{Travel Tuesday} Finding Awe

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ⓉⓇⒶⓋⒺⓁ 𝒯 𝓊 ℯ 𝓈 𝒹 𝒶 𝓎 : I was on a trip to Zambia, Africa with a group of students from my high school. We had heard about the Black Rhino at the preserve we were about to safari to, and I couldn’t wait to see it! He was exotic, and one of only a few left in the world as they were nearly extinct at the time.

Our one-day adventure tour—before starting our mission work with kids and youth for the rest of the 10 days in Zambia—was here and I was ready. Starting in the cool early morning, we jumped into jeeps that bounced through the dirt trails and grassland, on the lookout for giraffes, zebras, and the alleged BLACK RHINO.

Our caravan rounded a corner, and at this point we hopped out of the jeeps to go on foot to where our guide thought he could be. He was blocked from my view when our guide announced he was there. Then, when I did glimpse his grey body lazily munching on the grass, I was surprised at how un-intimidating he looked.

“THAT is it?!” I thought to myself a little disappointed. “He’s not even black! He looks like a normal rhino!”

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The only time I had ever seen a rhino in real life before this moment was at the San Diego Zoo. How spoiled could my reaction be, as if the fact I was standing yards from the beast wasn’t impressive?!

“Who wants a picture with him?” Our guide asked.

One by one, we got photos with the rhino behind us. As the photo shoot was going on, our guide talked about the power of rhinos, their speed and strength, and how the one way to possible escape a rhino charging you is to run in circles and curves since their muscles prohibit them from turning easily.

It was my turn for a pic, and I had absorbed everything our Zambian guide had said. Now, grazing the grass 80 ft from me, it was hard to turn my back to the beast, knowing his body of muscle could easily charge, top speed reaching 35 mph. I can run, what 2? On a good day? HA!

My trip to Zambia reminded me of how small I am in every possible way. Even the termite mounds we saw were ginormous… the smallest thing, a termite, could cause so much damage if weren’t out in the open plains.

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Victoria Falls, misty and loud, the spray in the sky could be seen for miles down the river.

I even felt small doing my part in helping teach classes to students during our days of mission work, and playing with swarms of kids from the compounds who just wanted to be seen, touched, and hugged for a minute.

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I had turned 17 years old two days before the trip began, and it was a great way to start another lap around the sun. Zambia gave me such new perspective on life. From the way people eat, to the land full of animals I had only seen in books and movies.

The craziest, wildest things in nature, like rhinos and waterfalls flowing at speeds of nearly 39,000 cubic feet per second, there for us to behold and appreciate.

The Black Rhino will forever be a lesson to the vastness of the world. That I’m not that powerful against… anything wild in nature. And though it took a minute to sink in, that seeing the Black Rhino in person WAS a big deal. I walked away in awe and inspired and hope to continue the lesson to today… Awe keeps me humble and reminds me of the great things in this world outside of my own bubble.

{Travel Tuesday} Travel Better With These 3 “To-Dos”

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Travel better with these three recommendations for your next trip!

Rather than make a post about a specific country, culture, and time of life, the simple “To Dos” on this Travel Tuesday post are things that I’ve learned through the 27 countries I’ve visited, that I hope will help you make the best memories the next time you venture out!

1. Do talk to strangers. Some of the best moments traveling have been the serendipitous conversations with passerby-ers, people staying in the same hostel as I, and strangers next to me on the bus or train.

I remember a time in Queretaro, Mexico striking up a conversation with a gentleman standing outside of a play I wanted to see. I was with a few other students and we all showed up late, without tickets. It was sold out. We ended up striking a conversation with a guy outside, having no idea he worked at the theater. If we hadn’t taken the time to chat, he wouldn’t have then snuck us in a backdoor so we could see the second half of the show… It pays to talk to strangers; you never know where it’ll get you!

Another time, a guy with blue hair, gauges in his ears, and wearing a leopard print shirt was traveling from Spain to Morocco on the same flight as I. From the looks of him, this guy was someone I wouldn’t have talked to on my own turf. However, he asked me a few questions about Morocco, namely why was I going, and then happily told me allllll about his vacation. From plane, to taxi, to train, we ended up sticking together through the travel process in making it to our destinations. Halfway through our 2 hour wait for the train, I heard him ask the people around us about phones and buying a SIM card and data. He turned out to be a huge asset as together we found a mall a couple of blocks from the train station with a phone store, got food, and he even carried my bags on and off the train for me. You can find great comradery in friendly travel conversation, even with someone who looks like they just rolled through their sister’s closet by accident.

With strangers I’ve gone rock climbing, dancing, out to shows, connected with over drinks, and like the guy from Morocco, even finding and buying phone data in foreign countries! Strangers, while keeping a close hold on my phone and wallet, make traveling worth it as we’ve exchanged stories and experienced life together. After all, my current fiancé was just a stranger on a ship at one point, before we started talking!!

