My soul is tethered to a sail, I think. I feel a tug to follow the wind wherever it may go. There are times of course where that sail is rolled away and stowed, when I need to focus on people or life at home but that connection never severs; waiting, hibernating. And when my soul’s sail unfurls and that rush catches me I can’t help but want to seek out every edge of the earth.
Right now I’m in the Philippines on the island of Palawan, a place that easily lives up to its reputation as The Most Beautiful Island in the World. To say that I’m happy right now is such an obvious understatement it’s almost silly, but there you have it. I’m happy here.
I’ve been anticipating this trip for a long time, as months ago I’d found an incredible deal on flights and bought two tickets on the spot before my brain could tell me not to. I wasn’t sure who my travel companion would be but I was willing to bet I could talk someone into going with me; either that or I’d go alone again since the cost of two tickets was still less than I’d been expecting to spend on only one. And, again, I’m happy with how it’s worked out now that my boyfriend, Mike, decided to leap into travelling with me. He might not have been certain at first on the idea of being on the other side of the world with me but he’s been great – always up for adventure and willing to look for the positives in any situation.
It’s early morning as I write this post, and I’ve been sitting at a small table in the sunny courtyard of the hostel. A few minutes ago a little boy walked up to me to show me something. I smiled at him and was expecting to have to try to kindly tell him I wasn’t buying anything, but he just wanted to show me his toys. In a moment he was sitting down and playing beside me. Happiness personified in a sweet little face, even though he was more interested in playing with the camera than smiling for it.
Yesterday Mike and I were able to see a little more of Palawan when we joined a day trip tour to an underground river. The scenery was spectacular, and while I sat in the canoe marvelling at the mangroves surrounding us the guide would point out something new to notice every few minutes. I loved how proud he was to show us a bit of his world. In fact, I was impressed all around with how well the community of Puerto Princesa has worked to develop sustainable tourism. I don’t know with any certainty but it feels like this area has tried to learn from its other SE Asia neighbours and avoid some of the problems that have plagued other top destinations. I think it’ll be successful, and I hope more people are able to come experience Palawan.
How lucky am I that I’m able to soar away with the wind like this? To see the kinds of places filled with a kind-hearted population like this? This wind in my sails is calm and steady again as I contentedly coast along here in the Philippines.
The man I was married to was a good man. He was kind, so handsome, talented, and full of a charisma that drew in everyone who met him. Descriptions of him list like a thesaurus of “good”; admirable, attractive, commendable, estimable, laudable, rare. He was good to me.
But not good for me.
It’s difficult to draw that distinction properly, in a way that captures all the subtle nuances of an eight-year marriage without minimizing or ‘monsterising’ either one of us. And I want to be careful, as despite it all, his feelings and pride still matter to me. I know how much he would hate to be a public topic, but this is my story and I’ve decided it’s important for me to tell even if it makes him uncomfortable. There could be other people hurting in the same way and may need to see that life can be better even after the broken hearts.
I am a sunny optimist by nature; a bright-eyed, blue skies, glass-almost-full kind of person; and generally it’s been easy for me to dismiss negatives in my life. Overall I’m thankful for this, but there are some drawbacks with this aptitude. The man I was married to thought that I was disingenuous and somehow putting on a show with my smiles instead of being honest about how I really felt. I think early on he may have admired the way I saw the best in any situation, but the years eroded that to a sharp resentment. He viewed me as falsely sugary and insipid, and every time he snapped at me when I said something silly it stung. So I would try to be less somehow – I learned he hated it when I would add some comment about the ‘bright side’ of whatever he was talking about as it made him feel like I wasn’t on his side. In all our years together I was never, ever, able to cheer him up out of a bad mood. We just had to wait until he’d had enough alone time to work through whatever he was feeling. Then the next hour /or day/ or week/ or whenever he was ready, he’d give me a kiss and be all smiles and the tension I’d tiptoed around with would melt away. I believed everything was ok after each time and he believed he was doing what he had to by acting like it was ok. We were both wrong.
