Arrows of Intuition! Follow them!!

#5 (576)#5 (864)

“Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” – Dr. Joyce Brothers.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, so I thought while I’m not working, this would be a good time to clear the cobwebs accumulating over in the “creative side” of my brain! While I may not have tons of travel news and photos to convey, I am posting from my new “home” in Florida! Leaving Tennessee was a difficult move, but one I feel is truly best for me.

In the past few weeks, a number of people have commented to me about how “brave” I am to  pick up and move with no job lined up and no big savings in my pocket. When I was travelling alone through Southeast Asia, I heard the same thing about how brave I was to travel alone. Of course, when I returned to the United States, I continued to receive wonderful praise about being brave. Funny thing though, I rarely heard that on the Camino de Santiago!

The Bing Dictionary definition of brave is the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. With that definition in mind, I think of all the people I met along the Camino. We all walked with determination to stay the course, to have no fear, to not be deflected from our journey. At the time, it was not bravery at all – it was simply the desire to walk with grace. It was a walk of faith, a walk of kindness, a walk of solitude, a walk of peace, a walk of forgiveness. It was whatever each of us needed it to be. I don’t think anyone walks it to be “brave”.

On the Camino de Santiago, I woke up every day in a room full of strangers in a foreign country. I ate meals with people who didn’t speak my language and yet, we communicated! On the path, I was greeted with the familiar words of “Buen Camino” and passed those words on to other travelers. And how did I know where to go? Simply follow the yellow arrows that were painted on barns, etched into trees, formed with rocks. It was as simple as that….just follow the arrows and trust they will always be there for you. Think about that: a single woman in a foreign country with only a backpack following arrows across the landscape! And yet, they lead unfailingly! They were always there!

Now as I continue on with my life, I realize how important it was for me to take that walk. I appreciate so much that people see me as brave! While some may think that to move to another state with no job and no money is foolish, I see it differently – I am brave! I’m taking once again a walk with grace. I’m following the arrows and choosing to believe that they will lead me unfailingly. This time though, the arrows aren’t painted on the fence posts along the Spanish countryside. They are in me…it is my intuition that is leading me! I’m following my little arrows – my hunches!

So, here I am in Florida, with no job and no big savings and feeling brave. I will find a job, I will get settled, I will survive! I of course, am thankful that I have help (love you Aunt Sandie and Uncle Terry!!!) and I’m looking forward to this new journey! You too, should follow your arrows! Buen Camino!

Ending the Camino….bringing down the wall….

555The last time I posted a blog, it was May of 2012. It was shortly before I started my journey across Spain walking the Camino de Santiago. One of the committments I made to myself concerning the Camino was that I would not do a “daily log” type of blog about the Camino. I really wanted to spend my time walking and absorbing the journey. Little did I know that when I finished the walk, I would have so little to say for so long! The truth is, even now it will be difficult for me to talk about it. So am I breaking the silence? Because I finally have the strength to do this…..

It’s easy to superficially talk the the Camino. It was a 794 kilometer walk. Yup, that’s a long ways – about 500 miles. I can give you all the logistics about the terrain, etc., but in reality, none of those details are important. I could tell you all about how and what to pack, best places to sleep, and how much money you need. But again, you can pick up any Camino guidebook and the information will be there.

What I want to tell you about, is the effect of the Camino on me and what I learned…so here goes!

1.) I am not alone. While I was not raised with any formal religious teachings, it became very clear to me on my walk that I couldn’t possibly be alone. There were so many moments when taking one more step seemed impossible and yet, one foot followed the other (blisters and all!) and I reached my destination. No matter how lonely I felt at times, I always knew I wasn’t alone. Returning to daily life, I continue to feel that presence…every day. I am not alone.

2.) I am compassionate. I’ve been told many times in my life that I’m not a compassionate person. But compassion isn’t just about caring for the sick. I’ll admit – I don’t like being around sick people. On the Camino, I found myself crying with a woman who had lost her husband to cancer; I found myself helping an older man up a steep hill just by slowing my pace and waiting for him; I found myself loaning my walking sticks to a woman who sustained an injury one day on the path. Nope, I don’t like being around sick people but, I am compassionate.

3.) I am strong. Day after day, I faced physical challenges unlike anything I’d faced in my life before. Walking over the Pyrenees became sort of a joke because in reality, there were so many different and equally massive challenges throughout the journey, that they seemed like just a walk in the park! But being physically strong is minor in comparison to the mental strength that’s needed. Finding a place to sleep every night, ordering food, seeking medical assistance….all were challenges…and all had to be done with the language barrier. Sleeping in dorms with literally dozens of people from all different countries takes emotional strength. I am strong!

