Reflections of a Blogger

Storytelling is my art. I started this blog as a forum to release my creativity and share my stories of traveling and inspiration -something to re-spark my imagination and regain my voice as a writer.  As I began to post more often about my most recent trip I came across a couple personal puzzles.

What to write and how to write? 

As a Marketing professional, I can easily analyze my blog and decipher which days, times or types of posts will gain more likes and views. I could post about things that I know will gain attention. I can add photos and tag other sites, or even write with SEO in mind. It’s an easy instinct. But that’s not the purpose of my blog. While the likes and comments will always feel good – others appreciating my work -this blog is for me. It’s my story. If I don’t share it with true integrity then what’s the point? While it is my story, my hope in creating this blog was that in re-inspiring myself I may be able to inspire others as well.

How much to share?

Again, this is my story. None of these blog posts are made up. They are all true perspectives on personal experiences. With that said, this is always the online world where anyone and everyone can read the posts. How much about my personal life or whereabouts should I share? This one I’m still wrestling with. I can’t achieve the full purpose of this blog without writing with integrity and vulnerability. How do I balance this with ideals of security? If any fellow bloggers have ideas or other opinions on this my ears are open.

 

 

Puerto Rico (Day 5) To Tour or Not to Tour

There are two main ways to travel, as a tourist or quasi-local wanderer. I’ve spoken to a few travel wanderers who claim you can’t truly know or explore the destination on guided tours of the must-see hot-spots. Then there are those who go to the destination for the intention of seeing the tourist attractions and are interested in the history or the location. In my opinion there are benefits to each, but it can depend on the person, the location and quality of the tour.

Day 5

For our last full day on the island we were booked on a tour of the El Yunque National Forest, a popular tourist attraction. This must-see hotspot was about 45 minutes from our hotel. Without a rental car, the most economical way to get there was by booking a tour. A round-trip taxi would have cost more than twice the tour. The tour included the round-trip ride, a guide through the forest, and  a stop at Luquillo beach.

Our first stop was the visitor center. We hurriedly purchased desperately needed rain ponchos – we mistakenly decided not to bring jackets and it was already poring when we stepped out of the bus.

After laughing at ourselves we headed back to our tour guide Carlos. My mom asked him if he had a lot of tours that week. It’s Spring Break after all, must be a busy season. Carlos shook his head. His weekly tours have recently been cut in half due to a lack of demand. There are less people willing to travel in general due to the economy and less people traveling to Puerto Rico. More people are also finding it more convenient and cheaper to rent a car while on the island and explore El Yunque on their own. I thought about this and it definitely made sense. But do you get the same experience on your own without the added know-how from a guide? Do you miss out? Does it make a difference? With any tour it can be hard to say without trying it both ways.

Carlos collected the group and briefly explained some of the uses and history of nearby plants in the forest. We went to another stop where we could climb the stairs of the tower for a gorgeous landscape view of the forest (photo above, courtesy of my sister). We were given a time limit to meet back at the bus, at which point we were again given a botany lesson. It was interesting, but our purpose was to spend time walking through the forest and seeing the waterfall.

Finally, our third stop, the start of the forest trail. We had about an hour and fifteen minutes to hike down, enjoy the waterfall and hike back up to meet the group at the bus. The hike was a mile and half, but with flat pavement, steep inclines and declines, and the humidity it could easily feel like a five mile climb. It was a difficult hike for me.

IMG_8076Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my time in the forest. The sounds of the birds and Coquis, the flowery perfume scents of the surrounding plants, the fresh nature air, and finally making it to the waterfall made it worthwhile. I just wish I had more time to revel in it. By the time we reached the waterfall we only had about ten minutes to take a few photos before we had to climb back up to meet our guide at the bus.

Carlos then drove us to another nearby waterfall for a few quick photos. On our way I saw families parking their rental cars and taking their time to admire the forest.

After lunch our itinerary included two hours at the beach. Now I love the ocean. I love spending as much time as possible listening to the waves. But it would have been nice to spend more of that time at the forest instead.

Can I say for absolute certainty the tour is not the way to see El Yunque? No. I haven’t taken a rental and figured out how much entrance fees to the forest were or how easy it is to navigate to the trail without a guide. I’m also sure others who have taken the tour may have had a very different experience than mine.

My advice: Before choosing whether to tour or not to tour, consider what do you personally hope to gain from the trip, and if the tour itinerary is exactly as you wanted to experience the destination.

In our case renting a car to wander through El Yunque at our pace would have been a bit more fitting.

