It all began with an iPhone, an 80-year-old man, a cement truck, and a street barely wide enough for two donkeys to pass without their ears scraping.
I was in Victoria late last week—the main city, dead center of Gozo, the #2 island in Malta.
I was traveling again on business—finally! A joy! And I was on the hunt for the Black Cat Café for a quick breakfast before heading off to gather intel on the island.
Siri’s GPS sister, whatever her name is, told me to “make a right” on a street I cannot pronounce or even type the name of because it relies on Maltese letters that were sent to Earth from another planet. Well, turns out Siri’s GPS sister is an idiot.
Or maybe I am.
Either way, I ended up on the wrong street—an alleyway that grew increasingly narrow. Clearly, wrong way, Siri’s Sister!
hough I was in a tiny Citroen SUV-ish go-cart. I couldn’t back out of the serpentine alley, bordered on either side by the sandstone walls of ancient apartment buildings.
An octogenarian out for his morning constitutional happened upon the hapless American, and realizing this hapless American’s predicament, commandeered the commander’s seat and expertly freed the Citroen go-cart from the sandstone alleyway.
I thanked him profusely, hopped in, and drove off…
Only to immediately come face-to-face with a cement truck on the aforementioned street on which two donkeys could barely pass.
No way both of us were getting through at the same moment. In the game of rock-paper-scissors, Cement Truck always beats Go-Cart. So, I slammed my car into reverse and backed up…right into a car directly behind me, which I didn’t see because being a hapless American driving on the wrong side of the car, I reflexively looked over the wrong shoulder.
What a morning…
I broke the victim’s headlight. Cracked the front fascia. Slightly dented his hood.
The Gozitan driver was kind. He was in a hurry. He understood the pleadings of the hapless American idiot driving from the wrong side of the vehicle, in a town he’s never previously visited, on an ancient street that is seriously too narrow for two-way traffic, particularly when one of the vehicles is a cement truck.
He wanted €100 to make the whole thing go away and not deal with cops and rental-car companies.
And, so, I left the scene of the crime with a lighter wallet. (Anyone know if this is a reimbursable expense? Or is this just the cost of being a hapless American driver on the wrong side of the car?)
Which brings me to the message of today’s dispatch: Even when it’s bad, when it’s a hassle, when you just want to scream at the travel gnomes…travel is great—a fact you come to realize even more in this post-pandemic age.
I’ve gotten into various predicaments all over the world. Kidnapped for a few hours in Changsha, China. Caught a bug in Burma that worked better than any diet you can imagine for losing 15 pounds in six months. Had a “cop” try to shake me down in Bogota, Colombia. Ended up in a Chinese emergency room after scalding my hand on egg-drop soup hot enough to heat the sun.
Hassles one and all. So frustrating at times you want to punch a wall. And, yes, with some—particularly the kidnapping—I was furious.
But all of these are the moments that make travel memorable.
I mean, I could have been hard at work last Thursday—or, at least, grudgingly at work—at a desk in a cubicle somewhere, eagerly awaiting my hour of allotted lunchtime, at a job I tolerate at best.
But, instead, I was traveling on assignment in the 69th country I’ve visited. A rocky, picturesque island in the southern Mediterranean, with history dating back nearly 8,000 years.
It’s a wonderful, enlightening, educational, experiential way to live.
So, I thanked the travel gnomes and headed off to a medieval citadel (the one pictured above).
I won’t tell you about waking up Friday to a flat tire I had to change in a hot, hotel garage at 7:30 a.m. after already showering and checking out. That’s a different story.
Enjoy your travels… no matter what.