Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Life Aquatic - Oceanic Panic

It is well known among my circle of friends that I have battled aquaphobia for most of my life. It is not so well known that I have grown leaps and bounds in the last two years to conquer this fear. After my last deep water experience that ended with a run-in with a shark, I felt sure that I had finally, once-and-for-all, kicked my fear to the shore. So, today it was with reckless confidence that I went snorkling with my friend Noe. Okay, maybe not reckless....reckless would have been going alone (which I have thought about doing – sheer laziness has prevented this). Still, the fear that typically accompanies me on my approach to the deep blue was no where in sight. I had my camera, had my fins, had taken out my shiny silver earrings to prevent resembling shark bait...all was good in the hood. Noe and I jumped in, swam through the little reef opening, and VOILA! we were couragously swimming many yards away from shore. You can imagine my surprise when a sudden panic attack set in a mere 90 seconds later.

“What the hell?” I yelled at myself...silently of course, because you can't yell with a snorkle in your mouth. But my "self" got the point and yelled right back. “Do you NOT see those drops of water on the inside of your mask???”

“Oh....shit...yeah I DO see those. Oh my God. I can't breathe.” Note: when you are under water, much of what goes on is a conversation between your ego and your id....or at least that's what happens to me...

At this point my brain merged and became one, loud (yet silent), panicking voice. “Does anyone see me drowning? Oh my God. Wait, there is air going into my lungs....but,” my inner voice nearing hysteria, “I CAN SEE DROPS OF WATER INSIDE MY MASK OH MY GOD I CAN'T BREATHE I CAN'T BREATH!!!” (All this happened within the first 3 minutes....probably less – you know how time slows down when you're in an accident...)


“HEY! GET A GRIP!” Luckily, right then my ego, oh-so-proud, smacked my id square in the teeth. “You are an EMBARASSMENT! Get a hold of yourself and BREATHE!!! How are you going to live with yourself if you QUIT FIVE FEET FROM THE REEF??”

Whimpering, my id answered back, “ lungs...if i'm doing this am I ever going to scuba dive. What if I.....”

Ever intelligent, my ego finally took over for good. “Listen, jackass, your MASK is in no way related to your SNORKLE! They are SEPARATE. Water can get all up inside your mask and you can STILL breathe!!”


“Huh...would you look at that,” my id answered back. “Has it always been like this?”

Exasperated, my ego sighed and pushed my id aside so I could enjoy the rest of my adventure. After a few deep, calming breaths I looked around to make sure that Noe hadn't witnessed any of this nonsense....Lucky for my ego he hadn't, and lucky for me big brother isn't everywhere yet. So, id reassured, I puttered along behind Noe looking at all the splendor that is Sasanhaya Bay.

The irony of all this is that if I could be any animal, I would be a mermaid or a selkie. For those of you who don't believe in mythical sea creatures, go ahead and pretend I said “dolphin.” I mean, being underneath water, lack of oxygen aside, is one of the most tranquil, mysterious, beautiful experiences on earth. The suspension of gravity, of sound, of voice...the surreal colors and creatures...What I would give to be able to just live in the ocean forever more. I don't personally have much to compare the Rota reef to, but the colors and cleanliness are spectacular. Floating through 85 degree water so crystal clear it's like a tropical aquarium, marvelling at car sized corals that look like brain, sometimes cauliflower, sometimes glow in the dark mushrooms, wondering whether today the turtles or sharks will make their appearance, these are the things of magic.

So, Noe and I floated on, stopping from time to time to take pictures or record video. Epiphany number two came when I was about 20 feet behind Noe and a sudden flash of light caught my attention. I looked up to see the sunlight glinting off of his camera. This woke up my id again.

“Crap, did you see that? That was a shark signal! Wait....” I looked down at my own camera, “I have a shark signaller on too!!”

I looked around...It seemed all the sharks were on break at that moment, so we weren't eaten or anything. But I spent the rest of the swim torn between my ego who was saying “Sigh. Knock it off, sissy baby,” and my id who was was saying “oh-my-god-the-sharks-are-going-to-see-your-camera-and-eat-you.” I chose to compromise between the two – I kept my panic at bay and just held my camera in my hand, which I am absolutely positive was the key to living to see another day. The epiphany was that there is really no sense in taking out my teensy little silver hoops if I'm going to be toting around a giant shark signaller strapped to my wrist.

