I have been blessed with parents who’ve dragged me around travelling when I was a teenager. The latter being the reason why I say “dragged”. In retrospect, of course my point of view changed a little from when I was younger and I wish I had enjoyed it more. But the memories themselves are something that will definitely stick forever.
We lived in Connecticut and had the opportunity to travel a lot. We went to Florida, Maine, Hawaii, the Bahamas, Aruba, Cancun, Jamaica, South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, among others. The two trips that stuck with me most were the Bahamas and Alaska. Come to think of it, there are crazy events that happened on each of these trips – say, in Florida for example, my stepdad was driving, with my sister and I in the backseat, mom in the front. We had been driving all day, and I insisted on passing through Jacksonville on our way to Orlando – because I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. He had nothing to do with Jacksonville except part of the name. Sounds legitimate though, right?!
We couldn’t find a motel no matter how hard we looked. Of course my sister and I didn’t look at all… we were being chauffeured. So when my stepdad pulled over to a convenience store to get something to drink, our natural reaction was “you’re not gonna stop NOW, are you?”. He was not amused – poor guy. His tiredness and frustration surfaced in the subsequent crazy car ride where he drove over the dividing island in the middle of the street and almost crashed into a road sign. Our heads were bobbing in the back from the bumps. The car had never been that silent. Of course at the time, we were a bit panicked, but now it’s hilarious. We found a motel eventually; and I loved its dirtiness, stinkiness, sticky blankets and broken air-conditioning.
The Bahamas were a dream – except that at 12 years old, I had developed a heavy crush on the bellboy who worked the Hyatt hotel in Miami just before we flew out to the island, and I missed him like crazy when we arrived at the Bahamas. Also legitimate, I believe. Plus, the bathroom in our little hut was so dirty, I remember spreading my arms and legs in the door frame and not wanting to enter. It was still one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on: My stepdad and I went snorkeling… you know, bonding. The water wasn’t very clear (not like you see in all the travel photos – I’m not sure what happened there), and we swam out and around a huge rock. We hadn’t even paid any attention to our surroundings or what else could have been swimming with or underneath us. So a couple of hundred meters out, we looked up and saw that we were surrounded by pink little jellyfish. Cute. Picture him staring at me, and me staring back at him, snorkels in mouths, panicking in silence. I don’t think I ever swam that quickly in my entire life ever again. Neither had he.
My stepdad also took mom and myself on a little trip on the island. This was probably the highlight. We had rented a car (this was in the 90’s and I’m not sure how far advanced the cars are there now, but at the time, the car itself already raised an eyebrow and knew it wouldn’t make it too much longer). For our jungle experience, stepdad took a right turn right onto an unpaved road. Deep into the woods. Windows open. The road started going uphill – so much so that we weren’t sure if we would suddenly fall off the other end without a warning.
I quickly had a reason for us to turn back though: It was rain season and the air was so thick and humid, it was almost unbearable… tropics. I felt a hair on my arm and brushed it off without even looking at it. The hair came back though. When I looked again, it had transformed into a black and white spider with a fairly thick body and endless Cindy Crawford legs. Six of them (legs, not spiders- oh G*d). As I keep retelling this story, the spider got bigger over the years. The only sound heard in the jungle that day was a 12 year old screaming her lungs out. My parents showed fantastic spontaneous reactions though: Mom panicked with me. My stepdad took a towel, threw it over the spider (while driving – I’m surprised he didn’t get whiplash), continued driving and threw it out the window. I’m sure there’s a pile of towels somewhere in that little forest in the Bahamas from poor tourists who did not prepare for uninvited animal passengers. Hilarious.
The trip to Alaska was a bit less eventful – it’s Alaska. We went through Seattle where it, big surprise, rained. To this day, mom has to listen to my stepdad and I telling her the story of how she missed the view when we flew over an Alaska mountain range. It was magical how the sun set and created all the colors of the rainbow. More colors and wonderfulness are added every time we describe the scene to her.
I love Alaska – mom wasn’t too fond of it, I think. We went whale watching, exploring glaciers and tried different restaurants, which were neatly tucked into the small streets of Homer. Walls and mountains of snow were everywhere we looked and it was freezing cold. I very much dislike boat rides (I’ve never been motion sick, but I’m always afraid that I may be… there’s a first time for everything. So whenever possible, I try to avoid them.), but we went whale watching, and saw some sea lions jumping out of the water next to us. Or it was the whales and the sea lions were sunbathing lazily in the sun. Yeah I think that sounds about right.
For the night, we wanted to rent a movie (again, in the 90’s, we had those crazy video stores)- the one in Homer had a great stock, but not the movie we wanted (Dances with wolves). So we looked for something similar and I remember my stepdad saying “I think I’ve seen this one” while he held up “The Fog”- one of Jaime Lee Curtis/Scream Queen’s first horror movies. I hadn’t, so why not… Mature choice for a 14-year-old.
Mom fell asleep and did not care to watch it, while my stepdad and I left the light on all night after that movie. I have to tell you, watching The Fog in Alaska definitely adds to the suspense and mystical atmosphere. I’m dying to go back!
In a different hotel, overlooking a lake, I was tired and hungry (which you may call “crappy mood”). While my parents went grocery shopping, I stayed in and consumed all the granola bars I could find. The rest of the trip, that’s what I carried around with me – to this day, I can’t look at a cherry granola bar without thinking of Alaska.
I have a long list of states and countries I’d still want to visit. There is so much to see, and just the experience and excitement of packing your bags, going to the airport, arriving at a hotel (or tent?), and seeing something you’ve never seen before, tasting new foods, trying new restaurants, walking new roads and breathing new air… But it’s not the same if you can’t share it with someone special…