Tag Archives: wonder

Courage and Magic

I’m sitting up here on the same rooftop deck in Tel Aviv that I started my unforgettable journey almost three weeks ago! The late afternoon sun is starting to set over the Mediterranean Sea and the intoxicating breezes drift over me, telling me that I surely will be back here. I was born to live by the sea, and I am bewitched by this city and country, by the waves and the salt, the sand, the coolness of the ocean air, and the most beautiful boardwalk I have ever seen in which to take it all in.

I left off my last blog about to start my Jordanian cooking class, but I think I just wanted to get some general thoughts and experiences out on paper before I go to pack and get ready for one last night out before flying home tomorrow morning.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling – a lot – and to many different countries and cultures. This has not only been a deliberate choice but something that was in my blood I think from an early age. Everyone laughed at me when I said in all the serious thoughtfulness of a young child that I wanted to be a professional tourist when I grew up. I used to pour over maps imagining what it would be like to actually travel to all those countries. I’m a bit obsessed with globes and still pour over maps. I’m curious and I love trying new things. I love meeting new people and making friends. I love home and family and always want a real home to come back to – I don’t think I could be one of those that travel indefinitely over years and years – but there’s nothing quite like the excitement of planning for a trip, the rush of airports, and the deep joy that comes from experiencing moments of breathtaking beauty in this incredible world we live in.

I guess I have heard so many times that traveling is “an escape from reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel drops you smack right into the middle of reality and demands that you confront what you see, feel, experience. Traveling requires guts. Guts to face the challenges to whatever worldview you might have or been brought up with. It requires courage to face yourself. Wandering through cities or wilderness or wherever by yourself, you are brought face to face with WHO YOU ARE: your assumptions about other people and cultures and countries. Perhaps you start to realize that that upper-middle class white American existence that was all you’ve ever known – and the concomitant worldview that accompanies it – is not the only valid way to think. Perhaps you realize that relationship you’re in is not really the right one for you. Perhaps you become aware of how crazy blessed you are when you see whole villages that have next to nothing and you tell yourself you will never complain about anything again. And because there are so many practical challenges with travel, you also are confronted always with CHOICE. Do you choose to live in and embrace the moment? – The bus schedules written in a foreign language, the missed train, the hard bed and getting lost for hours in a strange city, the forgotten toothbrush, or stolen bag. Of course, we have these opportunities every.single.day. to choose, to change, to examine who we are but all I’m trying to, perhaps inadequately, say is that travel accelerates that process in a crazy way.

And just as travel is about shattering worldviews, confronting assumptions and prejudices, travel is also about MAGIC. I have had my senses filled with so much beauty that the joy threatened to shatter my soul. It seemed at times too big to contain. I will never forget standing in the pure snow of Iceland as it whipped around me gazing into the glowing, gold horizon over a sea fronted by a black beach and the tears just came to my eyes. I thought perhaps it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I remember weeping my way through the Jewish center of Prague, just unable to contain the emotion from the thousands of lives lost and the children that had to go through such unspeakable things. I remember where laughter trumped any need for a common language in a little mountain village in Thailand as we sat around sharing a meal and an unforgettable evening. I remember the complete exhilaration of sailboat racing in Sweden with some of the finest people I’ve met in my life: a group of friends whose love for each other was so real and tangible and who opened that love to include me.   And just this trip I remember so much – the moment my guide, Mahmoud, led me blindfolded to the edge of a cliff to surprise me with a view of the Treasury in Petra, the crazy beautiful slot canyons, the delight of scuba diving – always – seeing enormous fish the size of bathtubs, sunken wrecks, crazy funny puffer fish, and the blues, yellows, greens, reds of coral. Its hard to even convey the magic. (and there’s my plug for scuba diving, people…do it. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to being on another planetJ One of my favorite things in all the world. …

Anyway, I’m not really sure I conveyed all that was on my heart, but I guess I’m just trying to encourage everyone to be open to new people, experiences, ideas, cultures. Perhaps the ideas you have about the Middle East are a bit skewed – mine were before coming here. Perhaps you just want to try something new! Don’t be scared! Step out. All I know is that my life has been indelibly changed and enriched by stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing this awesome world we all share together. Shalom…

Viva la Mexico!

This morning I am snorkeling between dark stalagmite studded caverns and shimmering aqua cenotes…this afternoon sitting on a crowded airplane enroute to frigid Denver and sunny San Diego. The world has become so easily accessible to us, and yet so full of endless wonder and newness that it seems a lifetime of lifetimes is not enough time to explore it all.

