To Overcome, Part I

Trip Start Jan 05, 2011
1
16
Trip End Jan 05, 2012


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, April 1, 2011


Dear Readers,

I'm still debating whether my terrible
lack of Blog Posts is a good thing or a bad thing. My first,
guilt-ridden notion would be bad, but when I think back on the many
reasons why I haven't had the time or ability to write an update, I
have to conclude that all those reasons really boil down to just one:
I was busy living.

Still, the writer in me is having
little panic attacks every time it looks at a computer and is
currently quite afraid to show it's face in public. For its sake, I
am now going to write a behemoth of a blog post to try to make up for
these months of silence. Since there is simply so much to say, I'm
going to divide this post into two parts, the first being my
adventures and the emotional journey I've been going though, the
second focusing on the food, culture and wonders I have encountered.



Part I:

Since you last heard from me I have
been to New Zealand, briefly to Australia (2 hours was enough time to
realize I could absoloutly not afford it), Singapore, Malaysia and
finally Thailand, from where I am writing to you. In these same
couple of months Christchurch New Zealand was hit by another
earthquake just when it was beginning to recover from the last one,
Japan was devastated by a cataclysmic earthquake and Tsunami, the
Fukushima Nuclear Plant has become a battleground, Libya and Egypt
have both gone head over heels, Myanmar and northern Thailand were hit
by an earthquake and the south of Thailand is currently flooding. The
world has always been a dangerous place filled, but this year seems
worse, even, than usual. Maybe it's just because I'm following the
news more closely, or am in, have been or was planning on going to
the affected areas, but these disasters have affected me deeply.
Realizing just how fragile life is, how quickly it and everything you
know can be snatched from you, without warning, without cause...it's
a hard thing to grasp, and even harder to accept.


A little over three years ago I
returned early from an exchange program in the Dominican Republic
after facing my own mortality on the top of a mountain. I realized
then that the important things in life were not pride or accomplishments, but friends, family and not having any regrets. Since
then I have tried to live my life in accordance to that. Unfortunately, it also instilled in me a great fear, or maybe
hesitation is a better word. I wasn't sure I could succeed anymore,
wasn't sure my best would be enough. This year of travel was
important for me for a number of reasons. I have finally reached a
point in my life where I am healthy enough to do this, where my body
isn't stopping me, and I felt the need to prove, not to others, but
to myself, that I'm strong. Another reason is my driving desire to
find a place to call home. I've had occasional glimpses of it, and in
a way any place I have lived has become a sort of home, at least for
a while, but none of them have been quite the right fit. Even before
setting out I knew it would have to be more than just finding a
place. I had to settle something within me, find a middle ground
between the need to move, to learn, create, find out everything the
world has to offer, and the side of me that wants nothing more than a
quiet place of my own, a family and stability. I thought that perhaps
the answers would be out here somewhere, and I think some of them
have been. The final reason why I needed this trip was, I realize, to
run away. I've been so focused for so long on my goals and ambitions,
to doing things the right way. I chose to put those things before
everything else, and it's given me a rich life, but one with a
constant and relentless drive. I wanted to see what would happen if
that was taken away, wanted, I guess, to make sure that that wasn't
all there is to me. I've always had a plan, now, on the road, I have
none. I don't know what I'm going to do or where I'm going to go. I
have no one I have to impress and most of all I am allowing myself to
live completely in the present.

In my recounting of these pat few months
I feel it would be wrong to follow a chronological order, for while
the events that took place have shaped the thoughts, realizations and
decision I have made, it was threads throughout that lead to each
one. I will therefore begin two or so weeks ago on the island of Ko
Phangan.

