by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
Traveling allows one to see more than big buildings or strange landscapes. It lets us explore new ways of doing things, new smells and delightful tastes. We traveled for ten years to fifty-seven countries and learned more than we could have sitting in front of a television set. Some ideas and tastes we liked, others we rejected. The hardest part of experiencing new ideas is withholding judgment and remembering that there is no right or wrong way to do many things. We do something a certain way because our mothers taught us how she did it.
People everywhere have the same needs in everyday life. We need food, housing, sleep and a place for relieving ourselves. From the wide streets in the U.S. to the dirt roads in Africa, everyday life goes on. Women shop, cook, wash and care for their families, men find ways to provide.
We traveled by motor home in Mexico, Central America and Europe. In Asia, Africa and South America, we traveled by whatever means we could. We made our way by boats, buses, trains, planes, elephants, and camels, staying in hotels and Youth Hostels when we could.
We rented houses and apartments if we planned on staying for any length of time. In the motor home we prepared our own meals, one of the benefits of traveling like a snail.
We shopped in large supermarkets (found in every large city in the world), small markets, from street vendors and at festivals. In Mexico we watched the hands pound the corn meal, cook the tortillas and hold them while filling the tacos. When someone paid them, they put plastic bags on their hands to collect the dirty coins. In many street eateries, the dishes are covered by plastic bags, the food placed on the plastic which comes off and is discarded. No dirty dishes to stack up.
In Europe, in the supermarkets, if you touch any fruit or vegetable without putting on one of the plastic gloves provided like plastic bags, women will grab your arm and wag their fingers at you. Picking the fruit and vegetables, it is the responsibility of the buyer to put them on a scale push the button with the picture of the object and stick the sticker with bar code on the bag. The checker only has to ring up the sale, making paying much faster than the ones here. In Africa, the salesperson picks the fruit and vegetables for the buyer.
In Italy, cooked spinach is sold by the softball size sphere. All over Europe, the buyer is greeted by an overabundance of cheeses and deli choices. In some stores, there may be a hundred different cheeses and an equal number of prepared deli meats. In Meteora, Greece, we watched the butcher stuff the sausages into the guts, dust them with dry oregano and bag them for us. Now that’s fresh.
In Greece, we met a sales girl who had lived in Chicago for several years. She informed us that Greek people never eat eggs for breakfast, or cereal with milk. The gooier the bun, the more popular it is.
In Spain, at a lovely old hotel that included breakfast (and allowed our dog); I asked if I could have an egg. You might have thought I asked for mud by the look the waitress shot at me. Instead, they did provide yogurt, bread and olive oil along with little boxes of cereal and pitchers of milk and juice. I watched a party of large people each put eight to ten slices of bread on their plates, pour a full cup of olive oil over the slices and eat it with great delight.
We quickly found that bacon is not cooked until crispy. The soft fat attached to the strips of meat is devoured with relish. I pulled them off and gave them to the dog. As far as we could tell, only in the U.S. is bacon cooked until crisp and brown. Sometimes we missed our way of cooking.
Another thing we found in all over the world is a lack of simple lunches. While sightseeing, we wanted only a sandwich and a cup of coffee. You can’t order a light lunch without taking out a bank loan. For the first time in my life, I ate at McDonalds where I could get a small hamburger, drink and fries. We found that to be true almost everywhere.
In Asia, India and Africa, there is no difference of choices for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If they are lucky enough to have food, they eat what they have. It is only the rich who can count on food being available all the time.
Another strange custom we found in Thailand is their aversion to women’s underwear. Laundry was included in our Bangkok rent. The first week they took the basket and returned it with all the clothes clean and folded. I found my dirty underpants under the clean items. Not knowing why, I hand washed my lingerie. The second time it happened I asked the landlord what was going on. He explained that men ran the laundry and would not walk under women’s panties hanging on a line. He found a laundry that used dryers and the problem was solved.
Later, when we moved to Chaing Mai and lived on a street with family homes, I watched the women wash clothes for two years. Even those with little children, never had any underwear hanging on the clothes lines. Where they hung them to dry remains a mystery to this day. The funny thing is that every street market (and there are lots) had vendors selling racks of panties of every style and color, including some sold at Victoria’s Secret. Unused are okay.
In Asia, along the streets, there is always food cooking. Most people don’t even have a kitchen in their homes. When looking to rent an apartment, we had to look for ‘European or Western apts.’ Those had a refrigerator and a hot plate. Woks with frying insects, or sharks fins and or bird nests soup simmer on every block. All food is liberally topped with chilies that can take paint off of automobiles.
Traveling is fun. You never know what you’re going to see and learn.