IMG_5336I went exploring, as one does during a pandemic lockdown. All within my one-kilometer radius. Not even! It was just a tiny slice of my circle. I’d never ventured off-road. Once, years ago, when I was new to the area, I went for a walk/hike with a neighbor. She was so absorbed in our chat that she missed a turn and we were lost for a while, until we walked on to within sight of a landmark. There are other places, not far, where it’s a bad idea to get lost, because you could walk for a really long time if you’re pointed in the right (wrong) direction.IMG_5412This hike was low risk. I would stay within a perimeter of tarmac road. Impossible to get lost. Usually I run on that tarmac circuit, from one village to the next and the next and back around to home. But I was tired of cars and, above all, curious. I looked at it on Google Earth. The outskirts of the villages aside, no houses were in the interior of the loop. There was a stream, some vineyards and other fields, and lots of woods.IMG_5423Tracks for farmers to access their fields would peter out into narrow footpaths, or not even. I saw boar tracks. Taking a photo of a little waterfall in the stream, I sensed movement. Fearing a dog (which I’m more scared of than boars), or, worst nightmare of all, a dog off leash, I froze. But instead, an enormous hare rounded a curve on the path across the stream, apparently to get up speed to leap over the water. Until it saw me, froze for a fraction of a second, and did a 180.

Where I met the hare.

I explored these paths, free of all-terrain bikes for a change (more ferocious than boars) day after day, trying out different forks in the paths. I found a truffle farm, surrounded by electric fencing. Many capitelles, or stone refuges, built without mortar from stones found in the vineyards, to give workers a place to cool off for a midday sieste, when walking home would have been just too much work on top of the heavy manual labor they already did from dawn to dusk.

A capitelle.
truffle trees
Truffles like to grow around the roots of these oak trees.

One place reminded me of a story. When the Carnivore and I were newlyweds, he wanted to take a honeymoon to Strasbourg. I’d never been to Strasbourg and wanted to see it. I still haven’t crossed it off my bucket list. Some turbulent events at the time of our planned trip had created bargains for travel to where I’d been in in the Peace Corps. I booked flights on a Wednesday; we left that Friday. I also called one of my favorite hotels, and the Carnivore was astounded when I asked for room 12. What on earth was he in for?

When we got to the first hotel, where I hadn’t specified a room number, the doorman greeted me by name. I’d last been there almost exactly a year earlier. It was a smallish hotel that was very mid-century modern in a way that was vintage back when I first went there in the mid-1980s and that had never been changed since. I loved it.

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 5.45.02 PM
My house is one of those. Actually half of one; it was a duplex. The lines of round bushes are coffee.

But we weren’t staying in the capital. I rented a small four-wheel-drive vehicle to go to where I used to live. No need for a map. This was not at all reassuring to the Carnivore. One could say his knuckles were white. Plus it was a former British colony, so I had to drive on the opposite side of the road. And “road” was a grand name for the bits of tarmac we traversed.Over an hour later, we were close. The countryside was very hilly, rising from plains of rice (the most delicous, aromatic I’d ever had) and pineapples to cornfields, then coffee. Above, in altitude, was tea. I lived just on the line between coffee and tea.

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I see that the grassy lane is no longer grassy. Population boom. The vivid green squares are tea.

The road went up and down and around curves. Besides the enormous potholes, there were other obstacles—overloaded buses with people hanging off the back; overloaded pickups, their beds enclosed, where people would be squished seven or eight to each flat board that served as a seat (there was room for five butts, which meant one’s legs tended to be compressed to numbness during the ride); overloaded lorries that ground their way up hills and then went full speed down the other side in order to get maximum momentum to coast as far as possible up the next hill; overloaded people on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, ox-drawn wagons, all balancing impossible burdens.

We stayed at a hotel in a nearby large town, where, back in the day, I would stop for a milky tea when I would go to the big market on Saturdays. How I loved the market! I would buy a wedge of very local pineapple, which would be hacked with a machete before me, and wrapped in a dusty scrap of old newspaper. I would choose my rice from the open sack that had the most bees resting on it—a sure sign it was heavily perfumed. I would half-heartedly haggle for my fruits and vegetables, only because to not do so was considered arrogant. I would take my heavy bag home after an hour-long, two-leg trip on a bus followed by a pickup; the same drive in a private car was 20 minutes.

