Monday, March 31, 2008

My train trip to Morocco, I mean Philadelphia, via Trenton, New Jersey

I had a rude awakening on my Amtrak train ride from Union Station in Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia on Monday. I was dozing on the train (a two-hour trip) when someone tapped my shoulder.

"Where are you going?" asked the train conductor.
"To Philly," I replied.
"You just missed your stop," he said.
I bolted upright.
"In 28 minutes you'll be at the Trenton, New Jersey, station. You can get off there and come back."
I was annoyed with myself, but mostly, I was embarrassed to tell my cousins why I was running late for dinner.

I watched the scenery slowly roll by, knowing I was headed the wrong direction. Twenty-eight minutes have never felt so long. I arrived in Trenton, waited half an hour, then got back on the train to Philly - again. This time I did not turn on my iPod or computer.

Moments before the train left, the young woman seated in front of me flipped open her cell phone to take a call. I noticed the elaborate henna design on her right hand.

"Hi Dad.... Yes, I'm on the train, on my way home...The best part was riding the camels through the red sands of the Sahara with our guide."

From then on, I was hooked. As the train pulled out of the Trenton station, I listened shamelessly to her conversation because I wanted to learn more about the Berber nomads she had encountered. I felt an instant kinship with this fellow adventure traveler and curiosity about what inspired her to go to Morocco. At times, I strained to hear her over the noise of the train. I had so many questions: How long was she there? Was it an organized trip? What did she think of Casablanca? Soon she said goodbye to her father and was quickly dialing again. I had to make a move fast.

I leaned forward and said, "Excuse me. I could not help but overhear your cell phone conversation about your trip to Africa. Would you mind telling me about it?"

She paused, a little surprised.
Perhaps I should not have overstepped this cell phone social convention?

Then she smiled and told me all about Casablanca, riding camels in the Sahara and the fun of traveling with three other women who spontaneously agreed to spend 10 days together in Africa. Girlfriends getaway in Morocco! I also learned she is a chemical engineer, a recent college grad and grew up in Eugene, Oregon. Most important, I discovered a young woman who was passionate about exploring the world: she had studied abroad for a year in South Africa and spent several months in a mountain town in Peru volunteering at a medical clinic. Her next trip will be to Chile and after that, perhaps New Zealand.

By the time the train arrived in Philly, I felt as if I too had been on a wonderful adventure. Whether it's riding a camel in the desert or asking a stranger to tell you her story, taking a risk can be very rewarding - even on a commuter train for just 28 minutes.

Karen Kefauver
Freelance writer and content provider