When Life Throws You Lemons, Be Sure To Get Some Juice In Your Eyes
I’m an Aussie in pursuit of becoming the first woman to walk the length of the Earth. It bugged me that of all the people who have attempted the hike, about 10 men have completed it but no women. So I began planning. Yes, just like that.
Two years on, I’ve walked the length of Chile, through Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, the Andes of Chile, and most recently the Atacama Desert. Shortly, I continue from the edge of the desert to the mountains of Peru, then through the Amazon towards Colombia.
But since it’s searing in the desert right now, there hasn’t been a better time for a visit from my Mum. After two years apart, nothing compares to a reassuring hug and time together for her to know – and I mean knowwww – I’m ok. We had five weeks together for me to show off how well I’m doing.
When Mum came to visit over New Years, I had one very simple goal in mind: give her confidence I’m safe. Yes, I wanted to enjoy family time blah blah blah, but underneath it all, I wanted to share my life with her so she could experience what I’m doing, and better understand the day to day.
A stolen passport, five muggings, two stolen phones, clothes missing from the laundromat, and heaving tears at the airport later, I think it’s fair to conclude: I failed.
From the beginning
Mum arrived at the airport in Chile where we were to reunite before travelling to Ecuador. Rather than entering through the arrival gate, she mistakenly used an exclusive gate where the media and TV cameras hangout. Later, I thought this was pretty cool of her, but as I stood waiting for ages among the commoners, I worried.
Eventually I found her, alone and feeling forgotten. We were robbed of our teary reunion, and as it turned out, Mum was robbed of her passport. Of course we didn’t realise until we were preparing to fly out for our holiday. Many, many, many phone calls later, we had our solutions.
We were going to miss our flights. The LATAM service desk advised me to miss mine so I could help Mum. Later, I’d need to pay a small rescheduling fee but there was plenty of space for us on the upcoming flights. Mum could get an emergency passport within three days, and my sister would meet us in Ecuador as originally planned, albeit late.
How’d we do? Mum’s flights had been organised by a travel agent, and I had booked mine to match. Mum’s flights were rescheduled for free, and mine for a small rescheduling fee of $1400 (I should have said six muggings). Mum’s emergency passport was ready in two and a half days, however while waiting for us in Ecuador, my sister was mugged multiple times and had her phone stolen.
Lesson: Use a travel agent, it doesn’t cost any extra and they have more negotiation power than you do when the airlines have you in a noose.
We arrived in Ecuador to meet my sister, and wandered down to a famous market place. We were really excited to see some artisanal craft, but on the way, Mum was cut off by three very short, very old, very round, and very cunning women... who stole all the money out of her pockets. The salt was at the markets where we saw mass produced everything, artisanal nothing, and a lot of “baby alpaca”.
Lesson: Carry your money in the chest pocket of your jacket. Be cautious in city markets. Vigilance.
My Mum and sister had booked a week long trip through the Amazon, so I took a timeout to write a blog and catch up on admin. Naturally this should include a beach view, so I jumped on a bus headed for the coast, palm trees and cocktails.
I had my backpack zip tied, and a small backpack on my front for fast access to the essentials. Within five minutes on a crowded bus someone had opened the bag across my front, reached their hand down into my pack and stole my phone… without me noticing.
Lesson: Thieves are magicians. Sometimes vigilance isn’t enough. Avoid the trolleybuses in Quito.
Over the final days with my sister, we decided to keep it simple and stay somewhere nice before seeing her off. It was fabulous.
Mum and I continued on to Peru, saw Machu Picchu and had one of those profound experiences where you say stupid stuff to each other about the essence of life. Later, we visited Lake Titicaca, Mum’s life long dream, which turned out to be a total money racketeering, child exploiting, scam. We know people who’ve had a great time there, but be warned, there is a considerable difference between a fake experience, and an authentic one. I'll leave it there.
Lesson: Do your research. Vigilance.
Not wanting to go home feeling dirty, we returned to the city, and at the recommendation of a friend, took a cooking class: another highlight. While for the most part our trip was disastrous, some good ceviche and a strong pisco sour helped turn things around.
I won’t say ‘if you don’t set goals you don’t get disappointed’ and other self defeatist crap. We had a good time, shared a lot of stories and sobbed in front of plenty of strangers while reminiscing over family stories… because we’re sentimentally embarrassing like that. But it did get me thinking about failing spectacularly, my list of goals from last year, and how bruised I feel when I see people ‘dominating 2019’ (in January) according to their social media.
Come into my headspace.
Last year I publicised all the things I was going to do and attempted to bully myself into public accountability. Aspirations included:
Cover 7500 km to reach Colombia
Give up sugar
Publish more blogs and vlogs
Learn night photography
Get a dog
Out of all of these, I only succeeded in two. Sugar, because I had so many loopholes it was almost impossible not to, and I got a dog.
The others? I didn’t reach Colombia, not even close. I walked to the top of Chile, a miserable 3000 km which, according to Google, only requires 23 days. Not true.
So, what to do when feeling derailed? I chose to talk with a friend who I was confident would say what I wanted.
Not this time underachiever.
Rather than focusing on what I haven’t done, he asked me to look at what I had. He rambled on about online content, route setting, collaborating, advising, safety and risk... I could go on but admin is boring enough without writing about it.
He then asked some annoying questions like:
Would you prefer to have walked to Central America, only have a year left on your walk, and be calling me about a stress fracture? No.
Would you rather have walked to Central America, and not met the people you have, or remember half of what you’ve done because you’re exhausted? No.
Would you rather risk your safety and be unprepared? Yeah yeah yeah.
Feeling appropriately schooled I realised most of my goals were adding to, and not building on, what I was already doing. It’s a subtle difference but ultimately I should be celebrating anything additional to what I’ve achieved.
I also realised that I rang the wrong friend, so I tried again.
Together we bitched about the first friend and his annoyingness, and later she tagged me on my trail map and said she couldn’t stop staring at how far I’d gone. Yet from where I stood it was a map of not-enoughs as the occasional observer will write, while questioning my credibility.
Then, in my final attempt at beating myself up, I read Martín Heidegger who said something like; “We need to come to terms with the fact that we are going to die and stop wasting time pleasing the people who never really liked us in the first place.”
Some perspective, some realism and some consideration to ‘who’s it all for in the end anyway?’ and I found myself back at the stick-it-to-the-man mentality.
As for Mum? She’s no more confident than before, but firmly stands in my corner, encouraging me to be the woman she taught me to be.
Yes, we must face the risks, as does anyone in the pursuit of a goal. But we face them together, and that makes us just a little less vulnerable than coping on our own, which has been my hardest lesson.