309.Isaak walton Inn garden
The hotel with water problems. Gorgeous.

The hotel manager explained that for reasons I’ve forgotten there was a problem with the hot water. Instead, each day, several women hustled across the lush grounds with big basins of steaming water balanced on their heads. A different definition of running water.

I wanted to take the Carnivore to see one of my former students. We got in the car and headed even higher into the hills. “Watch out!” the Carnivore hollered. It’s true that there were often sheer drops and no shoulder on the side of the road. It’s why everybody drove in the middle, in both directions. I turned left, and since I was driving on the left, the Carnivore was certain I was doing a Thelma and Louise. “It’s a road,” I told him. “THIS is a road?!?!!?” he answered.

Similar…two-way traffic. With more potholes.

We went through a collection of shacks. Everybody came out to see; a car on this road was a big event. I waved. “Do you know them?” the Carnivore asked. “No, but it’s polite to wave,” I said. Honestly: same thing in rural France.

More like this.

I turned right onto a much smaller lane. “Are you allowed to go here?” the Carnivore asked. “Sure,” I said. “It’s a road.” “THIS is a road?” he answered. It was admittedly harder going. Boulders gouged up through the red dirt in some places and deep ruts nearly swallowed us in others. I gingerly picked our way through. Non-native blue gum trees towered over us.IMG_5450IMG_5452I turned right again. “You can’t tell me this is a road,” the Carnivore said. “Yes, it’s a road,” I told him, driving over cropped thick grass. “You can tell because the grass is cut.”

Voilà! It’s a road.

Then I cut the motor. “We’re here,” I said. “But you said this is a road,” he exclaimed. “You’re just going to leave the car here?” “Sure,” I said. “There won’t be any other cars.”

Not sure how this got here. Not on a road. Not anywhere near one.
It’s a 2CV skeleton.

I thought about that moment when I came upon this grassy lane. So similar. Coffee trees and grape vines are about the same size. The birds singing. The sweetness of the air. The absence of motorized sounds.IMG_5453I thought, too, about my housegirl, Jane. During training, we had been introduced to the concept of houseboys and housegirls, and I was sure I would be quite able to do everything myself and would never have hired help. In the 1980s in the Midwest, regular people didn’t have somebody come to do yard work or house cleaning. Kids—boys, usually—might make money mowing lawns or shoveling snow, usually for retirees. If you were able to do it yourself, you did. Plus, racism. 

After a while on the job, my headmistress and another teacher I was close to invited me to tea. It turned out to be an intervention. Why hadn’t I hired a housegirl? Oh, I really can’t do that, I said. You have to, they told me: “If you have a job, you have to make a job.” 

Well, that changed everything. I had been viewing the situation in terms of myself, proving that I wasn’t racist because I didn’t have a housegirl. The very term was offensive to me, even though my African neighbors and colleagues all had houseboys or housegirls and called them that.

Instead, the important framing was economic. If you have a job, make a job. My headmistress and friend informed me that they had found just the housegirl for me, and that she would be starting the next day and that I would pay her so much. 


My housegirl, Jane, was a delight. She was indefatigable. When elephants trampled the pipeline bringing water to our school, she went to the river to fetch buckets. She washed my clothes by hand, then used the water to mop the floors. She sang as she worked. She always smiled. She gave most of her earnings to her parents and saved the rest to start a beauty shop. I was proud of her.

Back on the grassy lane, my former student, Editor (that was really her name), was surprised to see me. Our hasty trip hadn’t allowed time for a letter to arrive, and she didn’t have a phone. Or electricity. Or running water. She, her husband and two children lived in a two-room house (a sitting room and a bedroom) made of rough wooden slats. The kitchen was a separate hut outside, where Editor cooked over an open fire. She grew coffee and tea and vegetables. She once took me to pick tea. It is not easy.

Editor in her sitting room.

I asked about a severe drought the year before. “Pff,” she said (just like the French do!). “We weren’t really affected.” But how did their crops survive? “The crops failed,” she said. “Everything.” How did she and her family survive? “We didn’t starve,” she said proudly. “We just ate every other day.”

