Slow Travel

Coffee shop selfie

Almost two weeks now we’ve been in Spain and we have yet to tour the ruins of a Roman villa or the crumbled walls of a Phoenician fort.

We are slow travelers.  Our pace of travel is more like a hybrid between living and travel.  We spend our days unraveling the mysteries of the way they do it here: the transportation system, places, times and choices for eating. We spend our days walking the streets observing; comparing this place to other places: America, South Africa, Bali, Nicaragua.

I don’t know if we invented this form of slow travel as an improvement on backpacking from hostel to hostel or if it is a necessary modification because we are getting old; a travel adaptation for our comfort, like doing aerobics in a swimming pool.

It occurs to me, this ability to travel slowly may be an invention of the internet.  Where, in the past, one had to be willing to land in a place with no expectations: find a place to sleep, cash a traveler’s check, and send a telegram to say you’ve arrive safe. Now, thanks to the internet, we can pre-arrange a place to stay complete with verified photos, email or even telephone the owners who will meet us, show us around, and provide basic supplies.  Once settled, we can video chat with loved ones back home and order a pizza delivered.


Our host gave us this fruit from her farm.

Our host gave us this fruit from her farm.

The down side is, living in a flat, denies us the services of a concierge.  Our questions are addressed to Google, who now answers us in Spanish, and, even when translated to English, the answers are often hard to decipher.

The result is, despite the wonders of the internet, when traveling independently one still spends a good portion of one’s time figuring things out.

For instance, we are both agreed that we would rather not burden ourselves with a car.  After years of commuting we don’t need the stress of navigating traffic, finding our way around a strange country (been there, done that) and, clearly, parking is a challenge around here, so public transportation, which is plentiful but confusing, is our friend.

This part was easy

This part was easy

We’ve successfully negotiated the commuter train with a minimum of challenge. But the train runs on tracks.  It will only take us so far into a town.  Public buses are common and plentiful but learning the bus routes is complicated. The information that bus #124 goes to Olias is only meaningful if one knows where Olias is and why one would want to go there.

I am inclined to hop on a bus and ride it around the entire route just to see what there is to see but I haven’t done it yet.

So, with the bus system still beyond our ken, it is our intention to take ourselves 100 kilometers west to the town of Ronda, a place praised by both Ernest Hemmingway and Orson Wells for its beauty and bull fighting tradition.

Panoramic view of the old city of Ronda

Panoramic view of the old city of Ronda

How to get there is our challenge. One person said, “Take the bus.”  The other said, “Take the train. “ Both option are outside our area of understanding so yesterday we did a dry run.

We found our way to both the train station and the bus station and asked for information.

James Michener who wrote Iberia, a huge volume on his travels in Spain in the 60’s, says that Spain is a stickler for the rules.  Because, so says Michener, Spaniards are ungovernable. If the rules are not enforced the country will disintegrate into chaos.

This insight helped me understand our interaction yesterday at the information desk of the train station.

Seeking information to help us on our way to Ronda, we waited behind a line drawn on the floor for a couple to complete their business with the information officer.  When they left we stepped up to the desk. 

Do you have a number?” asked the official. I give him my “I don’t understand look”: a look of confusion that pretty much always produces an English translation here in this tourist area.  In return he points silently to a number generating machine like we see in the DMV or a busy deli counter back home. The machine stands in the middle of the station hall.  Afraid that we have inadvertently cut the line and consequently offered support for the broadly held notion that Americans are pushy, we meekly and hurriedly step away from the desk and make our way to collect our number. 

No sooner have we torn the number from the machine than we turn around and see our number being called on the electronic board above the information master’s desk.

At the same time, the officer is solemnly directing another couple who, like us, waited politely behind the line for us to finish before stepping up to the desk, to leave the desk and return with their official number.

We about face, with our number in hand, and return to the desk. No more than 30 seconds has passed since we left this very desk. There is no one else waiting. As I approach the window, I smile at the information officer sharing the joke of the silly way this unnecessary numbering process played out. The information officer does not return my smile or appreciate the joke.

“It doesn’t take long.” He says deadpan.

In Spain, rules are not to be broken. Thanks Michener for clueing me in.

Note to South African Readers: Perhaps you can appreciate how, after almost 4 years in South Africa, rules that are strictly enforced and a system to make that enforcement consistent and equal for everyone comes as something of a culture shock to me.

Today it is raining. A phenomena we have not seen in a very long time. South Africa was in drought when we left with dire predictions of potential food shortages for millions of people.

Given the rain, I suspect our travel pace will slow even further, giving me time to post this and prepare for our journey to Ronda by doing some laundry.

Dana's Signature

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11 Responses to Slow Travel

  1. Jim Bickford says:

    Such an interesting process, learning the “rules” of a new culture/country. Here in Portland, Maine, we had 62 degrees and sun for Christmas. Today, it is snowing and cold! Just a few inches so far, and it appears to be turning to an “icy mix”. So, I and many others are resorting to the New Englanders favorite pastime…complaining about the weather! LOL #dontliketheweatherwaitahalfhour
    Enjoy your day! Jim

  2. Margaret Dunn says:

    Excellent post. I can greatly appreciate the comment on rules in Spain vs South Africa!!
    We also are having monsoon rains here in Alabama. It is a welcome change from SA. And have to get used to the humidity. 99% (AL) vs 35% (SA)
    This is my first reading of any of your blog posts. I will have to spend some time catching up….

  3. Joyce Dura says:

    I enjoyed hearing from you, and reading about Spain. My husband traveled there when he worked for Lockheed Martin, but I haven’t been there. Looking forward to more stories and photos from the area!
    I haven’t worked at Heathcote Health Center for more than 2 years, as I came back to Prince William Hospital when Heather was promoted to the VP level. My office (Corporate) is 1 mile from home, so it’s great! I don’t know what happened with the coffee vending business when the new hospital opened almost 2 years ago.
    Take care! Happy 2016!

  4. Larry Heath says:

    Lovely piece. Thanks for sharing. We have been to Rhonda twice, each time having
    traveled there by rental car. It is a spot you will want to revisit. We loved the small
    bullring and museum as well as meandering through the charming town on both
    sides of the bridge spanning the gorge of the Guadalevin River.

  5. Sue Spera says:

    Ronda looks like a place well worth going to. I look forward to be hearing more about it. Right now I am in Endicott with Teg and Elijah for 5 days.

  6. Dawn says:

    The thought occurs to me as a possible explanation is that the Information Master is paid by the “piece” so that is how he counts his production. Or maybe I worked in HR too long …

    Thanks for the update.

  7. Mark Dunn says:

    Is it “slow travel” or a compromise with age and energy? Patricia and I have talked about this very thing, the way we travel now and the expectations of outcomes. While there are still the big draws, perhaps our favorite moment of the entire last trip was a weekend thrown together picnic in a Maris neighborhood park. Please tell Steve he looks particularly dapper in that hat! Enjoy yourselves. Mark

  8. Domenick J. Dellino says:

    Thought people might appreciate the map orientation for Rhonda, but I don’t seem to be able to include my clip of Southern Spain—Rhonda is near the Costa Del Sol…not far from Málaga (I had to check).

    How long will you be in Spain? Are you on a special mission? …specific adventure? …is this the new home away from home? ….are there plans to return to South Africa?

    We hope to take a Paris-Spain or a Paris-Northern Italy trip in the Spring. Will you be there that long?

    Best wishes,

  9. Lila Harvey says:

    Dana – enjoyed your post. Sounds like a real slow adventure. Keep us posted on your travels.

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