07 December 2016

Skydiving

"A blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
-- Martha Graham

I am broke. Saving for a new car and depositing double into a retirement fund (since I neglected it all these years) eliminated visiting the majority of places still on my bucket list. Since starting a new job in March 2016 I have accrued little vacation time so it seemed the only days off I'd truly have were based on the winter holidays (November + December 2016).  Yet, where others see a time to relax & enjoy company, I see opportunity.  How could I let 7 paid days off pass without going somewhere?!  As Jack London voiced in one of my absolute favorite quotes: "I shall use my time."

After the trials of this past year since returning to the U.S.A. in July 2015, I craved venturing off on my own again. Maybe it's because I'm single and used to providing for myself.  Maybe it's because I'm an only child who finds myself the best company.  Maybe it's because I'm an introvert who relishes the sounds of nature and my private thoughts.  Maybe, I wanted to go solo because I've done it before and experienced the value of drifting through the world.  Paradoxically, my favorite days and loneliest nights have occurred while I was abroad and alone. There's the allure of being open to meeting whoever and whatever, and therein lies the danger.  It's proving you can be emotionally tough and equally resourceful in navigating the culture and landscape of a foreign country.

Scraping by financially is not a new stress to me. I don't remember a time when I had extra money in the bank or didn't have to look at a pricetag before a purchase.  I attended university full-time, but stressed over juggling academia with a professional workload.  Why did I need to accrue so much cash?  So I could spend it all -- in one transaction -- at the dropzone.  You see, at age 17, I became obsessed with the sport of skydiving.  The immeasurable blue sky and the freedom to be fluid sold me.  The welcoming fellow jumpers only sweetened the experience.  However, it's not a cheap sport.  I was literally buying fuel for a plane, once a Hercules C-130, and paying for very specific, qualified instruction.  YouTube and personal accounts couldn't facilitate me becoming a licensed skydiver.  It's one of those things I could not learn remaining on solid earth; only experience could wholly teach me.

Wow, did experience teach me well!  My knees were covered in semi-permanent bruises for an entire year, I've had to land in a tight 900, square foot backyard to avoid power lines, had to cutaway my main parachute, known too much tragedy and survived one of the deadliest malfunctions.  While these events formed my current view about the fragility of life, not all of them were negative. I've also fluttered around towering clouds, fallen through rainbows, hung off the strut of an airplane, exited the plane into a pitch black sky and made life-long friends.
Similar to my 13 years in the sport of skydiving, I have not had a bad trip traveling, but my track record gives me anxiety.  I am undeniably grateful for both, but I feel like you don't receive a life as stellar as mine; like my good luck supply is nearly depleted.  While I was hurling myself out of airplanes those years, I wondered how many could I come out on top of the odds while screaming towards the ground at 160 MPH.  Especially because I know a lot of people who perished within the sport.  Now -- in terms of traveling -- should I heed the proverbial "cash out while your chips are high"?  If I keep gambling, I'll eventually lose it all. I've heard myriad horror stories and am not naive to how cruel nature and people can be.  Do all these great wanderings and times I've pushed the envelope (such as sleeping in my car in the outback) still outweigh one hypothetically scarring adventure?  Even worse, what if there is no bad situation as the outcome... what if I am murdered abroad? The conundrum is a nomad can never know the potential consequences and awesome of traveling until she is in the thick of it.
Through research, I fully knew this would be the most dangerous country to date that I have explored, but isn't the purpose of life to keep pushing one's boundaries?  After skydiving, rock climbing, and sleeping in cars around the world, I'd say the answer is hell yes!  I aim to prove the general public's misconceptions wrong, especially when Americans balk at the developing world without any real basis for their discrimination.

As with traveling to Puerto Rico, I was met with adversity that was all heresay (perfect example from a customer: "I know a manager who's workers won't cross the border into their motherland because it is so dangerous!"), and that only fueled my fire. The more I delved into the guidebook, the more confident I felt about pulling off this trip.  My trepidation changed into readiness; my fear evolved into an unmatched desire.

