Fast Notes in a Slow Journal – Spain and Portugal

Spain – with my mother,  as usual. My travels are not the ideal. I’m not going to list the best restaurants in Madrid, nor the most interesting Gaudi houses in Barcelona.  I will tell you how to journal while you are there.   

I travel with tour groups, because I often travel with my mother, who is inching into the elderly column, as in, if you need help boarding early, children or the elderly, please step to the front of the line.  We do.  No one argues.

It is not an ideal way to travel. It’s not romantic or adventurous (well, sometimes it’s adventurous).  But traveling with mom does allow me the luxury of visiting beautiful foreign ports I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to see.


Taken by the author with her iPhone

For creatives, traveling in a pack or with a high maintenance partner can be downright aggravating.    I am often distracted by the requirements of a large group shuffling from here to there, the required transportation (the damn buses, which have been re-branded as “coaches”  do not be fooled) and of course, my mother who I do not leave alone for more than a minute or two at a time.  Because that’s my job – care for her.  Instead of craning my neck to see the carvings on The Sagrada Familia I’m watching the steps so she doesn’t trip.

On many trips, I even shared a room with her.  Just sit with that for a minute,  sharing a room with your elderly mother for two weeks.  Watch this space for the St. Petersburg visit.

Where then, do I retreat for a little privacy?  My journal of course.  Like all journals, it serves as a space for rants, impressions, more rants and way to capture my experiences without the need or requirement to share or explain, it is where I can go for my own time.

It is indispensable.

Which is why I have a journal for every trip.  Journal Page for Spain 

I am sharing my experiences with travel and journaling because I cannot be the only woman in the world who is the ad hoc partner for an elderly woman hell-bent on traveling the world before she dies.

One recent trip was to Spain and Portugal.  Mom booked a Grand Circle Tour which translates to busses and many slowly moving travelers exiting and entering said busses.  As inauthentic as a tour experience is supposed to be,  I am more than happy with the service, accommodations, and guides provided by GCT as well as Overseas Adventure Travel (we take more OAT tours as a rule).  A  (good)  tour eliminates the conversation about where to stay, deletes the backseat debate on which highway will lead us safely out of downtown, or not.  And tour guides are handy arbitrators of what, exactly, is the point of any and all public art.   Having driven through Ireland with mom’s help, eliminating that particular activity has its benefits. 

Reviewing the journals, I noticed how happy I was to get my own seat on the god damn bus so I could have some privacy.  I was also delighted we stayed in a small apartment in Madeira so I could sit in my own separate living room (and write about how happy I was).  And I cherished the few hours exploring Barcelona after mom went to bed.

The page featured here is less about being fabulously creative, and about just making due.    

I write on both an iPad (or laptop depending on the trip) as well as a paper-based journal (during our trip to France, this was a critical feature).  The advantage of a paper-based journal is, interestingly, the immediacy. Grab a map, grab a beer coaster and make quick notes either while waiting in line for the single toilet, or while bumping along in the bus, or in the restaurant while your mother finishes her beer.  A paper journal can be faster than typing on your phone.  It can be more friendly than keeping your head down scrolling through recent photos (save that for the bus ride).   

What surprised and delighted me with Spain was the number of poems I created, all the result of grabbing time and making sure I always had the materials. 

One afternoon we all dutifully trooped through a resort town on the coast of Portugal.  We were guided to a restaurant famous for their chicken.  But the chicken wasn’t inspirational, the toilet was.   

The cafe in Carcais:
Its famous chicken
single toilet
long line

an Aussie girl
shrugs off a lumpy  backpack
surreptitiously brushes the sand
from her legs

She is slender and tan
filling her bikini top will transitory youth.
She eyes the single sink
Naked longing in her blue eyes.
She can’t wash her feet
with all of us watching
She tells me this is
The closest free bathroom
To her camp

She not only pees
But devotes long minutes to the
tricky business
Of striping a wet swimsuit over salty skin
She is practiced, but not fast

The ladies  sigh as she emerges
Wearing the  floaty tied dyed dress
We all saw waving like victory flags
outside every truck stop in Spain.

This is month six
She with her almost fiancé
Is heading to France next – maybe
By train as a treat.

the  third class train cabin
Hot, crowded, sink so small
You can’t fit your hands, let alone
Sandy feet.

She edges past women who carry maps
Itineraries, guides, requests for air conditioning
I watch her return to her story
sand,  salt , sun

I remember the sand and the salt
Washing in a car park sink
More energy than cash
Fueled by only love and stories

I assure my elderly mother
This is a Western toilet.


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