June 1, 2010
Q: Who's Your Daddy?
In the last year, two of the countries I've lived in are Chile & Costa Rica. In both places, I did a number of things, kissed met a number of people, and learned a number of lessons.
Many people advocate the value of travel–that's nothing new–but what they're really advocating is the value of experiences.
Experiences yield so much more than an adrenaline rush; they exercise our souls, rejuvenate our minds, refine our perspectives, provide us with lifelong memories and, most of all, make us come alive. (Possibly assisted by Jose Cuervo, but no bold claims.)
Travel fosters new experiences. New experiences are, by default, novel. Novelty forces us to think critically and be present in the moment. This is why travel is such a valuable tool in terms of personal growth.
When we're at home, it's remarkably easy to get stuck in a rut. We rely on our routines to carry us through our weeks, which turn into months, which turn into years. And while routines can be comfortable, they can also be really stifling–without us even realizing it.
Today, I want to share some of the experiences I've had over the past year that have kept me sane. I encourage you to run, faster than ever, toward your own. If nothing else, you'll at least have one or two damn good stories to tell. (But hide the photos. By all means, hide the photos!)
Costa Rica, Land Where Happiness is Contagious–Possibly The Result of an Unnamed, Unknown Shot Administered to the Glutes When Developing Signs of the Common Cold. Or Not. But I Really Wanted to Mention It.
Did unspeakable things on top of a waterfall. Had a healer perform a ritual on my forearm to rid me of a stomach virus. Determined that hips not only come in all different shapes & sizes…but also range of motion. Ran hand-in-hand with a cute German boy into the ocean at night with all of our clothes on & not a care in the world. Just because.
Had my purse stolen. Twice. Watched a mother & baby whale hovering off the coastline as I sipped a caipirinha at sunset. Learned that raw fish tastes better than cooked fish, and that butter is what you put on top of saltines. Made peace with bugs, but mastered the art of killing cockroaches when duty called– a particularly tricky task when one's pants are around one's ankles in the bathroom.
Experienced a 6.8 earthquake (which was far better than being bombed, since I didn't know the word for “earthquake,” and thought that's what was happening at the time). Made the acquaintance of a porn director, a Swedish prostitute & Matthew McConaughey. Discerned the value of patience while standing in long lines, as well as the value of using the ladies' room beforehand. Watched barefoot children play soccer in the streets with empty soda bottles, and saw their unabashed excitement the next day when I returned with an armful of balls.
Experimented with foreign sounds coming out of my mouth, and giggled when they didn't quite make it. Felt the wind in my hair atop jet skis, 4-wheelers, scooters, deep-sea fishing boats & bicycles, and the sun on my skin as I rafted down rivers, ziplined my way through rainforests, kayaked my way through mangroves and hiked my way up mountains.
But Most Importantly…
Learned that people and what they do for a living are mutually exclusive. Found out what it means to be madly, passionate, uncontrollably in love. Found out what it means to be profoundly, devastatingly, soul-crushingly hurt. Discovered that politically drawn lines separate countries, not humanity. Unearthed universal truths about the world, but at the same time, uncovered even more particular truths about myself. Understood what it finally meant to feel alive. And last but not least, gained knowledge that in some places, short shorts really can be practical.
Chile, Land of Ridiculous-Looking Pants & Guards That Look Like the Guards at Buckingham Palace, but Aren't.
Witnessed a man without legs heave himself down the aisle of a public bus with his elbows. Participated in a student-run, alcohol-fueled, end-of-year celebratory party inside the walls of Santiago's most prestigious university. Wistfully admired the immense majesty of snow-capped Andes mountains from the other side of the glass in my bedroom. Climbed a portion of the Andes mountains with newfound Brazilian friends, then later celebrated the glory of the vineyards of their valleys.
Taught smart, driven college students the right way to pronounce the “sh” sound in English, and they taught me what it means not to have opportunity handed to you on a silver platter. Was flown to Patagonia in order to impart valuable knowledge to high school students, but it was those high school students who showed me that innocence is sometimes the most valuable quality of all.
Rode llamas in the city, took cable cars up mountainsides, and relished every single bus ride across town. Ate a seafood delicacy known as locos that is apparently only available off the coast of Chile (still haven't found the English equivalent), delighted in the tradition of warming red wine on the grill, and witnessed the power of food in connecting strangers. Covered myself with no less than four comforters each night at my host family's house, and felt what it was like to truly be cold, but at the same time, through their kind compassion, felt what it was like to truly be warmed.
But Most Importantly…
I learned that “friends” is a mere synonym for “family“–even when you don't share a common tongue. But most of all, I learned that sometimes, friends are the best form of faith. I discovered the importance of laughing, dancing and blaring the radio with the windows down. I determined that through the hardest of human hardships, hope & kindness prevail, yet through the cushiest of human conditions, greed & hostility are more prevalent. I discovered that stereotypes only stretch as far as we pull them, and differences only noticed as long as we watch them. And last but not least, I learned that when all else fails, it's never, ever a bad idea to go to the park and whisper sweet nothings into your lover's ear.
Be glad that I'm not listing London, 2006 here, or you'd be hearing a lot more about sweet nothings & lovers. Spanish ones, at that. Le sigh.
Surviving Versus Living – Not Even Your Mom Can Help You On This One
Nothing compares to experience. Nothing you could buy. Nothing you could sell. Nothing you could find on eBay. Nothing you could bust a rhyme about. Nothing your mom could bake you in a bunt pan with ooey gooey chocolaty chips melted inside. Not even anything that your Facebook farm with 700 bushels of freaking boysenberries can compare to. (Shocker.)
New experiences are the only path from merely surviving to actually living. And I'm pretty sure that if you don't already have a down payment on your casket, you're probably more interested in the latter.
Unless, of course, you have OCD, in which case you very well may already have your casket picked out. (And you thought the Swedish prostitute had issues.)