Pushing My Buttons

Pushing My Buttons

I’ve been traveling with Cross Cultural Journeys for over 15 years now. It started with a life-changing walk across the Sahara Desert, and continued on with Tibet, Mongolia, Botswana and Cuba.


CCJ is owned by my friend Carole Angermeir, who has been dreaming up inspirational trips for 23 years. These trips aren’t typical tours to familiar places. Every journey Carole creates is to a hard-to-get-to destination that she carefully designs for the utmost impact in terms of personal transformation.

Every trip I’ve been on has pushed my buttons in one way or another—so much so that I’ve come to expect it. Sometimes it’s a physical challenge—hiking at altitude or experiencing an unwelcome stomach bug or blisters on my feet. Other times, it’s emotional or spiritual upheaval. However she does it, Carole always seems to push me to the edge, but no further.

My latest trip to Bali included 18 other travelers, including Carole. For a few journeyers, this was the most out-of-their-comfort-zone trip they had ever taken. Traveling anywhere with a bunch of strangers is a risk—doing so halfway across the world takes a lot of courage.

One day, that courage was tested beyond our expectations. Staying at Omunity, a small retreat in the village of Sudaji, our host Zanzan suggested a hike to the nearby waterfall. He warned us that the route would be challenging, but either we weren’t listening very carefully or our egos had rendered us temporarily hard-of-hearing.

Regardless, most of the group heartily agreed to what we thought would be a ½ day trip. We sprayed on a bit of suntan lotion and insecticide, grabbed a bottle of water or two and were on our way.


The hike started gently enough, with a stroll through the village and surrounding rice paddies. We saw local farmers and walked arm-in-arm, sharing intimacies and discoveries along the way.



Zanzan calculated the route carefully, deciding just where to cross the raging river. When he settled on a rickety bamboo bridge, one of our companions passed on the opportunity, leery of the footing. Zanzan stayed with her, while the rest of us, more stubborn, continued on.


As we walked, the terrain became steeper and the path less certain. We followed with wavering confidence as a guide bounded sure-footed up the side of the mountain. As the heat began to take its toll, we mopped our faces with our muddy hands. We scrambled sideways up the never-ending climb, sometimes grabbing onto nearby brush for purchase.


This photograph doesn’t nearly do the slope justice. Imagine, instead, the steepest mountain slope you have ever seen, with a path with a gentle switchback leading up. Then imagine it without the switchback. Then imagine it without the path.

There was some bitching, a good deal of cursing and more than a little fear, all reasonable reactions. We varied in age from 50ish to 70-plus and this hike was much more than we bargained for. Buttons were definitely pushed.


Hours later, exhausted and covered in mud and scratches, we crested the mountain. When we couldn’t ascertain from our guides’ broken English how much further we had to go to reach the falls, Carole called Zanzan. When we learned we had a precipitous descent and a steep ascent left to go, a few more trekkers dropped out, agreeing to wait for Zanzan’s rescue.


The most determined of us continued on. Finally, after hours of the harrowing climb, the double waterfall emerged. We scrambled across the slippery rocks, stripped down to our swimsuits and plunged into the roiling pool. We laughed and yelled and played like otters until we were shivering from the cold spray.


Then Zanzan brought us our “box” lunches—fried rice, eggs and vegetables—that fortified us for the steep climb back up.

We returned to the retreat center triumphant—whether we had made it to the base of the falls or not. We had been pushed to our limits and surprised at our capacity to keep going. We had seen in ourselves and in others a level of strength we didn’t know we had.

A few days later, one of my fellow travelers asked me if all of Carole’s trips were “this hard.”

“This?” I teased. “This was a piece of cake.”

“How does she get people to keep signing up?” she asked.

By the time the trip ended, she knew the answer to that question as well as I did.  Trips like these open your eyes spiritually, mentally and intellectually in a way that only travel can.  They test you and define you.

Yes, they may push your buttons. But the payoff is something grand.



Mary has spoken to hundreds of groups in the Carolinas and across the country, including Meeting Professionals International, Public Relations Society of America, Lowe’s Home Improvement, the North Carolina Conference for Women, among others.

1 Comment

  1. Doug Allen 4 years ago

    This sounds like just what my 66 year-old mind and body needs and would enjoy. My Bride of forty years would remind me of the fact that a well intentioned doctor cut my leg off two years ago. That would precipitate an argument and… Well damn, I don’t know what the and is.

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