The sweaty armpit of a local Parisian permeated the air. I was equally sweaty, but my arms clung to my side as I nervously tapped my foot. The subway came to halt and I was flung out the door onto the platform by the morning commuters.
Dramatic. I know.
Sheer panic was sitting just beneath the even stronger desire to find my destination. I look around and find a map. This is how my day began in Paris.
Public transportation is a must for travel
Public transportation isn’t the most elegant form of travel, but it’s a way to become a part of the city in just one or two stops. I’ve taken public transit in nearly every place I have visited including France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Peru, and the U.S.
Public transit isn’t limited to the metro. I’ve traveled by bus, coach, train, plane, boat, and ferries. The most memorable of which was a rutted canoe through the Amazon jungle. It was actually this experience that made me realize pubic transit brings us in and out of a place in more than the literal way.
A rutted canoe and bright blue shirt in the Amazon
That day in the Amazon, we were with a small group who had stayed at the open-air “lodge”. A Dutch family, two brothers from Spain, and us- the white Americans covered in bug spray.
We embarked on a day trip through the 99-degree jungle at 100% humidity. The destination was a large local lake. It was known for its six-feet camen and brightly colored birds. We were to meet up with a local man who lived there.
He was kind and slow in his movements. His bright blue t-shirt matched that of the local birds on the path, making him a perfect blend with the jungle. We walked with him for some time as he talked to us about the flora and fauna and pointed out the most outrageous bugs.
We arrived at the canoes. All lined up ready for whichever person passing needed to use them. All of us tourists clumsily got in the canoe and hunched down. It was a strange form of public transit for me, but a very natural one for our guide in the bright blue shirt. He made a joke about some form of animal that could eat us and slowly pushed the paddle. We move along the surface of the water until we reached a small bar next to the lake where we took a rest.
This canoe ride brought us as close to the swampy jungle as it could. We felt small underneath its massive trees. It brought us face to face with the smells and sounds of the place.
A bus and some University students
Not every public transit ride is quite as adventurous as that day in the Amazon. The city bus in a college town doesn’t hold as much novelty. It did hold a small scratched piece of graffiti that looked like a cat and made me smile. It also held the afternoon students headed to jobs or lunch from the University.
I thought it was fun how everyone swayed slightly at each stop. We were actually in unison once or twice. Moving with the city.
The straight-up uncomfortable feeling of it all
I’ve painted it all quite romantically. Don’t get me wrong, public transit can be stressful as hell. The first few times I have to use it in a new city I never really want to. I get a little nervous. But I also get over it. I need to get somewhere and travel is all about getting out of your comfort zone.
It’s a choice I make (and sometimes it’s made for me). It’s a choice to engage with the streets and tunnels that connect a place. To get nice and close to the armpits of those who live there. To nearly touch the swampy waters of the Amazon. It’s uncomfortably cool.
You will catch me on the metro
Do I still take a taxi or Lyft for quick trips to and from the airport? Absolutely. But if I’m traveling in Europe, I’ll be buying a metro ticket. It’s a way to taste the place without ever picking up a fork. That is more impactful than any Lyft ride I’ve ever taken.