Oh…OH….OH…exclaimed Jess as the cold shower water cascaded onto her head and shoulders. The hot water faucet was, in reality, the cold water faucet. Even so, when turned on for several minutes, the promised and highly anticipated hot water was nonexistent! We, therefore, proceed to grit our teeth and take showers in cold water, again, grateful that there was any water at all. This has been the scenario many times during our travels as we ponder not only the availability of hot water, but the way we think things are supposed to work and the outcome of many situations we encounter on a daily basis.
Travel on public transportation, for instance, whether it be by plane, bus or boat, can be bizarre. Why, when we bought plane tickets from one airline’s company, are we we sent to another airline’s counter to check in, eventually flying on a third airline (with no explanation or prior notification)? We have yet to fly with the company we booked in any of the four African countries we have visited this spring. We walk to what we think is our gate and nothing is announced on the speaker system as we watch passengers just get up and get in line to board. We follow, wondering if our luggage will arrive at the same place we do. How do we know which queue to join as we survey the infinite number of minibuses at a chaotic downtown street corner? There is no schedule and asking a driver gets a response “yes, yes, this is the bus.” Several minutes later, someone scurries over and herds us to a different bus already packed to overflowing. We squeeze in with our luggage on our laps and off we go, wondering where we will end up. Occasionally that bus is the one that takes us to our hostel or hotel; other times, it flashes its lights as we are transferred like cargo to one heading in a new direction and to a new place. We watch to see when locals pay and how much as every place has its prices and systems. Boats can be just as challenging as we wade out to one boat and then are motored to another boat moored farther from shore where we shakily transfer our luggage and ourselves. Rarely do we know in advance when we will do a wet transfer or a dry one from a dock. We never know.
In a life in which our residence is changed on an almost daily basis one never knows when opening the door, if it will feel like a Christmas present or Pandora’s box! The simplest lodging can be some of the most comfortable while the more expensive and modern abodes can have hidden frights. We rarely have the opportunity to see what we are booking before we hit the pay button on a website, and we have been surprised more than once, often pleasantly and occasionally dreadfully. We often wonder if there will be toilet paper when the real question is whether there will be a toilet. We never know if we are going to get the best and most comfortable night’s sleep we have had in the last several weeks or wake up the next morning with 200 love bites administered by bed bugs during the night. We now carry a UV light to prevent the latter, but still, you never know.
Of course, the scenarios above are not always the case, as travel in many places has been very smooth. But we have learned that flexibility and humor are important traits as we navigate through the maze of everyday experiences in our travel lives. What is this food that has been placed before me when I thought I had ordered a chicken and rice dish? There is a bit of chicken in it, but it also includes beef and pork, too! Why is it that my laundry still smells dirty after having it washed by the hotel? The laundress thought I was saying “no soap” when, in reality, I was asking for “no softener”.
The reality of travel, for us, is keeping our sense of humor and being flexible enough to “roll with the punches”: eat what is placed before us, smile when we are sent to the wrong terminal, walk from where we land, and keep our luggage in plastic when anywhere near water. On an almost daily basis, we look at each other and say “We never know…” Of course, many times, the confusion comes from our lack of local language or our expectations that things should work in other places as they do back home. This is one of the reasons we love traveling. We experience things we do not always understand and learn to appreciate that our homegrown expectations should not always be the global standard.
Posted near Ranomafana, Madagascar. Images are of Jess in one of our recent abodes, Sally waiting hopefully for our luggage to arrive, and bedbugs from one of our Tanzanian hotels.