In Search of the Awe

Travel is not what it used to be, everyone complains. Lines are long, security is a pain, traveler comfort is not a priority, and even the free peanuts are a thing of the past. Locations are crowded, and some spoiled by the constant stream of tourists. Many are priced out of range. And yet we keep doing it. I keep doing it. It’s because I’m always chasing the Awe.
Make no mistake, I love my home. My routine suits me, I have enriching work, friends and family I spend a lot of time with, and entertaining culture and restaurant options in my hometown. But I plan and anticipate and indulge in my travel like a kid at Christmas time – it is what keeps me moving on some weeks. Because I know that if I keep my eyes open, and my options flexible, I am frequently rewarded by an experience that will transport and exalt me beyond the ordinary.
Many years ago my mother took my daughter and me for a week break on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. One afternoon we took a tour bus to the Mayan ruins in the south part of the Yucatan peninsula. The ride was bumpy, the day was hot, we were grumpy, and it seemed a mistake right away. My daughter was of that age little enough to want to be carried and big enough that doing so got old really fast. We hiked across the dusty field, sweating as we climbed the stone steps of the pyramid of Tulum, and I set her down at the top. She turned around, froze, and then let out a long soft worshipful AWWWWWWWWE. The view across the endless sapphire sea, down the majestic ancient stone temple, with the silent gulls floating above us on the currents lifting her hair, high above the white sands curving away from the cliffs below us, made the getting there worthwhile.
That’s it. The Awe. That’s the sound my heart makes when an experience so moves me that my breath is caught in my throat and I forget whatever it took to get me there. It’s there every time I think I can hear the hiss of the sun puddling into the Pacific, and when the humpback slowly propels herself up, up, up and back down with a splash. It made me speechless as I stepped out of the elevator atop the Eiffel Tower and Paris wheeled away below me in giant spokes of history. It held my breath when the waves crashed noisily onto the fog cloaked Cape Breton Highlands shoreline. It made my adrenaline spike while hanging from the side of a cable car in San Francisco, and filled my senses watching the endless and alien lava fields in Hawaii. It’s what drove me up the treetops to swing through the jungle and under the waves to swim with sea turtles.
Sometimes this feeling is brought courtesy of my husband, who has been known to take his life in his hands by awakening me pre-dawn to lure me to the cruise ship balcony, where the planets have aligned above us just so or the full moon is setting over black velvet seas. Once he pulled me to the window in Venice in time to look up a dozen stories at the cruise ship we would soon board gliding in the early morning light up the Laguna, dwarfing the ancient pastel villas along the waterfront.
We need that Awe, to validate our place in the magic of the world, and urge us out of our safety zones. To continue to search for it and appreciate it in the extraordinary and the commonplace is what makes us part of the play, a piece of the whole. If it means taking off my shoes in a long serious line or carrying more maps than I think we need, then that’s ok, and a fair trade in my book. As long as I can keep adding chapters to it. As far as the Awe takes me.

I am a semi-retired history teacher, a part-time lawyer, an optimistic writer, a contented wife, a forever mom, and a joyous and open-eyed traveler.
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One comment

  1. Awe … that’s not so much awe (!) I have taken the bus ride to Tulum, and sat on top of the pyramid overlooking the ocean; rode the Cable cars in San Francisco as a teenager after neting small silver fish at Fisherman’s wharf with a crab mesh chum, and with a gunnysack full of smelly fish, sat amongst the professionally dressed business people and tourists inside the cable car. . For them that must have been some AWE (!)

    My big awe was on a twenty mile day hike into the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and down the other side in one day, on a fishing trip. We stopped at one of the snow covered peaks, and climbed up over a bald faced rock on the way to a lake at the top.

    The problem when I got near the top of the bald curved face of the peak, I could not climb further, and when I looked back, it looked straight down and snow covered. I thought, Frank, what a fool you are , this is it. I had to inch up over the top. The elevation was over 12,000 feet. The lake was beautiful and the promised abandoned cabin was next the shore.

    The Awe was going down the waterfall back to the trail we were taking over the 14,000 foot mountain. The trail down took one to the tall waterfall. The way down was not by any trail, but down the jiggered rocks alongside the plunging falling water. Did I survive my greatest AWE ?. Go back and read my story again l.

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