It was 5 in the morning when I woke up in a strange, quiet room. I breathed in the smell of hemp blankets and cool stone. Before my heart rate could climb into the panic zone, my mind registered where I was, and I was thankful that I only had to spend one night in this bed & breakfast. I hurriedly showered and changed into jeans and a loose t-shirt. I left the room just as I had found it, like I was never there. Typical Cassie move.
I spent a week at a commune in the middle of a jungle. These people created their own community, where they created their own schools, grew all of their own food, dug their own wells, and built a big, beautiful temple. When I think about the moments where I have felt my life physically shift in another direction, like a beam of light meeting a mirror, I think about things like sitting across from my father in a court room, packing up my 91' Firebird and moving to the desert, and this. What started as a harmless solo trip turned into something I think about every, single, day. I would be a different person if I didn’t go…I would be in so much pain…to be perfectly honest, I may not be here at all.
Let me preface this story by saying that I hate travel stories. I don’t want to hear them anymore. Or maybe just not for awhile. For the past 12 years, people have associated me with travel and I used it to define who I am. That’s not who I am. Let’s be clear about that. And it seems most travelers I meet today are not travelers at all. They’re just Instagram’ing. They’re asking each other how long they were in each destination, to prove who is the real traveler in their group. They’re gathering recommendations from all of their friends and they’re all going on variations of the same trip. Maybe that’s what travel is. That’s fine. That’s just not me. That’s fine if it’s you. Totally fine. Fine fine. Fine. This is not a travel story.
I found the commune on a rudimentary website and made a reservation. I booked a flight, a bed & breakfast for the first night of arrival, and a bus ticket to take me to the remote coastal town that became home to a community of people that decided to go their own way. I had never traveled solo before. I didn’t speak the language. But I was searching for something and there was something about that website and all of its broken links and fuzzy pictures that made me say to myself… “now this will be a story to tell later”.
I was going through a rough patch, mentally. I am really hard on myself. And sometimes it gets to the point where my mind is constantly racing, but not with what-ifs or regrets, but with images that don’t make any sense. I tried asking my husband about this. I asked if he could close his eyes and just tell me what he sees flash through his mind. He said things like dinner, the show he wants to watch, the golf clubs sitting in the garage, the dry cleaning that needs picked up. “Oh, ok. Just checking”, I said. “Me, too. I mean, similar”.
But I was lying. If I closed my eyes, I saw pictures and colors and things that made me feel scared and uneasy. A bird with a swollen ribcage, a spilled jar of comically large teeth, a bike with its tires turning into spaghetti. I also heard sounds of people laughing, wind chimes, and pots boiling over. This still happens to me. When it does, I know a mental break is coming.
I arrived on the coast and couldn’t find a cab to save my life. Or a passing car. It was me, a bunch of kids playing soccer, and some old men in lawn chairs yelling at a beat up television atop of a plastic laundry basket. Noise screamed from the TV, but the picture was so faded from the sun that I couldn’t tell what they were watching. Probably soccer. I sat outside the bus station for an hour before one of the men approached me.
“Lost? Estás perdido?”
“No, no. No taxi. Un momento.”
The man rushed away and came back 10 minutes later, chasing after a boy that looked 15, on a hot, metal dirt bike. The man explained that this boy was his nephew and he could take me where I needed to go. I looked at the kid, the rusty bike, and my heavy backpack.
“Ah, no gracias.”
“Ok! Ok! Un momento”.
The man ran off in the direction of the kids playing soccer. I wondered if he was going to find some even younger nephews to carry me to my destination.
I was embarrassed by the help and felt like a typical white tumor, sitting pointlessly on a beautiful landscape, not saying much, but making everything worse by just existing there.
A dusty, navy blue station wagon pulled up. The man threw open the passenger side door from the inside and said “let’s go, rapido”. An empty container of laundry detergent bounced out onto the pavement. The other men in lawn chairs had turned their eyes back to the hazy TV. I got in.
As we drove down the bumpiest road I have encountered in all of my God damn life, the man proceeded to tell me that he was the king of ceviche in his country. It took about 10 or so minutes for me to understand this. We spent the next 30 minutes teaching each other words in our own languages, like shrimp, octopus, and slow down. “No mal, no mal”, he would tell me with a gummy grin, hands up (and off the wheel) in surrender. “I know”, I said. He asked why I was headed where I was. I didn’t know how to respond and wasn’t sure I could, even if I spoke his language. He patted my hand and we didn’t speak the rest of the way. When I got out of the car at the foot of a dense, green trail, he came around to give me a hug. I gave him $60 and my bag of mosquito repellent bracelets (he had bites up and down his arms). “No mal”, he said again, and pointed to the jungle.
Part 2: Stay Tuned