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On Vacation

June 12, 2012

Shelley and I have just returned from Aruba, and I want to tell you about it.

But first I want to share some thoughts on vacations in general.

I used to vacation for exploration more than recreation, using them as ways of discovering my inner landscape as much as the outer.  And I’ve always been something of a glean machine, always looking for what I could learn and take away from the experience, to bring it all back home and hopefully make some good use of it. I would seek to extract some information about a better way, or a better place, to live.

In the past, journeys to (especially) California would inspire me towards a simpler, easier, or more natural (as in nature-infused) lifestyle: all lures to a New Yorker.  The city, however, would usually suck me back into its ways within a matter of days.

In later years, and with Shelley’s influence, and with having more of a sense of hitting my stride, vacations have become more of a way to balance out my work life with leisurely recreation.  

Plus when it comes to travel, there’s a fundamental difference between going it alone and going with a partner—just as there is in real life, only more so. I used to love traveling solo: the excitement, even drama, the danger and the possibilities. With Shelley it’s so much safer (I’m saved, for example, from loneliness and from sunburn, as in “you missed a spot”.) But it also turns out, in spite of Shelley’s explorational spirit, to be so much less adventurous. For one thing, if I were alone I’d feel more of a need and desire to speak to strangers, and get to meet all sorts of people, that with her I don’t feel because one of my favorite people is right there with me.

Shelley has turned me on these past several years to purely recreational places like cruise ships and Vegas and Disney World. And as much as I’ve been grateful to her and have lapped up these excursions, what they offer is the pleasurable relief of leisure that I’ve needed, but not much in the way of information, inspiration, or meaning. That’s why I want to take us to Europe next.

Maybe I’m asking too much from a vacation, but when I was younger and still roughing it, what I began to observe around me was that what more money bought when traveling was a greater distance from other people and greater safety and predictability. Adventure isn’t something you buy; it’s what’s left when the things you can buy are taken away. And while now I’m a bit too old to go hitchhiking around Europe, for example, and my body tolerates discomfort less than it used to, I still hunger for some real adventure for the two of us.

Which brings me to Aruba. When Shelley pined for a Caribbean vacation to celebrate her retirement, I recalled my father long ago returning from a trip raving about that island and urging me to go one day.  When we arrived last week, it looked to me that the entire place was geared to the tourist trade. The motto on their license plates – One Happy Island – sounded to me like it was written by a Liberty Travel copywriter.

Also, I’ve found that any place where people go primarily for the weather is not a place to go primarily for the people.  The others we met (or tried to) on or off our resort were either uninterested or uninteresting.

That said, we nevertheless had a wonderful time. We went to enjoy the island and each other and we did. Snorkeling, water slides, and some serious veging – Aruba is great for all that.    And the weather, which is an almost perpetual 80 – something and windy (which keeps the humidity and bugs away) is pretty glorious.

The sea there is an ever-changing watercolor. The rich, dark blues and emerald greens interact constantly, shape-shifted by the wind: You can actually trace the swath the wind makes across the water, as it blows the blues into being.

Which is almost as mesmerizing as standing there within it all and feeling oneself being swayed by the swirling dance you’ve become a part of.

And speaking of water, there’s also the other kind. A desalinization and power plant supplies water and electricity to the entire island.  I admit the thought of drinking de-salted liquid isn’t very appealing, but it’s just about the best water I’ve ever tasted. 

So I loved Aruba but I yearn for the other stuff — the stuff of discovery — I know one can have when one goes on vacation.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Kelton permalink
    June 12, 2012 8:39 pm

    The whole thought of travel always appeals to me. Like you, I tend clamor for the adventure and the chance of self discovery. I think I am a bit of a snob in that I applaud those who strike out on their own and let the road show them what they need without all the planning and such. It is different to partner up on the road from going it alone. But I believe they both offer opportunities for insight and growth. I guess it depends on what is calling you in the moment. Perhaps it can be treated like a Chinese restaurant menu (from the old days) where you mix and match selections taking from either column A or B. What I am saying is that going to a place can offer time together and apart and can also combine down time and adventure. Regardless, the opportunity to travel for me can always open something up regarding my inner landscape and what is begging to be explored. The places we visit aren’t just external destinations. They are also gateways and triggers to some of the deepest places in ourselves. Think about it, the very word vacation is the action we take to vacate our usual way of being in life and often a chance to try on a new way of living and …playing!

  2. June 13, 2012 1:29 am

    The euro is down to $1.25 now and could go lower, making travel to Europe more affordable than it’s been in years.

  3. June 13, 2012 3:24 am

    1) My Uncle Fred was the creator of Liberty Travel.

    2) Ralph Waldo Emerson:

    “It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

    I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

    Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

  4. murray permalink
    June 16, 2012 9:14 pm

    I just love your description of the sea. Shape-shifting watercolor.,
    I remember with astonishment the ever changing sky over the deserts of northern New Mexico. One moment, sky blue with puffed clouds and the next rolling ominous clouds and rain would roll out of the mountains, soak the earth and disappear . Magic.
    I want to go to Aruba too.
    I too could use a recreation,slow paced Vacation.
    Do Nothing. My what an interesting concept.
    Do we all need permission First?
    I think you got your adventure.

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