Before (and during) the trip, I was worried about quite a few things. I was very worried about my academic success, asking questions to myself such as ‘What if I’m behind everyone else when I get back? What if my grades drop? What if I’m so far behind I can’t get into a good high school?’ Things like that.
I was also worried about the trip itself. ‘What if we contract a serious illness, like malaria?’ numbered among the top. However, ‘What if I break my leg and we’re in the middle of nowhere and can’t get to a doctor and it heals wrong and then when we finally get to one he has to re-break it to fix it?’ also carried serious weight.
Most questions concerning the trip revolve around diseases and serious injuries and such.
I was excited about things as well. I was excited about seeing new places, tropical forests and soaring mountains, barren deserts and vibrant reefs. I was excited about the new experiences, the new cultures, even the new hardships. I had always had a spirit for adventure, and now I was going on a real one.
We couldn’t go everywhere in each country, so my mom tried to balance it so we stayed in some places for longer; other places hardly at all New Zealand was the worst as we had to travel and drive a lot. It was better when we went to less places and spent a week or more somewhere – like in Sydney, Costa Rica, Chennai and Siem Reap.
There were difficulties, of course, like when I spent the entire night throwing up in our one night at the Lake Palace, a fancy hotel in India, and in Thailand when Thalie was sick and right when she got better Luke nearly cut his toe off on a barnacle. And then he and I both got really sick. And my mother was trying not to freak out because she searched barnacle injuries and Wikipedia and other websites were all saying can be very serious, especially in warm tropical waters (which was exactly where we were!), get to a doctor as soon as possible (we were on an island hotel in the middle of nowhere, and it was a holiday so the doctors had all left), in some cases can cause death within twenty-four hours.
And there were really scary parts, like white water rafting and rappelling. White water rafting was n Costa Rica. I mean, I’ve done it before, and I think it’s pretty fun, but this time around there was a huge thunderstorm. Lightning was striking all around us, and we were in the freaking water. It was a helluva mess, especially since our boat was really old and actually deflating; so the guide had to stop about every ten minutes and pump it back up again. And Luke, Thalie, and I were all just about hyperventilating, and so our mom was yelling “Calm down! Calm down! We have no control over life and death! Man up!” like a drill sergeant. And it really wasn’t helping matters much.
And rappelling… Oh, don’t even get me started on rappelling. Sure, towards the end, when we were just sliding down natural waterslides, but the beginning… oh my God…
Rappelling is basically being tied to a rope and bouncing off a sheer cliff face with a crazy rushing waterfall roaring down it at breakneck speed and you’re just clinging to your rope almost frozen with fear and trying desperately not to die. Thalie and I both participated, and let’s just say we wish we didn’t.
Okay, I’m not one for the ‘let’s just say’ stuff, so I’ll give you the whole story. We had to wear three wet suits (only us, the adults only had to wear one) and very nearly got heatstroke climbing up the cliff to the first waterfall. Luke stayed behind at this tiny little falling-down hut populated solely by chickens and cats. Meanwhile, my sister and I were going with the guides down the waterfall since we were kids (but the really scary thought is that if Luke had been a little bolder, I would have had to go alone!!! So yeah. And then just before we went down this really scary, really dangerous one, Thalie and I were standing together shivering and our mom just turns to us and says the following words:
“If anything happens to me, I want you to get my phone and call your father.”
Which was pretty traumatizing.
But although there were low points, there were high points as well. Australia and Costa Rica were my favorite countries, which I guess proves I was homesick or I don’t like Asian food or something. One of my highest points was water jet-booting in Australia, or art classes in Nosara, and definitely one of the best, best things was Foxy, the black Labrador and greyhound crossbreed who adopted me on the beach in Nosara, Costa Rica. She was the most intelligent dog I had ever had the pleasure of meeting. When we went out in the golf cart, she would follow us no matter what, tearing up the road. She followed us up mountains, tracking by smell. But when we left in a car, she knew not to follow, and she would stay at the house, barking mournfully. When I left for my art class on the first day, she followed me. On the second day, she left early in the morning, and when I left, I found her waiting for me there. One time. That’s all she needed.
I learned the most about different cultures and histories in Peru, Cambodia, or perhaps New Zealand. Where the Incas performed their human sacrifices and where the Maori hunted the moa and beat their war drums. Peru was the place of the ruins, of the perfectly placed stones and clever irrigation systems that are still used. It’s the place of the most ironic history possible (poor old Acahuelpa). Of the belief in tyrannical gods who demanded the blood of young children. Well, that is quite upsetting, but who am I to say that? It was never my world.
New Zealand was a place of museums – of ancient weapons and tools and skeletons. Of the shadows of the Maori, their war and their passion, their strength and their love of life. All in a museum, with the cold air and the high ceilings and the glass cases with greasy fingerprints pressed onto them. It was depressing how so many wonderful things end up in a museum. It is a place for dead things, after all. Cambodia is the place of recent trauma, where we heard impossibly horrible history with every person we spoke to – and saw the results daily.
But the place where I learned the most about the lives that other people lead was in India. There I saw houses held together by string and a sheer will to survive. There I saw people with stumps for fingers painting beautiful works of art. There I saw poverty. And it was terrifying.
India is hot and dry and dusty, and its people are poor. And they are wonderfully happy.
Because joy is free.
So I will always remember a mix of things. I will remember that homeless man I saw sleeping on the sidewalk, covered in fleas. I will remember the children I saw begging. I will remember thinking I would die a number of times. I will remember the stoneworkers who are slaves. But I will also remember the joy I saw in people’s faces. I will remember the children at Rising Star outreach. I will remember Foxy. And I will remember flying.
Because nothing can compete with flying.
That would have been a beautiful sentence to end on, but I still have one more thing to say. I will write what I would say to someone going on a similar trip, maybe with their family. So here it is.
It will be hard. There will be sickness and danger and sights you wish you did not see. At times you will say to yourself ‘Am I crazy? Why did I attempt this?’
But it will be worth it.
You will learn about cultures and histories and people, you will see jungles and monkeys and piranhas; you will feel more emotions than you ever felt possible. You will hate it and be lonely and be scared; you will be amazed and tired and exhilarated beyond belief.
Most of all, you will be glad you did it.