One year ago, I wrote a story entitled “Two Kinds of Vacations.” Here it is time to write about my most recent trip of the year. I am on a sixteen day trip through the Panama Canal and Central America. This trip is a little more relaxing than last year because there are nine sea days so there is lots of time for reflection and relaxation. Last year I was on tour nearly every day.
This trip is no less a learning and discovery process than last year. Four things become evident as I travel this year: I do what I want when I want people, global warming, connectivity and neighbors, poverty and unemployment. Traveling helps us see how much the same we all are and how different we are based on geography, political, educational, access and control we have to change our circumstances and individual lives.
Let’s start with the I do what I want when I want people all over the globe.
The ship makes clear to everyone what is appropriate for dining room attire every day and what to wear on excursions. People are so used to doing things their way that they continue to defy rules which of course makes it difficult for those of us who do follow them and want to look descent for dinner and off ship. People still try to wear shorts and jeans to dinner waiting to be caught by dining room staff. They are, however, being told to return to their cabins and change pants and shirts (no tee shirts allowed).
On excursions people are advised not to wear sandals and open toe shoes based on uneven surfaces, mud, grass, and bugs. Most of the world does not have the sidewalks and repaired stairs that we do in the United States. This all becomes a matter of safety and assuring that the rest of your trip can be completed without crutches and stiches.
I have been in the doctor’s office recently with a friend seeing a foot specialist. Many accidents are acts of stupidity not accidents. Wearing the proper shoes in the daytime traveling is crucial to keeping your feet and ankles in the best possible condition. This is all about safety, and flip-flops are not safe on all day trips in most places.
Long pants and shirts were also recommended for certain trips due to bugs, but as you can guess people did what they wanted. At least they alone can suffer the consequences of this choice while the rest of us are happy to return without an itchy body. These are probably the same people who text while driving and cause you and I to miss many green lights because they look up in time to get there car through the light but not yours. How about all of us starting to pay attention to what is best for us as whole not the part and move to greater safety and civility.
I know global warming is a hot topic and much debated, but I have to weigh in on this one based on my travels and freak weather that seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
This is purely observational but the weather is changing everywhere. In Costa Rica and Columbia it was supposed to be the rainy season, but the countries both are experiencing rainy seasons at much different times and with greater severity or timing than in the past years.
We are seeing this in the United States with rain, floods, hurricanes and other weather wind events. o I think it is time we started listening to our scientist and start implementing steps to prevent further warming of our planet. Something we can all do locally in Newport Beach and as citizens of the world.
If we are open to people, we meet new people no matter where we are whether on vacation or in the grocery store line. Also noticing when people need help and offering assistance is a wonderful way to make you feel better and open lines of communication.
We had an excursion that you do on the ship and that was traveling through the Panama Canal. The best seats are in the front of the ship so we are all standing and sitting very close to each other. What a wonderful surprise to meet three people from Newport Beach. I had the pleasure to meet Florence Shore from Corona Del Mar who was proud to tell me that she is ninety-one years old and still traveling, and Nancy and Alec Simpson from Newport Heights. They have been living in Newport for 50 years.
The immediate connectivity of being from the same place in a far off place for all of us was an instant feel good moment for us and a joy to share. There we were sharing one of the Seven Wonders of the World together as we marveled at the complexity and ingenuity of the canal which has been functioning and serving as a passage way for almost a hundred years for ships from all over the world. This is something that I encourage all of you to try to do as a travel learning experience. Truly smart trained talented engineers and working class people made this impossible task possible and functional.
Lastly, let us talk about poverty, wealth, and opportunity.
Like so many parts of Mexico and other areas of the world, both Costa Rica and Columbia have high numbers of people who are poorly educated and or unemployed. These countries do not have the bridges of education and unemployment benefits that the United States provides for all groups of people.
I have always been put off when traveling with people begging and offering things to sell as I try to see and learn about their country. It occurred to me this time while on a private tour with a guide in Columbia that I needed to rethink how I view people simply trying to make a small amount of money to survive.
There is approximately an eleven percent unemployment rate in Cartagena. People are at a survival level who are not working, and they are willing to do anything to make some money. I began to see them as very hard working, willing to be told no over and over just trying to make a dollar literally. Out on the hot street all day long competing with so many others selling the same hats and bracelets and fruit for very little money. While their behavior is an annoyance to tourists, it is the only life that many people have, and they are doing the best that they can to feed and take care of themselves and family.
We have a high standard of living in the United States no matter how poor you are. We also have something that many people will never have: opportunity. We have safety nets in our governmental systems, churches, and educational institutions. The thing that anyone in the United States needs to do to succeed is show initiative, work hard, access our schools, and put forth effort and personal self discipline.
We live in the best country in the world and we need to be thankful everyday for the life we have and most of all the opportunity to make our lives better every single day for ourselves and others.
That is my Take
Gloria J. Alkire