“In an instant, our sense of the here and now that we’re a part of expands exponentially, and everything around us is so vivid and intensely experienced that it’s like waking up while already awake.” ~ Tony Hiss, “Wonderlust,” from The American Scholar (Tony Hiss writes about how to regain the sense of wonder that we all experience as children. Travel, in a variety of forms, makes it easier.)
In San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico…From Calle Recreo, if you don’t have a car to drive the zigzag route up the hillside, you have to walk up the Bajada del Chorro’s cobblestones or winding steps to get to the church of Santa Cruz (built in the 16th century and one of the oldest structures in San Miguel de Allende). Every time I’ve hiked this street I’ve ended up out of breath at the top. At 6,000 feet, the air in this city is thinner than it is at sea level and the streets are more than simply hilly — think vertical, in some cases — and all are laid in cobblestone.
Every day the bells of La Capilla de Santa Cruz del Chorro ring out along with the bird calls and the music from the Casa de la Cultura next door. During the week local school children come to the culture center for band practice and dance. Music floats through the pecan trees and fills the air from mid-afternoon until dark. At other times of the day it’s quiet. A place to dance and play becomes a place to meditate.
When I was here in February, a man on crutches made his way, one careful step at a time, up this steep and winding and long set of steps every day to attend mass at the little chapel. Afterwards, he inched his way back down. I imagine this daily pilgrimage took enormous stamina and even more patience.
On Saturday afternoon the church was filled and spilling out into the courtyard. It was a bright, sunny day and people gathered on benches in the shade amongst the pretty pink bougainvillea blossoms to listen to the service.
Have you ever sat on a park bench or a plushy couch in the mall and watched the people go by and wondered about their lives? Ever wanted to be a fly on the wall somewhere? I felt a little like this, watching this man make his daily trip to and from mass. I watched from the rooftop terrace of my casa at the bottom of the hill. I realized that what I like best about travel are the images that stick with me, these special (and often very ordinary) moments in time. Though dozens of others were making the same trek and passing him going up and down, I don’t remember anything about them.
Travel for me always holds the possibility of recapturing a sense of wonder. Wonder is so alive in childhood, but it seems most of us get busy with the everyday routine of living and we lose it. Sometimes we can recapture it when our children are little by taking advantage of the opportunity to “see” the world, again, through the eyes of a child. When you look through a younger set of eyes you never miss a butterfly or a flower or an extraordinary, ordinary moment.