Reflection Riding

Originally published March 1, 2006 by Linda Lou Burton from Seattle, Washington, United States – Now what? So you set a goal and accomplish it. So you overcome the hurdles. So you have a log of all the planning, the anticipation, the event itself, even the homecoming. Now what? The fruit-juicy mouth-watering bonus surprise, is this – reading about it, looking at the little map-dots there and there and there, makes me want to do it again! Over and over and over. And, it makes me want to be a better traveler while I’m at it.

What will I do differently, next time I set out, a grandma traveler in buckle-strap shoes? What have I learned, so far?

First, I’ll learn at least a smidgen of the language. Every travel writer, travel speaker, travel promoter I’ve ever heard has promoted Travel in English. “Don’t worry about language,” I’ve been told. “Everyone in the world speaks English.” I say, bunk and baloney to that notion. True, most people who have to deal with traveling Americans speak enough English to conduct trade. But how blasphemously RUDE of us, of ME, to wander here and there, traipsing around someone else’s homeland, expecting them to change for me! (The Egocentric Traveler.)

And then there’s the matter of basics — a drink of water, a restroom. I should be able to ask for that, at least. I should be able to read signs, calculate tips, say good morning, please, thank you. I should understand enough of the language to get a handle on the culture, the place, the people. Language is the foundation on which to build a better experience than “arrive, spend, depart.” I’ll call that simple premise Travel 101. Language.

Second thing, The Savvies. Should the tour company have told me? Or, should I have endeavored to find out myself? The LA Airport — should I have known there were two separate terminals? And how would I think to ask that question? Seattle airport has international flights and I’ve picked up passengers after Customs, all in ONE terminal. Even the flight attendants on my United plane had no knowledge of where Lan Chile Airlines was! Now I know, that’s something IMPORTANT to know. From one flight to another — how far? In Buenos Aires, domestic and international are twenty miles apart. KNOW THAT, if you’re making connections! Save yourself a hell of a headache.

Other savvies, like packing. I’ve never used a Swiss Army knife in my life. Why would I think I would need one on a cruise ship? I bought one, because the list said to. It hasn’t been opened yet. I also don’t sew, but I have a cute little sewing kit. And the apparel! Long johns, waterproof pants, ear muffs for 20 below. REI benefited, but I didn’t. It was 41 degrees when I went ashore at Base Arctowski. That’s a normal Seattle winter temp for me, where I walk around with my coat unzipped. I know, it “could have stormed,” but hey, I didn’t HAVE to get out in it! And besides, we were only allowed an hour ashore. With my body fat, I’d be hard put to freeze solid in 60 minutes. Savvies, that’s #2. Don’t take too much STUFF.

What else? I was relaxed. I was open to new people and new experiences. I anticipated wonderful and I got something even grander. The tired it took was worth the memories I’ve got. The tired goes away. The memories never will.

The dreaded tour-bus. Not my first choice for seeing the world. But, limiting as it is to be stuck with a “20-minute glance” and someone else’s decision on where to stop; it’s better than flopping on the couch at home, fearful of stepping outside the bounds of the familiar.

Maybe I didn’t have much time in Plaza de Mayo, or at Base Arctowski, but the time I had was enough to change my view. They belong to me now.

No longer is Antarctica a place of howling winds and penguins stoically enduring cold. When I think of Antarctica, there is warmth, personality; I see Mario, eating Christmas turkey with the Copacabana crew; I see Evie, waddling across the rocks, clear-eyed and feisty, full of life.