2. Do travel alone. I LOVE group trips. It’s important, fun, and you come back with shared stories to talk about for years to come. BUT the times I’ve traveled alone, I’ve learned more about myself—what I’m capable of, what scares me, and how to stretch myself out of my comfort zone. I am more aware of my surroundings when alone, whether for safety reasons, or just to make sure I arrive on time to the next bus or train. It allows me to take in more with sights, sounds, and smells. I get to pull out my camera, and not feel pressured to hurry because I’m with people, as I capture the both the breadth and depth of life around me. I love a good solo trip, even if it’s just for a day to branch out in a new city.

3. Do what locals do. I’ve certainly stood out as a foreigner in many travels. Even just to NYC, 5 hours from where I live in Pennsylvania, if you’re not from the area, locals can tell. And with that comes the risk of being targeted for money, scams, pick pocketers, or worse. I’ve learned to research the customs of the areas I’ll be traveling to in advance and have gotten advice from people through Facebook groups, blogs, tour guides and even “safe zones” like hotels and Airbnbs. Doing the local thing, by researching in advance will save you money and harassment, I promise.

A small, but telling story of being naive in a new place was as simple as buying a gelato in Italy. You would think it was a simple thing, buying gelato in Florence. It’s everywhere. Street corners and plazas. Piled high in beautiful, colorful mounds. Luckily, I’m not much of a dairy eater anymore, or I would have fallen for the simple trap that those gelato stands have going on in most touristy places throughout Italy. I learned from a local that those tall, gorgeous piles of gelato aren’t real (artisan), and shop owners charge double, 6 euros, instead of 2 or 3, for a scoop like in true gelato shops. She said the real places with homemade, artisan, and authentic gelato keep it insulated in small containers. And she warned to not spend more than 3 euros for a dish. If the workers tried to charge more, she said tell them you know better and you’ll pay the local rate.

It doesn’t matter what country, city, or culture I’ve visited, I’ve been naive and have stood out many times. But through seeking locals’ and avid travelers’ advice, and by doing what they do and going where they go, I’ve always had a richer experience.

By the end of my Italy trip, I ended up trying gelato a few times and it was always the right price and quality, saving me a few bucks as a foreigner.

That’s it! My three “To Do’s” to making the most of your next trip. Drop a message/ leave a comment with your To Do’s when traveling; I’m always open to the advice of others!

{Travel Tuesday} Cuba: Write and Remember

 

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I wish I had written about Cuba when I traveled to the island in 2018. I was only there for a day with my best friend on a cruise stop. It was the hottest day of the cruise, that I recall well. Sweat dripping into my eyes despite the smiles for the camera. But of all of our stops that gorgeous cruise trip, our one day in Cuba was my favorite. The problem is, as I flipped through old photos, I can’t remember everything that made the day so special.

Hence, why this is such an important post. What I do remember I will try to detail out here, and pray for another visit one day in the future that lasts longer than just a few hours.

Timeless is the first word that comes to mind, when thinking of walking the streets of Havana that hot morning. There was something quiet and timeless in the old cruiser cars, the signs that hung above shops on the streets, and the architecture run down by the salty air, but kept “nice” with a colorful coat of paint.

Rum, Cigars, and Coffee, oh my! The best part of learning about Cuba was a rum, cigar, and coffee tasting in an old bar where we got a mini dance and music lesson. The three biggest exports of the island, rum, cigars, and coffee (along with fish which we learned later on our tour that day), were cheap and good. We learned of the different grades of Cuban cigars– our guide told us to never buy the most expensive cigars offered because at the end of the day, whatever options are layed out, it’s still a cigar from Cuba. Romeo and Juliette is the brand we tried, not the most expensive, but still as pure as they come. I remember Tiffany, my best friend on the trip too, being able to light her cigar with ease, smoking like she’d done it 1,000 times. I on the other hand struggled with the simple task.  As we learned, the correct way to light a Cuban cigar is with a little strip of cedar, that allows the cigar to burn, without contaminating the flavor. My strip of cedar was burning too fast before I ever really got the cigar lit, and burnt my fingers instead. I did get a small a taste of flavor for a couple of moments, enough to feel like a true tourist.

As for coffee and rum, the rum was CHEAP and a handle of the same rum in the USA would have been $20-30 depending on tax! In Cuba, I chose not to take the opportunity to get a bottle for just $5. Taught me a little bit of the price markup and taxes that make some imported goods so expensive. And the coffee tasted sweet, not bitter. Fresh Cuban coffee, having not sat on a shelf for weeks or months before brewing, probably allowed for the flavors of the bean to stand out. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the flavors that day.

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Life in Cuba, our guide had lived her whole life where everything from cooking oil to meat was rationed by family size. She said her family (parents and a sibling) only got 7 oz of oil per month, which is not quite a cup. Imagine spilling that on your floor one day by accident, or using too much in the pan than necessary… It’s hard to think you can’t just go to the cupboard for more, but have to wait till the following month to get what you need.

As the country is growing to attract more tourists, they have programs that allow people to go to Hotel and Restaurant service school. A way to have a guaranteed career in the Travel and Tourist Biz if they don’t want to continue their education after high school. Handfuls of 20 year-old (ish) men and women walked in their uniforms, and when I asked the guide about if school was still in session, though it was the middle of July, she informed me that training to work in a restaurant or hotel is the thing to do after high school. That and like her, becoming a tour guide.

