Last week we found our way to a small town in the hills after a tiring day that had ended in a big fight. Yes, and don’t tell me you’ve never had a road trip brawl.
It was the end of a week laced with beautiful experiences and some relationship tension. Almost anytime you travel with others for more than a few days, this will come up. Why? Its because we are out of our routine.
If we are used to having some control, we find ourselves in new situations and it feels uncomfortable. Our ego grasps at small details as a replacement.
Instead of noticing the birds in the trees on the patio, I pick apart how my partner makes the coffee and toast.
If you have ever been the designated driver on a trip, you know exactly what I mean. A new world passing by outside the window, and all the folks in the car can pay attention to is how you are driving.
When we travel with those that we live with, we lose our relationship buffer zones - the routine time away from one another that dulls the edges of little irritants. Constant contact sharpens them to a razor’s edge.
That’s how it was for me when I first started traveling. Now, several countries and thousands of miles later, I’ve developed not only an appreciation for solo travel - ha! - but also a more flexible internal response to traveling with others.
But that doesn’t mean I never have days of fatigue or annoyance, and this day was one of them.
When we finally checked into our AirBnB, which took 2 hours to find instead of 1 due to getting lost in translation with Google maps, we dumped our bags and went for a walk.
We were staying in San Agustin, a pueblo in the mountains outside of Oaxaca City. We walked up the only main road, and passed the tiny town plaza perched on the hillside. Mass was in progress under a huge white tent beside the old local church, which was closed for repairs.
Some weather was moving through the valley; the tent was billowing with the wind or the Spirit or both. At the exact moment we arrived and stood at the back, the priest was transitioning to the middle of his sermon. The core of the sermon was how Jesus lived simply and didn’t worry about things.
El Padre told his flock they should use Jesus as their example, take up their walking stick (bastion, in Spanish), be grateful for their robe, and not worry about having things, because God provides all you need.
I couldn’t help but reflect on how an audience full of rural people who don’t have many things to start with, and not much prospect of acquiring them, might interpret this advice. Did they find it comforting? Empowering? Frustrating as they see the world around them incessantly emphasize material possessions?
I have had the luxury of a life filled with an embarrassment of material things. I have never gone hungry or not been able to pay my rent. It is easy for me to resist the pull to acquire more because I’ve experienced the short term ego satisfaction of stuff. That itch has been scratched for me.
I’m currently in a phase where I’m repelled by the prospect of buying anything with a shelf life.
I’m hunting something less tangible and much more profound. I got a glimpse of it on the beach in Oaxaca.
Sergio and I and a good friend had the privilege of helping some newly hatched sea turtles make their way to the ocean. To be honest, the turtle experience was not on my bucket list. I’ve got nothing against sea turtles but I didn’t really see what the big deal was.
We arrived with our guide on a gorgeous, wide deserted beach just before sunset. The turtle volunteers told us that sea turtles are one of the oldest species on earth. Adult Leatherbacks (the most endangered) can grow to be as big as a “Volchi” - the Mexican word for Volkswagen.
They gave each of us half coconut shells filled with three small turtles, the color and size of small avocados, if avocados had little flipper legs. The hatchlings, born about 20 minutes before, were straining to climb out and escape.
I knelt down and turned the coconut shell on its side so they could crawl out. Given how frantic they were just seconds before, I expected them to sprint to the ocean. Sprint being a relative term, given that they were little turtles after all.
They didn’t. They suddenly all got very still, paused at the edge of the coconut shell with their tiny flippers up by their heads, and looked out at the ocean. It was adorable and arresting at the same time. Their sea turtle intensity drew me in. They were sensing the ocean and the big space outside.
Do you know why it is important to not simply dump sea turtles in the ocean? The females pause for a moment and somehow calibrate and imprint their location. They return later to the exact beach that they were born on to lay their eggs. I didn’t know this before.
When we witness sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the ocean, we are observing one of the most ancient animal rituals on earth. It’s like a window in time.
Can you picture the turtle’s focus as something we can’t see but we can feel? I will try to describe it. It’s like a tiny cone of primordial concentration that pierces the present moment. When there are dozens of them all channeling that energy, at dusk on a wide golden beach, a momentary portal to an ancient past opens as they pause, calibrate, then take action and rush to the waves.
They are tiny, unprotected, and determined. The big cold crashing ocean is home and safety for them, even as it tosses them back toward shore a couple of times before finally sweeping them out to the heart of the sea.
It’s incredibly moving.
Now I see what the big deal is with little turtles.
Do you have a place that has imprinted itself on your heart and soul? It doesn’t even have to be a place you have visited. Yet.
I read once about a young girl who was fascinated with Japan from an early age, she had scrapbooks and research and trips planned before she was 12 years old, years before she visited for the first time.
Like thousands of women in the mid 90’s, I read a very dangerous book - Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. That book cost us a few thousand dollars because it planted the seeds of a fabulous vacation to Italy a few months later. We almost missed our flight coming back because I misread the time change. The real reason was subconsciously I wanted to stay there more than anything I had wanted in a long time, send for the kids and create a new life. I can see the magic threads of Italy in my new life now, years later.
We did not send for the kids and settle under the Tuscan sun. We continued to live in Texas and took yearly trips out to visit Northern California’s wine country. I remember one trip, we did miss our flight going back. My mom was taking time off from her job to watch our kids; our screw-up inconvenienced her and even though she was really nice about it, I felt guilty.
I thought to myself, I don’t know if I even want to visit Northern California anymore, it’s too hard to leave.
I felt more at home on those trips than I did back in Austin. I tried to tell myself that it was simply a reaction to the carefree feeling of a vacation. Finally, I was talking to an executive coach once about how I felt, and she said matter-of-factly - "Oh, you should definitely listen to that."
Now I know that it was a definite call. One day I finally thought, the only reason I live in Texas is because my parents moved our family here when I was 12. My least favorite saying is “Bloom where you are planted.” meh.
How about “go forth and conquer” instead?
Traveling to someplace that is calling you is a shortcut to insights about your life that are hard to uncover from the comfort of your favorite chair. For me, the current whispers are from Thailand and India, but I'm not in a hurry.
How about you? Pick that spot on the globe that has always fascinated you and go. And keep us posted!