We lazily floated towards our point of origin, my back and legs turning a crisp red. Noe helped navigate me through our reef entrance, which is an opening about 5 feet wide, treacherous only if there are big swells. Beaming with pride, I floated to a stop, removed my snorkle, and promptly set it aside. It turns out my snorkle doesn't float. It also turns out that the top of the water is way different than the solid top of, say, a table... or a rock...
I looked up at Noe, “Do you see my snorkle?”
He laughed at me, “Yeah, it's right there... here, use this,” and he handed me his own mask.

I dove down the ten or so feet to retrieve my mask and snorkle from the bottom and I was just amazed at how much easier (epiphany number three) it is to dive down when you have fins on! Before today, I had always snorkled finless, and between the bouyancy of the salt water and the floatation device also known as my ass, I have done nothing but struggle with free diving and marvel at those who can. Why did those cheaters never explain to me that you need FINS to effectively free dive???

Anyway, I dove back up all sorts of proud and exclaimed “Hey!! That's a lot easier with fins on!!”

To which Noe replied, “Yeah, but you dropped my snorkle.”

“Dammit, Cami,” my ego sighed, “go get it.”

“But it's way deeper than the other one,” my id whined back. But my id knew that my ego wasn't going to deal with this nonsense, so rather than put up a fight, I just dove down and got it. Amazingly, I lived. Also, I learned that you should look up when you are resurfacing. I didn't hit my head or anything, but it sure wouldn't have surprised me if I had. You see, the reef is like a little, underwater room with an open ceiling and razor blade walls. A few feet from the bottom I decided to look up and see where I was going....of course, I was heading straight for a K.O. with the reef. But with my newfound library of oceanic common sense, I simply changed my direction ever so slightly and averted yet another water disaster.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Life Aquatic: It's bad...Like Water...Being Underneath It....

I wasn't born with one of those nifty brain filters that prevents you from spouting out total nonsense. As a result, I am known among my close friends and family for sputtering out fragments and run-ons that just make no sense at all. One time during a long car ride, maybe to California, my sister and I were relaxing in the backseat make-shift campsite we had become accustomed to putting together for these road trips. At some hideous, heart-stopping, stomach curdling moment....OUR BARE FEET TOUCHED. It still makes me shudder to remember it. I yanked my feet back and screamed "DON'T TOUCH MY FEET!!" She looked at me in shock which prompted me to explain in near hysterical tones, "Bare feet touching is bad! It's like water!!"  And which point she erupted into laughter and forced me to explain how water is bad, let alone anything at all like bare feet touching. Well, I was still horrified (quite the little drama queen, I know...) So in total frustration I said "It's like water....being underneath it!!" Apparently this didn't clarify anything for her, because she just erupted into laughter again, and promptly decided that this would be a catch phrase for the Baugh sisters forever more.

What she didn't know is how terrified I had become of being underneath water. Something about having people sit on my shoulders with my head under water....being trapped underneath docks....waking up from a nap underneath the surface of the deep end of the pool....all this had led to a phobia of having my head under water. Go figure.

Fast forward to my mid-teens and you'll find a young lady who wanted nothing to do with fear. I don't actually remember what it was that changed in me, but I remember deciding I didn't want to be afraid. One by one, I started tackling my fears. I made myself go on the zipper at the carnival to deal with my fear of heights. Eventually I made my way all the way to Las Vegas to ride the Big Shot on the top of the Stratosphere (a mere 1,000 feet in the air). When I was 15, we took a family trip to see my mom's family in Southern California. While there, my dad decided to pick up surfing again. He took me out into the surf at Newport Beach. I'm not totally sure he knew about my phobia at this point...but he sure did afterwards. In my mind, which surely has a skewed perspective, the massive storm surf tried to eat me alive, decided I wasn't the right snack, and spit me back out on the beach a snotty, sputtering, sand covered mess. I'm sure in reality the waves were a couple of feet...but these details are minor. What matters is that I wasn't about ready to let that ocean be the boss of me!

