Tag Archives: Solo senior travel

Rome: Not for Sissies

At the colosseum

At the colosseum

Rome is flooded stimuli: energy that permeates and disrupts the senses, swarms of tourists clogging crooked streets, illegally parked cars, designer clothes , gorgeous shoes the price of a month’s rent, alleys with hidden treasures, and sadly, ubiquitous cheap Chinese stuff.

I asked Alessandro which side of the street the Italians drive on because it isn’t apparent here in the city. ” It doesn’t matter,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter! Of course it matters. I’m renting a car in Pisa and need to know.”  It’s the same as the US.” he says. Lordy.

The violent past of the colosseum invaded my dreams last night. I was fighting for my life. Hitting some snake like thing with something no bigger than a golf club. Afterwards I felt sorry. It’s not who I am. In the colosseum, only 3 % of the gladiators lived, none of the slaves or criminals or animals. Huge boatloads of reptiles, tigers, lions, bears, etc. were imported  from Africa and Egypt to fight in the ring. An estimated 100,000 animals were killed during the Romans short reign. Some species  became extinct because of the emperor’s thirst for entertainment, of public executions called games.

imageIt’s astounding how brilliant Roman  engineers built aqua ducts, astounding architecture, roads and the government was democratic. And yet, a couple of times a month, screamed for blood to entertain them . Or, maybe they didn’t attend the gory get togethers.

Romulus and Remus raised by a she wolf raised a city from dirt. Beloved Cesar stabbed by Brutus. Myth mixed with fact: legend with history. Barbarians brought down by barbarians. The fallen city plundered and pillaged by everyone, including the hollier than thou popes who used the heathen’s  materials it to build their Rome.

imageAnd then there were the vestual virgins, In charge of keeping the eternal fire lit. If you lost your virginity, you were buried alive; If you let the fire go out, you were beaten by the emperor (I think him). Rome, gorgeous, but not for sissies: not then-not now.

 

 

 

Fun, Fair, Bargaining Anywhere

imageAmerican tourists spent upwards of 500 billion, yes, billion dollars last year. Much of that was spent shopping, and it wasn’t all fridge magnets. If it’s for sale, we’ll buy it. Illegal items aside, the most popular stuff we buy are hand sewn linens, expensive and costume jewelry, rugs, textiles, art, clothes, tee shirts, shoes, hats, booze, food, spices, coffee, bones, and adorable kitsch, think airplanes made from shells. We buy for ourselves, and we buy for others. God forbid we should come home from a trip without gifts for our relatives and friends.

Let’s face it. After viewing historical sites and churches for a few hours it’s time to shop. In fact, tourists spend up to a whopping 40% of their travel hours buying stuff. We want reminders of places we visited, of the people with whom we connected.

And, we want a bargain-a good deal. But, keep in mind, bargaining is an interchange between a buyer and a seller. It is not a competition. It’s not about winning and losing. A successful sale is when both partiimagees are satisfied with the outcome. Nobody wants to feel they’ve been taken. Good, fair bargaining also fosters peace among people of other cultures. And, it can be lots of fun.

No matter where you are haggling in the world, a few basic rules apply. First, I suggest you visit the fixed price stores to see what items you’re interested in are priced at with a retail markup. Figure you can get 20 to 30 % less than that, sometimes more, in a public market or from the person who made it. Maybe up to 50% some places depending on the mark-up. A good place to begin the excha

Venice Beach, CA Boardwalk

Venice Beach, CA Boardwalk

imagenge is for 30% less than the asking price. In many countries the first sale of the day is said to be good luck, which very well might mean a bigger discount for you.

Before you start, know what you are willing to pay for something, act indifferent. No matter how much you want something, put on your poker face. A good leading question is,” Is this your best price?” If they say yes, be shocked. “Really? That ‘s very expensive. No discount at all?” You are incredulous. It’s unheard of, no discounts. If they say, “No, no discounts,” walk away. They may call you back. If they do, they might say, “How much do you want to pay?” Give them a price lower than you are willing to pay. Now they might act shocked. Or, maybe they will name a price somewhere between the two prices. Or they could get into the game. ” Now you are trying to rob me!”

