At some point, we all make a heavy course correction in our lives. If you’re lucky, you can pin point the exact frames where the gears began to shift. An about-face in your story that unknowingly in the moment, would cast an enduring ripple into your future self. Before we begin jumping timelines within this whole adventure thing, I feel that it might be best to share some brief context.
Summer of 2015
POV: You're on a secluded beach in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. There are perhaps a total of five other people on the beach that day. Your wife is quietly enjoying her book while sun bathing on a towel, and you decide to go for a swim. The waves are a bit choppy and larger than you're used to, but you have the entire bank to yourself. Slowly, the waves urge you farther and farther away from shore. Without warning, you plunge into the deep water as if an all-powerful sea creature had grabbed you by the feet. Your body is pulled into a violent whirlpool.
You resurface. Looking back to shore, you realize that you've gone quite a distance from where you were just a few moments ago. You've taken an awful lot of of salt water into your lungs as well. A massive wave greets you, reminding you just how badly you've fucked up this time. Waving like a lunatic, you try and catch your wife's attention. No matter how loud you scream, you realize you're too far out for anyone on the beach to hear you now. You pause. Watching her reclined on the beach, you realize this may be the last time you get to see her. Suddenly she looks up! Waving both arms, you try and send the signal that this may be serious. Sadly, it appears that she thinks you're just showing off.
Your chest tightens and you begin to have difficulty breathing. This is certainly the onset of a panic attack. You begin swimming against the current, crashing into the waves, like some kind of shitty salmon. Having grown up in landlocked Kentucky, you have absolutely no idea that you're doing everything wrong in this scenario. Each time you gain headway, you're properly ushered back to sea by the dissenting waves. Muscle exhaustion sets in, and both arms feel more like noodles than anything that could help you out of this mess. Flipping onto your back you switch to paddling with your legs, while gazing upward. The sky is wide open, decorated by a few sparse clouds. Each minute that passes feels as though it’s been stretched thinly into an hour. As you continue paddling backwards toward the shore, it begins to feel more like a meditation for an out of body experience. Suddenly your shoulders brush up against warm, wet sand. A woman you don't know is standing over you and she happens to be a doctor. You hear her on her cell, urging the paramedics to get there right away.
I obviously didn't die that day. I was rushed to a nearby hospital. My lips were blue and my fingernails, blackened. At the hospital, I was told that another man that day had also been swept under by a strong rip current, but he wasn't so lucky. We left Charleston later that evening, and it wasn't until we reached Kentucky that I noticed I was having more and more trouble breathing. When we got back into Lexington, we went straight to the emergency room. It turned out that I had A.R.D.S. (acute respiratory distress syndrome), and they immediately put me on a breathing treatment.
It's taken me a while to process that day. My life didn't flash before my eyes as it apparently does for some. But it has forced me to reevaluate my life. This trip to Charleston was our wedding anniversary. I had been married for eight years. We were living a comfortable life. Bought a nice house in a quiet neighborhood that we made into a home. But as the years passed, it became increasingly clear that our life goals were no longer aligned. In the year that followed the near-drowning incident, I realized how lucky I was. Living a comfortable life wasn't the same as leading a happy and fulfilling life. Marrying as young as we did, we had no idea how our world views might change over time. So I did what I thought was best for both of us and filed for divorce.
Summer of 2016
The divorce was finalized, and we were in the process of selling our house. I met up with one of my close friends, Joe, at a local bar for a few drinks. He knew I was going through it, and told me how he and his then fiancée had moved to Thailand for a year. He had been teaching English at a school just outside of Bangkok and suggested that I look into getting a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. That maybe it would be good to get out of the country for a bit and clear my head.
I started doing some research. There was a TEFL program in Cusco, Peru that looked promising. I never thought I would ever see Machu Picchu with my own eyes, let alone travel to Peru. After finally getting our house off the market, I said fuck it, and signed up for the TEFL course.
Being that it was the first time I'd ever traveled outside the U.S. as an adult (and solo), Peru was one of the most vibrant of locations that I could have possibly chosen for a first jump. The city of Cusco sits about 3,400 meters above Lima (the capital). As I walked through the mountain town, even the air felt different. It could have been the altitude, but it's difficult to put into words. It honestly felt like waking up for the first time to a new kind of freedom that I hadn't tasted yet. Suddenly I was transported to a place where both ancient ruins and 16th century cathedrals were within arms reach. On the same day, I encountered both street protests and massive celebrations alike. Llamas and alpacas, adorned in colorful attire were courted by their owners through the streets. I settled into my new apartment and began the TEFL course.
The group of folks that I met during that time became a solid circle of friends, most of whom I've stayed in touch with to this day. A big part of the course was sharing about ourselves, and I wasn't shy about being into hallucinogens. One day Kat, one of the girls in the group, told me after class that she was also into psychedelics.
Kat had been to Cusco many times and told me about a compound run by a South African woman and her twin sons in San Blas ( a more rural area tucked up above downtown Cusco). She told me that they work with the local Pacos (Peruvian shamans) at the compound and hold various ceremonies using sacred plants. Kat invited me to a San Pedro ceremony on the grounds. Little did I know, this sacred cactus would be the catalyst that literally sent me across the globe.