Let Go and Live

SUCRE, BOLIVIA: November 10-13

Steve: We often begin our blog entries by talking about the bus ride (or flight) to each new destination. Sometimes it seems monotonous, and is, but it often serves as a frame of reference for how each story is going to unfold. This case is no exception.

We left Cochabamba in a great mood—the city and our time there recharged our batteries and gave us new energy for our onward travel. We booked a 10-hour ride on a night bus for our next destination of Sucre (an incredibly cheap night bus I might add since we waited until several hours before buying tickets—by this time the agents just want to fill the seats so we got tickets for just under $3 USD each, instead of over $8 each we would have paid by buying them the day before!). As with most night buses we figured that we would get some sleep, save money on a night’s stay in a hostel and arrive fairly ready to tackle and explore a new city; we were way wrong this time. It turned out that at least three-quarters of the drive was on bumpy unpaved roads which is a fact of travel and typically we would be able to deal with it. What exacerbated the issue was the driver blaring some of the worst reggaeton and rock en espanol that I’ve heard in a long time (and the entire night at that). All of the passengers seemed to just deal with it and I sort of figured that at least it would keep the driver awake and save us from veering over a cliff. I closed my eyes and figured it was just another travel story, one that we would laugh about soon enough. Leah on the other hand took it especially hard (Leah: I was livid and spent the entire night awake, despite the earplugs I tried valiantly to employ).

After arriving at the bus terminal around 6 A.M., we hailed a taxi to the hostel that we had previewed via web recommendations. Fortunately the owner of the Quechua Inn was there to open the door without us even knocking and he showed us to our dorm accommodations ($5.75/bed)  so that we could drop our bags and catch up on some sleep. We both got about three hours of rest before getting up to see a bit of the city. I surprisingly felt quite well considering but Leah was officially cranky (“ten times” her normal level when cranky I might add). I maintained my patience well enough but we definitely hit a point where I figured that we needed some time to chill out on our own. While Leah read and did laundry I ended up chatting with several of the hostel’s guests—first with a Brit named Gary and then with another Gary who just so happened to be staying in our dorm room. It would turn out to be that the second Gary, a cool cat who hails from Hollywood of all places, was meant to cross paths with us at this venture in our journey.

While sitting in our dorm room, the three of us—Leah, Gary and I—had a long conversation about our lives and travels, including the things we missed back home, the elections, and the reasons behind our departures. The conversation hit existential levels as we talked about the unknown paths that we were following (or being lead to as it were). Especially in light of our day’s travails it became increasingly evident that we were meant to be here and to share in this person’s journey as well. As much as Cochabamba recharged our batteries, this conversation gave us new vigor to appreciate and enjoy every day and every step in our travels. It gave us a chance to breathe again and take stock of what is truly important in our lives.

For me personally I know that a large part of this trip is being able to let go, even if only for a short time—to let go of the daily pressures that I had let commandeer my life and to let go of the strings that I had felt kept me from being truly free. As I listened and chimed in during our conversation, I took the time to introspect and consider what things I allow to weigh on my heart and keep me from enjoying this trip to the fullest. One item that I often worry about is what career opportunities I am potentially letting slip out of reach. That said, I see so many friends and associates doing the same thing now as they were months ago—and they most likely will be doing the same thing in the months ahead. Of course there is nothing wrong with that but considering the sacrifices that I have made for this trip I owe it to myself to let this string go; to be free I need to trust that whatever is going to happen is going to happen and that things will have their way of working out.

Another difficulty I struggle with is my guilt at having left my mother and my grandparents whom I both love and miss dearly. Leah is good about keeping mum on this one but I know it pains her to see me worry as I do. I cannot stop them from missing me—and I am blessed that they do—but my self-imposed guilt often keeps me from being in the moment and truly investing myself in some of our greatest experiences.  In short, my conversation with Gary and my wife did not necessarily provide answers as how to deal with these things but rather helped me identify those things that may keep me from making the most of our trip; and as I’ve already stated one too many times, our lives are too short and too fragile to let them slip through our fingers without giving them all that we have.

