On perhaps my most dreaded day of the entire trip, my sister and I awoke not to the rise of the sun, but to the sound of an alarm. At 5:15, we slipped out of bed and put on our bathing suits—we were going surfing and I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.
Two days earlier, when Alison initially announced that Monday was surf day, I cautiously asked if there were any alternative activities available.
“What about standup paddle boarding?” I asked nervously. “Is that an option?”
Being a less than superb swimmer and an active worrier, I had no interest in surfing. For days I had pictured myself falling and drowning and getting swept out to sea, as if Alison was going to drop us in the middle of 50-foot waves with a foam board and a slap on the butt. I am also extremely prone to seasickness. So as I pictured myself falling again and again, I also envisioned the motion of the waves rocking me all the way to the bathroom for the remainder of the night.
“You’re going to do great,” Alison said, looking at me in the rearview mirror, “I promise you’ll be totally fine.” But alas, there I was, dressed and (not so) ready to go, hands shaking in my lap as we made our way down to our intended surf spot.
Emily, a new friend from Canada, sat quietly beside me. The night before, as we were given a quick briefing on what to expect for surf day, she’d leaned in and asked me what my thoughts were. Turns out, she too was terrified. A long breath escaped my lungs in relief. I had been dreading surf day for weeks, and the fear of its arrival had only been matched by my admission to want to skip it. However, in the spirit of “jumping”, I had been honest with how I was feeling, which not only gave me the slightest bit more courage, but also gave those around me—like Emily—the slightest bit of comfort.
As we pulled up to the surf spot, our would be instructor, Bear, hopped out of his car with a frown. The water was flat as a pancake. I tried my best to hide my relief from everyone except Emily, who gave me the slightest smile when no one was looking.
“Alright,” Alison said, bummed, “new plan!”
We hopped back in the car and jetted over to a bay, our car now stocked with snorkels and fins. I walked out along the rocks to the water line with a boogie board and leftover anxiety, still the slightest bit scared for what we were about to do.
“Ready?” I said to Emily, and she nodded.
We swam out towards a building crowd. Swimmers and kayaks alike were gathering in the center of the bay, screaming and laughing with excitement. I held the boogie board out in front of me, steadily kicking my fins behind me.
“There they are!” someone shouted in front of me. My pace quickened.
“Look down now!”
I pushed my snorkel beneath the water and my ears popped. Suddenly I heard a high-pitched noise coming closer and closer. I turned my head and three dolphins were swimming right towards me. They moved smoothly, effortlessly and I was hypnotized. Once they were out of sight, I popped up out of the water with a bright smile.
“That was amazing!” I said
I rested on my boogie board, completely in awe. Wow, I thought. There were just three dolphins swimming right below me!! What a day.
Fast forward an hour later, I’d seen over 100.
Excuse me while I let that sink in again. Yes, I did in fact swim with one hundred dolphins. Me. The person who doesn’t swim. What is life?
From the bay of (100!) dolphins we made a quick stop for some local organic ice cream, then spent the remainder of our afternoon snacking, laughing, and working as hard as this monk seal we found lounging on the beach.
As far as I’m concerned any day that starts with carbs is going to be a good day. So as I sat around the breakfast table with people I’d grown to really care about, eating a scone at sunrise, I was loving my life.
By this point we were all very comfortable with each other and were not afraid to make a bit of a touristy scene when it came to properly documenting a good view. To give you an idea, allow me to introduce our group by way of shameless photograph.
First, there’s our leader, filmmaker, environmentalist, and all around superhero, Alison.
photo credit: @eemburton
And her parents: calm, gentle, and encouraging Deb
photo credit: @eemburton
And witty, kind and creative David
Then there’s YouTuber, adrenaline junkie, and dreadlock extraordinaire, Jack.
photo credit: @eemburton
Genuine, funny and caring Wayan
photo credit: @eemburton
Canadian photographer, peacemaker, and lover and appreciator of all things, Emily
photo credit: @alisonsadventures
There’s good-natured go-getter, undeniably adorable Sandy
And kind-hearted, courageous and soulful George
Then, some faces you might already know:
My punny, caring and dad of all dads, Brian
My wild and free ray of sunshine sister, Natalee
And this chick with the orange shorts that kept following them around (a.k.a me!)
We were an undeniable family, so much so that—as you may have noticed—we often posed the exact same way, and people constantly asked if we wanted our picture taken together (which we almost always obliged) (in the exact same pose).
On this day, we took in the sights of yet another breathtaking beach, unique in topography but not in grandeur to those we’d seen before, and we also got a little lesson in survival.
For those of you who don’t know, Alison had a very unique upbringing, the likes of which gave her the slightest advantage (if one can exist) on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid a few years back. So as we took a seat under a shady tree a little ways up the shoreline from the water, she stood up with her signature enthusiasm.
“So we’ve just been dropped here,” she said, pulling us into an imaginary scenario, “and we need to use what we can find around us to survive the night. Do you know what the four most important tools for survival are, and in what order?”
*pauses in case you’re the kind of person that wants to make they’re own guess.*
Alison then walked us through the Jurassic Park-esque landscape, pointing out different materials we could use for shelter, what to look for in terms of food, some key facts about tropical plants and some basic survival tips we could take with us to any terrain.
Afterwards we walked back over to our camp—which included a minor trek across a river—and set up for a relaxing afternoon on the beach.
Again we split off into the napping and non-napping, the swimming, the tanning, the exploring, or in my case, the writing. I took a seat up against a tree, pulled out my notebook and let my mind spill out onto the page.
One thought that kept coming up was about a conversation we had in the car a few days prior. I was sat in the middle of the backseat between Natalee and Emily, with Alison and Jack riding in the front. Emily had asked Alison how she defines her—some could argue unorthodox—profession.
Alison kind of laughed, and bobbled her head around, her face revealing she’d not only been asked this question many times before, but has also spent a good amount of time pondering the answer herself. She said she usually sums it up to “filmmaker” as films are the center of what she does.
I remember sitting there quietly, wishing I could sum it up better, if only to be more apt to brag about her to my friends and family back home. But it wasn’t until I found myself under that tree that I felt as though I’d finally found the right word.
I played with it, threw it around my brain. I understood it wasn’t correct if taken in the logical sense. However, in the same thought that not all artists draw and not all athletes play baseball, I felt as though architect too could lend itself to interpretation.
The way I see it, she builds moments. Be it with her films, her adventures or her one on one conversations with you. She designs them, lays them out, and invites everyone to be a contractor in the steps that follow. On this adventure alone, she’d given us the tools to build ourselves up to be something bigger than we could have imagined. She’d reminded us that each of our lives is our own adventure and it is not only our job to live it, but also our great opportunity.
So as I sat there underneath that tree, watching the breeze sweep across the beach and the waves crash along the shore, I felt something I never would have expected in the chaotic weeks leading up to the trip: peace. For even though I was constantly being challenged to test my limits, I was starting to realize, that should I invite the possibility, I no longer had to have any.