Years ago, I stood in a bazaar in Urumqi, Xianjiang Province, China. Around me, cacophony reigned, sounding like the hundreds of individuals were all shouting at each other. Donkeys brayed and camels made camel noises, dogs barked and car horns honked. The smells were just as varied.
The colors were incredible. Brilliant hues shone from bolts of cottons and silks on tables. Multi-colored native caps, bright with sequins, adorned another table. I thought they’d be cute presents for my nieces. The woman behind the table was beautiful in her own way. A strong face with intelligent black eyes, hair hidden under a bandana, she regarded me with a calm presence. I was immediately charmed and asked, through the interpreter, whether I could take her photo because she was so beautiful.
She blushed, but agreed. I took several photos. And then I bought a dozen caps and overpaid for them. As I was saying goodbye, she asked if I would like to join her for lunch.
She closed up her table and we helped her carry her wares in a little cart. Our hostess led us to a small group of yurts just outside the bazaar. Her yurt was small, but neat and cozy, decorated with brilliant rugs. I spent the afternoon with a Uyghur woman, a member of one of the many minorities, an experience I’ll never forget.
Getting to know people from other cultures, other lands is exciting. I also spent a day with distant cousins that I stumbled across in Kenilworth, England. The day was rainy and gloomy, but I sat in their home and we talked for hours. Getting to know them and their children made the day wonderful.
There are many ways to get to know people. Music, singing, and dancing are universal. Flamenco in Spain. Barynya in Russia. You can’t travel through South America without learning to dance salsa. In small towns in Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, go into any cantina in the evening. Sooner or later the dancing will start and you will find men and women who are delighted to teach you.
Whether it’s singing “Waltzing Matilda” with a bunch of Aussies in Perth or taking a hot air balloon ride over Tuscany, travel is the best way to grow memories.
For example, kayaking is not something I would have tried, except that there was a kayak tour of New Orleans and it sounded like fun. I discovered that I love kayaking. I took up SCUBA diving after a trip to Guadaloupe where I had the opportunity to do some diving.
When an opportunity for adventure presents itself, jump at it. Riding on an overcrowded train in Vietnam, I met an old woman who wanted to talk to me. We found someone who spoke a little English. With made up sign language, English, and a little French, I learned that she owned a hotel on Ha Long Bay. Her husband had a fishing boat. They had known good Americans during the war. She wanted to pay back their kindness. I spent three glorious days boating on Ha Long Bay, one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I have spent as much time as possible traveling, both in the United States and around the world. I try to get upgraded as often as possible, as well. I’m always looking for tips to get upgraded. Almost every trip has resulted in either a memorable adventure or the acquisition of new friends, people I will remember forever. I have traversed Ireland on horseback and hiked the Grand Canyon in the company of a group of Hollywood stuntmen and women. I once saw a gypsy caravan well off the road. I didn’t hesitate. I approached them. They were friendly and welcoming. I shared dinner with them before I went on my way.
I haven’t trekked the Himalayas or visited Torres del Paine National Park in Chile yet, but I’ll get there.
One other incident sticks in my mind. On a flight to Mexico, I was sitting next to a mother who had three children with her. I gave up my seat to let her four year old sit by Mom. The flight attendant pulled me out of the seat by the toilet and led me to first class, where I spent the rest of the flight.
Kindness and friendliness open doors that you otherwise might never see.