In good conscience, or at least my conscience, travel is not about personal consumption. The rewards of travel do not come from acquiring nick-knacks, t-shirts, and photos nor from eating at the hottest restaurants or tasting the worlds many wines. Drinking while on vacation is a north-American pastime that I admit I have succumbed to, but it is not what brings deep peace or lasting rejuvenation. The purpose of my travels is to educate and inspire myself and others. My goal in travelling is to absorb the unique cultural knowledge of the people I encounter and the nations I live in, to compile their wisdoms in the reservoir of my spirit so that I can bring them home with me and draw from their teachings to enrich my future life and family and community. I can't bring the trappings of my home nation with me in exchange, but I can bring for the sharing the unique perspectives I've developed from being raised in the security of a first world country. I spent a great deal of time thinking on what gift it was that I had to offer, not being the wealthiest example of my nation, nor the cleverest, nor the most educated. What I discovered that I had to offer, though I had nothing material of my own, was my knowledge of the power of creative exploration, the gift of personal expression. It is really not my gift to give, as it resides in each and every person. But it is a skill and a right that I can help to reveal in people. It is a gift that asks for no exchange of monetary units, and requires no specific set of tools or resources to maintain. I believe it to be the most empowering and liberating ability we possess.
Allow me to elucidate for a paragraph or two. Even without having experienced the many climates, political landscapes and cultural colors of the world, my fortunate education taught me that life, no matter where you are in the world, or what your circumstances, is never 100% certain, that the next day's meal or shelter may not always be a given. These are realities and challenges faced in all nations, from the wealthiest to the most impoverished. The wisdom that I feel I have the advantage of possessing from my upbringing in Canada is the truth that security lies in the human capacity to adapt and subsist self-sufficiently, to work as a team within one's community, and to live respectfully with the environment. It occurred to me somewhere during the course of my comfortable upbringing that it is fundamentally important for all individuals to be physically, mentally & creatively empowered in order to for them to make sustainable, healthy decisions for their families and communities. I believe that personal expression, a common denominator amongst first world countries, and right we frequently take for granted, is imperative for the development of self-sufficiency and the ability to act responsibly. In art specifically I see a platform for spontaneous thinking, adaptive creativity, and outside-the-box problem solving. Each step that a person takes down the path of creative expression is an opportunity to re-envision oneself and one's abilities, to re-assess one's strength and resourcefulness. When a person is thus empowered with the knowledge of their own capacity for creative manifestation, they no longer fear expressing, and this opens the door to art as mode of healthy living.
So I determined in my travels to commit myself not so much to frolicking and touring, but to witnessing and revealing the empowering nature of personal expression through creative process, to teach arts and crafts because I consider them to be foundational modes of empowerment and healthful communication which are accessible to all people, regardless of circumstance or location. Through the humble acts of sewing, painting, sculpting and so on, it became my intention to reveal to the hosts and students I would encounter the liberating and healing powers of personal expression. It has become my fond hope and sincere desire to encourage each one of my students to experience the joy of crafting, and thereafter apply that creative ability and vision not only to material objects, but to the forms of their own lives, goals and dreams. That is the gift I have been inspired to give, that is the purpose I have traveled nearly 4,800km to share.
I departed the chill winds and freezing rains of western Canada on December 13th, 2012, bound for Belize, on the Caribbean coast, with something of a sense of detachment. The preceding weeks were sleepless with anticipation and preparation, and yet that overwhelming excitement which consumes many travellers never really sunk in till I was past the customs agents in Vancouver International Airport. Then, finally, my extensive travel plans were out of my head, out of my hands, and an adventure was being borne into a life of it's own.
So what was the adventure? Ideologically I had long fantasized about committing my life to something greater than struggling to pay my own trivial bills. Philosophically I had dreamt of exploring other cultures and wisdoms from around the globe to expand my limited horizons. Personally I needed to sit on a beach and enjoy more than the north-western allotment of 3 short months annual sunshine. I had originally hoped to make an expedition of the grandest design; to drive lackadaisically from British Columbia, Canada to Patagonia in South America, exploring the landscapes, cultures and cuisines of the highly varied terrains en-route, while giving back to the communities that welcomed me through volunteerism. As I planned and calculated, my priorities swayed back and forth between principal and pleasure. To accomplish this journey I was going to have to give up everything I'd been accumulating for a comfortable, sedentary, North American lifestyle. If I was going to make such a risky move at the age when most of my peer group was just starting to settle down, I figured it had better well be for something good, for some greater purpose than exploratory hedonism. While my head reasoned that I should find a spectacular and sustainable international occupation to impress my friends and family, my heart longed to commit to an ascetic life of service. My body, meanwhile, firmly argued for a much deserved umbrella drink and a tan. Somewhere in the middle of all this, and at the mid-point of my intended travel route, my research uncovered a tiny, coastal, Caribbean country named Belize, formerly British Honduras. An ex-British colony bearing most of the basic comforts of home, the national language was said to be English, the government was reported to be stable, and the beaches & landscapes reputed to be pristine. Perfect for a first time traveller. But really it was Belize's national flag that settled the matter; a black man and a white man poised on either side of a tree, bearing paddle, axe, and other implements of honest labour, proudly displaying the quotation "Sub Umbra Floreo" - Under the shade of the tree we flourish. Rapidly dreams of road trips and the acclaim of travel writing transformed – Belize became a destination that was calling me to come home, at least for a while.
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."