These last few days exploring the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico has been amazing and such a treat. Having been rather spontaneously invited by one of my nursing friends to tag along on a family vacation, I had NO idea what to expect and so every day was such a delight and filled with adventure. My friends and I are not the type to sit around an all-inclusive resort for days on end (seriously, how could you…?) so we found ourselves out the door every morning only to return after dark every evening, still glorying in the sights seen, tacos eaten, waters played in, ruins explored, and the great company.
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my first walk along the beach! The sky along with the setting sun made for an awesome photo shoot! 

We had the privilege of acquiring a spacious condo at the Vendante, Grand Luxxe, and I have to say, while I don’t require a lot of luxury, it was a pleasure staying at a lovely resort where a maid comes and cleans your whole place twice a day, turning down the beds, leaving little chocolates on your pillow, washing dishes, straightening up all your things, hanging up clothes. I could get used to such. ☺ I’m afraid I would get dreadfully lazy though. I did love our little Mexican housekeeper. She always greeted us cheerfully every evening and left the place nicer simply by being so consistently sweet to us spoiled gringos.

Before I get going too much on my narration, I have to preface this by saying my last experience of Mexico was mixed: the pyramids of Teotihucan were incredible, the nightly streetside Styrofoam cups of hot Escitas became a staple, the bustling and colorful town of Peubla was fun, but the continued lack of a hot shower, the fear of getting sick, the horrendous border crossing experience, the poverty, and I guess, fear (?) discomfort (?) all left a rather unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth for the whole country. I had gone down to southern Mexico to visit my poor lonely sis who was teaching English in a little rural town, and I returned to the US, shaking the proverbial dust from my feet with no desire for a repeat visit. So, to get ahead of myself a bit, I am returning from this trip with a transformed mindset and experience ☺ Yesterday, I even romantically fantasized about living in a beachside villa in the little town of Akumel, with daily routines of snorkeling with the turtles, drinking cold cervezas under palm trees, and reading on the beach. Maybe look for me there someday…

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lunch and cerveza along the Akumal beach! glorious!

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had to capture some of the local bar art 🙂 this, despite being a skeleton really is full of joie de vivre and makes me chuckle!

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i loved this little humble nativity set up in the splendor of beachside condos. Shot on our long but lovely trek to the Akumal lagoon.

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they’ve been waiting for a beer for a loooong time…

Sunday, in an attempt to avoid the crowds (haha), we decided to venture over to the Isle of Cozumel. The choppy ferry ride had me green around the gills and almost in need of the green plastic barf bag thrust into my hands by attendees trained to spot the white faced nauseated passengers. All that was soon a distant memory as we drove down a dusty unpaved road to emerge upon the quintessential postcard Caribbean beach…little palm frond covered booths, peppy Mexican music emitted from behind open air bars, white sand and turquoise waters as far as the eye could see. And it was delightfully uncrowded. I wasted no time donning the virgin snorkeling gear (thanks, Mom for the Christmas present! ☺ ) and with just a bit of training on proper techniques, I was off and running, er , paddling away. I can scarcely describe the feelings. It truly is like discovering for the first time another world for that is indeed what under the ocean surface is. Teeming with life. Beautiful life. Quiet. Solitary. Glistening. The soft in and out sounds of my own snorkeled breathing. Colors. Wonder. These are all words and phrases that come to mind in an attempt to describe this experience. Newness. Whatever heaven is like, I remember thinking, it surely has to be a place of this: not the physical facts of swimming through water, but the constant state of wonder, discovery, awe, newness, excitement. I really feel it cannot be less. I was a child again and unashamed of the joys of discovery.

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my underwater photography did not go as planned…but I got a few shots before deciding to give it up all together. at least my little case kept my phone dry but wasn’t the best at helping me get some pictures, sadly…

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seemed so incongruous to be sitting on a hot beach while listening to christmas carols…

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Monday we ventured further south to the beaches and Mayan ruins of Tulum. Another day of lovely experiences: hiring a boat and a guide to take us out to the reef where we prowled around coral reefs eying funny looking, large-eyed squid floating along, black spiky anenomies fastened securely to the coral, bright blue flat fish the size of dinner plates, yellow striped fish swishing in and out of dark crevices, skinny translucent barracudas, skimming along the surface. It was amazing. And I learned that spitting in your mask helps it not fog up. Who knew?

