Granada, Spain | April 26, 2011
TRAVELING ALONE, IN another country especially, can be an interesting experience. I know a lot of people who would never consider it, especially those who are no longer college students or recently out of college. And I know of some older single people (or married persons whose spouses can’t or don’t want to travel with them) who join organized tours so they can get to see the sights but not have to do it alone.
I do not mind traveling alone. I have traveled with friends before, and with family, and I have for the most part enjoyed that. The problem is that unless you and your friend or friends or family are very close or have very similar interests — or are secure enough in your relationship to be able to say, look, I’d like to go off in my own for a while — the trip can become quite stressful. And even when everyone is in sync, there can be some awkward, tense moments. Not good if you are sharing a room.
(I’m writing this while dining outside — under a canopy because it’s starting to sprinkle — and I just ordered the most delicious half-bottle of red wine: Luis Cañas 2008 crianza. Should go well with the mango and avocado salad and the roasted pork in garlic sauce I ordered)
Inevitably, in any trip involving more than one person, one person assumes or is assigned the role as leader. That works out fine when the non-leaders are willing to be led, and when the leader is comfortable in that role.
I’ve traveled with non-Spanish speaking friends in Mexico and each time I’ve automatically been assigned the leadership role. If we had been in an English-speaking country, I doubt that would have happened, for my natural tendency is to follow (that’s why I never wanted to be a manager in any job I’ve held). Although I never heard any complaints from my traveling companions, and they never showed any indications of irritation, I was always second-guessing myself. Would he rather to this? Would she rather go there? Does he hate what we are doing?
Even with my family, who are perfectly willing to go to and do whatever I suggest, I always wonder if they are happy with my choices.
I must say that some of the most enjoyable trips I have taken have been with family. One time I took four of my sisters to Guadalajara and we had a hoot. The highlight was a visit to a nearby town known for its artisan shops. While three of my sisters and I wandered around the shops, the older of my sisters, Delfina, decided she would spend the time at a table in the plaza enjoying the mariachis and the beer. When we returned we joined her for more music and more beer and by the time we got ready to search for a taxi to take us back to the city, Fina was, as we say in Texas, poco pedita.
Finding a cab that would take all five of us proved a bit difficult. We finally found one that seemed roomy enough. It wasn’t. But Fina, who was in her mid- to late-60s at the time, was getting impatient. She wanted to get back to the hotel, so she told the rest of us to squeeze into the front and back seats. Then she told the driver to open the hatchback door and help her climb into the trunk area, where she lay down and rode dreamily all the way back to Guadalajara.
ANYWAY, BACK TO traveling alone. There’s a lot to be said for it. You can do what you want when you want. You can go to sleep as early or as late as you want, and you can get up and get going whenever you want.
But I won’t lie to you: if I had the perfect traveling companion, I would gladly give up this lone-traveler thing.
One of the drawbacks to traveling alone is that sooner or later loneliness does set in. Sooner or later you yearn to be able to share with someone — anyone — what you just saw or heard. Sooner or later you’ wake up to the realization that there’s not going to be anyone you know around the rest of that day. And when you’ve spent most of your life chatting, daily, with family, friends or coworkers, the knowledge that the hotel reception guy will be the only familiar person you’ll see that day, it does something to you. (It all depends on the person, of course if i were like my brother, who will speak to and make instant friends with anyone anywhere, I would already have made 100 friends by now on this trip. But I’m not like him and never will be. Unless other people reach out to me, I do not reach out to anybody.)
It goes away, of course, once you’re up and about, exploring and poking around here and there. And don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoy being totally alone and lost in strange environments, especially if those environments are as beautiful and intriguing as this country.
SO, FINALLY, THIS is what I was getting to with all this rambling:
On my train ride from Sevilla, I shared a car with, among many others, a baby-boomer couple from California and a beautiful young Italian couple with their two young boys, about 9 and 10. We got to know each other because we were the first ones on board and the Italians asked us if we also had two separate tickets to Granada. Apparently their travel agent got them tickets to Granada that required them to get off at one if the stops and wait a couple of hours to board another train here. Both the Californians and I informed them that we were booked straight through to Granada. In the exchange, the Californians learned I spoke American English, so they San Diego and that she had two sisters in Texas and he had been based bear Lubbock in the service. But that was the extent of our interaction.
My interaction with the Italians would have ended there also except that en route, Mr Italiano asked the train ticket person about their strange tickets. In response, she wanted to tell them that they didn’t have to get off the train where the tickets said they were supposed to, but that if someone got on board there and claimed their seats, they would gave to give them up. They could either get off and wait for the next train, or stand for the rest of the trip — two hours. But she couldn’t tell them that because she spoke no Italian and they spoke no Spanish. So she asked if anyone spoke English. I signaled that I did and so she asked me to translate, which I did. The Italians were very grateful. And I was pleased.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, someone did get on at the assigned stop and claimed the Italians’ seats, and they dutifully gave them up. Any hope that they would be able to find other seats vanished when all the seats were claimed. And if they wanted to get off to wait for the next train, their plans were thwarted when the train started moving. So there they were, two adults and their two kids, standing in the aisle as the train sped towards Granada, two hours away.
They had a look of bewilderment on their faces but they were otherwise calm. They seemed to accept their fate. I, on the other had, was overwhelmed with guilt, as if I were responsible for their fate. It was I, after all, who had told them they could remain on the train. Shouldn’t I give up my seat? But doing so would have meantforcing the woman on the aisle seat next to me to get up so I could get up to allow the wife to sit. And doing so would not find seats for the other three.
And, after all, wasn’t I only the messenger?
So I sat while they stood. All two hours. And when we got to Granada, both husband and wife said, “thank you.”
And the Americans? Well, the Americans put on their headphones and got lost to the world for the entire trip. Their conversations were way too loud, typical of people wearing headphones. Several times she chastised him for talking too loud but she did the same thing. Worse, she started singing to whatever it was she was listening to through her headphones. Weird sounds. People started looking at them with bemused, confused smiles. At one point, she removed her headphones and said to him, “What a trip.” I thought she was referring to the train ride, but then I heard his response. “Yeah, I know, the Moody Blues never let you down.”
And she went back to her singing. I was embarrassed by what was happening: my fellow Americans were making fools of themselves and, by extension, of me also. Until I realized that as far as the other passengers knew, I was not an American. I was not one of these singing fools.
And so I forced myself to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery that sped by me.
The odd thing about it was (see, I told you there was a point to all this) that when we finally got to Granada and we were all gathering our belongings and wishing each other a pleasant stay in this city, I suddenly felt a strange sadness at being separated from these crazy Californians and these stoic Italians. In the three hours between Sevilla and Granada, they had become my friends, my family, and I was now bidding them farewell. And it did not feel good.