After twenty-nine years, I no longer felt comfortable and content in my structured, live-by-the-clock school-teacher world. I was restless, but to leave the safety of my classroom, my routines, to face an unknown world alone—that terrified me. Then, as if by some cosmic decree, an Australian travel brochure arrived in the mail. The Great Barrier Reef, the famous Sydney Opera House, the Outback, Melbourne - they all sounded fascinating. But Australia was so far away—6,000 miles from home! What if I got sick? Had an accident? Lost all my luggage? Got attacked by a dingo?
Despite these worries, I kept the brochure. My desire to break free, do something totally wild, grew. By the end of June, I was ready. For what, I wasn't sure, but I filed my retirement papers. When I got home after the last day of school, I picked up the phone and booked the trip. See that—it only took me two months to make the decision. Atta girl!
Stiff and sore for two days after the long flight to Sydney, I sat on the fine red desert sand of the Outback, waiting for the ranger guide to tell me what I was going to be doing there. So far, he was just sitting on his haunches by a mound of glowing embers, speaking to an aborigine woman who sat, poking a stick into the mound.
Then he stood up.
“The aborigines enjoy roasting the insects they come across here," he explained. "They're a good source of protein, which is very scarce in this environment. Today you're in for a special treat—” he blinked and stopped, momentarily confused by a flashbulb. Mr. Hogsworth, half of a couple constantly taking pictures throughout the tour, had jumped up, thrown an arm around the ranger's shoulder, and stood grinning at his side while his wife took their picture. They then plopped back onto the sand, oblivious to the disruption they had caused. Once the ranger saw them safely seated again, he went on.
“Our aborigine guide is roasting a variety of insects, and you are invited to have some of these fresh, protein-laden snacks. Who’d like to try this first one, a maggot? Any volunteers?"
I shuddered, my usual reaction to the very mention of an insect. How could anyone actually eat one of those things? Some people ate fried grasshoppers and chocolate-covered ants as delicacies, but not me, never! This was the “authentic barby” in the tour description? I'd thought they meant steak!
The ranger cut up the roasted insect and held it out on a small dish. The only person who moved was Mrs. Hogsworth. She took a piece of the proffered maggot and trotted back to pose for her husband. “Yum, yum!” she declared to the lens as she dropped the miniscule tidbit into her mouth.
I sat in frozen silence as the couple returned to taking pictures of the desert and each other. How could they be like that? Eating bugs?! Yuck! But...they were clearly having the time of their lives. And what was I doing? Sitting there like a bump on a log. I gathered myself to my feet and turned to face my fellow tourists.
"I've come halfway around the world and done almost nothing! I didn't swim at the Great Barrier Reef. I watched others zip through the rain forest. I listened to people talk about what they saw and did when they walked all around Sydney and Melbourne. I'll never pass this way again, and I don't want to be just a lump on a log through the whole trip. I hate that I'm always afraid to do something! And I can't believe I just told you all this!"
I stood there, not knowing quite what to do next. The others sat, looking at me in total silence. Then it was broken by the sound of a clap, followed by another. After the longest minute of my life, I realized that the entire group was applauding.
"Good for you!" Mrs. Hogsworth said. "It's never too late to change. Now, when Hugo here goes for the next bit of roasted snack, you get right up when he does and do what he's going to do."
Could I? The Outback was the last part of the tour. It was now or never. I squared my shoulders and watched as the aborigine retrieved the next snack from the embers.
Mr. Hogsworth stood up when the ranger held out the little plate. As if attached to him by invisible strings, I followed on auto-pilot, took one of the tiny pieces of grub, and tossed it into my mouth.
Though my now-frantic mind shrieked “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I also heard the group chant that rose up as I chewed and swallowed the bit of Outback protein. "Go, girl, go! Go, girl, go!" Much to my surprise, the grub was crispy on the outside, semi-liquid, and virtually tasteless on the inside.
I did it! A spreading inner warmth of pride countered the very real outer shaking that gripped my whole body. Shocked at myself, but also immensely pleased, I headed back to my seat on the sand. Mrs. Hogsworth greeted me with a broad grin. "Bravo! Good for you! I knew you could do it!"
I sat back down. I drank in the majestic vastness of the desert around me, the wonderfully blue and endless sky above me. Where should—no—WILL I go next? Anywhere I want, anywhere at all!