Those words have stuck with me. There are people doing fasts to body hack, but this wasn’t about denial in the face of abundance; it was about survival in the face of famine.

Times are tough these days, but for some people, times are always tough, and lately they are worse. 

I hope you are surviving and staying healthy. If you have a job, please do make a job. And I hope everybody gets to eat every day.

334.Room 12 at Stone House
Room 12…in case you were curious.

30 thoughts on “Vicarious Adventure Travel

  1. What a “mind trip”! Loved your story. As tourists, we have witnessed the ‘have a job, make a job” concept in action in other parts of the world. Our tour guide in Santo Domingo, D.R., incorporated so many other workers in our tour, all of whom earned tips for their driving, side tours, refreshments and entertainments, that we had to admire how ingenuously they managed to spread the wealth generated from one tour group.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My husband was in the Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast from 1966-68. He and his roommate had a houseboy. He went back in 1998 to visit and there were people in the town who remembered him by sight 30 years later. In 1967 he had suspended an avocado pit over water to root. When he left in ‘68, he paid one of the men to plant it to remember him by. 30 years later it was a tall tree that provided enough avocados to sell to support the school that was still being used! Thanks for the mind trip memories!


  3. Thank you so much for this perfectly wonderful post! “Have a job, make a job” is a new concept for me, and very apt for these times. And (as an editor myself), I have to love Editor’s wonderful name and beauty and warm smile.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post. Your Jane and Editor: what bright, engaging visages! Over many years I slowly have come round to the ethic you espouse. We do have a woman who has cleaned for us monthly for more than ten years. We just upped her to bi-monthly. Our four-times a year gardening back-up is becoming a monthly presence. Today I will experience the renewal of a haircut from my hairdresser of 30 years; my appointment was to have been St. Patrick’s Day. I have acquired quite the mop, and am planning a copious tip–not an act of generosity but of gratitude for those who do real work for my good in all times and circumstances. If you have a job, make a job. Beautiful words to live by.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an inspiring attitude Editor has to life. It puts those who grumble about staying at home in order to protect their lives and the lives of others during this covid pandemic, to shame. I gather Editor and her family wouldn’t even have access to social services or food banks when times are tough, yet the vast majority of us, thankfully, don’t have to rely on these in order to survive during this challenging time.
    It’s always a delight to visit Taste of France. Stay safe and keep smiling.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We are in day 56 of lockdown. Some parts of the country are opening certain businesses, but not in the city. It is going to be difficult for lots of people, and we are starting the cold weather.
    As your title says, I vicariously travel with your posts. Beautifully written. You should write a book, I would def. buy it.
    If you have a job, make a job. Love it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You certainly have some interesting tales to tell! I can sympathize with the Carnivore, though, who seemed a bit nervous on that bumpy road! All well here and enjoying some new-found freedom as we can walk a bit further afield. Hope it’s the same for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it was the sheer drops on either side of the tarmac that unnerved him most. And absence of guard rails.
      The weather here is once again perfection after almost a week of rain. Of course, if we don’t get rain now, we’re in trouble come July.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this. Such a wonderful reminiscence! And to have been able to go back with the Carnivore and find the indefatigable Editor! Did you hear about Jane? I imagine she must be doing just fine as well. Hard work and opportunity lead to all manner of dreams being fulfilled … The lushness and verdant patchwork doesn’t make me think of Africa but when you’ve only ever been to Morocco, it’s hard to envision the Dark Continent without Daktari & Born Free crowding in … I thought a one-km radius seems pretty confined but to be frank, I don’t think I’ve gone much further than that either over these past weeks, and our Rules are much more relaxed than yours. Boars and bikes aren’t hazards I’d wish for! Keep safe on those Explorations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It all depends on elevation. The higher, the greener, up to the tree line. The lower, the more arid.
      “Born Free” was filmed not far away at all. The movie. The TV show was filmed at Lake Naivasha. I’ve been to all the locations (decades later) and they are among the most beautiful places on Earth–and I’ve been around the world.


  9. I can sympathize with the Carnivore, too! Great reminiscences in your post. And salutary lessons about remaining positive in the face of adversity. We are relieved that the 1 km limit has been relaxed. As keen walkers, it was very restricting, although we appreciated the reasons and intend to remain very cautious for everyone’s sake.

    Liked by 1 person

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