BRING WHAT YOU ARE WILLING TO PART WITH
Your traveling pack is your only truly inseparable companion on the road. Be morally and emotionally prepared, nevertheless, that it too can uncouple from you. Airports, for example, are notorious for losing bags, so carry essentials ‘on’ you. Theft, especially in crime-stricken areas and high-flow hostels, is not to be underestimated. When adventure calls, water and forest obstacles can also cause severe damage to your luggage, sometimes beyond repair. Sometimes, even the smallest dysfunctions in your luggage can be an extreme inconvenience, which will either force you to halt the adventure or abandon the baggage.
There was once a depressing moment, sitting on the ledge under a tree in some dreary little town in Patagonia, not wanting to go on carrying the anchor of a bag in my arms. Likely due to the extra stress from weight that the backpack sustained earlier in the trip, one of the straps tore off on the side of the highway en route to this town with the tree. The following morning the threads connecting the second strap to the body, near my neck and shoulders, started to come loose and were on the verge of popping. Fearing an imminent moment of the severing – straps from the bag and me from all my possessions, I took it off my shoulders. The thought of tossing the whole darn thing into the river crossed my mind, although, unfortunately, made me even more depressed. I was not crying, just sitting there with my head drooped low. All of a sudden, some grandma came out of nowhere, softly uttered ‘parate, chico!’, snatched the backpack with ease over her shoulder, and walked with it inside her nearby house. “Huh?” She ended up sewing the torn straps and offering me some cookies and tea. The bag and my mood, perhaps even the trip, were saved. I’ve always wondered if I could’ve ditched the bag that day to continue the trip, if push came to shove of course, and if the lucky lady hadn’t smiled at the right moment. I’ve been carrying a sewing kit ever since.
The laptop on which I’m typing right now has blatant markings of bad preparation on my behalf, in terms of a faulty bag. It has large pieces of casing chipped off and cracks running along sections of its perimeter. The misfortunate incident, which caused such damage, occurred on St. John in the US Virgin Islands. It was my second day of new life in the Caribbean paradise. I was eager to explore my new island-home, and just as inspired to write – or rather type – about my latest experiences. My sidekick for the upcoming two-day wanderings was a smallish Jansport single-strap backpack. Its diagonal strap reached from right shoulder to left hip and had a Velcro latch around the chest area, allowing a quick unfastening of the strap into two portions, effectively doffing it on a dime. All black, with only two pockets, and no more than fifteen gallons in volume, this backpack had already served me well for several years at that point. So long indeed, that the Velcro fastener was too corroded with lint and dirt I regretfully neglected to clean it over time.
I packed the bag with bare essentials and the laptop, and headed out on the road with comfortable shoes and the hitching thumb out to discover every nook and cranny of that tropical haven. First few hours were relatively uneventful, catching rides, meandering from beach to beach, acclimatizing to the monotonous perfection of blue waters and bluer skies. Mid-afternoon, I was standing under the scorching sun on a cliff-side road, anxiously awaiting any passing cars to take me towards Cruz Bay town. A few minutes into the wait, a white truck swerved from around the mountain bend and pulled over for me. It stopped about five yards down the road from me, with right-side wheels approximately four feet away from the down-sloped ledge of the cliff. I jogged towards the car, with my bag tightly fixed on the back. This F series Ford had somewhat high suspension and three surfer dudes with boards in the truck bed; they were motioning me to hop in.
I accelerated a tad, lifted my left foot onto the elevated tail hitch, reached a hand out to grab the tailgate, thrusted my body upwards, and heard an unhinging of the Velcro. As my momentum-driven foot swung over the tailgate of the truck, the bag unbuckled off my chest and fell a good six feet down hard onto the ground. In an instant, I was safely in the bed of the truck, while the backpack was precariously sliding down on the sand towards the edge of the cliff. Neither the driver nor the dudes noticed this tragedy, and the truck slowly started crawling forward. Palm-banging on its fiberglass side, I jumped out and was jetting after my invaluable bag.
Miraculously avoiding all the cacti in its dragging path, the backpack disappeared over the precipice’s edge before I could catch up to it. A second behind it, I dropped down into a push-ups position and cringingly watched it bounce from boulder to boulder as it made its way down the one-hundred feet cliff wall. It had at least three or four solid smacks on its fifteen feet journey down – all of which are presently accounted for on this laptop in the shape of deformities. In those few seconds of downfall, all prospects of ever recovering my text files felt lost. Then…the sack’s small arm handle snagged onto a horizontally growing cactus. Something inside told me not to hold my breath, that the flight’s momentum and the gravity would either simply cause it to slide through this obstacle or just snap the plant out of the wall, sending it into the sea below along with the computer. But it held on, the bag rebounded a bit upwards once and remained swinging on a scrawny – two-feet in length maximum – Caribbean Ferocactus. I had trouble breathing and stood up, uncertain for a moment if I should reinvest hope in rescuing the bag.
Four men from the truck were surrounding me at this point, jollily discussing freak chances and wisecracking about my luck, or lack thereof. ‘Hey, my computer’s in there,’ I gently admonished them and reminded myself that it still needs to be fetched up. Then we all started to laugh. The backpack wasn’t going anywhere, so we took our time to devise a plan for retrieving it. The four good-doers were quite excited to help, and they had all the equipment necessary. We tied a long enough rope to the truck and then one of the guys belayed me down the side of the cliff. I lost nothing that day, but gained a realization that an adventure requires a free spirit attitude to let go and laugh about losing your possessions, even if you end up saving them.
The 6th guest POst in the Vital (cliché) steps to adventurous travels series from someone who has a lot to say about spontaneity, facing fears, and traveling with tips on how to embark on an adventure of your own.
The other POsts in this series can be found by following these links:
the tiny village/town behind Igor is Jelondi, Pamir, Tajikistan
Igor Postrekhin is a (seemingly fearless) world-traveler and professional adventurer. He is also my brother. Having a travel journal including more countries and cities than most will ever even contemplate visiting in their life-time, Igor has a unique perspective on wild experiences, facing fears, cultures & people, and most importantly living life without the constraints of society’s rulebook. A direct quote from his About Me section on his Couchsurfing profile (which has an overwhelming 142 positive reference list) says “Passion is the fuel that keeps me going. Extremes and adventures exhilarate me, obscure the norms.” He is currently living in Xinjiang, China.