The man I was married to seemed like the most social person in any room. His big laugh would echo and his stories would draw in a crowd. I loved being by his side when we were out. For me, being in a group is energizing and I would want to be with friends or meet new people every possible chance, so at first his magnetism worked in my favour. But it was exhausting for him. He wasn’t gregarious in a crowd because he loved it; he acted that way as a coping skill to handle his anxiety. He felt if he were the one always in control of the conversation, then there was less chance for him to be embarrassed or for an awkward situation to catch him off guard. But I was the wild card for him and my interpretations and way of interacting with others never made sense to him, so I would be quietly shushed. I know now that he wasn’t trying to be cruel to me, it was more a symptom of his own internal struggle, but despite his intentions this was incredibly damaging to me. Each time he would shoot me that look to stop talking, each fight in the car home after an outing where he felt I had done some unforgivable social blunder, every time he spoke over me so I couldn’t have my own voice in the crowd, I took to heart. I would stay quieter and second-guess every comment I would make and be too nervous to add to the conversation. So you can see how this could be a vicious cycle. I think that in our later years together this man who was supposed to know me better than anyone genuinely believed that I wasn’t interested in conversation. He told me I was a snob and that I embarrassed him by being so unfriendly to everyone.
The man I was married to did his best to treat me well. He always opened every door for me, started my car in the winter, and would often hold my hand or touch my back while we were out together. I was so encouraged by the tiny little gestures he would do for me and believed they were to show me I was loved. Maybe they were. Maybe they were actions born from an intense fear of what people thought of him, so in case anyone was watching he better treat ‘his wife’ in a manner they would approve of. And that’s the crux of it as I’ve learned after the marriage fell apart. It was so important to him to “Be A Good Husband” as a personal checklist that it didn’t even matter to him he no longer knew me or loved me. I was a placeholder rather than a person. We married young and very fast, before we really had a chance to get to know each other, and for years we then thought that we just needed to make the best of it because it was too late. I remember saying to friends years ago about how if we had only been dating still in that first year we would have broken up for sure. Said in a flippant and smiley ‘good thing we’re married so we’re still together and working it out’ kind of way. Ugh.
The man I was married to used to tell me that he didn’t want to hear my insecurities. He would say that he was attracted to me so I shouldn’t tell him when I hated my hair or felt like I didn’t fit into my clothes because then those comments might get in his head and possibly change the way he saw me. And these were said in our good days, so I believed him and would do my best to hide my self-doubt from my husband. It takes years to catch and change those patterns but I really worked hard at it. Over the years he gradually he stopped complimenting me. I couldn’t post photos that I looked good in because he didn’t like that I might not seem modest. And then he said to me: “You are so vain you make me sick.” He may have regretted the comment because I was so hurt by it, but I know those were words he meant and not just said in anger. It’s too bad he was so wrong. Or, along the same lines: He would tell me at various times how it bugged him that I was not content; why couldn’t I just be happy with life as it was and not always want to be somewhere else? Or then he’d say he didn’t like my lack of ambition and why couldn’t I just try harder to find something to excel at? There were a few times in our eight years (3 to be exact) that I was offered an incredible ‘dream job’ and he would start off happy for me and supportive, but then abruptly pull his support and say that my choice would end our marriage if I accepted the job. I asked him after the fact about those times, and he admitted that he never believed I would actually be hired so he wanted to try to seem supportive, until he couldn’t.
I know that last paragraph seems negative, but I look at it as a symptom of his own struggles. He wanted so badly to genuinely be good to me and to everyone else but there was more going on in his head than he was able to handle. And this has all been from my side of the story – I know he has his side. I didn’t understand him, and likely brought out the worst in him. I hope that the man I was married to has found the help he needed, in whatever form that may be, and that now he may stop torturing himself with an unnecessary and unobtainable goal of being perfection to everyone else. I hope he has good people around him who bring out the best in him.
I allowed a hurting man to erase my own self confidence, but I’m lucky that I have people around me now who are helping me to believe that I’m worth talking to. With each tiny affirmation from family, friends, and even fellow travellers I’ve met, I feel my own personality returning and the confidence to own who I am, flaws and all. I thank God for healing broken hearts. I learned a lot from the man I was married to and am starting to be able to see the good I can keep from the memories of him, hopefully it’s made me a more empathetic person. There’s a new boyfriend now, one who is good FOR me as well as good to me.
