Thoughts from the bow…

Photo: The bow of our boat as we sail from Tintipan to the Rosario Islands

This is my new favourite place. I’m not sure if everyone has that special place, but I certainly need it. It’s that place you go to be alone and gather your thoughts. All through university, that place was my grandma’s. She lived in a small town in the North woods in the middle of nowhere with no mobile phone coverage. I always felt loved and comforted by her and the happy childhood memories made there. 

When it all got too much I would retreat there for the weekend and after her warnings of how I shouldn’t walk the trails alone because if I wasn’t eaten by a bear, a man would rape me, I would tell her I loved her and leave. To my knowledge, neither had ever happened, so I would make the beautiful drive and walk to the river where I would sit on a rock and dangle my feet in the rapids (while being very weary of lone men). I would spend however long I needed thinking about life, crying and/or talking to my grandpa and aunt who I knew were always looking over me when I was there. They are two of the people who made that place so special and even though they weren’t physically there, I could feel their presence so strongly as if they were. I would leave feeling refreshed and ready to fight. 
I always missed that place when I moved to England. I never found one in England. On the sea, I don’t really feel like I need one, but I like having a thinking place. I like even more my bow seat when we have passengers and I need a rest from demands. When we’re sailing, I sit on that metal part and rest my back on the genoa. I can’t hear or see anyone. I just hear the soft murmur of the engine if it’s on and the bow bouncing through the waves. It’s a great retreat!
This morning there was no wind, the sea was very gentle and the water was that incredible shade of blue only the sea can give. I sat on my perch with a big smile on my face. I noticed how over some of the bigger waves, my stomach had butterflies like when you’re in a car and go fast over a hill. I wrapped my legs around the bars and lifted my hands. It felt like I was flying and I giggled like a child. How incredible life is!! The most simplest of things always gives me such great joy.
A couple of the passengers lived in London so we had been talking about London life. As I was hovering above the deep blue on my favourite post, I couldn’t help but think how things are so different now. 
Fifteen months ago, I was working 70-80 hours a week in four different jobs. I was working my full time job which I hated with a passion and then doing three other jobs that I actually liked to try and block out the horribleness of my full time job.
I trained to be a yoga teacher and was trying to build up my business so that I could do that full time. The competition in London is fierce and it takes a while to get a client base. That meant I had to teach classes weekly and more than one. Then I needed to work more to pay the studio rental because I wasn’t breaking even teaching. That’s how the 37 hour work week gradually increased more and more. 
I started cycling everywhere because it’s just a nicer way to travel in London. Often times it took the same amount of time, but I didn’t have to sit squished next to someone on the tube and start worrying I was going to be late if there was a delay. With my schedule, every minute really did count. 
I treasured these times on my bike. No one could contact me and I felt carefree like a child riding their bike through the neighbourhood. London is such a great place to people watch, which I enjoyed doing in between dodging the cars. I had to keep buying bigger backpacks because as my hours increased, the time at home was less and I often ate all three meals away from home. 
On the nights I wasn’t working late, I would squeeze in time with my friends and boyfriend. Time that was anything but quality because I was always thinking about the next day or more commonly, my bed and how I wanted to sleep. 
I remember walking into work one day and one of the gemstones in my life asking me how I was. “I hoped the whole way here a bus would knock me off my bike and run over me.” I replied. She said she felt sad I felt that way because I was such a lovely person and deserved to be happy. All I could muster was “thanks.”
At this point, I had already decided to travel because I knew I was driving myself into insanity. I checked my diary to see how many days until I left for Mexico. It was over a hundred. If I had the time, I would’ve contemplated what would be better. Waiting or being hit by that bus. But I had horrific files to read, groups to run where I heard traumatic stories that were increasingly torturing my soul and reports about awful things that I had to write. No time to dwell on the future. 
Life hadn’t always been this way. I used to enjoy my job and treasured my nights out with friends. I became more and more empty and numb as I continued to choose to live this life. I didn’t really know any other way. 
Needless to say, when I stepped on that plane to Mexico City, I was too tired to feel anything. All I knew was that it felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted and I fell into a deep sleep on the plane. 
The sail to Panama and CC were my life saviours. That is no exaggeration. Colombia was the last lag of my trip and I knew in five weeks I would go back, work my notice and then work temporary jobs until I became a licensed masseuse and found a job. That didn’t excite me either, but it was better then what my life had been when I left. 
I remember contemplating asking CC if I could stay and learn how to sail. My conclusion was that the worst he would say is no and nothing would change. That one question changed my life completely. Now I wake up every day smiling because I am on the water, which I have always loved. I go to bed with a smile because I can see the stars and the moon and wow are they so much more stunning outside of a city! Sometimes I ‘work’ from 6.30 am to 11.30 pm or later, but I love so much of my day. The things I don’t like, I barely even notice because there is so much beauty and so much peace, it doesn’t even matter. I feel so connected to the earth. After all, I’m surrounded by water and I swim with the fish almost every day!
So this morning as I was sat on my perch on the bow, I thanked the universe for this opportunity and for my life. I watched the birds flying just above the surface of the ocean as they hunted for their breakfast and the flying fish literally flying over the water. Thank goodness that bus never hit me because I feel just as free as they are.


