My husband and I were hiking along a colorful waterfront street in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, spotting the differences and similarities to Punta Arenas, Chile. That last small city in South America, overlooking the Strait of Magellan, is one of our remaining bucket list trips, but we imagined it couldn’t be more unlike this tropical town with its swaying palms, pristine white sands, and ice cream trolleys. Until we ran across the sidewalk table made from a Petro-Can barrel. Oh, the treasures of travel.
Or perhaps the tragedy. Why is it the commercial enterprises abound even at the ends of the earth while the Christ-bearers are scattered so thin? The oil companies rush in where God’s own messengers dread to tread.
As Spanish-speaking missionaries, we thought we were, ahem, better. But back in Ecuador, we’d already been “encouraged” to shut up already with the Spanish while buying a dolphin necklace-and-earrings set carved from coconuts. It confused the poor young lady trying to attend the demands of the “tourists.”
Ouch. That comment shocked and humbled us, to realize that she considered us just another couple of gringo tourists. Though we were…
“I look upon all the world as my parish.” –John Wesley
But we tried again in Costa Rica, believing it would be different. No folk-dance shows or tented booths arranged for the pleasure and convenience of tourists here. We wandered as far as the lighthouse and the San Lucas Fish Co. and back past a dingy soccer stadium and a gilded church. We visited a museum documenting the Chinese immigrants (read slave labor force) of a century ago. Denied the basic rights of citizenship, they received the same shameful treatment as in most parts of the world. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so amazed.
People or Places
We received an enthusiastic response to our Spanish everywhere we went that afternoon. So not the average gringos, right? Our elation lasted until our new acquaintances realized we could understand their sob stories and started trailing us to beg for money. Despite extensive experience with hard-luck lines, we actually wished we had a little more cash on us.
That is, until we saw the Petro-Can drum and suddenly felt like we had a foreign flag pasted on our backs. Around the world, we’ll always walk a tightrope between making friends and buying friends. Between giving generously of our abundance and naively courting a mugging.
Among the treasures of travel we can list the multiple benefits of expanding horizons and gaining a wider perspective of the world. And we hope not everything we see and learn and enjoy is a performance put on solely for the tourists.
Earlier on the voyage, we had a port of call in Coquimbo. Yes, the Chilean coastal city we now make our home. We’d visited numerous times before, and I admit that, after describing some points of interest to our fellow travelers, I had zero interest in exploring it myself.
God has such an ironic sense of humor. We know perfectly well, in theory, that the Chilean people will never relate to you the same way if you don’t speak their language AND live in their country for a good long time AND love it—as well as them. But sometimes we’re tempted to think it’s all about verb conjugations and noun-adjective agreement. Ha, if only!
At Home in the World
How easily we forget that Jesus “made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14, NIV). We’ll never discover the true treasures of travel until we live among the people. Let me confess I’d never yawn about Coquimbo now. We moved into the neighborhood and become one of them.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain
Here I have to lead into our family version of a little “joke” we read a while ago. It goes:
The following survey question was sent around the world: Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world? The results turned out a failure. The Argentines didn’t understand what please meant, the Chileans couldn’t be honest, and the Cubans didn’t know what opinions were. In the Middle East they had no concept of solutions, the Africans were uncertain about food, the Europeans had never heard of a shortage. And the Americans were blissfully unaware of the rest of the world.
My friends, I don’t know if that’s hilarious, heart-breaking, or all-too-tragically true. (And please don’t be offended. I myself fit squarely in several of those categories!)
But what a lesson. Obviously we can’t live everywhere. But God give me a heart to know and love the world. Lord, open my eyes. Wherever I go, I’ll plant a tree, speak a kind word, offer a smile. Let me leave every place a little better than I found it.
Droplet Gift #35: I will revel in the treasures of travel but remember the tragedy of seeing the world but not the people.
Pictures or Perspectives
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” –James Michener
I completely agree with Michener. What’s the point in traveling to a new country if you’re only interested in staying safe inside the walls of a resort just like back home?
In Lima, Peru, we escaped the mall and the guided tour and hired our own taxi. We looked up a local missionary, ate real chifa (Peruvian Chinese food) at a hole-in-the-wall, found the highlights recommended by Peruvian friends.
In Manta, Ecuador, we eventually left the tourist trap and kissed the giant tuna at the equator monument, ducked around the iguanas on the plaza, and stopped for another iced coffee at a shop called Louis XIV whenever we needed a break from the heat. Bet nobody else from our group discovered the community pit-stop corner! (Posted with a useless Big-Brother-is-watching-you sign.)
At a chocolate festival in Chiapas, Mexico, the Mayan woman who invited me to dance with her reminded me of my Navajo-Mexican-American momma, Helen. After choosing a turquoise flower-embroidered top at her shop, we detoured to the authentic feria, a blocks-long outdoor market featuring sizzling tacos and blazing chilies of every hue under the sun. Whatever else we saw that day, we learned it doesn’t have to be posh to be priceless.