4.) The path in life is always marked. It’s hard to explain to others how I found my way each day. It’s a weird feeling to wake each day, step outside into a foreign country and look for something as simple as a yellow arrow. Whether I was walking in a big city or through miles of vast open land, it was up to me to find those arrows. Arrows were on trees, curbs, on the back of road signs, formed out of rocks on the ground, painted on barns…..but the reality is….the arrows were always there even when they weren’t always clearly visible. Never once did I get lost. And life is the same….the path is always marked. All I need to do is look for the arrows!

5.) Life, like The Way, is meant to be shared. I have a tendency to keep a wall up around me. I have friends and family around me, and yet, I consistently feel the need to keep an emotional distance from most people. I know it, my family knows it, and I’m sure my friends can sense it at times too. But on the walk, you have to share….there is no way around it. You have to share your pain, your food, your space, your laughter and your tears. There was no way I could do the journey alone. I may have walked alone, but always there was someone sharing the road. I know that sooner or later, I have to let the wall come down because life, like The Way, is meant to be shared.

It’s taken me a long time to open up about my Camino experience. For each person, it is a different journey. We all walk the same path, but the experience is unique. I will always have good, bad, scary, tender, funny memories of my adventure. But more importantly, I recognize the things in me that are good, bad, scary, tender and funny for having taken on this challenge.

To those who will take on the challenge…Buen Camino! For myself…..it’s time to work on the wall and to absorb and apply the things I learned!

Aside

Back In the Western Hemisphere!!

Well, it’s official! I’m back in the western hemisphere and to be perfectly honest, I’m thrilled. Paris feels wondeful. I’m rejuventated for sure!

How could I not love coming “back home” after the wonderful flight I had from Doha, Qatar to Paris? Oh sure, the flight out of Bangkok had it’s usual “Thai” attributes – long lines at the airport for Qatar Airlines, lovely little Thai girls in cute uniforms waiting on customers as slowly as is humanly possible, and on the positive side, the traditional wai and huge Thai smile given by a young man as I passed through the last door before boarding the aircraft. Thailand is such a contradiction all the time! One minute I would just laugh and fall in love with the craziness and the next minute, I was exasperated with the foolishness of their ways!

Arriving in Doha, Qatar, I was astounded by the scenery. The water in the Persian Gulf as you get close to Qatar is an amazing in color…so blue. And compared to the light brown earth/sand of Qatar, it really looks beautiful. I have never seen so much sand in my entire life! Doha is a city in the middle of, well, sand. That’s it! There may have been a tree somewhere out there, but I never saw one! It was just sand. The Doha Airport was lovely and say those words loaded with sarcasism! There was nothing to it! The plane didn’t even use a jetway! We landed, walked down the steps and boarded a bus to the terminal, made our way through the passport control area, and then promptly moved on to the gate to board the next flight!

At this point, things really started looking up for me. As I handed the agent at Qatar Airways my boarding pass for the flight, she told me my ticket was upgraded to Business Class. SCORE!! Business Class is the way to go on long flights, that’s for sure. I just can’t afford it!! For the next six hours, I enjoyed a nap, great food, and wonderful service.

Sweet! Business Class!

Even coming into the rain in Paris, I felt something like a sense of relief. It felt like “home”. Things seemed normal to me. When I was in SE Asia, I didn’t realize how much I felt out of synch with things. Don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful time there. But I’m just as pleased to be back into the western hemisphere!

Just a little note here….wifi access from here on in will be a little sketchy. Tomorrow I take a train to Geneva to pick up my stuff for the Camino. I’ll be back in Paris for a day after that – which I intend to use fully seeing more of this beautiful city. After that, I head to Bayonne, France for one night and then on to St. Jean Pied du Port for a night. Barring any unforeseen issues, I plan on starting the Camino on Sunday, May 6th!! I will NOT be bringing my pc with me and I’m not sure that I’ll have (or want) access to a pc while I’m walking. Spending time in fellowship with other pilgrims is important – to me, more important that finding Internet service! I hope you will all forgive me! Thank you as always though, for staying with me and keeping good thoughts going for me!!

Cheri🙂

Just some stuff I’ve noticed…..

