The previous three weeks had been hard ones. We’d gone too many miles on not enough gallons and even little comforts had been few and far between. A year-and-a-half into our travels, we were quite used to basic accommodations: small beds, lumpy mattresses, sheets worn whisper thin, scratchy wool blankets, grey concrete walls and floors with sometimes only a single bulb illuminating our cell of a room. A ceiling fan and a private bath were luxuries. Hot water was a major bonus. Air conditioning was a splurge we saved for special occasions. Our food expectations had trimmed down as well. We ate what the locals ate: usually some kind of bread or oatmeal and coffee for breakfast; lunch was a starch and a protein (beans and rice, chicken and potatoes, noodle soup) with the occasional green vegetable or piece of fruit; dinner was a lighter version of lunch. Typical treats were fresh squeezed juices (mango, papaya, guava, and tamarind were favorites) and some thoroughly delightful imported German cookies that could be found almost anywhere called Hit Biscuits (think digestive biscuit with a chocolate filling.) Now and again we would run across an Asian restaurant, a burger joint, or an ice cream parlor and when we did it felt like a celebration.
But the past twenty one days moving through Nicaragua and the northernmost part of Costa Rica had pared our expectations for what was absolutely necessary down a few more notches. Coming through an experience you genuinely have no idea how you’re going to survive has a powerful way of re-ordering one’s world; moving to the background those things that are relatively unimportant; highlighting in iridescent yellow those things that are absolutely essential. In other words, super gluing those perspectacles* firmly to your face. Must have’s now included enough food to fuel our activity, enough water to stay hydrated and keep clean, adequate shelter (clean sheets, floors, and bathrooms…or at least one of the three) and some reliable form of transportation. In addition we most definitely wanted good health, companionship, something interesting to read, a little music now and then, and the occasional package of Hit Biscuits.
Oh, and since I was experiencing the symptoms some kind of nasty gastrointestinal infection, access to antibiotics. That was definitely a must.
There’s actually something liberating about scaling down one’s needs. It’s like cleaning out the closet or the garage. It frees up space and energy to first of all be able to even notice what really matters and second of all to be able to actually enjoy it.
So once we made it through our not enough to eat, both of us sleeping in a hammock, no transportation period we suddenly felt really good about almost everything. What had we complained or worried about before? We honestly couldn’t remember. Now that we weren’t “hangry” all the time, everything seemed to just flow. Had it always? Seriously, all we had to do was talk about where we wanted to go next and… poof! Someone would appear out of nowhere to offer us a ride to that exact spot. There was Walter and Gabriel, hotel inspectors, who invited us to ride in the back seat of their comfortable sedan from Liberia to Santa Cruz. Then there was a guy delivering construction materials who pulled over and offered us a ride from Santa Cruz to the coast. And finally, the fellow delivering sand to a gorgeous beach we’d decided to visit further south called Playa Junquillal. Although why he was delivering sand to a beach was never made clear.
We spent the next two weeks moving from one beautiful beach to the next, lulled to sleep each night by the rhythmic sound of crashing waves. We awoke each morning to that same rhythm punctuated by the insistent squawk of seagulls. Bill got out his fishing rod and hung the hammock under a palm tree so I could watch him fish in the surf while I relaxed with a good book, lazily swaying in the breeze. The scenery was spectacular but everything else, the little concrete rooms with the worn out bedding, the beans and rice, it all seemed so much more miraculous and gorgeous than it had a few weeks before.
Often it is suffering rather than success that leads us to new understanding, to a fresh perspective, to a sense of well-being. Hardship can be a fast track to that reset button reminding us about what really matters and what does not. Moving through a time of struggle can help us mine our inner stores of strength, of wisdom, of love. It felt as though we had rounded a bend in our travel adventure. We had survived a time when everything seemed to fall apart. We had breathed through it, discovering on the other side that all was very well indeed.
Take a moment to breathe through whatever is weighing you down, holding you back, or beating you up. Then release anything that doesn’t serve you: tension, fear, anger, guilt, sadness, old limitations. Let them go.
Breathe and release.
Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Director of Bereavement and Volunteer Services