forty days. forty stories.
It was mid 2008. America was contemplating its first female or first African American president. Hockey mom was actually a term. Hipsters were only just starting to ruin everything.
I had just left my job and flown to South America (first stop Peru) with my partner (now husband) and best buddy John, for a few months of travel before grad school. My step sister Joolee, world renowned traveller, Peace Corps volunteer, hard core marathoner, hiker and kayaker had just completed her second tour of duty on the ice in Antarctica and was on a kayaking trip with Bill nearby in Chile.
We had agreed to meet in between in Bolivia. As John and I awaited Bill and Joolee’s approach, enjoying a beer on the balcony of our Lake Titicaca hostel, I was actually quite nervous. Why you ask? Joolee is an awesome traveller and generally great to spend time with. Well…let me take you back to the last time in my memory that Joolee and I had shared a vacation….
It was mid 1990. People weren’t yet throwing 80s themed parties. We wore our jeans up to our necks. You liked Wilson Phillips. Don’t deny it: you know who you are. I was 9 years old.
My dad and step-mom had taken Joolee, her best bud from high school, my sisters and I on a vacation to Florida. Perhaps dad and Jennie were punishing the 17 year old Joolee when she got assigned baby sitting duty for my sisters and me. The evening did not end well: after pushing Joolee to the limit I locked my sisters and I in the bathroom for the duration of the evening, but not before making an unholy mess.
Still- why nervous you ask, again? Surely by 2008 I was a mature, measured and composed adult, ready to spend some QT with a girl I had always loved and looked up to. As John and I finished the last of our beer we saw two travellers approaching. Bill and Joolee rounded the corner, gave us giant hugs, and ordered a few beers for themselves. It was time to celebrate finally getting together!
My nerves faded instantly. The four of us quickly hit it off and started making awesome plans to kayak, hike and hang out. But as we would later assume, it was probably a mistake to drink beer when you have just arrived (by plane!) at an altitude of over 12,000 feet from sea level.
That night, on the way home from dinner, the first clue that something was wrong was when we were huffing up the hill and looked over to see Joolee losing her supper. Guts of steel Aurand has drunk the water of more developing countries than I will probably ever visit, so that made no sense. Bill was completely fine and we were all exhausted, so we made sure Joolee was alright and said our goodnights. We had a big day planned ahead.
A few hours later, I awoke to a strange noise. Someone was throwing rocks at my window? Shaken and thinking it was the town drunk, I yelled at the person to go away. Then they tried to open the door, and I screamed like the 9 year old I child I clearly still am –er I mean once was.
Our late night visitor turned out to be Joolee, who was trying to wake us up because Bill had developed severe altitude sickness. He needed to be taken back to a lower altitude ASAP. Joolee quickly organized transport for her and Bill to get to a doctor in La Paz.
Neither sickness nor my childlike behaviour ruined any of our trip, and as in 1990, Joolee was amazing and forgiving. John and I had a blast with Bill and Joolee. They weren’t even irritated when we could barely haul our dehydrated, out of shape, corporate asses up this spectacular volcano at the Bolivian salt flats!
Most importantly I got to spend quality time with Joolee who I have always looked up to as a role model, and a true sister. Since then John and I have been fortunate enough to spend time with Bill and Joolee in Colorado, New York City, Australia and of course Pennsylvania. (And don’t laugh at the term role model because in this case it actually is true. Joolee’s kindness, humility, compassion and humour are only a few of her very best qualities. )
Happy 40th Birthday Joolee! Love, Liberty