The whole trip with Gawan was an adventure, start to finish. For me, the most significant adventure was meeting him in person, getting to know him and seeing how we got on together.
But we also had some more conventional adventures of the travelling variety. Sometimes the adventures were rather modest, like exchanging money or finding a restaurant.
Sometimes just walking down the street felt quite adventurous all on its own.
We also had an adventure that was planned and booked: a day trip into the lush countryside. I had expected that we would be part of a group, but no, it was just the two of us and our guide/driver in a new, air-conditioned SUV.
The first place we stopped was a classic tourist trap: parking lot, toilets, and a cluster of booths selling a variety of tat. The guide informed us that we were at the highest bridge in the country, which appeared to be the only justification for the placement of this miniature capitalist ecosystem. From our vantage point, the bridge looked like just another stretch of road, which was the last thing I wanted to look at.
Then we visited a modest little farm and met the couple who run it, their daughter and baby granddaughter. They served us tart passion fruit and tiny portions of strong coffee, black as sin. Except for our guide, none of us spoke the others’ language. It was a brief visit.
The highlight of the day was snorkeling in the ocean! It was my first time and I had some trouble: I’m not a strong swimmer, and trying to breathe with my face in the water was making me panic a bit even though I rationally understood what I was supposed to do. We had another guide to lead us safely through the little coral reef, and upon seeing how hopeless I was, he just took me by the wrist and swam me around the circuit. Fortunately I was able to relax into it fairly quickly. I had a prime seat to see lots of fish, since the guide had a bottle of food to attract them. There was one that looked like a night sky, with stars of electric blue (yellowtail damselfish juvenile). And there were lots of fan corals and massive brain corals.
Gawan had hoped that I’d swim with him and was a bit disappointed that we didn’t really experience the reef together. We did have one shared experience in the ocean though: once we were back near the shore, Gawan accidentally knocked into me and gave me flipper burn on my knee.
After the reef, we went to a cave with a deep freshwater pool. The silence was broken only by a woman in a snorkeling mask swimming quiet laps in the clear, dark water, while her boyfriend watched patiently from the edge of the pool.
We had masks too, and given my eventual success at the reef and the fact that this time I wouldn’t have to contend with waves, I was feeling confident. But once I got my face in the water the panic returned, and beyond that my mask leaked. The pool was so clear that I could see sharp stalagmites deep below me but no sign of the actual bottom, which kind of freaked me out. Experiencing a fear of heights while swimming is an odd feeling.
The last stop was a former coffee plantation where we had lunch, a tour of the grounds, and then a short horseback ride. I’ve always liked horses. When I was a kid, I used to go on nature rides that lasted up to an hour, and I even took a few riding lessons. So a 7-minute ride seemed a little pointless and I was willing to pass it up. But Gawan wanted to try it, and if he wanted to go then I was happy to go too. It was fun, I’ll admit. But it would have been better to have a longer ride, fewer obnoxious tourists with us, and any gait faster than a walk.
One other cool thing that wasn’t in the brochure was simply talking to our guide about his country. As a tourist, it can be difficult to connect with locals. I suppose tourists who go to sun destinations are generally looking for fun and so prefer to turn a blind eye to unpleasant realities of the places they visit, and where we were, residents are (ahem) encouraged to conceal those unpleasant realities. So the opportunity to hear some truth was really interesting, if also somewhat depressing at times.
The travel part of the adventure was fun all on its own, but over three weeks later and the flipper burn is still there. And I told him no marks!