‘They call me Satan’s Mistress’, she cackled. Her beautiful worldly green eyes shone and her jet black hair glistened. I was instantly in awe of this solo female traveller.
I met Jean in Osaka, Japan. Traveller introductions are nearly always an insight into the most inspiring people you’ll ever meet but this globetrotter stood out. She talks in a calm, thoughtful southern US drawl. Alert and interested, Jean isn’t over-powering in her presence but when it’s her turn to take centre stage you stop and enjoy the show.
Jean’s one of those rare breeds of people who can have you howling with laughter one minute and then in solemn silence the next. Her tales of both life and travel are powerful and her humour often wicked.
I guess I should mention that Jean’s 71, a grandmother and is sticking two fingers up to what society thinks she should be doing. She’s not defined by her age, not at all. This fearless solo traveller is an inspiration to us and a worry to her son, who’s convinced he’s going to have to pay to get her scooped up one day.
She took her first solo trip in 1980 where she crossed the border into Mexico. Like most of us who travel solo she didn’t think, ‘oh I’d love to travel on my own’. Friends weren’t available and she wanted to go, so she went. The beauty and selfish joy of travelling alone quickly became obvious, and since then Jean has travelled the world.
This mother of two managed to combine travel, a career and child-rearing. For many of the years as a single parent. Originally from Mississippi, Jean isn’t typical of her region. She now lives in New Mexico ‘where people tend to be more free spirited’. It was on a recent trip back to her home state that earned Jean the nickname ‘Satan’s Mistress’. Her liberal views and anti-Trump beliefs aren’t too common within red Mississippi.
As Jean started sharing her travel stories it became clear why her son worries about his mum’s adventures. ‘Did I tell you about the time I was shopping in Mexico and I fell into a four foot hole? A whole group of local men had to pull me out’. ‘Oh and that time I broke my ankle when I was travelling on the Trans Siberian Express and spent a week in a yurt in outer Mongolia recovering.’
The only good thing about getting injured in another country, where you know no-one, is you quickly learn just how kind the human race can be. When Jean got seriously sick in India, she dragged herself out to buy supplies and came into contact with a sixteen year old Tibetan boy. He realised how ill she was and made it is mission to find medicine and care for her until she was mobile. When Jean tried to pay him for his help, he refused and said ‘all women are my mother’.
Did you cry? I nearly cried. If you ever lose faith in humanity (c’mon it’s 2016 you must have!) then travel the world. At your most vulnerable humanity steps in and you realise that people are inherently kind.
So yes Jean’s travelled extensively, but her heart is clearly in Latin America. Originally Mexico, where she also encouraged her sons to join her. She wanted to teach them how to travel on a budget and enjoy the world. One of her son’s later moved to China, so I’m guessing her travel lessons worked.
In her late 50’s Jean took a year’s sabbatical and travelled along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Originally spending time with a Quaker settlement famed for their cheese-making. She had no route mapped out and no clear plans, she met a man and then wanted to move on from said man so she did a bunk to Antigua (Guatemala), where she returned 12 times!
It was Guatemala where she took her college students to brush up on their Spanish. Jean worked as a lecturer teaching counselling and with a high volume of refugees in her home city of Sante Fe good Spanish is important. Unsurprisingly her college students believed this trip to be life-changing. I can’t think of a more inspiring university professor I’d want to take a trip with.
Then in 2006 Jean spent a month in Argentina learning to dance the Tango. Here she met friends from all over the world. She talks about Argentina with so much joy, you can tell this is where her heart is. She goes back most years, for months at a time, with her dog Mei-Mei, a pampered 15 year old pooch – her baby. When Jean talks about Tango her eyes light up and as I left Japan she was trying to find a dance in Tokyo.
Four years ago Jean fell deeply in love with Alberto, who she met in Buenos Aires. With two marriages behind her, this was a big chance for happiness. Alberto and Jean spent a year together, happy and in love. Connected through Tango, they travelled together and road-tripped the US. I wish the story ended there, but sadly Alberto died on a return trip home. Jean found out about his death through a relative after an anguish-filled time where she had no idea what had happened to him.
This fearless traveller and vivid story-teller didn’t give up on life, like so many would have done. She continues her journey with love, laughter and way too many injuries!
Spending six months in Argentina to celebrate her 70th birthday Jean celebrated with champagne, of course! After suffering a subdural hematoma (brain bleed) she missed her 2016 trip to her favourite place but already has plans to head back there in 2017.
This 71 year old was last seen investigating sending home a Japanese super toilet (they’re incredible), can often be found sharing her travels on Facebook live, and takes her dog Mei-Mei on many of her adventures.
Jean broke the mould, with no real travelling role-models, she just knew she wanted to experience life to its fullest. She’s done that and will continue to do so for many years to come!