Tortola Isolation

November 24, 2012

This was meant to be posted a long long, LONG, time ago. That's why there is references to holy week and summery weather. Please ignore this procrastination error on my part. It's still a good read. Enjoy!

            There is only one tiny problem with traveling on Holy Week and being catholic. Full on catholic guilt.  You do your best to ignore it, try desperately to convince yourself that God would probably want you to enjoy yourself and relax. But you can’t keep the guilt away for too long. She’s sneaky and determined and will constantly remind you you shouldn’t be here. You should be at home praying, going to church and eating fish for the next three days.

Instead what are you doing? You’re on the beach, getting a tan, drinking refreshing frozen beverages and sinking your teeth on smoked barbecued meat. Oh yeah. You’re guilt is on full throttle by now. 

However, there are ways to balance the pure bliss that’s feeding your guilt with some sacrifices that will subside it. So on Holy Friday, the most sober and saddest day of Holy week, the crew decided not to sail to any of the neighbour Islands and stay put in Nanny Cay, the marina slash hotel we were staying at every night.

It wasn’t a stretch of a sacrifice –pool, lovely beach and little shops to visit included- but guilt would just have to settle down and accept it.

We quickly found out most things were closed –because it’s Holy Friday- and the bar wasn’t serving alcohol. At first, it was a bummer. All the things you look forward in vacation were off limits for a whole day. It kind of feels like someone fast forward a whole day of your precious vacation time. Damn that guilt! 

But as it turns out, doing nothing for a whole day became a blessing for me. With no busy agenda to fill with fun visits or loud music, I was able to just be for myself which I realized I hadn’t done for a long time. As I sat down on a wooden bench placed in the middle of a secluded patio adorned with almond trees, the feeling of loneliness started creeping to the surface. 

Immediately I was alarmed. We are told loneliness is an ugly feeling, a gateway to sadness or a hole inside of us we need to fill and that is exactly how my body reacted. As soon as it detected the loneliness, I felt a strong need to get up and do something, busy myself with any trivial task, scream if necessary to cut through that invasion of silence.

As strong as the instinct was to burst out into action, I didn’t. I decided to still on that bench, my fingers curling tightly around the wooden edge, and let the loneliness simmer inside me. After the initial panic to dissolved, it was easy to see the loneliness was no threat to me. It didn’t mean I was empty or my life was lacking great meaning. It was just a call from inside to myself. “Hey remember me? We haven’t spent much time alone for a while. How about that?”

The message was so clear under this bright sun and quiet green surroundings, I laughed softly to myself. I had been so busy for the past few weeks planning my future and constantly figuring out my plans, I had forgotten to just stop for a minute and spend time with myself. Without the noise and the automatic need to something, I was now able to talk to myself. 

I spent the rest of the day doing just that as I walked a few laps around the quaint marina. I strolled around the brightly painted paintings that seemed to have taking tips from the color blocking trend that was happening at the moment. I sat down on the soft grass of a small rustic garden where I could hear the faint crash of waves and the birds chirping from the trees. I must have looked insane. Heck, even the chickens that roamed the area were a bit confused by my presence. But I didn’t care. I sat down and wrote in my notebook, thoughts, ideas, any feeling I had been ignoring recently. I let myself relax so everything that had been tied down could float to the surface. It’s funny. We are so afraid of what’s going inside us, we postpone looking into it in case we don’t like what we see, in case we have left it too long and don’t like how deteriorated it’s become. But once you do, you realize it’s not as bad as you think and there is a certain freedom that comes from sorting it all out.

When the sun became too much to bear, I continued to walk along the docks, admiring all the boats, the different shapes and names that were given to them. The Revenge. Lucy. Couples Therapy. Let it be. Some were small and run downed, like they have had long term relationship with the sea and were still going strong. Some were shiny and gigantic, bigger and more expensive than any house ever could be. Yet everyone came here with different budgets and countries, to find that quiet time we all need. 

The more I spent time alone, the more I cherished it and realized it’s just as important as catching up with your family or friends. By sunset, I was so into it I didn’t want to be interrupted with anything.

 I had a not so small ice cream cone –erm, two really- as I sat on the docks swinging my legs like a child would. The row of boats led your eyes to the Tortolan green mountains freckled with colorful houses that made you truly contemplate starting a life here, opening up a smoothie shop and just live the life of a permanent vacationer. Taking another unladlylike spoonful of mango sherbet and risking a brain freeze, I made a mental note to do this more often. Just be by myself.

