I jumped and turned to see a grizzled little man wearing an expression that attempted, without conspicuous success, to look engaging and trustworthy. Nearly everywhere in the world, legitimate taxi drivers are obliged to wait outside of train stations and airports, and guidebooks urge you to avoid scam artists who accost foreign tourists inside transportation hubs. Even without such warnings, we had only to look at this fellow to know we wanted no part of whatever he was offering. He definitely fit the shifty-eyed, tattooed profile, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend twenty minutes with him to see if he exceeded the average life expectancy of his kind.
It was the only time in the entire trip that we skipped the ritual coffee that we have upon arrival in any new town, and halfway to the hotel, we suddenly realized what we’d done. Our ritual coffee is, of course, less about coffee than about catching our breath, making sure we know where we’re going and how to get there, and – let me underscore this point – figuring out where there’s a cash machine so we can get enough local currency for our immediate needs. We had not obtained any Bulgarian lev and were now in the awkward position of hurtling toward our destination without the ability to pay our fare.
Later, after we’d overpaid and heavily tipped our cab driver in Romanian currency, which he was kind enough to accept, I thought about the small rituals that Rich and I have developed in our travels, and how they help us stay on an even keel in tumultuous circumstances. For instance, we always carry with us a small cloth frame containing the silliest photos taken of each of us at our wedding. Over the years, it has become festooned with various talismans, such as a string given us by a Buddhist monk in Bhutan and various crosses and medals from sacred shrines. We don’t really believe it brings us luck – but we don’t leave home without it.
These small rituals have become very comforting to us on the road. By the time we’ve greeted a new place, sipped our coffee at the station, and set our silly photos in a place of honor in our new digs, we know that wherever we are is home.