When you open your eyes to the world, you expose your mind and heart to possibilities beyond your wildest dreams. You can get lost in epic adventure novels like The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux or be transported to the depths of the sea during an episode of Blue Planet but your skin won’t prickle with awe the way it does when you are actually there, in the moment. Years of travel have taught me more about the world and about myself than any teacher, boss, or self-help book. You don’t always need to go far and the experiences don’t always have to be grand. You just need to have the courage and humility to see life through a fresh lens. Here are some of my greatest lessons.
My idea of wellness had always involved a lot of sweat. My yoga practice was a vigorous vinyasa. My “rest day,” a five-mile run. My body and mind were always on overdrive. So, when I laid down on the massage table at Kasiiya, a new eco-resort on Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo, I was immediately scolded. Yamuna, the resident shaman, could sense that my chakras were out of alignment even before his hands touched my tense body. I came to Costa Rica envisioning a jam-packed agenda: volcano hikes, surf sessions, zipline adventures. But after Yamuna purified me with burning sage and performed third eye therapy, a treatment where a slow stream of warm oil was drizzled onto my forehead to erase stress, he prescribed me a serious time out. Activities were scrapped and I embraced the art of stillness. I swapped morning beach runs for journaling sessions. My chaturanga-filled yoga routine was replaced with classes taught by Kasiiya’s movement coach, Bruno Giustozzi. Who knew seemingly simple acts like walking on your tip toes or crawling like a crab could be so strenuous! Watching the sun sink into the sea each evening became an indulgent ritual, evoking a sense of tranquility I’d never experienced even in the mellowest of yoga classes. Kasiiya’s motto is “Pause. Breathe. Discover.” I took it to heart and realized that in today’s always-on world, slowing down, not speeding up, is the real secret to wellness.
As much as I wanted to close my eyes as our plane touched down on the edge of the calving glacier, the landing was to terrifying not to watch. Thanks to the Super Cub’s fat, bouncy tires, I barely felt us hit the icy ground. The ancient Greeks used the word ultima thule to describe the unknowable realm beyond the northern bounds of their maps and the opportunity to experience the unknown on a daily basis is at the heart of Ultima Thule Lodge, a family-run hotel 100 miles from the nearest paved road in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Paul Claus, the lodge’s patriarch, grew up with a 13.2 million-acre backyard—a wilderness area roughly the same size as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined. His fleet of Super Cub airplanes gives guests an all-access pass to America’s largest untamed wilderness. In my week with Claus we land on remote beaches and on mountaintop ledges and even feet from a family of bears. He never once lost the twinkle in his eye. I used to think adventure was an act – a mountain summitted, a wave ridden, a river paddled. But Claus reminds me that adventure is a state of mind. As a true adventurer, he’s traveled the globe, yet he’s still maintained a constant state of wonder, even in his own backyard.
My laptop glowed bright under a black velvet night sky in the middle of Jordan’s mountainous Dana Biosphere Reserve. I was one day into a six-day hike on a section of the Jordan Trail and the wifi was down at Feynan Ecolodge. After a seven-hour trek in scorching 100-degree heat, my fellow hikers were fast asleep in their electricity-free rooms. But I had a story to file. When a young Bedouin staffer offered to find a cell signal in the desert and make me a hotspot, I followed him straight out into the night. As the candlelit-glow of the hotel faded away I realized the brashness of my decision. Rule number one of any solo female traveler whether in the Middle East or Marfa, don’t go off alone with a strange man. Suleiman is Steph Curry’s dopplegänger. He’s got the light skin and hazel eyes of the Golden State Warriors star and that same charming, boyish smile. I can hear his phone ping to life just a few steps ahead. “Success,” he said in his perfect English. I felt his gaze on me as I logged onto my email and hit send. He must have be thinking, “you insane American woman.” But when I turned to him he hesitantly asked, “are you scared of me?” The question made me blush with shame. “Americans see the news and so they are afraid,” he explained. I met his eyes and my only response was to sincerely ask, “are you scared of me?” We both laughed.
Featured photo by Arturo Polo Ena.