Maybe if guilt hadn’t been loud and obnoxious, I wouldn’t have gotten this precious time. Maybe I would have been too busy looking for ways to be busy. But this time, I was grateful guilt had its way (just this time). And as I was grateful for small dosis of guilt, I was grateful for everything else- the incredibly hot day, the sweet and tangy ice cream that counterbalanced the heat, the postcard perfect surroundings, the salty air and the calming ocean. But more than anything, I was grateful I was able to stop in my tracks and really look at it. 

I had a sudden urge to go running to the boat and find my camera to capture this moment forever, to be able to see it again and again in a frozen picture. But the ice cream was too good to ruin with rushing, and so was the view.

Leaping into Vacation

August 10, 2012

I happen to live in a vacation spot. People come here from all over the world to visit our beautiful beaches and get into the relaxing island vibe that says “I am on holiday.” But as lovely as it is, us islanders need to take a vacation from our vacation land every now and then.

            So what do we do? We take a weekend trip to our neighbors at sea: The Virgin Islands. Only 100 miles and a 90 dollar plane ticket away from where I live, these islands are the perfect escape when life gets a bit overwhelming.

            Yet, as budget friendly and tempting it is to spend the weekend on white sanded beaches with a tropical drink in hand, I can’t seem to just say yes without first coming up with a string of excuses.

            I don’t have time off from work. I am saving money for other things. My body is so not ready for swim suit season, much less bikini season. I have no one to leave my dogs with. I need to visit relatives. The list can be endless.

            It’s almost as if I need to feel bad first by listing all the responsibilities I have before I can indulge in a stress free weekend. Maybe it’s because I haven't paid enough dues that call for a needed holiday like most people do and I’m afraid they’ll say “She’s going on vacation? What for?” Maybe it’s because I just waste too much of my time worrying about what people think, but I can’t seem to commit to my holiday unless someone else convinces me I deserve it.

            Why is that? Why must we feel like we need to work incredibly hard so we can earn a proper time out from everything we deal with? Why is thinking only about you for a few days an immediate guilt trip?

            As the list of excuses reached the 20th item, I knew I had to just shake myself and say “What are you doing? Stop making yourself feel bad for doing what you want!” And really, when a friend says they want you to come on a four day boat trip with them to the colorful British Islands… you just say yes.

            And I crushed my excuse list into a ball, threw it out and headed for the Islands. 

The Beginning

August 05, 2012

I was at work sitting on an old squeaky chair, facing my dated soon-to-be-thrown-out desk, looking at the same papers and pens I had for the past eight months when I suddenly had a glimpse of my future.

        I saw myself three years from now, still working in the same run down office, sitting in the old chair, counting down the hours until I could go home. The same thing, same place every day because that’s what a full time job is about.

        It was this image of a socially acceptable cage built out of trivial responsibilities and utter dullness that ignited cold and brutal panic in me, the kind that makes you want to do something drastic and stupid because at least then you’d free of the boring foreseeable future of steady pay checks and zero creativity.

        I took one more look at my square surroundings, so unlike me and confining, and I felt completely sure that a lifetime of settling was never going to be enough. If I stayed, I would have to let go of what I wanted for what I thought I needed to do. 

        There were so many things I wanted to do, so many places I wanted to escape to, places that would take my breath away and teach me about culture and people. I wanted to see the Machu Pichu, to walk for three days until I made it to the top and took in the view of this forgotten city. I wanted to dive into the beaches of Mikonos in Greece and float in the water; to live in New York City, backpack through Europe. 

        It wasn’t just about traveling to all the beautiful places in the world, but to find wonder and adventure in everything I did, whether it was going on two month trip or just visit the art museum I pass by every day to work. 

        A whole world of beauty and discoveries was just at arm’s reach, far away from the socially accepted and the cookie cutter idea of what life should be. It was full of amazing things, great or small, created by God and men, all equal in their splendour.

        As I kept thinking of all the adventures I wanted to have, all the countries I wanted to visit, I no longer felt panic but a fire in my heart that ignited the courage I needed to escape the everyday life and dive into the world, so vast and daunting but so full of promise and wonders that were meant to fill out the pages of my life.