Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour around the World
[Jennifer, Holly and Amanda make a pact to quit their high stress New York jobs, leave the comforts of home and head off on a year-long backpacking adventure around the world.
Traveling through four continents the Lost Girls find themselves and develop lifelong friendships forged through shared experiences with exotic illnesses, cockroach-infested trains, Maasai tribal initiation ceremonies, long distance break-ups, whirlwind romances, and everything in the world in between.]
Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
January, One Year Earlier…
We were surrounded on all sides by an immense curtain of white water. The cascades heaved over a sheer cliff, carving jade green pools in the jungle floor of Iguazu National Park and drowned out every sound, save one: the pounding of our hiking boots as they tore across the metal viewing platform at the base of the falls.
Holly, our resident sprinter, led the charge towards the exit, with Amanda and me sliding right after her. As updrafts of mist swirled around our feet, we skidded across the final footbridge and shot up a steep staircase, our labored breathing and laughter echoing against the basalt rock walls. Slowing slightly to wipe the spray from my face, I glanced down at my watch. We had less than 10 minutes to make it to the top or we may well be stranded in Brazil all night.
According to the ranger (who’d raced over seconds earlier to see why on earth the three crazy American girls were still casually snapping photos when the park was about to close) there was only one more shuttle bus leaving that night.
So unless we’d brought camping gear or a wad of extra cash to bribe the Brazilian border officials, we’d better be on it. Sure, it would’ve been helpful if our taxi driver had mentioned the one-hour time difference between the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of Iguazu when he semi-illegally transported us across the border, but hey, where would be the fun in that?
We probably should have taken this impending travel disaster a little more seriously. But considering that we’d all but signed over our firstborn kids to our bosses in order to take this little adventure in the first place, we weren’t going to let something like a potential immigration scandal bring us down.
The Lost Girls in Angkor Wat The Lost Girls in Angkor Wat
In fact, our escape from New York City a week and a half earlier felt like nothing short of a prison break. When Amanda and I had first told our friends and co-workers that we’d planned to take ten days off—in a row—in order to backpack around Argentina, we were met with some seriously arched eyebrows.
“Wow, I didn’t even take the full two-weeks when I got married,” one acquaintance remarked. “Better hope they don’t fill your job before you get back.”
Only Holly, another assistant editor who worked with Amanda at a woman’s magazine, seemed to share our enthusiastic attitude about escaping the freezing winter and the endless projects tethering us to our desks.
Even though Holly and I had only met a few times and couldn’t be sure that we’d get along for a single day on the road (let alone ten), she only asked two questions before anteing up the money for a ticket: “Which airline are we flying, and when do we leave?” For my part, I was thrilled to have a new co-conspirator in my quest to find a more authentic “real world” than the one that we’d just left behind in Manhattan.
After moving to the city five years earlier to take a job at a national television network, I was dropped into a world of claustrophobic apartments, exorbitant rents, 14-hour workdays, mandatory media events and gospel preachers predicting doomsday on the subways.
The Lost Girls getting initiated into the Masaai Tribe The Lost Girls getting initiated into the Masaai Tribe
I quickly learned that the city had spawned a new kind of Darwinian struggle: only the most career-driven and socially adaptable would survive. In order to cope with the pressure, people generally took one of two paths: the first lined with Xanax, therapists and cigarettes, and the second with bikram yoga, feng shui and green tea.
My personal survival method? Escape. Even now, dripping with sweat and frantically racing to make it across country lines, I felt that familiar burst of exhilaration that flooded me every time I booked an international flight or added a new stamp to my passport.
And while it had been a challenge to get on the road in the first place, Holly, Amanda and I had done our best to squeeze every ounce of life from our holiday. We’d arrived a week earlier in the “Big Apple” of South America, the cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, and filled our time wandering the cobblestone alleys, savoring sumptuous lomo steak dinners, stuffing our bags with street market finds and exhausting ourselves at late-night tango dancing sessions that lasted ‘til the night sky was slivered with pink.
