Paty Valley in Chapada Diamantina, Bahia, Brasil
It’s too bad the title of my blog is not a reflection of a stellar ability I possess to pack so lightly that all I need when I travel is a carry-on bag; fortunately, it has everything to do with my perseverance, something I was going to need a lot of on this particular journey. Despite my reputation for overpacking, I felt confident that I was taking just what I needed for this trip, and even with my emergency kits, extra socks, a birthday outfit, remedies for the blisters I anticipated, and plenty of snacks, I still had space left in my (oversized) bag…. Guys, I packed WAY too much, again. When will I learn?!?!
During the week-long trip, we covered approximately 5565 kilometers (about 3,480 miles) in cars, buses, planes, by foot, and even a mule. Roughly 65 of those kilometers was meant to be done by foot with our bags strapped to our backs, though lack of specifics on Brasilian websites didn’t make this entirely clear to us from the beginning. Although I grew up in Colorado and have hiked and camped throughout my life, I quickly realized that I was not actually prepared for the grueling 4-day trip we were about to embark on. Also, despite a lifetime of trouble with sensitive feet, I hopped into the SUV in Lencois with Kahlie, Erico, our guide, Beto, and a 15 kilogram backpack (about 30 pounds….one for each year??) eager to traipse through the beautiful Paty Valley–a trip that would commence with my 30th birthday.
Now that I think about it, this trip really was like my 20s squeezed into a week: Beginning with mild-discomfort I pretended didn’t exist and an “I know what I’m doing” mindset (how much harder can one hike really be than all the others I’ve done?), packed with obstacles I never knew I had the strength to overcome (scaling a cliff next to a river), facing some fears along the way, and ending with an undeniable realization that made all the difference.
Just as happened throughout my 20s, friends stepped up to help me before I was ready to admit I needed the help. After about 5 kilometers uphill, my feet were already aching. Erico kindly traded bags with me, as his was about 12 pounds lighter, giving my feet a little relief. A few kilometers later, after our first amazing view, I was biting my tongue–trying not to complain to my friends and guide about the increased pain in my feet. I added some mole-skin wrap to my heels to prevent any further blistering (or so I hoped) and continued down a rugged decline into the valley whose view we enjoyed over lunch. A lot like the reason I
stayed in a bad relationship throughout my 20s, I didn’t speak up about my throbbing feet: I didn’t want to seem weak. After 15 kilometers the first day, many laughs, and many internal pep-talks to keep me going up those steep inclines, we made it to our first night’s lodging. We revived our energy with an amazing home-cooked meal and a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I quickly taped up my feet, ate an energizing breakfast prepared by the homeowners, and we hiked another 18 kilometers. Thankfully we were able to leave our packs at the pousada, making the trek much more doable on my aching feet. I mentioned to Kahlie that my feet were hurting, but tried not to make too big of a deal about it. I’m glad I persevered. The views were saw this day were breathtaking. I truly felt like I was on top of the world.
I felt brave, exhilarated, and strong for where I had gotten myself, both in that moment, at the edge of a rock overlooking the Paty Valley, and in life–to a place where I am stronger than ever and living my dreams, confident enough to be out on my own (and with friends) experiencing the world. Independent. Motivated. Powerful.
These positive feelings helped me overlook my pain until we arrived at the next night’s lodging, and I removed my shoes and socks to discover I had about four new blisters on each foot. I decided in my mind that I wouldn’t be going on tomorrow’s hike if it was possible–again, reflecting my silent-resolve of two years before, when I admitted to myself that I needed to end my marriage, a relationship that at times made me feel like I was on top of the world, but most often was a painful experience. I took the needle out of my emergency kit, sanitized it with fire, and with the light of my headlamp, I popped my blisters to relieve the pain. The next morning, my feet were throbbing. I hobbled to breakfast and finally showed the guide my feet. (Semi-graphic description and pictures follow–if you get queasy easily, you may want to skip over this part.)
He treated my blisters with a natural antibiotic called propolis, a bee bi-product. He described in portugues, and Erico translated, that he was going to poke the blisters like I had done the night before, with a needle, and then pull a string doused in the propolis through my blisters to get the medication inside and help them heal faster. Even though that scared the crap out of me, and I knew it was going to hurt, I also knew it was what I needed in order to get better (again, I couldn’t help but draw the comparison to my decision to part with my partner of 9 years–it would be painful, but it was necessary for me to get better). It was one of the strangest sensations I ever experienced, and extremely painful. Recalling the experience now still makes me quiver… I am so thankful for Kahlie who was there by my side reminding me to breathe, and to get photos of the odd experience!
I rested in bed for the rest of the morning, then was able to join the group for the rest of the day’s hike (12 km) through even more beautiful and varied landscapes as we headed to the final pousada. We still had 18 kilometers to go the final day, and my feet were even worse after those 12 kms. The guide informed us that the final day’s hike was going to be the most challenging, half of it nearly straight up a very rocky terrain. He also informed us of the option to pay for a mule to carry our bags to make it easier. The old me, a younger me, wouldn’t have asked for help, but I asked if I could get a mule to carry me out, too.
I knew that my feet couldn’t do it anymore (like my heart two years ago when I asked for the divorce.) I was reminded of the most important lesson a person can learn, even the strongest people: we have an obligation to ourselves to speak up and ask for help when we need it. I needed this break. I needed to complete this journey with help. I needed the mule. Even with a second propolis treatment, I knew I would have had an extremely hard time hiking out of the valley and I would have endured unneeded pain for the sake of my pride. I was so thankful the entire time I was on that mule’s back. Just like I was so thankful by the support of my family and friends when I asked them to help me get my life back on track during the divorce and for the months and years following it.
Once we all met up again, we took a car ride to Poço Azul, where I made a big step towards overcoming my fear of water–I snorkeled for the first time in my life in the most beautiful, clear lagoon in a cave. The cool water soothed my aching feet and body. Putting on the mask and snorkel made my heart race, but after a few minutes and some repeated mantras that I would be okay, I relaxed and enjoyed this experience.
Swimming around looking through the water to the depths of this underwater cave was incredible, and it strengthened my resolve to try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone to reap the biggest rewards in life.
Just like facing an 18-year-old fear, or looking up at a mountain you are about to climb, asking for help can also make us uncomfortable when we aren’t used to it, especially for people who prefer to be the ones helping. But it would do us all some good to learn when to do what is best for ourselves and others. We have to be fearless when it comes to doing what is best, what is right. Even the most powerful, strong, independent people need to ask for help at times, for not doing so can be detrimental to ourselves and those around us. We must also become as strong as possible by not asking for help when we don’t need it, by doing all that we are capable of without complaining or being resentful.
Throughout these days leading up to my 30s, I reflected a lot about where I’ve been and where I want to go, about all the amazing people and opportunities that have come into my life that have aided in my personal growth. I am going to keep taking risks. I am going to keep adventuring. I am going to keep doing hard things. I am going to carry on with all of the lessons I have learned so far in this life, but also try to remember that I really know nothing. And I am also going to listen to myself when my mind and body tell me that I need help.