The Nine Becomes a Zero

Birthdays, especially decade-commencing ones, lend themselves to a bit of introspection. Popular culture tells us that rolling over from an age ending in a 9 to one ending in a 0 is a traumatic experience, and we can’t totally discount the wisdom of popular culture, after all, it is “popular.” Popular culture has brought us musical gems as “Baby Shark” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” It has graced us with cinematic marvels like Sharknado and Aquaman. Popular culture has also brought us the abomination that is the Kardashian empire. I realize that it’s quite possible that none of this is making my case that we must follow the dictates of “popular culture.” Regardless, it exists and it tells me I should fall apart with abandon this week. On a positive side, people’s current obsession with the KonMari method is a bright light in popular culture. While I am not on that bandwagon- moving every two years keeps my things at a naturally more minimalistic state and I cannot abide by the idea that I should have fewer books- it does seem like a good overall life-view. Blame it on pop culture or not, major birthdays do summon a bit of nostalgia and contemplation.

It hasn’t been a major dwelling point (Venezuela-living has put enough other things on my plate this last month), but there was no avoiding that the 9 was rolling over to a 0. I could easily get bogged down in the negatives of another candle being added to the cake, but in reality, I’ve got very little to complain about. When I turned twenty, I was newly married and in the middle of working on an English degree at a well-respected university. I was happy, but definitely living month to month and paycheck to paycheck. (Those were the days that we had to check the bank balance to see if we could splurge on a trip to Taco Bell and wandering the Super Target near our house counted as weekend entertainment.) My twenties expanded into wonderful years of teaching middle school English, a job I loved, and then a sabbatical from that passion to follow another, more budding one- travel. Two years of Peace Corps rounded out that decade- a period that forever changed the direction of my life. While teaching was still enjoyable, a bigger world was calling my name.

My thirties brought a whole lot of life changes. I went from being a home-owning middle school teacher in suburban Idaho to living a nomadic lifestyle interspersed with semi-regular periods of unemployment. When my husband joined the United States Foreign Service as a diplomat, I walked away from teaching (with original thoughts of returning, which for a whole variety of bureaucratic and personal reasons has not happened) and started a new life that means frequent moves, a revolving door of friendships, and a whole lot more adventures around the globe. Since I turned thirty, I’ve lived in Idaho, Washington D.C. (twice), Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, and Caracas and visited countless (okay, not countless- I could count them up, but the list is probably only interesting to me) other cities on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve earned another graduate degree and my annual Christmas card list has addresses on it from six out of seven continents. (Antarctica is really a sticking point for me!)

If anything, my anxiety about turning forty is more about how much I will miss the incredibleness of my thirties and hoping that the next decade lives up to the last.

So, forties. I am just not riding the struggle bus on this one. (I’m not saying there is no twinge when I realize I should be a bit more diligent about the nightly face moisturizing routine or that those internet articles labeled “Hairstyles for yours 30s” and “Worst Fashion Faux Pas in Your 30s” no longer apply to me. Rather, I just am not losing sleep about being “old.” Forty is the new thirty, right? Right?) I recognize the significance of the change, but I’m excited to see where the next decade takes me. As we continue with the foreign service lifestyle, we can expect to live in three to four more cities in the next ten years. I have high hopes of doing something more with this blog, especially the book review part of it (somebody help me!) and I can’t wait to find a way to check that final continent off my travel list before 5-0 creeps up on my calendar. There is little to discourage me about this next 0-9 set of numbers. Maybe my random arthritises (not a word, I know, but I feel entitled to a bit of word-fabrication at that point in my life) will ache a bit more often (that’s what drugs are for!) and maybe it’s time to finally said adios to soda forever, but those are small prices to pay for what I can only expect to be bigger and better yet!

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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Road Trippin’ to Hana

The world is full of famous paths to be followed. China’s Great Wall spans more than 13,000 miles and just begs to be partially-trekked by adventurous visitors. The Inca Trail on the way to Machu Pichhu is a several-day adventure that leaves the traveler covered in bug bites and filthy from head to toe, but with a new appreciation of the splendor of the Andes Mountains. Closer to home, Route 66 in the United States was famous for opening up the Southwest to travelers, creating an abundance of kitschy roadside attractions to lure in tourist dollars. For ages, travelers have been drawn to these well-traversed ways; I am no exception.

After a few low-key days in Maui, visiting pineapples and watching whales (well, more dolphins than whales were spotted, but it was super early in the season), it was time to hit the road- the Road to Hana to be exact.

Travel books will tell you that the Road to Hana is a steep and winding path, one that while only 65 miles long will take hours to travel. It’s not just the switchbacks and countless one-lane bridges that make the physically short drive a chronologically long one, but the fact that there are more spectacular things to stop and see that one can possible fit into a single day drive.

Want to see enormous waves crashing into a rocky shoreline? Take the Road to Hana.

Want to swim in a pool beneath a waterfall? Take the Road to Hana (and a swimsuit).

Want to eat grilled pork accompanied by a wild fern salad off a giant leaf? Take the Road to Hana (and $20).

Want to hike to cascading pools that are a part of the National Park system and maybe pick up an awesome woven fish at the same time? Take the Road to Hana (and befriend the park ranger).

Want to see the final resting place of Charles Lindbergh? Take the Road to Hana.

You’re picking up what I’m dropping here, right?

Our handy-dandy guide book had each of these sites, and many more, arranged by mile marker, so we headed out from our AirBnB first thing in the morning, with plans to make as many stops as possible and still make it home before dark. (Spoiler alert- we failed miserably, both in seeing everything we wanted to see [impossible, really] and circumnavigating the island in the daylight.) While we did not stop at every possible “site” laid out by our travel book, we hit a good number of the highlights and found our own favorites along the way.

High points of day included a black sand beach that was heavenly to wander on barefoot, making friends with the two old dogs at the coconut ice cream stand, listening to the eerie creaking of enormous bamboo shoots as the wind blew through their stands, and getting my super cool woven fish from the park ranger at Haleakala National Park.

Once we reached the eponymous Hana, we had the option to either turn around and go back the way we came or to continue on around the island, back to the mainstays of civilization. Several of our guidebooks made note that if we continued forward, most rental companies saw that as breaking the rental agreement, as the road was not well-maintained or particularly safe. (Ha! Not well-maintained is an understatement.) Regardless of these recommendations, no one was super keen to turn around and retrace our steps, as we’d been there already and wanted to see something new. So, with a vote of 5-0, onward we bound.

If the getting to Hana part of the trip was winding and narrow, the after-party would best be described as painfully-unpaved and barely existent in parts. There were times that our rental Durango was inches from the edge of the road on each side. Luckily, very few other people had the ridiculous idea to forge down this path, so we ran into very little oncoming traffic. I honestly don’t know what we would have done in some sections where the pitted dirt road, a rock wall on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other, was no wider than our vehicle. The only option would have been for one car to reserve for as long as it took to find a wide spot in the “road.”

The Road to Hana is not for the weak- especially when it comes to the actual driving part of the adventure. As for the stops, there is such an amazing variety of options- hikes that are an easy 20 minutes round-trip to longer treks that could take a couple of hours. There are ocean and jungle and history options- really something for everyone in your group. Start early, take snacks (or buy banana bread from the ubiquitous sellers), and leave yourself open to whatever pops up in front of you. Make many stops, but keep an eye on the sun because you’ve only got two options to get home- both becoming more difficult in the dark.

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
― Erol Ozan

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