A TPE Introduction: Finding Love, Meaning and Oompa Loompah in Honduras
I blame my wandering, travel hungry ways on my mom who, when I was growing up became restless and agitated if we stayed still for too long. Each Sunday and many weekends we’d take off into the mountains or go to the desert to explore unknown places on the map. Every summer she’d pack my sister and I into the car and drive us cross country to see our Great Grandmother DeeDee in Arkansas.
It was exciting to be in the car with mom. She stopped at weird mid-western highway attractions and showed us how to track the routes and mileage on a map so we could be her co-pilots. We took back roads. We snacked on gorp in the car and we made traveling cheaply a game that we all enjoyed and endeavored to win by beating our previous spending record.
Now I’m nearly the age my mother was when she started taking us on these adventures and I can safely say that I’ve been blessed with this same agita to wander off and see something new when life starts to seem humdrum. Generally, the feeling hits about every two months if I haven’t gone anywhere and in the spring of this year, I decided it was time hit the road. I sold my furniture and packed up what was left figuring at some point I’d know where I was going. It’s been two and a half months of a “home-free” lifestyle and lately every conversation with friends and family seems to be an excited “Where are you headed next? What’s your plan, again?” With this question being asked again and again, it seems like a good time to launch Travel. Play. Eat- the food and travel blog that my sister and brother in law have been talking about launching for a few months now.
My co -conspirators on this little blog are my sister and her husband Brian. I would like to think it was our travel and adventure seeking spirits that led us all to meet and Becca and Brian to fall in love nearly twenty years ago…
Keep reading! It’s kind of a good story.
I was fourteen years old and had been itching to travel and do some humanitarian work ever since the fifth grade. Mr. Sharp, my long haired hippie teacher, had his friends from the Peace Corp come to our classroom to tell us all about their time in Africa. I was amazed by their photos and stories and was like-"YES, I want to kill King Cobras with rocks and teach girls how to read!” Becca had the same fifth grade teacher and and we more than likely talked about how we wanted to get out and see the world and do something to make a difference. We grew our hair long and wore Birkenstocks and Becca joined Greenpeace. And then, one day, I remember her saying “Audj, I heard about this church that’s taking a bunch of kids to Honduras to rebuild from the hurricane. We gotta start going so we can go on the trip!” Never a churchgoer growing up and a bit skeptical of the whole thing, I didn’t go the first year but when the second year came around I was on board. Our mom decided to go with us too.
We had to take four flights to get to Roatan, Honduras and the size and quality of the planes diminished the closer we got to the little island. One of the planes resembled a beat up cardboard box with wings. The seats were unpadded and hard and the ride hurt a little. We flew so low we could see fish swimming in the clear Caribbean water and several of the passengers were crying for fear of their lives but Becca and I only laughed gleefully as the plane bumped and careened its way over the water. When we finally arrived in Roatan, my 5’2 mom tired and probably thanking God we were alive, started an argument with a maybe drunk security guard holding a very large machine gun and then someone handed the man a wad of cash and he gave us our luggage. Some really nice people corralled us to our ride, which was a giant eight-wheeled dump truck and we all clambered up onto the tires and then jumped and pulled ourselves over the metal sides of the empty dumpster. Eighteen year old Brian, my sister’s future husband was the driver of the big dump-truck and maybe respecting my mom’s small but tough stature or maybe seeing into the future, offered my mom the front seat. (Later on in the trip when we exhausted from a day of laying a cement foundation Brian, covered in cement dust, his hair standing on end, inspired by the wheelbarrows and cement mix bags, enthusiastically performed and sang the Oompa Loompah dance from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while we rolled on the ground laughing. I’m not sure but I like to imagine that this is when Brian secured a permanent spot in our family.)
The big group of us slept on cots in the jungle in a big, wall-less treehouse that swayed in the breeze at night as the wind came off the Caribbean Sea. We worked all day every day, building a trade center and my work consisted mostly of pulling nails in scorpion infested piles of wood, hacking at the jungle with machetes to clear space to build, leveling a clay hill with hand tools and pouring cement.
Each night we’d pile back into the dump truck and pile out at one beach or another where we’d swim away our fatigue and play until we got hungry. At night we headed back to the treehouse and slept while mosquitoes whined around us and huge blue crabs scuttled across the cement floors of the treehouse. Some of the girls in our group cried themselves to sleep at night or couldn’t sleep at because they’d been chewed on all day by mosquitoes and were afraid of the bugs and crabs that were trying to take us out- but I was in hog heaven. I never wanted to leave that treehouse. I was overjoyed. I wanted to devote my life to traveling and helping people where I could and that travel bug became a travel fever that just never left.
After Honduras, Becca and Brian grew close in a long distance relationship and got married five or six years later in Tucson, Arizona. We danced our stockings off that night we were so happy for them. Both of them went through Master’s and PhD programs there and then they moved to Colorado. I returned from Honduras with two years of high school left, which I finished by the skin of my teeth. I was obsessed with Hemingway and Chomsky and AdBusters who knows what else and thought college was an institutionalized trap. I got married too, twice. And divorced, twice- all by the sweet age of 26!? All I will say about that is that I was a little frivolous/overly confident in my maturity and decision making abilities both times and neither one worked out. I moved back and forth across the country, went to film school, played some music, traveled, sold art, a lot of other things in between and then built a little business that would allow me to the freedom to work anywhere with internet. I’m about to quit my part-time job selling art to live this life that I’ve been carving out here in my own meandering weird way.
Anyway, it all sounds sort of romantic but as we all know, things aren’t always peachy in this life or in our family but give us a chance and by God we’ll find a way to laugh in this damn shit storm.