Later that day, Dad bought a surfboard and we drove down to San Onofre. He took me out into the surf where I screamed and yelled and cursed, but tried and tried and tried. Eventually, I managed to catch my first wave and ride it into shore. Imagine my disappointment when pictures proved later that my "wave" was, in fact, about 1 foot of foam....  But I was hooked. Maybe I could barely swim, and perhaps I had total chest-stopping panic every time I wiped out and went under water (which was often), but I was addicted nonetheless.

Eventually I worked up to snorkeling - which I realize might seem backwards, but with surfing my face was only submerged for a few seconds at a time. Snorkeling requires your face to, you know, be IN the water. It's the whole point of it. During a trip I took to Belize I went out snorkeling in some very calm, very clear, very shallow water. Even though this was almost as safe as snorkeling in a swimming pool, I felt panicked enough to stop about every 20 feet, lift of my mask, find land, breath, lather, rinse, repeat. Boy were my friends ever irritated with me. But four terrifying hours later, I felt I had accomplished another step in my mission to overcome my biggest fear.

A lot of time passed before I pushed myself forward again. Ten years, to be exact. Last year some friends of mine convinced me to go on a rafting trip. I researched a lot, and decided it wouldn't exactly be cheating death, so I decided to go. At first I felt that same fist gripping my stomach. I breathed deeply and plunged ahead. About halfway down the river I realized I was having a blast and I very likely wasn't going to die on this Class II rapid. I even made my way to the bow of the raft to feel the ice cold water splash my face every time we smashed down a rapid. One of the Yay Rafting! traditions is to jump into the river off a rock that is maybe 8-10 feet high. They told me if I was going to jump, I needed to land right on the border of the current and the eddie, and then swim like hell back to the beach. It took me a few minutes to actually jump, but finally I did it. I found myself mid-air, totally shocked that I'd actually jumped, and then even more shocked by the ice cold glacial run-off that bit my face as I went under. Once again, however, I'd looked water right in the face and lived.

Presently, I live surrounded by water quite literally. When it comes to outdoor recreation on Rota there are two choices: you can hike or you can swim/snorkel/dive. I knew when I moved here that I would have to face my deepest fears. Not because there is someone making me, but because I have too much pride to come to one of the greatest dive spots on the planet only to end up saying "I couldn't, I was scared." So, once again I've been taking baby steps. First, I snorkeled inside the reef. Then one day I managed to go outside the reef with my friend Noe. Snorkeling inside the reef was no big deal - there are no currents or riptides that could drag me helplessly out to sea....But outside the reef...I admit I panicked a little when I lost sight of Noe's flippers. I did have to stop every so often to double check that I wasn't already half way to the Philippines.

This last week has been a big week for me. My friend Scott took me out on his boat. I am not sure why, but I realized about thirty minutes in to snorkeling that I wasn't scared. I found myself actually wishing to see some big fish - a shark, a tuna, anything to remind me I was in the ocean and not in an aquarium. On my way back to the boat, I did see a little shark. It was so deep that I wasn't even sure it was a shark at all. A couple of days later we went out again. This time I lost sight of Scott several times, but once again surprised myself with my total lack of fear. My internal narration when something like "Hey. I'm not afraid. Nope, still not afraid. Weird." And then "You've come a long way in ten years! (mental pat on own back)"

I watched in awe as Scott dove down 20 feet or more, hovered with his spear gun looking for fish, then resurfaced only to do it again and again. "How do you just hold your breath like that?" I thought. I know Scott spends most of his off time free diving, but watching the process both fascinated and terrified me. Truth be told, I am jealous. I want to do that - but it is still so scary. After a little bit, I lost sight of Scott again, and because I was getting stung by hundreds of miniature jelly fish (which at first I thought were a special class of underwater bees), I decided to head back to the boat. I was about 25 feet from the boat when I saw the shark. This time there was no question about it. It was a shark, and it was big enough to eat my legs and it was swimming right towards me. Something to the effect of "Oh my God it's a shark and it's hungry and it wants to eat my legs ohmygodohmygodohmygod" went through my brain. I took exactly two arm strokes before I realized that I would never be able to swim faster than this creature. Because you can't exactly take deep cleansing breaths while snorkeling, I just had to mentally calm myself. I know that shark people and divers are probably laughing out loud at this story because the shark I saw was a little reef shark and not some giant man-eater. But heart pounded in my chest in total contrast to the slow, smooth breast strokes that lead me back to the boat. Exhausted, I gave up snorkeling for the day, but I am still proud of myself, and still thrilled that I had a chance to see a shark that close. I know this is only the beginning.

