Caye Caulker. Belize

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As my eyes attempt to adjust in vein to the fresh new light of the previously dull tone I feel a mild rush of excitement pulsating in the atmosphere surrounding me. I wipe the sleep caked in my still aching eyes, stretch the kink in my neck and twist myself to a position on the rock hard carpeted floor to see what the commotion is all about. As I pull my weight to a seated position and my mind adjusts to my location I realize why there hangs such an aura of anticipation in the air; I’m in the airport.

I tap my hand around my surroundings to make sure that nothing “disappeared” during my night’s slumber on the floor of Juan Santamaria International Airport. I lift my body, which feels heavier than usual, and work my way through a group of school kids in line for breakfast. As I see the glow in their eyes I come to the realization that I have become somewhat immune to that sense of anticipation they carry so proudly. The night before, when the rubber feet of the air plane abruptly touched the perfectly smoothed tarmac my heart didn’t jump like it used to. When the plane’s brakes engaged to a point where everyone on board realized they were safe and began clapping, I didn’t join in. And when I stepped out of the plane and the wall of war humid air hit my face I did not strike a smile in realization that I was in Costa Rica. Have I become dull to the travel experience?

I board my next flight, one that will take me to San Salvador, and sit down in the aisle seat since my reserved window seat is occupied by a woman already. I don’t create a fuss, I no longer mind that I can’t look out the window. The slightly overweight lady smiles at me and her husband greets me with a quick phrase in Spanish to say good morning. I notice that the lady is confused about how the seat belts work as the usual announcement is being made to lock them together so I help her through the process, while at the same time remembering how the first time I boarded a plane I tried to act cool as I tried to figure out the seat belt.

Upon take off she takes the hand of her plump husband partly in fear and partly in excitement. I grab the arm rest with my left hand with some strength as well, hoping that the squeeze of my hand on the handle will cause a wave of nostalgia to turn in my heart; it didn’t. In the midst of my own self-assessment the stewardess comes by to take our drink orders. The lady orders an orange juice. The pretty stewardess, wearing a smile far too wide for 6 in the morning, asks the all too excited husband if he would like the same. He replies quickly in Spanish “No, I would like a whiskey please! I have been saving for this trip for 15 years, I deserve a whiskey.”

Feeling proud for the man, and remembering how special the things I do really are, that wave of nostalgia I had been begging for hits me like a rolling wave of icy water in the chest. A cool chill of deja-vu races through my backbone like a winter’s shake and I remember exactly how I felt on my first solo trip in which I landed at that very airport we had just left.

“I am really doing this aren’t I?” I thought to myself back on that first trip as I stepped near enough to the sliding door sensor to allow the humidity of San Jose‘s highland air to tickle my senses and the shout of excited taxi drivers to shred my ears. “I must be stupid” I thought to myself as a rush of overwhelming anxiety raced through my body as I tried to control my exterior presence. “This is going to be amazing.”

I laugh to myself in the memory of how I used to be and how I used to act.

“I was stupid.” I laugh “and it was amazing.”

I quickly come to the realization that, yes, there are days that I wish I could go back to being that scared boy eternally combusting as he held a combination of nerves and excitement from ripping though his skin. Like anyone I love feeling my heart drop into my stomach, love feeling that tingle race up my spine, and I love not knowing what I’m getting myself into. But in the end, I realize that I am no longer “20 year old Brendan.” I am “27 year old Brendan,” and that’s fine. No, I am no longer scared when faced with a swarm of taxi drivers, or nervous when I land at a foreign airport. Thanks to travel, and the lessons I have learned through travel, I have grown up. “27 year old Brendan” is brave, confidential and outgoing, but that in no way means that he has to have lost his nativity or curiosity.

The waitress smiles at me and calls me “Señor” which always makes me smile. She asks me what I would like followed by a quick exclamation in which she names off everything non-alcoholic on their menu. I smile back and feel a wave of excitement about my journey begin to take over my previously dulled senses.

“I’ll have what he’s having” I say as I point to the plastic glass half-full with whiskey and ice on the old man’s drink tray. He smiles back at me and when the drink hits my hand he pulls his up in the air and says “Salut! Por la vida es bonita! (Cheers, for life is beautiful)”


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