By Jude Major
For several weeks this winter, I was out to sea on a ship. I was also out to see, whatever I can see, inwardly and outwardly. After years bound by PTSD, limited and haunted by disability, I wanted more from this life (see the Cooperator, “Hungry for Life,” Jan 2018).
It’s a curious thing, that the worry and anxiety of life at home is more than the uncertainty of travel. I waited for trains, made my way through downtown New York and Brooklyn, and had fun chats with cab drivers. By a late afternoon in mid-January I was aboard the ship, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Suffused with a rare happiness, I roamed the decks, watched the NYC skyline darken into evening as we eased out into the Atlantic.
What is it about a self, that can feel so tremulous, so uncertain, and dislocated at home? Somehow in an unknown situation with two thousand strangers traversing a part of the world where I have never been, I feel more my/self than usual. There is something about being afloat on the ocean; water in all directions edging the horizon. Is it because we humans are mostly made of water that I feel peacefully connected here?
The pace on board is easy and slow. I have no deadlines, no one will phone, no bills will arrive in the mail. I walk the lower deck in the evening, singing out loud, I go up to Deck 9 and dance under the stars to a hot Caribbean band. A wide stream of foam and waves follows the stern of the ship as we dance.
It takes two days to sail from NYC to south Florida, another few days to get to Jamaica. I go ashore in Ocho Rios and walk around. I have no fear, no unease of myself or anyone else. I ride a small rickety bus for two hours, high up into the mountains. I visit Bob Marley’s birthplace, (marijuana smoke everywhere like perfume). But really I love the landscape, the clear, slightly floral air, the tiny villages of cabins and shacks clinging to hillsides and roadsides.
At the sail-away party that evening, I dance again until I can dance no more. I dance by myself, or with whoever crosses my energetic path. I feel wholly alive.
Daytimes, I go to the Solo Traveller meet-ups. I find more dance partners, a workout partner for the gym, I join the Singers at Sea choral group.
As we sail further south the air warms, the sea is gentle, and I am at peace. After a port of call in Aruba, it takes a day to transit the Panama Canal. It is hot and humid and wonderfully quiet. The quiet was a surprise. Ships go through this hundred year old structure, almost as slowly as walking. Hundreds of us spend hours on deck watching the locks slowly empty and fill, gates quietly opening to allow passage. There are lectures in the onboard theatre by eminent engineers about the building of this canal.
Now we have entered the Pacific Ocean, and make our stately way to Guatemala. Another bus ride deep into the country, past sugar cane fields being burned and harvested, past volcanoes, one of which decides to belch out great wafts of smoke. I spend the day walking the old cobbled streets of La Antigua, a World Heritage site, touring the jade factory, buying chocolate, and embroidery.
Back on board by evening, I spend another night dancing on Deck 9 under the stars in a warm black night. Sea and horizon appear as one, until a sharp white moon traces a path of light across the water.
Other days, I draw, I write, I take dance lessons in the ballroom and learn the Quickstep and the Foxtrot. I make a stab at the Tango, and Sequence Dancing. I admire the couples who have danced together for decades – mature couples whose bodies know each other. Sometimes it makes me sad, for all that I have missed dealing with pain and loss. I take a break from ballroom dance and spend more time out on deck. I’ve become a sponge for sun.
As we approach San Francisco I brace myself for city life, noise and change, as this is where I will disembark. The Queen Elizabethwill carry on around the world. I will wait for the train north, back to Canada.