I can now say I’ve been to Mexico!
In December I booked a spot on the Tornado Hunter Mexico photo tour and I was so excited! Greg Johnson, the Tornado Hunter, is well known for taking tornado and storm pictures but he also teaches photography workshops and has done several photo tours or retreats. The trip included a stay at an all-inclusive resort at Akumal in Quintana Roo, Mexico. During the trip, Greg would be teaching photography workshops and would be available to help everyone improve their photography skills. There were also a couple of days set aside to take the group on excursions off the resort to photograph some of the cool places Mexico has to offer.
In January, my friend Adrienne who had just started her own film company with the intent of telling peoples’ stories asked if she could join me on the trip and follow me around with a camera documentary-style to capture my journey as her first big project for her new company. I, of course, was all for it! We have only been friends since the summer but we instantly connected (even though she is about ten years older than me) over our similar tastes in film and photography and our fiery passions for the things we love.
The two weeks leading up to the trip now make up one of the most stressful and frustrating periods of my life. About two weeks before we were supposed to leave on our adventure I was hospitalized with a lung infection and a very low blood oxygen saturation level. I immediately reverted to the old blind determination I had used every time I was admitted to the pediatric ward when I was growing up. But in the back of my mind, I was extremely worried that that would not be enough to pull me through this in time for the trip. I had been feeling pretty down for about a month beforehand – I had been in kind of a slump mentally. So, going into this infection, I already wasn’t my usual self as far as my head was concerned and now I somehow had to garner all my willpower and kick the infection to the curb in a very short period of time.
I was started on a course of IV antibiotics to combat the infection and, thankfully, was sent home with oxygen so that I could do the IV antibiotics at home with the assistance of a very awesome home care nurse. The IV antibiotics seemed to be taking too long to kick in so my CF specialist switched me to a different antibiotic which didn’t seem to be helping me improve that much either. As a last ditch effort, a few days before the trip I was prescribed a fairly large dose of oral steroids in the hopes that they would release some of the tightness in my lungs and allow my oxygen levels to come up. Finally, this appeared to have at least a little bit of a positive effect and my energy level improved but my oxygen levels still didn’t reflect that. I ended up renting a portable oxygen concentrator and getting approval from the airline to bring it on board in case I ended up needing to travel with oxygen. This all happened very last minute and within two days of the trip.
We were flying out from the Regina airport early on a Saturday morning so Adrienne and I had booked a hotel in the city for the night before the flight as neither of us live in Regina. The night before we were supposed to drive to Regina Adrienne came to visit me and expressed her concerns and fears about the trip. I shared many of the same fears and totally understood where she was coming from as we had only been friends since the summer and this was a lot to deal with. By this point, I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted from trying to decide whether or not to go on the trip that I had a bit of a meltdown after she left. When my dad came home shortly afterward I discussed the concerns she and I both had with him and ultimately decided – fuck it, I’m going to Mexico!
I think I always knew I would end up going on the trip unless I went severely downhill and became bedridden or some such thing. But I am a very rational person so I kept playing through the fears, concerns, and reasons not to go in my head just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything stupid and reckless. I did end up taking the oxygen concentrator with me as a precaution but only ended up using it overnight the night before the flight.
The relief I felt when we finally arrived at the resort was immeasurable. The flight had gone smoothly but we did get held up getting through customs in Cancun as I had a lot of medical equipment and medications with me that the customs officers wanted to look through. Arriving at the resort and breathing in the humid air (much easier for me to breathe than the dry air back home on the prairies!) felt so damn good!
The week in Mexico was absolutely fantastic. I have no regrets. I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent while we were there (and still am not 100%) but I was still able to do everything I’d wanted to. I participated in almost all of the photography workshop sessions. I shot sunset photos and learned how to take photos of the stars. I shot hundreds of pictures of the splashes created when the ocean waves crashed on the rocks. I visited two different cenotes and the Mayan ruins at Tulum. I drank my first mojito at a bar with swings instead of barstools and I learned how to use some neat settings that my camera has. My friendship with Adrienne grew so much after going through the stress before the trip and then actually going on the trip together. We both learned so much from each other and I felt so privileged to have her film my journey for her company’s first big project.
My two favourite moments from the trip are:
1. Seeing the ocean through the trees at the resort the second day of the trip as it had been dark when we’d arrived the night before. I just made a beeline for the beach. The sound of the ocean, the feel of the breeze coming off it, and the colour of the water all have an instant calming effect on me. I immediately feel content, peaceful, and relaxed. Not to mention, that the air on the coast is so easy for me to breathe! I spent as much time as I could on the beach during our trip and it was so hard for me to walk away from it the day we left. The ocean and the way I breathe when I’m near it is synonymous with freedom for me. It’s difficult to put into words that would make it make sense for someone other than me but I try!
2. Sitting at the little bar with swings instead of barstools and drinking a very refreshing mojito after I’d just accomplished the one thing I’d been concerned about from the time I booked the trip up until that very drink at the bar – visiting the ruins. It was a very hot day and it was a ten-minute trek from where the vans dropped us off to where we could buy our tickets to get into the site of the Tulum ruins. But I freakin’ did it! I had to take a couple of quick breaks along the way to catch my breath and drink some water but I rocked it! We wandered around the ruins as I took a bunch of photos and we made our way up to the cliffs behind the ruins looking over the ocean. I could have stayed up there forever looking out over that blue water and feeling that magical ocean breeze hit my skin and fill my lungs. After I had taken as many pictures as I wanted and seen all I wanted to see we faced the ten-minute trek back to the vans, only this time it was later in the morning – nearing noon – and the temperature was ridiculously hot. But I took my time, took a few breaks for water and to catch my breath, and made it back! I was so proud of myself for accomplishing that because I had faced so many obstacles before even getting on the plane, I was not at my best health-wise, and my dad’s biggest concern was that I would go on the trip and then be deeply disappointed if I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do while I was there. BUT I DID IT! I FUCKING DID IT!
This trip reinforced for me that I have good instincts when it comes to what I can and can’t do and that I shouldn’t question my initial gut instinct so much. Hearing my family and friends’ fears about me going on this trip while I was not feeling great did make me waver a bit but I listened to my instincts, held on to my determination, and had an incredible, unforgettable, week-long journey in Mexico.
These are some photos of me taken by the very talented Adrienne:
I will be posting some of my own photography from the trip in a separate post once I’ve had a chance to go through my hundreds of pictures!
If you’d like more info on Greg Johnson the Tornado Hunter, check out http://tornadohunter.ca/
If you’d like to follow my journey and the many other amazing stories that Adrienne will be telling with her company, The Fire Stories, you can find her Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/thefirestories/timeline
The Fire Stories Medium page https://medium.com/@thefirestories
And finally, The Fire Stories Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/the-fire-stories