It’s about time I lose my innocence. Again. This fantasy of mine has been swelling up, transforming, and growing beyond the limits of my imagination for 17 years now.
Many people think that innocence is something that is lost once we hit adulthood. Once we have sex, fall in love, become heartbroken, try a drug, commit a crime, lose a loved one, get a “real job.” We are then experienced, and the wonder and naivete we once carried is forever gone. This, in fact, is not the case.
I met Don George this past January at Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, California, US. He edited a recently published Lonely Planet anthology entitled, An Innocent Abroad. I had the honor of meeting and listening to Jenna Scatena and Jeff Greenwald, both well-established travel writers, read their stories of purity lost on the road. While Jenna told of her experience following a caveman through the Thai forest, Jeff read an account of his first time attending Burning Man. As I sat there, soaking in their carefully chosen words that wove tales of extreme adventure and wild bacchanalia, a deep longing burst within me. First off, these two are top notch writers. No words are wasted. No triteness. No boring chronology. Just an expansive vocabulary used to tell a story as it should be told- to take you on their journey with them. I was inspired to be a better writer, which I hadn’t felt in awhile.
The second emotion aroused that night was one of hypnotic wanderlust. I fell in love with travel again. To be sure, I’ve never fallen out of love with travel. It has never betrayed, disappointed, trapped, or bored me. Travel is the best lover I have ever had. But that night, and each consequent day I’ve read the anthology’s pages, my fervor has overwhelmed me. So much so, that I have made a decision.
It is time to end my innocence. This yearning has gone on far too long. At the age of 16, I sat on my parents’ balcony, overlooking the foothills, while reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The way he described the lush verdure of rolling hills as he drove into Pamplona seized me as Jack Kerouac’s cross-country American Dream road trips had. I wanted to be there; I needed to be there. I imagined myself as part of the Lost Generation, sitting at a cafe, sipping wine, smoking a cigarette while intellectualizing with my well-educated, well-traveled friends. (Very cliche, but I was a young teenager who had never been on an airplane, let alone in another country.) I was hooked. The idea of tapas, siestas, colonial architecture, the Spanish language- even the brutal sport of bullfighting- would cloud my mind as I attempted to study Chemistry and U.S. History. I would take Spanish lessons to fulfill my language requirement (which delighted my mother due to our Mexican heritage), and then I would take a year off before college to move to Spain (which did not at all delight my mother) to become fluent in castellano.
Nonetheless, life happens, new interests spark, and paths diverge. I never took a year off before college, and I never went to Spain. Instead, I’ve had a crazy roller coaster of a life, visited 23 countries, become fluent in Spanish and (quasi-fluent in) Brazilian Portuguese, traveled through lands alone where I spoke not one word of the language. I’ve had days when I’ve felt invincibly, boldly happy, and days when I couldn’t get out of bed. Days when I wore a ring on my wedding finger and days when I swore I’d never love again. I’ve peered into the monstrous eyes of dehumanized violence and beheld the gaze of enlightened kindness. You’d think I’d no more innocence to lose, but I do.
My ticket is purchased and I leave to Barcelona in less than two weeks. I recently had a full-time job that I thought would be my dream career, and that was a massive deception that quickly dissipated. My bank account is as good as empty, but safety nets are illusory anyway. This will be the first time I travel without any savings. It will also be the first time I will attempt to secure lodging through house sitting and couch surfing. Maybe I’m insanely foolish, or possibly just tenaciously determined. I’m not quite sure what the self-labeling should be right now, but I am going to Spain.
If you’d like to help out with my journey by offering me advice or a place to stay, purchasing some of the jewelry I’ve collected in Latin America, or donating to my Trevolta fundraiser, I would be ever grateful! You would be an integral part of this journey that is truly a mystery to me. I don’t know what to expect, but I am infinitely excited and ready for all of the adventure to be had, and all of the innocence to be lost.
Do you have a similar story of losing your innocence? Have you traveled without money before? What do you think of An Innocent Abroad? Please share your experiences in the comments; I’d love to hear your feedback!