The next I woke up exhausted, but I had promised Noe I would ride up to the swimming hole with him. Swimming hole is a totally different experience than the wide open ocean. The hole itself is small, and maybe only ten feet deep at the deepest point, if that. It is totally surrounded by reef, and usually very calm. It's like a small swimming pool/aquarium. I was having a lot of fun just snorkeling around, looking at the fish, generally just frolicking. For some reason I got it in my head that I needed to start practicing free diving. I have seen people dive down with snorkels on but I didn't understand how it worked. So, I just took a deep breath and dove under. The first time I think I managed to dive about three feet, but I saw a shell I really wanted on the bottom of the hole. That's when it happened. My brain clicked into gear and I decided that was the moment I've been waiting for since I was about ten years old. I would get that shell before I left the swimming hole. Breath after breath I would try with everything I had to swim down to the bottom. Pretty soon, I had it! I managed to dive all the way down to the bottom, stay there, and grab my shell. I was so excited I decided I needed a few more. Five or six shells later, I looked up to see Noe. I know I must have had a ridiculous grin on my face because he wanted to know what treasure I had found. I'm not sure anyone besides my family will ever understand that the treasure I found that day was that being underneath water really isn't that bad at all. In fact, it's actually quite spectacular.
**From top: photo1 taken at Rota Grotto, CNMI by Scott Moen; Photo2 taken by YayRafting member; Photo3 taken at Rota Grotto, CNMI by Scott Moen; Photo4 taken at Pona Point, Rota CNMI by Tara Martin; Photo5 taken at Swimming Hole, Rota CNMI by Camas Baugh; Photo6 taken at Rota Grotto, CNMI by Scott Moen. All Photos Copyrighted.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tsunami Warning Ot Ten.

I was pulled grudgingly from my sleep about 130 a.m. this morning by the pestering ring of my cell phone. In the states, I had frequent calls in the middle of the night - so often, in fact, that I just never answered them. Here, though, my phone rarely rings at all, let alone in the middle of the night. So, tempted as I was to "ignore," I went ahead and picked up. I was disoriented enough that I didnt right away recognize my dad's voice.
"In a few hours, you're going to be hit by a Tsunami," he said.
"No, no no, that doesn't make any sense."
"There was an earthquake, and it's bad," he insisted.
"The one in Japan? I know, that one has passed."
"No, there was an earthquake in Chile and you're going to get hit by a Tsunami. I just didn't want you to be out riding your bike or something."
"Dad, you must be mistaken. Chile is in South America."
"Yes, I know, but the entire Pacific Ocean is on watch."
"HOLD on..."
Exasperated, I stumbled out to my computer and turned on CNN. Sure enough, all hell was breaking loose in South America. And, just as dad said, a widespread Tsunami warning had been issued.
"Oh, no" I finally responded.
"No, it's okay, you can go back to bed," Dad says. "I just didnt want you out riding your bike without checking the news first."
"OH SURE, DAD. I'll totally just GO BACK TO BED."
"You have time, don't worry."
So, I had to recheck the data. Sure enough, he was right.
What he meant by "in a few hours" was  "11 hours from now." In my world, "in a few hours you'll be hit by a Tsunami" means RUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!! But luckily, I had plenty of time to pack, eat, and go back to sleep.

For the second time in six months I set about packing a bag and contemplating the seriousness of the word "evacuation." I don't know if you've ever had the word "evacuation" thrown at you in the middle of the night, but for this Northwest girl, it's a pretty big deal. You see, in the PNW, we don't have catastrophes. Or the ones we do have are pretty expected like flooding or ice storms. I certainly have never been told to "pack a bag and get to high ground" before this particular journey, that's for sure.

