IF the opportunity to travel to CUBA comes around, take it!
The People Are Amazing!
Let me start off by writing, Cuba is a GREAT travel destination. The countryside is filled with incredible places to hike and bike and the major cities literally time warp you back 60 years, as the architecture seems unchanged since the 1950s. Cuba is beautiful and the people match their county.
Most wandering spirits, such as my self, opt to stay in Casa Particulars. This is basically a guest room within a local home rented out to tourists. (Even if you can afford the hotel commit to the adventure and stay in at least one Casa Particular.) The information and intimate perspectives you gain from connecting with people who have lived their entire lives in the area you are visiting is priceless. I am so grateful for the help that I received from my host family. This personal connection to the local people helped me navigate the area so that I could make the best use of my days exploring. This type of accommodation also provided me with a great home-base, allowing me the opportunity to glimpse the "authentic" day to day life in Cuba. Everyone I met along the way in Cuba was EXTREMELY friendly and happy. (Can you be to friendly and happy?) Most locals live simply, focused not on what they lacked, but instead worked graciously, humbly, and with joy for what they had - despite many years of suffering under global trade restrictions.
In all the material possessions I own or the money I have, HAPPINESS isn't found in any of it. Happiness is within the relationships we make with one another and the passion we use to approach our lives I would not consider myself materialistic but in Marxist–Leninist socialist Cuba I came to the hard realization that I am privileged. I often felt a little like I was in the "Hunger Games" as I would eat a modest restaurant meal, in American standards, knowing most definitely that the meal I was eating was a luxury to most of the people in Cuba. I want to be globally aware and socially in-tuned to my world. That is why I believe traveling is so important for all of us. By looking into how others live we can broaden our perspectives, learn to be more grateful for what we have, and see that we can live more simply. We do not need all of our "things" to truly be happy. My experiences in Cuba gifted me the opportunity to see and put new perspective on wealth and privilege.
Travel has helped me to become a better person by exposing me to new people and experiences. Whenever I travel off to a far away place I constantly compare and contrast the culture I am visiting with to my own culture. Humans are amazing creatures with amazing abilities. We have the power within us to be kind, ruthless, giving, cruel and the list of antonyms goes on forever, but I think, the most basic need for all of us is to CONNECT. LOVE and be LOVED
This lesson really sank in on the last day when I left my iPhone in the cab after being dropped off at the airport. Initially, I panicked. How will I contact home? (My mom and dad will freak out! Especially with Venezuela's uprise) All my pictures of everything are on my phone, my contacts, basically my life! I thought of every scenario on how I might be able to get my phone back. Should I switch my flight? Should I try and call a different taxi? I finally conceded that it would not be worth my time or money to track the phone down. I then reflected on the lessons of my trip to Cuba.
"Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show."
At the end of the day it was only a cell phone and it was time for me to come home to the people I love and who love me.
In all my craziness lately I started to notice my mind naturally drifting to a specific experience from my travels to Thailand this summer. I began contemplating why, and I wanted to share it with you.
While in Chang Mai this summer, I receive a Sak Yant. Sak Yants (also known as a Yantra, or Sak Yan) are tattoos that are designed using geometric shapes, animals, and deitys to give the bearer benefits. I knew I wanted the traditional experience of receiving a Sak Yant while in Thailand so, I researched a variety of options and settled on an experience booked through Where The Sidewalk Ends. Although a little pricey this seemed to me to be an authentic experience and provided me with an English translator. I was definitely not disappointed.
Sak Yant tattoos have been around for centuries. Many believe that the tattoos can provide strength, confidence, discipline, and protection to those who wear them. Historically, Sak Yant tattoos were often found on warriors because of the powerful "magic" that they held. Think of the "magic" from the mind of a warrior going into battle. The Sak Yant fully armed the warrior by mentally preparing them for battle. The mind thinks that it has something the other side does not, therefore the "magic" works. The mind is a powerful tool and MINDSET determines outcomes.
I was more than a little nervous. I had NO idea what to expect, but I felt as if I was committing to an experience that was emotionally deep and very spiritual. When the Ajarn Rung was ready, we began to visit. (Yes... I was talking to a Buddhist monk!) What struck me first was how carefree and fun he was to talk with. I mentioned this to my translator and he laughed. He told me that the Ajarn had spent his entire life in a Buddhist monastery, he had few worries to plague him. I also learned that the Ajarn was sought out by many people for blessings, and to lead certain ceremonies in the community. He was very respected.