I’m not sure this counts as a blog, but I really wanted to document some stuff that I’ve noticed here in Bangkok and since I’m saving the rest of my journal pages for the Camino, I thought I’d just put them down here! So, here goes:

1.) When you walk into a major department store you will find there are usually more employees than customers. They seem to congregate and talk amongst themselves even when you are seeking help. Or, they are in the middle of the linen section texting.

2.) When you walk up to or within 10 feet of a street stall, you will be immediately “greeted” by the salesperson who will proceed to actually watch where your eyes are looking and try to sell you that object.

3.) People who walk around in the middle of the mall reading their Facebook or emails on mobile phones should be shot. Yes, I know that’s harsh, but it’s just so frustrating to try and get around them when they seem to consistently weave where you want to walk, without even looking!!

4.) I do not really like being called “Ma Dam”….it’s rating right up there with Hey Lady in my book of irritations!

5.) Tuk-tuk drivers are fun to tease. They want to rip you off so bad it’s hysterical. I kinda walk near them which makes them sit up from their reclining position (I should say it more correctly – they are completely laid out across the tuk-tuk), and say, “hey lady, tuk-tuk?” To which I reply, “no thank you”. That’s when the fun starts! They always ask, “Where you going?”.  I love that question! I tell them with a big smile, “far, far away”. Of course, they want me!! That’s when I rub my tummy and say, “No tuk-tuk, too fat, gotta walk”!! And they just laugh and laugh!! Priceless…I’m not sure who has more fun with that one!!

6.) Do not, under any circumstances, try to outdrink a Thai (girl or guy). You are asking for pain. Step in front of a bus first, it will be much easier and less embarassing. At least you won’t be throwing up in front of everybody!

7.) Asian women don’t seem to like us farangs (foreigners)! I’m not sure why – none of us can fit in their clothes, so it’s not like we’re out buying clothes away from them!  The street stalls are full of clothes that only fit them! And surely, none of the guys are looking at us – we’d squish them!

8.) Some of the Asian guys are pretty darn cute. The women might be pretty, but I’m not really sure because I’m afraid to look at them! Seriously.

9.) There can’t possibly be another place in the world (except maybe Hong Kong or Toyko) that has as many places selling cell phones, pc’s, and cell phone holders as Bangkok. I can’t figure out who they’re selling this stuff to! In MBK (the biggest tourist mall here), there is a whole floor dedicated to nothing but cell phones and cell phone covers. Now, let me make sure you’re getting the drift here. This mall is huge and the ENTIRE floor is all cell phones and covers!

10.) Lean processing does not exist here. Today, I walked around the mall looking at the employees in different places. In KFC, there were 8 people behind the counter which had 4 registers. There were 6 people cooking. Two young guys were in the seating area doing nothing but standing there waiting to clean off tables and mop if necessary. There were 12 customers including me. Do the math. Oh, and there was one girl who only sells desserts. On the way home though, I did stop at 7-11 and there was one person on each of the two registers they had and possible an employee in the back. There were 17 people in the 7-11.

11.) Yesterday I saw something very strange. It was the Google Maps Street View car. I had to Google that to find out what it does. It actually has a series of cameras mounted and does live updates of traffic in certain places. It produces a 3-D view of the buildings, etc. if you do the Google Earth thing! Only in Bangkok…

Goodle Maps Street View car!!

Learning Who I Am!

Once in a while, I come to a standstill. It’s during those times that I find my head is the clearest. Thinking comes easy. And so, it’s during this standstill in Bangkok that I find myself evaluating my journey and what I’ve learned about me. In saying that, please keep in mind this has nothing to do with the people I’ve met or the things I’ve seen! This is truly my evaluation of me!

I’m not a tourist! This came as a huge revelation to me! There is nobody I know that reads and actually studies Lonely Planet books like me. I can tell you every great spot I should have seen while here. And yet, today when I sat here at the hostel and looked back through the pictures I’ve taken, the best shots were ones of ordinary life. I guess that’s why in these last few days, I’m not concerned with whether or not I see the Grand Palace and every temple in town. Watching the street vendors, seeing mothers walking with their children, watching teen-age girls giggle and flirt with the boys, seeing people enjoying themselves in the park – those are things that remind me that we are all one human race!

I can travel alone, but it’s likely I will chose not to in the future – at least not for this long of a venture! There are times when I wanted to share the joy of what I was seeing and experiencing. There were also days when I felt on the verge of being overwhelmed and eaten alive by this area of the world. The unrelenting heat, the total difference in culture, and the physical pains that I endured alone may have made me stronger, but it would have been nice to have someone to talk to during those times.

