Let’s Get Lost: A Family of Four Goes Out of the Country and Off the Grid - Page 2
|Let’s Get Lost: A Family of Four Goes Out of the Country and Off the Grid|
Photos Courtesy of Anik St. Martin
People talk about gaining perspective through midlife crises. For us, it took a single night in a clouded-in cave in the middle of Colombia. We spent a few more days in and around El Cocuy, in a state of indescribable gratitude. Our family came away from that night closer than ever. Suddenly, being together every minute of the day was all we wanted. Time slowed down, and a chunk of our North American sense of “git ’er done” still remains camped out in that cave. From that moment forward, the plan was to not have a plan.
Over the months that followed, we spent many more days acclimating to high elevations. We rock-climbed in Colombia and Peru, camped out for days at the edge of heart-warming hot springs in Ecuador, and we hiked through the Cordillera Blanca of Peru for four days with a guide and a few donkeys.
On many mornings, I woke up in my sleeping bag, wedged between the mess of four people living in a van, and wondered, How is it that I am just now, for the first time, getting to truly know my family? We suddenly had no work, school, sports, laundry, or yards and homes to maintain. We weren’t plugged in and we were no longer weekend warriors. The kids had a few bouncy balls, a Hacky Sack, and a Frisbee (which we eventually gave to a family in Ecuador). We had a few outfits each and an entire section of the van devoted to books. We barely had anything, but we became engulfed in a richness we had never known.
We met person after person who reminded us that people are inherently good. We observed a culture that believes in using and taking only what they need. A world where there are giant holes in the streets and sidewalks, dogs on the loose, live wires near faucets and shower heads, and rebar everywhere. Here, “liability” and safety mean taking it upon yourself to not fall in the holes, touch the live wires or make the dogs mad. In fact, we repeatedly discovered that for a single piece of beef jerky we could make a deal with a street dog to guard our van, regardless of where we were parked.
Due to the fact that every experience was new, our intuition was all we had to rely on. Here, we didn’t know more or better than our kids; we were on an even plane of learning. Our boys revealed themselves to us as patient, tolerant, observant, appreciative, problem-solving individuals with whom we were privileged to travel. About six weeks into our journey, Marco asked, “Mommy, have you noticed that everyone here has black hair?”
We spent some time in the tropical paradise of Canoa, Ecuador, where we surfed while the kids swam around in a river a few hundred feet away. They spent countless hours floating around on logs with makeshift oars, free as can be, with no cares in the world. One afternoon, while walking from the beach back to the van, Simon encountered an enormous boa constrictor, unassumingly slithering its way toward our van. The man who ran the hostel where we were camped informed us that the boas were numerous and that they all lived in the river that the kids had been playing in for days. As he left on his bicycle, toting the captured snake in a potato sack, we all looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh.
It was also in Ecuador that Marco contracted the mosquito-borne virus, Dengue fever. After a few days of supporting him through high fevers and severe headaches, we realized that everywhere we looked, there were signs proclaiming that we were in a Dengue endemic area. At the age of 8, even Marco seemingly trusted his body’s innate intelligence to work through this virus, for which the only preventative measure is to stay away from mosquitos. Staying away from mosquitos there is like dodging drops while it rains. After days of lethargy, I took Marco to an urgent care center, where they gave him IV hydration. We were there for hours as they doted on Marco like a prince. They refused to accept payment of any kind, which left me speechless, and once again humbled. Simon has since talked about winning the lottery and sending all the winnings to that urgent care center.
We saw firsthand what the Nazca Lines, ancient geoglyphs created in the desert of Peru, look like from a six-seater prop plane. We spent time camped out at the foot of sand dunes the size of mountains, where we learned to sandboard. We learned to eat soup with tripe and chicken feet. We saw blue footed boobies, scorpions, and giant turtles. We held hands in a death-grip underwater as we swam with 10-foot-long hammerhead sharks, which we learned are nocturnal feeders, and generally not aggressive. Simon still talks about the feeling of water displacement created by these sharks as they swam by.
After four months, 7,000 driven miles, hundreds of stories, and an unforeseen quiescence, we dropped our van off at the port of Lima and returned home.
We came back, feeling tenderized and moving at a much different pace. We found ourselves overwhelmed with how much we have. Within that first week of being back, we overheard our kids marvel at the size of our bath towels, at the clothes in their closets, at automatic sliding doors and the abundance of toilet paper in public restrooms. After being back for two days, we left and slept in a tent for a little while because our home offered us so much space that we felt lost.
After months of being back, we’ve found some balance. We’re back to being busy and often distracted, but with an awareness that keeps us grounded. Our daydreams now feel tangible and realistic. People still ask us, “Why did you do that?”
Here’s why: Because not following our intuitive yearning would have stifled us. Because there’s no time like the present. Because we wanted to find out what would happen if we let go of everyone else’s expectations and just paid attention to our own. And because who says life has to be taken so seriously?
What would happen if we trusted our innate intelligence to be our guide? Children certainly appear to do so. Scaling the proverbial wall affords us a view of our lives with unknown outcomes and a certain element of risk. But any life-altering experience worth doing can’t be dissected into its individual parts. Because, in the end, the story and its impact are much bigger than the sum of these parts.
For now, we continue to teach our kids and the kids in our practice to nurture and trust their intuition. Instead of being afraid to act on our inner voice, our intuition, and our innate wisdom, maybe we should closely consider the ramifications of ignoring that voice. If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #46.
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