There aren't many things I regularly do on a trip. I don't always buy keychains or t-shirts to mark a new country or experience, and I'm hardly a superstitious person, with an arsenal of therapeutic exercises at the ready before each plane, train or automobile ride. I don't send postcards from every city, nor do I celebrate the end of a trip with a fancy dinner out. I don't do any of these things because I have a horrible memory and because one of the things I love about traveling is the weakened sense of obligation to do things that don't come natural.
However, there's one thing that happens at the culmination of every trip, and it happens as naturally as my leg hairs sprout.
I take a final shower, perfectly timed for cleanliness in transit, in sync with the rest of the last day's logistics, and completely akin to some sort of spiritual cleansing or washing of the slate clean. Each final shower marks a moment in my life no one else witnesses, but it holds some of the most intense feelings of the entire trip, all felt in a couple of steam-infused minutes.
The shower was near scalding a heat that leaves your skin itching for more harsh comfort but it was the hottest I’ve had in weeks and it stayed that way I steamed out the biters encircling my naked frame my arms radiated like dry ice It’s the signal of a shift, a baptism and wash and it’s a time I allow tears to fall It’s the right time, as right as any
It could also be a sleepless wee hour a loaded walk towards the sunrise sometimes a dusty, corrugated road away from waves These moments don’t have to be cliche but they sure like to be Emerging from the bathroom a new woman leaving piles of bubbles and clothes for the next passer-by a pair of crying eyes waiting at a train car window fearing the chugs that will tear the space wide.
I wrote the previous passage after my overlanding trip left me on my own in Livingstone, Zambia. Though my shower in Fiji wasn't nearly as hot - the weather and my damaged skin didn't summon the steam - the final cleanse had the same effect, a powerful one that gave me a chance to wash what worried me from my sun-crisped face.
After spending five incredibly lovely days on Waya Lailai island in the Yasawas, I boarded the catamaran back to the main island, to then board a bus to whatever hostel that would have me. Luckily, I chose the one hostel out of the four or five options that served the most amazing Fijian food I consumed the entire trip: local meaty fish in coconut milk, served with citrus-infused Fijian greens and mashed potatoes. I ate every bite slowly and deliberately and washed each one down with the Fijian equivalent of a Mike's Hard Lemonade, all while watching a vivid and tangled Hindi movie.
I only stayed one night, but since my flight eastward was the following evening at 11pm, I spent the whole day watching rugby from my pool floatie, repacking my bag under the cover of Mama's roof, and sucking down Fiji Bitters until I remembered how lovely airplane lavatories were. Amidst all the hedonism of my day, I most looked forward to the moment when I would put this trip in my wake - when I could finally put space between my heart and this bump in the Pacific and see what really occurred.
A lukewarm, 10-minute shower did it. It let me be human again. It let me disregard my pride and sense of entitlement. This shower enabled me to see my experience plainly and honestly...and feel my timeline crest the hump of Fiji to see the sun set in mourning. For some reason, these final showers supply me with the oxygen I deprive myself of for months. I accept my weaknesses, finally, and become a plain Jane homo sapien, ready for the next self-flagellating experience that shapes me into a solid being.
I lathered my hair into an up-do, whipped the suds from my eyes, and washed the rest of my body with shampoo. I shaved my legs for optimal comfort in flight and scrubbed my face clean of any sea salt or sand cling-ons. I opened one bottle gently and closed another. Going through the familiar motions evoked a sense of ease, though my soul was writhing, my eyes swollen. My feet rotated, facing the nobs, the door, the wall, until I stood under the mild downpour of real Fiji water. My up-do melted to my shoulders, and all the whimsy snaked down my legs to the rusty drain.
I don't know when my next shower will be and whether I will feel relief or pain thinking that my last shower was amongst the scenery of my travel life. Pent up emotions release to enable the "eh, whuduhyagunnado" attitude that makes those at home more comfortable when inquiring about the rough experience overseas. I don't want to cry in my friends lap about the atrocities I witnessed, the frustrations I harbored, the beauty that moved me; I think my friends would stop answer my calls abruptly. Missing a last shower would be like missing my sanity pill. I need it to continue on - for closure.
Loaded into a taxi, boarded a plane, slept with my feet chilling on the glass at 40,000 feet; it all really was in my wake, my stream of exhaust from the tail end of the 747. I left on Valentine's Day and arrived on Valentine's Day, with enough time in both days to really soak in the merriment of passers-by. And when the final stretch brought me in hugging proximity of my family, the end had truly come.
Sitting atop the tip of my memory was the most dramatic string of occurrences I never thought I'd undergo in many, many lifetimes. But I could no longer feel any of it viscerally. The dream-like bubble popped. I had washed the whimsy away.
There's so much left to share about my experiences on The Nakavika Project. Stay tuned for a string of flashbacks that reveal the meat and potatoes of our trip into the Fijian interior.