A Change of Scene

I returned to El Charco del Ingenio botanical gardens here in San Miguel last Saturday because I was curious: How would it look after the heavy rains we’d had in the past week? My watercolor sketch of it then (see the sketch in my previous WOW post, “A Near Getaway”) showed a reservoir with scant water in it. It looked like a vast field of reeds and weeds. Sitting on the same log bench where I painted my sketch, this past Saturday showed an entirely changed scene:

The reservoir at El Charco on July 22
The reservoir at El Charco on July 29

And I didn’t go to El Charco alone this time. I went with my friend Barb Mandaville, who’d just returned from a long trip – visiting European countries  she’d never been to, as well as family members in the States. She’d been gone for ten weeks, and we needed to catch up.

Barb by the greenhouse at El Charco

I’d followed Barb’s recent travels on Facebook, where she generously shared fabulous photos of all the places she’d visited since mid-May. But I still had many questions for her, such as: Was she ever lonely, traveling alone as a single older woman to so many countries? (Her answer: No.) Did she ever feel unsafe? (Not at all.) Which country was most expensive? (Switzerland. “I paid $9 for a cup of chai at Starbucks in Zurich!” she told me.) Which was her favorite place? (Crete, for many reasons.)

The Botanic Park in Crete — one of the many fabulous photos Barb took on her trip

Such travels have been an essential part of Barb’s life for the past twelve years. Sometimes, as she reminded me, we all need a change of scene to recharge our batteries and restore our joie de vivre.

For most of each year Barb chooses to live a simple, frugal life here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during which time she plans and saves for her next international trip.

With just a carry-on bag — containing two pairs of pants, one skirt, and five blouses — she traveled this time first to Lisbon, Portugal; then Madrid, Spain; then Zurich, Switzerland; then Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, with short tours of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro;  then Athens, the island of Crete, and the small village of Stupa on the coast of the southern Peloponnesus peninsula in Greece.

Everywhere she went she stayed in small, modest hotels and spent her days walking, sightseeing, photographing, visiting museums and parks, eating local food, and meeting friendly people along the way.

Being a true people-person, Barb especially enjoyed meeting and talking with locals everywhere she went. “For me,” she said, “travel helps to reinforce the belief that most people are good people. A smile begets a smile and frequently opens the door to conversation and connection. After all, most of us want the same things – a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, an education for our children, and caring family and friends.”

Two questions always spur Barb when it comes to deciding where, why and when to travel: If not now, when? And, Why not?

In my own life, I’ve found travel to be not only life-enhancing but also life-saving. One such memory:

 In the summer of 1985, after I’d just turned forty and after a year in which my mom had died of brain cancer and a longtime love and I broke up, I took a leave of absence from my stressful writing/editing job in New York and spent some weeks in Paris, France, staying in the apartment of a friend there while she and her boyfriend traveled elsewhere.

Every day I walked alone for five or six hours, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of this most beautiful City of Lights. It was a time of healing and renewal for me. Since then I’ve often told friends who were experiencing loss and heartbreak, “Don’t go to pieces, go to Paris!”

As my friend Barb says, “Shake it up!” The world is big. Our heartaches will heal, eventually. When things look bleak, we must climb out of our ruts, lift up our heads, and seriously consider the wider landscape. The rains will come – and then pass on. The reservoir, both literal and metaphorical, will, Lord willing, be replenished. The grand old cities and green rolling countrysides and magnificent shorelines of this wonder-filled world have a lot to show us and teach us. As Barb always says, “Just go!”

Posted on Barb’s FB page