My family has always been my inspiration to travel. My grandparents have circumnavigated the globe in their sailboats multiple times. My aunt, uncle and their 3 children have traveled to more countries than I can keep count of. When I was 10 my mother took me on a trip to Hawaii and ever after we dreamed together of living in tropical locations. When I was 20 she succeeded, while I remained in Canada to finish university. The stacks of letters and postcards from around the world built up over the years. My childhood home was decorated with baskets of seashells of all shapes and sizes, whose long Latin names I could never remember. I read books about travelling, I clung to the silver screen for images of far off places. Without knowing it, buried beneath childhood fantasies of becoming a writer, a fashion designer, and paleontologist a film-maker, my whole being had become intent on travel, one way or another. It became my raison d'etre.
Yet somehow I had reached the ripe age of 30 without having a single foreign location notched in my belt, with the exception of beautiful Hawaii, USA. Over the years disaster, or rather, disasters had struck; clinical depression, attempted suicide, divorce, bankruptcy, my father's near-death, the loss of my dream career due to repeated personal injury... the list became too much for me to bare, and, I am no longer embarrassed to admit, too much for me to care about any more. I had reached a maximum capacity for discontent. I had to rediscover my dreams, or die trying.
At least 6 months before I was convinced that I actually had it in me to take the plunge into global nomad-ism, I began sharing my travel plans with everyone I knew or met. I counted on a subtle inner weakness, namely shame, to drive me forward in moments of outright cowardliness; with my intended escape thus advertised to the world, my pride alone would stand in for the courage I, in truth, lacked to make the bold leap into the unknown. I set about the process, sluggishly at first, of acquiring travel immunizations and liquidating my few sad, pathetic assets: my beloved Jeep 'Chee Chee', a leather reading chair, a pretty sweet coffee table, a standing lamp, a couple of bicycles and some winter clothes. I was so inwardly terrified that I actually reneged on the sale of the chair at first. But the more I you-tubed travel videos of Belize, the less comforting my chair became, the more valuable the $40 it was worth. That was a whole 4 nights in Belize if I played my cards right. And I could always get another chair, right?
I am not, and have never been, by any means, a wealthy person. The total value of the monies raised from the sale of all my worldly effects rang in at just over $3000 Canadian, $1200 of which disappeared before I ever set out, to air-line tickets, immunizations, travel & medical insurance, and supplies that one could not conceivably obtain in a developing nation. In the midst of the pre-departure chaos, and somewhat in desperation, I even hosted 2 last minute fundraisers to accumulate arts and crafts supplies that would fulfil the ideological portion of my adventure, to volunteer as an art teacher at underfunded schools in 3rd world countries. Alas, these fundraisers were not a huge monetary success, but the loving energy I received from the few friends and participants never-the-less encouraged me during my last quaking moments in Canada, to persist to glory or to failure.
The count-down counted down from months to weeks to days. In the last 2 months I slept little more than 3 hours per night, much to the dismay of my partner, as I researched, emailed, networked, built my own website, compiled scans and copies of legal documents and certifications, applied to jobs, joined on-line travel groups and researched some more. I give endless thanks to my dearest girl-friend who set out on a similar solo adventure to the Bahamas just 3 weeks prior to me. I shuddered at her first emails as she jittered alone in a foreign country, and I thrilled as her correspondences became looser and more comfortable, as her days in tropical paradise worked their soothing effects. Thank you Amy for taking the leap so that I could follow.
After much fretting and scheming and dreaming at last the dawn broke on departure day, but it was disappointingly anti-climactic rather than invigorating. I departed in a rush from my beloved Courtenay, BC, somewhat emotionally mute. At the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, BC, I parted hurriedly, at last, from my ever-supportive sometimes-husband Michael, to perch peripateticly on the coastline of Vancouver for a few final moments of reflection with my family, who had been my inspiration for so many years.
Though my journey had begun, I was in an unsettling holding-pattern. I had arranged to spend 3 days visiting with as many relatives as I could before I left the country, ostensibly to say Merry Christmas and receive well wishes for a great vacation, but in truth to secretly say good-bye. It was excruciating. I revelled in the photos of globetrotting adventures proudly displayed on their walls. I spent every moment I could trying to connect with my kin, which I internally felt I had so little in common with, and I bit my tongue about the truth of my 'vacation'. No one would really have believed me, and I wasn't sure I was capable of fulfilling the truth, but the truth was that I was setting out on the adventure of my lifetime, an adventure that I had dreamt of as lasting a lifetime, if I was smart enough, capable enough, brilliant enough. I told them all about my travel plans, about volunteering and adventuring, and about my return ticket. I even shared the joke that I had booked the return ticket for April Fools Day in case I didn't come back. They obligingly chuckled. The real fool was that it wasn't a joke, and hopefully I won't be coming back, not any time soon anyway.
Renegade Ocean Sports Instructor, Vagabond Art Teacher, Roving Writer: Jessica Lea Salo
"The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."
"Having a healthy respect for the sea did not mean she owed me a moments grace."
"It is good to be alive."