I’m thankful for a lot of things; among them are Great Moments in Travel. I wrote a column about a few a couple years ago.
Great Moments in Travel
By Kelsey Timmerman
Moonlight Sonata is a creepy song, especially when it’s played by a vampire.
His white hands pick out the tune across the dusty keys. The notes drift out of the old baby grand and, weighted with misery, fall to the dirty concrete floor. Each one slowly crawls up the paint-chipped walls. Soon the room is filled with a multitude of lurking notes, which slowly fade, only to be replaced once more by the ghostly white hands on the ivory keys.
Senor Nicholas, owner/haunter of the piano museum in the ghost town of El Triunfo, south of La Paz, is wearing a yellow shirt that is disturbingly see-through. His neck and his face are powdered white, his lips are painted red; his hair looks freshly perm-ed and newly dyed orangish-red. I can’t decide if he looks more like an old woman after a particularly unsuccessful trip to the beautician or an androgynous vampire after a particularly unsuccessful trip to the beautician.
Sr. Nicholas may not be physically able to smile because of the amount of makeup he is wearing, but he sure can play the piano. He plays one song after another and when he finally comes to a dramatic run of the keyboard, every one in the room applauds at its finish.
He insists that each one of us signs his guestbook.
No matter how hard we try, we are unable to coax him into the sunlight.
Buddha likes Coca Cola? Who knew?
The young lamas fill a brass cup before the straight-faced gold Buddha on the ornately decorated shrine. All of this world is suffering, but Lord Buddha needs his Coke. They light two sticks of incense, back away from the shrine, bow, and leave.
I am sitting across from the shrine on the floor, a steaming cup of putrid, buttery, salt tea before me, wishing that I could get a splash of Coke to wash down my heaping bowl of noodles.
At the head of the room, Khenpo Sange, who is your exact mental picture of a monk – chubby, menacing grimace, glowing smile, shaved head, and bright robes – holds court. A steady stream of worshippers coming to pay their respects enter the room, do a double take at in my direction, bow three times, and discuss matters with Khenpo. Conversation takes place in Tibetan, Nepalese, Taiwanese, and, occasionally, even a little English directed at me.
Hours pass in this manner, marked by a cheap, rip-off of a traditional Swiss cuckoo clock, which pathetically chimes out “Happy Birthday” on the hour.
Upon entering the deserted desert town of El Triunfo, I could have never guessed that down one of its few side streets and through a weathered old door in a dilapidated building, was a piano museum where a very odd pianist waits days, weeks, and likely, months for an audience to entertain. Likewise, on a plane somewhere above the Himalaya Mountains, watching the movie starring Chris Rock’s voice as a white blood cell with an attitude, “Osmosis Jones,” I could have never dreamed that I was about to enter a world with Coke drinking Buddha, saffron clad monks, and cuckoo clocks.
What is more out of place: The androgynous vampire’s sonata in the Mexican desert, the Coke awaiting Buddha’s belly, the cuckoo clock interrupting a monk’s prayers with “Happy Birthday,” or me?
Sometimes the stars align properly and the travel gods bless us with a Great Moment in Travel, a moment or two where we think, “Wow, I can’t believe I am here!” It’s important that when such an experience is playing out that we soak it all in. Breathe it. Taste it. Smell it. Feel it.
Before we set out on any new adventures to places where we have never been, we create mental images of where and how our time will be spent. We try to picture the mountain trail we hope to hike, the ruins we intend to visit, the cobbled streets, the markets, and the friends we will make. These preconceived notions are fueled by images we see in brochures, on the internet, and on TV. We have expectations. We have plans. We think about the unexpected and we get nervous. The trip we plan is often worlds apart from the trip we take.
Trips start at A and end at B, just as we had planned, but it’s the unique characters and unexpected experiences in between that we will remember for a lifetime.
I can still hear Senor Nicholas’s haunting notes. I can see and smell the burning incense with its sweet musky wisps of smoke surrounding the golden Buddha. With time, and with each telling, the notes from the baby grand become clearer and the incense sweeter. Unforgettable experiences. Unexpected. Great Moments in Travel.