I’m quite content with hostels! Yes, guesthouses can be a little more quaint, but for me the hostels offer more of what I look for in travel. I found I could always make friends in a bigger group of people. Clean dorm rooms and good showers are important to me! Orderly processes of check-in and check-out seem to work better for me!

I’m a big city kinda girl! Bangkok was NEVER, EVER on my bucket list. But it was a necessary evil that I had to endure to come to SE Asia. I made sure I didn’t fly into here but Singapore instead. Dread consumed me for at least one whole day in Koh Tao knowing Bangkok was my next stop. So yes, this was something I learned about me that I think maybe I knew, but now, it’s confirmed. Big cities, even Bangkok, don’t scare me – they entice me! You can be sure, New York City is now on my bucket list!

I am blessed!! I never realized how rich my life is. At 54, I’m fairly healthy, I have many, many friends, two wonderful sons, family, and I am on the other side of the world. During these past few months, I have heard from so many people who are following my journey! Many friends and new followers are taking this voyage with me and so while there are days when I feel very alone, I know I can always log on to the Internet and find friends who are with me in spirit! For that, I am so thankful – I recognize now how my words touch others and how their words touch me!

Biggest revelation: I am strong! Much, much stronger than I ever imagined! Regardless of the physical pains I’ve endured here, I’ve maintained a positive attitude for the most part! I’ve figured out how to get from here to there and back again on my own. When the need for help arose, I asked for and accepted it graciously. When I was scared, I searched inside for strength and found it! And when I was lonely, I let myself feel loneliness and recognize it could be as short-lived as I wanted it to be! There have been people in my life who said I lack self-confidence. Maybe I projected that because I felt the need to be what was expected of me at the time. Travelling alone, I found the space to be just me and found that they were wrong about me.  I AM STRONG!!

For those of you following my journey, I want to thank you once again for your comments and encouragement. Many, many times when I needed support, you were there! I hope you will follow along as I head out of SE Asia and on to Europe where I will walk the Camino de Santiago! Thank you again everyone!!

Sometimes the best way to figure out who you are is to get to that place where you don’t have to be anything else.”  Source Unknown

Sensing the end….

Wow! Last night lying in bed, I realized I’m down to two weeks left in Southeast Asia. I actually started to cry! I’ve had an incredible time and certainly, it’s not over yet. Luckily, my foot is feeling better and I’m ready to take on Bangkok with a vengence!

While I’m killing some time waiting for my night train to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my journey so far. I’ve learned a lot – like for instance, that I love pineapple shakes! Why can’t I make these at home – you can bet, I’m gonna try! There’s a million things I could list that I’ve learned about myself and you can bet in the future, I will blog about that! But for now, I really want to focus on what I’ve seen and felt here in SE Asia.

Mostly, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the senses! Let me explain!

The smells here are amazing and yet, not always pleasant! One minute it’s the smell of all the beautiful flowers and greenery that grows here. Then it’s the myriad of foods they cook here – curries and noodles and chicken and pork. The smell of cinammon is often found here. And then, there’s the smell of the street – garbage rotting and the always present smell of sewer water. And let’s not forget the dreaded durian fruit. You simply cannot describe the smell. The best I can say is that it’s a combination of sweaty socks, armpits, and possibly a hit of pineapple thrown in. It’s horrible! And yet, these people love this fruit…I can not bring myself to get it into my mouth! Sorry!

One of my favorite photos!

From the hot, sandy beaches to the crumbled, torn-up sidewalks, experiencing SE Asia is a challenge to even the healthiest feet! The concrete in Bangkok goes on forever. But in Malaysia, it’s a miracle to walk down any sidewalk without falling in a hole or tripping on an uneven sidewalk. Penang is simply the worst – I could never look up when walking in Penang – I always had to look at the sidewalk! The holes and loose bricks and uneven walkways were a constant threat! And the feel of icy cold water everywhere during Songkran in Chiang Mai – wow! The winner though, hands down, is the feeling of motion here. The ferries, trains, buses and minivans are not for the faint of heart! Dramamine is my friend!!

The sounds of SE Asia are amazing. The sleek Skytrain of Bangkok is barely audible. But outside the Skytrain, the sounds of touts is never-ending. Someone is always selling something and farangs (foreigners) are always the target! In Koh Samui, the sale is about MA-SSAGE?????? That’s how the girls say it…with a long delay in both syllables and as if asking a question. In Kuala Lumpur, the horns and constant traffic are only matched in volume by the Call to Prayer broadcast over the speakers strategically placed all around town. The greatest sound…the quiet Kob Kun Kaa (thank you) spoken by a Thai with the little bow of the head and the prayer-like position of their hands!

