There are very few perfect moments in life. And when you travel a lot, moments tend to blend together.
When perfect moments do happen in travel, I’ve found they tend to be random.
You may have noticed that when you plan something thoroughly, it rarely turns out just like you envisioned it. If you’re a person who doesn’t allow any room for maneuver, travel for you will likely be a nightmare unless you opt for an all-inclusive package (which by the way can also fall short of its promise).
But such packages don’t tend to yield perfect moments – spontaneity adds to their perfection, the very fact that they’re unexpected.
So here are some random travel moments I still remember and cherish.
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Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence
I met this girl at the hostel. All I remember about her is that she was from India and that we clicked and decided to explore the city together for a day or two. We walked along the Arno River and climbed up to Piazzale Michelangelo.
I also clearly remember thinking at the time that it was one of the most beautiful moments I’d lived – the colors of the sunset with the colors of the city and the Arno. Watching it from above while sipping on white wine and listening to a woman play the violin. All at the same time, like a perfectly aligned constellation.
Karaoke bar in Madrid
I don’t recall the name of the karaoke bar, but I do very much recall the company and the song I sang.
I was with my friend of 15 years, with whom I share a birthday, nationality and similar tastes. He was showing me around his new port of call, and we randomly walked into this bar, because why not.
We looked through the songbook and picked “What’s Up,” by 4 Non Blondes. I don’t think I’d sung that song at karaoke before, but for some reason it was ingrained in my soul. When I sang it, it sounded like the whole bar was singing it with me in unison. I knew no one there except for my friend, which made that outcome even more special.
Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala
So much activity was compressed into this trip with friends and (former) boyfriend that it’s hard to recall what happened where. But the day at Pacaya was especially memorable.
I got altitude sickness worse than everyone else and had to be carried on the back of a donkey to make it up to the volcano. Once there, we got so close to the lava that we could feel the blazing heat on our skin, and even poked it with our walking sticks.
There was no guardrail or a guide keeping us cordoned off. I got the feeling that this close brush with the lava would be a unique experience for me – and so far, I was right.
Hongkeng Village, China
We got to see some “real” residences, other than the old well preserved “World Heritage” roundhouses serving as inns and museums. A little bit of the untidy outside the gates.
The mental snapshot I hold dearest from that jaunt is the only time I managed to say something in Mandarin to a Chinese person actually living in China and actually be understood. I said one of the few phrases I randomly retained from my language lessons long ago: “I play basketball.”
The little boy I said it to actually happened to be playing basketball, and we shot some hoops together. The smiles he and who I assume was his mother gave me were priceless. They didn’t even think I was crazy.
The Sahara Desert (Morocco section)
This was a real adventure. Setting out from Marrakesh, my travel buddy and I crossed the Atlas Mountains in a van with several other tourists, a slightly crazy guide and a guy driving fast past the cliffs.
More than once, I seriously thought we were going to fall off into oblivion. But we didn’t, and the reward was spending a night in the Sahara Desert.
We rolled down the dunes, giggling like little kids, and some people buried themselves in the sand until we could only see their heads. The highlight was smoking hash with the Moroccans while lying on the sand and looking up at a sky so covered with stars that one could barely see the spaces between them.
I haven’t seen a sky that starry before or since. I wish I’d known more of the map of the sky, so I could have named what I was seeing.
The Atlantic Ocean (Western Cape coast)
For that morning in Cape Town, I’d gone to Kirstenbosh Garden, which was already the prettiest botanical garden I’d ever been to. But I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
I’d run into a girl who just happened to be staying at the same hostel as I was, and she told me she’d come via the sightseeing bus – whose all-day ticket was almost the same as I’d paid for my one-way Uber.
With an hour and a half to spare before meeting a friend in town, I decided to just hop on the bus with her, without knowing where this route would lead to.
I kept having to message my friend to tell him I’d be late: Riding along the coast, on the upper deck of the bus, I was suddenly blown away by the conjugation of mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and local life sparkling against a splendidly sunny day. And mind you, I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, famous for its mountains and blue skies and the same ocean.
But I must admit the view along the coast by Cape Town was especially gorgeous. Partly because I was so surprised to bump into it during a ride on the very touristy bus I’d found way overpriced everywhere. This one is a total bargain, though, for what you get. (See “Blue Route.”)