The beauty of travel exists not so much in the landscape as in the people who make their lives in that place.
When we engage with those people, if only to ask one genuine question or listen to a synopsis of their story, we carry that place back with us, not just in photos or trinkets, but in the parts that make us who we are.
A day trip to the tourist-infested (us included) town of Saugatuck, Michigan, was not only memorable for the art, the weather, and the scenery, but for the conversations, however brief, we had with several residents.
The shop owner of Otavalito, a fair trade market, has been traveling to Ecuador for more than 25 years after visiting for the first time with her Celtic rock band. For the past 16 years, she has been selling the handmade products she brings back from her yearly visits. The top of her glass display case is covered with photos of her friends in Ecuador, and her shop is filled with music and bright colors.
Artist Janice Miles and her husband sell her art in the little shop next to Otavalito. Janice’s accent and paintings tell the story of her life in England. My daughter compliments Janice on her lacy, green tights and asks her about her first painting. Excited to share, Janice hops up from her seat where she is sketching and rifles through the stacks of prints for sale, pulling out a quaint scene from a village street in the English countryside.
D. at the incense shop misses her two grandchildren who she began to raise alone when her daughter left two years ago. The children now live with their uncle, but D. wants them back, and this is the first time she has voiced it to anyone. We answer by telling her we will pray for this, and D., who doesn’t believe whole-heartedly in all the New Age and magical products that surround us in the shop, exclaims, yes, would we please pray?
The physical therapist giving street massages and Nurse Della, a German shepherd mix, provide interesting company during the 15 minutes my daughter spends having a knot worked out of her neck. The therapist tells us about the day nine years ago he found Della lying on the highway with a shattered leg. Della is not just a companion but also a therapy dog at the local hospital. The therapist proudly shows us the dog’s hospital ID tag with a thumbnail photo of Della wearing a nurse’s hat. On this day, she is happy just to enjoy a vigorous belly massage.
We also enjoyed just being the tourists. Arriving before 11 a.m. seems a good time to beat the rush of day trippers and have a chance to talk with the locals or enjoy the company of fellow travelers.