Much has been written about what it’s like to be young, wild, and free (there’s even a song about it). Like so many, I was infatuated with the idea that I was invincible. I used to believe that in this life, you had 2 choices: either you live life so outrageously well, diving from one adventure to the next or wait for decay with your regular 9 to 5 plus commute every single day for the rest of your life. They always made it seem like one was better than the other. Ultimately, what you choose will define who you are. We’ve perpetuated our happiness to depend on how many times we’ve ticked off an item on our list. Buy a house, check. Climb a mountain, check. But is this all there is?
Hi, I’m Mariel and I have no idea what I’m doing – so I traveled. Yeah. It seemed like a sensible idea at the time, whatever. I blame Kerouac. I blame Hunter S. Thompson. Fucking Paul Theroux. They promised me answers but all I got was more questions. What is it about traveling that got us all crazy?
It was harmless at first. I only left during the weekends, 3 days maximum. Once a month became twice a month until weekends just didn’t cut it for me. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months. Before I knew it, I was living in a backpack, my skin perpetually tan and sandy, my hair a tangled mess of dried up whatever. Being an underpaid designer, I was very cheap. I avoided the tourist trail like a plague, not because I was “too cool” for that, but because of the jacked-up prices. Instead, I boarded beaten up buses, overcrowded boats, and other questionable old vehicles to take the long way around. In return, I was rewarded with untouched mountain trails, pristine undeveloped beaches and stellar company with other travelers and locals along the way.
I felt a certain kind of thirst, a lust, if you will, and I realized that wanderlust wasn’t something you should romanticize because it was a sickness.
For as long as I have traveled, I’ve always favored going where the ocean is. I retreat to the arms of the sea whenever I need reassurance of what I can be. Pretending to be an astronaut in space, I glide weightlessly as I marvel at the many colors hidden underneath the vast expanse of blue that stretches out for miles.
For a moment, I feel okay. ‘Okay’ is not great. ‘Okay’ doesn’t deserve a spot in the headlines of the benefits of traveling. But ‘okay’ is a start, and for that I am grateful. The sea has taught me about surprises. About little pockets in the world, different worlds within our world that deserves to be explored in their own right. Once you’ve started exploring and you’ve had a taste of what is out there, you wonder, what else is the world hiding? So I kept going. It was hard to go home. Not when it was beautiful like this.
However, when we talk about travelling, we don’t usually talk about the grey parts, do we? – you know, the part when you’re sitting next to a chicken constantly clucking and trying to get out of its cage and it hits you that you have 14 hours of this ahead of you, that there is karaoke in the middle of the ocean until 1 o’clock in the morning, feces smeared on bathroom walls on old hostels, the murky brown water an old lady offers you but you can’t turn it down because you don’t want to insult her so you drink it anyway and pray for your life, the 30-minute waiting time for the bathroom, riding on top of a beaten up bus on bad roads for hours on end, the boatman trying to hit on you, entitled foreigners mistaking you for a prostitute, the list goes on.
What we do talk about is witnessing a thunderstorm from a safe distance. The rumbling of the skies that signals an incoming lightning, and when the lightning strikes, it illuminates the otherwise dark expanse. We talk about waking up to the early morning sun peaking through majestic limestone cliffs. We talk about the mountains and the stories about gods playing in its peak. We talk about the cascading sea and its promise of otherworldly adventures.
Travel teaches us to be like the sea, strong and generous, and like a mountain, steadfast and resilient. Injuries tell us that we are not invincible. Scars and bruises tell us that we are not strong but, man, we are pliable. We endure.
We take for granted what it takes to witness for ourselves those picturesque landscapes we keep seeing in magazines. You are in paradise, but you went through some kind of hell to get there, which makes it all the more worth it. However, the world is growing less wild by the minute. I see concrete roads in what was once vegetation, seeking solace and inner peace by climbing a mountain seems to be near impossible now since you’re sharing the summit with, like a 100 other people. Want to see sharks and dolphins? Easy, just go to an Ocean Park. What used to be a long stretch of sandy beach has turned into a restaurant strip. What was once a rite of passage was commodified and for what? So that we can escape to somewhere we can feel good about ourselves when our entitled, privileged life becomes “too much”?
So I went home. I cut all my hair, dusted off the sand in my toes and went back to the daily grind. After a few months, I was beginning to feel restless again. I wanted to leave, thinking that life was elsewhere. I felt a certain kind of thirst, a lust, if you will, and I realized that wanderlust wasn’t something you should romanticize because it was a sickness.
Conquer. I wanted to conquer the world. It took me a few more trips to realize that the world is not something to conquer. The mountains, the sea – they are not here to satisfy my ego or to bow down to me. They will not yield to something as tiny as I am. And so, with awe and reverence, I surrendered.
Our life is a series of experiences that are designed to burn us out, to challenge our attachment to pleasure, pain, comfort and fear, all of it. Travel teaches us to be like the sea, strong and generous, and like a mountain, steadfast and resilient. Injuries tell us that we are not invincible. Scars and bruises tell us that we are not strong but, man, we are pliable. We endure.