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traveling couple

Witness to the Wonder

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Witness to the Wonder

Words to live by when traveling with your significant other.

By Beau Flemister

There’s something thrilling about watching someone you love watch a place. Watching them walk through a city, through a valley, down a trail—into the woods. There’s something shared there, something intimate, when a place moves the both of you through geographic black magic. 

There’s something about watching a place reveal itself to you and your companion. Watching a place disrobe. There’s chemical reaction. When you’re rounding a corner on the Amalfi Coast in a Fiat rental, and Positano—a town of pastels that practically drips off a cliff into the sea—flashes you from across the bend, and just takes your breath away. There’s something in the air when that happens. A quickening. A vibration. A love at first sight. And you realize, undeniably, that an experience is better when shared. That traveling is even more fantastic with a companion. When you can watch that other person’s eyes widen as much as yours at the sight of it. You have a witness to the wonder, someone to pinch you—it was real.

I spent the better part of my 20s obsessed with world travel. I’ve had a few co-pilots over the years, but the story kind of went like the beds in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. My pal in Nepal: much too firm. My pal in Brazil: a bit too soft. But my wife, traveling around the world: just right. She approaches each place with newborn eyes, like yesterday was erased. She says things like, “I’m 27 and a half” without a hint of irony. She literally dances through life (she’s an ex-ballet dancer) and pirouettes at crosswalks, in lines, in kitchens all over the world. She’ll come back to the room with coffee in the morning and exclaim, practically glowing, “Today is going to be magical because a butterfly flew in front of me.” And she believes it. She believes in the hope of each day and, moreover, the infinite potential of a new place. It’s why she’s the perfect travel companion. And perhaps that’s what marriage is: an unyielding belief in the potential of a life with somebody.  

May of last year, we embarked on a trip around the world. She quit the job she’d had for the last six years. I kept mine by promising to work remotely from the road—the only way we’ve been able to keep this gig going. We’re halfway through a malleable itinerary that started in Indonesia and has taken us through Burma and Thailand, up into Mongolia, over into Russia, along the Trans-Siberian railway across half of Asia, through Scandinavia, around the Mediterranean, back into Europe, and down to South Africa. As of December, Cuba’s on deck.

A friend of ours recently told us that if you can survive travelling around the world with your spouse for a few months, you can survive anything. He’s divorced. But honestly, it hasn’t been that hard. I owe that to a few things we’ve learned very quickly along the way. Sure, there have been speed bumps. There was a creepy Balinese guy that gave us a ride on his motorbike one night that certainly shook us up, but we probably shouldn’t have been hitchhiking at night, nor taken a ride from a drunk pervert. I take full blame for that one. 

On a venture like this one, attempting to cram the whole world into a year of travel, you begin to develop a syndrome I like to call AFC.” It’s a sensory overload disorder where new places appear merely as AFC. Like, here’s “another fucking country,” “another fucking city,” “another fucking cathedral.” It means you’re seeing too much too fast. You must slow down. There’s a story about an Amazonian tribe that migrates each year with the rainy season. The way the tribe travels is by walking hard for two or three days, then resting, stationary for one. Then, they walk hard for another few days, rest for another, and so on and so forth. When asked why they travel this way—with that day of rest—they explained that it was to let their souls catch up. We’ve learned this as well. Stop for a couple weeks and let your souls catch up. Because the journey can surely wear on you. 

On that note, forget that regurgitated old travel adage, “The journey is the destination.” If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that the destination is the destination, and the journey can be grueling. For instance, on our last day in Mongolia, we woke up at 4 a.m. to drive halfway across the country in the freezing rain to cross the border into Russia. Fourteen hours in a van, four hours at the border, and two strip-searches later, we were whisked to a “guest house” over the border that resembled more of a Russian halfway house. Imagine an American halfway house; now imagine one in Siberia. The guy that appeared to be in charge at the house—a Russian male in a white tracksuit with a white doo-rag—greeted us from a filthy sofa with a white poodle on his lap. He looked like a Russian movie villain, and the four other men around him looked loaded on heroin, one of which was not so covertly filming us from his cell phone. We didn’t get to the hostel (our destination), until 4 a.m. the following morning. In other words, the destination was Ulan-Ude, Russia and the journey was a fucking nightmare.

We’ve also learned that you’ve gotta flip the script from time to time. Rigid itineraries are for fogies. If you want to travel around the world, it’s imperative that your partner is flexible. This is crucial because sometimes you’ve got a week blocked out for Rome, but you then get to Rome and find out that Rome kind of blows. Plus, spontaneity is life’s most potent, natural aphrodisiac.  

Traveling with your spouse, or any companion in such close quarters for that matter, you’re attached at the hip, which is why you should never take score. Everyone’s got their buttons, and if you don’t already know what your partner’s are, get a clue. Sometimes one of us just wakes up on the wrong side of the Airbnb bed, and the way she smacks her lips in the morning, or how I never put the toilet seat back down, is enough to start a war. How many times I’ve left the seat up or how often I find her hair in the sink is unimportant. Life’s too short and the trip’s too long to keep tally. Never discuss the score, never keep score; resentment kills all. 