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The Mayan ruins were super cool: right along the beach. They were so advanced in their understanding of astronomy it never ceases to astound me. Many of the Mexicans in the Yucatan still speak Mayan. Our guide in Chichen Itza had Mayan ancestry and showed us the flat back of his head, which is just one of the physical characteristics that distinguishes the Mayan bloodline. Chichen itza we visited the following day – barely made it there in time to get a guided tour before closing time. I suppose we were having too much fun exploring the shops and eating a delicious lunch in Vallodorid on the way there! The only thing that I really would have liked more of was a bit more wandering down city streets and just prowling around. I love to explore as well as play around with street photography. Maybe next time. Playa del Carmen….Akumel, etc etc. : a veritable wealth of interest to take in. I did spy this super cool bus in the parking lot of WalMart and started talking to the lovely couple that owned it. They are from Argentina and have been traveling for 9 years, selling t-shirts and copies of their photographic narrative book to be able to stay on the road. I loved their cool dog and they had a lovely daughter, who had been born during their traveling, making this the only life she’s ever known. She would be an interesting one to interview several years from now.

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first lunch in Playa del Carmen. I really wanted some of that pork on that spindle thing but it wasn’t ready yet..:(

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I arrived in Mexico with one burning desire: to swim with the turtles in Akumel. Finally…the day had arrived. First we snorkeled for hours at the lagoon: a sort of paradisiacal inlet/sanctuary for oceanic wildlife. I think I paddled a good mile or so all around the perimeter, exploring the deep crevices, spooking out the fish from their hiding places, looking at conch shells, watching the Barracudas, battling the currents. All in all, wearing myself out in a most satisfactory way☺ Akumel Bay was probably the most crowded beach we went on but after haggling and being haggled, we finally found a guide to take us out to see turtles and sting rays. There is something SO indescribable about these animals. Gazing down at their beautiful markings and the patterns on their shells I could see why they have become the stuff of legends and objects of worship. To have these mighty and ancient animals swim past you was such a beautiful experience. I desperately wanted to grab one by his front flippers and have it take me for a swim. Alas, no touching allowed. The sting rays are so creepy with their long, lethal looking tales and evil eyes, but also beautiful. I would be so scared to step on one!! They settle into the sand so you can’t even see them. Spooky.

Absolutely determined to experience a cenote before leaving, we all gamely got up early this morning and drove about an hour to Los Ojos, the largest system of cenotes in Mexico. Three caverns all interconnected by underground tunnels. I have always been quite scared of dark underwater depths and snorkeling around the dark, deep edges of the beautiful sun splattered cenote, I felt a frissone of fear creep into me. Through water as clear as glass, I couldn’t stop staring at the divers silently slip past me and venture into the dark tunnels…it was such a surreal, monumental feeling for lack of a better way to describe it. Finally it was our turn to be led through the caverns connecting the cenotes and into “Bat Cave” – ew. I like bats but they really are gross, hairy little creatures all clumped together hanging in obscene little lumps from the ceiling. Anyway, the caverns were incredible!! Silently snorkeling along with our waterproof flashlights, single file, we gazed down around, ahead, behind us at enormous stalactite formations, deep hollowed out voids of darkness, twisted corridors of rocks and edges, and curves – auras from other divers lamps creating bluish black illuminations farther down in unreachable places to us snorkelers. What a mystical experience.

All that loveliness and mystery followed by a sub-par roadside lunch and a speedy drive back home to hastily change for the plane ride home only to sit in the airport for ages – the story of my life☺. (My airport experiences this trip are a whole different, much less glorious chapter of this story that really doesn’t need to be told.)

So, Mexico, you have sung me a different song on this trip. One of seduction, adventure, romance and beauty….Thank you for generously sharing your wonders with me and maybe…just maybe, one day we shall meet again. Till then, Cambodia is calling my name and I must answer….

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apparently the baby Jesus doesn’t make his appearance till christmas (or xmas eve?) Town square of Valladolid – inland city on the way to Chichen Itza.

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our favorite lunch we had! best enchiladas ever.

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apparently this is how one can meet a stranger here in this town…

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…and if you’re lucky it will go like this!! 🙂

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so the idea is to get this little rubber ball through the circle…the captain of the winning team gets beheaded by the captain of the losing team – it was an honor to be sacrificed by the gods…sounds like an all around lose-lose situation to me!

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