spain started in high school. From the stories my teachers had recounted, I had created my own vision of Spain, mixing and romanticizing the drama of the bullfights, the tragedies of Frederico García Lorca, and the passion of the flamenco.
So when I heard about the semester abroad program at my university, I didn’t have to think twice about going.
Barely two years after Generalísmo Francisco Franco’s death, Spain was still a dictatorship and we were there. From the stories my professors – many of whom were refugees of the dictator – told, I’d painted over my previous glamorized images of Spain with a drab khaki color, and placed the military everywhere.
But when my roommate and I set out to explore Barcelona after our arrival, I found a city that was vibrant and colorful and fun. I fell in love with the architecture, the art, the wine and the food. Most importantly, I felt at home.
That weekend, we ended up at one of Spain’s well-known department stores, El Corte Inglés. A sale was in progress and comparing prices to what we’d pay in Canada, we shopped and shopped. A week later, the sale was still on but the prices had been reduced even more – la venta sobre la venta. We could’ve kicked ourselves!
We attended classes four days a week in the afternoons, after the siesta, and at nights, found ourselves in one of the many restaurants and bars in Barcelona (we studied in the mornings). On Tuesdays, we visited museums, historical sites and other places of interest.
During our three months, we enjoyed the beach at Sitges, visited Montserrat, Perpignon, the Costa Brava and spent a week in Madrid.
I loved Barcelona and knew by the end of January that I wanted to stay. But no matter how much I begged, bargained or promised, my mother wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t understand why I wanted to postpone my last year at university “to do what, exactly”? in Spain. She won.
Barcelona changed the way I viewed travel – a week or two wouldn’t do anymore. And staying with a family let me experience the city in a way I couldn’t have had I stayed in a hotel. I wanted to do more of that, and that’s how I’ve approached travel since.
Gold – Zimbabwe
My idea of a vacation is not one that has me driving around in a jeep in the African bush trying to spot wild animals. But two years ago, that’s exactly what I was doing.
When my friends and I had decided to travel to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, we also decided that each of the three of us would pick three must-dos, and all of us had to do everything that was chosen. A safari was one of the must-dos.
We traveled from Victoria Falls – a two-hour drive through terrain that winter had turned brown – to Hwange National Park where we’d spend three days at in camp.
Dixon, our guide met us at the main camp and loaded our stuff into the jeep. Before we could leave the parking lot, he warned us to keep our hands and bodies in as dried branches along the path could easily slash our skin as we drove by.
Dry, flat land, interrupted by trees, and the biggest termite mounds I’d ever seen, stretched for miles. We drove for about an hour when Dixon slowed down and pointed. What? Where? There! He said, a smile of triumph on his face. But all I saw was bush. Then I trained my eyes in the direction he was pointing.
Oh, a giraffe! Craning its neck to catch the higher branches, legs splayed at a weird angle, it was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. We stared for a while before we realized we should be taking photos instead of gaping in disbelief.
Over the three days, we’d see lions, buffalo, cheetah, leopards, hippos, elephants, kudu, zebra, impalas, hyenas, several species of birds, and stunning sunsets but I’ll always remember that giraffe that greeted us as we arrived.
As usual, I’d kept a journal but I wasn’t looking forward to telling the many stories of our experiences over and over to everyone who asked. I remembered the travel blog I had registered several years prior and began writing.
Once I finished my posts about Victoria Falls, Hwange, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Lesotho, I kept on writing and traveling. I didn’t realize it then but I had just started a new phase in my life.
These are my Three Favorite Travel Memories. Read more Travel Memories on Team Blue’s Facebook page. Follow the hashtags #BloggerRelay and #TeamBLUE on Twitter.
Without further ado, I pass the baton to Jackie of Travelnwrite.