Scared and Squeamish: On a recent trip to Bali and Lombok Indonesia, whenever I would encounter situations that were challenging to me like a gecko scurrying up the wall beside me, or a Komodo Dragon (actually, the reptillic cousin of one, to be specific) strolling underneath our table while we were eating, I found myself nervously reassuring myself by saying, “I can do this.” When on the ferry from Lombok to Gili Air Island in the rocky waves of an Indian Ocean squall when I felt myself getting close to the edge of vomit, I reminded myself to stay calm: “No worries. I really can do this. Stay focussed on the horizon.” I never really paid close attention to this loud, but confident self-talk of mine until I started travelling outside of my comfort zone.
Starting to Travel: I started my travelling hobby going to all-inclusive resorts where the various types of transportation to and from the gorgeous, but often contrived beach resort oases, were really the only part of the holiday where I stretched outside of my little North American safety bubble. Aside from the long and sometimes precarious aiplane and taxi rides, and potentially one or two excursions venturing beyond the golden district, but usually with English speaking guides, I was pretty untouched by anything really challenging that required me to take risks or find solutions under duress. Everything was pretty easy to handle, like find my hotel; exchange currency and get oriented. Although these trips were incredibly rehabilitating after months of working indoors in a cold climate, I started to realize that I was not really travelling, per se, but in retrospect, would refer to these lovely get-aways as vacationing instead.
Beyond the Bubble: As I got braver, I started visiting many countries where life is full of cultural, topographical, climate, political, geographical, wilderness surprises (some pleasant and others pretty challenging). I started to grow as a traveller as I worked my way from participating in organized trips by adventure travel companies, and started to design my own itineraries. Having done most of my trips on my own as a solo female adventurer, I had to be careful about what I would and could do for obvious reasons, despite my intense curiousity to see and explore all of the wonderful things that these countries have to offer. When I got married to a kindred travel spirit, I was able to get even more adventurous than I had felt able to before, and got further afield getting even more confident to try new experiences and to also learn which ones I would forego.
Rolling with Things: I can cite many examples of when this little voice inside of me has stood up and spoken confidently and encouragingly about ignoring my squeamish and fearful reactions to things in favour of enjoying them. For example, Indonesia is a jungle island paradise that has more creepy creatures in it than I care to consider now that I have walked through some of these banana, palm, date, papaya, teak, elephant grass, coconut wilderness and coming out of them relatively unscathed (except for a lot of insect bites). When a long-tailed macaque monkey jumped at us to steal our chocolate covered bananas, yes, I screamed; and my husband hollered, but, by God, he was not going to stop us from sitting back down and finishing our lovely dessert. When we walked home one night through the dark jungle from the Sekac Fire Dance at the Temple at Ulawatu, I was overwhelmed by the loud animal sounds in the jungle which included monkeys, frogs, crickets, geckos and other. With nothing guiding us on our narrow road but our cell phone lights, I reminded myself to breathe as I held my husband’s hand.
Getting Real About the Animals: When we learned that there were poisonous snakes in the forests and ocean, we researched them and realized that they are not any more dangerous than some of the wildlife back at home. Where bears, cougars and wolves run through our woods right beside us in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada, so too, do dangerous insects, reptiles and animals appear close by in the tropics. The key is to stay aware; not get too far off a beaten bath; wear loads of insect repellent (as some of the tropics have diseases carried by mosquitos); and keep our wits about us. No wild creatures on land or in the water really like surprises. So the key seems to be to be obvious and avoid being too attractive to any of them (every animal has some ideocyncratic behaviour, so it is best to research it). We learned that monkeys will jump all over us if we are carrying things like water bottles or food. Cobras and vipers don’t really want to be aggressive unless they feel threatened, just like coral snakes in the ocean tend to avoid people unless they feel cornered. My initial response when learning about the wildlife was to stay in my room in the fetal position, but once again, I listened to that cheer leader voice insider my head: “Shelley, I can do this!”
