Arrows of Intuition! Follow them!!

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“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

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

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!

Crossing over from tourist to traveller!

New friends...2:00am leaving Thai karoke!

At some point during this journey, I knew I would cross over from being a tourist to being a traveller. It’s happened! How do I know this? Let me explain:

1.) Seeing a temple isn’t nearly as exciting as spending time with some new friends! Yes, all of the sights in SE Asia are fantastic and you could spend days and days doing nothing but visiting temples, trekking,, going on day trips of every sort imaginable, but at some point, you recognize that those are the things tourists do. While they are entertaining, they are not really what travel is about. Travel is about seeing how the rest of the world lives and functions. Last night is a perfect example. When I arrived here at my hostel (which by the way we’ll discuss later), I met a sweet girl from Canada who asked me to join her and some friends at a little bar and then for dinner. Drinks and dinner then lead to karoke! We ended up getting a group together, hiring a taxi, and asking the driver to take us to a karoke place. The taxi driver quickly got on the phone to his friends and next thing you know, we are at a Thai karoke place. Now, let’s be clear on this. This is not a Western karoke place with Thai people dropping by – this is a Thai karoke place with us as visitors!! So, naturally, most of the music was Thai music being sung by Thai people. Needless to say, it was an adventure. We of course, could not really sing along because the words were all in Thai!! What a hoot!! But see, this was way more fun than visiting another Buddha!

Go ahead....feel free to sing along...if you can read the words!

2.) I found myself making a shopping list this morning! No, not things like souvenirs! This was stuff like a new hairbrush since I left my comb somewhere, laundry soap, snacks for in the hostel, conditioner for my hair, etc. You know you’re not a tourist anymore when getting laundry soap is more important than shopping for a new sarong! 🙂

3.) You research the weather forecast in your area of travel. Tourists don’t care what the weather is – they only have so much time in any given area and so what the weather is, well, it just is!  For me as a traveller, I can choose to sit right here in a hostel near the beach because the temps are a little cooler than Bangkok and Chiang Mai and there’s a beach about two minutes away! When I get to Bangkok, I get there! By the way, that’s exactly what I decided to do! Since the weather, scenery, and hostel here are nice, I have no desire to rush up north to the city!

4.) Speaking of hostels, I’m in one now that is absolutely wonderful. It’s a little pricier than some of the others I’ve stayed in, but comparable to what a decent hostel in Bangkok will be. Very modern and yet still has a real nice “Thailand/island” kind of feel to it. I’ll take pics later today and send them out on Facebook. That’s something that as a traveller, is more important than seeing great stuff. It’s my home away from home so it’s important that I like my “home”! When I find a good one, why rush away only to find the next place isn’t quite so nice!

5.) AND….THE NUMBER ONE WAY I’VE IDENTIFIED MYSELF AS A TRAVELLER……DOING MY LAUNDRY AND HAVING CLEAN CLOTHES BEATS THE HELL OUT OF ANY TEMPLE I COULD POSSIBLY SEE!!!! For those of you who know me, you recognize how huge that statement is!!! I hate laundry or anything remotely appearing to resemble housework!! Trust me folks, having clean laundry is the absolute best thing ever when travelling! Tourists don’t worry about clean clothes – they take enough to last their couple of weeks and head home. But on the road, space is limited in the backpack! You just can’t under estimate the joy when the laundry is done and you get to put on clean clothes!!

“The traveller was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes sightseeing.”  Daniel J. Boorstin

Happy travels friends! 🙂

This guy from Thailand must of sang about 50 songs...he was really getting into it!!

Some thoughts about friends…..

I started this journey long before I got on the plane heading to Singapore. It started years ago when my Aunt Sandie and I were talking about her trip to Europe. She went with a tour group and although it was a long, hard trip with many stops, lots of bus rides, and many days, she had fond memories of Europe and the journey. She started talking to me about the idea of us going to Europe one day together. Years later, we made it happen. That trip taught me that I can find a way to do the things I want! And it taught me that there will always be people in my life that are happy to see me do the things that mean the most to me….my friends and of course, my aunt! 🙂

From the moment I started researching this trip, I knew that there were people at work who would support me. What I didn’t know, was that there were friends out there who were silently supporting me even though they may not have known when or where I was actually going. But I always felt like I had a group of people around me who wanted the very best for me regardless of the impact it might have on them.

My strongest support as always come from my aunt. I think that’s because she loves to travel and knows how to travel the way I do….light and with as little holding me back as possible! I recognize not everyone can travel, but everyone can be supportive. In this past month and half, I’ve been amazed at how strong and wonderful my support network truly is! People that I literally have never met or haven’t seen in years, are out on Facebook every day watching my travels, commenting on my posts, and always wishing me well and thanking me for posting about my journey.

Folks, and you know who you are, you have no idea of what your comments mean to me! They are affirmations of friendships that don’t need to be coddled with birthday greetings or trips to the mall or even phone calls. They are daily reminders that we all touch each other’s lives in very small ways that have a huge impact in the end. Currently, I have a friend back in Colorado whose daughter was in a terrible car accident. My daily notes on his posts remind him that although we are miles apart, I am with him! Just as he is so appreciative of my few words a day that I send him, I too am appreciative of the comments all of you post!

There are many great things about travelling.  At times though, it does get lonely and that’s a part of the journey too. But reading your comments and thoughts and well-wishes that all of you post, brightens my day – EVERY DAY!! I look forward to reading your posts and emails!! They are not simply ego-boosters – they are true words of friendship that help me feel like you are on the journey with me!!

To all of you who take the time to post your comments…thank you! Please know that they are ALWAYS the first thing I look for when I sign on and that they ALWAYS bring a smile to my face!! Thank YOU!!

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you to be in theirs, the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”

YOU ARE ALL FAMILY TO ME!!

It’s not a sin to be happy…..

“It is not a sin to be happy…Because of my pride in wisdom, you made me walk the Road that every person can walk, and discover what everyone else already knows if they have paid the slightest attention to life. You made me see that the search for happiness is a personal search and not a model we can pass on to others.” Paulo Coehlo

These are by far the greatest words I will take with me from “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coehlo. The things in life that are important to me don’t have to be important to anyone else!

These words confirm my feelings that it’s okay for me to be silly, to laugh at myself, to have fun, to cry, to grow old, to love, to make mistakes.  No one owns my happiness but me! Travelling makes me happy – it’s okay for me to dream about it, be enthusiastic about it, do it with abandon and no sense of fear, and rejoice in it!

I am proud of what I’m doing in my life. I’m now travellling without fears and always with a sense that “there’s no sin in being happy”!! I hope you will do the same in your life! Be happy!

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