I have been lost many times on this trip, but I have always found my way, often by dead reckoning. One thing I know: there are many ways to lose the path.
This is a hard story to write.
In his book, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Laurence Gonzales writes at length about the process of getting lost. It doesn´t happen all at once. When it does happen, getting lost is compounded by the tendency to never look back. However, looking back in the direction from which you came can save your life because a path looks completely different in the other direction. The hiker needs to be able to recognize the path he took in case he ever needs to backtrack.
Getting lost is a gradual process. Hikers usually look at a map before they set out, forming a mental image of the path they will travel. According to Gonzales, as the hiker loses his way, the mental picture of his path becomes increasingly vague as he presses on. Even when he knows the five-mile path from where he came will lead to the car, he thinks “Just ahead, around the next bend, I´ll find the trail I´m looking for.”
Denial about the situation results in going miles out of the way. There is a tendency to “bend the map”, which means that the hiker thinks he sees features of the landscape that are on the map. In other words, the hiker reframes what he sees to match the map. We see what we want to see.
The second stage is panic. The hiker has wandered far off course, the sun is setting, and he has no idea where he is. What he should do is hunker down, rest, and start again at first light; instead, he doubles his pace, exhausting himself.
This can be the beginning of the end, especially if the hikers abandons gear, starts running, or hikes when visibility is low and falls down and breaks a leg. It is not unusual for people hiking in a panic to take off clothing, thinking they are too hot, and die of hypothermia. Survival depends on maintaining body heat and staying hydrated. Food is much less important. An empty water bottle can be filled with mud; the mud can always be dumped out later if water is found.
Adherence to a plan when the plan needs to be changed kills people. One example Gonzales gives is of 11 survivors of a plane crash who believe, falsely, that help will find them if they stay put. A seventeen-year-old girl refuses to buy into group-think and finds her way to civilization. Everybody else dies.
The last stage of getting lost is deterioration. By this point, the lost hiker is desperate and has abandoned valuable gear and squandered resources. His strength is depleted. He is dehydrated, exacerbating the fall of his body temperature. He loses the ability to make decisions. Finally, he loses the will to live.
According to Gonzales, attributes of survivors include awareness of the environment, accurate assessment of conditions, fast reaction time, ingenuity, focus and the will to survive. According to the author, the defining characteristic of survivors is Resolve.
The lesson is that getting lost is a process. What starts out as a small navigation mistake of a few degrees off course gets bigger and bigger, one innocent step at a time, until the hiker finds himself in a fierce fight for his life.
Getting lost is not a matter of the place you are in. It’s a state of mind. It can happen in a forest or it can happen in your life.
You can lose your soul. I nearly lost mine.
I lost my way in Thailand. I had a mental image of Thailand as a magical, tropical paradise. I thought it would be the perfect place to retire. I loved the orchids. I loved the food. I loved the temples. The notion of living in such an exotic place was alluring.
However, reality didn´t match the dream in my head. Thailand and the Philippines are epicenters for the sex trade. Although prostitution has been illegal in Thailand since 1960, it’s estimated to be worth US$6.4 billion a year in revenue, a large part of the country’s GDP. Dr. Nitet Tinnakul, whose research focuses on Thailand´s sex industry, estimates that 2.8 million people work in the sex trade: 2 million women; 20,000 males, and 800,000 children.
The majority of Western men who live in Thailand are there for one reason.
One of the reasons I moved to Chang Mai was because there was an AA meeting every day. The first thing I noticed is that very few woman other than tourists attended the meetings, but I shrugged it off. I went every day, in spite of the deeply disturbing things I heard. Things such as:
“I wanted to raise my own wife, so I married her when she was 16 and I was 52. I paid her parents $4,000.”
“My wife kneels at my feet and puts my shoes on every day.”
“I´m here to tell you that a 70-year-old man can have sex with a 15-year-old girl.”
Every day, I heard things like this. I also heard that it was the fault of Western women that these men had been forced to come to Asia to find women. We were ball-cutting feminists, too fat, too demanding and bad in bed. These things were said to my face.
Instead of realizing I was on the wrong path, and retracing my steps, I doubled my efforts and forged ahead. I baked the boys muffins, for God´s sake. I even helped paint the clubhouse.
Fueling my denial was the fact that I had paid serious money for a long-term visa and had told everyone I was going to live in Thailand.
I was in complete denial.
Until something terrible happened.
I had been corresponding for several months with a guy I met in the US. He was also in the program. Things progressed and we decided he should come for a visit.
I cooked my socks off. I had been taking Thai cooking classes and I knew that he liked Thai food, so I talked my cooking teacher into showing me several special dishes.
My home sparkled. I filled it with orchids, including in his room.
We had a lovely meal. The next day, I suggested that he go to the meeting by himself so that he could meet the guys.
I baked banana bread for him to take to the meeting.
When he came back, he said that he had decided to move to a hotel. I was confused and upset because we had not had a disagreement.
I didn´t know what I had done wrong.
Like Zorba the Greek, I dance my sorrows as well as my joys. That night, I went Latin dancing at the Meridian Hotel. To get back to my apartment from the hotel, I had to cross the red light district.
I saw him coming out of a brothel.
With two guys from my home group.
I went to the Seven-11 and bought a six-pack.
I left Thailand, but it took me time to find my path again. For a long time, I didn´t go to meetings. I dipped my toe in the water again in women´s meetings. Now I go to mixed meetings.
Today, I pay attention to my path. I turn around often and make sure I´m on the right one. I don´t try to pretend things are great when they are not. And I change course when needed.
I like it here in San Miguel. It is sunny but cool in the morning and evening and warm during the day. San Miguel is a walking city; there are no traffic lights. I go to meetings to listen and share, but I watch people to see who they are before I open up.
There are lots of artists, writers, and musicians here. I am painting again and trying my hand at writing. I`m learning photography and studying Spanish. I dance and wear flowers in my hair.
I found my path. I don´t want to lose it again.