Padthai, banana pancakes, fried bananas, mango sticky rice, and of course, my favorite…pineapple shakes! The taste buds are always on overload in SE Asia. There are many things I didn’t try because I don’t like spicy food. But the things I have tried that I like, I just can’t seem to get enough of them! Pineapple shakes are my absolute favorite – I think it’s because they are so light and yet, so sweet! Last night, I tried fried bananas and they are awesome. The chicken and pork satay is always good when walking around….nothing like eating meat off a stick! Even western food is interesting…..nothing tastes quite the same! In Penang, I tried the Nonya style of food – way to spicy for me…but certainly an adventure!

By far, the eyes have the most to absorb here although the nose is certainly the runner-up! I could never be here without a camera because describing the beauty amid all the chaos that is SE Asia would be impossible!  The magnificent skyline of Singapore seen from the Singapore Flyer, the beauty of the southern Thailand lagoons and limestone formations and white beaches with crystal clear water, the serene and surprising National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, the silent parade of monks walking through hectic and never-stopping traffic of Bangkok – none of these things can be described without photos!  And certainly, the people of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, working, smiling, living life just like we do in America.

All of these things will soon be a distant memory for me. I’m so glad I have the photos to help remind me of the smell and feel and sounds and tastes of SE Asia now that it’s getting near the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too through what I’ve written about, but hey, I still have two weeks in Bangkok!!! Get ready for more!!

Cheri🙂

Ferryboat Madness in Thailand!

One of the most fascinating things about this trip so far has been the various forms of transportation that I’ve had the pleasure (or dread) of experiencing. Recently I blogged about the infamous minivan experiences! Now, I’d like to share the ferry boat fun!!

I love the water, so when I knew I would have the chance to “island hop” using the ferries, I was delighted. No stuffy minivan for me! These trips would be out on the open Gulf of Thailand waters! Sun in my face, I would have nothing to dislike about this kind of adventure! And for the most part, they were okay. But let me tell  you a little more about how the adventure with ferry boat travel REALLY goes!

First, do not expect a state of the art boat from any recent decade! This is after all, Thailand – the land that makes use of every old thing left in the world! While most times I admire their ingenuity, there are times when I wish they would operate in this decade! So okay…no worries because boats are pretty sturdy and the old workhouses deserve their credit!

Next, do not under any circumstances expect the boat to be on time. Of course, we learned that from the minivan adventure right? Trust me, the boats will be even more tardy!

Expect to pay for air-conditioning! I was okay with this because I figure if you want to be on the islands, it’s because you like water and the sun. I paid extra for all the rooms I was in on the islands because I wanted air-conditioning! The difference is that on these boats, you are basically in the sun for several hours. If you want out of the sun, you will be in the air-conditioned “lounge”. Let me explain “lounge” to you as best I can. It’s basically the bottom floor of the boat with bench seats, air blowing through extremely dirty ducts with no filter on them (sometimes you get the boat diesel fuel smell too as a bonus), and a little stand where someone is selling chips, soda, and of course, Chang beer! That would be the “lounge” area! And, to be in this lovely area, you must pay money! Otherwise, sit your butt out in the sun for several hours looking at the Gulf!

Biggest backpacks are always on top!

Give up your fears about your backpack getting dirty! Whatever you’ve seen at an airport when it comes to luggage handling will look like child’s play compared to the handling on these boats! I will say though, the boat hands do try to stack them neatly. However, you can expect that no matter what size your bag is, the biggest bags will always be on top. The reason for this is that the folks with the biggest bags are the slowest getting on the boat!!

Don’t expect the ship’s crew to wait on you in any way whatsoever! They have luggage to stack up and then, it’s basically time to either smoke hand rolled cigarettes (one right after the other) or take a nap in the shade. Trust me, these two things were done repeatedly and shamelessly on every boat trip I took!

Crew hard at work...sleeping in the shade!

Last, just enjoy the journey! For me, one of the great things about this journey has been that no matter what difficulties I’ve encountered (like boat ramps that are ridiculously narrow and look like they will fall apart…just sayin’), I know that these are making for moments I’ll never forget! They are challenges that I’m finding I can overcome. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being afraid – other times it’s recognizing that I need help and not being afraid to ask for it! Either way, I’m having the time of my life!!

As always....loving the adventure no matter what!

Previous Older Entries