On the first day of this year, I came out of my house where I have been recovering from bouts of flu, melancholy and procrastination to have a coffee chat with my coach. “What do you want now in your life that you are totally free of obligations?” my coach asked me after we both sit down at the corner of our neighborhood Starbucks. “I want to travel!” I replied without having to think too much. Magically, that sentence proclaimed in the air seemed to send a clear message to the universe. All of sudden my spirit lifted as I gave myself the permission to choose for myself instead of for others. After the coffee, I called my friend/hiking buddy back and inquired what was she calling me about earlier. “Hey I’ve found a great itinerary of Safari trip and I wander if you would be interested to go with me?” I smiled as the universe just answered my prayer.
So after the call, for the first time in my adult life, I joined an organized camping trip of 18-day to Safari touring the southern parts of Africa continent. As much as I love to travel, 18 countries and counting, I have never camped on any of the trips. My only camping experience was in my early 20’s camping for two nights in Yosemite National Park. Growing up as a city girl, I am conditioned to have a nice bed to sleep in and nice facility to take care of business. Considering the serendipitous way the Safari travel invitation came about, I decided to say yes to an opportunity to lean into the unknown and the uncomfortable and see what happens.
Born at the cusp of Sagittarius and Capricorn, I have dual tendencies of adventure and planning. The past 30 years working in the corporate world had me flex my planning side of the Capricorn nature while my adventure muscle has mostly become dormant. Say yes to the trip is to nurture my adventurous nature. Before going on the trip, I even set my stake to be “stretching and leaning into the minimal living”. With the inertia of planning mindset, I packed everything on the given packing list in two set so there is a backup in case the first set runs out. My duffle bag was so heavy that our tour guide KB was teasing me about the contents of the bag while helping me load it onto the bus.
After I was able to sleep through the first two nights in my “lavender scented” sleeping bag (yes I repurposed a 30-year old but only used twice sleeping bag with a lavender sachet from Trader Joe's) in 7 hours straight, I knew I am going to really enjoy this camping tour. I started to relax my body, I felt lighter weight from my shoulder, I slowed down to enjoy the scenery of countless trees and grass, I took nap on the long bus ride, I forgot politics and drama in the corporate world, I immersed myself in the joy of animal sighting right outside of the bus window. The nature is therapeutic to human mind, body and soul. It allows you to shift the attention to your senses from living just in our head.
On the Safari itinerary, there is at least one planned game drive (small group riding in the open vehicle), boat trip or nature walk every day of the trip. After three days, I noticed a pattern where the guides leading each outing conveyed some version of this message before we head out “Trees and grass on this drive are 100% guaranteed. However, animal sighting will be a gift of nature.” Sounded like a disclaimer to me at the time, now I think they merely invite us to embrace each sighting of the wild animal such as giraffe, elephant, hippo, crocodile, impala, kudu etc. etc. as serendipitous gifts from the nature.
Even as often as we tourists were reminded of the perspective of serendipity on this trip, we as an individual and as a group still held on to certain pre-set expectations…..expectation to see the Safari big 5, to see hippos yawning with their giant mouth, to see rhinos fighting with their horns, to see leopards running wild on the field, and….. to see the lions making a kill. The Safari experience needs to live up to our expectation.
It was on the 8th day of the Safari trip that we were on a game drive in Chobe National Park. It was an early morning drive started at 6am before dawn. The wind in the open truck was freezing cold. When we arrived at the reserve, there were another 15 vehicles just like ours. It was a “zoo” scene at the park entrance. The driver of each vehicle seemed to all have a walkie-talkie to inform each other if one sees the lion. It was chaos of multiple vehicles “chasing” the lions in sandy narrow paths, vying for the best photo shoot spots. The crowd chase went on for at least an hour or so…. I was thinking, there is now way we are going to see any lion as they can easily hear us or even smell us from miles away. I was so relieved when our driver eventually gave up the pointless chase and drove us towards the open field close to the river. As we traveled to open field, all of sudden, our driver made a sharp turn to the left and parked on a roadside facing towards the river. He turned off the engine and I soon realized we were the only vehicle parked there. I wondered why we parked there with no animal in sight.
