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

Thank you letter to Kuala Lumpur!

KLCC Tower

Aquil - My Favorite Bartender!

My dear KL,

Wow! Where do I start? You had me fooled big-time. I didn’t like you even one little bit at first, but you grew on me! So much so, that I returned to you for a few extra nights. I’m not going to say a final good-bye simply because you are so easy for me, I’m likely to return even on this trip!

First off, I must say a huge thanks to the folks at Reggae Mansion Kuala Lumpur! Every day, I watched the reception desk employees greeting everyone as they were coming and going. They also said things like “have a great day”, “enjoy your trip”, “see you soon”, etc. Right from the start, they embraced me and made me feel welcome. But I must say, I truly had the best fun ever with the bar/restaurant staff – they were fabulous. Aquil kept me supplied with the vodka/cranberry, but more importantly, he made great conversation. He has the most wonderful smile and laugh! To Aquil, Freddy, E, and Alf….thank you for taking me in and showing me a good time. And okay, thanks for laughing at me while I was learning how to use the chopsticks! It made me feel like a part of a “family”. You were all wonderful. Thank you!

The National Mosque – you surprised me! I was not feeling like, as an American, I really wanted to acknowledge your existence. But instead, I felt a calm and a true sense that your religion is not so different from ours. Every day the call to prayer is sent out and followers come to express their love for the world. What a mess to your image a few idiots have done. I found your people to be helpful, caring, and considerate. Thank you!

And to the kids who came to Reggae Mansion and included me in their conversations and partying, thank you! You helped me to feel young and taught me so much about what to look for in Thailand. Mostly, you impressed me. Who would think that with all that partying, you still made time to respect KL. You got early (I think sometimes because you never went to sleep!!) to get free tickets into the Petronas Towers. You hustled over to Chinatown for cheap eats and climbed the 274 stairs at Batu Cave. You recognized the importance of your journeys. Many times I saw you writing in journals and skyping back home with family members. You spoke with pride about where you came from, what you studied or will study in school, and always encouraged me to continue my travels. Thank you!

So, KL I guess in closing I just want to say a huge thank you to you for reassuring me in so many ways, that I made the right decision to come and see you! You can be sure I will be back!

Love,

Cheri

Letter to Aunt Sandie!

Dear Aunt Sandie,

Please seriously consider walking the last leg of the Camino de Santiago with me in May/June!

Love,

Cheri

Now, I know some of you are probably wondering why I would write a letter to my aunt as part of my blog. Well, it’s pretty simple – it’s blackmail. Yup, down and dirty public exposure! It’s kind of like that book, “The Secret”, that says if you tell the Universe your needs, it must provide! I’m thinking that if I ask for this through these public forums we call Facebook and the blogging process, it’s as good as asking the whole Universe!

And why the short letter? Another easy answer. Aunt Sandie and I talked about the Camino so often during my visit to Florida, that there’s no need for explanation or further discussion. She knows what it is, why it’s done, and what it would mean to me if she showed up!

Okay, so before any of you get upset about not getting a request or invitation, let me assure you I’m a “the more the merrier” kinda gal. But this is not any old vacation or get-away. This is a whole different ballgame in the world of travel! This is a journey that requires the ability to sleep in a refugio with many other people. It is hours upon hours of walking. The Camino is about sharing your thoughts with another and yet, at times, sharing no conversation at all. This trip demands that you understand there is a purpose for walking the Camino and still,  you may not even be aware of it’s purpose until it’s done and over. When I think of all the people I’ve travelled with over the years, I know that Aunt Sandie is the one person who could share this journey with me.

How do I know she can do it? Once again a very simple answer! Because she wants to! She knows it and I know it! For all the physical, mental, emotional, and financial struggle this would be, she is the one person who could tackle them all…and win!

And so, my letter to her is now public. I expect my friends to chime in and encourage her! She doesn’t have FB, so just send your comments to me! I’ll be sure she gets them! It’s like I said, once you put something out to the Universe it must happen!

Love you Aunt Sandie….see ya in Spain! 🙂

Ending….to the waiting…I’m BOOKED!!!

Wow! December 13th and I am finally booked on my round the world trip!

So here’s the deal – I opted to keep the flying to a minimum. I’m heading out February 1st for Singapore. I have stops along the way of course, in San Francisco and Hong Kong! On February 3rd, I’ll be in Singapore. After that, I can decided when I want to move on to Malaysia and Thailand.

Now, about Thailand. Many of you know I have this ridiculous fear of snakes. I’m going to try and be a big girl and just relax and not expect snakes to come out of nowhere in Thailand just to scare me! But I will be cautious I’m sure. I haven’t figured out why I think they will be EVERYWHERE! But, the ticket is booked. I’m sure if I get too freaked out in Thailand, I’ll turn around and head back south or maybe further north to China! No matter what, it’s a done deal now!

After SE Asia, I’ll be heading to Europe for a few months. I’d like to see some of eastern Europe. I’m flying into Paris, but I’ll be doing lots of overland travel on the trains. Eventually, I’ll be heading to southern France to start my Camino de Santiago walk! I have a friend in Europe who will be holding my things for me for this journey!