Often, I’m the one who’s easily jaded. The one to come down with AFC first. But a team can’t have two cynics. Two cynics are repulsive, ask anyone. There should only be two types of travelers: drivers or passengers. Two passengers, and you’re going nowhere. Two drivers, and you’re yanking on one wheel. When traveling with a companion, pick a role, but be OK with switching them. 

Here’s another gem: Get your head out of your ass. By that, I mean compromise. No couple wants to do or see or visit the exact same sights, and that’s only natural, if not healthy. She probably wants to stick it out under a mosquito net waiting for that perfect wave in Sumatra as much as you want to sip Darjeeling in a tearoom in Old Bordeaux. But if she made it, then so can you.  

Keep looking around that corner. Gather no moss. Your time out there—together—is an emulsion of life and dream. Your time out there is a mixture driven by the centrifugal force of curiosity and wonderment; keep them continuously mixing, suspended, spinning. Don’t let the latter of life-and-dream settle to the bottom of the cup. Keep the two blurred in fantastic, sentient suspension. 

Hold her hand while you’re at it. Don’t make her beg. If she’s had a couple glasses, and you can see it in her eyes, rise with her and dance. At a bar. In the kitchen. Even at a stoplight in Paris. Especially at a stoplight in Paris.

as seen in the Companion issue of FLUX Magazine Hawaii

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Great White Hype


Great White Hype

So apparently, we went viral. Like, just right under our noses. No idea. The Internet happened THAT fast. A couple of days after your typical run of the mill South African cage dive with Great Whites off Gansbaai in Shark Alley (as seen on Discovery’s “Shark Week!”) — the texts and emails started flooding in. 

“Have you guys seen this?!” dominated most of the subject lines. An American couple on their honeymoon that was on one of the dives was nearly chomped when one of the G-Whites wedged its 5-rows of razor-sharp-death into the cage’s horizontal viewing space. Don’t ask me why that space seems to be stock issue on all the cages. Just is.

Anyway, friends and family sent us the links. 30-second “Get a load of this close-call”-style news-filler brought to you by MSNBC, Good Morning America, The Telegraph and more, detailing how traumatizing the experience was. Like here:

Thing is, we were on that same boat. On that same tour. IN that same cage at that exact same moment that Great White peeked its gnashing, pointy head into our collective personal horizontal viewing space. Check out one of those two angles on the vids that went viral. The one smiling, giving a thumbs up? That’s Rachel. With no idea how “close” the call was. And not that we’re staunch shark-cage-diving advocates, but that American couple who sold the clip to whatever content pusher you sell clips like this (or of pandas sneezing)….kinda blew the whole thing out of proportion. Hell, we even snuck in a couple wine tastings in the region’s vineyards on the way home to really maximize the day. South African pinots are fiyah! Meanwhile, a bidding war for 20-seconds of danger was ensuing…

Ironically, the proximity of Great Whites and/or apex predators with sharp-ass teeth became a bit of a running theme. We’d decided to road trip the Rainbow Nation, thus rented the most high performance vehicle could provide for such an excursion: The formidable Hyundai 5-speed hatchback i10. Not long before going viral we’d embarked from Cape Town to Jo’Burg. 

So we trekked down the Cape of Good Hope to where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans grope each other like long-lost lovers. We fed overweight alpha male seals, with the help of a local guide (meth head), fish parts from our mouths; our newest party trick! We watched the sun set at the bottom of the world from the Hout Bay dunes with champagne-filled flutes.  And I braved the icy waters of Llandudno for a surf with a friend of a friend that I’m hoping accepts my offer as a best friend. Fingers crossed.

We continued on to Jeffery’s Bay, home of the world’s best righthander for a freak out-of-season swell that was to arrive…on my f—king birthday!

Earlier this year, however, at this same perfect right pointbreak, 3X surfing world champion Mick Fanning was bucked off his surfboard in the final heat of a major surf contest. The situation actually aired via webcast to millions of viewers. Then of course went viral and is probably the scariest thing to have witnessed in surf competition history. Mick was OK, he actually punched the shark on the snout, but the odds of something like that happening is like a quarterback getting struck by lightening at the Super Bowl. 

But it was gonna be my birthday and Great Whites can’t stop ageing, plus every American knows you can’t let the terrorists win by being terrified, so we got to J-Bay and I surfed for a few days unscathed with no shark-sightings...that I was aware of. A pod of a few dozen dolphins did swim right past me and I swear one winked and blew me a kiss. Jeffery’s Bay is a special place like that.

We continued on in our high-octane Korean vehicle and safari’d through Addo National Park, getting within an unregulated and probably unsafe distance of three lions and many, many elephants. We stayed in Hobbit-style shire-cabins in JRR Tolkein’s boyhood village. We repelled down a waterfall and kissed a rainbow on the way down. Bucket list shit.

And eventually, after nearly being flipped by a freak storm on the final stretch to Jo’Burg, we arrived safe and sound and then left this beautiful country to spend the holidays with the fam. Hopefully next time we’ll realized we’re viral as it happens…but I could also see it going right over our heads again.

*Tune in for the next Planes, Trains, Ball and Chains blog where things get spicy and illegal in CUBA!