I have long been a fan of Lynn O’Rourke Hayes, the founder of Family Travel.com. Journalist, traveler, mother of three, she is the first to pack a suitcase and grab a camera when adventure calls. I know you will also enjoy getting to know her through this thoughtful essay on travel and risk.
Thanks for joining us here on Expat Chat, Lynn!
Travel involves risk.
I think we can all agree on that. How much each of us is willing to lay on the line is an interesting question to ponder. And do the stakes change when we go exploring with our children? Or once they reach a certain age, should assessing the range of possibilities become a part the education we hope to impart?
By mere coincidence, I was in Hawaii with my sons Alex and Ted when the effects of the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami rolled through the islands. Thankfully, the worse that happened was that we were evacuated from our rooms and slept in the more elevated public spaces. The giant slumber party was actually interesting and made for a good story.
Alex and I recently went swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. Both the destination and activity raised more than a few eyebrows.
My friends and family who take an interest in my travels often inquire or express concern for my safety. And I have to say, beyond the basics, I don’t think about it too much. Perhaps it is my Midwestern upbringing. By nature, I am trusting and optimistic that things will work out in the end. I believe people are basically honest and want to do the right thing.
Still, every now and then, I tell myself I should shore up the program. Lock the doors. Look over my shoulder. But, the effort soon wanes.
When I think about changing my ways, I am always reminded of our trip deep into the Amazon.
( Forewarned: this tale involves snakes!)
~ ~ ~
Our dug out canoes, landed smoothly on the sandy filled river bank. We carefully disembarked and hiked up a short path to meet our host family.
We had come to this home on the secluded banks of the Peruvian Amazon to search for the elusive poison dart frog in the adjacent jungle. The woman before me, her husband and four children cooked, dined and slept beneath a thatched roof, covering a raised platform. There were no walls.
No doubt they received a small fee from our guide’s lodge to allow us to slide our canoes on to their riverside beach and to welcome us for a short visit in their home. But the woman’s demeanor was in no way welcoming. Did she resent our intrusion?
We soon learned it was not our presence that veiled her eyes. It was this: a few weeks prior the couple’s oldest son was sent 100 yards down to the river to collect water for their cooking. He did not return. Soon they went searching for him and discovered he had been struck by the deadly fer-de-lance snake. This creature, deeply feared by the river people, is sometimes called the “three-step snake” – so deadly you can only walk three steps after its bite.
The family had no way to get their son to modern medical treatment. The local shaman was called, but the boy did not survive.
~ ~ ~
With this story thickening the already hot and humid air, we wandered into the jungle and located many small, colorful frogs. We were told their poison is still applied to the tips of darts used for hunting within the region. We returned on the path, crossing near the family’s home, climbed into our canoes and paddled back to our lodge.
During our stay at the jungle lodge, my sons and their friends were asked to join the local villagers in their soccer matches. The games took place at sunset. I, somewhat sheepishly, felt compelled to warn my sons not to venture into the jungle for the ball. We were told this was prime time for the deadly snakes to hunt.
With the grieving mother’s pained expression still haunting me, I studied the natural floor during our jungle hikes, determined to spot the mottled skin of the exotic, mysterious snake. It didn’t happen. Within a few days, after fishing for piranha, visiting a native village and zip lining through the canopy, we returned home to the States.
~ ~ ~
Within weeks after our return to our Scottsdale, Arizona home, we were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. Teddy was watching a movie in the study. I was finishing some work at my desk. As my husband walked toward the hall powder room, he stopped to chat with me for just a moment. Fortunately, as he spoke, he put his hand on the door, moving it in slowly. In doing so, a loud noise erupted. Was it a gurgling water pipe? Some sort of electrical malfunction?
No. It was the rapid tail movement of an angry Diamond back rattlesnake. Stunned, we realized that the rattler had done his part. He had warned us with surprising vigor, an alarm designed to be heard in the desert. It now echoed strangely off thick, slate floors.
My husband and son wisely stuffed towels under the bathroom door so the snake would not disappear into the house. I called the fire department.
The firefighters arrived quickly, amazed that the snake had slithered into our home. Using their cleverly designed extraction tool, they removed the Diamondback to the natural desert beyond our patio.
Later, we discussed how easy it would have been to have an unpleasant encounter with the poisonous rattler as he meandered within a few feet of each of us. We spoke of our rigorous planning and preparation and the safety measures exercised in the wild places we explored.
And how ironic it was that our closest call came within the “safety” of our own home.
Author’s note: I have read many stories about Grizzly bears in the wild and have gone to great lengths to avoid being in their habitat. Thus, it was a surprise to encounter a 500-pounder within six feet of our Montana cabin late one night this summer. Yet, another example of how we can attempt but rarely succeed in controlling our environment.