I shared with him my hopes, fears, dreams, and the things that I thought held me back in life. It seemed so natural, like talking to a good friend. When we were done visiting the Ajarn showed me the Sak Yant he had created specifically for me. It was very emotional and really special because it was uniquely mine. The tattoo was created to remind me that true happiness can only be found within and that with discipline, hard work, a little luck and protection anything I set my mind to, can be accomplished.
Then the Sak Yant ceremony began. I made my offering and prayed for all the blessings within the Sak Yant to work and come true. I sat calmly in front of the Ajarn as he proceeded, in the traditional way, to apply the Sak Yant onto my body. After the Sak Yant was complete the Ajarn said a prayer over the symbols and the ceremony ended. I could feel the power of our time together and I will carry the message with me forever. This is definitely one of my favorite tattoos.
The whole ceremony was unforgettable and held a powerful personal messages for me. With the hard task of keeping our lives balanced we often feel stressed and anxious. The quiet magic of my SaK Yant seemed to be at work this month as It gently reminded me of all the good things in my life and that ONLY I have the power to create my best life - through patience, planning, and discipline I will find happiness.
Journaling, meditation, yoga or a Sak Yant I encourage you to search out your "magic" in helping you, remember - the power to create happiness is within YOU!
The funny thing about adventure, once you open your mind, it has a way of finding you.
While in Thailand this September I met some truly amazing people so when I receive a notification on my phone telling me I had a new message, a few months ago, from a person I met in Thailand I was thrilled.
I had shared a day at the Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai and then had dinner with her afterwards, At Dinner we had noncommittally talked about traveling together someday and possibly going somewhere we had never been. I am always down for more travel, but If I am being honest, at that time, I was a bit hesitant on making any promises to someone I had just met that morning. After dinner we continued our individual trips. She was headed to Vietnam and I was headed to Phuket and the southern Isles of Thailand not giving our conversations a second thought .
As I have settled back into my everyday life I have reflected on my common experiences I have had with the people I met in Thailand. We bonded together, in a strange humanistic way, connecting me to them forever. I have commented on this before, but will do so again; a strange kinship forms with other travelers you meet while on various trips and adventures. It is crazy to think - strangers enter your life for a night or maybe two, you hang out, laugh and have fun, then after the adventure is over you all move on.
My understanding at the time was that these people would simply become characters in my "life story," connecting with me on a page or two, perhaps as long as a chapters, then resigned to be a footnotes along my journey. But as I grow as an adventurer I am beginning to open my mind to see and understand the bond you can hold with a few of the people you encounter. Maybe it is the silent kinship that true adventure gives to us. It calls us to our next adventure asking us to reach out to those who have the same calling. The kinship among adventurers is real and amazing.
Needless to say it was a welcome surprise when I got the message. Did we want to go to Africa? Iceland? The possibilities sent excitement all through my body. I was excited to plan something out, but also truthfully, a bit concerned about my financial ability to support an adventure. After all, I had just spent a month traveling across Asia and like many people my age I have student loans, and other bills that need attention every month. So.... I did the adult thing and researched affordable travel spots to float by my adventure buddy. After researching I came up with some great places that had good exchange rates and safety ratings.
We finally agreed on two places that we would both want to travel. Now how did we get it down to one? How do we decide? Well, there was always rock paper scissors or we could take an "adult" approach and price the adventures out, (your welcome mom and dad). While pricing things out we found a great deal on flights to one of the locations. We pounced on the deal, booked our flights and are now scheduled to head to Cuba at the end of April. YES, CUBA. Suprised? I was too. So here is a quick history lesson on Cuba
I can't wait to share my planning experience with you in my next blog! Thanks for following me and if you decide to take the plunge into adventuring I would love to take it with you. Come make someday today and travel to Thailand with me this summer! The Elephants, hikes, food, and people are just waiting to embrace you and infect you with the travel bug!
Come connect and feel the kindred spirit of adventuring,
[ trav-uh l buhg ]