Lessons from the Road
by Anne Martin -- April 26th, 2016
“The road will teach you to love…” -Nahko and Medicine for the People
The rain started softly, but then suddenly (like so many tropical storms) came down in a deafening roar.
Dropping everything that we were doing in the kitchen, we ran to the dorm, as it is open on two sides. Grabbing clothes off of the lines and dragging everything towards the center of the room, we fought to keep our things away from the howling rain, already pooling and blowing in with the wind in wailing sheets.
At the sound of laugher, I turned in surprise to see my friend Jasmine, who I had not seen since September, standing there, soaking wet but smiling. I stared at her in shock for a moment, trying to processing the realness of her blond hair and big blue eyes. In the next instant we had crossed the room to meet each other, locking each other up in an embrace and screeching for joy.
It was a sweltering day when I waved goodbye to her so many months ago at the bus station. She had decided to make her way to Peru, I destined to stay behind. After eight months apart with no real contact with each other, it felt surreal (and yet somehow, fitting) that she would return to our mountain in Costa Rica on such a stormy full moon night.
“I ended up going to Brazil,” she started. We moved to the table, shouting at each other over the rain as the storm raged itself out.
She told me about spending nine days floating down the Amazon on a ship, its hull filled with row after row of hundreds of hanging hammocks filled with travelers. She described the intensity of the dense forest on either bank of the river. She passed most of her time on the deck, weaving jewelry to sell once they reached the coast. She talked about living on the streets once arriving in Brazil, begging restaurants for leftovers when she couldn’t afford food. She spoke of all the beautiful people she’d met and wandered with.
At one point I realized that she had tucked a few pink flowers behind her ear. Normally you are drawn to that kind of color, but with Jasmine her face was so animated and shining with wild stories and close calls and beautiful nights under the stars that I hadn’t even noticed the petals.
The rain slowed, and she explained that she had decided to stay at another farm down the road for the week, setting off again into the dark.
“Life is such a gift”, she said. “And travel will forever wash away all the stereotypes and ideas we ever had about the world, replacing it all with love.”
I squeezed her hand and then she was gone into the night, traipsing quietly down the misty slope.
The next morning I found her flowers by the roadside. I had never noticed them before—big billowing branches also making their home on the road.
I am so thankful for the people I have met in Costa Rica, especially the women, open-souled nomads traveling on fearlessly through this world. They are wise and inspiring and the brightest pieces of my journey here. May we all follow our bliss…and bloom anywhere, radiant with the gift of life and adventure. I’m hopeful, watching them, that bit by bit we’re all shaking off our fears—of ourselves, of others, of this world or where we are in it— replacing it all with love.
I look around and I realize that perhaps more than at any other time we will need it—bravery, compassion, and a sense of connection with life outside of our own.
During my time in Costa Rica I’ve experienced with alarming intensity already the price of climate change, a phenomenon for which the majority of people here have a limited role in bringing about. It has at times felt as if the whole country is heating up and drying out: fields dusty and brown, trees yellowing and brittle, towns where the pipes run for only certain hours of the day.
Large multinational companies continue to prey on Costa Rica’s resources—sweeping up its ocean life and decimating the land for pineapples and palm. People spray agrochemicals and throw trash along the roadside. Trees are felled and the macaws must leave.
And yet, there are also those who open organic markets, against all the odds and the difficulty of organizing producers’ schedules, struggling with transportation, and handling unpredictable surges in demand and supply. Some farmers forgo easy profit in the ranching industry, and continue planting carrots, shade coffee, and maize instead. The environmentally-conscious plant trees, and advocates fight to preserve the national parks. Local fishermen begin to organize, demanding that industrial fishing boats be restrained and marine reserves established.
What is the purpose of travel? Why am I so drawn to those that do? Why am I so drawn to people wide open to what the world’s corners have to teach them, be it beautiful or wretched or both?
I think maybe it is that the more we travel, the more we begin to understand the battles being played out around the world. There are dichotomies of life all around us: creation and destruction, peace and war, faith and fear. The more we travel, the more we learn, and the more (if we listen) we hear the world calling us to help her. Thrown out of our routines, out of familiar spaces and everyday voices, we are given new eyes with which to see. Everything is strange—and so it demands our full attention and time. We find ourselves vulnerable, and dependent on those around us in ways that we are not at home.
Travel calls us to learn to love new people and new places, to become global citizens, to begin to identify as people of the Earth. To travel is to realize how small and yet how great we are. To travel teaches us that sometimes we have no choice but to trust. To act with service and wisdom. And above it all, to remember that beneath the differences, we are one.
Be it the vision of the Amazon, or a view from the shore of a different sea…soil of a different texture or a tree with bark made of colors we have never before witnessed…a language we don’t know or a new alignment of the stars…may we be thankful for the time to reflect, and the chance to stand in wonder of life, to bask in the newness…thankful for the reminder that we are alive. May the fears and biases and beliefs that we didn’t even know we held fall away—and only love and the desire to change remain. Let us become again a part of this planet to which we all so dearly cling…to join not only the fights that we know we can win, but also those for which there is no final outcome, and definitely no foregone conclusion.
Life is an unpredictable journey…a series of choices and opportunities to open up to the world and those around us…may travel forever inspire and remind us of this.