Photos and Text by Anna Flynn
I’m sorry its taken me so long to write. Every day I think of you, but lately when I take out my pen and notebook I can think of little to say. But there is so much.
Just the other morning, for instance, I ate a tiny banana that was pale pink and yellow, and tasted like strawberries, and two cactus fruit, one pale orange and one bright pink. They are my favorite. When I hiked into this huge canyon a few weeks ago, I picked a fruit from a cactus, it was yellow inside and so sweet and warm from the sun. I understand now why the old women who sell them on street corners in the city wear gloves, as I was picking out tiny quills from my fingers all day. But I couldn’t help myself! After hiking for hours out of a steep canyon, and to see this little fruit on this huge prickly cactus, and just barely being able to reach it…you can imagine how happy this made me.
I always think of you in these times, when there is no one around to appreciate such beautiful, simple things.
You would have loved the food. In Lima, the street food became a daily quest and obsession. Spicy Ceviche with corn and sweet potato, grilled guinea pig and beef heart on a stick. You can smell the smoke before you can see the people huddled around the old women grilling the meat. They wear long skirts, intricately embroidered vests and tall hats. I would eat anything these women cooked for me.
And in Mexico tacos with perfect, soft, hand made tortillas, tamales so sweet and fluffy (I think food cooked in a banana leaf is possibly the most magical thing) and, of course, so many avocados.
I always knew I would love traveling. I’ve wanted to travel as long as I can remember. I keep thinking about the way I was when I was a teenager, it was this sort of life I wanted, you know. The life I’m living now.
I wanted long car rides, night buses, plane tickets and train cars. I wanted to go everywhere, gathering treasure, eating mysterious food.
I used to picture myself hitchhiking across country, with tattoos and dirty clothes and my little dog, you know the type. Other times I would see myself as the kind of girl who would wear long dresses, old furs, lots of jewelry. I have always wanted to exist in another time, to be a girl with fancy luggage and braids in her hair.
I don’t know where I ended up. Somewhere in the middle maybe, shifting between fantasies.
You know, I’ve been moving around for a year and half. It occurred to me recently that I lived in a tent for nearly half of last year, and not the same tent. Can you believe that? Not to mention the number of couches I’ve slept on, the number of hostels and hotels I’ve stayed at. It’s crazy really, I’ve carried around my life in bags for what feels like an eternity. And it’s comforting to be always ready to go. But sometimes, more than anything, I long for a room with a door to close behind me.
This reminds me of what I’ve been meaning to tell you about all along. You see, I think I realized what I’ve learned from all this moving around. The thing that people rarely talk about, or if they do I was never paying attention to it.
Traveling is uncomfortable. Traveling is exhausting.
Airports and Customs lines, bus rides and train stations, taxi drivers who you can’t communicate with, checking in and out of hostels, setting up tents and campsites, getting sick from weird food and taking showers in creepy bathrooms and being tired and being cold and being wet and having a bag full of dirty clothes and nowhere to do laundry. Feeling homesick but not having a home to go back to.
This is the stuff people don’t talk about. The in between places. The bad places. But this is the best thing about traveling. Because no matter what, you get through it. You are forced to be present, and for the first time in my life, I am not afraid of any of it.
I used to be afraid of everything. I think you know that. Especially things that I loved, things I wanted to be good at. The thing that I have learned from traveling is that there was never anything to be afraid of. Even the worst times, the most uncomfortable times, are not so bad, after all.
I wish I could show you some of the things I have seen in the past two years.
In Oahu when the sea turtles came to shore, and the morning my grandmother died when the waves were forty feet high. When I ate fresh papaya for the first time, and saw humpback whales from the passenger seat of a car.
In Louisiana when I walked the streets for days on end looking for the haunted places, where I found four leaf clovers whenever I looked down.
And at the top of Machu Picchu, when I found a quiet place to eat pistachios, amidst the crowds of tourists, I swear I saw your face.
You see, you were always with me.
As I sit here now and write to you, there is three feet of snow on the ground, and there are big snowflakes falling silently from the sky.
I’ll pack up my things in the next few days, and I’ll head back to the West Coast.
I’m not sure where you are, but If you are there, I hope to see you soon.
P.S. Do you remember when I told you that I felt like I was shedding my skin?
I think now, not only do I have new skin, but I have found new eyes.
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