Puerto Vallarta, destination of The Love Boat, has to be one of the loveliest cities in the world. But instead of seeking the usual holiday hot spots, we watched a sand sculptor for hours and then spent the remainder of the day taking photos of stunning windows and doors decked with flowers, flowers, flowers… And I will never forget the perfection of a frosted glass of ice water next to my sunhat perched on a stand.
Later, a taxi driver took us to Canadian Gulch—seemed to get a kick out of the name—while he poured out his family problems and peppered us with spiritual questions. Then, across the Gulf of California, we interpreted for the water taxi-man in Cabo San Lucas. A simple soul with a big grin.
“When we don’t step outside our safety net, we miss opportunities to experience life with God on a truly transformational level.” –Unknown
What did we do in Israel? Not only the ordinary religious sites, by any means. To start with, we lodged in a slightly seedy hotel a stone’s throw from the Old City walls. Gives me goose pimples remembering a stroll along the millennia-old stones of the Via Dolorosa, a Mexican scarf draped around my head. That, and the resounding rafters as our group sang “It is Well with My Soul” in a church in the City of David.
We spent a lot of time off the beaten track, at dusty archeological digs and with Christians in Palestinian territory. Lunched with olivewood craftsmen in Bethlehem. Imagined battles at crusader castles. Shared communion next to the Sea of Galilee. Experienced a Sabbath morning without fresh-brewed coffee. Met Israeli soldiers. Got hooked on falafels (Middle Eastern street food).
We’re usually game to try the local dishes, one of the best treasures of travel. You may remember the wonderful meals on our Patagonian journey of 2019. You’ll also recall the tiny fish that resembled worms and the caterpillar—or was it a snail?—that snuck into the salad. Years ago, the five-star cafés in the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama introduced us to forbidden-fruit crepes and squash soup, now a family favorite. Coquimbo boasts of its famous fish sandwiches and shrimp-and-cheese empanadas.
Investment with Interest
Then our many trips over the Andes have gifted us the best beef I ever tasted, in Chivilcoy, Argentina. Italian cannelloni, lamb a la pizza, and Uruguayan chivitos (a heart-attack-on-a-bun!) It would sound ungrateful to mention the hotels and hostels where we grumped through the breakfast crackers, wouldn’t it?
The River Plate (La Plata) separating Argentina and Uruguay is the widest river in the world. The Platte River of the American prairie is also said to be a mile wide and an inch deep. I wonder…am I like that? In a scramble to go and do and buy as much as I can, am I missing out on the deeper treasures of travel?
“Of all the books in the world, the best stories are between the pages of a passport.” –Unknown
I’m hardly a world traveler. But I’m plugging for us Christians to become a little more world-conscious today. In fact, that’s an honest goal for all of my books too, beginning with Destiny at Dolphin Bay. Its setting in Chile’s Chiloé Islands opens a door to the treasures of travel in a little-known corner of the globe.
As I continue to dare and dive deep into as much of the world as possible, I’ve invested in ceramics and jewelry, paintings and carvings, magnets and Christmas ornaments, as mementos. And I enjoy my travel treasures. But maybe I should spare myself toting things around and just start collecting memories and adventures and writing them into stories.
Deep down, I think that’s what I’m doing with everything I write. I plant seeds, sing songs, share dreams. And I show snapshots of landscapes and seascapes, windows and doors, pallets and Petro-Can barrels. And people, always people.
Memories or Mementos
“The field is the world,” Jesus said (Mt. 13:38) because “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1, NIV). Every step I take, every place I visit, every person I meet, all remind me that, as the hymnwriter declared, “This is my Father’s world.”
The pleasures and treasures of travel are bound up with people, not things. Both God’s creativity in nature and human creativity in culture and architecture delight and intrigue us. Together, they astound us.
Yet, when “God so loved the world,” He meant you, me, and our neighbors in Austria, Australia, and Afghanistan. In Chile, Canada, and oh, Costa Rica.
Nearly 40 years ago, when my husband and I arrived in Chile, a new acquaintance asked us, “Why would you want to go to Chiloé?” He implied, bottom-line, that those folks weren’t worth the focus of the best years of our lives. Certainly no treasures of travel to that place!
“As you go into all the world, make disciples…” –Jesus, Matthew 28:19
The doubts may have festered. After all, the islands have a dreadful climate, a modest population of unresponsive people, and a reputation for wickedness shrouded in rituals. Not nearly as appealing as the glitter of the capital. And surely no place to raise a family.
But little by little we discovered our destiny at “Dolphin Bay” and redeemed the diamonds from the dunghill. Next post I’ll share our Return to Chiloé trip. I hadn’t visited in a very long time… and what would I find?
Lord, don’t take me home… until I see the world…through Your eyes.