 

Puerto Rico (Day 4) Plans & Nature

Stop planning and let what will be be. Trust the journey.

Planning is in my personal nature. I feel more comfortable when I know what’s coming, when I can visualize the day. But I also know when traveling planning every step never works. This trip I told myself I would let go of the reins entirely. I did so as best as I could, but there were times I needed a few reminders.

Day 4 

One thing on my bucket list has always been to go horseback riding on the beach. I love horseback riding and I love the ocean, it couldn’t be more perfect to combine the two. We booked a 3 hour riding tour of the Carabali Rain Forest Park and Luquillo beach with Hacienda Carabali. Nature had its own ideas.

Too much rain the previous day made the river too high and therefore too dangerous for the horses to cross over. The beach portion of the horseback riding tour was cancelled, but we could still go through the rain forest for a 2 hour ride instead. Yes, I was a bit bummed and could’ve said forget it that wasn’t the game plan. But hey I still had the option to go riding in a beautiful scenery. And it turned out to be a great experience.

Our riding tour guides, Joshua and Fernando, went the extra mile to make sure we were 20160313_070102comfortable, and enjoyed the tour. They explained the history and benefits of some of the native surrounding plants. We even tried a bit of what the native tribes used as skin moisturizer and insect repellent. We stepped into the river and they showed us how a particular green leaf turns silver in the clear water.

My horse also kept things entertaining. He had a mind of his own. When he wanted to eat, he stopped. When he wanted to be in a certain spot in line, he sped up and cut past the horse in front of him just to get through. Joshua said the horse can resemble the personality of its rider. And I think he’s right. Like I said I am a planner, and I plan to be in control of a situation, to be the one who directs where I want to go. That’s when I realized the irony. By resembling me, so to speak, my horse was halting my ability to control the ride. Nature was again telling me to let go. And it wouldn’t be the last reminder of the day.

After a relaxing ride, my mom, sister and I wanted to go out on the town. We were told about a particular street near our hotel that had music, good food and dancing all night long. When in Puerto Rico, right? So we got dolled up in our cute dresses. We asked the hotel receptionist for directions. It seemed fairly close, so we headed out. It started to rain. It had been raining off and on during our trip, but it typically only lasted for a few minutes, so we kept going. It didn’t stop, it poured. A passerby informed us our destination really wasn’t as close as we thought. We were drenched and cold. So much for dancing in cute dressing on a night out in San Juan. Goodbye plan once again. We rushed back to our room to dry off.

When the clouds cleared we headed back out, but this time in comfortable clothes simply in search of authentic cuisine wherever we found it. We took a few turns and ventured through a neighborhood with local bars, homes and convenience stores. We finally found a spot with my favorite dish, Paella. One trip goal complete.

While the night didn’t end with Latin music as I’d hoped, it did end with music – the whimsical sounds of the coquis. Coquis are little frogs that surround the island by singing “ko-kee” at night. I finally heard the signature sound and it made my night.

No, the day didn’t go as planned, but I wouldn’t re-do it any other way. Those are memories to savor.

Puerto Rico (Day 2-3) Home Away From Home

It’s a home away from home.

20160311_093830On our 2nd day we spent the day at the beach. As soon as I saw the waves I felt an immediate sense of calm and comfort. Nothing else mattered. Pure peace. We splashed in the ocean and sunbathed. My sister and I got a little red, but we enjoyed it all the same.

Day 3

The following morning I got antsy. We are only here for a short week I couldn’t waste daylight. So I went for a walk. No road map – the best way to explore.

I walked around the neighborhood behind our hotel. The colorful buildings, praised sidewalks, colorful leaves and sound of nearby traffic all reminded me of Chicago. Almost as if I was walking through my childhood street. Familiar and comfortable. I turned around, found an alleyway and headed toward the water by Condando Bay. There’s a small pristine beach by Condado Hotel to just dip your toes in and enjoy the beautiful day.

I spent the rest of the day with my mom and sister at Old San Juan. We walked around and checked out the shops and castles. We admired the view of the ocean and watched the lizards crawl around the rocks.

The entire time it never felt like a vacation. I am where I am supposed to be. Call it my Puerto Rican blood or seriously needed relaxation, either way I’m definitely enjoying the journey.

Puerto Rico (Day 1) – A small world

Traveling always reminds me of how small the world really is. During the day to day we are all guilty of staying in our little four corners of life. This gives us the illusion that the rest of the world is so expansive, mysterious and different from our hometowns. Then I travel and either see familiar things, meet someone I share a common story, or -even more interesting – meet up with an old family friend while visiting a new place.

