The other day someone asked me why I travel……and my first thought was “as opposed to”? I don’t travel near enough but still, I couldn’t think of my world devoid of travel.
But later I thought I needed to ask myself why I really do and the answer was singular….because you never return the same……something ALWAYS shifts
It changes your perspective on a lot of stuff….it reminds you that life is not always black and white; there are a lot of grey areas but also there are lots of beautiful pockets of vibrant color.
It teaches you to consistently question and evaluate values, beliefs, comfort zones…..it is always the perfect time to realign, refocus and regroup. I’m always reminded not to take anything for granted but also not to take stuff too seriously.
But most of all, once you start, you can’t stop, it becomes like an addiction, a high that you must consistently feed….I think it is one addiction I do not want to be cured from.
During my recent travels to Ethiopia, yes, I know, an unlikely destination (but one that will surprise when I finally get round to blogging about it) I had an experience which brought it all home for me.
I travelled with my sister, who’s entire world revolves around travel. She is a travel consultant and is so good at it. When she is not doing that, she travels and blogs about her experiences here https://walkwithlea.com/.
This is the first time were travelling together and since I always do solo travel this is a new frontier for me. I had purposed at the beginning of the trip that I would embrace this new experience and milk it for all its worth,…selfie partner, instant photographer( no having to beg random strangers or selfie sticks here) and it is so darn cheaper; shared rooms, meals, cab rides etc….
I couldn’t have asked for a better travel buddy.
Somewhere along the journey we ran into Martie and Caz. We are staying at Lodge du Chateu, a quaint lodge in the old town in Gondar. All rooms open up to a lovely garden type of courtyard. This in essence means you can’t avoid your neighbors on all sides. Martie is staying in the room across from us, Caz is two doors away from us. Little did I know that by the end of the trip these ladies would be my Gondar squad
It’s day two in Gondar. We are having breakfast in the dining terrace, which has the most magnificent views. On the table next to us are two elderly ladies. One is complaining that the Ethiopian French toast looks and tastes nothing like the American one.
Simon, the lodge manager, comes to brief us about our site-seeing tour for the day. As soon as he leaves….one of the ladies, the brunette, calls out, “are you girls going to see the castles and churches”? We say yes….and she quickly asks if she can come along, we agree. This means we can split the guide fees. Why not?
Breakfast is done, we cross over and shake hands, meet Martie and Caz
Long story short, we spend the day with Caz..as we go all around Gondar. She is loud and interesting, she sometimes seems unsure and I can’t quite figure out whether it’s a language thing or something else. She, like me, gets tired quickly of being in one spot and the guide going on and on…. “we’ve all read the guidebook and once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all” she says….I kinda/sorta agree….
Somewhere along the site-seeing we learn that Caz is from Madrid and her son is called George, she is so proud that St. George is the Patron Saint for Gondar or something like that. My sister speaks perfect Spanish so she and Caz are a match made in heaven they go on and on in Spanish. Me….imma just people watch.
We return to the lodge at lunch time for a break before we go back in the afternoon.
Martie, who has been in Ethiopia severally before is just coming back from the market, her face is flushed. She tells Caz, “Oh, you should have come to the market, you would have loved it.” Caz says, “You should have come to the Castles…..”
Martie scoffs her away…”I’ve been there many times before”…
I don’t understand these ladies…how are they even friends? They are so different.
Martie asks us whether we have dinner plans we say we say we want to go back to the Four Sisters Restaurant where we’d been the previous night. She beams with excitement, that’s just perfect, it is the best place in Gondar; the ambience and the food is stellar…. that’s where I want to take Caz….we agree to go at 6.30. German dinnertime, now we know Martie’s German.
When we return from the afternoon excursion and its time to pay the guide, apparently the fee has changed. The price has gone up because there were more of us…..CAZ IS LIVID. She haggles everyone, the guide, the manager…everyone…..my sister and I want to crawl under a rock…the guide was pretty good and the lodge gave us a complimentary shuttle to get around so an additional 50 bir (2dollars) isn’t anything to fret about.
Finally we all pay up and go to chill before dinner.
My sister and I are lounging lazily outside our room…scrolling at photos of the day and trying to catch the WiFi….we don’t realize what time it is until Martie walks out of her room and looks at her watch then at us….crap its 6.25….
She of course has German precision timing…..you ought to have seen us scurry into our room like teenagers to freshen up and get ready for dinner. I’ve never gotten dressed so fast. We don’t want to upset our new friend with tardiness.
When we step out of the room Martie and Caz are all ooohs and aaahs…we clean up real good. Martie complains that she is here on a project so she didn’t bring any nice clothes. Caz couldn’t be bothered, she is starving.
We are walking to the restaurant…not that there is any other option with Martie…(we had taken a tuk tuk there and back with my sister )
These ladies may be elderly but they are super fit and agile we’re at the restaurant in no time.
