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  • Dumbo, his feather and an obscure book about Mexico

    Posted on January 1st, 2011 Sheila Yair 2 comments

    elephantTwelve years ago I was standing on the edge of a great adventure. I was about to take my first real journey, my first expedition alone. I was about to become blissfully infected with the travel bug and on the brink of falling in love with Latin America. But let’s put things in their chronological order. It was Christmas and I had announced to everybody that this coming February I am taking off to Mexico for a 4 month trip. My grandmother showing her typical support of anything her grandchildren do, bought me a little book. It was an obscure little book by the title of “40 Off the Beaten Track Hikes in Southern Mexico”, or something like that. It was one of those books you could only get in the era before Barnes and Noble or Borders. It was thin with strange illustrations and not the best binding. It was a book you would find up in the attic in a box you never noticed before. A box which suddenly had a ray of sun light creep through the window and shine on it. A book you would find in a book fair in a remote little town with a weird and mysterious sales person who no one saw before. It was a book you might see in a movie about an adventure. It was the kind of book you might read about in a blog… OK, I am getting carried away, you get the picture. Anyway, like all those magical books above, I skimmed through it and put it aside. I had a lot of day dreaming to do about my up and coming trip and it was Christmas with the family and one should be somewhat sociable around his relatives during the holidays.
    Now we always say never judge a book by its cover, this of course is a metaphor but we can and should use it in a literal way on actual books. Sometimes we should not even judge a book by its content as you will see here.

    So back to the edge of the great adventure, February came along and off I went to Mexico with a backpack, a few words in Spanish I was trying hard to memorize, one run of the mill guide book and the obscure book my grandmother gave me.

    Mexico was astonishing, the colors, the sounds, the tastes. Being alone in a new and fascinating place was a true shock. I was overwhelmed by this new experience. Mexico, or perhaps it was sheer excitement, had swept me off my feet and placed me in a dazzle, in a stupor of bewilderment. It was only on the second week that I took out the little book and started reading it. But it was a totally different book now. The book that was given to me in a snowy white wintery city was now being read on a pristine white tropical beach with a turquoise sea and palms all around. The cover, on which we should not judge any book, was failing in holding the pages within, as the content was jumping out of the book. Suddenly it was not print anymore. All the places mentioned came to life. They were places that exist and not just strange sounding names. Places that have people in them, places with colonial buildings and bustling plazas. Places with beautiful mountains around them. Places with wild fields and magical rivers. There were sounds and movement instead of ink and paper. The hikes described became real and breathing, they were true adventures to long lost treasures. They metamorphosed from a series of descriptions of left and right turns to necklaces of colorful beads and gems swirling through the land.

    But this transformation was not the main quality of my book. The book became a feather to my trip. It set the trip to the sky. You see it was a very simple book with a few hikes in it, 40 to be exact, just as the title promised. How can such a simple book take a journey and hoist it? Well Dumbo’s feather was a simple device that no aviation engineer would look over twice. But it managed to get an elephant airborne.

    This book was the pretext for me getting off a bus in a junction in the middle of nowhere. This book was the excuse to take a dusty road up the hills. This book was the reason I needed, to walk on a long deserted beach. Just like Dumbo’s feather, this book gave me courage to fly. I would get up from my seat on the bus and make my way to the door, the few tourists would look at me strangely, the locals would seem amazed, even the bus driver would look bewildered wondering why a gringo would get off here in the middle of nowhere. What can he possibly look for in this dusty junction? But I had my book and it promised me some waterfall or lake or church. It gave me reason. I was not crazy, I had a feather. Dumbo too had many people look at him strangely, he had many reasons not to leave the safety provided by the ground. His species are the largest land mammals on earth, which promised him a very immense crash when he landed. But he had his feather and he flapped his ears. And there I was in the middle of Mexico flying, soaring through the air, defying the gravity of all the known touristy places, up above the conventional stops with the regular shops and the known tourist traps. I was flying free of destination, touching the very depth of Mexico, absorbed by the country, discovering its land and people. The horizon was a wing flap away and I was immersed in it.