I Can Do This, But Do I Want to? I loved seeing the sunset despite the tropical cobwebs that snagged our bodies as we walked through them. I needed to use the bathroom regardless of all of the little lizards that ran around me while doing so. I loved having a picnic on the beach even though the little red ants dotted my body with dozens of little raised bites. In most of my experiences, I was motivated to try new things as the outcomes seemed worth tackling. However, some adventures stopped me in my tracks.
Snorkling was this type of challenge for me. My little voice tried to talk me through it by squeaking out tentatively, “Shelley, I can do this,” but another louder voice questioned it, “But…do I really want to?” My strong desire to snorkle has been fed by my husband’s keen desire to have us floating bum up, holding hands lovingly along a reef somewhere checking out fish, turtles and other creatures that lurk amidst the sea grass and colourful coral. As I coaxed myself to the water’s edge and stood amidst the lapping waves tightening my fins and spitting on my goggles, Trepidation clutched at my stomach. This is where the snorkling fantasy stopped and reality jumped in. I don’t really want to look eye to eye with an eel or a turtle. In fact, I have absolutely no interest in experiencing this intensely up-close-and-intimate experience with this tropical sea life. I just don’t. My husband and I grappled with this reality as he looked out longingly at the ocean and I looked back longlingly at the glass of wine waiting in our little grass hut.
I Don’t Want To Do This: The realization for me is that sometimes it is okay to dig deeply and ask whether I am simply too afraid or am I really just not that interested to tackle something new. I typically push myself through the fear factor and relish in the rush of experiences that I never thought were possible. I can be quite a “fraidy cat” if I let myself go there. However, all of my courageous feats tend to be motivated by a strong desire to understand new things. If I lack the desire, then the fear and/or apathy simply become too great and my “little train that could” voice is replaced with another voice that says, “Nah…”, I need to let go of it, or at least release it for the time being. At first, I struggled with this concept because I generally pride myself on being brave and trying anything once, but snorkling (despite some training in a pool and a few glimpses through my foggy mask) was simply not going to happen for me, or not at this time in my life anyway. My husband graciously let me off the hook appreciating that I love being by, on or playing on top of the water, but looking directly at it and examining the life within it is simply not my forte nor interest.
I released myself from feeling like a complete failure by saying to him, first with irritation and then relief in the most mature 51 year old voice that I could muster. “I don’t want to do this.” “I see that,” he admitted, and we laughed as he brushed away the dishevelled hair, snot and sand clinging to my face after my initial attempt. He pulled me up out of the water to make our way back to our sandy serongs waiting upshore by the warm aqua waters of Gili Air Island. We grieved the loss of this shared dream to snorkle the deep (and mildly horrifying) waters of this wild island, while enjoying a young coconut. We decided that we would just have to find other things to do under this tropical sun.
Rising to the Challenges: I continue to learn more about myself as I travel. One of them is learning to travel guilt-free when everyone I care about is home working hard to take care of themselves and their families as I did full time since I was 15 years old (teaching as a profession). This feeling that maybe I am just being frivolous and ridiculous at this age seeking adventure when I have been groomed to wait until I retire, is a powerful obstacle that I need to overcome. Instead, I need to listen to the spirit inside of me encouraging me to live in the now. My father continually bemoans our decisions to leave the country whenever we can expressing fear for our lives as the world to him seems to be unravelling. We are the ultimate seat sale seekers. Two-star travelling opens so many doors for us.
After Chris’ knee surgery, we figured that over this past month in Indonesia, minus the relatively cheap air-fare we paid to get here, my husband was able to rehabilitate better in the hot humid climate of Indonesia using the waters to swim, and finding good massages to heal, than had we stayed at home and paid for our normal routines with groceries and other. Why wouldn’t we steal this opportunity to travel? We also justify some of our time away as exploring the world for our retirement. What is the ultimate way to age, and where is a good place to do it? Bali hit a few targets for us, and we are seriously considering returning to Ubud in our older years. Granted it will change, and so will we, but wouldn’t it be great if we could spend time under a palm tree in our twilight years? The little voice says very loudly in my head as I speculate this retirement possibility: “I can do this!”
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love