Adding to the distress of this already coronavirus-disrupted summer is the latest target of the quick-to-criticize crowd: vacationers. Travel shaming is now a thing. Media reports say it’s common for people on vacation – even those taking every precaution to protect themselves and others in the pandemic – to be reluctant to post pictures on their usual social media channels. They fear being trolled by safety-conscious critics, including their own friends and family members, who might condemn them as selfish for putting others at risk
I say, to each his or her own. But my wife and I have opted for a safety-first summer this year. Normally, we’d be in Europe right now, enjoying our annual hiking trip to Zermatt, which became a tradition during our 16-year stint as ex-pats living in Switzerland. After that, we’d planned to visit friends in the U.K.
I guess we could have bitten the bullet and gone, but not without forfeiting a huge chunk of our holiday in quarantine. That sacrifice, along with the coronavirus risk, convinced us to remain in semi-lockdown. At least we avoided the shaming threat.
But what to do? Our cabin fever is as bad as anyone’s.
Take Two Tchotchkes and Call Me in the Morning
The remedy we’ve found, inadequate though it may be, is pouring ourselves a couple of drinks in the evening and surveying our apartment, which is decorated with mementos we picked up on our many travels during our time abroad. From our home in Basel, Switzerland, in the center of Europe, we were a stone’s throw away from Britain, France, Spain and Italy, within easy traveling distance of Eastern Europe and, thanks to more generous vacation time, able to take longer trips to Asia and Africa as well.
Sipping some scotch or wine and scanning our bookshelves, countertops and coffee table, we always land on a souvenir that carries us back to an unforgettable experience: the happy Buddha from Hong Kong, the colorful pottery vase from Sicily, the wood-carved Burber camel from Marrakesh.
Not only do these keepsakes pass Marie Condo’s test of “sparking joy”; they intensify and almost fossilize as if in a coat of amber, precious moments that enrich our life partnership. Some are wonderful, some nightmarish, the memories as a whole putting an exclamation point on our precious and still evolving marriage.
Three, in particular, stand out. However, here’s a trigger warning: Each includes a minor catastrophe. Collectively, though, there’s a moral to these stories that I hope will protect me, and maybe you, from sabotaging future adventures.
Memento Hopping – Story No. 1: Port Elizabeth, South Africa
South Africa was a popular vacation spot among my colleagues at work, so we booked a vacation of touring, wine-tasting, and safariing. Upon our arrival in Cape Town, we instantly became fans. Over dinner at a portside restaurant on our first night, we enjoyed fantastic local wine while watching a wave of billowing white clouds pour like a waterfall over the expansive, flat top of Table Mountain.
It took a while to get used to driving a car on the left side of the road. Years later, my wife still reminds me that she was better at managing the spatial disorientation and keeping all four wheels on the road. Once we both got used to that, though, the countryside we took in was breathtaking, with its deep red earth, lush green foliage and magnificent forests along the gorgeous coastline.
From a distance, it was a speck in a vast sea of huts with no electricity, plumbing, or proper sanitation, but bright smiles abounded.
We went touring and tasting in the Cape Winelands of Franschhoek and spent a couple of luxurious nights at the paradisical Grand Roche Hotel in Paarl, where we had a mystery tasting menu with each course paired with a perfect wine. It was the best meal we ever had. We went horseback riding on the beach in Gansbaai, where more adventurous tourists went shark-cage diving. And we were taken by a friendly hotel worker for a personal tour of the shantytown where he lived with his wife and little boy in a shack made of mud and wood with a copper top. From a distance, it was a speck in a vast sea of huts with no electricity, plumbing, or proper sanitation, but bright smiles abounded.
The highlight of our South African vacation, though, still lay ahead. We took the scenic Garden Route toward safari country near Port Elizabeth. Along the way, we passed an archipelago of fascinating little towns and villages, including the Oudtshoorn Ostrich Farms, which sold all manner of souvenirs from eggs, to beautiful shoes, belts, handbags, and wallets made of the distinctive leather.