My dad had just bought a new Mazda 626 sedan with – amazing at the time – a digital dashboard display. To eight year old me, this thing was the DeLorean and the Millennium Falcon all rolled into one.
My mum softened things a little bit by playing cassette tapes of Spandau Ballet, Bronski Beat, The Traveling Wilburys and U2 as we drove the car on its maiden voyage down to Esperance, a picture perfect seaside town on the southern edge of Western Australia.
The highlight of this family road trip was a visit to the Gloucester Tree, an enormous Karri that towers over 70 metres above the forest floor of the Gloucester National Park.
For years the local settlers used it as a bush fire look out and visitors today can climb to a platform in the upper branches using a pegged metal ladder.
I will never forget the terror I felt facing that climb. My Dad said I didn’t have to go, but I was determined and set about making it to the top. I got half way and turned back, scared out of my mind.
Fast forward 24 years…
I’m standing at the base of another enormous tree, this time a giant Kapok piercing the jungle canopy of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park like a skyscraper – and I have no excuses.
Especially as I’m with my wife Carmen who has climbed to the top of the Gloucester Tree – also at the age of eight – but with a burning fever.
And she made it to the top. Unlike my wimpy self.
The tree was the grand finale of our four day and three night visit to the Sani Lodge deep in the Amazon. To get there we all hopped into a canoe and I helped paddle the craft along the mirror-like river and through a dark, eerie mangrove swamp. Then we trod along a snaking jungle path and soon found ourselves staring up at tree that looked like a rocket.
Right next to it was a staircase.
You can watch our video of the climb right here:
Step by step I went, fighting my fears, willing myself not to turn back. I looked down, once, and decided never to do it again. So I just kept going, ignoring the wobbling stairs and the butterflies in my stomach until I met Carmen at the summit and smiled with relief!
I made it.
When I was high in the canopy of the Kapok tree, looking down on the vast jungle stretching from horizon to horizon I had one of those travel moments. You know the ones, where you pinch yourself and feel the moment. I had overcome my great fear – heights – and had captured an amazing experience.
Looking back on it now, feet planted firmly on the ground, I reckon travel is a great thing for helping overcome your fears.
When we’re children we look at the world with wonder until one by one fears come and put the blinkers on. They can be put on us by other people or developed from bad experiences we have. Some of them are common sense, but for the most part most fears are irrational or come from stubborn caution.
I’d love to show eight year old me, shaking with terror at the base of that tree, that I had climbed one just as high. That it can be done.
When Carmen and I first set off on our trip I feared our money would run out and we would have to go home, tail between our legs. We didn’t. Now we earn as we go.
I feared we would be lonely, never find any friends because we would be moving around too much to have deeper connections with anyone. Well, I was very wrong there. We have met countless amazing people and forged deep friendships that I look forward to enjoying for the rest of my life.
I feared we would lose touch with my family and friends back home. That we would become a gallivanting will-o’-the-wisp to them, cut off from the real world, be thought of as lost souls. We’re not. We skype and email all of them regularly and they can all see that we’re doing well and doing what we want to do.
I feared we would be robbed, mugged, cheated or much worse. Well, aside from some car trouble in Canada it’s been smooth sailing, touch wood! Ninety-nine percent of people are awesome and will go out of their way to help and welcome us. We are careful and cautious nonetheless, but like Franklin Delano Roosevelt said the only thing we need to fear is fear itself.
Above all, I feared we would be judged. I quit a good job, one that was a dream goal for me. So did Carmen. She and I have delayed a lot of things, house, car, babies, stability. I feared we would be thought of as that lost couple, living in a bubble while everyone else got on with their lives.
But through travelling and experiencing the world I have come to realise that’s just a load of hogwash. I love seeing what my friends and family are doing and they love what we’re doing.
Anyone who disagrees, well there’s a tall tree in Western Australia’s south west…
So if you’re thinking of travelling but have some fears swimming in your brain and eating your heart out, just put one foot in front of the other and go for it.
The view from the top is spectacular.
Has travelling helped you to overcome a fear?
Thanks to Sani Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon for hosting our stay.