Leah: I could spend my time writing about the narrow streets of colonial style white-washed buildings, the expansive central market where we shopped daily, the colorful art festival, the amazingly ornate cemetery or the sunny cloud-dappled skies that greeted us on our explorations each day. However, that sometimes gets old--both for the writer and the reader--and for me Sucre will forever be indelibly linked to the conversations and personal interactions I’ve been a part of, not the scenery, architecture, hostel that felt like a home or the food (Steve: I should add that the hostel and fellow inhabitants were all quite nice and friendly--of course the two Garys; the Aussies Mitch and Kiley; Bettina, a lively girl from Martinique that we had met back in Costa Rica; and a quirky Korean dude whose name I can't remember!). As Steve mentioned, soon after arriving we met Gary, a hair stylist/author with quite the mixed ethnic background who has lived in Aspen, Chicago and most recently L.A. We were bowled over when we learned that he’s 51—his extremely youthful appearance belies his age—but the man had a wealth of stories, knowledge and experience and the three of us settled into a conversation that I desperately needed to hear. Yes, I was exhausted and therefore having an entirely moody and crap day, but Gary was a gentle soul (as my mom would say) and as the rhythm and message of his words and vivid travel and life narratives flowed around me I felt my body and mind relax.

Steve talked about the “strings” that keep him occasionally tethered and unable to fully let go, and of course I’m just as guilty of the same on this trip. However, my unneeded anchors center on money, mourning and mommyhood. Although I’ve gotten much better over the months since we started this trip, being the budget master that I am means that I still tend to agonize over our diminishing bank account and how long the money will last. As for mourning, Jayna and Ming are omnipresent on this trip and I still struggle with the guilt and crushing agony associated with no longer having my dear friend and fur baby as a physical part of my life. And then the mommyhood issue—when that will happen upon our return, how that will affect my other life roles and what it will mean in the bigger scheme of things. This trio of Ms often hovers so close to my consciousness that I can’t easily step back and appreciate the here and now of the trip, the company of my loving husband and the awe-inspiring places we’re visiting.

Talking to Gary was the reminder and permission I needed to LET GO and be in the moment; the money will eventually run out no matter what, death will continue to occur and nobody has all the parenting answers, so why do I let myself get sucked into a vortex of anxious worrying when it doesn’t accomplish a damn thing besides give me wrinkles and panic attacks? In fact, the most incredible part of my time in Sucre occurred after Gary gave me a haircut (Steve may have gotten one too in order to complete Dare Challenge #3...) and I took his self-published book, Brief, up to the hostel’s rooftop deck and sat alone reading, which also happened to be the same day as the second annual memorial 5k run for Jayna (Steve: if you don’t know, Leah reads incredibly fast; even Gary couldn’t believe she finished it). 

The book deals with topics such as love, living in the moment, death, fate, self-forgiveness and understanding one’s place in the world, all told through characters I identified with and felt spring off the page, almost as if they were validating the internal struggles I’ve called my demons for months now. I found myself brushing away tears at several parts of the book and when I finished it a few hours later and came back downstairs, I fell into Gary’s arms a sobbing (but grateful) mess, so deeply did his words and message resonate while reminding me that I can’t continue to live in the past and the future at the exclusion of the present. I know we’ve blogged about twists of fate and “signs” occurring when we needed them the most on this trip, but it’s truly encounters like this that cause me to stop, step back and realize that there are indeed a host of earthly angels crossing our path in a variety of forms…and that sometimes there’s no such thing as coincidence.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes from Brief: “True peace is found only in the now. Thinking about what has been and what will be will not shed the veil of illusion or bring you closer to knowing who you really are. Free your mind and thoughts from past and future and you will free yourself of pain.” –pg 179. Our time in Sucre was blessed; while we hope you’ll forgive our divergence from our normal sights and sounds narrative style, it was the people—well, person—that we felt compelled to write about instead. Here’s to living in the now and learning to let go...

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