Curiosity And Empathy, A Powerful Combination

Curiosity And Empathy

A couple of days into the solo travel part of my most recent trip, I was a bit off. After being away for more than 15 days, I was experiencing a bit of homesickness.

It’s the yin and yang of long-ish term travel. In particular, if I am on my own for extended periods of time.

I was having a rough day, didn’t venture too much or far from my Porto flat, and even ended up napping in the middle of the afternoon. After a great deal of fanfare and female energy during our Tuscany adventure and my visit with Kay Newton in Mallorca, I hit a trough. Not going to lie, I struggled with giving myself permission to feel low. I sat in it. I began questioning my overarching belief –  that I love solo travel and thrive on a nomadic lifestyle.

Could I be wrong? Or is this life like any other, with good and bad moments?

Navigating The Unknown:

She proceeded to point to an entrance to a street that until that moment was not visible to my naked eye.”

I did end up leaving my flat late that afternoon in search of a sushi restaurant I had found earlier on my smartphone from the comfort of my bed. Google maps direction at first confused me. From the blue line it appeared a straight shot. But while standing on the actual road, I could not visually see where to go. After several minutes of staring at the phone and owl-necking my head around desperately trying to “see” the road, I asked some young lovers who were sharing a coke on the embankment of the Douro river.

The young woman smiled and in wonderful English informed me that the road I searched for was directly beneath us. She proceeded to point to an entrance to a street that until that moment was not visible to my naked eye. Perhaps I’d failed to notice this street entrance because the avenue in question dropped off precipitously. Like, insanely, out-of-sight steep. Like a black-diamond-run-down-an-expert-ski-slope steep.

After a brief moment of – “Could there be an easier way?” – I began the very slow, zig zag walk down the hill. What lay before me was a very long, water-side pedestrian walkway with tons of restaurants, bars, musicians, and locals hawking their wares. A tourist haven positioned against a dramatic backdrop of majestic hills. As far as my eyes could see, spotted orange clay tiled roofs and colorful ceramic tile facades bombarded my senses. I chose to stop looking up as I walked along the narrow pathway, as it was giving me a slight sensation of vertigo. 

Even with all I know about construction and engineering (which if  I am totally honest isn’t a ton), I still marvel that these buildings stay where they are put. I digress.

The “Beef” In The Making:

in the waiting for her to return, I grew impatient”

After making my way into the center of the commercial area, I found a table at an outside cafe/bar. For those of you who travel, it was one of those situations where real estate is at such a premium that it is near impossible to tell where one establishment ends and the next one begins. I sat down and was abruptly thrown a menu by a server who moved away so fast she left a breeze. I perused the list and found a local, Portuguese gin I wanted to try. Simple enough.

But in the waiting for her to return, I grew impatient. Remember, I was not in a ‘best-self” space. And, I am sure I am not alone when I say that in those moments I feel fragile and am easily triggered. I spied a different server who looked open, friendly, and available to receive an order. I made eye contact and she very quickly informed me that I was not at a table that belonged to her restaurant. So, I quickly stood up and literally moved over one seat…. One table…. Barely any transition at all.

My server caught me – red handed”

What happened next was a matter of seconds but it set the stage. This particular bar had no interesting Portuguese gins on their menu. Once I understood that I just as quickly slipped back to my original table. No blood, no foul, right? Not so much.

My server caught me – red handed – attempting to sneak back in like nothing happened. She was not having any of it and rattled off some negative sounding Portuguese all the while waving her hand dismissively at me as she sped off. 

My immediate reaction was anger. 

What the F? I made a mistake. I am a tourist in their country. How was I supposed to know they were different establishments? How was I supposed to know not all of them had the same choices in drinks?

Then, as quickly as the anger flooded me, I made a different decision. I got curious. Why was this server taking my “which place is which” faux pax so hard? What was going on for her? 

I did end up sitting in her station. I did end up ordering the special local gin drink.(Which, by the way, was delish.) Somehow, without the benefit of language, we got to some place of equilibrium. The initial heat of the altercation dissipated with each sip of the icy, floral concoction. At least for me. My curiosity and empathy taking a stronger hold of my emotions.

Then it came time to pay. My server, not available, was helped by a younger woman with perfect English. As we were transacting the exchange of money for booze, I asked her if her colleague was ok. I told her I felt some frustration or sadness from her coworker.

This Is Where The Magic Happened:

The energy transition from animosity and mistrust to camaraderie and support was instant.”

The young lady smiled knowingly at me, told me I was quite perceptive and that the woman in question was her mother. And then, just as quickly as my failed attempt to transition seats undetected went awry, Maria, Francesca, and myself were engaged in a warm, friendly, and empowering exchange. Can’t quite call it a conversation as Maria (the Mom)  and I had to go through her daughter, Francesca. 

The energy transition from animosity and mistrust to camaraderie and support was instant. I left the bar with a sprightly step and an elevated mood. Smiling all the way back up that diamond-black ski run of a street, I was proud of myself – taking curiosity and empathy out for a spin paid off. And while the gin was tasty it was in no way responsible for the newly re-lit glow in my heart. 

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