On the bus to Bangkok three days before
i met a young man form England, lets call him UK. We hit it off and I
decided to accompany him to Ko Phangan instead of heading to the
capitol. A few hours and a boat ride later we crashed at the first
chap place we could find. The next two days were filled with
walking, chatting, getting lost, cats, rain storms and a very strange
party in the middle or the jungle on the island. On the third day, we
decided to rent a motorbike to tour the island. Late that day, after
hours of riding around while intermittently getting rained on, we
found our way to the base of a waterfall. We got off the bike and
climbed up a flight of steps to the base of the falls. Off to the
right was a steep winding path, overgrown by roots and ranches that
led up to the top. UK immediately started for it but I held back. I
haven't been able to face hiking since Pico Duarte in the DR. I just
stood there, staring at the path that looked so much like the one I
had so miserably failed to climb three years before. My heart was
racing and I kept trying to excuse my decision not to climb up to myself, kept trying to find a good reason why I wouldn't do it. I was probably never going to come back to this place, this would be my
only chance. Yet still I could not seem to move.

Rewind two weeks. I'm on Ko Lanta
island, at the Top View resort where I had been since arriving in
Thailand. The resort is balanced almost precariously at the top of a
hill, overlooking the ocean. The sun was setting. My eyes were red
and my whole body felt exhausted. Early this morning I had begun
reading a book, the last book of a series that I started when I was
eleven and that had shaped my teen years. Three hours earlier I had
finished the books and began to cry like I haven't this whole trip.
At first I thought I was crying because of the book, or because it
was the end of a series that I loved so much, but when the tears
wouldn't stop, I slowly realized I was crying for the end of my
childhood. I just sat on the beach ans sobbed until I couldn't cry
anymore. When the tears finally stopped, I felt completely empty. It
felt as if I had run a marathon and just didn't have anything else to
give, but then, form somewhere deep inside I began to laugh. I stood
up and started twirling, then dancing. Then I started crying gain,
but not out of sadness anymore. When that too was finally spent I
made my way home. Now I stood in the courtyard of Top View. I had a
fire twirling staff in my hand and was trying and failing to
understand the move one of the brothers who run the inn, who had
decided to teach me to spin, has showed me. I kept repeating the
move over and over again, my hands stinging and sore. I was
frustrated, emotionally spent and just exhausted, both in mind and
body. But I kept going and going and going until I finally just
turned my mind off and let my body work. A moment later the staff
made the jump between my right hand and my left and spun back in
front of me, the way I had been trying and failing to make it do
since I started. That's when I realized what this trip had been about
so far, what every challenge that I had faced was teaching me. I was
learning to overcome.

Back at the waterfall I let my fingers
run over the callouses that have begun to form on my hands from
working with my staff. I took a deep breath. To Overcome. I started
walking. I kept walking, scrambling up the steep incline, pulling myself up by tree branches, using the roots in the path as leverage
and the whole time keeping my eyes focused upwards on the path ahead.
My legs burned, but it wasn't the burn of pain of three years before,
it was the burn of muscles being stretched and used well. I was
breathing heavily, but my lungs were not failing me and the sweat
that rolled off me was clean and healthy. My body didn't give out on
me, even when I reached the top of the waterfall, even when I climbed
up the even steeper path to the vantage point above it. I reached the
very top and stared down at the winding path, the flowing water. I
closed my eyes, breathing in deeply, and felt a hint of that same elation that overwhelmed me on the beach tingle up my arms and legs.
I looked up towards the twilight sky and let the fear that had been
with me for so long go. My health has always stopped me, always
slowed me down, and in some ways, it always will. I have accepted
that I will always have to be careful, always have to take good care
of myself, but my body is no longer holding me back, not if I know
how to pace myself. These are limits I can accept. They are limits
that have shaped who I am. I know how to deal with pain, I know how
to take the time and energy to take care of myself the way I need to
be taken care of. Now I am finally seeing the rewards of the battle
I've been fighting. Even after all the hurdles of this trip, from
food poisoning to bed bugs, allergic reactions to tonsillitis, I still
managed to climb to the top. It's a realization that changes
everything.

It's that moment at the waterfall I
keep coming back to. I've been in Bangkok for almost two weeks now.
In that time the Myanmar earthquake hit and Southern Thailand has
flooded. Ko Phangan is under feet of water, Ko Lanta, as far as I
have heard, is doing only a little better. There was a day when I
considered just going home. It's a terrifying thing, being surrounded
by disasters on every side. Christchurch, where I spent two weeks and
almost stopped my travels at was hit, the very building I was living
in now uninhabitable. Waikiki, my very first stop got hit by the
Japan Tsunami. Now the islands that gave me so much are suffering. If
I had stopped. If I hadn't pressed onward, I would have been in one
of those places when disaster struck. I called home multiple times on
that day, cried a bit, tried to convince myself one way then another.
One side of the argument was simple: I could go home. I've faced a
lot already, seen things that are marvelous. If I came home I would
still have gotten so much out of this experience, and more
importantly I could be with the people I love. Solitude is a funny
thing, its insidious, it worms away at you until one day you wake up
and you realize just how desperately you need someone to know your
name, to care if you're doing alright. I miss hugs and being part of
a community. Wasn't that what I had learned on Pico Duarte, that
family and friends were the most important thing, that it's not about
where you are or what you're doing but who you're with? But that was
Pico Duarte, that was what I had to learn at that time. Coming home
then was the right decision. This trip is different, this is about
me, and honoring my own strength. I'm not opposed to coming home
early, it's not a matter of pride. It's a simple thing really. I just
know that if I went home now I would not forgive myself for it,
because I still have it in me to keep going. It's fear and solitude
that would drive me home, not love and the need to be there. It might
have been the right decision, but it would have been for the wrong
reasons. I'm not done learning, I'm not done exploring.


When I chose to stay I felt a weight
fall from my shoulders. In the days since I have come to believe that
it was the moment when I took that final step in the emotional slope
I was climbing. I faced the temptation of giving up, returning to
everything that was familiar and easy and I didn't take it. I chose
instead to face the difficulties and to have faith that whatever
challenges are put in my path, I will be able to overcome them. It
also gave me the freedom to relay analyze myself, and judge how much
more I could take before it would be too much. Part of knowing I'm
strong is knowing the difference between giving up and doing what
needs to be done. I know I could make it all the way, do the whole
year, but I don't feel the need to anymore. The drive has left. The
desperation to keep moving has left. Whatever I was running from,
whatever fear was pushing me on seems to have finally fallen away.


When I was in New Zealand I encountered
a sensation that I never had before. The land called to me there. I
felt a bone deep sense of peace and belonging that I have never
experienced before. I almost stayed, almost decided that it was my
final destination, but even there, the drive to keep running came,
and I did. I think I've finally figured out what that fear was. I was
afraid to commit to something, to let myself go with all my heart to
a place and community, because I've always been on the outside. I
grew up in a country I wanted to be a part of so badly but was never allowed to. By the time I moved to the US I was already too scared of
that rejection to try again. All my life I've been the one leaving.
Always off on another adventure, or another project. I always thought
I was looking for a sense of home, but now I think the truth is I was
petrified I'd find it, and that it wouldn't accept me. Traveling the
world, chancing from place to place continuously, I'm beginning to
realize that anywhere can be home. I am from nowhere, nowhere
tangible at least, so really, I can fit in anywhere. A fellow
traveler commented the other day that he was amazed that after only a
day I knew every back alley, every little hole in the wall restaurant
and locals greeted me by name. It's what I'm good at, it's what I
love most about exploring a new place, and the longer I stay, the
more I love it and the sadder I am to say goodbye. I've been finding
homes for years and just haven't realized it.

This is why, at the end of that day of
temptation, when I decided to stay, I also decided that I would stay
only as long as I needed to. I have dreamed of India and Ethiopia,
and would regret not going, and I want to see Italy again, but after
that, it's time to go back to my life, this time with a few less
fears and no more need to run.












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Comments

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