    Sometimes I found the abandoned church, or the trail passing through small hilly villages, that the book promised. But most of the times I did not find what I was looking for. It might have been me who didn’t read the instructions, it might have been the author who wasn’t clear, or maybe just trails that changed new dirt roads that came to be or tides that whipped clear a landmark. But with every new chapter and every hike I always found something. Instead of a waterfall I found Pedro, a local farmer who was cutting wood in the forest. He did not know of any waterfall or river near by, but he took me to an amazing overlook and then invited me home to meet his family and have one of the best Mexican meals I had the whole trip. Instead of an abandoned mine I found Olivia, a very interesting hostel owner who told me countless stories of the history of the jungle and its people. Instead of a cave I found a mountain top. Instead of a delta I found the perfect desolate beach. Instead of a toucan nest I found an emerald lake.

    You see it really didn’t matter if I found the trail or the village or the waterfall, I was flying and finding things with every step. It wasn’t the book’s cover nor even it’s content, it was its presence that kept me drifting. There was no specific destination, there was just the courage to journey. We can argue forever about which is more important, the feather or the flapping ears, the physics or the philosophy of them both. But that would be missing the point. It is the flying we should concentrate on. An elephant with a feather or one without are very similar but the difference between an elephant on the ground and one that flies is vast. Would any one of us play a lottery that had no prize? Would we go and buy a ticket and carefully fill in the numbers to a draw that promised the grand total of $0? Of course not, just writing this as an example seems weird and illogical. But would we play a lottery with a fraction of a millionth of a percent chance of a grand prize? Millions do. The mathematical difference between zero and a fraction of one millionth of a percent is insignificant. But the difference between hope and no hope, between $50 million and $0, sends millions of people with a dollar and a dream off playing week after week month after month. The feather, the book, the mathematical probability, they don’t have to be of significance, of great physical force or presence. They just have to make us believe, to give us the excuse to leave the ground. By nature we all have flapping ears. I don’t mean we all look like Prince Charles. We all have the longing to fly but we also have the creative ability to do so. We just don’t always have the feather or faith to attempt it. We can all fly, whether it is on a trip, in our career, in our community, with an invention, or any creative endeavor we take on. We just have to recognize the feathers.

    A few years ago my girlfriend and I were riding comfortably on the bus of life. We had good seats up front, cushioned by good jobs, an apartment, friends and all other conveniences that modern life offers. But the trip had become stale and a bit predictable. So we got up to leave the bus. Everybody around us was shocked. They all said it is a great idea to go traveling and how they wish they could do it too, but in between the lines you saw their bafflement. The thoughts of us being crazy were swirling around every false salutation, choking every fake smile, strangling every fake word of encouragement. Like the busses in Mexico, the bus of life looked at us peculiarly as we got off. But there we were traveling through Europe, the Middle East and India. Roaming through organic farming, goat husbandry and bread baking. Climbing mountains and crossing valleys. Flying through the fascinating things life and this planet have to offer. I won’t go in to much detail as I have written extensively of our adventures in this blog. I will just say that what we have done and seen are priceless.

    These days we got back on the bus of life. The funny thing is, that the bus of life never really changes that much. Sure we don’t have our prime seats, our cushions are not quite as comfortable, but it is defiantly bearable. Aside from that, not much else has changed. Our friends, our family, work all is there in the same place. Almost as if we never left. You see you never really miss life, it is always catchable and always at reach if we find the courage. I guess I am saying there are much more excuses than feathers but it shouldn’t stop us. Any moment that is not spent flying in one way or another is a moment wasted. And wasting any finite resource is a shame.

    Dedicated to my brother Yigal, who has been flying for several years now in quest of knowledge. Sometime through rough weather, sometimes alone, but always forward.


    2 responses to “Dumbo, his feather and an obscure book about Mexico” RSS icon

    • Wow, that’s really cool. Do you still have the book?

    • I wish I did. I can’t even find the title on the internet. The book was left in Mexico with a couple I met. I hope it is still down there moving from hand to hand dragging people out of conformity.

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