There are three dominant personality traits that run throughout my family. Each person has two. They have other traits of course because otherwise we would be incredibly flat and boring. The three traits are as follows:
- Misanthropic hermit
- Insatiable wanderlust
- Conformist control freaks
My dad was a consummate traveler that loved culture and adventure, as long as there were no people. He wanted to explore everything without enduring a crowd. His sister has the wanderlust and the control issues. So she goes everywhere and tries to get everyone to do things her way. The resorts in exotic locations serve her well. My uncle is a hermit that…well I’m not really sure what else. He’s that good at being a hermit. He really embraced it. We haven’t seen him in thirty years. My aunt gets information about him, probably from his wife, that she doles out to us as she sees fit (control freak!).
I have the misanthropic hermit and the insatiable wander lust. Essentially I want to travel, explore, meet new people, and do new things unless I’m at home. Then I want you to leave me alone.
I was bitten by the travel bug early. My great-aunt was a retired school teacher. She loved to tell of her adventures. In a time when opportunities for women were limited this feisty lady rode a motorcycle to work and traveled the globe on summer break. She would take her students camping and they learned about nature and science. When I was in high school she bought a mini van, gathered up a few neighbors in her senior development and they drove to the Grand Canyon. She left a note for us on her kitchen table.
When I was in school she would pick me up early on a Saturday morning. I would get in the car and she would hand me the road atlas. Perhaps she had a plan, perhaps not. But we would explore. She never got on the highway but always took a back road. We would randomly turn down roads when she exclaimed something looked interesting. My job was to figure out where we were and how to get home.
I learned how to read a map, read road signs, do simple math to figure out if we needed gas or how mileage translated into time to the next rest stop. We picked blueberries, visited landmarks, discovered forgotten bits of history, chatted with strangers, got lost, and had some amazing adventures. She was trying to teach me reading, geography, math, and history. I learned to be fearless and open to possibilities.
My parents divorced when I was eight. By the time I was 10 my dad had gotten stationed out of the country. My first international flight was from JFK to Panama as an unaccompanied minor when I was 11. Dad never lived on base. He always took his housing allowance and lived off the local economy. He was big on immersing into the local culture. He didn’t participate in it because that would mean interacting with people, but he knew all the local shops and restaurants.
That’s where we ate. At some open air, concrete slab, iguanas on the wall type of place where they tried to make pizza and no one spoke English. He dragged me into the jungle to see churches that the conquistadors built and we stopped on the side of the road to research flora. One time we were driving along a dirt road in his Buick (because Dad had to have an American made land yacht!) and there was an animal in the road. We pulled up and stopped. He got out slowly, threw his sports coat over his head and shoulders and slid out of the car, camera in hand. This man proceeded to crawl slowly up to said animal trying to get a good photo of it. My step mother and I got out and walked up asking him what he thought he was doing. He said he didn’t want to frighten the animal. I said “Dad, it’s a sloth. It’s already running as fast as it can.”
Dad took me to see the canal and I endured an entire day of watching ships go through the locks while he droned on about the history and politics of the canal. This was the first inkling we both had that I was a bit different in my world view. It’s the height of the cold war and a Russian ship is going through the locks. Maybe it was because I was hot and bored. The process to get a ship through the canal is slow and mind numbing. You could let the crew off at one side and the could walk across faster if the jungle wasn’t in the way. Dad got all animated at the Russian ship. My comment was that it didn’t look any different from the American ships.
While in Panama I somehow ended up with a gang of local kids. They were fascinated with me and happily practiced their English which was far better than my Spanish. They took me into the fields where I ate raw sugar cane. Common now, but unheard of in the early 80’s. They scaled trees to give me fresh mangoes and when I declared I had never had plantains promptly started a fire and cooked me some that we ate off sticks. We ran around barefoot. We crawled under the house, they taught me new games, and I taught them the ones I knew. I was hooked!