I have been lucky to study and work in many places and experience cultures that inform me that there are as many versions of normal as there are types of laughs.
So when Lesley and I were robbed at La Rambla in Barcelona we were amazed that we could not get any help, anywhere during siesta. Spanish siesta we discovered is not a half- hour long but quite a large chunk of time after the midday meal. We heard about it, read about it but experiencing a whole town go to sleep in the middle of the day is quite something. Shops closed, cars parked, the hotel receptionist seemed uninterested in our worries and wanted to be left alone. Barcelona goes to sleep after lunch and will not wake up until late in the afternoon no matter your emergency.
I traveled to the beautiful city of Brindisi, Italy arriving on a Sunday evening. After putting away my bags in the room, I instinctively followed the crowd of people that were heading towards a fountain in the city center. The stream of people poured onto the main boulevard where they took over the streets, licked their tasty gelato, stopped for conversation and pored over the wares of street vendors in this organized tradition. Motor vehicles disappear from the boulevard and residents spend Sunday evening walking in the middle of the street. The bargains included everything from fine pieces of art to Persian rugs. Down the boulevard where the road met the sea the street vendors gave way to a string of restaurants with grand views, that served the finest wine and sea food. I sat alone and savored the ambiance as well as the food. The next morning like magic the streets were back to behaving like normal streets with cars, taxis, buses and hustled pedestrians. Normal for the residents but quite bizarre for a visitor who arrived the evening before.
My first clear view of the Ngorongoro crater near Arusha, Tanzania, invoked the same awe I felt staring down the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA and the first time I felt the soft unending shower when I stared down the roaring Victoria Falls at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Even more awesome was the sight of Maasai men grazing their cattle a few hundred yards from the lions and wild life at Ngorongoro. Really? How do they all co-exist in that crater?
In Lamu, Kenya, I got off the plane and stepped back in time, into a world that seemed to have been left behind hundreds of years. People on the island are proud to tell you that there's about two cars on the main island and they are there only for a purpose. But on Shela Island where I was headed, there were no cars at all. We left the airport on foot walked to the pier where a small boat transported us across the water to the island. We took off our fancy shoes to step off the water taxi, our luggage was hauled by some strong lads onto their strong shoulders and they half- walked, half-run up the hill to the island hotel. My daughters and I followed as fast as we could, up the narrow, winding paths; careful to skip over the mounds of donkey poop that littered the way. The girls thought our holiday was going to be at a modern holiday resort and they were dismayed at the old fashioned, homely atmosphere of the Swahili themed Shela hotel. The only form of transportation other than our feet were donkeys which pooped all over the sand, grossing out my city-type teenagers. It took them a couple of days to appreciate the raw beauty of Lamu, but I was mesmerized from the get-go by a place where time seems to have stood still centuries ago.
I have since been threatening to go to Hawaii to adorn a grass skirt and coconut bra for my 50th birthday and the look on my daughters' faces tells me exactly what they think about that.
At 50 I know am not embarrassed by my brazen wanderlust and I will continue to travel this amazing world and experience its cultures for as long as am able to.