“Wherever You Go…”

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My first view of the Amazon River.

Travel from Quito to the Amazon was a very long day: up at 5 AM to get ready then a 45 minute cab ride to the airport, then a puddle-jumper flight to Lago Agrio, Ecuador. (They had one of the smallest terminals I’ve ever seen — the baggage claim area was the size of my classroom.)

The next part of the journey was a two hour bus ride. The bus was already outside the terminal and filling up. There were single seats left — Marty sat near the back. The woman who would become my seat companion had hogged the seat with her huge backpack but moved it when I asked to sit down.

After a little while I asked her a few questions, and then we chatted for 40 minutes or so. She was from the UK and traveling solo.

I would learn: she hated her job, despite making a late-in-life career change to become a pastry chef. She didn’t like the long hours (16 hours/day, she said.) She made less money than she made in her previous profession. She felt as though she was always broke —  and was angry about the way her life had turned out.

(Caveat: in her defense, I know that sometimes people describe their lives to a stranger in ways they might not otherwise. It’s safe to vent frustration to someone you won’t see again. Is her life as bad as she made it seem? Maybe not.)

She didn’t like her town… maybe she would move somewhere new…  she dreaded returning to her life… She was already lamenting the end of her travels, despite having many weeks left to go.

The night before, she had taken a 12 hour bus ride to get to Lago Agrio. She said the roads were bumpy and the bus uncomfortable. She was tired and soon she was sound asleep, curled around her backpack.

I got the impression — though she didn’t say it in so many words — she imagined this trip was going to give her a break. This seems like a common — and very human — desire. When we grow weary of trying to find answers, we want to get away from the questions.

But this leads inevitably to frustration because problems don’t become distant by putting miles between you and them. They come along for the ride.

Buddha said the first key to understanding life is to acknowledge that Life is Suffering. He meant that life is about trials and problems. You haven’t been singled out to suffer, and you aren’t alone as you struggle with the parts of your life that are unresolved.

Travel is a process for enhancing your life — but it sucks as a method for getting away from your life.

It seems to me that many people romanticize the lives of other people. They have it easy, they think to themselves… but this is never true. They may have different problems, but no one is settled on Easy Street. It doesn’t exist.

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Workers stack supplies that will be boated to the Lodge

The bus ride ended, and after an hour at a bump in the road (a bridge, a tiny store, an even tinier dock) we loaded our luggage onto a boat then crawled into another boat for a two hour ride deeper into the jungle to get to the lodge. The woman I’d met — we never exchanged our names — was on a separate boat.

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Marty at the dock, our guide William is on the right

I had no idea what I’d discover in the Amazon, but the water was gorgeous and the seats were comfortable. After the confines of the bus, the air off the waters felt so good on my skin.

I’m still figuring out what travel means — what it’s like, what it’s for. I’m learning what I enjoy and what I don’t. But I do know the old adage is true:  wherever you go, there you are…  I leave all sorts of things behind when I travel, but not me.

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