After Europe, I’m heading back. I really have no STRONG desire to see Australia and South America right now. But, I am considering these parts of the world for my next trip. Oh God, already I’m thinking beyond this one. I’m obsessed.

So, I’m done waiting to purchase the ticket, done hesitating because of my fears about snakes, do I have enough money, where should I go; done thinking maybe I should just kill the travel bug altogether and settle in to another cubicle job. I’m done wondering when I should go, what’s the best time in regards to weather. I’m done worrying about travelling solo. Oh the list could go on and on! The truth is…..I’m ready!!!! 🙂

Oh and for those of you who think world travel is expensive, my ticket was less than $3000! 🙂 Thanks to Justin at airtreks.com for all his hard work in putting this together!

In the Middle…A peaceful center….

This is one wonderful city. Today my challenge was to go from my hostel in Puerto del Sol to the Atocha train station and back and then to the tapas reception for the Vaughantown experience which is in a totally different part of town where’ve I’ve never been. Did it! Both were easy to to get to due to this excellent Metro system, the fact that I’m no longer afraid to ask for directions, and just my general willingness to be okay with being lost. Nothing is the end of the world….I know I’m in Madrid, I know the name of my hostel, and I know I can always call a taxi if I have to and believe me, that in and of itself is enough to ensure I WILL find my way back!

Tapas….now that is an experience. It’s basically appetizers served with drinks during the evening hours here in Madrid. I like this idea….a lot…..so much so that I stopped at several bars to enjoy the experience. Some of the bars serve these complimentary with drinks, although they choose the appetizer(s)! In one bar I had guacamole with chips and the other bar…well, I’m not quite sure what they were serviing but it was good. I was going to ask but I was in hurry to San Miguel Market. I’m glad I made the decision to hurry….it was worth it for this experience.

I actually went to San Miguel Market yesteerday, but it was during the daytime hours. At night, the place comes even more to life. There are many, many kinds of tapas to purchase – they are not included with the drinks! But this is a way for them to introduce you to their meats and cheeses and yogurts and ice cream and olives and seafoord. There is no end to this list! My favorite place….a little Russian stand that sells caviar and…..Smirnoff ICE!!! I love it….finally a drink I know and love! So I’m included some of the pics from the Market. By the way, there were people dressed up, dressed down, all having a great time regardless!

While I was at the Market, I met a couple from Kansas. The wife (I forgot her name already – shame on me!) is very interested in doing the volunteering that I’ll be starting tomorrow. She now has the name of the place and my email. YAY! I’m networking!

I’m excited for tomorrow, but sleeping Madrid is weird! Everyone is out on the plaza and there’s so much commotion. It feels like everything comes so much more alive in the evening. This is probably because it finally cools down and the nightlife is just insane here. Personally, I’d like a big fat ice cream cone right about now, but after sampling the different tapas and the drinks….I think I’ll pass. But sitting here in the hostel enjoying the noise makes me realize that even though I’m alone, I’m surrounded by people and activity and the fact that the world keep spinning. Whether I’m in a beginning phase or an ending phase….there’s always still a middle….a place where people connect just because we are people! I love the middle as much as a do anything else…it gives me peace and well, no pun intended….it helps me feel centered!

Adios amigos and amigas……until another day! 🙂

Never-ending love….Sisters

I’ve never really taken the time in my life to tell my two sisters how I feel about them. What I’m learning as I get older is that life truly is short and we go far too many days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years without saying important things to the people we love. Sure, we end phone conversations with a quick “love you”, but it’s usually just words we throw in the air and over the phone lines. I guess like many other people, I just consider the words unspoken but always known. It just seems easier to not deal with the emotion that comes with spoken words.

I’ve decided that it’s time for me to deal with the emotions and say the words. So here we go:

Josie, the you I know now is so different from the you of a few years ago! Maybe because we lived miles apart, I never really understood your life. When I watch you now, I realize how difficult the many years of raising kids alone must have been for you. It’s apparent that you love being  with them, they love being with you, and they make your life complete. Who would have thought you would be so much like Mom? I certainly didn’t. What I’ve learned from you during the time you lived here with me is that your kids are more important to you than anything else in the world. I learned that you have more patience than any person I know! And I learned that no matter how angry you are at your kids, you love them unconditionally. I truly admire that about you! I’ve loved this time we’ve had together and I’m especially grateful that you’ve taught me how important family is. I love you!

Carla, you make me laugh! It’s just that simple. You have such a total passion for life in every way. Whether you’re going out, cooking a meal, or adopting another dog – you do it with all your heart and soul. Nursing is sooo the right profession for you – only a person who loves life as much as you should be a nurse! Every time we get together, I marvel at how you can handle so much commotion and still laugh, along with making others laugh with you! I admire your ability to laugh at yourself and never let the ways of the world bring you down – you always see the glass half full! And you too have taught me how important family is. I love you!

To my two wonderful sisters, thank you for always loving me no matter how irritable I get! Thank you for providing shoulders for me to cry on, for reaching out with helping hands, and for always accepting me for the person I am. I love you both very much and I’m thankful everyday that I have the two greatest sisters in the world!