Two days before my trip to San Juan I had an exciting discovery, my friend Annie had just flew into the island. Annie and I have known each other since we were little, our parents longtime friends, but we hadn’t seen each other in about 8 years. Now we were both vacationing in Puerto Rico with our moms.

After arriving in San Juan and checking into our hotel, my mom and I met Annie and her mom for dinner. It was great to catch up. With a glass of wine and some delicious Puerto Rican cuisine from Herencia cafe, we reveled in the unexpected way we were re-connected. We made plans to meet back up at the beach the next day.

Happy International Women’s Day

Today was International Women’s Day. I had never heard of it before, until about 6am this morning. A beautiful young woman and dear friend of mine (who will remain anonymous) tagged me in a Facebook post celebrating strong woman.

I met this courageous, vibrant, lady during my stay in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. She was among many who welcomed my study abroad group into her home. And welcomed we were – with open arms. We joined the mamas to help make steam bread. We played soccer with the nearby school kids. And we danced.

About a week and a half later my group joined seven young Khayelitsha women on a venture to a cabin in the mountains. Here we dove into intense discussions of race and religion, Christianity versus Xhosa, and stereotypes. We discussed ideas of identity, what makes us who we are and who says so.  We played. We argued. We built a puzzle, solving a problem together. We danced. And we sang – a little “Lean on Me,” “Take a Bow” by Rihanna. We even created  our own Ubuntu remix of “Bringing Sexy Back” – “Bringing Ubuntu Back.”

We built lasting friendships with a deep appreciation and respect for each other.

Now March 8th, 2016 and a simple tag on a Facebook post continues to make me smile.

Here’s to strong, courageous, beautiful women created out of compassion, empathy and love. To all the amazing women in my life. And most importantly, to the incredible lady who wrote a Facebook post.

Ayoba!

Trust the Journey

We were without a road map, and in a foreign country with barely $20 in our pockets. Yet we continued on our tasks to find, feel, taste, smell, see – to experience.

Six years ago, I started a journey that – without sounding incredibly cliche – changed my life. I signed up for a study abroad experience to Cape Town, South Africa.

In preparation for the trip, those of us participating joined our study abroad director to prepare and learn more about the South Africa culture. We came to appreciate the idea of Ubuntu – a belief that we are all ourselves because of each other. I am because we are. We were ready to speak the lingo, or so we thought.

Before our last meeting stateside our director asked us to trust the journey, to understand that every step of our trip – packing, airport security, the flight, arrival, everything – was part of the journey.

I thought I understood. Ubuntu and trust the journey. Simple ideas that made sense. But it wasn’t until I was on a scavenger hunt in the middle of Cape Town did it truly sink in.

Our first full day in Cape Town, my first day in a foreign country period, my friends and I were split into groups of three. We were given a list of things to find around the city. The goal: to taste, touch, see, smell and experience things we never have before.

Remember, no map, and barely much money. Oh yeah and no phones. Without these tools we were forced to really take everything in. Look around. Really see it. See where Table Mountain was in relation to the our bed and breakfast, in relation to the mall, the statues and the ocean.

We were to rely solely on the people. To trust the stranger that heads of site to return with your appropriate change (he did). To trust the other bystander to point you in the direction of the appropriate taxi to take you to the next location on your scavenger list. And to trust the assurance of your friends when you become confused and wary.

During our trip across Cape Town we saw a historical statue, tasted a fruit we had never heard of before, dipped our toes in the ocean. We learned how to ask for the bathroom (not bathroom, or restroom, but toilet).

We opened our eyes and observed the world around us. We became one with the community with a simple goal of just relishing in the journey.

On our way back to our bed and breakfast we had crossed off everything on our list except one: hug a stranger. I don’t remember if this was explicitly on the list or whether the list said “do something we’ve never done before,” and that’s what we decided. Either way we stopped a passerby to ask for directions. When asked the simple question “Can we have a hug too” this man from Zimbabwe looked at us with surprise, wonder and awe. He thanked us being caring enough to give him a hug, a bright spot in his difficult day.

Ubuntu. I am because we are. That’s what it’s all about – connecting as one with the people around you.

By the end of the scavenger hunt every one of us reached our destination right on time. Trust the journey. More than just believing that the journey will play out as it should, but truly trusting in the journey and fully experiencing it as it plays out.

I learned these lessons while traveling through Cape Town. But sometimes, too often, I forget. This new blog will focus on remembering these lessons highlighting moments of inspiration and creativity to motivate myself and hopefully my readers.