My sister and I have been planning a trip together for years.
It has always been a trip through Africa. She loves Africa — has lived there for three years, and studied there for half of one.
When I tell her that Africa is too large to call by one name, she reminds me that she knows more of the continent than I do. And, she adds — the immensity is reason enough to keep returning.
After four years of this back-and-forth, one or the other of us backing out, we are here. We landed on the Northern tip of the continent — Tangier, Morocco.
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
—Paul Simon, “Graceland”
I had a woman in Medellin. Or maybe she had me.
That’s ok. That’s how things go when you’re on the road. Backpacker hostels: young, vibrant, full of energy and alcohol and interesting new people. It’s almost bound to happen — if you’re the type of person to go in for that sort of stuff. Or even if you’re not.
After all, you can be anyone on the road.
Except if you’re actively publishing a memoir of emotional devastation.
The American West.
And one of my favorite places in the world.
I don’t know how to slaughter an animal. I don’t know which plants are edible and which will kill me. I don’t know much about gardening. Heck, I’m a barely competent chef. I eat out more than I’d like to admit.
Growing up as a kid in the suburban U.S., if I wanted something, the solution was always to buy it. If we wanted food, we bought it. If we wanted furniture, we bought it. If we needed a service provided — oil changed in our cars, say — we bought it. And usually, whatever it was, we threw it away soon after. I knew no other way of life.
That is not how they’re living here at Habla Ya Spanish School in Panama.
Panama is blessed with an incredibly lush climate, where things grow like mad. The seas teem with life, trees practically sprout out of the asphalt, and rain falls frequently. Here, the climate is basically perfect for sustainability. And yet, still, many multinational corporations have done quite well in convincing people here that they need to buy things.
But here in Bocas Del Toro, Habla Ya Spanish School is pushing back on that idea, bit by bit. Check out some of the cool sustainability and community building efforts they’ve got under way here in this tropical paradise:
My review of Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist is one of my most popular posts. The Alchemist is one of my favorite books; I connect deeply with the message. I feel that it was introduced to me at a pivotal moment in my life — the message appeared exactly when I needed to hear it.
Last summer, a good friend’s long-term girlfriend handed me a copy of The Alchemist. They’re both engineers, based in Seattle. They were making great money, lived in a modern apartment with a magnificent view, and seemed to be doing great. “It’s my favorite book,” the girlfriend told me as she handed me the book. She longed for travel, like I had done.
Mt. Rainer loomed in the distance, visible from their apartment window. The boyfriend spoke of climbing it next summer. I thought that sounded fun. But you could tell, it wasn’t the girlfriend’s dream.
I was just back from extended travel in Asia. I was unemployed, emotionally devastated, and unsure of what to do with my life. I had been home for two months, floating around from friend to friend, spending my days mostly sleeping and trying to make sense of everything I had learned from breaking up with my girlfriend in the Hong Kong airport, and going on to Nepal. I was spending money recklessly, including coming out to Seattle for just a weekend. Chasing my dreams had, in a very real way, destroyed my life.
If there is a better time to be handed a book about the power and importance of following your dreams, I don’t know when it would be.