The strangest thoughts were going my mind. First, I grabbed all my notebooks of writing. Looking around my apartment, I know that I can live without or replace nearly everything - but the writing...the writing can't be left behind. Next to land in the suitcase was Mr. Peabody, my teddy bear. Now, I know what you're thinking - a teddy bear?? But, honestly, I've had this bear since I was nine years old. He goes with me everywhere - acting as a pillow and a little piece of home. After the irreplaceables, I decided to get some necessities. The question was, though, what do you need in the event of a Tsunami? Having never lived through a major catastrophe, I was thinking either this island would be destroyed or it wouldn't be hit at all. So, I grabbed the same things I would grab if I were leaving in a hurry for a weekend trip - a few clothes, a pair of shoes, my toothbrush, my cell phone and charger, and my passport.

After my bags were packed and set by the door, I watched the news for a few minutes and decided to go back to bed after all. Surprisingly, I didn't have any trouble getting back to sleep, but I awoke with that panic that you only get when you have forgotten something important - like a wedding or a death or christmas. Then I remembered - "oh yeah, tsunami." So, I turned on the computer again only to be reassured that I did, in fact, have several hours before impending doom. I made coffee and waited as riveted as the rest of the world to the fate of Hawai'i. As a major event didn't come to pass, I began to toggle between panic and calm. I was thinking "either it's REALLY good or REALLY bad that Hawai'i didn't get hit. With little else to do I began to rethink my packing. Maybe a carry-on suitcase and a back pack was over kill...maybe just a backpack and my writing. Can I do without Mr. Peabody? Do I really need sneakers too? I condensed my evac pack down to a shoulder bag and a back pack, and then I went back to my post at the computer. As I sat glued to the live feed of CNN and the chats boxes opening up from worried friends and family, I began to think "what if we really DO get hit by this thing.... maybe I should secure more of my belongings..."

Now, I live on the third floor of a concrete building. In all likelihood a major tsunami wouldn't bring the building down. If anything, it would probably just flood. So, with all of the pictures of flood victims pouring through my mind, I thought "maybe I should just put all my clothes in my suitcases. That way, if the building does get damaged, at least all my clothes will be in one spot." So, I scampered around my apartment grabbing clothes and putting them in my suitcases. I even decided Mr. Peabody could hang back. Then I realized if I was saving my clothes, maybe I should save my paperwork too. I grabbed the most random books possible and my file folder of bills, etc, and put them in plastic bags and shoved them into the suitcases too. It wasn't easy lobbing those heavy things on top of my closet...but I managed. With nothing left worth saving, I returned to my couch to sit and wait.

Looking around at my apartment, I realized how little I have that really matters. The items of most concern to me are photos, writings, and of course, Mr. Peabody. I also realized what a helpless feeling this is. Sitting and waiting for impending doom is a pretty ridiculous activity. I mean, I'm on an island in the middle of nowhere without a car or a plan. What exactly am I supposed to do? So, I waited and waited waited. Perhaps I should have been a little more excited by the email from my principal saying "evac cancelled," but truth be told, I panicked even more. "How is that even possible??" I thought. With nothing more to do, I just kept waiting - waiting for NOAA, the new foundation of my sanity, to tell me not to worry, that everything is going to be okay. Finally, NOAA came through for me.

I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people of Samoa or Chile or Haiti. This little drama occurred almost entirely in my head. I really don't know what I would do if my world ever came crashing down around me. I guess as long as I have my writing and Mr. Peabody and a family that loves me, I'll always be okay.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Found in Hase...Lost in Ginza...

After boldly crossing the street yesterday, I navigated my way back to the hotel and treated myself to a fancy dinner and a glass of wine. I wasn’t sure what was next on my agenda, so I got online (thank god for the internet) and started perusing options. Somewhere in the midst of links and pages, I saw something about “old Japan” just an hour out of Tokyo. It turns out some of the ancient Buddhas and shrines I so longed to see were safely ensconced in the small town of Kamakura. The train ride seemed easy enough, so I decided that would be my next adventure. After all, if I could cross the street and make it back safely, why not just leave Tokyo altogether for a day?

