While this is not one of our usual happy, travel-changes-everything posts, bear with me while I share: travel still changes everything.
I have three best friends from high school who are like sisters to me. When Jeremy and I landed in Dubai, I received a text that one of them, Joo-Ri, was in the ICU after suffering from a stroke. By the time we made it to Oman, they had decided to remove her from life support.
I was heartbroken and unable to make it back for the memorial. I tried my best to put one foot in front of the other, but it felt like each molecule in the air was weighted. Everything was so heavy. I hoped that potentially this news only existed in this alternate travel universe, that I could get on a plane and return home and everything be normal.
When we first started planning this trip several months ago, we used points (thanks to the wonderful partnership with Juicy Miles) to book flights that allowed us a few extra nights in Dubai. “That’s perfect,” I told Jeremy, “we can go over to Oman!”
“Why in the world would we want to do that?” he asked the question that I’ve now been asked by every member of both of our families.
“Because one of my biggest hotel crushes of all times is in Oman,” I said, and pulled up the website for the Six Senses Zighy Bay. “You can paraglide in!” I informed him, happily. I’ll travel pretty far for a good hotel crush, but the property was just barely a two hour drive from Dubai. It was a no brainer. For me, staying here would be the highlight of the trip.
But then, as life would unexpectedly twist and turn, my grief was so tangible that I could barely register a smile on our transfer over. On the way up the mountainside that surrounds the Six Senses Zighy Bay, I stared out over the vast, rugged landscape, as arid as I felt on the inside. The peaks rose before us, made of such dark and desolate sand that it looked more like Mars than planet earth. It had the strange and abrupt beauty of a landscape that one must learn to appreciate.
The further the car climbed over the switchbacks, the more I gripped the edge of the seat. I’ve become less and less of a fan of heights with age.
“Now’s probably a bad time for me to ask,” I turned to Jeremy and said, “but…what exactly is paragliding?”
“Um…isn’t this the reason you wanted to come here?” He laughed like I was kidding. I wasn’t kidding.
“Well, yeah, but I just thought paragliding into a resort sounded cool.”
No one’s ever accused me of paying attention to the details.
“It’s like parasailing, but without the boat,” he informed me.
“Did you know parasailing is one of the only activities that travel protection doesn’t cover because it’s not regulated?”
He stared at me for a few beats. “I don’t know what you’re expecting by regulated, but we’re in the desert of Oman. We literally just passed a herd of wild goats.”
We continued our ascent and I began to second-guess myself. While I had no doubt that a resort of this caliber would offer the very best in terms of safety, the recent news of my dear friend’s sudden stroke had me questioning everything. Why would I choose to be any sort of reckless? I mulled over the possibility of backing out. It’s not like I was capable of experiencing “fun” in my present mindset. All I wanted to do was curl up in bed, cry, look at old photos. I didn’t want to jump off of a cliff and add one more stressor to my already anxious heart.
We reached the top of the mountain, where the paragliding instructor begged the question, “Who is most scared?”
Jeremy and I both pointed to myself.
“Then you should go first,” the instructor told me.
I still hadn’t fully committed to the activity. I would have preferred to watch my husband and decide if it looked enjoyable. He doesn’t usually show strong reactions, so I could’ve taken a cue from his nonchalantness of gliding off into the sky and determined, eh, that doesn’t seem worth it to me.
As it did every other minute, my mind went back to Joo-Ri. What would she tell me to do?
Her nickname for me was Bird, mostly because of my tiny frame and knobby knees. Very clearly I heard her words in my head, complete with her ridiculously contagious laughter: “Don’t be a chicken, bird. You were meant to fly.”
So, fly I did.
With the paragliding instructor seated behind me and the experiences manager coaxing me off the ledge with his sing-song Australian accent, the fear turned into wonder as we took off.
Soaring with the wind over Zighy Bay left me feeling weightless and limitless. The colors of those martian mountains were in glaring contrast against the bright turquoise blue of the sea, complete with the jagged dark blue of the reefs below.
This one’s for you, Joo-Ri, I called out into the open sky and began crying silent sobs that blurred my views of the landscape before me. The wind pushed the tears sideways across my cheeks and, while I was brave enough in the moment to jump, I wasn’t brave enough to let go of the handles to wipe them off. Crying while flying felt like a mix of sorrow and sentiment, and also like I was a total lunatic. But, for the first time since hearing the news, I began to feel hopeful and, while still so far from even starting to heal, hopeful is a good first step. I even managed to laugh a few times.
I’ve never known hurt like this before, but the peacefulness of Zighy Bay felt like a balm on my open wound. Struggling through one sleepless night led to an early morning sunrise overlooking the waves. I spent time in prayer, yet again smiling and crying, as my loving husband held me tightly.
On that beach, I began to understand that grief is not shrouded simply in darkness: it can also be colored in the same shades as a sunrise. Grief manifests as much in mourning as it does in deep hues of gratitude. My friend Karla shared a quote with us, that grief is like an ocean, it ebbs and flows, and we must simply learn to swim.
In the travel industry, we’ve had the honor of planning a number of transformational journeys, from celebratory experiences for clients in remission from cancer to the two sisters who traveled through Bali to spread their mother’s ashes. When I think of the power that travel holds to transform and heal a heart, I see now firsthand that that power knows no bounds.
Thank you, Six Senses Zighy Bay, for being a safe place where I could mourn, reflect, and fly, all in honor of my friend.