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She Goes Solo -- She Finds Courage

 

Canadian, Karen Dougherty is a TV researcher, writer, singer, songwriter, voracious reader and world-traveller. This is the article that proved to us, without a doubt that Karen is a true and fabulous Journeywoman. She writes...


I arrived in Bangkok weighted down with good luck charms--my dad's Blarney Stone, my mother's rosary, a Nordic rune, a blessed Hindu scroll, a St. Christopher's medal. I'd covered all bets. So why was I so scared?

For years, the travel bug had been eating me alive. I was afraid to disturb my universe, but I'd finally become more afraid not to. Of all my fears, I realized, my biggest was regret. At 30, I was growing a little long in the tooth for the backpacking circuit, but if I didn't do it "now," I knew I never would. So I left my very good job, gave up my very nice apartment, sold all my stuff, and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the world.

Beware the night people...

It was 2 a.m. when I landed. What had I done? The crazy, steaming city swirled and blared around me, the strange language honked and gabbled. I didn't understand the currency. It took two and a half hours to find my hotel, through dark streets strewn with stray dogs and slinking night people. But a kind man I met on the plane came with me, argued good-naturedly with the cabdriver in passable Thai, and saw me off with a smile and a wave. His unsolicited goodwill made me think I just might muddle through.

I crisscrossed Thailand using every form of transportation known to woman save camel, Concorde, and dog sled. I travelled Vietnam, with its jarring, half-formed roads, aggressive driving, and incomprehensible cultural subtleties. I got scared. I got involved. I got physical.


A lot of Band-aids...

I used more Band-aids in those three months than in my entire adult life, a whole box, every size, a literal illustration of the difference between life at home and life "out there." My body was dotted purple, blue, and yellow from various stages of bruising. My wrists, knees, and elbows barely healed before the tender new skin was scraped off again, joining the old in the oblivion of jungle floor, dirt road, rocky beach.

A
nd although I was losing a lifetime's accumulation of fears every day, some, tested, stuck around. I like to think of these fears as not just healthy, but positively Darwinian in their atavistic logic. It's good to be afraid of hand-sized cave spiders. They bite. They're bad. It's good to be afraid of the ocean. The ocean thinks of me as a piece of dust or a bit of food. I respect that. I wade. I dip. I paddle. I watch.


Coconut bombs...

I amassed some new fears. It had never occurred to me to be afraid of jellyfish. There are no jellyfish at Wasaga Beach at home. But they are plentiful and painful in the clear, blue, Indian Ocean, and I don't want to be around them, nor the two-headed, very poisonous snake I saw while snorkeling for the first, and possibly last, time.

One night, I thought the bomb went off when a coconut fell on my bungalow. Over 70 people die every year in Thailand from falling coconuts. I learned to take care while wandering the beautiful groves. And monkeys. Monkeys are unpredictable and aggressive. They are neither approachable nor huggable. Although I wore my monkey-bruise with pride, I began to learn the difference between taking risks and pushing my luck.

 

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