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

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 🙂

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!

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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