The timing coupled with inexpensive flights, cheap services, and the great exchange rate from American currency made it a tough offer to refuse.  So, I am excited to announce I'm off to central Mexico for two weeks: powerful volcanoes, ancient civilizations, and the continent's winter retreat for Monarch butterflies!

17 November 2016

Complements

"Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by you so quickly, you hardly catch it going."
-- Tennessee Williams


Perhaps there is someone like this in your life, be it a sibling, friend, someone of the same or opposite sex. A person who knows your entire history or has only been present in your life for a short period of time, but is indelibly a saint.  For me, that person is my mother, Stephanie.

It's no secret my mum is aging, and has worked so incredibly hard to earn the money to pay for our voyages through the years. I don't remember a time in my life when she was not working two jobs, always running from one to the other. We hopped buses and walked across San Francisco, my mother toting me to all of her college classes because she was a single parent without a babysitter. One night in the city, I even witnessed her launch a fist at an approaching stranger who tried to lay a hand on her.

Although that was 25 years ago, the same tenacious qualities still exist in my mother, they just manifest in different ways.  Namely, when we travel.  I cannot recall a trip we've embarked on where I haven't seen her strength.  In Greece, she handled a mini-crisis when I became violently ill unexpectedly.  In Norway she assertively and diplomatically told off a meddling stewardess who harassed me because I wouldn't change seats with another passenger.  As recently as Australia, she emphasized enjoying the adventure instead of agonizing over price tags.  "It's only money," she reminded.

In a strange way, going abroad brought -- and brings about -- absolute role reversal.  I now feel an odd sense of protection over my mother, the same woman who has looked after me since my first breath.  In Italy, after my mother wrecked a hire motorcycle, I reminded her we could have been hurt and the outcome much worse. "Besides," I told her "it's only money." While our ship's frame scraped through the ice, my fear was minimally assuaged because if I died at least I would be with my mum.
So, as Australasia commenced, I became the brawn.  Flying to and fro, I lifted our bulky bags over my head, straining under the weight, shoving them into the bins more times than I can count.  I led our hikes, and -- in Karijini National Park -- harnessed the backpack filled with supplies for the trip, so she could cling to the rock easier.  Since we traveled by bus in Fiji, I got even more of a work out.  I always hoisted her carry-on onto the bus, climbed up the narrow high steps, then returned to the road to retrieve my baggage and repeat the process. I created a makeshift foothold for mom by cupping my hands together so she could use my human platform to hoist herself into the tinny a.k.a. small boat after snorkeling at Moon Reef.  Although it would have been strenuous, I was prepared to bring my suitcase and hers over the hills of Wayalailai, although I was relieved of this duty since the hotel staff insisted on hauling it.
To me, it felt  -- and still feels -- like my duty to ferry her luggage across the world.  Like if I shirked, I was acting selfishly.  Though my mother would never think that and loathes being mollycoddled, it's paramount to me that she simply enjoy the scenery, smells, and people without having to be hassled with the logistics.  Not to mention, traveling is tough on the body, and her health is of the utmost importance.  I tell myself: I will do this [physical effort] because I still can.  And if ever there comes a day when I cannot do all the heavy lifting, then at least my mother will be well-rested for it.

My mother is my responsibility, and I, hers, but not in a negative way. It's like traveling with the Hope Diamond.  I will always protect her and strive to make her life easier. To me, she is such precious cargo I cannot entrust this inestimable role to anyone else. Our irrevocable love knows no boundaries.  Every time we embarked on a new trip, we promised that should one of us become gravely sick -- or even die -- the other will continue on in homage to the other.

When I falter, have an emotional meltdown in a foreign country, or become violently ill, I know she will pick up the slack. This is the beauty of these journeys with my best friend, Stephanie.  I see the deepening crows' feet around my eyes and her progressively graying hair, and understand the fragility of life.  Although we lived in Australasia for two months, it will never be enough. I can never have enough of these times with my mum.  Now, -- at age 32 -- in light of this epiphany I feel time slipping away faster.  While most people are excited to check items & countries off their bucket list, or retire, I have growing anxiety that we haven't checked off enough yet.  Time will be gone for one -- and both -- of us too soon; in the blink of an eye.