A memorable trip requires immersion and spontaneity. Sometimes that means going to church.
The beach and view right outside of church.
I’ve traveled more than the average person. When I set out, I wasn’t super adventurous – I spoke English my entire semester in Madrid and ate McDonald’s for dinner my first trip to Paris. (Phew! I finally said it).
Eventually, my curiosity grew and I began to open up.
Like most travelers, I started with guidebooks and went where they told me. The itineraries were safe and easy to follow. I stared at historical sites and photographed famous things. And despite my stance on foreign soil, I was unfulfilled. My cookie-cutter route left me with the same souvenir, and even worse, the same story every other tourist imported home.
Since then I’ve shed the guidebooks and rarely consult with the internet. An authentic adventure – for this traveler, at least – means venturing without a script. I’ve let my guard down and developed an attitude of “yes.” If the sign points left, I’ll often turn right. The moment I forged my own road and followed my curiosity and nothing else, travel magic began to unveil.
Like the time I shared potato chips and a soda with a group of Indian children on the banks of the Ganges River.
Or the trip to Macau when I ditched an obligatory “press” tour to gamble on a soccer match with a Chinese bookie in a dimly lit backstreet and won $100.
Tales like these can’t be found on TripAdvisor.
Travel instantly became a way to not only explore the world, but an opportunity to trust what’s “out there” and relentlessly test one’s comfort zone. A day in a distant land offered more of an education than the fifteen-plus years I sat inside a classroom.
As my happenings accrued, I began to document the effortlessness in which they occurred. Case in point, a recent jaunt I took to the Bahamas.
It’s a hot Sunday morning on the island of Bimini when I make a sweaty half-mile trek to the local Catholic church. Religion is big in these parts – or so I’m told – and this is my Bahamian attempt to “do as the Romans do.” I pass a couple of conch stands before shadowing the entrance to the beachfront structure.
To say the church is toasty would be quite the understatement. My iPhone says it’s 80 degrees outside which means God’s House has no doubt eclipsed the century mark. Fortunately, I find an empty pew adjacent a fan that’s so dusty and rusty it appears it’s been pulled from a shipwreck. All this does is make me hot… and allergic.
The service itself fails to ameliorate the narrative. When Father So-and-So isn’t handkerchiefing his brow, he’s a healthy reminder of my innate ability to sin in a myriad of ways. Which, of course, doesn’t matter. If the good Lord reads minds, I’m a shoo-in for post-mass confession: I can’t shake the irony that this church is “hotter than Hell.”
With mass nearing its terminus – no more than an amen or two to go – Father So-and-So makes an announcement.
“In honor of All Saints Day, the men of our parish have a gift for the rest of the congregation,” he says. Hmm… what could this be?
Slowly, the ringleaders of the scenario rise from their pews and steer all men towards the front of the altar; parishioners I assume. The woman to my left, however, gestures me to join them. “No, no,” I think to myself. “This is a parish thing. I didn’t even chip in.” But she insists, so I walk forward.
Lest I remind myself that I’m not at church on a perfect Caribbean beach day during a weeklong visit to the Bahamas for health reasons, right? I’m here for that travel magic – which on this balmy morning has left me with nothing but a pitted-out white tee and a steamy crotch.
Now facing the congregation with a group of 20 Bahamian men, the ringleader hands us our “gift” to the church: a sheet of lyrics to “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which we sing together for a confused, wildly off-beat six minutes.
Someone recently told me that tourists collect photos and bring them home with the hopes of reliving the moment. (I’d argue they never really lived the moment to begin with, but that’s for another time). Travelers, on the other hand, bring back stories. They tell them and let you imagine.
So here I am singing my heart out with 20 of my newest friends and a pew full of children wondering what planet I arrived from. All eyes and photos were aimed my way; a detail that only seemed to power more electricity through my veins. Hello there, travel magic.
“Travelers bring back stories.
They tell them. And let you imagine.”
When I left church that morning, I almost asked a parishioner if they’d e-mail me one of their photos – you know, so I could give the story justice. (My grandpa likes proof of my tales abroad. He’s joking, I think.) But I decided to let the moment be.
Remember that scene in Forest Gump when Forest, played by Tom Hanks, is the lone white dot naively singing in Bubba’s Baptist choir?
Yeah, just imagine that.
hello there travel magic