Look at the piece again. Ask questions about the piece. Who made it” What material? How old? Where was it made? Ask what ever questions are appropriate for the article you are interested in. What ever you do, don’t let them get you off track. Moroccan rug dealers are notorious for that. If you don’t stay focused they will have you shipping rugs home, so you can go into the rug auction business where, they’ve convinced you, you will make a killing.

Keep a fair perspective. Shopping in rural areas of economically struggling countries is different than buying from professional vendors who have market stalls in heavily trafficked urban areas. Women who sell hand woven blankets or linens, or men who craft beautiful wood carvings have put pride, effort and time into their work. Acknowledge that you appreciate their talent, the workmanship, and pay her/him a fair price. That is not to say you don’t bargain, but perhaps less rigorously, with circumstances in mind.

I’ve had bargaining interchanges that evoked emotion, and connections with women of different cultures that I didn’t see coming. In retrospect these moments were the special ones that defined my trips.

In Cusco, Peru a few months ago, I decided not to climb the steep steps with an afternoon walking tour. I had done enough climbing for the day. I decided to wait at the bottom, mistakenly thinking they would descend the same steps. While I was sitting there, a Peruvian woman with a bag of hand knitted hats, socks, and mittens sat beside me. With a big smile she began to pull out the garments. ” I told her they were lovely, pero, no tengo nada dinero.” She smiled. Everyone says they don’t have any money. Really, I said, ” Estoy esperando a mis amigos que subieron la colina.” (I’m just waiting for my friends who climbed the hill.”) “No tengo dinero.” Really.

She smiled. OK. I had a little. Very little. But, only what I was going to give the tour guide as a tip. Maybe a few pesos more. I liked the hat, socks, and mittens. They were all nice, but I only had 15 pesos. Not nearly enough. That’s less than five dollars. She smiled. “Veinte.” As I was saying I didn’t have twenty pesos in my purse, another vendor, her friend, showed up. She pointed out the workmanship, how lovely they were, how much work it takes to make them. By now I was feeling badly. I know how much work it takes to knit. I understand they are worth more… on and on. Finally, because I truly didn’t have more than 15 pesos, she put the mittens, socks, and hat in a small bag and handed them to me. I felt almost ashamed.

By now, it was apparent that my tour group had probably used different steps to descend the hill. I decided to see if I could find them. A few blocks down the hill, I stopped to have a drink of water. Reaching for the bottle in my purse, I saw that the plastic bag of knitted things had fallen out. My heart lurched. I ran back up the hill, to the bottom of the steps where I had stopped to put my wallet back into my purse, thinking that would be where the bag had fallen out. Nothing. I looked up at the woman. There she was sitting in the same place on the steps, a big smile on her face, holding up my bag. I felt like an idiot. I raced up the steps, gave her a big hug, thanked her profusely, and ran back down the steps.

Bargaining makes us feel as though we actually have some control of the price we pay. Negotiating is much more interesting and fulfilling than simply paying a marked price.

In the US, bargaining is rare unless you are at a garage sale or a weekend flea market. And occasionally, a small shop owner will drop prices on items that have been around a while, but it’s not common practice. It never hurts to ask.

So have fun, and remember bargaining is not about taking advantage of folks who need the money more than you need the object. Because you probably don’t.

Get Off the Bus

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons in the US over 65 (officially elderly) has jumped by a factor of 11! in the past decade. We are growing by an average of 2.8 % annually. Well, our numbers are. Personally, I am shrinking faster than that. I have to hurry before I am too short to ride The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. cyclone

Seniors make up the wealthiest niche market in the developed world. As travelers, they are said to want comfort, are cautious, safety oriented, demanding, and complaining. Additionally, they are quick to sue if anything goes awry. It makes sense.

