30 June 2013

Enrichment Voyage, Part 15: Nativity Scenes, Zip-Lining, and the Strange Juxtapositions of Travel

Hello? Is this thing still on? 

So ... Certain readers will have noticed that I never quite finished telling the tale of the Enrichment Voyage last winter. Life got in the way. But that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of stories from that wondrous, strange journey that was most definitely not a cruise. You can catch up on the previous Enrichment Voyage posts over here. Or, if you prefer, you can also start from the top and read all the stories, oldest to newest, in one long post.

I'll keep posting Enrichment Voyage stories here and there, I promise. For now, here's something to keep the narrative thread going, albeit slowly and slightly. 

This is a post I wrote for Enrichment Voyage's very own blog. I think it pretty well sums up the overall experience. 

Large structure: Fortaleza Real Felipe, Callao, Peru.
Small structure: Nativity scene
One of the great joys of travel is the strange combinations and juxtapositions it creates. High culture meets low, foreign meets familiar, and even the most commonplace tableaux take on a new surrealism when paired in unexpected ways.

It is not terribly remarkable when I tell you that I saw many elaborate, handmade nativity scenes in Peru, the exact sort of large-ish but not quite life-size creches that you might expect to see on church lawns back home in the states.

It’s a lot more interesting when I tell you that I saw one such large display — roughly four feet by four feet by four feet, featuring all the expected characters, plus blinking lights and Christmas carols rendered in electronic bleating from unseen speakers — behind the counter of a post office.

Even more unexpected was the similar display I saw the next day. This one was built using an oak table and assorted other pieces seemingly bought at a thrift store, and stood inside Fortaleza Real Felipe, a historic fort that is also still an active military installation. (I learned this latter fact when I started wandering aimlessly and was confronted by a man in a flak jacket.)

Nativity scenes? Seen ‘em. Post offices and forts? Nothing to write home about. Nativity scenes inside forts and post offices? Wait, what?!

And one of the great joys of the Enrichment Voyage, too, has been just this: the strange, sublime combinations.

For example: Today, I went zip-lining. Then I had dinner with civil rights leader Julian Bond (former head of the NAACP, among many other things).

These are not sentences that should make sense together, not in the way that I understood the world to work before I boarded the ship. And yet. Both of these things happened today, and it felt like the most normal, obvious sequence of events.Or, a few days back, I saw dolphins for the first time in my life. Hundreds of them, frolicking in our wake. They were so close to us that I could see their exact coloring, so close that I swear I made eye contact with one of them before it disappeared back into the water, nose-first and nearly splashless in that enchanting, uniquely dolphin way. I was giddy; so were the dozens of people crammed against the railing.

Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe it’ll be empanadas with an ousted government official followed by a lecture on tree frogs. Maybe it’ll be a tour of a historically important church and an impromptu Project Runway marathon, with the father of modern reality television providing a commentary track. I have no idea. But I can’t wait to find out.

A short time later, I went to hear Sandra Day O’Connor. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. She talked about Supreme Court firsts, not that it really mattered what she talked about, because (let’s face it) we all would have been rapt no matter what she said. And once again, the sequence of events — scores of dolphins, then a speech from an esteemed Supreme Court justice — felt entirely natural, somehow.

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