When I arrived on the platform for the train heading due south, I immediately noticed my new favorite toy – the “coffee vending machine.” While figuring out which type of coffee to buy and how much yen it might cost, a young boy with a cute Australian accent set about torturing his younger, stroller bound brother. I couldn’t help but giggle. The parents, with frustration, did their best to alleviate the sibling rivalry, and because strangers don’t outwardly acknowledge each other in such situations, I set about fiddling with my coffee and keeping my obvious amusement directed towards my feet. Eventually the parents apologized, to which I could only reply “Don’t worry, they’re brothers.” We began a conversation – where was I from, where were they from, etc, etc. It was such a relief to be engaged in an actual, verbal conversation. For three days I hadn’t really had a conversation. It turns out that Jon and Sara were on the same journey to Kamakura as I was – but they hadn’t really defined their plan. I shared what I had learned, and we decided to join forces for the day.

Before continue on with my story, I need to share an important lesson I learned: when the “next” train arrived, we all boarded. I was impressed! Spacious seating design, heat, available restrooms…it was even a ‘green’ train. John and Sarah were also impressed. They went to the back of the train, and I sat up front and started listening to my Zune. Soon, the usher came around asking for tickets. I handed mine over and she explained, as best she could in broken English, that I owed her an additional 2,000 yen. It turns out that, in Japan, contributing to an environmentally sound mode of transportation is pretty costly! I had mistakenly gotten on the “green” train for an unknown, unannounced extra charge…Not that keeping our planet green isn't priceless, but I guess a warning would have been nice..."Warning: Green Train: $20, Saving the Earth?: Priceless..."

Anyway, after a peaceful hour on the train, we arrived in Kamakura. We left the train, and after a brief moment of confusion, we found the train to the Hase, the town where the Giant Buddha sits imposingly meditating. Another brief ride on a train reminiscent of the San Francisco trolley cars and we found ourselves in an authentically historic neighborhood of Japan. The cobble streets were narrow and winding and the sidewalks were scarcely wide enough for a pair to walk side by side. We were all easily distracted by the abundance of little curio shops – we adults maybe even more excitable and distractible than the kids. We stopped by a beautiful kimono shop where I was promptly scolded for taking pictures. I’m not totally sure why – it’s not as though I have any hope of EVER recreating any of it – but it was just so beautiful with its oranges, reds and yellows aflame and alive.

We walked a short, crowded path to the Giant Buddha. All my life I have wanted to stand before one of these massive structures - and I can tell you that it was no dissappointment. I am not sure how to describe it; Adjectives just won't do. There before me was a massive statue, perfect in its artistry. But that wasn't the part that left an indelible mark on me; the feeling of standing before a landmark that has been there for nearly 1,000 years...that is the part I simply can't describe. The buildings that orginally existed around it were destroyed by typhoons and tidal waves...yet this massive giant stood immovable. The moment was breathtaking...solemn...unmatchable. So I had the only reaction I could have - I stood silent, mesmerized, enthralled. And then I pulled out my chikin hat and had my new friends photograph me and the travelling hat, because life is short and ever-so-serious if you let it have its way, and this simply will not do.

After the Buddha, the lot of us wandered back through Hase in search of the Hasedera, or the Hase Kannon Temple. Once again, I climbed my way to a breathtaking sight. Surrounded by Jizo, I felt a sense of peace and was overwhelmed with awe. Thousands of tiny steps meandered past thousands of tiny buddhas, and I walked through them all. A trip like this forces a person to confront relgious beliefs. I haven't questioned my beliefs for years, and I don't now. But one thing I realized was that if I have an opportunity to say a prayer for my loved ones, I will. I want good energy flowing through and around my friends and family as often as possible, so with yen jingling in my pocket, I tossed a few coins, lit some incense, and said a prayer for those I love. I can only hope that the winding wisps of smoke travelled far enough for my prayers to be heard.

