See the World, Free Your Mind

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world can be a transformational experience.

To Eric, my first editor

In third grade, a girl from my school died in a car accident.

I vividly remember hopping on the yellow bus with a few dozen other kids to go to her service without knowing what to expect. We probably were just vaguely excited about skipping class.

After seeing the face of a sleeping doll with pigtails in her open casket, the mood was decidedly different. On the way back, we were quiet and silent—profoundly changed by the funerary field trip.

Traveling to the other side of the city or the world on a sad or happy occasion can be a transformational experience: the physical commuting triggers an inner journey that continues unfolding for the rest of our lives.

In “The Philosophy of Travel, ” George Santayana wrote,” “Locomotion—the privilege of animals—is perhaps the key to intelligence.” Seeing the world with an open heart and mind, as kids usually do, is critical to transcend propaganda.

Visit the locations of our history books to learn what they don’t teach you in school. Being in “the room where it happened,” whether Charleston‘s Old Slave Mart Museum or Lisbon‘s Monument of the Discoveries, shatters stereotypes.

Like going to Mexico City and realizing its world-class museums and cosmopolitan rooftop bars have nothing to do with the dodgy picture delivered by American media, or traveling to Bourdeaux and finding the friendliest locals appreciative of your efforts to communicate in broken French.

“We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate,” wrote Pico Iyer in “Why We Travel.”

After visiting the Faroe Islands, online trolls scolded me. “Congratulations on supporting animal cruelty,” they said, referring to the ancient practice of whaling. But going beyond bloody YouTube videos and into the heart of the foggy Northern European archipelago was illuminating. It taught me their hunting is non-commercial, humane and environmentally sustainable. 

Touring Seville‘s Bullring Real Maestranza Museum was uneasy until we discovered the chapel where matadors pray before facing the magnificent beast with reverence. Learning more about the solemn ritual shifted my perception. And, though I probably still wouldn’t attend a bullfight, I found myself capable of respecting a different cultural practice. 

“The world never quits growing on us. It’s just as vast as ever, and it reinvents itself every day,” Bill Bryson aptly wrote in “The Best American Travel 2000.” And, though rewarding, the experience can be an unsettling one.

The images of the falling Wall from my teenage years colored my first visit to Berlin in 2007. I was delighted with a sense of optimism and possibility, different from my post-social media/COVID trip to the German city (photo featured), shaped by the historical and geographical proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The French election of a lifetime, between President Emmanuel Macron and rightwing hardliner Marine Le Pen, was also momentous. Fresh off the Trump years, an American in Paris was an ominous walking-and-talking warning. So much was a stake for France, the European Union and the world. We dodged a bullet, for now.

The most important lessons? Progress is not a straight line. And, as John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charlie: In Search of America,” “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

At a trying time for millions of Americans’ rights, including women and LGBTQ+ families, celebrating the old USA’s birthday in Provincetown, the birthplace of American freedom, still committed to liberty after more than four centuries, was reaffirming.

I wish cultural warriors had a peak at so much love between people from all walks of life. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” wrote Mark Twain in “The Innocents Abroad.”

Perhaps, I’m overly optimistic and, as Maya Angelou said, “travel cannot prevent bigotry.” But even the legendary poet and civil-rights activist believed there could be hope. “[…] by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends,” she concluded.

I Didn’t Take a Pill in Ibiza

These aren’t your party monster friend’s Balearic Islands.

Maybe I’m old.

But I didn’t see the appeal of flying to the stunning Balearic Islands to jump around with glow sticks.

Been there. Done That.

Instead, our first trip to Ibiza was marked by what the kids used to call “chillaxing.”

Do they even say that anymore?

Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, Spain

We flew in through the massive Madrid airport and spent 24 hours in the capital.

I don’t mean to take sides in one of Spain’s most iconic rivalries, but I like Barcelona.

Don’t get me wrong, Madrid is nice enough. But I found it a tad sterile. Perhaps, I’m biased because my Latin American side is still salty about La Conquista.

The breathtaking archipelago in the western Mediterranean instantly made me forget about any historical grudge, though. 

Located 50 to 190 miles east of the Spanish mainland, it includes two major groups of islands: Mallorca and Minorca to the east, and Ibiza and Formentera to the west.

Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain

Since ancient times, their strategic position has made them vulnerable to invasions, especially from civilizations from the Far East like Byzantines and Muslims.

The Reconquista brought them back to Spain’s bosom, except for a partial British occupation in the 1700s.

Pirate raids were a problem until the 19th century when a budding tourism industry encouraged settlement. 

La Granja, Ibiza, Spain

The first sign we weren’t in your party monster friend’s Ibiza was La Granja. This hotel/farm is a quiet oasis.

Located in Sant Antony de Portmany, 14 miles from the Ibiza center, this “monastically chic” hideout of only nine bedrooms encourages a shared experience.

La Granja, Ibiza, Spain

They serve the meals at a communal table. If you’re planning on joining for dinner, by midday, you tell the chef which, from the just-harvested ingredients, you wish to enjoy. Daily sunset pool parties with a DJ will have you dancing until the stars appear.

Suppose you want to take a break from exploring the island’s idyllic calas (coves) but also don’t feel like spending your day by the pool sipping cocktails.

In that case, La Granja offers daily “rituals” to explore the farm’s journey, from witnessing crop harvests to workshops about biodynamic agriculture.

La Granja, Ibiza, Spain

I know what you’re thinking by now: I can get used to this. But, as tempting as it sounds, you have to get out of your butt and explore the island. And that’s precisely what we did on Day 2.

We drove about 5 miles northwest to the coastal village of Sant Josep de sa Talaia to enjoy calas Codolar and Comte. 

The beaches are located at 10 to 15-minute walks from the main road, through a stiff rock climb. But it’s all more than worthy.

Make sure you bring sneakers or crocs, as it’d be easier to complete the path than if you wore flip flops.

Sant Josep de sa Talaia Ibiza, Spain

Another magical experience is visiting the sister island Formentera, 14 miles to the south.

Accessible via ferry or rental boat, the latter will give you the chance to enjoy paddle boarding or snorkeling in the unbelievable Balearic Sea.

We departed mid-morning from the Sant Josep marina. After a few dips in the crystal clear warm waters, we had worked up an appetite to enjoy lunch in one of the Formentera beach restaurants.

The chiringuitos have little boats that pick you up by your anchored vessel. We decided to swim, which took us about 20 minutes.

Neighbor boat Anchored at Formentera beach

You won’t find better fish and seafood anywhere else, I promise.

Mediterranean cuisine comes together in all its splendor in any of these places. Being fresh off the turquoise waters only enhances the experience. 

Witnessing the server expertly

filet the fish in front of our eyes on the table was one of the most satisfying parts of the experience.

After such a feast, I was definitely not swimming back to the boat. Send the water taxi!

Formentera beach lunch

With our bellies full, we returned to Claudio, our captain, who was originally from Argentina and had moved to the Balearics five years ago.

Welcoming a chance to use my Spanish, and since the rest of my party was in a food coma, my inner journalist came out, and I continued interviewing Claudio.

He told me that when visitors from America and other parts of Europe dried up in the low tourist season, he and other boat people volunteered to rescue North African refugees adrift in the open sea.

Balearic Sea, Spain

As the sun came down over this sea that had just given us so many memorable experiences, it wasn’t hard to imagine how the same place might feel hopeless for those less fortunate.

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