Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Joys of Poking Around

After four long days of driving, we settled into our first digs in Sedona, Arizona. We’d been urged to go there by friends – “It’s so beautiful,” they said. And it is: red rock canyons, clear blue skies, amazing sunsets.

 And hotels. Lots and lots of hotels. And condos and time shares. Golf courses, helicopter rides, guided tours.  Fancy restaurants. And, of course, tourists!

I have become a bit jaded when it comes to travelling. After our 2015 trip to France, while walking through big and small towns, I sometimes felt like I was walking through a theme park staged just for us. So much of our world is turning to tourism as a lucrative industry to replace the small businesses that have been wiped out by the big boys of commerce. They need to find ways to make a living, so they turn to B&Bs, special attractions, cafes and souvenir shops for their income. They spruce up the village square, polish the big church bell, put potted red geraniums everywhere, and voila! Wherever you look, you find another postcard-worthy scene. It’s great for a while, but then you begin to wonder, “What’s life like here when the lights go out on the tourists?”  When you decide to find out, you stop being a tourist and become a traveller.

The life that goes on after the tourists go home is the part I like most about travelling. You can find it if you engage in the activity of poking around. When you are poking around, you don’t know what you will find, but often it is what sticks in your mind and what gives you stories to tell.

For instance, when we were poking around in Hawaii a few years ago, we came across a local farmer’s market. The farmers were selling big bunches of basil and bags of macadamia nuts for dirt cheap. The cottage we’d rented had a food-processor and some empty jars, and we had bought some good olive oil and garlic. What else could I do but make macadamia nut pesto? We had enough for several good pasta meals, plus a bottle I froze and packed in my suitcase. If you poke around, it’s what you get as a souvenir instead of the wall plaque featuring a hula dancer and a palm tree.

So in Sedona, when we passed a farmer’s market in the parking lot of local shopping center, we stopped and poked around, bought organic salad fixings, and had a lovely meal at our rented home, a trailer parked in someone’s 1 acre yard.

We also chatted with the owner and learned lots about the vicinity. We visited the local artists’ cooperative and learned about the thriving art community there.

Inspiration for another art piece?

We picnicked in a popular park which is packed on hot summer days by the locals. We found a Christmas shop where they carried some very unique nativities to add to our collection. All in a good day’s work of poking around.

There was a quilt shop down the street from our lodgings. Of course, I had to go see what I could see.

The caption says, "Waiting for Wife." He was, in the car, with his cell phone, playing games. 
“Have you visited our quilt show at the library?” asked the shop owner. Off we went to the library located in a residential part of town. (The RS was being exceptionally indulgent that day!) The quilt show was amazing (and free!).

The library was architecturally beautiful, but that wasn’t all.  “Have you visited our used bookstore next door?” asked the librarian.

Thousands of donated books lined the shelves in a building that used to be a Buddhist meditation centre, complete with golden mandalas painted on the walls. We walked away with guide books for the area, an Audubon bird book and a few novels for our down time. Score! And as a bonus, we glimpsed what happens in that town when the tourists go home. It’s a good place to visit, but also a great place to live.

We shared our next lodgings, a house in the desert about ½ hour out of Phoenix, with my sister and brother-in-law. Now there were four of us poking around. We walked the trails at a local conservation areas, and walked the sand roads in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, when you are poking around, you may not like what you see:

I signed up for a free class with a conservation officer and a professional photographer to learn how to take better pictures, and spent a morning with them and other locals learning a lot about the flora and fauna of the area.

Poking around is also how I got to make kumquat marmalade.  Beside the patio at our home, there was a kumquat tree loaded with tiny fruits. I googled Kumquat to find out more. It turns out the skin of these oranges is sweet, and the insides are sour. You eat the skin, and toss out the insides. 

It also turns out that you can make amazing marmalade out of them. So I did. It meant scouting out a local thrift shop to find some canning jars. The thrift stores Sue and I visited in our search were run by volunteers and we had lots of fun finding out what was happening. We even got invited to the Shrove Tuesday Pancake breakfast at the local church. The end result of our poking around: I’m down to my last of three jars of the most amazing marmalade I’ve ever tasted.

Okay, please understand: I’m not against tourism. I’m not against helicopter rides with spectacular views of the canyon you can only see if you get up in the air. We’ve done some of those kinds of things, too. I’m not against hotels and restaurants and lounging around the pool while soaking up warm rays – it may be just the thing to rejuvenate you. Different strokes for different folks. It all depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. I’ll blog more about that next week.

But for the RS and me this year, poking around was the best! And I have the kumquat marmalade to prove it.  

No comments:

Post a Comment