Although our love affair with the passionate culture and sultry vibe of BA had only just begun, the three of us were ready to drop even farther away city life. It was time to head for the jungle. After a two hour flight, our crop duster touched down in the frontier town of Puerto Iguazu and it was goodbye, strappy tango sandals, hello, hiking boots.
The Lost Girls volunteering in Kenya The Lost Girls volunteering in Kenya
Glancing down at my own shoes, now filthy from the day’s trek, I was amazed I was still able to run, much less sprint up the final flight of stairs. As we finally broke out of the deep shade of the rainforest and onto the main road, we spotted the bus 50 yards ahead, packed to the brim with passengers.
In a scene befitting of a screwball silver screen comedy, the bus started to pull away at the exact moment we arrived. Holly, who by now I’d learned ran marathons for fun, fired up her legs and dashed even faster, waving a tanned arm above her head, as Amanda and I screamed for the bus to stop.
Thank the jungle gods that we’d popped out into the open when we had, because the driver somehow noticed us in the rear view mirror and chugged to a stop. Gasping for breath and dripping wet, we stumbled aboard and were met by a bus load of cheering tourists, all clapping for our frenetic victory. Collapsing in the only empty seats, Amanda, Holly and I passed around the one bottle of water we had left between us, laughing and congratulating ourselves on a skin-of-our-teeth arrival.
As I chugged another gulp of water and caught my breath, I realized that I felt happier and more grounded than I had in months. Suddenly the thought of returning home in two days sent a ripple of dread through my body. Unlike Amanda and Holly, who’d been desperate for a reprieve from their chaotic, cutthroat magazine jobs, I had recently scored an exciting new position as a marketing coordinator for a hip music television channel that I was happy to resume.
The Lost Girls at the Taj Mahal The Lost Girls at the Taj Mahal
For once in my adult life, my career and living situation were actually on track, humming right along—but things with my relationship weren’t going so smoothly. In fact, I was bracing myself for a potential train wreck.
After dating my boyfriend, Brian, for almost 3 years, the confidence to shout off the rooftops that, “Hallelujah! He is The One,” still eluded me. While many empathetic souls reminded me that I was still young, a growing number of onlookers had begun to pounce on my uncertainty.
“Shit or get off the pot,” they’d say, invoking the single phrase I loathed more than any other. I mean, maybe I was just comfortable staying in a seated position longer than other people. Can’t a girl simply enjoy the feel of cool porcelain without being judged?
While my romance with Brian didn’t follow the traditional cinematic structure—boy sees girl, they lock eyes, share a passionate embrace and fall head over heels in love—it grew out of something stronger: a true friendship. We’d at a business lunch, halfway through my ‘freshman year’ in New York.
Network television sales assistant meets advertising client—an industry cliché that always made us laugh. Soon, we grew from casual acquaintances to after-work happy hour buddies to true confidantes who organized late-afternoon photo shoots in Central Park, signed up for salsa lessons, and dined in cute garden cafes on Restaurant Row.
Before we knew it, we were a serious couple. And as the months turned into years, we never had a moment’s pause about progressing naturally from one level to the next. Becoming Exclusive. Meeting the Parents. Planning Vacations. Discussing Living Together. I was one of the lucky ones, shattering the urban myth that it was nearly impossible to find a sweet, gainfully employed city guy who wasn’t afraid to commit.
But within the past few months, we’d hit the proverbial relationship wall. We had no real reason to break up, but no real catalyst moving us forward. I knew that Brian and I would have to face the question of our future eventually, but at 26, I was more than content to take the safe road—present bus ride excluded. As we neared the park exit, the driver slammed into pothole, sending me and my wandering thoughts sliding off the bench and into the aisle.
Fortunately, the travel deities, it seemed, had decided to cut us yet another break: In the parking lot, we spotted the same snoring taxi driver who’d originally sneaked us across the border using a series of dusty back roads and convinced him to do the exact same thing in reverse. A few por favors, twenty Argentine Pesos and we were on our way.
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