Friends are like gemstones…

Photo: Some sweet birds hanging out together on a beach in Florida. They were the inspiration for this post. 

Friends are like jewellery. There are some diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, cubic zirconia and even some that are trendy and last a season like costume jewellery. I am fortunate to have found quite a few diamonds in my life. These are the friendships that last forever no matter how often you speak and how often or little you see each other. 

Friends have always been so important to me because I often acted against my parent’s wishes and needed someone to confide in or collude with. Luckily even the “corrupted” ones had boundaries which kept me in check, thank goodness! If not for them, I would probably be a drug addicted stripper turned prostitute with countless children!
In my last visit to the States, I reconnected with one of my best friends from University. We met when we did a short course in archaeology together in Spain. We thought it was awesome to smoke cigarettes in the windowsill as we had never seen windows without screens before. A world without mosquitoes, how great!! She didn’t believe in ghosts until we talked about them. In the middle of the night, I went to go to the bathroom and on the way back, she thought I was a ghost and screamed and jumped in my bed. Then we fell into a fit of laughter which disturbed our other classmates! She is probably one of the few friends that has seen me at my absolute worst (I usually kept that to myself) and did nothing but hold my hand until I was ok. No questions, no judgments and no advice. It wasn’t what I needed and this diamond knew it. It had been eight years (we think!) since we last met. I can’t lie, when she emailed to see if I was around to meet up, my mind instantly looked for excuses. After all, it would be a two to two in a half hour drive. Not that I was super busy, mind you. Luckily my Aunt who had met this friend and loved her as much as I did, pushed me to do it. I’m so happy I did! I was in the car feeling very nervous. We have very different lives now and it had been so long. What if we have nothing to talk about? The instant I saw her, my eyes filled with tears and I just knew the time was going to go too fast and it wouldn’t be enough to catch up. After travelling and living in the Caribbean for a year, it was so great to say names of people and for her to know who they were. She had actually met them so I didn’t have to give a brief bio which never captured the essence of a person and made the story obsolete. We caught up, shared our views on life and were both sad when our time was up. It was eight years last time, how long will it be next time? The important thing is that it appears no matter how much time goes by, it will always be the same. This friendship is one of the finest jewels life has ever given me. 
Around this time I Skyped with another good friend of mine. We met at a mutual friend’s birthday party. It seemed like fate, if you believe in that. Our energies instantly connected and we were both in similar places in our lives, grateful to find someone who just seemed to understand without many words! We chatted, we drank and we danced the night away. So much that our mutual friend went home and I stayed at my new diamond’s house. It was like a one night stand except I didn’t feel awful in the morning! It also led to a very deep and special friendship. We both started biking at the same time and so began our weekend adventures of meeting up early and just cycling in whatever direction until we found something interesting. She’s also the only person who has played tennis with me more than once. The first time, I showed up in my new tennis skirt I had for years and had never worn. She thought I was going to kick her ass. After five minutes, which consisted of her chasing my ball across all courts, she stopped and said, that’s why you look so good, you don’t know how to play!!! She wanted to lose some weight so I guess that’s why she agreed to go again! My beautiful friend is such a free spirit. She is so passionate, so loving and so giving. Because of her free spiritedness, it’s often days, weeks or now months (we used to live 10 minutes from each other) she will go without a reply. But I never mind. When I’m really down, she always responds when I need her. When I just want a fun chat, she’s not always around, but that’s ok. I know she will get in contact with me when she is able. When she does, she is always full of beautiful stories of love, helping other people and how her life journey is going. It fills me with inspiration and a feeling of pure connection until the next time. She is probably the only friend I have a had fight with, who I can tell she is being annoying because I don’t want to be happy in that moment or that she’s wrong and I don’t want to hear anymore (upon reflection she is always right!). That’s probably what makes her support so beautiful. She is always genuinely happy for me and wants to hear more of my journey. She says I’m an inspiration to her which makes me feel so loved. Again, another beautiful jewel life has given me.
I can name numerous other jewels who make my life just that much more worth living and I’m sure in time with my writing, they will come out. However, these two are from distinct times of my life who reappeared back into my life at a time when I most needed their sparkle. 
I love living in a new place and meeting new people. However, there’s always something missing in the new place. My diamonds nearby who I can make new stories with, lean on for support when needed and who know the other people in my life. Of course I will find new jewels with time, I am a social person. However in the transition time, it is these diamonds in my life that I am so very grateful for and treasure more ever than before. After all, without my jewellery, I may be on such a different path and it is because of their support that I gave up the rat race to live a lifestyle much more suited to me. What beautiful gems!

How the sea brings me to life

Photo: Our boat on the way to Cartagena 

The wind is blowing strong and the sea is perfect! The most beautiful shade of blue is interrupted by the white tops of the five meter waves as they roll over the open sea. I am sitting in the cockpit watching with excitement as the sailboat drops into the bottom of the waves and sprays white drops over the boat as it climbs over the crest of the next wave. We are heeled over to starboard where I’m sitting and I dip my leg over the edge wanting to feel what the hull of the boat does. 

“Sarihta!” the captain shouts. The topping lift needs to be released. Yes!!! The line is connected to the mast meaning I get to feel what it’s like to be totally in the moment and alive. Captain Cool often thinks I don’t really understand the risks of sailing. He’s a great teacher, so as of yet, no major accidents have happened to me when I’ve done manoeuvres. However, I do understand the risks. 

I carefully crawl to the bow through the middle of the cockpit. I grab the holds and am truly surfing with the waves. I keep my knees soft as the slanted bow dances up and down over the waves. I crouch down to complete the manoeuvre and as I do so, a cooling wave splashes over my back and brings a smile to my face. It feels so good in the hot sun. I complete the manoeuvre by securing the line, but I don’t want to go yet. 
I turn around and look at the bow and watch the rolling sea. The most genuine smile I have ever felt fills my face. My pulse is racing and my heart is emitting life. I am thinking of absolutely nothing but this moment, for I know if I’m not concentrating, one wave could invite me into the sea. That itself wouldn’t be so bad as it’s day time and easy to collect me, but injuries could happen on the way down. So I think of nothing else but that moment, not how I’m going to write this in my blog, post this on Facebook or tell my friends. I am only thinking how absolutely exhilarating it feels to be completely in this moment right now. How great it feels to have the wind whipping through my hair and the spray of the beautiful calming energy of the sea all over my body. I’m enjoying how my body seems to naturally balance with the movement of the waves as though I’m another mast. If this isn’t what it feels like to be truly alive, I’m not sure what is! With one hand I grab the mast and with the other, I punch the air letting out a whoop of pure joy and repeatedly say “I love this!!!” For me, life can never be better than it is in this moment. 
Never do I feel more at one with the earth, the sea, humanity and life as I do when the sails are up, I’m in the bow and the sea is full of energetic waves crashing as far as the eye can see. 

How an avocado led to a new perspective 

Photo: The markets in Grenada, Nicaragua

I was walking down the street in Merida, Mexico thinking about the great day I had. I had seen a shaman who knew me accurately with only my name and date of birth. I mean, he described my relationship history to a T and even described my familial relationships exactly as they were. It was like someone had written a book about my life up until that point and he was summarising it for me. He told me a couple of beautiful things that have never left me because it explained why so many things had “gone wrong.” They hadn’t actually, it’s just my path, which is an important one and turns out I’m not a bad person after all! Then I had a great conversation with a local about what to see in the area and I had plans to go dancing later that night with some people I met at the hostel. In fact, I had just bought an avocado because one of my new friends and I were going to make dinner together and I wanted to test out my newly learned guacamole skills. 

As I was walking, well floating really, down the street, a man walked past me and said “Ah, you’re going to make guacamole, right?” I looked up and said “Perdon?” and he smiled and repeated it in Spanish. He walked with me for a few steps and we talked guac. Then he asked where I was from. I stopped and we chatted for a bit. He told me he was a researcher at the university and was doing a project about how foreigners treat Mexicans and Guatemalans. I love this kind of stuff, so we leaned against the wall and I asked him lots of questions. He told me that the Dutch are the most arrogant and treat Mexicans and Guatemalans “the least human.” He said overall, Europeans are the most arrogant and least tolerant. He told me had worked in Spain for a while on various projects and so understood why they felt that way. Not to mention it was the Spanish that came over to the Americas to totally demolish their culture way back when. 
He asked me why I travelled and I said it was because I like learning about different cultures and incorporating the positives into my own way of living because I don’t by any means think our culture is the best. Or any one culture in particular, for that matter. He didn’t really seem too pleased by my answer but said it was better than other answers he received. He then told me how 10 or so years ago, Merida was a very affordable pueblo and families could afford to go out to eat at the local restaurants. Due to the influx of tourism and “gringos” buying real estate, many families have been driven out to the poorer areas and can no longer afford a night out in their own town. This saddened me greatly and was something I never thought about. I felt a built guilty after this conversation. Mind you, I wasn’t staying at a 5 or even 2 star hotel, but it’s travellers like me who rave about how great a place is and then the need for these hotels to be built is created. Sure there are already locally owned hotels, but god forbid westerners stay in these conditions, right? People have to travel to make their own little country in the country they visit. Excuse the sarcasm, but that is just not what I believe travelling is about. And yes I know that many of the hostels I have stayed in are owned by foreigners. I try to avoid this when possible and later learned about hospedajes, which are always locally owned and my favourite kind of places! It’s where locals stay so I actually met local people and learned about their way of life. 
The man on the street was a very friendly guy and seemed really nice so I asked him about all these proclaimed shamans that walk around the street. He rolled his eyes and said that if you went to a traditional village, it would be hard to find a shaman, so he highly doubted all of the shamans here were legit, but he didn’t know and didn’t want to say bad things about it. Then he started asking me if I was into spirituality. I told him that I was very interested in Mayan culture and that it really struck a chord with me. He recommended a book and then said to me, “I can get you a copy, do you want to follow me? It’s not too far from here or your hostel.” I agreed thinking we were going to a book store.
As I am a lone traveller and no one knew I was with this man, I carefully marked where I was and at all times kept in mind where the hostel was. Just as I was thinking we were hitting dodgy territory, he turned the corner into a street with nicely kept houses and which was on the way back to the hostel. I relaxed a little until we reached a door that was not a bookstore. He unlocked it, saw my hesitation and said, “This is my office and home, my sister lives here too although she isn’t home.” The voice in the back of my head said, “These are the times your Mom tells you to run.” So I promptly followed him into the house making note of everything inside in case I survived to report this to the police. After all, he played a good game and I didn’t want to be “that” tourist. Long story short, he said he learned about energy cleansing as it was passed down from his family and he asked if I wanted a cleansing. He had already showed me the book he had recommended and said it’s the book many Mayans use. I agreed because after all, I love this kind of stuff! He sprayed something on his hands and started to put his hands to my face. I flinched and looked at the bottle asking what it was. He said it was fragrance to relax me and then put his hands to his face and sniffed. I thought at this point, well if he’s going to do something to me, I’d rather be passed out. The body does funny things. As he put his hands to my face, I felt lightheaded and my heart started racing. I started thinking how I hope I don’t remember anything he’s about to do and then I told myself to stop being ridiculous and that it was innocent eucalyptus as he said. Slowly my heart rate lowered and the lightheadedness disappeared. All was kosher and then it got weird when he told me to take my shorts off. I firmly said no. He said there was a towel on the chair I could put over my lap if I was uncomfortable. I said no because my shorts were thin enough and the energy point on my hip he needed to touch could be done over clothing. He tried to convince me it wouldn’t work, that he was gay and that he would call his sister to come over to make me feel more comfortable. When I said no and reached for my bag to leave, he became angry and told me I was like all the other tourists. Wow, did he know my where buttons were! I put my bag back down and I told him that if I was in London and a strange guy on the street asked me into his home, there was no way in hell that I would agree to it. Well, if I was sober and he was ugly, that is. I told him that I must’ve trusted him enough to come this far and that I didn’t appreciate that he wasn’t respecting my personal wishes. He told me I was afraid and that this fear was prohibiting me from any real energy work being done. What he didn’t know was that I conducted group therapy with men who committed sexual offences for seven years and I know the game. He was playing a simple basic game I knew well and he wasn’t going to win. Don’t worry Mom, I left unharmed, untouched and it was an experience I won’t be repeating. 

This experience has stayed strong in my soul. Not the energy cleansing part, but what he said about how tourism affects the locals and also how tourists treat locals because I’ve seen it and it isn’t always pretty. Last night I saw the movie Embrace of the Serpent and some of the things that Karamakate said reminded me of this conversation. It’s all about fear. As humans, we fear the unknown. It’s common to be afraid of people who have a different skin colour, different language, different beliefs, different religions and different customs. It’s all unknown. Sometimes I think that the difference between cultures is due more to the level of fear in a society than anything else. 

I used to be afraid too. I came from a white middle class small town and didn’t spend time around groups of non-white people until University. I was scared! Then slowly I started meeting people and making friends with people of different backgrounds (after offending a few due to my lack of knowledge). Turns out there’s nothing to be afraid of! We are all people. Whatever colour or background we have, there are always similarities and differences. I found my levels of fear dropped dramatically the more I asked questions of other people. I used to be afraid to ask questions because than they would know I didn’t know, which would make me racist, right? Not so! People love talking about their traditions and their background! I have learned so many beautiful things about other people and cultures. The more I travel, the more I ask questions and the more my fear disappears. The thing is, until you start asking questions, you will most likely think that your way is the best and everyone else does it weird. I see this in all the cultures that I’ve visited and I certainly thought it. It’s what stereotypes are all about and why I don’t like them. Americans are like this, the Spanish are like this, the Mexicans do this, etc. Actually, we’re all just human beings who are trying to survive in the only way they know how. Is this really something to be afraid of? 

An outsider looking for her place 

Photo: On a boat somewhere in Nicaragua

I’m in what I call a friend transition at the moment. It’s my fourth major transition, so I know what to expect. Of course I still have my friends in the States, although now almost none, and my friends in England. The thing is, they aren’t physically here with me (Thank goodness for whatsapp!). This time I’ve made it more interesting by moving to a country that speaks Spanish. Now, I studied Spanish for eight years from middle school all the way through university. I went to Spain for three weeks when I was 21 and had a great time chatting and partying with all the locals. I even managed a little romance with a cute Spanish guy who worked in a local bar. So in no time at all, I will be back to that level of Spanish, right? WRONG!!! I hadn’t spoken any Spanish in eight years and forgot more than I realised. Sure I could ask for directions, order at restaurants and have basic social conversations, but living with someone who’s first language is Spanish and frequently having Spanish guests over is a different thing. I knew pretty much nothing. 

I went through a variety of stages. First, frustration, sadness and loneliness. I covered it up by smiling a lot and imitating the body language of others. Another trick I found less useful was to say “Si” to everything. I wasn’t always sure what I was agreeing too!! All these people were having a great time and laughing a lot. I had…hmmmm… no one. I had a Dutch sailor friend, but we were hardly ever in the same marina. When we were, we talked each other’s ear off!! Wow, how great! Communication where both people understood! 

Second stage; you know how everyone is laughing? Yep, they’re laughing at me. They are making fun of me because I am stupid and it’s really funny. We can talk about her in front of her and she has no idea, that’s even funnier!! Total paranoia set in. Of course I don’t know for sure, but since I still hang out with the same people, I’m almost positive that was a false conclusion because they don’t talk badly of others! 

Then I came to stage three. I don’t want to hang out with anyone and I’m not going anywhere with CC because I don’t understand and no one even knows I exist because I can’t talk. Then I’m on the boat alone and I feel really lonely because I don’t have anyone to talk to and clearly CC doesn’t like me because he would rather be out with his friends. Part of the paranoia still exists, just not as strong. What makes it more of a killer is that my friends are in a different time zone, so when I really want to talk, it’s the middle of the night for them. Poor me, right? So I studied and studied and asked CC more questions about how to say things and what people were saying. During this time, I went back to England for a month and wow, was it ever great!! I could speak to people all of the time and just relax. Such a novelty!! 
On my return to Colombia, I moved into the next stage, where I’m at now. I guess the month of relaxing and studying did some good, because upon my return, I understood some jokes! I even understood a joke which was a play on words. Very advanced, right? AND I laughed at the same time as everyone else, not after CC explained to me why it was so funny. It was a miracle! 
Some days I still don’t understand and don’t have the energy to ask because I would be asking about every other sentence. It’s weird how it works. Some days I understand almost everything and then the next day, I hear the same words but just can’t remember what they mean. I’ve learned to stop being frustrated by it because it doesn’t change anything. It just is what it is and one day I will remember again. The more relaxed I am about it, the more easily it comes. Like everything in life. Patience and acceptance really is the key to life. 
We’re currently working a charter with a lovely group of Colombians. Thank goodness they are from a part of the country where their accents are easy to understand. However, I had just spent a significant time in the US and hadn’t been around many other Colombians besides CC. He changes the way he talks with me to make it more understandable, so the first day with the charter was tough. Luckily stage two never set back in so I wasn’t paranoid, but I did feel lonely and left out. One of the passengers is a great joke teller and everyone was laughing hysterically. Then at night, CC played the guitar while everyone sang. To make things worse, I wasn’t feeling well either. I decided to lie in the bow alone and listen from afar. I just didn’t feel like being an outsider inside of a group. However, I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I will admit, I was feeling lonely, but I just took comfort in the fact that a group of people were having a great time laughing and enjoying each other. I was a part of their group by enjoying from afar. And enjoying I was! The music and singing were great! I had heard some songs before because they are popular here and started to think of times when I was singing around a campfire with my friends. It was great to see people enjoy themselves. This group have really stressful jobs and work long hours. It feels so great to be a part of their enjoyment. After all, my life is pretty relaxed and stress free, it’s ridiculous to expect to enjoy every second of my life! So I sat staring at the stars and the beautiful moon which was almost full, listening and moving my feet to the music knowing that if I stick around long enough, I too will be singing these songs and probably telling jokes and making others laugh. I did it before and probably know more now about British pop culture than I do American! For now, I will just be patient and take each day as it comes. Some days I will feel like part of the group and some days I will feel like the outsider looking for my place.

The beauty of organised chaos on the road

I love love love being a passenger in a car outside of the “Western world.” It is completely exhilarating. The first time I did it, I was in India. What a shock. At first I thought that holiday was going to be the end of my beautiful, short life. Luckily I was in such big culture shock on the bus from the airport to the hotel that I didn’t realise the driving or road rules. I probably would’ve had a heart attack. I mean I was in such shock I couldn’t even talk. It started when a group of natives surrounded our suitcases and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We fought our way to a bus which I wouldn’t have considered functional. My boyfriend at the time said, “Look! It’s an old school bus from America. Maybe you rode in it when you were young!” I looked at him in terror and said nothing. Even though I had jeans on, there was no way I wanted to put my bum on that seat. I sat on the edge of the seat with my back straight, shoulders tensed and feeling totally numb. My boyfriend kept asking if I was alright, but I could barely register his voice. It was like I was in a bad dream and couldn’t move or speak. Looking out the window I saw true poverty for the first time. Families in huts and tents with huge holes in them so they offered little protection. Cows wandering everywhere and eating from piles of rubbish that were placed randomly along the street. Other piles of rubbish burning on the sides of the street. If I could call it a street. There was no pavement, it was all dirt road. With the huge traffic of cars, buses, bikes, animals, pedestrians, it was so dusty it was like I was viewing the world with dirt covered glasses. The smell! Oh the smell! The smell of plastic burning, human feces, animals and diesel. This was my first time outside of the first world. I wanted to close my eyes and plug my nose and think of nice things, but I couldn’t. I was also in awe of this world. How people can live so differently and still be laughing and having fun. The naked children were running around laughing, even though they had no toys. How incredible!! I vowed never to return to a place like this after experiencing it once. How wrong I was! This trip planted a seed in my heart which was to grow with time and age.

Back to the driving. We took a taxi to the jungle and I’m not sure what scared me more. The thought of being attacked by a tiger (it wasn’t that kind of jungle!), or being on the road with no rules. My boyfriend had been to numerous places like this and assured me it was safe. “They drive like this all the time. They are used to it!” I wasn’t so sure. We were going up a huge hill in the middle of a narrow road. I thought for sure it was the end. I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and told him I loved him. We were chugging slowly up the hill, in the middle of the road with cars going in opposite directions on either side of us. A two lane highway made into four of five lanes by the drivers. I thought if I was going to die, I should at least be happy. 

As the 10 days went on, I slowly started realising something. There weren’t formal road rules and I’m sure there were no driving schools, but there was a totally organised chaos. The rules seemed to be always look in front. As long as you did that, everyone behind would swerve when you did and the person you are about to turn into will slow down so you don’t hit them. There was some organisation!! I looked around and didn’t see any accidents or dents in cars. It couldn’t be all that bad. 

I found my last visit in the States so boring from the point of the road. I mean, come on, obeying stop signs, having and staying in proper lanes, forbidding motorcycles to go on any free space on the road, people wearing seat belts, etc. After 14 months in Latin America, I wasn’t used to this. How soul destroying!

Today we went to the supermarket. As we have a boat and not a car, we always take taxis. I have learned to love it! I feel exhilarated when we come within half a centimetre of hitting another car. I am sometimes scared for the motorcycles who swerve out of the way just in time when we unexpectedly change our route. Again, the rule is “look ahead.” The taxi drivers seem to make a game of how they can swerve in and out of the free spaces the road has to offer. My heart skips a beat. It’s like I’m watching a scary movie and I’m scared, but enjoying it! The climate of the taxi’s is great too. The freezer like air conditioning is a welcome break from the burning intensity of the sun on the street and boat. And the noises of the street! Constant honking of horns, not in an angry way, just as a way of saying “hey, I’m here!!” The street vendors shouting out what they have to offer. I can barely understand the drivers as they are from the coast and have a thick accent, but they tell jokes and make fun of other people. There is no road rage! After all, why be angry? It’s not going to get you anywhere faster and could get you arrested. 

As we pulled up to the marina, the rollercoaster ride ended. The taxi driver pulled me out of the moment of excitement with a heartwarming laugh and smile. “Gracias senorita!” Yes, I am home and I feel so exhilarated!

When the going gets tough, choose the right glasses. 

To be honest, I prefer not to have overnight charters. Right now it’s a way to make money, but I hope to find other ways very soon. Almost all of the people we’d had have been really nice. It’s just that there are people in my home who want to eat and drink stuff and be entertained. And I have to give up my really comfortable bed for a hard bench where I can feel all my rib and hip bones. Luckily I am now accustomed to this method of sleeping!

At first it was really hard, excuse the pun. That brings back a memory of the top of the bell curve of uncomfortableness. We were in one of my favourite lagoons in Cartagena with a nice group of interesting marine biologists (or so I was told. They were Colombians and at this time my level of Spanish was little more than smiles and imitating other’s facial features because I really had no clue). I hadn’t slept comfortably for three nights. There we were, on the deck, gazing at the stars and watching the mosquitos trying to break through the mosquito net (it finally came in handy!). What would normally be a perfectly romantic evening for rested me, was anything but. After calling to the sleep gods, I finally managed to fall asleep. Those mosquitoes worked hard as apparently my ankles were irresistible. I awoke to a group of them happily biting away at my ankles. My groans of frustration awoke CC who assured me I was imagining it all (the bites the next morning proved otherwise). I whined about how uncomfortable I was and started talking about wanting a really soft king sized bed to sleep in. As it was 4 a.m. and not the first time I whined, CC replied something insensitive. I shut my mouth and tried so hard to sleep. As I was about to start crying, CC said, “Don’t start crying. It won’t change anything.” To which I promptly burst into tears and said “I’m just so tired and so uncomfortable.” CC gave perhaps the best response ever, which was not so funny at the time, “If you want a comfortable bed to sleep in, find a captain of a cruise ship to shag!” As cruise ships have no interest to me, I was filled with rage at his suggestion and realised that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. 
As always, I digress. After a busy few months, I was relieved when the quiet month of September came along. I was looking forward to fun sailing just the two of us when I can practice being captain, jungle adventures, not having to cook for people and my bed!! Be careful what you wish for…
The first two weeks were great! We sailed around San Blas, had lots of time to snorkel, relax, explore islands, view the stars and talk about life. Then the money started to run low and as food is more expensive in the islands, we went to Portobelo. The first part of the first week was great. I had been having ear problems on and off and towards the end of that first week, it was constant and painful. Swimming made it worse so I stopped and I felt punished as not only was this exercise, but also one of the perks of the lifestyle! The humidity of Portobelo was making my ear more and more painful. 
Then came the hunger… Not working means no money for food. Please understand me, I’m writing from a first world perspective. We were not starving and although I was losing weight, still had my health. But this was a new thing to me. I could always eat as much as I wanted. We had bread for breakfast and either lunch or dinner. I used to dream of exotic and luxurious meals the meal we didn’t eat. With the pain of my ear and my hunger, I sometimes had a hard time keeping it together. Some days, the pain was so bad I couldn’t sleep and when I “woke up” in the morning, I would burst into tears. Most of the time CC was supportive and gave me a hug asking if there was anything he could do to help make me comfortable. Other times, the stress he was under and his frustration of not being able to help me, provoked a response that seemed to make everything worse. 
In two months we had one three day charter. We had no friends in this marina and really there were few people living on their boats to make friends with. We started to become good at finding the other person annoying. We both tired of spending our days reading, cleaning off the mould that developed daily due to the humidity, the same scenery and the same basic food every day. This is truly getting to know someone and a great life test on how to work through a challenging time.
As my lovely friend who spent 20 plus years on the sea said, “If you think you want to marry someone, spend six months with them on a boat. If you don’t want to kill him, he’s the one.” I’m not interested in getting married, but it made me realise something. Despite the hardship that CC and I faced those two months, I think of that time with a smile. We had so many lovely times together. I remember laughing a lot more than being upset. Portobelo has some beautiful hikes through the jungle which we explored while creating hilarious memories. There’s a fortress across from the marina which we made into our gym. There are three of them on a hillside so we climbed up and down twice almost every morning. It felt so good after not having other exercise!

We managed to find a way to deal with the other person in a way that was supportive instead of unhelpful. Mind you, I had the easy job. I just had to be silent and wait. CC had the hard job because what was supportive to me was different depending on my levels of pain, hunger, tiredness and boredom. Had I been with a less patient person, I would’ve been thrown overboard!! We got to know the locals well and enjoyed being a part of the community. We welcomed the Friday and Saturday night entertainment of the locals in the town square and overall managed to enjoy the beautiful things we had in front of us. 

Life is about balance. There are always two sides/extremes. With every dark cloud, there is always a silver lining. You just have to choose the right glasses to see it.