This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
The trouble with making your dreams come true is what to do with the rest of your life. I wonder if I would have done things differently if I had known this at 15, but I suspect not. In any event, I remember my worst fear was always the thought of waking up aged 35 (the oldest I could image at that point!), and being full of regret for the things I wished I had done.
Unlike my peers, I never had doubts about what I wanted to do. I knew from very early on that I was going to go down the Amazon alone and everything I did was within that context. My MA in Latin American History and Archaeology was preparation for my expedition; so was language school in Barcelona, and attending the annual Expedition Planning Events at the Royal Geographical Society. Two marriage proposals were turned down during and after university in London, not least because I could hardly expect someone to wait for me while I followed my real passion.
Most publishers refused to bet any money on me, convinced I would not live to tell my tale, but I did, and Random House published An Amazon and a Donkey in 1991. It was a wonderful culmination to my life’s dream. But already, on reaching the Brazilian city of Belém at the mouth of the Amazon River, I had been confronted with the powerful realization that making your dream come true is a hollow victory if you have no one to share it with. Soon the future yawned ahead like a black hole and I felt bereft of purpose and very lonely.
Of course I discovered that a passion for adventure is not something that is quenched with one journey. Sooner or later, inspiration for another project comes along and I have tried hard to make each one happen. Some got turned into books (The Amber Trail and Chickenbus Journey). My greatest joy, however, came from finding someone to join me, who managed to survive 20 years in my company before fading away into another life. I am left with two young sons and a huge well of gratitude.
And still I am not ready to admit that I am finished with passion or adventure! My sons laugh incredulously at me when I tell them I intend to buy a motorcycle for my very own South American road trip. They see a small woman with silver hair who has to stand on tip toe to kiss their cheeks. But I know that all I need is someone to teach me how to ride a Yamaha 250 and I’m off. The protective gear has been in my cupboard ever since we emigrated to Chile in 2006. Little do they realize the only reason I had sons was to help raise the sails in the South Pacific, but I’m beginning to see I may need a grown man for that one!
Natascha Scott-Stokes is the author of three travel books and one biography (Wild & Fearless: The Life of Margaret Fountaine), as well as various guide books. She has also been a professional translator since 1987, and owns the Chilean retreat Quinta Escondida.