This is my fun post for the year, mentally going back and experiencing once again our year of travel. It is almost cliché to say that travel changes us. While I am in a new destination or even revisiting one of our favorites, I enjoy the sensations, the new smells, sights and mental impressions.
When we visit a bucket list destination, I am always amazed at how different it is to be there compared to my vision of what it would be like. As we are blessed to travel more, even my broader perspective does not prevent me from having too narrow an expectation of new destinations. Almost being on sensory overload in a new destination is one my delights in travel.
I can’t help but visualize the history of a destination. It produces an almost surrealistic experience, living today while visualizing the past. This year while I walked the streets of the North End of Boston I pictured the lives of hundreds of years of residents while walking through today’s Farmers Market with the seasonal fresh produce and elbow to elbow shoppers. I stood at the main gate in the wall of Old San Juan Puerto Rico, one of the oldest cities in the Hemisphere and visualized the sailing ships and crush of goods being loaded and off loaded from the ships, while listening to the leaf blower cleaning the walk for today’s tourists.
Travel broadens our perspective, teaching us that we are all more alike than different. I guess I should have know that Panama and Costa Rica were thriving countries where the education system works and the illiteracy rate is in the single digits, unlike our functional illiteracy of 30+%. The number one export of Costa Rica is not bananas, but micro processors. The expansion of the Panama Canal will make Panama a First World country, but it is already a regional banking hub with a skyline that puts most US cities to shame. Does your city have a Trump building?
It always amazes me that the lingering memories of a place are not necessarily the ones that stood out when you were there. I love old forts and I remember the forts of Old San Juan. They have two that are easy walking distance in Old San Juan, along with the iconic Sea Wall with the sentry towers. Along with the beaches, one of the icons of the Caribbean are the stone sentry towers where individual guards stood watch for pirates and invading fleets. I do remember the forts, but mostly I remember experiencing Sunday when families go to fly kites on the lawn outside San Felipe Fort.
Latin cultures value family and friends and the neighborhood plazas are the magnet that collects neighbors. We felt safer walking the streets of Old San Juan at night than we ever have in Main Land cities. (Puerto Rico is part of the United States). Night time is a time for friends, families and neighbors to collect in plazas, to recap the day and enjoy each other’s company. Enjoy the evening in Old San Juan, stop in a local bar and enjoy the ambience.
The food in Old San Juan was world class. From the best ceviche we have ever had (the combination ceviche plate at Aguaviva) to the fusion cuisine of Marmalades, the food alone makes us want to return to Puerto Rico for a week long stay. If you are there, be sure to try the regional plantain specialty-tostones. http://www.seepuertorico.com
Our Caribbean cruise was in company with three other cruise ships that had the same itinerary as us, so each port saw us arrive as two of about 9000 cruise visitors for that day. Despite that, in many ports there still seemed to be 10 cab drivers for each cruise passenger. The poverty is not as bad as Jamaica, but it makes me feel blessed that I do not have to try to get someone into my cab or sell tee shirts on a Caribbean island.
My recommendation for Caribbean cruise ports is to plan an activity on the island. We found San Juan the only town worth walking into. I get nervous about being back to the ship on time, so prefer using a tour operator. A good guide will also teach you much about your destination, and give a local’s perspective.
Tour guides in Costa Rica and Panama are trained. It is a profession. The good ones will also speak several languages to set themselves apart from their peers. Costa Rica has a better developed tourist infrastructure, with major operators showcasing the natural reserves that keep the country a premier green destination. http://www.visitcostarica.com Panama’s premier focus is the canal, but our tour of Panama city was one of my favorite city tours. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so the facades offer some great photo ops.
I would recommend a transit of the Panama Canal as a bucket list activity for even the most jaded traveler. It is an engineering masterpiece and was accomplished with the cutting edge of engineering and technology for the time. It was the first major use of electricity and gave a small company called General Electric it’s start. The canal expansion is scheduled for completion in 2014, at which time larger cruise ships should create more competition. While you can do a half transit of the canal from Fort Lauderdale, only the full transit will give you an idea of the astounding amount of material and construction required to construct the canal.
So you ask how did my travels change me? I have a new and greater world view, recognizing that while I wasn’t paying attention, what I considered Third World Countries have become First World Countries, with governments that still function to provide a better life for the country. I realized that we are all more alike than different, that people in Latin countries still value hospitality and sociability, and that the people you meet are more interesting than any story you may read (another post for later).
I learned that travel can be an addiction, the more you get, the more you want.
Via con Dios this next year