A majority of these seniors live in gated communities, which comprises 10% of the US housing market. According to an article by Rich Benjamin in the New York Times, these communities “attract like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.” In other words they distrust those beyond the pale. However, they have a staggering amount of money to spend, and the tourist market is working overtime to accommodate them.

tourist bus

Daily, buses full of middle class and upscale tourists from around the world clog the narrow streets of ancient cities forcing the residents to wait until they pass. Tourist companies pick and choose shops and restaurants that are ‘perceived safe’ for their clients. They are cautioned not to eat or drink from local street stands, or buy from unapproved merchants. God forbid they should go out alone at night. So, from their sheltered, cushy, climate controlled seats, perched high above the streets, these people observe the surroundings while being informed about it by the guide’s well rehearsed discourse. Later when relating their experiences at cocktail parties, they say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, or those people. It (or they) were charming, or quaint, or poor.”

The tourist industry is attracting like-minded physically secluded, tourists who seek shelter from the very places they tour. It’s crazy.

If you have the slightest inclination to step out a bit, to experience a different culture, or mingle with the locals, you have to get off the bus. Let that be your first adventure.

Adventure by definition means taking a risk, however small. Trust that people around the world are kind and curious. They want to know you, and are eager to share. As Rudyard Kipling said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

My Impending Death

Bridge

Bridge near Middleton, RI

According to a Facebook quiz I succumbed to, I have eighteen years and two months to live. That means my final journey will occur sometime during February 2033. I’ll be 89. Mark your calendars.

I would have preferred a spring or summer death, because it would be nice to have an outside going away party. Maybe my friend Dave Bouldin will write another leaving song like he did when I sold my house and moved to Mexico.

I plan to be cremated so there won’t be a shriveled up body to view, thank god. I’v e asked my daughter, Alice, to have a life-size cardboard effigy of me made (she could pick the photo) for folks to dance with at my wakeimage. She laughed and said she would, but it would still be sad.

Eighty-nine is longer than I expected to live given my rowdy

Ollantaytambo. Peru

Ollantaytambo. Peru

behaviour. I remember being high on LSD once at a party in San Francisco. I was talking with a friend by the stove when someone used the gas burner to light a joint. Along with the the joint, the accordion sleeve of my blouse also burst into flames. I thought it was pretty. I don’t remember who put th

Not the Nile but close enough.,

Not the Nile but close enough.,

e fire out.

That was back when you could get a decent bag of Mexican pot for a dime (ten dollars). However, during my stand-up comedy years I chose red wine over the wildly popular cocaine as my drug of choice, and it remains so. Even though most days I exceed the prescribed daily limit, my liver has hung in there, and according to recent medical trends, red wine may even be helpful to my heart. If you hang there long enough medical science will come around to your side. .

Now that I have a more or less specific time of my passing I feel compelled to make a few plans for the future. The first thing I need is a home. Being homeless the last seven years has been fun, but now I want to find a small cottage by water, or (second choice) in the mountains, where I can move the stuff that hasn’t rotted out of storage.

At the top of my adventure list is a kayak trip to explore parts of the Mississippi River beginning at its headwaters in Lake Itasca, MN. Further south I see myself docking at small blues bars along the way, listening to music, and maybe even singing a rendition of You Can Leave Your Hat On. After that, I want to spend a few days camping, hiking and horse riding among the hoo-doos (odd-shaped pillars of rock) and forests in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

The final ‘must see’ river on my list is the Nile. It’s a busy waterway. The section from Luxor to Aswan alone is said to have 200 – 300 ships, with ratings from 0-5 cruising from any given time. The higher the score the ritzier and more international the passengers become. I’ll be on a 2 or 3 with the working class Egyptians, eating big plates of fava beans, and eggplant spiced with jute leaves, coriander, garlic and onions.

Eighteen years seem like a long time, but if they go as fast as the last 70 I’ve no time to waste.

