Three years ago today, on the second floor of a mausoleum, in a quiet section of the historic Cementerio de San Pedro in Medellin, Colombia, an old woman walked past me carrying a single yellow flower.
She spoke a few words in Spanish that I didn't understand. But when I saw her looking up forlornly at the wall of vaults, I realized what she had asked of me.
I dragged a nearby work bench over to stand on, took the flower from her hand, climbed up and managed to make it stay where she wanted it.
At that moment she started weeping uncontrollably, at first crying out with gratitude for the simple act I'd done, then she could not stop the heavy flow of tears and heaving sobs of grief.
I carefully climbed down off the rickety bench and embraced her, not knowing what else to do. Then long-repressed, painful thoughts of my own lost loved ones rushed to my memory’s fore, and I began sharing my own tears with hers.
After a few moments I used the few Spanish words I knew to express my sorrow, “Lo siento, mi amiga,” kissed her softly on the head and walked away to recompose myself.
I continued wandering around the cemetery but couldn't stop thinking about those few moments when two people who, until that moment were complete strangers, shared an expression of profound grief over the loss of loved ones that’s universally understood.
Before leaving the cemetery, I was drawn back toward where we’d met and from the ground looking up, I saw her shriveled figure still there in that outer corridor, arm draped wearily over the railing for support, her gaze still fixed on that single yellow flower.
I turned back and left the cemetery with the image indelibly etched in my mind, knowing what had happened there would be as memorable a travel moment as any I might ever have.
Since there's little new on the travel front, here's an amusing video blast from the past, November 2017, when my son Mackey joined me for a month in Peru. We booked this bus to take us from Cusco to Colca Canyon and we were the only passengers aboard for the entire 9-hour trip. What luxury! Can you tell we're having fun?
I try to be discreet and diplomatic when I visit the many remarkably beautiful and fascinating places throughout the world that I've been to, telling the people who take pride in showing me the wonderful locations they live in that I still haven't seen anything quite like the island where I spent most of my adult life.
I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii about 27 years before leaving to begin my travel adventures in 2016.
Kilauea Volcano, near where I lived, had been in a constant state of eruption since 1983, but had never threatened the more populous areas Puna District.
In 2018 that all changed. Lava began spewing in torrents from vents in the landscape for miles as it coursed toward the sea, destroying everything in its path, while at the same time laying the foundation for a rebirth of the land.
In February, I returned for the first time to an island dramatically changed by the 2018 lava flows.
Hundreds of homes, farms and businesses were destroyed, but not the resiliency and spirit of the people who call Puna home.
Everyone who lives on or near the volcano, knows that Pele, the Goddess of Kilauea Volcano, is the supreme ruler of the land and that, sooner or later, she will transform the landscape to something new and even more magnificent than it was before, and that there is nothing anyone can do about it but to get out of the way.
It is a time of suffering for many, but life goes on (in fact, no lives were lost); the people, the animals, the vegetation, come back; they rebuild, replant, and continue to live in awe of and respect for the incomparable power and sheer beauty of the natural and spiritual forces that shape and reshape this small part of the world endlessly over thousands of years.
One of my sons and many dear friends still live among the ancient and new lava flows, the luxurious tropical forests, and black sand beaches that give Puna its distinctive allure. They are the primary reasons I went back; but I also wanted to see for myself the changes that Pele brought to Puna while I was gone.
Just tap the gray "Read More" button below for the rest of this post, which consists of photos I took showing just a small part of this utterly fantastic piece of the universe.
Not much new happening here in Merida, Mexico, where the temperature today was 105 fahrenheit (40.6 celsius), about where it's been every afternoon this week. It's expected to be like that for at least the rest of this week, and there's not been a drop of rain since I arrived more than a month ago. Whooeee!!! No extra charge for the sauna.
I've got a new ceiling fan and a Yucatan hammock in my room where I nap beneath the fan during the hottest part of the day. I cook my own meals in the house kitchen and venture out with my mask once a week for the supplies.
That's pretty much it for travel excitement around here lately, so I plan to post some photos from recent experiences, and repost some past stories from my travels that maybe you didn't see the first time around. So stay tuned.
Next I'll post some photos from my Hawaii visit in February.
I never contemplated a life of travel until I retired in Hawaii from a long career in journalism. I looked forward to retirement thinking I’d have it made. After all, Hawaii is paradise, right? What could be better?
But soon I knew I needed more than what retirement life was offering. I wanted -- I needed -- something else in my life, although I wasn’t sure at the time what that was.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had the opportunity to travel. I started planning, went all in, rid myself of nearly everything I owned and set out on a new course in life. That was four years ago. I was 64.
El Monumento a la Patria, a majestic sculpture in Merida by Colombian sculptor Romulo Rozo, who adopted Mexico as his own. The marvelous work of art is a short walk from where I'm staying these days. It is the last journey of interest I've made here. Ruzo's remains lie buried at the base of the sculpture.
For a senior solo traveler whose mantra is “staying alive by not staying still,” what's happening now seems like a prison sentence.
I’m normally a slow traveler, but I’m used to knowing that I can move on at any time, forever seeking some other place with a fresh landscape and new people to meet.
Now in these days of the coronavirus, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, rarely even leaving the room of my guest house, and it’s beginning to wear on my psyche.
Every sense of reality is evaporating.
I'm now down to making just one masked run per week to the local Superama for groceries. Otherwise, I cook, eat, exercise and sleep at home, that being the house where I rent a room in Mèrida, Mexico, a lovely, warm, sunny, Spanish colonial city in the Yucatan peninsula.
It’s a fine place to spend a sentence of isolation. But even the nicest jail confines you.
I've developed a fascination with cemeteries and have visited many in my travels over the past few years, but I've never seen one like this.
Cementerio General in Merida, Mexico, is a historic and colorful array of vaults, ossuaries and mausoleums, and unique for a number of reasons among the dozens of cemeteries I’ve seen.
It’s been quite a travel slog these past six weeks since I left the seductive White Mountain foothills of the island of Crete, Greece, where vineyards and olive trees grow and shepherds tend sheep and goats as their ancestors have done for ages.
I was house-sitting a lovely villa, caring for a friendly, mischievous young dog and his little kitten friend, during alternating periods of warm, Mediterranean sunshine and wintry cold rainstorms.
Now I write from another side of the world in the city of Merida, located in the perennially sunny, warm and dry Mexican state of Yucatan, where I’ve found welcome respite from the travails of travel in this nerve-jarring age of coronavirus.
It’s good to be back in Mexico, where Corona is a beer, not a virus.
The Coronavirus, now officially renamed COVID-19 (I suppose so not to be confused with the beverage), has made a mess of my travel plans these last few weeks -- costing me some money -- while trying to make an orderly change in plans for a speedy exit from Southeast Asia.
Quotes For A Good Life On The Road
“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”
-- Albert Einstein
See my complete collection of "Quotes For The Road" by clicking "More" in the dropdown menu above.
Who Am I?
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow, solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 20 countries on four continents. Currently I'm in sunny Merida, Mexico, waiting out developments in the coronavirus crisis before moving on. Meanwhile, learn more about me and my travels at Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and in a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and prolific author James Ritchie, about our memorable meeting in Malaysia, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
Also online ...
GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAY
Still the most authentic, lively and colorful local cultural festival I've seen on the road.
I found this Alternative Arts and Music Festival in the Amazon highlands of Peru. What a find!
Solas "Best Travel Writing" Awards
Saysha: What Happened?
13th Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing
(Read it here)