You are 17 years old, and it’s the first time you’ve left the country. You are standing at the base of a 200 foot tall waterfall, staring up. You feel a strong mist caressing your face and arms. You feel the power in the sound, a constant pounding, a never-ending collapse and explosion of energy. You are 17 years old, and you feel nothing.
For a moment you lose yourself. What am I? You cease to think. Standing there, next to this miracle, you become nothing.
The next thought in your head is a big one: I am infinite. I am unlimited. I have the potential to do anything I can dream.
When I was 17 my dad took me on my first big overseas trip to Argentina and Chile. For 6 weeks we traveled by public bus, danced the tango, and hiked up slippery forest trails to sleep in mountain huts. We stayed in hostels, meeting people from all over the world. I convinced him to let us visit Iguazu Falls, the second largest waterfall in the world, which was a 12 hour bus journey away. He finally agreed, as long as I paid for my own transportation. From there, we flew to Bariloche, a lakefront ski town.
We found a great hostel at the top of a 10 story building with breathtaking views of the snowcapped mountains. We were snowed in, and for a week my dad and I became part of the family. I won the poker tournament. We had wine tasting parties. I went out dancing with the other guests, and we shook our booties to Michael Jackson covers. I played a lot of chess and did some knitting, all while talking with other travelers. I even got a guitar lesson from a long-haired, long-bearded Argentinian man with long fingernails trimmed specifically for plucking the steel strings of his guitar he called Melinda.
It was in this town where I had my first kiss. My dad and I went on an evening walk when we discovered a table tennis club. Both of us love to play, so we went inside to check it out. It was there I met Bruno, a handsome young man of about my age. I played against him a few times, losing most of the games. Besides his forehand slice I was particularly impressed by his curly luscious hair, dark skin, and cheeky but confident smile. His poor English was endearing, and we both laughed at my attempts at Spanish.
By the end of the evening, he was infatuated. He told me he thought I was beautiful and that he wanted to see me again. That night it was snowing, and Bruno’s dad gave us a ride back to our hostel in his clunky van. When we parted, Bruno snuck a little kiss on my cheek. I was beaming for the rest of the night.
A few days later my dad and I walk in to the recreation center where we are greeted by the sound of bouncing ping pong balls. Bruno approaches me and asks me for a game. While we are rallying, he is playing very poorly, even though I know from last time that he is a much better player than me. Then he explains.
“Amber, I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“I just can’t stop thinking about you.”
Meanwhile my dad is over there having an epic rally with Bruno’s potbellied dad.
I think… this is my chance… so I ask Bruno, who is looking at me like a sick puppy dog: “Do you want to take a walk?”
We put on our coats and head outside into the frigid night. I’m feeling a bit nervous about my dad but also know that he is thoroughly distracted. Mostly what I’m nervous about is my first kiss, which I know is about to happen.
I’m facing Bruno, and to my right is the lake framed by snow-capped mountains. The peaks reach their reflections into the frozen lake. It’s a full moon – of course – and the light is shining on Bruno’s face, his eyes locked on mine.
He pulls me close, I close my eyes, and… he starts sucking my face. And not in a good way. It’s like he is trying to stick his entire tongue in my mouth.
Anyway, that is not really the point of the story. Let’s skip that part. I like to remember the romantic setting, the crisp night air, and the moonlight over us.
Moments like this will be with me for the rest of my life. These memories made when I was somewhere completely different, doing something completely new, these are the moments I will remember. This trip with my dad was six years ago, and since then a lot has happened. I graduated from college, and did my own traveling for 28 months.
Now I am home for the first time since leaving in the summer of 2011, home to stay for a while. Not rushing off to travel again, but taking some time at home to write about and process what I have experienced.
Looking back over my old journals, there are hundreds, if not thousands of possible topics that I could choose to write about. These will come flowing out of me in the next days, months, and years. I will continue to travel and be inspired, then it will fall out of me like a torrential waterfall.
I can look at a picture, or even just close my eyes and remember being there, and my soul will travel. And I can do it now. I am standing there, at the base of the waterfall. I can feel the mist on my face. I can hear the constant pounding of water. I am at peace. I am empty.