I’m in Nicaragua, wearing a new swimsuit, paddling away from a deserted beach.
I graduated college with a hankering to travel. A contact in Nicaragua offered me free room and board to teach English, with a bonus of daily surf lessons.
For months, I made packing lists, contemplated footwear, compared backpack prices online, and dreamed of the person I would be on my adventure of a lifetime. I visited the local surf shop, perused the swimsuit section, and saw myself in the colorful posters lining the wall.
Toned women stood frozen emerging from perfect tubes, and I would be one of them.
Let me take a moment to count the ways in which my mind and body are not those of a surfer:
- I am a 6’1” female. I am almost the same size of a standard lady’s learner board. I have very long, uncoordinated legs.
- I have skinny, weak, long arms. Due to the length of my arms and their surpassing-normal weakness, I can do five full push-ups under the best of conditions, namely, on dry, unmoving land.
- In the vein of land unmoving, I am a runner. My coordination depends on a strong firm surface under my feet, rather than the rolling ocean.
- Big waves scare me. Drowning even more so.
Watch Out For Pastinaca!
Surfing has its own vocabulary, which eludes me in even my native language. Watch out for the pastinaca. It means stingray, and is a word indelibly seared in my memory.
Communication difficulties are more acute during surf lessons.
The moment a giant wave is crashing on you is not the time remember if mas atrÃ¡s means to step forward or backwards, a tidbit of information which is the difference between nose-diving into the sand and staying above water.
I arrived in beautiful Nicaragua fully expecting to learn how to surf within my two-month stay.
We expect our travels to offer new opportunities for change and growth, so that the person who returns home is unrecognizable to the person who left. Perhaps this idea of reinventing one’s identity is why we travel.
However, the person we already are is a stubborn creature, more real and more durable than the glamorous fantasy person we hope our travels will grant us the chance to become.
“My mind and body were to prove temperamental accomplices in the mission of appreciating my destination,” says Alain de Button, in The Art of Travel.
Indeed, it is easy for us to forget ourselves-our mind and bodies-as we plan our escapades and anticipate a new self in a new place.
Endless Summer Dreams Deferred
Weeks after my arrival in Nicarauga, I realized that learning how to surf was making me miserable.
There’s a fine line between the fear of giving-up and the fear of being an idiot. Travel should push us outside our comfort zone. We become brave through travel, and our most valuable experiences, those that change us, happen largely because of this bravado.
However, we should not forget ourselves in the excitement of travel.
We must remember who we are, what we want and what our minds and bodies are capable of achieving.
Here in Nicaragua, I am a single traveler confronting many other challenges apart from my aquatic adventures, namely being the sole and novice English teacher in a very small town.
Following My Own Path
For the moment, I have relinquished my grip on the surfboard and moved onto better pursuits, suited more to who I am and, more importantly, to the person I want to become.
When I finally evaluated the reasons I wanted to learn to surf, I saw that my motivation was a reaction to glamorous pictures and the expectation of what one should do on a beach in Nicaragua, rather than what I myself would find most enjoyable and fulfilling.
Colorful sunsets now find me running along my deserted beach rather than drowning in the ocean.
My creative energies are focused on teaching a challenging group of Nicaraguan students, a goal more congruent to the person I am and want to become.
Standing on a board in the water doesn’t seem so important anymore.
Have you found yourself struggling with experiences you believed were falsely valuable? Share in the comments!