month one: solo swim

IMG_6563I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I am one for new projects. Or at least, continuing old projects that involve doing new things. So I’m back to it around here. My goal is to venture out and do something new at least once a month that’s worth writing about. That feels like the bare minimum of engagement to keep life from going dry and stale. So here we go…

On the surface, this month’s adventure might seem like a dream to a lot of people. I took a week off and went to Maui to play in the waves and study just enough massage to make the trip a tax write-off. It was indeed dreamy to escape the dark, rainy days here in Portland and slip into some warm turquoise water and bask like a lizard in the brilliant sun. While I’d never been to Maui, that wasn’t the newest thing. I’ve taken trips to other Hawaiian islands before. And the massage technique I’d be studying was new to me, but since I have to take continuing education classes on a regular basis, learning a new technique was also not that unusual. What felt a little bigger and a little scarier was doing this on my own. 100% solo.

In another life, I would have been a travel agent, so scheduling the trip wasn’t intimidating since even if I wasn’t going solo, chances are I’d be doing a lot of the research and arranging. But I was a little scared of what it would be like to negotiate this adventure on my own. I’d have to rent a car and drive it across an entirely unknown landscape. I’d be renting a very inexpensive room at the commune/farm where the workshop was taking place and therefore would have to engage with the people who lived there without the shield of my gregarious friends. I’d have to cook my own meals(!). I’d have no one to save me from the crush of a powerful wave or from having my things stolen off the beach while the powerful wave crushed me. Mostly, I was wondering how I’d cope with having no one to talk to, no one to turn to and say, fuck this is amazing, don’t you think?

Things went wrong. Or maybe I should say, things went differently than I had anticipated. The flight was fine, the renting of the car was fine and with the help of the brilliant invention of Google Maps, even driving to the rural, up-country town on winding back roads was fine. It was the hippies that turned out to be more than I could handle. I thought I was prepared for some serious New Age, spiritual-seeking folk. My plan was to sit back and enjoy the ride as much as possible even if I expected I wouldn’t agree with some of their philosophy.

Within a few minutes of my arrival on the lush grounds, I was sitting down with the head hippie lady, her much younger boyfriend and their wispy, wide-eyed friend to a lunch of lentils and rice. Before eating, we held hands and chanted Ohm three times. I joined in since I’m used to chanting Ohm in yoga and didn’t want to start off my trip being wary and resistant. Immediately after the last Ohm they sang a short, jaunty, high-pitched song about being thankful for the food. To my ears, it sounded weird and creepy. And just like that, resistance arrived.

Over our meal, the boyfriend talked at us about gold being inert and how there were alien planets dusted in it. We talked about the sun and the wispy girl said, “When I stare at the sun, I see rainbows.” The boyfriend agreed. They also agreed that butterflies should be called flowerflies. I smiled at my plate and said nothing. I wondered how much of this I would have to endure each day.

After lunch, I went to my shabby room that sat behind the kitchen and next to the one filthy bathroom used by the dozen or so people who lived on the land. There I found a futon covered in sheets that had the same earthy/curry/couscous smell that invaded the rest of the house, shelves full of recycling and bags of Chinese herbs and one dim lamp that was taped together. I slipped out for the afternoon and when I returned, I hid in my dim bedroom for the rest of the night while I listened to all the people come and go from the kitchen and living room. Yes, there was a round of guitar-strumming and singing. There was a long discussion about astrology. The boyfriend practiced his throat singing while he did the dishes and then got in a tiff with the head lady where he attempted to calm her increasing annoyance with him by saying “I wish you wouldn’t use such aggressive energy with me.”

I went on a texting spree with my partner back home, wondering what I should do. There was no way I wanted to spend my first vacation in two years hiding in my room every night, tossing on my hard futon and listening to the mice gnaw away at the plywood walls.

I splurged on a hotel in one of the less expensive coastal towns and as soon as I sat down on my clean, crisp, entirely impersonal hotel bed I breathed a huge sigh of relief. From then on, I was amazed at how easy the rest of the trip was. The workshop back at the commune was engaging and useful and being with the people who lived there was so much more pleasant when I knew I had my own private space to return to at the end of the day. The beaches were full of other tourists uninterested in my belongings and the waves I chose to ride were incapable of anything but a gentle slap.

It turned out that I didn’t really miss having someone to talk to. I texted a bit at the end of the day, but mostly, I spent my time reading. And walking. And lounging. And floating. Without any problem at all, I fell into a deep appreciation for the unhindered freedom and expansive silence of a solo vacation. If I’d been there with someone, I might not have watched the sunrise every morning while I drank my coffee on the beach. I might not have watched the sunset while floating in the warmest, upper layers of the waves. I travel well with a number of different people and look forward to having more shared experiences with all of them, but this was a real treat. While off to a rough start, it turned out to be one of the easiest trips I’ve ever had.

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