If you recognize yourself in any part of this story, please seek out help. Don’t wait. Talk to a therapist or find counselling. If medication is needed for anxiety or any other mental health struggle please know there is no shame in accepting a prescription. If you are hurting, or being hurt, there are people who can help. Mental and emotional health are an important part of the equation along with physical…. don’t forget that.
Forget Your Past. I hear well meaning people say things like this a lot, and it’s generally really good advice, in the context it’s meant. Or, it’s hard to spend 10 minutes online without seeing some variation of this as an inspirational poster: Don’t Look Back. Yes, yes. By all means, do not get so tangled worrying about your past mistakes that you tie up today.
I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward again lately, so of course I’ve heard heaps of this. I appreciate the advice, I do. I’m just feeling contrary right now. There’s so much still that I want to be able to remember with a smile, or tears when they come; and I think I may even be in a phase where I need to look to my personal history in order to figure out my best next moves. Some of this I mean tongue-in-cheek, too, like how I need to look back at my past travels in order to sustain me through this current flightfamine I’m in.Travel is my personal nourishment, and I’m fading away – my malnourished sense of adventure dwindling daily while I drudge to my desk.
So my next few posts will be all about looking back in order to move forward. First step: Get deliciously lost in my memories and daydreams of previous trips while I look to start writing here again. Second step: Gain back some momentum with my travel blog, thus inspiring myself enough again to find a way to convince my employer I’m due for a week (at least) off. Third: Pounce on that time off and zip away to explore some more of this big beautiful world, camera and laptop in tow for the blog! And in that happy frame of mind again, I fully expect to be able to sort out all these other life details I need to get to.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I can’t wait to tell you about my time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo!
I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about. They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour. I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city. So why haven’t I written that?
As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating. When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done. Dull. So I avoid it, and my blog. Self-perpetuating non-motion. To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.
This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered. My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…). At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once. I spent years defining myself by my job: I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant. When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around. I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month…. Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago. It fits here for me now.
Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck. – Og Mandino
I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future. And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel. It really is the best medicine for me! The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there. My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.
We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide! It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.
Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre. This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike. I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything! I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home! Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on. Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home! And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating. Which I love!
At “Karmakamet” aromatic shop and diner
Craft Thai Beer
Aromatics for sale
Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok! I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway. Thanks for reading along with me.
“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.” Glenn Clark
Have you ever sat back and just marvelled at the power of words? At how something you hear or read can halt you in your tracks as it grabs your subconscious and forces you to pay attention? Tonight I had another one of these moments with the quote above. And I can’t believe I’m going to write about it publicly since those are qualities I would prefer to keep locked away, out of reach of my own attention and certainly anyone else’s.
This quote from Glenn Clark first found its way to me about 6 months ago, I don’t remember where I saw it but I added it to my little notebook list. I liked it then, and also the other times I’ve seen it when I open that page to add another quote or thought. Somehow though, I didn’t need those words until right now. I sometimes passively wonder when the others I have jotted down will spring to life….
I’ve been travelling for the past 12 or so weeks, and as I absorbed these words tonight I had a flash of recognition. A vision of myself and the backpack I’ve had with me, smiling for the camera in front of some far-flung location. That smile is genuine, by the way, full of hope, the excitement of adventure and pride of accomplishment in equal measure. But my pack is too big and becoming more unwieldy as I pose and I realize I’ve brought along too much with me – those negative emotions I’d stuffed in with the rest of my dirty laundry.
In just this past week I can easily list off the times I harboured envy, nursed petty jealousy, felt unwilling to forgive and thought selfishly. It has been a significantly harder week than my usual, but I don’t want to allow that any foothold in my life nor do I wish to get used to the idea that my circumstances control me. I still get to choose my reactions. So I choose now to ‘unpack’ and leave these behind. I know this won’t be the last time I’ll allow negatives and fear to burden me, but for now I’m repeating this quote as my mantra until I can travel lightly enough to fly far and fast to the great things ahead.
P.S. I did say in my very first post (Introducing: aimlessly + anywhere) that my blog may end up with a bit of everything. This one certainly fell under the ‘therapeutic diary’ category rather than travel journal…. But I’ll be back on the road before long and hopefully have some good stories to tell soon!
If you’re as inspired by the quote as I was, and would like to keep it with my picture you are welcome to save the image at the top of the post. In case you’re curious, I took that photo from the Citadel at the top of the Gellert Hill in Budapest.
I wrote most of the last post while I was en route from Cartagena to Santa Marta, so I’ll pick up my narrative again from there. I had planned (and I of course use that term loosely) to start a trek into Colombia’s mountainous jungles the day after arriving in Santa Marta. This trek is Colombia’s version of the Inca Trail in Peru, an intense 5 day hike to the “Lost City” of an ancient civilization. Since I’m reasonably fit, and happened to have running shoes, first aid kit, flashlight and insect repellent all my in my bag I deemed myself ready to tackle whatever would come my way. However, as soon as I arrived at my Santa Marta Hostel I saw a sign informing travellers that the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Trek was closed for 10 days. Ugh. Maybe if I had done some actual planning I would have known that, but it came as a surprise to me, and of course just after I had spent 3 days getting excited about it.
I think that should actually be the theme of this post: Things I Didn’t Do in Colombia. Starting off with this trek, I also managed to miss seemingly all the other highlights. Whenever I would chat with people I would inevitably end up having to weather the surprised looks from them as they learned how little of the tourist trail I was experiencing.
I didn’t get to Medellín to take the Pablo Escobar tour.
I missed Salento and the stunning scenery there.
Skipped the National Park Tayrona where people camp in a hammock on the beach to see the bioluminescent algae at night.
Never made it to the Pacific side of the country, nor the South at all.
Even touring a coffee plantation somehow got knocked off my to-do list, and that really is surprising considering how much I had been looking forward to learning about (read: stocking up on) those magical beans that I rely on to kickstart my brain every morning.
Looks like I need to get back to Colombia, pronto! I still want to experience it all!
So, sensing that I might be in danger of losing my Travel Blogger Badge after that list I think I’ll launch right in to what I actually did experience…. Which is in short the rejuvenation that comes from meeting great people I really click with at a hostel that I didn’t want to leave. A special shout out here to the New Zealand kids that kept things entertaining, Victoria from New York, and Marc from Zurich – you guys were exactly what I needed this week!
Victoria and I took a day trip to a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Minca. We had heard about a hike to a waterfall near there and decided to see for ourselves. After negotiating a ride in a shared Jeep up the mountain we were dropped off on the Main Street of town where local teens were waiting to take tourists up further on the back of their motorbikes. We came to hike, so we declined and set off on our own.
By early afternoon our destination revealed itself to be shimmering pools at the bottom of a small series of waterfalls, and we both happily plunked ourselves in the cool clear water. As it turns out, I learned later that night that “the” waterfall of guidebook fame was actually in the other direction… so chock that up to another item I missed!
We knew we were in the rainy season so we’d need to start back down before long, but I’ll admit we took our time, naïvely assuming that a little rain while we walked after already being wet from swimming wouldn’t bother us. Wrong again – but it did bring in the adrenaline portion of our adventure when we realized we needed to get to town ASAP to avoid drowning in the torrential rain. Only one motorcycle was still up there, so both of us squeezed on a tiny bike behind our young driver and hurried off down the steep muddy and rutted trail. I was just hoping that when we crashed the worst injury would be scrapes and bruises, but I’ll give credit to his skill and admit that it was actually fun. Needing a place to wait out the deluge, Victoria and I agreed to have a late lunch at the home of this driver – he assured us his mother’s cooking was better than any restaurant in town. Agreed! The very traditional meal of vegetable soup followed by chicken with coconut rice and fried plantains was amazing!
Well. For a post on the 5 days I stayed put in the Santa Marta area, this is really getting long. The rest of my time was beautifully busy being lazy; alternating the beach, pool and hammocks with occasional walks to explore the area. Full of reading, laughter and conversations, and great food. I mentioned already I loved the hostel but I need to reiterate: If I could have moved permanently into Hostel Calle 11 Santa Marta I think I would have! Rumour has it the building was a former drug cartel mansion, but the new owners have created the perfect space for lounging. I think I’ll always smile when I think of this part of Colombia. Plus, the tranquil atmosphere was the perfect prep before arriving in the extreme chaos of that is the city of Bogota!