Good Omens

A coconut.

When I arrived at my stopover in Fort Lauderdale sleep deprived and slightly delirious, the terminal felt crowded and suffocating, so I took up my habit of wandering around and window shopping the food on offer.

As I pushed my way into a brightly lit Kitchen Network kiosk and examined a cellophane-wrapped hummus and vegetable sandwich for $12, I looked up and locked eyes with another backpacker. He was short in stature and wiry, but had a sharp presence that made him seem to take up more space than his frame suggested.

A beam of camaraderie pulsed between us as he pointed to my backpack. Is that all you have with you? No, I confided. I have surfboards too.

He was on his way to Lima, Peru, and had been traveling for 8 years to date, living off of about $400 per month. While in Central America, he had supplemented his budget by working at a retreat center as a shaman, leading Ayahuasca ceremonies. I was intrigued.

We sat down together and struck up a conversation. His name was Allen and he was 48 or 49 years old. He couldn’t seem to remember exactly. He told me that he could no longer live in the prescribed, standard world that had been pressed on him for the first half of his life. That he could never go back. He told me about the lessons that he had learned in his travels, the power of the authentic self. And that he had recognized this energy in me and sought out this conversation.

I wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered or creeped out, but I figured I had nothing to lose by listening to what this guy had to say. I noticed you in San Francisco because of how you move with your backpack, he said. Most people treat their luggage as some annoying appendage they have to drag behind them. Travelers like you and I carry their backpacks like a turtle carries its shell. I looked around and began to notice people struggling with their wheeled luggage as it bounced along precariously behind them.

I love my backpack. I told him about hiking the Lost Coast with a surfboard strapped to my pack, and about my first solo hike, the Fourth of July when I hiked into Ventana Wilderness. I felt possessed on that particular hike, pressing onward without a single rest for 9 miles in the blistering summer heat, running out of water because I was unwilling to pause to refill at the stream crossings, finally losing it on the steepest, meanest hill at the end of the climb. I came upon a snake, coiled and poised to strike in the center of the trail. Everything flashed bright and then blurred, tilted as I stumbled backward and collapsed in exhaustion. I felt that I had finally purged whatever driving force had taken hold of me, and when I looked up, I saw that the snake was just a stick, a hallucination.

Allen nodded knowingly. It wasn’t just a hallucination, he said. It was a vision into an alternate world, and you sought it by taking the fork in the path, the road less travelled. You are a seeker, he said, and you are receiving what I am telling you with a higher level of openness and attention than anyone I have talked to in a long time.

I smiled, and he paused and asked if I was still with him. I admitted that I didn’t understand it all but I was listening. I asked him if he felt that he was losing my attention. He said he knew I was listening but sometimes it seemed as if I didn’t know what to do with my face. Just now, he said, you thought I complemented you and your face changed. The warmth went out of your smile and you jerked backward.

I started paying attention to my plastic smiles and robot nods as they bubbled to the surface. He was right. I took note of it. Gradually he began to fill those same pauses with his own giggling. I asked him what he was laughing about. When you stop wearing the mask, your true self melts like butter and tickles me when it seeps out, he said.

When my flight began to board, we said goodbye, thanked each other for the conversation, and wished each other well on our travels. His parting words: You should meet Ayahuasca. You are ready.

I shook my head, chuckling, and got in line. I turned back to grin at him but he had vanished just as suddenly as he appeared. A thought flashed briefly that he might have been a hallucination, a glimpse into another world. We didn’t exchange any identifying information and it’s highly improbable that our paths will cross again. But I like to think that this meeting was an omen to validate my intention for this journey, to relax the tight knot of doubt and massage the muscles that hold the mask on my face, to remind me to be open to the unexpected and to tap into the power of my authentic self.

6 thoughts on “Good Omens

  • Posted on April 2, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Hi, Aloe. That’s a very moving story that bodes very well to start this new experience. Thanks for taking the time to write for all of us here at home. Jim H.

  • Posted on April 2, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    I was so excited to check your blog today and see a new post! Glad to hear it was a good omen, confirming your intentions for this journey. I’m going to have to start paying attention to my “mask” since I know I have one, too. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your experiences – I will be living vicariously through you!

  • Posted on April 2, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Oh Aloe, this is amazing. You are my female Paulo Coelho. I’ve shared this one with my friend Lavina, a fellow world traveler. xoxo

    • Posted on April 14, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks for the support and inspiration 🙂

  • Posted on April 2, 2015 at 6:38 am

    What a powerful experience! People come into our lives for a reason. I am glad you are following you heard and soul.
    Time to get to the beach!!
    Miss you Aloe!!

  • Posted on April 1, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Aloe! I can see your blog now and am enjoying it but missing you


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