One of my friends explored many countries before entering graduate school. Even now, when he shares his travel stores, I find myself listening to each and every word, wondering if someday I might reach such a diverse breadth of destinations. Inevitably, somewhere in each of his stories, there is some completely random incident mentioned that has me shaking my head, not because it is ridiculous, but because of the way it is included so nonchalantly. I think it is because my friend has done so many obscure things over the years that his descriptions flow so naturally.
The more I travel, the more I find this same reaction of surprise when I share some of my adventures (and misadventures). The joke now for my friend and I is that when one of those random facts appears in his story, we say “Right. Because this one time…in <insert some obscure foreign place>…” before we laugh and move on. This has me inspired to share some of my experiences in brief, along with a few of my travel outtakes since it is a good reminder that not all adventures go off without a hitch. So, in no particular order:
This one time…
- …a few minutes into a full ferry ride just outside Cancun, the guy seated next to me (who had been silent when I sat down and whose appearance could have been described as being “somewhat intimidating” with all the tattoos and chains) turned to me and said, “I know you.” to which I instinctively replied, “Oh no, that’s not possible. I’m not from here.” Honestly, I can’t believe that was my reply, but this was earlier in my international travels when I was less open and engaging. He repeated, “I know you. I live in Cancun now.” By this time, I thought to myself that this was either the worst pick-up line I had ever heard, or by some unlikely chance, I had actually crossed paths with someone twice in my travels. I asked his name and almost immediately, it all came back to me. We hugged, caught up on how our lives had changed over the past couple of years, and it reminded me that the world is much smaller than we think.
- …in rural Guatemala, I hiked an active volcano and roasted marshmallows over a steam vent while watching puffs of smoke from the summit. Four days later, Volcan Pacaya erupted.
- …in Placencia, Belize, I reached for my shoe and a scorpion the size of my fist crawled out. Crisis averted, but I learned never to leave closed-toe shoes out in the open.
- …on the island of Beqa, I let a young Pacific boa constrictor nestle in my hands and climb down my back. Yes, it was wild and no, it did not bite me. Understandably, it did not want to be separated after a while, but it did return to the trees after I said my goodbyes and made my way into the jungle for the kava party. I could never have predicted that my kava would be prepared by a local “rugger” and Arizona State University fan. It is indeed a small world.
- …on Isabela island in the Galápagos, I had a full conversation with a sea lion and I am convinced he understood me. We had an exchange going for a while. He was very attentive, never interrupted and always responded when I paused after a question.
- …on a farm in Colombia, I fell off a milking stool while milking a cow (in front of a small audience who still laugh about this). To be clear, the “stool” consisted of perpendicular 2×4 scraps of wood nailed together so it was not exactly sturdy in the first place – more importantly, I milked a cow!
- …while still in Colombia, I left the pasture and found myself inside an active salt mine, 200 meters underground. Despite my germ-averse nature, I did lick the huge salt wall for good luck (must mind the local traditions!).
- …in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, a whale shark knocked my GoPro out of my hand and it plummeted to the bottom of the ocean (to a depth where only a tech certified diver could venture). I am thankful I had some videos from the prior day. The common question, why not just wear a lanyard around your wrist? The answer: Divers rarely attach camera gear to body parts in case of the rare instance when another big fish decides it wants a snack and mistakes the camera (and your hand) for food. As for not being able to avert that size of animal, I was keeping my eyes on several other whale sharks at the time in order to stay out of their paths when this one came from a blind spot and unknowingly tapped my hand with its fin.
- …just off the island of Utila, I was stung by a jellyfish as I was climbing up a dive boat ladder to exit the water. The “rite of passage” felt like a zap of electricity but it never hurt after that. The pattern of red dots on the back of my calf, however, lasted for weeks.
- …in Semuc Champey, I scaled slippery rocks, climbed precarious rope ladders and swam through the Kan’Ba cave, all by candlelight. A few bumps and bruises later, I took an inner tube down the Cahabón River back to my hostel in Lanquín. This is where I really learned the value of good water sandals.