Here's to me in Aquas Calientes

Here’s to me in Aquas Calientes

Senior Travel Without Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” excerpt from FDR’s First Inaugural Address 3/4/1933.

Seniors seem to be afraid of everything. Much of it can be blamed on our waning physical strength, our shrinking bones (I’m probably an inch shorter than I was when I went to bed last night), America’s greedy medical and insurance corporations, and the media. Not that I do, but watch television ads. You will see how seniors are targeted with fear.

‘Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!   “It’s a good thing I have this alert button to push so the paramedics can get here quickly.'” 

In mud at Caverna de Quiocta, Peru

In mud at Caverna de Quiocta, Peru

We’ve been led to believe that if we have an accident anywhere but in our home,

maybe break a leg or twist an ankle, or something bigger like have a  heart attack, or stroke, or (insert your greatest fear) in another country, we will be treated with snake oil by a shaman who dances round us with a painted face, shaking incense, or we will wind up in a hospital where we will be tended by incompetent doctors with inferior medical degrees.

We worry about the food. When we are in other countries, we’ll have to eat food that is not USDA guaranteed, food that has come straight from the field, is not genetically modified, a chicken or goat that has just been killed, or fish that have recently been pulled out of a polluted river, lake or ocean. We’ve swallowed the notion that in America we have healthy, superior food, even though we have more diabetes and obesity than any other country.

We believe we’re the only country in the world except maybe Canada, that has clean water to drink.  Besides we tell ourselves, even though there are inoculations for most water-born diseases, we could be THE person in 100,000,000 to get Hep A,B,or C. Or Ebola, god forbid, and we’re not even close to the African continent.

Then again, maybe we won’t get something quite so bad, just severe indigestion, or the runs, or a skin rash, or a tooth ache, and we won’t have our personal pharmacist -the one we see so often that she knows our name- to go to for advice. Maybe we won’t be able to explain the problem in another country. It’s pretty clear that our dentists are the only competent ones on the planet, and our medicine the best and safest. Otherwise why would they be the most expensive?

There are other fears, too, real fears that could happen anywhere, (losing our luggage, or wallet or our passport which means we’ll never be allowed to go home). If these things happen where we don’t have our safety net to fall into we won’t know what to do. Perhaps we’ll be forced to use our common sense,  or to  call on the kindness of strangers.

We could be robbed. It happens. Advice abounds on the internet about how to lessen the probability, but it still happens occasionally.  Again, common sense says leave your precious gems and Rolex  at home, don’t flaunt your large bills in public, never let anyone see where you stash your money, keep your wallet in the front pocket, your purse and pack in front, especially in busy places like bus and train stations, don’t walk home from the pub alone at night singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling off-key. Keep an extra credit card and cash stashed separately somewhere, and copies of your passport and visa if you have one.

And other things one doesn’t expect happens to seniors.Once when I was living in Mexico, I had a grandma moment while I was standing in front of the ATM machine. I completely forgot my pass code. I knew I only had three tries before the bank would lock the account, sending me up shit creek, as my mom used to say, so I tried the two combinations that came to mind. Nada.  Frustrated, irritated, and a little bit afraid that my brain had finally given up on me, I walked to my friend’s house. She was sympathetic. ” I always worry that might happen to me some day. I wish I had some money to lend you, but I’m broke.” I emailed my daughter from her house. Did she have my pass codes. “No. Sorry, Mom.

Of course, I have friends and family in the US who would, in an emergency, wire me money. But a grandma moment is not an emergency. It’s a fact of life. We have to get used to them-to cover our tracks. After this happened, I always leave a list of every pass code with my daughter which means I only  have to wait a day or two to get the information because she’s very busy, and I’m not her top priority. On the positive side of grandma moments, it’s been my experience they rarely happen at crucial times/places, i.e. I’ve never stood in front of a customs officer in a foreign country, say Morocco, and couldn’t remember why I was there.

