I’ve never gotten a tattoo before. Yet here I am in a tattoo parlor in Barcelona, sitting on the counter watching as the artist uses indigo ink to trace a map of the world on my feet. I’ve been planning this for weeks, saving tattoo ideas on Pinterest, visiting tattoo parlors to see their work. I’ve brushed up on my Spanish vocabulary and compared price ranges. I even told my mom about the idea and was surprised with her approval of “I think that really suits you.”
Too chicken shit to get a tattoo in a foreign place by myself, I decided to wait until I joined up with two of the girls I’d met in France for moral support. I had just finished traveling through southern France on my own and needed the familiarity of seeing my friends again. We had endured a difficult experience together earlier in the summer after leaving our first Workaway, and I was happy to be spending a week with them seeing the sights and drinking absinthe in the oldest bar in town.
Hemingway, Picasso, and Dali used to frequent this bar!
After looking at all of the beautiful hotels in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to be able to find a couch surfing host for the entire week of my stay. If I was going to get a tattoo, it was either now or never.
“Got to get away from here, think i know which hemisphere.
Crazy me don’t think there’s pain in Barcelona.” -Rufus Wainwright
I only have a few more moments before the needle starts buzzing and the black ink pierces my skin. My commitment phobia kicks into high gear and I keep staring at my bare feet, trying to imagine what they will look like with tattoos thirty years down the road. I start to doubt my decision and a little bit of panic starts to set in. This is forever.
Yes, it’s as painful as it looks.
I take a deep breath and smile. I remember why I’m here and what I’m celebrating. You see, September marked my six month travel anniversary. Six months of consecutive travel from continent to continent. Six months and half-way through my dream trip around the world. It may seem trivial, but honoring this journey with a permanent reminder seemed fitting. I wanted to commemorate everything I’ve experienced and learned, to immortalize the sense of freedom I feel for those times in the future when my horizons may not seem so broad.
San Blas, Mexico 2013
I look down and think of the words that inspired my tattoo, lyrics from my favorite Mumford & Sons song, “Keep the earth below my feet. Let me learn from where I have been, keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn.” I’d like to consider this my personal travel mantra. Sometimes this life of travel that I’ve chosen for myself feels like a whirlwind I’ve been swept up in and no longer control. It’s exciting and terrifying, not knowing if I’ll end up in Oz or back in Kansas, but sometimes all I want is to feel a little bit more grounded.
I look down at my swollen feet, now wrapped in cellophane. I wince a little as the initial sting of the needle turns into a burning sensation and my body fights against the invasion of ink. I hobble up and down the metro stairs, not willing to spend my last night in Barcelona cooped up because of the pain. I sit down and study the outlines of the world, now etched forever in my skin. I search for places I’ve been in the arches of my feet, analyzing the islands whose names I don’t know underneath my big toe.
The world is literally laid out before me, all I have to do is keep walking, keep learning, keep serving. And when I feel lost or overwhelmed, I can look down and remind myself of where I’ve been and where I want to go. I can take off my shoes and let the weight of gravity bring me back to the present moment. I can dig my toes into the sand and dream of faraway places. I can look down and realize that this big world is not so big that I can’t carry it with me every step of the way. “Keep the earth below my feet. Let me learn from where I have been. Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.”
Rockin’ my Birks and new tattoo in Morocco!
Happy six month anniversary to me.Google+