Essays, Reflections, Travel
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Letters on Tues(Thurs)days – A Travel Plan Without Plan

As the rain encroaches…

Dear Wilton,

As you know I went to Panama last week for four days for a short Thanksgiving vacation. It was a surreal experience and here I am to discuss the trip and my planning (or rather the lack of) as a metaphor.

No matter how much you plan, life always have something else in mind – not that I was big on plans to begin with. Fortune, good or bad, will always lead you somewhere, whether you want to be there or not.

The decision to go can be considered spontaneous, but I have known that I was going to Panama since September. Though, to keep in that spirit of the spontaneous, I neglected to plan anything. This type of spontaneity has been a big part of my travels since college: spontaneous road trips, flights, visits. What made it different this time is that I did not even look at any points of interest until the day before. Even then, all I found where places to go but not how to get there. In some ways, this allow for incredible flexibility and adaptability.

I didn’t worry too much because it is not hard to find out how to get places once you are there.

Turns out, getting around Panama City wasn’t difficult despite my lack of Spanish. As an aside, do learn a third language other than English and Mandarin, it does wonders when you travel.

Fortune was kind to me on this trip. We were waiting for the bus on our first day and I got fed up and decided to find lunch. Yet, we were told that the restaurant didn’t open until noon and just as I turned away with even more disappointment, the bus showed up. If it didn’t show up, I would have missed visiting the Biodiversity Museum on the first day. All the subsequent days would be very different. Instead of being able to go hike in the jungle of the Metropolitan National Park and see sloths and monkeys, I would have been trying to visit the Museum on the second day. These changes probably would have prevent us from going to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort.

Another example of this was on the last day. I arranged for a taxi to take us to Panama Viejo, the old Spanish settlement in Panama, and then to the airport. The taxi was supposed to wait for an hour at the monument, yet when we got there, the driver insisted on our leaving within half an hour. There was no doubt that I was frustrated, especially considering how expensive the taxi was going to be. However, just as we were leaving, rain started pouring down from the sky. It literally would not have matter even if I succeeded in bargaining for my extra half hour.

If I had planned an exact schedule with precise modes of transportation and detailed sequences of points of interest, none of this would have been possible. It rained three out of the four days we were there. The weather alone would have throw off any sort of plans.

Plans can be reassuring. People make plans then back them up with more plans. It can be important to structure life. It brings about comfort and a sense of safety. Yet, what we need to realize is that no matter how many plans you make and back-ups you have, fortune will throw a wrench into it. In many ways, I find it more satisfying to do as our ancestors did – take what may come.

What we need to do is always be flexible and keep an open mind. Undoubtedly, I got frustrated with the bus and the taxi, but ultimately I could have been more cheerful about it as they did turn out for the better.

If anything at all, I am re-learning lessons about letting go. The less you weigh you give to things out of your control, the more enjoyable life becomes. Good fortune becomes pleasant surprises that light up your days.

With Love,

Your Brother

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