Martie knows exactly what she wants… she is vegetarian so she orders Beyeayinet, a delightful fasting dish. Caz has never had Injeraa and she looooves her meat…My sister and I recommend that she has the National Dish which was what we had the previous night. I order lamb goulash and my sister fish goulash…
Caz wants to order a starter because she is starving but Martie tells her off curtly. “ We cant have that, I don’t eat meat”.
Thankfully, the restaurant serves the most decadent vegetable soup with bread as a complimentary starter with every meal. So Caz is okay.
She says she wants a beer and asks whether anybody would mind, she has gone back to her slightly unsure self.
Of course nobody minds. I order a glass of rosé and my sister has a some red wine, Martie has sparkling water.
A few gulps of beer and Caz comes alive. She starts regaling us with stories of her youth and of nudist beaches, she can’t quite get over how the people on nudist beaches have such amazing bodies…not an inch of flab or cellulite for days.
Then she moves on to partying in Ibiza….she says that I would fit right in since I look exotic…and according to her, only exotic looking people go clubbing in Ibiza….if you’re ordinary it is no place for you….she gesticulates wildly and laughs heartily….it is so good to see this wild side of her.
My sister says that she has a long distance boyfriend and Caz says that that is the best thing ever!!….. “Since you don’t see each other often you don’t fight and when you meet it is perfection”…..and then she drops this wisdom…”Marriage is not good or bad, it is LONG!!!” My sister and I break out in laughter and Martie nods silently.
I feel she is feeling slightly overshadowed so I turn the conversation to her.
“Tell us about your projects Martie”.
It turns out several times every year she comes out to help destitute families and kids in Gondar. She uses her own money and collections from friends to educate the kids and teach women skills to empower them. I’m intrigued….. “why do you this”, I ask?
She tells us how, on her first trekking visit to the Simien Mountains she met this young boy who looked so haggard and malnourished. He barely had any clothes on in the cold mountains. She gave him a pair of her jeans, which fit him perfectly and from that moment on, he stuck by her side, was her self appointed porter and guard. When she was leaving, he gave her the only thing he had of value, his walking stick. Everyone in this part of the world has one. She took the stick back home with her and months later came back put him in school and set up a business for his mum.
The young boy is now a grown man who manages a trekking company. He is married and has two kids. He calls her his second mum, she says he is her second family.
Martie, is in her 70’s, she is divorced. She has one daughter and two grand sons whom she dotes on. Just in January she went on an Asia tour with her youngest grandson before he started his university studies in Melbourne, Australia. His friends think he has the coolest grandma….I agree.
In her youth she worked for the German Embassy in lots of different countries. She has travelled everywhere and lived on all continents. She knows everything about everything….(lol)…after all she has been there and she is not afraid to remind us that. She has had all the money she could ever want and bought everything she liked.
Now, she is happy to live modestly, empower others…….but she is not hanging up her travel boots anytime soon. She reminds my sister to share her contacts because she wants to come again to Kenya on Safari.
Back to Caz. After hearing Martie’s story I’m curious to hear her story. “What do you do Caz”, I asked flippantly.
“I am a housewife”…….
Jaws drop, mouth agape!!! Say what now?
Yes, being a housewife is a hard job, you have to keep track of the family’s spending and ensure that everything is running smoothly. I don’t have much money, but I am happier than my banker friends. Plus being a house wife is like being a president….and trying to make sure that budgets are working and everyone is happy.”
There is a moment of silence, then we all burst into laughter, and attack our food with gusto……my mind is reeling…..who is this woman? This housewife from Madrid is out here in the middle of some ancient civilization city site-seeing with two Kenyan girls, and just now signed up to go trekking for 2 days in the Simien Mountains with some 7 American girls??? Im fascinated by her.
How did she end up here?
Apparently, she came in with a church group to do some ministry work in Addis and when they were finished she decided on a whim to visit the rest of the country which she had read and seen so much about on TV. She wants to go everywhere….even to the south where really no one ever goes…..
I want to ask her so many questions; what does her husband and son think of her just going off like that, what do her church friends think? What is her motivation? How did she and Martie meet? But I choose not to, it really doesn’t matter. At this particular moment she is happy and content and this is what is important.
We talk and talk some more, drink more wine, force Caz to try the local honey wine which we’ve all sampled before and hated…she hates it too…
As the night grows older, I wonder at this little quirky group of 4 eccentric women in the Four Sisters Restaurant. Each oh so different in their own right, brought together by a love for adventure and travel. I have to blink back tears…because right there, in that very moment, I know exactly why I travel……
Dinner is over, and like the girls we are, we take lots of selfies and then walk out into the night….
Martie says we must walk back it’s good for our digestion.
When we get back to the lodge we hug each other tight…we are no longer strangers in the same lodge, we are friends, comrades, compatriots. And when we look into each others eyes and say “see you soon” we really all mean it….because as long as there is travel there is always an opportunity to ran into each other….
Is that Ibiza I hear calling my name?