Never Giving Up, Sometimes Letting Go

Last weekend was my first trek outside of Ireland since arriving; Vanessa, Emma, Meghan, Lizzy and I flew to Alicante, Spain. We were eager to trade the rain for sun and warmth. In typical “I can’t do normal tourist things, I must adventure” Paulina fashion, we rented a car, something I’ve been excited for since I express shipped myself an international drivers license last month. After two days of gradually less populated adventures, our last hurrah in Spain consisted of GPS coordinates, no cell service, and directions to follow a river. I had read on a traveler’s blog that there was a river that pooled in a canyon, forming a deep watering hole perfect for swimming. After driving about 1.5 hours into central Spain and over a few mountains, we found our river. I parked on the side of a road, no life in sight, and we headed off.

Naturally, truly thinking no one else existed in these Spanish boonies, I squatted right down to pee. That’s when we met our first travelers- young and male I might add. Very cute.

The first path we took, we lost the river. Turn around, try again. The second path we took looked promising. I had read that this adventure involved some walking through a “peaceful bamboo forest” and we found a bunch of bamboo stalks in the river. Thinking maybe a path opened up ahead, we began walking, in our sandals, IN the river forest. 10 minutes later it was decided that may not be the path. Turn around, try again. Now we walked all the way back to the original coordinates and reassessed. Perhaps the other side of the river was more promising? We began walking. Hit dense forest. Turn around, try again. Maybe we follow the river upstream and not down? Turn around, try again. I think it was Lizzy who then suggested we try the other set of coordinates- the ones that signaled the end- and work our way backwards. Back in the car. With no cell service we couldn’t use our phones to find said coordinates. Luckily our rental car was bougie and had its own satellite. After 20 minutes of figuring out how coordinates are typed, it came up to say our destination was 20 km away. Well, that didn’t make sense. I started driving for the heck of it and by some miracle my phone caught 3G. Trusty Google Maps said our destination was a few km away (much more promising) and there we went. Once again on the side of a road, next to a river, we walked.

So at this point, morale is low. We are on hour 3 of this river trek. No one has eaten more than a doughnut and had a cup of water since 8:30 AM. I was DETERMINED not to fail in finding this canyon hole because dammit we had already had a failed pink lake bug attack that morning and a part of me knew I would never be granted boonie day again if it didn’t deliver on something interesting. I consistently ran ahead, found something I could convince was a promising sign we were close, and ran back to alert everyone to keep coming. Finally, after walking through more rivers, pushing past a few spiked bushes, and running into some Spanish elders, we found it. Victory.

It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped adventure day would look like, but afterwards we found a roadside restaurant and a nude beach and spirits were lifted. I am proud we didn’t give up.

All of this had me reflecting on perseverance. It’s a big, classic attribute like “strength” and “bravery” and “kindness” that we are constantly told to have. In this instance, perseverance worked. But there have been other abroad moments when I needed not to keep pushing, but to let go.

Like this one time when I was trying to fit through a tiny door. The double doors in our apartment complex are very strange and one of them is split with about 7/8 of the door on one side and 1/8 of the door on the other. I so badly wanted to fit through the tiny side, but after lots of pulling and pushing I ended up with a bruised body. The door caused me pain and if I would just let the dream go, the pain would heal. Could I have kept pushing? Really shoved myself through that tiny door? Probably. But it would have hurt. It was smarter to give that up.

But that feels counter-intuitive. If you really, really want something, you should pour your energy into making it work, right? You should not take no for an answer? Even if working for that thing causes you immense pain?

I haven’t figured out the line to this, if there is one. I nearly always want to take the pain and never want to give something up, trivial or major. Yet here I am, still alive, and never having made it through that stupid tiny door. Maybe I will try again later, or maybe I will find another door that wants to be opened.

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