In the olden days (as the Nans call my past) I would have packed a small holdall with must-haves and jumped on a jet for somewhere far away with an island attached. And for two weeks I would read, dive, eat, wander around markets and tour the island on a set of wheels – two or four depending on the circumference. I met great folks, was welcomed to Shabbat dinners as the only non-Jew in a resort, danced to local bands in hotel foyers and ate in peoples’ kitchens – but I also went for days without speaking to another person. Which suited me fine.
One year my beach hut was at the end of a dirt track, right in front of a lagoon that came and went with the tide. And for a week I was completely alone. Literally – no human came past. There was no cellphone reception – so I spoke to no one either. The only voices I heard were through my headphones. Eventually I had to catch a jitney to the local village get some food, and the spell was broken. Suddenly I was on a dive boat, drinking American beer, singing Beach Boy songs and hosting a luau. But that worked too.
I had unforgettable solo holidays – Sicily, Greece, various islands in the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, The Maldives, Tanzania, Cambodia, Israel, Vietnam, Australia. Each offered something spectacular: wreck diving with treasure hunters, climbing an active volcano, an obeah ceremony. I was an ‘honoured international judge’ at ladyboy talent competition on a tiny Thai island (Miss Monroe won) and in Langkawi I woke to find a trio of spider monkeys discussing me from their vantage point at the end of my bed. They came by every day after that – little face peering at me expectantly – “got any fruit?”
I was reminded of all this on my drive here. Truth be told, I had spent the evening prior looking at packages to Mozambique, Zanzibar and Mauritius. I still have that hankering for a hut, a midday g’n’t and warm, swimmable waters at the end of my sun lounger. But I couldn’t get myself to press ‘send’, something kept tugging me back to McGregor. Besides, I didn’t want to leave my dog at home.
So here we are. The two-hour drive took us three, the highway to the tunnel through the mountain was jammed and it was pouring with rain. At the end of a long pass, a haulage truck had overturned, spilling humans and lengths of plastic pipe across the highway, blocking it in both directions. There was nothing to do but wait. My first coffee of the day was from a petrol station and I ate a hot, creamy chicken pie for breakfast: delicious. It occurred to me as I sat in my car, that I would have been “well on my way to Maputo or Stone Town by now”, but there was no stress attached to the thought. I didn’t want to be anywhere other than where I was: dog dozing, Etta singing, the smell of rain thru the window.
This morning I discovered the pool had turned into a swamp. The drainage pipe from the bathrooms and kitchen was blocked, the dishwasher had leaked water all over the lounge and the geyser hadn’t kicked in overnight. Still I wasn’t phased: my neighbour Rob came over and we figured a chemical concoction to right the pool. Then I spent an hour with my arm up a plumbers’ butt unblocking it by hand. Mopping the floor involved skating around on a couple of towels, with Jack chasing me: loving the new game. Lunchtime was a roast chicken lunch with friends to celebrate “(m)’Others Day”. And now I am sitting in front of a glorious fire, set by me: eating cheese and crackers.
What all my travel has taught me is that we take ourselves with us wherever we go – and our frame of mind or companions will often dictate the experience far more than the actual destination. When that happens, we either have to move on, or in Tim Gunn’s words: make it work”. What we need is often right where we are. We just have to see it.
A bit like life, really.
(Song lyric by the wonderful JJ Cale. Image of Man and his dog found in the public domain uncredited. Image of menu sent to me by a friend. Tim Gunn is the Designer Mentor on Project Runway, I am a huge fan.)