Another fear high on the fear list is learning how to get from A-Z. “It’s easy for you, my friend said, but the rest of us have no clue.” That’s not fair. It’s not always been easy for me. I learned by asking. I’ve found that if you ask questions, people are more than willing to give advice-on any subject, in any country. Now, understanding them is another thing. From personal experience I’ve learned that If you ask a question in Spanish, and they answer in Spanish,  and your listening skills are not as good as your speaking skills, listen for key words and watch their hands. You might have to ask three different people, but in the meantime you have gotten closer to your goal because you turned right at the corner, or tienda, (or where ever the only words you understood sent you) and now you are closer. Don’t give up. Enjoy the walk.

In most countries, if you stand on the street with an open map in your hand and a puzzled look on your face, you will most likely draw a crowd of willing helpers. In China, the crowd can expand to as many as fifteen people who don’t always agree. Sometimes a trio or quartet of helpers who were ‘going that way’ will escort you to our destination. When you’ve reached the designated place. Someone else will take a picture of everyone together,  all smiling and satisfied.

When I was a young, attractive woman I understood that many men were wolves; that cultures had different norms of what meant ‘I’m available or not.’ Mostly I stayed awake and sober. I know the chances of bad things happening increase when you’re not paying attention. Through the years I’ ve developed an instinct that has served me well and, with luck, has kept me from being assaulted or raped. You cannot be naive in any country. It’s not our intellect that keeps us safe, it is our animal instinct. We must listen to it, it will not steer us wrong if we do.

Somewhere around the age of fifty, I realized that, with the exception of young men who, because I was traveling thought  I had money,  I had become invisible to most men. The young men were disappointed of course, and I hated to hurt  their  feelings, but where ever they are I’m sure they’ve adjusted by now.

I’ve made many male friends in many countries over the decades-as many as women I imagine. We became  friends because of our interests, not our sexuality. One of my friends puts a great emphasis  on being a sexual person over 65. I like sex, and I haven’t become a prune yet, but sex is not what drives me, or what attracts men to me and vice versa. It’s life. Laughing. The sharing of stories. Traveling.

Searching the key words solo traveler on the web, I came up with a tour site that advertises ‘solo, but not alone’. Tours are good for people who want someone else to plan their trip, or for folks who don’t want to explore on their own, who want to meet new people from their own country, or are afraid of being lonely. They are just not for me. I took  many trips with my ex-husband and lover of many years. We got along well, and respected each others needs and desires. But, for many years I have been single and I’ve grown accustomed to being solo, and I like it; just as I traded a sail boat for a  kayak. It only takes one person. I love the pace, the independence, the solitude. I’ve adjusted to my life’s circumstances. I rarely feel lonely.

I meet plenty of people on the road, I am an independent person. I want to go places when I want to go, or not. I like getting up or staying up as early or late as I want. I want to eat the food I have a taste for, when I’m  hungry.  However, I frequently take local tours, with local guides. I almost always meet people on these trips, but I sometimes like to be alone, to explore, to take pictures, to shop with no time limits, or to nap. I like to cook food in a hostel kitchen, write my blogs, talk to others who are traveling to find out where they’ve been or where they’re going. I like to hang out with people of all ages. They keep me young, sometimes I give them perspective.

My final thought is that when going to other countries one must give oneself to it. Trust you will be fine. If you get lost, and you will, someone will help you find your way. My best stories have happened when I’ve gotten lost, or missed a train. You can’t expect traveling in an unfamiliar  place to be like home. You have to look for the good, remind yourself that you are a guest, visiting, their country  and learn about the people, the food, the culture. The rewards are great. In giving you will receive. Buen viaje.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And money. According to ____People over fifty in the United States make up 5th largest economy in the world. We worked hard to get our money, and we don’t want it stolen by some jerk in a third world country who refuses to work hard enough to make his own money, or a low-life gang member, or..anybody for that matter.