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Into the Wild

July 17, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp. I’ve been thinking of a lot of my favorite lost in the wilderness stories, and of course about the fine, fine Jennerfer Lopez film Anaconda, but I’ve been thinking about McCandless the most.

His story was made famous by the Jon Krakauer book and Sean Penn film Into the Wild after he left civilization behind for the noble or foolish goal of living as one with nature. His body was found in the Alaskan wilderness where he starved to death.

I know it sounds morbid that I”m thinking about him (I’m thinking of asking my traveling friends to call me Kathleen Supertramp, though I suspect they’ll just roll their eyes. Juan has alternately called me Michelle or Kathleen, both of which I now answer to).

I was sick in the jungle. Not deathly ill and nothing to do with being there (no snake bite or exotic plant infection), just a really terrible cold that knocked me out. I’m still suffering a bit, but I’m better.  Being among strangers when you’re sick is a unique place of vulnerability and, at least for me, it got a lot worse when not able to call the folks that offer me comfort. And not even to put out a general call for a little Facebook love.

I’m pretty sure that even if McCandless had lived in the age of Facebook and ubiquitous cell phones he would have isolated himself. And I am of the school that his journey into the woods was less a romantic  quest for knowledge than a desperate call for help and a ultimately a rather elaborate suicide, but I do admire him in some ways. Still – my few days without being able to connect with loved ones left me a bit at odds. McCandless lived 113 days along in the wilderness.

He desperately needed the connections that he rejected. I, on the other hand, may need to learn to be a bit less connected. In the few days in the jungle, I’ve had to rely on myself and the strangers around me to get through both being sick and the day to day weariness of travel. And people will rise to help.

Where ever you are in the world, people want to connect, even for just that moment in time.I truly believe in the good in humankind as a universal truth and it was proved once again during these few days for me.  In addition to Juan and Graham, Julia and Ben from Boston and Liz and Ruben from Amsterdam offered sympathy, kindnesses and funny stories. They made sure I ate and was able to find humor in my misfortune. Juan has been  attentive, caring, and quite wise in offering suggestions for getting better.

I don’t know what McCandless was seeking, but I”m so sorry for him that he was never able to find it. I’m certain, even if he wasn’t, that it would have been more attainable if he’d been able to connecting with others.

Despite my whining and one very bad day,I did manage to experience and enjoy the jungle. Several jungle hikes, including one seven hour journey, brought us face to face with monkeys, tarantulas, caiman (a crocodile relative), and piranhas, as well as dozens of exotic birds and plant life. We also witness many species of ant at work including the fire ant, which a couple of the more adventurous among us allowed to sting them. It hurt.

There was an anaconda sighting by one of our guides as we paddled up a river, but Ruben’s need to get back to the lodge facilities kept him paddling quickly and the rest of us missed our chance on the one sight we were all eager for.

On a morning fishing, only one fish actually made it into the boat (caught by the German among us in what became an international competition as we were a group of Dutch, German, Brit, North, and South American.) The morning was leisurely and serene.

Our evenings were spent at the bar with Juan, Graham, and me joined by the perfectly match couples Julia and Ben and Liz and Ruben. Julia and Ben from Boston are both runners with lean, muscular physiques and extended features. They were happy and chatty and quick to laugh. Julia is a nutritionist, Ben a teacher. Liz and Ruben were perfect specimens from the Master Race. Ruben was 6’9, Liz well over 6 feet. Both were blond, blue eyed and stunning. Ruben is a economics professor, Liz a prison psychologist. They were traveling for three months through South America and charming strangers along the way.

Our actual group members faced more bad luck, after finally making it to Lima, minus one set of luggage, their flight to the jungle was cancelled delaying them another day. On our last night in the Amazon Claire and Richard arrived looking remarkably sprite, given the ordeal. Our other two companions decided to wait for us in Cusco, unable to bear the idea of another flight.

When I mentioned all the bad luck on the trip – their flight issues, my cold – Graham pointed out , with a smile that I would probably have a hard time generating sympathy.  Ah – another person to keep me in my place.

We’ve made it to Cusco to acclimatize for a could days and then we’re off to Machu Picchu – Richard and Claire, along with our two companions we’ve not yet met will be taking the Inca Trail. Graham and I will be on our own on the Moonstone Trek.  While Inca is the well known trek, it is also the well traveled one. I’m told that Graham and I may not see another person for the four days we’re hiking. I imagine I’ll be thinking a bit more about Alexander Supertramp during that time. And my Facebook feed.

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