, , , , ,

I have come to realize that vacations are good for a person’s soul. Not only do they help de-stress you, they force you to try new things. Often, you are in a situation with other people and, to save face or not ruin everyone’s day, you find yourself agreeing to do things you would never, in a sane moment at home, do.

I have always been a timid person — a product, no doubt, of being over-protected by my parents.I understand this is a common thing with only children. My parents were apparently terrified that I’d do something to cause myself injury and, since they didn’t have a spare, tried to keep me in a bubble of sorts. This stunted my emotional growth — so much so that my ex, in our early days of dating, decided I needed instruction in the art of bursting out of my safe zone. To whit, he decided we should go horseback riding. Not in itself a bad idea, but given that it was done at a public stable, they weren’t able to accommodate my short stature. The stirrups couldn’t be shortened enough to fit my legs so there I was, feet flapping in the wind, when my horse, trained to follow and do exactly what my ex’s horse did, took off in a trot and threw me overboard into the sand. That was the last time I got on a horse. In the same vein, my ex decided my childhood had been sadly mismanaged and insisted that I learn the basics of tree-climbing. Right…’cause a twenty-something-year-old woman needs this as a life skill. Again, I fell. And again, have never been seized by an urge to try again. And the ex is long gone.

I recognized my timidity as a problem and have, over the years, worked on improving my fear-centred psyche. I have become comfortable doing public speaking in front of large audiences, I have gone on a roller coaster (a never-to-be-repeated experience),and I have tried to hide my fears from my children. The last thing I wanted was for them to grow up afraid of everything.I may have done too good a job at this since, as regular readers will recall, Gill pulled up stakes and went to Britain,Crazy D is known to embrace New Hampshire’s ‘live free or die’ motto by periodically throwing himself and his bike off mountain sides or trekking into the frozen north to enjoy a few nights of frigid temperatures and communing with wolves. L’il Sis takes the medal for compassion and determination by rescuing long-in-the-tooth animals that others have written off. A sick, frail animal? Bring it on!

But I am proud of the personal progress I have made on my own journey to branch out and try new things. A case in point was my recent trip to Mexico.The Man In My Life and I took a trip on a catamaran to an island off the coast near Puerto Vallarta. It was a lovely day with brilliant sunshine, calm waters, dolphins swimming beside the boat and humpback whales breeching and spouting in the area. The island towards which we were speeding was a bird sanctuary (a no-brainer attraction for me) and no people were actually allowed ON the island. The only way to access a ‘hidden’ beach in the centre of the island was to swim to it. I felt confident that I could do the swim but began to get nervous when the details became clear.

The large catamaran would remain anchored out in the ocean and those who wanted to do some snorkelling would leave it and spend some time in the water looking for exotic sea life. They would jump off the catamaran to get into the water. That’s when alarm bells went off in my brain. We decided not to go snorkelling (I had tried it once in the Virgin Islands and, while I had enjoyed it, I wasn’t particularly fond of the claustrophobic feel of the mask. I had conquered that fear enough to do it once, but I was done tempting fate.)

Those of us not snorelling still had to get to the island, so we were loaded into a small motor boat to get closer. “Closer to’ being the operative phrase. We would still not be going onshore by boat…we would be jumping from the boat into the ocean to swim through a cave to reach the beach within a huge cavern in the island. JUMP? From a height of six or seven feet? Into the ocean? Swim through a CAVE? Aren’t caves where bats hang out? Or pirates? (If they included Johnny Depp, I’d be cool with it, but I had a feeling he wasn’t lurking here.) And Loch Ness Monsters? (Well, wrong country, but the threat remains!) As you can see, I was petrified. But I was in it now. Overboard we went and, despite a few seconds where the strong currents threatened to bash me against the rocks, I made it. So, another fear banished.

Then there was the excursion into the actual city of Puerto Vallarta for dinner. We went with a few other couples and ended up at a great restaurant on The Boardwalk. As we dithered over our food selection, the waiter explained the different fish options. We didn’t recognize the names of some of the fish. Realizing that his choppy English and our non-existent Spanish were holding us back, he hurried off to the kitchen and returned with a dead fish on a platter — head, eyeballs, tail and all. I had an instant flashback to Gill’s notorious fish head soup, again complete with eyeballs that she tried to make me eat once. I had chicken for dinner. While I appreciated the waiter’s attempt to communicate, I did not feel the need to be personally introduced to my dinner. And the fish, being dead, wasn’t going to say ‘hi’ anyway!

And let’s not forget the taxi ride back to our hotel — over rough, almost cobblestone-like roads. The driver was determined to return us in a timely fashion and so took the curves and bumps like Mario Andretti. Unfortunately for me, my seatbelt didn’t work. We were sitting in the back of the van, over the rear axle and, as I stumbled out of the cab at the hotel, I announced, “I think I just lost 1 1/2 inches of height on that ride!” I do have osteoporosis and it felt as though several vertebrae had crumbled during the ride. It did provide me with some perspective, though. The next time I took The Pig for a drive in my car, riding shotgun with no belt holding her in, I told her: “If your Grandma can survive Mexican roads and live to talk about it, you’re good to go to the local pet store without a harness!” She did look skeptical, but at least she wasn’t driving with Mario Andretti.