Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me...

When I'm Sixty-Four? And that happens to be today. I've been thinking about how an amazing life it's been so far (and hoping it'll continue to be so until one day, luck be my lady today, I just drop dead). And in the process of playing this film backwards in my mind, I've come up with quite a few scary, breathtaking, and downright funny memories. For example:

1 - My first earthquake in Central America in the seventies. I remember waking up thinking that I must have the flu and realizing that the tumbling toys and cracking walls meant that something totally unusual (for me) was taking place outside my body. Next thing I know, we were scrambling to get my daughter out of her crib and looking for a safe spot (the banana plantation across the way looked pretty good at that point). That same year, a couple of visiting friends and I drove down into the Irazu volcano crater (no sign in sight to tell us to stop) only to find out that volcanic ash is worse than sand when it comes to getting your car stuck. If it weren't for a pair of very strong German tourists, I'd probably still be there arguing with an angry policeman.

2 - Cut to Iguazu Falls at the border of Brazil and Argentina a few years later. It was mid-November and the weather was very hot and muggy. The clouds were dark and low and it definitely looked like it would pour very soon. We were taking a walk in the woods behind the hotel and got to a spot where the river was quite wide and not moving very fast (at least it SEEMED so). There was a man sitting in a small canoe and he invited us to get in: "I'll take you somewhere to see the falls," he said. I remember asking where exactly and the answer was "Devil's Throat." That didn't sound like a place I'd like to be, but he came back with something like "this is the last trip I'm making, because of the storm coming." So we had to make a split second decision to hop in. I still don't know what possessed us to do it, but a few minutes later we were in the middle of the river and I could see a little bit of mist ahead. We found out then that he was only taking us half way; from that point on another rower took over who knew the currents ahead. If you've seen the movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" you'll remember the sweeping, spectacular shots of the falls. If you looked carefully (and you can bet I did!), you saw an outcrop of rock, roughly a yard and a half from end to end, surrounded by zillions of gallon of rushing, falling water. Well, that's where we got off the second canoe and that's where this woman who suffers from vertigo and used to be really, really afraid of water, did the victory sign. I still have the photograph to prove it! This brings us to the last little story and the reason why I wrote "used to be."

3 - Cut once again to the British Virgin Islands in the mid-nineties. What do you do when you reach fifty and would like to celebrate in style? I decided that I needed to go see the wreck of the Rhone and NOT from the surface! So I spent a few weeks with a lovely young female instructor at a pool in Ohio who taught me the front and back crawl strokes; for someone who was terrified to put her face in the water, that was no mean accomplishment already. Now came the hard part: actually breathing underwater, through a regulator. Another woman (a fabulous divemaster at Peter Island) and another pool later and I was actually feeling pretty confident that I could manage that too. If you're thinking that I got this far to tell you that I failed miserably...well, you're wrong! As a matter of fact, I didn't want to come back up and haven't stopped talking since about how exhilarating (but peaceful) it felt to be down there with the fishes. I bought a book about the Rhone and the DVD of "The Deep" with Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset and everytime I feel like revisiting that afternoon I pull them out of my shelf.

And there were countless flights across the U.S. in a Mooney 201 and crisscrossing Ohio on a Harley-Davidson and numerous hurricanes in Miami and starry nights in the Arizona desert and hikes and camping in the backlands of Brazil and walking in the Amazon with a (literal) spider monkey on my back. I'm really enjoying this ride!

That's my hand holding my precious book.


Blogger Dennis said...

Happy birthday, baby. I still need you (but as for feeding you, you're on your own!)


July 3, 2008 11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheila -

Thank you for your words of wisdom that you share with us.

As an American married to a Carioca, I've been back and forth to Rio since the early 1980s, and continue to be fascinated by this place - it gets ahold of you and just doesn't let go. I have enjoyed your musings, adventures, and insight over the past year. Later this month we are heading back to the US after spending a year in the Zona Sul of this madhouse of a city.

Obrigada pelas dicas e pelas observacoes.


July 4, 2008 6:42 AM  
Blogger Sheila Thomson said...

Dennis and Kristen...muito obrigada!!!

July 4, 2008 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Talivera said...

I can't read the part about your previous fear of water, without remembering my first (forced) swimming lesson in our local pool. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old and I screamed so hard they let me go and said I was a hopeless case. I took fate into my own hands much later, and now I love water. Still I would not have the guts to explore the open waters like you did. The ocean is so deep and mysterious, and I prefer for it to be a mystery to me. Good on you !!

July 8, 2008 3:09 PM  
Blogger Sheila Thomson said...

Give it a try. It's NOT that hard and if the water is as crystal clear as it is in the BVI and you can see the bottom...you sort of feel like you're in a pool anyway. I wouldn't dive the Cayman Wall, for instance...THAT's scary as hell. But I DID take a research submersible trip down the wall to 900 feet and, after the first "let me out of here" I got so entranced by the whole thing that I felt really sorry about having to come back to the surface.

Let me know if you ever DO try diving...

July 9, 2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger Spinning said...

w00t! Parabens a vocĂȘ, and my sincerest apologies for being *so* late in sending you these wishes.

Loved the stories; the diving one especially. (You can keep the Devil's Throat, though - I'll just watch the movie. ;))

July 9, 2008 7:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home