They say travel is broadening. If you are regularly driving along the Interstate 25 corridor, maybe you turn left at Albuquerque, or right. On these interstates, you will see a lot of varied New Mexico ecosystems whipping past at 80 mph. Set the cruise control, stop at Love’s or Pilot, sleep in a chain motel– things don’t often change. It’s all about calculating ETAs, gas mileage, and watching the odometer. That is good for mental math, but in fact is not very broadening.
A dear friend once told me about a story about the Island of Serendib. It’s a real place, once thought to be far-off and exotic. It’s Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, and there are Persian folk tales in which the heroes from Serendib made many discoveries by chance. That is where we get the word serendipity and its meaning–unexpected benefits from surprising discoveries.
When you travel, be ready to pivot, as they say in corporate-speak. Put some question marks in your itinerary.
On a routine trip from Tucson to Austin along Interstate 10, one that I had undertaken dozens of times, instead of stopping in Las Cruces at the Whataburger, we made a quick side trip to Mesilla and Stahmann’s Pecans. I don’t remember why. Maybe a billboard mentioned pecans.
The little town square offered a good place to stretch out and have some ice cream, and the pecan store further south filled us up on snacks for the long journey east. The orchard was a welcome break from the stunning but sparse desert between Lordsburg and Las Cruces. Mesilla is one of the must-see byways in New Mexico.
Years ago, when I told friends and colleagues I was going to Spain for work, their eyes got huge (mine already were).
They asked, “Where in Spain?” “Barcelona.” Some nodded knowingly, but most folks didn’t know, and I didn’t either, that Barcelona is a vibrant, eclectic and beautiful metropolis on the Mediterranean coast, a port city in the state of Cataluyna. It is like no other city in the world.
The home language is not Spanish – it’s Catalán, though many residents are multi-lingual with French, Spanish and English too. I found myself code-switching with all kinds of people from ministry officials to shopkeepers.
I was looking forward to Barcelona’s art and culture, food and night life. And the city did not disappoint. A host insisted on showing me as much as he and an assertive cab driver could cram in a four-hour window in between meetings (no siesta that day). By the time we got to the tapas bar at 6:30 p.m., my true love for tomato bread (in Catalán, pa amb tomaquet) began. It’s simply good, crusty artisan bread slathered with olive oil, with fresh tomato, minus seeds and skin, rubbed in. Paired with jamón serrano and manchego? Heaven.
But the serendipity was Montserrat. At the mention, I was puzzled. The island in the Lesser Antilles?
No, this spectacular mountain is just a short drive northwest of Barcelona, a huge mesa jutting out of the plains. There is a Benedictine monastery that was built on the site of a holy grotto around AD 1025. The striking peaks and rock columns provide gorgeous vistas as you stroll around the plaza. It was 15 degrees cooler up there.
If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. Neither had I. I tried to look cool and not be too touristy.
After a stroll and a snack, we traveled back down, we were looking for the Montserrat ibex now thriving after reintroduction. Going the “back way,” we ended up at a beautiful little bodega in the middle of nowhere.
While we had the obligatory tinto (red wine) and tapas (ham, bread, cheese), a pair of colorful horse-drawn wagons, filled with produce, stopped for a refresher. The farmers leaned on their wagons, smoking and passing the wineskin. The draft horses whickered and switched their tails in the warm sun. My companions laughed and chattered in English and Spanish. My jet lag was completely forgotten and all was right with the world.
It’s a contradiction to plan for serendipity, but it is possible to be ready for it. In tennis, they teach the “ready” position pretty much first thing, even before racquet grip. Knees flexed, light on your feet, racquet in front, eyes out.
Be ready to take those byways when they pop up – you might make some amazing soul-satisfying discoveries.
That’s my story. Tell me yours.