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When the tour guide requested that the group of fifteen return to the bus in half an hour, everyone was accounted for except for a solo male traveler. Someone went back to the Irish cemetery to see if he had gotten lost meandering through the gravesites. Finally, the bus driver maneuvered the road a mile down to the center of town if he had thought that was our meeting spot. There he was sitting on a bench unperturbed. He hopped on the bus without apologizing for holding up the rest of the group. It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth on the first day of travel together.

This proper gentleman in his late sixties joined a backroads tour through southern Ireland. He stayed to himself, respectfully skirting the usual conversation with others during the "getting to know you" phase of the trip. He was guarded in answering questions from the more outspoken of the tour group. Everyone settled into gossiping about him instead. "Could he have the onset of dementia"? "What about his facial bruise stumbling entering the hotel the night before?"

Solo traveling with a tour group has its own set of challenges. You have to step out of your comfort zone and reach out a bit more to engage with fellow travelers or remain elusive and hopefully satisfied like this gentleman.

One noontime on a quick lunch stop in Kinsale, County Cork, I went down the street to the Lemon Leaf Café with a couple of retired ER nurses from Seattle. I found that we had similar interests. Although they had been working pals for decades, they accepted the third person readily.

The small café was packed, and we had to find a seat on a semi-enclosed porch to the rear at a table for four. Still, we were elbow-to-elbow with other tables. We began pouring over a very extensive menu of healthy choices. While doing so, a little bird perched on the top of the extra chair wanting a bit of company. We took turns shooing the birdy away.





The wooden chair sat there empty in a room packed with diners until one of the nurses spied the solo gentleman searching for a table from the front of the café. She went to invite him over, and he appeared pleased by the smile on his face and the softening of his shoulders. We carried on our discussion and made sure to include him. Little by little, he opened up about himself. He had retired from a government job in Chicago and now had time for travel. He had traveled with two others in the past, and it seemed that both could no longer handle it. One of the nurses checked his bruise and asked if he was continuing to have a headache. He replied, "I'll be OK. I was disoriented when I arrived. Jet lag."

After we finished our lunch and separated on the sidewalk, I asked the ER nurses if he sounded like he had dementia. They were a little vague but thought that he was OK to be on his own for the time being.

You couldn't say that the solo gentleman ever warmed up to the group, although he appeared to be enjoying himself more and more. It might be best to leave it at that without reading into the story.



It's all in the art of the display. That introductory lesson I learned from my dad, a competent and successful retailer. High-end stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, or sidewalk sales in small-town Americana, follow the exact same principle.

When I walked out of a restaurant in Vila Real, Portugal, and directly across the brick road, there was a vendor that made me look twice at his assorted wares arrangement. My dad's wisdom came into play. It was a colorful and neat presentation with the plaid blanket as the finishing touch. The battered truck was clean, and the rusted hubcaps washed of traveling on muddy roads, telling me that the owner had pride in his work. He was ready for business.

Up and down the street, other vendors had similar hats, baskets, and hides for reasonable prices, in my opinion. I didn't cross over to examine items closer for fear that I would be required to put my bargaining skills into practice. (I'm excellent at that if you want to know).

Funny thing, though. If I had walked over to take a second look, one or more hospitable folks would have come out from under the coolness of the awning to tackle the sale. It wasn't a tourist town by any means, and the products were for the consumption of the local Thursday morning farmers market.

Not in need of another straw hat that I couldn't stuff in my suitcase anyhow, I strolled on to the bus stop where poultry, vegetables, and fruits keep my eyes roving from place to place.


Before the El Salvadorian girl spots me and turns away, or her father glances over his shoulder, checking on her, and frowns at my invasiveness, I shoot the photo. Although El Salvadorians genuinely are happy people, they do not have frequent opportunities to engage with Americans in smaller towns, so not much English is spoken. I move on as quickly as possible into the mass of people and don't look back.


When I return home and study my trip photos from Central America, this particular one refocuses on my love of capturing children's images, who are so unassuming.


The diminutive school girl observes passersby's outside the market in the late afternoon when life reawakens from midday siestas in Conception De Ataco, Ahuachapán. It's been an oppressively hot day, I recall, and while the heat is diminishing with the late winter sun setting, the community is taking advantage of it. There's a festive nature in the air from locals shopping for dinner and the few tourists searching local arts and crafts stalls. The street bustles with uniformed students and their parents. In many cases, it is multi-generational, too, and they weave in and out of shops arm-in-arm. Often a car or delivery truck beeps its horn, and the frustrated driver waves his arm out the window to get the attention of people in his way., There are no sidewalks, and careful footing is required to dodge the potholes.


The schoolgirl puts her backpack down and poses with her hands on her back, which pushes out her stomach so typical of kids anywhere in the world waiting patiently in the doorway. Her yellow bow in her ponytail gives the impression that looking one's best is valued in her home. On the other hand, the boots are for convenience, and her walk home is on dusty and muddy side roads accompanied by a stray dog or goat. Probably school sneakers or shoes is one of her backpack items, and hopefully several books. In El Salvador and other Central American countries, mandatory education goes up through fourth grade in public schools funded by the government. Looks can be deceiving, and determining age is difficult. Central Americans are short in stature, and unless you engage in Spanish conversation with them, your guess is as good as mine as to her age.




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