Later, Jon and Sara treated me to a lovely Unagi dinner, after which we made our way back to Tokyo. We consulted our subway maps to figure out on which of the hundreds of stops we should disembark. We all agreed that Tokyo Station would be the best bet...and probably it was. But what I failed to anticipate was exiting the subway station only to find myself in the dead center of the Ginza shopping district. Basically, in the space of 72 hours, I went from the comfort and guaranteed orientation of a 30 square mile island to being hopelessly lost in the heart of what I can only compare to 5th Avenue in New York City. Oh, did I mention it was after dark? I wandered, freezing, hopelessly lost, finding myself without a soul who spoke English to guide me. After wandering up and down the same streets several times with no luck or direction, I decided to take a chance on the only store I could find sporting an American flag. Luckily the sales clerk at the Tokyo Louis Vuitton spoke enough English to direct me to the Tokyo Metro. Exhausted and past my bedtime, I arrived safely at my hotel.

excerpt from my journal: I can't even explain how amazing this was. Towering, Imposing, Ancient, and yet Serene. How amazing to be standing in front of a statue that has been in National Geographic. Me. Cami. From Union. Of course, no one around me understood the significance...How did this happen? Is it wrong to be proud of my bravery? Maybe there's nothing left for me to be scared of....

Monday, December 28, 2009

Crossing The Street

When I woke up this morning, I really didnt have much of a plan. My big goal was just to get out of the hotel and see something, so after many, many minutes staring at the map and the subway guide, I decided to take a shot at getting to the Imperial Palace. It turned out that it was much easier that I had originally thought it would be. I simply had to return to the subway that brought me here and get off 2 stops later. Now, getting OUT of the subway is still a bit of a mystery to me, but soon enough I felt the cold air that told me I was going the right way.

Based on the map, I knew if I just stuck to the path around the palace, there was no way I could get lost (which is saying something considering my well know geographical retardation). Luckily, staying on the path was pretty entertaining. The Palace is spectacular, and exactly the old world Japan I was hoping to glimpse on this trip. I especially loved the polarity of the classic Japanese architechture on the backdrop of the modern Tokyo skyline. As I walked around the path, I kept noticing the Tokyo skyline. I kept wondering what was over there...but for some reason in my mind it was a forbidden land. What if I get lost? They always tell you not to cross the street when you're a kid....What if what if what if...And so finally the lure of the buildings and the beautiful fountain was just too much for me to resist. I thought, "if I don't cross the streen now, then when will I?"

And so, I found myself facing actual traffic for the first time in months. The closest thing to traffic I've felt in Rota was "rush minute" when three cars passed by at once. But, I did it...and it wasn't that bad. Before I knew it I found myself wandering deeper into the city. I saw an inviting tunnel, and so I wandered down the stairs. I found myself in Ote Central Plaza. There wasnt much, but there were some cool looking restaurants, and even though I wasn't really hungry, I decided to eat anyway, because why not?

When I walked into the restaurant, I was immediately confused again. The hostess sat me at a table with another woman, which seems to be customary here. I ordered "number 24" because it said raw tuna, and that always sounds good. The food was amazing, and came out really quickly. But the best part was the group in the dojo room. They were clearly celebrating, but when they stood up to leave the fun really began. One gentleman couldnt find his shoes, and 2 others couldnt find their balance. The ladies just giggled as yet another gentleman continually apologized to me. I was laughing, of course, and saying "no problem," but another equilibrium challanged gentleman also started apologizing. He told me he was Peruvian, slurred to me for a few minutes, welcomed me to Tokyo, and the lot of them stumbled out into the afternoon.

After lunch, I continued my hapless wandering, trying to stick somewhat to the original plan of the Imperial Palace tour. I wandered back in that general direction, and found that I had almost circled the entire place. I was dissappointed to find out that the museums were all closed, so instead I took a walk through a huge park. My path through the park eventually led me back to the Imperial Palace and the main roads. Even along the busy road there are statues and history to be seen. I wanted to get back before dark, so I started wandering back my original route. Along the way, I found myself just randomly smiling the kind of goofy way you do when you have a new crush. I realized, I do have a crush. This world is amazing. There are so many similarities and differences. As I relished the cold air on my cheeks and the smell of evergreen in the air, I thought of Seattle. But as soon as I thought "this feels like home," I realized I was surrounded by people who speak an entirely different language. I also realized it will be quite some time before I call cold air and evergreen smells "home" again. Right now my home smells like the ocean and feels like a greehouse. On second thought, right now my home smells and feels like anywhere I happen to be at the moment.....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Pinnacle of Freedom

