A Long Haitus

Well, I guess it has been a while. Christmas and New Years passed by in a blur of friends and family. January and February weekends were spent surfing on the snow and solidifying new friendships… as well as my snowboarding skills. Now I am only 10 days away from going home, and I finally feel like maybe home isn’t Toronto anymore. That’s not to say I’m not completely ecstatic about going back to Toronto, I am. I can’t wait to see my girls and that familiar skyline, but I will miss San Francisco. I’ve finally got myself situated with a great group of people who I think I can safely call my friends, and some good habits like bi-weekly yoga and volunteering at the SPCA. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6 months since I said goodbye to Canada. As for how long I will be back North, I am hoping it will only be a month or two. We got some hopeful news from the government that they only had to ship my papers around to two (!) more offices before I could go for my heath exam and interview. Then I can come and go freely between one home and the other, which will be a huge relief.

Besides building a home for myself here I have revisited a long-neglected writing course. I signed up for a travel writing course at online MatadorU about three years ago and have stopped and started on it too many times to count. Between work and the social calendar I used to have, it always fell by the wayside. Now I am finally equipped with enough free time to really put my back into it, so I have been working away on that. I am going to copy and paste one of my recently finished assignments here as a way to make up for months of blogging lost, so without further ado…

My best friend Alison and I were on a three-day tour to see the salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s famous salt flats. On the second day of the tour, we found ourselves standing five thousand meters up on top of Sol de Mañana volcano. This was the end of another eight hour day of driving, and the six of us sharing a single Toyota land cruiser were happy to stretch our legs. The volcano was covered in rusted brown dirt, with no vegetation in sight. The summit was mostly flat, with the crater in the center dipping only a couple feet below the edges. The face of the crater was dappled with gray spots that emitted clouds of steam which were quickly ripped away in the high elevation wind. Our guide Oscar gestured towards the volcano, “inside the crater,” he said, “there are boiling mud pots, heated by the volcano. They are as hot as one hundred degrees Celsius. You can go take a look inside the crater. Follow the path, but watch out for the mud pots!”

Rather than leading us along the narrow path, Oscar was propped casually against the Toyota chatting in Spanish to the other car’s guide. They were content to let us explore by ourselves. Their voices carried across the wind as we travelers picked our way along the winding dirt paths. I was keenly aware of every step, of every pebble that rolled under my step. Fear coursed through me, but elation ruled. I can’t believe I’m inside a volcano. The stench of sulfur assaulted our nostrils as we snapped pictures of the mud pots. Air pockets bubbled up slowly, fighting the viscous mud and it sounded like a boiling witches cauldron.

I appreciate that Oscar allowed us to explore the volcano by ourselves. That didn’t make him a neglectful guide – he trusted us to take care of ourselves. No one was coddling us or protecting us from our own inexperience. Our safety was in our own hands – and that made traveling in Bolivia authentic.

Only a week after traversing the crater of Sol de Mañana, Alison and I found ourselves a mere 100 meters above sea level in the Bolivian rainforests of Rurrenabaque. Our tour started with another long car ride to our embarkment site for a three-day boat tour along the Yakuma river. It was rainy season in the rainforest and the two boats on the riverbank were sitting low in the water. They were both nearly full to the brim with rainwater. I looked at Alison with my eyebrows raised. “Do you think those are our boats?” She shrugged. “Maybe.”

Quickly our vessels were bailed out and began looking more and more river worthy. The boats were shaped like elongated canoes and had ten flip-down seats staggered along the sides. Alison and I were among the first to take our seats and had only been sitting for a moment when there was some commotion near the bow of the boat. Word got to us that a tarantula had been spotted inside the front of the boat. Knowing of my arachnophobia, Alison tried to comfort me while I considered being stuck in a boat with a tarantula or taking my chances in the river. Knowing the water was home to anacondas, alligators, and piranhas kept me in my seat. The guides laughed at our discomfort as we squirmed in fear. Calmly, one of the guides picked up a large leaf and deftly flipped the hairy spider out of the boat.

During the next two days, we came within a few feet of caimans and alligators, went anaconda hunting in a marsh and saw baby anacondas nestled in the tree roots near our dock. On the last day of our rainforest tour in Rurrenabaque our guide took us to an open area of the river where we had tracked down some pink river dolphins.

“Okay,” he said, “go swimming!”

Pointing at three alligators sunning on the nearby shore, one of our group asked, “what about the alligators?”

The guide laughed. “The dolphins protect you. They beat the alligators up.”

Nearby another group who had arrived before us splashed around, laughing and screaming when the dolphins brushed their legs them or nibbled their toes. I paused for a moment, looked at Alison with a devilish grin, stripped down to my bathing suit and jumped off the boat.

5 Reasons you should try something that scares you

  1. It’s good to push your boundaries
    In daily life, we don’t often put ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable or scared. When you are traveling, there are many opportunities to try something that will push your boundaries, and you should say yes to them. When you do something that scares you, you may find that your perception of what you can and are willing to do is an underestimation. You may discover that you can do things (tiptoe between boiling mud pits) that you never knew you could do. This can open your life up to so many unique and amazing opportunities that you would have missed if you never pushed yourself.
  2. Fear and excitement keep you present
    When you are trying something that scares you it prompts your body to release adrenaline. This adrenaline heightens your awareness of your surroundings and keeps you engaged in the present moment. (You won’t be thinking about what you are going to eat for dinner when you are swimming in a river with an alligator.)
  3. You will have an authentic experience
    Not only will you be living in the moment, but you will be completely immersed in the experience. Rather than watching something comfortably from behind a camera lens (or from within a boat), jump in and experience it first hand (literally).
  4. You will learn something
    Trying something new can always teach us things. It might teach you something you never knew about the world (river dolphins can beat up alligators), it might teach you something you didn’t know about yourself (you are braver than you thought), or it might even teach you a new skill (how to get a tarantula out of a boat with a leaf).
  5. It can help you conquer your fears
    When you do something that scares you, it forces you to question your fears and your preconceived ideas. Traveling is an amazing opportunity to change your mind about something. In doing something that scares you (like jumping into alligator and piranha infested waters), you might discover that it isn’t actually that scary (they’re more afraid of you than you are of them)

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