We were in such an awe on the ride back that we seemed to be deep in thoughts perhaps reminiscing what we just saw and experienced out there. When we arrived back at the camp, our tour guide KB, sensing some incredible energy with the group, curiously asked “what did you guys see?” I can’t wait to show him the pictures and videos of an amazing and serendipitous buffalo encounter!
“I almost died on the 14,000 ft high in Peru” was my way of describing my hiking experience when people asked about my recent trip to Machu Picchu. I think the reason I want to describe it that way is to brag about my “near death” experience so I can tell my glorious story. And many people I did.
Come to think of it, that sentence was also one of the beliefs I held during the 9 hours of grueling hike that day.
The day started beautifully up on the mountain. We camped the night before behind the waterfalls, by a raging creek. It was a bit windy, definitely near freezing cold overnight. My friend on the Peru journey - Antonio – reported during our breakfast that his feet were still cold even with three layers of socks on inside the sleeping bag. Our tents were at about 11,000 ft high next to a few village houses. There was no sight of any other people or animals around, except for our luggage-carrying mules and us. What was omnipresent was mother nature; the dark blue hue of mountains all around. It was tranquil, peaceful, serene and mighty. After 18 days of camping on a safari trip immediately before this trip, I had acclimated to harsher outdoor living. Having experienced this, my perspective about camping and my ability to adapt completely changed. I was previously under the life-long impression that I was a bona-fide city girl. Growing up in the modern urban setting of Taipei, I have never camped once in my life until I was in my 20’s in the Yosemite National Park. I was quite surprised in Peru how camping has become second nature to me. My attention began to shift from the logistics of camping to noticing more of what’s present in nature.
The hike started with a flat trail around the beautiful emerald lake, with mountains on all sides. We were just taking pictures and pictures from different angles as we hiked. Once we passed the lake, the trail started to ascend more steeply. We could see the peak with glaciers at the far end, which our guide told us was where we were heading. I vaguely remember the peak marked 14,000 ft on the map the guide gave us the night before we started the tour. As we climbed up I started to notice myself running out of breath more quickly. As I slowed down, I tried to pace myself by looking up to look around of the valley, the mountains, the clouds, blue skies, lakes, llamas, alpacas and the vegetation. I tried to focus on my breathing in an attempt to rest. However the period of rest wasn't very helpful as it felt harder to restart immediately after. I changed to focus on exhaling as my yoga teacher Bill would always say, “inhaling becomes automatic”. As I continued the hike still trying to catch my breath, I started to pray to the nature surrounding me, “please give me the strength to continue.” There was no answer from the mountains. There was no answer from the nature. Then I realized that there was no one there on the 12,000 ft high mountain in Peru that could advise or help me.
The thought of “I'm going to die up here” started to creep in. This is what coaches call the ultimate “Saboteur” voice. Saboteur is the voice of our fear which is born out of our survival instinct to protect us. Saboteur urged to me tell the guide that “I have no more strength to go on”. Our guide offered no sympathy nor solution but asked me to just carry on. What, you are not even going to hire a mule to carry me down to our destination? I thought. Even if he hires one, will I even go? How embarrassing is that!? Any hope of an easy way out or giving up was now gone. There was simply no other way but for me to move my two feet and carry myself. With two poles in my hands, it felt as if I had four feet stepping, like a 100-ton elephant. Yup, giving up simply was not an option any longer when you are up on a 13,000 ft mountain. Nope, zero. What’s the perspective available when giving up is not an option? The perspective of focusing what you have right now: just move one step at a time, one after another, one breath at a time, one after another. I am still alive, breathe, next step…….. then prayer to the nature as well. Every so often, a llama or alpaca will show up to inspire me. They are such a consolation and delight during those hours on the mountain. They are highland animals who always move in herds, grazing the vegetation above 10,000 ft. They are my angels on the Peru mountains.
I don’t how I walked tens of thousands steps in an almost delirious state. After 9 hours of the supposed 6-hour hike, I arrived at the destination camp site – a village school yard. I could barely raise my leg to clear the threshold, but I made it. Most noticeably, I made it there alive.
As I live to retell the story to many, I realized that something fundamental has changed in my beliefs:
It's the last day of 2016. Somehow this year flew by unusually fast. There were a few critical shifts in my life that I want to recognize them before going into 2017.