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And finally, I thought it was fascinating that Hemmingway spent so much time in Cuba fishing, writing, and living. We stopped in the hotel he used to stay and live at when he was on the island, and even saw him shaking the hand in an old photo with Fidel Castro. It was in Cuba that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, the work that turned him into a household name.

I suppose I remember quite a bit considering our cruise ship was docked for a total of 7 hours, before moving on to Cozumel, MX. The beauty of writing is it forces you, me, to remember with words in a way much different than passively flipping through photos, and I am so grateful to have all of the memories of that day.

{Travel Tuesday} Jamaica: They Have BMW’s Too

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I have one of the coolest, down to earth, kind, generous, LOVING boyfriends. We met unexpectedly on the last night of a Royal Caribbean cruise a little over a year ago… My best friend and I took a girls week and Kevin was with his family. From the night we met, through the months of us talking, to his traveling to see me in my home state of Pennsylvania so he could take me out, and eventually me caving to his asking me so many times to be his girlfriend… I realized how many presumptions and assumptions I had about his country.

But these presumptions and assumptions only came to light as I began to get to know the man pursuing me. The man pursuing me LOVES his BMW, knows more about American football than I do (and I worked for a prominent collegiate football team), and when we are together he tries to take me out for date night every night. He’s educated. Flew planes for six years in Miami. Played soccer (football) on the same field that Usain Bolt trained for running. And! …He pays for my Netflix!! Well. I just use his because last year as a student I wasn’t trying to spend extra money on frivolous things like TV shows.

Getting to know Kevin has opened my eyes to what I thought I knew about Caribbean culture and as a third world country. You see, had I thought Jamaica needed to be rescued. Oh, I knew it was a gorgeous tropical island with great beaches and rum. But only for tourists at resorts. Locals had to deal with crime and danger at every turn. To be honest, before Kevin I hadn’t really met anyone from Jamaica and my closest encounter with the country was the missions trip my childhood church went on to save the poor country from itself. (I wasn’t allowed to go. Tells you how close I got to Jamaica before this spring).

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When I finally got to visit Kevin this past spring, my island guy introduced me to brunches and coffee shops in the mountains with views, local business shops with trendy styles, resorts with endless food buffets, impromptu ballroom and beach dancing, friends who called me “queen” and “empress”, and nights in the city complete with bottles of wine.

Like anywhere, Jamaica is full of so much to do see and experience. People are kind and fun. There are beautiful homes, churches, schools and lush scenery everywhere you turn…  Like anywhere, there is crime. Poverty. And more to be done to help others less fortunate. You don’t need to travel to a third world country to give to to those in need. You don’t need to stay in a first world country to drive a BMW. Jamaica isn’t perfect, but as I write these Travel Tuesday posts I have yet to find a perfect country in any way. And as Ziggy Marley says, “When people come to Jamaica, we don’t want them to think about the problems of Jamaica. So let them come be in their paradise.”

 

 

I’m grateful my island guy drove me all over his home country those two week this last year, taking pride in all that he showed me. He’s passionate about where he is from, and wanted me to experience the best of it when I was there. And thanks to him, Jamaica’s paradise became a little bit of mine.

{Travel Tuesday} Nice: Beautiful French Riviera

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The French Riviera though!!! The closest I’ve see to the gorgeous city of Nice in the USA is Santa Barbara, CA. You’ll just fall in love with walks along the beach, sunsets below the city, or in the hills above it, coastal views that wrap around harbors and marinas, up, down, in the city, or along the water, the beauty of the French Riviera, and today’s Travel Tuesday post in Nice will have your mouth watering.

I only spent three days there, but as a single female, traveling by myself that winter break in 2018, I felt comfortable walking and exploring both with the sun up and down. The city was pretty easy to navigate with a cell phone, but honestly the best was when I didn’t use a map and walked taking photos everywhere I went. If you have a camera you’ll hardly want to put it down, the quaint buildings, European architecture, and beach made for some of the prettiest photos. And if nothing else, I spend my time popping in and out of the cute shops after getting my fill of hills that line the coast and beach runs.

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The hills were easy to climb and DEFINITELY worth the trek up. Stairs led the way, and at one point on the beach I looked up at the hills and saw an amazing waterfall with people milling about. Once finding my way, I realized the waterfall was man made, but only added to the unique appeal of city + coast + mountains.

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Nice was a TAD expensive. I did the Air BnB thing which included breakfast, and I only bought food once a day outside of the morning toast and coffee provided, so I kept my costs down. That and I traveled after the holidays (a few days after New Years) and I think that helped me get around the tourist prices of traveling to the area. However, I treated myself to one “nice” meal (haha get it?) and though my host who recommended the restaurant said it would be okay for one person, I remember paying about 60 euros for just the food. Yikes! And the shops weren’t that far off as far as expense either… though I admit I spent most of my time in the touristy areas of Nice. Perhaps deeper into the city it would be cheaper? To me buying things wasn’t the point of my visit. My photos were enough of a souvenir and even now after going through them for months, I have too many to choose from to get printed and framed!

In all I recommend Nice 100%. Go here before Paris, please.