As I was getting ready for a recent trip to see the sights in South America, I tried to make sure I didn’t forget anything crucial.
Going to a foreign country isn’t like going to Florida or even Hawaii–where you know that if you forget your travel-sized hair spray, you can always pop into the closest CVS and buy some. This is like going to Mars, where you don’t even know if the locals have heard of hair spray—or how to make it clear what we want.
I’m not exaggerating—based on a trip we took to Peru several years ago. Norman and I emerged from several days of touring in the desert with very dry lips. When we got off a plane on the way to Lake Titicaca, we told our driver we needed to stop for chapped-lips salve. She kept telling us she’d get us some “lipstick,” and we kept insisting we needed medication, not a cosmetic. Would you believe, in Peru, the word for “ChapStick” is “lipstick”?
Even in England, getting what you want is not a sure thing. On one trip to London, I ordered “chicken salad” at a restaurant. What I got was a naked chicken breast lying on a bed of lettuce. And don’t get me started about the one-lane roads in the Scottish Highlands, where you may have to back up along the side of a cliff if you encounter a car coming toward you.
I don’t have a bottle of nail polish remover small enough to put in my carry-on. (Once I tried putting nail polish remover in another bottle, and the plastic melted. Kid you not!) So I had to pack it in my checked luggage. But what if the checked luggage doesn’t arrive when we do? That happened to us on a trip to Greece, where we were leaving Athens for a bus tour of the ancient sites. We spent three days waiting for our suitcases to catch up with us in Marathon. Norman had to buy undershirts and briefs at a high-priced Greek clothing shop. (Now I’ve convinced him to carry some clean clothing in his carry-on.)
Our friends who are just back from South America told us “Nobody in Argentina speaks English.”This led me to brush up my Spanish before we left, although that wasn’t much good in Brazil—where the language is Portuguese. But you can’t scare yourself to death going up in the ski lift to Sugarloaf Mountain unless you go to Rio.
Rebecca York’s latest Decorah Security novella is Hollow Moon: