A note on death wishes, birds and loving travel

I thought I’d finally lost it — not my mind (though some would argue otherwise) but something much dearer to me: my love of travel. I can’t put my finger on exactly when it happened or how, but to put it plainly, I got lazy. The thought of traveling for days on end with a constant line of dirt under my fingernails, unable to escape the odor of sunscreen, sleeping in a foreign bed every night and forgoing the comforts of my reliably repetitive, if mundane life made me feel suddenly very, very tired.

It was embarrassing to feel this way — saddening, too, as I recalled the memories of squealing at the sight of blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos only three years ago. I wondered miserably whether this was what adulthood felt like, or at least whether this was the beginning to a life of lethargic misdirection, or one of no direction at all.

Who knew that what it would take to reverse my increasing mental likeness to a couch potato was fifteen days with 14 girls, 4 teachers and the Guardians of the Galaxy playlist in a Ritchies van across the North Island with the unfailingly cheery Mandy at the wheel? 

I am scared of birds and dying by surprise (I feel O.K. about a death foretold). With these girls by my side — a few I knew well, others I hadn’t spoken a word to all year and others still I expected I wouldn’t know how to speak with at all — I faced these fears. As a black cob (male swan) with a bright orange-red beak (dipped in blood?) sped towards our jet boat — which with our wildly energetic driver at the helm, had sent huge waves to upset his cygnets (baby swans) and their mama — I, sat in the front row, laughing (O.K., I was tearing up a little and I thought my heart might pound its way out my chest), only separated from this aggressively approaching bird by Julia. I laughed still (while mentally scripting my will), as we sped off at the bare nick of time and as I heard shouts that the swan was chasing us like all hell, not far behind.

It occurs to me that this idea of my laughing hysterically as I internally considered the details of my death might sound a little macabre/a lot insane. I promise I’m (probably) not insane, and definitely not morbid. The first and last horror movie I watched was in 2009 and from what I gathered from the laughs of the people watching with me, it was (supposedly???) not very scary. Proof’s in the pudding.

Anyways, I was seriously afraid, as I catapulted myself backwards into a dark cave filled with water and glowworms and sharp edges, holding a life preserver to my butt. But with the girls (and Martino) in front of me and behind, holding out hands and talking me through it and singing ballads from Disney movies, it felt kind of okay. To be honest, I probably would not have jumped at all, without the comfort of that knowledge and that trust. Somewhere in that moment, it hit me that the water was actually very shallow, and the possibility of me dying here in these harmless waters hilariously close to zero.

I felt strong and more alive than I’d felt in a while, even as my kayak lagged behind all the others. The salt crunchy in my hair, sand in my swimsuit and the sun heating the top of my head, I realized, dipping my hand into the cool waters of Cathedral Cove, that I was not only completely content but also in a unusual state of mental clarity. I tossed back into the waves the frightening thought of returning to cell service and wifi, email pings and alarms. 

All it took was fifteen days with many great people to restore a grave loss, to return my love of travel. All it took was a uniquely uplifting experience, a sunny group of girls making conscious efforts to be together, present and reflective, encouraging of each other and open to getting to know one another, treating strangers as friends in order to make friends out of strangers, and taking every struggle as a gift — fierce pukanas at the ready.

To my relief, I am no longer planning my future like I’m seeking a retirement home or preparing for a life of depression within the walls of my dead-end job doing zilch to contribute to the good in the world (read: melodramatic teenager). Instead, thankfully, my mind once again wanders to past fantasies of backpacking through South America and Europe, traveling alone, traveling with friends, making unexpected friends and putting trust in the universe (and hotel hygiene and sanitation standards), instead of in my routine.

My faith in travel restored, I’m beginning to understand that what matters is not where you travel, not really. It’s with who. It’s with what mindset, what soundtrack, what lightness of being. It’s what jokes you make, what friends you make. Ultimately, it is what you make of all of what you get.