The other day while showing my mother pictures from my recent trip to Egypt and Jordan, she said to me, "You know, you never took all these crazy kind of trips before you had RA."
She has a point. Although I did plenty of traveling before my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis in 2007, most of it was to cities where the only thing I had to tame were public transportation systems and a few museums. Since my diagnosis, the trips I have planned for myself have taken a much more adventurous turn and found me standing on top of mountains, going deep inside jungles and traversing deserts. This change in course is partly due to the fact that I travel with a somewhat intrepid group of friends who want to see as much of the world as I do, but it is also very much a response to finding out at the age of 29 that I had a disease I would likely live with for the rest of my life. At first, the introduction of RA into my life felt like a death sentence to my wanderlust nature, but now, I see it as a challenge.
My most recent challenge involved two weeks with three good friends gallivanting around Egypt and Jordan. While there, we took just about every form of transportation possible, including planes, trains, automobiles, sailboats, ferries, horses, donkeys and a camel.
Oh, and don't forget good old walking and hiking on our own feet. We trekked around Cairo, climbing minarets, exploring pyramids and stumbling our way through crowded markets that make Times Square look deserted. In Aswan, we sailed along the Nile, watching an orange sun set the sky ablaze in shades of pink, purple and blue. In Luxor, we wandered, mouths and eyes agape, through massive temples and descended into the tombs of pharaohs. On the Sinai Peninsula, we basked in the sun, snorkeled in the Red Sea and climbed Mt. Sinai in the dark to see the first glimpses of the sun declare a new day. Then, it was on to Jordan, where we slept in tents, scrambled to the top of rocks and walked through the desert in Wadi Rum. In Petra, we were held spellbound under the stars in front of the Treasury at night then clamored high and low around the ancient city during the day.
As poetic and heavenly as the above adventures were, they were also physically demanding. On our calmer days, I grabbed as much time in the sun lounging by the pool or the beach as I could, but there was no escaping the ambitious itinerary we had made for ourselves. Some activities, like climbing Mt. Sinai, turned out to be much more difficult than the tour books had suggested. The three-hour climb up the mountain in the dark culminated in 750 punishing steps that led to the very top, and there were many times along the way that I just didn't think I could make it.
Eventually though, I decided thinking was probably my enemy, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and took breaks when I needed them until somehow it was over. In Petra, I knew from the pain in my feet that I had reached my limit after five hours of strenuous walking and a hike to the top of a mountain, so I necessarily opted to take a donkey up to see The Monastery instead of climbing 350 steps.