I hardly ever get sick.
Like many men when I do happen to contract some illness it may as well be the end of the world. All I can do is lay on death’s doorstep, praying in desperation for my health to return. Each time I get sick I swear that I will never again take my health for granted, that surely each agonizing minute of illness will be imprinted as a trauma on my deepest self. Part of me is sure that just seeing a Kleenex will trigger flashbacks and that I will never be able to look at a toilet the same again… And then I wake up healthy and promptly forget that I was ever sick in the first place.
Getting sick while travelling is even worse, because the only thing you’re missing is fun. At least at home you get to skip boring things like work and school, but getting sick in Panama means that you miss things like hiking to the waterfall or partying with the germans.
Yes, I got sick. This sad event was foreshadowed by Jayme being sick the day before – which I had empathetically reacted to by going hiking without her.
When I woke up with the same illness I cursed my luck and began making all the usual bargains to God, hoping that for once he would answer my prayers right away. Alas it was not to be, God remained silent and I settled in for a day of tropical sickness.
We were in Santa Fe, Panama, and it was beautiful. Our hostel was a bamboo thatched lodge that overlooked a cloud ringed valley. I had the opportunity to stare out at this stunning landscape for a whole day as I lay in sick repose, taking in the smells of the rainforest and calls of the exotic birds. My companions all went on grand adventurous hikes and planned the next stage of our trip, and I watched it all from the inside of my eyelids on the bed.
The next morning I woke up to the beautiful sounds of small town Panama – which can be best described as the sound of roosters absolutely losing their minds.
I have friends who fantasize about raising chickens in their townhouses and for a while I thought it may be a pretty good idea – however I now saw the truth. If people are going to complain about loud music at night, they are going to turn suicidal at chickens in the morning.
The roosters in Panama greeted the dawn sun with a continuous swell of screeching, which grew until it all blended into a horrifying choir. Occasionally they would all sync together to sound like one giant rooster being squeezed through a tube. Directly outside my window one rooster’s crows sounded so horrible and painful that I was sure he was giving birth to a porcupine.
I showed up to breakfast, my eyes dark and sunken.
“Are you still sick Kyle?” Marissa asked.
I shook my head. “No, actually I feel great – except for those stupid roosters!” In the distance one crowed and we all shivered.
While drinking coffee we all tried to find the perfect description for how the roosters sounded.
“It sounds like they are all being tortured.” Jayme said. “Or killing each other.”
Marissa pointed out at the hills. “I think it sounds like chicken hell is right over that hill and they are calling out desperately for some sort of relief.”
“Or like a thousand women all auditioning for the lead female role in King Kong.” Jesse offered.
“All I know is that I’m sick of them.” I said.
However, I was not myself sick anymore, and thus could have an adventure – which for me meant meeting people! So I packed up my sick mat and went downstairs to meet our fellow hostel dwellers.
There is something extra memorable about the first time you step out of your comfort zone and say hi to the complete stranger eating at the table next to you. Especially when you discover (with perpetual and slightly shameful surprise) that this stranger is a fascinating, well-travelled, and fully fledged human being.
The first time I saw Tyler he was on the balcony of the hostel, reclining on a mattress, while carefully cutting pictures out of a mountain of magazines. I watched him paste a few into a small notebook before he noticed me.
“Hello!” He cheerfully held up his notebook and said in a sing song voice. “Art day! You can join me if you like!”
I smiled noncommittally; collaging was not at the top of my Panama Adventure List. But I was curious why this guy was using his time in paradise to get in touch with his inner kindergartener. So I asked him.
“It’s a Vision journal!” He explained as if expecting me to laugh and pull mine out too. “Each page is a picture of my next goal,” Tyler showed me what he was working on, a collaged beach scene. “I think it’s time to spend some time on the world’s best beaches. Wait! Here look at this!” He flipped back to a modge-podge picture of a jungle lodge, perched in a cloud ringed valley beyond which waterfalls beckoned. “Doesn’t that look like where we are?”
I had to admit it looked exactly like where we were.
“These pages are like magic! I just make the picture of where I want to go and then a few months later I flip back and discover that I am exactly where I envisioned!” He shook his little vision passport. “If you have an idea of where you want to go, it’s amazing how often you’ll end up there.”
It seemed to be working; Tyler had been travelling full-time for five years and he didn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
I looked at him in awe. “I wish I could do that…”
Apparently I had followed the script perfectly, as he answered before I had even finished.
“You can!” He smiled and answered the next inevitable question – how does he afford this?
“I go back to Canada and work for three months a year, and yes, makeup artist is a pretty great job, but I’m not making millions over here.” Tyler’s smile seemed genuine and earned. “You know, a rent’s month in Toronto is more expensive than travelling a month overseas. I crash on couches while I work and have more than enough to travel afterwards.”
I quizzed him a while to find out the secrets of his expertise, which mainly consisted of knowing how to get cheap flights, and soon (with the help of a few adult beverages) we transitioned into the deeper levels of conversation.
“When I started my trip I was not in a good frame of mind…” I had asked him why he was travelling. He had relaxed deeper into the old hostel sofa, apparently ready with an answer. “I was surrounded with a lot of unhappiness in Toronto… I wanted to find out why people who lived in lower income places were so much happier even though they have less.”
“And what did you find out?”
“Well I’ve thought a lot… But I think it comes down to gratitude and community.” He smiled. “In Canada we have so much and we complain, whereas down here they work so hard for so little – but they’re grateful for it.” He took a delicate sip of beer. “When I started travelling someone gave me a self-help book that said I should try and push past my comfort zone every day. So I started doing it – which is hard when you’re happy in your comfort zone.”
Tyler went on to tell me that his comfort zone was home, and as he kept pushing further and further from it he only got happier. “I’ve been to 50 nations and counting. And I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
“Community is the other important aspect,” He continued. “I am an active instagramer, and I meet a lot of people through it – we were shown around Panama City for four days with a guy who followed me on Instagram. When I found out we were going to Panama City I messaged him and he agreed to host us, now I’d say we are good friends!”
If we had been travelling the same direction I would have happily spent a lot of time with Tyler. It’s not easy to leave everything you know behind – even if it’s seemingly negative. To change ones lifestyle and future is terrifying and probably against everything in human nature. Yet I’ve never met anyone who regrets it.
I didn’t get to ask Tyler the question that comes to me now: Did he find his happiness?
However, I’m pretty sure I know what he would say, and really, all you have to do is talk to him for two minutes and his smile will answer for him.