My decision to leave and travel around the world with a 13-year-old was not impulsive but directed. At the time, I hardly realized the impact on everyone who was involved with this journey. The gift of telling the story from my current perspective is interesting in that so much more of it is understood.
I truly expected this painting to fall apart by now, but it’s fine.
The date was September 10, 1997, and I will never forget the morning my husband dropped our youngest daughter and myself off at the bus stop on our way to JFK airport and the world. I had never traveled by myself or been out of the country more than stepping over the Canadian border one time. But when you know you have to do something, courage finds a place in your heart. We left with too much stuff and started a process of getting rid of things in Chile that lasted all the way to Thailand. I was traveling with a portable wooden easel and 20 pounds of oil paints. I didn’t realize when I left how hard it would be to find mineral spirits when I didn’t understand the language. It was a constant challenge in each country that we went to, but we were eventually able to find it every time.
Our first stop in Santiago, Chile was challenging in that my daughter Jill realized what she had gotten herself into; Santiago, Chile was certainly not anything like Newport, Rhode Island, where we lived.
Our stay there was shortened by her incessant whine, “I want to go home.” She was a 13-year-old Egyptologist, and Egypt was to be our last stop. Her desire to wait to get to Egypt in 10 months, or to go home now, was very conflicting. So to make it a bit easier, we left prematurely and went to Easter Island. I told her that if she were still unhappy then, she could go home.
On Easter Island there were no mineral spirits. I was able to speak a little Spanish and the locals could speak a little English, and there were no mineral spirits. They use parafina (paraffin wax), which I could get at the only gas pumps on the island. Above is one of my first paintings of a Moai using the foul smelling parafina. I truly expected it to fall apart by now, but it’s fine.
Jill had a grand time on Easter Island, made friends with the local kids, and when it was time for her decision to go home or go to Tahiti, she came with me.
My most exciting painting was on the island of Moorea, and it was done during the eye of a cyclone. I didn’t know it then, as they speak French in Moorea, which I don’t, and they have no weather stations, emergency alarms, or evacuation plans. Our first clue that something was wrong was the storm we had during the evening before. We were staying in a thatched-roof “fare,” which is like a bungalow. The evening before was stormy, but we slept through most of it. In the morning I heard that the highspeed ferry between Moorea and Tahiti was stopped. Later in the day, the wind that was present all morning ceased and there was an eerie calm. There were no large jets flying in from points far away.
As the sun was setting, I noticed how the color of the sky and lagoon had changed. I ran back to the fare to get my easel and paints, and stood in the wind that was gaining strength by the minute, to quickly paint this painting so I wouldn’t forget. I held on to my easel with one hand and painted with the other. The wind was picking up strength and it started to rain. I packed up and we headed in for the night.
I held on to my easel with one hand and painted with the other.
Little did we know that the back side of the cyclone was to blow through that evening, killing 30 people in Tahiti, and flattening the Cook Islands and Bora Bora. We held each other tight all night, squeezed into a single bed with a sheet over our heads, protecting ourselves from the creatures of the night and the falling thatch. Jill kept asking, “Mom are we afraid?” and I kept answering, “not yet.” I said my prayers to those who were looking out for people like us.
Several months later, we found ourselves in a small town in Northern Thailand, called Pai. We stayed there for two weeks and every day rented bikes and pedaled around the town. I eyed a small shop that sold rice-farmer hats and I studied it from every angle and every time of day. I wanted to paint that painting, but I would have to stand in the middle of the small town to do it. Thankfully, my wise, intrepid daughter sat me down and reminded me of what I already knew: If I didn’t just do it, I would never do it and I would regret a lost opportunity.
The morning before we were to leave Pai, I got up, headed into town, set up my easel and prayed to those who looked out for people like me that I could do it. I realized then that no matter where I was in the world, my fears and inadequacies were not too far behind.
I made the decision to just do it. The local people were curious and crowded around me in the beginning. They were more interested in my easel than my painting. Once I started, I became invisible and the whole process was a delight.
They were more interested in my easel than my painting.
So much of my journey around the world was about facing fears and learning that I could walk right through them and be fine. My daughter Jill didn’t miss much during her eighth grade sabattical. She went on to graduate high school and college and she learned to fly airplanes. She now works in the airline industry.
When we returned home we made peace, and healed any wounds that this absence had created with the rest of the family. I wrote a memoir about the experience, and Journeys: A Grand Adventure is now out in the world doing what it was intended to do: demonstrating to my readers that yes, you can follow your dreams, take risks and yes, it can all work out.
Judy Edwards is an artist, traveler, and author. Her trek with her daughter transcended fear and provided a life-changing adventure. She hopes Journeys: A Grand Adventure inspires women who hold themselves back out of fear and insecurity. She says that when you change your view of the world and take that first step, magic happens.