I noticed that my big girl pants had shuffled to the back of the closet and were gathering dust, so I decided to leave my newfound comfort zone and head out into the world again. I have wanted to go to Tokyo for a long time, probably because my mom was born there and so I have grown up hearing her talk about it, so after plenty of hesitation, I decided to just go for it. Besides selling most of what I own and moving to a microscopic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I think this is the pinnacle of freedom for me. I remember years ago realizing that if I had to pick a single word for what is most important to me, freedom is the one. It seems that not long after that my cage began encroaching on my soul. But then I realized that I do in fact control my life, and that I can make choices to be free. So here I am. I didnt wait for someone to travel with, I didn't wait for the perfect timing, and I didnt wait to learn a language or have a plan. I just did it. I just hopped a plane and travelled to one of the biggest cities in the world all by myself. And it feels great. Better than great even. It feels like freedom.

Perhaps living on a spiritual and highly superstitious island has fostered my already sign-seeking nature, but I had a good feeling about this trip from the get-go. It was during the flight to Tokyo, however, that I really recieved my first tangible sign of goodness. I sat next to two japanese brothers, across the aisle sat their parents and little sister. With a distinct language barrier, there was little talking. At one point one of the boys asked me if I knew "B'z", and I never really did figure out what he was asking. Regardless, towards the end fo the flight, the boys pulled out a handful of keychains and handed me one from Guam. They thanked me - for what, I don't know. At the end of the flight the parents also thanked me "very much," again, for what I don't know. But I thought, shoot, if i can sit and watch the in flight movie and mind my own business and get thanked for it, I must be going to a pretty nice country.

When I arrived at Narita, I knew my plan was to take the subway to Tokyo. I didnt know what that would entail, but I had some vague directions I had found from another traveller online. After the nice lady at the tourist desk highlighted about 3 different routes for me, I went to the next desk to try to figure out more. Even though I speak literally NO Japanese, and the people I asked for help seemed to speak no English, I somehow was guided successfully to my 2nd to last subway stop. But OH WOW, that's when the confusion really took hold. You see, up until the Yarakucho Station, most of the signs were also in English. But when it came time to change trains, I literally walked in circles. I finally went back to the man with the train conductor hat and tried to communicate my complete and utter confusion. He motioned for me to wait, went to the back room, came back with a young associate who proceeded to guide me all the way out of the station, across the street, and down several flights of stairs to the other station. He helped me buy a ticket and made sure I knew the rest of the way. All along the way, people have been more than nice and more than helpful.

As for the rest of my trip, time will tell. I am sure I will find plenty to do - and my friend Issei will surely help as well. Mostly, I am just so excited to end 2009 on such a bold, brave note. My resolution for this year was to live outside my comfort zone - I had no idea that simple thought would lead me to the realization of so many dreams. It really is true that the thoughts you focus on will become reality....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Island Style....

I have been truly blessed throughout the years to have been adopted by wonderful families. The Duncans, The Drains, The Davis, The Webbers...and of course I have my own wonderful family. I'm not sure why I have been so blessed, but the blessings do not go unappreciated.

Now, on my new adventure, I have been blessed many-fold. I have so many great friends here already. Yesterday I had the good fortune to be kidnapped away to the Mendiola Thanksgiving at Guata Beach in Rota. Antonelle picked me up around noon-ish (chamorro time) and we met up with her family just in time for coconut crab, red rice, keleguen, finedene, all the typical chamorro fixins. I'm not going to say I missed having turkey because a) I am so in love with chamorro food but also b) because later in the evening I actually had turkey and ham :)

After the wind blew my plate away and the rain subsided just a touch, we walked down to teteto and swam against the current and the wind. I sat on the beach and stared at the water for a long time. I can stare at the ocean forever, and I don't know why. What I do know is that over the last few years I have often found myself wondering "whose life is this that I'm living?"  I have often felt like an imposter or like I was mistakenly placed on the wrong road. Although I deeply miss my family, I don't have those thoughts here. I just feel right. I wonder how I ended up in this magical place and how long my stay will last.

I have a blessed life. I have never wanted love, friends, or family, because I have an abundance of all. I have learned through the years that family is about connection rather than dna, and here on Rota I find myself blessed yet again.

I wish everyone would have a chance to experience this place. I may not have had turkey and stuffing yesterday, but to have the love of a family and sand with stars between my toes is just pretty magical....