In my mind, it’s better to “go” than to wait for that perfect someday. Branches of my family tree sag with somebodies who waited upon “somedays” that never came. And so, when the choice is between traveling by myself or staying home, I water my plants and pack a bag. Faced with a full week of unfettered days a few years ago, I opted for Nuevo Vallarta and some time with a new favorite friend, Me. On one of my final days, I joined a group sailing out of Banderas Bay toward the Marietas Islands.
One interesting element of traveling alone is the way it enables one to drift in and out of conversations. One can listen to others -or ignore them. There is the opportunity to engage with those around you or to take a personal retreat. One can rev up the brain or simply observe as your senses soak in the impressions of each moment. The optimal method to achieving this mental utopia is to situate oneself within groups of a certain size. My sailing trip from Nuevo Vallarta to the Marietas Islands violated that self-imposed standard by at least one hundred people. The gleaming wood sailing vessel was elegant, classic, but unfortunately, much smaller than I had expected and hoped for… My fellow passengers numbered only twenty and included cozy couples, a family of four and an extended family group of about twelve from Appleton, Wisconsin. But, the morning sun was warming up a perfect day, and it was infinitely better to be there alone than to not be there at all. I settled onto a white canvas cushion and floated into my own thoughts as we sailed out onto Banderas Bay.
Grief over the closely-timed deaths of my parents, grandfather and marriage had created a watery barrier around my moments of joy and muffled its volume. I was no longer somebody’s daughter, nor anyone’s wife. And for this week, I was a mother traveling without children. I was simply “Heather.”
The difficult part comes during the “look at that!” nudging moments. Sharing the remarkable seems almost an elemental part of processing it and saving it into our internal hard drive. We define the extraordinary against those who are familiar with our ordinary zones. That afternoon in Mexico, I knew I was sailing toward “extraordinary.” And, instead of saving it for “someday,” I was ripping open the package and taking the first bite all by myself.
The Sierra Madres merged into a singular broad expanse behind us as the sea sprayed the bow and the afternoon rolled into a brilliant sort of serenity. I somehow became part of a couple of family groups, learning the early and mid-chapters of lives for which I’d be unlikely to read the endings. Although the whale migration season had officially ended, two humpbacks swam in the mouth of the bay. Our guide, Gustavo, speculated that the stragglers were a mother and calf who had not been ready for the pod’s swim north. I’ve watched bus-sized humpbacks breach with dramatic splashes in Maui’s waters. This was different. We were further away, but the glimpse of determined mother with her child was a more intimate encounter.
We cut sharply through the dark blue waters, eventually spotting the stumpy blobs of volcanic matter that are the Marietas Islands, but before we could get there, we were surrounded by about four hundred dolphins. They circled us again and again as a dancing, leaping parade. From the reactions of the boat’s crew, I knew it was unlikely I’d see such a spectacular display again.
The largest island loomed ahead like an overly puffed and then squashed marshmallow…